A Debtor’s INTEGRITY, A Creditor’s REGRET

I can’t remember ever having to do a writeup with a heart as heavy as what I’m experiencing now. However my silence might only add to the increasing level of decline in character seen in men & women in our society. One thing I’ve learnt in the last 16 years of my short life (especially while running my first internet-based company in America) is the fact that one of the most valuable asset in life you can have is a character of INTEGRITY. Integrity can take 20 years to build and 1 hour to destroy. It is one aspiration I’m still gunning for.

And so it was that while I was relaxing outside a shopping mall near my office & thinking of the next inspirational writeup to put up on my network, I found myself face to face with the last person I ever thought I’ll meet: one of my CREDITORS. As the organizer of the Nigeria Photography Expo & Conference (NiPHEC), I had ended up in a debt so huge that it shook the foundations of my life and marriage. Every vendor that came on board to make it a monumental success agreed to support based on the reputation I was perceived to have. The graphic artist, conference speakers (local & foreign), location provider, event planner, videographer, printer & other vendors had to give me a line of credit for providing their various services with the hope that I’ll pay up before or during the conference.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get enough sponsors on board to cover the entire $87,000 cost of organizing the event. The resulting debt will leave me in a state of embarrassment to the extent that I was atimes reluctant to even pick up my phone when it rang. It was even more painful when people started calling & emailing me shortly after the conference to CONGRATULATE me on the SUCCESS of a conference that left me more broke than when I started. And there I was thinking “it’s easy for you to call it a success when you’re not the one footing the debt”.

The management of the venue we used cut us some slack and accepted the 40% deposit we could raise to secure the venue 2 days before start of NiPHEC. The balance was to be paid during the conference with the hope that we’ll get enough participants to cover the bill; we were not able to come up with the balance. And the biggest character-wrecking mistake I did was NOT to get back to them since the conclusion of the conference.

So you can picture how heart-wrenching it was when you slam into someone you owe money for months and haven’t paid up yet. Telling them that you were recently thinking about getting in touch with them would not be a great excuse. Telling them that you were depressed, terminally ill or heart broken will not change the fact that the perception they had of you has eroded. You then discover that your heart can beat 755 times per minute when they tell you that “they regretted ever working with you and will not be that generous to anyone EVER again”.

I had never been in that kind of monumental debt situation before and I know that I didn’t handle the communication part well. It would have been better if I had called them often to keep them posted regarding the situation of things at my end. It would have been better if I had approached them to explain my situation rather than wait to stumble unto them. At that moment, my heart felt as though I had killed someone….as if I had committed the Judas-Iscariot sin. I felt like the multitude of many Nigerians that had been labeled fraudstars. IF ONLY I HAD KEPT THE COMMUNICATION LINES OPEN.

For the next 40 minutes, I would walk the remorseful distance back to my office like one who had lost his family in an earthquake. Upon getting back to the office I decided to call everyone that I had already contacted prior to now to appeal to them to still give me some time to clear my debt. Interestingly, they empathized with me and told me that they trust me to pay up whenever I had the resources. If only I had made the calls earlier.

As someone who has been in business for while, I still have Pastors, Ministers of God, students, friends and clients who still owe me money for a service I provided. I’ve made it a point not to be someone who gets angry at any debtor for not keeping in touch with me especially since I’ve committed the same offense with my creditors. It’s a character flaw a lot of us need to work on so that at the end of our days we shall be regarded as “blameless before God & man”.

At the end of my days, may my character be like the one whose Master shall gladly say “Well done, good & faithful servant”. May God help me. MAY GOD HELP US ALL.