What Vision Loss Has Taught Me About Balancing Extremes in Business A legally blind CEO gives her particular wisdom on navigating complex decisions and avoiding the tendency to go to extremes in business.
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In the business world, we often feel like we are battling two opposing positions. How do we find peace and still turn up the engine? How do we build an exciting corporate culture without becoming mired in the details? Tempted to go to extremes, it's important to recognize that every experience in business is part of a larger learning curve.
Rule follower versus bold decision-maker
Structure is important. Organization is vital. Still, following the model and playing by the rules can make us feel like we're going along with the crowd. At some point, we need to shake things up. Part of leadership is pioneering, even off-roading. Somebody has to go first. We don't always have to color within the lines.
Being visually impaired has taught me how to ask for help. "If you don't ask, you don't get," is the mantra, and it's true. When I check in for a flight, I usually ask the clerk at the terminal if I can move up into a roomier seat. After all, I have my guide dog, Frost, with me. Once, I checked in for a flight to Cabo San Lucas. When I asked to move, they upgraded me to First Class. Suddenly, I was sipping champagne while Frost stretched his legs, thumping his tail with approval.
Over my long tenure in half-dozen businesses, I've found that there are many ways to build an enterprise. We must do our own research to see what is possible. I vet everyone myself: employees, doctors, you name it. I look at reviews, and yes, I have changed doctors based on feedback and ratings.
Boldness is asking for something you feel you may not have the right to ask. When I was doing production at Good Morning, America, I asked if I could do a demo on the set with their crew. This was solely to advance my career, and they did not have to agree to it. To my surprise, I got a "Yes." I was able to interview their weatherman at the time, Spencer Christian. In the years that followed, that demo reel, with me saying, "I'm on the set of Good Morning, America," opened doors. That was the boldness of a twenty-one-year-old girl who didn't know better than to buck tradition and take a giant leap of faith.
Fast-track versus patience
The entrepreneur wants to be the first to market an idea and the first to bring a concept to reality — but it's easy to lose money and time making bad decisions. We can choose the wrong business partner, skip important steps or move without considering the true cost — until we can't pay it.
I paid $2000.00 a week to do the earliest version of my radio show at a major station. It was tempting to bail out of that deal and launch on my own, but I had much to learn. One day, I was a guest on another host's show. Her engineer told me, "I produce this show for her personally out of my home studio." He charged her $75.00 an hour. I took the risk, stopped paying for call letters, and he became my engineer. With the money I saved, I developed an on-camera version of my radio show. This leap enabled me to become the first blind person to host a live-streamed television broadcast.
Because I was patient and paid my dues, I made important alliances and learned how to take my business to the next level.
When I interview radio guests, they often have no idea the time it takes to prepare to have them as guests on my show. Since I can't take notes, I've developed a process that makes for a more personalized conversation for my guests and me. I spend hours both on the prep call and after, memorizing the details of their lives, internalizing their stories — the dates, names, key players, and events. Studying my guests this way is not a fast process, but it is thorough, creating a memorable on-air in-depth experience for the listening audience. My guests walk away feeling that I took the time to get to know them, walking back through their long road with them.
Inflated ego versus inspiration
Some of the flashiest people who look the most successful are secretly bankrupt behind the scenes. One good thing may have come from reality TV; it serves up the ugliness and torment of a so-called "successful" life. There's a price tag that comes with succeeding on a world stage. We're all living our own reality show. Who we are within four walls needs to align with what people see from the outside.
Back when I was in real estate, a completely status-conscious business, I was losing my eyesight, and I soon lost my ability to drive. Long before the age of rideshare, I had to take 2-12 busses a day just to get to a showing. Sometimes, I would pay a cab driver $60.00 for a ride. I once arrived and showed the house only to hear, "I don't like the bathroom."
There were a lot of those moments. Eventually, I had to pull back the curtain on my life; I had been worried about revealing that I was going blind. I remember finally breaking down and telling a client, "I have a progressive eye disease, and I'm sorry, but I can't drive." He took it in stride, saying, "Oh, Nancy, I'm so sorry – then I'll just drive!" After I broke my silence, I became bolder, suggesting to my clients, "The best way to get to know your neighborhood is to get lost driving around in it."
When I first started my YouTube channel, I received many memorable and inspirational comments. But one day, a critical comment showed up in the conversation:
"What's your problem? Why aren't you looking at the camera?"
I had come so far, leaping from radio to video, and it would have been so easy to gather my crew and commiserate over people's insensitivity, except for one thing. There was merit in his comment. He might have chosen different words, but he was right. I couldn't see the camera. Even though I had some degree of vision at the time, the studio lights made everything a whitewash.
I gathered my team, and we discussed the solution, researching possible fixes. We soon discovered a ring light. For a small price, we ordered the device with a tripod and attached it at the base of the camera, illuminating it. While it was hard to hear the viewer's words, we seized the moment to grow, pushing thru a limitation. Once we started using the ring light, I wanted to thank the man who took the time to raise an important question, leading me to a better way of working in front of the camera.
In business, many of my decisions, big or small, have been about facing my fears. There's something to be said for the entrepreneur with the tenacity to seize the opportunity and the grace to know when it's wiser to wait. As we navigate the complex terrain, it's good to remember that we can lead fearlessly when our path takes us, not to extremes but to opportunities to employ the wisdom that has brought us this far.