To those wondering how I do business,
It was about 11:30 am last Thursday. I was at the airport in Phoenix, Arizona, waiting for my connecting flight to Oakland, California for a quick two-night trip.
I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I am a journalist. Should I be here right now?”
For starters, I am a little spoiled and I hate connecting flights, only taking them as an absolute last resort. Also, I prefer not to leave Miami during the winter months.
But those aren’t the only reasons I momentarily questioned the entire trip.
See, we have all heard the adage, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”
It’s a saying I don’t particularly like because usually when people say it to me, it’s to convince me to do something I prefer not to do.
I remember hearing it when I was asked to call coach right after he was fired, just to check in and see if he wanted to do an interview or give a quick soundbite on how he was feeling.
I mean, how do you think he was feeling?
I remember someone saying it to me when I got an executive to agree to a sitdown interview on one topic and a superior asked me to drill him about a completely different issue.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t break someone’s trust like that.
Throughout my career as a sports reporter, the pure notion of, “It’s not personal, it’s business,” impacted many relationships, as athletes and coaches often feared that any statements or actions in my presence would and could be reported and or misconstrued.
My job created a line, a division and a guard between me and all the people I covered.
But that’s changed.
Now, I work with people to share their stories through open letters. I don’t publish any story without consent, as I give people control over their narratives. Hours upon hours I spend on the phone, helping people relay their messages in a way that is concise and impactful.
People open up to me about their past, their pain, their fears and their reality. Many of the people I have never even met in person.
Instead of causing distance between me and the people I cover, I am now creating connections. And my trip to northern California, which might I add consisted of connecting flights both ways, made that very clear to me.
In October, I called a former football player I covered in Cleveland, George Atkinson III, about writing a letter for The Unsealed aka my company. He asked if he could address his letter to kids who are struggling, as he wanted to reveal his journey and the lessons he learned along the way in regards to mental health. To my own shock, George shared with me a past filled with hurt and loss. When I got off the phone with him, my stomach was in knots and my heart was a bit heavy.
After I assembled his letter, he told me it was perfect and thanked me for listening. From there on out, I had a new friend, supporting me and encouraging my company’s mission to inspire and change the world.
But about six weeks later, George died. The cause of death was not reported.
We never hung out. We never went to a bar together. I am not sure if I ever gave him so much as a hug. And there I was, flying across the country to pay my respects and say goodbye to what many may say was a business contact.
Of course, I was the only journalist at his viewing.
I didn’t know his family. I didn’t know any of his friends.
And yet, while I am not very good at showing emotion, at his service, I had a tissue in hand and eye makeup running down the side of my cheek.
On my way home, as I once again had a layover in Phoenix, I realized I didn’t need to hug George or hang out with him at a bar or have years worth of history to consider him more than a business acquaintance but also a friend. The act of helping someone share their truth and providing them a space to be completely real and honest without judgment is a form of intimacy – not a romantic intimacy, not a sexual intimacy – it’s human intimacy.
Some stories and people create stronger connections than others, but its always there,
That’s in part because, for me, writing is the only way I know how to express myself. It’s my way of shedding the most tears. It’s my way of giving the tightest hugs and it’s my way of showing someone how I feel about them. And when I help someone else pen their story, I am sharing that emotional experience.
As a result, I realized the saying, “It’s not personal, it’s business,” will never apply to me because my business is personal.
And even though all I did was help George tell his story one time, I flew across the country because when I assist someone in writing their truth, they allow me to feel what’s happening in their heart.
Thank you for joining me on this journey,