It’s been a grueling four months. Of late, I’ve had occasion to look deeply into who I am, how I treat/impact others, and whether or not I’m someone who truly makes those around me…better. My self-analysis was both personal and professional.
The details aren’t as important as the lessons. But to appreciate the lessons, it helps to understand the journey.
In late April, I returned to my hometown of Madison, WI to participate in my semi-annual meeting of the Board of Visitors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Letters and Science. In the middle of my visit, my cousin died at the tragically-young age of 59. I had planned to visit him in the hospital on Friday afternoon.
He died early Thursday morning. I remained an additional two days to attend his funeral and share our collective grief with many of my cousins; members of my extended family.
One week after his funeral, I received word that the wife of another close cousin had suffered a brain aneurism and underwent a 10-hour emergency surgery. Too soon to know if she’ll make it but early signs are encouraging.
In late May, my wife and I travel to the south coast of Massachusetts to attend our neighbor’s wedding. Simply gorgeous. If only for a couple of days, it was nice to see the ocean, hear the accents, feel the air, meet some very friendly and stimulating people, share in our neighbors’ joy, and eat some excellent sea food.
In early July, I fly to Washington, DC to meet with one of the founders of the King Abdulla University of Science and Technology (KAUST). We spend a few hours in the courtyard of a Georgetown hotel discussing KAUST’s founding, it current needs, and how my skills could help address the next steps in their evolution as a university.
The following week my cousin’s wife dies. I drive my family 7.5 hours to Grayton Beach, Florida on Saturday evening. The next morning, my wife drives me 45 minutes to the Pensacola airport to catch a 6:00 a.m. flight. I return to Madison for another funeral, this celebrated by my cousin the Monsignor at his church with my full extended family in attendance.
The next morning, I boarded a 6:00 a.m. fight to Pensacola to return to my family and neighbors and enjoy what was left of our vacation. Upon arrival, I received an email from KAUST that they wanted me to attend meetings the following week in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.
We drove home Saturday. Sunday afternoon I left for Saudi Arabia. A whirlwind two + days of meetings and tours at a simply spectacular intellectual paradise. On Thursday, I get picked up at 1:30 a.m. for my 5:30 return flight to the U.S. At last, I sleep.
On the weekend, I spend a little quality time with my wife and two daughters listening to the stirring harmonies of the Indigo Girls on the humid lawn of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Surrounded by a diverse mix of Southern progressives, I relax and groove to the sounds of Amy and Emily. Home indeed.
Lots of travel. Lots of people. Lots of cultural awareness. From the simplicity of the Midwest to the earnestness of New England and from the pageantry of D.C. to laid back beaches of Florida and beauty of the Red Sea. From funerals to fun to professional functionality.
The people I met were a tapestry. There were people of all shapes, sizes, religions and cultures. I was one of many in Wisconsin; straddled north v south in Florida and Massachusetts; may have been a minority heterosexual at the Indigo Girls, and one of only a relative handful of non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Yet each experience was deeply personal, consisting of conversation, compassion, realization and awareness…especially awareness. I realized with considerable clarity that regardless of where I was or who I was with, we all share powerful connections.
A hug from a cousin, a meal with my mom, chasing beach umbrellas with a stranger during a sudden thunderstorm; discussing the Saudi perspective on higher education with a new client; sharing fast-breaking dates with my seatmate on Saudi Air during Ramadan, or just enjoying great music in the Garden. Each in their own tiny way made every frame of my four-month movie very special.
Our news is dominated by differences: Sunnis vs. Shiites, Israel vs. Hamas, Obama vs. Congress, and the Heat vs. the Cavaliers. Each has their own audience. Each has their own passionate supporters and critics. Each bring a different perspective.
But whether from a personal or professional perspective, it’s how we treat one another that matters. It matters not that I’m Catholic, or Irish, or Midwestern, or Caucasian or American. What does matter is—hopefully–I treat others like I want to be treated—with respect, with understanding, with a listening ear and a well-intentioned result. That’s what we should strive for as people, as professionals, as family members and as marketers. Put yourself in the shoes of others. Try on who they are for size. Better understand who they are, what they aspire to, what matters to them. It’s the essence of good marketing and it’s what distinguishes us from the apes. Be a great marketer. Be an even better person.
Next, I’m off to Colorado for a little fly-fishing with great friends. Then a return to Saudi Arabia. My journeys continue.