Having just started a job in door-to-door sales, I’d estimate maybe 20% of the job is actual selling ability; the other 80% is purely mental strength.
Obviously, you need some level of born or trained persuasiveness to sell anything. If you can’t smile, or hold a conversation, or stay relaxed after a hearty “fuck off” bellowed at you through a screen door… you’re simply not going to get a sufficient time slot (before rejection) to deliver a pitch at all.
With that said, it’s far more important to focus on your attitude throughout a day of sales.
Here are some collected thoughts from my experience so far. You might note that each of them presents a different approach to life; I have the humility to suggest that none of them will work 100% of the time. Rather, I merely suggest that if your current perspective isn’t working well in a specific situation, it may be worth switching it up. Ultimately, these thoughts aren’t an attempt at providing any objective truth, merely rationalisations that might make you happier in any given scenario.
Without further ado, then…
Happiness is a Prerequisite for Success
Even if you are particularly materialistic or superficial, chances are that you still recognise that happiness is the ultimate goal of your pursuits. When you daydream about owning a Ferrari or a mansion, you probably aren’t actually focusing on the rims or decor; rather, you’re envisioning how great it would feel to have those assets. Maybe other people are fawning over your wealth, or you’re satisfied with your position in the social hierarchy, or you use it to nab a cute girlfriend… but happiness is still the end goal.
To some extent, this attitude is completely fine. If tangible improvements to your life will make you happy, and you have a solid chance of acquiring them, then it’s completely rational to pursue those superficial desires. As long as you know that there are other possible routes to happiness, it’s your call.
The challenge remains, though – how do you acquire that tangible and socially defined success?
Counterintuitively for most people, happiness is often a prerequisite for that success, not a reward. You usually can’t achieve materialistic success without having first established a baseline of inner peace and happiness that will sustain or enable your journey towards that materialistic success… which can leave you questioning whether the materialistic path is even worthwhile, since you’ve already received the primary benefit you were looking for.
Sales is a classic example of this phenomenon, to the extent that it has made its way into popular culture through The Simpsons’ Gil:
Nobody buys from Gil because he’s unhappy and lacks the confidence to close. Gil is unhappy and lacks confidence because nobody buys from Gil. The cycle repeats itself.
It’s exactly the same in real life, door-to-door sales. If you don’t greet people with a smile and a positive attitude, why the hell should they listen to you? What sort of authority must you be on making them happier (through the product you’re hawking) if you’re not even happy yourself? They will sense your weakness and blow you out and slam the door in your face before they even know what you’re selling, all because you weren’t happy enough.
You can easily imagine extensions of this idea: How could you possibly work an 80-hour work week for years to build an empire, without the happiness to keep you sane? How could you ever acquire the “trophy husband” to show off to all your friends unless you were positive and friendly enough to keep him around in the first place?
Identify what you think will make you happy, question if maybe happiness actually has to come first, and start working on the skill of happiness in an abstract sense as well.
Even if you manage to achieve some materialistic success without having been happy along the way, can you guarantee that it would be worth it? Surely you’ve heard the deathbed stories of those who wished they hadn’t worked so much; really, a better wish would be to wish they were happy while working to get the best of both worlds.
You can’t keep putting your happiness off till later, by only giving yourself permission once you have this or meet that criteria. Work on it now. No excuses.
Outsource your Motivation
Ideally, your motivation for life and its pursuits would be completely internal – you do things because you want to and intrinsically enjoy them, rather than because you expect to get something out of them or your environment is telling you to be motivated. Unfortunately, internal motivation can be difficult to generate, if you even remember to do so on a regular basis throughout the day. Accordingly, a pragmatic approach to keeping a healthy attitude will generally leave some room for external sources of motivation.
That isn’t a license to leave your attitude up to chance or whimsy; rather, you want to very deliberately outsource your motivation to reliable sources and keep a close eye on their performance. With that done, you can essentially ‘relax’ and spend your energy and mental capacity on more pressing or intellectually engaging concerns.
Perhaps the most prominent example you’ve already encountered in your own life (given that you’re reading personal development material online) is the motivational video:
The idea is that you are outsourcing all the effort of motivating yourself to another source. Someone else gathers the motivational quotes and reminders, sets them to music, edits it all together… and all you have to do is put on the video in one window, and get your work done on another, while being a passive receptacle for the positive reinforcement coming your way.
This outsourcing is a more formal process in sales jobs. If you’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street, you’ll remember the motivational office talks designed to get the reps pumped up, right? That’s all real. At my office, we get in at 8:30am and spend a few hours on training and attitude development before we go out into the field. I don’t have to do any soul searching for my purpose or write a new hype talk to get me going; that’s all done for me. I’m going over my pitch, going over my objection overturns, focusing on how I can manifest that positivity into actual progress today.
Look for opportunities like this in your own life.
Surround yourself with positive people and friends, who will pull you up. Fill your house with artworks or prints that inspire you. Eat foods that make you feel healthy and capable and disciplined. Wear clothes that people will compliment. Make a playlist of your favourite music and listen to it on the bus.
Wherever you can, let someone else do the motivational work for you. You have better things to focus on!
Happiness Arrives at the End
I want to be clear that this is not a contradiction with my advice elsewhere on the site (hell, even in this article) to “live in the present” and that happiness is always possible right now; that’s still absolutely true. Realistically, though, it takes time to develop the skill of generating happiness at virtually any moment. Some moments are just gonna have to suck for a while, and you may need or want to salvage your attitude immediately instead of looking for some big spiritual epiphany. That’s fine too, and an opportunity to adopt a more helpful long-term perspective.
Don’t expect happiness at the start of any journey you take – practicing a skill, starting a new job, moving house, etc. New experiences typically come with a learning curve and teething pains. It’s wonderful if you can attain that happiness from the beginning, but what you may really be after is happiness towards the end of that process. Climbing a mountain is painful; reaching the top is euphoric.
This is exactly the approach a successful door-to-door salesman will take. He knows that he’s going to get 50 straight “No”s in a row. He knows that he’s going to give a perfect pitch and it’s not going to work. He knows that the first few hours of the day are going to be spent with people who are home all day and probably don’t have the money or interest to buy the security system he’s selling.
That’s okay – his happiness will arrive at the end.
It’s after those 50 “No”s that he finally runs into someone who genuinely needs the system. It’s after a dozen of those perfect pitches that someone finally responds. It’s after everyone gets home from work and has money to spare and assets to protect that he’ll actually start meeting the most interested customers.
By staying conscious of his expectation that his happiness will arrive at the end of the day (or the week, or the month…), the rejections building up to that point mean a lot less. He doesn’t need to sell to all of them – his sale will come. He doesn’t need to pitch perfectly to them – he’s using them as a warmup. Each of those negative experiences is reframed as a perfectly acceptable cost of business, which lets him stay positive and relaxed throughout (incidentally increasing his odds of selling to them!).
It’s very easy to recognise this principle while reading an online article, but much more difficult to stay conscious of it as each negative experience comes your way. I’ve experimented with “reminder” systems before (e.g. setting an hourly alarm on my phone to stay positive), but find that they end up irritating me instead and I just ignore them.
One system I’ve found more helpful is to establish outcome independence before the experience ever happens. If it turns out poorly, you have a “mental trigger” ready to remind you of this long-term perspective in a much more organic and salient fashion. Essentially, this approach is “aiming for the best, preparing for the worst”. (The saying usually replaces “aiming” with “hoping”, but that’s too passive for my liking.)
When I walk up to a new door, I’m reminding myself that my happiness will probably come at the end of the day, once I’m on a roll. This door is one minute closer, it’s one pitch closer, it’s one person closer to my goals. Will they respond well? Great, let’s get something done here. Will they respond poorly? That’s fine, I’m still closer to the happiness I deserve. Either way, I’m winning.
I get to the door, I get a brusque “no thank you”, the door closes… it’s the same old rejection… but I no longer have to remind myself to stay positive. Because I have prepared myself for this outcome, my mind immediately begins rationalising that it’s exactly what I expected and it was actually a positive experience after all.
Apply this philosophy to your own life. You will never be depressed by failing to achieve happiness at a certain moment in life if you never expected it to begin with! You should still be setting goals to improve your happiness where possible, but if you recognise that a specific situation will very likely end poorly (e.g. you know you’re going to fail an exam), it can be wise to preempt it by adopting a long-term perspective in advance.
Your happiness will come eventually, so stop worrying about the now and just get on with business. This will take the sting out of any failures, and actually make you more likely to attain happiness in the present and beat your own expectations. As with so much of life’s offers, sometimes you only find happiness when you’re not looking for it.
(View from a bushwalk ten minutes from my house; just before taking the photo, I’d been practicing possible speeches for a NATO simulation. Having been distracted and then “suddenly” stumbling upon a full view of the dawn made it more precious than if I’d been looking for it all along.)
It’s also critical to do this consistently, and ideally every time you expect to run into an individual negative stimulus. If you let them pile up (e.g. get rejections from 5 houses before reevaluating your attitude), the difficulty of dealing with them becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s probably easiest to portray this with some example thought processes:
- Dealing with one rejection: Well, that bloke was a bit rude… but I’d just interrupted his dinner, so I understand! Nothing personal at all.
- Dealing with multiple rejections: Well, that bloke was a bit rude… I guess I’d just interrupted his dinner… but the other lady who rejected me wasn’t busy at all. Maybe people generally just dislike me…?
The difficulty here is that when you successfully “overturn” one of those objections to your confidence, your mind simply focuses on another instead (since it is already in a negative mindset and wants to maintain consistency). Unless you either find a common theme that counters all those negative stimuli in one swoop, or have the mental organisation to holistically view all those “overturns” at once and see that the entire frame falls down, you never feel fully able to deal with that lump negativity.
I’m sure you can intuitively grasp further difficulties associated with dealing with multiple problems at once instead of individually; a particularly problematic one for me is that if a whole stack of negativity hits me at once, I’ll sometimes simply get placed in an emotion-dominated frame of mind and forget that reframing / countering those stimuli is possible (as opposed to encountering them individually, which has a smaller impact and allows me to remember to stay positive).
Obviously, you’re still going to slip up and occasionally let a bunch of negatives get to you at once. The purpose of pointing out that harm is not so you can dwell on it and give up. Rather, this section is intended to serve as a mental trigger that will guide you back to the more productive method of tackling them individually:
Damn, I’ve just had five rejections in a row, and it’s really getting to me… I mean, that last bloke just seemed generally unhappy, but all of them…? Hang on, maybe I’m feeling this way because I’m thinking about them all together (as a “shit day”) instead of logically dealing with each of them individually. I’m going to take some time out, relive each experience, remember that I was absolutely fine at the end and that every rejection really wasn’t all that bad, and then come back to a more positive, holistic view of my day.
So much of personal development and happiness boils down to simply staying conscious and self-aware. Chances are, you’ve actually already read enough self-improvement material to know – or be able to generate – a solid response to most of life’s challenges. Have you ever had an argument with someone, gone home and thought “damn, I could have said ___!”? You had the potential to say that all along; the issue is that your attention was in the wrong place at the time.
Prepare yourself to deal with negative outcomes before they even happen (one useful mindset for this being “my happiness will come at the end”), and that level of consciousness will come more naturally to you.
Make Little Moments Yours
Extroversion and an urge for social integration generally dictates that some portion of our positive experiences need to be shared with others. I want to have lunch with friends, and make small talk with cashiers, and throw parties with my housemates on occasion. Social interaction is a key aspect of the human experience and we feel unable to fully define ourselves unless we have a sufficiently well developed social life and some measure of control over those interactions.
On the flip side of this urge is a desire for introversion and uniqueness. If every single interaction of yours was shared with other people, you would have no way to define yourself except as an intersection of various networks, which could be mathematically or statistically interesting (“I’m a hockey team’s captain and a Chinese diplomat”) but not intrinsically fulfilling. There needs to be some sense of a “you” that exists when other people aren’t around – you need some level of privacy and complete ownership of certain experiences to feel like an individual.
Intuitively, most people seek to fulfill these need during periods of extended isolation. Their time to relax and enjoy a measure of isolation is when they get home from work, or school, or a party. If this works for you, great! Those who lean more towards the introversion side of the spectrum, however, may find this approach draining – constantly looking for their happiness at the end only reminds them of the pressures of the current situation.
One solution to this dilemma is to use mindfulness to capture little moments and make them yours alone.
My second day of this door-to-door sales job was very positive, but exhausting nevertheless. We wrapped up the sales around 5:30pm and started driving back to the office – four of us, stuck in peak city traffic, blasting pop music over the radio and chatting about our goals for tomorrow. Too much. Need a time out.
Sitting in the back seat, I rested my head right back on the seat, and looked up through the rear window. I didn’t see much – half of my view was obscured by the car’s frame itself, and the sky was coloured a very ordinary kind of dusk. What I did see was two birds flying overhead, the sight being much like the photo below:
That’s all. Just two birds, seen for a total of about ten seconds. I don’t know where they went, they didn’t perform any acrobatics, they weren’t particularly pretty birds… it didn’t matter. In that moment, I wagered that out of the hundreds of nearby people driving along the highway, I was the only one paying attention to those birds. Everyone else was busy swearing at the traffic, thinking about work, wondering what to make for dinner… but that birdwatching experience was mine and mine alone.
It doesn’t matter if that was actually true or not. What mattered was that my mindfulness had reestablished a sense of identity and individuality. I had temporarily disconnected from my identity as a “sales team member” and reestablished it as “Jack, a conscious observer who just happens to be a sales team member as one aspect of his identity”.
I can’t really explain what sort of difference that made to my psyche then; it came with an increased awareness that the other team members in the car also possessed a unique consciousness, and an appreciation for their presence accordingly. It came with an expanded perspective of where I was (geographically and chronologically) in the world, rather than my mental field of view being limited to the interior of a car at 6pm. It came with a thankfulness to be alive so I could find those unforeseeable experiences in every figurative nook and cranny of the world.
Really, it just made me happy, and a grin spread across my face for several minutes thereafter, just gazing up at the sky until my mind was finally called back to the conversation, recharged and fully positive.
Find those little gifts in life, and give them to yourself. Pay attention to your individual experiences, and what makes your conscious observation of life unique. Be very conscious of who you are and what sets you apart. It doesn’t matter if it’s a completely useless little observation – you have ownership of it, and that internal locus of control and sense of individuality is key to confidence.
Maintain Outcome Independence
This phrase actually has two meanings for me. The first is essentially a simple philosophy of “don’t worry so much about what happens in life”, which I’ve discussed elsewhere in the post and website. You obviously still want to make progress, but getting too attached to a particular vision of your near or long-term future can destroy your happiness if it doesn’t work out. Maintain some level of faith that everything will work out in the end.
The second meaning regards a more specific allocation of attention, where you focus on systems and processes intended to deliver results rather than the results themselves. I’ll illustrate it with some differences between poor / mediocre salespeople, and the high rollers of the office:
Ultimately, both of these salespeople are trying to reach the same goal (better sales) with their chosen focuses. Counterintuitively, though, it is the salesperson who is less cognizant of that goal who usually ends up reaching it faster. Why?
One difference is that the loser is approaching the task with an unhealthy mindset; they’re extremely dependent on tangible success, which makes them unhappy if they fail or simply get unlucky in a certain day, neighbourhood, or sales gig. The winner is more focused on actions that are completely within their control, which gives them better leverage over their own positivity, which then eventually gets translated into success.
Another difference is that the loser has lost sight of the substeps necessary to achieve their desired outcome, and will have an increased tendency to stray from the most efficient path. If they’re constantly thinking “I gotta sell, gotta make this sale”, they can stray into pushy salesmanship or cutting to the “close” of the pitch before building sufficient need for it. The winner has faith that if they focus on those substeps (being friendly with people, building a need, etc.) the sale will come naturally in the end, and they can focus on it later. They still have long-term goals, but they set up short-term goals that will help deliver it and focus on those “chunks” instead.
You may find it helpful to adopt the same approach when it comes to your personal development and confidence building. By all means, set long-term goals… but break it down into short-term ones and let those become your world.
As usual, there are exceptions to this advice: no-one will always set perfect subgoals, so you should still semi-regularly monitor how conducive those subgoals were to achieving your long-term goal. For example, you might go through a monthly introspection about your success at work: I’ve really been focusing on nailing my accounting duties this month, but the manager doesn’t seem to care much. Maybe they’re more focused on promoting those with team management skills, and I should set up new subgoals?
That’s fine. We certainly don’t want to neglect long-term planning and positioning. The key idea is to generally shift our attention to short-term actions within our power, firstly so we don’t get distracted or depressed by inevitable fluctuations in our capacity to make progress towards that long-term goal, and secondly to improve our ability to stay on track.
I want to end this post with a brief discussion, rather than another lesson. While I began drafting this post while I was working this sales job, I’ve actually since quit.
To set the scene, I was working solo in a dodgy suburb out east of Brisbane. My attitude was absolutely perfect that day; I was loving all my interactions with people, hustling hard between houses, seeing improvements on my pitch from the previous week… generally being astonishingly eager about my work and I still can’t say enough positive things about the value of that sales experience.
Caught up in my positivity, I approached a house that I probably shouldn’t have; one run down old property with a relatively high steel fence and a sort of wary atmosphere about it. Halfway to the door, two dogs whipped around the corner* and I didn’t backtrack quite fast enough to avoid a visceral warning. Here’s a photo taken after medical clean-up and a shower later in the day:
I’ve gotta say, I reacted beautifully. I quickly hustled out of the property, over to a park where I checked the wound, cheerfully called in an ambulance to clean me up, got out in time to grab lunch with my sales mates, and kept on working. My positivity never dipped, and I was outright thankful to have another interesting life experience. I was actually probably more chipper at the door after the bite than before. That said, I decided to quit the job. My reasoning at the time was basically as follows (obviously cleaned up and made more coherent for viability of comprehension):
I place massive priority on self-respect. It ultimately doesn’t matter that much to me if I’m successful or unsuccessful, loved or hated; my favoured metric is whether I will be able to look at myself in the mirror and know I choose my actions with sufficient integrity and self-value.
I would like to be able to respect myself for ignoring the wound, and persisting with the job anyway. Quitting is forever, and I’m confident I could still continue this job and eventually excel at it. With that said, there are myriad other ways I could continue to grow in life, and as long as I don’t let this impact my work ethic (even if that work ethic is now applied to other ventures), I think my respect for my own determination will remain intact.
There’s another form of respect here – acknowledgement of my own self-value. At this point, I’ve literally given my blood, sweat, and tears to this company.** I’m proud that I have given this much, but if I am going to continue to make such investments, I want them to be for my own products, my own work, my own journey… something more fulfilling and personal than selling someone else’s security system.
I’ll cop dog bites or whatever other physical pain comes my way for my own growth. I’m not going to cop them from a random dog in my work environment as a simple hazard of the job that I won’t learn much from. I never want to grow old and look back on my life and realise that I sacrificed too much for no good cause; there was no meaningful reason for this injury, and it would cause cognitive dissonance with my existing values to keep this job despite that.
You can wade through that for any personal development lessons you care to draw out of it… but I’m proud of one aspect in particular: I made the decision.
Not my finances.
Not my boss.
Not the dog.
Not the risk of medical infection.
Not my emotional, instinctual reaction to the bite.
Not the potential money I could have made in that job.
Not the sales experience I would have gained.
Not my reputation in the office.
Not my reputation among my friends.
Not consistency pressures since I’d just started the job.
Not any consideration of having to grab another job now.
No, I made that decision.
I know who I am and what I value, and have the confidence to proactively enforce those values in my life. That’s a stance I never could have taken ten years ago, near the beginning of my journey. I would have been too scared of the risks involved, too concerned about potential social pressure I would face, too empty a shell of a person to define my journey for myself.
As it turned out, everything was just fine. I politely resigned my job and thanked my two main mentors for all they’d done for me. I realised my financial position was still viable with some extra effort and life would be alright. I went home and brainstormed other purposes to devote my work ethic to, in order to retain my personal growth trajectory.
It all turned out okay, and I’m very comfortable with the decision I made in retrospect… but I only ever made that decision in the first place because I had a strong identity and the balls to enforce it instead of letting my environment define me.
Having experienced this sort of intrinsic satisfaction and self-worth many times over by now, let me wager this: There is no luxury you could offer me that would outweigh the happiness afforded to me by my self-improvement, confidence, and general sense of “presence” in life.
Even if superficial pursuits can bring you some measure of happiness (which it’s legitimate to pursue!), they’ll never be capable of providing that fundamental measure of self-comfort. You also need to find ways to love yourself and find out who you are deep down… but once you do?
Man, it’s the best fucking feeling in the world.
* The dog in the feature photo of this post is entirely unrelated, though it was still taken during work; we had a fun competition to get a selfie with a friendly dog (to keep staff motivation high, I guess), and this was the clearest shot I got. Is it ethical to take selfies with someone else’s dog while they’re not home? Jury’s still out.
** I had an approximately ~2 minute teary moment over lunch with my mother; the sales job was commission only, placing me under financial pressure until I got decent at the job. I accepted the risk for my own personal development, but it still meant the world to me when my mother offered to give me $40 to help pay for some heart medicine (nothing permanent, don’t worry!) to relieve the pressure.
Confidence and happiness and composure are general dispositions to aim for; in my view, there’s nothing wrong with emotion and thankfulness occasionally eliciting tears, nor would I ever want to be so stoic that I lost those beautiful moments in life. No matter how much personal development you do, you will still experience sadness, desire, and other intense emotions from time to time (or even frequently). These do not undermine your confidence; rather, your ability to express them shows strength, humanity, and a thankful check against potential narcissism.