Happy Anniversary

One kiss and then another.  

One day and then another.  

One year and then another. 

Would you give one kiss for the rest of your life?  
Would you live one year for all time?  

One year ago I married my best friend.

 
 
We’ve packed a lot into a year. We’ve been to concerts, gone on road trips, we’ve laughed until it hurt, and we’ve some tears too (mostly the good kind). More than anything though, we’ve loved. We’ve filled our hearts with love for one another and for our family.  
 
There are still so many moments that leave me wondering just how did this all even happen? How did I get here? Is this truly my life? And then she gives me that smile…the one that tells me exactly how much she loves me and I know that yes, this is my life…and it’s an incredible life.  

We have this running joke about being at a point where there is “no turning back.” It could be in the grocery store when we’re deciding whether to get a Digiorno rising or pan crust. “Once this goes in the basket there’s no turning back.” 

It could be about leaving the house. “Do you have everything you need? Did you remember to grab your water bottle? Once we pull out of the driveway there’s no turning back.” 
 
It can be when we’re looking at something on Amazon. “Are you sure? Once I click ‘buy now’ there’s no turning back.” 
 
The same happened when we bought our rings, got our marriage license, set a date, stood up in front of the kids, and so on and so on.  

Yesterday was no different. “You know, the warranty runs out tomorrow. It’s our anniversary. There’s no turning back.” 
 
No. There isn’t. 

Would you give one kiss for the rest of your life? 
Would you live one year for all time?  

 

Over 25 years ago I met my best friend. 

Then we lost touch.  

It feels like we missed out on so much. There are so many points along the way that I wish I could have gotten stuck in traffic for 5 more minutes, or caught a green light instead of a red one, or chose a different restaurant, or had one more coffee because looking back it seemed we always just missed one another.  
 
“Oh you hung out there? That’s where I hung out!”  
“You were there that night? That’s impossible. I was there that night!” 
“You used to go there on Wednesdays? I always worked on Thursdays!” 
 
But then we found one another again.    

 

Through the years and miles between us we supported, encouraged, and comforted each other through every aspect of our lives. We were friends. We did our best to take care of one another, to remind one another that we weren’t in any of this alone. There were children, new relationships, divorces, school, finances, health, deaths, births, career choices, and everything in between big and small, compelling and silly.  

And then we became We 

I’ll never forget the first time we held hands. I’ll never forget the first time a hug became a Hug…and The Kiss. Neither planned or anticipated, that single moment changed everything. We knew what we had and what we wanted.  

Would you give one kiss for the rest of your life? 
Would you live one year for all time?  

I love that she gets a little crinkle on her nose when she’s looking at me like I’m nuts.  

I love that she is the last person I want talk to before I go to sleep at night.  

I love how she bites her lip and cocks her head to one side when she smiles at me. 

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. 

One year ago I married my best friend.  

Today is our wedding anniversary but every day brings another milestone, another memory, another first, another high five, another kiss, another day in the rest of our life.  

It’s Our Life.

And it is an incredible life.

Would you give one kiss for the rest of your life?

Would you live one year for all time?

Happy anniversary my love. Thank you for this life. 

Be Well and Kind,
JRBB

  

A Picture Tells a Thousand Hashtags

My son, affectionately and respectfully known as Young Master Oliver, (said with an accent similar to Alfred, young Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler and mentor) was born almost four years ago.

In the years and months leading up to his birth I was one of those people who swore he would never plaster my Facebook account with photos of my kids.

Then, no sooner than he was born I was, yep, plastering my Facebook with photos of my gorgeous child. At first it was as simple as sharing the images with friends and family who were too far away to see him in person. It was efficient. I was also jubilant in my pride.

My son beats my heart.

on one of our many trips to the Houston Zoo

As time went on posting about our day became a sort of public document of our adventures as father and son. I loved the idea of letting friends and family members come along as we played with our Lincoln Logs and in our sandbox and on our trips to the zoo, museum, and anywhere else life took us.

So too did I want to share my experiences as a father.

I began using my Instagram less for my music and songwriting endeavors and more for sharing these father and son moments. I began using hashtags like “FaceOfFatherhood,” “DadLife,” and “FatherandSon.”

In doing so things took on a slightly different tone.

It was no longer just about sharing life with immediate friends and family. Rather, it became a very public display of parenthood.

It became important for me to show anyone who cared to notice what fatherhood looked like for me. In a world where mothers are viewed as the primary parent shuttling kids to and from grocery stores, museums, pharmacies, doctors’ visits, and everything in between, I felt it essential to show that there is more to being a dad than lawn care, lazy Sundays drinking beer on the sofa, and bumbling around the house waiting for mom to save the day. This image that permeates sitcoms, animated shows, and film, I believe, is a huge disservice and an affront to engaged, competent fathers and the very notion of gender equality.

In my family I was the one with the BabyBjörn doing the groceries, vacuuming, laundry, getting my steps in at the zoo, and juggling a career while getting a master’ss degree, and running a household all with a toddler on my hip or top of head.


In taking such a public approach to parenting I found myself interacting with an entire community of likeminded dads and supportive moms who were also using social media to model healthy and enthusiastic parenting. Sometimes we shared smiles and laughter and other times frustration and tears because as most engaged parents know, for every one of the former there is at least one of the latter.

But as time has moved forward things have changed a bit. My phone stays in my pocket (or even in the next room) more than it used to. I find myself more dialed into what’s happening and enjoying my life and family from the inside rather than observing it all from than from the outside. I feel more inclined to fully experience and enjoy every moment than I am in documenting them.

I’ve also been writing less frequently in my personal journal and I’ve been wondering why this has been happening but I think I know why. I’m not spending as much time documenting my life. I’m not spending as much time writing about what kind of life I want. I’m actually living that life.

Don’t get me wrong, I still snap photos and quick videos when the moment calls, I still pull out my journal but it’s most definitely not as big a part of my day-to-day. It’s hard to take time out of my life when I’m enjoying every moment of it.

I certainly don’t begrudge anyone for filling my feed with their family photos because I truly enjoy it. I love seeing my friends share their kids’ graduation, prom, birthday, and anything else moments.

And rest assured, once the summer gets into full swing and we get back from the First Annual Benninghoff-Becerra Family Vacation: Cruise Edition there will be more than enough photos to go around.  

These days though, I’ve been so truly content to just live in the moment and enjoy our adventures as a family. I’m hardly living a life of isolation but there has certainly been less emphasis on sharing for the sake of any larger motivation.

Documenting every single giggle and groan just doesn’t seem as essential these days.

Enjoying them in the most intimate way possible does.

Be Well and Kind,
JRBB

So Now What?

The Facebook is a strange place indeed.

I check my “memories” every morning. Sometimes random, sometimes laughable, there’s always something that brings a chuckle or raises an eyebrow in some way or another.

Yesterday’s was quite interesting indeed. Among the photos of Young Master Oliver playing in his sandbox and general musings on music there was a post describing how exhausted I was at the time in 2017.

I was drowning in work, school, parenting, household chores, some physical ailments etc. It was one of “those” posts. The phrase that resonated most was “To what end? An early grave?” I was so tired and desperate for a break.

“To what end? An early grave?”

It had been an incredibly taxing five years.

I had a second back surgery, finished my undergraduate degree, learned how to build websites, launched three of them, I had been gigging almost nonstop, built upon my professional career, had a child and who had basically spent his first two years “on top of head,” began and was about to finish my master’s degree, bought a house, was struggling with migraines, and, and, and, and…


Bottom line I was tired and didn’t know why I was putting myself through everything. Was I trying to further my career? Why? Was I trying to build a better life for myself and my son? What did that look like? Would even I survive to see it?

Here’s a screen cap of the post…

Among the comments expressing compassion and encouragement there was on in particular that looking back I find to be quite impactful.

“Our power comes within our ability to make choices”

And there it was. Wise words indeed.

It took another year but in August 2018 I began making a series of choices that would forever change my life, and the lives of many around me.

I asked for a divorce.

It was not a decision taken lightly. It was one that had been explored for nearly the entirety of that marriage, one I had tried to avoid answering until I no longer could.

The ensuing months found me in the midst of an unfortunate, stressful, and what I continue to believe could have been an avoidable process to ensure my son had equal access to both his parents and that his life would be disrupted as little as possible. I feel like I achieved close to everything I hoped.

As I’ve joyfully written before, the end of that story was quite different than anticipated. Rather than being a divorced single dad living in an apartment or with his parents, I found myself married to my best friend and living back in the old neighborhood.

Everything has changed. My clothes, my car, my address, even my name and signature are different (enhanced!).

And there my friends, is the answer to the question about why I was doing everything I was doing for so many years.

I didn’t know it then but everything I was doing then and everything I was doing before, was leading me to that “better life” that seemed so nebulous and unattainable. I was recreating my life…from the ground up.

In talking to my wife and best friend about Our Life we always come back to the fact that we didn’t “fall in love.” We didn’t meet and realize we wanted to be together.

We were living our lives parallel, working towards goals, pushing through obstacles, until those straight lines started to merge. We didn’t realize it then but This Right Here, Us, was the only way this story was going to end.

And now there’s a new question…

All the battles seem to have ended…or at least ceasefires have been achieved. Everyone has found a bit of a rhythm. We’ve settled into Our home. There are no more boxes left unpacked, no fires left to extinguish. The old house sold last week. We paid off a mountain of debt. We got our transportation needs worked out. Our budget is set. My guitars are restrung and tuned. We have our routine.

So now what? Enjoy the hell out of life, that’s what!

At some point we must lay down our arms. At some point we have to stop living for the struggle. At some point not only do we get to let out a sign of relief but we simply must allow ourselves to breathe and relax and enjoy what we’ve worked to achieve. Smell those flowers and all that jazz.

That’s where I find myself. For the first time in the last 10 years I’m not looking for the next big challenge. I’m not desperately seeking out a great struggle to overcome because at least for now, I’ve achieved everything I’ve set out to accomplish.

For the first time I can look around my home, I can look at my life and the people in it and feel comfortable, content, and happy. I’ve never known that feeling.

Life isn’t perfect. I won’t sit here and say that my best friend and I don’t get aggravated with one another. I can’t say that building a modern blended family is not without challenges but I’m not looking to fill gaping holes in my soul with massive projects and to-do lists.

Right now I want to enjoy every moment with my family. Right now I want to enjoy baseball season! I want to play guitar for the sheer joy of it. I want to binge watch HGTV, cook, and just live the life I’ve been trying to build because without even realizing it, I was building This Life…and it’s incredible.

It won’t always be. There will always be challenges and problems but I know that my best friend is at my side…not behind me, not leading the way, but shoulder-to-shoulder and together we can do anything. We have done so much and we’ll do so much more.

But right now? I just want to breathe all this in. Right now I want to rest up because life will throw new challenges at me and at Us…but right now? Right now I’m going to enjoy every second because This Right Here is glorious.

Us

Be Well and Kind,
JRBB

What’s in a Name?

They were questions from a script, boxes to check as a matter of procedure, and asked with about as much zeal as an automated attendant alerting me that my phone call may be recorded for quality assurance.

The judge asked why I wanted to change my name.
I told him I had recently married.

He asked me if it was in the best interests of the community.
I said yes it was.

He asked if I was a sex offender.
Um, that would be a hard “NO.”

He asked if I was attempting to escape debt.
No…but wait, is that a thing?!

He asked if I was otherwise attempting to hide my identity for any other nefarious purpose.
Negative.
And with that and a court order signed with more than a dash of elegant bravado, I had a newly changed (I prefer “enhanced”) last name…with a hyphen and everything.



Neither my wife or I can recall asking or being asked “the big question.”

Being that over 10 years of our conversations, from the most mundane to the most intimate, took place via text and messenger we were able to review every exchange. We relived every thumbs up and emoji, every tear of laughter and pain, every virtual high five and warm embrace, every frustration, success, sniffle, smile, grumble, and giggle.

No such question was ever asked.

There was however a gradual shift in tone as this conversation, as this life, unfolded.

As we read through our messages spanning nearly as many years as this technology has existed, we came to understand that these were words not spoken between friends who at some point “fell in love.”

Somewhere along the way we simply came to understand what I am now certain has always been the case: I am hers. She is mine. We are Us.

There was no planning, no “ifs” and very few mentions of “when.”

There was no need to propose the idea of spending our lives together. Such an obvious concept required as much acknowledgement or debate as gravity or our need for oxygen.

No dowry was requested.
No honeymoon plans were made.
Dresses and tuxedos? Not even in an incognito browser tab.

No consideration was ever given to seating arrangements or even guests for that matter.

Instead, as things progressed, our discussions involved practical matters like zip codes and health insurance, meal planning and schedules.

Of course, one of the biggest changes was kissing. (Man, why didn’t we think of that in high school?!)

The reality is we were already sharing our lives, side by side, intimately bound. We always had been and as such we found little in the way of either of us making the decision to marry. It was just a given. Everything else is just details.

And so, we got married. 

From Here on Out….

Kristin Benninghoff is a name that has been locked in my mind and heart for over 25 years. Never once has Kristin ever been just “Kristin.”

“Well, well…if it isn’t Kristin Benninghoff.”

“Hey! Kristin Benninghoff! Come here for a second.”

“I love you Kristin Benninghoff.”

One name could never be enough.

Rhythmic and unique with just the right combination of soft and hard sounds, it can carry a bite or a smirk depending on the inflection…just like her.


”KRRIIIstiin BENNNinnnggghoff!”

Of German roots, Kristin is daughter of a strong, proud, witty, and decent father who loved her with an immeasurable force. A force that is rivaled only by her love for him.

His influence, his blessings and teachings, his humor, and his love comfort and guide her and by proxy do the same for Jakob, Olivia, myself, and Oliver.

She carries her dad in that name as she does with every beat of heart and in every breath conjured by her lungs.

Like her, for whatever reason, people have always combined my first and last name. To this day there are moments in a grocery store or pub when I hear “Jaasson Becehhhrra.” It’s always an old schoolmate or teacher.

For the entirety of our relationship, despite a period of time where she supposedly had a different last name, I have only known her as Kristin Benninghoff. I have no concept of her by any other name. 

I do it too. I don’t recall any time where I’ve introduced myself simply as “Jason.”

My name is Jason Becerra.

Jason R. Becerra to be perfectly clear.

The “R” is a big deal.

Perhaps Kristin is the only other person I know who is as proud to be their father’s child.

My father is known to many people as a celebrity, a broadcaster, a writer, and singer (and more than a few other names I’ll leave out haha).

He’s a kind, decent, compassionate man who has spent a lifetime trying to help his family feel and find love, success, and joy in our own lives.

In his professional life he would work 20-hour days at 5 different places if that’s what it took. He has accomplished “success” by any metric in the broadcasting industry. He has sung to empty bars and sold-out arenas sharing the stage with legendary artists and humble anonymous musicians with equal passion. He has given voice and served as an advocate for members of our community who would otherwise have neither.

So too did he coach my pee-wee baseball team and hold court regaling my friends and I with tales of Pahokee, Florida. He bought me books, inspired me to write, bought me my first guitar, gave me my first copy of Pet Sounds, and has guided me through life one step and hug at a time. Everything I know about being a man and a father comes from my dad.

Kristin and I are who we are because of our families, because of our fathers.


Us

So, there we were: Ms. Kristin Benninghoff and Mr. Jason R. Becerra.

It works ok I suppose.

We could leave them as is but it just felt…off.

Kristin is a Benninghoff. She is no more a Becerra than she is a Peterson, Xu, Abboud, or Alperstein.

The thought of her replacing “Benninghoff” with “Becerra” seemed unfathomable. It seemed crude and sacrilege.

It was a non-starter for me.

Similarly, I cannot separate myself from my name. I share it name with my father, my mother, and my son. It’s who I am. It’s part of what binds me to my family and what helps illuminate each step I take into my own future.

So, then what?

For a moment she considered hyphenating but that didn’t feel right to me either.

Why don’t we BOTH hyphenate? Afterall, John Lennon took on Yoko’s name.

Just like that, Kristin and I had another of our many “well, duh” moments.

It makes all the sense in the world.

She was not joining the Becerra family.
I was not becoming a Benninghoff.

Our whole relationship going back to the beginning has been a blending of our lives into something new. Getting married was simply natural and obvious…like gravity and air.

We have made the choice to bring together everything our fathers and families gave us, everything that had defined us as individuals.

We are taking everything and everyone we have in our lives and sewing them together into something new (whether they like it or not ha-ha).

We give to one another every memory and moment, every good time and bad, every smile and scar, all the laughter and loss that we have ever had, shared or yet to be experienced.

All these things make us who we are…and who we are is Us.

How could we NOT have the same last name?

It became such a simple and obvious choice…. like gravity and air, and Us.

And so, we changed (enhanced) our names.

There are many layers to this notion of spouses changing or hyphenating (enhancing) their names after marriage.

Some may see my decision as a statement of sorts and discuss the idea within the political or philosophical realms. There are legal and practical aspects and certainly gender roles within society could and are being debated every day but I am not going to do any of that because none of it had anything to do with why I went to Harris County Court #310.

My name is my statement and my name is Jason R. Benninghoff-Becerra.

Be Well and Kind,
JRBB

The Story of Us

I wish I could tell you a story about our first kiss or the magic moment under a bowl of stars when fate made itself known to Us.

I wish I could paint a portrait of me brushing the hair behind her ear as she first looked at me with those eyes and that smile that change my life every time she graces me with them.

I wish I could describe the precise moment when I first heard her say “I love you” in a way I had never heard her say it before.

I wish there was some way I could capture all those fireworks and butterflies that come in the moments before that first kiss that changed our lives…the kind of kiss that changes anyone’s life really.

But I don’t have those stories to tell. Ours is not one of “new” love or of flames so passionate that their heat carried us into the sky.

Our story begins in a musty sophomore geometry classroom. We were bound together by the alphabet and its influence over Ms. Grissom’s seat assignments.  

Unencumbered by the kinds of promises kids so often make though they are too young to know they can’t keep, our friendship was instead marked by our social awkwardness, our misfit friends who inhabited the land of broken toys that was our classroom,  and shenanigans. (Well, the shenanigans were mostly mine.)

That smile continues…my hair? not so much.

She was beautiful though she won’t acknowledge it. She was funny and smart with an air of cool that again, she’ll deny. Her self-image is much different than my view of her. I suppose the same is true for me.

I was shy and insecure with a sense of fashion that could generously be described as ridiculous…except for my black trench coat. I’d like to think it was the first step in wooing My Love.

Sometimes the class clown, other times desperate to melt into the faded paint on the mid-century classroom that incubated us, I was never quite comfortable in my own skin.

She had my eye even then. She doesn’t believe me but it’s true.

Somehow despite my often crippling awkwardness I summoned the courage to write her a note. Clumsily folded with a little tag that had the word “pull” and an arrow, it was my first attempt at telling her how I feel. She denies this too but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Then as now, every word was a piece of my heart.

Whenever I made my clumsy attempts at humor she would look at me with a tone in her eyes that seemed to embody both a sense of dismay and approval. She tried to keep a straight face and sometimes she managed to but more often than not that smile would not be denied.

That smile.

Through circumstances unique to adolescence we were pulled apart and lost touch despite always being in the other’s orbit.

It seemed like we were always five minutes and two miles away without even knowing it. We visited the same friends’ apartments always just missing one another. One night in particular I left our mutual friend’s house about 10 minutes before she arrived.

We didn’t even realize we knew the same people.

For a time we lived almost exactly across the street from one another.

She worked at the restaurant directly across the street from the pub I frequented. I ate at her restaurant with some regularity too. Evidently it was always her night off.
I’m serious. You can’t make this up.

For years we circled one another, never knowing just how close we were. So close yet so far away.

Enter Facebook and a simple friend request I received one afternoon.

It was Kristin Benninghoff.
I won’t even attempt to deny that my heart skipped more than a beat when I saw the “alert” nor the fact that I stared at the screen for I don’t know how long waiting to see if she would send me a direct message.

She did.

When friends reconnect after time apart they often say they “picked up where they left off.”

Kristin and I did not.

We picked up right where we were.

We slipped into one another’s life both as if we were never apart but also with all the miles, scars, tears, laughter, and experiences gained over the years we spent in orbit.

That time carved and molded us into more than just old friends catching up.

The first time I saw Kristin in person after all those years she spoke to me as if we had never spent so much as an hour apart in our entire lives.

She knew me so well, our conversation so fluid and intimate that I asked if perhaps she had reached out to my then-wife to inquire about various details.

She had not.

She just knew.

She just knew.

Since then, every step we’ve taken has been taken together.

We became inseparable despite seldom having the opportunity to even grab coffee.

We became each other’s biggest fans, boldest champions, most caring confidantes, and loving supporters.

The good, the bad, the awkward, the triumphant, the failure, the loss, the joy, this life, the universe, and everything have been experienced together.

We have spent these years supporting one another through heartache and the stress of building the lives we always envisioned but seemed unfathomable to that point.

We’ve celebrated too.

She cheered me as I performed on stages large and small alike.

I cheered every milestone achieved as she, Jakob, and Olivia moved through life.

She embraced the birth of my son with a passion and tender love that continues to humble my soul.

And together, we walked across the stage, her in Houston and I in New Hampshire, to receive our Master’s degrees. We spent the day texting back and forth as we sat waiting for our names to be called.

Graduation Day

She is the first person I want to tell about anything that happens throughout my day.

Someone cuts me off on the road? Call Kristin.

Oliver said “SEGA!!!” I must call Kristin.

Exactly how does so much laundry appear in the hamper? Kristin will know.
I’m struggling to maintain a grip on my life. Kristin can help. Kristin will understand.

Whether inconsequential or monumental, Kristin is my first instinct…and always has been.

Yet, we were never single at the same time.
Being together as we are now was never even on the radar.

Perhaps a fleeting curiosity or the proverbial “what if” would cross our individual minds but it was never outwardly acknowledged. We never spoke of such things.

What could have come of such talk or consideration?

What would the point have been?

We thought of it in the same way a child may think of what it would be like to fly but without the naivety that youth provides to allow them to believe they have wings to spread.

We were in long term relationships and we had our friendship. What more could we ask?

But things change.

Several months ago I made the very difficult decision to end my marriage after 14 years. That marriage gave birth to my darling son and taught me more than I can describe about sacrifice and compromise, about love, and about what it means to fill the measure of my creation.

It was not a decision taken lightly. There was no singular moment or action that led me to that decision but it was one that I came to believe was the only and best choice to make for the family. It was an inevitable and in many ways unfortunate choice to make but no less essential for the lives of everyone involved. As I made my way through the maze of divorce settlements and trying to reconcile my beliefs about family and individual fulfillment, I came to understand what life would look like. Maybe I’d have an apartment somewhere or maybe I’d spend time with my parents planning the next chapter of my life as a divorced father.

But then, something happened on the way to the rest of my life.

I’ll resist the temptation to frame the way Kristin and I became Us within the context of destiny though the manner in which we went from “us” to “Us” begs for such otherworldly poetry.

What I do know is that we were collecting all the photographs and memories, joyful mornings and mournful nights, wisdom and knowledge, that have all led us to this moment…to This Right Here.

They say timing is everything and I suppose it is.

We had in fact never been single at the same time.

We had in fact never spoken of any sort of life together beyond what we had always enjoyed.

And then we did.

And when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life together with somebody you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

And so it has.

It’s the heart that matters more

We turned Our new life over and in doing so we found Our Love.

This is why I cannot tell you a story of a singular moment when Kristin and I became what we are today.

Our story is one of Choice.

Our story is about the choices we’ve made as both individuals and as Us.
Some of the choices we made while apart, unfortunate though some may have been, were essential in shaping us into the individuals that have become Us.

So too are the choices we made to craft the lives we wanted to live, lives we thought impossible until we had the audacity to believe in ourselves and in Us.

We made choices to earn degrees and to further our careers.

We made choices about family and faith and all the while challenging and inspiring one another as we took those steps together in hopes of building our lives. We didn’t realize it but we weren’t just building our lives.
We were building Our Life.
So too have those choices involved others.

She chose Oliver.
Oliver chose her.

Olivia chose me.
I chose Olivia.


Olivia chose Oliver.
Oliver chose Olivia.

My beating hearts

And while Jakob is already building his own life, growing into a man anyone can be both proud and humbled to know, he too made a choice.

He chose to open his mind and heart to Kristin and I and to stand with Us, his own beloved at his side when Kristin and I make the most natural and obvious choice of all: to be married.

We all chose to come together and build something new.

Our story is not defined by any one moment.

Our Life was not born in a whirlwind. There is no story of falling in love, of courtship, or dropping to one knee.

Rather, Our Life is defined by moments sewn so tightly together that I struggle to find the seams that join the separate pieces.

I’ve no concept of a life without her…not one that I would ever want to live.

God Only Knows what I’d be without her.

The fact that we are now We is a testament to, and confirmation of, what I have always known to be true but was too afraid to allow myself the chance to consider as ever being possible.

Kristin, It Had To Be You. It could not have been anyone else and I’m so glad it’s you.

Kristin you are my best friend. We Can Do Anything. We have. We will.

I love Kristin Benninghoff.

She is My Love, from Here On Out.

I love that for Us

Always and Forever and Regardless.


Be Well and Kind,
Jason

Midweek Musings – Multi-Tools

It was many (many) years ago that I purchased a Leatherman Wave multi-tool after my buddy had spent months raving about his. So many years and lives later I must say, I feel naked without it on my belt.

I hesitate to even wager a guess at how many times in a given day I find myself reaching for it.

I do just about everything with it. I’ve repaired guitars, worked on computers, and opened more boxes and assembled more toys than I could ever count.

I’ve used it as a hammer, a door stop, a means of steadying a stubborn nail in a cramped space as I feebly try to hammer it into place. I’ve removed splinters and trimmed branches. I’ve sliced, diced, filed, shaved, and sawed just about anything you can do that to and probably things you shouldn’t.

I could probably perform minor to moderate surgery with nothing but my trusty Leatherman and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy.

Which brings me to my musing for today: Are you a multi-tool?

It’s something to strive towards.

Some may frame this concept as the old cliché that says “jack of all trades but master of none” but I don’t particularly care for that description. It suggests that by its very definition a “jack of all trades” is not or cannot be a master in and themselves.

I believe flexibility, fluidity, and adaptability to be among the most valuable character traits we can have in life, professionally or personally.

Just a cursory review of the most successful people in the world will show that very few of them are “just a hammer” or “just a flat-head screwdriver.” Those that may have been typically have clear enough vision to surround themselves with a bevy of multi-tools.

Organizations, both large and small, in every industry have armies of employees with titles like “Manager – Special Projects and Design” or “Project Specialist.” As a matter of fact, mine is “Communications and Projects Specialists.”

These titles beg the question: “So what does someone with such a title actually do?”

Well…pretty much anything.

In my case I prepare a great deal of internal and external communications collateral. It could be security white sheets, new business development proposals, internal training and education guides, data documents for clients or just a sign telling everyone when the next pot luck will be.

I also manage extensive and complex international travel logistics involving flights, planning executive-level meetings, conferences, and events around the world. I help our team by ensuring their travel visas and passports are in order and that everything has been handled to ensure they are able to get to and from anywhere in the world in order to serve our clients.

I do graphic design, new employee on-boarding, negotiate vendor contracts. Ask me in an hour and I’ll have three more, seemingly complexly unrelated tasks to knock out.

One of my most recent projects has been to create a step-by-step, easy-to-understand, all-encompassing guidebook for how our new expense management software solution works because of course the materials provided were anything but.

My company relies on me to fill gaps no matter where they may open. I’m the Leatherman multi-tool on my company’s belt.

This is most certainly the case for independent small business owners, like Ashley Newman of Houston’s Ashley Newman Photography.

A brilliant and creative photographer and storyteller, her passion led her to take a big step into the world of creating her own company to manage full-time.

In the two years or so since she made that decision it is safe to say that she is anything but “just” a photographer.

In addition to standing behind the camera Ashley has had to develop skills in web design and development. She is her own social media marketing and communications manager charged with developing and implementing multi-platform campaigns while defining and targeting market segments and audiences. Small business owners like her must be accountants, financial planners, and logistics specialists.

They have to vet and manage their vendors, handle purchasing, new technology assessment and implementation…oh and in Ashley’s case being a spouse, a parent, a friend, and everything else that life throws at us every day.

Multi-tools are, by design, masters of being able to do anything and everything whenever the moment calls for it to do be done.

Job seekers will immediately distinguish themselves from other applicants by demonstrating their ability to be entrusted with critical but diverse challenges while delivering superlative results.

An existing employee will make themselves essential an invaluable within their organization by showing a willingness to take on any new challenge no matter how foreign or “outside of their job description.”

Small businesses become successful larger businesses when they are led by someone willing to push themselves beyond the core activity that drove them to start the company in the first place.

So again I’ll ask: are you a multi-tool?

We should all be!

That’s it for today!

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

With This Ring….

 

Anyone who knows me understands how much baseball means to me. Anyone who knows me understands what this season continues to signify to me. I shared some of those thoughts a while back.

I struggled with whether or not to join the thousands of people lining up the night before in order to have a chance at getting one of these earlier this season when they announced a giveaway promotion.

After years of rooting for my beloved team and going through this incredible season it was so very tempting but I decided to avoid the crowds and see if I couldn’t find one later on down the road. Fortunately enough one was gifted to me just the other day! I’m not sure what looks better the incredibly well-crafted ringing or the dashing center fielder Jake Marisnick. (Yeah, I said it. haha)

seriously? It’s not even fair how good looking this guy is. 😉

 I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to truly describe what this ring really means to me but I’ll try.

I’m not a memorabilia guy. My “collectibles” at this point in my life consist largely of Lincoln Logs, analgesic cream, and orphaned sippy cup lids.

Some guys are really into sports memorabilia. They get the jerseys and signatures and all that. They may see a ring like this as something to hold on to for a while and then sell or trade it down the line.

To others it is a neat souvenir. They’ll put it on their office desk, show it off for a day, and promptly forget it’s even there.

For me it’s something much more. Hell, for me, it doesn’t even belong solely to me.

With this ring I share a lifetime of stories and coaching and anecdotes and “who was better” discussions with my father. My father, incidentally, was the proud and popular Spanish voice of the Houston Astros throughout the 80s and into the early 90s. I can’t count how many times I sat in the booth with him watching Jose Cruz, Ken Caminiti, Craig Biggio, and the rest.

My dad coached my peewee team and no matter how many times I struck out or just begged for a walk because I knew getting a hit was off the table he always encouraged me.

With this ring I share with my father the difficult months after Harvey when the Astros were our only escape from a reality we are still struggling to reconcile ourselves with and develop a path forward within.

This ring is his as much as it is mine.

With this ring I share a brotherhood with one of the most influential people in my life. Our shared love of music and baseball formed the basis of the kind of friendship that only a blessed few ever receive. I will never fully square the debt I owe him for his love and for teaching me so much about songwriting, for putting his arm around me as I slumped in a corner suffering the kind of heartache that can only be felt at such a young age, and for inspiring me to just be a better me.

David his beautiful wife Tina, and my son, Young Master Oliver at a ball game.

During the 2017 season he experienced a profound loss. His entire family did.  The Astros provided him, and all of us, with something to hold on to. When we didn’t want to talk about it, (or couldn’t) we could pick apart AJ Hinch’s lineup card. We could go back and forth on whether or not Gattis was awesome. Incidentally, judging by the last month or so, David was right and I was so very wrong. He usually is and I usually am.

This ring is his as much as it is mine.

With this ring I share a renewed connection and love for another friend I’d long since lost touch with. Where did Chris and I see one another for the first time in a decade? We saw each other at Minute Maid Park.

Chris and I at Minute Maid

Since that afternoon we’ve chatted almost daily. It’s been fascinating to see how much we’ve changed and yet somehow managed to remain those angsty teenagers relentlessly clinging to…well…whatever it is we’re were clinging to back then. Haha

I’m astounded at how radically some of our opinions have changed over the years.

He likes Led Zeppelin now!

I love the Smiths now!

We both finally came to our senses.

We’ve both been through our fair share of life in our years apart and I think we would have been better off together through it all but we’re together now and that’s enough.

He, David, and I have a shared text message thread and it is never lower than the third spot on my phone for as often as we talk throughout the day. As if we are still sitting on Dave’s sofa or on a park bench, the three of us are goofing around, telling stories, ranking songs, and talking Astros baseball.

This ring is his as much as it is mine.

With this ring I share a revived connection with a girl who I’ve known since those days on the peewee field flailing about just trying to at least look like I might make contact with the ball. Jennifer and I had not spoken in a number of years due to reasons and circumstances that just don’t seem to matter anymore.

I’m grateful to once again be back in touch, sharing music, trading bits of trivia, and as much as anything, rooting for our boys on the field. Throughout that incredible run up to the Series, every cheer or nervous “oh man I can’t take this anymore” we shared, so too did it seem like we slowly began to reaffirm a bond I’d long thought broken and discarded. I’ve missed her friendship more than I’d allowed myself to admit to anyone including myself.

This ring is hers as much as it is mine.

With this ring I share the the joy of newfound passion with my buddy Jon. Jon was hardly a sports fan. Our relationship was rooted mostly in music, cooking, and trying to one-up the other in that timeless game of “What’s grosser…” and “What would you rather do?” As the season went on and he saw my enthusiasm and that of the entire city he found himself wondering what all of the hubbub was about. All of the sudden I began getting text messages.

“What’s the infield fly rule?”

“Wait, why is that guy out? The ball went foul.”

“Oh man! Did you see that catch!?”

One of the most intelligent and creative people I know, I’ve learned so much and been challenged to examine issues from different perspectives. Now was my turn to help him learn something new, to expose him to something I knew a little bit about.

He’s a very tech-savvy and analytical guy so of course he has now digested the entirety of 200 years of baseball statistics. He’s not just watching Astros games. He’s watching random games from the national league, keeping track of farm clubs, and trolling other teams’ fans in their online discussion forums. Jon is now a baseball fan…a big one. This ring is as much his as it is mine….though he needs to stop calling them “points.” It’s baseball. They’re called “RUNS” damn it.

With this ring I share a tender but also tumultuous season with my son Oliver.

We were hit hard by Harvey and I can’t fathom a more patient and courageous child. As I endeavored to rescue my parents, get them settled into our home, battle back the waters that threatened to flood our home running around like a madman trying to learn how to operate a generator, find gasoline, keep the milk cold, and just get through the next hour or two he watched and waited for any second we could find to grab a hug, for me to cradle him, or take him on a piggy-back ride while lugging bags of laundry and extension cords around the house. He was a such a champ.

We had spent the whole season cuddled up watching every single game. He chanted “Altuuuuuveeee” every time Jose came to bat and we cheered every time that dreamboat Marisnick seemed to defy gravity catching a line drive in center. 

This boy has stood by my side every day of his life and we are bound for life. I could not be more proud of anyone. Seeing him handle the upheaval, the loss of electricity, the heat and humidity, the complete disruption to his routine was humbling. Once we got the power back and TV back on we went back to our routine with my dad watching every game right on through that magical World Series win.


This ring is definitely as much his as it is mine.

I love you son. Thank you.

Go Astros!

#NeverSettle
#EarnedIt

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

 

The More Things Change…The More Things Change

Things are different with me these days.

I have changed quite a bit over the recent past due to two distinct reasons.

Growing up, my family escaped the worst of nature’s wrath. As a child I watched a neighbor’s tree get ripped from the ground but nothing really happened to our house. We had various flooding events as I grew up but again nothing really impacted us.

Tropical Storm Alison flooded my apartment but very few of my possessions were destroyed. We only had about 8 inches of water and it came in so slowly that I was able to get my valuables off the ground. My car needed a good washing. That was about it.

Katrina and Rita didn’t directly impact us either.

Ike knocked out another neighbor’s tree and destroyed part of their house and both cars but we were only out of electricity for about 6 hours. We had a little water seep into one room.

My parents were without power for about 2 weeks but they sat on the patio and grilled, came over to do laundry, and everyone was relatively ok. I had other friends who lived in a cul de sac full of outdoorsy folks so they had a huge block party with everyone emptying their deep freezers and firing up the grills and smokers.

Then the Tax Day Floods came. My parents were not flooded out of their home  but they were flooded in. It was impossible to reach their door without a boat. It took over a week for the water to drain. Getting my dad’s medication was a bit of a challenge. I was worried about what would happen if I needed to get to them or get them out in an emergency.

Just like that, things were starting to hit much closer to home and it seemed as if these events were experiencing a crescendo.

Still, afterwards everything went back to normal and such concerns faded to the background again.

Enter Harvey.

We are closing in on one year since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. It’s amazing to think about that because of how much the storm still seems to linger over so many of our lives.

There are homes yet to be repaired. There are people yet to determine what to do with their houses and where they’ll live. Some kids are still waiting for their schools to reopen.

Before the storm, a new strip centering being built meant everyone wondered if there would be a Starbucks or a Kohl’s but now then news of a new real estate development project is greeted with questions about flood mediation. Citizens that never once thought about things like how an empty patch of grass helps control water flow have become comment thread activists on the NextDoor app. We’ve all gotten a crash course in city planning and civil engineering.

Looking back Harvey does not seem like an isolated incident. Rather, it seems like the most recent in a series of ever-building events.

Reality hit me at about 4:00 am on the morning of the storm when I left the house looking for batteries and a flashlight. It was the first in a flurry of shots I would receive over the coming days and weeks.

The experience of trying to provide and protect my family during and after the storm, of trying to manage the logistics of things like finding pharmacies and grocery stores that were both open AND accessible, of finding gas, of finding something to put the gas in, of learning how to use a generator, of trying to keep Oliver cool and entertained…all of that has changed me.

Before Harvey I had some tools in the garage, a couple extension cords, a decent drill, an old roll of duct tape, and that was about it. I had a couple flashlights, one broken, and another in need of batteries.

Since that Saturday morning, I’ve amassed a generator, a dozen cords, fans, a stack of power bricks, flashlights of every variety, batteries, cases of water, half a dozen gas cans, and I just invested in a freezer. I have a pair of thick tactical boots that served me incredibly well throughout the storm and afterwards.

If I see a sale on water, I grab it. If I see a clearance price on a power brick, head lamp, batteries, I take it.

I pay closer attention to things like how much of my medication I have at any given time and try not to wait until the day before to call in the refill. I keep tabs on things like how much paper towel, water, and batteries I have. I have a full tank of propane and now I have a smoker…as much for the joy of outdoor cooking as for being able to cook without electricity. I’ve always been a bit of a weather buff but now even more so.

Of course all of this “prepping” may be for pointless. Let’s face it, Another will come and when it does there will only be so much we can do. The storm could flood my house wash away my precious stockpiles.

Yet, I do these things because I’m different now.

So too have I noticed a sharp change in myself for another reason.

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Tucson, the Sikh Temple, Sandy Hook, Boston, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale, Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Santa Fe, 2-inch bulletproof glass at the bank, metal detectors at the ballpark, “see something say something” and everything in between have chipped away any sense of comfort I had when out in public.

I am different now.

Mind you, I was not raised in a fantasy world where crime didn’t exist. My comfortably middle-class upbringing did not obstruct my view of reality. People got shot, robbed, raped, stabbed, and beat up. A schoolmate’s father went into a rage one night and murdered his mother as my classmate watched.

But I was never so aware or alert as I have become as these events have occurred one after the other. Much as with Harvey, the Santa Fe shooting seems like another step in a seemingly endless progression, one that keeps getting closer.

So now when I get out of the car I look in all directions. I go inside and scan the room. Where are the exits? Is it crowded? Does anything seem “off?” My ears are wide open listening for shouting, loud pops or bangs. I try not to focus so much on my shopping list that I lose track of where I am in the store, who is around me, and whether or not I can move freely and quickly if the need arises.

I like to take Oliver shopping with me. We have a ball describing things we see, singing, greeting other shoppers and store employees. Best of all, we usually come home with a toy.

On such a day out we found ourselves at the local Wal-Mart.

This particular visit began much like any other. I got out of the car; glanced around the parking lot, and pulled Oliver from his seat. We danced our way into the store and got as far as the frozen food section before we heard a wild alarm and people shouting. It was much louder than the ones heard when a customer walks out with a shirt that still had the security tag on it. It was scary. People around me ducked for cover, one woman fell flat on her stomach, hands over her head.

Oliver shouted, “Daddy! What’s that noise!?” Instinctively I grabbed him tight and turned my head towards the source while also slowly walking in a direction from which I could quickly make a dart for the exit if things went south.

I made a game of it by telling him it was the “Wal-Mart Police” who must have “arrested” a little boy for being too crazy in the store. (Everywhere we go has its own police force. There’s McDonald’s Police, Kroger Police, Target Police, Zoo Police. They all arrest crazy toddlers who drive their fathers bonkers. That’s how I roll. Sue me. Haha)

Whatever it was turned out to be nothing but for a few moments I thought things were going in a different direction.

That moment reaffirms my insecurities about letting Oliver out of my sight as much as it does my concern of taking him out. I don’t want him to go anywhere without me. Granted, a big part of this is because I want to spend every second I can with him. He’s my son and beyond loving him, I really do like him. He’s three years old and already my best friend.

The other side of that is the fear of something bad happening and me not being there for him. The idea of sending him off to school is nerve-racking.

And it isn’t like I could necessarily “save” him from anything. What am I going to do? I don’t carry a gun. I’ve never even held one and despite having memorized every training montage from every Rocky movie I have yet to “eat lightning or crap thunder.”

I have a hard time swatting a roach. (What? They’re freakish creatures. Some of them can FLY! Did you know that?! Evolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes.)

The fact is that if something is going to happen to Oliver then it should happen to me. If he’s sick then we’re sick. If he’s happy then we’re happy. If he’s frustrated then we’re frustrated. If he gets to go to the zoo then I get to go to the zoo.

We’re in this together.

And just like that, Reality comes back to throw another stiff jab.

I can stockpile all the AAs and water bottles in the world and I can keep Oliver in my arms 24/7 but I can’t really keep anything from happening can I? I can’t really prepare for anything can I?

I couldn’t have prevented Harvey from flooding my house anymore than I was able to keep it from happening to my parents down the street. If my house was going to flood it was going to flood.

If someone had shot up that Wal-Mart then all I would have been able to do is scoop Oliver up and try to get the hell out of there. Maybe we would have. Maybe I would have tripped over my own feet and fallen into the display of value size Heinz ketchup while dozens of people trampled us on their way out. Maybe something worse happens.

And so I am different now.

I am different because while I always accepted that I have no control over any tragedy that life may bring I had never truly allowed that feeling to get deep inside of me. I pushed all that aside, tucked it away deep in the back of my mind and as such my lack of preemptive action didn’t really mean much.

Now? I wallow in the ironic futility of so much preparedness.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in some constant state of fear. I’ve not spent the last ten months stockpiling arms and MREs while researching how to capture rainwater and fashion gas masks from Downy dryer sheets. (Gain smells better, don’t you think?)

There are no plans to build a bunker beneath The Cathedral.

It just makes sense to always have an extra box of AAs around, mostly so I have enough to keep Oliver’s trains chugging.

Why wait to run out of water or anything really, and have to pay full price when you can stock up during a sale?

I can’t wait to get the new freezer on Saturday. It was purchased as much for being able to take advantage of sales as anything else.

I’ll be able to stock up on Oliver’s Eggos du jour. My dad can buy all the Digiorno frozen pizzas he wants and come Thanksgiving, I’ll be able to grab an extra one for later in the year!

But reality is never so far away that it’s truly in the back of my mind. The freezer, like everything else I’ve collected over the year, will come in handy when the next storm arrives.

Every generation debates whether or not the world has changed, whether things were “different back then.”

The world might be different. It might not be.

But I am different now.

 

Be Well and Kind,

jason

 

 

Wednesday Morning Musings – Amazon Prime Wardrobe

Until Sunday, I’d worn the same pair of athletic shoes for fifteen years. It was time. Having a toddler with a relentless, almost maniacal, energy demands I have proper footwear to keep up.

This meant doing one of the things I dread the most: go to a store.

With a sigh of surrender I packed Young Master Oliver up and off we went to our local tan shopping center. I’ll look for shoes, maybe a pair of pants, and of course find a wicked cool toy for the young lad.

2 hours and 5 stores later what did we find? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Oh they had inventory but nothing that fit or looked right. I did find one shirt that was kind of sort of but not entirely ok…and it cost almost as much as my mobile phone bill.

When we returned home weary from the excursion, I glanced at my phone and realized something marvelous.

Amazon rolled out a new benefit for subscribers of their Prime subscription service. Prime Wardrobe allows customers to have up to 8 items sent to them, free of charge, in order to try them on and see how they look, feel, and fit. You can then return what you don’t want in the same packaging it came in with the included prepaid label. You’re only charged for what you keep.

I ordered 6 pair of sneakers. They arrived on Sunday. 30 minutes later and I found my sneakers, right in the comfort of my living room. I packed up the rest in their original resealable box and by Monday they were on their way back to Bezos and the gang. Simultaneously, another Prime Wardrobe box was being sent my way with 8 pair of pants.

I may never visit a store again.

I mention this not to throw even more business to Amazon but to highlight a strategy and philosophy that Amazon has embraced since its birth: make it easy for the customer to do business with you.

If it’s more difficult than it’s worth to purchase something then I’m not going to purchase it. I’ll either do without or I’ll find somewhere else to buy it.

Something as simple as a return can be a make-or-break moment for a retailer.

How simple is the process?

Does the customer service rep show reluctance towards accepting the item?

How many people have to walk to the register and enter codes and approve the transaction?

I returned a pair of defective headphones to my local Wal-Mart less than 48 hours after receiving them. I had the original packaging and receipt and even the protective stickers were still on headphones. It took 45 minutes, not including driving to the store, parking, and driving home.

First I got in the line with a massive sign having above it that read “online purchases and returns HERE.” Then, after about 10 minutes I was told “That’s not a line. That sign doesn’t mean anything. You have to get in this line.”

So I waited in that line….and waited.

Then the rep paged someone in electronics to ask about serial numbers and whether they accept returns on these particular headphones.

The electronics rep didn’t know so they paged someone else. Meanwhile my rep paged another rep. While this was all playing out I googled information on the serial numbers and went to walmart.com to find their return policy. I gave the representative the information she was looking for. She then paged a third person, presumably a manager, who came over to approve the return, issue my refund, and sent me on my way.

It seems every time I try to give my money to another retailer I walk away thinking “I should have just bought this from Amazon.” This trip was no different because by the time I walked back to my car I had placed an order for new headphones from Amazon.

Whether it’s  a matter of just wanting to get it over with and avoid waiting two days or if I’m attempting to “support independent local businesses,” it always seems that I go through more trouble than it was worth. I couldn’t find what I was looking for despite being told it was in stock. The item was defective and the return process was tedious. No one in the store could answer questions about the item they purportedly specialize in selling and supporting.

So what ends up happening? I order it from Amazon anyway. I’ve almost entirely stopped bothering with brick-and-mortar retailers.

News and opinion pieces are published, seemingly on an hourly basis, bemoaning the continuing struggles and failures of our beloved retail stores in the wake of Amazon’s rise. Steeped in nostalgia, these pieces attempt to evoke some measure of Rockwellian tender longing for some bygone era that I’m not convinced ever actually existed.

What will happen to our society in the absence of our most cherished centers of community, the shopping mall?

Every click of the “Place Your Order” button is another dagger into the heart of the retailing traditions that have bound our culture of commerce for centuries.

Or maybe, Amazon just makes it easier to buy stuff.

Now, I don’t expect a small independent shopkeeper to have the selection or buying power of Amazon but what about a store like Wal-Mart?

Amazon has approximately 330 domestic facilities devoted to fulfillment, warehousing, returns, sorting, and delivery with $51 billion in 2018 1st quarter revenue.

Wal-Mart has 42 distribution centers and over 4000 locations, not including Sam’s Club. They reported over $120 billion in revenue for over the same period.

Despite having every resource available and over twice the revenue, Wal-Mart continues to struggle with both their in-store customer service as well as their e-commerce platform.

Wal-Mart has every resource needed to offer a Prime Wardrobe service. Wal-Mart has just a robust product selection as Amazon. Wal-Mart revolutionized logistics and supply chain. Wal-Mart, like Amazon, allows third-party vendors to sell items through its website. They employ over 1 million people in the United States while Amazon’s entire workforce is less than half that figure.

Their acquisitions of Bonobos , was supposed to signal a new era in which they would attract a fashion-savvy and younger customer base away from other retailers. Yet, Bonobos’ servers aren’t exactly failing beneath the traffic of all these new online orders.

Bonobos’ website boasts that if you happen to live near a one of their “Guideshop” you can try your clothes on before buying them. You can even return online purchases at these local storefronts.

Wal-Mart and Bonobos aren’t exactly disrupting the marketplace with these bold strategies.

The Prime Wardrobe program, by contrast, is another example of Amazon being more creative, more forward-thinking, and more willing to take risks on ideas that seem unheard of to traditional retailers.

I mean really? Who thinks it is a good idea to just ship product to a customer without them paying for it first? It’s so absurd that it’s brilliant.

So while traditional retailers continue to rebrand their private label clothing lines or develop new pricing strategies in hopes of attracting customers that have long since fled, they ignore what Amazon teaches them every day: make it easy for your customers to do business with you and they will keep doing business with you.

Too many companies are entrenched in a belief that business should be done on their terms and then struggle with the reality that business is being done elsewhere.

The marketplace is no different than our normal lives. Agility and flexibility are two of the most important attributes to have.

That’s it for today. Have a great rest of the week!

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

Midweek Musings

Perhaps this will become a regular feature here but I’ll definitely be posting this type of format on a regular basis moving forward where I discuss topics that have come up over the last few days or weeks that I think merit discussion. So…here we go.

Graduation Day…

Graduation season is upon us. #SNHU2018 has been trending my twitter feed and it reminded me of last year when I graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with my MBA. My experience as a student was tremendous, my visit to campus for commencement was revelatory, and this last year as a member of the alumni community has been truly enriching. I continue to feel that SNHU should be looked to as a template for centers of education ranging from high school through to colleges, trade schools, and universities.

 

One of the true pleasures of being an alum of a university so focused on outreach and engagement is that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with current and prospective students as they decide whether or not to attend, what degree they may pursue or what life may look like after graduation. That the university goes to such great lengths to connect students is emblematic of their entire philosophy.

One of my recent conversations with a student led to perhaps the most enduring question concerning employment opportunities and job applications:

What’s more important: Education or experience?

I won’t try to dig too deep into this rabbit hole given today’s format but I’ll give a short answer and an anecdote.

Answer: It depends. (I know, I took the cheap way out. haha)

Here’s the anecdote:

I worked with an incredibly talented leader who had been charged with righting the proverbial ship for a national retailer. The first thing he did when given the rather robust stack of applications for sales positions was look for those that listed non-sales experience or were students.

He was attracted to applicants studying communications or philosophy. He wanted to talk to waiters and waitresses. His philosophy was that it would be easier to teach someone how to sell than it would be to “unteach” them.

Experience can sometimes be a hindrance. It can bring bad habits or preconceptions about strategies and culture that may not apply in a given work environment.

Within one year our location led the entire region in gross sales, gross profits, and number of unique transactions….with a sales team comprised almost entirely of people lacking any sales experience. Not too shabby. 🙂

I’ve found similar opinions regarding education.

Over the years I’ve spoken with many managers and human resource leaders who agree that diplomas do not necessarily equate to subject mastery. They place little-to-no emphasis on whether the applicant’s degree is directly related to the position…or if they even have a degree.

These employers look for skills that transfer from one industry to another or for soft skills developed through a candidate’s background. A history or philosophy graduate may be the perfect fit in a change management consultancy despite a lack of “business” experience, academic or otherwise. Their personality and skills honed during their academic career may provide them with a sense of context and strategic fluidity that are essential with helping organizations implement new strategies and navigate complex communications projects.

This will make a great topic for a longer piece. It’s a fascinating concept and one that is dynamic in nature, has different answers depending on the industry and position, as well as the culture of a given organization.

So what would you say you do here?

It comes up all the time doesn’t it? Maybe it’s time to introduce yourself to a new employee. Maybe you’re at yet another party or at your child’s school function.

What do you say?

Do you know what you do? Can you describe it in a sentence or two?

It seems so simple and for some maybe it is.

What do you do? I’m a doctor. I diagnose and treat pulmonary disease.

What do you do? I’m a communications manager for a Montessori school where I write newsletters and announcements for parents and the community.

For others, myself included, the answer can be a tad more…nuanced shall we say.

I joke to some that I’m my organization’s multi-tool.

I don’t like the “jack of all trades” moniker because it begs the coda, “master of none”. If I’m a master of something it’s at being flexible and agile.

There are many of us who at any given moment could be doing forensic analysis and reconciliations of expense and invoicing data, preparing client data presentations, writing annual reports, taking bids from telecom, office equipment, or real estate vendors, or planning international special events.

These hats, however, are not rotated as a result of a lack of mastery but rather because the individual has the agility and versatility to fill gaps across the organizational structure. They can, in short, put those fires out that pop up all over an organization.

Not every company has the capacity, budget, or need to have a full-time communications or purchasing department. Many companies outsource the bulk of their human resource needs but still require someone in the office to field all those inevitable questions that pop up that don’t necessarily merit submitting an inquiry or calling the hotline.

From a company’s standpoint having a “utility player” can be vital and for an individual seeking employment it is essential to demonstrate your ability to perform multiple tasks, simultaneously, under different timelines, across the organizational structure, collaborating with different stakeholders.

That’s about it for today. Have a productive rest of the week but most of all…

 

Be Well and Kind,
Jason