Jackson woke with a start. He looked around his bedroom, disoriented in the darkness, but gripped by irrational fear. He could see the soft glowing lights of his alarm clock. It was just after 2:00 a.m. His wife stirred as he quietly slipped out of bed. There was no sleeping now.
His sense of foreboding beat on him. He couldn’t put a finger on the source. He went down a checklist in his mind. He made payroll Friday, though not by much. Still, it was progressing. He even paid himself.
The thought about payroll shifted immediately to his 941s. These were the IRS forms for payroll taxes. His heart skipped a beat, then started racing. He thought his bookkeeper paid these but did she? He had heard from other electrical contractors that this was one of the places where embezzlement took place and the IRS not only didn’t care if you weren’t the thief, you as the company owner were expected to personally make the government whole.
Crap. He couldn’t remember signing the check.
He raced upstairs to his home computer and checked Quickbooks. Whew, there was the entry. He leaned back reassured, then sat bolt upright with a start. What if Sally forged the entry, he thought with panic. I need to check the bank account.
Jackson tried to remember the password to his business account. The bank made him change it every three months and he couldn’t remember what it was. What if Sally changed it, he thought? What if she drained the account?
After he calmed for a second, he remembered the password. Jackson logged in and checked the check registry. There it was. Thank goodness. He felt better before feeling guilty and a sense of shame for his uncalled-for suspicions about Sally. The woman had never given him any reason to doubt her.
Crisis averted, Jackson still couldn’t figure out why he was uneasy. He tried reading but found it hard to concentrate. It was now Sunday morning, so Jackson thought he should turn to the Bible. He thumbed open his Bible at random and saw that he selected the 23rd Psalm, one of the most well-known in the Good Book. He didn’t need to read it. He knew it by heart.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” he recalled from the King James Version. With a chuckle, he also recalled the version his unit used in the service before the possibility of engaging the enemy. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for I am the baddest mother fu…, uh, baddest mother in the valley.”
Why, he wondered, could he tamp down his fear when facing people who wanted to kill him, but not when facing the daily challenges of running a small business?
He opened his phone and started reading the latest news. Big mistake. There was bad news on every front. It seemed like the world was about to fall apart. The economy was teetering. Prices were up. Crime was out of control. The border was out of control. War was looming, including people openly talking about nuclear war. Seriously? The news just made him feel worse.
He finally gave up and tried to go back to sleep, but just stared at the ceiling until his wife’s alarm went off, signaling it was time to rouse the kids and get ready for church.
Jackson was distracted in his adult Sunday School class. He couldn’t quite engage. David Solomon, another small business owner in his class, picked up on Jackson’s distraction. “Something the matter?” he asked simply.
Jackson shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m not cut out for business.”
“I thought things were improving?”
“Oh, they are. The problem is the more things improve, the more I worry. The more I’m afraid of blowing it. It’s killing me. I guess I’m not like you. I don’t know how you do it,” said Jackson.
David looked at Jackson for a second. He turned to his wife Barb. “Hey Barb, you mind if I pull Jackson from the service to help me with a prayer request?”
Jackson’s wife looked halfway relieved that he was being asked to get involved with a prayer request. “Of course, David.”
David turned to his wife, “Okay with you, Hun?”
“Sure, and why don’t we all go for lunch afterward?”
Sitting in a corner of the church coffee bar, Jackson asked David if he felt guilty lying about a prayer request.
“I didn’t lie,” David said. “I prayed that I’d be able to help you just before I said that. This is part of my prayer request. So tell me, what’s up?”
Jackson sighed. “It seems like the more successful I become – and I’m not that successful, just keeping my head above water – well, it seems like I’ve got more to lose. I mean, I could lose it all! I could lose everything I’ve worked on for years, everything I’ve sacrificed for.”
David chuckled. “You don’t think every small business owner’s been where you are at one point in time or another? Come on. You’re not the first person to struggle under the burden of risk.”
“Oh sure, like you’ve had problems.”
“Brother, I’ve had more than my share of worries. For example, I had someone embezzle at least a hundred grand over a couple of years. This was someone I trusted. She created a false vendor account and paid her husband’s fake business’ fake invoices every month for two years.”
“What? How did you catch her?”
“She got a bad case of the flu and I wouldn’t let her snotty, infectious nose into the office. Made her go home. Otherwise, we might never have discovered her scheme. Stuff like this happens more than anyone wants to admit. We don’t talk about it because we’re all embarrassed to admit we’ve been such dupes.”
“But you made up for it?”
“Not easily. We also discovered we were behind with a key supplier. In fact, they cut me off and I lost our main line of products. I had to switch brands. Man, I was terrified no one would buy what I considered a lesser brand of products from us.”
“What happened,” asked Jackson.
“No one noticed. The only brand that mattered to our customers was our brand. I’d worked myself into a frenzy for nothing. Most of our worries as small business owners never come to fruition, unless we do something to help them along. Business ownership carries a burden and that burden never truly goes away no matter how successful you become.”
“I don’t know,” blurted Jackson. “There’s so much risk. So much responsibility. I mean, I’ve got eight families that depend on my company financially. That means they depend on me. I never asked for this.”
“Yes you did,” scolded David. “You asked for this the second you decided you weren’t going to be a single truck operator, which was the right decision, by the way. If you were the company, what would happen if you got in an accident and couldn’t work?”
“I didn’t think like that.”
“Yeah, most small guys don’t. What they don’t consider is the risk to their family. One truck contractors don’t consider how selfish they are. That’s part of the reason you build a company that can run without you. It can provide an income stream for your family if you wake up one day with a heart attack and can’t work for months following a quadruple bypass.”
“Isn’t that what happened to you?”
“Yes. And thank the Lord I put my company in a position to continue to operate while I was in a hospital bed.”
“Okay,” said Jackson. “How did you handle it when you were my size? How did you manage the pressure?”
“Now you’re asking the right question. How do you think I handled it?”
“I don’t know. Faith? Well, maybe my faith isn’t as strong as yours. I read Job and the lesson I get is the guy had to go through a lot of pain.”
“And yet, he kept his faith and emerged from the pain. Aren’t you going through that now? A lot of pain?”
“Yeah,” Jackson practically shouted. “I think of everything that can go wrong. Even when I can’t pinpoint anything, I feel uneasy. It’s killing me. I can’t sleep. One of my guys can get in a wreck and kill someone so the attorneys take everything I own. I think of one of my guys touching the wrong wire at the wrong time and killing himself. I think about the work drying up.”
Jackson continued “I can’t bear the thought of losing everything I’ve worked for. I can’t bear the thought of letting my employees down, letting my family down. It’s too much.”
“No, Jackson. It’s not. If you want to work for a paycheck, go ahead. Walk away. If you were a single truck guy who didn’t want to grow, I’d tell you to do exactly that, but you aren’t. You’re building a business that’s more than a job. Give up at this point and you will always regret it. Yes, it’s risky to own a business, but without the risk, there wouldn’t be the rewards. Most people choose safe paths. Less risk. Less reward. You wanted more. As a result, you risk more. It’s something you have to accept and learn to live with.”
“But the responsibility,” complained Jackson.
“Yes sir. You are responsible for the livelihood of other people. It’s a burden that comes with the territory. Man up.”
David took a deep breath. “Do you read science fiction?”
“Are you kidding?”
“Okay, well there’s a writer, Frank Herbert. He wrote the Dune books.”
“Like the movie?”
“Yeah, like the movie.”
“It’s a crappy movie.”
“Okay, but it’s a good book. Anyway, Herbert used this line, ‘Fear is the mind-killer.’ What do you think he meant?”
Jackson thought for a second. “When you’re afraid, you don’t think. Your mind stops working.”
“Exactly. Now, have you heard of Zig Ziglar?”
“The motivational guy. Sure.”
“Ziglar said fear stands for false expectations appearing real. In other words, most of the things we worry about won’t happen. There are all kinds of research studies supporting this.”
“Okay, David. I might even be able to accept that. It doesn’t do anything for me waking up in the middle of the night with a panic attack.”
“So let’s work it out. What’s the worst thing that can happen to your business?”
“What do you mean?”
“What would happen? What would your employees do?”
“They’d find new jobs, I guess.”
“And how long would that take them in today’s labor market?”
“I don’t know. A nanosecond.”
“Boom!” David practically shouted. “Everyone would get jobs. So they’d be okay. What about your family? What would you do?”
“I’d get a job somewhere or I’d start over.”
“Let me ask you something. If you were approached by a licensed electrician who had run his own business and failed, would you hire him?”
“Because he’d understand the economics of running a business better than most guys and know how hard it is so he’d be less likely to leave… Okay, I see what you’ve done there.”
David smiled. “Yeah, you would be a more attractive employee. You might be embarrassed about the business failure, but an employer would see your experience as an asset. The point is that the worst thing you can imagine would be survivable, right? Right?”
“No, you don’t suppose. You just said so. And if you can handle the worst case, you can handle anything else. It might not be fun, but you can handle it. So, why worry?”
“Okay, I get that.”
“There’s a more important point. Have you heard about Earl Nightingale?”
“He was the first person to create a gold record based on the spoken word. It was called, ‘The Strangest Secret” and the strangest secret is you become what you think about. Denis Waitley, a psychologist who worked with Olympians and the space program. He said we all have a robot subconscious that we program and that it can’t tell the difference between what we want and don’t want. It just zeroes in on what we’re focused on. If you focus on what you want, your self-conscious goes to work to help you. If you focus on failure, it works the same way. Right now, my friend, you are focusing on failure. Stop it.”
“Stop it. Change your focus. Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. Write down what you want. Visualize it. Focus on it.”
“That easy, huh?”
“No, it’s not easy. Listen Jackson, I’ve been there. So have other people. They’ve been in worse places than you. Once, at an industry conference I attended, I talked with a guy who took over his father’s air conditioning company. As he took the keys from his father, his dad said to put it in bankruptcy.”
“Not as bad as the crash Stan oversaw. He saw this company, this family legacy, go from operations in three cities and over a hundred trucks to two.”
“Whoa. How did he manage that?”
“Perspective. His daughter had cancer as a child. For more than a decade he was in and out of hospitals with his child. He told me the business wasn’t hard. Watching his daughter go through cancer was hard. Watching a child die in the hospital elevator while he was on it was hard. He said I had no idea what was hard. He did and it wasn’t business. A dead business can be rebuilt. A dead child is gone. Stan’s message hit me hard. His message was to get some perspective. There were times when I needed it. You need it now.”
Jackson felt small hearing about David’s friend, Stan. He thought about his own daughter. Yeah, what he was worried about was nothing compared to what Stan faced.
“There’s another technique I use to deal with fear. You want to hear it,” asked David.
“Schedule a time to worry.”
“Plan a couple of 15-minute segments where you are going to worry yourself sick. Put them on your calendar. Don’t let anyone interrupt you while you think about everything that can go wrong. Don’t hold back. Worry, worry, worry. Then, when you start to worry or get afraid tell yourself that it’s not time for that. You have to wait until the scheduled time.”
“Fifteen minutes isn’t enough.”
“You think? I’ve found that I can’t fill 15 minutes without recycling the same worry. I can’t do it. But if I don’t guard myself, I can fill an entire day with the same five minutes of worry. Just try it.”
“Okay, what else?”
“Release the sense that you’re in control. Turn it over to God. You can only do what you can do. Quit trying to shoulder it all yourself. Frankly, I’d tell you the same thing if you were a Buddist or any other religion. Turn it over to a higher power. Stop trying to control everything yourself.”
Jackson followed David Solomon’s advice. It turned out Solomon was pretty wise. Go figure. As he focused on what he wanted in life and business, Jackson got control of his fear. Magically, it seemed to bring success his way. It wasn’t easy, but things were moving in the right direction. He started sleeping through the night. When he could recall the dreams he had during that brief period between sleep and waking, they were no longer terror-ridden, but success-focused. The more he focused on success and the less he focused on fear, the more he received the former and the less he worried about the latter.
In his journal, the day after having coffee with David Solomon, Jackson wrote:
1. I asked for the risk and responsibility that accompanies business ownership.
2. Fear is the mind-killer.
3. Fear is False Expectations Appearing Real. Most fears never materialize.
4. I can live with the worst case, so everything else is easier.
5. Focus on what I want. Think about what I want.
6. Keep perspective.
7. Turn it over to God.
8. Schedule time to worry.
If you enjoy Comanche Marketing and would like to see it continue, drop a note to Matt Michel.
Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mobile at 214.995.8889.