There was one empty seat.
I sat down confidently while the girls twittered about homework, parties, and a sweater that would soon be on sale. They stopped and stared at me in disbelief.
“Hi,” I said to the girl next to me.
“That seat’s taken,” she answered, waving her fork in the air.
I looked at my chair on the left side, then to the right. “Yep, seems you’re right.”
Another joined in. “It’s just we don’t like to be crowded, that’s all. It’s nothing personal.”
The girls giggled under their breath.
I felt as if all my senses had gotten sharper since I had nothing to lose.
“Oh, I understand,” I bubbled. “I’ll just take this seat for a few days.” I pointed to the table of hot jocks that lobbed pieces of food at one another.
“That table over there already offered me a spot if I can’t find a seat at a girl table.”
The girls drew back suddenly. They dared not drive me away now – not if my only other option was the table of potential Homecoming Kings.
When the bell rang, I picked up my tray. “See you tomorrow,” I said. Then I walked away with my shoulders back, ignoring the fragments of stinging conversations happening all around me.
The next day lunch was about the same. As it was the next Monday and Tuesday.
But on Wednesday, things changed. Someone complimented my oversized blazer, which led to a conversation about my style icon – Denise Huxtable.
On Thursday, they didn’t flinch when I told them 2001: A Space Odyssey was my favorite movie.
On Friday, they invited me to Chili’s after the baseball game.
And the rest is history.
Twenty++ years later and in a pandemic, I still talk to those girls. Drinks are poured on FaceTime Happy Hour, stories are told, photos are shared, we laugh in ways our 45-year-old bladders are no longer equipped to handle.
We shake our heads in disbelief when we remember how hard we thought life was back then – when our moms still made us dinner, and we had part-time jobs at the GAP.
But it’s not about how often we get together or how often we text. It’s about loving each other and supporting each other during the ups and downs – no matter what. I’m grateful for that.
And boy am I glad they didn’t call my bluff.
Because the table of potential Homecoming Kings? Well, they didn’t actually invite me to sit with them either.
I hope you can take a few things from this story. There will be times in your business – maybe now – when you begin the slow and terrifying search for a place to sit. As you hear the cruel word “taken” again and again, you’ll continue to hustle, wondering if there will ever be a place for you.
Trust me: There will be! You may have to try and try and try again, but before you know it, you’ll find your place.
Take ownership of your goals. Maybe it’s stepping up in times like these. Maybe it’s saying “No,” to a deal because it’s not best long term. Perhaps it’s saying, “Yes,” even though that means you’ll have to pivot your business in a way that you’ve never done.
I don’t know what it is, but I do know that if you don’t keep going, you’ll never know how to fail with grace or appreciate great achievement.
Most important, remember that everyone needs a safe place to sit.
Everyone needs a place where they’re welcomed and invited – especially if they’re struggling to keep their balance. If you see a co-worker, another small business, a customer looking for a seat, make it your CREED to lean-in and say, “You can sit here if you want.”
Finally, don’t believe them when people say, “All the good seats are taken.”
Because the best seats are just a little harder to find.