Being a brand or leaving a legacy

29 04 2010

I’m a corporate communications pro.  This means I can’t throw a rock without hitting a blog post, article or website talking about building and leveraging a “personal brand.”  In an age of minimal privacy and increased transparency, I understand the “you are your brand” theory (and practice).  That said, I don’t want to be a brand.  I want to leave a legacy.  Let me explain.

Kara posted this blog post today.  (If you don’t know Kara, it’s probably time you Meet My Peeps.)  Reading her words immediately took me back to six years ago.  My Uncle JT’s life here ended on June 10, 2004.  It was four days after I had finished my first 10K race.  After the race I had called him to tell him about my run.  He told me that he was proud of me at a time in my life when hearing those words was so important for me.  It was the last time we ever talked.  The following year I ran the same race in a shirt with his name on it.  The last words he spoke to me were words of encouragement and it’s there his legacy begins for me.

Uncle JT loved so hard.  One of my favorite pictures of us was taken during my sophomore year in high school.  He and my Aunt Enid were in town and had come to watch me play basketball.  In the picture, I’m still in my uniform.  He’s hugging me so tight that I’m all squished up, cracking up laughing.  At his funeral, the church was bursting with so many others that he had loved just as hard.  He made everyone he knew feel like family.  His legacy is one of love.

No one told a story like Uncle JT did.  He’d weave tales of adventure and silliness, bringing to life fictional characters such as “Kalamazoo Tanner” and “The Great Bubba (a-ha-ha)” and ending jokes with punch lines like “no soap, radio.”  We’d sit spellbound or roll on the floor laughing while he’d spin stories until it was time for us to pile into bed.  If he could be defined by anything, it was his love of a good time.  His legacy is one of living life to the fullest funnest.

 Carrying out the will of Christ was my Uncle’s purpose.  The face of his ministry varied from ministering to college students to missions abroad to church leadership, but he always lived with compassion and Godliness.  You couldn’t be around him and walk away unchanged because of the way he allowed Christ to work through him.  Even when life looked bleak, he would tell you he was “fat and happy” because he had a hope beyond his present circumstances.  His legacy is one of faith.

I am a better person for having known Uncle JT, for having the privilege of being loved by him.  That’s the legacy I want to work toward.  Attempting to shape a personal brand to mold others’ perceptions of me is futile.  Pursuing status, money or fame will leave me unfulfilled.  Leaving every person I come in contact with better than before they met me is a goal that I think is worth trying for.

Knowing how to love, encourage, have faith and have fun are just some of the many gifts Uncle JT gave me.  It is my prayer that I can give even a measure of these gifts to those around me.  I can’t wait for the day when I see my sweet Uncle JT again.  Until then, I can only imagine.

Uncle JT and I, Fall 1999

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When you think you’ve found the love of your life…

26 04 2010

…take a road trip with them – just to be sure.    

Road trips have a certain way of revealing the good, the bad and the ugly.  John and I left for Indianapolis at 5:00 a.m. last Friday morning.  I had no idea what little road trip treats I was in for.  Naturally, after just four hours of sleep the night before, I was ready for a nice relaxing nap.  I had brought my snuggliest blanket for just that reason.   

By 6:00 a.m., I was well on my way to dreamland when John practically shouts, “you know what we need to get this party started?”  I look over and he’s waving his Blackberry around with Pandora lighting up the screen as he exclaims that a radio station playing exclusively Big Daddy Kane is exactly what we need to get this party started!  At 6:00 a.m.  No words.   

I drifted back off to sleep, interrupted only by John’s mocking commentary of his old school musical selections on Pandora (“You’re way too young to know about this – you’re just a little baby.”).  Despite all the musical antics, which included his personal version of car karaoke, John drove the whole 5-hour trip to Indianapolis and dropped me off at the nail salon rested, refreshed and right on time.  I got over the fact that I couldn’t get Big Daddy Kane out of my head for the next four hours.   

For those of you who know John, you know he’s a non-stop outlandish quote factory.  Over the course of the weekend, I was privy to such gems as: “Last night I dreamed that my dog Reese was demonic” and then when we drove past a 50-foot-tall Nestle Quik bunny: “Hey look!  The Nestle plant!  I wonder what I’d have to do to work there.”  Waiting until I fell asleep and then screaming while passing a semi-truck on my side and scaring the daylights out of me was slightly less entertaining.   

Not having to drive at all was great and I really appreciated my personal chauffeur.  Not only was he polite and efficient, but also ridiculously good-looking.  Through the whole weekend, John was there for whatever I needed.  He took me to Kroger the night before the wedding to pick up last-minute cosmetics and even volunteered to let me use his toiletries when I misplaced mine (“I think you’re really gonna like this face wash.”).  Even after the wedding, when all of us in the wedding party were waiting to be announced at the reception, John came to the rescue (with Patrick) and not only carried all of the bridesmaids’ purses, but also returned with some ice cold beverages for the whole party (at least the first 12).   

The trip home didn’t go quite as quickly, partly due to the ingestion of something disagreeable with John’s stomach and several accidents on the freeway that brought all the lanes to a stand-still.  Then there was the chore of finding the perfect position to sleep in the passenger seat, which involved more contortion than the last time I did yoga.    

Even after more than 11 hours confined in the car with my better half and all his lovable antics, I could have spent 11 more.  Seeing someone at their best and worst, sleepiest and crankiest, funniest and weirdest, reminds you of all the reasons why you love them.  It’s not just because they’re nice or easy to get along with or ridiculously good-looking.  Those things help, but when it comes down to it, the reason I love John is because he’s seen me at my best and worst, my sleepiest and crankiest and my funniest and weirdest and he still loves me.  And he doesn’t just love me; he does whatever it takes to give me whatever I need at the moment.   

Everyone who met John for the first time this weekend had the same thing to say to me about him: “He’s a keeper.”  After 11+ hours in the car, a 12:45 a.m. post-wedding trip to Steak and Shake, his rendition of Journey and more Big Daddy Kane than a girl could dream of, I can still say that what I’ve known since we first met is true: John Mark Gordon?  That man’s a keeper.   

Side note: Congratulations to Kirk and Laura Stelsel on being the sweetest, cutest, most fun married couple ever!  We had a blast and a half at your wedding.  I miss your families and friends already.  Can’t wait for the next Indy road trip.   

John and I at the wedding recection. Yep, he's a keeper.





Don’t call it a comeback…

16 04 2010

    

So, what’s all this space cow business about?    

There’s an incredibly dynamic digital community right here in Detroit and I have proof.  Future Midwest 2010 (FMW10) kicked off in Royal Oak with a TechCocktail event at the Black Finn Thursday night which coincided perfectly with National High Five Day.  The conference officially kicked off this morning, attracting a diverse crowd of professionals from across the Midwest.  Going to the networking event the night before was a huge plus because I had already connected with some great people and I was able to engage in some deeper conversations this morning.  I got so caught up talking, I almost forgot to grab a bagel.  Almost.     

Adrian Pittman emceed the event, introducing a lineup of amazing presenters.  I don’t mean to gush, but ALL of the speakers in that theatre today were brilliant, dynamic and compelling.  Seriously, sitting still in one place has never been so amazing (I’m usually much more easily distracted as in “oooh, something shiny,” but not today).  While, I won’t attempt to summarize every presentation, here are a few of my takeaways from TechCocktail and Day One of FMW10:    

Detroit Rock City    

Southeast Michigan is full of digital and social media rock stars.  I consider myself super fortunate to have had an ambassador of sorts to guide me through the sea of faces lit up by laptop and iphone screens.  My brother, Jeremy, was a presenter at last year’s Module Detroit, one of the conferences combined to produce FMW10.  As a presenter, consultant, frequent traveler and all-around big deal, he knew a lot of the organizers, presenters and other all-around big deals.  I’m grateful for his willingness to introduce me to his fun, friendly and talented digital posse.  I’m equally grateful to said posse for treating me like family.  Every last one of you were awesome and I’m looking forward to continuing to get to know those who are local.    

Learning to listen    

Participants in social media, especially brand ambassadors, are constantly encouraged to listen to their publics.  Listening to what people are saying and taking note of who is saying it makes perfect sense when considering how to best reach the people who matter to you and your company.  While this isn’t a new concept to me, I learned today that I need to start listening and paying better attention not only to people, but to the region as a whole.  Big changes are taking place right in our backyard.     

For me, listening means forgetting about how I would do things and being flexible enough to try something new.  Living in a region with such a rich tradition of resilience and innovation provides the perfect backdrop for the digital community to inspire and implement radical changes.  People (like presenter Blagica Bottigliero) are sick of all the crap Tha D gets.  I want to be a bigger part of the community that is turning depressed and dangerous into digital and dynamic.  People are going to be proud to be Detroiters again.  The digital community in Detroit is screaming, “We’re crazy enough to affect the changes necessary to rebuild our city!  Get on board or get out of the way!”  We all have a responsibility to invest in the positive changes happening all over the region.  This event has allowed me to identify local people and events that can help me get on board.    

Two is better than one…    

As Henry Balanon and Damian Rintelmann showed us during their informative, entertaining and slightly snarky back-and-forth version of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, collaborative efforts can have much more impact than going it alone.  The atmosphere at FMW10 is the perfect forum for discussing new ideas, comparing notes on strategy and exploring opportunities for collaboration.  Listening to a myriad of perspectives on everything from social media and marketing tactics to customer service philosophies has given me a head full of ideas for how I can change the way I communicate both professionally and personally.   In addition, I’ve had at least one of those “hey-I-think-it’d-be-so-cool-to-do-XYZ / oh-really-cuz-I-specialize-in-XYZ” moments.    

The latest fashion…is passion    

Whether it’s passion for a brand, passion for digital media or passion for the city you live in, identifying and channeling your passion is a must.  As Blagica, said in her presentation, “Think about something you know really well…what’s your story?  What’s your idea?  If you want to build a community, it’s not that hard.”  I think the bottom line has to do with taking action.  Having passion is awesome, but alone, it’s not enough.  We have to take our passions and put them to work.  Whether that means creating a blog, organizing an event, making something work better/faster or thinking outside the box to bring what you know and love to a wider audience – taking action is key – and as evening keynote speaker, Jay Adelson pointed out, you have to be a little (or a lot) crazy to do it.    

Anticipation for the future    

I’m confident Day Two is going to be just as exciting as today and Thursday evening.  I was the kid at summer camp who always came home with a new cross-country best friend and pen pal.  To that end, I’m looking forward to keeping in touch with the new contacts I’ve made this weekend.  I’m also confident that the energy generated by this conference will continue to grow.  As a result of exposure to innovative ways to do things (hats off to both Ford and GM for taking business back to the way it was meant to be conducted), I absolutely can’t wait for the next big thing in the local digital and marcomm community.  And I won’t be waiting long, because as Joe Jaffe said this morning, “The next big thing is NOW.”    

Many thanks to all of the event organizers and volunteers for putting together this impressive schedule of events.  I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again tomorrow morning and becoming an active part of FutureMidwest.  Yep.  It’s happening.    

Jere and I at a networking reception at FutureMidwest 2010 held at Royal Oak Music Theater. The space cow from the event logo is carved into and ice sculpture behind us.

 

 Were you at FMW10?  Who or what made an impact on you?





An alternative to road rage

7 04 2010

It’s sad that there’s even a need for the post, but still, it is what it is.  It all started this morning on my commute to work.  Unlike yesterday, I wasn’t in a rush and was enjoying a little morning commute dance party in my car.  I happened to be the first car caught at the red light around the corner from Square Lake and Telegraph when something in the black Mercury Milan that pulled up to my right caught my eye.

It was a flurry of middle fingers, muted shouting and a general essence of rage coming from the driver.  This was one of the more magnificent displays of nonviolent road rage I have ever seen, so of course I stared subconsciously.  Sure enough, the woman eventually felt my eyes burning a hole in her car and focused her attention on me.  The flurry of middle fingers was exchanged for a defensive waving of hands, shaking head and her mouthing the muted words “not you, not you” to me.  Oh good, you’re not mad at me, it’s the car behind me.

The light turned green and we both went back to driving – me singing along to the soundtrack from RENT (sorry I love musicals, people) and her driving aggressively toward a really important destination. 

If you have been driving for any length of time, you’ve probably been cut off, side-swiped or maybe it was a fender bender, accident or near accident.  My first point is: people aren’t given licenses based on how polite or skilled they are on the road.  Any sixteen-year-old who can pass the test on the third try can get one.  Even during my car karaoke sessions, I still pay attention to the road and the other cars around me, but I’m not too proud to admit I may have accidently cut someone off in my lifetime.  Well, at least they perceived it as a cut off.  In my opinion, 25 yards of clearance was plenty, but the shouting and half-eaten ice cream cone the driver behind me chucked at my car might indicate he thought otherwise.  Either that or the ice cream was nasty and he suffered from the same uncontrollable arm snap-back reflex as the kid from Rookie of the Year.

I digress.  My second point is: people are crazy.  You can’t tell the angry non-violent people from the angry potentially violent people on the road.  You don’t know whether someone will unleash a harmless flurry of middle fingers on you or drag you out of your car and beat you down at the next red light.  My solution: under no circumstances initiate or retaliate when it comes to road rage.  That senior citizen that just cut you off?  Picture a ticking time bomb of pent-up rage.  You wanna light the fuse by flipping them the bird?  I thought not.

Provocative displays of anger are out, which has probably left you wondering: what can you do?  I like to employ a little tactic introduced to me by John, called the “half-turn.”  This is what parents use on their children when the kid does something dumb, but it’s not bad enough to warrant a lecture or punishment.  A half-turn of the head toward the child (or offending driver) is delivered simultaneously with “the look.”  The look should convey a strong feeling of “you-know-what-you-did” in the offending party.  John is a pro at the half-turn and I have a feeling parenting will come very naturally to him.  The half-turn and the look successfully acknowledge the offending driver’s inferior driving skills without provoking them to violence.  Ah, success.

Should you need more of an outlet to release your road rage, verbally attacking the offending driver works well – with or without another person in the car with you to validate your ranting.  The aforementioned verbal attack should last no more than four minutes.  After five, consider anger management.  And if you were driving a black Mercury Milan with a white Spartan sticker down Telegraph this morning…my next half-turn’s for you, baby.





10 Basic Blessings

6 04 2010

I started this morning off on the wrong foot.  Seriously.  EVERY side of the bed was the wrong side.  I was running behind.  The heat in my apartment felt like it was set on slavery.  I was tired and ornery.  I had a lot on my mind.  -4 points from the good day meter.

I got ready just in time for a brisk and possibly law-breaking commute to work that landed me at the office by 8:30 a.m.  While I was weaving through the morning traffic on the way to work, I was brainstorming ways to turn my less-than-awesome morning into a good – even great – day.  I got to work and had the privilege of announcing the winner of a VIP ticket package to this weekend’s NCAA Frozen Four activities in Tha D.  The winner of the employee raffle was so excited, it made me happy just giving her the prize.  +1 point on the good day meter.

During the course of my day, I had what I thought was an excellent idea.  +1 on the good day meter.  Two people agreed that my idea was awesome: +2 on the good day meter.  I got home after work and ran five miles instead of taking a nap: +1 point.  The good parts of my day had already outweighed the bad, but it was taking a few moments to count the basic blessings in my life that really tipped the scale.

My 10 basic blessings are:

  1. Being forgiven.  The hope I have in Jesus Christ trumps even the crappiest morning.
  2. My family.  The love, laughs and encouragement they bring to my life is amazing.
  3. My boyfriend.  Having someone to share the ups and downs of life with isn’t something I take for granted.
  4. My health.  I’m not sick or injured, which means I can do the things I enjoy.
  5. My job.  Being employed in Michigan in 2010 is a blessing.
  6. The fact that I enjoy my job.  A paycheck is good.  Not wanting to hang yourself at work is better.
  7. My apartment.  It’s small and I see my neighbor walking through his kitchen in his underwear more than I’d like, but I’m grateful just the same.
  8. My passions.  I love to run and I love to write.  I’ve been enjoying shopping a little too much lately, but that’s more of an addiction than a passion.
  9. My freedom.  I can say what I want, date who I want, practice the religion I want, vote for who I want and eat Cap’n Crunch Berries cereal past the age of 25 without too much judgment if I want.  God bless America.
  10. The ability to be content.  Knowing I have what I need helps me worry less about the things I want.  Being able to be joyful is more important to me than always being happy of having what I want.

That’s + 10 points.  Have you counted your blessings lately?  Are you content with having more than you need?  Count the basic things you’re thankful for in your life every day and add those to the number of things that go wrong or stress you out.  Look for those +1’s wherever you can.  What are your 10 basic blessings?  If you don’t have 10, start with five.  I had a good day – how ‘bout you?