It would be an understatement to say that Texas summers are brutal. They are merciless and unending. I know because I've been living in them since I was 2. Around age 9 I realized that the state of Texas breaths a collective sigh of relief around the second week of October--that's when the temperatures typically cool down "for good."
Growing up, my parents had pretty normal jobs. My mom worked for a while at American Airlines, then was a stay-at-home mom and then worked for a daycare. My dad was fortunate to be introduced to the fiber-optic world long before coaxial cables were a thing -- before CAT4 turned into CAT5 and so on. I remember watching him place CDs into the CD-rom drive of the family computer, and teaching himself about fibers, cables, etc., in hopes that he could work outside in the field for GTE (now Verizon). This was in the mid-90s, and at the time we were grateful he had a full-time job in the customer care center. However, working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts is tough on any family man. Sitting at a desk was torture defined for my dad. When he passed the tests and got the job to be the "GTE cable guy," he was so relieved. No more sitting at a desk!
Texas summers without air conditioning
I remember the day he drove home the clunkity GTE company van. This van was old. It looked old, it smelled old, it sounded old. The doors creaked when you opened them. And worst of all? There was no air conditioning. It was an expense GTE (now Verizon) couldn't spare. At any point during the year, my dad could have a job that required him to climb a phone pole or crawl through an attic. Putting cable into people's homes is necessarily physical work. It was especially exhausting during the summer time. One day he came home and I counted six distinctive sweat rings draped along his back.
Most summer evenings, my dad would come home and immediately take an ice cold shower. Afterward, he would talk about how nice a swimming pool would be on these hot summer evenings. One day he came home and said there was good news -- the company had decided to buy one new van that had air conditioning. I was elated! I asked if he would get to drive it. He said no, that they offered it to his friend with the most seniority, Marvin. But Marvin refused it, too. My dad explained that Marvin felt it was unfair for one guy to have an air conditioned van while all the other guys had to endure the summer heat for 9+ hours every day. Until there was an air conditioned van for everyone, Marvin wouldn't take it.
Fair treatment in the workplace
Three years ago I began building a virtual content department. The first thing I researched was fair pay for blogging (I was astounded to see some folks paying $10 per 500-word blog!), fair content deadlines, robust training and clear expectations and timely pay. I'm not perfect and neither is my system. Sometimes I overlook a client request; sometimes I mess up. But I can say with 100 percent confidence that no one pays them faster or more fairly -- everyone on my team knows I put their best interests first at every possible turn. Because the culture at Verizon where my dad worked missed a big, big lesson: without employees, there are no leaders. Without my designers, there are no e-books. Without writers, there are no blogs.
My uncomfortable relationship with business and entrepreneurship
To be honest, I don't live and breathe for business or the next sale. I live and breathe for creating opportunity. I don't love entrepreneurship. I love people. When I get down in the dumps and sleep all day in my pajamas and avoid my email, the single thing that gets me moving again is knowing that good people trust me -- and they need me to be working at the top so they have paychecks coming in.
I want to be a place where people do good work for good people and are treated with the dignity they deserve. In traditional entrepreneurship, I've learned this is particularly difficult. Most people start cutting corners by cutting off their employees. I can't do this, which is probably why I'll never be a traditionally successful entrepreneur. But I will be one who sleeps well at night, and who maybe has a story to tell down the road.
I'm in business because of the sweat rings on my dad's back that Verizon didn't care about. I'm in business because someone has to care, and it might as well be me.