Finding Your Escape Hatch

“Your collective spirits are bigger than any adversity we can face.”

Bernard Bell, the director of the Shuford Program for Entrepreneurship, is photographed on Polk Place on March 6, 2018, in Chapel Hill. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

“Your collective spirits are bigger than any adversity we can face.”

“Terrible news, worldwide chaos and challenging times have been around forever, and somehow ― every single time ― we live through it,” said Executive Director of the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship Bernard Bell, BA `82, MBA `92, to his students in an email a few weeks ago.

After a successful sales career working at IBM, Discovery Channel, HGTV and others, Bell returned to Carolina in 2015 as an Entrepreneur in Residence within the Shuford Program,housed in the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. Having fallen in love with the program and the energy of his students, he applied for the director position when encouraged by fellow faculty member Buck Goldstein. Since becoming executive director in 2017, with generous support and encouragement from the Shuford family, Bell and his team have grown the program from an entrepreneurship minor of 200 students to a well-respected program with an 800-strong student cohort. 

This incredible growth can be largely attributed to the unique communication and teaching style of the program’s leadership team. Bell and the rest of the Shuford Program team consistently make conscious decisions to be human before business, especially in times like these. Fundamentally, Bell believes that if he and his team can connect with students from the inside out, then the rest will take care of itself. With sincere support from Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Bell was able to personify this mindset in his recent email to entrepreneurship students regarding his mindset during this time of uncertainty.

“Managing through crisis and uncertainty is what entrepreneurs do, and our goal is to find those teachable moments in all of this,” said Bell. “To get through these next few months, we will need you to practice glass-half-full thinking, empathy, heart and grit. These are the ingredients that produce the best of the entrepreneurial mindset. But most importantly, you need to find your escape hatch.”

An escape hatch is something that calms you and helps you maintain your mental health, a topic that he feels needs to be elevated during this international crisis. Bell’s escape hatch is his faith, but he believes that it doesn’t matter what yours is, as long as you find it and use it to guide you like a North Star during challenging times. 

“What is that thing that isbiggerthan you that can allow you to take it all in, take a deep breath, exhale, and then give you that reassurance that everything is going to be alright?” he asked his students. “If you don’t have [an escape hatch], you need to start looking for one. Because this willnotbe your last challenging moment in your life, and you may as well go ahead and get prepared. This may be your generation’s Pearl Harbor. Every generation is defined by something like this, and then your future life is defined by that moment in time. Your ability to start the journey by finding your escape hatch will serve you well.”

Humble and honest communication between faculty and students, like Bell’s message, is what makes both the Shuford Program, and Carolina as a whole, so exceptional. When facing hardships and adversity, the Carolina community has repeatedly ― and will continue to ― come together to support one another.

“You Shuford students have shown me you have what it takes to seek calmness over anxiety,” Bell closed. “Why? Because through my own life, I have learned to bet on the human spirit. Your collective spirits are bigger than any adversity we can face. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I believe in you. I am with you. We will get through this. Together.”

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