It’s been a weird year…
The understatement of the year.
Coffee and meditation needs are at an all-time high.
Because murder is wrong!
And crying is pointless.
Excuse me while I crawl out of this fetal position and pick myself up off the floor.
I’ve confided some very personal details about myself here over the years, but to be very honest, this post will by far be my scariest. Describing my post pregnancy vagina brought me less anxiety than the mere mention of politics does now. But in order for this to be a timely and authentic log of my experiences in this industry, I must.
I share ownership of my restaurant with two people, my husband and our partner who is an elected official. I can tell you he will not enjoy being mentioned in this blog, perhaps due to the odd number of times I do happen to mention the status of my vagina, so out of respect for him I’ll leave him nameless. But his profession is pertinent to this story. Before we joined into this business union we had our courting period. One night we shared more than our fair share of whiskey, because we agreed that nothing would expose our true selves more than liquor. My husband and I, and our soon to be business partner got drunk! Real drunk! And we spent the better part of one night discussing everything from religion, to taxes, to healthcare and more. We laid it all out. After our hangovers subsided, we said we do. We signed the papers, and just like that, we were three people and a baby. A fresh, new, innocent baby restaurant. Now it must be said, I disagree politically with our partner on nearly everything, but I respect him. I’m grateful for his faith in us. I believe he wants to do what is right. And just like siblings fight, in the end we feel like family. Yes, we view politics differently. There was a time when people did that peacefully and I want to believe they can again, perhaps even behind our lead. But times are tough. Our nation now throws insults and hatred towards each other like a new yard game. Friends have become enemies, neighbors now labeled outsiders, dinner tables stifled by the struggle to not obsess over only that with which family members disagree on. Facebook seems to provide the fuel that keeps these fires burning. Anyone in my industry, or maybe any and all other industries, know that it’s nearly impossible to run a successful business without online presence. Our real Olympic event is to monitor our social media pages without being sucked into the drama. But when the drama lands on your doorstep, it’s nearly impossible to avoid. In this heated political climate, for one small business owned by people representing both sides of the aisle in a town that is experiencing political unrest, it was bound to be impossible for us to skate through this year unscathed.
Footnote… or…. second thought… or newfound sense of calm… or new goal…. I have no idea what to call this, but what matters is this… I wrote about 2,000 words here describing exactly what’s happened to my business over the last 4 months. I laid out every detail of every hateful message and negative review that was made online out of political retribution to my business for what I consider to be personal, non-work related beliefs. I told you how I feel about all of that, and I stumbled around in search of some hidden valuable lesson or deeper epiphany. And then, when the words felt harder to find, and the sentences ran on longer and longer, I stopped. I turned off my computer and I walked away. I stopped trying to tell my side. I stopped trying to defend myself. I just stopped letting this consume me. And I tell you, something magical happened. Weight lifted from my body. I was suddenly filled with energy. Not that anxious manic need to stay busy so that I don’t have to focus on what’s too hard to face kind. I went for a run, not because I’m worried about my weight or concerned about being prepared for a future run. I just felt like being nice to my body. I watered my flowers. I played a game with my daughter. We made chocolate covered strawberries with sprinkles. I stopped doing everything that felt necessary and I started doing things that felt absolutely nonessential and of zero consequence. I rested. I mean I really rested. That’s normally more tiring than work for me, but somehow I turned my constant need for progress and growth and winning off. Now, with a fresh mind, I see everything in a whole new way, and so I deleted those 2,000 words.
All summer long I’ve felt fearful of what a future in this business might hold. I see so many other small restaurants and microbreweries sharing similar concerns. While the past always taught us to keep politics, and religion, and sex, and every other personal belief out of business, business today looks very different. Online transparency is the new norm. The division between self and profession has dissolved. Who we are at home now equals who we are at work. That leads to exhaustion because even our personal space may have negative repercussions on our professional goals. There is no rest, there is no break. Preserving a healthy customer base can feel like an impossible task because we, as a society are made up of immeasurable combinations, and if customers are most interested in supporting the businesses that are most comparable to their own set of beliefs and standards, then I fear for the economic health of this country. I especially fear for the success of businesses in small towns. There was a time when we cheered shop small, shop local. We hissed at the threat of big box stores and chains moving into our little communities as small businesses failed in their shadow. But those times are ending. It is harder to uncover the beliefs and intentions of the owners that sit high in their corporate towers than it is to know the owner of the small business down the street. It’s easier to hold your neighbor to a higher standard because they are more accessible. But accessibility to them has historically been what made them worth the higher price than their larger competitor. It is a catch 22, and honestly, I don’t see how in the end the little guy can win in this scenario.
As if all of that doesn’t feel like an impossible mountain to climb already, the effects of social media made it feel like there’s no point in even lacing up our boots. Sprinkle in civil unrest, boiling social issues and a divided political climate, the result is not uplifting. We are all left in survival mode. We are wild animals feeling cornered. We live in a perpetual state of anxiety and defense, saving our energy up for the next fight. But here is where my big aha moment made its debut. I cannot change any of this. No amount of words will make any difference. There’s no point in me trying to convince you to support me or anyone else. My experience, my story, my wishes are not going to change this world, or even this little town. Even more powerful, my desperate and frantic attempts to do just this are actually changing me. I’ve given my adversaries the power. I let them control my narrative. And that needs to stop now.
I am not a martyr. I am not a victim. I am a person living in what is our world today. That’s it. I’m navigating my way just like everyone else with no handbook and a whole lot of obstacles. I’m working with what I have, which is a whole lot more than many. I’m not falling, I’m thriving in a world that is filled with opportunity, and as long as I stay motivated and focused on that which propels me, then I’ll be just fine. It can be so easy to sink into the sadness and disappointment of all that we see wrong with the world. It can actually feel easier to sulk in that darkness. Choosing to reach higher is choosing to work harder. But the reward is so worth the effort. Everything good in our life requires struggle. No pain no gain. It’s scary to say today I’m going to choose to focus only on the good in people, even when it’s really hard to look past the bad. But we must. If we want to live in a peaceful place, then we must. I’m no longer going to hate the people that hate me. I’m going to try to hear them. I’m going to try to understand them. Because my experience is not the same as anyone else’s. We are all products of our own unique story, and that story is completely responsible for the way we behave in all situations. I’m going to consider that their opinions and actions may be the result of an equation I cannot comprehend. And in the end, I can still disagree with them, but I can do so with kindness. I may not get that kindness back, but that’s their burden to carry. It won’t be mine.
I recently heard someone question the use of the word humbled in response to recognition. I had to think about this one, because it’s a phrase I find myself saying often. I feel humbled.
I am a product of a lucky break. Yes I work hard…. to reach higher. I’ve worked extremely hard and made sacrifices to get where I am in life. I write to you as a college graduate. I write to you as a wife, and a mother. I write to you as a business owner. And now I write to you from the comforts of my own home, because even during a pandemic, I have a safe place to stay, and I have enough money to keep my home afloat even if my work schedule has been reduced to only that with which I can do from a laptop and a cell phone. But someone else has worked just as hard and continues to work that hard not for promotions or lofty goals, they do this just to be able to eat. I am privileged. Not because of what I do or who I’ve become. I was privileged from the moment I was born because I was born to relatively white looking parents in a place free of war and famine. I had opportunities ahead of me, even though I was born into a family of no wealth. The cards were already in my favor for reasons that I had zero control over. I feel humbled because I must acknowledge that even in my success I know deep down that I do not deserve that recognition any more than anyone else. I just got lucky. So while I accept the compliment, to me it comes with slight guilt. I did the best with what I was given. And because I was given more, I got further.
Now I feel like it’s my duty to acknowledge and embrace this information. It’s my duty to move forward in life aware of this, and to consider it at all times, in everything I do. It should guide me into understanding when possible, and it should lead me peacefully out of conflict when not. It should reside in me as empathy. This is my responsibility, one that I can optimistically and enthusiastically embrace. This is how I let go of fear. This is how I look forward to tomorrow.
Gratitude. Humility. And Self Awareness.
This shall be my recipe for survival for the remainder of this strange year.