Rock Bottom To Rockstar

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is take a freezing cold shower. People say to me, “John, why would you do that to yourself? Why would you disrupt yourself like that and get out of that warm, comfy bed?” Well, research has shown that a cold shower can help you fight depression, burn fat, and more importantly, train our brains to tolerate discomfort and embrace disruption. Actually, the research had me at “burns fat.” I’m in the cold shower telling myself, “I’m burning fat..” I’m actually thinking of giving up working out and just taking 3 cold showers a day.

This concept of getting out of our comfort zone by taking a cold shower in the morning is something that a lot of us don’t really want to embrace. However, this just in, the comfort zone no longer exists. We have to get in the learning zone and get out of what I call this velvet rut. What’s a velvet rut? A velvet rut is when you want to go through life all wrapped in velvet. I don’t want to feel any pain. I don’t want to have anything bad happen to me. I just want comfort, comfort, comfort. It’s a rut. It’s still a rut. People are going to therapists saying, “Everything’s okay, but I’m still sad.” They’re in a velvet rut.

How can we start to get out of this velvet rut and learn to embrace disruption in a time when we may not want to do it?  If you have ever had any fear of being laid off or losing your job, or actually had it happen to you, then you know it is a big disruption. Here is how I went from rock bottom to being a Rockstar with steps you can use to do the same thing too!

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In 2008, the economy was at a low due to mortgage banking crisis which caused luxury advertising Sales to plummet. I was selling ads for Conde Nast’s W magazine to the luxury market and was impacted. I got the call from my publisher in NY saying everyone in the outside offices (I was in LA office) and 30 percent of the NY staff was being laid off. It felt like a kick to my gut. I was told after 15 years or working there I had to be out that day. Then I remembered my lifeguard training of “Don’t panic, stay calm” and  I asked, “Don’t you want a turn over report to know what issue and what page the ads should run on?” My publisher said yes that would be great but everyone else is so mad they are storming out. Little did I know that the decision to stay calm and leave a status report would have a huge positive impact two years later.

As I left my office that day I felt scared about the future, sad about what I was leaving behind and wondered is this what rock bottom feels like?

Then I realized I had to reinvent myself like the silent movie stars in Hollywood. Some decided to learn how to act in “talkies” and keep working and some could not make the transition. The same thing was true for me in print sales. The future was Digital Sales and I had to learn it and get a new job doing it with very little experience. What new skill should be learning now before you get disrupted? I found an opening to sell digital ads the launch of The Daily Beast new site from a friend. I offered to fly myself to New York for the interview because I knew on paper I would not get the job. What are you willing to do to invest in your career even if there is no money coming in?

I did get the job and had to learn a new skill on the job. I was able to get advertisers like Lexus and Guess jeans but it was not easy. The first 6 months of no Sales was tough to keep my mindset positive. I reminded myself that a career is a marathon, not a sprint.

Two years from being laid off from Conde Nast I received a call from my old publisher to see if I would consider coming back. They now had a new editor and a vibrant site and needed someone to sell print and digital ads. Because I had left on a good note, this was possible.

I decided to not come back with any fear. I had always had fear about not making my quota or being laid off. Being laid off had happened and I knew I was able to thrive. By returning with no fear, I was able to approach Guess jeans, who stopped advertising after I left with a big idea to come back. What ideas would you try if you had no fear?

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It was W’s 40th anniversary the same year it was Guess’ 30th anniversary and I proposed we do a joint celebration. Drew Barrymore had been on the cover of W and was a former Guess model. I suggested we co-host an anniversary celebration event with photos from both brands. Guess loved the idea and ran an exclusive 30 pages supplement inside the 40th-anniversary issue of W. Each page of the supplement was a different Guess model from each year.

I ended up winning Salesperson of the year for that Sale not just for W magazine but for all of Conde Nast’s 400 person global Sales team across 23 brands. When I stood at the event holding my reward, I thought to myself I am the same person that was laid off two years ago. Now I give keynote talks to companies’ Sales team to help people remember that who we are is bigger than any one thing happening to us.

We are truly free when we get off the self-esteem roller coaster of only feeling good about ourselves if our numbers are up and bad about ourselves if our numbers are down. The keys to going from Rock Bottom To Rockstar are:

  • Remember not to panic and stay calm when being disrupted
  • Invest in learning a new skill before you need it
  • Invest in your career even if you don’t have a job
  • Let go of fear and try new ideas

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