Upclose And Personal Story Of Executive That Made A Social Media Mistake
TP4U Editor May 21, 2018 3279 Views 0 Comments
When the American television newsmagazine, 20/20, reached out to me in January 2015 they said, “We are doing a story on executives who have made social media mistakes and you are one of the first people we thought of,” I rested caught my head in my right hand as I listened and thought, “This is what my life has culminated to? I am the executive that made a social media mistake?... But what about the 15 successful years of an investment banking career with Credit Suisse, finance career at IBM, and the fact that I made CFO at age 32 for a small medical device manufacturer!?! Or that I had adopted two special needs children!?! Or that I was actually a nice person who typically made smart and logical decisions!”
I felt a tinge of embarrassment that this was my story, at least the story of which the public was aware. And then…grace came in the form of my breath. I just breathed while the TV producer explained what they were trying to accomplish. I felt all that I had learned during the past 30 months and was still learning was all there with me. Embarrassment turned into acceptance. Acceptance turned into, “Yes, I will allow you to come into my home and interview me for this story.” I just kept breathing, just kept accepting.
For the past 30 months I had applied to scores of positions, received many offers, and had all those offers rescinded once my name, Adam Smith, and my title, CFO, was Googled. The social media mistake to which 20/20 referred to occurred on August 1, 2012 in Tucson, Arizona, in which I posted a YouTube video of me protesting for human rights against a fast-food restaurant chain, Chick-Fil-A, by ordering a free cup of water and then expressing my views of the company's stance on LGBTQ rights. I had protested on my personal time, had only five followers, and thought that no one would ever link my video to the business in which I was the CFO. And, certainly, my business would never fire me from my position, as they had just awarded me restricted stock that was valued at around one million dollars. As long as I was employed when the company sold, I would have that million dollars that I worked so hard and long to achieve. I felt protected and on top of the world. Yes, there was definitely arrogance in there too. I had made it, while others had not.
The following day, when my business began receiving bomb and death threats as a result of my YouTube video, I was fired. My business issued a press release to try and assuage the cyberbullies from following through with their threats. It worked. Nothing happened…to them. When the press release was read by Fox News, Fox News ran the story, “Executive gets fired for berating drive thru operator.” The truth was compromised and so was my safety.
I began receiving death threats on my phone, threatening letters in the mail, even a letter that was nailed to the front door of my house. Someone mailed manure through the mail and the mailperson delivered it. My personal and financial information were shared on the Web. CNN, MSNBC, and local news outlets ran the story, each in their own way to pander to their audiences' biases. Thousands commented on the story they had been told. Hundreds emailed me telling me how I should kill myself, lose my children, and would never find work again. I had no idea at the time that some of these would come true or close to true.
When I saw online that my children's elementary school's address was shared publicly with encouragement to others that they go to the school and harass my children, I broke. And then I ran. We moved out of our luxurious house and went to a local hotel, paid in cash, and watched as the “news” covered the story. Most of the coverage were just people giving their opinion. At that moment I realized the lack of depth our information is served to us. We are under and misinformed people with the belief that we know so much.
After a couple of months of searching for my next job, I accepted a role at a company in Portland, Oregon. We moved there ready to start fresh and rebuild. However, after two weeks at the company, someone googled my name and I was deemed to be too much of a distraction and was fired the Monday after Thanksgiving. That was another moment of epiphany. This social media mistake was going to be harder to overcome than I thought.
A couple of months later I received another offer as the CFO of a wireless company in Portland, Oregon. Before accepting the offer, I made sure the owner was aware of my video. He was not, but asked me if I would ever post another video like that again. I answered, “Never again.” He reached out, shook my hand, and said, “Welcome!” But that opportunity disappeared a few hours later when I received an email from the company stating they had rescinded the offer. I had to read the email several times for the reality to set in.
This pattern of receiving offers and then having them rescinded occurred several times over the first year since posting the video. When August 1, 2013, one year after my infamous video was posted, I was experiencing the deepest despair I had ever known in my life. I felt hopeless, alone, and worthless as a provider for my family. Dark thoughts surrounded me and I began to question whether I was worth more dead than alive. My life insurance policy was worth one million dollars, the same amount that I had lost back in 2012. Fortunately, I asked for help.
I attended a five-day personal development course called The Intensive Journal Workshop (www.intensivejournalworkshop.
org). During those five days I dove all the way into my conscious and then into the subconscious. After that I just kept going deeper toward Truth by meditating every morning at the nearby Buddhist temple, sitting for a 10-day silent Vipassana course taught by the late S.N. Goenka, attending more personal development workshops, getting certified as a life coach, learning to deeply listen to others, my body, and Spirit, and remembering the question that was asked by my IBM friend Krishna, “And what have you learned from this mistake?” A powerful question that haunted me until I could answer it honestly and authentically. Once I understood the lesson I began to teach it.
The only job I could get was at the local university, Portland State University. I was offered an entrepreneurship course to teach. I said I would teach Entrepreneurship if I could teach it the way it was true for me. They agreed. We meditated at the beginning and end of each class, learned how to deeply listen, resolve conflict, become present, connect with our breath, listen to what our soul wanted to create, and then they began to develop their business plans.
For me, I believe in order to be truly successful at entrepreneurship, one must know oneself. One must know who they are, for the path of entrepreneurship is full of uncertainty, fear, grit, and potential abundance. If one does not know who they are, one may create something that comes from fear and not love, from wounds and not healing, from weakness and not strength. Some people have created companies and products that at best simply distract us from our own sadhana or at worst pull us away from our sadhana. While others, those who are attuned to their life's mission, create organizations that are changing the world from the inside out, creating true wealth and freedom for people, and infusing the wisdom of sages that have come before us.
What is our sadhana? Well, my sadhana is to undo what I was taught and fully, constantly, and authentically see everything as it is. What does this look like? For me, it is seeing me in the eyes of the other. It is me deeply knowing that I am the other, that there is no difference. In entrepreneurship, it is serving the customer as though I am serving God; when I am negotiating with a vendor, I am negotiating with God; when I am sitting and waiting for the next customer, I am God sitting and waiting for God.
Everything is sacred. Not just my family, not just my business, but even how I go about leading my family and my business. How my breath is here connecting me to God as I see my children sharing their day with me, as my partner's smile radiates love to all who are fortunate to witness it, as I prepare nourishing food, as I read and reply to email, as I hear what my client wants and can listen deeper to what they really want, and how when I am afraid to take that next step, I lean into that fear and step into the unknown knowing that if I make a mistake I will learn another lesson into Truth.
Ram said to Hanuman, “What are you monkey?” And Hanuman answered, “When I don't know who I am, I serve you. When I know who I am, I am you.”
When the 20/20 program aired my story in early 2015, many organizations around the world reached out to offer me opportunities. I was humbled and grateful. I chose to be the CFO of a software company based in Arlington, Texas. As I worked there, I realized there was still more to learn, to teach, and to share.
On July 11, 2017, my family and I moved to Costa Rica and now help operate a healing center near the capital Costa Rica, San Jose. I now publicly speak on topics of leadership, coach executives and entrepreneurs how to access deep wisdom when operating their businesses and lives, hold workshops on finding one's own truth, and help others find the capacity to heal themselves, for we are all healers, some realized and some soon to be realized. I also moonlight my CFO services when needed.
I share my story for the evolution of your journey. I do not wish public shaming on anyone, but I wish the grace of public shaming on everyone.
To ask for help is an act of love for oneself and takes great strength and humbleness. I encourage us all to ask for help when we need it, for we are all on the same path. As Ram Dass states in his new Netflix film, Going Home, “Let's all walk each other…Home.”
Namaste my entrepreneur network and remember who you are, who you are serving, and where we are all going.
Author of Million Dollar Cup of Water: Discovering the Wealth in Authenticity
Website to contact and learn more: www.AdamMarkSmith.com