The rainbow is fantastic and other lessons from John Sharp

In October of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, we opened our office in Boise for a few days so that employees could come in and get the flu shot. John Sharp, who had been working at PartnerHero for about four months, was excited to take advantage of the benefits PartnerHero offers, including free access to a flu shot and to see colleagues who he’d never met in person, even if just for a few minutes. 

He got the flu shot and everything seemed normal at first but a few days later the left lymph node in his throat swelled to the size of a golf ball. He went to the doctor who diagnosed medication for strep throat. When that didn’t fix the problem John underwent a throat scan. 

That is how, within two weeks of getting the flu shot, John Sharp learned that he had stage four throat cancer.

“That flu shot saved my life. I would not have had the reaction or found the tumors without it. Right now I’m cancer free but that would not be the case had it not been for that shot.”

John is no stranger to overcoming obstacles in life. At eight, his father went to jail for crimes that would haunt John for many years, leaving his mother to raise five kids on her own. To cope with the trauma from his father’s sudden departure, John turned to drugs and alcohol as a teenager. When he fell in love and got married in his late twenties he left drugs and alcohol behind but continued to feel a void in his life which he filled with food and damaging behaviors. 

“A lot of people try to define addiction by saying it's the opposite of sobriety. I say it's a lack of connection. Addiction is a void you don’t know how to replace. So you try to find a way to hide from it. If you’re sober you’ll use food, sex, lots of other things could fill into that - exercising, collecting things, becoming a hoarder. The truth is, it's never really physical, it’s mental, trying to fill that void. I lost myself in food and extra-marital relationships. I found ways to try and feel good even though I couldn’t escape reality. When my first marriage ended I had to face what I’d been through. I thought, “I’m broken, why? What’s missing in my life?”

After divorcing at 34 he decided to make some drastic changes in life to get to the root cause of why he had a habit of pushing away the things that mattered most to him. 

“I’ve been through a lot - turmoil as a child that turned into turmoil as an adult, addiction issues. I’ve found solace in finding out who I am. I’ve moved away from this idea that there’s a greater power that will get me through this. I realized that the greater power is me. I had to let go of worrying about what happened in the past and what will happen in the future and figure out how to live in the moment.” 

That was a turning point for John. He let go of his anxieties about the past and let go of trying to control the future. He put his life savings into starting a solar panel business, something that required his full attention, leaving very little space to worry about the past or the future, really forcing him to live in the moment. Unfortunately it didn’t work out as planned - within one year of starting the business he had lost everything. Despite that, he still sees that as one of the most important parts of his journey - it was the moment when he learned to look at himself in the mirror and accept, even love, what he saw.  

“It was painful, emotionally. I had to face myself, I had to look at the truth and examine everything I had been telling myself about my life. For example, it was my father’s fault that I had a poor childhood. Yes, it was his fault. But I didn’t have to choose to be a victim. I didn’t have to choose to allow that to affect the rest of my life. I could say it was drugs and alcohol that held me back as a young adult. No, that was me, I chose that. I can’t take credit for my success if I don’t take credit for my failure. You have to accept the things you don’t like about yourself, give them a name, acknowledge that they are part of you so that you can move forward and embrace who you are today. I don’t see myself as the kid whose dad went to prison. I don’t see myself as the kid in highschool who was drunk and high. That person is not me. It's me in the past, not me now. I’ve learned to not only accept myself but love myself. It has been an incredibly challenging road.”

One of his oldest friends reached out to him at that moment and convinced him to apply to work at PartnerHero. He was skeptical, he’d done traditional call center work before and didn’t think it was something he wanted to do again. But his friend persisted, even driving over to his apartment with the application and filling it out with him. 

“PartnerHero fell into my lap when I most needed it. I had nothing and PartnerHero has not only given me a job and health insurance but also so much connection, the thing I most crave in life. When I was in the hospital over Thanksgiving, a fully cooked Thanksgiving meal was delivered to my house by PartnerHero. They even sent presents for my kids over the holidays because I was still in the hospital. PartnerHero wanted to make sure my kids still got to have a Christmas even though I was sick. I’m also able to see connection and community on a global scale. I work with people in Honduras and Brazil. I’ve learned about their culture and I’m friends with all these people I would never have met otherwise. My life is so much richer because of it. PartnerHero has really been life changing, I honestly might not even be alive if it weren’t for working here.” 

John underwent surgery in December of 2020 and is now cancer-free. Despite everything that John has gone through he remains an optimist. He sees past “mistakes” and hard times as the experiences that he needed to get to where he is today. 

“Making educated and good choices is difficult. You can only do that with experience and you can only get experience by failing and learning. If you are stuck, remember: you are just setting yourself up with the experience you’re going to need later. Don’t quit.”