People ask me where I come up with ideas to write about. Do they just pop into my head? Is there ever a shortage of them? Am I ever stuck for something to write about?
The answer is yes to all of the above.
And when I’m really stuck all I need to do is look around and start to talk to people right in front of my nose. Because nine times out of ten they have a story just waiting to be told. Sometimes I’m the lucky one who gets to tell it.
I met Janette Byrne last spring at a women’s conference in Las Vegas. She co-chaired the event and put together an unforgettable program of inspiring speakers, life coaches, business leaders, and entertainers.
Janette is strikingly beautiful. Poised. Confident. In control without controlling. And scared to death of speaking in front of a group of women. I never would have guessed it in a million years.
This young woman intrigued me. Her short bio indicated she’d been the owner of an avocado farm in California. If I was playing What’s My Line? and had to match people with their occupations, I wouldn’t have put Janette and an avocado farm together on a bet.
Naturally I was curious. So I asked if she’d tell me her story. Thankfully, she agreed.
If you want to know where an education, core values, a big heart, and sheer determination will get you, read on.
Growing Up Isn’t Always Easy
Janette’s childhood and family life were anything but normal. There was a lot of chaos and fighting between her parents fueled by alcohol and infidelity. Not a lot of nurturing going on for Janette and her older sister. Not too many bedtime stories or happily-ever-afters.
In Janette’s words, “I never played house or make believe as a kid. I don’t remember living out any kind of childhood fantasies. I guess even then I was a realist. I liked playing ‘business’ because it took me from chaos to calm. I didn’t want a doll for Christmas. I wanted a Monopoly game.”
Her parents divorced and when their mother remarried, Janette and her older sister had no choice but to follow along.
The family situation went from bad to worse. Their stepfather began molesting Janette’s older sister . . . and as all too often happens in the case of molestation . . . no one believed her when she reported what was happening. Soon after he turned his attention to fourteen-year-old Janette.
“I told my mother what was going on. That I did not want to be left alone with him. Her response? She told me it was all my imagination. She was more concerned about covering for that horrible man than she was about protecting her two daughters.”
“My stepfather became even more bold in his attempts, trying to break me down, threatening my life if I dared tell anyone else. I realized my mother wasn’t willing to protect me and that was the day I found the nearest pay phone and asked my dad to pick me up. He lived modestly but he made a spare bedroom into as girly of a room as his means would allow. I thought it was heaven.”
“Over the years I tried to have a relationship with my mom but it ended once I had kids. It was one of the easiest decisions I ever had to make. I value being authentic and I couldn’t pretend anymore that she was a good person, because she wasn’t.”
I’d spent only a brief time with Janette and yet hearing her statement flooded me with emotion. As a mom. As a daughter. As a woman. As a caring, nurturing person. Janette and I were doing our interview via Skype and all I wanted to do was reach across hundreds of miles and give her a hug and let her know how much I admired her courage. How sad I was for what she’d missed from her mother. How glad I was to know her now in this happy space of her life.
I wondered then if Janette had a role model or someone who encouraged her. Who would that be?
“Thinking about it I’d say there were two important people in my life. The first would have to be my dad. He always believed in me and supported my dreams. He never had the opportunity to go to college so he didn’t know how tough it was to gain admittance. He did all he could to make my life better and make sure I had what I needed, right down to my girly bedroom. He wasn’t a wealthy man but he gave me my core values. I’m the person I am today because of those values. That’s priceless.”
And who was the second important person in your life?
“I had a grandmother who was shrewd, demanding, & cold. Anything but nurturing. She’s the reason I have my education.”
“My grandmother was self-made without so much as a high school diploma and yet she understood the value of education. It was her idea I attend boarding school when I was 15 years old which was a turning point in my life. I loved every bit of it. The order. The learning. The calm.”
“When I was admitted to Boston University, she provided for most of the cost of my education and kept me on a tight leash. There was one time I remember getting a phone call from her at one o’clock in the morning. My grades weren’t where she thought they should be and without so much as a hello or how are you, my grandmother said, ‘Get your shit together or you’re coming home’ and hung up.”
Yup, I thought. She was a cold one.
“My grandmother wasn’t big on positive reinforcement. I don’t ever remember her telling me I was awesome or amazing. But she never told me I couldn’t do something. Our dinner conversations were always about business. Hard work. Independence. That you have to work for things to get them. She constantly reminded me there are no free lunches out there.”
“My grandmother made sure I had a solid work ethic. It worked for her and she didn’t sugar-coat the necessity of it one bit. She knew it would work for me too. She was right. It’s what made me successful in the avocado business.”
How Far Can You Go?
So how did a nice girl like you end up with an avocado farm of all things? I asked.
It turns out Janette was in the commercial real estate business in the heyday of 2005. She successfully put big deals together. One after another. And then the bottom fell out of every deal except one — the avocado farm in California.
“I found out on Monday I would be owning an avocado farm on Wednesday. The irony of it! I can’t grow anything! The only thing I liked about avocados was eating them. But the farm was all I had. And the manager. The day we met he gave me a book about raising avocados. That was the extent of my education.”
“He agreed to stay on knowing full well I was going to be challenged even making payroll. But when I offered him an equity position in the company he flatly refused saying, ‘Are you kidding? This business is way too risky. No thanks. Pay me when you can.’”
So where does sheer determination get you? Where do you go when you’re out of options and your back is up against a wall? How far will an education, solid values, and a big heart take you?
Let me put it this way. Janette recently sold her farm and for someone who admits to having no green thumb, I’ll just tell you she was wildly successful in spite of it.
Everything Will Work Out
We’d been talking for a couple of hours and I was overwhelmed with this woman’s story. I was touched that she’d shared so honestly and openly with me. I wanted to give her the accolades and encouragement and “I’m proud of you” words I don’t think she heard enough in her young life. And I did.
Then Janette looked at me very intently and said, “Linda, the life I envisioned for myself is not the life I got. I’m the one who was never going to marry. No way was I having kids. I was going to rule the world. And then I met my husband. We became legal guardians of my nephew when my sister was unable to care for him. And we have two young boys of our own. I couldn’t be happier.”
So I asked Janette, for the benefit of someone else who might hear her story, would she share her most important Life Lesson. How did she manage to weather so many storms?
“Somewhere along the way I learned not to be ashamed. I learned to be no one but myself. To be honest. And kind.”
“Because everything else will eventually work itself out.”
I couldn’t have said it any better. So here it is again:
Never be ashamed.
And everything will eventually work itself out.
And whenever you enjoy an avocado, think of Janette.