On the afternoon of December 20, 2019, I was feeling good. I had just finished facilitating my last meeting of the year, and was driving home to surprise my daughter and pick her up from school. Coming from downtown Chicago, I was getting off the highway – another driver was getting off the highway behind me, and tried to cut over to another lane a bit too close…and there went my bumper (see the picture above).
I’m always trying to make meaning of things, and so, in that optimistic spirit, here’s what I learned from the experience – that I have framed as astute business strategies:
1. It’s most important to do the right thing, in the difficult times.
It was a new, young driver that hit me—and he looked a bit shell-shocked. We pulled over to the side of the road, and he came up to my window, saying “I am so sorry”. My response was “Are you ok?” I did not yell, or show my annoyance (mostly) –even in that moment, I tried to focus on the important thing – us not being injured. In my business, in any business, you are tempted, particularly when you are stressed and tired, to make shortcuts, and to focus on those things that may be urgent, but not important (thanks Stephen Covey!). When I am stressed, I try to slow down to make decisions, and to realize there are few shortcuts in making things right.
Side note: last year (same day, in a weird twist of fate) I rear-ended someone, so I know what it feels like to be on the other side, and to negatively change someone’s day. They treated me with respect, too, so I had that in mind as I tried to pay that grace forward.
2. Keep your smile and sense of humor.
Shortly after the accident, the local police department drove up and took our contact information. I was pretty close to home, in a community I have lived in the majority of my life, so of course at least 3 people I knew saw me on the side of the road and pulled over and called to be sure I was okay. My mom’s best friend was heading in the other direction and saw me on the side of the road talking to the police and called – when she was teased about not stopping to check on me, she said, “I knew she was okay, because I saw her smiling and laughing on the sidewalk.” This smile and sense of humor has gotten me through some difficult projects, some late nights, and some conversations—and, I think, make me an enjoyable coach and consultant to clients.
3. The most important value I have in the marketplace is my time and ability to connect with people.
After I got the repair quote (about 30 minutes after the accident), I shared it with the parent of the driver (who had also come to the accident site and apologized)—and, about 2 hours later, they had paid me the entire amount of the quote (hard to believe, I know). When I met him at a café to get the funds, we ended up sitting and talking for about 20 minutes about being a parent, and our joint experience in being college professors. He also brought some Japanese Kit Kats, he said, for my daughter. As I chuckled about our conversation later, I realized what a gift it is to be able to build rapport quickly. If I had to note only one skill or trait that has helped me build a successful business – it is this one.
My bumper is now fixed – if I had not shared this story with you, you would not notice anything had happened as I tool around town. But the lessons remain…happy 2020!
PS: I will not be tempting the hands of fate and driving anywhere the Friday before the holiday break in 2020. 😊