Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Less" Can Be Worth a Lot More

Me? I’m a Yank—a Northerner. I couldn’t deny it even if I wanted to. I may live in Kentucky, but my northern roots are obvious to anyone I meet. There’s no “W” in my “Hot Dog” and only one “R” in my “Water.” For anyone who doesn’t understand what I mean by that—you really need to come south.

I was born in Pontiac, Michigan. I lived most of my life about an hour west of Detroit. About nine years ago I brought my family to Kentucky to open a business and let me tell you, I had that Northern mentality in spades: I was all about money and efficiency and expanding opportunities. I didn’t come south to make friends or start a new life—none of that was on my radar. I was here to make money.

So as soon as I got here I threw myself into my new business, barreling through sixteen hour days, seven days a week. The first week the store was open, I made more money than I ever dreamed possible. The next week was even better.

But then sales started creeping downward, and by the fifth week the business was in a free fall. By the end of my second month, I was making less than I had ever dreamed possible—and I couldn’t understand why. I wasn’t new to the kind of business I’d opened, and had been successful for over a decade in Michigan doing exactly the same thing. I’d done everything right, I was sure of it.

I spent six years trying to make it work, but ultimately I failed and three years ago I closed the doors for good. It tore me up. It was everything I’d worked toward, it was my identity, and its failure equated to my failure.

I went a little nuts for a while, I know I did, because failure was something I didn’t think could happen to me and not having money scared the hell out of me.

I’d uprooted my family, and for what? Moms, Dads, brothers, sisters—they were all at least two states away. There we were, in a foreign land with no real anchor.  And don’t even think about arguing the idea that Michigan and Kentucky aren’t that different, not unless you have a couple months for me to tell you why you’re wrong.

Four years of my life, wasted. That’s what I thought, anyway.

But let me tell you some of the things that happened in those six years that had nothing to do with the business. In fact, let me start with the day I arrived in Kentucky.

First stop, I pulled the Uhaul into a gas station in Elizabethtown. I filled it up, went inside, and when the clerk behind the counter said, “Hi there! How you doing today?” I nearly jumped out of my skin. See, where I come from you’re lucky if the guy behind the counter even looks up, let alone says hello. I stammered out a shocked reply—nervous, actually. I didn’t know this guy. Did he want something from me? Why was he talking to me?? I practically ran out that gas station.

From there, I drove the Uhaul to my new home where a half dozen members of the local fire department were waiting to help me unload. Now, I know this sounds all Andy Griffith, but it’s the honest-to-God truth. I didn’t know those guys, not then anyway, but there they were: welcoming me to their community in the most genuine and honest way I could imagine.

I made friends of most of those firemen, and they introduced to more of their friends. In less than a year, I had a larger base of people I could rely on than I’d ever had in my life and I know, without a doubt, that if it weren’t for those guys I couldn’t have made it through that first year after shutting down the store.

My kids flourished in their new schools, which hadn’t been happening in Michigan. In addition to strong academics, they both became heavily involved in the amazing music program that’s such a staple in this area, which has fostered too many positives for me to list.

Everywhere we turned, my family and I were supported and because of that, I’ve grown to understand what really matters. Maybe that’s why I primarily write young adult. I may be over 40, but I’m still ‘coming of age’ in a lot of ways.

Three years have passed since I shut that business down, and I won’t lie—I miss it all the time. But the real truth I’ve realized from having been knocked on my butt is the value of the people who made me feel like I was still worth every penny.