You Don’t Need To Be A Rockstar To Live Your Dream

After 22 years of being in Sales Engineering, I want to give back to the role that changed my perspective on living my dreams. I’m sure at some point that many of you, like me, wanted to be a rock star but never got a record deal. Wanted to be a professional golfer, but couldn’t get close to tour player status. Wanted to be an Oscar winning actor but didn’t have the guts to move to Los Angeles hoping to be discovered. I thought about all of those things, because that was what it meant to “live your dream.” Instead, I found a surprising way to fulfil the desires that drove these dreams and didn’t realize it. And I don’t want others to miss that.

I know it sounds like an exaggeration. It’s really not.

Becoming a Sales Engineer lifted me out of a dull existence. I got a degree in Computer Science. I was an 80’s nerd. After graduation, I was looking down this dark tunnel of long days of writing code, debugging server issues, listening to complaints about stuff always going down. Despite its rise in popularity, the life of the master coder didn’t appeal to me. And, I liked being on stage, so to speak. I liked solving someone’s problem or showing them something that impressed them. I had no idea there was an actual job that would let me do that.

The opportunity for that job came through a former colleague turned good friend. We were both in corporate IT. At lunch or at happy hour, we would talk about how things would be so different if we were in charge. We made a plan to go out on our own. I ended up doing it. It was mostly freelance work where I could find it: tech support, running network cable (yeah, I’m that old), some app dev stuff. It was stressful trying to work a job and find the next one. And I sucked at the important financial stuff, like really knowing how much to charge, not floating too much debt, etc. I was emptying my bank account before month end and using credit to keep going. Not good.

It was different for my friend. Instead of going on his own, he got a job in sales at a software company. Only it wasn’t what I thought was sales. He still did technical stuff. He demonstrated software. He built prototypes. People got excited. He made great money. Within 10 minutes of hearing about it, I wanted in. I connected with his recruiter and got my first role as a Technical Representative for a BI company. I loved the job, the sales culture, the people I worked with. It was simply awesome.

But, it got better. After several years of being an SE, I was offered the opportunity to manage. At first, I resisted. SE managers were simply administrators — scheduling, resolving schedule conflicts, handling complaints from sales. No thanks. But then another colleague turned good friend showed me it was different. SE’s were a special breed of people. To survive and to excel, they needed leadership that understood and could foster the right environment. They needed coaching, feedback, challenge, promotion. My awesome job just got more awesome.

As an SE Manager, Director, and VP, I had the privilege to lead within organizations going through some interesting times. I’ve managed at huge companies making yearly acquisitions. I’ve managed at start-ups experiencing hyper fast growth. I’ve led small teams of 3 and large organizations of over 200. I amassed a wealth of life experience and scar tissue.

During all of this, I travelled over a million miles in the air. I would be in 3 different cities in one week. I would work weekends, miss birthdays and family events. When I was home, I tried to be present. But with all of that work, I unfortunately found myself sometimes doubting, wondering if I was doing the right thing. It did take me away from my family. My golf game and music suffered. I questioned my “work-life balance.”

When l look at things now, I realize that the notion of “work life balance” is wrong. Work IS life. Not in the sense that we all have an obligation to labor for the communal good. No. But in the sense that the meaning of life comes from being able to work according to your purpose. Unfortunately, “Work” became a dirty word. Something you had to do to make a living, but not something you should enjoy. This was the reality we were supposed to accept. Becoming an SE changed that notion for me. I actually enjoyed work. But because of these negative preconceived notions, I didn’t take the time to enjoy it. I felt guilty for all of the work. It’s not like I was living my dream.

Or was I?

Being an SE didn’t fit in to the typical notion of “living your dream.” Being a rock star or a professional athlete or an actor was considered living a dream life. Doing product demonstrations and trying to convince people to buy software — who would actually DREAM of doing that? But what a narrow, skewed view this is. Being an SE is more than that. It’s the chance to excite people. It’s the opportunity to be creative, to solve complicated problems, to put your own flair and style on what you do. To be part of a team with the singular focus of bringing something new and cool to the world. It turns out that these ARE things I dreamt of doing.

On top of that, I realized there was even a higher purpose. SE’s help companies sell stuff. Helping sell stuff brings in revenue. And that revenue pays people’s salaries and healthcare, makes more products, and keeps companies going. And I helped to get that revenue. It didn’t make me feel arrogant. Yes, I was proud. And humbled. I might not be curing some harsh disease or ending poverty or bringing about world peace. But what I was doing was helping to provide a livelihoods for others.

I realized that I finally WAS living a dream. I woke up before my alarm, excited. I sometimes worked into the night on the energy and enthusiasm for the role. I took the red eyes, did a call or two while on vacation, missed a few of the kids events — all because this was something I really believed in.

But the enthusiasm bled into other aspects of my life as well. I made the time to coach my sons’ sports. My golf game improved. I played my guitar more often. I realized that accepting that this WAS living a dream made every aspect of my life better — not just the work.

I wish I had this realization sooner. So now my cause is to open the eyes of those who, like me, were searching for something more in their life, who may be stuck in a limited view of work, and help them realize they can live their dream. If you want to figure out how to become a Sales Engineer, I’d love to help. If you’re an SE and want to up your game, let me know. If you’re an SE manager and want help leading and inspiring, I’m happy to share what I can. Everyone who has the knack and skill and talent to become an SE should have all of the support they need to grow and develop in the role, and the realization that it is a role to be truly treasured and enjoyed.

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Half geek half sales guy wholly opinionated writer who found sales engineering and made a good living at it. Giving back to help those looking to do same.

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Bill Balnave

Bill Balnave

Half geek half sales guy wholly opinionated writer who found sales engineering and made a good living at it. Giving back to help those looking to do same.

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