What I Have Learned… So Far – About Fear

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
(Nelson Mandela)

I used two literary devices throughout my book, Turning Inspiration Into Action. One called Lightning Bolts and the other MBG Life Lessons. Lightning Bolts are those moments of sudden inspiration that led to the significant transformations of my life. MBG Life Lessons are the most important things I have learned along the way. I use my initials (my full name is Matthew Brian Gersper) to highlight the fact that these are my life lessons and I do not presume that they should apply to you or anyone else.

Today I share, What I Have Learned… So Far – About Fear.

MBG Life Lesson: Take the risk, act when you’re scared, it’s unlikely that you’ll be eaten today.

There was a nearly daily clash of cultures going on at the new company after the acquisition. Two years later, as I was sitting in a conference room on the executive floor of our company’s headquarters in Atlanta, one of my colleagues called me an iconoclast. I had to ask what it meant. He said an iconoclast is a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions. He was right – that is what the report I was preparing for the CEO would do.

There had been a growing friction between the fundamental strategies of the two companies ever since my previous employer was acquired. My old company and I thought that the person with the closest relationship to and knowledge of the client should be the final decision-maker for all client matters. We believed it was headquarters’ role to develop technologies, processes and services that would enable leaders in the field to conduct their business better, faster, and more cost-effectively. It was our view that headquarters existed to serve those doing the work in the field.

My new company believed exactly the opposite. They were developing technologies, processes, and services to pull more and more decision-making into centralized control. They believed centralization was the key to providing faster, more accurate, and more profitable services. It was their view that staff in the field existed to serve headquarters.

I had been tasked with a top-level assignment to visit service centers across the country, from both companies (old and new), and make a recommendation for a go-forward strategy directly to the CEO. During my field site visits, I uncovered a consistent and disturbing fact; our customers were growing tired of paying us to correct the same mistakes they were making year after year. They wanted us to help them fix their systems so they wouldn’t make errors in the first place.

This strategy would have revolutionized the company and the industry. It would have changed us from a service business to a software provider. We could have significantly reduced the numbers of employees needed in the company, dramatically increased profitability and, most importantly, given our clients what they wanted and needed.

It was during my impassioned sharing of this new strategy with my colleagues that one called me an iconoclast. All the others agreed with him. They warned me I had not properly understood my assignment. They said my job was to visit the field centers across the country to create a report that told the CEO what he wanted to hear. I was supposed to confirm that centralization was the way of the future. Then I could help convince the leaders from my old company to get on board or get off the train.

If I took my report to the CEO, my colleagues warned me; I would be fired.

I did it anyway.

And they were right.

Risking something you depend on (like your job) is scary. I had plenty of fear when I realized taking my stand could cost me my job, and it was even scarier when I got fired. But I had cultivated this life lesson teaching my children to act, even in the face their fears because it was unlikely they’d be eaten, even in the worst possible outcome.

The three-and-a-half years after the firing were a whirlwind of challenges. I started two different businesses and bought another. Each year, each business lost money, totaling more than $750,000 at one point! By the end of year three, a major business loan had gone into default. Times indeed had gotten rough, but I had not been eaten.

Today, as I look back upon those difficult days, I can say with certainty, taking that stand and getting fired was one of the very best things that ever happened in my professional life.

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