Be Not Afraid

 

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As a devout Catholic (in case you have not figured that out by now), I was attending Mass this past Sunday.  Actually, I was streaming Mass on my iPad.  One of the very few benefits of the lockdowns has been the ability to stream Sunday Mass.  Now, I get to attend Mass from the comfort of my living room couch.  Diet Coke in hand, I can fast-forward through a boring homily (never yours, Fr. Carl) or hit the mute button when the cantor’s heart is in the right place but not necessarily her voice.  Best of all, there are no looks of shame from other parishioners if I leave early.  Come to think of it, maybe we should continue streaming Mass even after the crisis subsides.

This Sunday, one of the songs was a favorite of mine – “Be Not Afraid”. 

“Be not afraid.

I go before you, always.

Come.  Follow me.

And, I will give you rest.”

It dawned on me that Jesus was likely a graduate of HBS (sorry you people who “attended a school in Boston”, it stands for Heaven Business School.  It is slightly more selective).  He also has some rather good management advice (and life advice, for that matter).  So, I, your lowly scribe (or pharisee, I can never remember which), will highlight the ways that fear needs to be managed in business and in life.

With my “apologies” for utilizing the three most obnoxious and overused phrases in the world currently – Now, more than ever…in these troubling times…and in an abundance of caution, the single best business and life advice I can share with you is – Be Not Afraid.

Creating and stoking fear is “good bad business”.  “Good,” because it does work… initially.  “Bad,” because it is unsustainable. It is the lazy person’s approach to success.

Fear is a short cut.  Why work hard to lead and inspire when you can scare someone and get them to fall in line?  That takes so many fewer calories.

Fear is short term.  Eventually, people – employees, family members, voters (are you listening, Washington and Sacramento?) – realize it is not as bad as they thought.  Then, like Penelope does all day – they ask “Why?” https://worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/2019/09/04/why/  They build a base of knowledge.  Some say, “perception is reality”.  That is an illusion.  Informed perception is actual reality.

Fear thrives in darkness – the absence of light…and the absence of facts.  When we know the facts, we can overcome the fear.  We’ve all been afraid of the dark…or the boogeyman in the closet…or all the terrible things that are going to happen to our kids…or the new competitor that just raised buckets of capital…or the new colleague with a degree from a “more prestigious” school.  Guess what – the sun comes up and that “evil shadow” was really your model airplane… the noise in the closet was the wind rattling the hangers… the overwhelming majority of kids do not get a razor blade in their Halloween apple… the VC backed competitor is all smoke and mirrors while you keep plugging away serving clients… and, the more prestigious school did not teach your new colleague how to complete Form 1987-098 or the nuances of Johnson account.

The real question is not “why do we fear” but, rather, “why do we use fear?”  We use fear on others because we are afraid – Afraid of being wrong… Afraid of failing… Afraid of the consequences.  We cover our own fear by making others more afraid.  World class leaders and world class people do not use fear.  They inspire.  They inform.  They invite.  They learn.  They educate.  Every now and then, as a result, they get knocked on their ass.  And, they realize it is not fatal.

Be Not Afraid does not equal Be Not Hurt.  Be Not Afraid does not equal Be Not Loss.

Be Not Afraid does equal inspiration, confidence, opportunity.  Be Not Afraid does equal freedom.

So, now – especially now – Be Not Afraid.  To your employees, colleagues, partners, friends, and family, you go before them, always.  They will follow you.  And, you will give them rest.

The most compelling reason to Be Not Afraid?  As Fr. Carl always says (when I don’t fast-forward)…

God’s Got This.

If you’d like to know where I get my inspiration, feel free to watch Mass with Fr. Carl of Holy Spirit Parish in Kimberly, WI (www.holyspirit-parish.org)

 

MICHAEL C. MARCON IS THE CHAIRMAN OF M3K HOLDINGS, LLC (WWW.M3KLLC.COM) AND NONNO TO PENELOPE AND HENRY.

 

 

Swing Your Swing

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As I get older, um, I mean, as I get… more experienced, I find myself with increasing opportunities to advise and mentor younger executives.  Currently, I have the privilege of being an investor in and an advisor to a start-up business led by a very dynamic young woman.  She is bright and driven and creative.  And, she is also way too hard on herself and still developing her “corporate persona”.  I was speaking with her the other day as she was in the middle of a very frustrating development and struggling a bit to “find her footing”.  I gave her one simple piece of advice that I have followed for 30 years – Swing Your Swing.

Outside of God-given talent, what is the one thing that separates the truly great performers in business and in life?  Authenticity.  The truly greats are not copycats.  They are not “wannabes”.  They are not “wish I was”.  They are authentic.  They are not afraid to be themselves.  They challenge the conventional wisdom.  The George Bernard Shaw adage – “There are those that look at things the way they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” – is not just a graduation speech line to them.  They actually do ask, “Why not?” and then go figure it out.

 Mary and I went for a hike the other day in the Santa Rosa mountains in California (one of the benefits of all the golf courses being closed is actually getting reacquainted with my wife).  Even though I hike on a regular basis, this hike took place right after I gave my colleague my incredible wisdom to “Swing Your Swing”.  It hit me that – at some point in the past – there was no trail where I was hiking.  Some intrepid explorer looked at the mountain and blazed a trail where no one had ever gone before.  As you look at your business and your career, do you see a safe, well-worn path or do you see a new trail to blaze?  As you look at your family, do you see the conventional wisdom of deteriorating values or the authenticity of your own standards?

By the way, authenticity does not mean “go for broke”.  It means being true to yourself.  Don’t forget, Roy McEvoy (aka “Tin Cup”) was authentic.  He also hit five balls in the water and lost the U.S. Open.  Being authentic is not a recipe for sure-fire short-term victory.  It is a road map for long-term success.

Even though I have followed this principle for more than 30 years now, it was not until 2013 that the concept became encapsulated for me.  As I watched a golf tournament on TV one day, I heard the voice of Arnold Palmer…

“Swing your swing.

Not some idea of a swing.

Not a swing you saw on TV.

Not that swing you wish you had.

No, swing your swing.

Capable of greatness.

Prized only by you.

Perfect in its imperfection.

Swing your swing.”

Ever since then, I have “heard” the same thing from the most interesting subset of people – from Jack Welch and Steve Jobs, from Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, from Pat Ryan and Hank Greenberg, from George Bush and Barack Obama, from Pope John Paul and Pope Francis, from Ghandi and Nelson Mandela,

And, from Natalie Marcon and Fred Marcon – “Swing Your Swing…

I Know.  I Did.”

Thanks to Dick’s Sporting Goods.  If you want to see the actual commercial, here it is… https://www.ispot.tv/ad/72KL/dicks-sporting-goods-swing-your-swing
MICHAEL C. MARCON IS THE CHAIRMAN OF M3K HOLDINGS, LLC (WWW.M3KLLC.COM) AND NONNO TO PENELOPE AND HENRY.

 

Hall of Fame

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I had the privilege recently to attend the ceremony as one of my very dear friends, Ginny Murphy, was inducted into the Ursinus College Athletic Hall of Fame.  It was a very deserving honor and I am very proud of my friend.

During the ceremony, I reflected on what it means to be a Hall of Famer, in business and in life.   Ginny’s story provides a wonderful example of the traits that differentiated a Hall of Famer from the “mere” high performers.  Here is what I identified…

It Is Not About Talent

I have written many times that the world is full of talented people.  What differentiates Hall of Famers from the mortals is their effort.  Ginny was the hardest working, most determined athlete I have ever met – male or female (or alien or robot).  She was (and still is) a perpetual motion machine.  You could say she is “wired for 220v in a 110v world.”  In basketball, I saw her outrebound women significantly taller and stronger.  In field hockey, I saw her out face-off women more skilled and graceful.  In life, I saw her out-hustle everybody. (However, she never did beat me in H-O-R-S-E!  My patented over the top of backboard from the baseline LEFT-HANDED swish did her in every time)

Being a talented executive is easy.  Being a Hall of Famer requires you to out-rebound bigger competitors, out face-off talented upstarts, and out-hustle everybody.

Being a talented parent / spouse is easy.  Being a Hall of Famer requires you out-rebound multiple demands for your time and attention, out face-off the latest kooky parenting trend, and out-hustle everybody.

It Is About Talent

Who are we kidding? Yes, of course you need talent.  Each one of us has it.  The key is finding your talent and committing yourself to maximizing it.  One of my former colleagues from Equity Risk Partners had a great saying that I wish I could take credit for – “Hard work beats talent, until talent starts working hard.”

The challenge for most people is refraining from focusing on the talent you WISH you had.  I wish I had the talent to hit a golf ball 300 yards.  It is probably better for my family and my bank account if I focus on the talent I have (yes, selling insurance is a talent).  In the great movie, Chariots of Fire, as Olympic runner, Eric Liddell, struggled to identify his true talent, he said, “I believe God made me for a purpose… But, He also made me fast.  And, when I run, I feel His pleasure.”  We all know the purpose God made us for.  Don’t fight it.  Embrace it and feel the pleasure.

Perseverance

So, you have some God-given talent.  So, you work hard.  So, what!  Hall of Famers perform at an extraordinarily high level over a sustained period of time.  That means never giving up.  That means never giving in.  That means never “taking a day off”.  Joe DiMaggio was once asked how he could play so hard in a late season game when the Yankees were hopelessly out of playoff contention.  His famous answer?  “Because there is some kid in stands today who is seeing me play for the first time and paid hard earned money for his ticket.  I owe him my best.”  That is HOF.  Ginny sustained excellence in multiple sports not just for a season, but for an entire collegiate career.

It is easy to be the great parent when the kids are getting all A’s, brushing their teeth, making their bed, and only watching old Mister Rogers reruns when unsupervised on their computer.  It is easy to be the great spouse when the bills are paid, college is funded, dinner is made, and the “you know what” is great (for the record, I did not get that part from Ginny).

A Hall of Fame parent and a Hall of Fame spouse performs at their best when those they love the most are not performing at theirs.

“I took us for better and I took us for worse.  And, don’t you ever forget it.”  Indigo Girls, “The Power of Two” 

A Hall of Fame executive performs at their best over a sustained period despite market cycles, political and economic volatility, and whatever the latest “disruption” happens to be.

 “I’ve done my best to live the right way.  I get up every morning and go to work each day.” Bruce Springsteen, “The Promised Land”

Luck

God has blessed me with talent.  I have honored Him and appreciated my talent by working my butt off.  I never gave in, despite all the roadblocks, trials, and tribulations.  Can I be a Hall of Famer now?  As Johnny Carson (actually, Carnac) would probably say, “Not so fast, all star breath.”

Joe Montana was blessed with talent.  He worked hard.  He sustained.  “The Catch”?  Luck.

Ray Kroc was blessed with talent.  He worked hard.  He sustained.  Showing up one random day to sell an ice cream blender to the McDonald brothers at their hamburger stand?  Luck.

Warren Buffett was blessed with talent.  He worked hard.  He sustained.  Being born in the United States instead of Ethiopia or Rwanda?  Luck.

Norm Abram was blessed with talent.  He worked hard.  He sustained.  Being the carpenter on a random home remodel in Boston the day the This Old House crew was out scouting locations?  Luck.

This is one area I cannot advise you on.  I have not figured out how to create luck.  Although, I have observed that luck tends to be pretty highly correlated to talent, hard work, and perseverance.  Or, maybe, it is the other way around?

So, what is the secret?  How do you become a Hall of Famer in business and in life?  Let’s ask two recent Hall of Famers…

“You will get knocked down.  You will fail.  You will doubt yourself.  That is a good thing.   That, my sweet children, is where the gold is.”  Tony Gonzalez, Pro Football HOF, Class of 2019

 “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”  Ginny Murphy, Ursinus College HOF, Class of 2019 (and Jesus – Luke 12:48)

 

MICHAEL C. MARCON IS THE CHAIRMAN OF M3K HOLDINGS, LLC (WWW.M3KLLC.COM) AND NONNO TO PENELOPE AND HENRY.

Look Out Below!

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“’Cause I gotta have faith
I gotta’ have faith
Because I gotta have faith, faith, faith
I got to have faith, faith, faith”

Remember the scene in the holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street, when young Natalie Wood, having not received her Christmas wish on Christmas morning, is sitting slumped in the back seat of the car?  She is quietly and without any conviction repeating, “I believe.  I believe.  I believe.”  Of course, she really did not believe…Until she did.  Once she saw the house, and the yard, and the swing – just as she had imagined and just as she had wished – then, and only then, did she believe.

Earlier in Miracle on 34th Street, Fred Gailey (the lawyer defending Kris Kringle) states one of the greatest lessons for business and life – “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.”

Let’s revisit “Doubting Thomas”.  His “co-workers” had all seen the new “business plan” the “CEO” had presented to them.  “It is going to be huge”, said one.  “Totally scalable blue ocean with a long runway”, said another.  “Completely disruptive”, stated a third.  However, Thomas wanted to “see the numbers” and review the “focus group data” for himself.  It took no less than a one-on-one meeting with the CEO before Thomas would support the plan.   As the “original CEO” said then – and this “former CEO” says now – “Blessed (with eternal life from the “original CEO” and/or a nice promotion from the “former CEO”) are those who have not seen but believe”.

Last month, as Penelope was asking me “Why?” my mom was in heaven, she reminded me of just how important the concept of faith is in our lives.   It made me realize that it is a fundamental part of every day and almost every decision.  How can you get on an airplane?  Ask someone to marry you?  Start a business?  Root for the New York Jets?  Hit a driver off the deck over water to a heavily bunkered green?  (OK, that last one should really be in the next blog on “Stupidity”)

We are a “big data” world these days (just ask Common; he is on TV every other commercial telling us how AI is changing the world).  There is a comfort in data.  There is security in numbers and equations.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Cold, hard facts are the foundation of faith.  Numbers and facts are the stairs.  Faith is the high diving board.  You need both in order to perform the perfect cannon ball.

Once there was a man trapped on the roof of his house during a great flood.  Another man came by in a rowboat and offered him a ride.  The man said, “No, thank you, my faith will save me.”  Then, a helicopter flew overhead and dropped down a rope to the man.  He rejected the rope and said, “No, thank you, my faith will save me.”  The water kept rising and, ultimately, the man drowned.  As the man arrived in heaven, God greeted him and the man said, “I put all my faith in you.  Why didn’t you save me?”  God replied, “What are you talking about?  I sent you a boat and I sent you a helicopter!”

Tony Robbins, the ubiquitous “life coach”, says that the reason most people don’t fundamentally change their lives is because their lives are “OK”.  What that means is that most people assume that making any change – to their life, their relationships, their business – has a higher probability of generating a negative outcome than a positive outcome.  They don’t want to take the chance that the outcome will make them worse off.  They don’t have faith.

Faith does not guarantee a positive outCOME to any specific decision.  Faith does guarantee a positive outLOOK for any specific decision.  I believe that the aggregate impact of a positive outlook across the totality of life’s experiences creates a life worth living and a life worth sharing – with family, friends, and colleagues.

So, we have looked at these wonderful examples of how faith impacts our business and personal lives.  But what is my definition of faith, you ask?  It is very simple – that moment, the very instant, that I die and pass from this world, I will be able to do what every athlete who ever played does when the TV camera finds them…

“Hi, Mom!”

 

MICHAEL C. MARCON IS THE CHAIRMAN OF M3K HOLDINGS, LLC (WWW.M3KLLC.COM) AND NONNO TO PENELOPE AND HENRY.

Why?

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I have said before that, someday, I am going to write a book.  The title of the book will be Everything I Needed to Know About Management, I Learned from Raising Children (https://wordpress.com/post/worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/241)Given the popularity of this blog, we can reasonably assume that the book would be a best-seller.  So, of course, I would have to write a follow-up book, no?  The title of that book would be, Everything Else I Needed to Know, I Learned from My Grandchildren.

You all know who Penelope is (https://wordpress.com/post/worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/131).  She is, once again, teaching me important business and life lessons.  I thought I would share one with you.

As Penelope’s Mom and Dad adjust to the rigors of being parents of a newborn again (Henry Thomas arrived April 28th), Mary and I have had the wonderful responsibility of helping out by spending more time with Penelope.  In addition to the endless building of Lego towers, bubble baths, and reading story after story, I also have been able watch a personality form before my eyes.  It is fascinating to be unencumbered by the pressures of being a parent and to be able to focus on the larger context of seeing the world through Penelope’s eyes.  Aside from making me recognize how clueless I was in raising Keaton and Matthew (and how lucky they were to make it to adulthood relatively unscathed), I am learning important lessons for life and business.

Penelope has been teaching me the most important lesson over the past few weeks – she has entered the “Why?” phase.  A recent example –

P – “I need to go outside.”

N (for Nonno, millennials and non-Italians, google it) – “It is too hot to go outside right now”

P – “Why?”

N – “Because the temperature outside is very hot.”

P – “Why?”

N – “Because the sun is directly over the top of us and it makes it very hot outside.”

P – “Why?”

N – “Because, in summer, the sun is closer to earth than in winter, and that makes it hotter.”

P – “Why?”

N – “Would you like some ice cream?”

Despite my exasperation, I have decided that “Why?” is the single best question to ask in business and in life.   The problem with leaders is not that we ask “Why?” too much; it is that we do not ask “Why?” often enough.

Why? causes leaders to constantly challenge conventional wisdom.  Why? challenges us to continually search for deeper meaning.  Mulder and Sculley (“X Files” – millennials, you know what to do) were right, “The answer is out there.”

“Why do we do ‘x’?” / “Why don’t we do ‘y’?” are questions that every businessperson should ask every day.  The answer to those questions will yield multiple positive outcomes – it will generate new ideas, new markets, new products, and new clients.  The worst case is that it will confirm existing ideas, markets, and products.  But, instead of accepting the answer of a prior person, the questioner will learn so much deeper as a result of pursuing the answer themselves.

“Why does she think ‘x’?” or “Why do they believe ‘y’?” are questions that we, as human beings, should ask every day.   The goal is not to agree with the ultimate answer.  The goal is to understand the rationale behind the answer.

As business leaders and as people, we should constantly ask ourselves, “Why do I…?” / “Why don’t I…?”  If we cannot answer our own “whys”, how can we expect to lead businesses, raise children, and live life?  Of course, it is hard.  Of course, it is frustrating.  You may not want to know some of the answers.  I know I don’t.  I also know that I fear underachievement as a leader and a person more than I fear the answers to my “whys”.  I cannot accomplish the former without addressing the latter.

In my time with Penelope, I am trying to instill in her my own fastidious nature.  So, whenever she comes to visit, she likes to come into my office and help me “work”.  One of the things she loves to help with is shredding paper.  I save up my scrap paper during the week so Penelope and I can have a shredding session.  On the way out of my office, she will inevitably pause to look at all the framed pictures on my bookshelves.  She’ll point out pictures of Mommy and Daddy; Nonno and Nonna; Uncle Matt.  Recently, she stopped at the picture of my Mom (known as “Bisnonna”)…

P – “Where is Bisnonna”

N – “Bisnonna is in heaven”

P – “Why?”

Please tune in for my next blog – “Faith”.

Michael C. Marcon is the Chairman of M3K Holdings, LLC (www.m3kllc.com) and Nonno to Penelope and Henry.

 

 

The Art of Managing in the Rain

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As frequent readers already know, I have curated an “Annual Christmas Book” for several years that I have shared with friends, clients, partners, and colleagues (https://worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/2016/12/27/reading-is-fundamental/).  I have a very high standard for my selection criteria:

  • The book cannot be a current best seller or an imminent movie
  • It must reaffirm your faith in humanity
  • It must make you laugh and make you cry (or at least make you swallow hard)
  • It must contain lessons for business without being a business book
  • It must be “PG” rated or, if an “R” then, as Matthew used to say when begging us to go to an “R” rated movie, “C’mon, it’s just “R” for violence, not for sex!”

I have heard from many long-time members of the Michael Marcon Annual Christmas Book list that their favorite selection is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  It is hard for me to disagree.  In advance of the upcoming movie adaptation of “TAORITR”, I reread the book.  This time, I knew enough to read it in private and not sitting on a plane.  This way, nobody could see me sobbing (Pro Tip – when your seatmate on the plane sees you crying and asks if you are OK, a foolproof trick is to say, “Yes, it’s just that the damn United WiFi isn’t working again”).

Rereading the book made me realize how many great business and life lessons are contained in its pages.  Here are a few that stand out for me:

“The car goes where your eyes go.” This might be the single greatest piece of business and life advice ever published in a work of fiction.  Great leaders look forward, not backward.  They recognize that it is impossible to move in the opposite direction of where you are looking.  You cannot be distracted by the commotion over there.  You cannot be absorbed by what is behind you.  You cannot be preoccupied by what’s on the horizon.  Keep your eyes on the road.

The car is your business, your team, your unit…your family.  They all follow you.  You are their eyes.  They go where you go.  Where are you going to take them?

“There is no dishonor in losing the race.  There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.”  Put even better is the greatest quote ever from Coach Eric Taylor, “…’cuz that’s what character is…It’s in the trying.”    Think about the most compelling sports scenes you have witnessed in your life.  You will likely agree that they are not of the fastest runner breaking the tape.  If you are like me, you are mesmerized by the runner who is struggling to finish; who is crawling over the finish line.  In business and in life, there is only one person who gets to break the tape.  If we fail to start a business, start a family, live a life, because we might not be the one to break the tape, then we are dishonoring ourselves.  You need to be willing to crawl.

“That which we manifest is before us.  We are the creators of our own destiny.”  No outcome is predetermined.  The phrase “forgone conclusion” should be banished from the language.  We make our own outcomes.  Do you want to be successful in business?  Then, go do it!  Do you want to have a successful marriage?  A happy family?  Then, go do it!  If you fail to achieve these things and you look back – critically and in the cold, hard, light of day – you will realize that you likely did not truly manifest your destiny.  You probably expected it to be done for you.  To quote the great Esurance commercial with the elderly woman posting actual pictures to “her wall”, “That’s not how it works.  That’s not how any of this works.”

“Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.”   This is one of my major weaknesses.  My ego is so big that I know what I have to say is much more important than what you have to say.  Every time I let myself think that way, I am disappointed in the outcome.  I will miss an interesting point of view.  I may even miss an opportunity to avoid a big mistake.  How many times during a conversation do you listen to what the other person is saying versus preparing what you want to say next?  If that ratio is greater than 90:10, then, like me, you are missing out on some really valuable insights and wisdom.

“The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferably of his own making – in order to triumph.”   I tell people all the time – in the 15 years I was building and running Equity Risk Partners, I did everything in my power to blow up the company.  I just never figured out the right way to do it!  We cannot control the curveballs that life throws us – and we never know when they are coming.  We can control how we react to them.

“The race is long.  To finish first, first you must finish.”  To this day, I have a few poems that I keep framed and that I refer to with regularity for inspiration and “balance”.  One I have discussed before – “Footprints” (https://worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/footprints/).  One, I will discuss in the future – “The Man in the Glass”.  And, the other is “Don’t Quit”.

“When things go wrong as they sometimes will

When the road your trudging seems all up hill

When the funds are low and the debts are high

When you want to smile and have to sigh

When care is pressing you down a bit

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit…”

Ultimately, success in business and in life comes to those who just refuse to give up.

“No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there.”  We have all heard the old adage, “It is a marathon, not a sprint.”  That is true.  What most people do not realize is that world class marathoners run 4 minute miles for 26 miles.  World class leaders and world class parents realize that it is a marathon and a sprint.  What you do every day prepares you for the tenacity of a marathon length sprint.  How did you prepare today?

Every now and then, a truly great work of fiction comes along and touches your heart and your life in a memorable way.  The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those books.  If you have not read it, I encourage you to.  If you have, read it again.

Then, find your Enzo (remember, he may not be wagging his tail at your feet, he may be sitting next to you on the train), and race your race.

We’ll see you at the finish line.

 

Michael C. Marcon is the Chairman of M3K Holdings, LLC (www.m3kllc.com) and Nonno to Penelope and Henry.

My Letter to Me

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Brad Paisley and Jack Nicklaus are two of my favorite performers.  Brad’s music always makes me smile and puts a lump in my throat at the same time.  Jack’s perfection, class, and work ethic on the golf course has always been an inspiration for me off the course.  Jack and Brad also have something else in common – they both wrote a letter to themselves.  Jack did it recently as part of a USGA retrospective.  Brad recorded the song “Letter to Me” in 2007.

As you wonder where I have been the past couple of months, you now know the answer – I followed the lead of two guys I admire.  I have been busy writing a letter to me.  I thought I would share it with you…

“Dear Mike (this will now answer everyone’s burning question – “Do you go by “Mike” or “Michael”?  My “stock” answer is always, “Whatever comes out of your mouth naturally.  My Mom called me “Mike” and Mary calls me “Michael”.  But, since I can only pick one name to address the letter to…),

How are you?  I am fine.  (Notice that I did not use that infernal crutch, “I hope you are well.”  Of course, I also know that I was well back then).

I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately.

Mom is gone.  Don’t let her faith and optimism fool you.  She is very sick and she will be gone sooner than you expect.  When you think you still have time to get to Florida and visit her, you don’t.  Go as soon as you can.  And, when you do, take advantage of the opportunity to get as close to God as someone on this earth is able and ask her what she “sees” and what she “hears”.

Dad is gone, too.  Be prepared.  It is not pretty and you need to be ready to make decisions that no one should have to make.  I know that he frustrates you and competes with you and never quite seems to appreciate all you have done and how you have done it.  You will come to recognize that the obscenely high standards he holds you to are the same standards you will hold yourself to in the future.  And, believe it or not, you will end up writing a blog and many of your posts will stem from life lessons you are learning from Dad right now.

The son you will “inherit”, Keaton, is a husband to Laura, a wonderful woman, and a father of two, Penelope and Henry.  He becomes a soft-spoken man of integrity.  You will have to tolerate the fact that you will be a father to him long before he realizes that you were a father to him.  But, on Father’s Day 2017, when you open that hand-made card…Well, let’s just say, it will all be worthwhile.

You will feel a tinge of frustration that the age difference between you and Mary (oh, man, wait until I tell you about Mary!) prevents you from having the big family you grew up with and dreamed of having yourself.  Then, you will meet the son you will create.  You will realize in an instant that God knows what He is doing and Matthew will absorb and radiate all the love you have to give.  Pay close attention to the moment you first play Bruce for him on that Saturday morning on the way to the car wash.  It will be the start of a bond that lasts a lifetime.

You are a grandfather.  You never knew your grandfathers – one died before you were born and the other died when you were little.  Unfortunately, as great as your Dad was, nobody bats 1.000 and he took a couple of “called third strikes” in the grandfather department.  Yet, all that means is that you will be filled with the accumulated capacity for love from all of them and it will become the single greatest joy in your life.  I know you are reserved and “buttoned down”, even at your young age.  I love that about you.  You will be pleased to know that you will crawl on the floor, build Lego forts, sing Disney songs, jump up like you’re sitting on a spring when you hear the words, “Nonno!  Nonno!, and rock quietly for lengths of time just holding them.  In short, you get to witness miracles.

When you decide in 9th grade at 6’2” to commit to basketball because you are destined to be 6’5” and a shoe-in for D-I, listen to Dad when he tries to teach you about genetics and tells you to stick with baseball.  Better yet, listen to me now – just take up golf.

Don’t be in such a hurry.  Your business career turns out great.  You are always so focused on the next challenge, the next opportunity, the bigger hurdle, that you do not cherish the journey as much as you should.

Enjoy your time with Dr. Lentz in Economics 101.  It will frame your entire business career – All things in life can be boiled down to Supply and Demand.

Be grateful for your relationship with Hildie as your Dean of Student Life when you are a Resident Advisor.  She is not corny.  The “unconditional love” and “warm fuzzies” she espouses you will find are sometimes great business tools.

Appreciate Tom McCarthy, Hal Schwalm, John Edmonds, Russ Sands, Dick Riley, and John Pasquesi as business leaders and mentors who will have an enormous impact on your career.  They will teach you skills (to this day you will refer to “debits and credits” as “good guys and bad guys” thanks to Tom) that you will take with you for the rest of your career.  More importantly, they will recognize something special in you and they will nurture it when lesser leaders would seek to snuff it out.  You won’t know it at the time, but it will shape how you manage people – They will want to work for you because they know you are working for them.

I know I am writing to you as a child, teenager, and young adult, but this knowing the future stuff is pretty powerful and I think I should also be giving you some advice related to a more recent time.  In 2016, when the faux outrage twitter mob gets you in their crosshairs, don’t underestimate the power of the cumulative impact of your character and all the people who will defend you.  And, whatever you do, NEVER, EVER apologize for something you are not sorry for.  Believe me, they do not want an apology.  They just want a scalp.

While I’ve got you, here are a couple of other things that you should know that will save you a lot of pain and suffering…

Don’t just look over your right shoulder when backing out of Rich Covey’s driveway at 16.  The telephone pole that rips off the car mirror is over your left shoulder.

Don’t try to beat the yellow light making the left turn onto City Ave in Philadelphia when you are 22.  You were too busy canoodling (this is a PG blog) with Judy to see the oncoming car also trying to beat the light.  Your “legendary Z car” (1984 baby blue metallic 300ZX – “IT IS AWESOME”) will be totaled.  You and Judy walk away, though.  And, you get some good sympathy… never mind, you can find that one out for yourself.

Speaking of girls, you won’t realize this until you become a Dad.  But, when you think Mom and Dad aren’t paying attention to what you and Lauren are doing in the basement (“just watch basic cable and chill”), they are.  And, just like Mary and I do now, they will talk about it when they go to bed.

You are going to have your heart broken several times.  You like to be loved and you have a high capacity to love.  There will lots of tears and lots of loneliness.  And, then, one day in December 1989, early in your new job at CIGNA Special Risk, you will get on a phone call with your colleague in San Francisco.  Her name will be Mary.  I think I will let Dr. Seuss explain what will happen to you next…

Well, in Whoville (Philly) they say – that Michael’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of love came through, and Michael found the strength of ten Michael’s, plus two!

Looking back as I write this letter to you, I can see that all the good that happens to you in your life can be traced back to that singular moment and that singular person.

I want to thank you for all that you have done for me (although, please stay away from the concrete basketball courts.  I could do without the hip replacements at age 40).  You have given me a wonderful life and I am grateful.  I will keep looking in my mailbox in hopes of getting a letter from future me, myself.  I can’t wait to see what happens next…

Better yet, don’t send it.  This time, I want to enjoy the journey.

Love, Michael (you really didn’t think I would let you off the hook that easily, did you?)

 

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC.

Blameless

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I came of age in the 1980’s – graduated high school in 1982, graduated college in 1986, and business school in 1989.  The music of the 1980’s remained the soundtrack of my adult life.  My car has two SiriusXM stations programmed into the radio – if you are a regular reader, you already know the first one.  Yes, it is E Street Radio.  The second is 80’s on 8.  It is amazing that, to this day, a song from that period will bring back a specifically powerful memory.  The songs and the memories mix with my life experiences to form insights and perspectives that I use to shape my current decisions, actions, and, to a certain extent, values.

Such was the case the other day as I was doing a standard San Francisco Bay Area commute – 2 hours to go 40 miles (of course, the wonderful commute is only one of a myriad of reasons we “pay extra” to live here!).  Here is what played from 80’s on 8 that piqued my interest as I sat staring at the “Coexist” bumper sticker in front of me…

“You can look at the menu, but you just can’t eat
You can feel the cushion, but you can’t have a seat
You can dip your foot in the pool, but you can’t have a swim
You can feel the punishment, but you can’t commit the sin…

No one, No one, No one ever is to blame”

If there is one issue that has created more frustration for me as an executive than any other, it is most people’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.  I believe it is one of the single biggest indicators of long-term business success and long-term personal success.

From the moment we are born, we are learning from our mistakes.  That is how we learn.  I do not have enough space to write about all the very hard lessons I have learned over the years – including very recently.  Each one of them has made me better than I was prior to the mistake.  Now, at the time it occurred, I did not see the lesson and did not appreciate that the mistake would, eventually, make me better.  Nobody is that self-aware (at least nobody whose last name isn’t “Christ”).  But, with time, I was able to look back and appreciate that every single business and personal mistake I have made has taught me a valuable lesson.

“You can build a mansion, but you just can’t live in it
You’re the fastest runner but you’re not allowed to win
Some break the rules, and let you cut the cost
The insecurity is the thing that won’t get lost…

No one, No one, No one ever is to blame”

The growing tendency among younger professionals (and younger parents, for that matter) is to avoid blame and to protect themselves (or their children) from negative experiences.  I have posted before that, when something goes wrong, people are divided into two camps – those who look in the mirror first for resolution; and those who look out the window first.  I will take someone whose first reaction is to look in the mirror and accept their share of the responsibility any day of the week.  There is a great scene in the movie The Blues Brothers between Joliet Jake (John Belushi) and Mystery Woman (Carrie Fisher) that sums this issue up better than I can…

Woman: You, miserable slug! Think you can talk your way out of this? You betrayed me.
Joliet Jake: No, I didn’t. Honest! I ran out of gas… I had a flat tire… I didn’t have enough money for cab fare… My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners… An old friend came in from out of town… Someone stole my car… There was an earthquake… A terrible flood… Locusts…                       It wasn’t my fault. I swear to God!

If that doesn’t summarize the majority of business interactions I have had with a colleague when something went wrong, I don’t know what does.  What we should be teaching our young professionals – and our young children – is to embrace mistakes; to take chances; to try and fail… and fail… and fail.  There is a reason why my father (and your father and your father…) always said in reply to some injustice we just endured or same epic failure we just experienced, “It builds character.”  That’s because IT DOES!

“You can see the summit, but you can’t reach it
It’s the last piece of the puzzle but you just can’t make it fit
Doctor says you’re cured but you still feel the pain
Aspirations in the clouds but your hopes go down the drain…

No one, No one, No one ever is to blame.”

Yes. You are.

(Thanks to Howard Jones for writing and performing such a great song)

 

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

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One of the greatest pieces of business and personal advice ever did not come from Jim Collins, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Tony Robbins, or any other management / life guru.  The greatest piece of business and personal advice ever came from Prince Denis.  That’s right, Prince Denis.  You don’t know him?  Of course, you do. You know him by his “aka” – He was the Mayor of Munchinland in The Wizard of Oz.  His tremendous piece of business and personal advice?

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

How do I chart a course for my business that is unique?  Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

How do I achieve personal fulfillment?  Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

The Wizard of Oz is very insightful in terms of the advice and guidance it gives us for our personal and professional journey.

The Road is easy! Until it’s not!  “Weeeeeeeeee’re off to see the wizard. The wonderful Wizard of Oz. We hear he is a whiz of a wiz; If ever a wiz there was; If ever, oh ever a wiz there was; The Wizard of Oz is one because; Because, because, because, because, because; Because of the wonderful things he does…”

When Dorothy and Toto start out on their journey, the road before them is smooth sailing for as far as they can see.  If the road did not look smooth at the beginning, who would ever start a journey?  (Of course, I am speaking of metaphorical journeys – i.e. life and business.  Every actual journey these days (traffic, TSA, airline seats, “comfort pets”) is the polar opposite of a Yellow Brick Road).

The key to success in life and business is not the start of the journey – it is the perseverance through all the twists and turns and obstacles you encounter along the way.  The advice from the Mayor was to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”.  You will note that he never said it would be easy.  It just looked that way!

“Poppies! Poppies will make them sleep!”  In our journey toward business and personal fulfillment, we will always encounter our “Wicked Witch of the West” (mine is actually a “competitor” from the east).  They will constantly try to throw you off course. They will try every trick in the book.  When you Follow the Yellow Brick Road, you are doing something that most people will not / do not want to do.  Notice how everybody in Munchinland knew how to get to Oz?  But, none of them were willing to follow their own advice.  Similarly, in life, those of you that choose to Follow the Yellow Brick Road will encounter the witches that want to see you fail, if only to avoid highlighting their own fears and inadequacies.

“You killed her”  Everyone remembers the lines/scene right before this one – “I’m melting! I’m melting!”  But, for me, the real insight is that the guard was stunned that water was the antidote to the Wicked Witch.  It was almost a head slap of “Why didn’t we think of that?”  The key to business and life is to recognize that, more often than not, the solution to your problem is usually the simple one (water) and you don’t need to overcomplicate it.  And, of course, once you conquer your Wicked Witch, the Ruby Slippers are yours!

“But, I have the ruby slippers!”  “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”  I think this scene is hysterical.  The vast majority of people you will encounter in business and in life are OK with the status quo.  They are not interested / willing to Follow the Yellow Brick Road.  So, in order to achieve your dreams, you cannot rely on others to recognize your special qualities.  You have to keep knocking on the door! They will not let you in the first time…or the second… or the third.  Then, you have to show them / tell them why you are special!  It is the single most finessed aspect of achieving business and personal success – recognizing you are special and showing others you are special WITHOUT acting like you are special.  Master that and you won’t “be in Kansas” for very long.

“There’s No Place Like Home”  Why did Dorothy Follow the Yellow Brick Road in the first place?  Why did she seek to find the Wizard?  To Get Back Home!  It is the beginning and the ending.  It is the impetus and the goal.  It is the ultimate secret. Everything you seek on your journey in business and life is sitting right at your starting point.  But, without the journey, you just can’t appreciate it.

“I’ve traveled here and everywhere following my job
I’ve seen the paintings from the air brushed by the hand of God
The mountains and the canyons reach from sea to shining sea
But I can’t wait to get back home to the ones He made for me
Cause anywhere I’ll ever go and everywhere I’ve been
Nothing takes my breath away like my front porch looking in”
– Lonestar

 

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC