January 10, 2018

When You Can't Breathe...

Jennifer Sheets

Jennifer Sheets
Founder, CEO/MasterStaff, Inc

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August 2009...I couldn't breathe...

Let me rewind a bit. As I have grown my company, I have learned many things the hard way. January 2000, I took a leap of faith and started my own staffing agency. Growing up in Michigan, I was the daughter of a tool & die maker who worked harder than anyone I had ever known just to survive. I still don't know how my parents did it to this day. No one in our family had ever started or owned their own business. I really don't know what I was thinking to be truthful. I had terrible credit and no savings, but somehow had this "drive" and "insane inner voice" always telling me I needed to do more; I needed to be more. So, I did what I needed to do to get my company started. It took me 3 weeks to get my first job orders and 10 months later we were billing $1.5 million.

I thought I had made it. I started to make more money than I had ever made and then began adding offices, team members, etc. I wanted to "be something" and "create something" that was new and fresh and for some reason, I just believed I could do it.  I would eat, sleep and drink my company. All I did was work thinking that if I wasn't out there doing it, my competitors were. Then came August, 2009...

"Your son has Leukemia and it is in 90% of his bone marrow".  Cancer???  At this point, I can't breathe. The nurses had to give me a bag as I started to hyperventilate. He was only 3 years old.  I could hear the sobbing from my husband in the corner of the room. What had just happened? One minute, my biggest concern is my company and worrying about getting a staffing contract and the next minute my entire universe came crashing down. When you can't breathe.

So what do we do when "life" happens to us? You take another breath. That is what you do. All I could think about was getting him healed and I didn't care if I had to live in a van down by the river to do it – he was going to get better. We spent 45 days straight in Vanderbilt Children's Hospital and within the first week he was admitted, I found out I was pregnant. Funny how life works sometimes. Literally, I found out my child had cancer and I was pregnant within the same week – all while I owned a staffing agency in the middle of the worst recession since the "Great Depression". How is that for not being able to breathe? The crazy thing is that life keeps going and we find small victories along the way. I realized that there were so many other families that were worse off than we were. I needed to start to count my blessings and get into "survival" mode quickly. I carried all of the benefits for my family, so crawling into the abyss was not on the agenda. On top of that, I had a company that relied on me for business development and to provide. It was time to stop feeling sorry for myself and our family and take action.

What is the point of this article and why write it? I am writing this because business professionals forget that they are human. They forget that within the "well-oiled machinery" of their companies, there are teams of employees and colleagues that are not just that...they are human beings, as well. There are receptionists, machinists, customer service reps, stockers, etc. that have life hit them in the face, too.

If you are going to be successful in business, you must first get your priorities straight. If you are to be an amazing leader, you need to understand when to stop and breathe and to create that culture within your company that allows for that.

You can read every book from every scholar, mentor, coach and/or business professional in the world, but believe me when I tell you that when real "life" happens...there is NOT a book for that. There is not a course at Yale, Harvard or Grand Rapids Community College that can get you through the kind of devastation life can sometimes throw at you. So take the time to breathe. It is that simple. You must look at it as putting one foot in front of the other and taking that first step. The only way you get the finish line of a marathon is to take one stride at a time. Don't get overwhelmed with the "big picture". If I would have allowed myself to do that, I would still be in the fetal position in the corner right now.  

My son is now 11 years old. Two relapses and a bone marrow transplant later he is still here with us. He is going to school now and has a zest for life! It is amazing that when I get frustrated now with any part of my business, I put myself in check. I remember how we almost lost him twice. I remember holding his head while he threw up from chemotherapy. I remember the sick feeling in my stomach watching him suffer. Then I remember how hard he had fought. He battled and he is here. So, I will take a page from my 11 year old's book, now. Enjoy life. Get your priorities straight and you will find that you have more clarity when it comes to making difficult decisions in your business...and always remember to breathe.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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