Halloween, different this year, I reckon. But I’m sure the traditional costuming and seeking of treats will continue. Halloween has a very interesting (and some would say, disturbing) provenance. Basically a merging of Celtic Pagen and Roman harvest festival traditions, this holiday is celebrated around the Western world and beyond, and as Americans we spend the second-most annually on this holiday, second only to Christmas. As an armchair economist and philosopher, it holds a special fascination for me I have to admit. In our time, costumed children wander the streets gathering candy from strangers - the treats - who provide them willingly lest they face the threat of tricks.
To call a duck a duck, it’s forced handouts under threat of harm, amiright? And this teaches our children what?
I was musing on this notion the other day, as I considered my PPP loan forgiveness application and worked on contingency plans for our chapter meetings in case Larimer’s in-person meeting restrictions are tightened again in response to rising covid case numbers. 2020 has been a year of tricks and treats for everyone in small business I’d say. For purposes of this discussion, tricks are harmful impacts due to forces outside the business owner’s control, and the treats are the unmerited favors that have come upon us. And again - whether things are tricks or treats depends so much on your perspective.
For some, the lockdown and subsequent slow-reopening of non-essential business was a fatal trick - many millions of jobs have been lost that will never return because the business that offered them is now deceased. For other businesses - home remodelers, bicycle stores, private campgrounds - the demand creation from changes in socio-economic pressures has been an unexpected treat. For many businesses, the PPP program was essential for survival and for many others it was a liquidity-enhancing treat amidst already-strong financial performance of their business. And now, tax free!
If this whole affair isn’t a massive setup to future dependency on government, I don’t know what is. (I’m not tin-foil hatting here and saying it’s intentional at some level, and I’m not saying I’m not, but we’re likely screwed all the same)
To me, it seems our world has come to rely too much on the tricks and the treats, and ignores what was originally the foundation of both the Celtic and the Roman traditions: sacrifice. Such a strange word sacrifice, with so many connotations, it’s an unfamiliar word in today’s vernacular.
Miriam Webster defines sacrifice:
“To give up, (something that you want to keep) especially in order to get or do something else, or to help someone.”
We’re all familiar with the (awkward) notion of animal sacrifice (which is definition #2), and for some of us - the sacrifice bunt. For non-baseball fans, as the batter, I would give up my chance to (maybe) hit a homerun or get a base hit, by bunting it such that I’ll be thrown out at 1st base, but will move the existing runner from 1st to 2nd base, such that if the next batter gets a base hit, our team can score a run.
We sacrifice in life quite often, perhaps without calling it that. We stop drinking the beer that we love, in order to lose the pounds and get healthy, which we want even more. We give up our time and dollars to go to university, so that we can get a better job later. We give up the freedoms of singleness, to bind ourselves into a durable partnership we desire even more.
My mother-in-law, Suzanne Kay Johnson, passed away this past week, unexpectedly (stroke not the Covid) and her life is a great example of the power of sacrifice. Before the kids were born, they made the decision to save all of her income from employment and live only on his paycheck - allowing them to buy real estate investments that are long paid off. Once the kids were born, she sacrificed her blossoming career to transition to the primary role of mother - and did a great job raising my amazing wife and two siblings. In recent years, she’s been a model of service - sacrificing her time to look after our cats when we’re out of town, picking her grandkids up from school and going to their sports events, leading a weekly women’s Bible study group (for maybe the last 20+ years!), and the result of her sacrifice is a legacy and example of love that will bless our family and many others for generations. She was a very strong and special woman, more impactful to my life than any other excepting my own mother and wife, and her departure will be felt deeply in many lives and hearts. She’ll have a special place in heaven, to be sure.
Whether we call it that or not, running a business is often a story of sacrifice. A business owner may forgo raising their own pay, for example so that they can hire a new employee to better grow the business. Or, a person may sacrifice a higher-income corporate job that they could have had, for the lower-paying but freedom-enhanced world of small business ownership. That’s the thing I like about sacrifice vs. the tricks and the treats - it’s a choice in action based on one’s own reasons and values and expectations, rather than reliance upon others or fear of an outside force. When there’s tricks and treats that occupy too much of our economy, then there’s too much cause for division in politics, for example...but I don’t want to go there today. Tricks and treats bad, sacrifice good is the point of this post.
Life is hard, full of difficult circumstances, actions, and choices - and the things that actually make us stronger require sacrifice. For your muscles, it’s time in the gym, for your relationships it’s taking time to listen and serve, and oftentimes for our businesses it’s time to step away from the fray and take a look at what kind of business and life we are trying to create, and to create (and institutionalize!) a plan to get there.
We’re making some space for that for our community in a couple weeks, with a half-day virtual strategic planning event - ThinkerFest 2020 - on November 12th. Moderated by Drew Yancey, at InCite Performance Group and featuring a trio of amazing presenters, this is a can’t miss event to set you up for success in 2021. In this super collaborative workshop, we are mapping out small business strategic planning, so you can feel prepared for 2021. We hope you’ll sacrifice some of your time, and a tiny little bit of your money ($39), and check it out. You can learn more here:
And now, because it’s my blog, and because I quit the Facebooks like I said last month and this seems like the next most appropriate place to put something like this, here’s a short poem I wrote about Suzanne on the evening of her passing. It’s not very businessy, so you can stop here if you wanna, but I’d rather you read it I guess, so you can get a small sense of how much her sacrifices meant to our family.
Can’t Believe You’re Gone
Mrs. Johnson, you’ve got a lovely daughter,
and her love fulfills my life.
She’s even more than the woman I’d thought her -
When she chose me to be my wife.
Your faith became her faith, and then became mine,
the greatest gift ever given me, grafted into the vine;
and I sob as I write this, yet my heart dances with joy –
Your heavenly pass granted, welcome daughter, ahoy.
Your singsong voice reflected a heart filled with love,
With patience, and grace, and eyes fixed up above.
Bright eyes and warm smiles always belonged,
We’re so brokenhearted; can’t believe you’re gone.
Smile upon us dear mother, active pray for us do,
Let us grieve of your passing; yet celebrate you.
New pajamas every Christmas, I’m wearing some now!
The best hugs and most oof-da’s always came from thou –
You liked when I called you Suzie, I think so, I pray,
Skies grey like our hearts on this fateful day.
Your passing so quickly - so cruel, so wrong,
We love you dear mother; can’t believe you’re gone.