Self 22 August 2018
Before I left for a three-month stint on a BMW S1000RR, the fastest production bike on the planet, I defined myself by the words on my business card. My working life defined me. Completely. My whole identity—my purpose, my reason for being, my value to the world—was inextricably tied to my job.
On the inside, I felt like a fraud, but on the outside, my business card told a different story. My title was my validation. It opened doors, gave me credibility, enabled me to be measured and to be recognised. It told a powerful story of success and achievement—of who I desperately needed the world to see me as. I was my business card, and without it, I was nothing. It didn't take many days of being alone on the road for that identity to start unravelling.
By day four, I was heading home from an early morning run when I passed two RVs parked in a pullout, where their owners had enjoyed a spectacular view of the lake overnight. By the time I arrived, they were sitting peacefully in fold-out chairs, breathing in the view and the morning, their hands wrapped around huge steaming mugs of coffee. Sucker that I am for coffee first thing in the morning, I slowed down to a trot on the off chance they had a fresh pot brewing.
The plan worked. Within minutes, they'd pulled up a chair, and I was sitting—coffee in hand—sharing the world with three beautiful fellow gypsies.
For nearly two hours, we sat in the sun together—trading stories, trading lives, trading dreams. I was stunned by their openness and their willingness to let a complete stranger into their world. They didn't know anything about me. We didn't talk about my “history." I wasn't my achievements, I was just me—at that point in time, a wild, smelly Aussie out running on the banks of Kootenay Lake who happened to drop in for coffee and a chat. I didn't need to be anything or anyone else. Just me. And it was perfect.
Some Stories Are Harder to Let Go of Than Others
The beauty of being on a bike for hours is that it gives you time to reflect. To work things through. But when there's just you inside your helmet, it's easy to play the same tape over and over in your head—a conversation that you've had or you wished you'd had, a cutting remark that keeps biting you, a smack you wish you'd given. That thought or emotion keeps looping back again and again and again.
The trouble with looping is that it keeps pulling you backwards. On day twenty-five, that's where I was—continually kicking myself for dropping my emotional bundle so spectacularly the day before, when I had almost made the decision at Mt Baker to give up and go home.
My internal dialogue was relentless. The only thing that stopped it was taking a corner. Loop, loop, loop—oh, tight right-hander—loop, loop—hold on, sharp left. Man, how did you let yourself spiral so completely out of control? What the hell is wrong with you?
But it served no purpose.
I remembered an untested technique one of my teachers, Ross, had taught me to short-circuit looping: stop, disengage, remove the emotional commitment. Brilliant! I gave it a shot. Every time I found myself looping, I physically put my hand up to say “stop" (I had to be careful it wasn't in the middle of a corner at the time), and then I mentally saw myself pulling a plug out of the wall so that I was physically disengaging myself from the thought and emotion.
As I did so, I made a conscious decision to let go of the story. It took a while—OK, nearly three hours—but every time it resurfaced, I went back to stop, disengage, remove the emotional commitment. Slowly, slowly, I emerged out of the rabbit hole. And I remembered, in stopping the story, to be kind to myself. I'd gotten myself into a black place, and sure I was still a little battered and bruised, but continually beating myself up wasn't going to help.
So I chose to let it go. And somewhere between Snohomish and Skykomish (yep, they're real places!), I felt the weight of judgement fall off my shoulders and bounce onto the road behind me.
Letting Judgement Go
Naturally, I didn't completely learn to let go of judgement—of myself or others—in one day. On day forty-six, as I loaded my bike, Voodoo, a young guy in his late thirties packed his Harley beside us. Not your typical Harley rider for once—a cool, sharply dressed guy with a buzz cut and not an ounce of leather, tattoos, or bandannas in sight. It's funny (or it's sad) how we (OK, I) jump to make quick judgements. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him and instantly thought, “Yep, accountant pretending
to be a wild boy, riding his Harley to escape actuarial boredom."
When am I ever going to learn?
We shared stories as we loaded, and within ten minutes, we'd stopped talking and had moved to hugging as he cried. Six months ago, his best friend had contracted cancer, and my new friend had nursed him until he'd died in his arms. Just a few weeks ago. He was out riding his Harley, trying to clear his head and to pull himself together.
I wept with him. There was nothing I could say or do to take the pain away. All I could do was hold space for him in his anguish. As if to reinforce the power of time on a bike to change our stories, a few days later I met Dennis—an older guy from the UK who'd shipped his bike out from England and had been riding for seven months. There I was, all smug from having ridden from British Columbia, while he'd ridden in from Alaska and had camped the whole way.
He had a courageous story. His only son had been killed in Afghanistan five years ago, and he was riding to reconcile with his loss. Despite this, Dennis radiated such excitement and exhilaration, continually looking for the next adventure in life. His bike was painted in camouflage and was completely covered with photos and small mementoes from his son's life. It was a celebration of the beautiful son he'd lost, and of life—a constant reminder that life was precious and he needed to live it.
Dennis was such a powerful example of consciously changing your story. I'm not sure how I could you ever turn the raw loss of a child into something positive and empowering. But Dennis did. After spending years in grief and in blackness, he'd decided to change his story into something meaningful and compelling.
You Are Not Your Story
Ultimately, the connections I made with people as I rode reminded me again and again that there was so much more to me than my professional identity. None of the people I'd met on the road had known my history. None of them were aware of what I'd achieved or accumulated. None of them cared about my business card, my title, my role.
On the road, that meant nothing. The only thing that mattered was who I was—right then and there, in that moment of time.
What mattered was how I engaged with the world—how I connected with these inspiring, captivating people. How I chose to show up. People who didn't know the warrior or the superhero in me liked me anyway. How's that for a surprise? They liked me for just being me. It was one of the most profound lessons I received from my epic journey on Voodoo; that I could be comfortable in my own skin, show up as I was, and still be appreciated for who I am..and that I am perfect—just as I am.
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.