Leadership, Recognition, Chaos & Love

suit and tie

When I stepped up to the microphone at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, I felt something new.

People recognized me as a leader.

The journey to that feeling had been a road trip filled with my own demons, others’ misconceptions (somewhat justifiable, admittedly), and unhealthy doses of fear and loathing.

Maybe these are things we all face as we navigate our workplaces and personal lives, and maybe they aren’t. Maybe we’re all predisposed to becoming who we are. Maybe we can be shaped by the right person in the right place at the right time. Maybe it’s all in the stars and a broken fortune cookie.

That’s a debate for another time.

What I can tell you is this: Being recognized as a leader feels really fucking good. It’s like waking up to discover your crush finally sees you the way you see them. And the best part? It keeps happening.

I don’t have any secrets that will have you recognized as a leader overnight, and I don’t believe I now possess some untouchable status. I’m simply thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given, and I’m going to share what I’ve learned because you might identify. If you’re working beyond the next paycheck, with your eyes on the horizon and a foot on the gas, this is for you.

Raise Your Hand

It’s simple and it’s nothing new. Until you use your words and take the initiative—no matter how big or small the project might be—your shoulder isn’t going to be tapped for anything other than bullshit nobody else wants to do.

You must be willing to do the work, of course. But until you raise your hand and prove it belongs in the air, you might as well put a framed selfie in your cubicle. You’re going to be there awhile.

When Chaos Rages, Love Your Team

You should love your team at all times. But when chaos rules the moment and resentment toward your clients or customers becomes the slippery, tantalizing slope it is, you need to shift your perspective and work for your team instead.

They’re affected by stress, just like you. They’re trying to meet deadlines now and friends later, just like you. They’re saving money for their next vacation, just like you.

During any challenge, the potential exists for the personal lives of your team members to be negatively affected. That sounds like a lot of pressure because it is. But when you approach chaos with that mindset, when you love your team and work for them, there’s no need for glasses. Your focus on what needs to be done and how to do it becomes 20/20.

Some refer to it as “Servant Leadership.” That’s cool. But, people write songs about love.

Spend Energy on Things that Matter, Screw the Rest

We are surrounded by manufactured drama, contrived out of thin air by people who don’t know as much as they think they do or seemingly aren’t happy under happy circumstances.

I’m not saying details don’t matter, because they absolutely do. It’s when more is made of details unworthy of such attention that you’ll find yourself uttering comebacks in the shower because of an email thread from yesterday.

Don’t shower angry, my friend.

I know this a tough one. We all react to things differently, and some of us have a preternatural calm that others don’t. Just take a moment to breathe, to climb a few flights of stairs, to listen to your favorite song. Take whatever that moment is for you, because most of the rest of the world doesn’t. Most of the rest of world would drop dead if they ever realized the things they think matter, don’t.

As for you, you’ll stop wasting seconds on the things that don’t matter so you can kick ass on the things that do.

It’s your turn to step up to the mic. I’ll be waiting with applause and a hug.

Sunday Morning

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You hear people complain about Mondays. You see commercials about Wednesdays. You take part in celebrations on Fridays.

Then, there’s Sunday morning.

There are few times during our week like any given Sunday morning. There’s an unspoken freedom to a Sunday morning, an understanding between you and the rest of the world that this time, this moment, is yours.

Yet, in those times of solitude, I can’t help but wonder what others are doing.

Do they have a Sunday morning routine? Is that when they clean the place, do the laundry, go grocery shopping for the week? Are they using that silence to get some actual work done, are they curled up on the couch watching CBS Sunday Morning? Are they getting dressed in their Sunday best? Are they going for a hike? Are they using this moment to write? Are they making sure their fantasy line-up is set for the week?

So many questions. And for the record, I do/have done all those things.

The thing is, I have yet to find an answer that doesn’t revolve around intimacy. And that’s what I love about Sunday morning. The intimacy of it all.

If you’re not finding the intimacy in it, I encourage you to look closer. If you’re not finding the intimacy in it, I encourage you to make time for it. If you’re not finding the intimacy in it, you’re not making the music that your heart tells you to make.

It’s heavy-handed stuff for a Sunday morning, especially when you’re talking about things like dirty jeans and crumbs on the stove. But, it’s a chance to get lost in becoming you, and it happens once every single week, and we don’t get those chances very often, so you won’t convince me that Sunday morning is just trivial.

Besides, as proper motivation for making Sunday morning Sunday morning, I once saw this quote:

“I pay in kisses, cuddles, nakedness and Sunday dinner.”

Do with that what you will … and should.

Compliments and Comparisons

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“You remind me of <famous person>” or “<famous person> reminds me of you.” You can fill in the blanks. I’m sure you’ve heard them before. My question is this: Do people really believe they’re paying you a compliment when they’re comparing you to someone else?

Three times in my life that I can remember—although, I’m sure it’s happened more—I’ve been compared to other people (in no particular order):

  • Doogie Howser, M.D. (Not Neil Patrick Harris, the actual person. Doogie Howser, the fictional character.)
  • Colin Firth (She couldn’t remember his name, but could name the movies he was in.)
  • Justin Timberlake (Solo career Justin, not *NSYNC Justin.)

Did I do a side-by-side comparison in any of these instances? No. Said persons aren’t necessarily in my iPhone’s favorites, and I’d feel a little weird asking even if they were.

The thing is, we can’t help but take a quick mental inventory whenever these comparisons occur. Is it the hair? The facial features? Did I inadvertently learn a new body language that only Sexy Back speaks?

No, no, and no.

I understand that the person handing out these “compliments” believes they’re being complimentary. But, they aren’t. They’re being lazy.

When we compliment someone else, we should be complimenting THEM … their features … their clothing … their writing … their ass … and not somebody else’s ass in a poor attempt at flattery. And whatever you do, don’t compare them to their sibling. I’d be running if I were you, and good luck with that.

What I’m saying is, don’t be lazy with your compliments. Take in what’s directly in front of you because the rest of what you think matters, doesn’t.

Take in what’s directly in front of you, and get to where you’re actually going.

The rain-soaked shirt, and the worst airport for sporting a hangover

I was standing in front of the hotel’s lobby elevator, waiting for the doors to open to lift me back to the third floor.

And, I was dripping wet.

This tends to happen when you’ve spent the previous half-hour running city streets in a downpour, dodging lightning along the way while trying to navigate your return route via your smartphone—all without drowning said smartphone.

Back in my room, I began the task of peeling off my rain-soaked shirt (could I get a hand, here?!) and made a mental list of what led to it all:

  1. Upon arrival in this particular city, its airport was described by a friend as, “… the worst airport for sporting a hangover.”
  2. I was spending time with new acquaintances/old friends.
  3. FOMO.

A fear of missing out will lead you to all kinds of places. It will lead you to dinner and drinks, to bars for more drinks (not too many, though, because of item #1 in the above list), and it will lead you back to your hotel—no matter the current weather conditions—because you’d prefer to catch the flight with your name on it, the flight departing from the worst airport for sporting a hangover.

A fear of missing out will lead you to all kinds of places. And, if you’re doing it right, it will always lead you back home.

In Writing

YourName

A few days ago, I was standing over someone’s desk, offering an opinion on something or another. They began making some notes, not necessarily because what I was saying was so noteworthy, but just adding to an already lengthy ‘to do’ list. I watched as my name was scripted next to one of the items.

In ink or pencil, it leaves a mark.

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about seeing your name interpreted by the handwriting of another. There’s something … intimate … about it.

A person’s handwriting is unique among all the other scribbles, after all. Even when everything else seems familiar, there’s probably a difference in everyone’s ‘I’. You might choose a different letter to compare.

My first recollections of this fall somewhere between being old enough to have to open—and read aloud—the cards before unwrapping the presents to which they were attached, and having to deliver to my parents a note from my teacher describing my participation in a playground brawl (a simple misunderstanding of kickball etiquette among my fellow male first-graders).

They all read the same name, and they still do. All that different handwriting for all different reasons with all different intentions because of all different emotions. It makes things personal, writing a name. And when the name you’re reading is your own, a connection is made with the person who wrote it.

So why come to this revelation now? Maybe it’s because seeing my name in someone else’s handwriting isn’t in as many cards as it once was. Maybe it’s because seeing our names in writing is so rare these days (email signatures, anyone? @TwitterHandle, anyone? INSERT_FIRST_NAME INSERT_LAST_NAME auto-tagging on Facebook, anyone?). Maybe we should use names, first names, more often in our correspondence, no matter the form.

Its effect enhances its intention, something that works both ways. And although the connection might be fleeting, it lingers a bit longer.

See you soon, _______________.

Why her makeup fascinates me, and bum is better

Fellas, when we were growing up, there were lots of things our dads didn’t mention. I believe that was by subconscious design. And for payback. LOTS of payback.

One of those things was most likely a woman’s makeup.

It’s not so much a thing as it is a potentially-usable collection, because none of it gets thrown away. Ever. That stuff is kept for life.

And it’s not so much a possession as it is a skill. Seriously. Have you ever watched—and I mean really watched—your girl apply her makeup? Get ready to go to work or go out with friends? No?

You are missing out.

If you appreciate true skill, true craftsmanship, then look no further than your girl. It’s Photoshop at its finest, but not in one of those OMG-look-at-this-celeb-without-Photoshop-WTF kind of ways.

I don’t get lost in the changes it makes to her face. I get lost in the skill of it all … the practice it must have taken … the trial and error of this shade versus that one … the entire process, from just out of the shower to ready for action. I’m telling you—you can see the end in her eyes before she even begins. It fascinates me, and I suspect it has the same effect on some of you.

But, does it fascinate her?

She might be anxious. She might be wondering what you think of her finished work. More importantly, she might be a little unsure of what you think of her unfinished work.

It’s part of your job to assure her, to show your fascination by her lack of makeup as much as she fascinates you with its skillful application.

The mask—even though it really isn’t a mask—isn’t supposed to always be worn. There will be no lazy Sunday morning walks of shame to the bathroom in hopes of saving the remnants of Saturday night. Those times are meant for bum, and there will be LOTS of those. You shall love it—and she’ll be fascinated.

Going out with Photoshop is amazing. Waking up with bum is better.

To the guy who invaded my personal space at the Richmond Road Kroger, June 2012

Richmond Road Kroger

Dude,

Since you felt the need to stand so close to me in the checkout line at the Richmond Road Kroger, I’d like to offer a critique of your performance so that you may improve the experiences had by other unsuspecting individuals in the future.

For the sake of brevity and in hopes of quick inspiration, the following is what I like to refer to as, “quick fixes”.

  • Clothing. If you’re going to invade someone’s personal space, don’t be dressed like a mugger. (Fine. I don’t know what muggers actually wear. But you sparked my imagination, so I blame you for my misconception if it’s indeed misconceived.)
  • Breath. You’re a heavy breather—which is okay, plenty of people are—so keep that breath in check when you’re standing close. The scent of moth ball is generally unpleasant even in the most pleasant of surroundings. I recommend gum. Spearmint is my personal favorite, but wintergreen will do in a pinch.
  • Shiftiness. You’re a mover, a shaker. I get it. However, stick to standing directly behind a person and then moving constantly to only one of their shoulders instead of BOTH. They won’t look quite as paranoid looking over only one shoulder. AND, you’ll save them the mental struggle of deciding from second to second which arm to use as protection if needed—they’ll be able to choose right away. Bonus.
  • Opinions. I appreciate that you approved of my soon-to-be purchases. And I appreciate that you waited until I increased the space between us from 10 inches to 12 before you offered your opinion. The thing is, I didn’t think I cared whether your opinion was favorable or not … until I was walking across the parking lot to my car. I couldn’t help but wonder if you wouldn’t hesitate to share a negative judgment. I mean, what if I’d been carrying a case of Natty Light instead of Heineken? Dammit.

Dude, I suspect this was a repeat performance for you. I’m just trying to help. This doesn’t have to be that awkward fourth season of a television series. You can turn this thing around.

Sincerely,

The guy whose personal space you invaded at the Richmond Road Kroger, June 2012

It’s wedding season, kid! (and the toast)

image by Chris Reed

I worked in a photography studio for 10 years. I loved every minute of it and this time of year—June, the beginning of wedding season—brings some of those minutes to mind.

I’m guessing I was behind the camera for approximately 120 weddings during those years. It might have been more, but definitely not less.

There isn’t much I haven’t seen, and there are plenty of tips I could give. But, each year during this time of year, I’m reminded of one wedding tradition that requires advice for everyone involved and for everyone in attendance: the toast(s) at the reception.

Some general guidelines for toast-givers:

About time: If you think it’s too short, it isn’t.

About subject: If you think it’s about you, think again. Then, think again.

About content: If you’re trying to be funny, don’t.

About sobriety: If a pre-game drink—or four—seems like a good idea, oh hell no.

About nervousness: If you think everyone in the room will be listening, you’re incorrect.

At least one of those items is always mismanaged. So if you’re giving a toast, go ahead and be nervous. That’s out of your control anyway.

And the specific rules not to be broken:

For groomsmen: This is not the time to share an embarrassing story about the groom. The bride will give you a smile-disguised death stare. Its effects aren’t immediate, but you will pay.

For bridesmaids: Shedding a tear is perfectly acceptable. Doing your best impression of an inconsolable talking child is not. Lock it up and increase your chances of being asked to dance later.

For guests: When the room suddenly gets quiet and/or someone is speaking into a microphone, it’s for a reason. When things like that happen, don’t talk. It’s beyond rude. You could become the subject of multiple SHUSHes or, in some cases, physically removed from the room. No joke.

For the bride and groom: No matter what happens, just smile.

After all, there’s a camera pointed in your direction.

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