It was about fifteen years ago; I was a thirty-something state senator serving my second term in the Nebraska Legislature. I was in the throes of a competitive race for a statewide office, and that campaign carried me thousands of miles across the various cities and towns of the grand expanse of Nebraska. I had been away from home for several days, and I was finally scheduled for a campaign stop near my home in Lincoln. The crowd was warm and like-minded so I was looking forward to a homecoming in front of an enthusiastic group of supporters. I fired up the stump speech, said my piece, and settled in for a little Q&A with the group.
“Senator, tell us about the campaign.”
Now, you don’t have to be in politics to know that such a question is what the pundits like to call “a softball”.
“Well I’ve been traveling across the state, blah blah blah, radio and television, blah, blah, blah, apple pie, grandma, and the great State of Nebraska because I’m the next generation of conservative leadership!”
I’m not making light of my response. The reality is that I meant – and mean – everything I said. It’s just that I don’t remember exactly what I said, nor is it why you’re reading this article. The reason this article appears before you today is because of a privation of words: a LACK of response. I’ll never forget it. Somewhere in the stale, cold words of description came mention of the amount of time that had elapsed since I had last seen my family. The very term – family – evoked an imagery in my mind as I uttered the words, and I found myself having an impromptu cry in front of a group of adult humans.
“Cry” probably isn’t the correct word, it was more like getting choked up, being speechless. The normally confident voice began to tremor and shake, and I necessarily punctuated my words with deep inhales followed by stuttering, breathless exhales.
“What the hell is wrong with me,” I thought as my chest tightened under the weight of so many inquisitive and curious eyes.
“Everyone is looking at me,” my mind reasoned – to which my second mind (if that’s a thing) retorted, “well, duh, you’re the solitary speaker in front of a crowd, of course they’re all looking at you, genius. SAY SOMETHING!”
I took a moment to breathe and to apologize…
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s got into me. Ok, I was talking about my family…”
There it was again: that breathless, stuttering silence. I can’t breathe. I’m starting to tear up. I literally couldn’t make the words come out of my mouth. This must be what that word “verklempt” means. And, holy crap, it’s happening to me in front of all these people! I was embarrassed; I felt like a failure; I felt like such a fool.
It was then that the dean of the group, a fellow named Al, spoke up to reassure me and the crowd. He knew exactly what was going on, and he knew exactly what to say.
“Friends, the senator has been under the pressures of a competitive campaign away from his wife and family for days and for weeks.” Then Al turned to me and said, “I appreciate the sacrifice you’re making for us, for the state. Don’t worry about getting a little emotional when you mention your family. You miss them. It’s one of the reasons you’re a good candidate.” The crowd began to clap, then they stood and clapped some more. It was the only time in my life that I’ve so acutely experienced embarrassment and relief in the same breath. I was certainly embarrassed, but I was not ashamed.
Why do I share this memory with you? It’s because the story illustrates a piece of my “WHY”. At Hallmark we ask you to deeply consider your “WHY”. Why do you do what you do? What is it that motivates you, who is it that drives you, what is your WHY? There is a reason you’ve taken this irrational plunge into the chaos of small business ownership. There is a reason why you’re willing to work long hours, experience defeat, deal with rejection. You are willing to knock on doors, and to grind, grind, grind again. Deep within there lies a “WHY” which has drawn us together into this great adventure. May your “WHY” burn ever bright in every moment of your work.