It was June of 2006. I was on home-based dialysis because both of my kidneys had stopped working the previous summer. Every night at around 9:00 pm I would head to my bedroom for the night, hook myself up to a dialysis machine via a tube in my stomach, and stay there until 6:00 am. Every night.
When it had become evident that my kidneys were failing my family started the process of “getting checked” to see who could donate a kidney to me. We were not surprised that it was happening to me – there seems to be some flukey gene on the maternal side of my family that makes some women in the family lose their kidney function for no apparent reason that some of the best doctors in the country can determine.
My dad had always said if my sister or I needed a kidney he would give us his in a heartbeat. And I knew he would. And he turned out to be the wrong blood type.
After the devastating news that my dad was ruled out, and then the rest of my family for genetic reasons, I literally had 10 friends go through the process of getting checked in order to give me their kidney. The thought of this alone is staggering – 10 people who were not related to me were willing to give me their kidney. One even got all the way to the end of the testing, at which point they found a kidney stone.
I was beside myself.
I knew that being on dialysis is extremely hard on one’s body and that the sooner you have a transplant the much better outcome you have. I also knew that the waiting period in Chicago for a kidney is currently 6 years. That’s a long time to wait – and a long time to put your body through dialysis – and some will die while waiting.
So there I was in June of 2006, my family and friends had been ruled out as donors, I was already a year into dialysis and I. was. scared.
It was at that point that I knew there was only one option – an option that I was horribly uncomfortable with but knew was my only hope for a healthy life and brilliant future:
I had to ask a stranger if they’d give me a kidney.
I can say with absolutely certainty that I have never had to ask a more difficult question in my life than when I wrote a letter in my church “bulletin” and asked fellow parishioners to consider giving me their kidney.
My letter ran on Sunday, June 25th. No one called.
One Sunday later, on July 2nd, I got a call from a woman named Rose. She said she had been driving to church that morning and realized she had the bulletin from the previous week still in her car, unread. She had been about to throw it away when she decided to flip through it just to make sure she didn’t “miss anything important.”
She said, “I have Type O blood and if I am a match you are more than welcome to have my kidney – I only need one.”
That’s really how it happened. On Tuesday, March 27, 2007 she gave me her kidney, and we forged a bond that can never be broken. She got married a few weeks ago and I had the enormous pleasure of being there with her for her special day.
So, what did I learn about networking through this experience?
People truly, genuinely, in their heart of hearts want to help other people. You should never doubt this, no matter what you need help with in business or how vulnerable it makes you feel to ask for help!
I have learned through my experience consulting to 2 networking organizations (The Marketing Executives Networking Group and the CEO Connection) that the foundation of networking is giving to others. The golden rule of networking: you should absolutely always be looking for ways to help others without expecting anything in return, and then when you do need to ask for help people are much more likely to make the effort to help you.
But in my situation I asked for the ultimate favor without ever having given anything first. And the answer I still got was “yes, absolutely.”
Once you have asked a stranger for a kidney and received a “yes” in return, you are never afraid to ask for anything ever again. Please read that twice.
As leaders we are often uncomfortable admitting what we don’t know, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and asking for any type of help. Sometimes when executives are in transition they are afraid that other executives will be uninterested in helping them or feel put-out by a request for time or help.
STOP. JUST ASK. Someone might actually say “yes,” and it just might just change your life.
What’s stopping you from asking? Please share your thoughts about this post in the comments…it would mean so much to me to hear from you…