Life Lessons Learned at 60
On Oct. 20, 2020, at 10:10 p.m. EST, I [turned] 60 years old. The cursor is blinking at me, awaiting my next words, but I am taking in the number “60.” Oddly, it’s one thing to say it and another thing to read it. Moving on …
In 10 years of writing columns for Printing Impressions, I don’t believe I have ever written in the first person. Any point I have tried to make, or any sales challenge I wanted to comment on, I’ve done so through storytelling as opposed to going right down Main Street with some “I think you should … ” advice. This one is different.
Ideas for column topics come to me at all times, and when I thought about this one, a similarly named Jimmy Buffett album came to mind. But in order to write about important lessons learned from 60 years of life and 40 years in sales I had to break my unofficial rule.
Next month, I will go back to my normal style, but for now kindly bear with me as I regale you with 10 lessons learned the hard way and, like life itself, in no particular order:
1. Don’t do it for the money. My older brother gave me the best career advice I could have asked for: Find something you love to do. The path I chose has been entertaining and constantly challenging.
Without question, I could have made money going a different direction. I have absolutely, positively sacrificed income in favor of other priorities (read: being a dad).
The fact that I have incredible relationships with my daughters tells me I made the right choice. I have found a level of success, but one defined without a dollar sign in front of it.
2. Don’t network; build relationships. These days, it is easier than ever to build a cadre of connections. With a few keystrokes, you can add to your LinkedIn connection base regularly, and see a steady increase in the number of people who have accepted your request.
But, so what? Don’t confuse connections with relationships. And don’t confuse social media with relationship-building. The next time you scroll down to view the sterile, pre-fab choices LinkedIn has given you as a way to wish someone a happy birthday or congratulate them on a work anniversary, stop.
This is about as genuine as sending a Hallmark card with someone else’s sentiments on it. Get personal and pick up the phone. Building a relationship includes taking an interest in another person.
3. Think about where you are going, not where you are. As any entrepreneur will tell you, getting there is all the fun. Being there sucks.
Keep Setting Sales Goals
I once made the mistake of setting a $1 million sales goal for myself without considering the momentum-killing question, “What if I succeed? What then?” Once I hit the goal, I not only faded, but I lost all motivation and it took me more than a year to find my footing again.
At the bottom of my emails sits a quote from the movie, “A League of Their Own.” It comes from a scene at the end when Gina Davis quits the team because, in her words, “It just got too hard.” Tom Hanks replies with a gem that continues to give me goosebumps: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Remember, no one drops you off at the top of the mountain. Once you get there, look for the next peak to climb.
4. If it’s not fun, don’t do it. There is a difference between taking what you do seriously and taking yourself seriously. Print itself is boring. Printing equipment is beige and it uses electricity. Ink and toner can magically adhere to a substrate. Wow. However, what comes off of the equipment can be insanely creative.
At the final iteration of the SGIA Expo in Las Vegas two years ago, my daughter gushed over and over again, “This is print???” as she went from booth to booth. That’s the fun part.
Getting a phone call from a coaching client who just “bagged the elephant.” That’s the fun part. Creating my column in this fine magazine by making a point with irreverence and then laughing hysterically when I reread it. That’s the fun part.
5. Look for the 10-year customer. One of my favorite coaching tips is to teach salespeople to say the following while prospecting: “My goal is to be doing business with you 10 years from now.” What a great line. What a great goal to have.
More Than Just Customers
Over the years, clients have become friends. Larry Murphy (Murphy Printing, San Francisco) shipped my motorcycle back to me when I rode out from Boston seven years ago. Paula Smith (Curry Printing, Baltimore) picked me up at the airport and brought along snack food just in case the restaurant at the hotel was closed when I got there (it was!).
And countless clients and readers sent condolences when my parents passed away, and congratulatory messages when my daughters were married.
6. Your clients dictate your next steps. Some lessons need to be relearned constantly. Lesson number three tells you to think ahead. At various times over the years I’ve either gotten bored or wondered where to take my business. I struggle and get frustrated and then remember, “Oh yeah. I don’t need to have the answer. My customers have the answer. I need to go where they are headed.”
As Wayne Gretzky would tell you, don’t go where the puck is, go where the puck is headed.
7. Focus and learn to say “no.” One of my more recent lessons was to find a unique application for Pareto’s Principle (a.k.a. the 80/20 rule). In 2019, I identified the five areas of my business that are most profitable, then focused 100% of my attention there, at the strict exclusion of everything else that came up!
The results: 65% higher sales, 250% greater profits, and a workweek reduced by eight hours. Like every other sales rep I know, I was playing Whack-a-Mole, chasing every opportunity. Instead, I came up with a different system and had vastly different results.
8. Master some simple time management skills. As the years have gone by, my life has become more and more complicated. Somehow, my business and personal dance card got filled up very quickly. This has made it critically important to create and follow good time management habits.
For example, I never (ever!) leave today without having tomorrow planned. Perhaps this is the “soon-to-be” 60-year-old in me, but I don’t want to waste any time, as it is a finite commodity. The most important part of time management is preparation. See the day, the week, and the month ahead.
9. Maintain balance. I come from a pre-Internet era. When I started selling back in the early ’80s, we had this thing called, “the end of the day.” No cell phones. No Internet. No customer calls from home. Although there were still distractions, it was far easier to disconnect from work.
Getting Your Priorities Right
My belief is, and has always been, the greatest gift you can give your family is your presence. My three daughters are my three best friends. That’s by design, not by accident. When my youngest graduated from high school and was heading off to China to go to college she said to me, “Dad, we always knew where to find you. You were always there for us. We were always the most important thing in your life.”
There are few things I have been successful at in life. Separating my job from my personal life, and bringing equal portions of passion to both, is one of the highlights. I highly recommend it.
10. And the 10th lesson is ... I have absolutely no idea, to be totally honest. I am leaving this one intentionally blank. I’ll let it symbolize the future in the hope that when this pirate feels the urge to summarize his life’s lessons again, something magical will be in the 10th position.
Sixty. Wow. Hard to believe that guy in the mirror is that old. Well, it’s time to go open those AARP mailings I’ve been ignoring for years; and I will … right after getting wasted away in Margaritaville.