When it comes to being successful, we are always taught to work hard and chase our dreams. And of course that advice rings true for most every situation. So it might surprise you to hear that doing the exact opposite can actually work in your favor. Let me explain.
I have spent my professional career working in sales. The way that I have been measured is by my ability to bring in as much revenue as I possibly can. You would think this means I put a lot of weight on every conversation – and I do. But it wasn’t until recently that I began to consider how detaching myself from the outcome might actually lead to better results.
In my book Authentic Selling: How to Use the Principles of Sales in Everyday Life, I talk about the importance of presenting an honest version of yourself to others. Regardless of your personality or temperament, I have found that people grow to like and trust others if they perceive that they are being honest. And yes, this is true even for otherwise controversial figures. Look no further than, say, Dennis Rodman, whose eccentric lifestyle and behaviors have earned him the friendship of a North Korean dictator. I am not suggesting that being friends with Kim Jong-Un should be anyone’s life goal, but it is worth noting that this is a dictator who wants nothing to do with anyone else in America, and yet he finds Dennis Rodman utterly fascinating. Personally, I attribute that to the authenticity of Rodman, who never shies away from being himself even when it is “bad” or “weird.” I imagine that Kim Jong-Un feels that Rodman must be a trustworthy figure since he always does and says what he wants to do and say.
In a sales environment, most sellers feel some compulsion to put on a different proverbial hat and to try to say and do the things that they think the customer wants them to say and do. This is obviously the opposite of acting with authenticity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is a subservient way to behave, merely saying and doing the things that one thinks will earn them the respect of others, instead of just living one’s life the way they want to live it.
I would imagine that the reason most sellers behave this way is because of their perception that they need to have the sale. Presumably this is because having the sale creates safety and acceptance for the seller, which are two fundamental human needs. If you earn your paycheck by selling things to other people, it stands to reason that you will want to do whatever it takes so that you can put food on the table.
Here’s the thing – sometimes you can put more food on the table by caring less. But before I talk about why that is, let’s talk about some of the bad things that happen when people care too much.
Throughout human history, we have fought wars because of ego. We literally have killed people for having different governing philosophies than us, for having different religions than us, or even just for looking different than us. Even today in the United States, we are facing unparalleled division politically as many on the political fringes are eager to write off others or even justify violence against their ideological contrarians. All this to say, when we are utterly invested in our own ideas – and our ideas only – the outcomes are pretty dangerous. Not only do we run the risk of hurting others, but we also indubitably harm ourselves by closing ourselves off to outcomes and ideas that are different than the ones we anticipated for ourselves.
When you have an agenda in any interaction, that agenda is bound to rear its ugly head. When I am selling to a customer and I only care about what I want, then I will inevitably ask questions that serve my interests and not the interests of the customer. This is problematic for obvious reasons. However, if I go into an interaction with a prospective customer interested only in their success, the opposite will inevitably happen: I will ask questions geared around their success, and that persona is likely to resonate more positively with the customer.
So, the best way to put yourself in a customer-centric mindset is to detach yourself from the outcomes you want for yourself. When success and defeat start to feel alike to you, you put yourself in a situation where you can actually be present in the moment. You are no longer looking backwards to any good or bad things you might have said; nor are you looking forward any longer to what the outcome might be. As a result, you exist only in the present, which creates the optimal circumstances for a very engaged and helpful dialogue.
But how do you do this? Certainly it is not simple to just detach yourself from the things you want for yourself. It sounds easier said than done, and to be sure, I catch myself falling in traps all the time. But there are some easy ways to try to ground yourself.
First and most importantly, remind yourself of our place in the grand scheme of things. What do I mean by that? Well, not to get super weird and existential, but we really have no idea why we are here and what our purpose is. Really the things that we have decided we need for ourselves are some formulation of thoughts based on our lived experience and are not necessarily based on any sort of objective truth. Through that lens – and especially remembering how fallible we are – it becomes simpler to devalue our own needs.
To that end, I think often about the size of the universe and the fact that we are really just specks of dust. We are here but for a moment of time – hardly even a blip on the radar of human history – and I think personally that we need to try to smile as much as we can before we die. Because honestly we do not really have a better answer for why we are here and how we ought to live our lives.
Second and perhaps more practically, I often remind myself of past moments in time where things did not go my way and what ended up happening as a result. Before every tough breakup I had, there was life, and after those breakups, there was also life. Life did not stop in the wake of my greatest disappointments. Life always went on. I never thought I would find a way to invoke my favorite movie character, Mr. Chow from “The Hangover,” but when he exclaims “But did you die?!?!” to his friends when they are whining about their bad day, he kind of has a point. Unless something truly catastrophic has occurred, chances are that life will go on.
Last but not least, try to live life with a growth mindset. Through the lens of the growth mindset, you perceive obstacles, challenges, and setbacks as opportunities. In that way, those with the growth mindset actually welcome failure with open arms, because they leverage the learnings of their failures to create a better future for themselves.
Whatever you do, try to find the humor in all things. Life is a lot more fun when you are laughing.