The Kick In the Pants

I felt his foot so far up my butt that I could practically taste the leather. All the way from Oakland to our end destination of Los Gatos, he went on and on. And when traffic hit us, and slowed us down to a crawl, I almost wept from the agony of more time on the road with him.

The context: Around 2006, the business I founded and led had run into tough times. Our business was overly reliant on one big corporate client, who rather suddenly decided the company had, to quote the incoming CEO “outsourced the brains of our $3 billion dollar company to Rubicon/Nilofer”. Which would have been a compliment of the highest order but it came with a challenging proposition to the top 100 leaders, “If I have them, why do I need you, and if I have you why do I need them.” It probably won’t surprise you then to know that business dried up ridiculously fast.

My Vistage (a peer-CEO problem-solving organization) unit had helped me work on the issue. I got the help of decoding the situation, developing options, and some advice to consider. While helpful, it very much left the ball in my court to decide the next steps.

But in the carpool drive back to home base, I got what was still needed: the push. This person had known me for several years, wasn’t going to let me give up. He shared his own story of saving his business from the brink. Of getting the 12-hour reprieve of shutting down his company cause he wouldn’t stop making phone calls for capital. He could tell that a part of me wanted to sit back down on my butt, and just stop. I couldn’t get over the unfairness in situation. How could I have done such a great job for so many different efforts, in measurable ways that contributed to the bottom line of the business for a fraction of other big vendors, and then get this as an outcome?

This friend/peer/CEO accepted none of this rationale. He reminded me that life is not fair. He challenged me with the reminder that it wasn’t enough to do a good job. Not, nearly. He challenged me to think if I could be that kind of rocket fuel for multiple companies. He thought I was being lax by not being better at promoting the business to a more diverse customer base. He didn’t coddle me. Not one bit. He wouldn’t let me sit back on my ass and wail about unfairness. Instead, he told me that, until I had worked my way through the many actions and decisions on the things I could control, I had no right to stop. In effect, I had not earned the right to stop. This, he reminded me, is the moment where you earn your stripes and become who you are becoming.

Sometimes we cannot imagine for ourselves that which others can. And when they believe in our capacity to grow, we can ride their passion and push ourselves to a new level.

So the next time someone is saying, “hey that stuff is hard; it’s okay to give up”…maybe they are being compassionate. Maybe, they are being kind and giving you permission to stop. But they are also effectively patting you on the head to say, this is just too hard (for you). In doing all this, they are letting you off the hook.

But note the person that is demanding more of you. They remind you to step outside your comfort zone. They speak plainly because they believe in you. The don’t lower their standards for you. They challenge you to do it better, because they believe in what you are becoming.  They are the ones who believe in the bigger you, the one that says, stop listening to the voice of doubt you have, and push towards what you want for yourself. You might feel like you have to call a proctologist once you are done with that conversation, but maybe that’s the cost of having people believe in you. We should all be so lucky.

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