This month our spotlight falls on Richard Small, a newbie writer from a suburb of Portland, Oregon. He comes out of the world of business. We asked him to tell us about himself and his first try was about the things he accomplished (or failed to accomplish) in business.

L-R Ben, Laura, Jon, Matt, Richard, and Daniel. Richard’s wife, Dee, is in front.

I’ve gone through a few distinct ‘phases’ in my life. As a youth, I just kind of, well… was. I went with the crowd, didn’t stand out, wasn’t popular but wasn’t a rebel. Everything I did was because it pleased me. I studied only enough to get by. I helped others when doing it somehow benefitted me. I was kind to most people, but I probably did it because I wanted to be liked, not because it was the right way to behave. I was immature and shallow and pretty much just a normal male youth. In 1962 I graduated from high school and if you look in the yearbook of that year, you’ll find my name. But if I attend a class reunion almost nobody remembers me. Frankly, it makes me sad that I put so little effort into that part of my life.

“…I excelled at being the most profane person I knew.”

I flunked out of college. It only took me two years. That made my draft status 1-A, and threatened with being drafted into the US Army to fight in Vietnam, I enlisted in the US Coast Guard. Almost immediately I found profanity. For the next two years I excelled at being the most profane person I knew. I learned dirty jokes and told them easily and often. I look back, embarrassed at the person I had become. I guess I thought it made me popular, but when I was rejected for a desired assignment, the officer interviewing me said, “You’ve been rejected because your profanity is so offensive.” My life changed when the impact of that statement finally reached the core of my male mind.

I resolved to change, and over the next years I did. I stopped swearing. The change was so profound almost everybody who knew me asked me what happened. Then I read about living a different type of life… one that was reflective of Christian values. I made plenty of mistakes, but I began to see that I had the power to do good things. I found the value of positive affirmations, of learning people’s names and calling them by it, of cleaning up the words that came from my mouth, of caring for other people because it was the right thing to do.

“…it was the right thing to do.”

I got married, left the military and adopted my one-year old second cousin. I started to apply myself and appealed my college termination. In 1975 I graduated with a BS in Business Administration-Management. The college asked me to teach as a visiting lecturer and I spent three years doing it on a part-time basis. I hungered to chart my own way so I quit working at the railroad where I had been for ten years and struck out on my own. My life changed in many ways, but let me close with a snapshot of a part of our family life that reflects the person I had become.

My wife and I had three more sons (total of four boys) and by the early 1990s we had a thriving label company. My mother retired from being a waitress and became a daily part of our family. She lived in her own house down the street, but assumed cooking and cleaning duties at our home, which freed us up to grow the company (my wife was president and I ran sales and marketing). One day the twins, who were in middle school, brought home a friend after school. During dinner my mother asked about his life. Over the next ten minutes or so we heard the story of a dysfunctional family that made my heart ache. When we drove him home later, he thanked us several times for such a fun evening so we started paying attention to our children’s friends and found several were in similar circumstances.

We had a family meeting and decided that dinner would be at six o’clock daily and anybody who was in the house at the time would be expected to eat with us. The boys were told to invite their friends if they liked. Everybody at the table would have time to share whatever was on their mind. We called it ‘breathing common air’. Nobody was excused from dinner unless there was a darn good reason.

After saying grace, if there were any newbies I would tell them we were going to go around the table and they were encouraged to share something when it was their turn. Our one rule was that everybody was to focus on the person speaking and not talk to others during this time. (Most of the kids already knew the rule because that was why they came over).

Sometimes we heard about DNA or a physics project to encase an egg so it wouldn’t break if dropped from three feet. Sometimes we heard about movies or television programs or trips. We certainly heard about good times and bad. And sometimes we heard about dysfunctional families. We never offered advice or sympathy, we just listened and asked questions and let them have time at our table.

“We certainly heard about good times and bad.”

It took us a while to get the flow, but we finally found our stride. To this day our sons talk about how much they enjoyed knowing that for a short while every day the spotlight was on them and they were welcome to say whatever was on their mind. We remember times when we had five or six extra kids for dinner. Several months ago a friend of my wife from her work stopped by the house and mentioned her two children still talk about the time their family came to dinner at our house. By the way, mom is still around… now 98 and living in the same house down the road. She has a sharp mind and occasionally comments on how much she enjoyed those years of breathing common air.

I learned that people respond to positive reinforcement and recognition. It plays an important role in our lives and sometimes a little encouragement is the difference between giving up and breaking through to victory.

We sold the label company in 2002. I started business consulting from my house. My wife went to work in a local seminary and retired last August. I decided to retire also to spend more time with her (consulting was a lonely business).

Our lives have changed. The boys are gone. They all live close, but have busy lives of their own. They make good choices. What a blessing. We have five grandchildren and get to babysit weekly. What a privilege.

And now I want to write. Wish I’d done it years ago, but being an entrepreneur consumed my every waking moment. I took some writing classes from the local community college and online and have mapped out a book series I call VERITAS, which means truth. I self-published the first one called VERITAS – The Gift in June. I am hungry to write better and to learn more about my craft. In my quest for finding some type of support group to encourage me, I found Susan Anderson and Working Writer, Happy Writer. I think she is just what the doctor ordered and I would encourage every writer (newbie or seasoned professional) to plug into her group and become part of a supportive family of fellow writers. Perhaps we can become associates and friends as well.

Many blessings.

Would you like to be a spotlight “Happy Writer of the Month” too?

Here’s what you do:

  • Write your story. Why are you passionate about writing? What do you want your writing business to look like? What’s your background? What are your dreams? Hobbies? Pets? Family? Do you like bacon? 🙂
  • Aim for 1000 words.
  • Include a picture of yourself – you can use a group picture if you’d like.
  • It’s got to be well written (of course!).
  • Email it to me at Subject line should be: I’m a Happy Writer, Too!

I’ll pick an entry each month, and publish your story as our spotlight of the month. If I choose your story, you’ll get free access to Freelance Writers Bootcamp, too.

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