Winners Beware! Why Losing is Better Medicine

“Son, if you ain’t first, yer last!

– Reese Bobby (Father of Ricky Bobby) in Talledega Nights

It’s easy to love winning and envy winners.  That is, until it’s us on the podium.  In the meantime, we like to play the victims of circumstance.  Do we ever consider how much we, as losers, have to gain? 

Consider the following pitfalls of winning:

Winning never lasts

The one thing in common with all wins – in sales, in sports, in career pursuits – is brevity. The victory party may last for days, but it always ends. The money gets spent. The trips get taken.

If winning was measured solely by what is kept for the long term, everyone’s true prize would be expectations. “Nice job! Let’s see it again – only this time faster, better, or more,” is what we eventually hear from others and ourselves.

The immediate aftermath of winning feels a bit like throwing your own birthday party. We seek reassurance from others that our accomplishment is worth celebrating. Many salespeople will attest, the lower the value delivered by a product, the harder one must work to sell it. As I write this, I just finished the third quarter at over 114% goal attainment. High value products, like the one I currently represent, are easy to sell. But, besides being able to pay more bills, what did I accomplish?

Winning helps us deceive ourselves

The most valuable reward I’ve ever received in sales was the permission to think of myself differently. My first good year gave me a clue that perhaps I wasn’t an impostor after all. Maybe I actually had learned how to do this job? Maybe I was even…an expert?

Unfortunately, just as thinking I was an impostor was ironically false, so was the value in being an “expert”. Dr. Carol Dweck, has gotten much well-deserved attention for her research into mindsets. A fixed mindset entails believing that one’s abilities are static. We’re all novices until, one day, we magically become experts. Therefore, the entire game of life is pass/fail. Conversely, a growth mindset comes with the belief that there’s always something new and interesting to learn. Happiness is about remaining a hopeful student and not becoming a disillusioned master.

Winning distorts reality

“There are no moral victories!”, is a common slogan recited by coaches and athletes alike. Eliminating failure as an outcome sounds good in TV interviews and on Investor conference calls. In truth, they might as well say, “I want success so badly that I will use magical powers to get it!” In reality, all the begging and manipulation of 1000 salespeople can’t force a customer to act. Therefore, in sales, failure IS always an option.

Yet, we persist in thinking we have control over others. As a result, we sweat and stress in the name of winning. This hyper-focus closes us off to our own empathy for the customer and problem-solving creativity. While we are busy go-getting, our customers are for-getting both who we are and what we sell.

It’s time to re-visit losing

Winning gets us noticed. It might even earn you a promotion. If you like, it’s the ultimate validation of whatever you did before. So why change? Just keep being an expert! This is the downfall of many salespeople. We can’t look beyond our wins. Instead of improving, we stagnate.

In response to the traditional, closed-minded lust for winning, we can develop a secret crush on losing. This means admitting that the number next to our name on the sales report is an outcome, not an identity. Remove self-judgement, and losing becomes an opportunity to truly learn and become better.


Pharma Rep Confessions – What the Job’s Really Like

Dear Pharma Sales Reps,

Here are my observations from 14 years in the business.  Do you agree?

Six confessions of a long-time pharmaceutical sales rep:

  1. Achievement is highly overrated. I’ve been both in the bottom 15% of rankings and at the top.  I’ve earned bonuses as high as $47k and as low as zero. Every success felt like a lucky break.   I was almost never present when a prescription was being written.  Plenty of doctors told me they were excited to prescribe but never followed through. Others, who I thought hated my product (or even me) became my biggest supporters.  The money is nice, but quickly spent.
  2. Doctors don’t care nearly as much as we want them to.  I’ve sold lifestyle medicines, chronic medicines, and life-saving rescue medicines and it’s been mostly the same.  Doctors typically DO care about their patients.  The drugs they use, however, are like tools in a carpenters hand.  Unless they cause trouble or fail to work, they’re largely an afterthought.
  3. Out of sight, Out of mind.  For many physicians and their staff, their responsibility is to TELL the patient the right thing to do – not to ensure it gets done.  They may prescribe the medicine you sell but give little care to whether or not the patient fills the script.
  4. For the patient and the office, money trumps all.  We reps know this.  Our managers know it too but are sometimes too afraid to say it. Patients don’t see medication as being a matter of life and death until they are in pain or are dying.  Medicines that make them prettier, better in bed, or (sadly) give them a buzz, are worth cold, hard cash.
  5. The only thing that makes you an expert, to management, is your numbers.   Therefore, never get too full of yourself.  We’re all a couple bad quarters from some kind of probationary status.
  6. If you judge yourself using sales acheivement, you will never fully like your job, or yourself.  Whether or not you’ve finally become an expert is a question only you can answer!

Congratulations!  You win the Ritalin award for reading the whole article!  

Feel free to comment below or send me a note at with your thoughts.  And, don’t forget to subscribe if you want to hear more!


Always Late? Flow is Your Best Excuse

Photo by Rawpixel on Unsplash

Isn’t is ironic? On one hand, we blame poor time management when someone else arrives late. On the other, one could waste a lot of time reading up on how to manage time.  What if wasting time could be valuable?  What if our tardiness is trying to tell us something?  The answer may lie in what diverted our attention and “made us” late in the first place.

Distractions – they’re NOT all created equal

It’s common to read and hear about the deleterious effects of distraction. Most of us agree, it kills productivity and can put us in serious danger (ie. distracted driving). But, can we blame social media, texting, and other forms of light entertainment for every missed commitment?

Society trains us to regret every digression from what we’re “supposed” to be doing.  Are we procrastinating?  This would explain why we avoid doing the things we hate.  What about when we miss the commitments we tolerate or even look forward to?   Surely some stronger force must be at work to tear our attention away?  Think of the favorite hobby or activity that immerses us so fully an hour can pass without notice.  Do we feel guilty afterward because of the commitment we missed or the enjoyment we felt in doing so? 

Flow – A Good Kind of Distraction

There is a mental state we enter we enter when doing something that grabs our attention, causes us to forget time, and brings us sheer joy.   Social scientist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, calls it “Flow”.  Think of how we feel enjoying intense hobbies or performing jobs we love. There’s an unmistakeable focus that can be seen on the face of Olympic athletes, surgeons, musicians, and others enjoying their craft. It’s as if a bomb could go off behind them and they’d scarcely notice.  They are experiencing flow.

Think of flow like going to one’s happy place.  One can access incredible reserves of energy when in this state.  “Even if I’m tired I always find the energy to …”, might be a good way to describe a flow activity.   Needless to say, they are usually pursuits we are good at.  Positive Psychology pioneer, Martin Seligman, goes further to explain that, when people use their strengths everyday, their overall level of hapiness improves.  And, happier people are healthier and more productive at work.   

The People’s Joy Experience

Make no mistake, we have good reason to regret lost productivity. Most of us need to work to survive and that entails being on time and on task.  And, we can’t just quit our jobs to knit sock monkeys or do whatever else we truly love.  That’s the stuff of millionaire entrepreneurs and celebrities, right?

Not necessarily. Flow activities don’t have to require career changes or large-scale interruptions.  Assuming one works 40 hours a week, and sleeps 7 hours a night, we have over 175 days left over for family and flow. We all have free time whether it be in the morning, evening, or lunch hour. Ironically, (again) encorporating flow into ones life may just be a matter of time management.

The clock is ticking!

We know we have plenty of time to experience flow, and that’s why we put off doing it.  Still, forty minutes of screen time per day can use up almost 11 days per year (Thank-you Apple!).  Our daily commutes may also steal as much or more time. Our hobbies are never going to demand our attendance. It’s only when we remember time’s scarcity that we free it up for things that make us happy.  Until corporations allow us mandatory flow time (I’ll pause for laughter), we’ll have to carve out our own.  And, we can also choose to cut ourselves slack when we miss commitments for good reasons like flow. 

Our charge is not to be selfish and blow off obligations. Instead, we can re-commit to being more happier and motivated versions of ourselves, all by allowing ourselves to flow.  

Now, stop feeling guilty, get out, and waste some time!  (In the right way, of course)  


Your Future: Friend or Foe?

Photo by Benjamin Davies via Unsplash

“A coward dies a thousand times before his death…”

– William Shakespeare

We humans area future-oriented species. Upcoming events come to mind, not just in sound and light, but in sentiments.  We assume what we feel now about the future to be a mere sample of what we’ll feel when it arrives.  Often we fail to notice ourselves using phrases like, “I’ll be so happy when…”, or “I would die if..” to describe how we will feel about something. Even though we can’t plan our emotions like calendar entries, we still try.  It’s a phenomenon known as Impact Bias.  

It’s Not Our Fault

Thanks to evolution, humans can, at will, think of the future and feel it’s anticipated emotions. Perhaps, when our ancestors began imagining the pain of a fall from a great height, they stopped jumping off cliffs.  Sadly, this evolutionary safeguard isn’t the gift it once was. In today’s domesticated world, impact bias hurts rather than helps us.  Although most of us no longer fear being attacked by a lion on the Serengeti, we still find the future too agonizing (or exhilarating) to pass up.

For example, our fear of poor job performance may be driven by the imagined sting of a manager’s reprimand. Interestingly, to our bodies, the emotions experienced in the imagined event are as real as any felt here and now.  It’s as if we’ve fool ourselves into thinking the event has just taken place, every time we think of it.  And, impact bias is not restricted to negative events.  In a similar fashion, the mere purchase of a lottery ticket can elicit for us the joy of winning instantaneous wealth.  

Herein lies the problem:  our brains are not very good at predicting our true feelings in the future.  The scorn of a boss.  The joy of a win.  When these events actually occur, our emotions tend to be less intense or long-lasting than we imagined.  How can this be?  Our emotions about the future are the culmination of oft-replayed scenarios in our mind.  Most of us will never experience winning the lottery once – let alone, over and over, until we hear the results.

Even When it’s Good it’s Still Bad

Quickly, we let the highs and lows of current events wear off, replaced by new imaginings of the future.  This pattern, albeit natural, is not helpful.  Stress, fear, and other negative emotions carry well-documented negative side effects on our bodies.  Why should we choose to feel them over and over?

With positive impact bias, we set ourselves up for disappointment.  Even wedding days, when they arrive, are fraught with feelings of nervousness and relief, in addition to the joy we expect.  It’s simply not possible for our most anticipated events to live up to our internal hype.  We waste hours immersed in the ecstasy of winning better jobs, owning dream houses, or finding ideal mates.

Make Friends with Now

So, our challenge is to plan for the future without emoting for it.  None of us are immune to impact bias.  Our best course is to recognize it and rationally dial back our emotions.  We don’t control what we’ll feel in the future.  Let’s choose not to bury the feelings we could have about the present under worries or daydreams.  

Otherwise, we risk missing the most important emotions – the real ones.