Lemons to Lemonade

There’s a great scene in the movie “City Slickers” (a movie filled with great moments) where Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby are riding through the plains on horseback discussing the greatest and worst days of their lives.

Billy describes going to his first Yankee game with his Dad. How green the field was. The fact that Mickey Mantle hit a homer. That’s his greatest memory.

Then he talks about how he and his wife went through a health scare. That was his worst day.

Stern talks about his wedding day as being his best day. The pride with which his friends and family looked at him while he was at the altar. How beautiful his wife looked. And then makes the somewhat easy joke about how every day since are tied for his worst day.

But it’s Bruno Kirby’s answer that really impacted me. He talks about how the day he stood up to his abusive father was the best day of his life. Knowing that he protected his Mom and Sister from his alcoholic Dad and how his old man never bothered them again after that day.

Then Crystal, taken somewhat aback at the intensity of Kirby’s answer, asks him, “so, if that was your best day, what was your worst?”

Kirby replies, “same day,” and rides off on his horse.

Wooof, what a gut punch.

I’ve written about my best Fort day in the past (and, if you ask nicely, I’ll send that blog to you). But recently, I caught myself thinking about our worst day. Truthfully, it wasn’t that long ago.

We were just able to reopen after the pandemic. But people were hesitant to train indoors. So many of our clients who were ride-or-die before we were forced to shut down were nowhere to be found. They had either moved out of the City or had gotten laid off or, after the difficulties of the year, just were no longer in the mood for the demands that our training dictates.

We reopened with very few clients. And the fact that we kept and paid our entire staff throughout the shutdown left us in a really bad financial position. We had no choice. We had to let our entire staff go. Frankly if it wasn’t for Kyle and my sheer stubbornness and the refusal to quit we would have had to shut down for good.

We had to go back to the beginning. Running the business and training all the sessions ourselves. Working for no pay. Thank God Jess volunteered her time to help us. It would have been nearly impossible to make it work without her.

Alerting the staff that we had run out of money and could no longer employ them was a painful conversation and one that we didn’t handle all that well.

But I thought they would implicitly understand. That they would volunteer their time. That they would thank us for keeping it going for so long and keeping them employed when no other gym in the City was doing so for their employees.

Sadly, that isn’t what happened. They were angry. They were resentful. They lashed out.

They were once our employees and our family. People that we worked with and laughed with and struggled through tough workouts with. And all of a sudden they no longer wanted to even be our friends.

And while they are certainly responsible for their response and their actions, it’s not their fault. As I mentioned, we didn’t handle the situation well. As the leaders of the company, the burden and the blame land with us.

This messed with us for a while. Luckily we had the distraction of 14 hour work days and the constant threat of possibly having to close looming over heads. But whenever Kyle and I had a moment to discuss it the pain immediately became palpable. And while it’s better now, the pain is certainly not gone. We can still run our hands over the scars.

The day we had to let everyone go was our worst day. But, just like Bruno Kirby in City Slickers, it may turn out to be our best. The shake up forced us to do business differently. To look at things in a unique way. To open up our doors to the great new coaches you now find in front of you. To be open to new ideas and a new vision for the future – which is, honestly, brighter than ever.

This is the moment in the blog where I hit you with all the cliches about blessings in disguise and how failures are truly just growth opportunities.

But I’m just going to spare you all that and leave you with the most important lesson: It’s okay, even as a business person, to feel the emotion and the impact of your failures. But it’s also critical that you find a way to rise above. Your entire life depends on it.

Oh, and that all stories are better when told by professional actors from atop of a horse. But you already knew that.