I just finished listening to Brené Brown’s new podcast, and I’m sitting with her comment on ‘perspective being a function of experience.’ She uses children to illustrate her point of honoring their disappointment during this COVID crisis, and she reminds us that diminishing their feelings doesn’t make them more empathetic. And I agree. Life experiences, especially the difficult moments, have provided me with an authentic, grounded perspective and the gift of compassion.
I haven’t always wanted to own my story; in fact, I’ve spent many years sitting silently in shame and regret. I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, but I wanted resiliency tested on my terms. And in my mind, hard work and continuous effort always equaled success. At least it had until the recession of 2008…
We opened a small papercraft store three years earlier, and initially, life was good. For nearly eight years prior, I sold pharmaceuticals, and although it was an incredible job, I wanted something different. I wanted to be my own boss, and I craved a creative outlet. When a small scrapbook store came up for sale, I thought this was my big opportunity. I wrote a business plan and approached a couple of banks. The general consensus was, ‘You have great ideas, but this company is struggling. Why don’t you consider opening your own store?’ So, I reworked our plan and returned to the bank and this time, I walked away with the money I needed to make this dream a reality.
I named the store, ‘Big Brown Door,’ with the tagline, ‘your door to creativity.’ I found a gorgeous brown door armoire to display various projects, and I’d thought of nearly everything to make the shopping experience unique to our customers. Our store had soft, comfortable seats for crafting, a big leather chair for moms to relax and nurse if they needed, a play space in the back for children, and a custom ‘bits bar,’ so customers could purchase smaller quantities of what they needed instead of large packages of tiny items. To be honest, I wasn’t a scrapbooker myself, but I loved the beautiful paper and I sincerely appreciated the creativity. We also offered photo restoration and editing services, and eventually provided custom invitations before the big brown door became a big black hole.
As the recession approached, business began to slow down significantly. Our customers wanted boutique offerings at big box store prices, and we simply couldn’t survive. I couldn’t afford to keep staff or pay the rent. It was heart-wrenching to see this dream quickly become a nightmare. The more I clung to the idea of turning the store around, the faster it seemed to slip from my fingers. I’ve never worked harder in my life to fail. And then, like a sad country song, my husband lost his corporate job.
We were broken-hearted, humbled and humiliated. My brother was getting married at the time, and I remember having difficult discussions around paying our mortgage or buying plane tickets to his wedding. (We made the wedding). The irony and discomfort of surviving the worst days of our lives while my brother and his beautiful bride were enjoying pure wedded bliss was suffocating. I was angry. I was scared. And I sensed we were about to lose everything.
My husband eventually secured a great job by the holidays, but it was too little too late. We desperately tried to renegotiate our store’s lease, but they weren’t willing to budge. And when they left an eviction notice on our door, our hope was shattered. Good friends and family rushed to support us any way they could, and on Christmas Eve, my parents helped us move inventory, chairs, shelves, printers and more into our basement. It was ho, ho, ho-rrible.
We tried to sell items online, but it wasn’t generating enough cash to pay the bills. And the bills just kept coming. We talked about getting me back to work, but I was 5 months pregnant with our third child. Childcare for 3 children would’ve taken up the majority of income I generated. I’d also missed a great deal of time bonding with my boys because I was giving so much of my time to our failing store. Nothing made sense. We didn’t buy a house we couldn’t afford, and we didn’t spend money on extravagant cars or vacations. We were simply in over our head because our blood, sweat and tears weren’t enough to sustain our business. I was overcome with unshakeable denial and bitterness.
Within months, we found ourselves meeting with a bankruptcy attorney. And soon after that, we were in court. I remember the security guards mistaking us for attorneys, which was embarrassing, and added to the nightmare that was our reality. This was not supposed to be our narrative. We were supposed to work hard, create a thriving business and eventually sell it. Failure was not supposed to be an option–and yet, there it was.
It has taken me years to come to grips with this failure, but as mass uncertainty creeps in with the COVID pandemic, I finally see meaning in hardship. My perspective is grounded in finding the blessings in each and every day rather than denying an unwelcome reality, as I have before. My family is slowing down for the first time in years. We’re eating dinner together every night. Thanks to technology, I’m still able to connect with family and friends. We have our health. Are we worried about loss of income, our house, the economy, the virus, etc.? Absolutely, and I sincerely empathize with people who have already experienced loss from this pandemic. I know that pain, and I feel it deeply for others. It’s a stressful time, and we’re all doing our best to wrap our minds around the new ‘normal’ that rests on the other side this.
Maybe our 2020 vision boards and the dreams of our journals won’t be realized as soon as we’d imagined–or at all, but I sincerely hope we find grace for ourselves and each other despite these unimaginable setbacks. And if we’re willing to look for it, we’ll eventually find meaning (and connection) in our loss.