I graduated from UNCW in 2007 with a degree in Business Administration. When trying to determine what my major would be (after discovering that nursing would require me to quit my full time job, which was how I was able to even pay for school, and I didn’t know student loans were a thing so that wasn’t an option), everyone told me to choose Business. “A Business degree gives you so many opportunities!”
Well, 2007 turned out to be a big stinker, in terms of opportunity. Here I was a fresh graduate, ready to be a big business lady, and the financial world was crumbling faster than a graham cracker that had been dunked in milk for 2 seconds too long. We were at the start of what would be The Great Recession (no, that’s not me being dramatic, that’s what it was called) due to the collapse of the housing market and the subprime mortgage crisis. If any of you reading this are above the age of 35, I’m sure you remember! Your stomach likely turned a bit just reading that.
Like most UNCW grads, I wanted to stay in Wilmington, NC. Even more so because I purchased my first home during the fall semester of my Senior year (yep, fall 2006… that one stung a little), I’m from Wilmington, and of course, there’s the beach… I mean, c’mon! It’s coastal Wilmington! But I eventually ended up accepting an offer to work at a technical recruiting firm in Raleigh, and within 3 months I was promoted and transferred to Charlotte. All good things!
This company, and my role specifically, was mega-sales culture. I’m talking hustle, hustle, cold call mania, little white lies to get you in the door, chug the Red Bull, ring the bell, early mornings, late night client entertainment, tolerating the inappropriate jokes, etc, etc, etc.
Looking back I think, “Ew! Gross!”, but it was the norm, and especially so with clients who worked in the financial services world. They loved how we could hang in their fast pace, cutthroat, winner-takes-all world. And I’ll admit, at times it was exciting to be welcomed into that corner of the business world— although I don’t think this was the “opportunity” that folks meant when they told me to get a business degree. I was living on nearly pure commission plus an expense account, and these guys were rolling… and they let you know it every chance they got.
They were the WINNERS and everyone else was a freaking LOSER! Until…
One morning, in 2008, I was walking through the myriad of buildings, and something was different. It was tense. Like, very tense. Lots of hands to the face, pushing their hair back, deep breaths, tears welling, and then I saw it… the biggest terd of a client who I’d being trying to get in with for months… “the biggest WINNER of all”, was on his knees sobbing. The bank was collapsing, the stock was worth pennies, and his future was uncertain, at best.
I had 2 choices…
1. Make an about-face and beeline back to my car. Avoid the uncomfortable. He needs space, I convinced myself.
2. Go over. Embrace the awkward. Just go over to him.
So, I did. With no other words to explain why that felt like an option at all, I walked over to him. I slipped off my heels and knelt on that cold tiled floor beside him. I placed my hand on his shoulder and said, “John, it’s Brittany. I’m so sorry. I’m going to sit here with you and, when you’re ready, we’ll go get coffee.”
Shewwwwwww! What in the freaking world am I doing?! I’m 22 years old. I don’t have a skill set for this. I don’t have any clue what it’s like to lose that much money. Will he stay sad? Will this turn into rage? I’ve seen Dateline. He could turn into rage. Maybe this was a bad choice, but how do you turn away from something like this?
I had so many voices telling me don’t do it, but I did it anyway.
Spoiler alert, I am writing this, so it turned out fine! I was not harmed in that act of compassion. At the end of our coffee John told me how grateful he was when I came over. Rhetorically he asked how long he would’ve stayed there had I not? “We can always go back and test it out, if you want.”, I joked.
It was a nice moment in what otherwise felt like a devastating tidal wave. An act of humanity that I could have easily justified turning away from. And in all honesty, my 37-year-old self could probably still talk my way out of it.
Fun fact, that small moment of solidarity opened the gateway to do business together — that I never reaped the reward from (which is a story for another day).
So, what does all of this mean? How can you glean any applicable wisdom from a story that happened 15 years ago?
Here’s the deal, “opportunity” presents itself in many different forms, and it’s not always a classic storybook beginning, middle or ending… do it anyway.
You are going to be faced with situations that you will feel wildly incapable of navigating… do it anyway.
You are going to be feel too young, or too old, or too whatever… do it anyway.
You are going to feel awkward. You are going to stumble over your words. Your voice is going to shake… do it anyway.
You will not ever see the fruits of that moment… do it anyway.
(Yes, there is the big disclaimer that we don’t want to “do it anyway” with things that are generally unsafe, in opposition to our moral compass, that make you a big fact humanity poo-poo head… but we know that, right?! Tell me we know that!)
If you’re here… it’s because you already have that inner knowing that you are enough, that you are capable of taking on the opportunity of leadership. You’ve likely heard that voice whispering, “Why not me?” & now you’ve been led to the source of WHY NOT YOU?!
Let this story of a 22-year-old accidental business professional, who decided to kneel on the floor beside a grieving man, without any idea of what to do or say be the push to DO IT ANYWAY.
It is with that exact mindset that she eventually became the Founder of her own company; one that is reshaping the conversation and the approach to corporate culture strategy. 👋 Hi! It’s me! Doing it anyway.
Brittany Joy Fountain is the Founder & Chief Humanity Officer with Britt Joy & Co; a Growth & Culture Strategy firm that places an emphasis on the humanness of organizations by utilizing a unique data-informed focus to drive results. Brittany has over 15 years of professional experience working in Business Development, Financial Services, & Consulting, that consistently found success by tapping into the, often overlooked… you guessed it, humanness! She currently resides in her hometown of Wilmington, NC with her husband, 3 boys, a dog, 7 chickens, and a partridge in a pear tree.