The Loveliest

This morning, the loveliest sunrise came up on Lake Wylie and I couldn’t help but think it was my Grandma Searby smiling at me over my morning coffee. Granny died yesterday after 93 years of a life well lived and she was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever had in my life. This picture above was from several years ago, but it is that smile that I will hold in my mind’s eye forever.

Emma Searby grew up in the depression and you could tell. I don’t think she ever threw away a piece of tin foil in her life and she could make food stretch like nobody I’ve ever known. She raised 6 kids on a farm, in a flower shop, in the sheriff’s house that had a jail attached to it, and in an apartment over a funeral home. She was a tough and resourceful lady. She was a model of hard work and frugality for me.

My fondest memories of Granny revolve around her cooking in her small kitchen in that funeral home apartment while me and my cousins ran all over the house, yard, and barn she used as a plaster shop. The adults would be playing cards and the house would be chaos, but she never lost that smile. You could tell she loved having a house full of family to cook for at holidays. She was a model of servitude and hospitality for me.

Many long stretches of my summers growing up were spent with Granny and Grandpa Searby. I’d go to the goat farm with Grandpa before dawn to help milk and when we got home there was always a hot breakfast ready (even though she always ate cookies for breakfast). Looking back on it, I bet she had been doing that most of her life – putting food on the table for others and greeting them with a smile and conversation as they ate. She was a model of caring and friendship for me.

My Granny never missed a birthday of mine well into adulthood. She had an uncanny ability to make sure that it arrived ON October 7 regardless of where in the country I was living. And I could always count on a stick of gum and a $5 bill. That must have got expensive with 10 grandkids (or maybe I was her favorite!) It was never just the card. There was always a note reminding me that she was praying for me and reminding me to thank God for all I have. She was a model of Christian faith and generosity for me.

Emma Searby loved her family more than anything I suspect. She never had much in the way of material possessions, but I always sensed that her pride came from the successes of her kids and grandkids. When I was playing basketball in high school and college, they always made it to games. When my cousins were performing in plays and musicals, they always made those trips too. My grandpa was a man of little praise but Granny made up for it by always making us feel like what we were doing was the most important thing in the world. She was a model of encouragement and family loyalty for me.

I have lost two grandparents this year and it has really caused me to reflect on how much my personal values are a reflection of not only my parents, but my grandparents. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with all of my grandparents growing up and their lives extended long enough for me to have adult relationships with them as well. I am so grateful for the times I had with my Granny and while I will mourn her loss, I rejoice that she is back to her energetic self in a better place. Whenever I see the sunrise a lovely color across the lake I’ll know it is the loveliest lady I ever met smiling at me and reminding me to thank God for all I have. I love you Granny and will miss you always.

Your dutiful grandson,

John Mark

Your own little world.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about my worldview and how much it has changed in the past 6 months. Dramatic life changes tend to cause us to recognize our own ignorance and for a time can bring a greater level of self awareness. That has definitely been the case for me during my first 6 months in a new job.

This weekend, it became very apparent to me that we all tend to live in our own little world. This isn’t ALL bad, but as I was looking up at the weathervane above that sits on top of my house it occurred to me that I need to be careful not to be like that duck – moved only by the wind and limited in my perspective to only two directions.

The trap we fall into as modern humans is that we have all of these triggers around us that reinforce that we are the center of the universe and that the things we care about the most are the most important things to everyone. It creates an interesting paradox; we live in the most connected, global society in human history yet our worldviews are limited only to the small little worlds we create for ourselves.

Think for a minute about your weekend…did you spend time with anyone you’d never met before? Did you do anything that didn’t revolve around you and your family having a good time? Did you do anything that made you uncomfortable? Did you read anything or watch anything that made you actually stop and think? Did you make your community (outside your own property) a better place? How much time did you spend on social media “engaging” with the same people you always “engage with?” Were you just like that duck on the weathervane, allowing the wind to blow you where it may? Did you venture at all outside of your own little world?

I guess I started thinking about this on Saturday morning when my son, Jack, and I joined some other area boys and parents to clean up an area of river shoreline near our house that is popular with what are generally lower income fishermen. These aren’t your bass boat “catch and release” tournament fishermen; these are people fishing to eat. As we approached the area and saw mounds of trash (we ended up picking up 1,300 lbs in 2 hours), I was furious. I kept thinking…

“What’s wrong with these people?, Do they not care about the area they fish in? What a bunch of redneck slobs! How can people be so thoughtless!!! Why should we even be picking up after these pigs?”

And then I stopped for a second and looked around at the beauty of the spot. For a moment, I understood the shoreline fisherman who stops here after work for an hour to relax, have a few beers, and catch his dinner. I’ve never stopped to talk to these guys; I see them almost every day. I’ve never taken them trash bags and asked them if they wouldn’t mind pick up after themselves. I’ve never even put myself in their shoes to think about what kind of stress is in someone’s life if all they eat is Ramen noodles if they don’t catch it themselves. Truth is, I live in my own little world most of the time. And I fall in the trap of thinking that if you aren’t in my world, you’re less important.

So as I start this week, I’m going to try to see the world around me for what it is – a big, complicated place with people coming and going at breakneck speed. Many of them are going to be in their own little worlds, but I’m going to try to appreciate that; appreciate that someone I don’t know might have value or that there might be more important things going on than my little set of problems. I’m going to try to remove some of the insulation and realize that in this over connected world, interpersonal interaction is still the best interaction and hopefully I can get out of my own little world for even a moment. I hope you will too.

A Poem on Freedom

A cool breeze just faintly brushes my cheek.
The coffee perks my mind just a bit,
To a greater awareness of what I have,
And why I’m even allowed to have it.

I have freedom because of so many people;
People I didn’t know, but who didn’t care.
They cared only for the right of those after them,
To live in a country where you can enjoy a cool breeze.

You enjoy it because you don’t fear oppression.
You enjoy it because you choose your own path.
You enjoy it because it comes to you on your own land.
You enjoy it because on that breeze is Freedom.

No longer controlled or oppressed by a King,
Our Founding Fathers and Mothers must have smiled.
But inside were they fearful of what was to come?
Fearful of what would befall them?

On July 4, 1776 they could not have known.
We celebrate that day because of a Declaration,
But it took a lot of work, suffering, and bloodshed,
For the reality of Freedom and Independence to come.

So that now, 243 years later I can sit on my porch,
And write about the cool breeze on my face.
I have not suffered, nor have I worked or bled,
For the Freedom and Independence I celebrate today.

This morning I close my eyes and transport myself,
Back to another morning 243 years ago.
When a man sat on this river bank and sipped his coffee,
Willing to fight, and bleed, and die for my right to do the same.

I am grateful for this Freedom.

If

I’ve become acutely aware of the word “IF.” It is a simple little word, seemingly unimportant, but it gets wielded in powerful and sometimes dangerous ways.

One of the definitions that Merriam-Webster provides for If is this: conjunction; on the condition that. This is the one that scares me and it is the one that I have started hearing like fingernails on a chalkboard…

  • If my boss realized how hard I work, I’d get that promotion.
  • If my spouse would only appreciate me, we’d have a better marriage.
  • If my company really valued me, they’d pay me what I’m worth.
  • If my kids would only practice their sport more, they’d be Division 1 prospects.
  • If I could just lose the weight, I’d feel better.
  • If I had only taken that job a few years back, I’d be happier now.
  • If __(fill in the name here)___ would only call me back, I could make that sale.
  • If we put ___(that important thing now)__ off, we’ll be able to do __(that bigger thing)___ later
  • If I wanted to run a half marathon again, I could.
  • If I were in charge of my happiness, here’s how I’d spend my life…

Those last three are mine, which is why I’ve been thinking about this recently. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used all of those other conditional phrases in this list too, but the last three are my most recent.

It was on the trip pictured at the top that I started thinking about this. It was my daughter’s 10th birthday and she had been promised a trip with dad to anywhere in the continental U.S. for a long weekend (her older brother had opted for Washington D.C. on his). My wife and I had been hoping to take the family to Europe in the next few years, so we debated as to whether or not her dream trip to New York City was a good use of money. We kept using the “if” to place conditions on the opportunity. In the end, we decided the father-daughter trip to NYC was worth it and Europe would have to wait. Man, am I glad we did.

On that trip, one morning I woke up early and wrote a journal entry I titled “Living my best Life.” It was all about the things I would do IF someone would pay me what I want to make to do what I want to do. After I wrote it, I reread it thinking, “wow, that would be awesome!” And then I sat back and asked myself – “What are you waiting for? Why is there an IF in this list? Why can’t you just do these things?” I didn’t realize it so much at the time, but that set in motion a series of changes in my life that have caused me to believe that the word IF has no place in my vernacular.

And then yesterday, on a morning run, I found it creeping in again. As I was doubting how my body was feeling I kept saying to myself, “you’ve run a marathon and several half marathons, IF you wanted to run another half you could.” There is was again, putting a condition on something instead of just doing it. That’s how those “IFs” become dangerous – they give us an excuse (the condition we place on the thing), that allows us to blame why we’re not doing something on that condition. I could blame the Europe trip for not taking my daughter to NYC or I can blame my current job situation on not living my best life, or I can blame not wanting to for why I don’t train harder to run another half marathon. That little word wields a lot of power in these scenarios.

So I’m eliminating the word “IF” from my vocabulary. I’m looking back at that journal post regularly and doing the things on my list as much as humanly possible; that actually was a major factor in a recent job change. I’m dragging my butt out of bed more and running a little farther every time because I AM going to run another half marathon. And I’m not allowing myself the excuse of “IF” for simple day to day things. Either do it or don’t do it; no conditions.

What IFs in your life are holding you back?

Friendships

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I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships over the past few weeks during a time of transition in my life. It seems like these times of change, struggle, challenge, triumph, or tragedy often define friendships in many of our lives. It is that word “define” that has me hung up; what “defines” a friend? For me, the answer to that question isn’t necessarily straightforward.

I have several types of friends and what I’ve realized during this time of transition is that they all add value to my life and they all play an important role in my mental well being and overall happiness in life. Without these varied relationships, life would be less full, less interesting, and less satisfying. And maybe most importantly, none of these people can be all of these things so it is important that they all are my friends.

Like many, I am blessed with an abundance of great relationships with people I engage with every day. Whether they be co-workers, fellow non-profit board members, guys in the running group I am a part of, or clients who I’ve developed relationships with over the years, my friendship with these folks goes beyond just being acquaintances. For each person in this circle of friends, I’ve been through some challenge or shared struggle with them.

This past weekend I ran 205 miles from Columbia to Charleston, SC with 8 other guys. We had a great time together and grew closer in our personal relationships because of the shared challenge of finishing the race, encouraging one another, and talking about our fears and hopes during the 30 hours we were together. It was so awesome to hang out with and share this time with this group of men. These guys are my friends.

For almost six years I’ve been a part of the Adams Outdoor Advertising work family. We have struggled together to make budgets, come up with solutions, and help our clients advertise their businesses in the most effective ways. We’ve argued, cried, laughed, and shared great times together. I have learned and grown so much alongside some great leaders in this organization. Many of these folks have been the first ones there during some difficult personal and professional times. These people are my friends.

I serve on the board of the Carolina Raptor Center, an unbelievable non-profit that ignites imaginations and inspires engagement in the natural world through the exploration and rehabilitation of birds of prey. The Board of Directors, our Executive Director, and our staff have played an important part in my life over the past two years. They have shown me the impact environmental non-profits can have in our community and inspired me to challenge myself further in this field. We have tackled tough issues and challenging projects together. These people are my friends.

For the past 6 years I have been the Director of the Jay Bilas Skills Camp here in Charlotte. When Jay and I started this camp we just wanted to provide a place for high school kids to be taught the game the right way. I had no idea what a huge impact operating this camp would have on me. Besides giving me the opportunity to stay involved in the game of basketball, I have developed so many unbelievable friendships through this camp that never would have been possible otherwise. Coaches, trainers, sports business professionals, parents, and vendor partners have all become valuable relationships that go well beyond the 4 days a year when we host the camp. These people are my friends.

I have a group of friends that I’ve been colleagues with in the past, with whom I’ve found many common interests and shared viewpoints. This group of folks are my sounding board, my confidants, and my litmus test for professional challenges that arise. These folks know and understand me well because they’ve worked alongside me, but we’ve also developed a personal trust and appreciation for one another that has led to deeper and more personal relationships, sharing our family times together, and some great fun. These people are my friends.

There are a handful of people in my life that I rely on for complete honesty at all times. I rely on their critique of decisions I’m thinking through and I rely on their honest encouragement when I’m uncertain about whether or not I’m going the right direction. And they give it to me. Some of these guys I only see once a year. Some I get the opportunity to see regularly. But all of them answer the phone when I call and they listen. And I do the same for them. These guys are my friends.

Most importantly, my wife Jessi is my best friend. She knows every fear, every victory, every defeat, every worry, and everything that excites and scares me. She listens like no other but doesn’t shy away from speaking truth into my life. She has been with me through good and bad, through poor decisions and triumphs, and loved me through it all. We have a partnership of a marriage with kids, finances, house needs, fun, and responsibility. She is my friend, my best friend.

To ANY of my friends reading this; thank you. No matter which of the groups above you think you fit into in my life, know that it is an important one. I’m an extrovert, so I have acquaintances all over the place and I’m “friendly” with just about everyone because I feed off of being with people. Rising to the level of FRIEND in my world is different and it is valued. Without every friend above, my life would be void of interesting relationships and each one of you teach me something about myself when I am with you. You are my friends and I am grateful to have you. If we haven’t spoken in awhile, let’s catch up soon.

The Value of Breathing Room

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Today was a rare Friday afternoon where I had time on my hands (see how happy I am!) and it got me thinking about the value of breathing room in our business lives and how we use that room to think, plan, and reflect on our work.

I recently ran across this interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett about the value of your time and it was a great reminder to me of something my dad said to me early in my professional career – you better leave margins in your day to think and reflect or you’ll never have any creative or new thoughts.

Some weeks when I look at my calendar on Mondays there isn’t hardly a gap between any meeting all week. This is not healthy or productive. As Warren Buffett says in that video, time is the only thing we can’t buy more of so we had better protect it. In our personal lives we all agree wholeheartedly with that so why is it so difficult for us to believe it or adhere to it in our professional lives?

I believe that it is because we’ve been trained and brainwashed to think that the fast movers, the rising stars, and the top performers just run, run, run all day in the hustle for business. The reality is that those who succeed in business do work hard, but they also think and reflect. They stay in the moment with the people they are with, care about what they are doing to give it their full attention, and understand that QUALITY, not QUANTITY is what leads to a successful portfolio of business. They are patient enough to know that it is better to work through things with a challenging client that can do things at a high level than speed through things with a client that wants to cut corners and penny pinch.

So today I’m so glad I had some time for reflection and thinking. I’ll make it a higher priority the rest of the year. Have a nice weekend.

Snow Day

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We don’t get too many snow days here in the Piedmont of North Carolina, but when we do, they are AWESOME! My kids have both pretty much been raised in the South, so snow is definitely a novelty to them. The fact that we have THE BEST sledding hill in the neighborhood is a plus. (You just have to make sure you bail before you hit the lake!) Snow days for my kids are simple – sleep in, more media time than usual, read some good books, and hit the snow for a day of fun before it melts tomorrow. It got me thinking about the value of a mental and emotional “snow day” for me too. And I needed it.

As an adult – a parent, a husband, and a leader in my organization – I feel like I have a lot going on. I’m certainly not the busiest man in the world and I try very hard not to project to anyone that I am too busy for them. But the reality is, I get mentally and emotionally tired sometimes; then I come home and we run around all weekend with family and kid activities. And then on Monday, we’re back at it. Sometimes us adults need a snow day too!

I woke up this morning thinking about what am I going to do with my snow day? Here’s what I came up with…

Rest. I laid in bed a few extra minutes and just rested my mind. I tried to control my breathing and think of nothing. It was calming and opened me up to the possibility of the day.

Read. I have a few books I’ve wanted to get started and I know today will be a great day to do that. Usually once I get started on a book, I make the time during the week to continue it and I almost always feel better about reading in the evening than I do watching tv.

Write. I don’t know why it is so hard for me to make time to write in the midst of the regular week. I know I enjoy it. I know that it makes me feel good. I know that it helps me work out my thoughts and feelings better than just stewing on them. Yet I still don’t make it a priority. I think that part of me feels like I need to be unhurried and clear minded to write well and I don’t have too many of those moments in the week so I just don’t do it. This morning, when I knew I would have some time and nothing really rushing me, it was one of the first things that popped into my head.

Organize. I have a few places at home that I’ve been meaning to organize and clean up but always feel daunted by the task. Today I’m going to tackle at least one of them and I know I’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment when I finish.

Play Games. The whole family will be at home all day and I’m sure we’ll get on each other’s nerves a bit. What we will most likely do to relieve that is play board games. It is a trick to get the kids to hang out with us and each other, but it usually works and nearly always leads to laughing, talking, and sharing in ways we don’t during the regular week.

Think. Today I will have time to just sit and reflect. Drink a casual cup of coffee and think about stuff. Think about my family. Think about my friends. Think about work. And dwell on how much I have to be thankful for in this life. And dream about what else I can accomplish.

As I refill my coffee for the third time and tap out these words I pause and reflect…

What stops me from doing this stuff during a regular day? Yeah I’m busy. Yeah the family is busy. Yeah I have a lot of responsibilities. But how much time do each of these things really take? My phone told me I averaged almost 3 hours of screen time per day last week. Of that, over 8 hours of it was on social media. I’m pretty sure I could have cut that in half to rest, read, write, organize, play, or think.

It’s really all about priorities, isn’t it? I have placed more value on scrolling through social media than I have on those six things above that make me a better person in some small way. It’s an indictment on my own depth as a person that I value “liking” a funny video someone posted or checking out the latest outdoor gear on Instagram over feeding my own soul. So for my snow day, I’m going to take advantage of this time to unplug and recharge. I’ll check back tonight to see how many of you “liked” this post! 🙂