“Belief in yourself is hastened by the cheers of those who come alongside you.”
~ Carrie Luxem
For the past decade, I have been on the journey of entrepreneurship. With a tiny seed of an idea – to help restaurateurs grow their leadership and their people – and a whole lot of passion, I’ve conquered much more than I could have ever imagined.
The highlight reel includes:
- Launching a successful business that just crossed the 10-year mark;
- Publishing my first book, with a second one in the works for 2021;
- Developing an HR-focused membership platform full of actionable advice for today’s business owners; and
- Working on pre-production planning for my latest venture, The Carrie Luxem Show, where top CEOs and entrepreneurs divulge the secrets to their success (available for streaming in 2021).
To say it’s been a whirlwind is an understatement.
How Do You Do It?
I’m often asked how this happened.
How have I covered this much ground in just 10 short years?
Where did I find the confidence?
What about the wherewithal to keep stepping around each roadblock and outside every box people tried to place me in?
The answer to those completely valid questions can be traced back 20 years, when I moved from my small Illinois town to Chicago. I had big dreams and not much else. No professional job experience to speak of, no impressive education, no sense of purpose or direction and severely lacking in the self-confidence department.
But one thing I did have was an infatuation with great restaurants.
Since my move to the city, an eclectic little sandwich shop called Potbelly Sandwich Works had caught my eye and I visited often. Something just drew me in – a combination of the relaxed atmosphere, the music, the budget-friendly food that always hit the spot, the staff who welcomed me warmly.
The restaurant had recently opened a third location and I popped in one day to grab some food. The company’s CEO, Bryant Keil, happened to be there greeting customers, and I, somewhat embarrassingly in retrospect, excitedly gushed to him about how much I loved the brand.
He briefly mentioned that he was fielding candidates to lead the human resources department. Essentially, he needed someone who could build simple people systems and find talented teammates at the same pace the brand was growing. On cloud nine that I had met this awesome entrepreneur and uncovered a job lead in the process, I left the restaurant that day filled with hope.
Reality Sinks In
My bubble of hope burst pretty quickly as I scanned the newspaper and found the ad for Potbelly’s HR position. The phrases “master’s degree preferred” and “former HR experience” knocked me back to reality.
I had neither.
I somehow worked up the courage to send Bryant my resume anyway, along with a brief email that reiterated my desire to be part of such an exciting company. There was an absolute heap of candidates vying for the position – all way more qualified and business savvy than me. People who had top tier educations and impressive resumes to prove it.
To my dismay, I wasn’t immediately cut from the running even though I didn’t meet even the most basic qualifications. Instead, Bryant interviewed me once, and then twice and finally a third time.
He asked me lots of questions, not just about HR and previous jobs, but questions that drilled down to my character and who I was as a person. Who I wanted to be, how I treated people, my work ethic and what drives my passions.
And at the end of all those interviews, he offered me the position. I was floored…and ecstatic!
That was the beginning of more than 10 years with Potbelly and a lifelong friend- and mentorship with Bryant. When I was the purposeless 20-something grasping at straws, struggling to find my niche, he gave me a chance when no one else would. He looked beyond the unimpressive resume, not because he felt sorry for me, but because he valued me as a person and took the time to get to know me, to see something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself.
That one opportunity changed the course of my life and gave me the tools that have propelled me to this point today.
Under Bryant’s leadership, I learned everything.
How to carry myself in front of people, to be of service to others, to dig deep and do the right, but rarely, easy thing.
How to graciously pick myself back up, to know when to walk away and when to push with all I’ve got.
How to value people for their unique characteristics, quirks and all.
Bryant was my biggest cheerleader, as together, we grew those three Potbelly locations into more than 200 restaurants across 10 markets. And he still cheers me on today, by regularly sending me words of encouragement, supporting my endeavors and reminding me to be the best version of Carrie I can be.
My tenure with Potbelly was amazing, but there were tough times and even tougher lessons to learn. One quick story has stuck with me all these years:
About a month after I started, Bryant and I were preparing for our first meeting with all of Potbelly’s operators. I was feeling the pressure and felt like I had to be on my A-game, answers at the ready if anyone was going to take me seriously in this new role. I was completely panicked over being called out as an imposter.
Sensing the change in my mood, Bryant pulled me aside shortly before the meeting to see if I was okay. And I immediately broke down in tears, mortified beyond belief. Cover blown, right?
I’ll just see myself out.
But Bryant didn’t even flinch. And he didn’t fire me or make me feel foolish for showing emotion. He simply said, “Carrie, I didn’t hire you to be an ‘HR expert’ with all of the answers. I hired you because you care about people more than policies. You work hard, exude passion and are genuine and true. So don’t overthink or second-guess. Just get in there and be who you are!”
That was a powerful statement to an impressionable young adult who, at the time, thought success was earned by conforming to the mold rather than breaking it. Bryant reminded me that being vulnerable, showing who you truly are, isn’t a weakness.
It can actually be your superpower.
How else do you expect to earn others’ trust, form meaningful lasting connections and grow into your full potential if you aren’t starting from an honest and authentic place?
The Moral of the Story
The purpose of this trip down memory lane isn’t to be boastful.
It’s to highlight the power of believing in someone. How supporting, encouraging and caring about a person – even a complete and total stranger – alters their life.
It’s to remind all of us, that in a time when countless people are experiencing unimaginable heartache and despair, physical separation from friends and loved ones, the loss of a much-needed job and the interruption of normalcy, you have something to offer them.
With so many people in desperate need of an opportunity, a new start or a reason to be optimistic, each of us can be that ray of hope.
Each of us can look past someone’s imperfections and appreciate their humanness.
Each of us can say yes in that split second instead of no.
Each of us can offer someone a chance at redemption, to grow up and out of their current circumstances and live their dreams out loud.
Great leaders, like Bryant Keil, have had this figured out for years. They make emotional connections with the people on their teams and value them for who they are, their intentions and character, not solely by what they produce.
They build people up and prepare them to launch out into the world. Just like Bryant did for me.
May we all do a bit more of this from here on out.
Thank you so much for the lessons, Bryant.