Feeling Vulnerable?

Throughout my career, there was always a huge chip on my shoulder. It went everywhere with me, and anyone who would notice it, or dare comment on it, would get an earful in response. My entrance into the corporate world was different than most. So much so, that the theme song for most of my life was “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” by my favorite band, The Kinks.

The chip on my shoulder set me apart from everyone else; making me more confident the further my career advanced. Most of my peers had acquired an achievement that eluded me. They had a high school diploma.  My high school dropout chip was initially covered in shame. Then, by God’s favor, my career exploded. With my new-found success, the shame of my chip transformed into pride. The farther up the corporate ladder, and the more education my peers had, the more boasting about my lack of a formal education. Until God’s plan introduced me to Chuck.

Chuck was the CEO of a small technology company in the Graphic Arts field. With Chuck’s guidance, a handful of the best scientists and engineers in the Graphic Arts community carved out a unique slice in the industry. They were the pioneers that introduced Computer Generated Graphics to most of the world: Built on technology originally created to produce 35mm slides for business presentations (Remember the “slide carousel”?An essential tool in any business presentation before PowerPoint!). As often happens, someone with a keen, innovative eye saw a different use for their technology. How about using the same expertise to convert computer graphics to the 16mm film used in Hollywood? Boom! Mass-market Computer-Generated Imaging (CGI) was born. The idea soon found its way to Hollywood and was used in the second TERMINATOR movie. If you know the movie, there were a few seconds of liquid silver used to morph the next-gen Terminator back into shape. Well this little technology company, and a very deserving engineer, won an Academy Award for that few seconds of 16mm film. Not long after the T-1000 regenerated itself, Hollywood became enamored with CGI, introducing Toy Story and a host of 100%-created CGI movies. Straight from the computer to the Silver Screen. … and as they say, the rest is history!

My meeting with Chuck was after all the hoopla of the Academy Awards. Imagine my feelings of inadequacy when walking into that unassuming office for the first time. There, as you walked in the front door, was a huge glass display case. Almost floor to ceiling shelves, full of awards and photographs, displaying the accolades of this little company’s accomplishments. Other than this one impressive shrine, the company looked more like an office in a rural Iowa town, than a breakthrough tech company. Then Chuck walked out of his office.

My first thought was, “This is Chuck?!” Not your typical tech guru. No splash, flash, or excitement. He extended his hand for a feeble handshake with eyes that did everything they could to not look at me. For a minute, he reminded me of “Corporal LeBeau,” played by Holocaust survivor Robert Clary, on the TV series Hogan’s Heroes. True to his French ancestry as small in stature, Chuck was as unassuming as his office. In a faint voice fitting his disposition, he invited me in to talk.

After meeting the company’s Vice President of Marketing at a trade show, Chuck agreed to interview me for a job. Recently jobless due to the failure of a startup; it was imperative for me to find work. Especially with a wife and four little mouths to feed.

While the VP told me that the interview was more of a formality than anything and that the job was mine, Chuck had other ideas. Sitting down to talk, this unpretentious man seemed overly nervous. His demeanor confused me.

As the meeting progressed it became clear that Chuck had misgivings about hiring me. However, the more we talked, the easier it got, and our discourse culminated into his proud recall of the company’s Academy Award triumphs. Emboldened by his success story, Chuck finally looks me in the eye, he says, “I can’t hire you.” Working to regain my composure, images of my wife and kids bouncing around in my head leading me to ask, “Why Not?”

Chuck’s retort was quick. “Because of your lack of education.” He said it like it was an obvious answer. Fighting the temptation to let the chip on my shoulder and its vitriol take over while biting my lip and asking, “Why? What do you mean?”

Chuck explained to me how everyone in the company – from the receptionist to the shipping guys – had college degrees. Referring to the scientists and PhD’s on staff, he quietly said, “How could I do that to them? What would they think?” Then his eyes widened, like he just discovered gold. “Besides, what can you do for me, that someone with a college degree can’t do?”

Well, with that, the chip on my shoulder took over. What came out of my mouth was, “Well Chuck, thirty days from today, this high school dropout will have the Senior Vice President of Technology for a Forty-Billion Dollar, Fortune 500 Company sitting right here in your office. They don’t teach that in college!” Surprisingly, he was not impressed. He got up from his desk and escorted me out the door. On my ride home, realizing that it was time to look for something else to do. Thanks to my chip, this sure thing didn’t look to be so sure.

Long story short, the VP of Marketing compelled Chuck to bring me on board, anyway. Together, without a lot of support from the boss, we reinvented the company, rocking the printing industry with technology that is still used today.

It was at that job, working with all those talented people in Chuck’s company, that my chip finally found respect for the brilliance that can be nurtured and guided through academics. Some of the fondest memories of my career are those brainstorming sessions and passionate debates over technology, marketing, and strategies with all the Brainiacs.

For the first few years, the VP of Marketing was my colleague, my mentor and at times a protégé. We seemed inseparable. He taught me so much about marketing strategy. Thinking of him always gives me pause to thank God for bringing him into my life. On the other hand, Chuck did all he could to avoid me. Except for giving me an office across the hall from his – albeit an office that had been converted out of a closet. While Chuck probably got a chuckle seeing me in the Five-foot-wide, twelve-foot-deep office, it was plenty big for me and my chip!

My relationship with Chuck was tenuous at best. Eventually, we found ourselves in a contentious discussion, resulting in me getting fired or quitting. Neither of us knows who did or said what, but it was the end of my time with Chuck.

On that particular day, we were embroiled in a passionate debate over the direction of the company. My chip was full of passion and dedication to my beliefs. For once, Chuck was showing fervent passion as well.

Up to this point, we had never seen eye to eye on anything. His academic bigotry always seemed to infuriate my chip. Not this day. Chuck’s passion was fueled by something different. Gone were the vague references to the significance of the educated. Spilling out of Chuck’s office and into the hallway, the argument could be heard throughout the office. Now nose-to-nose, Chuck yelled in my face, “If I make a mistake it will hurt everyone in this company!” With that, and seeing Chuck’s eyes tear up, it hit me. Chuck’s passion was centered in caring for the people of his company. Money and my lack of education had nothing to do with it. That was the day the chip on my shoulder was put to rest.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.    

Proverbs 16:18

Walking back to my office to pack up my stuff was emotional. Knowing it was the end and filled with sadness and disappointment. This project had been such a big part of my life, and now it would be born without me. Still, Chuck’s last words bounced back and forth between my heart and my head. Never had the CEO of a company showed so much love and caring for the people in their charge. My previous discussions with Chuck always centered on how much revenue our project would bring to his company. Until now, he had never shown his strong commitment to those who worked for him.

Throughout my career, when working with owners or CEO/Presidents of companies, my experience always taught me to talk with them about increased revenue or reduced expenses, nothing else.

It was now clear to me why the two of us never “clicked,” nor got along. That one comment showed me a side of my former boss as a leader who was radically different. Chuck loved his employees like a father loves his family; like any father, he would never hurt them for money.

Looking back, that event was one of God’s pivot points in my life. What seemed disastrous to me, turned out to be a powerful blessing masked in chaos, turmoil and doubt. Like so many other times, the pain heralded God’s impending Grace, Favor, and Promise to come.

From that day forward, the chip on my shoulder was no longer a badge of pride. It was just another bump in the road of my life that God used to strengthen me and my resolve. To this day, my heart overflows with thankfulness that God used my time with Chuck to knock that chip off my shoulder. Without my Un-Educated prejudice, it became easy for me to accept people for who they were, educated or not.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

Philippians 2:3

Building on my new recognition of people for who they were, empowered me for the rest of my career. Starting a position at a classic “Silicon Valley” tech company. It was my pleasure to work with a group of people who impressed me as some of the brightest technologists on the planet. You know those smartest guys in the room types? In this case, my team was filled with a couple dozen smartest guys in the room, including PhDs, scientists, inventors, and a collection of engineers that Steve Jobs would envy.

Often, sitting in brainstorming sessions, my mind would wander off to my tussles with Chuck and my struggles in school, leading me to ponder how these Brainiac’s endured decades in school. Over lunch they would tell me how much they enjoyed the academic environment and often talked about dreams of teaching someday. Their appreciation and dreams were as foreign to me as my stories of growing up in Iowa were to them. Still, our love for creation and innovation bonded us together in the universe of possibilities, which eventually led me to getting a patent for our innovation.

My time with Chuck taught me that kindness is an act of love. An act that is born in understanding and unconditional love. We are all human and most use our impressions of others to shape our beliefs, ultimately holding others accountable for thoughts they never had.

Renowned bestselling author and social psychologist, Dr. Amy Cuddy, refers to this as “Imprinting” in her bestselling book, “PRESENCE.” Simply stated, “Imprinting” is when we create a thought or belief in our head that we believe someone else thinks about us. Then we hold that person accountable for a thought or belief they never had. It is only when we take time to fully understand their beliefs or thoughts, that we can begin to truly be kind to them.

“A truly confident person does not require arrogance, which is nothing more than a smoke screen for insecurity.”

Amy Cuddy

In my relationship with Chuck, the chip on my shoulder was a brick wall that stood between us. A wall that was put in place by my insecurities and not his thoughts.

It was only when understanding Chuck’s beliefs and the loving kindness that he demonstrated with extraordinary and extreme passion, that his purpose-driven motivation became crystal clear to me.

How often is our relationship with God thwarted by a brick wall that we put between us? In Christ, we let our pride, our shame, and perceived inadequacies stand as obstacles between the One who created us, and our understanding of the beautiful creation He made. Like the chip on my shoulder, everything we are is God’s design. It is only in our perception that we see strength or weakness in who we are.

Chuck’s passionate caring for those in his charge, along with my shame of a lack of a college degree were viewed by both of us as vulnerabilities, weaknesses, not strengths. All the while, these experiences were powerful assets that God designed in us both before time began. It is only when we become aware of the strength these traits give us, and no longer conceal our vulnerabilities, can we tear down the walls and fully, genuinely communicate.

So, Let Go! Let God build and empower the person that He sees in you!

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

When we let go of the perception of our ability, and how others view us, we understand who we truly are in Christ. Letting go of all things of the world, you realize that every part of your life on Earth is fueled by God’s Supernatural Power. It is in this belief we find the Passion that comes from a peace that passes all understanding.

Always Love!

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