Sales Broke Me

A picture taken for a College of Business brochure my senior year. Photo by Ben Siegel/ Ohio University.

“Who are you?”

The answer’s different for everyone, but I’d venture to guess that the gut response would be your job title or what you do for a living.

“I’m a nurse”, “An entrepreneur”, “I’m an activist”.

This makes sense as we spend the majority of our days working and, if you love what you do, identifying with that role or title just feels good.

Personally, I’ve always identified as an achiever.

In every job I’ve ever had, I want people to know who I am and how hard I can work. I want promotions to be an easy decision and for my name to elicit smiles and a hardy round of compliments.

And I’ve been good at it. I made a name for myself in college and built a community of supporters as I made my way through my first few jobs post-grad.

Heading into a full-time Sales Development position was no different in my mind. There would be some projects to do and people to meet, but the way I saw it, if I really wanted to excel, my sole focus needed to be on hitting my quota. That’s it. More than that was expected, less than that was unacceptable.

Needless to say, I hit the ground running. I came in beginning of Q4, built an amazing relationship with my team and with my manager, and left for the holiday break having overachieved on quota for the quarter. Heading into Q1, I was flying high.

January started off strong. I was able to get ahead before our annual sales conference at the end of the month and because I felt confident in my work, I took a few additional days for an excursion with some close friends.

But settling back into the office after the trip, that confidence faded almost instantly. I realized I hadn’t planned properly from an activity perspective, so I had zero pipeline for February. I needed 18 meetings. End of the first week, I’d managed to get zero meetings and had almost nothing for the rest of the month.

The next three weeks were a blur. I got in first, I left last. Nothing else mattered. I consistently logged 160-300% of our daily call minimum. I was full-on sprinting to catch this number.

The pressure I was feeling wasn’t abnormal in and of itself, I had dealt with worse. But this felt different.

It didn’t stop at the office. It followed me home. I thought about it on the weekends. It noticeably affected my behavior and my ability to connect with others. The entire month I sat, hunched at my desk, headphones in and whitenoise on. I had multiple people ask me if I was okay because I so rarely stopped to chat with anyone; I found it impossible to be social or to actually engage in conversation. This number was literally numbing my senses.

As we neared the end of the month, it felt like the world was ending. It became more clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do the singular thing expected of me at this job.


I missed by 2.


Thankfully, the world didn’t end. Because I had overachieved in January, I had some buffer for my quarter number, which was a bit more important.

Sitting down with my manager, we started to debrief the month. Why did this happen? How can we make sure it doesn’t happen again? And more importantly, if I want to move on in a sales role, I had to ask myself, how am I going to handle the stress?

While I appreciated the need for better stress management strategies at work, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much the stress had affected me on a personal level. If I was going to ride out the ups and downs of sales, the more important question to answer was – why was I so stressed?

With time and introspection, it became clear. For as long as I can remember, I’ve derived my sense of worth as a person from what I was able to produce at work. The more I achieved, the more impressive the company, the better I felt about myself intrinsically.

Granted, it had helped me achieve a lot. But the problem with deriving your sense of identity from transient factors like work performance or a sales number is that when these things don’t turn out the way you wanted, you begin to question your own value and worth as a person.

So in the end, sales broke me. I had spent so long trying to become this achiever and this perfect professional, I ended up losing sight of who I was as a person. And that was a scary realization. The habits I had developed to stay grounded stopped working and I found myself disillusioned with the things that had once motivated me.

But, there was also a lot of beauty in that realization. Despite how lost I felt at times, the more I dug and reflected, the more I came to know who I actually was. It forced me to confront lies I had been telling myself for years and helped me to firmly root my sense of worth in my inherent value as a person, and not in my reputation at the office.

A lot has changed for me since then. Substantial internal change necessitates external change. And while that external change may not be as clear, I’m okay with that. Now that I know who I am, I’ve never been more excited to explore what lies ahead.

Posted by HaydenHumphrey

1 comment

Sandra Humphrey

Brilliant!!! Inspiring!!! A beautiful challenge/opportunity to grow as a way of life!!!

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