Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Last April, I had the pleasure of watching my twin brother pounce on a promotion within Bacardi USA. It was a whirlwind of flights, interviews, offers, benefits packages, introductions to HR support staff, a company vehicle, realtors, mortgage brokers, phone calls, e-mail announcements, MySpace announcements, and a moving truck. Needless to say, Bacardi wanted the position filled immediately, and he was barreling through an incredible series of events and decisions.

To the seniors who are weeks away from buying caps and gowns, embrace change. My brother and I lived together for 26 years, and he shared an important lesson with me on April 21, 2006. As we celebrated his promotion over dinner that Friday night, he talked about the fundamental value of change in our lives.

At that time, we still shared a fully functional and furnished apartment in downtown Austin. The next weekend, moving boxes would consume half of our shared space, and he would board a one-way flight to Grand Rapids. I’m sure he was a little reluctant to leave Austin behind, but as he explained over dinner, it was the change in his life that gave him an incredible urge to move forward.

A long dinner led to the following words: “Always jump at the chance to try something for the first time. Live for the chance to try something for the first time. Your collection of first time experiences will always be the most exciting, because you get to learn about the unknowns, the risks, the possible failures, and most importantly, the person who embraced the change.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Let’s put up a fight

I was born in 1979. When the Berlin Wall started to crumble in November of 1989, it signaled that I would be too young to personally remember the Cold War. At the same time, it set the stage for middle school, high school, and college years full of a dreamlike innocence and national prosperity. I was sheltered from disasters, and Saturday Night Live skits took the edge off of the First Gulf War and scandals in the White House. With only 136 days to spare before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I graduated from Michigan in the Big House.

Why did I end up so lucky? Our grandparents struggled through the Great Depression and fought in WWII. My Dad turned 21 in Vietnam. My Mom has childhood memories of Detroit, and before her fifteenth birthday in 1967, deadly riots crippled her birthplace. Ninety percent of the 20th Century groomed Americans for weathering storms and competing against unforgiving odds, and after decades of hardship and uncertainty, the Great Generation and the Baby Boomers finally authored the ultimate chapter of the American Dream. Their respective grandchildren and children filled classrooms as the most fortunate students on Earth.

In my most innocent years, I didn’t inherit a war or a civil rights battle. I grew up when the waters were so stunningly calm…nobody wanted to rock the boat. Consequently, it created a very heavy generational burden. Start on top. Stay on top. Don’t make mistakes!

These perfectly smooth conditions created an obsession with perfection. Ironically, nobody gets a thing right in a perfect world. Steady doses of deception and dusk ‘til dawn erections define our recent pursuit of perfection, so perhaps we should take a little advice from Salvador Dali who said, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it!”

I’ve lived long enough to know that my frequent bouts with perfection keep me in a cyclical world of self-doubt and apprehension. In my last post, I wrote about a mentor who revealed his “5% doubt” in me. He let me know that he was worried about me being too scared to take risks, and he cast his words to help me exorcize 27 years of fear and insecurity. He was brutally honest, and it helped me discover that I’ve been trying to manage perfection in my life. In other words, I’ve been slow to advance my career, because it’s easier to steady myself around comfortable environments that rarely require risks and almost always negate a plunge. I fear being great, and it’s poisoning my dreams and diluting my talents.

Countless Generation X and Generation Y students have been equipped with the tools and capacities to be extraordinary humans, and I think it scares the hell out us. We hide behind comfortable and tame lifestyles after navigating top-tier degree programs, cutting-edge leadership experiences, and robust networks. It’s like we are sitting on a keg of gun powder, and sadly, we never dare ourselves to light the fuse. The potential of my own life-changing explosion paralyzes me with “Oh shit!” moments…“Am I really capable of being great?”

The authors of our generations had every right to be fed up with struggling, fighting, and crying. They simply wanted us to have everything to do with being comfortable and nothing to do with being stretched. Their outlook is justified, but it gave all of us an excuse to hide. We weren’t raised to fight and beat the odds. They already beat them, and we stepped in as the big dog with no bark.

For more than two decades, I’ve debated mixed messages. Grandparents and parents talk about a time when risk-taking was celebrated. During my lifetime, I know a world where risk-taking is grossly over-calculated. So what’s it going to be? I don’t want to look back on my generation as the one that squandered all of its talent for the sake of being comfortable. I’m screaming inside to find the boldest version of myself, and it’s time to abandon the soft cushy trail.

Until 2007, I truly desired perfection, but that’s an ugly way to honor a country that guarantees me the freedom to amplify human creativity and self-expression. I was born to demolish perfection’s restricting walls. It feels like I’m back in school again, because I’m learning how to fight.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Diversify your mentor portfolio

Austin and the rest of Central Texas were recently rocked by a winter ice storm, and in a region without salt trucks and precious salt, city officials urged everyone to stay home and grow stubble. Needless to say, I had large chunks of time to catch up on books and mull over some recent conversations that took place in Ann Arbor this past December.

Following all of those conversations, I paired them with a few thoughts to sharpen my understanding of mentors. For starters, take what you can get. All of us would benefit greatly from daily and long-term interactions with experienced and admired mentors, but it’s more realistic to connect with a mentor semi-regularly or even “once in a blue moon.” The quality of each interaction can certainly make up for quantity.

In addition, it’s important to realize that mentors exist in many parts of our lives. We should actively seek them out while building careers, exploring relationships, enjoying marriage, raising children, navigating investments, maintaining great health, and understanding our spirituality. Those categories make me think of 15 people who are instrumental in guiding and challenging me.

Naturally, family members tend to be very insightful mentors and tremendous confidence builders. This brings me to my last point. Our collection of mentors must include a variety of family, social, and professional contacts. In my experience, family members will do whatever they can to reduce or block struggles. They protect us, and in many instances, they shy away from saying the things we need to hear. Friends and other mentors counterbalance those experiences by calling us out whenever necessary.

For example, I sat in the lower level of Starbucks off of State Street and Liberty on December 21. A friend and mentor in my life casually sat across from me, and we exchanged updates and new stories for about 20 minutes. Shortly after, a warm conversation was buried beneath an honest and fiery observation. He revealed, “I have this 5% doubt in you.” I’ll explain the significance of that sentence in my next post. In the meantime, Go Blue from Texas!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Parents' hands in leadership

Tomorrow, my mom will start her weekend with minor hand surgery to release and repair her “trigger” thumb. As we get older, we inevitably discover fascinating things about human biology and medical technology. As expected, we watch our parents make their initial discoveries with their own aging bodies before we start to make our own.

Earlier today, I paused to thank my mom for taking care of herself, and it made me think of something else to share. When we are lucky enough to start our own families, we will lead our children as far as our bodies will allow us to lead them. In some instances, our aging hands will physically lead them to their first days of school, and in other instances, our quiet leadership will require creating space for them to learn and grow on their own terms.

Either way, it is the most important leadership we will practice in this world. To leave this world in strong hands is to leave behind healthy, educated, creative, and responsible children.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Roundtrip: ATX – DTW – ATX

Tomorrow, I’m flying back to Michigan to spend ten days with my family around the holidays. Christmas and the New Year are fresh in my head, and I’ve also been thinking about all of the new December graduates who are putting the final touches on their memorable Michigan years. In January, many of them will settle into apartments in new cities to begin their careers.

When you are a college senior teetering on the edge of your first job, it’s easy to let companies and job offers determine where you’re going to live. What do you do when you find a job that is a great fit for you, but on the other hand, you’re not excited to live in the predetermined city linked to that job?

For what it’s worth, I recommend that all future graduates spend time investigating the city of their dreams and then pursue companies that will guarantee placement in that city. Your surroundings significantly influence mental and physical health, and if a job doesn’t allow you to cherish a comforting and pulsating place to live, then it becomes difficult to enjoy your life outside of work.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I moved to Austin, Texas without a job. I knew I would be happy and successful in my career if I lived in a city that allowed me to take advantage of my interests. It’s important to me to live in a city with live entertainment, outdoor recreation, young innovators and entrepreneurs, attractive downtown bars/restaurants, the presence of a large university, close proximity to other major cities, consistent weather, aggressive business development, solutions to traffic congestion, single women, green parks, sunshine, and a mid-size population with a strong sense of community.

If you’re a ski bum, find work in Denver or San Fran close to Lake Tahoe. If you love street festivals and the buzz of big convention cities, find work in Chicago or Atlanta. If you enjoy being around physically active people and creative urban development, find work in Austin or Minneapolis. Spanish speakers…get your visas for work in Spain or Argentina. Whatever your interests, you have the opportunity to author where and how you live. It helps you maintain a commitment to a healthy mind and body, and consequently, being refreshed and relaxed yields high performance and increases opportunities for growth and rewards.

On December 29, I’ll touchdown in Austin again, and I’ll expect to find another set of adventures in the New Year. I certainly don’t want to land anywhere where I’m bored, unhappy, or discouraged by a city that doesn’t make me feel alive. This holiday season, give yourself a great city. Go Blue from Texas!!!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Poet and a Picture

On August 7, 2002, I paid a cover on my way into a smoke-filled dive bar to check out my first poetry slam. As I recall, it was standing room only that Wednesday night. The crowd hissed, hollered, and laughed through the first round of poets, and eventually, everyone sized up the little guy taking the stage who was about to slap us with a thunderous poem. We respectfully sank into silence, and that was our first mistake.

We stared at him in silence, and then he would calculatedly blink back in silence. After watching him offer eight blinks and zero words, the comfortable room started to get uncomfortable. The poet blinked on. People shifted their weight. I exchanged glances with someone in disbelief, and a goof ball shouted, “You can do it!” More blinks. No words. Another round of blinks incited nervous laughter, and shortly thereafter, the entire room burst into dozens of conversations trying to diagnose the poet’s inappropriate behavior.

At that point, the poet stepped into the microphone and called us on our second mistake.

Americans fear silence
Like all things they fear
They destroy it.

Poet Unknown
Ego’s Bar in Austin, TX

Ultimately, the poet reminded me that cycles of terror, fear, and resolve have their place in American history, and when you look back at another uncertain time, the United States leveraged timely technology to set the stage for hope rather than destruction.

On May 10, 1869, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad met at Promontory Point, Utah completing the nation’s first transcontinental railroad and connecting two vast oceans with industrial strength commerce and transportation. In the first half of that same decade, the Civil War terrorized the United States resulting in over 600,000 dead soldiers. I am fascinated by the proud vibe in the picture (above), because it reveals an attitude that our pulse was strong in the aftermath of civil war. The picture puts a face to a developing country. I see confidence, and I think the photographer captured one of the most exciting periods in our nation’s history. Could you imagine looking at that picture in the newspaper in 1869 and trying to understand the significance of that accomplishment and the rippling possibilities?

Our coast-to-coast transportation system after the Civil War led to a remarkable rebound. Westward expansion, growing cities, an abundance of natural resources, increased trade, and reliable interstate transportation fueled our recovery into the 20th Century.

Today, we must rely on communication and information technology to help us rebound from our current cycle of terror, fear, and resolve. So much of the world is unfamiliar to us, and as we try to encourage growth and innovation and manage a changing globe, we must continue to develop communication and information tools that help us interact with all of our interdependent communities, cultures, and economies.

Over four years ago, the poet saw destruction as a function of our fears, and his words helped me realize that some history needs to repeat itself. A fractured country once found hope in transportation technology and growing infrastructure, and today, a fractured world must find hope in technologies that create broad and effective communication tools and learning opportunities.

If you look back at the picture again, it’s special, because it is a time when we learned how to salvage our country. What will the picture look like when we learn how to salvage the world? Go Blue from Texas!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Michigan's Teacher

Michigan has been all over the headlines this month. Needless to say, I’ve been reading more than I’ve been writing. Bo keeps entering my thoughts a helluva lot more often than last Saturday’s football game or the lingering BCS puzzle pieces. If you haven’t taken the time to watch A Celebration of Bo Schembechler's Life, study the following highlights honoring a father and teacher. Bo’s passion as a father and teacher gave him extraordinary capacities to lead and coach.

Once we discover our will to teach, we can lead. Thank you, Bo. Happy Thanksgiving!

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman
“Bo Schembechler did not receive an honorary degree because of his win-loss record…Bo was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Michigan, because he was a man of integrity.”

U-M Athletic Director Bill Martin
“I talked to Bo many times, of course, and visited him in his office, but it’s usually been business and usually been brief. I’ve always been jealous of those folks who’ve been able to just sit there and listen to him tell his stories. Well…Tuesday was my day…So in the course of this conversation about Thanksgiving dinner, somehow we start debating whether fresh cranberry sauce or the canned stuff was better.”

Corydon Randall
“Bo was a faithful churchman, and he would appreciate your prayer.”

U-M Football Coach Lloyd Carr
“The poet said, ‘If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue or walk with kings nor lose the common touch.’ And that was his magic. He never lost the common touch. That’s why today, on a cold November day, in this great ol’ stadium…there’s no game today. But all of you are here, because of what he was.”

Former Player Jim Brandstatter
“Thank you very much, Coach. Your comments, in regards to Bo’s marriage and Cathy, struck a bell with me. When Bo would go to an event and he would speak, he would ask Cathy to stand up and introduce her to the crowd. And she would sit down and the applause would subside. Bo’s next comment was, ‘Don’t tell me I still can’t recruit!’”

Former Player Jamie Morris
“I will miss having the conversations with him about the good ol’ days. And I’m not talking about the years that I played or when anybody else plays. I’m talking about the years when he played baseball, football, and when he coached with Woody.”

“I want to thank the family for sharing such a great man…because he spent a lot of time with us.”

Former USC Coach John Robinson
“I’m going to this young kid’s house, and there’s a coach in the house just before me… Bo Schembechler was in the house…Bo was finishing up and he looks at me and comes over and puts his arm around me, and he said, ‘This is a really good man, and USC is a good school…But look! You can’t trust a man that wears shoes like this.’ And I look down at my damn shoes, nice California…patent leather...they were great! And he left, and those people sat there the whole time I talked to them they looked at my shoes. That kid played for Michigan!”

“Michigan is college football at its very best.”

Former Player Reggie McKenzie
“If you seek a beautiful peninsula, look about you. Michigan my Michigan, oh how I love thee. Bo, we love ya, and we’ll never forget ya.”

Former U-M Coach Gary Moeller
“He always said, ‘This is the menu, men. This is the workload, and when this load is done, we will go in. Now, it maybe seven o’clock at night. It maybe six o’clock at night’…Every play had to be done correctly…That’s why when you walk out on that field, you aren’t nervous…and you feel good, and that’s why you know you can win.”

Former Alumni Association Executive Director Bob Forman
“This is the largest stadium in America. This is the home of the winningest football program in America. This is the place where one of the great teachers of America taught students.”

Former Player Dan Dierdorf
“How we did away from this town, in many ways, was more important to him than how we did when we were here…Bo, we’ll be okay. We’re gonna be alright, because our foundation is not made of clay. Our foundation is made of Maize n Blue Schembechler granite, and we can stand on it for all of our lives. We will be those good husbands those good fathers and all the things, Bo, that you would want us to be. We stayed. We are champions, and it’s all because of you. God Bless you, Bo. And Go Blue!”

Bo’s Son Shemy Schembechler
“What I’m asking you to do is take care of your children. You raise them with character, and you do whatever you can to make them a success. Because you never know…you may have a child that may make an impact as much as my dad did…and so there it is. That’s the best I can do for right now, Dad. I just want to say Go Blue and I love you.”