I spent two and a half years up until December managing the largest sales territory for ‘big tobacco’. I had a total of $37 million dollars in annual revenue under my responsibility at the ripe age of 22.
Our data showed only 2 percent of the potential candidate pool was willing to sell tobacco for a living. To adjust for that, the company took really good care of us. Not only was the compensation great, but there was only 20 to 30 hours of real work per week, and I had near full autonomy.
Despite conflicts with my own morals, I took the job. At that age, I naively valued compensation above anything else.
I was a sell-out. Not only was I peddling something I believed should be illegal, but I took the comfortable route. I didn’t do every thing in my power to avoid working for the man like I always told myself I would.
The resulting dissatisfaction inside me only grew over time. It became more difficult to hide, or rather, I began openly expressing my discomfort with the way the company operated.
Eventually I was so at odds with management, there was no recovering. In December of 2017, I was out on my own like I had always wanted.
Everything was great at first. I had saved diligently. I had nearly my salary in passive income from some e-commerce stores and affiliate blogs, and I was about to spend two weeks on vacation with family then friends.
After returning from vacation, things started slowly going downhill. I grew dissatisfied with the work of building passive income streams I had once loved.
I was lonely while everyone else was at work, so I started sleeping in until the afternoon so I could start my days with three hours at the office, followed by happy hours with friends.
That didn’t solve my problems. Now I was just lonely at night, with a small drinking problem, and without the boost in mood that a full day of sunshine can bring.
“What was I meant to do for 40 hours a week, every week, for the rest of my life?”
I asked myself this daily.
Hell, I asked myself this question every 15 minutes when I was awake and not busy. It ate away at my soul.
It wasn’t the first time in my life I had faced this question. But now that I had experienced firsthand the inability of money would solve a lack of purpose, I had less hope that I would ever figure this out.
I signed up for the LSAT because I knew I was good at standardized tests. Maybe going to law school was a goal that would give me purpose.
More than anything, I just wanted to escape that burning question that kept returning to my mind. When I wasn’t studying for the LSAT, I was playing video games competitively with these friends or drinking with those friends.
These activities shelved my impending identity crisis for hours at a time. But, anytime I had to be alone with nothing occupying my mind, all the stress of figuring out who I was and what I was meant to do would return en masse.
I decided I would return home to live with my parents. Then I wouldn’t have to be alone with my thoughts, it wouldn’t be so easy to continue the drinking habit I was building, and maybe I could even patch up some relationship issues with my parents that I had caused during high school and college.
Shortly before I returned to St. Louis, I was at the WeWork desk I had been renting for the last 8 months. I was catching up on politics when one of the community managers walked a new member into the room to show him his desk.
I promptly introduced myself and did my best to make him feel welcome.
We exchanged pleasantries, and told each other what we did. Joe explained that he left a sales job at a biotech company last year, and had done $250k in sales on his own in the remaining months of the year.
He showed me the massive lists of email addresses he had compiled and reached out to cold, as well as a long list of phone numbers with the majority crossed out.
To say I was inspired would be an understatement. This guy had built a crazy good business off of blood, sweat and tears.
One by one he would email or call the most accomplished researchers in America. A couple times a week, he would get a big order.
I showed him some tools and processes he could use to scale his hustle up. He told me about all of the things he wished he could be doing with search, e-commerce, and paid ads but didn’t have the capacity or know-how to do.
So, we agreed to work together.
A couple days later, I was neck deep in cell culture research trying to catch myself up to speed. It was incredibly challenging. I had to learn enough to be able to provide value to MD’s in a very narrow but important part of their research.
In the following months, I showed Joe how to scale his emails to thousands per week. I showed him how to ensure compliance with CAN-SPAM, and how to protect the reputation of his domain. I showed him how to identify which of those recipients would be receptive to a phone call instead of calling all of them.
Now Joe has a process for outreach that is almost as good as printing cash. On our best campaign, we did $40,000 in revenue from an email sequence to 400 recipients. When we called the most receptive recipients at the end of the sequence, we doubled that number.
After conquering the cold outreach, Joe and I have moved on to even more challenging opportunities. For instance, how can you sell high dollar cell culture products to researchers with Instagram?
Yes, that actually works.
Since meeting Joe, in March, I’ve picked up 6 more clients and hired 2 full-time employees to complement me in the skills that I lack.
It hasn’t been easy. The markets we’re in started totally foreign to us, and we’ve had many sleepless nights trying to put ourselves in a position to provide value to the clients’ target audiences.
Many agencies will avoid work like that because it’s just too damn complex. We want to specialize in it.
You see, I still have a lot to learn. But I’ve made tremendous strides toward ‘finding my purpose’ just by seeking out challenging work.
There is something so satisfying about delivering results in niches that are so complicated. We are doing work that we can be proud of, and that’s what’s saved me from this rumination over ‘finding my purpose’.
I escaped the 9 to 5 at just 24 years old and guess what? It wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be. Depression and an identity crisis ensued pretty quickly.
Social media is constantly selling this pipe dream of ‘escaping the 9 to 5’ on a pedestal. It makes us feel bad about our own situation, which most of us should feel very grateful for.
Don’t be fooled.
Figure out what you can do for the world that makes you proud, do it, and be grateful.