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Compassion not Control

Compassion, Not Control

Any one who knows me (or reads this blog) knows my first business was called Hopper Business Solutions. Although Hopper was much more controlled, it had less focus. My journey with Database Sherpa has been a little different from Hopper. But, I wouldn’t be where I am with Database Sherpa if it had not been for Hopper, so I am grateful for past experiences.

But, I’m not going to write about the past. Instead, I want to talk about something that’s different this time around; both in the way I operate the business and how I function as a business owner. It’s this: it takes a family to grow and build a business.

Although the initial idea was born in my head, it was not without a lot of input from my Sherpa partner, Veronica Beck. And while neither of us can exactly remember what she said or did, it made a huge impression – enough of an impression to drive me to create a mission, a vision and values that are quite different from most businesses. And the difference is this: instead of putting compassion off to the side, we’ve made it the heart of Database Sherpa. It is one of our core values!

Veronica created this beautiful diagram to show the importance of compassion to our business:

Sherpa Precepts and Values

Equally important are clients. They give me an opportunity to experiment with new ideas and methods. They give feedback freely and encourage this work. For example, while learning about a new product for importing data called Apsona. I suggested to the client that we try it out during our importing trek. The client was amendable so, we learned Apsona together. Consequently, my other clients will benefit from my co-learning experience. Clients who are willing to experiment and learn with me are the main reason Database Sherpa continues and thrives. They allow us to keep moving forward.

Now others are embracing our “compassion-centric” model. Freya Bradford, the newest Database Sherpa team member is a client-turned-Sherpa who is helping define the business logic model and outcomes to measure (yes, we want to measure our work), as well as encouraging the work to go farther and broader. She would love to see this model and process scale broadly because her vision is big and so is her heart.

And another addition, Mary Davis, is also encouraged by this work and has gotten herself involved. Mary is tightening up our documentation and organizing it to make it accessible to other consulting companies wishing to transform their business into a more Sherpa-like practice.

In comparison, during my Hopper years I was a total control freak. I didn’t trust others to do the work. Now, I honor the gifts, time and love that each person brings. Instead of dictating rank and position, I let each of them define their role and allow the definition to be written by them. I love it! It’s so free form and wonderful. It’s like a true family.

I know that part of this transformation is because of my age, but it’s also because of the teachings of Hopper. I learned how tiring being controlling could be. I learned that it’s much better and wiser to let things be and to let go of the feeling of having to “own it all”. That each of us owns a piece of this wonderful model and process. That through this hard work together, we create a family and community of like minded individuals who desire to see things done in a new and different way.

I am so grateful to everyone who continues to support, nurture and love Database Sherpa. I know that without all the support, things would still move forward, but I must say, it would not be nearly as fun!

Getting It

Getting It

Years ago, I owned a business called Hopper Business Solutions. I named it in honor of a spitfire math wiz, Naval Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. (Thanks to Admiral Hopper, we have the phrase “buggy software” and the COBAL programming language.)

Hopper was my inspiration while a Computer Science major at Michigan State University. I was one of only a handful of women in the program, and I found it helpful to have a model to look up to. I wish she could have been more than inspiration. I wish she could have been my mentor. Fortunately, I found Geri Larkin.

I met Geri in my early years as a business owner. We met when she taught a business marketing class. I don’t recall the title of the class, but I do remember Geri was dressed in a sharp suit, had great credentials, and made a profound impression on me. We took an immediate liking to each other – she taught me the ins and outs of running my own business, and I extolled the future of this wacky thing called the Internet. I still have the book she wrote back then: “Woman to Woman: Street Smarts for Women Entrepreneurs,” it was very helpful then and still is today.

Over the years, Geri and I kept in touch. I would visit her in Ann Arbor, and she and I would have coffee or lunch when she came to Grand Rapids. She sent me copies of her latest books, and tried to help me get published, (which failed, but hey, we tried). I was so impressed with Geri, that I was blogging about her and one of her books, “Bad Hair Days” before blogs were fashionable.

Geri never set out to mentor me; it just came about. Through her actions, delivery and thoughts she touched me in very profound ways. Through her activities and connection with me throughout those years, she modeled and showed me what living an authentic life is all about. She has taught me about mindfulness and compassion without asking me to attend a single class.

Then, as often happens, we lost touch, until I discovered that Geri had given up her business as a high-powered management consultant to enter a Buddhist seminary where she was ordained, and then had started a temple in Detroit, Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple. Talk about a career change! Needless to say, I decided to attend a retreat at the temple. We greeted each other with a wordless hug, and the years fell away as the feeling of connection immediately resumed. It was amazing to see this once larger than life management consultant silently leading us through meditation. It was poignant and lovely.

Afterwards, she showed me the temple, her simple room, her beautiful artwork, and the neighborhood that surrounds it all. We laughed, talked, and shared memories; then, all too soon, it was time for me to leave. As I got into my car, she said to me, “You know what to do, and will do the right things.” Her confidence in me (something I was sorely lacking at the time) revealed her – and myself – in a new light: We were simply women trying to make sense of our lives. And during all those years when I placed her on a pedestal, the truth was this: She and I were more alike than I ever realized, but by believing more in her than in myself, I had prevented me from seeing my full potential.

This got me reminiscing about the time when Geri hired me to help her understand the potential of the Internet that was bursting into business scene. I remember thinking, “Why is she working with me, she could hire the best? Why me? Why is she listening to my ideas and taking them to heart?” But now I get it. Geri saw something in me that I hadn’t yet seen in myself. And by placing her confidence in me, she allowed my confidence to grow.

Now that we have reconnected, I get cards and letters from her. Even though I don’t see her as often as I would like, I count her as once of my closest friends. When Zola was born, Geri sent her a book, “Drink Juice, Stay Loose,” an adorable book for kids. Another time she sent me her book, “Building a Business the Buddhist Way.” Inside the cover she wrote, “Dear Ashima, because you’ll get this! Love, Geri Larkin.”

Thank you Geri, for “getting me” long before I did.