To win at business or life, adversity has to be encountered, faced, fought and defeated. There is no other way. No options. You either beat it, or it beats you. Win, or you lose.
Lessons and Blessings
It's never black and white. Never win or lose. Something always bleeds over. Always. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. Sometimes a little of both. But hopefully each experience brings with it lessons and blessings - even if you don't know it at the time.
This is one such story ... but I didn't know it at the time.
Another Winning Loser
Several years ago I was turned down for the CEO position at a well-known hosiery company. Now granted, I didn’t have much (any) experience in the creation, production, marketing, sales or distribution supply chain of the hosiery industry, but being of the gender I am, I was quite certain I could articulate the benefits and unique selling proposition (USP) of the product in a compelling and profitable way.
Upon rejection (there was some confusion upon my departure. The mistaken impression that I was ejected from the premises may have been surmised had one been watching), I forlornly began wandering the streets of Cincinnati, with my head drooped just about level with my navel.
Walking like this has some disadvantages. Clarity of vision is one. I ran into something hard, looked up, and before me was … an apparition, an event, a pre-destined meeting, a saint.
A woman in a wheelchair.
But Steve, you say to yourself, that’s not terribly uncommon. A little melodramatic aren’t you?
She had no legs.
She controlled the operation of her motorized wheelchair by blowing through a tube.
I was humbled. Dropped low. Deep. My problems were now nothing but a smashed proton in the unfathomable singularity of a black hole.
She was navigating the sidewalks of Cincinnati by herself.
To educate people unfamiliar with Cincinnati on how daunting a task this can be, Cincinnati sidewalks were built before sidewalks had been imagined and possibly even before the invention of the wheel. A rut in the sidewalk is typically referred to as an “improvement.”
Cincinnati Sidewalk Improvement
I saw her get ready to enter a building and leapt forward to open the door. As I did, she spoke, my apparition, my saint, with an angelic voice.
“Hey, Bozo, what do you think I am some useless quadriplegic?” she said.
I guess even saints have rough days.
Term of Endearment
I considered the reference to me as “Bozo (the clown)” as a term of endearment.
My face had turned absolute white, my nose vivid red, my hair popped out like a bad 70’s Afro (I used to have a good 70’s Afro … I know the difference).
“I’m sorry, I was just trying to help.”
“You want to help? Get in here and buy something.”
She was the owner of the shop.
And, in one of those weird synchronicities not fully explained, but hinted at in Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, she sold, you guessed it, women’s apparel. Mostly hosiery.
Her name was Antonia Maria, and that’s all the personal history I ever really learned about her.
I was so overwhelmed, humbled, and awed at the obvious obstacles and adversity that Antonia Maria was overcoming daily, if not nanosecond-by-nanosecond, that I bought 37 pair of every imaginable type of hosiery (under the guise of real-time market research for my next hosiery CEO job application).
Her eyebrows arched a bit (well, maybe more than a bit) when I piled them up on the counter.
And, with my usual sophisticated schmoozing aplomb
I explained I had an extended family.
“Lots of females,” said I.
For nearly a year, once a week, I stopped by her shop and bought hose. We became Forrest and Bubba Gump-ette close.
“Hey Antonia Maria.”
Each visit was an inspiration. A lifting up, not sad, not melancholy, but a moving, life-affirming, sharing of the human spirit and journey. To trek through this world as she did, daily overcoming the obstacles (physical, economic and social) and adversity she faced … was truly amazing.
Occasionally she’d catch me in a mathematical obfuscation.
“How many females in your extended family?”
“Was 25 last week.”
“Newborns … you know, the woman thing.”
Right Thing. Right Time.
In addition, she was quite the enterprising entrepreneur, having an in-depth, innate grasp of contextual marketing concepts. Antonia Maria had the incredible knack of saying the right thing, at the right time, to the right person, to move them deep into the buying cycle.
“I’m guessing you’ll need a few extra pair of hose this week then?”
I Am Rude and Dumb
I am rude and dumb. Yes, I admit. I could not, often times, refrain from staring at her when I felt she wasn’t looking. I wondered how she did it.
How she coped.
How she smiled.
How she woke each day and got out of bed to go to work.
And a million other “hows” that crossed my misfiring neurons.
Then, it was over.
Her shop closed. No signs. No explanations. No forwarding address. I inquired, but no one knew anything. I hesitated to do any extensive investigation for fear of what I might learn.
The Eyes Have It
It’s said that the eyes are the windows of the soul. If that’s true, Antonia Maria’s soul was on fire. Her iridescent brown-green eyes absorbed and expressed life. Faith. Spirit. Strength. Hope.
To this very moment, I remember everything about Antonia Maria. Everything so incredibly resilient, hopeful, happy, glad and beautiful she ever said.
How did she do it?
I don’t know.
I’m not smart enough to answer that. Never will be.
I couldn’t do it.
I do know that she had a vigorous life-affirming charismatic spirit that shone through all her adversities. She had a heart wider than the Grand Canyon that would take on any issue with uncharacteristic straight-forwardness. And …
Not once, let me repeat this, not once, did she ever complain about … or for that matter even explain, her physical condition.
If I had to guess how she did it?
Spirit. Heart. Guts. Faith … and life-enabling technologies.
The technological marvels wrought by industry research, development, application and availability that enabled Antonia Maria to face, fight, defeat and triumph over her physical obstacles were, unless you actually saw it, almost ineffable. Every person and company associated, in any way, with these technological donkey- shooting, life-enabling wonders, epitomizes the oft-quoted lines:
Eventually our relationship had a downside that ultimately gave me the opportunity and skills to overcome an adverse moment in life. Last month, my wife, grandmother, daughter and aunt were rummaging through my basement workshop for “yard sale” items.
They found 2,093 pair of hose.
When confronted by this gathering storm of frumpettes, I quickly used my marketing abilities to “reposition” this disturbing find and utilized a UES (Unique Explanation Statement) touting the find as in-depth “market-research.”
This was supposed to overcome the obstacle of false impression embedded in their minds.
It failed. Utterly.
Only one supporter swallowed the UES - my dog, Tolstoy.
(Named so not because he looks like Tolstoy, but because he always backs me during war or peace … provided he receives his weekly stipend of Scooby snacks.)
But being the absolute ruler and king of the castle, I decided to imperiously tell them to mind their own business.
That didn’t work either. No go.
So, I confronted this impending doom of an adverse moment, and took decisive action. I grabbed the donkey by the horns and used a tried-and-true tactic. One that Venture Capitalists use almost daily.
The Exit Strategy.