My Father’s Day Cards

This year, for Father’s Day, my oldest four kids made me cards, three of them using a questionnaire template that I assume my wife found. The cards themselves were sweet – they all wrote a different message or drew a picture. Alex, my oldest, drew us running together and just being guys:

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Jackson, drew a very detailed picture of me and his older brother at the movies …

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Izzy, my oldest daughter, drew a simple picture of us holding hands …

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and Autumn filled a card with words…

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It was their answers to the questionnaire that I loved the most though. They really showed their age and how they look at things.

1. My Dad’s name is: James (they all got it right). My oldest even threw the middle initial on there the way I use it at work.

2. He is ___ years old.   37. They all go this one too.

3. My Dad’s Favorite Food is: “that for the soul” – Alex (eye-roll .. the kid reads too much); steak – Jackson; soup – Izzy

4. His favorite treat is: chocolate cake with vanilla icing – Alex; mint ice-cream – Jackson; pie – Izzy.

5. He is really good at: running – Alex; teaching – Jackson; teaching – Izzy

6. He always makes me laugh when: He cracks a joke – Alex; when he tickles me – Jack; when he tickles me – Izzy.

7. When my Dad goes to work he usually spends his day: wishing he could spend more time with us (oh, how right you are my son) – Alex; teaching – Jackson; with librarians – Izzy (made me laugh out loud because it’s absolutely true, but I had no idea she knew that).

8. One thing my dad taught me was: work smarter, not harder – Alex; ballista – Jack (attaboy); not cry or steal – Izzy.

9. Before he had kids, my Dad was: much less stressed out – Alex (this one made my heart hurt, clearly I’m sending the wrong message); was lonely – Jack; was in school – Izzy.

10. My favorite thing to do with him is: just spend time with him – Alex (me too buddy); go to movies – Jack; read stories – Izzy.

11. When I grow up, I hope I can ___ like my Dad: be a human lie detector – Alex; be – Jackson (made me choke up a little); get a job – Izzy.

12. I know my Dad loves me because: he goes the extra mile – Alex; he told us 100 jokes – Jackson; he gives me lots of kisses – Izzy.

All of Alex’s answers showed me how much he is paying attention. It was really good to see and also a little eye-opening.

With Jack, his answers plus the fact that he made breakfast in bed for me as well tells me what I’ve been suspecting with him for awhile – actions are everything for him.

Izzy mostly watches Jack right now and tries to do what he does but she’s got her own little mind in there and she’s very smart.

Weeding the Garden in My Mind

This image is from, and linked to, Olofson Design (http://olofsondesign.wordpress.com/ and http://www.olofsondesign.com), a clearly very talented maker of wedding cakes based in London, UK. To the artisan – You do amazing work and this image was perfect for my post – if you have any concerns with my using your image, please let me know and I’ll be happy to take it down.

This year for my birthday, I’m weeding the garden in my mind:

  • I’m forgiving myself for the things I’ve attempted that didn’t quite work out the way I’d hoped.  I’m choosing to view those events not as failures but as (sometimes rocky) detours that led me to where I am, and I’m recognizing that without these detours I may not have any of the good people or things I have in my life now.
  • I’m giving myself the lessons I’ve learned from mistakes I’ve made and letting every other aspect of those mistakes go away.  I cannot live in a state of fear or paranoia.
  • I’m evicting the two tenants in my mind.  One constantly reminds me of the flaws in others.  One constantly reminds me of the flaws in myself.  Neither has ever paid a dime in rent.
  • I’m giving myself the ability to grow by letting go of anger and resentment; toward others, yes – but mostly toward myself.  Nothing good ever grows in piss and vinegar and what does grow is contagious.
  • I’m allowing myself to not give up on my dreams; No matter how unrealistic or distant.
  • I’m giving myself to right to appreciate the things I have. I will not feel guilty for having what others do not and I will not obsess over the things I still want. Things are things.
  • I’m giving myself the right to be proud of my five beautiful children.  Who are brilliant little sparks that need my care and my help to grow to their full potential.  I will not be apologetic for letting them be who they are, I will appreciate who they are becoming and I will focus more on encouragement and less on correction.
  • I’m giving myself the chance to appreciate my wife.  She is the most wonderful partner in life that anyone could ever hope to have and realizing that without her companionship, support and love, I would have burned myself away long ago.
  • I’m giving myself pride in what I have accomplished in my life.
    • I’m an Army veteran who served proudly in a unit distinguished throughout its history for its courage, flexibility, daring and skill.
    • I earned two degrees in fields I’m passionate about.
    • I have a house, a beautiful family, and make a good living working with some of the brightest minds in the country for a company I still believe in and I’m one of the ten best in the country at doing the job.
    • I’ve taken control of my physical health to the extent that I can and over the last few years I’ve gotten myself into great shape with a lot of hard work.
    • I’ve bounced from hobby to hobby and interest to interest since I was a young kid and I’ve been learning and storing knowledge all the way.  The unintended result is a good foundation of knowledge and experience with which I can usually tackle any situation.
  • I’m letting myself embrace the things that make me a nerd.  I love fantasy and science fiction at least as much as I love classic literature and poetry.  I’m a huge Woody Allen fan.  I have an active presence on almost every social network and I’d rather read than watch football.  I’m a hypocritical grammar nazi (which means that I love to point out others’ mistakes even while I make my own).  I still dig hair bands.  I can read a book and listen to an audiobook at the same time and enjoy both immensely.  I really enjoy legal research.  I have a goal of growing, gathering, hunting and raising all of the food for our family.  I love to tend my garden.  I watch politics like most men watch sports, and, nerdiest of all, for about 3 months a year starting in June, I drop almost everything and obsess about the reality show Big Brother.  I even watch the live feeds.
  • I’m giving myself a minimum of 30 minutes a day to write.   There are at least four novels and several short stories I’ve been kicking around in my head for the past decade – it’s time to put them on paper.

Oh, and I’m giving myself an opportunity to take my sons to see Star Trek at the theater.  Tonight.

How do you define yourself?

It occurred to me recently that people, including myself, tend to define themselves by their job or even career aspirations. Ask someone to tell you a little bit about them, and more often than not, they’ll start with “I’m a [insert occupation here].”

Problem is, your job isn’t who you are and my job isn’t who I am.

In this economy especially, no one’s job is safe. If you define yourself by your job, you risk losing your self. Literally and figuratively.

Having this realization was a big deal for me because it forced me to ask how I should define myself. Or more precisely, what parts of my life are a part of me AND cannot be taken away?

Are we simply what we’ve done?
Are we what we are doing?
Are we what we hope to do?
Are we what we leave behind?

I don’t know. I do know that it was this realization that led me to bring my entire family of 6, in a minivan, on a 1500 mile round trip to a work conference in DC this week. We’re even carving out some extra days to hit the coast on the way back.

I also know that the next time someone asks me to tell them a little about myself, they’re likely to get a lot more than they bargained for.

Which brings me to the question: How do you define yourself?

Pic is of me driving the family through Ohio on the way to DC.

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A Very Busy Week…

Last week was my annual sales conference and this year it was held in Orlando, Florida at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort.  It’s been there for the past three years now and that place is starting to feel like home.  The first year, I got to connect with Green Deane of eattheweeds.com and do a wild edible walk – which is still one of the highlights of my decade.  Last year, it was all work, all the time.  This year was somewhere in between – but I did get to visit Discovery Cove at Sea World for a company night out and that was just amazing.  It’s also the reason my readers have been subjected to my ugly feet in the sand picture.

I always come back from this conference exhausted, but it’s a great opportunity to reconnect with people I work with all year but never get to see, which is one of the down-sides of being part of a national sales organization.

It’s also gratifying to see my colleagues honored for their hard work, and inspiring to hear about their successes in more detail.  From a purely personal perspective it’s also a great time to learn what they did right and think about how to adapt their strategies to my accounts.

The most valuable part of the whole thing for me though is that I get to recharge my motivation.  I work with an exceptionally energetic and competitive group of people.  Just being around them once or twice a year helps to bring me back up to the levels I need to sustain in order to be effective, creative, innovative and successful in my accounts.

The hard part is remembering that these people, whom I usually think of co-workers, are actually people too – and that means that after the day of sessions is over – most of them would rather not talk about work.  It’s hard for me to shut off that part of my brain even when I’m at home – surround me with co-workers and … well …

So why am I sharing this with you?  It’s an opportunity to ask three questions…

  • Whether it’s business or pleasure – how do you recharge?
  • Do you ever take time to remember that the people you work with are just people? – and for the record, I think Social Media helps with this a great deal.
  • Are you really taking advantage of the networking opportunities presented to you?

What do 3D Movies have to do with Social Media and Marketing?

Today I had the pleasure of taking my sons out to brunch and a movie.  Since we usually go out as a whole family unit, it’s rare that I get to spend quality time with just the boys.  We all had a good time and it was wonderful to spend time together.  The movie was a lot of fun too, but it got me thinking: I’ve seen several movies in 3D in the past year and this is the first one I’d describe as “somewhat good.”  The rest have been neat from a visual perspective, but not good movies in terms of plot or story.

It seems that whenever a new technology comes into the entertainment industry, the entertainment that follows is sub-par at best.  For a short while at least, everything is just a way to showcase the new technology.  Think about all of the terrible music that came out when the music industry discovered that funky voice modulation thing … “Do you beLIEVE in life after love?” Remember that?  And the terrible movies and commercials that were developed around that slow motion effect they used in the Matrix?  And now we’ve got this, admittedly very cool, new version of 3D and a TON of crap movies to go with it.  Video games are the same way; the story lines in video games were so much better back when the graphics looked like they were drawn by a middle-school student.

The industry has to understand how to apply the technology before they know how to use it in a way that makes sense instead of using it in a way that just showcases the technology.

That’s the entertainment industry – but it applies to business and marketing as well …

How many companies have you seen with a seriously misguided presence on Facebook or Twitter?  Or a website with technology crammed in for technology’s sake?  Those sites are usually heavy on animation and Flash, take ages to load and are completely inaccessible on a mobile phone.  What about good companies with really amateurish websites?

It seems like the business world largely still doesn’t understand social media and the internet.  Or, if they do understand it, they don’t understand what their customers want from it.  As a result, like the entertainment industry, they’re either misusing the technology completely or over-using it because it’s cool – and the product itself suffers for it.  Still other companies are failing to jump on the bandwagon and establish any online/social-media presence whatsoever – a serious mistake in my opinion.

Businesses are simply failing to correctly market to the modern consumer.

I see opportunity for those who understand the medium and know how to use it.  Even if you’re sitting in your living room in your boxers running your business every day – if you treat your customer right and use the technology correctly, you can kick a larger competitor’s ass.

Here are my three rules – as both a consumer and a marketer who relies heavily on social media:

1) Keep it simple and professional.  As a consumer, animated websites are just annoying.  As a marketer – keeping track of one website is tough enough – add in a twitter account (or five), a Facebook Fan Page and so on and it can get unmanageable – unless you know how to link all of them together (and that’s the subject of an upcoming post).  So make it simple on both ends – simple to load, read and use for the consumer and simple to manage for you.  Twitter and Facebook are easy to put together – but when it comes to your website, remember to make it look nice.  If you had a store, you probably wouldn’t let the slightly dumb but well meaning neighbor kid handpaint the sign.  That same principle applies to your website – either do the work right, or pay someone to do it for you.

2) Don’t be afraid of the ball.  If you know your business – you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to your customer.  Most of the time, you’re the expert and they’re seeking your expertise.  If you had a physical store and they walked in, you’d rush over to help them.  At the most basic level – that’s all social media is: you connecting with your customer.  Sometimes that connection is on the professional level – and sometimes it’s just a way to add another dimension to your business persona – but it’s a connection.

3) Remember Exclusivity.  For the longest time, I just didn’t get social-media.  I couldn’t understand why my customers weren’t following my tweets or becoming fans on Facebook.  Then it clicked – why would they?  They have my company’s website, they use it regularly and the content is essentially the same.  You have to do certain things that are only available to your fans and followers – even if it’s just publishing news about your latest sale or promotion via those mediums a day early.  The benefit is what I call institutionalized word-of-mouth.  It is much easier and faster to click the retweet or share button on a social media platform than it ever was to physically tell someone about something.  Think about this: the average facebook user has 130 friends.  So, when someone clicks Share on a post you make on your Fan page, that’s the equivalent of them having a sales presentation for 130 friends where they talk about your product.  You NEED people to friend/fan/follow – so you NEED to make those options worthwhile to the customer.

I’m going to do a post in the near future on twitter basics and another on how to connect your website to your facebook and twitter accounts.  Until then – I hope someone benefits from what I’ve written above.