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If You're Gonna Eat Shit, Don't Nibble

3 tips to overcome early failure in your new job.


“If you’re gonna eat shit, don’t nibble.” – ripped from the pages of Entrepreneur / VC Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things.


In context, Horowitz was discussing a strategy for revising earnings forecasts. Out of context, I thought of George Costanza and laughed (I’m simple).

After a good laugh, I thought about my first 9 months in sales, and how AWFUL I was at my job.

  • Q1: only 1 marquee deal.
  • Q2: 27% of quota.
  • Q3: 5% of quota. FIVE.

I certainly wasn’t nibbling. I was eating a whole lotta shit. But that’s what pushed me. Had I been even mediocre, I certainly would not have learned what I did about what it takes to truly crush it in a new role.

Turns out, complete and utter failure is not uncommon amongst all stars:

  • Eminem’s first album sold only 1,000 copies, most of them in his hometown.
  • Derek Jeter batted .202 as a minor league rookie, and in his second season, made 56(!) errors
  • In his first CEO role, Reed Hastings felt so overmatched he asked his board to replace him, twice.
  • Drake was on Degrassi.

Back to me. Following that 5% I mentioned above, here’s what my next four quarters looked like: 101%, 129%, 170%, 193%.

When I made my next jump to a new role…380% of quota.

Had I not done so much “eating”, I know that those numbers would have never come.

So…what did I learn? I learned that there’s no reason to fear failure in a new role, and no reason to hang your head even if you do.

I also learned these three keys:

  • Set Incremental Goals – This is super easy in sales but can be done in any role. “In my first month, I want to accomplish X. By month two Y, and by month three Z.” As much as you can, make them quantifiable. This will help you objectively evaluate how well you’re doing and how you can do more.
  • Test and Iterate – This is actually pretty obvious when you’re failing like I was (“well…that didn’t work”) but much more difficult if you feel like you’re doing OK. Push yourself to keep testing new strategies and tactics. Maybe you try speaking to nervous patients in a different way to see if you can speed calming them down, or more aggressively push back on unreasonable clients. Whatever it is, make a conscious effort to try new things and evaluate impact.
  • Find a Mentor – When you start a new role, it can become really easy to get lost in the weeds, and without a good mentor, you’ll end up stuck spinning your wheels for 9 months figuring things out like I did. When I really took off, I synced up with a few AMAZING people who would provide feedback on my work, make the losses seem less devastating, and hype me up after the wins. You may not always like what they say, but I guarantee you…constructive feedback from a mentor tastes a lot better than shit.

On the last point…a huge thank you to my mentors. You know who you are.

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