My Why – What is Yours?

January 5th, 2017 Posted by Business is ART, Inspiration 4 thoughts on “My Why – What is Yours?”

Nathan Snyder

What is your “why?” If you’ve never watched Simon Sinek’s TED Talk video on starting with “Why”, click here and give it a view/listen. In the Business is ART planning process, templates and tools, and in my business consulting, I urge clients to start with “Why”. Why would anyone want or need what you have? Why does what you have satisfy their wants and needs (or create them)? Why do you do what you do? What inspires you to do it?

But the old adage “A doctor is his own worst patient” applies because I frequently do not start with why – particularly why I have made it a mission to help others succeed. A colleague, Lindsey Evans of 16th Floor Media, was recently talking to Adam Dince, author of Hopeful to Hired about me. Lindsey assists with my social media marketing. She and Adam have both been guests on the Business is ART podcast. Neither were particularly aware of my story and noted that I should be more upfront about it.

Why am I reluctant to share?

So why haven’t I? Well, for one, when I talk about it, the words come quickly, they just don’t come all that often because I want them to be something I positively reflect on, not dwell on negatively. I don’t share them seeking sympathy or pity and would in fact be a little disturbed if that’s what they yielded. Two, I don’t say them for attention or to “make a sale.” I don’t want to cheapen them and sound opportunistic…or as I usually say…I don’t want it to feel icky.

Still, my “why” is important to my mission and to who I am. So, following Lindsey and Adam’s advice, and with my sister Lisa’s permission, here it is.

July 5, 2011

On July 5, 2011 my sister called me to let me know her son, my nephew Nathan, had committed suicide. It was the third suicide of someone close to me in 7 years and it was a catalyst for bringing me to a very dark place in life.

Nathan was my first nephew. He lived with me 2 summers during his teens providing daycare to my kids. He interned for me during his college years. He was not just family but a friend. His suicide rocked the family incredibly hard because he, of all of us, seemed like the guy that would take no prisoners, bull through life come hell or high water, and achieve great levels of success. Full speed ahead.

We were tragically wrong.

David and Tom

I learned after the first suicide of someone close to me, my friend David, that there is no “reason” that makes sense to us who remain – “the survivors” as we are called. And there is nothing to gain from blaming ourselves for not seeing it coming or not doing something to prevent it. David called and left me a voicemail that gave no indication he was about to take his own life. The timeline indicated he must have done so just seconds or minutes after leaving the message.

He’d been ill and simply said, “I went to the doctor today and found out what’s wrong with me. Let’s go golfing Saturday.”

With that, he pulled his van over and shot himself. I went golfing by myself that Saturday and cussed him out with every bad shot…which was every shot…so he got cussed out a lot. Looking back on our relationship, the call still haunts me and I still wonder if he was a better friend to me than I was to him.

The other was the suicide of a long time employee. Tom was a super nice guy. Quiet. Always greeted me and everyone else with a smile and a friendly “How are you?” When he killed himself, the office was shaken deeply. In fact, one of his co-workers went to his home after he didn’t report to work and found him dead – a traumatic experience in and of itself. We were part of a large corporation at the time that did not deem it necessary to fly our HR director in to town to be there for our employees and make sure they knew 1) the company cared, 2) there were resources available for grief counseling, and 3) she needed to grieve in person with the rest of us. The company felt the $350 airline ticket was not a necessary expense.

She and I disagreed, so she took vacation days and I used my frequent traveler miles to buy her a ticket.

That experience left an extremely bad taste in my mouth. Certainly not all big companies are like that, but, this experience is one reason I am leery of big companies and prefer working with small ones. Large companies run a danger of losing their soul. Not all do. They deserve our business. Others do…and I try to avoid them.

It’s illogical but we do it anyway

“I should have been there” is an illogical response that unfortunately sticks in the back of our minds no matter how much we tell ourselves it is completely illogical. The trauma changes us. We can’t help that. But we can to a degree control what we do with the changes. In my opinion, one of the best things we can do is offer support to others who are still here among us in whatever way we are best equipped, in the hopes of helping them through a tough time, even if that is for a very brief moment.

The common thread in the suicides of Nathan, David and Tom is that they all felt overwhelmed by something – different things – and I wasn’t qualified to provide the kind of support they needed. I’m still not.

What can I do – what’s my purpose?

So then came the big question. What can I – little old me – do going forward that might help some subset of humanity feel less overwhelmed? How can I help?

Aside from supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and numerous other suicide prevention causes (which I do), a logical choice was to fall back on my experience leading businesses and people as well as my business education. I could take that knowledge and experience, find a way to make it available to others, and share it so that perhaps at least in a business and leadership capacity, they can feel less alone and overwhelmed.

That didn’t come to me all at once. I had to personally and professionally fall after Nathan’s suicide. Then I had to decide enough was enough and start making some major changes in my life. Once I shed all of the dark shackles that held me down, I was able to devise a plan, a service and a solution that I can in fact share with others.

Significance vs. success

I adopted a lifestyle of “significance vs. success.” Now the focus of what I do and the tools I provide is on others. I have thought long and hard about how to make things as simple and inexpensive as possible, while being effective enough to help others dramatically improve their odds of success.

And I believe that is what the entire suite of Business is ART services and products do. From consulting services, to the book and video training, the Plan Canvas software and all of the free content available thru the Business is ART Blog and Podcast – this is my contribution to a niche set of others to help them feel less overwhelmed and alone.

If just one person benefits from it, it will have all been worth it.

[bctt tweet=”Sometimes “why” is hard to share” username=”JonUmstead”]

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4 thoughts on “My Why – What is Yours?”

  1. Cate Brinnon says:

    Yes, Jon.

    THIS is the purpose for the pain, in my humble opinion. I am excited to share your work with my students and to have them reflect on their “why” as well as consider the difference (or perhaps similarity) between significance and success.

    You are a blessing!

    1. Jon Umstead says:

      Thanks, Cate. “Blessing” might be taking it a little too far…I’ll accept “fun”. 🙂

  2. Kris Livingston says:

    I was once asked, “what makes working under Jon as a leader, so much better then the current leader ” Well, this type of personal story is what made it so much better. Empathy cannot be taught and when it’s up front people know it, feel it.

    1. Jon Umstead says:

      Thanks, Kris. That’s very kind of you. I sure miss all you crazy kids in KC.

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