There is a model I developed almost twenty years ago, in a coffee shop on my way home after being fired from my job that is very dear to my heart.

I was fired from a printing company; there were several sales reps that had named accounts who were not actually going out to sell to them, but because these accounts were already assigned to other salespeople, no one else could approach them. I decided it was incumbent on me to pick up the phone and make cold calls and set appointments for the sales reps. They weren’t amused. They formed a group, went to the sales manager, and complained about me, even though I was cold-calling their appointments for them. I was fired. I was a street fighter in the land of order-takers, and very much out of place. I was not a fit for that sales culture. I could have gone to the manager, and in sports tradition said, “Play me or trade me”, but I was cheeky instead!

As I was sitting in the coffee shop, this model came to my mind because I was fearful. Change always produces fear, even if we create the change ourselves. But it’s really ramped up when someone imposes the change on us. At that time, I was a single mom with a big mortgage and I had no idea what I was going to do.

So, I drew this model, The Path to Personal Mastery, and I’ve referred to it repeatedly over the years. First, there’s fear; when we are in fear, we make mistakes, and sometimes try to cover up those mistakes and regress into denial. We may blame someone else for our situation or defend and justify our own position. When we are stuck in fear, we will never admit that we were wrong. We become risk-averse. We may have the most brilliant opportunity or a qualified, robust list of names for cold calling, but somehow, we cannot find the courage to move forward.

Consequently, we muddle along in supplication, taking whatever comes our way. We do the best we can and hope beyond hope that someone will notice our best efforts. It is here that we learn the lessons we need to take the next step. We walk through ‘the valley of the shadows’ as often as we need to before coming out the other side.

After not giving up, we develop skills that contribute to our competence. We learn lessons; chief among them is to ask for help early. We know that when we make mistakes, we can learn from them, and we can leverage them into success. This is when we can appropriate what we want and need. This is when opportunities appear to come to us with more certainty and ease than ever before in our life. And then, as we repeatedly go through these stages, we become generous of spirit and offer help to others who have not given up on themselves. We learn to be constantly accountable and responsible to and for ourselves; if we forecast that we will gain twenty good prospects by the end of the month then we do what it takes, despite the fear, doubt, and insecurity, to keep our word to ourselves. We are accountable and responsible and we are trustworthy to our employers, our coworkers, and especially to ourselves.

ladder of personal mastery

To summarize the steps on this ladder, as I call it: first we are in fear, and then, with much consistent effort, we become competent. It is after this that we finally become confident. But then we realize that this state is not all that we thought it to be. So what? we ask ourselves; that was then and this is now.  We are confident because we applied ourselves to a problem and made mistakes and grew our skills, and then made more mistakes. We can now perform this skill, or master this emotion, with our eyes closed and our hands tied behind our back. Finally, it begins to look easy and we can leverage ourselves and our skills. In other words, we work smart, not hard. We’ve developed processes, implemented systems, and are no longer running an ad hoc life. Life has worked out in the process of life itself!

It is at this stage when we know that we are good, and why we are good. We know we have weaknesses, we know why they are there, and how much they cost us and how we will transform them. We cannot be in denial.

But confidence is boring. It is when we take chances, accept challenges, hunker down, and find resources we didn’t even know we had, that we discover even more potential; only then are we fully alive. If we are not on the edge we are taking up too much room! Complacency is for others.

We cannot tap into the good graces of others until we’ve demonstrated that we are accountable, that we are responsible, and that we are trustworthy. When we can consistently demonstrate these attributes, we become topical; people discuss us and we gain referrals. At this stage, my clients show their good grace when they offer to help me write my proposal to them! This increases the probability of gaining their business. When I ask for a referral, they are more than willing to give me one.

If you are a salesperson or an entrepreneur just starting out, it will probably take a while before you are successful at winning big accounts, because it takes time to develop your skills and reputation. It is a process of constant learning and growing. The road to success is about gaining competence and increasing confidence, and then striving to move to the next rung of the ladder, not perfection.

This article is an excerpt from my upcoming publication:

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Sara Haynes, P. Eng.
Sigma Solutions

“I took advantage of Alice Wheaton’s offer for a free 30-minute consultation…but we chatted for almost an hour, during which I had several epiphanies that have inspired and motivated me to move forward. These were ideas that I could immediately start working on to help me get new clients and increase recurring revenues. This is what I call Value on Steroids!”

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