I was working on a very different post for today but that one is going to have to wait since something else has grabbed hold of my attention. This is going to get into the “way too personal” category but since this blog has turned into a sort of journal for me, since I’ve intentionally maintained a high degree of anonymity so I can post things of this nature if I want to, and since I hope that this post might be valuable to someone out there, I’m going to write it. I am writing this in real time; I found out the news I’m about to share with you less than four hours ago. So I’m writing it without the benefit of “sleeping on it” and I decided to do it because I want to preserve the moment as authentically as possible.
It would appear my employer is heading into troubled waters. I certainly am, in any case. My boss visits everyone in the field periodically and this week was my turn. But while it is usually a fun and enjoyable experience, this time he had to do something that I’m sure was very difficult for him. Tonight he told me I’m effectively on notice and that barring a dramatic performance improvement over the next few months that is unlikely if not impossible, I’m going to have to find something else to do with my time. Furthermore, this same message is being delivered to most of us, save the top handful of performers. So either he was trying to cushion the blow with that last part (I’ll find out soon enough) or this is a lot bigger than just me. I believe he is a man of integrity and I have no reason to doubt him but it really doesn’t make a lot of difference either way.
My performance has actually been very good for quite a while in some ways and I’m very proud of the way I have grown, both as a salesman and as a person, and how I have succeeded many times against very difficult odds. I have shortcomings and limitations like anyone else, however, and the bar is being moved above what I believe is possible when all circumstances are factored in. I have no ill will towards anyone. My boss didn’t make this decision and delivering the news couldn’t have been easy, especially if he knows he has to do it several more times over the coming weeks. He has always been a decent man in my experience and that is far more important than anything else in my book. His boss probably didn’t make this decision either and even if he did, I have nothing but respect for him and appreciation for everything he has done for me over the years. His boss probably did make the decision. But while I have only met him very briefly, I’m sure something like that wouldn’t be easy for him either and even if it was, he did it because he has a boss to answer to as well – in his case, the investors who collectively own the company. At the end of the day, almost everything in business boils down to economics and it appears either revenue needs to increase or expenses need to decrease. We salesmen live and die by that reality. And regardless of growth, positive aspects of my performance, or any other factors, I have not done enough to remain viable under current conditions. Many, many people who work in sales will face this day and today is my turn.
I have struggled with negative thinking all my life but I want to promise myself and the world, here and now, that I’m going to ace this test that has been put in front of me. And I don’t make promises I have any reason to doubt I can and will keep. My first thoughts after I got the news gave me that confidence. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude – for the incredibly lucrative run I’ve had with this company, for the personal and career growth the opportunity has resulted in, for the many good people and the handful of truly amazing people I’ve met that I hope to keep as beloved friends, for the fact that I run my finances ultra-conservatively and thus am in an excellent position to withstand any loss of income, for having a solid resume with a great school and solid experience on it, for being given notice and a fairly specific timeline, and on and on. My response to my boss was along these same lines. Of course I’m going to do my best to raise my performance to the new standard. But he and I both know the odds of me (or several other people) getting there are remote. The reality is that his job may not last much longer than mine and in fact, that could even be true of everyone in the organization on a relatively short timeline. At least I’ve been given some sort of chance to both try to change the situation and prepare for it in the event that my efforts to do so come up short.
My subsequent thoughts were also all really good ones. I remembered the proverb about the Chinese farmer, which is one of my favorite concepts of all time. If I were a tattoo man (I’m not), and there were some single artistic concept that could remind me of the parable, that is probably the tattoo I would get. I don’t know the source but I believe its origins date back plenty far enough to put it in the public domain so I will put it at the bottom of this post for anyone who hasn’t read it. It has gotten me through some difficult days and inspired me on some good ones. I thought about all the things I can go out and do to try to shoot the moon or at least keep my job as long as possible. I thought about some of the many well-connected people I can reach out to in an effort to find a new job. I thought about how lucky I am in so many ways: no dependents, enough cash on hand to live with no income for well over a year, enough overall wealth to do so for close to a decade, having been born in the richest country on earth at the most prosperous time in its history to date, and on and on. I thought about how I took a very hard hit (a fairly sudden divorce from a woman I loved with all my heart) in 2016 and how three years later, my life is better in many ways than it was before that happened. I thought about how thankful I am to have my closest confidant; then I called her and told her the news and thanked her in as many ways as I could think of for the wonderful impact she has had, and continues to have in my life. I thought of what an unlikely closest confidant she is and how I met her near the depths of despair. You just never know when something awful might turn into something amazing.
This is just another opportunity dressed in ugly clothes. It’s an opportunity to prove I’m the man I aspire to be against the backdrop of difficult circumstances. It’s an opportunity to use those same circumstances to grow stronger than I am now. Nothing does it like adversity. I truly believe that. Hell, this is an opportunity to upgrade. In a few months or a year, I could look back on this as a day that forced me to turn away from something good and towards something even better.
Undoubtedly, there are tough days ahead. There will be rejections – just like every other day, except that I myself will also be getting rejected as I pursue other opportunities. There will be moments of weakness and I will have to fight through my nemesis, depression, for hours, days, or longer. Anxiety will probably be in the mix as well. I could even experience one of my greatest fears – being fired and having no employment income for some period of time (even that is something to be thankful for; how many people on earth face realities infinitely worse than that every day?). But I can’t afford to let any of it beat me. This is a crucial time and I need to be at my absolute best. I’m going into a storm, like it or not. I can either cower in fear and drown, or I can embrace the challenge and fight. Fear is ok and in fact, it is only natural. Failure is neither. Who we are is determined by what we do every single day. But some days are a little more important than others. I’m going to go get that sleep now. After all, tomorrow is a big day.
The Parable of the Chinese Farmer
A wise man once told me that back in the day, there was a Chinese farmer who lived with his son. He was very poor and only had one horse that he used to plough the fields. The Farmer was elderly and relied on his son and the horse to do all the work on his farm.
One day his son left the gate to the horse’s pen open and the horse escaped. The Farmer kept sending his son out to find the horse but it was nowhere to be found.
When the Farmer’s friends and neighbors found out they came round to commiserate with him and told him how unlucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.
After many days of searching, the Farmer’s son found the horse. It was grazing with a group of other horses. When the Farmer’s son returned with the horse, its new friends followed. And when he closed the gate, there were seven horses in the pen.
The Farmer’s friends were delighted and all visited to celebrate, telling the Farmer how lucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.
The son set about breaking in the horses so they could be sold at market as tame rather than wild. When he was working with the last animal, he fell off and broke his leg. Again the Farmer’s friends and neighbors visited to commiserate and told him how unlucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.
The very next day, the Chinese army passed nearby. They were on the way to a huge battle with the Mongols and arrived at the Farmer’s house saying they had heard there was a young man there and he must come with them to fight. The Farmer showed them in so they could see that the son had a broken leg. They left without him.
Again the Farmer’s friends and neighbors arrived delighted and told the Farmer how lucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe…”