In the spirit of the season, I've been thinking quite a bit about what I'm thankful for over the past few weeks. As the list is too long for a single post, I chose to focus on the short, in some cases seemingly inconsequential gestures from family, friends, teachers, colleagues and bosses that have fundamentally shaped my journey thus far.
Each of these gestures and conversations changed my life in a material way, either immediately or over time. Who I am and where I am today is a function of a dizzying blend of a nurturing childhood and a dizzying array of choices and factors both within and outside of my control, and yet these are the things I look back on when I'm having either a particularly good or particularly rough time.
I could not be more grateful for these moments and the people who made them possible, but what I love most about this walk down Memory Lane is the reminder to pay it forward. These people may not have known the impact they would make or did make on a young man's life - they were simply passing along wisdom or trying to do the thing then when they saw it was needed. Knowing how powerful these gestures can be, I strive to emulate their example at every possible opportunity.
1. Thank You for Including Me
Like so many other kids, I was bullied relentlessly in high school, and had few friends my freshman year. My brother Nick is only a year older, and had a wonderful, tight-knit friend group with whom he spent the majority of his weekends. Every weekend evening, before he left the house, Nick invited me to come with him to hang out with his friends, knowing I didn't have any invitations of my own. He could have very easily chosen to live his own life - it's hard enough getting through high school on your own, much less trying to help others through the experience.
I didn't always choose to go, but when I did, Nick and his friends did everything they could to make me feel welcome, and I will never forget this kindness. Through this example and in so many other ways, Nick has shown me what it means to be truly selfless, and I can only hope to pay these kindnesses forward whenever and wherever I can. Thank you, Nick, for including me.
2. Thank You for Showing Me It's OK to Be Myself
In a similar vein, when I was struggling to make friends or had a day, week or month where I was feeling like an outsider, my parents never failed to help me attempt to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Through their words and actions, they showed me that, while the road may be difficult, in the end, finding out who you are and being that person in all areas of your life is always the right path. It's incredibly difficult to try to explain these things to a teenager, and I'm sure I threw it back in their face more often than not - yet, they persisted. Mom and Dad, thank you for showing me that it's OK to be myself.
3. Thank You for Convincing Me I'm Extraordinary
I consider myself a confident person today, but that certainly wasn't always the case. I made friends more easily in college, and those friends had a significant impact on helping me build my confidence in many ways, but even so, there are two points in time in which I can pinpoint a great leap in my belief in myself. The first was my Study Abroad experience in Greece, in which I spent four months in a beautiful place with a diverse, talented and, in many ways, remarkable group of people. Beyond enjoying myself thoroughly, it was one of my first experiences in being part of a group of people willing to open themselves up to complete and utter vulnerability.
We learned so much about each other, and forged a deep bond that has not deteriorated over time. They were some of the first people to tell me that I was exceptional in certain areas, and that they thought I should pursue those things - because these compliments were given with no strings attached, I believed them. Having been part of one special group like this may have been enough for a lifetime, but I was lucky enough to experience something very similar with my MBA Cohort. Although I do not see many of them frequently, I consider the folks in these groups some of my closest friends. To the fellows from Iofontos Ena (and the other addresses) and my dear MBA friends, thank you for convincing me I'm extraordinary, and I hope I was able to do the same for you.
4. Thank You for Making Time for Me
I always think of time as the great equalizer - it's the one thing that we all have the same amount of, and it's up to us to decide what to do with it. Every year of my life, there seems to more I want and "need" to do, and less time in which to do it. Of time, English Poet Phillip James Bailey said, "We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths; in feelings, not figures on a dial," and this quote made me think of Doug Mantelli, one of my earliest and greatest mentors.
Starting out as a 23-year-old intern, with no financial services experience and about as green as a guy can be, I was getting ready to leave the office around 6:00 p.m. one night, and saw a light on in one of the offices. As I walked by the office, Doug motioned me in, and proceeded to ask me about who I was, what I was interested in and my goals at that point in my life, and to walk me through how we got to where he was in his career. That brief conversation is what made me want to become a marketer, and I've never looked back since. Thank you, Doug, for making time for me.
5. Thank You for Taking a Chance on Me
Regardless of how impressive their transcripts are or how highly recommended they come, young professionals often face a job market that demands applicants who have 1-3 years of experience, which is an impossible Catch-22 ("How can I gain the experience to get a job when I can't get a job because I don't have experience?") What these people need, as I did, is a person to look past the resume and lack of polish, and see something in them that shows potential.
After toiling away for a year in a data-entry job early in my career, I yearned for a role that would allow me to use my Journalism degree and writing skills, but I couldn't get an interview because I didn't have the experience. Craig Lewis, then vice president of Marketing at NPC, decided to give me a shot, and his willingness to do so changed the trajectory of my career and life. In our time together, Craig taught me many things, and I consider him one of my greatest teachers, as well as a friend. Thank you, Craig, for taking a chance on me.
6. Thank You for Believing in Me
I know I've mentioned Impostor Syndrome multiple times in my posts, but it's just so interesting to me that, no matter how good we are at something, human beings are always worried that we don't belong (or, as the article above bluntly states, we are an inadequate and incompetent failure).
Even after finding success in my roles at Jackson and in my current position, there are still times where I begin to doubt myself. What if that plan wasn't as good as I thought it was? What if people don't like what I wrote? What if I don't reach my goals or objectives? At each job, I've had friends who took the time out of their busy days to tell me they believed in me and in what I was doing, especially when I needed the encouragement most. There are too many to mention by name here - colleagues (friends), thank you for believing in me.
7. Thank You for Showing Me What Perseverance Looks Like
I won't spend a lot of time here, as they are both adept at telling their own stories, but there are multiple moments in my life that I remember so vividly in which I witnessed true perseverance from my friend Brian Smith and my sister Maureen. Whenever I've figuratively hit the mat or blown a tire, I think of the perseverance and determination of these two individuals, and it gives me the strength to wade back into the fray. I'm so honored and proud to know you both - thank you, Maureen and Brian, for showing me what perseverance looks like.
8. Thank You for Showing Me That Laughter Really is the Best Medicine
This phrase, repeated often by both of my parents as we were growing up, has become a truism for me in my life. I'm certainly happiest when I am joking and laughing, but it also does seem to be a powerful cure for whatever is ailing me. I've found it to be equally valuable in my personal and professional environments, and hope I never forget the importance of a sense of humor and not taking myself too seriously. There are few people in my life that can make me laugh like my brother Joe and my friends Matt and Carmen Vandal, Geoff and Jessica Frazier, Gina Yeager, Carol Mascarenhas and Britt Goetze - thank you all, for showing me that laughter really is the best medicine.
9. Thank You for Making My Journey Your Own
There is no substitute for having someone who is willing to struggle with you every step of the way, because they share your goals and believe in your journey. My wife Kristin is my closest confident, my strongest ally, my greatest advocate and my most honest editor - she has never once wavered in her support of what I want to do and who I want to be. I only hope that she can say the same for me. I don't want to trivialize this one by calling it a gesture, but I could not be more grateful to have her by my side. Thank you, Kristin, for making my journey your own.
These are just the highlights, as there are so many people and small gestures that inspire me every day. If you're not on this list but you're reading this post, fret not, as chances are you've made an impact on my life as well. Even if we don't know each other, maybe you held the door for someone who was having a tough day, sent a smile to a stranger who really needed one or took a moment to thank someone who may not hear those words all that often - these things make a difference.
I hope that each of you can take the time to make your own version of this list, as remembering each of the points in time listed above brought a smile to my face and gratitude to my heart (rarely a day goes by when most of us can't use those types of reminders). Perhaps even more importantly, I feel a renewed sense of responsibility to do my part to bring out the best in people. Please comment here or on social media if you would like to share your own list of gestures.
Thank you again to my family, friends, mentors, role models and the strangers who do the little things that light up my day - to quote the great Lou Gehrig, today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.