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.

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Beautifully Exhausted

SBC picI was in the sky somewhere over Mississippi when a full body jerk brought my eyes back to attention. I realized I was holding something in my hands.

I had fallen asleep while opening the complimentary bag of pretzels.

That level of exhaustion can be caused by a few things—consecutive nights’ discussions on the status of the relationship, reading the comments section of anything on the internet, being exposed to creative feedback from a non-creative.

For me, it was caused by Summer Brand Camp. And it was beautiful.

Four days in Dallas at the most powerful conference I’ve ever attended, surrounded by ideas, meaning, purpose and a good deal of alcohol tends to leave the head spinning on a ride that makes you want to get back in line so you can ride it again.

The alarm that woke me on Wednesday morning—the second day of Summer Brand Camp—did not originate from my phone. It came from the sudden realization that I didn’t have my backpack.

The contents of my backpack consisted of camera equipment, a new laptop, every charger I own, my favorite sunglasses, and two packs of gum (spearmint, if you’re interested). These items were not things I was looking forward to replacing.

But the prized possessions in my backpack would not have interested any thieves. The prized possessions in my backpack were the business cards that had been placed in my hands by the people I’d met the previous evening, a meaningful stack of paper that would continue to grow over the next two days.

That’s why the exhaustion was beautiful. It was caused by being surrounded by the amazing people who attend Summer Brand Camp.

From first-time meetings with people to whom I’ve been connected online for years to making sure first-timers were getting the most out of the experience, from reunions with my beloved team to the it’s-so-good-to-see-you-again embraces with other Summer Brand Camp alums, it’s the people who make this event what it is.

The speakers open your eyes to new ways of acting. The work labs bring you together with others whose jobs resemble your own. The community service project reminds you there’s more to life than the next meeting. The evening events give you the chance to fulfill the promises of, “Let’s talk later.”

And then, there’s Summer Brand Camp after hours.

It’s in those hours when you forget what time it is, when you forget what time you have to wake up in the morning, when you forget to bring your backpack back to your room. The captivating one-on-one conversations while surrounded by (somewhat) organized chaos remind you of what matters, and I’m a sucker for that.

Summer Brand Campers, if you think this post might be about you, that’s because it is.

I hope you were as beautifully exhausted as I was.

Get as close as you want

She was dressed in white, and that might have been a bit premature.

When I was a photographer, I spent lots of time at weddings. And when I began in photography, I was a photographer’s assistant—carrying equipment, setting up lights, reloading cameras, switching lenses and, among other things, taking meter readings.

That’s what I was doing when she was dressed in white. She was dressed in white because she was the bride. I was taking a meter reading because lighting is critical when there’s an extreme contrast between two things such as a white wedding dress and a black tuxedo.

And, because brides and grooms traditionally don’t see each other prior to the ceremony, I—being dressed in black—stood in for the groom, careful not to touch her veil in any way, shape, or form.

I apologized for having to momentarily invade her personal space, for being so close. She said, “Don’t worry. You can get as close as you want.”

Had I been a different kind of guy, I might have accepted her offer. I might have made an excuse to lead her to a secluded room on the premises. I might have introduced my skin to hers, and she could have even remained dressed in white during the encounter. The dress would have been slightly askew by the end, of course, but at least it would have been on.

None of those things happened. I kept doing what I was doing, assisted in capturing the images of her wedding day, and I wondered if her fashion decision was as unfortunate as someone wearing a white t-shirt during a downpour. Those things get really transparent, really fast.

And until now, I’m not even sure I acknowledged her proposition.

“You can get as close as you want.”

It’s a good piece of advice, applicable to practically anything the heart desires … a new job description, a healthier body, an introduction, an Oreo … anything.

It’s the timing that’s tricky. And it might be time to ignore the timing, itself.

Why I’d rather be Abe Froman than Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio, king of the world, or Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago?

I’ll be Abe Froman, dammit. He gets impersonated at popular restaurants, and still gets seated.

Leo? I don’t even remember the name of his character in that movie where he shouts, “I’m king of the world!”

But Abe Froman? Dude. I’ve never even seen his face and I remember his name.

Ya know why?

It’s because somewhere along his career path, he specialized and dominated. He’s not a pedestrian king of the world, proclaiming his meaningless title to the wind …

He’s the freaking Sausage King. OF CHICAGO.

That, my friends, is specificity. We need more of that. I need more of that.

I’m not sure what I’m king of right now … other than the king of my keyboard. And, I’m still working on that one.

I’m still working on it because I believe in the romance of details, in the uniqueness of specificity—that’s where I see success. I want to reach Abe Froman status. Even if (and especially if) it’s for an audience of only one.

So. Please tell me:

What are you queen/king of?

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