About this time every year, I sit down and watch It’s a Wonderful Life.
There's something about this movie that strikes a chord every time. This makes sense, given that it’s considered by many to be the best Christmas movie of all time.
In case you aren’t familiar, the story is about George Bailey, who always does the right thing, even at the expense of his hopes and dreams. Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), runs the family company, Bailey Building & Loan, which fights to keep things affordable for homeowners in Bedford Falls.
The entire time, Potter, who runs a competing business with questionable ethics, is hot on his heels, trying to bring George and his business down.
George had always wanted to travel the world and be an architect. But in the movie, he has given up this dream so others can build theirs: his wife who wants to stay in the small town and rehab a tear-down, his brother who bails on him to be a war hero, an uncle who probably should be let go but George willingly keeps on payroll, the citizens of Bedford Falls, who otherwise would not be able to afford a home.
Scene after scene shows George giving up a little piece of himself for the goodwill of another.
I’ve seen this film at least 30 times, and each time it inspires me in a new way. Most recently, this is the scene that particularly stood out to me. In an attempt to beat George, Potter gets clever. He offers him a job:
He offers to raise his salary from $50 per week to $390. Travel. Lifestyle. For the first time in the movie, it looks like someone might have George’s best interest at heart.
I had a moment like this, too.
It was March 2018, and I’d been running my business for about a year. I was getting a little traction, but my earnings were nowhere near the level of my previous salary.
A friend of mine thoughtfully introduced me to a big CPA firm in town that was building an HR Practice. They looked at my resume with experience in HR, Consulting, and Sales and invited me in.
The firm had decided that HR Consulting was going to be their #1 priority in 2019. They had the trust of thousands of potential clients who already utilized them for CPA services. They had cleared an entire floor of a downtown building to build the future department.
My office would have been a panoramic view of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, arguably the most desirable view in downtown Cincinnati.
I’d have instant resources, clients, and prestige… oh yeah, and a salary again.
I enjoyed the conversation with the Partner, and we easily exchanged views on Organizational Development thought leaders like Weisbrod and Block.
It felt like a dream come true.
Until I remembered how small I felt sitting in the waiting room.
Men in suits walked in and out of the office shaking hands with each other, with only smiles for each other, and none for the candidates like me waiting to be interviewed.
I could live in this world. I've done it successfully before. I helped my previous firm make lots of money.
But I could never be myself.
I couldn’t let uncontrollable laughter escape my lips without someone hushing me.
I couldn't sleep in, or even let on that I was tired after an all-nighter with a sick child.
I'd cheerily receive unsolicited "advice," like:
You’re too loud on the phone, tone it down a bit.
Our clients are paying you X dollars an hour, your outfit should reflect that.
Did you see so-and-so's hair? You should really consider a professional bob.
I played the game like I knew I should: Do your time, know your place, say what makes the partners and clients feel good.
I was supposed to anticipate -- and say -- the things they wanted to hear, instead of telling them the things that they really needed to hear.
That corporate world was the one I wanted to walk away from, not something I wanted to move towards.
Like George, I knew I wanted to walk away, despite the temptation of what seemed like a "better" life. And like George, I knew I had to stick with what was most important, which was to lead a purpose- (not money) driven life.
I’m not saying that my previous experiences were like Potter’s. I’m saying I felt a bit like George. And like George, I walked away -- only in this case, thank goodness, there were no suicide attempts or hallucinations involved.
Fast forward to the other day.
I was sitting in my kitchen while my nine- and five-year-old virtual learners decorated gingerbread men. Truly fantastic ones.
I sent a few quick emails to my team, a group of smart and amazing women. We belly-laugh daily and regularly work in our PJs until it's time to leave the house, then gladly put on the make-up and nice clothes for meetings.
That day I also responded to two prospective clients who were lining up projects for next year. Both direct referrals from current clients who believe in us -- so strongly, in fact, that they actively seek out new business for us in their network. Clients who may or may not have the resources to hire a big firm but appreciate the expertise they get at a fair price. And the enthusiasm in which it is always done.
Clients with whom we can be so chummy, even calling them a client seems weird... they are coworkers and friends.
When I think about ASOHR, I am humbled and grateful.
A lot of people are supportive, and everyone loves the idea of supporting a small business (in theory).
But it’s the clients that have invested in it. And I’m so very grateful. Because honestly, at the risk of sounding like a country song, this is the view I’ve always wanted.
It’s an unconventional life. But it’s a wonderful one.
Thanks, George. See you next year.