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On chancers, sales and identity.

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The day before Christmas, six year old Sean was sitting quietly for once, writing something.

His ma asked what he was up to. 

“A letter to Santa” he says.

Her heart failed in her, thinking of all the presents already brought, and no chance of any changes, not at this stage, and Christmas would be ruined….

“But the elves have already made all your presents!” she says; “You wrote to them weeks ago to say what you wanted, and they got them all ready!”

He grinned back. “Yerra, I’ll chance me arm anyway” he said.

And she burst out laughing. Christmas would be just fine.

My future ale of choice

It’s a small story, a dime a dozen, something my niece told me months ago – Sean’s my great nephew. But it’s stuck with me for the months since Christmas. A few times, now, when doing something deeply uncomfortable to me, I’ve said to myself “I’ll chance my arm” – and it made it all curiously better. 

Both the uncomfortable bits were sales opportunities. Now, I hate sales. I hate new business. I hate business development. And I hate them most of all when it’s about me. Sure, I’ve had to do this throughout my career, to persuade people that whatever company I was in, would be best for the job. Didn’t love it, but I could focus in on their problem and our solution, and how great our team is – all external things, and things I believed in. 

But when it comes to selling myself and my coaching skills – it’s different: I have to tell them how great *I* am. I have to impose on their time for my selfish benefit. It is obvious that this is all about my ulterior motive. They will – rightly – despise me.

First attempt

The first sales opportunity was with a big company. I’d spoken with the lead in this area before Christmas and got a firm ‘no, what we’re doing is fine’. I looked back at the extra info he’d given me – and it wasn’t fine, really. And there was an easy way that they could test out an improvement.

So – I said to myself, I’ll chance my arm. The phrase made me smile, and feel some of that boundless optimism and lack of self consciousness of a child. It wasn’t about me any more: not boasting about myself, or doing things that would make others look upon me with horror and disgust for saying “I’m the right person for this”. I was just being a bit of a chancer – a temporary state, and nothing too dreadful

He came back with a No again. And that was fine. I’d chanced it, and lost. And I still reckon he was wrong anyway.

Second try

The second opportunity was worse. In the first, I could tell myself that the solution that I was proposing was logically correct, and I’d recommend that solution even if someone else wound up doing the coaching. All nice and external; not really about me.

This time, I wanted to contact a former client and friend, with nothing but myself to offer. She’d been promoted to a very senior role in a coaching company. I knew they only used  coaches who had far more qualifications than I currently do – but thought, maybe they’d find it useful to have someone like me as a co-coach in some situations.

So: nothing but an ulterior motive for contacting someone who’d been a friend as well as client. She would be bound to roll her eyes and think how false that was, that I only contact her when there’s something in it for me, after she’s had this big promotion. 

Time to chance my arm again. Again, the phrase worked some wonders: it went from me being a nasty, faking, using kinda sales person – into just shrug my shoulders, try it out, and not think that my entire identity and her perception of me depended on this little email. 

She came back with a yes – there happened to be something relevant at the moment, here’s the details. 

Not a single word about being disgusted at my shallowness or ulterior motive. As far as I could tell, she hadn’t even eyerolled.

Another ale of choice.


Which led me back to thinking about the stories we tell ourselves, and the phrases we use to define ourselves, and the identity underlying our actions. 

The stories and phrases that make a difference to us, resonate at a particular moment when we’re receptive. I don’t expect this story or phrase will make a difference to anyone reading this. And it wouldn’t have stuck with me, or made a difference to how I felt, if I’d heard it six months or sixty months, ago.

But hearing it at a moment when I needed a new story for how to do sales – it gave me the words I needed. Instead of identifying, in playground parlance, a ‘user’ for doing sales – I could identify as a ‘chancer’. I can live with that identity.