True Grit: How to Keep Pushing For Professional Gains, Even When You Think You Can’t

There are cold streaks in sales. Every so often, there’s an ice age.

The pivotal prospect bails without warning. A steady client dumps you. A spouse or child gets sick — very sick — and the impulse to care for them frays your concentration. Important contacts or allies quit, or double-cross, or just stop calling. Sometimes it all happens at once.

How do you persevere through frigid and long days of professional life?

Times like these might come when you’re unknown and trying to break in. Or after massive layoffs leave you without a job. I’ve experienced hardship after each of the three times I transitioned from the security of a stifling yet steady gig to explore my next professional challenge – and the word challenge somehow doesn’t begin to capture how it felt.

Surviving painful circumstances requires grit, sweat, even behavior you probably wouldn’t confess to in mixed company. A colleague from the start of my career used to air-bench press while driving to cold calls. To my astonishment, I mimicked him during a recent bad stretch. It seemed appropriate, so I did it. I felt ridiculous. Afterwards, though, I rode the adrenaline and yet again contacted a prospect I’ve been chasing for three (painful) years.

Whatever mad means you employ, there must be method behind it. You must accept two key truths:

  • Ice ages seem to last forever. But they don’t. Seasoned professionals know that in good and bad times there is an illusion of permanence. You must dispel the illusion, especially in the bad weather. Only a self-fulfilling, prophetic attitude can alter nature. Unless you’re relentlessly negative, whatever you’re facing won’t last.
  • Everyone you know has endured an ice age. They may not let on, but those you perceive as superhuman have felt the cold in their own way or time. It’s a fact of nature.

Recognize the ice age as a test others have passed. You too will pass your personal, miserable version. Repeat that, even if you don’t believe it. Positivity alone never made life better. But it enables a proactive strategy for persevering, for as long as you must.

If you’re feeling helpless, you might need some trial and error exploration to hit on the coping mechanisms that work for you. They may vary day to day. But these guidelines can help you summon the grittiness you thought you’d lost when times were flush.

  • Do something you fear, first thing. No matter what it is, or what happens, you’ll feel better afterwards. Make the cold call you dread, meet with a prospect you secretly can’t stand, burnish your LinkedIn profile. Take a mad dash towards your fear. Even if your courage leads to no tangible gains, you’ll know you’re at least as tough as the circumstances.
  • Meet with at least one colleague or friend each day. The worst thing you can do when times are rough is to think you’re all alone. You don’t have to reveal every last painful detail, but try for the truth. Genuine allies will offer support, admire your honesty, and recognize you as a resource when their own ice age comes round.
  • Keep to a schedule, even when you don’t, technically, have one. Set out a daily list of tasks; if you have holes to fill, arrange for more meetings. It’s hard to reverse your luck if you’re chained to a desk, staring at your email, waiting for a break.
  • Don’t abandon motivational activities. Whether it’s yoga, running, making your daughter’s soccer practice, or cooking the family dinner that keeps you grounded, don’t quit because you’re in financial or professional crisis. Turns out the FAA has it right about placing your oxygen mask before assisting others – same principle here. You’re sunk if you don’t take care of yourself. Extreme times call for extreme self care.
  • Go back to 101 tactics. Perspiration sometimes trumps inspiration. If you’re waiting on a job, a prospect, or a lead, sometimes you just have to be that squeaky wheel until you get a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Leave no rock unturned.

Whatever your actionable steps, the secret sauce is the same. Professional ice ages pit our fear against reality. Whatever summons the will to call, meet, ask for help, or seek advice is the key ingredient.

So deep-breathe, blast your favorite rage music, run up and down the stairs, bench press weights or even the thin air. It doesn’t matter. Your willpower is the only thing hot enough to bring on the thaw. You need a strategy to channel it. But every strategy is empty posturing without personal grit.

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