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Who am I, anyway?
It's funny how so much of the world is coincidence.
Last week, yours truly was, quite by accident, in pictures circulated all over the world. Maybe you saw or heard the story of the hot air balloon north of San Diego that almost got blown out to sea by offshore winds. As it turns out, I happened to be surfing the reef break near where I live when that balloon came down to the water.
A few years ago, I decided to take up paddleboarding, mostly because years of hockey and volleyball had worn out my shoulder joints, and it hurts to bring my arms over my head now, at the ripe old age of 42. Apparently, arthritis isn't just for people with gray hair. Why is this important? Well, when a hot air balloon starts to get picked up by the breeze, it's a lot harder for a surfboard to keep up with it than a stand-up paddleboard.
The three people in the hot air balloon were definitely not happy. When they got close to the surf break, the pilot yelled down that he was out of fuel. The other 2 passengers, a couple who had gotten engaged on that flight, were stressed. The girl yelled down "save us", and there's something about hearing that from a damsel in distress (engaged or not) that fires up an ancient "I'll save you" gene.
So I paddled, along with another paddleboarder, under the balloon. The pilot dropped down a line and we grabbed it and started making our way to shore with it. Most of the pictures on the news were taken just around that time. You can see us pulling the line eastward, where we could get more people to drag the balloon back to safety. It was quite a scene, as the surfers caught up to us, and everyone was swimming and paddling, pulling the balloon and its passengers to the beach.
In the end, everyone was safe. I walked away quietly, carrying my paddleboard back to my truck as crowds converged on the balloon. I've never been a fan of crowds, especially when it seemed everyone in a 5 mile radius was holding their phone up to take pictures or video of the incident. The important thing was that it all ended well.
So much of what happens to us is coincidence. I happened to be at the right place at the right time, and had that balloon blown out to sea, I was prepared to paddle along with it, so the three onboard would have a flotation device (my paddleboard). On the drive home, I thought a lot about it. Does this mean anything? Or was this just one of those meaningless circumstances? Is this something that illuminates a lesson we can learn from?
I've never been someone who says "everything happens for a reason". I believe in the converse of that - that we find the meaning in the things that happen to us. The lessons we learn about who we are, and what we stand for are the result of how we internalize our experiences. The choices we make form who we are.
Who we are in business is no different. I recently had a discussion with someone who said they believed that as a businessperson, their primary objective was to get the most out of every vendor they worked with. This was justified because it was "just business". I have a hard time with that. Who I am in business, and who I am in my personal life are the same person. Both were formed as a result of things happening to me, and choices made as a result.
I started GreenRope's predecessor, an email marketing company, back in 2000, with just a little money I had saved after serving in the Air Force. I had no trust fund backup, no rich parents, no one to save me if I failed. I refused to take venture capital or outside investment because I believed in a vision not tainted by immediate returns, like flipping a house. The faith and trust that people put in me and my ideas back then made the difference in the path I would take for the rest of my life. I held on to my ideals of wanting to build something that helped people. I never once missed a payment on any obligation, and I always built relationships with an open hand, never trying to force anyone to do anything. While there were some who took advantage, most did not, and our business has grown because of this. Our culture is one of positive energy and GreenRope has been built around like-minded people who believe we can make a positive difference.
Just as my instinct was to do what I could to stay with the people in the balloon, our company's instinct is to always try to help those who trust us. Long term relationships are not built on taking advantage, they are built on serving. Just as a person's personality is built on the many choices they make in their life, a company's culture is built on how they treat their customers, leads, vendors, and partners. To me, they are one and the same.
After being in business now for over 14 years, this has become very clear. It doesn't matter if you are a business owner, C-level executive, or junior account manager. The choices we make build who we are. Years of those choices define us and create a culture around us. It's up to us if we choose to follow the balloon, or try to get a few more minutes of surfing before the sun comes down. There is no judgment on which is right or wrong, but the choice will make you who you are, and that is something we all should be proud of.