I was walking in my neighborhood one sunny Saturday morning with my 7-year-old daughter when out of nowhere a Hummer driving recklessly hit me head on. The driver, a local mom, didn’t slow down before impact because she simply wasn’t paying attention. The police report said my first words were, “What happened to me?” It was August 4, 2012.
I’ve never scared away from a challenge or been fearful that my mind or body would let me down. Until that day, I’d never really been scared about anything. It probably stems from being raised in a large family with a big brother who used to torment me with Navy-Seal-type vigor, like being made to tread water with my hands while my feet were raised about the water level. In the past, without much anxiety, I flew planes, zip-lined, repelled, ran marathons, entered ski races, water-skied, passed a UPS driver road test (with parallel parking), built websites, gave presentations and started my own company. You could say I handle stress pretty well. That’s because I always believed that things would work out. However, I wasn’t planning on getting hit by the front end of a Hummer.
In 2009 when the economy was taking a nose dive and marketing budgets were being slashed, the only way I was going to keep being a productive salesperson selling promotional items and apparel was to go it alone and keep the 50% of the profits I was currently giving to my employer. I realized I was doing all of the work of prospecting, selling, sourcing and putting together presentations anyway. So why not open my own corporation? My husband thought I was nuts because I was the main bread winner in the family. But I did it anyway. I figured out how to build a website and found a financing/buying group to hire that would give me the funding I needed. I was creative with my product suggestions and excellent at client meetings. (I went on to earn over $1 million in sales in my first two years).
My professional confidence spilled over into my personal life and I decided to run a marathon for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society in order to give back to something bigger than myself while helping those with cancer. I enlisted my friend and sister to run the race with me and, once again, my husband thought I was nuts. “How are you going to raise that much money in a recession?” he asked. But undeterred we went on to raise more than $12,000 and completed the race with four months of training. Fearless, I really believed there was nothing I couldn’t do, teach myself or train for. I had a mantra when I first went into sales at 100% commission after my first daughter was born. “I am going to make a 6-figure income and be a good mom.” I would say it every day to center myself and keep an eye on my goals.
What I didn’t know then is that the axis of my life was going to be tilted the day that Hummer hit me. My center of strength – my seeming unending well of self-confidence – just dried up.
I was physically knocked out of my sneakers, thrown about 15 feet in the air, and knocked unconscious with my young daughter, who I had pushed to the side, looking on. I don’t remember the accident. My first real memory was in the E.R. seeing the doctors cut off my clothes. I would soon learn that I suffered from a closed head injury with a severe concussion as well as spine and neck injuries. For months, I couldn’t work or drive and was having problems just forming straight thoughts and finishing my sentences. To top it off, I couldn’t exercise, an integral part of my daily activity that enabled me to handle stress so well.
And my one-woman sale business? Well, that took some hits too.
Sales were down, and then a second blow six months later: I lost my biggest client who had recently laid off 150 people and closed down its marketing department. This was shortly followed by a third blow, when another big client had to buy from a new vendor after their company was bought by a company with an RFP in place. In the marketing sales business, there is always some sort of ebb and flow with clients changing but the challenge for me was my inability to make-up for the lost clients. I couldn’t attend tradeshows and could only work on the computer for a few hours at a time. Thinking creatively became difficult and I was feeling very stressed out as anxiety slowly started to creep in. For the first time ever, I was scared about my ability to make money and our finances were in bad shape.
Then one day in May 2014, I got a call from a woman within my promotional industry about selling skincare for Rodan & Fields. I was like, “Honey, you have the wrong girl … Not only am I not a skin-care type of person, but my face is on fire.” (It literally was hot and swollen with rosacea from the stress.) When she told me one of the products was for rosacea, I decided to research the company. I signed on as a consultant because I believed taking a chance on myself and doing something completely out of the norm was what I needed. And you guessed it, once again, my husband thought I was nuts (I always take this as a good sign).
I started weekly phone conversations with Suzie, my team leader. She had many years of sales management experience and that resonated with me immediately. I listened to training calls, read inspiring books about business and entrepreneurs that she suggested, and started incorporating some of the techniques into my marketing business.
It was like I had hit “RESET” and then “GO”. I rebooted myself and started getting new clients in both businesses. Taking small positive steps every day led me back to where I belonged, where my strength was. In short, I got my mojo back.
I know the risk that comes with adversity when negative thoughts such as doubt, pain and fear can creep in and destroy someone but I wanted to use the accident to shape how I was going to move forward. Unbelievably, I can now say, “Thank you” to that experience because I am a stronger person for it.
I’m grateful to my “pre-accident” self for all those prior successes in my life. I can reflect back and say to myself, “look what you have accomplished.” But I will keep growing and pushing myself past my comfort zone because those experiences are the best and most memorable. I am stockpiling them to draw on in the future. I know I am strong and capable because I have proven that before. And, once again, I have found the confidence to make my life and career anything I want it to be.
Eileen Davenport is a Certified Women-Owned Business in the promotional products and corporate marketing industry with 20 years of experience. She is also on a mission to help those with rosacea and other skin problems that affect self-confidence, you can visit her Rodan & Fields website. Eileen lives on Long Island, NY, with her husband and three children. Her favorite quote is “Fall seven times, stand up eight” and her favorite poem is “Risks”.