Fear or Purpose?
All you need to know about fear and purpose can be learned from an I-beam.
In the summer of 1978, I was 17 years old and found myself standing on a 5-inch I-beam 26 floors above the earth in southwest Houston. We were hanging the structural iron of the second of two 36-story twin buildings. I had worked on the other one the summer before. It can be hot in Houston.
The only thing between me and a sudden stop at the level of the earth was my balance and gravity. If gravity overcomes balance I become strawberry jam. Balance, in every single step, would keep me on the beam and alive. I was a proud young ironworker. We were never “tied off” or tethered for safety. Gravity and the odds were pulling for death all day, every day.
One of the legends of the trade, Murray MF Kidd, was my foreman. Murray had topped out a 111-story building. He could pass as Clint Eastwood’s double. He approached me walking the beam then paused, like he was on a sidewalk, and lit a cigarette. Then he said, “Michael, you can learn everything you need to know about life from this I-beam.” I muttered, “Oh, I think I better sit down for this.” Then I asked, “How is that, Murray?”. What he said next has been seared into my mind ever since.
1. “Number one, land the next step. The second one doesn’t count yet, and it never does, if you don’t land the next one.
2. “Number two, fear can’t walk the beam. It will kill you. You have to respect death, just 1/2 inch away, but if you fear it, it will get you. Kiss it with every step.”
3. “Number three, don’t look where you don’t want to go when you are on the move. Keep your eye on the center of the beam six feet in front of you as you recall #1… land the next step.
He flipped his cigarette off the building. Turned around on the beam and walked away.
Murray Kidd will be 81 years old on September 1st. After 67 years as a structural ironworker, you cannot stand in the greater Houston area without seeing a building he worked on. I wonder how many young ironworkers he’s told of his years laying beams. Maybe I’ll ask him at his birthday party.
There are some situations in life where the choice between fear or purpose gets very obvious.
Land the next step, On Purpose Now.