Building Communities

Building Communities

I love how communities pop up in different areas of my life. Right now my girls are in the midst of performing in seven Nutcracker ballet shows over four days. While the girls are performing, my oldest son and I work the show building props and working backstage during the shows.

This experience could be drudgery. It could be exhausting, busy and unenjoyable work, but it’s not. The community that has popped up around the shows makes it fun. I look forward to working with the same dads each year, loading and unloading the truck and working backstage. We catch up, talk football and enjoy being around one another. My son also loves it, and the guys like having him there. He gets to help build things, assemble props, drive the remote control bed (which I also love to do), and work backstage during the shows. The guys have embraced him there, giving him a good group of men to learn from and grow up around.

I find that communities like this pop up everywhere. At 48in48, church, school, ballet performances, etc., you can find them. The question is whether or not I will join them and become a part. I can’t be a part of every community I’m around, but I’m certainly thankful for my fellow ballet backstage dads and the community I find there.

Where are some interesting places you find community?

Getting uncomfortable is good

Getting uncomfortable is good

I train Brazilian Jujitsu with some friends two mornings a week. I’m not great at it, but I do enjoy the exercise and the strategy it involves. One thing that I’m reminded of over and over is the need to get uncomfortable to learn and grow.

For those that might not know, Brazilian Jujitsu is, more or less, strategic wrestling with the goal of getting your opponent to tap out. From the beginning it’s uncomfortable. You are rolling around with some dude, on top of one another, trying to choke him out or use some other submission move. Not only is the lack of personal space uncomfortable, but in my case, I roll with two guys that are much stronger than I am and have 30+ pounds on me. I am continually at a disadvantage, and that is really what I love about it.

Being uncomfortable and at a disadvantage teaches me so much! I am learning to “fight” someone that should pummel me. It’s a struggle every time. I think (know) that our teacher lets me struggle to get a good position to teach me something, and otherwise it would never happen. But, the struggle produces more growth more quickly.

I think this is true is so many areas of life. Being uncomfortable or at a disadvantage breeds growth. Often, our mistake is in avoiding those situations, avoiding conflict, risk or discomfort. Perhaps, we should embrace these things knowing that we will get better because of them.

If you want to see a 150lb Jujitsu Champ take on a 250lb bodybuilder to get a better idea of what Brazilian Jujitsu looks like and why it’s interesting, here you go:



Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Help First

Help First

This morning my son went out to the chicken coop to get eggs (yes, we have nine chickens in your backyard). On his way back in, his hands full of eggs and struggling not to drop them, he got to the back deck and (in a typically 10-year-old-boy agitated fashion) demanded that his younger sister open the door. I don’t know if she didn’t like his tone, or the combined look of anger, frustration, and fear about dropping an egg, but she refused to open the door. He bellowed again for the door to be opened. She just sat there.

Normally, I would praise my daughter for demanding proper treatment, after all, she is a princess. But, in this case, when her brother was obviously in need of help, it was not the time. I told my daughter to let him in, even though he had not asked nicely and then I sat down with her to explain this.

When someone genuinely needs help, help first; then deal with the other stuff.

I don’t think my son meant to be a jerk at that moment; he just didn’t want to drop the eggs before getting them inside. The best choice was to help him, and then afterward explain to him that asking nicely is a better option.

This is one of the mantras I want to live by and that I want to teach my kids. Help first. If you see a need you can meet, meet it. Then deal with the other stuff.

Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

Thoughts on Personal Branding (from the “Hat Man”)

Thoughts on Personal Branding (from the “Hat Man”)

I have been labeled (branded) the “Hat Man.” If you go to my company’s homepage and scroll down to the team section, you will notice that where a job title should be I’m designated simply as the “Hat Man.” I guess that means I get paid for wearing a fedora?

That designation was a gradual thing. I have always loved hats and went from baseball caps as a kid to drivers caps in college. My wife bought my first nice fedora while on a trip to Savannah. I wore that fedora more and more, then I got another fedora, and another. At some point between 2013 and 2015 I somewhat unintentionally switched to wearing a fedora most of the time. During that time we also rebuilt the Sideways8 website, I put up my bio, and one of my teammates jokingly went into my bio and changed my job title to the “Hat Man, ” and it stuck.

After that, I decided that a cool haircut was something I never really could pull off anyway, but a cool hat, that I could do! So I embraced wearing fedoras and chose to make that my personal brand. It’s funny the effects that choice has had. Here are a few of the things I have noticed:

  • The hat makes me much easier to recognize and remember. I have people come up to me from time to time like they know me, just because they have seen me a place or two and continue to recognize me. I think it’s a micro-glimpse into what being a celebrity must be like.
  • When I meet someone for coffee for the first time, I just tell them I’m the guy in the hat. It makes me easy to spot.
  • People enjoy seeing if I will live up to the “Hat Man” reputation. I remember meeting one client for the first time, I had gotten to the restaurant early, sat down and removed my hat (to be polite). The first thing the client did on arriving was ask if I had my hat! He had seen my bio on our website and wanted to see if I lived up to the reputation.
  • People think I’m a musician (which I wish were true, but is not).
  • I get random comments from complete strangers a few times a week saying, “Nice hat!” or “Love the hat!”

For the reasons above and several more, I’m a big fan of having a personal brand. Something that is uniquely you that helps you to stand out in people’s minds. I’ll confess, my personal brand wasn’t always a sweet fedora. In high school, my personal brand was tie-dye t-shirts and bright orange Doc Martin boots (yes, you read that correctly, [head shaking]). As I look back over my life, I have always sought ways to be individualistic.

But, having a personal brand isn’t always about wearing something that makes you stand out. I have friends whose personal brand is humor. One friend comes to mind that makes me laugh all of the time when we meet up. I have another friend whose personal brand is radical candor. I know when I meet with him he is likely to ask me a question so personal that no other person would dare ask it. But this guy asks the question in the same manner that he asked me what I had for breakfast! Some peoples’ personal brand is their kindness, lovingness, or willingness to help someone in need at any time.

I think every person has a personal brand, something that is uniquely them that makes them remarkable. My encouragement to you is to find that brand and own it. Invest in emphasizing your personal brand. In doing so, you will stand out more and more! But a word of caution, bright orange Doc Martins might not be your best bet…

Good and bad communication

Good and bad communication

I’m sure I will regret sharing this story, but blogging is about authenticity, and authenticity is often about telling real, dumb stories. When I was in middle school, I have a distinct memory of liking a girl, a lot. During this process of this crush, or dating, or “going out,” or whatever we called it at the time I had a sleepover party with some buddies. And surprise, our topic of conversation was this girl. Somewhere within the immense wisdom being shared in that room, someone suggested that I should call and serenade this young lady to display my love for her. Great idea, right? But what song to sing? Spin Doctors’ Two Princes didn’t seem like a great option, so we settled on Brian Adams’ song I do it for you. Great choice, right? Here are some of the key lyrics for those that might not appreciate this song off hand:

Oh your can’t tell me it’s not worth tryin’ for

I can’t help it there’s nothin’ I want more

Yeah, I would fight for you,

I lie for you

Walk the wire for you, yeah, I’d die for you

You know it’s true

Everything I do,


I do it for you

For anyone unsure at this point, a great sentiment for a middle school boy, but a total lie. I doubt I would have died for that girl; I might have walked a wire though, that sounds kinda fun! Well, I called the girl, sang the song (it was beautiful by the way), and the stunned silence on the other end of the line confirmed it was the right move. I can’t quite recall what happened next, but I can tell you that romance didn’t last long, and that’s probably a good thing.

I sang to this unsuspecting young lady to communicate my love to her. And, I’m pretty sure that communication failed miserably. I wanted to communicate love, but I’m pretty sure what she took away from that encounter was a feeling of awkward obsession. I wanted to communicate passion. I’m pretty sure she got weirdness. I wanted to communicate that I was devoted to her. I think she realized I was devoted to an idea, and to impressing my friends.

My communication failed because it was bad communication. I can look back on my middle school self now and laugh at that experience, but I have to wonder, how am I communicating badly today that my sixty-year-old self will look back on with regret?

I want to be more thoughtful in my communication, more intensional and more clear. I want to be sure that I communicate the important things to the important people around me, not with silly songs (sorry Brian Adams) but with words and actions linked together by purpose.

The family we will never know

The family we will never know

His smile is infectious, lighting up his entire face and the room surrounding it. I watch him as I write this, playing, smiling, laughing, perfect. He makes me smile all the time and others smile too. We often get comments about how cute he is or about his fun personality or obvious intelligence. I am proud to call him my son.

But he wasn’t always my son. There was a time when we had never met, a time when he was alive on this earth with no knowledge of my family, and we had no knowledge of him. There were other hands that fed him, held him, clothed him and loved him. He was a part of another family, two in fact, before he came to be a part of us forever.

My son had a birth family. From the evidence, it’s clear that they loved and cared for him. They kept him as a part of their family as long as they could, but for his sake had to let him go.

Then my son was a part of a foster family. The pictures tell the story well. There was love and happiness, and the connection between my son and his foster brother is still there.

Now my boy is a part of our family; he has been for four years now. He’s six, so he has been a part of our family for the majority of his life. From the day he got home he has been one of us, like he has always been there.

Today we are at the pool. He’s playing with his sister and the other kids, splashing, swimming, coloring with chalk on the cement and smiling, infectiously smiling. I love these moments with him, where I can watch him have fun, experiencing the pure joy that only a child can.

As I watch him, I feel a variety of emotions. At the surface is the pure joy a parent feels at seeing the joy of their child. But underneath the surface, there is more. I feel a thankfulness for his biological family for doing what was best for him even though it was unimaginably hard. I feel another level of thankfulness for his foster family that took such great care of him. But I also feel a sadness.

Adopted children have suffered a loss greater than most people can ever know. Our son lost his biological family, foster family, country, culture, and language the day he boarded that plane to the US. He has lost parents, grandparents, siblings, family history, medical history, favorite toys, etc. While he has certainly gained a lot in becoming a part of our family, that gain cannot (and should not) cover up the loss that he has endured. It’s a loss that we will deal with for a lifetime.

But in these moments a the pool, or when I tuck him into bed at night and sing him a song, it’s not his loss that haunts me; it is theirs. The loss of his family that had to give him up to keep him healthy. I feel the loss for his biological parents who can’t see his amazing smile or hear this belly laugh that can make the grimmest day bright. I feel the loss for the moments they can’t see, his first time riding a bike, preschool graduation, or just the simple moments when he throws his arms around my neck and tells me that he loves me.

His biological family is the family we will never know. A ghost family that is a part of us but not. They are present in my thoughts and prayers but can’t be a part of our family photos. I hurt for them and rejoice for them in the success and health of their son. I owe them more than I can ever repay. My meager payment to them is remembering them, their love, their sacrifice, and praying for them with a thankful heart.