59. 6 Lessons I Learned from My Business Partner Who Committed Suicide
Happy Easter! This is Entrepreneurs of Faith, a Sunday episode of Monetization Nation. I’m Nathan Gwilliam, your host. Today, I will be sharing 6 lessons I learned from an amazing business partner who committed suicide.
One Sunday morning a few years ago, I was getting ready to go to church when I received a call from one of my business partners. I was in Idaho and he was in Arizona. My partner told me he was going to church to support his child who had been baptized the day before, and then he was going to kill himself. After assessing the situation and realizing he was going to go through with his plan, I told him I would be on the first flight to Arizona and asked him to not leave the chapel. I called two family members in Arizona who knew my business partner, gave them the address of the chapel, and asked them to go there immediately to stay with my business partner until I arrived. They both agreed. I packed a suitcase quickly and raced to the airport. I was able to get a seat on the next flight, rented a car at the airport, and drove to his chapel. I met my business partner at the chapel and spoke with him together with one of his church leaders.
For the next five days, I stayed with my business partner as much as possible and tried to help, along with other caring friends. Another friend of his had driven in from California to help, and all of us stayed together in the house of yet another friend. My partner was surrounded by people who loved him and were trying to help. My partner was facing some problems he felt were impossible to solve. We tried to help him see the numerous options and solutions he had. We tried to help him see the people who loved him and needed him. I tried to get him to fly with me back to Idaho to get some new scenery, get his mind off what was consuming him, and chart a different path than the one he was on. We enlisted the help of a high-profile mutual friend, who offered to help him restart his career on a new path. We tried to help him realize the sun was going to come out tomorrow and that world would look brighter, but he did not have hope in that. One night I slept on a couch, and even though he had a bed in another room, my business partner slept on the floor right by me because he didn’t want to be alone.
His group of friends was so concerned that we had him involuntarily admitted to a hospital for professional help. However, he was very smart. He had a Harvard MBA and was an extremely successful businessman. He knew all the right things to say to the doctors, and they discharged him soon thereafter. We prayed for him and with him. He received priesthood blessings. We assured him of God’s love for him, and all of the other people who loved him. I did everything I knew how to do and tried to get him help from people much more qualified than me. After five days, I had to leave to go home because of family responsibilities. So, I left my business partner with a mutual friend, and I returned to Idaho. About 5 days later, I received a call from a mutual friend that my business partner had taken his own life. This death was a tragic loss for me, for his family, and for the world. My business partner was a great man, who had done a lot of good for a lot of people, including my family and me.
I returned to Arizona for the funeral. My business partner had been a high-profile figure who had done a lot of great things. So, there were a lot of notable people at the funeral, such as Arizona’s Governor, a United States Senator, and national leaders from our church. This episode will be published on Easter, the day we remember the Savior’s death, and the blessing of His resurrection, which gives us the assurance we will live again after this life. It’s a day we celebrate that He saved us from sin and from death. This Easter, in addition to remembering and celebrating Christ, I am also reminded of my partner’s death, and the blessing he was in my life. In this episode, I’m going to share some of the most impactful lessons I learned from my business partner:
Be there for people during their hard times
When I was in one of the darkest times of my business career, and I needed a large investment quickly, my business partner was there for me. He believed in me. He stepped up and made the investment on very fair terms. And, he was a great business partner thereafter. I learned from my partner the power of being there for people during their hard times, and how it can build fierce loyalty. It made me want to be there for my partner and do everything I could for him and his family.
There was a time my partners and I were trying to figure out the best way to handle a difficult situation. We weren’t considering doing anything illegal or even unethical, and it was a decision probably nobody would ever know about. However, this business partner advised we should follow a higher standard. He proposed a “front page rule”, which meant we should only make decisions we would feel comfortable being on the front page of the newspaper. Thereafter, our standard for decision making wasn’t just if something was legal or ethical, but also, if we would feel comfortable with the decision being published on the front page of the newspaper, and the world knowing about it. This front-page rule made it very easy for us to make ethical decisions.
My partner taught me that it’s not just about putting together a good deal. The character of the people we do business with is even more important. If we put together a good deal with unethical, untrustworthy, or bad people there is a high likelihood they will not treat us honestly and ethically in that deal regardless of what the agreement says. On the other hand, if we put together a deal with lesser terms but with honest, ethical, good people, they will often treat us right because that is who they are, regardless of what the contract says. That lesser deal made with good people will end up being the better of the two deals.
Don’t drive a tank over a footbridge
I used to live by a beautiful river in Utah, and right by my house, there was a sturdy footbridge across the river. This bridge was strong and stable for pedestrians to walk across, but it was not intended for motorized vehicles. Forty people could have walked across the bridge at the same time, and it would have held up fine. However, if someone would have tried to drive a tank across the bridge it would have collapsed. It was not designed and reinforced for that kind of weight. Sometimes in our lives, we have too much stress and pressure that hits us simultaneously. We are probably able to handle life just fine normally, but sometimes we have more weight on our mental “bridges” than we were designed to carry, and we collapse emotionally. That’s the best analogy I can think of for what happened to my business partner. He was smart, a creator, and a very capable problem solver. But, at the time he took his life, he had way too much weight on his mental bridge. He had viable solutions he could have taken to solve the problems he felt were impossible. But, because of his overloaded bridge, he could not see them. He was certain that his situation was impossible. Different people have different weight limits on their mental bridges. We need to watch carefully when the pressure on our bridges or the bridges of people around us becomes too much. That’s when we know we have driven a tank onto a footbridge. When that happens, we need to immediately stop and remove weight from our footbridge or the footbridge of others and get back to a “healthy” level. We need to never allow too much weight to be on our mental bridges. When that happens, we don’t see and interact with the world in healthy ways.
Sometimes people say that everyone who commits suicide is going to hell. I know that is not true. It is not our place to judge that person. That is not our judgment to make and we need to trust a kind, merciful, and loving God. Instead, it is our place to love. If someone broke their arm we wouldn’t tell that person to “tough it out”, or judge them because their arm was hurting and they weren’t able to do strenuous work. Rather, we would try to give that person with a broken arm the medical care, support, love, and space to heal they need. The same is true for mental illnesses. They are just as real as a broken arm. And we, likewise, need to give people struggling with mental illnesses the same medical care, support, love, and space they need to heal, whenever possible.
A lot of times people think suicide is caused by depression. I’m not a doctor or an expert on suicide. I believe there is some correlation between suicide and depression, but I don’t think it is as strong of a correlation as people think. However, I think there is a very strong correlation between connection or disconnection and suicide. It is my belief that many people who commit suicide are feeling disconnected from their support network. I believe that besides professional help, one of the best things we can do for people who are considering suicide is to help them re-establish strong and healthy connections in their lives. In addition to building these connections with people they love, these connections can also be with causes and service opportunities. One of the best ways for us to find connection, meaning, and happiness in our lives is to get out of ourselves to love and serve other people.
“When we recognize that someone is having [suicidal] thoughts and we reach out, we are instantly planting a seed of hope that they’re not invisible, that they’re not alone.” (Misty Vaughan Allen, Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention Coordinator)
Thank you so much Jeremy for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
- Be there for others during their hard times. This can build much more loyalty than helping when times are good.
- Use the front page rule for ethics, and don’t do anything we would not want on the front page of the newspaper.
- You can’t do good business with bad people. Choose honest, ethical, good people as your business associates.
- Don’t drive a tank over our footbridge. When the pressure on our bridges feels too great we need to immediately reduce that pressure.
- When people are having mental health issues, don’t judge, just love.
- If someone has committed suicide don’t assume they are going to hell. We don’t know that. God is far more loving, merciful, and forgiving than we can imagine. And, by saying that, we can cause a lot of needless hurts.
- When people are dealing with suicidal thoughts, in addition to helping them get professional help, I believe we should try to help them create more positive and healthy connections.
Do you struggle with suicidal thoughts?
Do you struggle with suicidal thoughts? If you do, please know that you matter and are loved. Please have hope that there are solutions to problems that seem impossible right now. There are people who love you. There is much good you can uniquely do in the world. The world is not as dark as it seems right now. Have hope that the sun will rise and your world will look brighter. If you are dealing with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to people around you and get professional help. Asking for help shows strength, not weakness. Please try to get reconnected with positive influences in your life. Please try to love and serve other people. As you help improve the lives of others, I promise that your life will improve. And remember that God loves you always!