Three years into selling ads for what became the Kane County Chronicle after the company was sold to Shaw Newspapers out of Dixon, Illinois, our newspaper announced its plans to build a new corporate headquarters on Randall Road on the west side of Geneva. At the time, the building was a pioneer structure along the four-lane corridor between Aurora and Crystal Lake, Illinois, where a sister newspaper called the Northwest Herald was located.
Photo below: the former Kane County Chronicle building is now an eye clinic
There was little traffic and few buildings along Randall Road in 1989. Farm fields alternating corn and beans dominated from Main Street in Batavia all the way up through Elgin, Illinois, and beyond. As the footings for our new building were set into place, I took a run parallel to Randall during the winter months to cement what it looked like before development took over. Trotting across the spring fields in a set of adidas running shoes, I covered several miles on rolling ground.
That turf is now covered with miles of retail operations. All the big box stores are there, including Best Buy and Target, Kohl’s, and Home Depot. Now there are Starbucks too, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King and Panera. The agriculture and little wetlands that formed in spring are all gone. The wetland I once used to explore to find black terns and Virginia rails was channelized. The view from the high point along Randall over the railroad tracks is now a sea of lights. Progress won, as this recent Google image from Best Buy’s website illustrates. The Chronicle building is that far top and right side of this image.
As the brick walls rose in the new Chronicle building, an idea percolated in my head. I snuck into the raw structure and walked the stairs to the second floor to gaze south over the still-open fields. Though I’d been successful in sales despite my persistent grapples with anxiety and ADHD, my goal was to start marketing the paper. My second child Emily was due to be born in April of 1990, and I wanted to start climbing the corporate ladder.
With that in mind, I submitted a proposal to become the Promotions and Creative Services Manager for the newspaper. The idea was received well, and as we moved into the new building that became my title. There was just one problem. Along with those changes, my former boss in ad sales would be my direct report.
I liked the guy well enough, and we’d been through some things together over the previous three years. During one of the annual advertising reviews with the Venture retail chain, he panicked a bit upon hearing there was a new review process. Our paper claimed a circulation of 20,000 at the time, but most of us knew that was an exaggeration. At a rate of $34 per thousand inserts, our weekly revenue was $680 for $35,360 per year. That was a decent account at our local newspaper, and my boss had originally met with Venture to plan the deal, so it was his call to handle it. “You let me do the talking,” he instructed me on the way there.
Things were clearly going to be different once we entered their offices and sat down with their representatives. “It says here you claim 20,000 circulation…” the discussion began, and that’s when my boss jumped right in and said, “We’ve done a recent audit and found that we’re at 17,000,” he confessed. And that was that. We walked out of there with about $100 less revenue per week, but he was happy. “I’ll get you another account to make up for that. Let’s not say anything about this. It’s good we kept the business.”
Perhaps it was negotiations of that nature that got my boss demoted from sales manager to some sort of nebulous middle manager when we moved to the new building. But having to report to him did not make me happy. He came to me the first week and said, “If you put all your work through me, I’ll take care of you.”
Now, I’d worked hard to earn my promotion and did not want to submit to his direction or have him take credit for my ideas or my work. He walked away from my desk and I could barely contain the rage I felt at his attempted manipulation. I kept my head down the rest of the day, but the rage I felt did not subside. Already I’d faced a dismissive take on my new position from the new Advertising Manager, a guy named Sam that told me, “Every dollar you make in salary takes away from your total marketing budget.”
Was that backward thinking? You’re damn right it was. I felt betrayed by the promise to let me take on the promotional goals of the company only to be yanked back and told to play by a weird set of rules that seemed anchored in small thinking.
That night, I drove home from work and arrived at our little house in Geneva still feeling angry at the treatment that day. I told my wife Linda, “I need to go out for a run.” She immediately understood. So I changed clothes and headed out the door.
There have been times in my life when emotions run so deep and my head is so laced with thoughts that it becomes impossible even to run. This was one of those nights. I’d also taken out my contact lenses that evening to rest my eyes, so I wasn’t all that much in the mood to run. I trotted a bit and then walked sullenly over to the Geneva High School track where I’d done my speed training for many years. Along the way, I angrily fantasized about putting my fist right through the face of a couple people at the Chronicle. I was seriously angry at the day’s events, and fighting mad.
Arriving at the track, I walked half a lap and lay down in the pole vault pit. The sky was getting dark with a low ceiling of scudding nimbus clouds sliding overhead. I took off my glasses and the lack of clear vision made the clouds feel even closer as if I could reach up and touch them. At that moment, a voice came into my head that said, loud and clear, “Forgiveness.”
I sat up and looked around because I thought someone had snuck up on me. No one was around. I sat there stock still with my glasses off for a minute or two, wondering how and why that word came into my head. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. “Forgiveness,” I said out loud. And while walking back home, I repeated it. It took several more repetitions for the commitment to fully sink in. “Forgiveness,” I said one more time while walking the sidewalk back home.
I headed inside our house to meet my wife, and gave her a hug. My son wrapped his arms around my legs with a cheer, “Daddeee!” I touched my wife’s pregnant belly, and felt at peace.
The next day at work I forgave everyone with whom I’d been angry the day before. I forgave my new boss for his proposal to funnel all my work through him, and let that happen. I forgave the new Ad Sales Manager for his transactional interpretation of my role at the paper. “He has to think in terms of numbers,” I said to myself. “That’s his job.”
And strangely, but this is true, a few weeks later my new/old boss was released from the company. I felt bad for him at the time, but he immediately landed a role at a competing newspaper, where he worked for another twenty years. The new Ad Manager lasted a few years but moved on as well.
And that’s how I learned the native power of forgiveness. The lesson in that experience was learning not to make things worse by reacting badly to seemingly negative circumstances. And paying attention to those voices in your head, wherever they come from.