I’m going to break for a moment from the usual format for this blog. I want to share something that affected me deeply with the hope that it will speak to you in a way you need.
You may know me, and then again, you might not. So I’m going to give you a quick summary of who I am. Just know that this is abridged, because who I am has very little to do with the story I’d like to share with you, but it does play a role.
Some would say that I’m educated, in that I earned an MBA almost twenty years ago. Some even say that I’m “smart” in that I can use logic and reason to come to generally acceptable conclusions. And while these may be true in some cases, I felt anything but educated and smart in recent years. After changing careers from well paid medical sales rep to entrepreneur, only to have risked and lost nearly everything I had. I’d say “educated” and “smart” were not adjectives I used often, if at all.
Despite how I felt, and despite floundering from job to job, I didn’t even realize that what I was doing as I struggled to piece back together some form of life, was healing.
Life’s Plot Twist
As many do after those more obvious life changes, I found myself on a new journey. One I wasn’t sure I even wanted. But it was where I was, and there was absolutely no turning back. The wounds to heal were deep, and when things hurt that much, you quickly find that there is nothing outside of yourself which will heal them. You simply have to wrestle with yourself and keep pressing forward. Even if you don’t know where “forward” leads. Most days you just hope to find some relief from the mental, and sometimes physical, agony.
And so one day, after the dust settled a bit in my life, and I had crawled at a snail’s pace out of a financial disaster of my own making, I found myself on the phone with an airline’s customer service fixing an error in an upcoming trip with my dearest friend. What should have only been a few minutes turned into an hour of coordination between her and the department which actually changed the tickets. This gave me the opportunity to chat with the agent who was helping me.
She was remarkable. A theater owner and entrepreneur. She had a strong career background and, just like me, wanted to pursue her passions. And so she did. While I’m not sure of the struggles she had to endure because of this change, she certainly seemed to be a confident and passionate individual. Which was naturally inspiring. After a few questions I learned that she had been doing “work from home” for quite awhile with a company that permitted her to continue to pursue her true passion. Interestingly enough, this was exactly what I had been looking for.
She sent me the link to apply and within a couple of weeks, I too became an independent contractor for this company.
The season for my first contract was about to end when I went ahead and applied to provide product support for a large tax preparation company. I didn’t know yet that the contract I had was going to extend and I would have an even greater opportunity to earn…and also a heftier workload to juggle.
I had been taking live calls for about a month when I received a call from a young woman who couldn’t figure out how to file her Federal taxes. Her state’s filing delay had somehow not given her the option to file Federal either. I had encountered this situation before but to this point had been unable to uncover a reason why this was happening or how to fix it. And as I researched, for one reason or another, the previous callers had offered to wait until their state allowed filing, and so uncovering the work around hadn’t happened quite yet. But this young woman was different. Unlike the previous callers facing this situation, she needed her tax return sooner than later, and she was already in tears.
I was looking at a few preliminary things and could tell that she had taken her phone away from her mouth, but I still heard her say, “I need this money.” Although she wasn’t really talking to me, she was talking to her friend who was clearly there to help support her and help get her where she needed to go, I could hear her heartbreak. And I was awash with the memory of when my situation was so very similar. I first wanted to give her money, but I knew that was not only professionally inappropriate, it wasn’t going to solve her problems. That’s when I instinctively said, “I just know this is all going to be OK. I’ve got you. I’m not hanging up this call until we have some answers.” As my keystrokes clicked I tried to soothe her a bit further by saying, “And if we can figure this out, you’ll have helped so many more people for having helped me learn, too.”
As I attempted to uncover some way to help this woman, the memory I was experiencing wasn’t mental, but rather physical. My heart remembered a time not long ago when any additional income was sorely needed and without it, I simply didn’t know what I was going to do. And so I kept digging deeper.
But I simply couldn’t find a stitch of information which provided a way around this. Having exhausted all resources, there was only one remaining option. I finally asked a colleague if there was anything we could do.
The Sweetness of Victory
Following the steps provided, I watched as this young woman who was the only financial support she and her husband had, successfully file her Federal taxes. When the screen read “SUCCESS” she burst, once again, into tears…only this time there was joy, celebration, and laughter. And I celebrated alongside the two women, too.
For the moment I had between calls I was so thankful for having been apart of such a momentous experience.
Then I Realized
The next morning, during my journaling and meditation I so very keenly realized that the young woman and her friend whose call had come to me needed to come to me. I needed to be there, at that moment, to get her where she so desperately needed to go. I’m sure there are others who would understand and help, but that day, she needed me. She needed my unique perspective. She needed the unique tenacity of my personality which got me through my own struggles. She needed my understanding, the empathy I had come to know, to help her solve a very daunting problem.
In a breath I realized that I was exactly where I needed to be. And I could clearly see that every single person I spoke to needed to speak to me. Not in a conceded way, but in a “bigger picture” way. I saw that despite the very daunting nature of the fast-paced call volume and intensity associated with doing taxes, there is something about me and the unique approach I have cultivated through my career experience, and my life experience, which can help each person I encounter.
Some would say that I’ve always had a knack for customer service and sales. But it turns out that what I’m good at has nothing to do with business principles. It has to do with human principles. Sadly these principles are often confused.
There was a time when I was interested in the textbook of business. The idea that I could learn “how to be successful.” I had a disconnected, “do this and get that,” mentality. But those textbooks, principles, and ideas while a solid foundation, garner paltry results from their application if we forget to apply human principles to them.
The Human Principle
We are where we are for a reason, even if you don’t have the perspective to see it just yet. So until you know this reason or clearly see what comes next, it costs us nothing to be kind, patient, and willing to help make someone’s day a bit better. It costs us nothing to be an advocate for the people we encounter.
This is the foundation of conducting good business. Being an advocate for your customer to see how the business can help them. And if a solution isn’t clear now, what’s the strategy, the solution to help move them forward?
With this perspective, your job changes and improves. It gives you a deeper purpose for any job you do. And the bonus is, with practice, this personal approach to others somehow seeps in and improves your own life, as well.
Once again, I was reminded that I needed to endure all that I had endured. I needed the struggle and the pain. I needed to learn how to heal myself so I could help others in my own unique way. With this small reflection I had come to a realization. I could see so clearly how far I had come. And I wept. I wept from my soul.
I wiped the tears from my eyes and took a deep breath. In this clarity I could see that that young woman may have needed me that day, but I also needed her.