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Weekly Musing, October 4th: Be fearless

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Never let the “how” stop the “what”

One of the realities that set in for me very quickly as I started writing for Denver Stiffs was the absolute brutal level of competition in the sports journalism industry. It makes sense, the gig is pretty sweet after all so there’s no shortage of willing candidates to fill the positions. The unfortunate side effect of that high level of competition is it drives wages down, throw in some predatory business practices and the sports journalism industry is a brutal arena to try and make a living. For me I cracked the door of opportunity a little too late. I started writing for Stiffs after I had already established a family, a career and a lifestyle around those two things. To succeed in as competitive of an industry as this one you have to be willing to go all in, but for me the pay cut associated with doing that just wasn’t feasible given my lifestyle and obligations.

Funny thing is at age 18 I was all in, going to CSU to get a journalism degree, focused on making it as a sports writer. I knew back then that sports journalism was a less than lucrative industry though, and my fear of not achieving my financial goals in life quickly made me shift to a degree in economics while also completing an electrician’s apprenticeship. I do wonder sometimes, what if I was fearless at 18? What if I had put aside any notion of “success” and simply followed my passion? There’s a lot of merit behind the idea of “do what you love and the money will come” just as there is in “bet on yourself.” I feel like true career success is found in hitting that equilibrium of job satisfaction and adequate compensation. We all have different ratios to that equation, different definitions of what brings us satisfaction in the workplace, different desires for levels of compensation, but I think we’re all striving first and foremost to meet those two goals in our careers, or at least we should be.

Ten years ago I made a choice to maximize my competitive advantage in the electrical contracting industry, and I’ve been chasing the right levels of job satisfaction and adequate compensation ever since. I’m not there yet, but I’ve come a long way and the number one reason for that is I’ve never let fear stop me in this career like I did with my sports journalism dreams. When I took on my current role at one of the largest electrical contractors in the state it was significantly different than what my experience was to that point. I had always been on the operations side, working my way up through the ranks of project management, taking jobs won by the sales team and seeing them through to make sure they finished on time and under budget. The company I work for now though wanted me to do something different. They recruited me to be the sales team. Take a group of a couple of guys doing service and special projects (i.e., the not quite as massive projects) and grow it into a full fledged department in Northern Colorado and Wyoming. At that time I had never done sales in my life but I was pretty sure I’d hate it. Still, I knew it was a side of the business I had to learn and if I wanted to reach the top of the industry a skillset I needed to add. Despite my fears, my misgivings, I accepted the position went all-in on the sales side.

Closing in on four years of working on it and we’ve taken a couple guys and turned it into eight technicians, four dedicated overhead employees, two full time presence facility crews and about a 500% increase in revenue. Some of our most important customers work in the digital technology market and with the way the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world they’re coming to us with more work than ever. Over the past month I considered telling them no at some point, that the workload was too overwhelming. I never have. There are certainly a lot of fears surrounding failing to perform for our most important clients, but their our most important clients for a reason: they represent the most opportunity for growth and success. Do I know where I’m going to find the 5x as many electricians as we normally carry in our group to pull it all off? No, but we’ll figure it out. The fantastic team around me will work together with me and together we will overcome this tidal wave. When we do there will be no looking back, just a department that is that much bigger, that much more successful.

As the sales guy I often joke with my operations team that I promise the customer the world and let them figure out how to deliver it. The what we are going to do is my problem, the how is theirs. It’s said in jest of course, we are all in it together and if the ops team fails because I gave them something impossible to accomplish it’s on me, but there’s also some truth behind the approach. What I’m really saying is approach opportunity by being fearless. We’ll spend the time getting down to the nuts and bolts of each job, figuring out how we’ll accomplish it, and we’ll probably wring our hands a countless number of times along the way...but we’ll figure it out, we always do. I bet on my team every single time we’re faced with the challenge of how and the success it brings us continues to come. Today, because of positioning and incredible circumstance, we stand on the cusp of achieving our ultimate goals for the department much quicker than I originally thought possible, and I can see a horizon that blows past what I believed was the ceiling for this group. Tomorrow, I’ll have to wring my hands some more about how we’re going to get it done, but I’ll be damned if I let that stop us.

I wonder if I had the same mindset when I was 18 would I have been able to find that equilibrium in a sports journalism career that I was talking about. I like to think so. I don’t dwell on it too much because I’m not big on the idea of living with regret (a discussion for another weekly musing to be sure) but sometimes I daydream about what that life would have been like had I known then what I know now. The point is this, last week I talked about accepting the fact that we all fail and that ties in with what I’m saying this week: don’t let the fear rob you of your dreams. It could be fear of failure, fear of the work that must be done to achieve your goals or even simply the fear of the unknown, but it’s only paralyzing if you let it be. Bet on yourself, bet on your team, bet on greatness. Dream up the “what” and be fearless that you have the ability to figure out the “how” when the time comes.