Clarity of Purpose
Kevin Langley, CEO of Ellis Construction, is currently the President of EO New Orleans and an active member of the EO Accelerator Committee. Kevin, who served in the past as his chapter’s Membership Chair and YPO Liaison, was an integral part of the development of content for the Accelerator program.
When I re-entered New Orleans in a boat and stood on the roof of my flooded, hurricane-ravaged house,
I realized it was a tipping point in my life.
It was surreal to witness the disaster and tragedy from Hurricane Katrina in the city that I love. A television clip just doesn’t capture it. From my flooded house in Lakeview, near the 17th Street Canal breach, you could drive for two hours without ever leaving this flooded, lifeless zone— an urban devastation seven times the size of Manhattan. All of my neighbors and most of my employees lost their homes and everything in them. Several of our neighbors and friends, along with 1,836 other people, died from the hurricane force winds and flooding alone.
My new office flooded. Twice we moved our temporary office and worked on folding tables until we were able to rebuild. Six months after the storm, we moved back into our office. We had no phone lines or electricity for months, while 15 employees were forced to live in trailers in our parking lot.
Though the rebuilding of New Orleans is slow and painful, like so many other entrepreneurs, I refuse to be a victim. Somehow, what might have been a crippling blow to our morale and ability to function actually brought out the best. It showed us, without question, that our future success is ultimately a result of our mindset and attitude. Katrina didn’t cause the problems, it simply revealed them.
In an address to the nation, standing in Jackson Square two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, President Bush said, "It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity. It is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty. And we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region."
What do entrepreneurs do? Some have dreams and pursue them for personal success, but it doesn’t end there. Entrepreneurs create new jobs and innovations that fuel the world’s economy. We have the power not only to revive my region of the world but to revive economies and communities around the globe. Even before the floodwaters subsided, the members of EO New Orleans were picking up the pieces of their lives, the lives of their employees and their communities. They did not wait for the bureaucracy to begin rebuilding their lives. They adapted, innovated and moved quickly to begin the rebuilding.
My fellow EO New Orleans member Marshall Klein, who has since passed away, shared with us all a profound realization he had before his death. In the months before he died, he expressed that he had found clarity of purpose: He discovered that true fulfillment only comes with life balance and the selfless sharing of knowledge with other entrepreneurs as they strive to realize their dreams. He challenged that we all find our own purpose, with clarity, and pursue it wholeheartedly.
After Katrina, despite the suffering and difficulties around me, I found this clarity, along with many others in my chapter. We saw the power our dreams — though we had pursued them individually — had on a great number of people. We realized that every community, if it is filled with highly skilled entrepreneurs, can transform the economy of the region. We felt fully the vision of EO — to build the world’s most influential community of entrepreneurs — and the importance of that vision beyond the organization. We made it our goal to empower small businesses to overcome the grave challenges threatening their survival and prosper.
It might seem that we had little to give in the months following Katrina, but the truth is that we still had
what mattered: time and talent. Though money matters, it is knowledge that truly transforms lives. So we decided to share our hard-earned knowledge and expertise with entrepreneurs at every stage of development by participating in the EO Accelerator Program.
On Thursday, 2 November 2006, a little more than a year after the storm, our chapter held the largest event in our history to launch the EO Accelerator Program. It was truly a moving, rewarding and exciting experience to see so many members from our chapter step up, embrace the program and get involved. Even better, it was a home run with the participants.
I’m not going to go into details about the program, because it’s one of those things I’m so passionate about that I could fill a library. But I will tell you that it’s essentially about mentoring, in its simplest form, a connection between individuals, one entrepreneur learning from other entrepreneurs. Though it’s just getting started, I see myself in the participants. When they show up, eager to learn and know and grow, I can’t help but be moved, knowing that we, as people and as entrepreneurs, are really fighting for the same thing.
Sometimes, when we are in a comfort zone, we miss the big picture. This disaster forced me to focus on what’s most important: family, friends, giving back, a sense of community. And I realized that one of the greatest things about giving back to other entrepreneurs is that it really is a win/win situation. We may be giving our time and talent, asking for nothing in return, but chances are, like it or not, we are going to receive much more benefit in unexpected ways as a result of our charitable actions.
We all have an end. We can’t live forever. But when you find clarity of purpose, you can give it life and it will continue long after you are gone. The dream never has to end.