Taking Risks

A few months ago someone told me that I should learn to take more risks. I later shared with my wife that I had been given that advice, her eyes got big and she laughed out loud and said, “They really do not know you do they?”  In many ways taking risks has always been a part of my life, some times out of what I felt was necessity, other times because of my refusal to follow the status quo, and yet other times I took risks that were motivated by curiosity and adventure. Regardless of the reasons, I have embraced the principle that a life worth living will have risks.

Amy and I had our most profound encounter with risk six years ago. After moving back home to Louisiana we struggled settling in to life here. The kids were not happy, Amy and I both were not happy with our jobs and we had not been able to connect with a new church family. After months of wrestling with what to do, we made the decision to move back to Indiana. It was tough to tell our extended family, but we both felt like it was the best decision. I still had my consulting business in Indiana and Amy had connections to help her get a job teaching there. We started making plans and decided to move at the end of the year.

Fast forward a month or so, it was October. Our house was listed for sale and Amy had given her resignation notice to her school; she would not return after Christmas break. Meanwhile my biggest client in Indiana decided to start a sister logistics business in Portland Oregon. It was a quickly decided and ambitious effort. With only a few days notice I found myself taking a cross country whirlwind trip. One day I was flying to Atlanta to help sell the first large customer for the new business and tour facilities. The very next day I flew to Portland to help find the right building to lease and begin planning what was needed to begin operations. The evening of our first full day in Portland we signed an agreement with the first customer. We needed to be ready to start receiving truckloads of material by December 1.

The next month was a blur as I operated in three time zones. I was teaching part time at a local college in Louisiana, supporting clients in Indiana, helping setup a new business in Oregon, trying to sell our house in Ponchatoula, and looking for a house to buy in Terre Haute, all while making plans to move. Life felt like chaos.

My client hired a VP of operations to run the Portland business.  He was supposed to be experienced in the industry and experienced at starting new businesses. At first he seemed like a nice enough guy with a strong personality, probably a good fit for running a new logistics business. For the new business my responsibilities were to be IT related only, which seemed easy enough. I made the calls to source the needed services and equipment and outsourced most of the equipment installation. All I would need to do is fly out to Portland, install minimal equipment and finish setting up a few systems. Easy enough, I was ahead of schedule.

In the middle of November, I made a trip to Portland to finish the setup for the new business. I found a few surprises when I got there. First, the start date had been pushed up by a few weeks. We would start receiving inventory in just a few days, lots of inventory, like truck loads and truck loads of inventory. Few staff had been hired, not to even mention trained and the warehouse layout had not been completed. I surveyed the situation and decided to focus my energy on getting the warehouse management system ready; you cannot manage inventory without a WMS.

The next few weeks would be a nightmare. The VP of Ops was not experienced at running a logistics business that offered warehousing services, the temporary employees that were hired were not trained, and my time began to be split between getting the IT systems setup and helping get the warehouse ready for operations. The trucks started showing up and we were not ready. We were all tired and aggravated. You can do the math from there, things went downhill quickly.

The VP of Operations and I did not like each other.  I felt like he misled my client (and friend) in regard to how much he knew about warehouse operations. He probably had me squarely in the “IT box” and had no clue how much I knew about logistics, warehousing and running a business. As the days passed it became clear to everyone that he needed help, but he was to proud to ask or listen to advice. To make matters worse, the owner of the company was 1500 miles away in Indiana and did not handle difficult situations or confrontation well.

The powder keg blew just before noon on a Saturday. The VP of Operations wanted to start receiving inventory into the warehouse management system but it was not fully setup because the warehouse had not been properly laid out. I knew it would be an absolute mess if we started adding inventory into the system. He told me, “Do it or you can get your ass on a plane and go back to Louisiana.” He did this in front of the VP of Sales and two other managers. I looked at him, smiled and said, “That is a great idea! I am going find a plane and fly my ass back to Louisiana.” and promptly left the building.

My frenemy was left standing speechless in the shipping & receiving office. At this point, I knew he needed me to get the warehouse running. I would let him sweat for the rest of the day and then return the next morning. He needed a lesson in humility and I had been pushed to the place to give it to him. My client had known me for nine years. Even though I was upset at him for putting me in this situation, he knew me well enough to know that I would never desert him. I needed a break anyway. I decided to drive out to the coast and see the Pacific Ocean; it would be the first time for me.

Well, that was the plan until the VP of Sales called me. I have forgotten the details of the conversation, but in his “sales” oriented way he tried to put a spin on the situation in an attempt to talk me into coming back to the office. That was probably the worst thing he could have done. I was not buying anything he was trying to sell and at some point in that conversation I hit my breaking point and lost it. I mean I completely lost it. This was the most anger that I ever have felt in my life. Amy and I had been together for over twenty years at this point in time and I later told her, “Amy, even you have never seen me this upset.” I snapped. I was screaming into my mobile phone at the top of my lungs. Honestly, it scared me that I had gotten that angry. I did not know that was in me, everything had just built up. The stress from preparing to move, the new business in Portland, being away from my family, financial stress, worrying about my family, knowing that I had been neglecting my students back in Louisiana, and now this situation, all that stress came out and erupted at once. I turned into into this person who I had never met before -and I did not like him.

We somehow ended the call. I was in a daze for the next twenty minutes or so… How did I get here? What has happened to me? I was at a loss. I did not have the answers to those questions, but I knew this was about more than an arrogant VP of Operations and a VP of Sales trying to sell me on a dysfunctional situation. I had to clear my mind, do some soul searching, pray and ask myself some hard questions. A long walk on the beach was just what I needed.

I finished driving to the coast and found a place to park. It was beautiful. Think of ideal picturesque scenery from the northwestern shoreline and that was it, but a picture or video is nothing like being there. The view, the wind, the sounds, the smells, it was breathtaking. I started wondering down the beach. I gave myself 30 minutes or so just to take everything in, the view, the thoughts rolling around in my mind, the weight that I was feeling. I gave myself time to process, to slow down, to cry a few tears. It was okay, no one was watching and the sounds of the wind and the waves covered up any sounds that I made. As I slowed my mind and my emotions began to subside, I started asking the questions that mattered. How did I get here? God, how did I get here? Did you lead me here? Would “You” really lead me to this place? How did I screw this up so bad? Oh my God, what I am going to do? It would turn out to be a very long walk.

As time and a few miles of shoreline passed, I exhaled a deep breath and gave into the reality that the day’s events had been set in motion some time ago. I had actually helped create them. Things could have been different. There were several times where I had been offered a leadership position in this business. VP of Finance, VP of Ops, the  owner’s “wingman,” those were his words, virtually any position I wanted. For various reasons I had turned him down, repeatedly, purposefully keeping myself in a “consulting role” and then eventually moving 725 miles away to Louisiana. After I moved away, I was still able to reasonably manage IT remotely, but I had missed out on most of the management conversations. I was simply “no longer in the room.” The business owner filled the roles that he had first offered to me. He had moved on; he had to. Whether or not I agreed with some of his decisions was irrelevant. It was his business and I had passed on those opportunities. When I pulled my mind out of the weeds of all the details, I realized that this business relationship was no longer a good fit for either one of us. While I still enjoyed and wanted the financial benefits and stability of a long term contractual agreement, it was time to move on. This dynamic was the root of the unbearable tension I was feeling. It was time to end a very profitable nine year business relationship and move on to the next chapter in my life.

Ending this business relationship would change everything… It had been the anchor of my consulting business in Indiana since I had started it. Without this client and his businesses I would virtually have to start over. Was I contemplating putting my family in a situation where Amy and I both were unemployed? Could we move back to Indiana with all this uncertainty? Should we stay in Louisiana? But Amy had already resigned from her job -and she had been miserable there anyway. She was so relieved to be able to quit; I could not ask her to go back. What about the kids? They so wanted to move back to Indiana. Louisiana was “home” to us, but they grew up in Indiana. Indiana was “home” to them. If we decided not to move, I would be taking that from them. There were so many moving pieces to this puzzle. I had lots of experience at taking risks in all areas of my life, but the stakes were very high this time. My wife and kids were involved and the kids were now old enough to care and ask the tough questions, and experience the impacts. My career was involved. Any hope or thoughts of future ministry were involved as I was still wrestling with that. And obviously, Amy was involved. I had put her through so much. Twenty years of ministry, planting two churches, multiple building projects, dragging her and the kids to Indiana, putting up with me being gone most of the time as I worked full time jobs and pastored churches and not to mention the financial stress caused by all of the above. In this moment I felt like I had to make a decision that would dramatically impact the course of our lives, but the decision had already been made. The fact of the matter was it had become obvious that it was time to move on. The more I walked, the more my mind cleared. I knew what I needed to do.

Late that evening I called Amy and shared the experiences of the day -and my reflections from my walk on the beach. She was receptive as long as she did not have to return to teaching in Louisiana. As the emotions of the moment and the fear subsided, Amy and I considered a curious and ambitious thought. “What if we take the risk and reset both of our careers, -at the same time?” It was our BHAG.  Over the next few months we began to carefully plot our course, taking a few steps at a time as we got clarity on the directions we should go.

Not taking that “unthinkable” risk six years ago, is simply “unthinkable” to us today. Taking this risk ultimately helped lay the foundation for our lives as they are today. I will continue to share that journey in the next post.

One response to “Taking Risks”

  1. Eric, so odd you posted at this time and this showed up in my box. I remember reading your blog as I went through some terrible spiritual abuse teaching at Christian schools. The yelling, intimidation, low pay while pastors lived well. I am now church free but happier and more committed to God than ever. My dad says I should find a church, but I never want to go back. It would be nice to find Christian friends, but I will never put myself in such a position. Sadly, I have not found a teaching job that sticks well. Principals exert the same abuse you talk of, especially principals in Christian schools. I teach at a secular school now and it seems worse! However, I just accepted a position with a new school. I explained it all and she understood and said men often behave that way and she will be different. I hope but put my trust in God to lead. We live in Chicago but just bought a summer home at Lake Monroe Indiana. If you go to a church, there let me know which one and we will visit a summer weekend. Thank you for your blog.

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