19 Apr Five Life Lessons to Endure the Rain
We’ve all heard it before.
You know, the old adage, “April showers bring May flowers.”
Well, it just hit me — TODAY — how true that is. And I have Facebook’s ‘On this Day’ feature to thank for it. The rain (or snow if you’re in the southeastern part of the United States) surely brings flowers. The key is to endure the rain.
But, of course, this is not about Mother Nature. Rather, this is about the seasons of my life.
Up until very recently, I’ve been living in a lifetime of April.
It seems April is a pretty significant month in my life. Aside from it being the month in which favorite grandfather and male cousin were born, it is also the month that has brought about three of the most significant transitions in my life.
All three of these transitions were life altering. All three were full of showers.
The first happened on April 20, 2009. As Facebook kindly reminded me, it was on that day that I “officially shed my byline and reporter’s badge. It was on that day — nine years ago — that I changed.” Apparently, during the time I wrote that fateful post, I wasn’t entirely sold that the change had been good for me. It seemed that I had been caught in the rain.
So, what was the change?
I left journalism to pursue a career in public relations and marketing. That was a big deal. As it just so happens, from the moment I entered Tennessee State University up until April 20, 2009, I had been a journalist.
I had covered news for my college newspaper, The METER. I ultimately became its editor in chief. I had interned as a general assignment reporter for The Tennessee Tribune and The Shreveport Times. I covered ‘things-to-do’ and education in Williamson County for The Tennessean. I moved to Louisiana to cover public education The Shreveport Times. I also moonlighted for the Associated Press covering local elections. I became the state correspondent for USA Today — taking a deeper dive on government and policy issues that informed or were spurred by national events.
I worked all the time. For me, my career was everything. It was the thing on which I based my entire identity. But it became so that my very specific and personal approach to journalism — writing about government and public policy and education and policymakers with the hope that by giving readers detailed information about the happenings in public education would lead to positive change for students and teachers — was not enough for me. I wanted to participate in the change.
But, to change my career meant to change me. And changing me I did; and I welcomed the change with open arms.
It was on the 20th day of April in 2009 that I began my work as press secretary for the Louisiana Department of Education. In August of that same year, I began work towards a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in public policy. I had aimed to become the change I wanted to see.
But that’s not what happened. …
What happened was a lot of great and amazing things and a ton of not-so-great things. I learned everything I possibly could about communicating to various audiences, communicating to inform, inspire, and influence various audiences, and about public policy, governmental relations, and public education in Louisiana and across the nation. I credit that experience with shaping who I am today, and I believe I am most certainly better for my time spent there. But, oh April. Oh, the rain. Lots and lots and lots of rain.
The second change came in April of 2012 immediately before I finished my MPA. I had planned on changing me again. Since my foray into the work of government and public education did not go as I had naively hoped it would, I wanted to get back to my roots — journalism, but on a deeper more a level that was more specific and more intentionally focused on policy and how it affected people. This time instead reporting facts in a newspaper, I joined the staff of the Bureau of Governmental Research as a research analyst. Public education was the focus of my research.
I was ready to give people the facts, tell them about the policies, but this time I was making public policy recommendations, based on my research, directly to public officials. It was the perfect blend of my experience and education and interest. I was ready to push positive change. I was ready to use my work as a tool to advocate for the people and hold policymakers accountable.
And that’s exactly what happened. But still, something was quite right.
I’ve shared before about how I became a fulltime entrepreneur. I would not be where I am today had it not been for this experience at BGR. As I’ve shared many, many times before, alignment is everything.
While BGR presented me with a tremendous opportunity to help shape public policy, there was something else drawing me out of that space. Because there was something else pulling at me, that opportunity did not bloom flowers for me. Instead, it was another April clouding my spirit.
That leads me to the last change that occurred in April. This transition was probably the most significant of my life.
On April 8, 2013, I resigned my job and decided to pursue my business on a fulltime basis. This month, I celebrate being fulltime in my business for five years.
For most people, this is a huge milestone. Though DENOR has been around for nearly eight years, up until that fateful April day, I always had another job that provided the finances for my needs and wants. To be in business for five years — and even have a modicum of success — is cause for a celebration. But in typical Ashley Northington fashion, not only is the occasion a source for cheers, acknowledging the date is also a catalyst for reflection.
Despite working with wonderful clients and having an amazing team and earning multiple accolades and being appointed to serve on important boards and/or be a part of distinguished groups, the turmoil I have endured over the past five years has been challenging — to say the least. Though my social media highlight reel may seem amazing, there have been times where I wondered if I had made the right decision. Times where I wondered if I had ruined my life. Times where I’ve turned down countless unsolicited, ‘dream’ job opportunities and been called foolish. Times where I’ve cried wondering if my efforts would be enough to provide for a team member and her family. Times where I’ve told family members what I was going to do financially and been told ‘no, you’re not.’ Times where I have leaned on my father for tremendous support. Times where I’ve been incredibly embarrassed. Times where I have cried for no reason at all walking out of Fresh to Order. Times where my hair has started to break off and I’ve gained weight — about 45 pounds to be exact — from all of the stress. Times where people have made mistakes or missteps that have cost me thousands of dollars. Times where I have laughed hysterically to keep from losing my mind.
If that’s not an April, I don’t know what is.
Here’s the good news: I’ve learned some valuable lessons in April. These lessons are too good not to share. So, in that spirit, here are my top five lessons that I’ve learned by consistently living through April.
EMBRACE THE STORM
Seems cliché, right? But I’m serious. Each transition in life or business will not turn out how we imagine or envision it. There will be a great many times when things do not go as planned. When bad things happen, and bad things always happen when it seems like you’re making progress, keep pushing.
In this past five years, I’ve learned to embrace the many storms that come along with entrepreneurship. My motto? It’s simple: ‘this will not kill me.’ I accept these things because I know it comes along with the territory. The reason I’ve been able to accept all of my failures and harness them to propel me to new heights is because I am abundantly clear about my WHY.
Because my WHY — the exact reason why I started this specific business — is so incredibly strong, my desire to see that vision fulfilled is much more powerful than any failure or embarrassment. Therefore, my WHY is what propels me to success. It is what sustains me through the storm.
ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP PONCHO OR UMBRELLA
As one of my favorite people says, ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat.’ That happens to be the truth I live by. In the past five years, I’ve learned that MY specific way of doing things is not the only way things can happen. I’ve also learned that I have to be willing to develop a multitude of plans should things not happen in the way in which I imagined.
There’s a mindset in the entrepreneurial community that tells us that to have a backup plan is to anticipate failure and to not go full throttle on something because you know that you always have a Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work. I believe one of the Waynans Brothers said that he dropped out of college because he didn’t want to have a Plan B. For him college was Plan B. Comedy was his Plan A, so he eliminated finishing college so he would not have Plan B. Thus, Plan A had to work.
Here’s what I know: there is value in having a poncho or an umbrella or a jacket or a plastic bag to put over my hair and body should it start to rain. Fifteen years ago, I might have been bothered if it rained and I didn’t have an umbrella with me. An umbrella would be my first and preferred choice to protect me from the water. But today, experience has taught me that if I don’t have an umbrella, I can either run to dodge the raindrops or I can grab whatever is around to repel the rain.
The bottom line? You can either choose to worry about the process or you can choose to champion the outcome. I am always championing the outcome. My process doesn’t always have to be the process to get to the win. In my tortured metaphor for this blog, I could either choose to get mad because I didn’t have an umbrella or I could go with the next plan. Though my first choice is MY choice, there are other options that could help me reach the same end or accomplish the goal.
WATCH OUT FOR THE PUDDLES
There have been times on my journey where I have been so incredibly excited about something, that I became blinded by all the puddles surrounding me.
For example, I am sometimes compelled to provide extensive, far-reaching services to people I know cannot afford them or understand how to appropriately value them simply because I because I am passionate about helping or because I believe in their cause. I can get so blinded by the beauty of what I believe they can do in the future, I completely omit the reality about what they can presently do. On too many occasions, this has left me looking for a payment or having to explain over and over again the value of the work. I end up with a headache while they end up with results and services of tremendous value, and they’re too clueless to realize it.
I can’t blame them, though. It’s my fault because I know better.
The lesson here is to not get so excited about opportunities or chances to help others that you downplay potential pitfalls.
SLOW DOWN WHEN THE ROADS ARE SLICK
Slow down, maybe. Don’t stop driving altogether.
When I was growing up, if it began to rain outside, my grandmother would cancel all of her plans and stay in the house. If it started to storm with thunder and lightening, she would turn off all the lights, light candles, and tell me and my siblings scary stories.
While that was so much fun to me as a child, I cannot tell you how many would-be change agents stop dead in their tracks or fail to take action when April starts to do its thing. Implementation is the name of the game.
The first is the idea or plan trap. This is where we have so many ideas swirling around in our heads and so many plans that we cripple ourselves with thoughts instead of freeing our idea or plan with action.
The second is the consumption trap. This is where we consume so much of other people’s content and we read so much about how to do things that we never actually get around to doing them. We voice what we are going to do, but we never really actually DO.
And the last trap is the ‘changing courses’ trap. This happens when we have a plan, we’re on the path to implementation, and then something comes up and scares us — a customer gets mad, a vendor botches, or we run out of cash — and then we buckle. Instead of implementing the plan with fidelity, we let our insecurities consume us and we change directions, never allowing success to take root in the plan we initially set out to deliver.
The lesson here? Don’t turn into my grandmother. Slow down. Take stock of everything, read what you need to read, learn what you need to learn. But, do not quit.
KEEP LOOKING FOR SUNSHINE
One of my absolute favorite inspirational songs happens to be a song about the rain. In this song, we learn that rain is not damning; in fact, it is purifying. The rain has the power to wash away the bad and the sullied, so that you can begin anew.
It’s also important to note that everything is temporary. Nothing lasts forever. Not even an April.
At the writing of this blog, we are literally in the month of April. I can’t help but wonder if I’ll experience a significant transition in my life or business this month. I suppose I have about two weeks to find out if I’ll undergo some change.
Still, with all these lessons learned, I’m pleased to say that I’m no longer in a lifetime of April — at least not at this point. I’m sure as I evolve as a communications and policy professional, public servant, and, most certainly, as an entrepreneur, I’ll endure many more Aprils in my lifetime. But today, while Mother Nature has us smack in the middle of April, I am smelling the flowers in my life season of May.
At last, May is here. It’s been almost ten years, but I’ve been dying to get here.
It is so nice to finally meet you and to live among the abundance of your flowers.