The Prison of Fear

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As a youngster growing up in my mid-sized town, I remember there were two hardware businesses. They each seemed to my young, elementary school mind to be modestly successful. I knew both owners, and they were decent people. For a while, they were what you might call friendly enemies. They fought no battles, and they didn’t have “price wars,” or deep discount sales. However, it was clear as I was entering high school, that one business was pulling away from the other.

The business that was pulling away expanded, and then expanded again. The business that seemed to be satisfied with what it had did little more than remodel. Because my parents patronized both stores, I was able to observe a strange pattern.

The owner of the growing business never said a negative word about the other business; however, the owner of the business that stayed in place began to turn bitter and said cruel things about the growing business. I remember the owner of the smaller store once saying, “If you buy their tools, don’t complain when they fall apart.” To my mind, the tools of both stores looked nearly identical.

By the time I had finished high school, the more significant business had gotten very large. In fact, they had grown to four locations; two in our town, and a large hardware store and a paint store in another city. They had several trucks and had started a small construction company.

In returning home from college one summer, I marveled at the fact that my mid-sized town (and the surrounding communities) was in the midst of a massive growth spurt. The bigger hardware chain sold their business, and the owners were focusing on construction and home services. The small store remained small. The owner, now an old man, made little attempt to be “nice,” nor did he treat his help very nicely. I still remember purchasing a small can of paint from him. “We sell quality,” he said, “not like those other crooks.”


Life Has No Guarantees

Not that long ago, I had a pleasant surprise. The son of the owner of the small hardware business reached out to me on my professional Facebook page, to say hello. We corresponded for a bit. His father had passed away some years before. He didn’t go into very much detail about his father or the business, but he did share these few sentences:

“The business was my dad’s prison. He was afraid to let it grow, afraid to take a chance, and he took that fear out of everyone around him. The fear turned him bitter.”

The man’s son was sharing much more than “hardware nostalgia.”

In my very first book, Enjoy the Ride, I talk about looking for opportunities, not guarantees. The man who expanded his hardware store into a small chain of stores and then spins into a related industry approached life with a passion and a purpose. He had no time to talk in negatives about the other store because there was no point in gossiping or being mean-spirited. In fact, as the business grew he spent very little time in the original store. He was far too busy looking for new opportunities, and I am sure his tools were always good enough.

The owner of the small store didn’t think his competitor’s tools were awful; it was only that he never owned up to his fears and used the “inferior tools” as the object of his bitterness. The more fear of change and the fear of living built up in the man’s mind, the worse the other business’ products became. Even after the sizeable chain of stores were sold, and the owner had ventured into building supplies and construction, the smaller business owner held onto his anger and petty jealousy.

The example of the two hardware stores illuminates that whatever our situation, we must move forward and risk change. I cannot begin to tell you how many people I have met who have let their fears prevent them from success, happiness, love, and life. You see, there are no guarantees. Put yourself out there. Life is short, time is fast, and there is no replay, so enjoy every opportunity when it comes, because life has no guarantees. We cannot always control where life will take us, but if we don’t try, we will turn all of our opportunities into prisons.


For more information about Hall of Fame speaker and bestselling author Steve Gilliland and the Gilliland Foundation, please contact steve@stevegilliland.com / 724-540-5019 / www.stevegilliland.com.