More than a decade ago, I left the company where I had built my career and took a job at another. I did this for a couple of reasons. The first was that we had just adopted our daughter, Emilie. My former job wasn’t an 8 hour a day gig and she needed more of my time and support. And also, because my values aligned nicely with the new company.
When I arrived, it was clear that they were in a tumultuous transition from how they’d run the company for 90+ years, to how they needed to transform themselves to be positioned to survive the next 90 years. All in a retail market that was rapidly being turned on it’s head during a financial crisis. It’s why they hired me and I knew I could help.
Did it go like I thought it would? Nope. Was it easy? Double Nope. I was met with epic push back. My expertise was questioned and my intentions maligned. It got personal. Were there days it was truly awful? Many. But I preserved because I never forgot why I was there. My family.
The day I left that company to take a better gig , I had lunch with the one person who had made nearly every day I worked there like swimming in quicksand. He took me out to a nice restaurant and I braced myself. At the end of the meal he handed me this coin. At that company, when leaders demonstrated certain traits that were part of their core mission, C-leadership gifted them minted coins emblazoned with that trait. These coins were highly prized and very few of them were ever given.
‘Before you go, I wanted to give you this. It was given to me many years ago and I’ve cherished it. But today, I’m giving it to you. Because I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever worked with who demonstrated more courage than you did in coming here. You never gave up, no matter what we threw at you. And you changed how I think about what I do and how I approach leadership. You leave this place better than you found it.’
I was shocked. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed he would give me a coin. And certainly, not one that said ‘Courageous.’ I knew they didn’t have coins that said ‘Pain in the Ass’ or I would have received one of those much earlier. I’ve kept this coin in my wallet all this time. When moving to Spain, I carried it in my handbag. I would not be giving it away to Goodwill or leaving it in a box at my Mom’s. It meant too much to me.
But today, I’m passing this coin to a person who has demonstrated so much Courage in her life. On this day, we should have been in Kentucky watching Emilie walk across the stage as the top student in the Class of 2020, at her high school. One of only two seniors that got to skip final exams because her grades were so high in each of her classes. Being accepted by every top university she applied to, with multiple scholarship offers to boot. Yesterday, they sent us the list of her awards.
This girl who led an Adoption Support Group at her school every Wednesday to help others to cope with the issues and impacts of being adopted as an older child out of Foster Care. Traveling to schools and churches throughout Kentucky to talk about her own struggles and how she’s overcome so much – encouraging those facing challenges in their own lives.
Its easy to look at people and judge them. ‘They have it easy’ or ‘They’ll never make it.’ Statistics will back it up. As though it’s a binary choice. But labels have never interested Emilie. She’s always moving forward. I know this, because I’ve watched her through some of the toughest things imaginable. And she’s the only high school kid I know who could land a summer job in the middle of a pandemic, with 30+ million people out of work.
I’ve never met anyone in my life who has ever demonstrated more courage than Emilie. She’s like water across rock – she always finds a way. And as the water wears the rock away, she leaves a mark. You’ll know she’s been there.
So – please join me in wishing Emilie Madeline a Happy Graduation! And wish her all the good things life has to offer. We are stuck thousands of miles from her in the middle of all this craziness in the world. But we’re still hoping she’ll get to do everything she strives for and will be able to attend the college she’s worked so hard for, in person this Fall. But if she can’t, I know it will only be a minor hiccup. As always, with courage like hers, Emilie is unstoppable.