Within the space of six months, my whole world fell apart.
- My wife was afflicted with an aggressive form of cancer.
- Our young son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
- I lost my voice for four months – catastrophic for a professional public speaker.
- Our fragile financial situation was blown apart by one poor decision made years previously.
Such a devastating concoction of traumatic events within a short space of time would have been incredibly difficult for a healthy person to manage. For someone in my condition, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Let me explain.
I have struggled with depression for thirty years, with the frequency and intensity of my depression increasing over the years prior to my breakdown in late 2014.
The depression that I had fought during various seasons of my life began to get more frequent and more intense in my 30s. The darkness and hopelessness began to swallow my soul and crush my spirit. By the time I reached the age of 40, it was debilitating and destructive.
I tried to fight this Black Dog with all my might, but my strength gave out. I was at breaking point by the beginning of 2014, with no reserves of emotional resilience at all. I became desperate, withdrawn, and suicidal. I was as low, I think, as a person can be. How bad was it?
I had it all planned out. My escape. From work and family. Family. From life itself.
The world would just be a better place without Mark Tossell.
The traumatic events of 2014, mentioned earlier, were too much for my fragile mind: I simply broke.
I suffered a mental and emotional breakdown, and immediately sought emergency medical treatment. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and was forced to take a medical leave of absence from my career, as a pastor, for four months.
I recovered quite well, all things considered, but I was nowhere near 100% when I went back to work. I soon realised that my health could not cope with the emotional stresses and strains of being a pastor and counsellor, so I resigned from the church in November 2015.
This was the most difficult thing that I have ever done. Ministry had been my life and career for 20 years!
What would we do now?
When I resigned from our church, I continued to speak in churches, and received some income as a result. I also had the incredible privilege of traveling on a book tour to promote my depression book in early 2015, speaking in 16 churches in seven states of the USA, from California to Maine.
The money from my book sales on the trip helped to pay our bills for a couple of months. However, the loss of two thirds of our income since November was crippling us financially. I looked for work in vain. I have an engineering degree but have had no relevant experience since 1991, so engineering was not a viable option. Our situation seemed hopeless.
We prayed and looked to no avail. The money from the book sales was almost gone. In fact, we had enough funds left for a few weeks’ rent, then we would be in serious trouble indeed. We were months behind on our bills and our credit cards were maxed out. I applied for a low-paying factory job – and got turned down.
Things were desperate.
Then came a meeting that would change my life and vocation forever.
Google, what is a CRM?
A businessman friend, Reg Moodley, kindly agreed to review my resume and give me some pointers. He also shared it with his son, Neil Moodley, who was the Managing Director of their financial services business, Fusion Group. Reg mentioned to Neil about my mathematics and engineering background, asking if I might have the aptitude for a mothballed IT project that Fusion had been pondering.
Neil called to ask if I would consider working with them to implement a CRM system called Salesforce. I said that I was very interested. After hanging up, I promptly went to Google to find out what “CRM” stood for! I had no idea at all what it was. This was May of 2016.
I also Googled “Salesforce”. That was a pivotal moment. I vividly remember watching a 90-second demo video and being mildly intrigued.
I met Neil and the management team that afternoon – my first job interview in twenty years! I was told that Fusion wanted to implement Salesforce as their core business system and that they needed someone to customise and implement it for them. I had never touched Salesforce, but it sounded like a straightforward project, so I gladly accepted the short-term role, a 3-month contract. It couldn’t be too difficult, right?
I had just three weeks to prepare before I started work. Remember – I had never touched a Salesforce org in my life, and I had no IT training or background. Also, I was probably the most fiscally illiterate person on the planet, so building a Financial Services Cloud org for a wealth management business would be challenging, to say the least.
I had to start somewhere, so I searched YouTube and watched old Dreamforce sessions for about 50 hours in the first week. However, the videos were not arranged or structured in a way that was helpful as far as learning goes, and they were outdated. I felt incredibly overwhelmed. What I needed was a structured, tailored learning program. I knew that Salesforce courses were offered, but I could not afford them at the time.
Things were looking bleak. How on earth was I going to learn this complex platform and build a business system from scratch? I became very discouraged.
Then I stumbled across my good friend Trailhead. O, happy day
What is Trailhead? It is a free, structured, world-class online learning platform. As I stepped into an exciting role for which I was unqualified and unprepared, I embraced online learning with great gusto. The next two weeks were filled with two things that I love: espresso and Trailhead!
Neil and I had no idea just how complex and demanding a Salesforce implementation project can be, especially for someone with no Salesforce or CRM experience at all! Life got very exciting, very quickly…
I am an Imposter
Taking this job was the biggest mistake of my life. What on earth was I thinking?
I have no IT degree, no Salesforce training, and zero experience with this complex and powerful system: the one that will be the core business system for Fusion Group, the company that hired me in a moment of utter madness.
I must be crazy. I have no idea what I’m doing!
There is no alternative but for me to resign, so Fusion can hire a competent, qualified, and experienced consultant to do a job that I have no hope of performing.
These are the thoughts that plagued my weary mind as I drove in the dark along Woodville Road, making my way to our offices at Bella Vista in north-western Sydney. It was around 5:45 am, one weekday in July 2016. I was tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged. I could not go on. It was just too hard – and I simply was not good enough.
Perhaps my greatest struggle was that of feeling utterly inadequate and overwhelmed. I was, in my own esteem, a fraud. An imposter.
Imposter syndrome is a very common and crippling affliction. It often torments those who have leaped out of their comfort zone and attempted something great for which they are inherently unqualified.
Even Mike Cannon-Brooks, co-founder of software company, Atlassian, and an Australian billionaire, faced feelings of imposter syndrome while his company was winning awards, tenders and going from strength to strength. He says that,
“…imposter syndrome is feeling well out of your depth, yet already entrenched in the situation, internally feeling that you’re not skilled enough, experienced enough or qualified enough to justify being there. But you are there, and you have to figure it out because you can’t get out. It’s more a sensation of getting away with something and the fear of being discovered.”
This overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and insufficiency brought me to the edge of quitting – on many occasions. One way that I was able to combat this was through the inspiring stories of trailblazers who persevered through similar feelings and achieved great success. These include David Giller, Zac Otero, Cheryl Feldman, and Peter Lyons.
Despite Imposter Syndrome, I pressed on.
My first six months as a novice Salesforce administrator / implementer were utterly terrifying. If I felt at first that I had no clue what I was doing, it was because I had no clue what I was doing! I could not even count how many times I wanted to run away and get a nice easy job. The project was so completely overwhelming that I regularly cursed myself for ever taking on the role in the first place. Yet, I persevered, and I am extremely glad that I did!
Back in 2017, I was thrilled to attend the Salesforce World Tour in Sydney, along with over ten thousand other people. I was also humbled and honoured to be asked to share my Trailblazer story, and was interviewed on stage by my dear friend, Megan Petersen. Little did I know that I was going to receive one of the great shocks of my life when I was presented with the #AwesomeAdmin award and the coveted Gold Hoodie:
When I think of the noteworthy achievements of my life, none of them would have eventuated had I quit when things got tough. I would never have earned my engineering degree at the University of Sydney – I would have quit along with the 75% of first-year students that did not graduate. I would not have graduated with a degree in theology six months after a near-fatal head-on car accident. I certainly would not have planted a church from scratch and pastored that church for sixteen years while struggling with serious mental illness. I would not have published a book on depression and conducted an incredible book tour across the United States. I would not have remained married to my lovely wife for 27 years. And, I would not have landed my dream job at Salesforce as a Tableau Solution Engineer!
I am so very glad that I did not quit.
As a passionate member of the #datatribe, constantly exploring and exploiting the transformational potential of business intelligence, my direction was clearly fixed. Of all the fascinating segments of the Salesforce platform and ecosystem, my groove was found in the world of data analytics and business insights. Einstein Analytics (now CRM Analytics) and Einstein Discovery machine learning, and later Tableau, became my weapons of choice. Opportunities opened up for me – truly amazing openings for someone who had recently been hopelessly unemployed – in the world of business intelligence. What was I to do?
Neil and I had kicked around the idea of founding a business that focused upon building solutions using Einstein Analytics and Discovery. To sanity check this idea, we decided to travel to Dreamforce, the incredible annual Salesforce tech conference in San Francisco. This was November of 2017.
We managed to arrange a meeting with Ketan Kharkanis, Global GM of Analytics with Salesforce. He was familiar with our work and encouraged us to start an Einstein business and become Salesforce partners. That push was all we needed.
In January of 2018, Visioneer360 (now ClearR) was founded. We became Salesforce partners in July of that year. Suddenly, I was a founding partner in a tech startup – an entreprenerd! What was that journey like? I think this quote sums it up:
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison
Founding and building Visioneer360 was tough – really tough. Rewarding? Yes. Exciting? Definitely. Challenging? Absolutely!
What is it like starting a business from scratch? Terrifying!
I could well use one term, one analogy, to describe the process of starting and building a business: a rollercoaster.
The highs and lows, ups and downs, valleys and mountaintops, victories, and defeats – these are part and parcel of the entrepreneurial experience.
There are two roles that I have always said I never wanted to embrace – business ownership, and sales. From 2018 to 2021, I found myself as the partner, co-founder and practice lead of a professional services business. I ran pre-sales, sales, and post-sales. How did that happen?
After four years at ClearR, co-founding and co-leading a Salesforce and Tableau partner consulting business, I was ready for a change. My passion was customer discovery, solution design, POC (proof of concept) builds and platform demonstrations – that is, solution engineering. I made the huge, scary decision of walking away from my business and looking for the role of a solution engineer. This was late 2021.
Fast forward to January of 2022, and I landed my dream job – Lead Solution Engineer at Tableau, a Salesforce company. Wow! As of January 17, 2022, I started work with an incredible team, with amazing technology, for an incredible employer. And, one year later, I am still pinching myself!
So, how did I end up at Salesforce? I have pondered my crazy journey and identified six factors that led me to my dream job:
See this post for more detail.
Looking back over the last seven or eight years, I can honestly say that it has been extremely tough. I have endured sleepless nights, panic attacks, depressive episodes, catastrophic failures, financial stress, relationship struggles, and more. It has been very $#%@&^ hard!
The one thing I can say is that I am incredibly glad that I just kept going. Persistence is the key – having the grit and determination to finish what I started.
I made it – and so can you!
“There is no man living who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.” Henry Ford
Thank you for sharing your story Mark. So heartfelt and transparent. I am sure this will help others who find themselves surrounded by hopelessness, and help them find the strength in their own story. We have been blessed with everything we would ever need. We just need to look hard enough.
LikeLiked by 1 person
What an incredible journey. I myself am going through a crossroads in life, and feel somewhat like you did, minus the other curveballs life threw at you. Thanks for sharing, and wishing you continuous success!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for your kind words, Stuart, and best of luck to you.
Came across a link to this on twitter and I’m so encouraged and hoping for my good news too. Very motivational story and I thank God for your life and his goodness in your life.