The Cost of Public Life

The Cost of Public Life

In the midst of turning our home into our piece of paradise I had also turned the restaurant around from closing. As a result, corporate rewarded my staff and myself for work well done and I quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a top performer in the company. This included winning numerous regional, provincial, and even national awards for sales, training, customer performance, and community involvement. At the peak of all this fanfare I attended a conference in the largest Eastern Canada’s city, along with 1,200 other managers and was awarded one of three top presidential awards.

But the reality was I was bored.

I knew my job inside and out and found it entirely un-fulfilling. On more than one occasion, I would take my assistant manager out in the morning to shoot a game of pool, instead of taking our time to open the restaurant – just because we could. I began to crave more, that sense of wanting to do something more with my life, to accomplish great things, to contribute in amazing ways to the betterment of society around me. Often, during this time I would talk about the desire to become a “pillar of the community”. So I started looking for ways to do so.

I became a member of the local Rotary Club. I was a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, consequently becoming a Director with them, then the Chairperson of a crime-prevention committee, set up with the mandate to address the growing petty crime against businesses that were on the increase in this valley city. This then lead to me writing a weekly newspaper column and then that lead to me having a weekly radio commentary.

I ran for City Council – twice – during these years, just missing out the second time by a hundred or so votes. When there was a violent home invasion in the community, the City brought together community members to discuss the increase crime in the valley and I was a part of that. Out of those discussions, a group of concerned citizens got together and we founded a non-profit organization with the mandate to develop a restorative justice program for the valley. I lead this organization and consequently received a Governor General Award from the Province for my work in setting up the program.

Out of that experience I would travel around to some neighboring communities with a government elected official, speaking at various community gatherings, talking about the work that we had done back in the valley city. I was asked to sit on a special panel in a large neighboring city who were trying to get something similar started there. Not a week would go by without my name in the paper, or some mention of me in the various circles I was involved in. It was at the point that as I walked downtown, people would recognize me and would stop to talk or ask questions.

It was energizing.

But, it came at a cost that I wasn’t expecting.

There were two significant events that occurred. The first event was when I was working hard at the restaurant to build the sales. I did a lot of innovative local advertising and marketing in order to get those sales, which meant that I was an aggressive competitor to any similar restaurants in the valley city. One particular restaurant took offense and began to write threatening letters, sending them unsigned, in large brown manila envelopes. They were vague threats, telling me to back off and stop doing what I was doing or else. I laughed it off and was fired up even more to make sure that this competitor’s voice was squashed. When they would post coupons or ads, I made sure that I offered to my customer’s the opportunity to utilize their coupons in my restaurant. It was very successful and my sales soared. But enough was enough and one day corporate head office for the province called me up. They informed me that they had received some nasty letters from this particular business owner regarding my actions. Corporate head office asked me to back off and to stop my local advertising because they did not want to aggravate this business person any more than I already had.

I obliged but the passion and desire I had to pursue excellence was gone. I resolved myself to going through the motions, losing interest quite quickly in what I was doing as a career and work direction.

The second event was far more chilling. Over the years there was a significant outdoor yearly entertainment event that our valley city hosted. At this event were beer gardens, and specifically the local Chamber of Commerce ran those beer gardens. Surprisingly, the revenue generated from the running of those beer gardens was almost 100% of the total yearly operating costs for the Chamber of Commerce. Not so surprisingly was the massive increase in crime that occurred during the week that this large event was in the community. Consequently, through my weekly newspaper column and radio commentary I became a critic of this event.

That didn’t go over so well with the local Chamber of Commerce. In an effort to minimize any conflict, I had resigned from the Chamber of Commerce, instead focusing my effort on the non-profit work and the restorative justice program. However, to some, I was still a strong voice in the community, and in particular within the business community, and so when my critique of this event increased, it caught the attention of the Chamber of Commerce. Actually, it caught the attention of the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. He got it. He understood what was happening. He was already hearing back from the organizer of the event who did not enjoy reading or listening to this community voice criticizing his massive event. The organizer didn’t like it so much that there were murmurings that he may get another organization to run the beer gardens.

The Chairman couldn’t have that happen, given how much revenue it generated for them. So, instead, the Chairman opted to approach me. His approach, however, was less than professional.

He threatened my life.

This just got serious.

Up to this point I had been enjoying the public life – the spotlight – the influence I had and the change that I was a part of. I felt like I was accomplishing something with my life, doing good for my community, and achieving those dreams of becoming a pillar in my community. But this? I didn’t expect this. I was young and I had a young family and this was a small community. I weighed my options and realized quite quickly that I was outgunned here. The Chairman had been a part of this city of decades. He was very well known and was part of the ‘establishment’. Just like the competitor who took it to corporate head office, I wouldn’t be able to recover from this successfully.

I abruptly quit both my weekly column and radio commentary, making vague references to the cost on myself and my family for speaking out. I resigned from everything I was doing in the community and withdrew back to my little home.

Safe, secure, and uneventful.

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