January 15th, 2011
For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched my dad work hard. Beyond the norm, hard. Beyond the extraordinary, hard. He’s the sort to put his all into whatever he does and he gave his heart, soul, mind, and body to every company for which he worked. He wasn’t home much when I was a kid, because he was constantly on the road, taking the trips no one else would, doing the jobs no else did. And for as long as I can remember, I watched my dad be taken advantage of. He expected the best of people, always trusted to a fault, and continued to give long after they had moved on.
This trust in people inspired me when I was a child. My dad would — and does — offer the coat off his back. He’s been screwed countless times in business, but if the screwer were to call my dad and ask for help, my dad would once again give. I admire his faith in humankind and that he chooses to be trusting even when the stakes are high, as they are in business, but as a result of his choice, he’s suffered some. He doesn’t get contracts signed — to him a handshake and your word is enough; he doesn’t ask for as much as he’s worth — he believes you will reward him when your pay-off comes in; and he errs on the side of you have his best interests at heart — each and every time.
I know some of you will think my dad is an idiot, but I assure you he isn’t. However, his judgment is often clouded by the stalwart belief that people will always choose the right thing based solely on its rightness. It breaks my heart to write that this tact hasn’t paid off for him. Not in the way most people consider pay-offs anyway. He is one of the most beloved men in his industry, but also one of those guys who is still working well past retirement. His ship never came in, docking instead at the ports of the many, many people he’s helped along the way. There was a man he trusted who tricked him out of his entire 401K in a false-stock scheme, another man who used my dad’s credit card for “business expenses” and then disappeared, and an associate who calls countless times a day, every day, weekends included, for advice on a start-up business. Of course, he will pay my dad for his time and work when the business takes off. And although that promise was three years ago, the guy is still calling. And my dad is still answering.
I’m not so naive to think that my dad’s business choices were or are wise. The way of the world is that you sign contracts, you don’t expect someone is going to repay your kindness or hard work, you ask for what you’re worth, you choose your friends and associates based on mutual trust. But I’d rather a father who lives from the soul than from the what-can-you-do-for-me. And how do you separate the two? How can you be one person in business and another person altogether in your heart? My dad isn’t. The two are the same for him.
He taught me well.
I live from the soul just like my dad, not so much from the brain….
Or the pocketbook. I always see the best in people. And that’s not a brag, it’s the (sometimes) heartbreaking truth. I don’t ascribe self-serving motivations to friends, lovers, co-workers. Those perceptions are foreign and alien to me. When I see reasonable indifference to the human factor in business (so easy to rationalize!), life, or love, it does not compute.
But I am coming to see that this blind adherence to “everyone is good! let’s just love each other!” is more damaging to me in the business sense than not. Because it excludes discernment. Just like Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” To me, this doesn’t mean I drop trust, it means that I make better choices about who surrounds me. That I expect they have my best interests at heart, that my hard work means something, that there is soul-heart involved, but to be prepared when it doesn’t go that way. A grain of salt is always a good thing, I suppose.
But this is really about “those” people, it is about me. You will be less likely to be taken advantage of, if you believe you shouldn’t be. The core issue is worthiness. A little something that colors so much of my life. As it is with my dad, it is with me: There is a small part of us that believes we are not worth taking care of ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I will get in the back of the line because I don’t think I deserve to be in the front. I’ve let opportunities slip by because I don’t want to leave someone out, or I put friendship above all else. Ahead of reason even.
That was my decision. And I am sure I will continue to make judgment calls based on what my soul wants to believe about inherent goodness. Yet, I find myself processing how I can make it less black and white. This person can be a good friend, but not always tell you the truth? Or someone can pretend they like you for what you can do for them, but they are still good people? Friendship is friendship? Unless it’s business? I need to reconcile treating myself well in conducting my business while treating others well, too, and knowing I deserve to take care of myself. Even when money is at stake. Especially when money is at stake. This is about personal worth, and belief in self, and knowing when to draw the line between being taken advantage of, taking care of you — and as it turns out — taking care of your family.
Because see, as long as I saw my dad work to the bone, and give his all, and trust with his heart to the exclusion of good sense, I saw his family pay for it. I certainly don’t wish he would have been a different man. Or at all like the people who took his trust. Just that he would have realized what a good man he was at that time — and still is — and have known that good people can be good at business too. That you can exist from the soul and be successful at what you do. That other people didn’t always have to be first just because they pushed past him and he was too nice to remain standing tall at the front of the line. Because I don’t and never will believe that business is mutually exclusive of decency. Or vice versa.
It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to figure out I’ve been recently affected by a situation akin to the above. I certainly don’t fault the decisions made, not by a long shot. I mean, in all honesty, I get it. I’m not mad or anything close to it. Just surprised, I guess would be the best word. Or if I’m remaining truthful, hurt. And I thought to write this because I am coming to see that there is no place for “hurt” in business. And while I get that, I still don’t know what to do with it. I suppose you move on, and take care of you, and stay true to who you are. If anything was missing from my dad’s approach to business, it was the second point.
I’m still figuring out the rest.