Freedom Isn’t Free, The Cost of Your Independence
Free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority. Free-thinking. Self-governing, self-ruling.
Isn’t independence one of the primary reasons we got into commission sales in the first place? Didn’t we want to be self-governing, earn as much as we think we’re worth, develop freedom? Everybody that gets into sales says they want this, but I’ve found that not everyone understands the cost of freedom or are willing to pay it.
It first hit me around the age of 19 when I was with Penn Life. I’d already been selling on commission for a year or so—cars first, then insurance. At about my 18th month mark I’d started to figure things out. My sales skills had begun to congeal. My pitch was flawless, like I was on autopilot. I was a good closer, knowing many ways to ask for the sale. My mental game was solid, modeling the philosophies of the top producers around me. I didn’t cheat the numbers, measuring my activities carefully to ensure I could hit my income target.
At that juncture I knew I could make a decent living strolling down the street selling accident policies. I’d worked hard on my skills and could get my numbers in and still be at the municipal golf course by 3:30 PM to play a quick 9 holes. Life was good.
Then Penn Life suckered me into training some people. “Just take a few guys with you and show them what you do. It’s easy,” they told me. Of course, training others wasn’t easy and it involved more than they were letting on to. They wanted to pull me in slowly and then promote me to a formal management level. They kept at me until I caved in. So, there I was…an accomplished young salesperson, yet needing to go back to square one again and learn a brand new set of skills.
I spent the next 18 months learning how to hire and train salespeople. It was excruciating, but I finally figured out the hiring, training and management game, mostly through trial and error. I was willing to stumble forward and get bloody. My personal production and income suffered initially as I focused on others, but I stayed at it and eventually things began to balance out and click, then, my income increased substantially.
And that’s how it works most of the time in sales and sales management. You pump the pump over and over again and no water comes out.
Then a trickle, and then a gush.
By March of ’82 I had been in sales for 3 years. At that juncture I was a darn good salesperson and even a better sales trainer and recruiter. I had skills that were transferable to almost any other industry or market. If you tabulate all of the time I’d spent drilling, rehearsing, reading books and picking brains, I was averaging 65-hour workweeks. Those 3 years added up to 156 weeks. The 156 weeks multiplied by 65 hours equaled 10,140 hours.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s third book, Outliers: The Story of Success, he scrutinizes some of the factors that contribute to high levels of success. Throughout the publication, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a great extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.
The book was popular and well received by most, yet Gladwell was criticized for oversimplifying something so complex as success. It really doesn’t matter whether you completely subscribe to Gladwell’s philosophy or not. (Who knows if he’s right?) Of course, I was a simple guy with no socio-economic edge who’s not afraid of hard work, so his hypothesis resonated with me. What I took away from the book was that you could practice your way to success and there is rarely, if ever, an overnight sensation that can sustain.
That isn’t a direct quote from the book; it’s probably not even in there in any way or incarnation. That’s just what I heard. My other takeaway was that if you aren’t naturally smart, (and I’m not) and if you don’t have a fancy degree, (I barely graduated high school) and if you come from wealth, (which I didn’t) you better be willing to pay your dues. Hence, without identifying it, decades before Gladwell wrote about it, (and it became part of our lexicon), I put in my 10,000 hours, paid my dues.
What did my 10,000 hours initially buy me?
Relative Freedom. I was reasonably free from control. I didn’t have to work for Penn Life anymore, or any company that I didn’t love. If I put out my resume, there’d be a dozen organizations beating a path to my door. I’d bought some career options with my 10,000 hours.
Independence. After the 10,000 hours, I realized I’d become more self-governing, far less dependent on fleeting external motivations or influences. I was battle hardened. I’d developed the ability to self-assess and self-correct using the emotional intelligence amassed from so many hours in the game. I didn’t need anyone to hold my hand anymore.
Newfound Confidence. The 3 years of practice and my moderate success provided me with a great deal of confidence. I began to feel I belonged in the upper echelons. I also started forming my own opinions, becoming more of a free thinker, more creative, even more willing to take risk.
I used my hard earned freedom, independence and confidence to springboard into another gig, and then another. Along the way I changed industries. It was during this period of time that I learned a significant lesson about paying dues. When you’re trying to succeed in different markets or new industries, there will be more hours required, even more dues to be paid.
I also paid close attention to the separation that is evident between those who make it in sales and those who do not. There are stark differences in commitment level, work habits and focus, but the most obvious disparity was, (and still is) the divergent attitudes about THE WORK itself.
I utilize the Pareto Principle often, (the 80-20 rule) to explain the separation of salespeople. If you’re not familiar with this rule, for our purposes, it will suggest that the top 20% will share in 80% of all the available commissions in any given organization. It also suggests that the inverse of this rule is true; the 80% will have to struggle over the 20% of commission that’s leftover. There are HAVEs and HAVE NOTs in sales and you’ll have to decide which side of that equation you want to be on.
I progressed through the next phase of my career, putting in more hours, refining my techniques and philosophies. As I did this I noted the characteristics of the two separate groups with keen interest. The 20% were perpetually hungry, always learning, asking to be coached. They were willing to do the work, put in the hours, pay the cost.
On the other side of the separation the 80% were vocal about how HARD the work was. They didn’t seek out a great deal of high level coaching. They would often complain about how long it was taking to become successful. They always seemed to create ingenious ways to avoid doing the work.
Based on my observations, I developed a hypothesis:
The 80% SAY they want success, but don’t PAY their dues. Conversely, the 20% pay their dues without question, and are willing to continue paying them to get to the next level.
More than simply putting in the hours, the 20% seemed to HONOR the work. What I mean by “honor” is that they respect the work. They want to be the best presenter, closer, etc. They want to become an ultimate professional. Their desire to be excellent transcends earning commission for them. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they want to earn a great deal of money, but they have tremendous pride in what they do. They not only want to earn big money, they want to be recognized as the best at what they do.
The 80%? Not so much. They do some of the work, some of the time, but they’re not completely dedicated to it. They’re especially not focused on the quality of the work they are doing. I guess you can say they go through the motions, then they ask, “When’s the big money coming?” They’re not willing to honor the work, make it excellent, they simply don’t respect it like the 20% do.
The cost of your freedom and independence is your willingness to put in your 10,000 hours initially, and your willingness to continue paying dues to stay on top!
The 20% know this. They continue to honor their work, respect the heck out of what they’re doing. The 80% don’t immediately recognize this, and when they do, they make a conscious choice not to pay the cost. It’s simply too hard for them. Because I didn’t know any better, I got my 10,000 hours in early in my career. To this day I continue to put in the hours, greatly respecting the work and completely enjoying the journey towards excellence.
What side of this equation do you sit on?
If you are new in sales and are verbalizing that you want to be a top producer, are you willing to put in your 10,000 hours? Are you a seasoned salesperson who’s stuck? Are you now ready to re-commit, put in more hours so that you can get to the next level, possibly even become financially free?
I woke up one day a few years back and my CFP, CPA and other advisors told my wife and I that we were financially independent; I didn’t have to work anymore. I tried retirement, but that sucked out loud. I chose to continue working, searching for a new passion, which led to my recent decision to reinvent myself, to become an accomplished author as well as a national trainer and speaker.
I don’t know everything I want to know about this new industry I’ve jumped into. To be honest with you, there are a lot of confusing facets to it. I’ve got to get a handle on all of this new stuff.
My 10,000 hours has to be put in all over again.
I’ll get beat up a little for sure, but trust me, I’ll figure this out. I’ll refine the competencies necessary to write a good book. I’ll adopt the right attitudes to propel me forward after I hit the wall and get bloody. I’ll talk to a lot of people about what I do. I know the formula.
I’m willing to pay the cost to climb to the top of my new industry, to be considered one of the best. I’m willing to pay the cost for freedom, independence, confidence and excellence…not even a consideration in my mind.
Is this how you think?