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.

A Thank you to Marriott

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I’ve been in jobs in Sales, Marketing, Coaching, and Administration my whole life that have required interaction on a regular basis with hotels and hotel brands. Because of this engagement, I don’t pass out compliments lightly. However, I feel like I owe Marriott a “thank you” for 2015.

I made Platinum level in the Marriott Rewards program for the first time in 2015 and that was nice, although not necessarily mind-blowing. I appreciated the upgrades and the welcome gifts, but they didn’t vastly change my experience. What did change my experience was the bonus points I received with each stay, which allowed me to amass points in 2015 at a whole new level. And having this mass of points is what I’m thanking Marriott for the most because they allowed me to…

  • Give a good friend a week’s stay in Cleveland, OH while her father was in the Cleveland Clinic having a heart procedure. It felt great to know that her and her mother didn’t have to worry about how they were going to pay for a hotel or if they were going to have a nice place to stay while they were going through this stressful time.
  • Take a trip of a lifetime with my wife for my 40th birthday. Our long weekend in Rome, Italy at the Marriott Boscolo Exedra was an experience I’ll never forget and one I wouldn’t have been able to afford without all of those points.
  • Provide a place for my mother-in-law and wife to stay in Knoxville, TN over Christmas when my father-in-law had to be rushed to the hospital on their way to visit us for the Holidays. Having points to share on these hotel rooms kept my family from having to sleep in a hospital room for over 3 weeks; while it was a difficult time, a nice place to sleep and a smiling face in the concierge lounge every morning made life bearable during this tough time for our family.

I was a committed Marriott Rewards member before this year, but the ability to make these things happen with my points not only made me feel good personally, but showed me the value in loyalty.

Any of us to travel a lot know that not every location of our favorite hotel chain is perfect. We run into problems from time to time and get frustrated. But my experience with the Marriott properties I stayed at in 2015 was fantastic and I’m particularly thankful for the Courtyard Cleveland Independence, the Boscolo Exedra Roma, and the Knoxville Marriott for making my family and friends feel welcome and cared for on our points stays. You’ve increased my loyalty for 2016 and beyond.

THANK YOU.

Facebook Photo Free

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Yesterday on my morning run I got to thinking about this past weekend’s activities and realized in horror that I had a FACEBOOK PHOTO FREE WEEKEND!

Once I calmed down my breathing and regained my composure, I started to reflect: Why do I care if we did anything this weekend that was worthy of posting to Facebook? How shallow am I that I was thinking about all of the cool things I saw my friends post from their weekend and didn’t have anything to share? Does every weekend have to be Facebook worthy?

You see, this past weekend revolved around the list above which we wrote on our chalkboard wall in the kitchen – not much exciting stuff there. The kids are going back to school soon so we’re getting in organizing and prep mode which is pretty much what we did this weekend. That isn’t to say that we didn’t have some great family time. We did our back to school shopping together (challenging), went for a drive in the country (fun for me), ate all of our meals together (always entertaining), Jo and I went to the Farmer’s Market in Davidson together (daddy/daughter time), and we got almost everything on our list done with minimal meltdowns (victory!).

So what is my problem? Why the Facebook Photo envy? Why the sense of failure? This morning I had a little longer run planned, so I had some more time to reflect on my Facebook Photo Free weekend. And here is the conclusion I’ve come to…I need to break myself of the prevailing belief that if something doesn’t get posted to Facebook it either didn’t happen or isn’t important. I have slipped into believing that I have to somehow show others all of the great things I’m doing or they aren’t important. While I do see the value in sharing some of the paramount moments of our lives with friends and family that we don’t get to see often enough, I must remember that posting those pictures doesn’t validate the experience. The experience itself and the impact it has on our lives validates the experience.

When our family spends the weekend camping in the mountains, it isn’t the cute pic of my kids hugging by the fire that makes it worthwhile, it is the fact that our 9 year old learned how to build and start a fire that is important. When my wife and I get to go away for the weekend or catch an infrequent date night, it isn’t the picture of us in front of the swanky restaurant looking all nice that makes the evening, it is the quiet in our conversation where we just look at each other and smile that reminds us what 14+ years of love has been like. When we get together with friends or family and enjoy days of great food, fun, and fellowship, it isn’t the posed shot we finally convince the kids to stand still for that makes memories, it is the first backflip off the top of the pontoon that stands out. And when I travel the globe and go for a morning run, it isn’t the selfie in front of some iconic spot that makes me love my job, it is the fact that the run is an important part of doing my job well that matters.

The fact of the matter is that our Facebook Photo Free Weekend was pretty awesome. We got the kids talking about what they would like about living in the country, we experienced the complete opposites that are Jack (2 minutes to pick out school shoes) and Josie (20 minutes to pick out school shoes). We got some great new books at the library and bought some local meat, bread, and veggies at the Farmers Market – both of which gave us interesting conversation over dinner. Jessi and I had a unhurried chat over coffee on the front porch one morning and both participated in some yard work (me begrudgingly). We had pool time and quiet time and family time throughout. It didn’t need a photo to sum it up and just one wouldn’t have captured all of the moments that made it great.

Make no mistake, you’ll continue to see photos of my highlights on Facebook because I’m still vain enough to think that people care about what I do and my mom likes to see pictures of her grandkids. But when you see those pics from now on, keep in mind that they’re just glimpses of life. Theres a whole lot more, good and bad, going on and that is what is really important.

Walk Away

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You’re obese.

This wasn’t a phrase I ever imagined someone saying to me, but this past Friday when I went to the doctor for my annual physical, that is exactly what he told me.

I was a college athlete, have been active and athletic my entire life. I ran a marathon less than 2 years ago for God’s sake. How in the world could I be obese? Pretty easily, actually. Even though I’m 6 foot, 3 inches and have always had a big, broad frame (ask my mom how broad my shoulders were when I was born), I’m approaching 40 years old and lifestyle is catching up with me. The late night dinners on the road, the rich meals accompanied by richer alcohol with clients, the relaxing on the porch on a Saturday afternoon while the ribs slow cook and a six pack disappears, the seconds and thirds that I routinely take…it is all making me obese.

The doctor could obviously tell I was shocked when he said the words, so he quickly followed up by saying:

John, fixing this problem is easy, you need to walk away from food and drink sooner than you do now.

Still staring blankly back at him, I suppose he thought I needed a little more instruction:

I can tell you’re exercising and that is great – your blood pressure (112/80) and your resting heart rate (59) tell us that your heart is healthy and that is from the running. Here’s the thing, exercise doesn’t do much for weight control. Managing your weight is all about the amount of calories you consume each day, and what makes up those calories. This is where you have to make a change.”

Once the initial shock wore off, we had a serious conversation. Mostly about stuff I already knew, but needed a professional to tell me to sink in. My Body Mass Index (BMI) is 31 at 257 pounds and 6’3″ tall. A BMI of 25-30 is normal, under 25 is healthy, over 30 is obese. That, combined with a look at the belly fat around my mid-section, were all the doctor needed to see. His prescription was this…

…this will be simple, but not easy: reduce your caloric intake by 500 calories a day and you’ll lose a pound a week. Drop it by 1,000 a day and you’ll be at the 220 lbs you should be at by your 40th birthday.

Ouch. How in the world am I going to do that? Do I even want to do that? Well, I don’t WANT TO, but I know that I need to make this change. The doctor had been through this before (40% of Americans between the ages of 40-59 are obese), so he suggested that I start tracking my calories with the MyFitness Pal App. It is scary how much information about the food we eat is in there, and it does make you stop and think. It estimated that my diet last week was well over 3,000 calories per day. So my target is 2,000 calories per day and high quality calories as much as possible (protein, natural sugars from fruit, fiber, etc). When you start to track the food you eat, you start to have decisions to make if you’re trying to stay under 2,000 calories per day. The waffles with butter and syrup I had this morning were about 350 calories, and 2 chicken enchiladas at lunch would have been 1,000 calories, so I chose 1 instead. We had a delicious dinner of grilled chicken, spaghetti with marinara, and a side salad last night for dinner (750 calories with a piece of bread), but the Malbec was 125 calories per glass. Needless to say, it has been a wake up call. I love to eat and having some wine or beer while I cook is a part of the experience I enjoy. Eating is an experience for me and when I’m enjoying a good meal, I like it to last as long as possible. As I’ve started tracking, it is quickly obvious that portions are important and that hours of drinking before or after a meal are just worthless calories that have made me obese. Period. Like the doctor said – simple solution, not easy to do.

If you happen to read this, and you are my friend, you will ask me about how I’m doing. I’ve told my wife I want her to check on me and help keep me accountable. I’m going to send this to the 2-3 coworkers that I travel with the most. I hope my close friends and family will read it and ask if I’m staying with my 2,000 calorie per day limit. That is the only way I’m going to get there. I’ll continue to run (maybe an extra day each week to help the process along), and I’ll make sure that our family is outside and active as much as possible. But that can only have a limited effect. 2,000 calories a day will get me to 220 lbs by my 40th birthday on October 7, 2015. I haven’t weighed that since I was 22 years old, and it would be a great accomplishment for me personally. I’m going to remove myself from that 40% statistic because it is important to me, good for my family, and because I don’t want to be obese. All it takes is to walk away from the table a little sooner than I used to.

Lessons on Business and Life from a Pizza Joint

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On a business trip to my former home of Peoria, IL this week I was reminded of some valuable lessons for both my business dealings and life in general from my favorite local pizza place – Agatucci’s.

Over the 5 years we lived in Peoria, I would say I became a ‘regular’ at Agatucci’s. It was near our home and it became a family tradition for me to pick up our son on Friday after work and head to Aggies to pick up a pizza to take home. That isn’t really anything unique, people in Peoria have been doing it for almost 90 years. Agattuci’s moved to their current location on University Avenue in 1926 and members of the same family have owned and operated it ever since.

Here are a few lessons I took away from eating pizza at the bar while the current operators, Danny and Tony, worked the bar and ran the restaurant:

Do a couple of things well and stick to them. Agatucci’s serves 3 things: cold beer, pizza, and chicken. That’s it. No steaks, no hamburgers, no grilled chicken caesar salads. Just thin crust pizza in 2 sizes (large and small) and fried chicken. Sure, you can get a side salad, but the menu hasn’t changed for a long, long time. It is a good reminder for all businesses that you don’t have to be everything to everyone to be successful. I’m sure there are tons of people in Peoria who turn their noses up at the Agatucci’s menu, but it has not hindered them one bit in running a successful restaurant. Patrons know what they are going to get and they go there for the pizza and chicken.

Names matter. I haven’t lived in Peoria for over 3 years and have only been to Agatucci’s once since I’ve been gone. I’m not Facebook friends with either Danny or Tony, and they don’t follow me on Twitter. Nevertheless, when I walked in last night, they made eye contact with me like they do everyone who comes in the restaurant and then both smiled really big and said, “John, great to see you, what are you doing in town?” I can’t tell you how good that made me feel. I’m not great with names and I need to get better about it because names matter to people and when you remember their name, it makes them feel like they matter.

Take care of your customers and make them feel appreciated and valued. As I mentioned, my son, Jack used to go in for pick up with me when we lived in Peoria. He’d pull up a stool next to me at the bar and Danny would feed him lemonades in step with the 8 ounce draft beers I had while we waited. Jack got a kick out of it and Danny enjoyed asking him questions and answering the ones his 5 year old brain came up with sitting at a bar. When I was there this week, Danny of course asked about Jack, wanted to know what he is up to, and gave me the shirt below to give him when I left. He didn’t have to do that, and it made me feel appreciated as a customer.

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Stay the course. I had a colleague with me this time, so I implored Danny and Tony to recount some of the great stories about the restaurant. The fact that they have Liquor License #13 in Peoria County (issued the day after the 21st Amendment went into effect, lifting prohibition) which is now the oldest surviving because the other 12 places shut down. The story about the fire, the story about the cop car plowing through the front door and destroying the bar, and the story about the attempted robbery that Danny and Tony thwarted with their own pistol work and survived unscathed. The point is, things haven’t always been rosy for Aggatucci’s, I’m sure business has been tight at times, and things have been rough. Through it all, they’ve stayed true to the vision of their grandfather and stayed the course.

I hope that in my business dealings I can learn from Danny and Tony and make my customers feel as great about doing business with me as I do about going to Agatucci’s. I hope that in my life I can stay the course and in my friendships I can remember to make people feel appreciated. Thank you Agatucci’s for these important reminders.

Reflections on 2014

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As the year comes to a close, I feel obliged to reflect a bit on 2014. I’ve linked some of my favorite blog posts throughout this summary to illustrate my thinking throughout the year. And since no post would be complete without an accompanying picture, I’ve selected one with each of my 3 favorite people from the end of the year – my beautiful wife and I headed out to her company’s Christmas party, my daughter Josie (5) and I at a Gardner-Webb University basketball game, and my son Jack (8) and I at Thanksmas (what our family calls the exchanging of gifts at Thanksgiving instead of Christmas) after we finished assembling his rocket and were heading out to launch it. I love all three of these pics with the most important people in my life.

So on to some reflection on the year…my college English Education teacher taught me once that when you are critiquing a student’s work you should start by telling them something they did well, then be critical of the things you want them to improve, and then finish with a positive comment about the overall work. She called it the “Sandwich Method.” I think it would be appropriate to apply the Sandwich Method to my year.

2014 was a breakthrough year for me in the understanding and practice of mindfulness and awareness. I would not say I’ve perfected the discipline, but as the year went on I became more and more consistent with spending time just being quiet, meditating and reflecting, and observing my thinking. This mindfulness allowed me to feel calmer and at peace more often and had a great impact on my relationships – strengthening many, clarifying a need to eliminate others, and opening doors to new ones. My accountability partner in this endeavor has been Dr. Jason Pittser and to him I am greatly indebted for his reminders to stick with it.

Professionally, 2014 was the year of breaking waves. My first full year with a new company, I finally started to see some of the work that I had put in come to fruition in the form of contracts. I am excited to see this trend continue in 2015 as we have many positive relationships developing that could lead to more fantastic projects for our team. I traveled to some new places for work in 2014 – Sacramento, Kansas City, and London among others and I look forward to some more new cities next year.

Our family had a year of maturity and development as well. Our first big family vacation (2 weeks to the West Coast) was a fun and exciting learning experience for all of us. The real result, however, was a renewed desire to explore in Jessi and I along with a realization that we could do this exploring with our kids. We had some great trips with friends this year as well. We closed 2014 with a nearly 2 week trek to the Midwest to see family and friends for the holidays that found us sleeping in 5 different states in 11 days and re-connecting with some of the most important people in our lives. We have big plans for 2015, so I am excited to continue our family adventures.

2014 left some areas for improvement for me as well. 2013 was the year of running for me as I completed 2 half marathons and my first marathon through a very regimented training plan. I wouldn’t say I ‘fell off the wagon’ in 2014, but I didn’t work as hard as the year before. My weight, body image, and overall feeling of being healthy suffered from my lack of commitment in 2014. I realized that I need goals to work towards, so 2015 will again find me choosing some races to train for so that I can stay on track with my running.

I also had poor sleep habits and gave in to television too much in 2014. Early in the year we dropped our cable to the very basic plan and I had intentions to spend more evenings reading and less in front of the tv. That was good for awhile, but when college football and basketball rolled around I gave in and added the sports channels back on to the cable. The result was too many late nights watching games which cost me both precious sleep and valuable reading time. I love basketball, and I love watching college basketball, so I don’t want to give that up, but I’m going to try to be more disciplined about a consistent, and earlier bedtime in 2015. I know my body will feel better and it will make that running commitment easier as well.

2014 was a pretty good year. I’ve enjoyed blogging here about the various ups and downs of the year. I look forward to continuing to work out my thoughts in writing in 2015 as I have realized how powerful and valuable the working out of the words can be for me. The coming year is sure to have its good times and bad, but I know that if I continue to focus on being in the moment, aware of the people and things around me, mindful of my own thinking and open to the world, the health of my soul will continue to improve. When our souls are healthy, our bodies and relationships follow. Here’s to a healthful and mindful 2015.

Thankful for Friends

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I don’t see them as much as I’d like, but today I’m especially thankful for my friends. These are the guys that I’d still be friends with even if there were no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. The ones that make time for me and who get priority in the scheduling of the hallowed ‘guys weekends.’

Thank you Jason Pittser, Eric Richardson, Brad Mitchell, Chad Plageman, and Judd Blau. Doesn’t matter how long it has been, the conversation picks up like we just had coffee yesterday because we don’t have to start with the unimportant, bullshit small talk. That’s how I know we’re friends. You are as interested in me and my life as I am in yours. That’s how I know we’re friends. We talk about the painful stuff because we know it helps and we can trust each other with those things. That’s how I know we’re friends. We could have a guys weekend in a hotel in Dubuque and it would be just as fun as some of the awesome places we’ve been together because it is the being together that is important. That’s how I know we’re friends.

I love you guys and appreciate your friendship. Can’t wait to see you again.