The Question that Inspires Me
(Image: Me. Another day. Lots going on. Never for a moment, wondering why I'm doing it.)
"How did you do all this?"
That's a question I am asked with some frequency. I don't kid myself that they're asking because of my wild streak of successes, because I've definitely made some relatively epic missteps. I think from the outside looking in, I just have a lot going on. And so they ask, "how did you do all this"?
The common context usually revolves around how many stores are selling my cookies (a moving target ranging from hundreds to the thousands, depending on when I was asked), having my product on Amazon or Walmart or Costco, changing the business from selling large, oven fresh cookies to selling a shelf stable grocery cookie, creating great packaging, or making over 200,000 cookies a day (and sometimes way more than that).
To those my answers have included:
"With a lot of help."
"By not having time to think about not doing it."
"Never having considered the possibility that I couldn't do it."
"Necessity is the mother of a whole bunch of stuff, invention included."
"Following the demand."
"Following the opportunity."
Then there is another context in which the question is asked. It's usually from a parent (often a mom, not always, sometimes single, not always). They're interested not in the mechanics of the business but the very real world challenge of wanting to build something while still being mom or dad. My answer here is not perfect, not the only answer for sure, but is the way I did it.
"Find a hobby that you love, people are willing to pay you to do for them, you can do profitably, and go do that." There are of course other very good answers such as "find and solve a common problem". I wasn't curing cancer or building a better mousetrap. I was making cookies; great tasting cookies that I was happy to serve to my family and friends. They were profitable (at least on paper, but I'll get to that in another post). So there I went.
Occasionally I will get the same question though from someone who like I was not all that long ago, is confronted with a significant personal issue. Mine was the sudden loss of my husband. The question from this person always stops me in my tracks. Someone dealing with something like the loss of a family member, having lost a home to a catastrophe, or medical issues causing loss of income or overwhelming medical expenses, inspires me to take the time to offer a slightly different take on how I built a business while managing through what I thought would be an impossible time in my life.
For me there was only one answer, and despite what I learned in grade school, I have to answer this question with a question.
"What do I want my kids to see, to know, to feel about their life right now, tomorrow and when they look back on all their yesterdays"? Again no right answer here. But this became the immediate and sustaining driving force in my life.
When on that Sunday afternoon, I received the call that started with, "If you're driving, pull over", I was with my kids. They were in the back seat of the car. We were on our way back from Dave & Busters. It was any Sunday. It was every day. Until the phone rang. When I hung up, I looked in the rear view mirror. Chatter. Laughter. Tech. Fingers covered with that incessant orange dust from the bag of cheese puffs they had almost finished. Happy boys. They had no idea.
At that moment, this extraordinary realization came over me. I was about to decide for how many seconds, minutes or hours my sons lives would remain the safe, happy, perfect place it had always been. They would never associate the day their dad died with a time of death on a piece of paper. They would forever remember it as the moment when mom told us dad (at least the part of dad that was in his body) was gone. Forever. The moment couldn't have been more than a few seconds. It felt like days. Nonetheless, the moment was very present and very real. So I looked deep in their eyes. I saw not the past, but the future. I saw a future that I was determined to make filled with balance, appreciation, love, passion and a long, personal list that I somehow put together in an instant, in my head. I needed them to know their parents were not each one half of the plan. They had to know that either of us, or their grandparents, or their uncle, or any of the many people who love them, were the safe ground under their feet. For my kids, it was me. I was their safe place. I was the road upon which, at least for a while, they would journey forward.
So the answer to the question that inspires me, depends on who asks. When someone going through an absolutely impossible situation asks, "how did you do it", "how did you make it through", "how did you do all this", my answer is exactly what I remember thinking that fateful day in my own life.
"What do I want my kids to see, to know, to feel about their life right now, tomorrow and when they look back on all their yesterdays"?