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.

Living Well Traveled

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Someone told me recently that they thought I was ‘interesting’ because I am so well traveled. I thought that was a huge compliment! Ever since then, I’ve been dwelling on what is it about traveling that makes someone more interesting and thinking about the value of travel to one’s life.

I have been traveling, and loving it, for most of my life. When I was a kid, my mother was a teacher and my father was a pastor, so summer break was for VACATION. Our family wasn’t inclined to Disney World or to “lay on the beach” type of trips. Instead we were road-tripping fools. Before I graduated from high school we had done a trip West that included Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, and Northern California. We’d done a trip East that included Cooperstown, NY the upper Northeastern states, and a couple of weeks on an island off the coast of Maine (twice). We’d done Washington D.C., New York City, and Gettysburg and surrounding battlefields. On the years we didn’t do big trips, we were heading to our grandparents for weeks at a time in rural towns in Illinois. Every trip was non-stop and every trip was an adventure.

As an adult, I’ve had the opportunity to do even more amazing travel. I’ve been to 49 of the 50 states (I’ll get you someday Alaska) and Puerto Rico. Fun-loving roommates and college friends got me off campus exploring not only our Eastern Tennessee mountains, but extended trips to Moab, UT, Canyonlands NP, and other Southwestern wonders. College basketball, both as a player and a coach, afforded me trips to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Prague, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Idaho, and some of college basketball’s most iconic arenas. An adventurous wife and 5 years of marriage without kids allowed for a dozen 14ers in Colorado, a trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and numerous backpacking trips all over the country. Finally, a couple of jobs that put me on the road have provided even more travel opportunities all over North America and beyond.

Through it all, I’ve seen some awesome places – some fantastic, some quietly amazing. I believe that the secret to travel making you more interesting boils down to 2 things: 1) going places on your travels that most visitors skip over and 2) slowing down and paying attention to the people and places you are visiting.

These two things became very evident to me this week on a ‘work-play’ week of travel. Our family drove to Wisconsin to visit my in-laws for a week, and while the kids and Jessi were enjoying Grandma and Grandpa’s, I took off to visit with some clients. The night before I flew out, Jessi and I took a ‘date night’ down in Dubuque, IA, where we enjoyed a cocktail and watched the sunset from Timmerman’s Supper Club overlooking the Mississippi River.

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This throwback to the 1960’s was an amazing place with an incredible view and an interesting history. Definitely not the type of place that most visitor’s make it to. I then took off to Tulsa, OK for some meetings, where I had the chance to see the statue below called “East Meets West” at the 11th Street Bridge on old Route 66. While I was there, I met the grandson of the man in this car who gave me the behind the scenes history lesson about the creation of Route 66.

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When I got back from my business trip (where I also had the chance to explore Oklahoma City with some locals), I grabbed a car and head North out of Dubuque to the in-laws. On the way home, I made a side trip to a place I’d seen the sign for many times, but never visited: The Potosi Brewery and National Brewery Museum in Potosi, WI. This village of 800 is several miles off the main highway, which is hundreds of miles from the nearest interstate. What I found was an amazing little museum (pic below) that told the story of brewing in Wisconsin and around the country, some good food, and great beer.

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What happened this week made me a more interesting person, I believe. I experienced some places that not only added information to my brain, but color to my life. I talked with people who were REAL, not tourist attraction attendants trying to put on a good face. I ate food that was prepared with care, not a microwave. And I spent time with people who love what they do and want to share it with others.

I could have just as easily stayed in the hotel, eaten at the Olive Garden next door, and driven straight to and from all of my meetings. Maybe I should have spent a little more time on email in my room or made a few more phone calls, but I didn’t. Instead, I chose to live well traveled and I am more interesting for doing it. Travel is what opens our minds to the possibilities the world has for us, but only if we travel well. So next time you’re on the road, find a way to get off the beaten path and talk to the people who’ll make your life more interesting.

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.

Across the Pond

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In 1776, the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain, fought a war to defend that independence, and shortly thereafter became a sovereign nation. Americans have been traveling back to England ever since. Until this week, I’d never visited the “Mother Country,” but as tonight is my last evening here I thought some thoughts and photos were appropriate.

Some random observations I’ve made this week in London…

London is OLD. The United States is a little over 200 years old, London was founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago. While not all of the history has endured, there are some pretty amazing old buildings, including the Westminster Abbey (below).

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London is WET in October. I’d like to come back in the summer when I can walk around the city a little easier.

England is OBSESSED with futbol. I know, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but I spent my week at Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea FC, at a sports conference and let me tell you…these people are WAY more passionate about their futbol than we are about our football.

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London has a learning curve. When you visit, you’d better learn quick to look right first when you cross streets (I almost got smashed by a double decker bus), you’d better “Mind the Gap” in the Underground, and if you’re doing business here, I’d strongly recommend that you “dress smartly” to avoid embarrassment. It will take me a few more visits to get the hang of things.

All in all, I loved London. I’d love to come back for a holiday and see it in more depth. I’m not sure how we’d have turned out if we were still a part of the British Empire, but they’ve done quite nicely for themselves without us. Thanks for a great visit, London, and one of my favorite runs of all times along the legendary Thames. Cheers!

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Airport Mindfulness

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How many airports have you been in like this? Me neither.

Most of the airports that I spend my considerable time in look a lot more like this…

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which got me thinking today about mindfulness at the airport, probably the LEAST mindful place on earth. 

Mindfulness is defined as:

mind·ful·ness
ˈmīndfəlnəs/ – a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
 
I cannot begin to tell you how difficult it can sometimes be to focus one’s awareness on the present moment while accepting your feelings at the airport. Nearly every week I see dozens, if not hundreds, of people completely lose their minds over things at the airport that they not only have no control over, but that really have no bearing or impact on the present moment. I know how it feels, I used to be one of those people flying off the handle at airline employees because I was running late and the plane was running on time or staring down a flight attendant who refused to do something about the screaming kid in 10B right behind me!
 
No more. Part of the growth of my own mindfulness has been most tested and best utilized in the airport. What I have CHOSEN to do (and I emphasize the choice part because it is just that), is take the approach that you see on my daughter’s face in the top picture – “go with the flow, wherever that might take me.” I now recognize when my body starts to tense up because there is a non-stop talking 5 year old sitting next to me (as there was this morning on CLT-Boston) and I intentionally RELAX and remind myself that my own 5 year old daughter would be chattering on non-stop out of excitement and imagine how I would want someone treating her in the same situation. Instead of getting off the plane this morning angry, anxious, and annoyed I followed my young seatmate off the plane with a smile on my face thinking about my Josie and how much pure joy she has in her life.
 
I’ll likely never fix this problem – 824,000,000 people boarded planes in the United States last year! I will however, continue to exercise my own mindfulness in airports. At the very least I figure if I can do it in the midst of 823,999,999 other crazy nut jobs I should be able find a way to be mindful under my own roof with the 3 nut jobs that I share a house with every day!!! Maybe we should pray for them, not me?!?!