“In the beginning….”
People of Christian tradition know the words. Just say “In the beginning” out loud and others join in around you with “God created the heavens and the earth….” These are the opening lines of the Christian creation story.
We humans are big on beginnings! We are fired by the sense of possibility, curious about what’s over the next hill, drawn by the challenge ahead, eager to discover the next step along a path. We treat beginnings as sacred, as if we were prescient about what will follow – mainly good we hope. Then later, usually long after the beginning, we reconstruct the story, often embellishing it with enlivening details, crafting an even better story, and as time passes, we tell this story over and over. We add more color to it, patchwork amendments, peppered with a dash here and a dash there until, truth be known, it becomes more story than history, more set-piece than documentary. This story becomes a creation myth. Every great tradition has its creation myth or story, the tale that defines the well-spring of its people. We are defined by our beginnings, and although the stories are different; the human spirit arose from the heart of a volcano, or out of the ether, or dropped by a great bird from the sky, or squeezed out of a giant lotus blossom, these beginning stories become the cornerstones of our culture.
Here is an example of how it works in a business life:
I remember sitting in a hastily purchased squeaking secondhand executive chair in front of an old dining room table which I’d seconded to serve as my desk. It was all I could afford and we’d rushed to get this much ready for day one, the first day at work in my newly founded company. There I was, hands folded at my table, alone except for the telephone, the smell of furniture polish, in a three room office suite buried in a four story building called The Farmers Building in downtown Seattle, Washington. The one-page-at-a-time calendar read April 1, the numeral one glaring bright red, dominating the page with April 1976 printed in small black letters above. Now this was a standard issue business desk calendar of its time. Each day started by flipping the top sheet to bring you up to date, so to speak. Once done, there it sat on the desk: stark, watchful, challenging, judging, waiting for you to do something, to go to work – now! Because it was a business calendar the words April Fool'[s Day did not appear anywhere on the April 1 page, but I knew, as do you, it was April Fool’s day and I was launching an enterprise, perfect!
At first it felt like a pregnant moment, about to burst with something important. I sat waiting for whatever… and I sat, and I sat. The buzzing bank of florescent lights created a shadowless scene, me sitting, hands folded, April 1 and a phone on my otherwise empty desk surrounded by beige carpet, beige walls, not a picture or window in sight. When nothing happened for the longest time, I began wondering if I had rented too much space? What was I thinking? Next, I felt the cold finger of doom push its way into my chest. I now knew my pregnant moment had nothing to offer and that I might end up sitting here alone all day. Then I thought of one day extending to a week and then, and so on. This was the not-so-funny variant on a “what happens if they throw a party and no one shows up” story that was now banging around in my head signaling an onset headache.
For fifteen minutes I sat, looking at the three line telephone on my desk, buttons dark, listening to the air moving through ducts above groaning out a low depressing monotone accompanied by a single syllable that sounded like “shish”. I sat. I sighed. I looked hard at that telephone. Then, out of the beige gloom, as if touched by a speck of fairy dust, focusing yet again on the telephone and its inert buttons, I realized that the phone was connected to sister phones, one in each of the two adjoining offices I had leased. Then, better yet, I remembered that all three of these phones were connected to the outside world! Thank God! I am not alone! There is a world out there and some day, that world will call me on this very phone and ask me to do paying work! Dear God make someone call now! Still the phone sat silent, as if dead to me. I picked up the receiver, placed it to my ear, watched the light on the button on the left glow promising yellow and heard the dial tone. I replaced the receiver in the cradle, folded my hands again, and waited.
After an hour of waiting, three cups of coffee jangling my nervous system, when I thought I could not stand any more, I realized I was going to have to make the first call! I opened my address book, fingered a prospective client’s name and dialed the number. I needed to use my telephone to find out if this April Fools start up was going to be an expensive joke or something real, like a business that employed people doing real work in the real world and earning a living for all of us. This was 1976 and I was 23 years old.
Two months later, there were three of us beavering around in the beige caves: me; Kathy, a strident energetic office manager and Jack, a minutia savant who became our first project manager. The phones rang often enough, real work was being done, clients were invoiced and paid, paychecks were written and signed, my family would be fed, clothed, and we were off to the races. That’s how it began for us.
Now, thirty-nine years later, I roll this story out like it was freshly delivered by an Amazon drone just this morning, or a warm croissant from a French bakery. In fact, I have twenty or thirty of them, stories about what I’ve come to see as important beginnings. You probably have several yourself. Perhaps a first job, or a relationship, or a birth of a child, a big trip, an adventure. We use these as a way to both explain ourselves to ourselves and to the world at large. But, what about the other end of the story, literally? My experience is we are very good at beginnings and not so good at endings, and yet for every beginning, there is an ending – or perhaps several endings.
This blog is an ending, not a beginning. More precisely it is the celebration of an ending, one of many children born of the creation myth – my April Fools start up circa 1976. That scene, and the event it embellishes is the mother of many, many endings.
In 1976 I needed to earn money to live and to raise a family. Also, I had been fired from my corporate job. So for some reason, probably obstinacy, I decided that I also wanted to be “the boss”. I set out with almost no money, not much experience, and a busload of foolish ideas about business and the world around me. Fast forward to 2015 and an “ending”. It is The Mingus Parchment: The Secret to Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur, the book I have written and am now pushing out into the world for anyone to see, perhaps read, to learn from, to be fortified with, to criticize, applaud, lambaste, or to ignore. It is one of many endings to the April Fools day start up, and I am nervous, just like I was in 1976.
The Mingus Parchment, is a book about the entrepreneurial journey – set in Glimmerland, a fictitious place with just enough magic to convince the reader that “life is curly” and to dramatize the depth and breadth of our real life adventures. This ending is the book’s launch. Just like in1976 when I was sitting in an empty office wanting the phone to ring, I am sitting here today writing these words… and yet again nothing is happening (some things never change). This ending is about me picking up the phone to call someone (metaphorically so to speak). Me calling you and saying… here, here is my best shot about being an entrepreneur. Here is the best story I could write about it. Here is what I have to offer today.
My children are grown and supporting themselves, the Western Farmers Building has long since been replaced by other buildings and a park in Seattle, the armies of people who populated my businesses are scattered everywhere. The endings I’ve experienced have been amazing. I’ve seen the world, met so may spectacular people, heard so many enlivening stories about you and your adventures. I’ve discovered how generous you are with your stories and how your beginnings and endings are thrilling. After all, beginnings and endings, are the way of life…. Try it yourself, trace some of your beginnings by linking them to endings. It is an interesting exercise. And when you reach a fork in the road or a series of choices that foreshadow an important change, look to celebrating the ending before you chose a direction and continue on.
Oh yes; one last thing. Endings are poignant, there is often a real sense of loss. But if you can be still and just listen, you will hear a thin whisper of optimism. You see, every ending is also a beginning. So as I sit here and bid farewell to this project, I wonder where the The Mingus Parchment will go; hell, where will its author go, what projects lie ahead? Those are pretty exciting ideas.
As for your endings, today’s message is: pay attention! We are good at beginnings and not so good at endings and yet… well you get the picture.
From me to you, in the spirit celebrating beginnings and endings; I offer you my current ending: The Mingus Parchment.
The book now lives here: