You never know when a gift will change a life's trajectory. Here's one powerful story
In 1999 I was living in Spokane, WA, a place where my then-husband and I had bought a plot of land on nearby Bald Mountain near Sandpoint. I'd been fired from a bank job which led to an EEO lawsuit, which I won, but within just a few months our financials did us in. I had to file bankruptcy and divorce in short order.
Not the way you want your name in the paper in a new town.
I put out some 300 resumes, got no bites and no job prospects. My bankruptcy was a medical one, and I needed help. Not so easy to ask in a new town, and GoFundMe wasn't a thing. The tiny, ancient computer I had at the time was strictly limited to word processing. I wasn't on the Internet.
Being a skilled networker, I cast out into the area and began to participate in every single group I could find. I ended up finding remarkable women, not groups. Long story short, I started a group of very high-powered women, focusing on several key aspects:
- They had to be at the top of their fields, super positive
- They were from widely different backgrounds, races, cultures, ages, religions, all of it. The more varied the bettter, which I will explain in a sec.
- They had to be able both to serve and to receive.
I began with one new friend, and in no time our once-a-month meetings were up to six. I realized there was something important going on, so I imposed a model on our group. The model did several things: it kept our meetings to a strict, business-respectful 90 minutes every single time, and the simple model allowed us to introduce ourselves, celebrate an accomplishment and ask each other for help with a business issue.
It didn't just work. It helped change lives. For example, two women who were Air Force navigators were just leaving the military. Our group helped them figure out their next steps, spruce up their resumes, coach them how to challenge a job offer, and they both went on to terrific careers. One of my favorite success stories is Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, who not only has written multiple best sellers, she took what she learned in our group and molded into her own brand, helping other veterans find great jobs.
Graciela went from noob to civilian world to being invited to the Obama White House. Now she is paying it forward. This is her company:
I learned a great lesson: the more variety, the more varied the backgrounds, the more lively and inventive and creative the problem solving. Sometimes after our brainstorming sessions, women would head out to the parking lot and talk for hours. Business relationships got formed, problems solved, relationships flourished among women who would never otherwise have met. That is the heart and soul of such a group.
It's also a first-hand lesson in why diversity is so essential to success.
Graciela's close friend Justine Cromer, who was also a navigator, saw a need that I didn't. I was spending a great deal of my unpaid time identifying women for our group, sending out faxes to invite people to the lunch (my computer, remember? no Internet?) and she got an idea. And got busy sneaking around behind my back.
For our Christmas lunch December 1999, I arrived at our assigned restaurant with a passel of small gifts for the women. Participation was free in that I didn't charge, but I did charge those women to be fully available to each other, to be open to receiving the remarkable brilliance at the table which was deeply fed by the extraordinary diversity of the group.
Justine caught me at the door as I blew in from the cold. She looked smug. They all looked smug. I was utterly confused. This was MY group, why was I being shepherded around like a noob?
Justine sat me down at the head of the table, everyone else gathered around, and she pushed a box in front of me. Everyone looked terribly expectant. Not being at all accustomed either to fuss or gifts, I was deeply embarrassed. And challenged.
Inside the box was a brand new computer, monitor, tower, and keyboard.
I thought I would hyperventilate.
My group applauded, and Justine, in her inimitable way, explained that she had gotten everyone to pitch in so that I would finally send people emails instead of faxes. And join the rest of the world on the Internet.
I guess people were tired of the faxes. Most of them had no idea what I'd been through, either. Was still going through.
My life had been badly broken. My health had taken a terrible beating, my finances had soured, I had no job, my disability income was woefully inadequate and I was battling the VA for full coverage. My marriage had dissolved.
My response was to create a group, among those women, plenty whose back stories were just as rough or worse than mine. That we were able to do such good things for each other was my real gift.
Justine, who was for me the original Justice Warrior (and she deserves it, she's a veteran), when she found out my personal battles, made sure the team paid back.
At the time, Justine likely had no idea what that gift would do. I was clumsy with computers, she was an expert. She helped coach me along until I had my feet under me.
Since then I have become a prize winning author and journalist. An international adventure traveler. Having always known I was a writer, I didn't fully understand how a good computer would transform the landscape in front of me and make that dream come true. I told the story of our group, which was profiled in Jill Lublin's popular book Networking Magic.
Through the group I was able to get pulled up by the bootstraps. Through their contacts I found a lawyer and got my VA disability. Found some work. Began to build a brand new business based on networking and the lessons I learned from The Hubbel Group, which is what they had voted to call themselves.
Eventually that led to doing work with 21 of the Fortune 100. Not a small achievement out of bankruptcy, divorce and despair.
While I had to leave Spokane in 2000 to return to Colorado and help my dying mother, many of those women, quite a few of whom also left, went on to new and remarkable lives. Those well-established ones in Spokane stayed and many of them evolved into new careers.
So did I. Had Justine and that group not gifted me with a computer at that critical time it might have been a very different story.
Perhaps the greatest gift this group taught me was that when we operate in service to others, we receive in ways we neither expect nor can possibly anticipate. I am getting ready to start a new version of this kind of group where I live now, and will utilize the lessons that I learned back then. Groups like this change lives, and they can launch their members into the stratosphere.
The main reason was that I chose diverse, intensely bright and talented women who wanted to serve first, struggled at times with receiving as do we all, but learned to, and their lives where changed as a result.
They set me on a brand new path, too. And I remember them with great love and respect this Christmas.
The real Christmas message? If you want support and love, give it first. Without the expectation of a quid pro quo, for that frees the recipient(s) from obligation. Just give. Just love. That’s gift enough.