I’m starting to think about my next book. I won’t be able to start writing seriously for another couple of months, but I’m taking some steps in that direction. Here’s a speech I recently gave that touches on the new book’s thesis and I’d love to know what you think. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks.
A New Way of Looking at Things
Today, I’m going to give you a bit of history. This is a subject I always liked. History makes a neat package of names and dates, causes and effects. It’s job is to make some sort of sense out of things and I’ve always wanted that. I mean, who doesn’t?
Isn’t that what we’re after? A predictable outcome? A known quantity? A reason for why stuff happens and the ability to control what happens next?
I was a thirteen year old sophomore when my father was killed by a drunk driver.
When I was a sixteen, I lived in a college dorm with a population bigger than my home town.
At nineteen, I was dating two men. One hurt me. The other rescued me and I married him. He was my hero.
By twenty four, I had three sons. We had no money. Once, I bought cheap dishes at a garage sale, shattered them with a hammer, and buried them near a two hundred year old wall in the woods so my children could discover them in a manufactured archaeological dig.
My kids were elated when they dug up the shards, but, to my chagrin, they didn’t want to glue the pieces back together again. They wanted to watch Power Rangers.
I wanted control. Of my life. Of my heart. Of my husband and children. I had imagined what having a child would be like. I would sit in a rocker next to a window. The curtain would be lace. The breeze would be soft. I would hold my child to my breast and sing while he nursed. That didn’t happen. I had twins. While I nursed one, the other screamed. If I tried to nurse them both, my arms fell asleep.
I imagined marriage. Soul mates. Best friends. I just didn’t imagine what ended up mattering to him. As it turns out, heroes require victims.
I left him, kids in tow, on my 29th birthday. The kids and I flew home. Through the woods and over the hill, to grandmother’s house we’d go. Literally. I mean up a three mile dirt road from hell into a canyon removed from the world.
My kids couldn’t watch Power Rangers. Really. There was no TV. Or radio. Or internet. Just the sky, the mountains, my kids and me.
I tiled my mother’s bathroom.
I borrowed her truck, filled it with regular gasoline instead of the diesel it took, and ruined it.
My mom wasn’t ready to be a grandmother yet.
Coming home wasn’t as I imagined it.
I’d given up on control by this point. Safety was the only alternative. I’d have given anything for that, but it, too, proved elusive. Right now, if I had a sound system, I’d play you a snippet from the Doors.
“People are strange…”
The truth is, I’ve done a lot of things. I regret many of them. Not because I did them, but because I missed the important part. While I pursued control, safety, and personal need, I ignored the one thing that really mattered because my drama was way more interesting.
The trouble with drama is that it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a nice way of not being boring. When we create drama, we think we matter in some way.
Not through drama anyway.
I digress. We’re doing history here. Making sense out of chronology and determining cause and effect.
By thirty, I’d taken a local non-profit from a small organization running 60,000 in the red to a successful organization operating comfortably in the black.
I didn’t do that all at once. It took about a year and half and I had some serious help.
Some of you may remember Owen Lopez, the former ED of The McCune Foundation.
One morning, a long time ago, I walked into Owen’s office with a twenty four year old boss who had recently graduated from UNM and didn’t really know anything.
College can apparently do that.
I wouldn’t know. I didn’t graduate.
Ok. So. Here I am. 29 years old. No degree. No real work history. I’m running an after school program because I won’t let anyone else take care of my kids (that control thing again) and I’m teaching 18 kids about how to carve soapstone with a dremmel and write their own mythologies. We catch snakes and lizards. We make snack. We imagine ruling the universe.
Remember. I’m good at imagining stuff.
So on this morning, accompanied by my younger boss, I make a pitch to one of the biggest granting organizations in the state. Owen Lopez is dry. He’s obtuse and somewhat abstract. He listens politely to my pitch. He makes a joke that goes beyond my 24 year old, recently graduated boss, and asks a question about my proposal.
He says, “Ok. Your idea sounds sexy. It’s bold and might work, but I have to ask, who’s going to teach this kind of stuff for $8 an hour?”
Good question, right? Back then, this was 1997, $8 an hour was the going rate for childcare directors.
I looked at Owen Lopez, stepped in front of my young boss, and said, “I am.”
Owen gave us the grant. $40,000 dollars was a lot back then.
Somehow, some way, that grant and my fake archeological dig lined up in my mind, but I wasn’t listening to me then.
My young boss lasted less than six weeks.
I talked my way into her job.
That’s the thing about parenting. You’ll sign yourself up for almost anything to make sure your kids are adequately fed.
I got a raise. I was making a whopping 10 dollars and 30 cents an hour. Oh. My. God. I should buy a house.
Make an investment.
Put some money aside for my kid’s future.
I still was pretty big on control.
Yeah. Safety mattered, too.
And wow, with the money I was making, I thought I could afford some stuff.
I looked all over town. I applied for mortgages. Turns out, my ex husband’s credit was way more important than my lack of credit.
I was blank out of luck.
I’d be working poor as long as I was willing or capable of work. My kids ate a ton.
And then, this thing happened. Nothing I could have foreseen or planned.
My crotchety, old landlord offered me a gift. “Buy this house.” He said.
“I don’t have a down payment or credit.”
“That’s okay,” he said. We’ll make it work.”
Well, he did. He made it work. He pretended to be my uncle, gifted me $80,000 in equity, and arranged a mortgage through a friend.
Yep, you’re looking at it. I was one of those sub-prime mortgage holders that brought about the end of the world.
No, I wasn’t responsible for the collapse of Lehman Brothers. I paid my mortgage. On time. Every month because I owed it to that man and my kids to hold onto that house.
Then, 9/11 cost me my job.
With the economy in a tail spin, and my lack of credentials, I couldn’t get a job. So I created one. I had almost $5,000 in a retirement fund and some unemployment benefits. This was not nearly enough to cover my mortgage or food in the fridge for long, but it was enough to buy me some time.
Time, when you’re in pursuit of control, or safety, is paramount.
Somehow, I managed to leverage the property I shouldn’t have owned, the unemployment benefits, and the favor or a friend into an art career that shouldn’t have happened. Don’t forget, I had no money. I didn’t have a degree. I was a single mom in a time when the PTA president didn’t want me to join because I would denigrate the organization. No. I’m not kidding.
My career as a sculptor astounded most.
It astounded me.
I didn’t think I deserved my success.
How about you? Ever wondered if you deserved what you got? Better or worse?
I met the man of my dreams in 2004. I didn’t know it at the time, but, as it turns out, he was one more thing I couldn’t control.
We didn’t marry until 2013.
Before we married, and while we were still figuring out how to be partners, I was awarded the title of Santa Fe Business Woman of the Year.
I was blown away.
I’m not a business woman in any ordinary sense of the word.
I suck at math.
I refund everything.
I’m never looking at the bottom line.
Instead, I’m looking at my customer’s faces.
And that’s why I’m here today talking with you.
The reason I took that award isn’t because of the profit I made or how carefully I managed costs. I took it because of what I did for the people in my community. I created a shopping center with a soul. I required all tenants to give back to the community they served. I gave back. Some thought me nuts. They were wrong.
As of this minute, I can list the following accomplishments:
I successfully raised three children and they have become men I adore.
I married the man I love.
I won multiple awards as an artist.
I was named business woman of the year.
I have authored four books, the last of which I’d give you all for free if I could, and the first of which took a national award.
I co-own a shopping center. I own a store.
Most importantly, I’m here before you now.
Do you know what’s great about history? It’s not the 20/20 vision of what’s transpired before.
It’s the running themes that evolve into outcomes never predicted, expected, or thought possible.
I didn’t graduate college.
I’ve won some awards and achieved a modest wealth.
But here’s what I’ve learned.
There is no guaranteed outcome.
People are strange.
There is only ONE Thing we can control and that determines everything.
What we control is what we give.
To our customers.
To our children and friends and lovers.
To our community and our families.
What I’ve learned. What I’m on a mission to share. Is that we are NOT in control of anything else.
But when we accept that small responsibility, everything changes.
We’re taught to manage, manipulate, seduce, or coerce to ensure the company is profitable, the children do well in school, the marriage lasts. We’re taught to go after what we need, to GET it at whatever cost. And our focus on getting is a tragedy.
Today, I invite you to imagine with me. Imagine if, instead of waiting for someone else to fill your need, you fulfilled theirs or yours?
If you want loyal customers, imagine giving them something bigger than a discount. What do they need? Is it your time? Is it the music they like on the radio? Is it a warm smile and the promise they can have their money back if they change their mind?
Now, imagine something that makes you happy. Just for a second. Close your eyes. Breathe in. Do you see it? Imagine giving that to yourself. Just doing it, buying it, going there.
Next, imagine dismissing all the reasons you can’t get what you want. Because there aren’t any. There is nothing standing in the way of your happiness except what you’re unwilling to give to yourself.
Here’s the thing. When you wait for someone else to give you what you need and want, you give away ALL YOUR POWER. They are now in control of what you receive. Maybe they like that. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they don’t know how to give to you in way you’re able to receive.
When you give – to yourself, your customers, your children, your friends, family, and community, you empower yourself and give others permission to do the same. There IS NO CONTROL. There is only who you want to be, how you want to live, and what you give to your dream.
That’s what makes an excellent business.
It’s what makes a marriage.
When you give, wholeheartedly and without trying to control an outcome, history becomes irrelevant. The story changes. Life begins again.