Embrace the Fear and Take The Risk Anyway in Business and at Work
For a salesman who worked on 100% commission most of his career, my dad injected more of his own fear rather than encouragement of taking risk in the face of my own budding vocational interests. Given generational and gender factors (I was a girl, wife and mother-material, not career-material in his assessment), years later, I understand the limits of my father’s assessment context. On top of those factors, Dad had always been an employee, albeit one paid on 100% commission. And the icing on the fear was that fact that his own dad had died when he was only 17 years old.
When I was twelve years old, I signed up with my mother’s permission to sell household products from some long-forgotten mail-order company, while Dad was away on a business trip. I showed early indications of Dad’s sales DNA and actually made 4 sales on our block in my first few days. When Dad came home from the business trip later that week, I proudly showed him my sales slips. He reviewed them like an IRS auditor, frowning. “You calculated the sales tax wrong,” he said, pointing to the columns on one sales slip. “You’re too young to do this. You need to return this money and send the sales kit back.” I was surprised. “Why?” I replied. “I can just go back to each customer and fix the sales slip.” Dad went into his Marine-sergeant mode. “No! This is not a discussion. I will not have you embarrassing me with your mistakes.” I went back to my new customers, apologized for bothering them, and sent the kit back as I was told.
When I was 15 years old, I took a job for the summer as a counselor at a reputable sleep-away camp 15 miles from our house. In order to get the campers to bed at a reasonable hour, the camp did not observe daylight-savings time. I made the mistake of calling home at 10 PM one night from the camp director’s office, as for us at camp it was only 9 PM. Dad was upset and concerned. “Why are you still up, working so late?” He demanded. I explained the artifice of not observing daylight-savings time. Dad did not buy it. “I’m coming to pick you up and take you home now,” Dad decreed over the phone. I did not take his supervision this time. “No Dad, I’m staying here. I like it and they’re not over-working me. Please don’t embarrass me.” My father paused, and I looked over at the camp director. “Could you please explain to my dad how we handle daylight-savings time?” The camp director smiled. “Of course,” he said. He took the phone and spoke to my father for a few minutes (they had met when my parents dropped me off at camp earlier in the week), repeating the daylight-savings time explanation. The camp director handed the phone back to me. “You can stay,” my father decreed, grudgingly.
When I graduated from the University at Albany, I did not return to the New York City / metropolitan area to look for a job. Instead, I took a part-time job with my senior-semester internship boss Bob, my home Assemblyman, and a part-time job at Macy’s. “I don’t understand why you just don’t come home and get a real job in the city,” my father groused on the phone. “Because I want a job as a writer, and it’s cheaper to live in Albany than it is to live in New York City,” I replied. “Don’t worry Dad, I’ll be fine.” And I was. It took about 10 years, but Dad finally realized that we have real jobs up here in Albany, too.
In both my career and in my business, the risks I continue to take while embracing (and sometimes wrestling with) the natural / nurtured fear is the lotus I harvest from the mud of fear time after time — it is a drive that I cannot deny. It continues to get better as time goes on and the more I practice and see the undeniable proof of the great results I produce. As my good friend and colleague Lisa Jordan maintains, when we come from a place of fear, the expression of our gifts and talents are limited, and no one benefits. But when we come from a place where fear takes a back seat to the wonderful creative potential of risk, even in the face of potential failure or embarrassment: that’s where the potential of success is limitless.
This week, and going forward: I celebrate our collective courage (e.g.: taking action in the face of fear) and joy in the risks we take in both business and at work, in support of our mutual success.