I’ll be honest. I was never one for motivational, inspiring quotations. I always thought they were kind of corny. You know, considering my background as a cynical journalist.
But then, about a decade ago, one of those inspirational quotations became very important to me -- you could even call it the organizing principle of my life for a time. My wife Cathy had passed away in 2010 after a five-year battle with a brain tumor. When she died, I had a 2 ½-year-old girl named Juliet and an 11-month-old boy named Benjamin to take care of.
As you can imagine, it was terrifying. It was terrifying partly because it was such a big challenge to try to make a living -- let alone grow my PR consulting business -- while taking care of two babies.
It was also scary because I was grieving and had a complete inability to focus. My home office was the second floor of the house, but just dragging myself up the stairs in the morning became impossible. I got exhausted just thinking about it. So I brought my Mac downstairs and put it in the bedroom, on a small table less than five feet from the bed.
That got me in front of my computer again. But it still didn’t mean I could actually work. I would just turn it on and stare at it for hours at a time. Morning, afternoon, night -- it didn’t matter. I couldn’t get anything done.
And then I very distinctly remember one night, about a week after Cathy’s death, when I looked up from my little desk to the bedroom door and in the doorway, framed with light from the kitchen behind them, were these two little angels, standing side by side, just staring at me silently. Juliet and Benjamin.
And suddenly it hit me. For their sake, I’d better get it together.
The Power of Overcoming Fear
In searching for answers, I came upon a quote -- an inspirational quote -- and it resonated with me. I printed it out and taped it to the wall above my computer. The words were from a Japanese poet named Kenji Miyazawa.
Here’s the quote:
“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.”
That quote taught me to take the pain of losing my wife and to channel it to help my children. It also taught me to do it without fear. When you’ve embraced pain that hurts you so deeply, you can embrace challenges you might have avoided before.
When I embraced the pain, my terror transfigured into boldness. My fear became confidence.
I embraced the challenge of finding love again, and I found it much more quickly and unexpectedly than I would have ever thought possible, with Mari. She has been by my side ever since.
I took on the challenge of expanding Idea Grove from a solo consultancy to a real agency -- with employees and a roof over our head -- because I embraced pain and burned it as fuel for the journey. And within a year we were in 14800 Quorum, where Idea Grove would be for the next 9 years.
COVID-19 and Getting It Together
Idea Grove recently signed a five-year lease on new office space at 16000 Dallas Parkway. After the three-month buildout was completed earlier this month, our plan was to move in with our team of 25 by April 1. For now, this is a dream deferred.
First, my organization, like yours and like the world, has a crisis to face.
It is a crisis unlike any we have encountered in American history. We have been through the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the Spanish Flu. This feels like the worst of those disasters combined in many ways.
We hope this crisis will be briefer than those, but for now we are uncertain how catastrophic the suffering will be or when it will end.
No question, this is an unprecedented time of pain for our country.
But I am steeled for this crisis because of the losses I have already suffered. I am ready for it because of the heartache that fueled the creation and growth of Idea Grove.
I am not alone in experiencing personal crisis and pain in my life. We all have. I have had the chance to get to know many of those on my team and learn their stories, for example.
I know of loved ones lost.
I know of cancer diagnoses and treatment.
I empathize with the dull ache of estranged family relationships.
I understand depression and seeking help for it because I have been there, too.
I know the uncertainty that comes with being young and unattached at a time when it is especially easy to feel lonely and adrift in the world.
What I've told my team, and what I will tell anyone reading this, is not to let your pain own you. Don't let it paralyze you. Use it.
If nothing else, this particular challenge -- a deadly global health crisis -- offers a forceful reminder of what we all have in common as humans. None of us are perfect. No one is untouchable. We are all vulnerable. And being truly strong requires us to first acknowledge and then accept our vulnerability.
Take this pain, this fragility and uncertainty, and burn it as fuel for your journey during the COVID-19 crisis.
If you need help, that's OK. Ask for help. Others will help you. But don't lose heart and don't give up. We all have a part to play right now if we are to overcome this challenge.
Let's get it together, for all of us.