Archive for category: Family and Friends
One example of this was last year. It was sixth grade and a new school. I would get sick at school and wonder why, until one day it hit me. I was anxious about everything: teachers, homework, friends. I was later able to overcome my nerves.
Fast forward to seventh grade.
I no longer had this problem and decided that nobody else should, either. So, with the aid of my parents and school guidance counselor, I formed an organization: Ask Me Anything. It’s a program where middle schoolers who are nervous can meet and ask questions of older students. The dictionary defines persistence as: The steady pursuit of what is undertaken. Dr. King was always persistent. Even when put in jail, he never backed down. I’ve met kids who go home in tears every day because they are nervous about being in a new school. But I know from experience that things do get better if you are persistent, like Dr. King.
I also work to serve others in the nursery at my church. I do this voluntarily as my way of giving back to the community that rallied around me when I needed their encouragement during sixth grade. Dr. King aided his community when he refused to accept the ideas of racism and it changed his community. When Dr. King gave his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, he expressed that you can achieve your goals by taking small steps– first, others around you; then your community; and eventually the world.
Changing the world is a massive challenge. But it did not stop Dr. King. He was persistent with his cause and it paid off. Now the Georgia pastor has become a global icon. When the Civil Rights movement is mentioned, Dr. King is the first name that comes to mind. My goal is that someday, my program will be used nationwide so that kids in other areas can benefit from it.
Dr. King made a great change in the world and has inspired me to work hard and help others. Not just in my community, but everywhere. Dr. King has taught me to never give up, work hard and look to the future with goals. He has inspired me, along with millions, to make my dreams a reality.
Not long ago, I wrote about a memorable moment shared with my 9-year old daughter, Kaelyn, who revealed to me in a wonderfully subtle way, her strong sense of empathy and compassion. I feel that the ability to recognize and share feelings such as sadness or happiness being experienced by others is one of the most important qualities an individual can possess. Consequently, I also believe it’s one of the most important attributes for parents to nurture in our children.
Like all things, given a bit of purposeful attention, compassion has the power to grow and evolve. What begins as a simple feeling inside of a child’s heart can morph into a desire to help others. That desire can turn into an idea. And that idea can blossom into acts that transform lives for the better.
My 12-year old daughter, Kendall, recently provided a great example of how a strong sense of empathy can mature into something greater over time.
Kendall is a sweet, kind, intelligent girl. Like her mom, she’s beautiful with a gorgeous smile and dimples. Everyone who meets her seems naturally drawn to her (Yes– I am a “Doting Dad” and don’t apologize for it! I may ask to be excused for this, but will never say I’m sorry for it!). Although people have always enjoyed engaging with Kendall, she herself has always been relatively shy and quiet, and never one to dominate socially.
Last year, Kendall entered 6th grade and that transition proved challenging for her.
Most parents understand the anxiety a child faces when moving from elementary school to middle school. All of a sudden, our children are no longer being coddled. They’re getting up at the crack of dawn, being thrown together with kids from other schools. Their bodies are changing. They have class schedules and lockers. And for 6th graders, well, they’re at the very bottom of the totem pole and perhaps their greatest wish is simply that no 7th or 8th grader will even notice them at all. They’re just trying not to get run over during the stampede between classes.
As much as Kendall loves school and being with her friends, she struggled against a merciless battle with anxiety last year. She was continually plagued with fits of nausea. She would throw up– often several times a day, moving back and forth from class to the clinic. Often, she would have to come home. She missed parts of over 60 days during the year! Most heart-wrenching, Kendall didn’t even understand what was happening to her. She was excited about 6th grade and desperately desired to be at school with her friends! That excitement was simply morphing into anxiety.
Fortunately, we are blessed to live in an incredible school district with some outstanding administrators and teachers, as well as an awesome community of supportive friends and family. Our local school officials provided us with heartfelt support, helping monitor Kendall and helping her stay current with her classwork. Similarly, our friends reached out to help any way they could.
Eventually, Kendall began to overcome her anxiety. Her bad mornings and clinic visits became more spread out, her self-confidence started to grow and by the third quarter of the year, she seemed to hit her stride and put those anxious feelings behind her.
Kendall’s fierce battle with –and ultimately, victory– over severe anxiety was no secret in our social circles. So it was not surprising when we began to get inquiries from other parents about our experience. Apparently, several other children in our local community were having similar issues and their parents wanted to learn more about how Kendall had overcome her problems. They wondered if she might agree to speak with their children about her own experiences, peer-to-peer. Of course, Kendall understood and happily obliged.
Shortly thereafter, a 5th-grade teacher approached us with a similar request, this time asking if Kendall would speak to her entire class. And once again, she obliged cheerfully.
Finally, after the third request from yet another teacher, Kendall came up with an idea: What if she created a support program for any and all new 6th graders who might be experiencing anxiety over the daunting transition into middle school?
She more than anyone understood these challenges and how to deal with them. And so, “Ask Me Anything” was born. Kendall came up with the idea for the peer-to-peer program and the name. She thought through the mission, goals and structure of the organization, and then created a powerpoint to present her idea for it to her school.
“Ask Me Anything” is beautifully simple and straightforward. If a child is having difficulty with anxiety for any reason, they can call on Kendall or another volunteer peer mentor, boy or girl (Kendall has since recruited some of her friends to assist), to simply reach out to that child– to speak with them, be a friendly face in the hall, help set their expectations, and basically provide encouragement from a friendly, “wise elder”– one who has lived through the experience.
The school has since called upon Kendall to assist three times this year, both with individual students and larger groups. And not just sixth graders but also students transferring in from outside school districts. All the while, true to the universal, reciprocal nature of giving and sharing, Kendall’s own self-confidence has continued to blossom.
I am sharing Kendall’s powerpoint here. It is an easy program to duplicate and apply at any school and doesn’t require that that peer volunteers have to had to suffer from anxiety, themselves. It’s simply about being on-call to provide support and encouragement to anyone who may need it.
Beyond just sharing the program with those who might be interested in it, my greater point in writing about Kendall’s experience is this: Like her 9-year old sister, and many other young, sensitive children, Kendall, from an early age, always seemed blessed with a strong sense of empathy and compassion. Her mother and I recognized it and we always made it a point to nurture those feelings.
Now, at age 12, we’ve watched Kendall’s special qualities give birth to an idea. That idea evolved into action. And that action may well be helping a few people through a very difficult time in their lives.
If this is what compassion can develop into by age 12, what might it become in another 5 years … or 20?
We can’t wait to see.
I’ve just returned home to Ponte Vedra Beach after traveling up to Hartsville, South Carolina (pop. 7,764) to spend Thanksgiving with my wife’s family. This is one of my favorite annual holiday traditions – when I pack up, hit the road and head so far out into farm country that my cell phone is rendered useless. I couldn’t receive one of GAP’s Black Friday mobile coupons (or any retailer’s), even if I wanted one. And if I actually wanted to go shopping (HA!), I would have had to travel countless miles just to try and find a store. For someone whose career has revolved so heavily around marketing and online digital communications, I must admit I’ve always found it remarkably easy to just “unplug” on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Rather, I relish this rare and special time on my wife’s grandma’s (Nana’s) 70-year-old farm, trying to shoehorn 20 family members ranging from ages one to 93 into a humble 3-bedroom home, and ultimately around a vintage bench-style kitchen table for a Thanksgiving meal where we slide in close to those we love.
Despite floors that creak, guest beds that dip about 6″ in the center and all the challenges of a home strained by the burden of accommodating five times the number of people it was ever designed for; I still find comforts there that the most modern conveniences could never provide.
And I am so grateful…
Grateful to learn that a mix of honey, lemon and whiskey can vanquish a head cold faster and more effectively than any overpriced, over-the-counter medication ever could.
Grateful to witness my 12-year-old daughter, Kendall, get behind the wheel of a truck for her first driving experience, in a lap around the cornfields with her grandpa.
Grateful to know that my 9-year-old daughter, Kaelyn, who seems to grow taller and more independent with each passing hour, is still not too big to find sanctuary in her daddy’s lap.
Grateful to sit back quietly and just admire how truly beautiful my wife and daughters are, both inside and out.
And shopping, and work are the farthest things from my mind…
Only… How lucky am I?
Interestingly, researchers say that there are enormous benefits resulting from living with an “attitude of gratitude.” Not just spiritual benefits, but physical and emotional ones, as well. In fact, they say it has been scientifically proven that people who live with a “spirit of gratefulness” live longer, and enjoy better overall well-being.
Like most people, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life– a lot of times when I could get down on myself, lose myself in self-pity and ask, “Why me?” But I understand that everything in this world is relative. Somebody’s always going to have it better. Someone’s always going to have it worse. So I never question my circumstances, or why I don’t have this gift or that blessing. I just focus on the things I do have and try to remember to thank God for each and every one of them, every day.
In the “Black Friday” scrambles that so often seem to characterize routine existence, I thank God especially for those too rare occasions when he strips away the superficial extravagances of our everyday lives and allows us to focus on the real gifts standing right beside us.
The results are in.
And we have a (slam-dunk) winner.
After scouring every obscure website and hipster blog in the webishphere, I only had to look down the street to find the coolest Halloween costume– not just this year– but possibly, ever:
Straight from the creative imagination of LeAna Kimball, wife of my good friend Jake, LeAna is this year’s Grand Prize Winner and will recieve the balance of my kids’ Halloween candy that I still haven’t been able to polish off. I think there’s even a few Snickers left!
LeAna is the author of A Small Snippet, a rockin’ Mommy blog. In the course of doing marketing research for past clients, I’ve actually visited quite a few mommy blogs and LeAna’s is one of the best I’ve seen. Whatever you’re looking for- from parenting advice, to photography tips, creative crafting, cooking and costuming– you’ll find it there.
The last time I visited LeAna and Jake’s home, I think she was using one hand to tend to a sick child and another restoring a piece of antique furniture. I believe that if she wasn’t a full-time mom, she’d probably be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company like IDEO. I know she’d give Martha Stewart a good run for her money. And she’s a lot nicer.
Awesome job, LeAna– Congratulations!
P.S. Lest we forget, here is a beautiful video (Jellies – RED EPIC Style) by stillmotion on Vimeo shot at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago showing you the real things! So beautiful. Thank you to Tory Strange and the gang at the Surf Station in St. Augustine for the find. Their blog is always a go-to resource for interesting surf-related content of all kinds.
WOW- he did it!
Local Jax Beach surfer and design professional Kurtis Loftus surfed for 31 hours, 16 minutes and 35 seconds this week, breaking the world record for longest surf session. Kurtis was surfing to raise money for 26.2 With Donna, The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer, a hugely successful foundation established by beloved local newscaster Donna Deegan, who battled the disease herself.
As I noted in my post a week or so ago, I was fired up to be able to assist Kurtis in his attempt. After a hectic week in which the schedule was moved several times to coordinate with the most favorable weather/surf conditions (hard to do here in late October), the event was launched on Wednesday the 26th at 1:00 pm, ending at about 8:15 pm on Thursday the 27th.
Kurtis needed a minimum of 16 certified witnesses to verify and document his effort, as well as support and encouragement in the water. I was stoked to be able to do both, surfing with Kurtis from 9:00 pm – 1:30 am on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. As Kurtis notes in this article, surfing at night was extremely difficult. There was no moon at all and only minimal lighting that the local Jax Beach Lifeguard Station had set up (Shout-outs to them- those were “lifesavers”!)
I can state that after 4.5 straight hours of surfing, I just don’t know how Kurtis pulled fully 7x that amount. It was superhuman. Check out his knarly “zombie hands” in this post-event celebration when we gave him a champagne bath. I understand he slept for 7 hours afterwards, then was right back at it, alert and smiling at his desk in his office. Incredible.
Surfing during the night was an interesting experience. It was extremely difficult to see and the waves would get right up on you before you knew it. I’m a shortboarder, but brought a longboard to sit up as high as possible out of the water and have a lot of board beneath me in the event of unwelcomed sealife. Gnerally, conditions were very peaceful. The surf was about 1-2 ft., maybe a little bigger than that on sets and the water warm in a fullsuit. During the evening, I saw three good-sized dorsal fins (at various times) in the nearby area, but I believe all of them were dolphins. One was questionable, but I wasn’t going to be the one to disrupt the attempt in any way. There were also 4-5 guys in the water at most times, so I figured my odds were good.
One of the things that I loved about Kurtis’ attempt is that for him, this really wasn’t about a world record, but rather about genuinely trying to raise money for a cause he is truly passionate about. Kurtis loves to help people, loves surfing and very clearly loves challenges. He’s also got a lot of faith in Jesus Christ and I love all those things about him, because I relate to all of them.
Coincidentally, tonight, just one day following Kurtis’ successful finish, my wife, Gretchen and I went to drop off a meal to David and Ann Smith, friends of ours from church. Ann used to oversee our children’s ministry and has been undergoing chemotherapy for several months for breast cancer.
While we were there, we asked her if she had heard about Kurtis and/or Marathonsurfer.com. Of course, they had. She also immediately went on to share how much help Donna Deegan’s foundation had been to her and David, providing significant financial assistance for treatment, that without, might have resulted in financial calamity, or worse. And just that quick, we had a clear affirmation about the tangible importance of Donna’s foundation; why Kurtis did what he did; and why it is important for all of us to look for similar opportunities to use our own passions, imaginations and energies to help others. You may not break a world record, but you can change the world around you and make it a better place for all of us.
Postcript: I think it also important to note the very critical role of Kurtis’ wife, Margaret. In all the various press I’ve seen, I think I saw one article that mentioned her presence. Like Kurtis, Margaret stayed awake for the full 31+ hours. I was out there for the kickoff; checking in and out of my own time slot; and at the end; and I don’t think I ever saw Margaret sitting down one time.
This was possibly even more callenging than being out in the lineup, where you are buoyed by adrenaline and much less succeptible to the temptation to just lie down, or to just go home and take a short nap.
Margaret also spearheaded the pre- and post-event coordination of scheduling and paperwork, of which there was more than you could imagine. I don’t believe that people accomplish feats of these sorts without extraordinary support from those closest to them- the kind of support that comes from relationships like the one Kurtis and Margaret, now well into their second decade of marriage, seem to enjoy. I know I have always blessed with a similar force (my wife, Gretchen) behind me who has always been there for every big and small effort I’ve ever seen fit to pursue, working as hard as she can to lift me up and help me achieve my goals. As I am sure Kurtis will relate, it is almost an unfair advantage. Hopefully Guinness will overlook Margaret, too. ; )
This is a shot of me and my two daughters, Kendall & Kaelyn, taken by my wife, Gretchen, while on a visit to Playa Avellanas in Costa Rica, in 2007. I’ve used this image as my Twitter background for over two years, but may change it soon to something more corporate. I’ve always loved this image, though. What’s so great about it is simply the emotion/love that’s communicated. I could theoretically fall on every single wave I attempted to ride and my girls would still come running to greet me at the water’s edge like I’m Kelly Slater emerging from a victorious World Championship heat! There’s no greater feeling!
The waves were perfect on September 6th, 2011, courtesy of Hurricane Katia. Clean, coming in well spaced-out sets, barreling with lots of power. I was out with good friend, David Brown, who pulled out a pocket camera to capture this moment. The rainbow stayed there all evening, along with an early-rising moon, shrimp boats with lights-a-twinkling, and just a few other lucky surfers out.
As almost any parent will attest, there are many moments in life when our children make us proud.
When they bring home straight A’s from school…
When they score that first goal, or achieve some other kind of athletic milestone…
When other adults remark how beautiful they are, or even better– how polite and well-behaved…
But there are some moments that are better than all of those, combined.
They are typically more subtle in nature and can rarely be anticipated. They are fleeting moments of revelation that provide us genuine clarity about who our children really are, and if we are so fortunate, perhaps also a little affirmation about the real jobs we’re doing as parents.
I enjoyed one of these moments just the other night.
Our family had huddled together in bed to watch “Soul Surfer“, the movie about Hawaiian surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm at age 13, to a 14-foot Tiger Shark. Somehow, she not only lived to tell about it, but learned to surf again with one arm. It’s a great story about faith, determination and never giving up. I highly recommend it.
There’s a scene in the movie, when, after deciding to try and compete again and struggling bravely against rough currents with one arm during a surf contest, a frustrated and emotionally defeated Bethany heads to the parking lot post heat, ready to give up surfing for good.
As she sulks back to her parents car, two young fans, about 10 or 11 years old, approach her for an autograph.
Dejected, Bethany quips, “Here’s something better…” and proceeds to give both of her surfboards to the girls, who delight in their good fortune, and run away excitedly to show off their new souvenirs to their friends.
Eventually, Bethany makes up her mind that nothing is going to stop her from surfing again, training herself to duck dive with one arm, then returning to competition.
I won’t spoil the ending, but will say that both of my girls, ages 9 and 12, really loved the movie.
Later that evening, I was lying in bed with my (newly) 9-year-old, Kaelyn, putting her down for the night. The movie had clearly affected her in different ways and she seemed to want to talk about, and process it.
“Dad, do you really think she didn’t scream when that shark bit her?”
“Does she really surf that way in real life?”
“Can you teach me to duck dive?”
And then she said it. Just a sweet little comment, stated thoughtfully and solemnly…
“Dad, you know when those girls took her surfboards?”
“I wouldn’t have done that…”
“What do you mean you wouldn’t have done that, Kaelyn? You wouldn’t have done what?”
“I wouldn’t have taken her surfboard…”
“Really? Why not? What would you have done?”
“I don’t know. I just wouldn’t have accepted it. She was feeling sad, you know?…”
“Yes, I know.”
And of course, Kaelyn didn’t have to explain it to me further. I knew exactly why she wouldn’t take it. It’s called “empathy” and “compassion” (coincidentally, an important secondary theme in Soul Surfer) and it so warmed me to see it in her that instant, on display in such a simple, honest way. I can’t think of many times as a parent when I’ve felt so proud of her.
To me, and I would guess for many parents, it’s little moments like these that really leave their impressions.
So much more significant than than winning a trophy, ribbon or a medal.
So much more substantive than good looks or even bringing home a good grade.
So much more profound and revealing….
About who our children really are.
About the efforts we’re putting into raising them.
They are little moments that whisper and affirm… “You’re getting this right.”
A mesmerizing shot of the beautiful, virgin white snow that arrived in Hartsville, South Carolina on Monday, January 10th. The fresh and somewhat rare 6″ of powdery goodness was part of large storm system blanketing parts of the northeast and south.
My mother-in-law, Tracy Chapman sent this while visiting Nana up on the farm.
Good work, Tracy!
Note: Florida was the only state in the nation that did not receive snow from this storm. All 49 other states got in on the action, including Hawaii that had snow fall on Mauna Kea on the Big Island.
Here’s another image I created utilizing the Focal Lab iPhone app, this time an image of my oldest daughter, Kendall. The original shot was taken by my wife on a farm in South Carolina using a Nikon DX 40. I then used my iPhone to apply a mix of selective soft focus, dreamy focus and motion focus to achieve this effect.
There’s probably over 3,000 or so photography apps in the iPhone store, not all of them created equal. Focal Lab is a nice one created by Nexvio, a company that specializes in innovative photo and video applications for mobile platforms. Think of Focal Lab as a kind of a Photoshop Lite. It allows you to utilize selective focus in your shots. Unlike other soft focus / blur apps, Focal Lab allows you to create graduated blurs surrounding an in-focus area. You can select (and move) the area you want to keep in focus, while blurring everything around it. Here’s an image of my daughter Kaelyn that I created in about 15 seconds (originally shot on my iPhone). For only .99 in the iPhone Apps store, you can go from a hack to a pro with just a few slides of your thumb. Nexvio also has some pretty cool looking video apps, including 8mm effects and a time lapse video creator that works by stringing together stills on an iPhone 3G and 3GS!
You might be tempted to call Meyer’s walking away with a major overhaul in front of him cowardly or irresponsible, or question his heart and character. However, I would suggest that his act was courageous and profound, wholly accountable and without remonstrance.
You see at age 46, with three national championships under his belt, one year removed from serious health issues and with a wife and three children who saw far too little of him, Meyer finally realized that the sacrifices he was having to make to enjoy this level of success were far more significant than another crystal trophy, and their consequences more imperishable.
No he can’t.
And if he didn’t get to see much of them the last four years, what makes you think the six before that were any different? Or the ten before that?
So Urban quit his job as coach for the Florida Gators for the sake of his family to become a better husband and father.
I believe this reveals far more about heart and character than this year’s recruiting haul, any improvement he might have been able to engineer next season or any future championships he might have been able to win.
And if you focused on it at the expense of everything, and everyone else in you life –your wife, your children, your friends, your health– then you could almost guarantee realizing your goals. That’s the way it happens, more often than not.
The question then becomes, “What really constitutes ‘success’ in life?”
To me, that answer is achieving a healthy balance of overall physical and emotional wellness; of being loving, kind and compassionate; responsible to those who depend upon you; and respectful to everyone else.
How often do you see marriages fail, families fractured or children cheated out of having their biggest fans at hand when they take the field, stage or just sitting down for dinner?
I should probably be careful of being too “preachy” because I know I’ve missed my fair share of dinners over many years in business and certainly can’t claim accomplishments on the scale of an Urban Meyer. That’s the battle that all of us whose role it is to provide for their families, face over the course of our careers. And it is always a tricky balancing act.
In a world where success is too often, too narrowly defined as “productivity” in the workplace, it’s easy to overlook the things that provide the most important measures of human performance. The kind of things that don’t fit neatly inside a trophy case.
Yesterday afternoon, I attended the memorial of friend and business associate, Stephen George William Parker. Stephen lost a year-long battle with cancer last Sunday. He was only 46. A large group of family and friends gathered to celebrate his life under an ocean pavilion at the St. Augustine Pier. When my day comes, I’d like to be remembered exactly as Stephen was– with warm ocean breezes, good food, cold beverages and a live band, along with a low-key slideshow and a few heartfelt remembrances from family and friends.
For those that didn’t know Steve, he was a kind and generous guy– always quick with a smile and a wry remark, often laced with a little self-depreciating humor. He loved traveling, music, the ocean and his family- including his wife, Cindy; their two daughters; and his three brothers, with whom he was very close.
Like many of us here in North Florida, Stephen was a survivor of the real estate market meltdown. He was Vice President of Parker Associates, a real estate development / and marketing consultation firm where he shared duties with his father David, and older brother, Chris. From Florida, to Costa Rica, to Russia, if you wanted to know what to build upon a certain piece of property; how to position it; price it; and market it; then these guys could tell you. Their endurance through the market turmoil is a testament to their expertise and professionalism. With markets still trying to find their way forward and property changing hands, their insights today are more valuable than ever.
As many from Jacksonville (we, who lived “inside” of one of the nation’s largest real estate bubbles), will tell you, the battle back has been long and arduous. And while Steve and his family have overcome incredible challenges that saw so many other real-estate related companies fail over these past 2.5 years, the merciless serial killer that is cancer came along and buggered up the victory celebration for all of us.
Or perhaps I should say, “almost all of us”. Not for Stephen, himself.
You see, what those closest to Stephen reassured us was that he passed away with absolutely no regrets. He never waited for life to “happen” to him, but always “attacked” it with gusto. If there was a place he wanted to visit, but he didn’t have the funds, he’d find a way to get them. When there didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day for the business at hand, he’d still find a way to get the job done and do so without sacrificing time for his family, friends or even just acquaintances, who he always made feel important. To me, achieving this kind of balance is what defines a “successful” life.
Today more than ever, it is easy to lose sight of the immeasurable value that each day holds and the pricelessness of the people we spend those days with. Our family. Our friends. Our co-workers. Yes, we face a challenging economy and uncertain times. Yes, technological evolution has enabled, and as a result, required us to fit more tasks into fewer hours, often for less money, raising the bars for efficiency and production to ever higher levels.
But at the end of each day, or more appropriately, at the beginning– we owe it to ourselves to pause and reflect on the things that truly matter in this life. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. We are not even guaranteed our next breath. So, if you wish to live a life with no regrets, the kind of life that Stephen George William Parker lived, then don’t wait on it to come to you. Go out and grab it. At home. At work. On the beach. And remember to always do it without losing sight of the important people around you. You never know when they’ll be gone. Steve, we will miss you.