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.

A Short Story (Chapter One)

My name is Jake. I’ve taken full liberty of the fact that my parents christened me with a name that can be shortened in a manly manner.

I’m a decent looking guy. That’s what the mirror says anyway. I take care of myself, recommended physicals and dental exams be damned. Again, the mirror is the chief authority in such matters.

As it is in so many.

But, the favorable opinions of others certainly don’t hurt. Nor do the double-takes at the liquor store when the clerks check my driver’s license. Suffice it to say, I look a few years younger than I actually am. It’s either that, or bourbon is the cradle robber of the whiskey family.

To use the word “formally” again, I am formally educated. I have the framed piece of paper to prove as such. However, much of my education has been formed by the driving force of, “I’ll show you, fucker.” Many thanks to the name-forgotten grade school teacher who once explained to a not-so-bright-eyed audience of students why Thomas Jefferson was referred to as a Renaissance Man. For the record, I was the bright-eyed one with whom that particular lesson stuck for life.

I learned to type on a typewriter while, at the same time, discovering the wonders of Tecmo Bowl. If that gives you any indication of my age, then you’re safe in saying that I lie somewhere between feeling immortal and the discovery of grays.

I would break from the introduction now, but what’s an introduction without the subject of love? I’ve loved. I’ve been loved. And in rare instances, both of those have happened at the same time. I say “rare” because, often, the timing is inconvenient. Maybe you love someone when they don’t love you back and then, in a role reversal, the opposite becomes true.

You’re not good enough for them. They’re not good enough for you. You’re not good enough for each other.

It’s the inconvenience of love that shapes us. Love only becomes convenient after the play dough is permanently dried into the carpet. And then, it starts all over again.

I’m not jaded though. I have been in the past, but I’m not now. My secret? Self-awareness, consideration, and the first ten minutes of Swingers when Mike ends his phone rant by saying, “I’m not gonna be one of those assholes.”

Now, the mirror might not say that I’m an asshole, but it’s not speaking a foreign language when it says I’m an ass. Cupid tapped the collective asses of love and self-awareness a very long time ago.

So that’s where I’ll start. At the beginning. Of all this.

A Short Story (The Prelude)

photo (5)

“It was never something I expected to keep, this love of yours.”

He spoke the words aloud in his apartment, but nobody was there to hear them. She was gone, and had been gone for quite some time. And that … well, that was his own doing.

There’s a specific volume control setting on speakers, the one that borders between too loud for the neighbors and too soft for your own ears, the one where the bass is two steps beyond beginning to resonate—present but not overwhelming, adding life to that song on your playlist.

And presently, it was overwhelming.

The hardest part of losing someone you love is one-fourth when you keep your love for them, one-fourth when they keep their love for you, and one-half when you keep your love for each other. It’s a recipe not easily forgotten.

The things he should’ve thrown away—or thought he did—were still there. The emails. The texts. The photos. Damn, the photos.

And then, there are the things he couldn’t even drink away. The movies, the songs, the memories of phone conversations so inextricably intertwined with places they would now only visit separately … or with someone else.

As he walked to the kitchen, the sound of sirens made their evening appearance. They were a regular occurrence but they were always in the distance, signaling to him that he must be living in the right spot. They were always far enough away to remind him that troubles existed. Just not at his doorstep.

He poured his usual and took his place on the couch. Bare feet propped on the coffee table and glass carefully resting against his jeans-covered leg, he opened his well-used notebook to a blank page. The writing that was to be done wasn’t necessarily meant to be seen. Ever. But, it was necessary that the words be written. He began writing.

It was never something I expected to keep, this love of yours.

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, _______________.

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.

Long lines, and making that become this

The lines were never too long. Seems like a strange thing to say, really, especially considering it was Walt Disney World.

Florida was a frequent summer vacation spot for my family—Fort Myers, Sanibel, Fort Lauderdale, the Keys. But, Disney was the favorite. And around the time I was slightly above 13 years old, I was allowed more and more time to explore the place on my own.

Which means the further past 13 I went, the more I was looking for girls.

My favorite spot was Space Mountain. The lines and their back and forth seemed to go on forever. The anticipation of the thrill, the background of joyous voices, and the dimly lit place was an early introduction to bar and club experiences I’d see when I was even further past 13. But at that time, the atmosphere inside that building sufficed. Hell, it was all I could handle.

Things haven’t changed that much, honestly.

I’d take my place in line, hoping for the best. The ‘best’ being that some teenage girls would be on their own just like me, not too far ahead or too far behind in line, and we’d make eye contact. And then we’d make eye contact again.

Told you. The back and forth of long lines, that was a good thing.

Eventually—if I was lucky—we’d say, “hi,” to one another. On the next pass, we might exchange names. The next, one of us might cut line.

This only happened once (in all my attempts), so don’t take this as advice on how to meet girls at Walt Disney World.

Anyway, she and her friend were from Texas. If I remember correctly—and I like to think that I do—they were in Florida for a marching band competition. We talked for the remainder of the wait in line, rode Space Mountain together, and made plans to meet at Epcot the next day.

We met in the Mexico pavilion which seemed appropriate to me at the time, given she was from a state that bordered the country anyway. We spent a few hours together, even as her friend became increasingly agitated being the third wheel. Sorry about that, friend.

We exchanged addresses and phone numbers. She wrote. I wrote. She called, we talked.

And that was that.

Over the years, I’ve found myself in that back and forth of long lines, hoping to make eye contact, oblivious to the fact that things haven’t changed much, even this far past 13. Too much of, ‘that was that,’ not any of that became this.

I’ve seen the shorter line. Now … if I can just get back in it.

When I popped her bra, and more cowbell

My hand

To the girl whose bra I popped in eighth grade, I apologize. If it’s any consolation to her, she was my one and only. I can’t explain why I did it other than I was following the lead of a small—albeit influential—crowd. I want her to know the expression on her face and the slight gasp that left her mouth made me immediately regret my decision.

And, it left a permanent impression.

You see, what I discovered a few years later is that a bra is supposed to be the anti-Rubik’s Cube. It isn’t meant to be a puzzle, and it isn’t meant to be handled with unknowing hands.

It is, however, meant to be solved. Skillfully and almost imperceptibly. Almost.

I’m not here to offer experienced advice or brag of meaningless hookups because, I assure you, I have little of either. But, to the guys out there, I’ll tell you this:

Your hands are two of your most important pieces of equipment.

Whether you use your left or right, it doesn’t matter. Only one of them is required to accomplish the task. If you’re using both, you’re drawing attention away from the moment. If you’re using both, you’ve just become a cowbell. Trust me, your girl doesn’t need more cowbell.

You’ll know when you’ve got it down. You’ll see it in the expression on her face. You’ll hear it in the slight gasp that leaves her mouth.

It will be skillful and almost imperceptible.

To the girl whose bra I popped in eighth grade, I thank you.

You can take the boy out of the small town, and pictures to prove it

Small town intersectionThat small town intersection is a reminder of what made me. It isn’t where I was raised and it isn’t where I live now, but it’s part of my fabric. It’s worn, but it will never fade.

I suspect you have some clothes like that, too.

Look, I’m about as small town and country as the line-up of Bed Head products currently adding character to my sink and shower. And still, as much as I’ve changed over the years, as much as I’ve added new sights and sounds to the catalog, the small town still makes an occasional appearance.

And, there’s not a thing wrong with that. It isn’t something to fight against.

It’s about making friends with what got you here. If your past sucks, you don’t have to embrace it, but you should be able to at least shake hands with it—and then make fun of it behind its back, of course.

What connects with people is you connecting with yourself. Trying to be something you’re not is a slippery slope. I have pictures to prove it.

I bet you do, too.

It’s been years since I lived in a small town but every time I hold the 10 and the 2 through that intersection, I can feel it. I can see where it shows itself in the day-to-day.

I wouldn’t change a thing. Except for those previously mentioned pictures.

So, tell me. What’s the part of your fabric that will never fade?

When that’s what she said, and the Patrón-buying credit card

Not so long ago, around the time I became aware that my lack of game was actually a lack of awareness—‘cause we all got game—I found myself at a club in downtown Indianapolis. I wasn’t looking for anything other than a drink and a dance and a good night, nothing other than the promise of what might be while drenched in low lighting and remnants of “In Da Club.”

My credit card was invincible. That’s why it started buying rounds of Patrón. And, even while basking in the glory of all my unawareness, I noticed the card was also buying shots for the bartender. About her …

She was smokin’ hot, and in a girl-next-door kinda way. She wasn’t your typical no-chance-in-hell-with-her-just-pretend-she-likes-you-and-leave-an-impressive-tip bartender. Trust me—trust most of us guys—we know the untouchable bartenders when we see them and she wasn’t one of them. And, she was genuinely friendly (to me, anyway) and went out of her way to find me whenever I made my way to the bar.

She was talking to me. She was actually drinking the shots my card was buying and, as those who know me well will tell you, I don’t miss a detail like that. At some point in the single digits of after midnight, she flirted that I had gotten her drunk. I was flattered, possibly feeling a bit empowered to continue the conversation. Then, she slipped me a look—you know the one I’m talking about and don’t pretend otherwise—and wrote on a bar napkin …

insert her name (‘cause I don’t remember)
insert her number (which I wouldn’t divulge even if I did remember)
meet me outside around 3

Let me share with you this little secret:

There’s a part of us guys, no matter how much we think we want to hear it, that is a little terrified the girl might say, “Yes.” We’re a little uneasy when that IS what she said. The question and the answer is rarely so literal and direct, but we know when it’s there.

Just like it was on that bar napkin.

Even if we found the courage to approach her from across a crowded room, even if we’re making out and our hands are not discouraged from freeing buttons, the repercussions of a positive answer linger. Especially when we’re not sure how our game got us in that position.

Game and a lack of awareness. Fellas, if you don’t know where you fall on that continuum, figure it out. Because when she says, “Yes,” she most likely means it.

And that’s a hard answer to get in the first place.

Or, am I wrong? You tell me.

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