Mic-Drop: 4 Super-Lessons I Learned in 6 Years

As you may know, I am transitioning to a new assignment.  For just over six years I have had the divinely orchestrated opportunity to serve people through the mission of Southwest Michigan First. Although I have a master’s degree in communication, I am at a loss for words to describe the gratitude and pride I feel having worked alongside some of the most talented, thoughtful, funny, energetic, gracious and all around bada** people I have ever met.  The time in the trenches with this team, from the Board of Directors to the UPS team members that deliver the packages has been a significant season in my life.  For that, I am eternally grateful.

If working with these amazing human beings is not enough, I also had the benefit of being in an environment where learning and growing are priorities.  And my goodness…have I learned!  The extent of my learning is far too wide, and certainly too deep for a blog post, however, I thought I would take a moment and reflect on a few of the big lessons that I have learned while serving this region.  My hope is that my learning can help to empower, edify and encourage you and the people you go to the trenches with every day.

  1. “Swing Hard, or Surrender Your Bat!” At SMF, we believe that the most powerful force for change is a job.  Jobs and education have power.  People who have them, have choices.  People who don’t, have less choices; and in this world of global competition, the stakes have never been higher for us to create an environment where EVERYONE has an equitable opportunity to learn and have gainful employment.  While working with companies and communities, I quickly learned that EVERY opportunity to serve people and improve their quality of life is important.  It could mean the world to a family or individual who is struggling.  Because it could mean the world, we have to do our work as if our lives counted on it.  We are in the people service business and as the great poet Marianne Williamson said “…Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…”  I learned that bringing my best to every “at bat” did not secure a successful outcome, however, it would secure the peace and confidence that I gave it my all.  No matter what work you do; swing hard!  You never know what doors life can open if you bring your best self, and not allow the contagion of negative emotions like bitterness, envy, mistrust and apathy take over your life’s work.  Every at bat is important…swing like it!
  2. Leadership is an Activity.   One of the benefits of my role was the opportunity to meet and engage people in positions across all types of industries and interests.  The diversity and richness of the people and organizations I was able to serve was fascinating and growth provoking for my life.  I met and interacted with “leaders” from every walk of life.  Quickly, I realized that all “leaders” are not created equal.  I found that we give people the title of leader without first verifying their behavior. I met many people who had big jobs, however, if you asked people around them how it was to work for/with them; people started to stammer.  Here’s what i’ve learned; leadership is not about title or pedigree or power.  Leadership is ONLY about what you do with people.  It is an ACTIVITY that you EXERCISE to MOBILIZE PEOPLE to CHANGE the HUMAN CONDITION.  That means that all of us have the opportunity to lead in every facet of our work and lives.  Leadership is an Equal Opportunity Employer.  We just have to be courageous, committed and coherent enough to see the opportunities to improve the lives of people around us.  It has become clear to me through my interactions over the last six years that positions may have the ‘power’, however leaders have the PEOPLE, and PEOPLE are the POWER.
  3. Excellence is the Standard.  Kudos to Ron Kitchens and the Board of Directors for setting a super-high bar of excellence.  I have learned that the small things matter.  From the ink we use to the quality of the paper we print on; excellence was required.  Why?  Because we were serving people, and through that service to people, we could accomplish our mission.  We worked painfully hard to ensure that we stayed on the track of continuous improvement.  I must admit that as a person with a #1 Gallup strength of ‘Positivity’, the post-event debrief meetings could be mighty painful; however, that pain produced a commitment to serving with excellence.  The way we approach our work matters.  The way we welcome people matters.  The way we say thank you matters. The type of food we serve at what time of day…matters. Setting an expectation of excellence helps to ensure excellent results.  In the case of SMF…the results are in, and excellent is the standard.  I am so thankful for this lesson, both for my life and my future.
  4. “You Don’t Need Feet to Dance.” This lesson came the morning of my last day.  A community friend and partner invited me to join her at the opening breakfast for a great regional event, the USTA Boys National Championships.  The speaker for the breakfast was a woman I have never met, yet her story resonated with me.  Her name is Adrianne Haslet-Davis.  Adrianne is a dancer who lost her leg during a tragic accident related to the Boston Marathon bombing.  She now travels the country sharing her story and encouraging people to overcome. During her talk she told the story of one of her mentors who was teaching her dance, yet was elderly and unable to do the moves; so she taught her using her hands and fingers.  Adrianne remarked “I learned that you don’t need feet to dance.”  BOOM!  that statement hit me like a ton of bricks.  She is so right!  We do not have to know all of the answers to follow our dreams.  We do not have to be from a well-to-do family to have success!  We don’t have to go to an Ivy League school to learn.  We don’t need a comedian to laugh!  We don’t require perfect conditions to be happy.  All we need is US! We have all we need inside of us to make a difference.  WE DON’T NEED FEET TO DANCE!   When I started here at SMF, I didn’t know a thing about economic development or running a business or the economy; I came in with a heart to make a difference and a brain ready to learn.  I didn’t have feet in the industry.  However, as I get ready to walk out of the door for the last time as an employee…I KNOW HOW TO DANCE!  And, not only can I dance, I’ve learned to dance with great partners!

Thank you Bri, Carla, Cathy, Cynthia, Damon, Derek, Heather & Heather, Jacqui, Jill, Joe, Justine, Keith, Kelsey, Miranda, Nancy, Nick, Petey, Regan, Andrew, Bronwyn and all of my teammates who have gone on to do great things.  Finally, thanks Ron, for seeing the potential in me and opening the door for me to kick through.  I am eternally thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to serve and look forward to going home to Western Michigan  University to take these lessons and many more to continue the work of impacting lives.

“If I can see farther than others, It is because i’m standing on the shoulders of GIANTS!”

Thank you,

T2

Warfield to Double T: Five (of many) Life Lessons

Today I mourn the loss of my brother and friend. I am saddened that my mentor and laughing buddy is no longer here physically.  And though I am heartbroken and saddened, about is his leaving;  I am so thankful that he came. Chuck Warfield has impacted my life in ways that writing could never encompass. I am a better man, a better leader and a better human being to the people I love due in no small part to his influence. To try to express all that he has meant to me and my life is a task I may never complete, however I’d like to share with you the five lessons that are swimming around in my head immediately following saying goodbye to my good friend.

  1. “If you don’t allow others to DEfine you, they cannot CONfine you.” While sitting on the porch with Chuck, he was encouraging me to not allow other people to define who I am. He used to tell me how important it was for me to get a very clear picture about who I am and what I bring to the world. If I didn’t have that sense, people would attempt to add their definitions of me and my future to my life. And in his many years of experience as a leader, educator, advocate and family man, he knew that for me to have a chance at leading in a way that really could bring impact to the community, I had to have the first definition of who I was.  He knew in his heart that if I let that happen, I would subsequently let people and negativity confine me. Over his time, he had seen how confining passion, love and our unique gifts and talents had done nothing to help the world. So my challenge to myself, and to you today (in honor of our friend) is for us to get really clear about who we are as individuals. That clarity will help us define who we are to the world and the impact we want to have.  And if you can’t do it for Chuck, do it because you can’t afford to have your gifts and talents confined.
  2. Love matters. I have seen love in my life. I am so thankful for the examples of love that have become my life’s story.  I believe, like Corey Booker that I am a part of a “grand conspiracy of love.”  God shows me His love everyday. I am not a stranger to the power of Love.  And I have come to see love in action on the planet earth in the life of Charles Warfield. Chuck loved his family. He, even until the last moment loved his wife, Martha. He loved Kalamazoo. And his love was not in word alone, it was a verb.  His entire life’s work in this community has one common theme, love. He loved young people and their potential. And he solidified that love with the numerous scholarships and opportunities that he and Dr. Martha provided to the community. He loved people of every shade and hue. He showed this love at every meeting he attended, every church service he sat through, every community program he attended, every game he observed. Everywhere Chuck Warfield went, love was with him. My friend showed me a great example that loving people, loving yourself, loving God and loving your community can bring good success. And at the end of your life, people will remember the LOVE.
  3. Two dimes and a nickel (if you have one). Warfield and  I would often talk about money. He would give me tidbits of wisdom about how to be financially sound. He would push me to think about finances as a part of my leadership. He had a real simple equation for financial success. Here it is: “if you have a dollar in your pocket; give a dime to God, a dime to yourself, and a nickel for the community, if you have one.” That is it. It was just that simple to him. He put a premium on giving money and resources to God’s work. Now, just in case you don’t believe in giving to God or you have different beliefs than Charles Warfield did about God, I would encourage you to take the wisdom from the strategy. It is important for all of us to give our first fruit to doing work that will last longer than us. For Chuck Warfield that was giving through the local church and helping people who are downtrodden; an action that he believed was very God-like. He continued with the wisdom.  He’d say that after I gave a dime to God, I should give a dime to myself for the future.  Now this principle is as old as time, yet Warfield continuously impressed this idea on me because he wanted me to have financial security. The third priority in the equation is the community. Warfield thought it was important to give back to the places who have given to you. He and Dr. Martha have made it a priority to donate their time, talent and treasure back into the community and Warfield saw this as a critical part of the equation. In the end, he claimed that all it takes is ‘two dimes and a nickel’ to get to financial success. I got the idea Warfield. And I’ll continue to try to follow in your footsteps!
  4. Take some time to laugh and lie. One of my favorite places to be in the world is sitting on the porch laughing and lying with Warfield. I would always be excited when I saw his name pop up on my phone. I knew that either we were going to have a great conversation and/or we would laugh until we nearly passed out. Warfield made it a priority in his life to laugh and have fun. The concept of laughing and lying was about having an opportunity and space where you could just banter with someone you trusted. As a matter of fact, he and I would periodically take trips to Chicago on the train. We would purposefully take the train so that we would be guaranteed several hours of laughter, jive talking, crying, laughing some more, telling each other tales (short and tall) and solving some of the world’s biggest problems. I learned that this time in life is really important and precious. I’m thankful for the time I had with my friend to laugh and lie. And I will attempt to make more time for that in my life. Admittedly, it will be really tough to (re)create that time without him.
  5. Live the highest life you can live.  This final lesson came very late in our relationship. As a matter of fact, this lesson came during our last conversation just eight days before his passing. Chuck was not well at all, his energy was very low and I came to visit he and Martha and the family at the hospital. Chuck and I had a 45 minute conversation there int he room. The precious nature of that conversation I will hold dear for the rest of my life. I will never forget that final conversation with my friend. And now, I don’t even know what to do with his request of me. He said on five different occasions in that 45 minute conversation “Double T, live the highest life you can. I mean it man, live the highest life you can!” I don’t quite know what that meant. But I’m starting to think that he was speaking of my fullest potential. He wants me to maximize opportunities as they come. He wants me to bring my full self to my family, my work and my service to other human beings. I’ll probably spend the remainder of my days trying to figure out what the highest life is. But I can tell you this, if I can see higher or farther than others now, it is because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants like Charles Warfield. And when you have shoulders like his to stand on, you are well on your way to the highest life possible.

Thanks for these lessons and so many more.  Rest in peace my friend. I’ll see you on the other side.

Double T.

The Weary World Rejoices.

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Merry Christmas! As we celebrate the amazing miracle of Christmas and the birth of the Savior, I am reminded that although we’ve done the obligatory shopping, cooking and events that there is more, so much more to the Christmas holiday than what has become our pattern. Much like the time of Jesus’ birth, the world and the people surrounding His holiday where not in a great state. The Christmas Carol writer penned it well when they said “the WEARY WORLD rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” The world, even before social media had become weary.  The taxes were too high, there were murders, issues among public safety and citizens, income inequality, disease, racism, classism, homophobism, food deserts, homelessness, sexism and so many more ills in society that bring us to a state of exhaustion.  The people of that time, like the people of this time…are weary.

AND, even at the end of the year when we feel that weight of fatigue; we can still rejoice in our weariness. There is a “thrill of hope!” The one thing that I’ve experienced that has the capacity to shift our weariness to hope is love. Love is the force strong enough to overcome sadness and loneliness and weariness. And the beautiful thing about love is just like on that beautiful Bethlehem morning, love can come to us in some of the most unusual places if we will simply have the courage to seek it. Jesus came into a world that had lost hope in a better day, came to parents who had lost hope in their circumstance. Love came to a nation who had lost itself. Love came and yet there was seemingly no room for love. Yet when Love got here, things changed.  From that time to this, Love has been moving hearts and minds from weary to joy.   It is my hope that this holiday season this weary world will rejoice in the truth that love is here and that it can find us even when we can’t find ourselves. May your world rejoice in the Savior’s birth and in the presence of love even if it looks like it’s sitting in a manger in the back of the barn.

Merry Christmas.  Love to you.

T2

Blame it on the Blaine

I may be biased, but my bias is informed.  I live in a great place!  The places, the promises and the people make Southwest Michigan great.  I know, every community has points of data that prove their awesomeness quotient, but whatever the top number is for evidence of awesomesauce; Southwest Michigan has it! On our quest to measure ourselves, one of the more difficult phenomenon to measure in community is the quality and power of its people.

I’d like to take a moment to highlight a person who has quietly and humbly become the community’s “chief gap filler.”  Blaine Lam has worked tirelessly to help this community be as good as its aspirations.  His resume’ is too robust to recite here; but his purpose and fruit of his work are clear.

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When a needed community organization is failing desperately and in need of leadership; who you gonna call?  Blaine.

When you have a passion for health and wellness in a community and don’t know how to take it to scale, who you gonna call?  Blaine.

When opposing groups are fighting immaturely and cannot come together for the greater good, who you gonna call?  Blaine.

When your career takes a turn and you believe you can be an entrepreneur and you need a role model or coach on how to do it successfully, who you gonna call?  Blaine Lam.

When you need to reach out to hear the voices of everyday citizens, including those who have been disenfranchised and left out and you don’t even know where to start, who you gonna call?  That’s right, Blaine Lam.

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At various critical times in our community’s story, there have been huge gaps in impact where LEADERSHIP is required, Blaine steps up.  His heart for the community and mind for creative strategy are true assets.  He works tirelessly to move the greater Kalamazoo area closer and closer to what it aspires to be everyday.  And, in true Blaine fashion, he does so without consideration of credit or blame.  I want to take just a moment on this platform to celebrate Blaine Lam for all of his quiet, impactful work on behalf of this great place I call home.  Thanks Blaine for being there.  Where?  There. Every time.  Right where the community needs you.

Maybe you have a Blaine in your community or family or workplace.  Take a moment today to say thank you!  They aren’t doing it for the thanks, however, i’m certain that a ‘thank you’ goes a long way.

If you look at our community and think we are getting closer to reaching our aspirations, you can certainly in part, blame it on the Blaine.

Peace, Blessings and more Blaine.

T2

The Wisdom of JIVE

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There’s a language that is rooted in the English language that is spoken fluently in pockets of American culture called “Jive.”  I am blessed not only to be fairly fluent in the language, I get to speak it with many of my friends, particularly within my inter-generational friendships.  I cherish these moments whereby I get the opportunity hear from and banter with these men who have outlived and out-learned me.  I count on and cherish their wisdom and the fellowship we have from time to time.  These interactions have no agenda, no goals to meet, no deals to close and no budgetary limitations.  These are precious, unscripted and unplanned interactions where we, as my dear friend Chuck Warfield would say,  “laugh and lie to one another.” During these conversations, I am often struck by a jive statement that at first listen sounds like foolery!  However, after I take a moment and let the statement swirl around my mind; I find these wonderful nuggets of wisdom for life.   I’d like to share a few of them with you.

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  1. “Amen, lights all by myself.”  – Dr. Charles Warfield  Those in the greater Kalamazoo area know this great man and if you know me well, you know that he and I are good friends. I admire him and love his presence in my life.  We have many Jive conversations, and from time to time, in the middle of a conversation, he would lift his and and say “amen lights, all by myself.”  Finally, I asked him; “Doc, what in the world does that mean?”  He replied with a story of a Pastor years ago in Chicago who was preaching the sermon of his life (or so he thought).  As he looked out into the congregation for a little ‘help’ from the amen corner, he received none.  So the preacher hollers out “Amen, lights all by myself! If you all won’t help me out, me and the lights will say amen!”  HI-LAR-IOUS!  After I wiped my eyes from laughter, I realized that sometimes in life, you have be your own amen corner.  Sometimes when we are doing our life’s work, people will not be supportive, not because they don’t want to be, they just don’t know how or they just don’t have it in them.  It’s alright!  Amen Lights!   You and I have a voice and a choice. Some days, it will be just you and the lights…but AMEN!

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2. “Ain’t nothin’ cookin’ but the peas in the pot, and the peas wouldn’t be cookin’ if the water wasn’t hot.” – Author Unknown (and forgotten).  This statement has been a part of my memory since I was a kid.  I remember hearing it from different older men and loving the rhyme, yet not understanding the reason.  This jive statement is all about gratitude.  Everything that is ‘cooking’ in my life life is a direct result of another choice or gift or kindness of someone else.  It takes hot water to cook peas.  It takes blessings and grace to make a successful life.  And with jive statements like this, I am less likely to forget that truth.

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3. “Give it what it’s worth.”  Dr. Von Washington, Sr.  In the jive dialogue, I often find myself asking these men questions about life and some of the nuanced struggles that come with attempting to make a difference in the world. One statement in particular, blew me away. It was simple, but it helps me everyday, literally.  Dr. Washington reminded me one day while sitting on his family porch to “give it what it’s worth.”  This reminder to put things in context and prioritize the activities and people that increase my energy. I should never give energy zapping interactions more than what they are worth, and on the flip side, the people and interactions that are “worth” my energy, I should freely give it!  This truth helps me when i’m tempted to give away energy where I should be preserving it.

Those are just a few nuggets of wisdom found in ‘jive-talkin’.”  I hope that you find the wisdom in these statements, and seek out your own JIVE relationships.  They are worth their weight in GOLD!

Peace and Blessings,

T2