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

 

 

Let’s be “real”

A simple conversation a few months back gave me one of those “wake up calls” that most of us receive from time to time.

The conversation was with my student advisor at Southern New Hampshire University.

As I approaching not only the end of the current term but also completion of my MBA, she asked a simple question.

“Are you coming up for commencement?”

I live in Houston, TX. Southern New Hampshire University is…well…in Southern New Hampshire. It had honestly never dawned on me that I would, or even could, visit and participate in the graduation ceremony.

Being an online student, I just assumed they would mail me my diploma…or if I were so lucky, the wicked cool Winnebago would pull up and they’d come knocking on my door. How cool would that be?

My response to my advisor’s question was pretty simple. “Can I do that? I mean I’m just an online student. It’s not like I am real student.”

She scoffed at that…no…she actually put me in my place.

I was no less a “real” student than any of the on-campus students, certainly no less “real” than any of the thousands of students who have graduated since the school was founded in 1932.

It reminded me of a very interesting fact. We are what we tell ourselves we are. A few months back I wrote about taking control of our message. Redefining it when we needed to and about how we control the narrative we tell ourselves and others.

Well my advisor gave me a very real reminder of this fact that evening.

So there, on my patio I realized…I am a REAL student! Why wouldn’t I go to campus and participate in commencement with all my classmates?!

My wife and I flew north on Saturday morning and that evening I had the pleasure of putting faces to the names and voices of both my academic and career advisors. We had an incredibly fun dinner and then Sunday I “walked.”

I even found the winnebago! 

 

 

Now I can honestly say I’ve never known a more encouraging, supportive culture in my academic or professional careers.

To say SNHU wants us, their students, to succeed is barely worth saying because it hardly captures the effort, the passion, the focus, drive, respect, altruism, and professionalism every corner of their organizational structure provided me throughout my tenure there.

During the commencement however, something else struck me. The president and other speakers repeatedly emphasized something that I truly took to heart, and something I think many of my classmates (that’s still so neat to say) also took to heart.

SNHU truly understands the unique stories that each of us brought to commencement. They value our individualism and, just as sacred, they value and cherish all the spouses, significant others, and family members that play such an undeniable role in getting us to that ceremony.
Most of us were from out of state. Most of us had full-time careers. Most of us children or parents or spouses or all of the above and more.

SNHU holds sacred the belief that the diploma  I earned is as much about my own focus, drive, commitment, and ambition as it is about my wife’s, son’s, and parents’ support, encouragement, understanding, faith and love means everything to me.

Now SNHU gets a great deal of credit for being a non-profit university and for their innovation but for me they deserve the most credit for how they cherish their students and the people who stand next to us, behind us, and around us as we marched through classes week after week, long night after long night, whether in class or online.

To be true, SNHU has been the greatest educational experience of my life. (no offense to my beloved University of Houston)

Thank you to everyone at Southern New Hampshire for a valuable education, even more valuable experiences, and the most valuable thing of all – a reminder about what “real” is.

Until next time,

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

Can you be “too” busy?

It’s something that has come up a lot in a variety of settings lately…whether or not I’m “too” busy or that I have “a lot going on.”

I suppose it’s true. Right now I work full time at a “regular” job while managing this website, working to complete a master’s degree, striving to build Cathedral Records as a unique record label and promotions company, and I manage that site/blog/social media. Right now that means helping one of my favorite local artists, a band called The Glass, coordinate some performances for their upcoming album release.

I’m also in the process of preparing to record an album of songs and will be performing live again.

Additionally I provide web management for Rolando Becerra Enterprises.

Then of course I’m a father and husband which brings a host of responsibilities and blessings.

When I list things out like that it does sometimes seem like a lot.

I know there are dad’s out there who spend Sunday in their boxers, watching football and maybe do a little grilling on the patio…relaxed and chill.

I know there are guys who spend their weekends at the club and wake up at the crack of noon but that’s just not me.

My weekends are sometimes more hectic than Monday through Friday because I’m squeezing everything I can’t do during the week into a two-day period. House chores, shopping, errands and soaking up every second I can with my gorgeous son and wife.

I often find myself saying “ok, I’m going to relax THIS weekend. I need a break” but that’s never really how it ever plays out haha.

What it boils down to is I’m busy because I have a ton of things I want to do. I wear a lot of hats and I live in multiple worlds at the same time.

I’m not content with just lying around. I am ambitious and demanding of myself.

Do I always get everything done? No…but so many things are works in progress…life is a work in progress.

Besides, I think I am at my best when I’m running on all cylinders. My mind lights up at the challenges I set for myself.

I’ve never been content with doing easy things…or working at jobs that didn’t push me to be better each and every day.

It has been the same way musically as well. I’ve never collaborated with musicians that weren’t head-and-shoulders better than me.

That’s how we learn. That’s how we improve. If we don’t push ourselves every day to do things that seem just out of reach, we’ll never do anything of substance.

So…stay busy people…stay busy with things that matter. Keep moving forward in life. Strive to make progress each and every day towards meaningful goals.

You’ll thank yourself and you’ll impress yourself.

Until next time….

Be Well and Kind,
Jason