This is a story about how sometimes what you least want is exactly what you get . . . and how that’s not always a bad thing.
Last May I attended a presentation and dinner through the local chapter of the BMA (Business Marketing Association). The main presentation would be someone from Google, and the opening presentation would be a guest speaker from a small communications and marketing firm. This was the format: opening presentation, drinks and networking, dinner, then main presentation.
I had had a very long day at work — a day full of meetings, which always wear me out. I like to put on my headphones and pound away at whatever project I’m working on, so when I instead have to attend 5 hours of meetings, I’m not a happy camper. On this particular day I arrived at the conference center tired and headachey. Yes, that’s a word.
To make matters worse, I am a very strong introvert. Talking to new people really takes it out of me, speaking in front of a group (even of my peers) scares me, and I can think of few things that I like less than attending an event with a dedicated “networking” time. But the Google presentation sounded interesting, it was applicable to my job, and the company was paying. So I went.
I listened to the first presentation, and when everyone else walked into the atrium for the networking portion, I headed back to my car for a brief rest and some quiet time. I didn’t know anyone at the event, and I was in no mood to strike up conversations with strangers. All I wanted was take a short nap for the 45-minute networking time, then go into the banquet hall and find a nice quiet spot in the back to eat and watch the main presentation.
So I listened to the radio and dozed a bit for the next 45 minutes, then went back into the building to get in line for the banquet hall. Except there was no line. I must’ve misread the invitation somehow, because everyone was already in the hall and well into their salad course by the time I got there.
I wandered around the room for a couple minutes, trying to find a seat, but to no avail. There were 100 attendees, and I’m not kidding, there were exactly 100 chairs. I just couldn’t find the last one. So I lurked in the back for a while, trying to flag down one of the waitstaff to escort me to a seat. When I got someone’s attention, she replied that she didn’t know of any open seats. I asked her if she could just bring me a chair so I could plop down at the table in the back corner, but instead she beckoned for her manager to come over. I looked in that direction and saw what I had previously thought was a refrigerator wearing an ill-fitting suit. The guy was huge. He stomped over, took a quick (and disdainful) look at me, then said, “One seat. Front. You go.”
I followed him up past table after table, all the way to the very front of the room, to one table set a little apart from the others. It was the only one with named placeholders. I didn’t read them all, but I caught enough to know that I was sitting with the president and vice president of the BMA, as well as both guest speakers. So much for hiding in the back and being quiet. I took my seat and spent the next 30 seconds dreading the moment someone would talk to me. But after Keeven Whiteintroduced himself and we began speaking, I spent the next 30 minutes having a conversation that I have not forgotten to this day.
I’ll skip ahead for a moment and tell you that listening to the Google presentation was not the highlight of my night. In fact, I don’t even remember what the topic was. I had really enjoyed Keeven’s opening presentation, and the extra details and in-depth discussion we had at dinner gave me a bit more insight into what he and his company were all about.
Keeven was (and still is) the president and Creative Director of WhiteSpace Creative, a communications and marketing firm in Ohio. He had come to Milwaukee to speak about the ongoing project that his firm participated in once a year.
CreateAthon was founded as a way for advertising agencies to give back to local nonprofit and charitable organizations with very small marketing budgets. From the site:
CreateAthon is a 24-hour, work-around the clock creative blitz during which local advertising agencies generate advertising services for local nonprofits that have little or no marketing budget. Since the program’s expansion from a single market to an international effort in 2001, 42 agencies have joined the CreateAthon network, holding CreateAthon events in their cities. This effort has benefited 1,008 nonprofit organizations with 2,143 projects valued at $8.4 million.
Ad agencies take applications from local nonprofits throughout the year, decide which projects they will work on, and then spend one intense day producing the pieces — all for free. The agency employees get to feel good about their work, the nonprofits get free projects, and the agency gets great publicity. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.
Keeven’s firm had participated for a few years at that point, and his presentation had been full of fun and inspirational stories about the work they’d done and the lives they’d touched. Our dinner conversation was much more far-ranging, touching on these themes but also expanding to include broader thoughts on work and life in general.
There were two things that I specifically remember learning from Keeven that night, and they echo what my grandpa (who owns a successful business) has been telling me for years.
Work hard to help others
Everyone knows that there is incredible value in hard work. But when you work hard to help other people, that value is multiplied. If you make it one of your goals to help others achieve their goals, you’ll go through life being recognized as a great worker, but more importantly, you’ll be looked on as an someone who cares. As a friend. As someone to recommend to others. Which leads us to:
- You always get back more than you give
If you talk to successful people who spend their lives giving to others, they almost always say this. I’m not talking about giving to others with the expectation of getting something of equal value in return — this isn’t a business exchange. I’m talking about giving from the heart because you honestly want to see others succeed and be happy. If you give of your time, talent and energy to people who need your help, you will be amazed at the difference it makes in your outlook on life.
And that’s the real benefit.
Yes, by helping people you’ll be building a good reputation for yourself, and you’ll be top-of-mind when your friends and co-workers are looking to promote, recommend or otherwise single out someone for a reward of some kind, but those are pretty small things compared to the way you will fundamentally change your state of mind when you live for others.
Not a bad lesson learned, considering I was doing all I could to avoid talking to people at this event. Makes me think I should be better about things like that. I believe I have been, since that day. I’m not gonna lie; it’s still hard for me, and I still have to force myself to do it sometimes, but I know that I take a lot more chances and put myself “out there” more since this odd set of circumstances forced me into one of the best conversations of my life.
Keeven probably doesn’t remember me or our conversation, and that’s pefectly okay with me. But by giving me some of his time and energy, he helped me solidify some ideas that had been bouncing around in my head, and now I’m using those ideas and that attitude to spend my time being a blessing to others. I’m not great at it yet, but I am trying.
This inspired me today so I thought I just had to share. Enjoy. 🙂