Last week I took a short drive in the country near my childhood home. With so much happening around us right now, I needed some “woods” time to help me collect my thoughts. Without realizing it, I was driving down a narrow, ragged drive off a poorly maintained gravel road to the Ava Maria Graveyard.
I got out of my car and walked through the graveyard. This allowed me to meditate on where I am now in my career and all the fears I experienced along the way. When I started my business thirty-six years ago, I was broke, not poor. I believe that being broke is a temporary situation while being poor is a state of mind. So I was just broke and knew I had to do something to fix the situation. But fixing the situation by trying to become wealthy was a scary position for me.
We all have fears right now. This can be fear of becoming broke, not meeting expectations, or just self-doubt. But I believe what holds most of us from accomplishing many of our important goals is fear of the unknown. The fear of the unknown can be so powerful, it can stop us dead in our tracks.
Where did this fear come from? Many of us were supported by family and friends who provided a safe place to keep the unknown dangers away in our childhood. We were told things such as:
- Don’t cross the street Johnny, or you will get run over.
- Don’t touch that hot stove.
- No, you can’t have that candy.
- No, you can’t, no you can’t, and no you can’t.
These supportive negatives created a safe world that often eliminated any exposure to the unknown.
In the early days on the construction sites, one of the people I feared the most was John Stilwell. He was our biggest customer and a major general contractor at the time. I would go to jobsite meetings and contract pricing negotiations practically shaking in my boots. I would tell him what we needed to make our job go smoother, but instead of listening, he’d just rip me a new one.
Upon arriving on a large job we were doing for him, I looked at the layout and asked him where the water supply was for mixing our mortar. John told me that I was a crybaby, and if I didn’t want to supply water for my crew, I should get off the job and he will tear up my contract.
This job was important to us. Losing the work would have been a financial disaster for me. So I went to the shop, filled up a water tank, and got my crew’s laying block. We finished the project and moved on.
I had read something about how to overcome fears by facing them, so I had convinced myself to try and do the things I feared the most. Overcoming my fear of big, bad John Stillwell would be the top of the list for me.
My drive took me to the spot where I conquered the fear of John Stillwell. The almost-forgotten Ava Marie Graveyard atop a remote hill was also a place I feared as a kid. So, I associated walking in that graveyard with walking into John’s office trailer on a jobsite.
This old graveyard is about two miles from the 14 ft. by 70 ft. trailer I lived in at the time. As kids, we would sneak up there and drink beer in the daytime discussing how haunted it was. Our stories were so good, I started to believe them.
To get beyond these fears of ghouls and ghosts, and Mr. Stillwell, I decided to drive up there in the middle of the night, park, get out of the car, and walk back and forth through those gravesites. On my first try, I wondered if I could make it across the field of tombstones without collapsing. I kept on the lookout for someone or something that might jump out of a grave, tackle, and beat me to death. My second trip was scary too.
On my third nighttime up there, guess what? I knew nobody was jumping out of the graves. I was going to be fine because there was nothing in that graveyard to be afraid of. This walking into a scary place showed me how to overcome those fears.
This was an amazing transformation for me. When I went back into John’s jobsite trailer, it felt so much safer than the Ava Marie Graveyard that when John would snap at me, I would giggle about it. John loved that I was relaxed and not scared of him.
My time with John evolved into a strong respectful relationship. It was a few years later that I remember John telling me that he couldn’t believe that at my age, I had no fear of failure. And that’s why he continued to hire us.
Confronting our fears isn’t easy. It starts by identifying the source of the fear, deciding what is the worst that can happen by confronting the fear, and taking direct steps to meet the fear right on.
Just as important, when you overcome that fear, celebrate it! I still remember celebrating how profitable the job was after I brought my water, and saved our contract. It was the first of many in my career.
Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Malta Dynamics, and EZG Manufacturing. To view the products and equipment his companies created to make jobsites more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com. To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email:firstname.lastname@example.org or call 740-749-3512.