Look Up

By Jon Gilson

Last week, I couldn’t see the end of the street. I couldn’t see where I was going. I was tying my shoes, and if you’re tying your shoes, you aren’t looking where you’re going.

There are two main functions in business: zoom in or zoom out. Stop or walk. You can look at where you are, or you can look where you’re going. You can’t do both at the same time, and if you spend too much time looking at where you are, you’ll never get where you’re headed.

We had a momentary crisis. Again Faster’s inventory levels had reached an all-time high, and sales weren’t quite keeping up. The business problem, while relevant, doesn’t deserve much attention. The fix is easy. Sell stuff.

I let this impact my psyche. I stared at the ceiling. I wondered if I’d forgotten how to tie my shoes. Should I hire that developer? That customer service rep? How do you walk?

I was looking down, at the immediate situation, forgetting the point. The point is easy. Make the business the best you can. Impact some lives, a lot of them, with yours coming in dead last on the priority list.

A couple of meetings got my head up.

The first was with David, a guy who has a decade and a half of business experience on me, a guy who somehow agreed to join the AF staff. David and I debated the hiring priorities, and I bitched about the current budget.

“You’re up to your neck in mud,” he said, an infuriatingly wise look on his face.

Yep. I was worried about now, the immediate, even though there was little reason. The demon: I know that cash flow problems can kill a business. You can be profitable and still die. If too much of your asset base--in our case, cash and inventory--is biased toward inventory, and there are bills coming in, you can end up unable to pay. You can die. If you hire too soon, in the midst of an asset mis-allocation, you can speed to death.

Frankly, it wasn’t a real issue. We have a ton of credit, and we could pay our way out of most anything short of a currency collapse. Hiring one more employee was not going to put us down. Still, I was staring at the ceiling at night. I was in the mud, tying my shoe.

See, we just launched a new website, and our programmer is busy. Stupid busy. Pushing two international websites, making sure our domestic version works, all the while supporting our customer service corps with a bunch of back-end apps to make their lives easier. We have priorities, and number one is always the customer experience. With cash in the wrong spot, how do we make sure they’re happy and still make payroll?

Should I hire another programmer? Another customer service rep? What if I can’t afford either? What if we never sell another kettlebell? Goddamn, what if I kill this thing I spent six years building?

Fortunately, my no-sleep, there’s forty-four swirls in the plaster above my bed paranoia went away during a lunch meeting last Tuesday.

Crunching a Cobb salad, I sat down with a current CrossFit Affiliate owner, a buddy, who was contemplating a move from a 3000 square foot facility to a 10000 square foot Box. We talked, and he asked questions, and I realized: he was staring at the top of his shoe. He wanted to be an impact Affiliate, to change his community, but he wasn’t sure about the big step up.

I asked him:

“Can you afford the new space? Do you want to be that big? Is anything stopping you? Are you afraid?”

He came back yes, yes, no, YES.

Funny how easy it is to solve other people’s problems.

I fired bullets, one right after the other: “The move makes perfect sense, dude. You’re just scared. You’re staring at the top of your shoe instead of walking down the street. Tie your shoe and get moving. Get the space.”

My friend was in the same spot I was, both of us afraid to move forward for fear of failure. For fear of the end. For fear of fucking up. And that’s no way to live life. It’s no way to succeed.

For both of us, the lesson is the same: make sure your shoes are tied. Get your house in order, but don’t let it prevent you from making progress. Don’t forget to have a vision, to look down the street, to know where you’re going. Don’t stop forever just because you tripped over your shoelace.

We both learned to look up. And I’m looking up. We’ll have another programmer on staff by the time you read this.

Jon Gilson is the founder of Again Faster and former member of CrossFit’s Level I Seminar staff. Photograph of an athlete competing in the 2012 Hardn'up Challenge courtesy of Patrick Cummings.