Michael Lewis, Liar's Poker
What makes "hard work" hard? It may impinge on the spirit (the chip shop operative in Glasgow on a Saturday night, or the checkout assistant), the intellect (the QC or the academic) or the body (the bricklayer or the gravedigger). Working as a salesman, especially if you're temperamentally unsuited to it, is hard on the spirit because your job is bound, by cold mathematical certainty, to contain more failure than success: you will only ever convince a minority of your prospects to subject themselves to meeting you; and, in turn, only a minority of those you meet will "sign on the line which is dotted" (to quote Blake, played by Alec Baldwin, in Glengarry Glen Ross).
Of course, underpinning the popular identity of the salesman is this: he is necessary. (To the business in question, if not humanity in its widest sense.) Without the pitch, nothing happens. Some things are sold, some are bought. This distinction was clarified by Seth Godin in January 2012...
Some things are bought -- like bottled water, airplane tickets and chewing gum. The vendor sets up shop and then waits, patiently, for someone to come along and decide to buy. Other things are sold -- like cars, placement of advertising in magazines and life insurance. If no salesperson is present, if no pitch is made, nothing happens. Both are important. Both require a budget and a schedule and a commitment. Confusion sets in when you're not sure if your product or service is bought or sold, or worse, if you are a salesperson just waiting for people to buy.
So, yes, given the nature of the services I was selling, it could be said fairly that were I not present, nothing would have been shipped; my stuff would never have been merely bought. Was I any good? No, not really. Yes, I can string a solidly cliché-free sentence together, and I suppose this ability, and my sharp eye for grammatical detail in writing those enthralling proposals of mine, helped me hold my own. But I was never part of the 20 who made the 80, because I was poor at unrelentingly producing the level of activity required to excel; and, frankly, I was too aware of the faint whiff of shame which had attached itself to me. That I was mildly ashamed of what I had to do to succeed at my job -- pester people to agree to meet me, then make them listen to a bit of friendly, low-pressure turd-polishing -- meant that I generally approached my clients in a bloodless, studiedly non-salesy and jargon-free manner: "Man, I allowed myself to be talked into meeting this bloody salesman at eleven o'clock this morning," they probably thought to themselves, "but at least the fucker doesn't seem to be a total spiv."
Selling, for me, was largely about confounding the client's tendency to believe that I, personally, was stereotypically pushy and disreputable, much more than it was about my having some sort of carnivorous lust for smashing the month's targets. And there's vanity in that. Pity my poor managers -- they really would have been much happier with Blake, from Glengarry Glen Ross, or his ilk, running my desk. (As utterly monstrous (yet compelling) a creation as Blake is, there are many truths in his anti-motivational rant, particularly regarding that oh-so-comfortable place where middling or second-rate salesmen love to wallow, where they'll bitch about anything other than their own laziness or timidity as a reason for their poor performance.)
The short version: I used to be a salesman and I largely didn't like it; I do something different now, and I like it. This said, I believe that my present contentment is governed as much by the how (self-employment), as it is by the what (practical work).
Yes, I concede to my former managers that I was occasionally a bit sour about being deskbound. Since being released into the wild, I have become much happier. I hope that they, too, soon cut their ties with salaried life and, as suggested by Matthew Crawford, "reason together to solve some practical problems among themselves." I agree with Crawford that starting a small business, "remains valid, especially if the enterprise provides a good or service with objective standards, as those may serve as the basis for social relations within the enterprise that are nonmanipulative in character ...Such work ties us to the local communities in which we live, and instills the pride that comes from doing work that is genuinely useful."
- - -
I apologise to all for using the non-gender neutral term "salesman" throughout; I simply felt the need to stick to it... I think it's that I was physically unable to use the term (of myself) when I was one, but I now can, now that I'm not one.