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Choices

Posted on: January 13th, 2014 by Scott Powell

In the movie “Indian Jones and the Last Crusade”, Indiana finds himself standing on the edge of a cliff looking across a seemingly impassible cavern to a cave entrance on the other side. His dad is dying and he must get to the holy grail across the gap in order to save him. He’s presented with a leap of faith, to step off of the cliff, not being able to see where he might land and have faith he will land on solid ground in order to pass across the chasm. You know how it ends up, but in that moment, he did not. In life though, it’s rare that we’re presented with choices that are that black and white. Jump and save your Dad, don’t and he dies. That choice seems pretty clear.

For the past couple of years I’ve struggled with a choice. I’d gradually begun to lose the fulfillment I used to feel at work. I felt stagnant, like I was no longer growing. I had a great team who could cover the day to day and who had earned the right to be given more responsibility. But the more I gave away, the more I felt like I was starting to coast, like I was just punching a clock and collecting a pay check. But the pay check was good and there was stock and bonuses, the trappings of success. You’ve surely heard of the golden handcuffs, but until you’ve worn a pair, it’s hard to explain what they feel like. I’d think about getting out. But what were my choices? What would I do? Finding another big corporate job was the most unappealing path I could think of. I could trade the stocks I’d acquired, but that seemed dangerous to do for a living with the nest egg I so carefully collected and protected over the past 25 years. And then there was the dream I’ve had for a long, long time. To run my own business, do my own thing. The problem was I had absolutely no idea what business to run. So the dream seemed like the most risky choice of all.

I thought and thought and thought about it. I confided in one of my closest friends about the dream and my plans. He was in the very same boat, big corporate job, comfortable living but not happy in his work. We’d plan it out, talk through all the variables, desperately try to mitigate all the risk and secretly try to talk each other into to actually walking away and doing it. But we never did. We could never eliminate enough risk to make the water look safe enough to jump. Time would pass. Then the cycle would begin. Some big corporate project would distract us, a presentation, capex project. Pretty soon we were too far into the year and would start thinking about that bonus we might get at year’s end and how we’d lose it if we left. So we stayed a little longer. Then that stock grant was getting close and the stock was in the money. Couldn’t leave until that one vested. The golden handcuffs. The cycle replayed over and over again.

The truth, though, the reason for staying if I’m honest, was far more simple. I was afraid. I hate to say that out loud, but it is the truth. Afraid of the unknown, afraid I might fail, afraid that I was a one trick pony and my career would be over if I left. And so I stayed. I kept trying to work it out in my head, to talk myself into finally getting out. I hate fear. I hate the way it makes me feel and still, I stayed.

But here’s the thing I’ve come to realize. The water is never completely safe. Try as you might, you can’t learn how to swim by standing on the edge of the pool and trying to figure it out without ever getting in the water. You cannot cover every variable, nor eliminate every risk. The only way to learn is to get in the pool and swim. The risk of failure, of drowning will always be there. But the more you try, the more you frantically splash around, the more you learn and the more you minimize your risk of drowning, your risk of failure. And that’s when I decided to do the one thing that would force the issue, force me to own up to my fears and do something. I quit. I had no job waiting, no real plan. I still didn’t know what I was going to do, but now, I had no projects, no bonus, no stock, no excuses. What I was most afraid of was now real, I no longer had a job and I had to make a choice.

Over the past six months the pendulum has swung back and forth from a feeling of excitement about the unknown, a new life to anxiety and mild panic to hurry up and find the next thing, to scamper to safe and comfortable ground. Friends called with potential job openings. I started watching the market a lot more closely. I looked at franchise opportunities, attended informational conference calls, talked with business brokers and slowly started to focus in on an opportunity.

Back on the cliff, Indian Jones has made the decision and just before he takes a step, he closes his eyes, collects himself and he commits. At that moment there was no turning back, solid ground or a thousand foot fall, one of the two was coming no matter what he did. You can see the feeling in his expression. His stomach rising into his throat, all nerves firing, adrenaline triggering a surge of anxiety. It’s only AFTER that moment that his foot finds solid ground and you see the relief in his eyes. So too is it true for us. Our dreams, our aspirations are most often found on the other side of the valley. In order to reach them we must travel through THAT moment. We must face our fears, have faith in ourselves and move through the fear, the doubt and the anxiety. Because if we do not, if we allow our fear to paralyze us into inaction, we will forever find ourselves standing on the edge of the cliff watching our dreams on the other side slowly fade away.

And so it is with this in mind that I tell you that this afternoon we purchased a business. We’ve put our home on the market and are moving the family to Wilmington, NC. We are, as they say, going all in. While I have faith in myself, my family and my God, there is still fear. I am anxious. But for the first time in several years when I think about work and my life…..I feel alive. And so with Terri by my side, the kids in tow, as a family standing on our own cliff…..Today…We Leap!


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