“What you are doing is a livelihood, it is not your life”
It is an unspoken expectation that salespeople, especially sales leaders, do not have feelings or emotion. That we, as men and women on the front lines, can take rejection in stride. That the stress involved in quota carrying, revenue generating, keeping the lights on, and always being on call is a “part of the job”. While it is true that we all have decided to go into the role we are in, it is not true that we are immune to the mental health issues (anxiety, depression, etc.) that plague our peers and colleagues in other disciplines. In fact, one may argue that salespeople are more likely to fall into the symptoms of these conditions due to the high-stress nature of our jobs. Drug and alcohol abuse are commonplace in our profession. It is easy to try to relieve stress by changing the chemicals in your brain through the use of substances. As a former individual contributor and a front line manager, I have been through dark times and helped individuals navigate dark times.
My personal low point came to a head in the winter of 2016. An aggressive email at 3:30 AM from an executive about a (relatively) insignificant deal was the cause. At that point, I was certain I needed to make a change if I wanted to be happy. But the writing had been on the wall. I had been unhappy with my life for about 6 months and had accepted my situation all along. The long hours, intense, arguably pointless emails at 3:30 AM, the expectations around work/life balance (or lack-there-of), and a lack of empathy and understanding from leadership all contributed to my depression. This is not to say that I do not share in the responsibility. In fact, the number one contributor to my depression, was me. I was unable to focus on the amazing things I had going on at the time (I had just moved to NYC to be with my girlfriend, I was working at a cutting edge startup with a huge upside career wise) because I was stuck in this negative and self-doubt thinking cycle. That being said, we need to give our teammates the tools to surface their feelings, address them, and an environment where they can share the factors (ie: emails at 3:30 am from an executive) that are triggers for their depression.
So, how do we get out of this rut? First and foremost, seek help. We are not above psychotherapy and we need an outlet to share our feelings. The stigma around receiving treatment for mental health is profound, and is one that needs to be changed starting from the top down at companies. I was able to talk through my situation with a professional who helped me gain clarity around my feelings and put action plans in place to make changes that would have a massive impact on my well being. We need to encourage our peers and ICs to talk about their feelings with us, but also to be fully comfortable seeking professional help. This can be done by empathizing with them and giving them permission to seek help during work hours (therapists can be impossible to find during off hours at an affordable rate, especially if insurance is being used).
Secondly, managers need to encourage reps to take care of their mental health above all else. At the end of the day, it is in the manager’s and the reps’ best interest to be happy and healthy in their day to day life. Understanding that everyone will need a prescriptive approach here is vital- establishing it is not a one size fits all. If someone wants to meditate, paint, or play with puppies in order to get their mind on the right track, that is OK.
Lastly, and most importantly, we need to encourage a culture where it is OK to be depressed and to talk about feelings. From there, we can encourage a culture of on-going wellness and the sharing of best practices. The problem becomes that managers, VPs, and CEOs are perceived as invincible and individual contributors are not comfortable admitting that they are not perfect. I actually openly share what I do to keep my head in a good place with my team in an open format and encourage them to do the same. It has been great to hear the different tools people are using- some use exercise, others read, some cook, and some travel to make sure they are re-centered.
It is incredibly important that sales professionals strike for a healthy balance between work and personal well-being. It is easy, albeit shitty, to be in the office for 14 hours per day, but I encourage everyone to think about whether that is the best use of your time. It is also easy to turn to drugs and alcohol when you are feeling stressed. Of course, alcohol is "part of the job," but it should not be an escape from reality. For me, personally, I make sure to find time to exercise 5-6 times per week, and at least 4 of those times in the morning. Also, I let my team come in later in the morning if they are doing something that will contribute to their personal wellness (yoga, working out, meditation, and sometimes sleep if we are in a busy period). Lastly, it is so important to keep everything in perspective. Most of us are working at for-profit organizations that sell something that helps businesses maximize revenue. We are not curing cancer or solving climate change. Missing a goal is inevitable, but it is how we deal with and learn from failure that makes us better. Remember that what you are doing is a livelihood, it is not your life. Make time for yourself and your health above everything else, and the rest will fall into place.