New Beginnings | Part 1

Posted on July 7, 2016

“Life is short, I want to live it well, one life, one story to tell”
Song:  Live it well
Album:  Where the light shines through
Jon Foreman

This blog is a long one and contains a conversation via email I recently had with one of our associates.  She has given me permission to share and I hope you read it because it contains an incredible story of courage and hope by Catey and her family.  I have spent a fair amount of time reflecting and as an intro wanted to share some of my conclusions upon interacting with Catey’s story.

  • As I alluded to in my title from one of my favorite bands and writers, Jon Foreman, we get one shot at this life, it should be passionate, we should thrive, we should live for more.  If not, what is the point?
    • In order to do this we must first understand what is truly important to us.  Faith, Family, Work are all key and more importantly how they interact as they are not separate but part of the whole of who you are, whatever your choices.  Ultimately in what you choose, I would argue this is universal to all of us, the degree to which we thrive is directly related to how we impact other people, are we a positive or negative influence on helping people is the key.
    • Life is messy, sometimes it takes a tragedy to illuminate and force us to choose, force us to decide what is important.  “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react” can ring very hollow within the context of losing a loved one.  However, there is real truth in how little we control.  Our choices in how we respond are critical and taking the time to choose is really important.
  • Sometimes our vocation isn’t aligned with where we need to be at the moment.  Sometimes there is simply something more important going on.  Sometimes we are just in the wrong role or the wrong place.  Take a look at how Catey processed this decision.
    • Courage and Awareness – It takes courage and sincerity to arrive at the choice she made.  Leaving a job she had worked hard at and for and a place she really loved.  But there was a greater love pulling on her, her brother.
    • Logic – she processed it and took time to arrive at her decision.  
    • Commitment – She was totally committed to giving her all to what she loved in her job and her family.  But the demands of one were taking away from the other because of an extraordinary situation.  She choose to walk away from one to give to the other because ultimately both were important.  

But as often happens, the story doesn’t end at the choice.  She made a choice that was well thought out and centered in love.  She was totally committed to walking away from the one to give to the other.  She was making a sacrifice in her personal life to give it to her brother and his family.  When sacrifice is based on truth and love, it always…always ends up being more than we expect.  In that choice where she assumed she was going to have to give up one passion for the other, what actually happened was an opportunity to pursue both serving her family and continuing her career in a way she never expected.

We are all terminal and our hearts break whenever we see this play out within our families, our friends and our associates.  Sometimes the best we can do is try and honor and serve those in need and while that can hurt, we can thrive in the experience and honor our loved ones by what we learn from them and how we lead our lives after they are gone.  We can all learn from this and share in honoring Mike in our firm.  

We often talk about the greater good and there is a tendency to think about this in terms of “events”, service projects, etc.  Those events are important, but sometimes the greater good is simply serving the one in front of us, sometimes we have to let them go to pursue other things, to allow them to serve others.  Sometimes in that letting go, we can also find a new way especially when those choices are so well thought out and so sincere.  

What an honor Catey has given us at Foundry by sharing her story.  We pray for Mike and his family and I hope we can play a small part in honoring his memory.  It is a reminder as we serve each other and our customers that there is always so much more going on than what we realize.  

Thank you Catey for reminding me of that. 

From: Catey Labban 
Sent: Friday, April 15, 2016 1:02 PM
To: Paul Ellis
Subject: Thank You

Hi Paul,
I wanted to take the time to write you to thank you for building a company with a culture of love and support. My story is long, but I hope you’ll read it when you have the time.

I started working for Foundry full-time as a Marketing Associate in March 2015. I supported the retail and office teams in Charlotte, and was led by Susan McGuire and Charles Jonas. While I enjoyed my position and had high hopes to continue growing within the company, I became distracted and started losing my passion in the Fall. You see, I had a terminally ill brother. My brother Mike was battling in his third year of stage 4 liver cancer, and as it continued to spread throughout his body, I lost my concentration on my full-time position. Each morning on my commute to uptown Charlotte, I had the feeling that I was missing out on family time. I felt confused and guilty. How could I even think of leaving Foundry? (I should be grateful for this job!) Why would I give up this amazing position that I had worked so hard to achieve? If I leave Foundry, would I ever find another job at this level? Would any other future companies give me a chance after seeing on my resume that I gave up a great job after just 9 months? But, the stress of working full-time while watching my brother suffer and decline wore me down. The cancer had spread into his lungs, spine, abdomen, hip bones…. It was only a matter of time.

I decided to follow my heart and resigned from my Marketing Associate position in November. I wanted time. I wanted to wake up in the morning and be uncommitted, so that when my sister-in-law asked me to pick up my niece and nephew from the hospital & take them to soccer practice, I wouldn’t feel rushed. I didn’t want to feel guilty for taking a long lunch to sit at my brother’s bedside at Carolinas Medical Center. (For the record, my managers would have never said anything to me for taking a long lunch… but I personally would feel guilty for not dedicating my undivided attention to my job.) I was worried about paying bills and losing my healthcare benefits, but I knew I couldn’t continue feeling how I was feeling. 

The day I resigned, I was a nervous wreck. I am a people pleaser. I am a “Yes” person. I will bend over backward to make others happy, and I felt sick knowing that I would be letting my team down. I was anxious that my resignation would be met with anger. However, just the opposite happened. My decision was handled with grace and understanding. I was told how valuable I was to the team. I was told that my team cared about me and wanted me to do what was best for me. I was told that they hated to see me leave, but they would always welcome me and support me.

Shortly after resigning, Susan worked with me to establish a contractor position for me to continue supporting the retail marketing efforts while working from home. I was in shock. Not only were they not angry with me, but they actually wanted to create a way to make my life easier and still allow me to work on a more flexible/part-time basis. It seemed too good to be true. 

In November, I began working from home as a marketing & social media contractor. When my brother spent 5 weeks in the hospital, I was able to visit him as much as I wanted. When my niece and nephew needed a ride because my sister-in-law was taking Mike to oncologist appointments, I was there to make them smile. As Christmas season approached, I began to feel like everything had fallen into place for me. My new contractor position was going smoothly, and my brother was discharged from the hospital a few days before Christmas. We spent his last Christmas gathered around him in his home and celebrating together as a family. 












(From left to right: My brother Jim, who is Mike’s twin. Me, holding my niece Cecilia. Mike.)
Mike turned 40 in January. I noticed his pain getting worse. I pushed his wheelchair into the movie theater for a weekday matinee so he could go see Star Wars with his son, knowing full well that he was in excruciating pain. I was able to be there and make memories because of the flexibility that my new contractor position allowed. Thank you, Foundry.

Mike took a turn for the worst at the end of February. After fighting for 3 years, he was given the choice to be admitted to ICU indefinitely, or sign a DNR and accept Hospice care. He chose Hospice. I was with him on the hospital on a weekday, undistracted. I beat his transport ambulance to the hospice house, and checked into his room before he arrived. I sat quietly and realized the gift I had been given from Foundry, the gift of time. Instead of sitting at my desk, I was able to be there with my family. 

Mike passed on March 1st. In my time of grief, my friends at Foundry poured love and support into my life. My manager Alli Yost was gracious and understanding when I needed to reschedule a conference call. Susan McGuire sent me a beautiful card with a message of hope. Robin Henshaw took the afternoon off work to attend my brother’s funeral service and show her love and support for me. I know they were praying for me and my family. These seemingly small acts of kindness truly made a huge difference when I was going through the hardest thing in life I’ve ever faced, the death of my brother. 

Last week, Charles reached out to me with a new contract project to work on with his office team. I nervously went to the office on Monday to discuss the project, and was met with countless hugs and smiles. Even a few of the “new” Foundry folks (the Thalhimer gang) expressed their sorrow for my loss and made me feel welcome again.

I can’t express how thankful I am to have found a team that believes in me and continues to include me.  I am so grateful that these projects are being given to me and that I am still able to work with Foundry. Although I’m not a “full-time” team member, I am wholeheartedly committed to Foundry and will forever be grateful for the gift they have given me: the gift of time. Having flexibility and time during those final months with my brother were so invaluable to me. 

I know my situation is not possible for everyone, but luckily for me, digital marketing is something easily done from home during flexible hours. I just wanted to let you know that this culture of support and love makes a huge difference in the lives of your employees. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I will never forget this amazing gift. I must truly be blessed.

Catey Labban

Full funeral service:
Memorial video:

From: Paul Ellis 
Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2016 11:50 AM
To: Catey Labban
Subject: RE: Thank You

First and foremost, my sincere condolences for your loss.  I have been around cancer and lost too many loved ones to it and know all too well how difficult it can be.  In some sense the pain of this type of loss, all too early for a young man, never totally leaves you but I pray and hope that your family is finding some peace moving forward.

Let me also thank you sincerely for this incredible gift and reminder that what we do and how we treat each other is really important.  If I am honest, there are days when I have my own struggles.  Is what we do here really important?  Are we really impacting the world and making the world better in the context of a real estate business?  There are days when I really wrestle with these questions because I believe in these things and yet I don’t want to kid myself or rationalize things just to make myself feel better and during a week when I have honestly been struggling I receive your note.  I receive your incredible encouragement at just the right time as a reminder that what we do is really important and we can impact lives beyond just the context of what we do in the real estate world.  Frankly, you have inspired me and I cannot thank you enough.  

I also want you to know that it is not me, all of the partners that have been a part of building this company and all of those that you mentioned below have embraced something and they are the ones that should be thanked.  I am frankly blown away by what you have described below and thankful that yours is not the only example of this type of behavior, that while we are not perfect and we still have to operate a business because our work is really important, caring for each other is not opposed to running a great company, in fact how we care for each other is critical.

You and your family have reminded me of this and while I am sad for your loss, I want you to draw some comfort that some good will come of it as a reminder to our firm that you are forever a part of.  There is meaning in our work and your experience is an incredible testament to that.  You should also know that you must be good at what you do because that is really important to.  How you went about your decision is incredibly logical and thoughtful and we should applaud your decision and your sincerity and that has to transfer to how you serve customers and I know the team would not reach out to you if they did not value your effort, thank you for that.

I hope to see you sometime during my next visit to Charlotte.  

I would like to ask your favor and permission to share this with the broader group.  Your testimony is important but I also understand it is deeply personal and don’t want to take any liberties with that, however if you are open to it I think it would serve as a great reminder to all of our associates.  I want to sincerely tell you that this is truly your call and I would completely understand if you do not want to share it and will honor your wish whatever it is.

Sincerest thanks,


From: Catey Labban
To: Paul Ellis
Subject: RE: Thank You

Hi Paul,

Thank you for your kind words. I’m so glad that my story was able to inspire you and lift you up.  I know what an important role each partner has played in building this environment of support at Foundry, and I am comfortable with you sharing the message. I hope it restores some hope and reinforces that there is deep meaning behind our interactions with each other in the workplace. As you said below, caring for one another is critical. 

Also, I forgot to mention Brandy was extremely helpful and supportive during my transition as well. She is a class act, and I felt like that was worth mentioning here as well.  I could go on and on and name everyone who has shown support. It really is an amazing team.

Thanks again for reaching out to me. It means so much to know that I am a part of a team where the leadership truly cares about me.

Talk to you soon,