The guy on the corner had a box of kittens.
I was walking home from school on my usual route when I saw them. Their tiny heads were poking out, and my heart melted.
On the side of the box, someone had written in black marker: “Free Kittens.”
They were mostly gray. One of them had a white patch on its chest, just below the chin.
“You want to hold one?” the guy said.
I put my books down and picked up the one with the white patch. He was soft and warm in my arms.
My heart melted again.
“Are they really free?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I can’t keep them. I’ll have to let them go in the woods somewhere if I can’t find them homes.”
The thought of those precious kittens left alone to survive on their own in the woods brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to take them all, but knew bringing even one home was pushing things.
“I’ll take this one,” I said, snuggling him inside my jean jacket.
I must have looked down at his little face a thousand times as I walked home, thinking about what to name him. By the time I reached my driveway, I’d decided.
“I’m going to name you Cannabis Sativa,” I said as I walked through the back door into the kitchen where my father would soon learn what his 14-year old daughter had done.
Cannabis sativa is the Latin word for marijuana. I’d learned about it that year in 8th grade health class. We all thought we were so smart talking about pot using the Latin term as if no adult could figure out what we were talking about because it was Latin, after all.
In the early 1980s, America was still three decades away from making pot legal in some states. Like most adolescents, I was no stranger to illegal drugs and knew people who smoked dope. Remnants of the Woodstock culture hung around my town in the form of wannabe hippies who wore feather earrings, ripped jeans and red bandannas. These kids listened to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, and the Who.
I was just on the cusp of my rebellious stage, and I looked up to those kids even though they scared me. Naming my new kitten after the marijuana plant was simply my way of making a statement about who I was at the time, however confused and impressionable that was to people on the outside looking in at me.
What My Father Did
My father could have responded to my bringing home the kitten any number of ways.
He could have yelled.
He could have told me to take it back.
He could have taken it away from me and taken it back himself.
But being the soft-hearted, tolerant and gentle man that he is, my father didn’t do any of those things (even though he’s allergic to cats and I had not asked permission to bring a kitten home). He accepted the kitten into our family, along with the name I had chosen for it, albeit with a heavy sigh. (We laugh about it today, but I think that was a really tough time for my dad as a parent, seeing his daughter make bad choices in my 14th year.)
Cannabis turned out to be a great cat. He grew big and strong, and loved to sleep at the foot of my bed. He was still with us when I left for college. During my freshman year, he ran away and never came back. I was sad to learn of his disappearance, of course, but my life was different by that point. I was living 3,000 miles away and didn’t have the day-to-day interaction with him like I’d had when I was at home.
Over the years, I loved telling the story about how Cannabis Sativa became a part of my family. People asked me about the guy who had the kittens, if he had more. I kept an eye open for him, but I never saw him again. I wondered if he’d been some kind of cat angel meant just for me that day. I also wondered about the other kittens, if they’d found homes or if he’d had to let them go in the woods somewhere. I decided I didn’t want to know, and so trained myself to stop thinking about it.
5 Things Naming My Cat after Marijuana Taught Me about Business
- Giving things away for free works. Whether it’s kittens or samples of your company’s products, there is always an audience that will gladly take what you give. Some will become loyal customers and promote your brand.
- Kittens are an incredible marketing tool. So are puppies, baby elephants and pandas rolling down snowy embankments. Brands who can find a legitimate way to work any or all of these furry little ones into a marketing campaign increase engagement significantly (here is a fascinating academic study on the role of animals in modern advertising)
- Tolerance can be a secret weapon for long term success in business and life. When faced with an uncomfortable situation, the impulse is often to push back and try to mitigate or remove the discomfort as quickly as possible. However, learning how to take a deep breath and allow things to be as they are can go a long way. This tactic comes in especially handy when dealing with difficult customers — and 14-year old children who bring home a kitten inside their jackets.
- By and large, people tend to be irrational and impulsive when making decisions. Had I stopped to think through the pros and cons of bringing a kitten home without permission to a father who is allergic to cats, there’s no telling what fate my cat would have known. As it stands, Cannabis Sativa had a terrific life for several years in a place where people loved him. Sometimes decisions made in the spur of the moment have happy endings.
- The rescue fantasy plays a much bigger role in our lives than we might first think. I wrote a blog post about the rise of rescue-based reality business shows popping up left and right, and it is not one to be overlooked. Eliciting feelings that tap into either side of this powerful equation (the one who saves vs the one who is saved) can be a business’s best friend. Most people in the deepest places of their souls want to be rescued, just like the kittens in the box.
The funny thing is, inside all of us is a 14-year old whose brain hasn’t fully developed and will go crazy for a box of free kittens (or puppies or any other baby creature with fur). To this day, I have to restrain myself any time I see an ad for puppies or kittens, as I want to take them all home.
It’s the same way in my business. I know there are many people out there who need help with something, who are feeling lost or unappreciated or behind the times or without the skills to get ahead and who, like the kittens in that box, are waiting for someone to come along and rescue them from their pain. To give them hope. To help them grow.
While my instinct is to want to help everyone, it’s a lesson all entrepreneurs have to learn at some point. We can’t feasibly take all the kittens, but the ones we do will forever be grateful.
Today I have two cats (with mainstream names). I rescued them from local shelters. They were fully grown when I brought them home. I think they love their life, and I’m happy I can provide a wonderful place for them to live for as long as the arrangement is meant to last.
We never know for sure how long things will last, which is why I do my best to appreciate what I have every day — even when I sometimes secretly wish I could have more.