The Blind at Work
by Sharon Gold
Sharon Gold, seated at her desk
From the Editor: Monday afternoon, July 5, Sharon Gold, President of Sharon Gold Enterprises, addressed the 1999 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind as part of a panel of Federationists talking about their jobs and their outlook on the working world. Sharon is a longtime leader of the NFB and was President of the NFB of California for many years. This is what she is now doing and what she said about it:
President Maurer and Fellow Federationists: recently a business associate of mine said, "If you walk down the street and see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know he didn't get there by himself." This statement is true for each of us as blind persons. Were it not for the National Federation of the Blind, none of us would be where we are today.
I was born in 1940 just eleven days before the founding of the National Federation of the Blind. At that time the outlook for blind adults was bleak. Few blind people had jobs, and my parents had no idea what a blind child or adult could do. Unbeknownst to my parents, Jacobus tenBroek and a few other blind people were planning a gathering in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, that would influence my life and the life of every other blind person in America. The leaders of this organization had a vision and a dream of equality and opportunity for all blind people. Through the National Federation of the Blind we have received the support and encouragement to think beyond the restrictions imposed upon us by the sighted public and to dare to reach out and take the leadership when opportunity knocks at our door. Like sighted people, we blind people have dreams and aspire to success.
If you asked most people, they would say they want to be successful and financially comfortable. The good news is that people can be financially comfortable and even acquire real wealth, but they must learn to earn and play by the rules. If you truly want to be successful, find a person doing what it is that you want to do. Do exactly what that person does every day, and you will achieve the success that you desire. In our own organization the young leader Kenneth Jernigan moved to Berkeley, California, to learn from Dr. tenBroek. Some years later our distinguished President Marc Maurer, then a young lawyer, moved to Baltimore to learn from Dr. Jernigan. Each of these leaders followed in the footsteps of his mentor and gradually added his own personality to make his leadership unique.
A half century ago we were in the age of the job. People went to school, established a career, joined a company, and stayed in the employ of that company for life. These people spent their entire lives climbing the corporate ladder to attain the highest possible salary. They made a few investments along the way to augment their retirement, received a company pin or two, and expected to retire with the proverbial gold watch. They then went home to rest in the sun with the small pittance of a retirement income. We live in the richest country in the world, yet today the average sixty-five-year-old American doesn't have the discretionary funds to write an unbudgeted check for $500. What a tragedy!
Now I understand that when you start talking about money, a lot of people get uncomfortable, especially if you are talking about their money. People don't have any problem with getting by and even having some of the comforts of life, but if you start talking about wealth, all of the things that we've been taught about money being the root of all evil comes up, and we're quickly reminded that we shouldn't want to be wealthy. Contrary to what many people believe, the Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil. What it does say is that evil comes from the love of money.
I don't happen to think that money is the most important thing in the world unless, of course, you don't have any. Then money becomes pretty important. In my lifetime I have had money, and I have not had money. I can testify that having money is better. I think you would all agree with that. And there's nothing wrong with having an abundance of money. If you actually want to be wealthy, you can be wealthy. But most of us have not been taught how to become wealthy.
The age of the job, also known as the Industrial Age, is now gone. In one short generation we have moved from the Industrial Age to the Information Age or, if you prefer, from people power to mind power. Our values have shifted from being confined to land, factories, fixtures, and raw materials to the age of the mind. Today value is placed on knowledge, skill development, and the ability to apply these attributes quickly in a highly competitive marketplace. Value is not necessarily placed on a formal education.
We have moved from the era of lifelong employment to the era of lifelong employability. If you are a working-age person today, you will have a variety of jobs in your lifetime. You are likely to change careers three, four, or more times before finally reaching retirement.
The biggest mistake you can make today is ever to think that you work for anyone but yourself, even though you are employed by another individual or company. The wealthy have known this for a long time. The Bible tells us that, as a person thinks, so shall he or she be. If you want to be successful, you must think of yourself as the president of your own personal services company. You are the chief executive officer of your own entrepreneurial organization with one employee--you. You have one product to sell in the marketplace, your personal services. For the rest of your life your job is to operate your personal company efficiently and effectively so that you maximize your value. You can have value to others only when you are valuable to yourself.
You must manage your personal company in such a way that you offer the highest quality and quantity of personal services available anywhere. Your job will be constantly to increase your knowledge, develop new skills, recognize change, be vigilant of opportunity, and be ready to take some risk. Without risk little can be achieved. I am told that Dr. tenBroek used to put it like this. Sitting at the head of his dining room table, he would survey those sitting around the table and inquire of each, "And what have you done today to justify your existence?" Each of us must ask the same question of ourselves. We can use this self-evaluating question to determine that we are moving closer to our goals or that we need to reevaluate and redirect ourselves on the path that we are taking to achieve our goals.
You may choose to attach your personal services to the payroll of another or, in other words, to be an employee, or you may prefer independence and to be self-employed. Regardless of your choice, you will enjoy the greatest wealth if the management of your personal services company leads you to the creation of multiple sources of income, which may include income from a salary, investments, or other business income.
Although I didn't think of it in quite this way, I established Sharon Gold Enterprises many years ago when I realized that it was only through my personal services that I could create financial security. If I worked for someone else, which I did, I realized that I must be my employer's most valuable employee. If I worked at my own direction, I must be my own best employee. I tell others that I am my own best and worst boss.
Our Federation leader Dr. Jernigan was perhaps one of the best known blind entrepreneurs of this century, even though we do not think of him as an entrepreneur. He established the Kenneth Jernigan Personal Services Company when he was a mere boy. His brother Lloyd worked in the field, but the blind boy wasn't allowed to take his place as a field hand on the family's Tennessee farm. He used his entrepreneurial spirit to develop a business. He built and sold furniture to contribute to the family income. Much to the dismay of the sighted farm hands, the blind entrepreneur made more money working for himself each day than the field hands earned toiling in the fields.
After college Dr. Jernigan took his personal services to the Tennessee School for the Blind, where he made himself indispensable as a teacher and role model to the students. Ultimately he got himself fired because he wouldn't compromise his principles. Refusing to be a burden on society, Dr. Jernigan used his personal services company to sell life insurance and later to facilitate the advancement of the blind by heading the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Today many of us are successfully following in Dr. Jernigan's footsteps, creating financial independence through our own personal services companies.
One of the responsibilities I have as President of Sharon Gold Enterprises is to own and manage a more than 15,000-square-foot office building located in Sacramento, California. The purchase of this building was no small feat because financial officers wanted me to jump through hoops not required of sighted borrowers, and one potential lender tried to insist that, since I was blind, all of his conversations with me be tape-recorded. I refused to have conversations with him because the National Federation of the Blind had taught me that it was discriminatory to record conversations with me when conversations with sighted borrowers were not recorded. Ultimately my loan was finalized with another lender under the same terms and conditions as for any sighted borrower. This lender wanted my business and didn't care that I was blind.
Another responsibility that I have as President of Sharon Gold Enterprises is to work as an independent sales representative for a company that has been recognized this year by INC 500 as the eighty-fourth-fastest-growing, privately-owned company in the United States and the second-fastest-growing privately-owned manufacturing company in North America. The company has been recognized by Success and Entrepreneur magazines and Money Maker's Monthly. For the past three years the company has received the Five-Coin Rating from Business Bits 'n' Pieces as the Business of the Year. For the more than three years that I have been working with this company, I have been consistently recognized by the company as being in the top 5 percent of the sales force.
As an independent sales representative and sales manager for the company, I provide consultation and help to people across the United States and Canada. These people come from all walks of life and wish to establish their own businesses. Much of my work is done by telephone, and blindness is never an issue. The personal services that I offer are what is important. For these services the people respect me as a mentor, role model, and leader. When I later meet these people face to face at the many business seminars that I conduct or in which I participate across the country, blindness is only the mere characteristic that it is, no more important than my gray hair.
Some of the people with whom I work are following their dreams and taking their first steps toward financial freedom. Others have been forced into a change of career because of the loss of employment. Still others are in need of a part-time income to help make ends meet. By the way, did you know that a mere $500 a month in additional income can keep most people considering bankruptcy from having to file? I teach people how to create an immediate cash flow and make up to a six-figure or more annual income while working from home. I mentor people through a process that removes fear and shows them how to make money quickly and easily without having to reinvent the wheel. Success can come to anyone who is willing to follow a step-by-step process of duplicating the success of others.
The process of learning from successful people has been so valuable for me that I was recently inducted into Who's Who Among Executives and Professionals. The committee did not know that I was blind when I was contacted for the preinduction interview. However, I have requested that my personal profile that will appear in the millennium edition include my association with and leadership in the National Federation of the Blind. After all, I would not be there without the Federation.
I joined the National Federation of the Blind twenty-five years ago. When I joined the Federation, I had a twelve-year tenure as a teacher of sighted children in the public elementary schools of California. I got that job because the NFB had worked with lawmakers to shape the California statutes so that blind people had an equal opportunity to apply for and acquire teaching positions.
Today I am a successful business woman. I have had and continue to have the opportunity for success because the National Federation of the Blind has influenced public policies and laws. Because we are organized, we blind people have an equal opportunity to take our rightful place amongst our sighted colleagues and to compete on terms of equality.
We have all faced discrimination in employment at one time or another. Even though I have always managed to have successful employment or self-employment, we know that 70 percent of the employable blind are unemployed or underemployed. We are improving these statistics by becoming experts in our respective fields. We are also improving these statistics by becoming self-employed entrepreneurs and sometimes even the employer rather than the employee.
My brothers and my sisters, I invite you to dare to dream and to take action on your dreams. Never, never forget that our roots of opportunity and encouragement lie deep within the National Federation of the Blind. Like the turtle, we blind people cannot get onto the fence post without help. And, for that matter, neither can anyone else. I am grateful to this organization for being there for me when I could not be there for myself. May we forever honor one another and support our progress through the National Federation of the Blind.