What soul-withering cold-calling taught me about positivity

Published by Lori Pickert on February 12, 2013 at 07:04 AM

Heather wrote a great article about my overuse of the favorite button on Twitter: Why You Should Favorite Everything.

I thought I’d follow up by talking a bit about why I have learned to focus on the positive.

When I started my first company, many years before having children, I first worked out of a spare bedroom in our house. Every day I had to make cold calls.

Making cold calls is one of the most debilitating experiences on the planet. You call someone (the coldness comes from the fact that they didn’t ask you to call and probably don’t want you to call) and try to pitch your business. Then they say no.

My sister did a brief stint in college doing online sales. She used to call me and whisper, “Just say ‘yes’ to me.” That’s what cold-calling is like. It’s just nonstop, unrelenting rejection, often with bonus rudeness.

Those were also the days when people used real phones that attached to the wall, so the end of a cold call would often be the loud sound of the other person slamming the phone down. This is a distinct disadvantage of cell phones: you can’t slam down the phone to end a conversation. You can’t really even hang up on someone; they always assume you got disconnected. We need an app for that.

Now, I was calling companies and this was pre-Internet, so there was no way for me to know the name of the person I needed to speak to — I had to ask for the department. This meant even the receptionist who answered the phone knew I was cold-calling. Sometimes, as I got passed from department to department, three or four people could be rude to me on a single call.

So, why would anyone go through this depressing, occasionally humiliating exercise? Because out of every ten calls (if you were lucky), maybe one person would say, “Hmm, okay — send me your packet.”

I forced myself to make five cold calls a day, and the tsunami of negativity that washed over me daily taught me a lot about positivity.

First, there’s a lot more negative in the world than positive — just accept the ratio and focus on getting to the good stuff. If you know it’s going to be nine no’s for every yes, just truck through the no’s to get to that yes. “Time to get nine people to reject me so I can get a new client!” Instead of focusing on the black, soul-withering experience of having nine people reject you — sometimes at length, focus on the tenth person who is actually glad to hear from you.

Second, the world doesn’t always react in the way you’d hope when you offer your particular gifts. I wasn’t selling snake oil or desert timeshares. I was simply selling a business service. And there are people in companies whose entire job is to evaluate and choose which companies to buy services from. I wasn’t calling people when they were eating dinner at home; I was calling people sitting at their desk doing their job, part of which was to talk to people like me. Still, they often reacted as though I’d come into their office and dropped a giant mackerel on their desk.

When you get to the right person, however, they are happy to hear from you. They need what you have to give. They’re excited to make the connection. They’re relieved. They want your mackerel!

Third, there is no way out but forward. When you are in the midst of things-not-going-well (perhaps getting yelled at by someone who wears their pants above their belly button — did you know you can actually *hear* spittle?), you should be forging ahead toward things-going-better. Whatever you do, don’t park yourself in the sad place.

When I was running my tiny private school, I went through a particularly painful patch when a few people were making my life very unpleasant. I pasted “FORGE AHEAD” along the top edge of my computer terminal. This is the mantra of things-not-going-welll: Forge ahead. Just keep going until you get somewhere better.

Fourth, if it was easy, everybody would do it. Randy Pausch said, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The bricks walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

I would add: The brick walls are there to build up your muscles, your endurance, and your fortitude. I could probably list another twenty lessons I learned just making cold calls. Obstacles make a lot of people quit; painful experiences make a lot of people quit. If you don’t quit, you learn from it and keep going. You take what you learn with you, and you use it. You become smarter, better at what you do, and your skin gets thicker. There’s a reason people value experience — this is it.

The reason I overuse the favorite button is because I am on a relentless hunt for the good stuff. I am looking for the people who want what I have to offer. I am looking for friends who are on a similar mission — people whose work overlaps mine. I am looking for the stuff that feeds my soul, increases my energy, lifts my spirits, and shows me the way forward.

Heather touched on something important in her article — that positivity runs both ways. If you are focusing on the positive in the world, you can focus on the positive in yourself. This is absolutely true. It is really a way of looking at the world — it’s a way of choosing what to pay attention to.

You can focus on what you don’t like, or you can focus on what you do like. Which one of those things is going to show you the way forward?

You can focus on your deficits, or you can focus on your strengths — which is going to make you stand out from the crowd?

You can focus on the people who lift you up or you can focus on the people who bring you down — which of those groups is going to help you fulfill your mission?

You can focus on what you can do or you can focus on what you can’t — which is going to help you live a life of action?

Identifying and utilizing the positive is like being able to navigate by the stars — those tiny pinpoints of light are surrounded by deep blackness, but it’s the light that will show you where to go.

 

Read more enlightening posts like the above in PBH for Grown-ups.

25 comments

Comment by Teri on February 12, 2013 at 09:21 AM

Amazing!!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2013 at 03:14 PM

thank you, teri! ;o)

Comment by amy21 on February 12, 2013 at 09:37 AM

LORI! Oh, cold calls. I never made them on behalf of myself, but it was a huge part of my job when I worked in non-profits. I was in education/programming and there was so much of calling More Important People and asking them to do something--for free--for nameless nobody me and the kids I was trying to serve. I can remember sitting at my desk--my pre-Internet desk (the one computer in the ed dept had the blue screen with the flickering cursor, remember those?)--staring at my old-school phone, giving myself a pep talk so I could cold-call the next important person and, basically, beg.

This is what I learned--it doesn't hurt to ask because the worst someone can do is say no but they might say yes. I learned this MOST spectacularly when I cold-called a science dept at Brown University and asked if they'd want to collaborate on a program for girls? And the person I eventually reached was SO EXCITED. "We've been trying to figure out a way to do that in the community and your call was JUST WHAT WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR."

You have to focus on that person out there who doesn't yet know that you exist, but you and what you have to offer is just what they've been waiting for.

(You caught me on a positive day!!)

And, finally, I love your use of the favorite button. It's all: "Hey, I've seen you! I like what you have to say! Thanks for sharing!" What's better than that?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2013 at 03:19 PM

 

You have to focus on that person out there who doesn't yet know that you exist, but you and what you have to offer is just what they've been waiting for.

yes! sometimes you have to go through a LOT of no’s to get to that person. but all that rejection really does toughen you up. and that comes in handy no matter WHAT you want to do in life. :)

And, finally, I love your use of the favorite button. It's all: "Hey, I've seen you! I like what you have to say! Thanks for sharing!" What's better than that?

thank you! that’s exactly how i use it. (as you know ;o)

Comment by Heather on February 12, 2013 at 09:45 AM

Having made those calls during college as part of the annual fund - calling during dinner AND asking for money. I can relate. But it is so true about forging ahead and those brick walls. If you persist, you can see the hole or the window. Those positive thoughts really do change your focus and what you see.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2013 at 03:20 PM

 

If you persist, you can see the hole or the window.

or you develop muscles that can pull you right over the top. ;o)

Comment by Heather on February 16, 2013 at 05:19 AM

exactly

Comment by KC on February 12, 2013 at 10:21 AM

I felt this way when I got out of college. At that time I wanted very much to be a working artists. I tried for a year to send out work to galleries and magazines. I got one show, sold no work and was out almost a thousand dollars from sending stuff out. I also tried to get a job in my town but I was over qualified and under experienced. It killed my spirit. Instead I turned in ward and started blogging.

The art worlds negativity and rejection got too be much for me. Too much of a roller coaster thinking this time I going to get it and getting another rejection. Spending years on a body of work and have no one accept it was a little too emotional for me. So instead I turned my photography to something I love, food and family. Blogging for me and sharing in this community has been a lot more rewarding than the roller coaster of the starving artist.

I do agree though that keeping positive does pull you through. Especially in things like parenting.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2013 at 03:22 PM

that’s an interesting take, KC. i’m sure temperament comes into it.

Comment by Faigie on February 12, 2013 at 02:53 PM

Very Inspiring Lori. I also HATE cold calls. I guess unless you are super self confident nobody likes rejection and that's exactly what cold calls set you up for.
I love that comment about the cell phone...it reminds me of a cartoon I saw years ago.
A guy is at the Western wall in Jerusalem with a cell phone to his ear and the caption says " Hello G-d its me Steve...can you hear me now?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2013 at 03:23 PM

 

i think even very self-confident people dislike rejection!

i know a lot of artists and writers who have had a hard time adjusting to rejection; maybe they should all do a stint with online sales to toughen up before they get started. ;o)

Comment by Candy on February 12, 2013 at 03:46 PM

This was such an inspiring post! Thank you for writing it. The message was something that I really needed to hear today. I shared it on facebook as I'm sure others would benefit from reading this as well. :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2013 at 03:23 PM

thank you, candy! :)

Comment by Andrea Lani on February 13, 2013 at 08:56 AM

Ew, the telephone gives me hives. I would not like that job.

Thank you so much for this post...I work in a very negative environment and that negativity tends to seep into the rest of my life. I'm skeptical of "the power of positive thinking" but your take seems much different and more valid--there are positive things in my life and even in my job. My job's not going to change anytime soon, but if I keep focusing on what's bad about it, I'm only making myself miserable. I can choose not to do that...and I feel better already.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2013 at 03:25 PM

 

thank you, andrea!

yes, in a negative environment it’s even more important to find a productive focus. i’ve worked in high-stress deadine-oriented environments and i’ve had terrible bosses (always horribly stressful). all of these things affect your mood because you don’t have power. deciding where to focus and where to put your attention pulls some of the power back to you.

i’m glad you feel better already. :)

Comment by emeraldlane on February 13, 2013 at 10:01 AM

HI lori great post! Focusing on the positive is key and sooo hard to do sometimes.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2013 at 03:26 PM

thanks, nancy. soooo true. :)

Comment by heather.caliri@... on February 13, 2013 at 11:32 AM

"Identifying and utilizing the positive is like being able to navigate by the stars — those tiny pinpoints of light are surrounded by deep blackness, but it’s the light that will show you where to go."
(Standing and clapping).
I think for so long I thought if I hit a brick wall it meant I was bad, underqualified, not suited, lazy, or incapable. Now I'm seeing walls are life. And that the wall hurts when you hit it, scratches your hands like hell as you scramble up it, and gives you a dizzying high when you've scaled the top and are looking down the road at new possibilities.
Thanks for continuing on this discussion and for your good humor about my post :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 13, 2013 at 03:29 PM

 

(Standing and clapping)

hahaha

I think for so long I thought if I hit a brick wall it meant I was bad, underqualified, not suited, lazy, or incapable. Now I'm seeing walls are life.

YES. this is so key. you’re right — it makes people think, “ugh, i suck.” but also i think a lot of people think, “it’s not supposed to be this way.” but IT IS. it is exactly this way. that’s what life is! when you realize that’s just the normal course of things — and you’re going to have to fight to make things happen — i think you can relax and not take it so personally. and if you’re thinking “this is wrong — it’s supposed to be easier than this,” then you’re more likely to quit, too.

 

Thanks for continuing on this discussion and for your good humor about my post :)

thank you for writing your post & making me think about this! :)

 

Comment by dawn on February 13, 2013 at 08:05 PM

you have precisely and in a much more succinct way described the reasoning i use when i post to my own blog. "it’s a way of choosing what to pay attention to." i similarly choose to focus on the positive. gee, the name even reflects that!

i've had people tell me that i am not being really honest or genuine if i don't write about everything, if i don't *tell it like it is* then i am doing a disservice.

i disagree. i am being honest and genuine. i am not, however, being *complete* in that i don't share ALL of my thoughts, ALL of my experiences, ALL of my life. then again, who does, and who really wants to know ALL of it, anyway, even if i *wanted* to share?

that's not the point, though. in choosing to focus my posts on things that make me happy, i attract others who choose a similar outlook, and those connections reinforce me. it's like i described in my very first post about participating in a *mutual admiration society* of a couple of local homeschooling moms. certainly, we commiserate together and readily offer support when one of us is down, but i think our real strength lies in our desire and ability to celebrate what makes us happy.

it's this shared outlook that led me to you, lori :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 14, 2013 at 09:07 AM

 

thank you so much, dawn! and i definitely have formed a mutual admiration society with my online friends, you included. :)

the “you must share everything” is a whole other post (and i touched on it here: “privacy can be the richest luxury of all” — a work of one’s own). we do *not* have to share everything. not only is it okay to keep something for yourself, i think it’s *essential*.

the “show your dirty corners” bid for honesty is a little silly to me. does anyone really look at someone’s online life and think “by God, they’re perfect”? i mean, come on. you wouldn’t go up to a woman on the street and say “sure, you’re nicely dressed and your hair looks great, but i bet you look awful in the morning!” we should be smart enough to know that everyone is human and imperfect and if they invite us into their home, they’re going to tidy up first. at least the parts we’re going to see. ;o)

in choosing to focus my posts on things that make me happy, i attract others who choose a similar outlook, and those connections reinforce me.

YES. to me, this is how we build the world we want to live in. we do the work that is meaningful to us. we make connections to people with similar values and hopes. we make friends. we support one another.

obviously we want to focus on the good stuff and make as much of it as possible. and choosing where to put our attention and what to feed is how we do that.

xoxoxo

Comment by BakedAK on February 15, 2013 at 03:20 PM

"Forge Ahead" is my new motto. :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 15, 2013 at 08:35 PM

it’s a good one! ;o)

Comment by Juliette on March 8, 2013 at 04:14 AM
Comment by Lori Pickert on March 8, 2013 at 07:47 AM

love the article about jiang; i had skimmed it before but i read it all this time. :)

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