Fear – A New Lesson Learned – 2001
We are slowing coming out the recession from the end of 2000, and we are working hard with completing our projects and steady beating the bushes for new work. During this time we are developing some really good project teams, good departments, and slowly learning to work together. One thing I was beginning to learn about building a business, especially when you start from scratch, is how many different personalities exist among the people on your team. Then sprinkle in a President of a company (that is me) that is still learning on the fly about running a business. I now realized that we sometime had controlled chaos at the company. I often felt like some days I ran an adult daycare center. I was spending a lot of time dealing with people and helping them learn to work together and accepting each other, trusting each other, and teaching each other. I was also learning the importance of a good training program. I was very blessed with other very successful CEO’s that would give me advice and share their experiences and training information. Tommy Holder the CEO of Holder Construction, gave me some valuable advice much later in my career. He said David, groom your own people, and train them while they are young for the future. By 2001 I was 45 years old and when I started the business I was 32 years old. I realized many people I hired early in the business, looked at me as a youngster, and as the years went on still looked as me as youngster. I often I found people didn’t want to change with the new technology and the times. I had to learn with each new generation that there were new work ethics I had to adjust to. When I started my career in 1981, there were no cellphones, texting, internet, email, and the other distractions that were now infiltrating the workplace by 2001. When I was coming along, you were happy to have a job. You came to work early and never wanted to be the first to leave. You worked all 8 hours because there were none of the distractions when I started in 1981, that exist in the workplace by 2001. The only distraction we had at work when I started was talking on the phone or visiting someone’s desk to chat. That was frowned upon and you didn’t talk on the phone or visit others too often. You kept your nose to the grindstone. When I was coming along in the work place, there was a saying our supervisor would often use;” all I want to see are elbows and A holes”, in other words, you kept your head down and worked.
By 2001 I was learning a new generation was upon us. They wanted to surf the internet, email, talk on the cellphone, doing their personal business, all during work hours. I was learning for many, coming to work at 8 am was a chore and what’s the big deal if they get in by 8:30 or later, take long lunches, but still wanted to leave right at 5. Now I want to be clear and anyone that has ever worked for me knows I am all about a person having a good quality of life at work and away from work and reducing stress. However, I believe I should get a solid 8 hours per day of work for your wages. Many people were putting in long hours that worked for the company and still put in long hours today, but I was adjusting to the new generation of workers and all of the distractions from technology in the workplace. That is the other interesting part of being an entrepreneur, the changes each new generation of workers bring to a company and how do you mesh all of the different generations and make it all work smoothly.
In 2001, my company had been building projects at Morehouse College for a few years. I was proud to be working on the campus where I attended college. That is probably one the proudest moments of my career, to be selected as a contractor at Morehouse College. I was nervous and knew we could not mess up. Fortunately we did a great job on our first project. We have worked off and on since 1999 at Morehouse College. We still have to be competitive to win a job, and the college knows we will work extra hard to make sure the college gets a great price and a great project. We have been fortunate to work with the VP of facilities and the physical plant department that is named Andre Bertrand. We really enjoy working with him, because he knows construction. He is fair but firm and watches every penny for the school. I must admit I was a little nervous working for him at first, because he is serious about the college and the college facilities and pushes you to deliver a great project for the best value. He is always focused on the best deal and top quality for Morehouse. We enjoy working for knowledgeable clients, and also a firm but fair client. Sidebar: When I first started working at Morehouse I had some old professors still working at the college. My old precalculus professor saw me on campus. At this time she was in her early 70’s and still teaching. She is a very tall lady and very proper in her diction with a southern accent. She smiled and said” Mr. Moody, I am so proud of you”. I said thank you and then told her about my old roommate Alan Peterson who was now a dentist. She remembered that he and I sat next to each other in her class in 1974 as freshmen. She nodded and smiled, then said,” I am very proud of you and Dr Peterson and when I think of you two in my class and what you both are doing now, I know there is a God”, she smiled and walked away. It took a minute before I realized what she had said about us. My old roommate and I still tease her whenever we see her now at some college event, about that statement she made about us. She smiles and says,” I still have your test from 1974 in my basement, would you like to see your grades” and we quickly say no thanks. That is the only thing about working on the college campus you attended. Some of the old professors remember you when you were young; I think that is enough on that subject.
We were starting to do more design build work, where the client would hire us to manage the architect. Sometime we would select the architect to use and other times the client would assign the architect to us. It takes a special architect to work under a contractor, because the architect is so use to directing the contractor and now the contractor is in charge. The contractor in a design build project has to make sure that the architect designs the project within budget, because the contractor is guaranteeing the project will stay in budget, finish on time, have great quality and meet the owner’s program. This is where the rub often takes place between the architect and contractor, which is keeping the architect in budget. We have been fortunate to work with some very good architects in design build projects, even though we often have small arguments about their designs and budgets, but when you have a good team, you work together, solve the problem and make sure you have a great building with a happy client. A excellent design build team has to leave egos at the door.
Being a general contractor requires a lot of patience, leadership skills, organization skills, people skills and knowledge of construction. In 2001 I am still dreaming of building a bigger and better company, while still adjusting to the effect of my childhood trauma and panic attacks from that trauma. By 2001, I realized I would never ever forget being sexually molested as a child, and that I had to learn to live with the impact it had on my life and not let the impact take my happiness or stop me from chasing my dreams. In early 2001 our family lost a young man that was very close to our family and was always at our house. He and my son were best friends. He was two years older than my son. It was January 2001 and I had just talked to this young man’s father on the telephone and within an hour the father called back to say his son had just committed suicide in his bedroom. The time was around 3 pm. I froze on the phone when I heard the father screaming for me to come to his house now. This young man had academic scholarship offers to GA Tech, Morehouse and other schools and was graduating in 4 months from high school. He lived just a few doors down from us. As the dad was yelling for me on the phone to come to his house, I froze for about 3 minutes; I was meeting with Kathleen Johnson from Morehouse at my office, when I got the call. She saw the look on my face, and I told her I had to stop the meeting. After a few minutes of getting myself together I headed to his house, on the way stopping at my house to check on my son and trying to figure out how do I tell my son, my daughter and my wife. I must admit this was one of the saddest days of my life. All I could do was hold the dad that had just lost his son, and then hold my family. The pain on the dad’s face, then the mother and sister’s face when they arrived to the house was heartbreaking. I probably held my family tighter that day than ever before in my life. It took my family and me quite some time to recover. It took me a while to even get comfortable to answer my phone again, because every time I answered my phone, I could still hear the father’s cries. That for me was one of those moments where you realize how precious and fragile life is for all of us.
As the year went on in 2001, we had another major event; it was 9-11-2001. I will never forget that day. Everyone at the office was in the break room watching the news, we all were glued to TV and no one knew what to say or think. I decided it would be best to shut down and have everyone go home. Early in the chaos of 9-11, my youngest brother Cameron was on a flight out of Boston that morning, headed out west. We couldn’t reach him and my family waited for hours before we knew he was ok. His plane like many others was forced to land immediately and then he rented a car with other people from his plane and drove back to Boston. I remembered thinking again how quickly life can change and how fear was impacting our lives.
Trying to run a business during and after any major challenge in your life personally or globally is very interesting. I was trying to keep my folks feeling positive and not let fear consume us, and at the same time I am thinking what next. As a leader you have to be a rock, steady and calm because your people will feed off your energy. I also learned another lesson about fear, and this lesson stopped me in my tracks when I realized what I was doing. As we all know after 9-11 all we heard about were terrorist and the middle east. We all looked at people differently, especially when flying. I will admit, I was never scared to fly before 9-11, but after 9-11, it took some time before I got comfortable to fly again. Well here is the story about fear and me and the impact 9-11 and the news we heard daily after 9-11 had on me. A year earlier I was in the first class of the Diversity Leadership Academy sponsored by Coca Cola. This is what makes this next event so interesting for me. Some time had gone by since 9-11 and I took my family to Disney World. I decided we can’t live in fear and we have to get back to living or terror wins. We are waiting in line at the haunted house at Disney World, we are laughing and I notice a Middle Eastern family, dressed in Middle Eastern attire with a cooler. Now this is when the fear kicks in, because of 9-11 and all of the news afterwards, I was now subconsciously judging people on their clothes and nationality. I didn’t know their religion, where they were from or anything about them. It was two adults and a few kids with a cooler, who looked Middle Eastern in Middle Eastern attire. I started thinking should I move my family, could the cooler have a bomb in it and blow us up. Then I felt an embarrassment come over me that stopped me in my tracks. Here I am letting fear have me treat people in a way I don’t want to be treated by others. I was showing prejudice, being judgmental toward people because of the fear I had developed from 9-11 and the news to follow about people from the Middle East. I kept thinking I have spent most of my life praying people will not judge me or be prejudice against me because of my skin color, or because I am a child sexual abuse survivor or because I suffered from panic attacks. I realized that day at Disney World the role fear plays in how we think and act toward others, without ever knowing one thing about that person. I remember thinking about what my parents taught me, judge a person by their heart and their actions, and do your best to treat people the way you wanted to be treated. I started reflecting on the things I learned in my diversity leadership academy class. I was getting a first class education about how fear can make us think negatively about other people without knowing anything about them. I learned how easy fear can cause us to generalize negative thoughts about different religions, races, gender and the list goes on. Once again I learned the negative power of fear can have on us.
I learned in 2001, as an entrepreneur many challenges will come in our lives and being the leader of a company we have adapt to the challenges and keep giving our people the courage to keep moving forward in a positive direction. I pray we will all do our best not to let fear consume us and cloud our thoughts or take away our ability to dream big beautiful dreams to go for our passion in life. Life is precious and life goes by fast. Enjoy it every day.
Thanks for reading and I hope you are enjoying my journey in business and life. I pray every day more of us will learn how much fear impacts our lives , and we can face that fear and fight through that fear every day with a smile and joy. We can’t let fear stop us from going for our dreams. I keep trusting God to carry me when I get fearful.
Take care and see you next week.