My Journey To Discovering Learn, Earn, Return

HunterXLife Discovering Learn, Earn, Return

I recently had the pleasure of mentoring a 24-year-old who had just joined a new tech company and was looking for career guidance. The first thing he told me was that things were not going as expected. Remember, he’s 24 years old and this is his second job, ever. I asked him, “Why did you leave the job you had, the one that sounded pretty fun?” He replied, “I received a significant base salary increase.”

Hmmmm… I didn’t like that answer. His response reminded me of my last blog and the idea of Learn, Earn, and Return. Some people may have the impression that the first 18 years of my career were pretty straightforward; all about money, progression, and smooth sailing up the career ladder.


In my last blog, I talked about this great guy Dave Schwickerath who hired me for my first real sales job, which was pivotal for me at the time. What I didn’t include was, he also gave me the boot after only six months! I’d been hired to be a customer service representative cleverly disguised to do two things. The first was to mainframe MIPS upgrades. For those who don’t know, MIP means Millions of Instructions Per Second, which is the way you license a mainframe. The second was to merge contracts of acquired companies. This was really a financial engineering role in disguise that was made particularly tough as we literally had no tools or computers to do the calculations. I failed miserably at both. It led to a meeting with Dave who said—to my face:

“Jon, this is not good news. I am taking you out of this CSR job and sending you to Oklahoma as part of our new distributed business. You’ll be selling our new products to new customers.” (Brutal!)

So, to be clear, I didn’t just have Oklahoma. I also had all the territories that were filled with companies that didn’t own a CA product and certainly didn’t know anything about CA. Hint: No one wanted this job. Dave then said, “Go home, drink a beer, kick something, and then make a choice.” That’s exactly what I did. At least the going home and drinking a beer part. At the time, I could only afford to buy Keystone Light because of my 20K salary.

I was single with no kids and no bills. So after getting over my emotions, I chose to embark on a series of new challenges. The change that Dave set out for me was pivotal. It forced me into becoming a resilient and new business salesperson who was on the hunt.

So, off I go, leaving Arizona to fly to Oklahoma every week to CA’s not-installed account territories. I eventually got to know all the “big places,” like Lawton, Stillwater, Ponca City. I would occasionally be blessed with some sales calls for small companies in big markets like Oklahoma City and Tulsa. I would be driving through those green fields every week with no distractions, except for calls with technical managers of mid-size companies. They had no clue who I was or what I was selling, which gave me tons of experience learning how to sell a new business. The whole experience was everything I mentioned about performing but little did I know, through the next 18 years of ups and downs, it would first be about learning and there would not be EARNing for quite some time.

For example, I quickly learned that in order to survive, I had to adapt to local cultures and vary my style and pitch according to my customer’s culture. I had to learn how to overcome objections. Hearing “No time, no need, no money” meant time to get to work for me! 10, 4, 2, and 1 were born because, in order to perform, I had to start tracking my activity rigidly and holding myself accountable to goals every week. I learned the importance of getting badged in, knowing how to speak in Oklahoma (i.e., saying things like “Y’aall”), and bringing your boss, and other key resources with you wherever you go. These are principles I teach to this day.

My journey to the desolate territories was just beginning after Oklahoma. I was tasked next with VSE mainframe accounts in West Texas, parts of Kansas, and Colorado. A VSE mainframe is basically the cheapest system you can buy. It was also the least favorite account to have. There was nothing but hard work with no shortcuts in these assignments. But later I would be thankful for this type of business upbringing.

Only recently after joining a new company, I heard the term “Learn, Earn and Return” from a client and friend, Kathy Scheirman, who was asking why I had joined BMC. I replied, “I believe I can learn here.” While I never formally used Kathy’s term, when I reflected back on my journey, it made so much sense. Oklahoma started that journey for me. As I changed multiple positions at CA, and then eventually jobs, companies, and geographical locations through the years, I kept absorbing lessons along the way. And I still do.

So, back to the advice I gave to that young salesperson:

  1. Get your Malcolm Gladwell 10K hours of getting your teeth kicked in! Consider all career changes as failing forward and value the experience. Save your commissions and don’t buy stupid stuff. It will pay off later.
  2. Dysfunction will teach you what not to do. I had great bosses and I had bosses that were not so great. I learned from both. Don’t QUIT!
  3. Some people run into fires, some run away. Make a choice. Just because people around you are quitting or being negative doesn’t mean you have to. Find the opportunity in dysfunction, change it, and learn along the way.
  4. Learning shows up in many unexpected places. You can learn from customers, other salespeople, bosses of the boss, HQ visits, and pre-sales engineers. Observe who is doing it right and be a sponge to those people! When you have the right attitude and are willing to do all the crap jobs in the spirit of learning, you will be prepared for the long haul.
  5. Attitude is everything. With the right attitude and my open mind, I always looking for a way to help and I was able to find new unique challenges—and learn— every step along the way. This isn’t selling cars. You’re in the technology industry where everything changes very quickly…. get ready for it!
  6. The goals and vision you set for your life should be yours, not that of your parents, spouse, coworker, neighbor’s, friend’s brother’s daughter, cousin, Facebook friends or Instagram followers. Are you still learning? That’s a good enough test for whether or not you’re in the right place right now.
  7. Know and be grounded in who you are. Without self-knowledge and self-esteem, it’s hard to make the Learn, Earn, Return a way of life. You might start to identify who you are with your job and that won’t work. (More on my views on Self Esteem and leadership in another post.)
  8. Long-term career success is all about learning. It’s NOT about salary, RSU’s, how many people work for you, or your title. Keeping the long haul in mind while knowing the earning will solve itself.

In conclusion, here are some wise words from my dad, Dan Hunter who said it best:

“Don’t chase money, son; get really good at something and let money chase you.”

Can you remember the grind in your early days? Do you think there is a young up-and-comer out there right now who could use your wisdom?

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x