If this story has an authentic starting point, then let’s start it on the quiet week of May 9, 2005.
There was nothing particularly extraordinary about that week. I was quite depressed at the time, uncertain about what to do with my professional life and fearful about what was to come if I could not figure it out. No solid job prospects seemed to exist. Indeed, while the occasional projects reared its head, writing reports for some and giving loose advice to others, I was not able to consistently monetize my skills in any appreciable way, and no potential employers had been courting me seriously. All too often, the final message from them was the same: you are overqualified for our current needs. I – of all people, Gary Harrell – was losing hope. It was a sad state of affairs to which I had no solution, and though I prayed endlessly I was beginning to question whether or not God was even listening to me.
Ever the consummate mother, Pearla sprang into action…well, in a way that only she could, with what I thought was the most useless advice ever. “I want you to attend this job-training course at Mount Olive in Gray [Louisiana],” she told me, speaking in a manner that was more instructive than simply suggestive. Immediately, I scoffed. These job-training programs offered by faith-based NFP groups were intended for individuals with limited training or minimal workplace experience, typically in menial jobs, and for that reason, I just knew that it was not for me.
“I cannot see how I can benefit from going to something like that program,” I replied.
“Sometimes, it’s not about you!” She was determined make me attend. “You don’t know what you are going to get out of it!”
“Yes, I do,” I said, “absolutely nothing.”
My mom was not about to lose this argument to me. She quickly shifted her strategy, and she told me, “Don’t go, then. People are trying to help your ass, and you have the audacity to think you are too good to listen to them. Don’t go!” Then she walked away.
I guess making your opponent feel guilty and walking away was one of those winning techniques that I had not yet mastered in my arguments. Without another word about it, I found myself sitting with three other people in the fellowship hall of Mount Olive Baptist Church on the following morning.
Now, to be sure, I was not incorrect about my assessment of the program. It was set up for low-wage earners, notably single mothers, who were either entering the workforce for the first time or the first time in a long time. The program included such subject matter as the importance of punctuality, providing quality customer service, and effective communication skills, and a few days were spent teaching participants how to draft a resume. Needless to say, having just made an unceremonious exit from C-level management, I was a little beyond what the program had to offer. Indeed, even the program’s staff, which consisted of three of the lovely women on the planet, initially questioned why I was there. And to that, I only said, flatly, “My mom insisted that I come.” What I did not add was just how angry I was at her for it.
Though I may not have had much to gain for the job-training workshop, I still tried to make the best of it. I remained very engaged and tried to help in any way that I could. Of course, the three staffers were very receptive to that. Regularly, they turned to me for insight when the workshop’s participants asked complex questions pertaining to compensation rules and other litigious matters. Then, later in Day Two of the workshop, I seemed to have stumbled onto a job in the fellowship hall: the debugging a brand-new network of computers. And before I knew it, I found myself enjoying just being there, helping out in any way that I could.
I came to believe that my mom was right. Sometimes, even when we feel like we have to think about ourselves, it’s not only about us.
Attending that training program seemed to work wonders for me emotionally, because I was really feeling good about things. I had even noted in my journal that life was good – one of the most positive statements that I had made in my personal writings for quite some time, apparently. While the other participants were gaining general-work skills and preparing to be placed, I was getting a certain piece of mind about my situation, as I came to understand an important lesson in patience and generosity, even in the face of adversity. Indeed, by the following Friday afternoon, that lesson found its culmination in a few short words.
I never really thought about it, but I had been an ardent note-taker since high school. That was because it was – and it remains – the one only way that I can remember anything. Well, in church, even that rule applied, and on the night of Friday, May 13, 2005, I was armed with my bible, my journal, and undoubtedly a Pilot V5 pen. (The only kind I use to write.) While awaiting the start of the church service, I scribbled a few words into the upper-right margin of a page in that journal:
A mighty oak tree begins with a small seed, an avalanche with a seemingly insignificant snowflake, an inferno with the momentarily flash of a single spark – and the roar of an idea with a whisper from Him.
At the time, I had no idea how true those words were. I could not fathom how important they would be to me years later. Indeed, it was through a whisper in that one week that my life changed, slowly but certainly, forever.
Only in hindsight can I retrace the progression of events, and they begin with that memorable (and well-documented) spat with my mother. The whisper went to her – not to me. She probably knew then that the job-training program was unlikely to be a good fit for me, but something told her to insist that I go. And that she did. My presence in the lives of the people in that program was brief, but it was meaningful. Often, the ladies of the program asked me to return and help them out, and unbeknownst to me, for long time afterward, they, particularly Mrs. Audra Howard, were continuing to disseminate my resume to almost every company that they touched. That effort resulted in something stunning in July of 2005, less than two months after I sat down in the fellowship hall of Mount Olive.
After coming home from a long walk at a nearby track, one Thursday evening, I got a telephone call from a gentleman named Timothy. I did not know him, and I had never heard of his company. Nevertheless, he explained that he had a copy of my resume in his hands, and that he had been in contact with many of my references and previous employers. Now he wanted to talk to me. “I cannot hire you, because I don’t have a position for somebody like you,” he explained, “but I understand that you know how to structure businesses. And I need some serious advice building this organization.” Though a bit confused about how this call even came to be, I agreed to meet Timothy at his office the next day, and following that meeting, I also met with his partner, a cool but calculating lawyer who also wanted advice on the financials of separate enterprise. Suddenly, within a few days, everything was changing.
By the time the autumn came, I was sitting comfortably in these engagements, and more of this consulting work began to queue. I was quite nervous, clearly wondering, “How do I handle all of this work? Will it last? Do I need Errors & Omissions insurance coverage?” The questions led me to one conclusion: I needed to put aside my fears and my self-doubt, step out in faith, and start a more formal business. And so, with that, I made up my mind to do so.
On a different Friday evening, at the end of October of 2005, I was again sitting in church and scribbling in my journal with a Pilot pen. This time, though, I was penning the possible name for a business. Hyperion Consulting Group. Sigma Consultants. Momentum Consulting. The Aurellius Group. Tribute Consulting Group. After writing those, then staring at each and repeating them for a moment, I ultimately decided that the firm was going to be called Axiom Strategy Advisors. There was not another thought about it. On the following Monday, I commenced with the paperwork, and on November 10, 2005 – five years ago – the idea that roared through my life (and so many others since that time), but began with a whisper, became real.
God, I thank you so much for what you have done, for the moments that You have whispered into my life, because I know that it from Your Grace that I have been blessed.