Lessons out of Africa: Celebrate Who You Are

June 6, 2014

Shane-Gibson-if-i-were-22

When I was 22 I had a plan. I thought I had it all figured out. Unfortunately that plan really didn’t include being authentic or even celebrating who I really was. It would take many more years of adventure and heart ache to figure this out. This is one thing I wish I could have learned sooner. Celebrate who you are.

Johannesburg, South Africa 1998:

I was 11 months into the launch of a direct sales company in South Africa. It was my first real long-term contract since I had decided that I wanted to follow my Dad’s career path and be an entrepreneur and a sales trainer. My friend and mentor Craig Young helped me put together my proposal and budget – Jim Janz direct sales thought leader was the client who gave me the incredible opportunity to work in Africa.

I had left a very sheltered existence growing up as a rather well coddled kid on Vancouver’s west side. A trip to the “hood” in East Vancouver at that time seemed like a big adventure in my late teens. Now I was let loose in South Africa with a Visa Card and $1000 a month in cash with one simple goal – grow the business fast.

I had traveled over 50,000 kilometers (by car) alone that year from Cape Town to Mpumalanga and everywhere in between and also logged 3 round-trip flights from my hometown in Vancouver, Canada to Johannesburg in that same time period. On average I was doing 5 presentations per week varying from in-home 12 person pitches to presentations addressing over 700 people in large convention halls.  The group pitches I was doing often devolved from the original script I was given to something that resembled a time-share sales pitch (not one of the proudest moments in my sales career).

The fearless Shane who people met socially and in the community was a very different Shane in business. I was professionally afraid. Rigid, polished, always positive – everything was “fantastic.” I thought I had to look and sound like the successful people in my industry in order to be recognized and successful. No one would follow or listen to me if they knew that I was afraid or inexperienced. I wore the same uniform as the business leaders I wanted to be: a blue or black suit (never brown, never linen) a white shirt and a red or blue tie.

I told the same jokes as everyone else during my presentations. When it came time for goal setting I would write down goals very similar to the goals that I thought others would approve of. My sales targets and goals were almost identical to theirs. I would nod my head along with everyone else about the virtues of delayed gratification.

In all accounts I was living a lie. I was hiding the adventurous, spiritual, often offside and very creative part of me for the sake of my career. It would take me many more years to realize this: who I truly was, was the person everyone else wanted to meet. Not the guy in the blue suit with the “fantastic” attitude. I decided that I would never hide or apologize for myself again – instead celebrate it.

For the sake of brevity in this blog post I will give you a condensed timeline of some of events to date and then talk about the one very important message I would have given myself at 22.

In following years I would:

  • Quit the direct sales business and work with Craig Young at a Vancouver based youth entrepreneurship center – one of the most rewarding and soulful jobs I have ever had.
  • Co-author 3 books with three amazing people: Trevor Greene, Stephen Jagger, and the late Jay Conrad Levinson.
  • Get married and divorced twice
  • Go bankrupt
  • Receive the Chairman’s Award from the Vancouver Board of Trade for 14 years of Engaged Community Leadership
  • Say goodbye to all four of my grandparents and many good friends
  • Have a son Kristian  - who is now my best friend
  • Crash land in an airplane and live to tell about it
  • Meet Shawna, the woman of my dreams two years ago (who is also my best friend)
  • Lose more big deals than I would close - and love it
  • Speak to over 100,000 people on stages in India, Malaysia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada, USA, Chile, Brazil and Colombia
  • Pray in 9 Buddhist temples in one day
  • Work with amazing organizations such as Ford Motor Company, Hub International, Corning, CMHC, and Guerrilla Marketing International
  • Get listed on Forbes.com as one of the top 30 social sale influencers in the world
  • More recently take a full-time Sales Trainer position with my long time client BuildDirect

Here’s the amazing thing about this list. I wouldn’t trade any of these experiences for the “get rich” goals I had on my original 5-year plan when I was 22.  My business failures actually helped me strip away the “Persona” of Shane and discover the person. The positive achievements were almost all a result of times in my life where I allowed the real me to courageously come out to play, express and adventure.

If I were talking to my 22-year-old self today I would tell him the following:

1)   Value your relationships. Listen more, take more time with them and give much more. There’s always another big deal or opportunity around the corner. When the deals fade away and times get tough it’s those people you fostered real meaningful relationships with that will help pick you up and dust you off.

2)   Be more reckless in business. Shed the blue suit, and have conversations other people are afraid to start. Life is truly short and there’s only one of you – let ‘em out and disarm and enchant people with your authenticity and vulnerability. As my good friend and mentor Fred Shadian says, “There is no failure only feedback.” Be more vulnerable – say you don’t know when you don’t know. The more willing we are to learn new things, make mistakes, fail fast and get up faster the sooner we will reach our potential.

3)   When you fail in business and in life, get on your knees and give thanks. It’s those failures that help us shed the fragile ego and attachments that are holding us back from truly being who we are. Until you do this you will never really get a handle on your true purpose. Celebrate those failures, learn from them, forgive yourself and move on.

Final thoughts: At the ripe old age of 38 I presently spend most of my days at BuildDirect as one of the older guys in the office training the sales team. I get to share my 19 years in international sales and business with an awesome group of mostly 20 something’s and it’s amazing. Working with a young dynamic team lets me live the adventure twice and learn so much every day. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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