11 Things My Son Taught Me about Life & Business
Yesterday I came across the Complete Guide to Not Giving a Fuck by Julien. I found myself nodding in agreement with each point he made. These were lessons I learned long ago thanks to the most courageous person I've ever known – my son CJ.
He's been gone for four months now. But the impact he had – and has – on my life is visible every day in who I am as a person and who I am as an entrepreneur. I learned more from him than I've ever learned from anyone, and I thought I'd share some of the lessons he taught me below.
#11 Not everything in life will go according to plan
When I had my son, I wondered whether he'd he be athletic like his Dad. I planned how I'd teach him his ABC's and envisioned his first day of preschool. I just knew he'd excel in street smarts like me. And then he had a massive bilateral stroke. Everything changed. The plans were gone. Following the old plan wasn't an option. His stroke forced me to create a new one and set new goals, for both him and myself. The ability to be flexible was crucial in being able to find happiness in my new alternate reality.
You can have the best idea. The best plan. The best intentions. The greatest strategy laid out. And everything can still be turned upside down at a moment's notice as a result of any unforeseeable event. Your ability to be successful in life hinges not on being able to create and execute “the plan.” It hinges on you being able to adapt and change to make the best of the hand you're dealt.
#10 Complaining changes nothing – action changes everything
In the weeks after being told my son would be severely multiply handicapped his entire life – that he'd never even know who I was – I did a lot of crying and a lot of complaining. A lot of why HIM – why ME? But it didn't matter why. This was our new reality. What mattered was finding ways to help him. When I realized how much the “system” for kids like him sucked, I volunteered on local committees dedicated to improving that system. When I felt alone at dealing with his condition, I created a support group to find other parents and allow us to help each other move forward.
When things go wrong, you have two choices – complain or act. The former gets you nowhere; the latter will get you everywhere. All the complaining in the world won't change a bad situation. Complaining makes you a victim of your circumstance. Acting is what puts you back in control of your situation.
#9 Your situation does not determine your result – your attitude does
If I had sat on the couch eating bonbons and collecting money from the system for the rest of my life – no one would have blamed me. I'd been in foster care since I was 13, I was on my own at 17. I was married at 19 with a severely handicapped child by the age of 21, and we struggled to pay our electric bill every single month. I had a GED, no college and was a waitress the day my son suffered his stroke. But soon after he was born, I knew that if I wanted him to have the best opportunities possible in his situation, then I needed to change mine to be able to make those available to him. I still remember the day I sat on my front porch, looked at the sky and thought “the only person who is going to get us out of this situation and change our lives is me.”
Much to the chagrin of everyone who likes to find excuses on why they aren't successful or look for the advantages someone else must have had because they are, your situation does not determine your outcome. I don't care if you have no money, no education, if you had a bad upbringing… whatever your excuse might be, no past or current situation defines your future. Your attitude about whether to “take” the situation as an excuse or grab it by the balls and succeed in spite of it is what determines where you'll be in ten years.
#8 It is possible to say nothing and influence everything
In the 15 years my son was on this earth, he never said a word. Yet, he influenced thousands of people in the ripple effect his life created. He changed hundreds of lives. He changed so many mindsets. I learned that influence has as much to do with what you say and do in life as does with who you simply “are” as a person. Never underestimate what effect “leading by example” has on everyone around you.
#7 You'll never know what you're capable of until you try
If you had told me 15 years ago that today I'd be a CEO of a very successful company and be able to give my kids the life they have, I probably would have laughed at you. Me? I'm just a waitress. But my son's stroke forced me to aim high. A bath chair alone was $300 – which might have well been $30,000 to us at the time. Starting a business was never my “plan” – and I certainly didn't know if I was even capable of doing it – but I had nothing to lose by trying and everything to gain. To quote Eminem – “Success is my only motherfucking option. Failure's not.”
No entrepreneur has ever taken “the leap” with a guarantee of how it will all turn out. What most successful entrepreneurs have in common is not the secret to success, but rather the willingness to fail – and miserably.
#6 Other people's opinions don't matter
Having a severely handicapped child showed me how many good people there are in this world. But it also showed me there's a lot of assholes too. One day I'd taken my son to the grocery store. He was in his wheelchair with a feeding pump attached to it because he couldn't eat by mouth. As I stood at the deli counter waiting my turn, a woman looked at him – not bothering even to attempt to hide her disgust – and leaned over to her husband and said: “I can't believe she brought him in here.” I wish I could say that was an isolated experience, but it wasn't. But you know what? Fuck them and fuck what they think of my son.
When I did my post on 48 things I've learned as an entrepreneur, one of them was “If they don’t sit around your Thanksgiving table, then their opinion of you, your latest post or your latest presentation doesn’t mean JACK SHIT in the grand scheme of things.” And it's the truth. Never be afraid to go after what you want in life because of what “other people might think.” Because the truth is, what “they” think? Doesn't matter. It didn't matter to me then, and it doesn't matter to me now. And it shouldn't matter to you either.
#5 You can't change the past, but you can help shape the future
The cause of my son's stroke is and now always will be “unknown.” There is nothing I could have done to prevent it, and there is nothing I can ever do to change that it happened. However, what I can help change is whether or not more parents and children go through it – which is why I'm so dedicated to fundraising for childhood stroke education and research.
Focusing on things you can't change is a complete waste of your time, your energy and your sanity. Instead, focus on what you can do to help shape and change the future. It might be the future of your company, the future of yourself or the future of a cause that is close to your heart – but whatever it is, the past is set in stone, and only the future can still be molded.
#4 Self-education is one of the best ways to empower yourself
When my son was six weeks old, the doctors told me they wanted to do surgery to put a permanent feeding tube in him. I agreed. When I went back to the local Ronald McDonald House (RMH), I talked with a few parents I'd become friendly with about the surgery. One mom looked at me and said, “but he still eats by mouth, why do they want to put a feeding tube in?”. I responded, “because they said he will stop eating eventually.” And she said, “then put it in when he does.” I answered, “I can do that? I can decide to wait?”
She went to the RMH parent library and brought me back a book called “Children With Cerebral Palsy: A Parents' Guide.” I read it cover to cover and realized I'd been depending on the knowledge and decisions of others vs. arming myself with my knowledge to allow me to make my decisions. From that point forward, I read everything I could get my hands on regarding his condition. Knowing what I was doing and understanding the decisions I was making – and what decisions I had the ability to make – was the best thing I ever did for myself – and my son.
When I set out in starting my business, I had no formal education. If I needed to learn HTML, I taught myself how to do it by taking an online course. When I needed to learn SEO, I read everything I could find and then tested everything I read to find out what information was good and what information was useless. When I needed to learn “business” I followed the same path. Educating yourself – and continuing to do so every day – is one of the best things you can do for yourself – and your company – as an entrepreneur.
#3 Your biggest setback can either break you or fuel you – it's up to you
I had two options upon hearing my son's prognosis. I could let it break me or I could let it fuel me into improving our lives. It wasn't a conscious decision that I even realized I was faced with making at the time, but it was one I made nonetheless.
No matter what setback you're handed in life – or in business – you have a CHOICE as to how you let it affect you. You either let it knock you down for the count or push you to keep moving. Never kid yourself into thinking you don't have the ability to choose which one occurs.
#2 Tomorrow may not always come
When my son turned 11, he had become too big for me to lift. I was a single mom at the time and after blowing my knee out three times, I realized I could no longer lift him on my own. Letting him go live with his Dad (who could easily lift him) was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. When I had my youngest son in 2011, there was a ton going on. I went to see CJ often, and my older children saw him during the summer when they went to visit their Dad, but my youngest had yet to make the 1100 mile trip to meet his brother. We'd finally planned the trip for December of 2012 during winter break. On November 29, 2012, CJ passed away. Regret is not a dish swallowed easily.
For some reason, we always believe “we have time.” You haven't started your dream today, but you will soon. You didn't take that risk for your business today, but there's always next week, right? But, tomorrow is not guaranteed. Don't wait to go after your goals and your dreams. The only things we are guaranteed in life is death, taxes and RIGHT NOW. Right now – THAT'S when you have to start.
#1 You can survive anything
There were so many things in my son's lifetime that I thought I'd never be able to survive. His stroke on October 18, 1997. His diagnosis on November 11, 1997. His numerous hospitalizations and near death experiences. And finally, his passing in 2012. But if my son could get through each of those experiences, I sure as shit could too.
No matter how bad things may seem. No matter what challenges you face in your life or your business. No matter how dire a circumstance you may encounter. When life knocks you down, get back up and ask it if that's all it's got. Keep moving. You WILL survive.
Edited to add
After writing this post, I was asked by Affiliate Summit to turn it into a keynote speech for Affiliate Summit East. Below are the slides from that keynote.
And the below is the video of that keynote.
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