As a newcomer into the world of academic publishing sales, I was anxious to prove myself. I had gone from being a top performing teacher in my old job, to a novice, inexperienced imposter. Or so it felt. I felt like I was running too quick on my hamster wheel, just dying to get someone to take nibble of my cheese. As you can see by the metaphor, sales still confuse me.

After about nine weeks in the position, the pandemic hit. My in-person, travelling, visiting professors in their offices job went virtual. Their classes went virtual. Cue the sea of unanswered emails that still flood my nightmares. Sales is hard at any time, but the stress of the pandemic reduced the normally low response rate even more so.

We had a big meeting about our new digital technology. Advanced ebooks with adaptive learning. They were amazing. Students could answer questions about the material they learned and then follow up quizzes would reflect and focus on their own particularly problematic areas of study. No two review quizzes would be the same. Plus gamified workbooks. These products had cost the company tons of money to develop, and we were urged to get them in front of our professors as soon as possible.

So I did. I really believed in this product and knew it would be an amazing addition to any class, let alone all the forced online classes that were being taught without notice or prep time. I emailed every prospect on my list with really great personalized emails.

I had one professor express interest. Thrilled, I ran a virtual demo of the product for him. He liked it. He agreed to use it for a class of 250 students! I went through all of the onboarding steps they were making up as they went along. I had follow up calls with the professor and created step-by-step instructions for his students. It would be minimal effort on his part and super easy for his students, who would reap from the added benefits of the technology. I was elated. I just knew this first big sale would move me out of my rookie ranks.

When connected for our weekly virtual team meeting that week, I was uncharacteristically cheerful. Normally I dreaded these meetings because we had to present the biggest opportunities we were working, and I often had little to say. This time would be different.

“I have a big announcement to make,” my manager announced a few minutes into the meeting. ”We officially have our very first Canadian adoption of our enhanced ebooks.”

I squealed. I knew my sale was a big one, but I hadn’t expected to be the very first Canadian rep to get this product into schools! That was amazing!

“Alexis has secured, rather aggressively, a 250 student adoption at the University of Treviston.”

I stared at my black Zoom screen, at the names of my muted off-camera coworkers. Congratulations started to fill the chat. But I felt numb. Had they heard what I heard?

Rather aggressively. The words played back in my head over and over again. What had he meant by that? Was it a compliment? Sales is all about tenacity, but does aggression fall under that same category? We definitely emphasized consultative skills over aggressive tactics in our trainings. In the reflection of my screen I could only see my own stricken face.

Had I been aggressive? I’d been thorough with my outreach, forthright with my opinions of the product and diligent and adaptable with its implementation to ensure success. I hadn’t forced the professor into this decision. I’d done everything they’d asked me to do. Was that aggressive?

The question that lingered the most after that call was whether or not he have chosen the same adjective if a male colleague had been the first Canadian rep to achieve this feat. If he did, would it have the same negative undertones I was picking up on? With the same almost sarcastic delivery? Had I imagined that? It didn’t sound or feel like a compliment. It felt like my huge accomplishment was being diminished somewhat. Aggressive is definitely a word with negative connotations, a word I’ve had associated with myself.

Regardless of his intention, I started looking for new jobs after that. I aggressively researched new companies, aggressively wrote cover letters and aggressively prepared for interviews. If aggression was an unbeknownst part of my personality these days, I might as well use it to my advantage.

2021

9 thoughts on “The Aggression

  1. Who cares what that d-bag thinks?! You won!! As a dude … and a human… I like winners! Very nice story. I love hearing this perspective. Hope you found a job where they appreciate winners.

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  2. Good for you for leaving that company. Sounds like there was jealousy on his part. It has always bothered me that if a woman goes after what she wants or stands up for herself, she’s considered a bitch or aggressive. Yet, when a man does that he is considered being assertive, manly, strong and praised for it.

    Given the situation you were in with attempting to sell text books while things went online during the pandemic, you’d need to be assertive, diligent, tenacious and that should have been rewarded.

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  3. I wonder what adjective your former manager would’ve used if it were a man who hit that sales mark…? “Rather aggressively” does sound like a microaggression, and he really didn’t have to say that. I guess some people really can’t be happy for other’s successes!

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  4. Wow! In no sense of meaning was that meant as a compliment, even threated between what one could say were kudos. This boss might harbor sexist thoughts and was disappointed that a woman was able to achieve this great thing; or it may have been in the context of trying to motivate others to be more tenacious. It just didn’t need to be said. I’d have been tempted, once I found a new job, for one-on-one contact in which I’d state, “This may appear rather aggressive to you, but I find your comment recently as rude and possibly sexist in nature, so I am going to aggressively give you my notice to terminate my employment here.”

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  5. Pardon me if I play the devil’s advocate but I’m not sure if I agree. It sounds like a matter of semantics and perhaps a manager who was like the proverbial bull in a China shop. Maybe because I’m older than you (I’m assuming, because everyone is younger than me lately!) and I was on the work scene for many years, your manager was just an asshole. When I was working, it was definitely a man’s world and back then we women pretty much accepted that as the norm. In retrospect I see how sexist the work environment was and if I knew then what I know now a lot of men would have gotten kicked in the balls! What you accomplished you did out of hard work and determination. You knew that. Perhaps staying in your position and showing everyone what a superstar you really are would have been the perfect revenge. That said, you did what you felt was right and for that you must be commended. Some people are just not “people people” and your former manager sounds like one of them. Congrats to you on a job well done with determination. The very best to you in all your future endeavor! 🌟

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  6. Strangely enough, that’s the question I was asking myself too, even before I got to the part where you expressed it! I’m glad you’ve embraced your tenacity that he calls aggressive and are using it as a new strength. Go you!

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