20 Seconds of Insane Courage
“You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
I have a serious man crush on Matt Damon and I’m not afraid to admit it. His film “We Bought A Zoo” always springs to mind whenever I have a big decision to make these days.
However, rewinding to the start of my career, as a 23-year-old recent graduate, I did spend 20 seconds re-reading an email that I had just composed to the CEO of my FTSE 100 company. I was then brave enough to press the send button….. It changed my life.
I was working in my first job at the time for B&Q (the Home Depot of the UK) as a Junior Buyer on their Retail graduate scheme. I’d had some successes and after a couple of years was hoping to be considered for a promotion. It quickly became clear that Junior Buyers didn’t get promoted that quickly, so I started to get itchy feet.
I had learnt Russian at University and started to look at jobs over there. The Retail market was booming as western consumerism was starting to take hold, and the pay packets were ludicrously high. They all wanted “western” knowledge. Even though I was a young upstart straight out of University, I started to get a few “bites” from some of the local players.
The Russian market in those days was a pretty risky place to do business and there were few western Retailers out there…. something didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel that I could risk my comfortable blue-chip job for the “Wild East” of a local Russian business.
The B&Q parent company Kingfisher were active in Poland, and one day it struck me…. Why weren’t they considering Russia? Could that be something that I could help them look into?
I was naive at the time and scared that getting in touch with Kingfisher would hint to B&Q that I was not entirely happy in my role. As a green 23-year-old, the thought of rocking the boat petrified me, although now, it seems a perfectly reasonable thing to ask about, and maybe not so scary......
Despite my fears, I composed an email to Gerry Murphy (the CEO)…. “Hi, this is me, I’ve achieved this, I believe that Russia would be a great opportunity, oh, by the way, I speak Russian. Is the country part of your future international strategy?” No more complicated than that, just some cheeky grad trying his luck. I wrote the email, went for a coffee, changed a few words, went for a walk outside..... came back. Am I putting at risk any chances of promotion I ever had? Deep breath time. I re-read it again for those 20 seconds. Then I pressed the send button.
I didn't sleep that night.
A day later I received a reply. “Actually Paul, we were considering Russia as an option, how about you come up to London tomorrow to meet Ian Cheshire?” Ian was then the International Director, later to become CEO himself. The meeting went well and I immediately became part of the team compiling a board proposal. I job shared for 3 months and when the board gave their approval, I was employee Number One for what is now known as Castorama Russia.
All because of one little email and 20 seconds of courage.
I never asked the question whether I was on their radar in any case, whether I was taken onto the graduate scheme because of my languages, or whether my graduate scheme friend Sarah Bater (the HR Manager at Kingfisher at the time) had helped my cause…..
To this day, I do believe that my 20 seconds of courage made that difference. This is a true story, and I am sure that everyone has had similar experiences.
Take those chances. Make it happen.