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Facing Fear, Fighting Inertia 

When COVID took the country by storm, Triple Crown was prepared. That’s not to say that we had prepared for a pandemic. But, in a leadership session in the winter of 2019, we spent time planning for how Triple Crown could and should respond to a far-reaching, 9/11-type event. When the quarantine began, we had a game plan and acted quickly: 

  • We seamlessly shifted to a fully remote working environment in one day.   
  • We cut all investment spending and reduced cost to the essentials only.    
  • We made adding clients to our pipeline our priority and created a new pipe lining incentive. 

    You might think that these big, drastic changes were the hard part for our company, but they weren’t. In the quiet and distance of lock downs and quarantine, that’s when things got hard for Triple Crown. We are an organization fueled by our shared enthusiasm and ambition. We collaborate loudly and boldly. We argue and cheer each other on. It was in the lock down when my business partner, Sabatino Guerriero, and I knew that we were going to have to shake things up to keep moving forward. How? By looking fear right in the face and we knew just the person to get us there: Michelle Poler. 

Who Is Michelle? 
If you don’t know her, Michelle Poler is a famous fear-facer and inspirational speaker whose work helps businesses and people “fear less, do more.” Last fall, Sab and I were at the American Staffing Association’s Annual Staffing World Conference, and we heard her speak. As two generally miserable Boston guys, we don’t easily buy into motivational speakers. We’re skeptics. But Michelle’s message spoke right to us. Fear is dangerous. It could hold back Triple Crown, and our young sales pros who encounter all kinds of tough push back all day long. 

Fear in the Time of a Pandemic 
Like crazed fans of a teen boy-band, we chased Michelle down to find a time when she could do a workshop with our staff. She’s a busy professional and we needed to look ahead to 2020 for an opportunity to bring her in.  Then, the global pandemic arrived, and fear took on an entirely new meaning. As we pushed past the lockdown as a company and looked ahead to returning to the office in June, we realized that we needed to address fear head on. Michelle’s story and passion, we believed, would help give our team the confidence to fight off the inertia of the global shutdown and tackle the world again.  

Luckily Michelle had adapted her keynote address to fit a Zoom format, and she was in for a remote session. But, to kick off the workshop, she asked that I prepare a story about courage from my own life. This was NOT what I expected, but out of respect for Michelle and her process, I agreed. I knew my example needed to be good, and that meant I would have to talk about my biggest fear. 

The Fear that Drives Me 
My biggest fear is this: 

That’s a picture of my son, Jack, somewhere around his first birthday in 1995. Jack is not scary. He’s a wonderful young man who graduated college and is pursuing his career in coaching. But this picture of Jack tells the story of my fear. Jack was unexpected, born just before the spring semester of my junior year of college. I was 21 years old and trying to finish my degree so Jack, his mother and I could have a better future.   

We were living in Cheshire, MA, which is 20 minutes from my college. At the time this picture was taken, I was about five months into using Section 8 Housing, Food Stamps, and Welfare in the struggle to make it to graduation. These were circumstances I never expected to be in. In my case, I started working at age 12 as a busboy. I was always ready to work hard and earn.  The summer before my senior year, I worked three jobs: loading and unloading trucks for a cold storage warehouse, line cooking and selling Cutco knives. My work ethic wasn’t a problem.  

Accepting the government assistance was a problem because I started to think of it as how I could live my life. I was growing complacent at age 21. Our neighbors in the three-family house where we lived encouraged us to have more kids to get more assistance. And this is what scares me most: I considered it. That was, I considered it until the day I first saw this birthday photo of Jack.  

I remember the moment so well. The photos had just been developed and I went to look through them. Here was this picture of Jack and it absolutely floored me. This one photo conveyed to me something so unacceptable in how I was living. It was the opposite of who I wanted to be as a parent and partner. I couldn’t believe the complacent path I was allowing myself to consider… possibly forever. This picture snapped me into action and put me on a path that eventually led me to today. 

Facing My Fear Every Day 
When I settled on a career in recruiting, the phone became my most important professional tool. To remind myself to keep striving, I hung that picture of Jack above my phone. It made me think about what could happen if I failed to work my butt off and provide.   

When Michelle asked me to speak on courage, I felt like I needed to start with fear. What I realized in thinking about this time in my life was not that I still fear returning to that state of affairs. I know that if challenges arise, I have the strength to work my way out of it.  My biggest fear is actually the fear allowing inertia to set it. In that time of complacency 25 years ago, I was immobile. I needed a force strong enough to overcome that sluggish inertia and get me moving again. The picture of my son was the force. It gave me courage to push forward.

Keeping Inertia Out of Triple Crown 
As COVID spread throughout the country this winter, that old fear of mine reared its ugly head. If I could fall prey to inertia, anyone could. My sense of urgency to get out of the house was amplified by my fear of inertia.  I didn’t want it to take hold of any of our promising people at Triple Crown.  

Telling that story to 100+ employees and a renowned speaker was not easy. Opening up about a time of desperation in my life was one of the hardest challenges I have faced. I am grateful to Sab who encouraged me to tell it to the team and coached me through some pretty ugly, nervous practice sessions. He knew that the story would have meaning to our hardworking, driven staff who are all facing challenges and fears at this extraordinary time. His encouragement was where I found the courage to open up and voice my insights on what inertia can do and how resisting it with force, focus and drive can change your life.

Force, Focus and Drive 
I am thrilled to report that just a few weeks after Michelle’s session on facing fears and moving forward, there are no signs of inertia anywhere at Triple Crown. Most Triple Crown employees are back in the office, safe, socially distanced following CDC guidelines, and doing what we do best: pushing each other to achieve and advance. More than anything, I’m extremely proud of our team for fighting through whatever personal inertia they may have experienced since mid-March and bringing their A+ games to work. In fact, I felt it was important for our team to reflect on the value of Michelle’s presentation so I asked them each to submit to me a one page summary of what they got out of her time with us. It was incredible to read each response, so I’d like to share a few with you:

  • “I need to step outside of my comfort zone in order to have a comfortable life.” 
  • “It’s okay to have fear, it’s what you do with it that counts.” 
  • “The way she approaches fear with what’s the best that can happen instead of whats’s the worst that can happen? Is very insightful and inspiring.” 
  • “Seeing her courage and bravery to get where she is today motivated me to rethink my personal and professional goals and how I can start taking small steps to accomplishing them.” 
  • “Being fearless also opens up the door to discover new things that you thought you might not like but find out you love.” 

These have not been easy times. For nearly everyone, they found some piece of inspiration which is hugely valuable right now. I am grateful our team got something out of Michelle’s session with us. And this I know: Triple Crown is even stronger, faster and better than before COVID, and I’ve never been more excited to back up a big, bold statement like that.