Rivers of Thought

Life, Leadership, Business & Technology

From “Down an Indian Trail in 1849” by Mary K. Rowlands

Last month, as you may recall, I invited you along on a journey: a journey of discovery into some of my family history. I’ve learned a lot in one month..but have a lot more to learn. I’ve exchanged LinkedIn messages with LeRone Branch, the Eagle Scout turned Tax Accountant, who helped develop the memorial to my great-great-grandparents Jan and Aagje (Vander Sijde) Ton. I’ve emailed several times with Paul Ton of Michigan, descended from Jan’s brother, Harmen, and I’ve read two and a half books that mention Jan and others in the Ton family. 

Correcting the Record

Part of what I have learned is that I had some of my facts wrong in my post last month. In that post, I mentioned Jan and Aagje immigrated to the U.S from Holland (Netherlands) in the 1840s with eight of their nine children. That is not correct. As is often the case with old records, it is easy to get confused when children carry the same name as one of their parents. Many times records do not include suffixes such as Jr. or Sr. or even II and III. 

My great-great-grandfather, Jan, was 23 years old and single when he immigrated to the U.S. aboard the ship, “Massachusetts of Boston”, sailing from Le Havre, France in April of 1849. Jan was the son of Jan and Peterje (Stam) Ton, my great-great-great-grandparents. THEY had nine children. It was eight of their nine children who, over time, immigrated to the U.S. So, you can see how confusing that can get! The “Massachusetts of Boston” carried two Tons across the Atlantic, Jan and his married sister, Jannetje (Ton) Eenigenburg. Many of the families settled south of Chicago near Lake Calumet. Jan and eight other immigrants are considered the founding fathers of what is now Roseland, Illinois. 

It appears from the records I can find there might have been some shenanigans going on onboard the ship. Jan and Aagje’s first son, Jan Jr. was born in February of 1850. Jan and Aagje would marry in 1853 and raise 14 children to adulthood.

The Underground Railroad

I am certain to have many more stories to tell as I learn more, but, I do want to relate a story that directly connects Jan and Aagje to the Under Ground Rail Road. The story is found in the 1923 book “The Wonder of the Dunes” by George A. Brennan. You see, what is now Indiana Dunes National Park was along traveled by many freedom seekers on their way from Chicago to Detroit and on into Canada. The Hollanders settlement new Lake Calumet was leading station along that portion of the underground railroad. 

This particular story was retold many times over the years by Cornelius Kuyper, a dear friend of my great-great-grandfather’s and the town constable. Mr. Brennan records the story in his book. In his capacity as the constable, Kuyper was often called upon to assist in capturing run-away freedom seekers. He would attack each request with such zeal and effort, he would receive praise from slave owners and sheriffs alike…though…he never succeeded in capturing any freedom seekers.  

A Story to Tell

As Kuyper tells the story, one day he was visited by a slave owner from Kentucky, a sheriff deputy from Chicago and a posse. They were pursuing three freedom seekers, each with a $3,000 price on their heads. As was his norm, Kuyper searched high and low for the runaways, even taking the posse as far as the Illinois-Indiana state line. Once again, he came up empty-handed. 

When they returned to Kuyper’s home, his wife Maartje prepared and served them a meal before they headed back to Chicago. After they were safely on their way, Kuyper headed into his cellar, opened a trap door, and summoned one the freedom seekers who he had hidden away. He then went to the barn and moved part of an immense stack of hay, the other two freedom seekers emerged. He fed them, had them climb in his wagon covered them with cobs of corn, and took them to the home of Jan Ton. Jan hitched up his wagon, transferred the precious cargo, and headed out toward Indiana. Near the town of Hohman Bridge (today’s Hammond, Indiana), the cargo was transferred to another wagon. The freedom seekers were well on their way to Canada. 

One can only imagine the countless times these men and women provided this service to others on their journey! 

As I learn more, we will continue on this journey together. Until next time! 

Share my storyShould I share my story? It’s a question I get asked often. It’s a question I used to ask myself. I was asked the question again a couple of weeks ago. I was on a Zoom coffee call when the question came, almost out of leftfield. Should I share my story? This time the question caught me a bit off guard. I’m afraid my momentary confusion caused me to hesitate, it might have even caused me to stammer a bit. I’m afraid it might have caused my answer to seem less confident, less emphatic than I intended. 

I can assure you that was not the case. I just was not expecting the conversation to turn in the direction it did. You see, this was the first time I had met this person. Typically, I get asked that question by people whose story I already know (at least somewhat). This being the first time we had met, it threw me off…at least momentarily. Let me answer now, with all the confidence and as emphatically as possible…”YES, YOU SHOULD SHARE YOUR STORY”. Your story is who you are, you should own your story! This was one of the most impactful recommendations I have ever received, and I think it can have as great an impact on you and your career as it did for me. 

This person’s story was of a battle with alcoholism. They are recovering, but they are an alcoholic. You may be asking why on earth would someone share that with someone they had just met. Well, because it is a story of strength and courage. It is a story of vulnerability. Something in our conversation must have let them know it was a “safe zone” to tell the story and then ask the question. Little did they know the impact they would have on me because they shared. I was honored they felt they could share. They had no way of knowing the number of people in my life who battle the same affliction. 

Why should you tell your story? Because sharing our stories creates an immediate connection. There is something about being vulnerable. There is something in creating trust between people. It’s funny how in sharing our stories and being vulnerable what we are really sharing is our strength. The connection created is real. The connection created is deep. 

When I asked permission to share this story, they responded with “I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to feel vulnerable and safe enough to pose the question and be affirmed by someone else in a leadership role. My strength comes from my vulnerability and ability to connect with others on a deeper level. My alcoholism no longer defines me because I am no longer ashamed.” Powerful. The connection works both ways. 

It was not more than a week later when I was confronted with the power of sharing one’s story again. This time it was with at a meeting of the Indy CIO Network. We had a guest facilitator, Paul Ashley of FirstPerson Advisors, we were to discuss mental wellbeing during a pandemic. Before the meeting, Paul shared his story with the group. Paul’s story is one of battling depression. His vulnerability connected with the group which led to a great discussion. Powerful. Several members shared their own stories. Based on the follow-up conversations, I know it has led to deeper connections between our members. 

My point isn’t that your story has to include battling alcoholism, or depression, or cancer. It doesn’t have to include anything that dramatic. My point is your story is important. It is what makes you who are. Sharing it can create connection. Sharing it can show you care about other’s stories.  Sharing it can help you to lead. 

Post a comment, send an email, give me a call! I want to hear your stories! 

#stress #How are youHow are you? Don’t answer “I’m fine”. I’m being serious. How are you? You’ve been leading through some incredibly chaotic times! You’ve been taking care of your staff. You’ve been taking care of your family. You’ve been taking care of your friends. When was the last time you took a moment to check in on you? 

The first six months of 2020 have been a lot. We’ve now been in some form of physical distancing, stay-at-home orders, and business restrictions for almost four months. We’ve taken part in countless virtual meetings, seeing others only on our computer monitors. Many have not seen family or friends for an extended time. 

About six weeks ago, our country was rocked by the death of George Floyd. The rage of centuries of oppression and racism erupted in cities from coast to coast. Voices have been, and continue to be, raised. Companies have stepped up to meet the challenge to listen and learn. Perhaps your company is one. 

Our businesses are facing unprecedented challenges. Leaders are being asked to make sense of it all. We are confronted by issues on all fronts. What’s a leader to do? 

Pause. Yes, pause. Take a moment. Think about you. How are you feeling? What is your body telling you? 

Please, pause. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you feeling irritable? Anxious? Down?
  • Have you lost some of your motivation? 
  • Are you unable to focus? 
  • Do you have difficulty sleeping?
  • Do you have muscle tension or new aches or pains?
  • Are you unable to have fun? 

If you answered yes to one or more of these, chances are you are under stress. Depending on your answers, you may be under severe stress. 

I know, I hear you. Stress is nothing new. You’re always under stress. Leadership comes with stress. What’s important is you are powering through. You are checking on your team. You are driving your business forward through the challenges. If you consider yourself a servant leader you are justifying the stress by saying your job is to take care of those around you. 

I’m urging you to pause. Get in touch with what you are feeling and why. Rest. Reflect. 

There are five essential elements to counteract adversity and reduce the impacts of stress on our wellbeing. 

Safety – One of our basic needs is to feel safe. If your safety is being challenged are there things you can do to move yourself to a greater feeling of safety? 

Calm – If you are feeling tense or anxious can you calm yourself? Are you able to help yourself feel more relaxed? 

Connection – Do you feel a connection with others? Can you talk to your spouse or significant other? Can you phone a friend? 

Resilience – Do you have a feeling that you can get through these challenges because you have faced challenges before? 

Optimism – Do you have a sense of optimism or hope for the future? 

So. Let me ask you again. How are you feeling? Do you need one or more of the essential elements? Do you know where to get them? Take time to pause, take time to rest, take time to reflect. Your followers need you in your best possible condition to guide them through the next 90 days and beyond. 

Let me know how you are doing. Post a comment or send me a note at jeff.ton@tonenterprisellc.com.

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