A Personal Reflection from Kat that could just as easily be titled "The Gift In a Near Death Experience..." (no cupcakes here, folks, just digging in and going deep on why we're making some of the changes we're making) :)
He came out of nowhere going between 50 and 70 miles per hour. It was so fast I didn't even know it was happening. One moment, I was crossing a small residential street with a few friends and the next I was 60 feet further down the road, on my back, unable to move, with people and lights and sound everywhere. I won't go in depth on this story, as that's not really the point here, but some quick bullet points so I don't just leave you hanging:
- Five of us were crossing the street when a drunk driver speeding in his SUV struck two of us, hurling us an incredible distance forward. He never slowed or stopped.
- I shattered my pelvis (which in turn tore through my bladder), broke both kneecaps, and suffered extensive nerve damage.
- Both of us survived and recovered to the extent that you'd never guess by looking at either of us that anything like this happened, which is incredible given that the chance of survival for a pedestrian struck by a vehicle going 40 mph is only 5%. They estimated his speed at 50-70.
- Recovery took a long time and taught me a lot about endurance and pain tolerance-- and that healing often hurts-- reminders that have served me well over the years.
I believe that everyone has or will have at least one near death experience. Of course, we all also have an actual death experience, but it's extremely unlikely that I'll write about that one. :)
My near death experience changed me. Predictably, I became more appreciative-- small moments, people in my life, sunsets... the whole cliche. I also acquired a deeper understanding of how our individual decisions can greatly affect other people's lives. And of course, I understood more deeply than ever that one day I'll die... and it could be today.
All three of these provide clarity. And THAT is the gift in a near death experience.
Mix together appreciation, responsibility, and a sense of your own mortality and you have a truly excellent dish. Without the appreciation and responsibility, the "today could be my last day on earth" might yield some incredibly selfish and dangerous decisions, but together they yield a balanced blend and a whole lot of personal clarity.
Fast forward to 2020 and a different kind of "near death experience".
It's no secret that a lot of small businesses "died" during the pandemic. In April 2020 I closed the doors to my business, unsure if they'd ever open again. I know that someday my business will no longer exist... and while the odds of survival seemed strong, I did grapple with the knowledge that the closure could be forever.
During the summer I talked a lot with many other small business owners. We were all sharing resources, trading information, brainstorming, empathizing, problem-solving, and comforting. Again and again I heard (and said) words like, "I just don't know if I can do this" and "it's hard enough running a small business in 'normal' times" and "is it worth putting everything I've got back into this?". And while I don't like to admit it, by the time the pandemic hit, I'd been feeling really burnt out and spread thin for no small amount of time.
A theme was emerging... running a small business demands a continuous flow of personal resources: energy, focus, time, money, risk... and a pandemic just heightens ALL of those needs. To sustain the business, it must sustain me. I needed to get crystal clear about what I need in order to keep doing this thing with joy, love, and enthusiasm.
What, to me, makes it worth doing and renews the energy I need to keep it going? What am I not willing to trade, not willing to wait for? What will make doing this actually work for me too? (play along-- think of your own projects & ask yourself these questions!)
It's been SO inspiring to hear the realizations other small business owners have had and their non-negotiables. Some of mine are things we already had clear boundaries around: No compromising our mission and guiding values. No front line wage cuts. No Sundays. But there were other big desires & priorities I'd been burying, hiding, & delaying; time to rip off the bandaid rather than wait for "someday" (someday may never come)... and these meant making some big changes:
All under one roof.
No more spending my days commuting between locations- working 60 hours a week split up everywhere, but not really belonging to anywhere. It's not worth it to me if I'm expending most of my energy just keeping multiple locations and teams on the same page, spread thin trying to ensure a fantastic experience everywhere, and worrying constantly about whether there's a "fire" happening multiple places. Yes, lots of people scale a business to multiple locations successfully, I'm not arguing that. But they want different things than I do. There's not a one-size-fits-all growth plan for small businesses... or for people.
Reuniting the making of the food with the serving of it.
It was the central feature of Muddy's when I opened in 2008 and it was the most fun for me-- inviting guests into my "home" where they could see delicious treats being made, smell things baking, and taste warm cookies right out of the oven. And the people making it could also see the folks who sustain us, see people enjoying what they worked so hard to make. Our team is IN LOVE with this aspect of how we're working now!
Human-scale operations for human leaders.
Being a manager is always a big job, but I don't want it to be one that demands round-the-clock availability. Doing less means more opportunity for our leadership to BE home when they're home, to be present for their families, to be better humans... which I believe in turn, will mean we can be even better leaders. It turns out that "convenience" is rarely convenient and I've come to the conclusion that it's too high a price to pay.
Just because we've been in a pandemic doesn't mean every day is one huge dumpster fire. I am not willing to do this job if it means there's no fun in it. And the fun for me is in the daily work we do: scooping cookie dough, a dance-stretch at cool down, celebrating a customer's birthday, watering the flowers, the camaraderie of the team, making quirky product signs by hand. All of it reminds me why I love my business and the community around it... and I AM having an absolute ball!
(So what does this look like??? Check out our VISION for 2022!)
In summary, here's what I've re-learned during these last 12 months....
A near death experience, whether literal or figurative, offers clarity... and a none so gentle nudge to move forward, to not wait. Someday may never come. Therefore:
- Appreciate the small, everyday things. Your life is made up of ordinary everydays.
- Take responsibility for how your decisions impact others* and your own life.
- Don't wait to do the things that will make it all worth it for you.
*Don't confuse this with "not disappointing anyone". In fact, I promise you that by doing #3, you will NOT make everyone happy... but then, you never could. :)
Thinking on your own experience these last few months, what has become clear to you?
Feel free to drop me a line... kat(at)muddysbakeshop(dot)com