Planting in the Dark

Planting in the Dark

I went back and forth with myself, contemplating whether to share this post; because weakness, doubt, and vulnerability are seldom championed. But, in my binge of business podcasts, startup stories, and entrepreneurial fairytales I felt it important to share when things are low and you wonder when favor will shine again.

“Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9 NLT).

It’s been a challenging year. It began with one of our biggest contracts being taken away from us.There’s really no appropriate way to verbalize it, but just that. Without cause or reason. About 70% plus of our business came from that one contract, and we were mailed an amendment essentially dissolving it. I cried that day. I felt the air escaping me faster than I could catch it. Trying to remain stoic, I reviewed the document with my father. He remained calm. I insisted we get lawyers, that we defend ourselves. He agreed, ready to fight. But before we bolstered ourselves for that new challenge, I dissolved. I was angry and hurt. We worked so hard, harder than our competitors, proving we were equal if not better and here we were with the rug pulled from under us. I cried, because it was an affirmation that life is unfair. That you can toil, and sometimes no matter how intentional you are, sometimes you lose.

My father scolded me, “No.” As if my tears were propelled by a push of a gas pedal, like if I eased up they would end. “No.” Like, my tears were an affront and not from a space of endless overtime, weekends, and nights; an army of me’s from my past standing at a collective front questioning if all that time would end in defeat.

“I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak” (Job 7:11 GNT)

This was the beginning of my descent into regret and resentment. I spent much of this year feeling like maybe I should never have began to help my father. A dutiful daughter is not allowed to say that, but I will. I spent many moments wondering if maybe I should not have offered myself. The endless hours, low pay, and tedious tasks that could have gone into my own pursuits. Further and further I felt I was moving away from my own dreams. I began this endeavor so hopeful, content, and aligned with purpose. In the very least, I felt assured that no matter what, I was honoring my father. But now this honor feels like sludge. An exalting crown, now a heavy weight on my head and I’m not sure I want it anymore.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27 NIV)

Between new insurance guidelines and regulatory restrictions, I’m tired. In an industry where everyone is being bought out or shutting down; I’m tired. Every time we meet a new obstacle I want to say, “But we are small!”, “But we are family-owned and operated”, “But we are black!”, “But we are immigrants!” And the reality is that in business, when the status quo benefits people who do not look like you, inclusion is not a discussion you can bring to a table you aren’t invited to in the first place.

“What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? (Job 6:11)

There is no one black at our table. No one immigrant. No one woman. And here we are up against behemoths; multi-state, national corporate accounts. There are some smaller competitors, but they’ve got the game down. One of our competitors is doctor-run, so they get to self-referral (Stark law doesn’t apply to private payers). Then there are those who have been in the industry for decades (all white and with connections and existing capital). Some of our competitors have been in the industry so long, my father worked for them. So here we are, providing service unparalleled and getting by the fucking skin on our teeth.  

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain — first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head” (Mark 4:26-28 NIV).

Our contract was eventually reinstated, but it’s again hanging in the balance. We aren’t sure what will happen but are diligent and not wavering in our quality of service. Our biggest mistake was being so reliant on one source of capital. Even without, we were still doing well but I used the time to hunt for more contracts; and fortunately was able to get a new one. I know there is worth in what we do. Patients rave of my father, of his care and love. Patients call asking for specific staff, who they have grown to trust. There is heart here. There is intention of public good. I wish quality of care was enough, but it isn’t. Not in this country. Not in healthcare.

I’ve thought a lot about the almost four years I’ve put in and wondered what of my own ambition? Lord, I am to honor my father and mother but how much more before I break? Rather than wallow, I decided to put intention behind growth. Implementing ways to streamline day-to-day operations. New software, management systems, hires, services. In my most discouraging year I’ve spent more time diversifying and facilitating growth and change remembering that in the very least if I’m not motivated by my earthly father, then maybe my heavenly one can push me.

“If God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you, O men of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30 TLB).

 

Advertisements

Ain’t No Meksis in Amerika

Ain’t No Meksis in Amerika

When I first began working with my father he had one full-time employee. The employee was a friend of his, a very highly educated Ethiopian man. On the days when my father was in office, he and this staff member would properly break twice a day. Once for lunch, where like civilized people, they would sit in the kitchen and eat their meals together; sometimes sharing when someone’s lunch was bigger than the others. For their second break, one would walk over to the local convenience store and buy coffee for the both of them. They would enjoy their meksis (afternoon/before dinner snack) and wax poetic about politics, the Church, or life back home. Meanwhile I, admittedly, was agitated that they had the nerve to have another break.

I’ve been thinking a lot about meksis. When I worked at a newspaper several years ago, in Addis, there was sort of a ritualized element behind the glorious second break of the day. Depending on your work environment and the hours you worked, you may go with your co-workers to the local cafe or beer garden and have a breather before returning to work. If you had a 9-5, you would meet up with your buddies who worked locally and maybe grab a light dessert or snack before heading home to eventually settle in and have dinner with your family. For those who would return back to work it was a good way to reset and feel a bit more energized.

For me, I would meksis because the electricity would go out and the generator wasn’t working. One time I went to the local movie theater and caught a new release film. After returning to work and finding the same conditions, I left.  At that time, I found it to be so extravagant. Almost lackadaisical. How do you just leave work to hang out? Do you really think when you get back from work you’re going to be focused or would you probably bum around the office until it’s time to go?

This week, every day (…well every other day), I decided to walk away from my desk and either take a walk or go out for lunch. What I found was that when I returned, I felt a bit more of a push to finish the day stronger. I felt less stressed and more motivated to complete whatever task I had unfinished. While on my break I felt more human. I don’t know of any other way to describe it, but I felt like I was a living thing beyond my labor. The days I didn’t break, I felt it too selfish to do so. This culture of being chained to your desk and leaving for a break, even lunch, as being extravagant is harmful. Why, in America, are we not expected to properly have a break from work?

When I was working in New York, no one took a break. You could easily work a 15-hour day and to step away from your desk for 30 minutes to take a damn breather, and when you returned people would react like you went to Neiman’s to go shopping. The reality is that hours worked does not necessarily correlate to productivity. And what many employers fail to realize is that when productivity is low, there is little incentive to increase pay which results in high turnover. In the end you are paying for the lack of compensation and not incentivizing productivity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics we are in one of the slowest growth periods, for productivity, since the Great Recession. I do not think it would be unreasonable to attribute this, in some way, to poor work environments caused by long hours worked.

If someone can perform a task in one hour, after having taken a break, versus someone who has been working non-stop that may require two hours; how much money are you wasting? A 30-min paid break is cheaper than that extra hour of paid labor. Not to mention a happier employee will likely result in higher retention rates. Employee turnover is a cost not often discussed, but the time and energy that goes into interviewing, hiring, and training; not to mention the effect it has on company morale can have an adverse impact in the long term.

While a formal lunch hour break won’t work for our office, I will be encouraging staff to take their breaks when comfortable for them. And I must absolutely lead by example, because I hardly leave my seat for a bathroom break let alone leaving the office. And while I still do have some reservations around meksis, admittedly, the act of breaking, with or without friends is absolutely integral to work productivity and mental health. So no, there is no meksis in America, and in many ways it’s to our own detriment.