na·ive [nah-eev] adjective
having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous: She’s so naive she believes everything she reads.
It’s easy to see looking through the rear-view mirror that one of my biggest life lessons is trust. Who to trust. When to trust. How to trust.
My problem? I trust people too much. It might be just a symptom of my optimistic nature, but I believe in the inherent goodness of every human being.
And yes, it’s my firm stance that we’re all doing the best we know how to do. Given our circumstances. That people don’t really want to screw other people over. That it just happens because they don’t know any other way.
And THAT is what usually gets me into trouble.
A Trust Lesson From My First Year in Business
Here’s what happened: I started out working from home like most of us do. But it wasn’t long before I found myself traveling back and forth to the local Starbucks (and shelling out bucks for their brilliant coffee) three or four times a day.
I quickly calculated (yes, I have been known to do math) that with the money I was spending on gas, coffee and muffins — not to mention the TIME I spent driving there and back — I could downsize my apartment, lease an office and come out ahead of the game.
So I began my search for the perfect space. I checked Craigslist. I asked my colleagues at the local business mixers. I drove around hoping to find a For Lease sign in my favorite buildings.
And then it happened. A woman I had known in one of my networking groups said she had a small office coming up for rent. Did I want to take a look? It was directly across from the post office and had it’s own free parking behind the building. Oh, and it was just 3 blocks from the ocean.
Of course I wanted to look. She gave me the tour and we talked about the rent. It was very affordable.
Yes, I could paint the walls whatever color I liked (as long as it wasn’t black). Yes, I would get my business name added to the directory signage at no cost. And the best part (according to her)? There was no long-term lease.
No-sirree. This bad boy was a month-to-month kind of gig.
Now, I’m not totally naive. I know what can happen with a month-to-month lease. So yes, I voiced my concerns and asked why we couldn’t do at least a 1-year thingy. My “friend” told me that’s just the way they had always done it. That the owner liked it that way. And that there was absolutely no need to worry because the other tenants had been there for years and there’d never been an issue.
“Really, honey. You’ll be fine! We’re like family here!” (<– In hindsight, I should’ve noticed the Red Flags = “we’re like family” and all those exclamation points.)
So I signed on the dotted line. Gave her my money, and then skipped off to Lowe’s to look at paint chips. Over the weekend, my best friend and I rolled out three coats of lime green paint (my accent wall!) and then I paid the movers to do their thing.
Now, if you’ve ever opened an office, you know there are a few other items you need to pay for:
- Business cards and stationery
- Signage (for my door)
- Telephone and Internet installation
- Post card announcements
- Advertising in the local paper
- An open-house celebration/ribbon-cutting event complete with swag bags and enough food and drink to feed an army
And that’s just what I remember off the top of my head. Let’s just agree that a lot of time and money went into this one, shall we?
And then…(can you guess what happened next?)
No. They didn’t ask me to leave. They raised my rent!
They sent me a lovely little note that said they’d decided to convert the entire building into executive suites.
Which in English means they would provide furnished offices complete with equipment, utilities and a front desk operator in exchange for about three times more than I was already paying each and every month.
I choked. I cried. I wrung my hands. I complained to my community leaders. The local Chamber of Commerce was appalled.
Everyone agreed: those owners had totally f-ed me over. Not to mention my “friend” in the leasing office.
It came out later that she knew what shenanigans they had in store. Oy, if you can’t trust the folks you hang out in Rotary with, who can you trust?
Legally? There wasn’t anything I could do. In the end, I was able to get a 3-month extension on that 30-day notice. Just enough time for me to find a suitable replacement office (this time I got a 3-year lease, baby!) and do the whole thing over again.
Albeit, with a much smaller version of the ribbon cutting.
My best friend consoled me with, “Well, it’ll make a good story for that book you’re gonna to write someday.” A couple of glasses of wine later and I saw her point.
In the end, I was actually glad to be in my new office. It was bigger (for the same amount I’d been paying at the other place), had a better view of the ocean (if you walked down to the end of the hall and stuck your head out the side door you could see the entire coastline), and the bathroom was never out of order (a fact that plagues the other building to this day).
And just so you know, when I got the lease from the new landlord, I paid to have it reviewed by an attorney who was able to point out some iffy spots I could (and did) negotiate to my advantage. So it was an expensive lesson, yes. But I learned it. Or so, I thought.
There are Always More Pickles
Or Big ones. Like the contracts you sign that are SO not in your favor.
And then? Sometimes the pickle is SO big, it acts like a Bear.
The truth is that if you’re on this planet, there will be pickles. And if you’re on this planet running a small business, you will have more than your fair share of these little cucumber friends. Perhaps someday, I’ll write about book about business pickles and tell you about every last one of mine.
The Trick is to See them for What they are: Gifts
I wasn’t always this wise. Believe me. It’s taken nearly 50 years for me to get that when something jumps up and kicks me in the face, it’s an opportunity for me to do several things:
1. Learn something. Review the thing like any football coach would review last week’s game reel and take a close look at what you did right and what you could’ve done better.
2. Practice Clarification. It’s never a good idea to hold in all that anger. But I also wouldn’t recommend you put on your shit-kickers and go stomp somebody’s head in, either. Stand up for yourself, yes! But do it with grace and clarity. Let the other person know that you know they could’ve done better by you. Clarify exactly what went wrong (from your point of view) and ask them to clarify things from their perspective. Request restitution. And stand strong in your convictions. But also — know when to walk away.
3. Practice Forgiveness. It’s pointless to hold a grudge. When the horrors of war are over, forgive everyone — yourself included — for the missteps. Then, breathe out and let the whole thing go (knowing that you will do MUCH better when a similar situation presents itself. Cuz it definitely will).
4. Find the Silver Lining. Usually you won’t have to look too hard before you find at least one. “Better” isn’t really hard to notice. Just trust that it’s going to show up. It might be a cliché, but in my experience, it’s usually true: when one door closes, another one opens.
What about you? What business trials or tribulations have you weathered? And what did you learn? Share your story in a comment below so we can all find the gifts together.