As I return from my morning walk my wife often asks, “How is your kingdom?” I chuckle at the playfulness of this comment before telling of my daily interaction with the street cleaners, baristas, dog walkers, and members of the street-dependent population who are the “residents” of my “kingdom.”
The humor in those conversations came to mind as I read a recent LinkedIn post from Stephanie Stuckey, the CEO of Stuckey’s Corporation. Two years ago, after a career in politics and environmental law, she bought the company founded by her grandfather in 1937 that was once a respected and welcoming part of roadside America.
It soon became clear that what she bought was just a shell of the company she knew while growing up in Georgia. She wrote about one experience in her recent post.
“Finding humor in a difficult situation is an essential skill if you’re going to make it as an entrepreneur. When I first took over Stuckey’s almost two years ago, I optimistically set out to visit every one of our 65 branded locations. What I quickly found is that some of our stores needed some TLC — a LOT of TLC in fact.”
One of the worst locations Stuckey found was in Marion, Arkansas. That store had literally been hit by a hurricane.
“With the roof caving in, it was still operating as a business, albeit looking beyond pathetic. I remember visiting that Marion store that was also poorly stocked with dusty merchandise and feeling completely dejected. Here I’d sunk my life’s savings into buying back my grandfather’s company that had once been a shining oasis on our highway exits. I got in my car and started to cry. I called our Vice President and shared what terrible condition the store was in and how low the company had sunk.
He paused for a second and said in a totally upbeat voice, ‘Welcome to Your Empire.’
For some reason, that struck me as hilarious. I just started laughing because — well, what else can you do? Since then, things have started to improve, we’re profitable, we’re de-branding some of the stores that are beyond help and doing our best to revive the ones that show promise. … All this is to say that it does get better. But now whenever we hit a low point — like when I discovered yet another case of unsold fidget spinners in our warehouse last week — it’s become our mantra to say, ‘Welcome to Your Empire.’ Because laughter is the only way to survive”
I love this story on so many levels. It speaks to resilience. It ties past memory with hope for the present and future. It addresses the managing of our expectations. Finally, this story reminds us that cultivating a wise sense of humor is a good way to navigate life. Krista Tippett writes that she has “yet to meet a wise person who doesn’t know how to find some joy even in the midst of what is hard, and to smile and laugh easily, including at oneself.”
Too often we take everything too seriously. We want to conquer the world, or at least our part of it, and we feel we have to be deadly serious in order to reach our goals. In Steven Pressfield’s novel about Alexander the Great, The Virtues of War, there is a scene where Alexander reaches a river crossing. There he is confronted by a philosopher who refuses to move. “This man has conquered the world!” one of Alexander’s men shouts. “What have you done?” The philosopher calmly replies, “I have conquered the need to conquer the world.” *
There you have it. Once we conquer the need to have an empire, to be the top dog, to seek total control, we find ways to do the work before us. Along the way unexpected and unwanted things will happen to each of us. Rather than get mad, focus on the response, which is the one thing we can control.
Oh yes, and our response often goes better when we employ a wise sense of humor. As you head out into your kingdom, give your funny bone some exercise this week.
More to come…
Image by free photos from Pixabay
*Hat tip to Ryan Holiday for the story, from his book The Daily Stoic.