I watched to a short video the other day of a man who seven years ago was on food stamps and had a job delivering pizzas as he tried to provide for a family of six. He did not go into how he had come to be in that desperate place; instead, his message was about what he had learned, and how that dark time in the end had led to something great. Out of this less-than-ideal season in his life, a business was born. A business that would allow his family to not struggle from day to day and one that would allow others who were struggling to have access to services that would enrich their lives.
As I listened to the man, I could not help but stop and reflect on my own personal journeys through dark times. It is very hard when you are in the middle of a trial to see how this could turn into something good (great, even). I am sure this gentlemen had people in his life telling him that if he just kept going, things would get better — those famous lines we all are guilty of saying with good intent. You know, like “all things happen for a reason,” or “things could be worse.” No matter what people say or what we say to ourselves, it is hard in the midst of struggles to believe that this too shall pass and the sunshine will return.
My mom worked for a company for over 30 years. She poured herself into her work and was successful in her role. One day, she came into the office and was terminated. I think it was labeled ‘early retirement,’ but anyway you dress it up, it was an involuntary separation of duties. She was so upset. She was embarrassed. She was being replaced, meaning her job was not eliminated; it was given to someone younger. She really was lost for several months. At that time, she could see no good in what had happened. It took a couple years for her to be able to start seeing where this forced retirement had been a blessing in disguise. It was shortly after that event that my father was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. With my mom being fully out of the workforce, she was able to be with him and help him through his last months of life. After my father passed away, my mom reflected on how it had been a good thing she was let go from her company, and how spending that much focused time with her husband would not have been possible if she was still working. The other kicker was that less than a year after she was forced out, the entire southeast branch closed and many people lost their jobs.
If you are a country music fan or maybe just a Garth Brooks fan, you might remember an old song titled, Unanswered Prayers. There is a line in this song that says, “Thank God for unanswered prayers.” I will admit that I have prayed for things in my life that I just knew I had to have to be happy. I have prayed for material things, relationships, and even jobs. As a wild young man, I prayed to get out of the consequences of my mischief. The point being most of the time what I thought was best for me wasn’t.
As I listened to the man in the video and how he desperately wanted a better paying job, I imagine at times he thought he knew what he needed. In the end, he was surprised that his ticket out of poverty was something entirely different than he planned. He took a risk. Instead of worrying about failing (again), he stepped out and created a new idea that would benefit others and provide for his family. His motivation was survival, but his heart was for those in the same situation he was in. How could he give something when he had nothing, and in turn, meet his family obligations? I don’t know about you, but that is a radical concept. I like to play it safe. I love to think of myself as a risk taker, but I am not. For the most part, I am structured and analytical; I have no problem walking the high wire, but I need to triple check all the logistical calculations first.
In our professional lives, we see this type of thing often: terminations, being passed over for a promotion (or passing someone on our staff over for a promotion), bankruptcies and acquisitions. Whatever the case, maybe the dark times do come, and in the midst of those, it can be hard to see what good can come of this.
As leaders dealing with a staff member or peer going through a dark time, it can be difficult to know what words to convey. What I have found most helpful is to just listen and to provide support from the heart. Who knows why the man in the video found himself underemployed and on food stamps. Seven years later he is a successful owner of a nationwide business, so chances are he was not underemployed, because he lacked talent. Maybe he had been in the wrong role. Maybe he was misunderstood. Or maybe he needed a wake-up call. Whatever the reason, it is not about what happened to him but about how he responded. I have no great life lesson in this week’s post, just a reminder that there is a plan bigger than us, and that we can never lose hope.