Don’t own what isn’t yours. For decades, I tormented myself with terrible thoughts about my unworthiness. I ascribed blame to myself for the abuse, bullying, and general trauma I had experienced in life. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t at fault; I didn’t understand that the people in my life were capable of hurting me intentionally without cause. As an adult, I have finally realized that I didn’t cause my father’s death or trigger my mother’s violence. I never deserved bullying or food insecurity. I wasn’t the agent of my pain; but I was the architect of my victory over it. I was free of blame and proud of myself. I overcame and emerged strong and happy.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing David M. M. Taffet. On paper, David appears to be someone who has experienced only success — he attended Top 10 schools for undergrad and law, raised hundreds of millions of dollars, completed successful turnarounds on behalf of Fortune 500 companies, and built, bought, and sold companies all over the world. But a resume is a flattering veneer. Everything written is true, but beneath the surface lies the truth. Just five years ago, Taffet was homeless, car-less, penniless, and suicidal, but this isn’t written anywhere. Today, Taffet is happy at home in Fort Worth, Texas leading Petal, LLC, a high-tech consumer goods startup he co-founded with his wife Christie Zwahlen, Petal’s EVP of Social Impact. Taffet credits resilience for his Phoenix-like rise from poverty and suicidal depression to CEO of an innovative new company he believes will change the world.
Thank you so much for joining us David! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
A few weeks before my third birthday and two weeks before he was scheduled to return home from war for good, my father, one of only a few Jewish U.S. Air Force fighter pilots, died in the fiery crash of his F-4 Phantom (Vietnam, 1971).
My mother anguished until she raged. My father’s death awakened in her an abusive nature that had previously surfaced only sporadically. Eventually, violence and denigration became the constants which defined our relationship and conspired to dominate my worldview.
Within months of becoming a widow, my mother identified a new mate, one who shared her propensity for punishment: Another Jewish fighter pilot. We followed this man’s flight path from one anti-Semitic base to another. At each base, my “Jewish” features fueled hatred and inspired physical and verbal attacks. Like a one-two punch, I moved silently from abuse at home to bullying at school. We moved homes and schools virtually every year or two, but the violence in both settings was a constant.
In addition to the arduous social task of re-establishing myself at each school, I also had a learning disability that went undiagnosed for decades. Ironically, my mother, who worked as a reading specialist, never identified my dyslexia (which only came to light a few years ago after a friend clued me into Sally Shaywitz’s Overcoming Dyslexia).
By all accounts, the predictions for my future seemed bleak. Experiencing death, abuse, displacement and bullying at such a young age put me “at-risk” of falling down an anti-social rabbit hole of violence and cynicism. Instead, I chose to eschew violence and embrace compassion and optimism. This conscious decision informs every aspect of my life, from parenting and leadership to the professional projects I am willing to accept. I view my work style as a nurturing (yet disciplined): Mr. Mom vs. a hard-nosed dictator.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of the businesses I owned and led was called Lippincott, a direct marketing company that purchased precious metals, fine jewelry, and gems. Before I bought it, Lippincott was a family-owned, life-style business that was doing approximately $17 million a year with very few financial controls. After purchasing the company, I infused multiple layers of reporting and accountability while quickly driving the business to almost $60 million a year. Each week, I would go to our partner refinery to witness the smelting of precious metals (platinum, gold, silver) which Lippincott in-turn sold at spot market prices.
Due to our high volume of purchases, I got to the point where I had seen it all — diamond- encrusted necklaces, rare coins, watches more expensive than a Toyota Camry. Until one day.
We received a large shipment of a very fine platinum powder. Its purity was unmistakable and like nothing we had ever encountered. I took the shipment to the refinery and asked the owner what he thought it was. After inspecting it, he asked me to “please take the powder and leave”. In decades of operation, he had never seen anything so pure. He feared it was weapons-grade. Contraband.
By its weight, the powder was worth north of a million dollars. All at once, I knew I was on the receiving end of a crime. Unbelievably (or, perhaps indubitably, depending upon your level of cynicism), this wasn’t the first time I was put in the position of needing to report a crime at work.
Earlier in my career, I had identified a huge, fraudulent hole in the projected value of an enormous credit card portfolio that I was on the verge of selling to Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and the like. Luckily, I had the foresight to detail my observations in writing to the clients (who were also the sellers) and to Best Bank of Colorado (the participating bank).
This proved prescient. Eventually, the FBI and FDIC reached similar conclusions, swooped in, shut down Best Bank, and arrested everyone involved, including my clients. In going through the bank’s files, the FBI and the US Attorney’s office came across my letters. Because I had observed and detailed the fraud, they concluded that I had to be involved in some way. They had the US Marshalls escort me from Philadelphia to Denver where I was treated as a suspect until they realized they needed me as the prosecution’s star witness.
Given this experience, I did myself a favor and called the FBI before they called me. Then, in rapid succession, I retained criminal counsel to serve as a buffer, prepped my 50-plus member team, and invited the FBI to Lippincott’s offices.
I was greeted by Jim Fitzgerald and his team. Having investigated me prior to visiting, Jim was sporting a very civilian UNC Tarheel hat to razz me. I went to Duke, but never attended a basketball game. As expected, Jim declared that any operation receiving weapons-grade material was clearly suspected of criminal activity. Lippincott and I quickly became targets of the investigation.
As such, I provided Jim and his team open access to all of our books and records. They spent hours combing through every transaction made and dollar collected. At the end of the proctology exam, Jim declared that he had rarely encountered such a clean operation and that he knew I was not involved in a criminal enterprise. I was officially cleared.
Over the next few days, Jim, his team, and a Federal judge worked to identify the sender and the source of the powder. The defense contractor who “lost” the platinum didn’t report it and, as such (for hyper-technical legal reasons), the FBI was precluded from pursuing the theft further. They didn’t have probable cause to issue an arrest warrant, so they had to cease the investigation. I was free to sell the platinum and keep the profit.
When Jim told me this, I asked him, “what would you tell your son to do?” The government and judiciary had ruled that there was no crime, so he would advise his son to smelt it and sell it.
I paused in disbelief. Really!?
Drawing on my experience as a lawyer, I suggested that I could consent to a wire and pursue the seller of the platinum independently. I proposed that we call the seller and get him to confess. Jim stressed that I didn’t need to do this. Everyone already consented to my keeping the platinum. But, I didn’t want to profit from a theft. Legally mine or not, I wanted to make sure that more weapons-grade material didn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Quickly, we secured judicial consent for the wire and set up a real-life sting. I was able to get the seller on the phone, and after a series of plausible business-related questions, got him to share details about his location and the source of the platinum. I kept the seller on the phone long enough for the FBI to identify his location and mobilize a team to arrest him. As the FBI closed in, I told him, “I’ve appreciated our conversation. I’m hanging up now, but you should expect a knock at your door momentarily. It’s the FBI.”
This still stands as one of the most surreal experiences of my life.
I gained several takeaways from this experience. Firstly, meticulous accountability in one’s business operations is critically important, both for the health of your business and your own peace of mind. Secondly, by being proactive and acting fast, I was able to avoid criminal implication. Drawing on a sense of justice and integrity, I passed up over a million-dollar pay day, but I got to prove to Jim Fitzgerald that Duke is as worthy as UNC. Great day.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Petal’s culture is informed by public opinion, but established by our team’s collective values. We address issues directly and never shy away from difficult conversations. We define our company’s health first by its impact on people (both employees and customers) and the planet, and only secondarily by its profit potential.
We believe in accountability for all forms of bigotry, but we also believe that people are redeemable and that cancellation should have shades of grey.
Case in point, we recently uncovered racist and offensive online posts by Petal’s co-inventor Brian Petz. The posts are hateful, hurtful and entirely inconsistent with our values as individuals and as a company. What follows is an account of how we handled this devastating blow to our team’s morale, and ultimately, emerged as a stronger community of colleagues and friends.
First, our entire team engaged in direct, emotional conversations about the seriousness of the matter. We provided Brian with a platform to apologize in earnest, which he did. He declared that his actions were abhorrent and explained how he is not the person the posts suggest he is. He is mortified by his actions and has acknowledged that his statements were harmful and utterly false. Since this revelation, he has committed to a path of redemption, which includes professional consequences for his errors.
Brian has since drafted public apologies that are being submitted to various newspapers and will eventually be posted on his personal website. Though we applaud and support Brian’s commitment to redemption, earnest apologies alone are not sufficient to address the potential harm of his actions — for Petal the company, each of us as individuals, and the diverse audience we hope to attract.
Thus, Brian has been stripped of:
- His executive position in the company,
- His say in company governance,
- His ability to speak for the company publicly to the press and/or investors, and
- His ability to manage direct reports.
Going forward, Brian will serve as a product development engineer reporting directly to me. Over the next year or so, he will actively work to grow as an individual, mature in his perspectives, speak in constructive and supportive ways, and judge every individual by their character and capabilities, not by their immutable characteristics.
Although Brian’s continued involvement with the company poses a potential risk of online attacks and journalistic exposés, the entire Petal team is committed to embracing Brian for the following reasons:
- All of us deeply care for and respect Brian.
- We know that the Brian who used incendiary rhetoric and ignited the subsequent upset is not the same Brian of today.
- We are adamant in the belief that improving our society requires openness, flexibility of thought, and forgiveness. If we are truly committed to forming a more perfect union, we cannot take the stance that people are irredeemable.
- We believe that to create change, you must first allow and help others to change.
- We are not the type of company that discards people over their missteps. The measure of a person is not in their mistakes, but in how they own their mistakes, make amends, remedy their mindset and/or behavior, and move forward.
- We believe in personal and professional growth and we see in Brian a person worth investing in.
These events transpired amidst a backdrop of national unrest sparked by the horrific death of George Floyd, and we shared these details with Petal’s members on Juneteenth. It was fitting to use that time to recognize our own responsibility in creating an anti-racist world. By the steps we took, Petal transcended the emptiness of platitudes and instead engaged in action. We invested real time, engaged in honest conversations, and implemented necessary change. As a purpose-driven company, we will continue to judge our effectiveness not by what we say, but by what we do.
At Petal, we believe that eliminating racism requires educating racists. We believe that our goal should be to eradicate racism, not racist people. Flawed human beings are simply that — prejudiced by personal experiences, hypocritical in their admonishments of others, self-centered in their worldviews, and heavily influenced by their communities, by where they turn to for news and other important sources of information, and their exposure (or lack thereof) to cultural differences.
Regardless of the clichés, many people can and do change, especially when provided with meaningful guidance. We believe in Brian and each member of our team.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am grateful for one of my dearest friends, Bob Gionesi, who died from cancer a little more than eight years ago. Prior to his death, we worked together for 10+ years in lots of different capacities. We respected each other so completely that we never worried about who was the lead. Sometimes he would serve on the board of one of my companies and I would report to him. Sometimes he would serve as a direct report to me.
Our long-standing friendship was truly remarkable because it began when Bob destroyed one of my first large companies.
Early in the Dot-com era, I launched a company that provided end-to-end internet-based digital assets, including web services and video-on-demand. I made the mistake of outsourcing my sales force to a large corporation on the verge of a multi-billion-dollar public offering. The idea was that the company would serve as a channel partner where both the partner company and mine would share in the proceeds of all joint opportunities. The partnership generated tremendous revenue, which should have been a win. Unfortunately, the outsourced sales force claimed that every joint sale was the result of their independent efforts, thus denying my company its share of the revenue.
So, I went to New York City and met directly with the company’s North American VP of Sales, who happened to be Bob. After outlining the issue, I was met with chuckles. He explained that his company was focused on the billions of dollars in front of it as opposed to the millions I was discussing. At that moment, I knew I was sunk. As a former litigator, I knew what it would take to battle and win, and as a finance person I understood that I would be bankrupt before ever seeing a pay day.
Instead of having an emotional outburst and threatening suit, I calmly pivoted. More specifically, I began exploring what needs the company might have given that it was going public. To my surprise, the company had a pressing need for a co-location facility in Philadelphia, where I lived at the time. After extended inquiry, I learned, among other things that:
- The company didn’t trust any carrier-based company to provide its services;
- The company had very specific engineering requirements that no existing Philadelphia-based company could meet; and
- The company did not want to build its own facility for fear of having it on its balance sheet.
Understanding this, I made a proposal. I would raise the amount needed to build the facility to the company’s specifications and operate it if they promised two things. First, a monthly revenue that would make my new company profitable on day one. And second, the ability to build out excess capacity that I could lease to other providers. Bob agreed on the spot and I left with a contract.
Of course, Bob didn’t know that I had no clue what a “co-location” facility was. When I left the meeting, I called my general counsel and asked him to research “co-location” so I could understand what I had agreed to build.
In the end, I had to shutter the company that Bob’s salesforce was helping to destroy, but I succeeded in raising the money to build, launch, and operate a very profitable co-location company called MeridianTelesis. Bob accepted my invitation to serve on the board of MeridianTelesis and he profited alongside me five years later when we decided to sell to a public company. From there, we partnered to build and turnaround a number of enterprises. Along the way, we had wonderful meals, great drinks, and a ton of laughter. I credit his friendship and support for my early success in business, and I miss him terribly.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is a life force that one harnesses to survive and emerge from devastation. Resilience is the opposite of victimhood and self-harm. It averts one’s eyes from the rearview mirror and fixes them on the path forward. Resilience arises from courage and builds on strength. Your resilience is not defined by your worst circumstances, but rather by how you handle and rise above your circumstances.
Resilient people harness optimism to envision a brighter day. Through difficult times, they are tenacious in their resolve to move towards that brighter day. They use creativity to navigate unforeseen obstacles, fortitude to recover from inevitable defeats, and audacity to fuel the drive forward.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Frederick Douglass comes to mind immediately. His autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass, will do the trick if you’re ever searching for some motivation.
Entrepreneurs often romanticize the years of scarcity during which they “courageously” build businesses in the face of obstacles and criticism. It is true that entrepreneurism is not for the faint of heart. Still, entrepreneurial difficulties are generally surmountable, non-life-threatening problems.
In his Narrative, Frederick Douglass suffers from and witnesses extreme violence and constant pain while continuing to pursue the dream of a better tomorrow. Especially now, it behooves us to remember and appreciate how much one can endure to realize a dream. Narrative is an important reminder of the injustices our fellow citizens have suffered and survived. It reminds us that we are privileged to pursue profits while many others are continuing to suffer inhumane and unjust treatment the world over.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Making contrarian moves is an important underpinning of my success. Many times, I’ve pursued opportunities vacated by others or which others admonished me to avoid. In my opinion, “impossible” is a far too widely and inaccurately used adjective. When I hear it uttered in business, I almost always treat it as an invitation to engage.
One of my most colorful and satisfying experiences defying the impossible occurred in the context of a turnaround in Germany. More specifically, I was retained by the CEO of an international outsourcing company to evaluate and address long-standing financial issues and complex managerial and operational incompatibilities between the company and its German division. The company had tried numerous times unsuccessfully to resolve its issues and to stop the hemorrhaging of millions of dollars each year.
The day after cementing my contract with the company, I flew to Germany and showed up at the division’s offices at 7:00 AM. I was greeted by the company’s CFO, who launched into a harsh, unfiltered diatribe about how he and the subsidiary did not appreciate the American parent company’s continued scrutiny and interference. With that unpleasant start, the CFO escorted me to the corporate offices where he proceeded to show me around.
The tour was peculiar. I wasn’t introduced to anyone or given an explanation of the operations. Instead, I was led from conference room to conference room. At each entrance, the CFO pointed to a prominent brass plate engraved with an unmistakably American name (e.g. Robert Warren, Ed Simmons). After an awkward tour of all the conference rooms in the office, we stopped and stood in front of one last room. This one was remarkable because no brass plate hung beside the door.
At that moment, the CFO turned to me and began to apologize. You see, with insufficient notice of my arrival, he didn’t have enough time to engrave a brass plate with my name on it. I was puzzled.
“So you can formally join the rogue’s gallery of American meddlers that came and failed in Germany,” he said.
I admit, I was equally impressed with and annoyed by the theatrics. Apparently, it was effective in shaking all the previous consultants who came before me.
“Save your money,” I said. “I’m here to succeed.”
After a lengthy process of interviewing all the division’s employees, I restructured the company and extracted significant employee concessions. I then secured approval for the concessions from three company unions and, in turn, from the German National union. Afterwards, I orchestrated and negotiated the sale of the newly-restructured division to a German competitor on terms that included an assumption of liabilities by the purchaser and a reduction in and favorable treatment of a trade payable owed by my employer to the division.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
At this moment, I’m finally on the rise from my greatest life and career setback.
Approximately 10 years ago, I came face-to-face with my worst fear — the dissolution of my marriage and my family. It happened when my first wife confessed that she loved me, but wasn’t in love with me. Although not altogether unexpected, her confession turned my world upside down, drove me into a dark depression, and set me down a path of self-destruction.
After declaring my intention to divorce and separate, I “rebounded” into the arms of someone who I now recognize suffered from borderline personality disorder. She was also a criminal, and I fell for her — hook, line, and sinker. Without thought, I merged all my businesses and investments with hers. Soon after, she forged my signatures on deeds, defrauded my long-standing friends, pilfered my accounts, and stole my property. Five years later, she spit me out — bankrupt and alienated from my friends and family.
Other than a handful of people, everyone turned their backs on me. My parents, extended family, friends, and professional network all ousted me from the communities I once helped to nurture and grow. I had lost everything, including the home I personally restored to its 1890s glory, the place where my children grew up. I was homeless, car-less, and penniless. I thought about killing myself, but it pained me to think of putting my children through more loss. Only a miracle of God was going to renew my once unflinching optimism.
And then I met my second wife, Christie, who had the daring to stick with me as I was besieged by the fury and disdain of family members and former friends. She has always appreciated me for my being as opposed to my doing. She saw me for me, not my circumstances. She helped me learn to love myself. Her belief in me sparked my Phoenix story and has culminated in the beautifully fulfilling life we enjoy today. After falling so far, we like to say that we “rose in love” together, which is a line from the Toni Morrison novel, Jazz.
Together, we have launched a number of businesses and recently moved to Fort Worth, Texas. We are the perfect marriage of enterprising entrepreneur meets community organizer: We execute with excellence and heart.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
In addition to the violence in my childhood, college was a very difficult part of my life. As a high school senior, I received full scholarships to several universities that were not at the top of my list. Academics was my full-time passion and a very serious commitment.
School was the only place where I consistently received positive affirmation of my self-worth. I knew I’d earned the grades and scores needed to go wherever I chose, but my parents wouldn’t support my application for financial aid. They insisted that I go somewhere offering a full ride, but I refused. As a result, they provided little to no financial support to me while at Duke, where I worked tirelessly towards an early graduation.
Knowing there was no way that I could survive financially for the full four years of a traditional undergraduate education, I embraced an aggressive academic schedule designed to allow me to graduate in three years. I took on multiple jobs, mowed lawns on weekends, and built some small businesses. But, it wasn’t enough.
Despite all my planning and assiduousness, I spent much of my third and final year at Duke taking bets to do stupid things for money. I showed up wherever I thought I might be able to snag a handful of chips or slice of pizza. I did almost anything for a meal. In truth, I often went entire days without eating and without knowing when I would eat again.
Even selling the few physical possessions I had and working every available hour, I couldn’t make ends meet. I showed up to classes tired, hungry, and, in many ways, defeated. Still, I stayed focused and accomplished my goals: I graduated in three years with honors, and I immediately took a job as a legislative assistant in Washington DC. I worked quickly to achieve a stable state of self-sufficiency before attending law school at the University of Virginia.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Embrace every setback as if it were your choice. Last year, Christie waited for me in the parking lot outside Miami University’s Administration building while I met with the Dean to formalize a previously agreed to extension of my contract and a significant pay raise. Instead, the Dean sat me down and explained that for University-related reasons he was obligated to terminate my contract immediately. This was a huge, unexpected blow; we had reasonably counted on this contract and we didn’t have a ready substitute for it. I took a breath, stood up, shook the Dean’s hand, and thanked him for the time we spent. From the moment I left his office until the time I got back to Christie, I decided that the contract was not the best use of my abilities and that we were beyond ready for a move. I embraced the setback as if it was my own choice, and, as such became excited to embark on a new path. While we drove the 7 minutes from the Admin building to our home, I contacted the top realtor in the market to list our home for sale and I reached out to the parties behind Petal to express my interest in moving forward with the company. In short order, we sold our house, launched the company, and moved to Fort Worth, Texas to establish Petal’s headquarters and our new home.
- Don’t own what isn’t yours. For decades, I tormented myself with terrible thoughts about my unworthiness. I ascribed blame to myself for the abuse, bullying, and general trauma I had experienced in life. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t at fault; I didn’t understand that the people in my life were capable of hurting me intentionally without cause. As an adult, I have finally realized that I didn’t cause my father’s death or trigger my mother’s violence. I never deserved bullying or food insecurity. I wasn’t the agent of my pain; but I was the architect of my victory over it. I was free of blame and proud of myself. I overcame and emerged strong and happy.
- Be honest about your reality. See things for what they are before determining your next steps. Often our greatest devastation arises from defeated expectations. When we stay present and keep our expectations of the future in check, we avoid pain that would require resilience to surmount. Easier said than done. Two years ago, I helped an import/export company turn around its operations. During the engagement, I identified money drains outside the core operation that I could not explain from the books and records provided. The principals of the company seemed unconcerned and we moved on. As compensation for my services, the import/export company gave me the opportunity to rebrand and market a truly exceptional, but poorly performing tequila line. I was so excited about the vision I had for the product’s future that I immediately set out to rename it, develop a logo for it, create a special bottle, a compelling label, unique corks and all types of branded marketing and packaging material. In my excitement, I failed to evaluate the operations or meet the operators until 4 months into the process. On the back side of having developed distribution channels, branded marketing materials, and powerful packaging, I traveled to Tequila, Mexico to view the distillery and meet the operators. Upon arrival, my sponsors pointed to a man getting out of a brand new luxury SUV. His manicured nails, coifed hair, silk sweat suit, ostentatious gold watch, and insanely expensive shoes were certainly not the norm. Having spent a lot of time in Mexico, I knew this wasn’t normal. When they told me he was the operator, my heart sunk. In an instant, I knew where all the company’s lost money had gone, and I knew I had to pull out of the arrangement.In my haste, I had overlooked the most important principle in operating a successful enterprise — its people. I had failed to follow my own advice and got smacked for it. Had I stayed present and carefully evaluated the good, the bad, and the ugly of the current operation before executing on my inspired vision for the brand, I would not have required resilience to move forward. Another lesson learned.
- Make friends with your discomfort; embrace the pain that leads to growth. During my sophomore and junior year of high school, my family and I lived on Osan Air Force Base outside Seoul, South Korea. While there, I was privileged to study under Grand Master Do Sik Mun who had also trained Chuck Norris. Do Sik Mun required us to start each class by striking a roughly-roped doorjamb at full force until our knuckles and fingers were bleeding. Each hit was excruciating, and we were not allowed to stop. The objective was to hone our fists into weapons by flattening their natural curves. This yielded a wider, flatter striking surface. What’s more, the repeated hits made our fists immune to pain, which in turn increased both the force of our hits and the hardness of the surfaces we could withstand hitting (e.g. someone’s head). To achieve these two objectives, we had to invite and nurture the pain.
- Take time to recognize your accomplishments and appreciate your good fortune, knowing that who you are and what you’ve become is a result of how you handled your circumstances — it would be impossible to reach this day without taking the path you pursued. I would gladly repeat all 47 years of my life B.C. (Before Christie). This declaration is not masochistic, but rather celebratory. I no longer fear the pain that, in the end, couldn’t break me. Indeed, I am thankful for it. Without it, I would have never had the opportunity to grow. If I knew then the value of all that pain, I would have gladly endured it. Sitting here today, I would do it all again, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I don’t have to imagine what I might do; I’m doing it. Through Petal and its innovative approach to freezing organic waste, Christie and I are on a mission to eliminate the need for single-use plastic bags. Plastics in general, and plastic bags in particular, are environmental scourges that detrimentally affect the health of our planet.
According to a 2018 study by the Earth Day organization, it is estimated that 4 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually. Only 1% of these plastic bags are returned for recycling. The rest end up in landfills, oceans and waterways, and scattered across the landscape. Closer to home, Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags annually. That’s a little over 300 bags per person!
Because plastics do not biodegrade, these are frightening numbers with serious implications. According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, plastics pose, among others, the following dangers:
- Plastic affects human health. Toxic chemicals leach out of plastic and are found in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Exposure to them is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments.
- Plastic spoils our groundwater. There are thousands of landfills in the United States. Buried beneath each one of them, toxic chemicals from plastics drain out and seep into groundwater, flowing downstream into lakes and rivers.
- Plastic threatens wildlife. Wildlife become entangled in plastic, they eat it or mistake it for food and feed it to their young, and it is found littered in even extremely remote areas of the Earth. In our oceans alone, plastic debris outweighs zooplankton by a ratio of 36-to-1.
- Plastics poison our food chain. Even plankton, the tiniest creatures in our oceans, are eating microplastics and absorbing their hazardous chemicals. The tiny, broken down pieces of plastic are displacing the algae needed to sustain larger sea life who feed on them.
Through Petal, we are looking to eliminate the need for plastic liners entirely. We are encouraging consumers to rely instead on biodegradable liners or, even better, to forgo liners all together.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
My life has been touched by the artist, designer, and environmentalist Maya Lin. The Vietnam Veterans War Memorial she designed, which has my father’s name enshrined on it, inspired me to ignore the directions for UVA law school’s application essay, which asked me to describe my reasons for pursuing law. Instead, I shared a poetic shard of my life, part of which reads as follows:
Mirrored within the sober countenance of the Vietnam Memorial, an azure sky, punctuated by windswept clouds, crowned my brother and me as we knelt before our father’s memory. The Memorial has preserved his legacy in its ebonized stone, acknowledged his sacrifice in the engraving of his name, and revealed our grief in an ephemeral reflection.
I am also moved by Lin’s Civil Rights Memorial, which sits outside the original offices of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. During college, I worked in those offices, where I drafted legal arguments leading to the removal of the Confederate Flag from the Alabama State Capital building in 1993.
Maya leads with courage, sensitivity, and purpose. Despite reaching the pinnacle of success and receiving accolades at the highest levels, she remains humbly and passionately committed to environmentally-aware design. I admire her conviction, accomplishment, spirit and being.
I also admire her resilience. She rose above the anti-Asian racism levelled at her when her Vietnam Veterans War Memorial design was chosen as the winner. At such a young age, she withstood so much with grace and strength. She’s a truly remarkable artist and a brave human being.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am most active on LinkedIn, but my about.me page (about.me/davidtaffet) is the easiest way to view my street photography portfolio and connect with me on your social media platform of choice.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!