in Later Life
Words by Mark Ashmore
Knowing how many hundreds of thousands of salespeople there are out there, I have no doubt my story will resonate with a great many of you, especially during these very difficult times.
Having spent over 30 years in sales, I found myself more recently becoming increasingly disgruntled, disillusioned and stressed to a point where my levels of anxiety were such that I became physically ill.
3 o'Clock sweats
Sales are one of those careers that can provide some great highs but also some incredible lows and invariably there are a far greater number of 'downs than ups' in a career. In my younger years in the job, dealing with those 'polar opposites' wasn't too much of a problem. Yes, there was the occasional "3'oclock sweats," something every salesperson goes through towards the end of a month when you wake up at the same time every morning, especially towards the end of the month worrying about your sales target. However, in the main, I found coping with the stresses and strains of sales-life and those low points relatively easy to deal with. In later life, continuing to work in such a pressure-cooker environment with ever-increasing competition, associated lower margins and higher revenue targets things became increasingly difficult to cope with!
No such thing as perfection
In fairness to my employer, I have to admit that I put a lot of pressure on myself. I have always been a bit of a perfectionist setting myself difficult challenges and high expectations right from my younger years as a keen amateur road race cyclist. If any of you are aficionados of the spoked wheel variety you’ll know that you start with a bike to enjoy the outdoors either alone or with mates, but for some that passion grows exponentially into wanting to go faster, further, and harder. You may join a club and before you know it you are taking part in club time-trials, hill climbs and road races. Wanting to improve your results and perhaps, like me, you get really hooked and find yourself training 7 days a week and travelling all over the country every weekend through summer to take part in races. The fact is, I have always pressured myself to achieve a high degree of success, sometimes setting the bar too high on a path to failure before I have even started. It is very hard to come to terms with the fact that there is no such thing as perfection.
Spectre of depression
A couple of years ago I moved jobs thinking that my anxiety was caused by the company rather than the role, but after six months with my new employer, I didn't feel particularly happy and decided to return to my previous workplace where I’d been for over 10 years and with some great colleagues around me. In the following twelve months and with the spectre of depression hovering over me I was back with my recurring problem having to be sorted with medication to help me from falling even further into the abyss! After advice from the doctor and a couple of months on sick-leave, I tentatively ventured back to my role but realised after a very short amount of time that anxiety, depression, or whatever you want to call it was taking hold once more as we headed towards the initial round of national Covid-19 lock-down in March 2020.
Retirement, the best job
Along with a batch of colleagues I was placed on furlough for a month where I didn't have to think or worry about sales. With having that free time at home, I had the chance to complete some of those DIY jobs that had been hanging around forever. Just doing those simple jobs without any pressure proved to be most cathartic and gave me a taste of what life must be like as a retiree. A neighbour recently said to me that “retirement was the best job he’d ever had,” and whilst I’m 10 years away from that significant age-point I can see the appeal, especially if you have good health to enjoy it. So it was during that time that I started to think about what else I could do with my life and how we as a family would cope with a lower salary, fewer benefits, and no company car. Surprisingly the thought wasn’t that daunting especially in the context of my anxiety issues.
A very happy Christmas to everybody
Following the furlough period, there was an obvious and inevitable ramping up in sales-pressure to make up for time lost and once again I started to wilt both mentally and physically. We decided enough was enough as continuing life like this for the next 10 years wasn’t a life and would probably kill me anyway before very much longer.
As mentioned before, I have always been a driven, strong-minded and focused individual, so seeking help was difficult but despite my nervousness, I took the decision to speak to a counsellor to get some professional help along with an outside perspective as I’d got that many thoughts spiralling through my head it was difficult to make sense. The upshot of the conversations was that I needed to accept that my problems were well and truly because of the job and that in order to sort things out, I needed to extract myself from that position if I was ever going to have long-term happiness.
Six months later, along with my pension adviser, we put together a plan for a monthly drip-feed allowance from my pension to sustain my family whilst I took time off to find a new job. It was a big decision to curtail a career of 30 years but I will never again have to think about sales targets which is such a wonderful feeling and one that’s helped towards cutting back on my medication. I’ve got more of my list of DIY jobs completed, I’m back into an exercise regime again which, these days, is running rather than cycling (a different story), I’ve restarted my drawing which was a passion from my youth, I’m reading more and now starting to wonder how I’ll actually find time to get a job although the reality is that I’ll have to if I want to be financially comfortable when I reach retirement age.
The most important thing I have taken from my experiences over the past few years is the realisation that leaving a well-paid job isn’t the end of the world and can often lead to new beginnings which I’m finding more exciting than daunting. I fully understand and am grateful that I’m in a fortunate position that many others do not enjoy, but I would stress that one should always try and look at matters from a different perspective or get somebody else to help you in that regard. Don’t allow your current circumstances to dictate the rest of your life if you are in a bad place. If you really want change and you’re lucky enough to have a supportive family like mine you’ll find a way.
Help and Advice
If you are in a similar position the best advice I can give is that it’s just so very important to speak to professionals if you’re struggling with your mental well-being. I’m from a generation that would often knuckle down and hope that problems just disappear into the ether of their own accord. The reality is that they don’t. Speaking to well-trained independent experts is something you would do automatically about your pension, your car or your physical health so why not when it comes to problems of the mind? If you’re reading this and having problems then please, for you and your family’s sake, speak to a professional and get the help you deserve.