In the summer of 1999, I was setting up my business, Luce Performance Group. I actually started it on March 4, 1999. It started from scratch from nothing. I gave up a huge salary in broadcast management to train and help other sales reps grow and be more successful. That was the goal then, and that remains the goal today.
Remember that, in 1999, we were also on the cusp of the 2000/2001 recession. Nice time to start a new business!
I was visiting my parents in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska over the summer of 1999. I had just agreed to an 18-city speaking tour with a co-speaker who was more well known then I was at the time. I didn't have any problem with being the opening act. I went to Lincoln to discuss the specifics of the tour with my father who has always been my confidant and biggest fan.
Each and every morning, I run, which is something I've done since I was in High School. It was July, the hottest time of the year in Lincoln, and my ritual is to go to the convenience store and grab some coffee before my run. (A little caffeine goes a long way for me.) I filled up a cup and took it back to my SUV, sat down and put the cup up to my mouth.
It hit my tongue like the space shuttle coming back into the atmosphere with no heat shield. It burned and I dropped it into my lap. I was wearing running tights and it amplified the heat even more. The coffee hit my left thigh, and then went between my legs into my groin area. My head hit the top of the ceiling in the SUV.
In between going back to Mom's house and her homemade techniques of putting butter and a fan on the burn, I had to eventually go to the hospital. Of course, the embarrassing area of where my burns were made my visit to the E.R. all the more unpleasant. After a quick diagnosis, they scheduled me for immediate surgery. I had 2nd and 3rd degree burns.
The 3rd degree burns required a skin graft operation. Remember, this was from coffee. If you're going to get burned, two of the top places to suffer through it are Lincoln, Nebraska and Houston, Texas. Those two cites have two of the top burn treatment centers in the country. St. Elizabeth's hospital in Lincoln was the location and my doctor was Dr. Chet Paul, a 40-year veteran of burn surgeries. I was in pretty good hands though had no idea of what treating burns were like. I would soon find out.
If you've ever had a skin graft operation, you know what's coming. If you haven't, I hope you never do. My skin graft would have to be in an area where our skin is the thinnest - between my legs. Just starting my new business with the excitement of the unknown, I was now sitting in a hospital with a minimum two-month recovery, including swapping out bandages everyday and treating a skin graft.
Welcome to the world of "You Better Have A Great Attitude" or your world is upside down. With this down time, I faced the possibility of never getting out of the gate with my business. The person who committed to doing the tour with me had just bailed and now I was on my own in that 18-city tour, if my sponsors would believe in me and still support it.
I faced canceling the tour. Our first city, Orlando, was going to be a "run-through" test seminar, and then the other 17 would be "hot". The Orlando seminar was approaching fast, and I wouldn't be fully recovered until sometime in September. If I were going to continue the seminar tour, I would have to make adjustments in the face of overcoming my burns.
I've had five knee operations, and some of those have been the worst things that could happen to your knees, including two on the patella tendon twice on the same knee for starters. I would rather have five patella tendon operations than one skin graft. That's how painful burns are, and the treatment afterwards is pure unadulterated hell.
After the operation on the very thinnest of my skin, that had 23 Home Depot staples (I remember each one of them being pulled out with pliers) attached to hold the new skin in place, which had come from my left thigh. Normally they stitch the new skin in, but because of where the burns were, they couldn't take the chance of it not taking, or they would have to do a totally new skin graft. Oh, and on the second try, there would be less of a chance of the grafts holding. It was either one or done in reality. If the graft couldn't take, I would be disfigured for life.
My recovery was one month in Lincoln before I could travel back to Houston and then a minimum of a one-month recovery back in Houston. On my last day before I left to go back to Houston, a Sunday afternoon, I wanted to go say, "Thank You," to my surgeon, who I knew was working on that Sunday at the hospital. I remember talking to him years ago like it was last night.
I thanked Dr. Chet Paul for all he did for me, and then I asked him what was one of the toughest things he'd ever seen dealing with burn treatment over the years? After all, while I was in St. Elizabeth having my operation, they brought in a guy from Omaha who doused gasoline on himself and lit himself on fire. He was in the bed next to me. He didn't look very good, with burns over 80% of his body. Sadly, he didn't make it.
As Dr. Paul began to talk, he kept me spellbound. He said the toughest thing he ever saw was when he was working as an intern in the Houston Medical Center 40 years ago, which at that time would be around the early 1960's. Dr. Paul said two guys came in to the hospital that night with almost identical burns over 70% of their body. The only way they could disinfect people with extensive burns such as these guys had was they would put them into vats of Clorox. They called it "liquid fire".
The two guys went into separate vats (bathtubs) of Clorox at the same time, and they came out about the same time. One guy looked at the other one while in the "liquid fire" and told him, "This isn't worth it. I'm checking out." The other guy looked and said, "This is worth it, and I'm going to make it." The one guy died and the other made it.
According to Dr. Paul, the one who made it went on to have a successful career in insurance sales and had two children born after the burns. Dr. Paul also said, the only thing that keeps you alive if you have burns over 50% of your body is your attitude.
In October of 2009, I was told by our General Manager at castanet.net in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, Chris Kearney, that one of our sales reps had cancer. Christine De Alba was 27 years-old at the time and has two beautiful young children. She had advanced cancer - this wasn't run a couple tests on it and take some medicine - this was operations followed up with chemo treatments.
In other words, this was the "full-on" treatment, as the chances of her not making it through were as equal to that of making it through. How could this happen to a beautiful 27 year-old mother of two? Would Christine make it through let alone make it back to work? Would she ever work again? Would she survive?
There have been many times in the past years I've wanted to award a "Comeback Sales Rep of the Year" award. I've had many reps that have come upon hard times and come back from one reason or another to have a great career. I've known not many who have faced death and came back to have a prosperous career in the job they left. Christine was out for a full year, going through various surgeries and treatments and came back to work in October of 2010. It took her 90 days to get back up to full speed and clear out the cobwebs and get her muscle memory back to being that of an up and coming sales rep, as she was when she left. (Christine had been on our staff for about a year when she was diagnosed with cancer.) I'm happy to report she is doing great since coming back last October and according to my figures, her month of February is the second best month she's ever had-second only to October of 2009, which is the last month she was at Castanet before she went on leave.
Christine is our first recipient of our LPG "Liquid Fire" award, named after the unnamed person who came out of the vat of Clorox 50 years ago and went on to be a successful sales rep after having been burned on over 70% of his body. Christine deserves the Liquid Fire mantra and I'm proud to work with someone who overcame facing death and came back strong to her sales job. The next time you think of giving up or shutting down for the day, think of Christine De Alba. Chances are you will never have to go through what she went through in order to just go back to work and be productive again.
And then there was one: after recovering from my burn treatments, I had postponed my tour, which I was now going to do by myself. My sponsors were fully on-board also after some serious persuasion. Orlando was now scheduled for January 2000 instead of October 1999. I had an Internet speaker with me - this was 2000 remember, and we were training Internet in 2000 at LPG-and our goal was to have 100 people in attendance at each of the 18 cities.
The first event was going to be the toughest one as we weren't getting much pre-booking out of Orlando, though the show had to go on. One person came to Orlando (we thought we were going to get "walk up traffic") in a meeting room set up for 100 and catered for 100 at a five-star hotel.
Worse, she was there on discount (tickets were $199.00 - more than an Elton John concert on average), a student from the University of Florida at Gainesville. We gave that all-day seminar to one person. (It was our shake-out seminar, after all.) After that, we went to Birmingham where we had four people, then to Charlotte where we had 12 people, to Memphis where we had 66 people, and the rest is history.
We were sold out except for one city the rest of the tour. That city was Pittsburgh. It all started out when there was one - one person who attended. It was the best seminar that person ever attended, I promise you.
Today, you're probably not going to be faced with life or death decisions such as cancer like Christine was faced with, or skin grafts treatments. The one (cancer) can't really be compared to the other (burns), though the one thing I can say is that whatever you do today, do it with a great attitude because in most cases, that's the only thing that will keep you alive when things look dire and bleak. It's how you keep your sales up when prospects blow you off the phone or turn down your sales presentation.
It's great knowing somebody that we coach at Luce Performance Group who has such a strong will to survive. You truly deserve to be the first recipient of our LPG "Liquid Fire" award!