growing up fast
It felt good being engaged. I had learned from the mistakes of my past and as a result I had a very clear vision of what I wanted in the future. I allowed myself the time and patience to find my soul mate, and things just fell into place. It seemed like fate. Perhaps this was why things didn’t work out with my California sweetheart? Maybe I was supposed to fail at that relationship so that I’d be better prepared for the most meaningful one of all? And how could you discredit the fact that I had patiently waited for a year a half to find the opportunity to talk to that striking girl from orientation? The chances of the two us ending up where we had seemed completely improbable. It was just meant to be.
My fiance and I were living in a single bedroom apartment on the 10th floor of a high rise complex known as Alden Park, located just outside of Center City next to Philadelphia University. It was an older building, but the space we had rented was very livable. We had about 900 square feet and a view of the skyline from our living room window. For two recent college graduates, it was quite nice. The grounds of the complex were very well maintained. It was always landscaped nicely and the property was extremely secure. It was a good start for us.
As with most first jobs, neither one of us was overpaid. And our living expenses were fairly significant being that we were so close to the city, so things were relatively tight from a financial standpoint. I was working in sales with a base salary plus commission structure, and it was taking time for me to get a feel for the position and begin signing accounts. The base was really nothing more than a survival income, so until things picked up, I wouldn’t have a lot of extra cash. And I was already trying to figure out how I was going to pay off her engagement ring…that would take me years at the rate I was going.
I would have never thought that I would end up pursuing a career in sales. In fact, it was about the last thing that I could have ever envisioned myself doing. My father was a salesman, and I remember always telling him growing up that I never wanted to do what he did. It appeared too stressful to me, and I had zero interest in it. I knew that he made a good living doing it, but it would not be my future. You had to be outgoing to be in sales…fearless, really. And I was always relatively shy and somewhat intimidated by situations where I needed to present myself to a group. I wouldn’t survive one day…
I had graduated from North Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. I studied History because I enjoyed it, but I never felt as though I wanted to teach or pursue a future in it. So my plan had always been to go to graduate school. I was pretty set on a Master’s degree in either Sports Administration or Sports Management and I spent some time researching both of those options. I took the GRE my senior year and prepared a list of schools to which I would apply for admission. But as things progressed, I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t really quite ready to make another commitment to school. I wanted to experience the world a bit.
Sales jobs are always available. There is a reason for that. They carry an extremely high turnover rate. But I wanted a job in Center City, and as a new graduate with no real world experience, it proved to be my best option for finding a position quickly that also had decent earning potential. So I momentarily made my peace with it. And before I knew it I was training for a job that was completely out of my comfort zone.
For someone with anxiety and panic, most would contend that sales is the worst career choice possible. There are still days when I believe that to be the case myself. The stress can at times be completely overwhelming, and I as mentioned in previous posts, stress and anxiety are closely linked with one another. You can find yourself putting your personal well being at risk in this career if you aren’t careful. The fear of presenting oneself in front of people and facing rejection…those are tough pills to swallow for anyone, let alone someone who suffers from mental health related issues.
But I had learned some things about my disorder over the course of the past several years of my life. I realized that in order to beat anxiety and panic, you needed to confront it head on. Sometimes that is far easier said than done, particularly when you are in the grips of a long term down period in your life and your mind has turned completely against you. But fortunately, I had been free of any major setbacks for quite some time, so I was not afraid to challenge my deepest fears. And sales gave me the opportunity to do that.
In my position I was asked to make cold calls every day in Center City Philadelphia. And following a long day of walking the streets knocking on doors, I would be required to head back to the office and make phone calls for the final two hours of the day, attempting to set up meetings with my new prospects. It sounds miserable, but there could not have been a better experience hand crafted for me at that point in my life. I was forced acknowledge my insecurities and then leave them at the door. I learned how to introduce myself and present effectively to decision makers. And I discovered the secrets to gaining trust and confidence, building mutually beneficial partnerships, and remaining persistent and competitive in the pursuit of success.
I did the opposite of what my anxiety’s recipe had called for, and it worked. I learned not to be intimidated or fearful of anyone or anything. If you could knock on doors in Philly for a living, there wasn’t much that you couldn’t do. God bless the people who live and do business there because they have a work ethic and grittiness that is unmatched, but they aren’t the most welcoming folks in country, that’s for sure. Dodging building security guards like Vendetta at 121 S. Broad and escaping into elevators to avoid recognition that you were a salesperson was no picnic. But it got easier in time. I eventually learned to look at “No Solicitation” signs as an invitation to tour the building. It was fun. I was doing something that I knew 99% of the population couldn’t handle and I took pride in that. I developed confidence in myself and in my ability to overcome stressful and fearful situations and that helped to keep my anxiety at a distance. I found that often what is best for your well being is what’s least comfortable.
My fiance and I enjoyed the city for awhile, but the “newness” of everything was wearing off pretty quickly. We both worked downtown and after being there all week long and fighting the congestion, we often found that we didn’t want to venture back in on the weekends. So a lot of times we’d find a quiet restaurant in the nearby suburbs for dinner, or we’d visit my family about an hour and a half northwest so that we could escape to the small town setting where we were both most comfortable. For Valentine’s Day that year we headed to the mountains for a long weekend at my family’s cabin in north central PA. It was nice to just separate ourselves from the madness. We were finding that a more quiet lifestyle suited us far better.
So in time we talked and soon after we began dreaming of moving to the suburbs. I wasn’t thrilled with my current position and she was open to a career move as well. We just needed to find the right opportunity. Then one day during the winter I decided to send an email to a friend of mine (several years older) who had taken over ownership of his father’s direct mail production business nearby my hometown. I didn’t receive an immediate response, but one day several weeks later while I was out knocking on doors in Center City, I got a call on my cell phone. It was him, and he was looking to replace a sales rep who was retiring the following year, and thought that we should talk. So one Saturday afternoon we met for lunch, and shortly after he offered me the position. I would be given the opportunity to train with the retiring rep and then ultimately take on and manage his existing book of business and extend the company’s reach with my own direct efforts. He was providing me with the chance to do far better financially and to support our move to the suburbs. It was a proposal that I could not refuse.
Shortly after, my fiance also received an offer for employment with a hospital in the Allentown area. She would be running their facility’s hyperbaric oxygen chamber. She could not have been more excited. It was her desire to work in a medical related field, and this gave her a chance to get her foot in the door.
Everything was falling into place. It was fate, remember?