How Being Racially Bullied Made Me a Better Saleswoman

There are defining experiences in our lives that shape who we are as a person. Experiences that either break us or bolster us.  What I am about to share with you is a story about how events in my childhood could have had lasting, damaging effects, but instead have helped shape me into the sales expert I am today. I’m going to talk about some pretty intense and life-changing events from my teen years and my goal not to elicit sympathy. My story is meant merely to show you how everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly can be turned into something positive if you so choose.

A little history: I grew up in a Sundown town in central Indiana, mid-1980s. Being the only Black family in a town of 2500 residents, you can imagine some of the challenges this presented. While I was well-liked and involved in a wide variety of school activities, there was a handful of people who tried to make my formative years a living hell.

Let me introduce you to my childhood bully, “DT” On the first day of junior high, DT (a high school junior) made it his mission to welcome me by yelling“Hey Ni**er” as I walked by him to get to gym class. Every day for a year, he and his crew hurled racial epithets at me and tried their best to shake my confidence and crush my self-esteem. It almost worked.

Fortunately, I have amazing parents who - through their challenges with similar experiences - were able to offer love, guidance, and help me maintain a level of self-esteem that got me through the toughest years of my young life.

My experience with DT taught me crucial lessons as a child - lessons that now that I’m an adult, allow me to see those experiences through a different lens. While I won’t go so far as to express gratitude for D.T.’s treatment, I will share with you the value it brings to life as a sales professional.

Here are 3 Ways My Bully Made Me a Better Salesperson

“Look Behind the Curtain”


Conduct a Google search on “Why do people bully?” and you will end up with over 81 Million hits. I don’t have to tell you that hurt people hurt and that they reasons they hurt are as numerous as the number of people inflicting the pain. One thing I know for sure is that recognizing this was the first step in processing my confusion and hurt around my bully. You see, the moment I realized that D.T. was acting out because of his internal issues, I began feeling sorry for him. This simple paradigm shift was the beginning of my ability to see the bullying for what it was, instead of seeing myself as a victim.

As a sales professional, I learned early on that our initial dealings with a prospect can sometimes be misleading. Whether they’re throwing out stall tactics or objections, it merely means they don’t have enough information to make a decision. Instead of attacking those objections head-on, I learned to seek first to understand my prospect and their goals fully. Doing so helps develop a relationship built upon mutual trust and admiration.

“But Did You Die?”

Fear can be paralyzing. When I think back to those initial days of walking past D.T., waiting for him to start his tirade, I remember how I would have given anything for an alternate route to my 7th-period class.  In the five minutes between classes, I waited until the very last possible moment before starting the two-minute walk across the building. That 120 seconds was the longest part of my day and looking back, it was the scariest of my life. Amazingly enough, once I got to my destination, I was fine. With time, I realized that all I had to do was make it through those two minutes and everything would be okay.

My CrossFit coach is famous for walking around the gym after a killer workout and asking, “But did you die?” Everyone chuckles between gasps of air as the reality sinks in - the workout may have been painful, but we lived to tell about it.  I think about this when I’m faced with a daunting list of tasks, dealing with an angry client, or when I’m looking at the phone, delaying my prospecting calls.

Fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, and fear of pain can paralyze you if you let it. It’s only when you do the thing you fear the most that real growth happens. Instead of thinking about what could happen, push the fear to the back of your mind and ACT. I guarantee that taking action is the absolute best remedy for fear.

“Don’t Suffer in Silence”

Looking back, I don’t know what prevented me from telling my parents about DT and his bullying. It could have been my thinking that I could handle it on my own, my unwillingness to see myself as a victim, or sheer determination not to let him get the best of me. Whatever the reason, my silence resulted in two years of harassment that could have been alleviated if I had opened my mouth and asked for help.

Pride is like table salt - a little can enhance the flavor of whatever it touches, but too much can kill the taste. Pride can also prevent us from seeking the help we need to overcome life’s challenges. In my professional life, I used to try and figure things out by myself (better ways to overcome objections, prospect work with gatekeepers, etc.), only to end up wasting precious time and resources being stubborn. There is immense power in mentorship, sponsorship, and coaching. Only when I humbled myself and admitted that I could use some help did true growth occur.

I have no idea where DT is now or how his life turned out after high school. What I do know with certainty is that as a woman of faith, God has the amazing ability to turn things that were initially designed for evil, into something for our good. Growing up in a racially-charged environment with a bully intent on instilling fear and insecurity could have had some long-lasting adverse effects. Fortunately, I had loved ones who taught me that my value is intrinsic and that life’s lemons can be turned into lemonade.

Being racially bullied as a child has definitely made me a better saleswoman. Enduring two years of torture made me resilient, persistent, patient, inquisitive, and fearless. I can walk into a room of Fortune 50 executives with my head held high knowing that there’s nothing they can toss my way that I haven’t already seen or heard. After all, I was indoctrinated by stress.

We all have our own DT from our childhood. Maybe not a bully like he was, but there’s something that you can use to make you a better salesperson. What is your DT? Tell me in the comments below.