Ten years ago, I answered the phone to hear my wife in hysterics.
Kristi was driving back from a weekend camp with a group of kids and I was already at home, having needed to leave earlier. She sobbed so intensely I could not understand what she was saying. I could only hear the fear in her voice. It scared the hell out of me.
I remember the urgent panic of the moment. She being unable to communicate and me unable to understand, I began frantically guessing. I knew she was driving home my grandpa’s Explorer with a car full of kids and pulling a trailer and my mind went to the worst.
“Was there a wreck? Are you okay? Is everyone okay?”
“No wreck, yes, yes.” she answered, but still continued sobbing. Still starving for information, my brain was on overdrive, creatively envisioning dozens of disastrous scenarios that could be forever marking this as a moment I would trace back as one in which my life was altered.
Ten years ago, he was the person I most wanted to be like. Today he is the person I least want to be like.
He was someone I trusted and respected and learned more from than probably anyone I’ve ever known. Even four years later, he is still probably the largest figure in my life. He played a central role in my life for over two decades.
But he completely took advantage of respect that, for me, ran three generations deep. He lied, intimidated, used love of family as a manipulative tool, created confusion and dissension among the people most loyal to him, and then marked any who disagreed with him or criticized him as evil. Because ultimately what he wanted (much of it very good!) was more important than the people who made it possible.
There isn’t a day that I don’t give pause when making a decision or hesitate about how I should handle something, weighted by a deeply overwhelming (sometimes nearly crushing) desire to do it in a way that is least like him. Moments in which I find myself doing something that seems like he would do it just tend to suck every bit of life out of me.
Kristi’s call thus far had been mere seconds, but my mind continued to race.
Justin, my (diabetic) brother, was at the camp.
My mind immediately flashed to a memory of standing in front of the mirror in my parent’s bedroom, pacing helplessly in terror as the paramedics hurriedly attempted to bring my little five year-old brother back from a dangerously low blood sugar that had him unresponsively limp.
“Is Justin okay? Did something happen to Justin?”
“N-n-no,” Kristi said, her voice still shaking uncontrollably, still not giving me the details I was urgently wanting.
Suddenly, I got my bearings and asked a more comprehensive question: “Is there anyone who is hurt in any way?”
This question, in itself, seemed to calm her down enough to actually provide an answer: “No, just your grandpa’s Explorer,” she said. “I jack-knifed the trailer while turning around and I don’t know what to do.”
Aaaaaaand we’ve returned from orbit.
“Oh, so no big deal then,” I said, and taking a deep breath, began to calm her down. Ultimately, my grandparents generously made Kristi feel much better about the whole event by saying, “It wasn’t really ours until it had a good ding in it.”
Fear is an amazing thing. I remember that moment and can recall it so clearly because of its intensity. In hindsight, it’s obvious how *dumb* I was as a result of that fear—the conclusions I jumped to unnecessarily.
But that didn’t make the fear less real or dominant of my thinking at that moment.
That moment was a very different fear, but when I think about my job, my role, and things I would like to do, it is most certainly *fear* that I feel often—the purest, clearest fear I’ve ever known.
The fear of becoming what I do not want to be is greater than the fear of becoming what I could be.
Candidly, it is fear big enough to cause me to walk away from everything that I love so much about what I’m doing. I know that’s just as irrational as imagining the worst just because my wife’s voice was cracking on the phone.
I know how to get things done. And I know how to lead people—I’ve been doing it since I was a small boy and it comes as first nature. I can’t *not* do it, unless I’m working entirely on my own once again, which is something I’ve frequently considered.
When I started &yet, I just wanted do something that was the exact opposite of where I had been, yet with the principles which I most strongly hold to—belief in people, belief in the magic and joy of doing very hard things. “It’s fun to do the impossible,” said Walt Disney—and it’s true; once you’ve been in an environment where you’re required to pull off very challenging things, it’s hard to settle for less than something that stretches you and presses beyond your limits.
But &yet today is not what it started as.
I’m obviously pleased and thrilled to be in the place we’re at. It’s a gift and a joy. But it requires something of me that I don’t know if I am comfortable giving.
I am grateful to be able to partner with one of the brightest and also humblest men that I’ve had the chance to ever know. I felt as though the opportunity to bring him as a partner in this venture was a gift. I so very much do not want this to be about me. I am desperately grateful to be able to have someone with the authority and integrity to hold me accountable—someone who I know values people.
There are things that I very much would like to see happen—within and outside &yet—not because I myself want to have any credit for them, but because I just want them to happen. But often, I find myself completely stymied about how to proceed.
Since the context I came from was the church, I frequently put things this way: “Why is it that modern pastors want to to outdo Jesus?” (Jesus spent the majority of his life pouring his life into a small number of people and only occasionally made public speeches and appearances, frequently fleeing crowds instead of trying to draw them.)
Obviously, a business is not the church and in fact *should* seek to draw crowds and to make as broad of an impact as possible in pursuit of the core measurements of business success; but at least one angle of the same question is involved when one operates a business whose primary concerns are the “small” (huge) matters of being interested in the personal, individual success and enjoyment of each member of the team, that angle being the integral necessity of never prioritizing macro over micro, ends over means, goal over gameplan.
Every single person wants to both lead and be led. The challenge of a team is to weave a trusting community of people who each know the complex dance of when to lead and when to follow.
I have opinions, thoughts, ideas, and know how to make things happen. I know how to make things that don’t exist become a tangible reality and, often, how to bring out the best in people in the process. I know how to do this because I’ve done it for years in a wide, wide range of things.
Now, absolutely—I will not say that those things are the best or that other people couldn’t have done them better, because most certainly I am in awe of what so many people have done so much better than I could have—but they do become reality when I set my mind to make them so—and rarely do I let anything stand between me and making them become so.
There are so many things I want to do. But my fearful hesitation arises and blocks me: how do I lead and do these things without feeling like *him*?
Obviously, I must be myself first.
I also know that what I think about myself is irrelevant and likely wrong anyway. And I know that the fear creates a slew of irrational and false conclusions.
This is something I struggle with. Periodically, I overcome it for a time—most often by refusing to even acknowledge its legitimacy.
Fear is, after all, irrational. It is a meaningless fear. I have been enjoying Johann von Goethe recently. Here’s one great quote from him:
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
The latter half of the advice is inspriational, the first bit is practical and particularly relevant here. For me, the most powerful tool to overcome fear is binding myself in a commitment based on an impulsive leap of following my gut.
Thus, I will have faith that I have enough people in my life who I’ve entrusted to keep me from becoming what I so badly do not want to be that my thoughts should be preoccupied much more so on where I feel led to lead and do the best that I can to make become reality those things which I must.
Fear or no fear—you can’t renegotiate with gravity on the way down.