BURNOUT! We've Met Before, We Won't Meet Again...

There have recently been several articles about burnout in the business environment. In support of this issue, I decided to share my own experience of burnout as a salesperson, and how I learnt to recognise the warning signs and take control of the situation. This extract is taken from my book The No.1 Best Seller:

Business is booming, you are travelling to multiple countries a week, hosting deals and pitching relentlessly to maintain momentum, and all free time is spent entertaining clients with rich lunches, boozy dinners and sporting events. Sleep is far from your mind and you are firing on adrenaline because the commission is stacking. You constantly drink coffee and eat chocolate to maintain energy levels and your beautifully tailored suits begin to feel a little tighter. It doesn’t matter because you are making the most of the current opportunity and nothing will stop you. You are bringing in so much business that the vultures are circling and the various characters in your team are constantly trying to assert themselves into your revenue stream. Despite pleading for intervention, your boss won’t manage it.

Then, you win a large deal and are subject to an unjust commission claim or a change in company policy that detrimentally impacts your contribution. The corporate politics begin to grate on the emotions and you become increasingly embroiled in disputes that further detract from your goal. The answer, you think, is simple – to fight harder, keep your foot on the gas and smash through problems like you do everything else.

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You are now fighting two fights. One to win deals and hit your goals, the other against an ineffective management who hide behind their desks and spend months avoiding issues that could be cleared up in 24 hours. You refuse to relent; after all it is now a moral battle against the people who are not only perpetuating the problem, but who are unfairly taking the credit for your contribution. 

Months, sometimes years, pass and you push and push to no avail. You feel unappreciated and, dare I say it, a little bitter towards the company that you perceive has treated you so poorly. After all, you have stuck to your word and given them everything. Your drive to succeed, which once burnt so bright, has swung 180 degrees and, despite having the ability to win every deal you pitch, you have been broken by the injustice of the system. Only when you finally detach, do you realise how utterly exhausted and burnt-out you have become. It happens, and I am not alone in having experienced it.

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However, it can be avoided, and the biggest crime is not to learn from it. The answer lies in keeping perspective and being able to separate what is important from what is not. It is essential to find a healthy work-life balance. Until my 30s I never felt any form of limitation and would never have believed that the path to burnout could apply to me. For this reason, I never recognised any of its signs and my actions only exacerbated it. This is the opposite of what should be done, and symptoms of burnout are a clear sign that I need some downtime. 

Symptoms such as constantly reaching for a sugar rush, drinking several cups of coffee a day or bursting out of my clothes, an overall sense of discomfort in relation to on-going issues, or a lack of interest in going to work.

When you are operating at maximum capacity, burnout can easily creep up on you, and it is not to be ignored. Maintaining a healthy balance, in some ways, seems contradictory because it takes time away from selling, but this is not the case because you are able to re-engage with a fresh, more productive mind and a better sense of perspective. I achieve this by taking time to get out in nature (see my post about how salespeople make the best fly-fishers), eating correctly and maintaining my fitness so that I can perform better back in the office. You need to escape, and if I need a day off, or two, I take it. That day off might still be in the office, but I will take a mental break by cutting back to the minimum and focusing on lead generation, new strategy or admin. If I am stressed and too tired to work out, I just take a sauna, but the point is that I constantly assess my fatigue level and make sure it doesn’t detrimentally affect my ability to perform.

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Other aspects of my overall sales strategy, such as focusing on a personal (financial) goal and following The Basics (my personal sales methodology as described in my book), help me to free some mental bandwidth because many of my actions are already ingrained. By doing so much preparation in the early stages of selling a product, I ensure that my daily activities don’t take a great mental toll, so I am able to focus more effectively on customising my approach in front of clients, and managing my response within the company.

 

"Having lived through burnout, I can confidently state that letting it take hold is a choice that a salesperson makes."

 

You chose how you respond to external stimuli and whether or not to let them affect you. The best salespeople are able to separate issues based on whether they detrimentally affect their ability to hit target, and they also have mechanisms either to dismiss them or turn them to their advantage. Throughout the course of my sales career, I learnt that the most healthy and productive response to anything non-revenue generating is to keep a sound perspective on the bigger picture and let it all go over my head. A good manager will help their highest producers manage their time and effort, but ultimately the responsibility for maintaining your health and wellbeing is your own.

If you value this article, please share it. If you haven't yet received my 2017 research paper, it discusses the differences between selling in the UK vs. the USA, as well as how digital networks are impacting multinational businesses differently on each side of the pond. Download from the homepage.

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