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Put Your Oxygen Mask on First

I'm a sucker for an inspiring story about overcoming adversity.

It's what I love about our client Michael Coles, the founder of Great American Cookies.

Here's a guy who never went to college but has his name on Kennesaw State University's Coles College of Business. The day he opened his first cookie store, he nearly burned down the mall because he forgot oven mitts. Six weeks later, he was in a horrific motorcycle accident and was told he would never walk unassisted again. He started a self-prescribed bicycling rehab program and, not only did he walk, he eventually set world records for riding his bike across the country. If you want to read more about Michael, check out his book, "Time to Get Tough."

I'm the granddaughter of immigrants.

My great-grandparents escaped the pogroms in Russia in search of a better life for their family. They couldn't even speak English when they settled on the Lower East Side of New York. As a young boy, my grandpa was so inspired by the lights of Coney Island that he decided to pursue a career as an actor. When he got tired of waiting in the wings, he pivoted to set design and understood that vocation required that he take architecture classes. He eventually became a world-famous architect who used lighting to guide guests through his hotel lobbies like performers on a stage.

The New York Times had a moving obituary on Academy Award-winning documentarian Leon Gast this past Sunday, and it checked all the boxes for me. It took Gast 22 years to complete his magnum opus, "When We Were Kings," documenting Muhammad Ali's famous 1974 boxing match against George Foreman, dubbed the "Rumble in the Jungle" by promoter Don King. Gast turned to a variety of whatever-it-takes pursuits to earn money over those two plus decades. From working for Hells Angels making a promotional film to counter their reputation as hardened criminals (they beat him up when he wouldn’t give them editorial control) to a drug smuggling fiasco, Gast never lost focus on his goal. Of course, the Rumble in the Jungle was quintessentially about overcoming adversity. Foreman was favored to win by 4-to-1 odds. Ali was an over-the-hill 32 to Foreman's 24 years young. Yet history would prove that Ali had what it took when he knocked Foreman out in the 8th round, and 22 years later, as the winner of that epic match, he joined Gast on stage to accept an Oscar.

We are all struggling with adversity right now. But we can find inspiration in surprising places. One year in, we have all been impacted by the pandemic. We have profoundly changed as a society and as individuals. Each of our struggles is unique to our own experience. And you can't possibly know what someone else is going through unless you ask. You should ask. Reach out to your friends and family. Stay connected.

Spring is a beautiful time in Atlanta. And as much as we all want to finally cut loose after a year of being safe, Covid is still very real.

The key to self-preservation is to put the oxygen mask over your face first. Please take care of yourselves. Just because you may not have been directly impacted by, for example, escalating rates of food insecurity or homelessness, doesn't mean your struggle isn't hard.

Take walks, bake bread (or for you non-bakers, eat bread) and do something you love. Find inspiration where you can. And stay safe out there, friends.

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