I enjoy getting carried away in a good movie – especially a movie that’s based on a true story. And as a student of mythology I especially enjoy a well crafted story that incorporates “the Hero’s Journey.” We Bought a Zoo was that kind of movie for me. It’s based on the memoir by Benjamin Mee. Although I highly recommend this movie, and will buy it when it comes out on DVD, I’m not going to do a review of the movie here. I want to talk about one line in the movie that has stuck with me and has caused me to reflect on many of the defining moments in my life. It’s when the main character, played by Matt Damon, says to his son: “All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something good will come of it.”
When I heard this, it hit me that in my “Lucky Break Factor” steps (see earlier post): Prepare, Plan, Act, Expect, Recognize, Act, that both actions steps require courage. And as the quote suggests, sometimes “insane courage.” So I started thinking back on those “20 seconds of insane courage” in my life, and how they became defining moments in my life. One of the earliest stand-out courageous moments came when I was 16 years old. I wanted to work at McNamara Sports, a family owned sporting goods store, that to me was the best job in town. The problem was that every boy 16 and over thought the same. I had a friend who was a good friend with the owner’s son and through him knew his parents. My friend knew that I wanted to work there so he took me over to their home one evening and introduced me to them and told them that I wanted to work for them. They, not knowing me, of course told me that there weren’t any openings. But, that their “back room boy” (shipping and receiving clerk) was going on vacation for a week and that they needed someone to cover for him while he was gone. One week, that’s it with no prospect of staying on after the week was up. If I wanted the temporary job I could have it. Even though the owner was real clear that it was just one week and that’s it, I jumped at the opportunity.
Although that was a “lucky break” it could have very easily been a very short lived break if it were not for another “lucky break” that came towards the end of my one week of employment. The “back room” shipping and receiving area was literally a room at the back of the building. My job was to prepare the outgoing shipments and receive the incoming shipments. I was given clear instructions to not leave the back room. Just sit there on a stool at the desk in the back room all day and take care of the shipping and receiving — nothing else. There wasn’t a door on the entrance to the back room from the main floor of the sporting goods department. When I wasn’t shipping and receiving packages (which required about 1 hour of combined activity a day) I sat on the stool watching the salespeople help customers. On one of the last days of my temporary employment, a family came into the store and was looking at the water skis. There weren’t any salespeople to be seen on the floor. The husband and wife kept looking around with a look on their face that shouted “hey we need some help.” That was my “20 seconds of insane courage” moment — my “lucky break.”
I had friend whose father took us water skiing almost every Saturday during the summer for the past three summers. I had become a pretty good water skier and had learned a lot about the sport. Knowing that I was told not to leave the back room and interact with customers, I felt that unless someone helped this family, they were going to walk out of the store. So with all of the courage I could muster, I walked out of the back room and onto the main floor and asked the man if I could answer any of his questions. It turned out that they had just purchased a new boat and wanted to take up water skiing as a family activity. They had no water skiing equipment and didn’t know anything about water skiing. I told them the type of double skiis and rope they would want for learning and that as they improved they would want to go to a single ski and different rope. They had kids of various ages and so I recommended getting a skis of different sizes so that their learning experience would be easier. And since they would most likely advance to a single ski quickly, they should also get several single skis of different sizes. I also suggested that once they advance to a single ski, they’ll want to pull two people at once, requiring more ropes and some single skis the same length.
The father told me that everything I told him made sense and he then asked me to outfit him with everything I felt they needed. So I loaded up the counter with several pairs of double skis, several single skis, several ropes and life jackets for the whole family and extras for friends. It was a lot of stuff. I then told the man that I wasn’t a sales clerk, that I worked in shipping and receiving and didn’t know how to ring up the sale and that I would need to get a salesperson to do that. I found Claire McNamara, one of the owners, and told her the situation and asked her if she would ring up the sale. Claire wasn’t happy about the situation, that a “real” salesperson hadn’t been on the floor to help this customer. But when she saw how much merchandise I had sold, she was impressed. The man told her that he was just about to walk out of the store when I approached him. He was very complimentary of me and told Claire that I should be working on the sales floor and not in shipping and receiving.
Claire liked that I took the initiative, saved a customer, and made a very large sale for the store. She told her husband, Steve, that she didn’t care if there wasn’t a need for another employee at the store, that when the shipping and receiving clerk returned from his vacation that I was going to stay on as a salesperson and that I would be trained in every department and fill in wherever needed. “20 seconds of insane courage” helped me get my dream job that would have a significant impact on the rest of my life. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was on work release so that I could work full time at McNamara Sports as the Athletic Shoe Manager, making a very good salary for a kid my age.
I worked at McNamara Sports for four years, through Jr. College. When I finished Jr. College I applied to Brigham Young University in Utah. After I received my acceptance letter I told Steve and Claire that I would be leaving to go to college in Utah. As “luck” would have it, Steve knew Elliott Wolf, the owner of the Wolf Sports chain in Utah. Steve would be seeing Elliott at an annual sporting goods store owner meeting in San Francisco and would tell him about me. Shorty after Steve returned from the meeting I received a call from the manager of the Wolf Sports near the BYU campus informing me that Elliott had told him to call me and offer me a job. The manager told me that he didn’t have a position available but that he was told he had to hire me, and pay me what I was making at McNamara Sports.
Before I had even moved to Utah I had a very good job, and with very good pay for a college student, waiting for me. Something very good did come to me from that “20 seconds of insane courage.” I will forever be grateful to Steve and Claire McNamara for the opportunity they gave me and the doors they opened for me. Their impact on my life is beyond measure. Many, many great things have happened in my life as a result of “20 seconds of insane courage” — such as meeting my wonderful wife, a video project with General Mills, and starting Investools, Inc., just to name a few.
Prepare, Plan, Act (with insane courage), Expect a Lucky Break, Recognize the Lucky Break, then Act (with insane courage) on Your Lucky Break. That’s the Lucky Break Factor… and it works.
Best of Luck Always,
D. Scott Elder
(c) 2012 Cosmicbridge, LLC