For this month’s Leaders Letter, I am compelled to share something more community related than the usual HR, education or communication-centered thoughts.
A ‘thank you’ letter I discovered yesterday still has me shaken.
First on the list: I’m told that just 5 more sponsors are needed to complete homeless street inventions (>1000) leading to the May 18Breakthrough Academy at the CARE Complex in Las Vegas. This is such an important event we should get 10 more. Thank you for those who have already joined me as either a sponsor or an individual donor – including Aristocrat Gaming and a fellow math/physics major from my Whitman College years – and thanks in advance for those doing so now.
Restoring another hundred lives while further reversing the culture of homelessness in our valley – and for less than 5-cents-on-the dollar – could not be possible without the investment of heroes like you. Thank you.
A sponsor form is attached, and here’s a secure LINK for credit card contributions.
Now back to this woman’s letter, and it’s unexpected lesson.
Out of respect for this woman’s privacy, I’ll summarize what I read: “Though I was a volunteer, your Hero School was often the only thing that kept me going from week to week… I moved from California after a contested divorce… Our business collapsed and I was left without income. I was starting over, out-of-touch with my first career and deep in debt.”
Reading the letter again this morning brought me to tears. If only I could have read itwhile she was going through this.
If you live long enough, you’ll discover people in your sphere of influence who are in dire need. But whether due to their character, pride or guts, they will never tell you.
Many put on a brave face or hero mask so that no one asks.And so we rarely know about their daily struggles, incessant fear or the valley they’re in. So as with this letter, we find out too late to help them through their toughest times.
And maybe there was something I could’ve done, either directly or through my network, that could have shaved years off of her struggle. I do it for the homeless, for other people’s teens and for my clients, daily… I just didn’t know.
In this woman’s case – and probably for many other current and former small business owners – her character was such that she would never expect others to carry her burdens… even though she was carrying the burdens of others. If you are an entrepreneur, you know you’ve always felt like the last line of defense in your world. Because you are. But what if your world began crumbling, like… Asgard?
I’ve been there. And something inside me wouldn’t allow me to share, or quit. I probably bitched about everything else, though. It took nearly a decade to get that company back to zero, all while continuing to work, contribute to the community and grow another venture. Then comes being haunted with the thought that you’re another decade behind where you should have been.
Small business owners, like the woman from this letter, who suffer a tragedy like divorce or maybe the loss of a partner or loved one – and the subsequent loss of in-laws, friends, a home, family pets, clients, a business, income, their network, credit, status, significance, esteem and freedom – have a whole new level of need few can comprehend, one that I can now see usually goes unsupported.
Who can she go to anyway? Who can she trust but herself?
Amazingly, this particular woman was still ‘giving back’ and volunteering in spite of her circumstances. She was probably in worse shape – at least financially – than many of the homeless folks in the Hero Schools she was volunteering for.
And yet she volunteered anyway, under the weight of her debts and after a decade of responsibilities and great loss. She may have been lacking clients, income, credit, support, friends, in-laws, a network and self-esteem, but entrepreneurs “are not of those who draw back.” The entrepreneur won’t walk away like the uncommitted employee. She ‘can’t not’ be who she is. And she won’t let outer circumstances change her character.
The character of an entrepreneur is almost uniquely forged from personal responsibility, being ‘all-in’, and being the first to take heroic action (initiative).
Because she’s a woman, this volunteer likely took ownership of her tragic circumstances, even if not her fault. What concerns me is that she and so many others carry these burdens alone, like carrying an injured child, in one arm, across a desert, for years. She shouldn’t have to live off random ’gigs’ for another decade, especially when there are capable people like us willing to carry some of the load for her. And help connect her to new clients. And update her wardrobe. And give her a car.
I’m not sure what it was she did to make it through. Thank God she did. I just know it must have been heroic.
I just wish I had helped shorten her time in the Valley of the Shadow of Death – and relieve some of her burden – while she was working her way out.
Perhaps the best we can do now is what James Bond did to find a Quantum of Solace: we can help prevent unnecessary suffering for the next silent but struggling small business owner.
We know they’re out there. They’re hugely important to the Circle of Life, whether mentoring our kids in their first jobs, or dry cleaning our suits or providing our company lunch. And they might really be suffering. They just won’t tell us.
So we will have to pry…a little. Or at the very least, instead of our interactions with them being solely transactional, we can make them transformational.
We can demonstrate our confidence in them, or share some of your wisdom with them, and every now and then, surprise them with a gift – or a really big tip.
It might just be everything to them. And it might just save them. And it might just save you.