I n August of 2018, I sat outside the office of John Kruse, a Worldwide Auctioneers principal and the President of the Reppert School of Auctioneering. A week prior, the meeting had seemed like such a good idea. But as I heard the door creak open, and saw him appear from within to wave me into the memorabilia-filled office, the only thought running through my head was, “Really, Robert? You’re really going through with this?”
I had never met John before. To me, he was simply The Only Person In Auburn, Indiana Not Drinking Crossroads Kombucha. At least that was the nickname I’d given him after sources confirmed he still preferred the big national brand to the up-and-coming local one started by myself. And on that warm August morning, in my outlandish pursuit of difficult questions, I had driven up to Auburn to find out why.
Truth be told, I could have washed my hands of the matter entirely. I had left Crossroads Kombucha 2 1/2 months earlier, and whether or not he was a customer was out of my control and of no importance at that juncture. But there was still that nagging voice in the back of my head, whispering, “But perhaps you could learn a thing or two from the one naysayer; find a crack in the foundation no one else had ever mentioned.”
It was the first of several difficult questions I’d pursue over the next few months. After leaving the first business I’d founded, and in the preparation/planning stage of my next, one of the most important tasks at hand was coming to grips with what went wrong, how I could grow, what I could change moving forward, and how to apply all I’d learn to become a better entrepreneur, leader, and person in general.
What followed was a rather enlightening Fall and Winter of 2018. I gave up my addiction to fiction novels in exchange for a collection of nonfiction books recommended by local, more experienced entrepreneurs on topics such as ego (Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holliday), hardships (The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holliday), failure (Failing Forward, John Maxwell), scaling back and saying no (Essentialism, Greg McKeown), and control (various Roman Stoic authors, such as Marcus Aurelius and Seneca). Thus began an uncompromising study of myself not as I wanted to be, but as I was- a flawed man who is prideful at times, lacking in strong leadership skills, with a penchant for taking on too many projects and not asking for help for fear of letting others down.
While it’s true that truth hurts, it’s also true that physical exercise is excruciating – especially in the early stages – because the muscles affected are literally torn and replaced with stronger, tougher ones. In the same sense, when bad habits exist within us, we have a choice to ignore the weaknesses and try to work around them, or find them, exercise them, destroy their hold on us, and replace each weakness with toughened, stronger traits that encourage growth rather than hinder it.
After a pleasant half hour of small talk in that Auburn, Indiana office, the dreaded moment came at last. I held my breath as Mr. Kruse asked, “So what brings you in today? How can I help?”
I laughed a nervous laugh, told myself to spit it out. My first difficult question, the one I was so afraid to ask for fear of exposing a weakness in the creation I still held dear. “So I was wondering….you were the only person who never jumped on the Crossroads bandwagon up here in Auburn….and I was wondering why. What could I have done differently to earn your business?”
The first muscle tore, soon to be replaced by stronger, denser fiber. Even still, I winced as the words came out.
He laughed and leaned forward just an inch or so, his smile hinting that big questions sometimes lead to very small answers. “Your kombucha was great. I’m just a creature of habit, and switching brands was a hard habit to break.”
I laughed and eased up quite a bit. That wasn’t so bad, after all.
Article written by Robert Johnson, Fortitude Founder and Owner of Bukál Beverage Co.