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An Open Letter to the AV Industry (from Joe Way)

Joe Way thanks the hundreds of AVTweeps for helping him in his time of need.

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An Open Letter to the AV Industry (from Joe Way)

Growing up with very little, I found that as the years went on, I began to value the physical blessings, job titles, and recognitions I earned more than just about anything. I became someone who believed my worth lied in my accomplishments. I mean, that is how you prove you have “made it,” right? I didn’t seek to keep up with the Joneses, I wanted the Joneses to try to keep up with me. Plainly and simply, I have always loved the rush that comes with starting something new—whether it be a business, job, or organization—and then becoming one of the single best at it. I hate failure; and to me, the more “things” I could collect meant the less times I had failed.

On December 15, 2020, one of the most devastating things happened to me and my family. We lost our home, three cars, and nearly all our earthly possessions to an electrical house fire. One minute I’m returning business emails and recording a podcast episode, the next I’m watching my garage all but disappear in flames within the span of a three-minute call to 911. Adding to the pain, the fire spread to our neighbor’s home; they too were deemed a total loss. Yet, we thank God we all got out safely… including the pets. Even still, over a month and a half later, I feel pain when I think about the “things” that are no more, just as if the fire had happened yesterday.

C.S. Lewis wrote that “when we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place” (1967). That which I lost was not replaced (at least not yet), and while my life and comfort were both heavily displaced, I discovered a fresh new feeling of security and hope from a very unanticipated place. You.

Yes, you.

While it may not be apparent to many people because of my very public persona, I am actually quite the loner. I’d much rather be passively observing. I am a conflict avoider. My safe space is by myself. And therefore, when I lost it all, I had nowhere to hide. I was exposed, lost, scared. I felt something I hadn’t in a long time… vulnerable.

But I did what I was supposed to as the leader of the household; I put on the fake smile and took many deep breathes behind the scenes in order to appear strong for my family. Deep inside, well, that was a different story… I was—and honestly still am—weak. My faith in the Lord propelled me, it guided me, it became my rock, but something very unforeseen inspired me. You.

Yes, you.

Just hours after checking into a hotel for the night, a call came in from the front desk.

“You have a delivery.”

“Thanks, I’ll be right down.”

No sooner than returning to my hotel room with the beautifully wrapped package of wine and gift card for dinner, the phone rang once again.

“Dr. Way, you have another package here at the front de… actually you have two more.”

Somehow, some way, people were finding out where we were staying and sprang into action. The texts, emails, calls, and Tweets began to flood in. At the time, I was in no shape—physically, mentally, or emotionally—to answer the calls or respond to each notification. However, with each new ding on my phone, I knew more and more, things were going to be ok. Somehow, some day, things are going to be ok.

The next morning, we woke up to meet the insurance adjuster at our house; by the time we returned to the hotel after lunch, there was that familiar red flashing light on the late 90’s corded phone.

“Good afternoon, we have some deliveries here for you.”

“Ok, I’ll be right down.”

“You’re going to need a few trips. We can just let you borrow a valet cart if you want.”

I return to the room with box after box, envelope after envelope. And then in one moment of rush, I cried. Amy cried. We cried. And I knew everything would be ok because of selfless acts of love and compassion from the most unexpected of places. You.

Yes, you.

As we sat down to start going through all the deliveries, Amy asks, “who are all these from?” These are from my colleagues at this university, and that university. These are from some of my vendors. These are from people I know from my Sunday morning Twitter conversations.

And then there’s this one:

“Hi Joe. I am praying for you and your family. You don’t know me, but I listen to your podcast every week. I heard what happened to you, and felt I needed to do something. You have changed my life and helped me in my career. I want you to know we are all here for you and are praying for you. God bless you and your family; I hope you come out stronger in the end.”

Enter… tears. Enter… silence. Indeed, we are stronger, and getting stronger every day. And that is only because of the answered prayers for strength that have come from the most humbling of places. You.

Yes, you.

And then it happened. The GoFundMe. The moment I would forever believe in the hope of humanity and know the “community” of AV people we often talk about is more than just a community, it is a refuge. It was not the act so much of setting it up (which I am indeed extremely thankful for but would be way too shy and probably too proud to have done myself), but of all the selfless acts of over 250 people wanting to make a difference for me and my family. And another hundred who wanted to do something privately.

Many I knew well; some I have never met. Articles were written throughout our various industry publications, podcast episodes were dedicated, and shoutouts came from everywhere. My family was flooded with messages of hope, prayers for peace and safety, gracious warmth, and… love. Throughout my entire life, I can honestly say I have never felt so cared for.

At a time when I didn’t know what I needed, you took the initiative to act… That should tell us all we ever need to know about you.

Yes, you.

The phrase, “I can’t thank you enough,” just doesn’t sound like, well, enough. What do I do now? How do I say thank you to an entire industry?

How do I begin to repay you even in the slightest? Where do I begin?

In his second book of poetry, John Bunyan wrote: “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you” (1684). The sentiment in that quote never felt so true, so impactful, so profound, until I was on the receiving end it. When we perform even the smallest deeds out of selfless compassion for others, life change happens.

When we turn toward others in their time of need, life change happens. When we say through our actions, “everything is going to be ok, we’re here for you,” life change happens. Lives are restored, renewed, and revived. Lives get back on track, dig themselves out of the rubble, and stand strong in faith-filled confidence. My life was changed because of you.

Yes, you.

If there’s a lesson to learn, it’s more than you are all awesome. That’s a given. If there’s a lesson to learn, it’s more than a testament to the fact that our people are here to help when the need arises and tragedy strikes. That’s a given.

If there’s a lesson to learn, it is this… We are as strong as we stay united and as weak as we allow others to fall apart. When we come together as an industry, we can accomplish great things. I know that. I… felt… that. I pray that the response to my tragedy was just the tip of the iceberg to the power of what can be realized when we recognize we are all in this together.

My life was changed. Now it is time to change everyone else’s, especially those who do not share the same spotlight I have been blessed to fill. I pray we seek those in our industry who are suffering in the shadows due to any number of reasons from natural disasters and personal tragedies of their own, to mental and physical health, to financial difficulty caused by the pandemic slowing in our industry.

I pray that 2021 be the year we turn misfortune into blessing and pain into faith. I vow that moving forward my platform will be used as a place of community, support, learning, and comfort for everyone in the AV industry. It will start with me, and all because of you.

Yes, me. Yes, you.

About the Author


Joe Way, PhD, CTS, is the Director of Learning Environments at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, CA.

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  • Iffat says:

    Joe, you have brought out the best in every one of us! In seeing your pain, perhaps we felt that solidarity because that’s what you bring, and really you, like some others really do bring community to the masses! Big love for you, Amy, the kids, and your neighbours too!
    You are so right, if we stay stuck in that moment of loss, disaster and pain, we can’t let the light in. I forget who said this – but the wound is where the light gets in! ♥️😊🙏🏽

  • Lee Louie says:

    I’m so glad I was able to contribute to the GoFundMe and support you and your family during this tragic time. I may not be in the AV industry anymore, but I still have AV in my blood forever.

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