I was brought up to be a worker – it was a family expectation.
Every Saturday – from the ages of 12 to 16 – I helped deliver milk in the morning, worked at the local shoe shop during the day and did a paper round in the evening.
My wonderful Irish mother had instilled in me such a strong work ethic and Catholic guilt complex that I felt continuously pushed to look busy – and I wore it like a badge of honour.
Looking busy also seemed to have something to do with survival – back in the day, if the teacher, factory owner or government official came looking over your shoulder – you made sure that everyone saw you being busy.
Busy, busy, busy.
But that’s not how you become successful.
When I was a kid, there wasn’t anyone in my circle of family or friends who was aware of that fact – and if they were, they weren’t sharing it with me.
Workers Worked, Shirkers Shirked – that was that, and there was definitely no grey area in between.
So it came as quite a shock when I found my first real business to business, commission based sales job was actually really, really tough.
It definitely wasn’t the hard work that bothered me – in fact I was ready to rise to that challenge – and all that competitive sales team banter was nothing I couldn’t handle.
But no matter how hard I tried – those sales just weren’t coming my way.
I always got to the office by 08.45 and I worked hard until we all left at 17.00.
In between, I knocked on doors, I went out there in rain, sleet and snow – I wasn’t a shirker – I was looking for customers.
But I didn’t have any answers to my disastrous sales figures – and my sales manager just shouted a mixed mantra of “shape up or ship out“, together with a collection of anecdotes referencing how many other people would crawl over broken glass for the chances and opportunities I’d been given.
I had rent to pay, I had food to buy, I had debts (oh the debts) – and I had to put the first payment down on a holiday to Majorca for me and my girlfriend.
I just had to find a way to make more money.
What I needed was more work.
It wasn’t in my genes to give up, so I decided I needed to work a second job to make ends meet. So, I answered job adverts for casual labour, restaurant staff and bar workers.
After a series of bizarre interviews – where I was continuously looked at like some level of second class life form (it turns out I didn’t have enough experience to professionally post leaflets through doors) – I eventually got the night shift at a rather chic business hotel as a barman.
So, I did my day job in the sales office, drove home, got changed, grabbed a sandwich and worked until the last drunk, fat, old business man and his colleagues shuffled off to bed.
Then I would mop up, wash up and lock up, drive home – and fall into bed at about four in the morning – before waking up at seven to be at the office before 08.45.
And here’s the thing.
After going through all that for a month, I received my first pay packet from the hotel – and after tax – it came to just half of the commission I would have received if I had made a single extra sale from my day job.
Half – 50%!
Best Lesson from the Best Mistake ever made.
If only I’d used that extra time productively – found one more sale – I would have made at least double the money.
But I had boxed myself in, restrained my thinking – the day job was in the day box – those opportunities finished at 17.00 – nothing was coming easy – I had to look elsewhere – the night time was a new time.
And then it dawned on me , actually that wasn’t strictly true.
That was my Eureka moment – if I’d been in a bath I would have jumped out.
Trying to stay busy might have been great for family pride, but it was doing nothing for my future – or my bank balance.
Years later I’d smile as I read Steven Covey’s words;
“Only ever work on the thing that will have the biggest impact”
But back then I had to work it out for myself.
Instead of staying up all night walking further away from success, I could spend my time planning, I could write letters, organise mail-outs, I could network, I could finely tune and focus my efforts.
In fact, staying in the office, one more hour after I normally went home, would deliver five extra hours a week.
So I stayed later, discovered that quite a few decision makers were still around when I called and – as an added bonus – most of the gatekeepers had gone home, so I got straight through.
Numbers started becoming predictive – ten genuine prospects became three appointments, three appointments became one new customer.
Focus, preparation and then getting busy on the plan – that was what that wasted (exhausting) month had taught me, because – and I wish someone had told me this nugget of truth back then;
You can’t prepare a King’s banquet, if you’re too busy stirring porridge!
Choose a direction, make sure it’s the right one and then get climbing.
At the top of that hill, there are untouched pastures – don’t give up – the air’s sweeter and there’s plenty of room for everyone who makes it.
In fact there’s loads of space – largely because most people give up before they get anywhere near the top, or they decide to get busy and end up becoming bogged down desperately planting pretty flowers, foolishly trying to make the bottom look deceptively more attractive.
To finish off, here’s one of the rules for getting rich, according to the fabulous Felix Dennis;
Focus. Keep your eye on the ball marked ‘The money Is Here’
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