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.