EPISODE 544: Sales Success While Battling Chronic Illness with Nikita Williams

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast, sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales featured an interview with Nikita Williams, host of the She’s Crafted to Thrive podcast]

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NIKITA’S TIP: Chronic illness means so many different things. Over 155 million people have a chronic illness. Chronic pain-related things affect the way you sleep, work, and every part of your life. Having chronic illness means learning how to be resilient.


Fred Diamond: Nikita, it’s great to see you here. Interesting topic we’re going to be talking about. You do work to help women with chronic illness optimize their careers in sales and business and other things. Now, for people who are listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast, they know that I’ve done a number of shows. One of my causes is chronic Lyme disease, making more people aware of it.

I have someone in my life who had chronic Lyme disease, and I understand a lot of the challenges that she had gone through. I actually published a book on the topic, which you can find in the show notes. I’m excited to have you here today. First off, it’s great to see you. You’re doing tremendous work. You’re not just a mindset business coach, but you’re also the host of the podcast, She’s Crafted to Thrive.

Chronic illness. I want to spend a lot of time getting to what you do and what your advice would be for the sales leaders listening to the show. Give us a little bit of an insight. I’ve seen some estimates that close to 150 million Americans alone suffer either from diagnosed or undiagnosed chronic illness. Talk a little bit about what chronic illness means, tell us what you went through, and how you got to this point.

Nikita Williams: Chronic illness means so many different things, and thanks so much for having me on, Fred. I think we don’t recognize the capacity and how it affects people in so many different places. Over 155 million people actually was an estimated number before 2020 of where we would be now. You can imagine that number is probably way bigger, and influencing people’s lives in ways we don’t realize. For me, I live with fibromyalgia and endometriosis, both very chronic pain-related things and they affect the way you sleep, they affect the way you work, they affect every part of your life. For me, chronic illness means learning how to be resilient, and all of those different challenges in every area of my life.

Fred Diamond: One of the challenges with some of the diseases that you just referred to are that they’re invisible. People can’t see them. One of the challenges that women and men who have chronic illness go through is that, unlike cancer where you lose your hair, or broken bones, or some type of muscle disease, the person may look fine and people may not even believe that you have anything wrong.

Nikita Williams: Yeah, that is one of the biggest complaints just from mental health situation in the world, especially if you are in the workforce. If you’re working in corporate, explaining to someone that you have a chronic illness that they can’t see, it’s a challenge. It’s a difficult thing to deal with. Also, for the person living with it, it is a challenge to articulate the boundaries, articulate what you feel and be seen and heard, even though they can’t see it and they don’t feel it.

Fred Diamond: Tell us some of the things that you do and then we’re going to get to some advice that you have for some of the sales professionals listening today. Take us through, if you don’t mind, some of the strategies that you do, some of the tactics that you do with your clients to help them get to where they want to be.

Nikita Williams: For my clients, they come to me looking for a way to speak and share their story and find the flow in their life and in their careers and with their families so that they don’t have to feel like they’re held hostage to their chronic pain and their chronic illness. The first thing we do is identify how to speak about the things that they’re experiencing and how to articulate that to themselves, then to their family members and then to those that they work for because as we just mentioned, it looks different and a lot of that has to do with acceptance.

Not acceptance in the sense that you are okay with the pain, but the fact that this is a part of your reality and there are different things that we need to do to accommodate those pains and those different challenges that you have. That’s the first thing that we do. Because if we don’t, we can’t really articulate our needs in any capacity. We really work on that first.

The next thing that we work on when it comes to their business is making sure that they run a business that aligns with what their reality is. I know for myself, when I first was working in the corporate world, I was going eight to five, and pushing through and doing all those things at the same time being physically and mentally exhausted.

When clients are working with me, they’re learning how to figure out where their ebbs and flows of energy are, and how again, we go back to that communication piece of explaining to their employee or to their mate or to their business partner that on these certain times of the day or week, I need this much capacity to do and take care of myself. A lot of what we do is work through the communication and setting up the boundaries and the systems that support them.

Fred Diamond: It’s an interesting point. One of the chapters in my book we talk about the healing process. It was written by a guy named Greg Kirk, who wrote a book about his battle with Lyme disease. The book was called Gratitude. He had a six stage process. Number five, the fifth step was accepting the fact that you have this chronic illness, as compared to a lot of people battle it and they’re constantly trying to figure out how to solve it when in reality, I like what you just said there, Nikita Williams, that one of the strategies is how do you live a life within the bounds of this particular illness?

A lot of the chronic illness that we’re talking about, they’re really not curable. I mean, chronic Lyme for example, it’s not curable. Now, you can control it. There’s a lot of things you could take, for example, to minimize some of the symptoms, but at the end of the day, you still have it and it will flare up at various times. I like the way that you went about that.

What goes through the mind? I want to talk to the leaders here who are listening to today’s Sales Game Changers podcast. Let’s say, I’m a sales leader, and I have somebody on my team and she told me, “By the way, I have this particular chronic disease,” what are some of the things that leaders should be thinking about as they have women on their team who do have chronic illness?

Nikita Williams: I would say, we mentioned before the show that I only work with women but these chronic illnesses also affect men. It’s really understanding how it affects them. I think a lot of leaders assume that it’s just a certain way, but the first line of communication is to ask questions to actually see how does this affect this person? Because someone with Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, these are things that affect each person differently. You need to get into the head and into the world of them to see, how does this work for them? How does this show up in their life? That’s the number one thing, is to ask them questions and be a bit curious.

Fred Diamond: What’s going through the mind of somebody with chronic illness? Help us understand that. Let’s say that we find out that we’re working with somebody in sales, or we’re managing somebody, or maybe we have a leader. Like I said, I’ve interviewed a couple of people on the Sales Game Changers podcast. I’ve done about a half a dozen shows of people who have chronic Lyme disease, and they’ve continued to have great careers, and they go through a lot of challenge. Sales is not easy if you’re 100% healthy, let alone as you have this chronic illness on the side as well.

Nikita Williams: I would say if you have someone on your team that has chronic illness or you yourself, I can almost guarantee you’re a high achiever and you do like three times the work than everyone else. It’s a likelihood that that’s what we’re doing because we’re trying to compensate for this feeling inside of our mind that we’re limited or we have to do more, and so we do work really hard to make sure that we’re doing our job well despite the pain, despite the challenges that come up with that.

I can speak from my own personal experience. I used to work in a pharmaceutical company, which is sales all day long no matter what platform you’re in. One of the things I had to learn as a woman thinking about this is that I have to really focus on quality over quantity. For a lot of people in different sales and different corporate industries, those who are living with chronic illness, yes, they might be doing a lot of the work, but they might focus their attention a little bit differently and see things differently because they know how to best articulate the results that they want to see because we have limited capacity.

Fred Diamond: What can you do if you have chronic illness in sales? It’s interesting. Again, sales requires energy, requires clear thought, requires showing up throughout the day and a lot of the chronic illness it’s about fatigue, it’s about pain, anxiety, stress. One of the big things with chronic illness is you have anxiety because some cases, you can’t take care of it. I know with Lyme disease it affects your entire body, so people are trying all these various things to try to have more energy, deal with the pain, and it just leads to anxiety. Talk about some of the things that they’re going through to try to be at that performance level.

Nikita Williams: I would think the first thing, honestly, is to take it a step at a time as far as your energy and your health. We can find ourselves trying too many things to compensate for our challenges with energy and fatigue and brain fog, which is a thing where things get fuzzy, and you can’t really understand where you’re going and what you’re saying.

When you add on the stress of dealing with figuring out what will work for you, it can add more stress than you need to. What I really work with my clients is really identifying one or two areas in their life that they can either stop, modify, or delegate. That’s so important in order for them to be in the sales place that they need to be at the best stability that they can.

For many of them, that requires making sure they get enough rest, even though that might feel hard. It means taking care of their nutrients and making sure that they’re eating, and drinking plenty of water. It’s the simple things that we all take for granted but we can’t not do them because they really do affect our ability to show up even in that kind of grind, if you will, of the day to day in that corporate sales environment.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about mindset. Again, today’s show, it’s the Optimal Sales Mindset episode of the Sales Game Changers podcast. How do you work with your clients to have a positive mindset when, I’ll be honest with you, they can be very, very distressed? Like we talked before, again, we do the Optimal Sales Mindset show every week for healthy sales professionals.

It’s a challenge especially now. We’re doing today’s show in June, spring of 2022. We just spent two years in the pandemic. It continues to go on at some level, we’re approaching a recession and there’s war, so there’s so much that you need to focus on to be successful as it is and then you throw chronic illness on top of it. Talk about some of the tactics or some of the ways, some of the methodology that you use with your clients to ensure that they can maintain a positive mindset.

Nikita Williams: From a coach’s standpoint, when it comes to mindset, I use positive psychology as the basis for what I teach and help my clients to take action on. There’s a few more than three things that are all negative things that are affecting us. Research has shown that three negative events can outweigh any positive one.

One of the first things I help my clients do is fill their positivity bank. I know that sounds kind of cheeky, but it’s a thing because you can deplete that positivity bank in such a way by focusing and only seeing the challenges. One of the major things I help my clients do is identify their strengths in all areas of their life and to see how they show up even in the challenges.

Positive psychology is really around talking about the science behind having a well-being type of lifestyle, and resilience. I can go really geeky on you for a second here but there was a study a while ago where those who were in the army, who were sent out multiple times, on the third time going out and coming back from their assignment, they felt they had less resiliency. It’s because they left their practice of positive gratitude and being intentional in filling those things.

This is a huge piece for anyone whether you have a chronic illness or not but even more importantly if you have a chronic illness because our challenges every single day, every single moment can be mounting. We need to identify, what are your top five strengths? How do you bring them out into your life? There are a lot of different tools and test studies out there that I send to my clients to find out what they are that are scientific based that help them feel empowered even in their worst day.

Even in the day you’re in the bed and you’re feeling like I have to call out or whatever it might be, that I can still bring this strength even in this moment and persevere. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I help my clients do is not to focus too much on the negative, but really to identify where they’re soaring, where they’re doing great. I would think that if you’re in a corporate environment, highlighting that for your employees at any function, and any capacity, showing them where their strengths are, how well they’re doing, is crucial for the success of your team.

Fred Diamond: One final question before I ask you for your final action step. Like I mentioned, I’ve done about a half a dozen episodes including today of the Sales Game Changers podcast on chronic Lyme and being successful in sales. I know you don’t have Lyme, but chronic illness is very similar and the illnesses that you have. Can you be successful? Can you be a high performing sales professional, business leader with a debilitating chronic illness? I’m not questioning if your strategy is correct. I’m just saying, is it something that people can overcome?

Nikita Williams: It’s interesting you ask that question. It’s about overcoming, but it’s more about learning to live in the excellence. If you live with a chronic illness, 9 times out of 10, it is a lifelong thing. There is no cure, there is no anything. But if you can learn to live and thrive despite those challenges, being able to articulate your boundaries, take care of your needs, and really give yourself the grace when there is needed grace for yourself. I do definitely think there are amazing women and men out there who are completely successful in what they do because of them taking care of the things that are most important in their journey. I just think it’s not necessarily overcoming, it’s learning how to live through it.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. Actually, like I said, a lot of the people that I’ve had on the show before have gotten to the point where they have accepted it. They’ve all said that when they were fighting their chronic Lyme disease, that it’s a constant battle because chronic illness shows up all the time. We talked before about, you made the great suggestion that you need to get sleep, you need to have nutrition. We did a show just on nutrition and Lyme disease.

They’re not really little things or things we take for granted. Being able to get a lot of sleep. We didn’t talk about this today, but dealing with trauma in your life. The guy who wrote the foreword to my book, The Great Dr. Richard Horowitz, who wrote How Can I Get Better, in the foreword to my book, he talked about the fact that one thing that you need to do before you can heal from chronic illness is you need to deal with trauma in your life. Anything that you may or may not even be aware of.

It’s very, very complicated, but I agree with you, you have to get to the point where you accept that’s who you are, this is what you have and how then can you live a life and be supported, so that you can be successful. I agree with you, there are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people, millions maybe, with chronic illness, who have lived a successful life once they’ve accepted it and have lived the life within those means.

Nikita Williams, I want to applaud you for the great work you’re doing. You’ve helped so many women achieve things that they probably never thought they would be able to do. Chronic illness ain’t going away. There are so many things that we’ve learned that are coming out of the pandemic that we’ve had to face ourselves with and chronic illness is definitely one that isn’t going away that we’re going to need to find ways to control.

Nikita, as we like to do, give us a final action step. You’ve given us so many good ideas for the sales professionals with chronic illness and those who are supporting them or leading them. Give us one final thought, one final action step people can take right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Nikita Williams: I would say assess your team, assess how they’re supporting you and your goals as a chronic illness warrior like I like to call us and being sure that you are sharing your needs.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point. Yeah, we can’t read your mind, tell us what you need and you know what? For people who love a chronic Lyme survivor, they will do what’s necessary. Once again, thank you to Nikita Williams. My name is Fred Diamond. This is the Sales Game Changers podcast.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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