The Gray Cat Blog

A comprehensive collection of blogs designed to assist small business owners and multiunit operators.

The Winds of Change

Feb 06, 2023

The winds of change can happen suddenly.

One of the worst days of my life was learning that my mother had a stroke at the age of 58. I was 23 at the time and was hardly prepared for a shock to my family that early in life. Forty-eight hours later, she was pronounced dead. That was 35 years ago and sadly, the memories of her grow fainter with every passing year. What struck me the hardest is that for the previous eight years, my parents had planned to make a move from Michigan to Tennessee in order to start a new chapter of their lives. Sadly, eight years of planning never materialized when she died six weeks ahead of the move.

Ten years later, my father died of a heart attack. He was a heavy smoker and literally been in and out of the hospital dozens of times in the last 15 years of his life. It was not surprising that he died in 1995 given his smoking habit, but a shock nonetheless. His life was cut short by some of his life decisions which in turn, left me parentless at the age of 33.

What I learned about both of those events is that life is extremely short and not everything goes to plan. You think you have time – then BAM! – you don’t. At a young age, it forced me to make decisions that perhaps I would have waffled on or delayed “until the time was right”. When my mother died, it jumpstarted my decision to leave Michigan for Colorado. When my father died, it made me re-think about having kids. I was pretty set on never having kids and his passing made me think about my legacy – my son was born two years later. Major changes forced decisiveness.

Which leads me to our current state of affairs – the pandemic. There isn’t a single person on this planet that hasn’t had their life disrupted in some fashion by COVID-19. Be it job loss, physical health issues or god forbid, death of a loved one — all of us have been thrown an anvil instead of a life preserver. The winds of change have been more like a gale force blast rather than a subtle breeze. I liken it to a wheel that is spinning and all of us were putting our finger on the tire slowing it down in order to make changes in our life. What the pandemic has done is to throw a 2×4 through the spokes of the wheel forcing us to deal – here and now. No more hesitation. A need to make decisions – perhaps to survive.  While I do not wish the death of ones parents on anyone, what those two events did for me is to smack me right between the eyes with making decisions. Where I want to live; what I want to do; with whom I want to be with, etc. This is not a dress rehearsal – this is about embracing the new normal and making decisions. Those that are paralyzed by our current world – like a deer in the headlights – may take the full brunt of the ongoing crisis.  Items to consider are the following:

    • Health – With the pandemic raging and the potential for more in the future, have you taken every possible step to whip yourself into better shape?  Now is the time to say – enough is enough – I need to get into a fitness routine.  I need to minimize this and future risks.
    • Career – Dead end job; no job; bored at job – is this really what you want to do with your life?  The world has changed before your very eyes – go out there and do what you want to do. If now is not the time, then when?  Again, life is short.
    • Home – Is this really where you want to live?  The town?  The state?  The place?  Tired of the snow, the traffic, the taxes?  You can live anywhere in the world (it took my mother’s death for me to leave Michigan), so where would you go?
    • Finances – Have you started to save for retirement?  How about college?  When is the last time you put together a one-month budget?  Annual?  Do you really need the last gadget?
    • Relationships – Be it friendships, relationships or removing toxic connections – it’s time to align yourself with your “crew” moving forward.  Surround yourself with the people that are going to help you grow and prosper in life.

I lost my parents over a quarter century ago. What I learned back then and what still applies today is that your future is right in front of you. You can sit back and let life lead you or you can be your own 2×4 and take control of where and who you want to be. The new normal may require you to pivot, be decisive and make choices. I like to think of this as finding my “Inner Matthews”.  Don’t be afraid to step into the abyss and turn a challenging pandemic environment into a springboard of future opportunity.

John Matthews, President & CEO, Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc.

John Matthews is the Founder and President of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc. a Raleigh, NC-based management consulting company. Gray Cat specializes in strategic project management and consulting for multi-unit operations; interim executive management; and strategic planning. Mr. Matthews has over 30 years of senior-level executive experience in the retail industry, involving three dynamic multi-unit companies. Mr. Matthews experience includes President of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches; Vice President of Marketing, Merchandising, Corporate Communications, Facilities and Real Estate for Clark Retail Enterprises/White Hen Pantry; and National Marketing Director at Little Caesar's Pizza! Pizza!