An Open Letter to the AV Industry
by: Joe Way, PhD, CTS
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
Just when you think 2020 can’t get any worse, you say goodbye to your home. At least everyone is safe. pic.twitter.com/PqmuTkvR6f
— Joe Way, PhD, CTS (@josiahway) December 16, 2020
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.
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.
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,
someway, 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 are going to be ok. Somehow, someday,
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Joe Way, PhD, CTS, is the Director of Learning Environments at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, CA and AV Nation 2019 AV Professional of the Year. He is the host and editor-in-chief of the Higher Ed AV podcast and digital magazine, and serves as the co-founder and acting chair of the Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance (HETMA.org), aimed at connecting the higher ed tech manager community and advocating for their common audiovisual needs. He is the author of the bestselling book, Producing Worship: A Theology of Church Technical Arts, is a regular contributor to leading AV-industry media outlets and podcasts, and serves on the AVIXA Tech Managers and Diversity Councils. Joe is an Orange County, CA, native with over 25 years’ experience in education, technical production and the arts, and organizational leadership and management. Over his career, Dr. Way has received diverse awards in the areas of education, the arts, and business, and is a regular keynote speaker and writer for AV-industry and higher ed conferences and media outlets.