Words have power. I’d never imagined that the words of a stranger would affect my life so. It was about a year ago, on a flight from Baltimore to Phoenix, that a stranger changed the course of my life by posing a simple question; “What would your career be if money was not the object?”
He wanted me to answer quickly, without guarding my thoughts. “When you allow the doubts to creep in, you will edit your answer definitely,” he explained. So I allowed not a doubt to slide in sideways.
“I would help people. I would teach something…something that would make their lives better. Something that I was passionate about and could convey simply.”
We talked on and on, the miles of the trip passing thirty four thousand feet below us, the countryside stitched together like an expansive green and yellow and brown quilt. He was a patient listener as he helped me to define the path that would lead to happiness in my career. And by the time we reached Phoenix, I knew for sure that I could only be truly happy in my career by making other people happy in their accomplishments.
I didn’t set out to unseat the big box athletic performance companies that were succeeding on volume and technology. I wanted only my small niche; a little corner to help people…one at a time…foot by foot by foot. I wanted to take my observational skills, based in my scientific background and apply those observations to recommendations that would eventually bring solutions to people who needed comfort while walking and running.
I had done that and had that satisfaction when I worked in the field of dentistry. People would come in to the office, in pain or simply in search of better health and through my time with them, they would achieve better health. My satisfaction came in knowing that when they left my care, they had a smile that they could present to the world.
One of the most gratifying experiences of my dental career came when a salesman, who had been ashamed of his smile his whole adult life, came in for a full mouth reconstruction. It was a challenging case with many, many steps…most of them painful. It was my job to keep his morale high, to keep his focus on the wonderful things that would come when he was through the months of reconstruction. Cheering was second nature for me-in fact, I’d done it all through school and even professionally. Explaining the scientific reasons for the commitment he needed to make was second nature as well. My college years were spent in the study of Chemistry and Biology so I was able to convey the more detailed scientific portions of the process by breaking it down into digestible chunks. He didn’t care much for my microscope slides that showed the bacteria in his mouth, but explaining why it was important to floss and brush and eat right and follow mundane procedures to stay healthy stuck with him because of my explanations. And finally, when the reconstruction was complete and we sent him on his way, I felt that familiar overwhelming satisfaction that we had helped this man to smile at the world again. He was out of my sight once we released him but I was fairly confident that the lessons I had taught him would stick. Six months later, when he sat in the chair for his check-up, we passed tissues around from Doctor to staff as he recounted the story of his last six months. As a salesman, he had enjoyed reasonable success prior to having his smile fixed. But once his smile was restored, he couldn’t help but smile constantly at the world. Over the last six months, he explained, his radiant smile not only projected outward but inward as well. He found a confidence that had long been waning. He was actually a social creature but had slowly turned inward over the years because he was afraid of the message of his broken ragged smile. In those six months since the reconstruction, as he reached out to more and more people with confidence, his sales grew exponentially. His social circle widened and he felt empowered to try things that he never had. He was tearing up as he thanked us and so we cried with him. This is why we were here; to help people to realize a potential that sat unfulfilled.
In my career path, I had the opportunity to feel that moment in many ways. But long after dentistry, as life often twists and turns, I came to be working for a big box performance apparel retailer and the ratio of those happy moments to the number of people I encountered seemed really small. Thousands of people streamed through my doors but I never seemed to have enough time or staff-even when I had forty five employees- to help everyone. I began to understand, after that long plane ride with the patient stranger, that the only way to help people in a big way was to start helping fewer people in a small way. A recent fortune cookie at the tail end of my Lo Mein lunch revealed this; “In order to capture the heart of the city, you must capture the heart of the people.”
The years of dentistry were long past so I decided to utilize my foundation as an athletic retailer and marry that with my passion for running. After all, most of us spend the entire first year of our existence working to acquire the strength and coordination to walk. And what’s the first thing we do once we walk? We run! This walking and running stuff must be pretty important to our journey here in life or we wouldn’t be so hell bent on accomplishing it as our first year measure of success.
Now the mouth is a long way from the feet so there’s been a lot to learn in my journey. But the body is the body and all the same systems applied. But how could I become an influencer to people to help them change their lives through running? Could I disrupt their thinking enough to break the patterns of stagnancy? Could I get them comfortable with being uncomfortable? Could I help them see that the first halting steps could bring small reward immediately and big reward later? And finally, could I start small enough, with just nineteen hundred square feet of space, and a tiny team of four people? Could the first two feet that we helped become four feet and then more feet and more feet and more feet? Could we start a movement from that small space? And if we captured the heart of the people, could we capture the heart of the city by getting them moving?
So therein in lies the mission and adventure ahead of us at Fleet Feet Sports Scottsdale. It seems simple, right?
When you walk through the doors of Fleet Feet Scottsdale, this is what we pledge to do:
We listen. We observe. We recommend. We mentor. We coach. We move you. We set you up for success and we’ll sweat right there with you-if you’d like us to. And we achieve. Together.
So it’s not about the mouth or the feet but about the region about chest high…it’s about the heart and the unbelievable satisfaction that comes from helping people. One step at a time.