REFLECTIONS ON THE ROAD TO RESPECT
The Next Adventure
August 2014 will mark the 16th anniversary of The Respect Business.
A lot has happened in those 16 years. When I started this business in 1998 I was still “young.”
“You are no longer young by the time you realize your youth is over.”
I’m not sure where I heard this expression or who said it, however, it has stuck with me over the years. There can be no doubt that my youth, along with numerous other life stages, is now over. I am firmly ensconced in middle age, rushing, it feels, towards becoming a senior citizen. While I resonate with the word elder, being a senior conjures up visions of gumming my food as I drool and mutter incoherently. A bit extreme maybe, but I’ve never been one of those middle of the road kind of people.
Passionate is a word I have often heard when others describe me. I have been incredibly fortunate in my life to have worked in careers that I felt passionate about. I started working in the performing arts: music and dance in my teens. During my brief stint working a “real job” I discovered my passion for human rights which led to Erica Pinsky Inc - The Respect Business.
For the first few years I had a very simple, very effective business model. The phone rang: I had work. The only “marketing” I ever did was when I first started out. I wrote letters - yes, actual paper letters sent through snail mail, to anyone and everyone I thought might be a potential client or who might know someone who could be a potential client. I had made a lot of great contacts during my six years working, first in labour, then human rights with Canadian Airlines (the “real” job). Facilitated by that experience and contacts, my business literally took off.
Within 3 years I had built a six figure business. In year 4, my husband, who at some point during the third year started working with me in the business, died after a brief battle with cancer. All of a sudden I was a solo act; both in the business and in parenting our 5 year old daughter.
I think we often wonder, upon hearing about others misfortunes and tragedies, how people cope. We think we could never cope if something like that happened to us.
My experience is that we have no idea what we are capable of coping with until we are tested. When my husband died, my world came crashing down. I wanted to die with him. I remember vividly standing in our bedroom, collecting all of the medicines, including the morphine that had been prescribed. I was required to return it to the BC Cancer Agency. I remember holding that container of morphine in my hand and thinking how easy it would be to just open the cap, put them in my mouth and swallow. The searing, bottomless pit of pain and grief that had become my life would be over.
Although I am quite certain that at the time I would have framed it in “have to” rather than “choosing to,” swallowing those pills was simply not an option, and I knew that. I had a child to raise – a child who for the first almost six years of her life had had an idyllic happy childhood with parents who loved her. Although I had no idea how I was going to go on parenting, working, living without my husband, I put my head down and started the journey.
My daughter is set to graduate high school in a matter of days. She is going out of town for University in the fall. The “active” parenting phase of my life is ending. The associated organizing, scheduling, driving, coordinating, shopping, cooking, daily conversation and interaction will stop.
It would be all too simple for me to fill that time with work. My business, like many entrepreneurial enterprises, could, and often has, occupied me 24/7. These days I have more work than I can handle.
Filling my time with work would be the easy choice. As I often say to my audiences, the status quo is self-sustaining. It is often easiest to just do what we’ve always done, even when it might not be working for us.
I’ve decided to make a different choice.
I have decided to take some time off. Here’s why.
My daughter got her acceptance to Queen’s in January. For the last 12 years my whole life has centered around work and parenting. That was my choice and I have no regrets. My daughter and my business have thrived. I am proud of what I have accomplished.
Upon hearing the news, friends, family, and colleagues asked me some variation of this question. What are you to do with yourself when you become an “empty nester.” It really started to hit me that my life was going to change, and change radically. Scary thought.
As I began contemplating “what I was going to do with myself” it occurred to me that an opportunity is presenting itself to me. I am in the very fortunate position to be able to redesign my life. That realization led me to start thinking about how I want to live the rest of my life, framed by the sobering fact that I have a lot less of it left to live than I did 16 years ago.
The thing about questioning is that once you start it’s like opening Pandora’s Box. Asking how I want to live my life, led to questions about my work. Over the past few months I’ve come to realize that while I am as passionate about respect as I was 16 years ago, my passion for my business has been steadily waning.
My husband’s death had a major impact on my business. In addition to losing the bookkeeping, web design and computer maintenance support he had been involved in, it hit me soon after his death that I would not be free to travel if I didn’t have my husband around to look after our daughter. I realized that for the next couple of years at least, if I was going to travel, she was going to have to come with me. After trying that a few times, I concluded that working in the lower Mainland was my only option.
I was fortunate to have established enough of a reputation that my business managed to stay afloat for the next 3 years, however, the volume of work slowly declined. The no travel policy, combined with my non-existent marketing and networking efforts seriously impacted the momentum I had built early on. I could see the writing on the wall. Something had to change.
Those in the know said you had to network, meet people.
Speak whenever and wherever you can – paid or unpaid. So I did.
Those in the know said you have to spend money to make money
so I hired someone to assist with admin and PR.
Those in the know said you had to be actively marketing. You had to have a newsletter.
So in 2005 Reflections on Respect started distribution on a quarterly basis.
It worked. The phone started to ring again.
In 2007 I started writing Road to Respect. In 2008 in anticipation of the book’s release, we started working with a well-known US based publicist. Her message was short and to the point – if you want to be successful you have to market, market and market some more. And while I didn’t really realize it at the time, marketing is just another word for selling.
A quarterly newsletter, I was told, was useless. It had to be monthly. Around the same time a whole bunch of new “social media” tools were emerging. We could get our message out and build our brand, not just monthly, but daily.
Those in the know said I had to have a blog, be active on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Ok, I said, I’m in.
I began tweeting on a daily basis,
blogging on a weekly basis,
writing monthly articles for my own newsletter
and in 2009 as a guest blogger for RespectfulWorkplace.com.
We started posting articles to article sites.
Video blogging soon became another must do and I added it to the mix shortly after.
People often ask me about the book writing process. Writing the book was easy. I enjoy writing. It wasn’t until the Friesen’s truck unloaded the first 1000 copies of Road to Respect that I actually understood what writing a book meant: you have to sell it. I was overwhelmed with panic.
Like with marketing and social media, I knew nothing about selling a book. And, quite frankly, I don’t enjoy selling. I have no interest in selling. But if those 1000 books were ever going to make it out of my basement, like it or not, I was going to have to figure out how to sell them.
I know you know what I am talking about when I say the level of “busyness” in my business passed the point of no return. I was spending more and more time on “administrivia” on activities that I didn’t enjoy and less time on the business activities that energized me. The to do list was endless. I started to feel like my business was speeding forward and I was running to catch up to it. I was constantly exhausted. Yet somehow, the message seemed to be that whatever I was doing it just wasn’t enough. Bigger, better, faster, more: more clients, more work, more books, more accolades, more money - that is the goal.
The question I neglected to consider, until fairly recently however, was whether or not that goal was really my goal: one that is aligned with my values and my purpose.
What’s really interesting to me is that this happened in spite of the fact that I speak and write about empowerment, about stepping into our power to become the hero or heroine of our lives. I talk about aligning our behaviour with the ethical value of respect, about living purposefully and authentically, about leading by example.
I know that in some areas of my life I was walking my talk. But in other areas, fear was lurking and acting as a powerful motivator.
I remember years ago meeting with Mike Desjardins of Virtus consulting. He had just been recognized as one of BC’s top 40 under Forty by BC Business Magazine. He told me that he takes every August off, to strategize and plan for his upcoming year. Take a whole month off? Say no to work? I remember thinking, wow, I could never do that.
Then last year a close friend of mine, who had undergone heart surgery, told me that he was no longer feeling fulfilled by the work he was doing. In short order, he quit his job, sold his upscale condo and travelled to Arizona to spend time reflecting on how he wanted to live the rest of his life. Again, I thought, I could never do that. Just thinking about it filled me with fear.
How could I stop working? How could I turn down work? What if I stopped and then no one ever hired me again? What if I ran out of money? What would others think of me?... Catastrophizing is so easy to do.
Fear is something else I talk to my audience about. Fear is one of the main reasons we make a choice to put up and shut up with workplace disrespect. We are afraid of what might happen if we speak up. We allow fear to drive our behaviour, to imprison us, to prevent us from being our own advocate. I often share this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt to inspire others to face their fear, and take respectful action.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop
to look fear in the face... You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
I have come to realize that over the last couple of years, my life has felt like a series of “have to’s” as opposed to purposeful choices. Everyone I know these days seems to be living in a state of extreme busyness. For all our talk about “balance,” the fact is that most of us are trying to balance more and more, in both our professional and our personal lives.
Somewhere along the way, as I got caught up in the “busyness,” I stopped questioning the “rules” and started blindly following them. This new found process of questioning has allowed me to appreciate that something isn’t working for me. I am not sure what it is. What I do know is that I am not going to be able to figure it out in the midst of the busyness. The answer will come when I choose to remove myself, as per the example of Mike Desjardins, or my close friend Paul Altilia.
And so, cherished members of the Road to Respect community, the fall Reflections on the Road to Respect posts/podcasts will be re-releases of some of our most popular articles from the last 8 years. I have decided to take a sabbatical starting in August. I am fortunate top have Cory Hull, Success Support and Phil Robbie, Online Presence manager to keep things running and respond to any inquiries in my absence.
I plan to spend a few months thinking about how I am going to live the rest of my life, what will make the limited time I have left on this fragile planet the most meaningful, the most fulfilling and the most joyous. I plan to write when I feel inspired to do so, rather than to meet a deadline. I hope to return refreshed, re-energized, renewed and recommitted to the Respect Business.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work and connect with all of you over the past 16 years.
I look forward to continuing the Respect conversation in 2015.
available as a PODCAST
"Our company recently implemented a Respectful Workplace training program. While researching and developing the program I discovered Erica’s book Road to Respect: Path to Profit. After reading it I realized that the information and guidance contained in the book would provide real value to our organization, so I distributed copies to the entire leadership team. For those organizations committed to building a respectful workplace, Road to Respect: Path to Profit is a must read."