A Secret from an Old Man

I graduated college in 1985 equipped with a B.S. in Mathematics and an excellent work ethic. My first position was working for Ross Perot at EDS. I was 21 years old, dressed in a suit and slung COBOL code and stacks of punch cards. I was nervous and insecure. Here is what went through my mind:

In the morning I thought to myself;  “Everyone else was smarter than me.” And “Everyone else is doing a  better job than me.”

Around lunch time I dwelled upon thoughts like; “They like everyone else better then me.”  And “I have to keep this job.”

On the drive home I would usually think; “I wonder what’s happening” And “I wonder who is out to get who and then of course when and how does that affect me.”

Of course I’d stay awake and think dreadful thoughts; “What would I do if I was let go” And “Where could I get a job fast, very fast.” The last thought of the evening was usually something like this…”Man, I gotta get a handle on this because these thoughts are killing me.”

When we are young there is a lot to learn. If only I knew then that I’d be in my career for 24.5 years and never miss a single paycheck or be without a job for even a day. Even more solid than that, I’ve never been without a career for a moment. Not that I knew then or even now what I’d like to do when I grow up, but my career found me.  My skills and talents and experiences guided me naturally to what I was good at and what I liked. Sometimes I strayed a bit off course, but was always lead back to my calling.

Well, back to the late 1980’s and my insecure thoughts. It was then that I met a man in his 70s. He sold encyclopedias door to door. He was smooth and conversation flowed from him effortlessly. He was gentle and kind and my wife and I were enamored by his seemingly command of life. I bought (and still have) a set of those encyclopedias and we spent an evening with him and his wife.  Of course we went to pick the books up and we stayed for 6 hours. He shared with me something that I will never forget and it changed my life. As a matter of fact, I share this nugget of wisdom from time to time when I see someone struggling with the same insecurity. You see, when he was 18 years old he broke 100k in commissions selling door to door and he never looked back. He told me about how he dresses in the morning to engage with people, how he gets their interest and holds their attention. How he genuinely cares for his ‘clients’ and how he wants to get them happily involved with his encyclopedias (not just sell them). He went on and on and we were riveted.

He asked about our plans and future, what we desired and worked for. We shared with him our dreams and our fears. I shared with him about my insecure thoughts and how most of the time I could handle them but at times I felt paralyzed by them. But it was what he said next that changed my life. It wasn’t anything magical or spiritual. It was simple. He said, “Well Scotty, you are only as secure as your ability to handle your insecurity. So, decide this minute that you are secure and there you go.”

You know, I didn’t like to feel insecure. It really played out in so many ways that was destructive; from caving in during negotiations, to acting subserviently, to holding back when you really could have done it, not taking risks, gossip and so forth. The simple truth is that we really are only as secure as our ability to handle our insecurity. Decide that you are secure. Be confident. Take risks, work hard and never give up. For me, this was a transforming time. This position change was noticeable. I went from leaning backwards to leaning forwards. When those feelings of insecurity raise their heads, just stare them down with guts and say to them that you have mastered the ability to be secure.

~ Scott Felten

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