What it takes to be the best

This is a short story about a famous Hollywood actor who started a second career (and found his true passion) at the age of 45. That’s 27 years after he made his acting debut. I’ve written in this blog before about how dissatisfied so many people are with their current jobs. If that’s you, then let my words here inspire you to greater success.

The actor I’m writing about is Paul Newman, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 83. His second career, his true passion, was professional auto racing. Who’d have guessed, right? So maybe there’s a future career for you that you haven’t ever considered before. If it’s sales you’re interested in, you’re going to quickly see some parallels between acting, auto racing and sales.

Find Your Passion

A lot of people think you have to be passionate about what you sell to be successful. The truth is, you just have to be passionate about selling, especially about helping your prospects reach their goals.

In the 1960s, Paul Newman was one of those “A-List” actors, worth multiple millions in revenue to the studios that were able to book him. But he was looking for more than a career. He was looking for a challenge. Newman wanted to know he was the best at something and he wanted others to know it too.

As he put it, with the Oscars, other people choose whether you’re the best or not. But how do you even compare actors staring in different roles in movies catering to different audiences? In auto racing, you cross the finish line first and you are the best. You control the outcome, not a committee.

Sales is no different. Want to be the best? Control the outcome. Close more sales. Be the first to cross the finish line. How do you get there? Well, in 1968, Newman was cast in a feature film called Winning. He played a racecar driver. To add a bit of realism to the movie, Newman drove a real race car, at speed. In fact, Newman accepted this role over other higher-paying gigs, because he’d always wanted to know if he could drive a racecar. That was the challenge he sought.

And how does an actor zip around the track at 200 m.p.h. and survive? He takes lessons — at a racing school. Selling is no different. If you want to be a success at selling, find a master closer who will mentor you and start taking lessons. For Newman, a simple acting gig gave way to a lifetime passion. Think of the possibilities for you.

But acting out a few short scenes in a movie that have been perfectly choreographed, doesn’t exactly compare to the open circuit where you take your life into your hands the moment you start your engine. For that you’ll need more than passion and more than a few lessons.

Develop Perseverance

Newman’s acting career developed over many years and he got better and better at it. He was nominated 10 times for an Academy Award, 8 for Best Actor. The second time was for the 1961 film, The Hustler. The Committee chose another actor. Twenty-five years later, Newman reprised his role of “Fast Eddie” Felson in The Hustler, this time in Martin Scorsese’s, The Color of Money. He took home the Oscar for Best Actor. Twenty-five years is a pretty long time to wait for recognition. So don’t ever think about giving up because it’s taking longer than expected to get that appointment, or close that deal or make your first million.

Roll With the Punches

Newman said that in acting, you learn to go out there and make mistakes — that in order to do it right you have to do it wrong. The same is true of racing and the same is true of selling. Newman did make mistakes on the track and did crash a few cars. He readily admits he was a slow study: “It takes me a long time, but you can’t quit because they’re laughing at you.”

Everything new in life feels a little awkward at first. Think of a small child doing the Frankenstein walk until walking feels natural and a little self-confidence sets in. You’re going to stumble and you might even do a few faceplants before selling feels natural to you. Sometimes we have to figure out the right way of doing things by first eliminating all the wrong ways.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Acting, racing, selling — it’s all the same. Want to get better at selling? Practice relentlessly. Newman eased into professional racing, starting at the back of the pack with low-power cars. Most people in Hollywood couldn’t take such a hit on their ego. But Newman understood that being the best, took a huge amount of skill and experience. It wasn’t going to happen overnight. He also understood that in racing you’re competing with yourself as much as you are the other guy. Driven by passion and sustained by perseverance, Newman worked his way to the top, one race at a time.

His first Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) win came in 1972 on a very small race track in Connecticut. By the time Newman put the racing gloves down for good, he’d won four SCCA national championships, moving up in class each time to faster cars on faster tracks. He even managed a second place win (first in class) at the 24 hours at Le Mans, France, the most grueling of all endurance races.

At the age of 70 years and 8 days, Newman won his class at the 24 Hours at Daytona, as the oldest team driver in a major sanctioned race. He won his last race at the age of 82, driving a 700 horsepower Corvette. Many men that age have a tough time getting out of bed in the morning, and yet Newman beat guys one-quarter his age. He once remarked that he had never been overly athletic, or physically graceful. His grace was in the physical connection he had with his race cars.

There are a handful of people who’ve become sales legends over the years, most by writing books about their sales careers. Unlike acting and auto racing, professional selling isn’t made for the limelight nor is it made for grandstand audiences. It’s made to be a one-on-one relationship between buyer and seller. And if you do it right, it can be just as thrilling and rewarding as winning an Oscar or passing the checkered flag at 200 m.p.h.

Steve McQueen, another actor with a passion for racing, once said: “A lot of people go through life doing things badly. Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after … is just waiting.”

You could very easily substitute “selling” for “racing” in that quote. It’s a perfect fit.

All the best,


PS: There’s more to the Paul Newman story, including his everyman, down-to-earth humility and his great philanthropic work. If you get a chance, watch the documentary film called Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman.

And when you’re ready for a mentor to take you to the next level, start right here.