This week my family and I loaded up the old Family Truckster for a road trip across the Lone Star State. We are covering Dallas, Fort Worth, Frisco, Plano, Waco, Austin, San Antonio and more. What I like most about this type of travel are the unexpected gems you discover along the way.
While we were in Dallas we decided to see the site of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It was both interesting and sobering to see where this historic event occurred in 1963. We saw the book depository, although I still don’t know what a book depository is. We saw the route JFK’s motorcade was traveling in his last moments. We saw some grassiness. We saw some knoll. And we saw the JFK Memorial. Which made me think they must not have had many memorial options.
The JFK Quote
We stopped into the JFK Museum store, where I was greeted by a JFK quote I had never heard before. Of course there are plenty of famous JFK quotes:
“Ask not what your country can do for you… ask what you can do for your country.”
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
“Honey, let’s keep this our little secret…’
But I liked the new-to-me JFK quote better than any of the others.
“Things do not happen. They are made to happen.” -John F. Kennedy
Making Things Happen
This quote summarizes everything I know about making an impact and achieving great things. It summarizes how you build and maintain a strong network of friends and family. It applies to everything from gardening to creating a new law to building a business from dust. These things don’t just happen. You have to make them happen.
None of the things you want in life will happen on their own. They require energy and action. This is both a warning and an inspiring call to action. It warns us that without action you will get nothing and have nothing. But with action you can have anything you are willing to work for.
Action is everything. It is the difference between dreaming and doing. If you want something to happen you have to force it to happen. You have to will it to happen through your vision, action and energy. This simple rule applies to friendship, to entrepreneurship and every other ship in between.
Also, do more road tripping. It is the best way to collect dots and connect dots.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
Most of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life have come from sports. They come from the successes and failures I have experienced personally, and from the countless sporting stories I’ve witnessed. The lessons have come from all levels of athletic competition. And from sports ranging from horse racing to floor hockey. #Epic3rdGradeGymClassComeBackStory.
I have been collecting life lessons from sports since I was a little boy. From The Miracle On Ice, I learned that miracles really do happen. From Kirk Gibson and Ray Rice I learned that sometimes all it takes is one swing. Billy Buckner taught me that there is no such thing as a routine ground ball. Steve Bartman taught me that people love a scapegoat (my wife Dawn was at that Cubs game and called me, afraid for his life). Buster Douglas taught me to take every opponent seriously. And my New England Patriots taught me that even when there is a 99.5% chance that you will lose, you can still win. I wrote about that in The most inspiring statistic in Super Bowl history.
My Greatest Lesson
In high school I learned my own sports lessons through football and track and field, with an emphasis on the field. But the greatest lesson I ever learned came in the fall of my senior year back in Hanover, New Hampshire. During an ordinary football practice, 4 weeks into the season, two of my teammates crashed into my left knee, tearing both my ACL and MCL. If you are lucky enough not to know these acronyms, they refer to two of the critical ligaments that hold your knee together.
Not only was my knee crushed, so were my spirits. But following knee reconstruction surgery at the end of October, I set my sights on coming back to compete in the spring track season. Competing was a long shot. But I was 100% determined to make it happen. I rehabilitated my knee completely on my own. I didn’t need any outside motivation. I was obsessed.
Just 7 months after surgery I completed my unlikely comeback. At the New England High School Track and Field Championships in East Hartford, Connecticut, I won the boys discus title. Even better, I set a new New Hampshire state record in the discus. A record that would stand for 12 years. As a result, I learned that determination is your most valuable asset.
The University of Wisconsin
That fall I enrolled at The University of Wisconsin, where I continued my track and field career. My senior year I became the 4th best discus thrower in school history. Even better, our team won its second consecutive Big 10 Track & Field Championship.
But there was another significant event that happened just before my senior year at Wisconsin that feels even more relevant this morning. That’s when the great Dick Bennett was hired as Wisconsin’s head men’s basketball coach.
Coach Bennett is a wonderful man and a brilliant coach. He came to Madison from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he had created an off-broadway powerhouse of a basketball program. The shining star of the UWGB Fighting Phoenix was Dick’s son Tony, who I believe still holds the all-time record for career 3-point shooting percentage.
I loved seeing Dick Bennett around the McClain Center, our athletic facility in Madison. He always had a pleasant greeting for this unknown track participant. And I had high respect for everything he did for the basketball program. In fact, he was the 4th head coach for the Badgers in my 5 years of college. Just 4 years later, in 2000, he would lead the team to the Final Four.
During my senior season, and the following summer I would often see young and handsome Tony Bennett in the McClain Center weight room. His wife Laurel would often work out there too. I regularly talked with Laurel, and learned that she was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and went to LSU. Her accent was as cute as she was. We talked about some of my favorite memories from competing in track meets at LSU. Including the tiger cage right next to the discus cage, the crawfish, Lou’s Fries, Pleasant Hall and my favorite track and field venue on earth.
Based on my casual acquaintance with the Bennetts, I followed Tony’s career closely, and always pulled for him as if he were one of my own. I was thrilled to see him land the job as the University of Virginia’s head basketball coach in 2009. In fact I began rooting for this seemingly random school’s men’s basketball program. Tony’s rise in Charlottesville came quickly. Which would set Tony and his team up for a historical fall.
In 2018, with a 31-2 record, Virginia earned the highly coveted #1 seed in the men’s championship tournament. Everyone who has ever filled out a March Madness bracket knows that you never pick a #16 seed to upset a #1. Because it had never happens. Never-Ever. In fact, it had never happened in the history of the NCAA tournament. Until last year.
Following what had been a dream season, Virginia suffered a nightmarish loss to UMBC. Most people had no idea what those initials even stood for. It was not the University of Michigan-Battle Creek. It was actually the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. But it could have been the University of My Butt Crack for all I knew of this team.
Yet suddenly, the UMBC Retrievers were the ultimate dragon slayers. They did what people said no one could ever do. As a result of their victory, Coach Tony Bennett and his Virginia team would have to carry the burden of their unprecedented defeat for the rest of their lives.
What Happened Next
But Bennett’s response to the unfathomable loss was composed, dignified and gracious. He would later refer to the loss as a painful gift. The Virginia team, lead by Bennett, then did the hardest thing in sports. Perhaps the hardest thing in life. After crashing and burning, they rose again from the ashes, like a fighting Phoenix. They used their historic loss as fuel. And they powered forward with new resolve.
The 2019 regular season would prove to be every bit as successful as 2018 for the Virginia men’s basketball program. The team went 29-3 during the regular season and ended the year ranked 2nd in the country. They once again won a #1 seed in the NCAA Division 1 Championship Tournament. And this time, the whole country watched to see if they would once again exit the Big Dance under historical circumstances.
Unfortunately, it soon appeared they were doomed to repeat the past. In the first half of their matchup against 16th-ranked Gardner-Webb they were down by 14 points, before pulling out of their nosedive, and rallying to a 71-56 win. They then won a series of heart stopping victories over Oregon, Purdue and Auburn.
In the unbelievable win over Auburn in the semi finals, Virginia was down by 2 points with 0.6 seconds on the clock. But a foul on a 3-point shot attempt sent Virginia’s Kyle Guy to the free throw line, where he coolly hit all 3 free throws to win the game and send his team to the National Championship.
The National Championship
Last night in the title game, Virginia played like champions. So did their rivals, Texas Tech. The result was a thrilling 68-68 tie at the end of regulation. But in the overtime period, Bennett’s team showed their true character, pouring on a dominating performance when it was needed most. When the final buzzer buzzed, the scoreboard read Virginia 85, Texas Tech 77.
The New Lesson
And just like that, the world of sports had another lesson for its followers. It came from the too-good-to-be true story of the 2018-2019 Virginia men’s basketball team. The team that suffered the worst defeat in the history of college basketball, and then bounced like no one has ever bounced before. And in just one year, this team of character, grit, brotherhood and respect rebounded to win a national championship. The first in school history.
Tony Bennet has a belief that he often references: ‘The most faithful wins.’ Well, I for one believe. I believe that if you believe in yourself, have faith in your abilities, in your teammates, in the power of hard work, sacrifice and determination, and in a higher power to strengthen you, great things will come your way.
Bad things will happen to you. This is a simple fact. But it is how you respond to the setbacks that makes all the difference. If you see your losses as painful gifts, and not prepackaged excuses, you have already won. Because you have put yourself on the right path for future success.
Have faith that if you do all the right things, the right things will come to you. Virginia’s championship now serves as a monumental reminder of this lesson. It’s a wonderful story that will be revisited for decades, as coaches, parents and friends console athletes after devastating defeats. Because with the right mindset a loss is not a loss. It is a painful gift that can positively change your life forever.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
I don’t believe in a work-life balance. It implies that our work and our lives are two separate entities. Which they are not. Those hours you spend at work each day comprise a gigantic chunk of your life. If you are not happy at work, you are not only wasting your career, you are wasting your life. Those are just the facts.
The notion of a work-life balance implies a teeter-totter or seesaw life construct. It requires our work to sit on one side of our personal fulcrum, and our lives to sit on the other. The two sides are separate, but equal, and balanced. Other than in fairy tales, outer space, and 1960’s TV programs, you are never going to find the two of equal weight. Which is why I am a registered Work-Life Balance Atheist. (Although I still believe in God, Jesus, and Sampson.)
I believe in work-life integration. We need to construct our lives as a system in which all the parts work together to provide a natural flow. When our personal lives need to step forward and take the lead, they naturally do, even during the work day. And when work needs to be addressed while we are at home or on vacation, we can naturally allow for that to happen.
My perspective could be skewed because I am a business owner, and my life and my work are inextricably linked. But you are no different. And the sooner you and your employer (or employees) accept that, the sooner you can create a happier, more satisfied coexistence of the two.
Work-Life Integration At A Macro Level
This work-life integration is the reason that my family relocated our home base from Atlanta to Milwaukee 2-years ago. For Non-Americans, this is a move of 800 miles, mostly north. And there is a story.
In the summer of 2015 I began serious plans to start my own advertising agency. It was an exciting time in my career, as visions and logistics danced through my head. But at the same time a major storm was brewing in my personal life.
On an ordinary August evening in Wausau, Wisconsin, my Mother-In-Law, Cynthia Zabel, coughed up blood. Fortunately she has more sense than Jim Henson, so she called her doctor and saw him the next day. He ordered an MRI, which revealed a small spot on her lung. He decided to do a biopsy to investigate. The biopsy revealed a benign tumor, that the doctors decided to remove.
My wife, Dawn, decided to fly home to Wausau, from Atlanta, to be with her Mom during her surgery. Everything was calm and routine. Until the doctor emerged from the operating room to talk to Dawn following the operation. He said,
‘Well, that didn’t go as planned. We didn’t see the tumor we were expecting to see. Instead, one of your mother’s lungs was completely encased in a tumor. I only had two options. I could leave everything exactly as it was and we would take our chances. Or I could remove the entire lung. And that is what I did.’
So Dawn’s mom, now 78-years old, had only one lung, and, as the new biopsy would reveal, two forms of non-smoking related lung cancer. She would soon be preparing for aggressive chemotherapy and radiation in order to give her every chance of survival.
Our Tribe quickly rallied around us. Including our close friend and Atlanta neighbor, Dr. Crain Garrot, who is an Oncologist. He became our cancer translator and counselor throughout the process. My uncle, Allan Sprau used his connections to get us an immediate appointment with a specialist at the Mayo Clinic.
However, Cynthia felt she was in good hands with her local doctors. And with good reason. She had battled cancer with the same team before, and won. In fact, in 2015 she was a 14-year breast cancer survivor. And she trusted her doctors to help her navigate through the new and more daunting challenge.
Life Impacting Work
Cynthia’s cancer diagnoses had a major impact on our family’s life plans. Since Dawn and I were going to start our own business, we believed the business could be located anywhere. With the cancer battle ramping up, and my parents reaching retirement age, it was time to make proximity to our parents a priority.
We considered relocating to 4 great cities. Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis. After visiting each of the cities, and a thorough evaluation (worthy of a separate post), we decided on Milwaukee. This great city on a great lake, put us right between Cynthia in Wausau, Wisconsin, and my parents in Lafayette, Indiana.
One year after Cynthia first coughed up blood, we moved to Milwaukee’s northern suburb of Mequon for the excellent schools and quality of life for our family of 5. We found a nice home on a 1-acre lot, on a pond. The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I initially founded in Atlanta, moved headquarters to Milwaukee without missing a beat. And just like that, Atlanta had paid back Milwaukee for taking the Braves in 1966.
Yesterday, April 6, 2019 was a great day. In fact, two great things happened. My mother in-law turned 82 years old and is doing great. But even better, we live close enough that we were able to drive to surprise her at a restaurant in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, enjoy several hours together on her birthday, and then drive home again. It was exactly what we envisioned when we decided to integrate our work and personal needs, and be closer to our parents during this chapter of our lives.
Integrate your career and life plans into one beautiful, fully functioning design. Don’t force the two to fight against each other. And don’t settle for less. We didn’t. As a result, Dawn and I have been able to spend quality time with both of our parents in the last few weeks alone, here in Wisconsin. Which makes me feel like I am winning at life.
If you are having health problems see a doctor right away. Take it from Cynthia Zabel, it could save your life.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
I spent the last hours of my 39th year reflecting on my life. I wrote down a long list of things I was proud I had accomplished so far. It was good to take a 40-year view of life. In fact, I consider this moment one of the pivotal moments in my adventure on Earth. It helped put my journey and path in perspective. After I took inventory of all the good things I had accomplished and experienced I turned my attention to the future.
I asked myself a simple question:
If life ended right here, what things would I regret not doing?
This was an exciting question. Because it would form my to-do list for the next chapter of life. At that point I felt like I was living up to most of my expectations. My personal life was great. I had a wonderful wife (Dawn), a daughter (Ava) and two sons (Johann and Magnus). My parents, sisters and their families were all doing well. I have a huge and wonderful extended family and great friends around the world.
My career was going very well. I was the Chief Creative Officer of a 275-person advertising agency called Engauge, and we were about to finalize a deal to sell the agency to Publicis, the giant advertising agency holding company out of Paris.
The 4 Things
With my personal and professional life on track, what were the things that I would regret not doing if died the next day? There were 4 things that quickly rose to the top.
More international travel. I had visited 11 foreign countries at that time. But that left about 200 that I hadn’t seen.
Starting an advertising agency.
Starting a real estate business.
This became my checklist of things to accomplish in the decade ahead.
The Advertising Agency
Within 2 years I began plans to launch my own advertising agency. And within 3 years I had actually left my job, started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, and had clients in Atlanta, Boston, Quebec, Milwaukee and San Francisco.
The Real Estate Business
By the end of that 3rd year, Dawn and I had bought a new house and converted our home in Atlanta into a rental property, complete with tenants and rental income. Which meant that we had birthed our real estate business.
The International Travel
Last year I had a really exciting opportunity to travel to India to film a video for a great client, Fifth Third bank. My experience there was incredible. In fact I summarized it in this popular blog post, 20 interesting things you notice when you travel to India. Now America is the only country that reads my blog more than India.
I am excited to be making good progress on these 3 areas. Which are the toughest 3 on my list to accomplish. Which leaves just one of my goals for the decade unaddressed.
Yesterday morning when I got on the elevator to go to my office I saw a flyer posted above the keypad. There was a blood drive, from 10am to 2pm in the office space directly above The Weaponry. I was thrilled. This was the sign I needed. And today was the day!
A quick bit of background. My Dad, Robert Albrecht donates blood like it is his job. He is the equivalent of a Million Mile Flyer for giving blood. But I had never given blood myself, and have always felt bad about this. When I was on the track team at the University of Wisconsin our coaches discouraged us from giving for training and performance reasons. After graduation I simply never found the on-ramp to giving. I have no fear of blood or needles or ‘I gave’ stickers. I just hadn’t done it.
At 11am I left my office and made my way to suite 307. I was more excited than most people to donate blood. But then again, most people don’t have donating blood on their bucket list. I walked in the room and was greeted by a blue scrubbed technician. I said, ‘If you have any time slots still available I am full of blood, and willing to give some to you.’ She laughed and told me there was an open slot at 11:50am.
I was thrilled. And at 11:50am I was back and got the process started. I signed in on a clipboard and was taken to a semi-private cubicle for my pre-screening. They took my driver’s license and entered a bunch of information about me into a computer. Then they had me scan a binder previewing the questionnaire I was about to take.
Then I took the questionnaire. It was crazy. It asked if I was, or ever had been pregnant. It asked if I took any drugs, received a blood transfusion, had AIDS or Cancer. It asked if I had ever had man on man sex, or sex with a prostitute. #thingsIhadn’texpectedtoreadthatday.
When I was finished with the 45 question survey I only said Yes to one question. The technician then reviewed my answers and said, ‘It looks like we have just one question to review.’ It says that you have traveled outside of the US or Canada in the past year. I proudly said, ‘Yes!’
The technician asked where I had traveled. I told her I had been to India. She then asked me what area I visited. I replied that I had been to Bangalore, in southern India.
She then pulled out a binder to check on any restrictions that may apply, based on my travel. Once she found what she was looking for she turned the binder around towards me. She put her finger next to the word India. She then slid her finger to show me that travelers to India were prohibited from donating blood for one year, due to the threat of Malaria.
I was denied.
She told me to come back at the end of September and they would happily take my blood. She then handing me my parting gift. It was a ticket that provided free admission for four people to Mt. Olympus Water Park in Wisconsin Dells. While I love a good water park, this was little consolation for not being able to check off one my major life goals.
But I couldn’t help but smile, reflecting on the last few hours of my 39th year. That night I declared I would launch my own business. Which lead to exciting international travel. Which prevented me from donating blood. In other words, I still have unfinished business.
Take inventory of your life. Give gratitude for all you have and all you’ve done, both personally and professionally. And think about the things you will regret not doing next. Write them down. Prioritize them. And give yourself a deadline to accomplish them. Then take action. Even long lives fly by. If you don’t recognize, declare and take action towards the things you want most, they will never happen.
I am excited to have made such good progress on 3 out of 4 Decade Goals. In September I expect to knock off another. Unless, of course, I have more exciting international travel before then. Which is always a possibility. Afterall, it is on my to-do list.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
I loved my college experience. But when I graduated, I was thrilled to be done with school. Like Alice Cooper. Yet I was far from done with my education. Since I graduated from the University of Wisconsin I have been busy acquiring self-directed micro-degrees. How? First, by making up this silly, but plausible term. Then, by reading. Not just reading for reading. I am constantly looking for new books, magazines and online articles to help me become a smarter, more effective human, a better business person and a more creative thinker.
One of my favorite micro-degrees came from reading Stephen R. Covey’s classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Reading books like these is akin to taking a college course, only without the chance to meet an attractive co-ed. In fact, I have learned, retained and applied more from books like this than from many of my college courses. (Sorry dude who taught that Emotions class junior year. That was worthless.)
Not Urgent, Not Urgent, No Emergency…
In his best-selling book, Covey introduces a concept that I absolutely love. It’s the idea of spending more time doing things that are important but not urgent. This is really where the magic in your life comes from. When I learned about this concept I realized that I already did a lot of work in this quadrant.
Check out the impressive quads on the chart below.
The important but not urgent work is the key to all of the good things that have happened in my career. But as I have created and grown The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, this type of activity has been crucial.
Important but not urgent, in action.
I identify talented people who I want to join our team, and begin planting seeds. I plant seeds all the time that I don’t expect to bear fruit, nuts or vegetables for years. In fact, there are talented people in cities across America that I have been talking to about joining The Weaponry, not in the next weeks or months, but in the next years.
Why? Because great things often take a long time to develop. So I want to start the process as early as possible. My goal is not only to appear on the radar of talented people, but for the course of these talented people’s careers to begin steering towards me.
I want to create a gravitational pull towards me and my organization. How? Through early conversations these valued recruits can begin imagining us making magic together. By creating an attractive vision of the future, the people start steering their courses towards this attractive future reality.
The Power Of Advertising
This early recruiting activity works just like marketing and advertising. Because advertising, through brand awareness and brand affinity, begins to create a gravitational pull towards products and services.
I have spent my entire career planting seeds about the merits of various brands. Eventually, by sharing those merits, customers, clients and members find their way to the brands that can help solve their problems or enrich their lives. And everyone wins. This is what I am doing now, both personally and professionally. And you can too.
To attract the people you want to surround yourself with, start early. Start well before you need them. Whether you are looking for friends, co-workers or customers, begin recruiting today. Offer others a picture of what a friendship, career or success could look like when you join forces. Do the important work early, before it becomes urgent. Then watch as paths alter in your direction. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see. It’s what highly effective people do. You know, people like you.
I recently watched an interesting story on TV about a business in Brooklyn called Ample Hills Creamery. It was founded by a wife and husband who both quit their jobs and went all-in on their unique ice cream shop. Obviously the business is doing well, or they wouldn’t be profiled on TV. But one specific statement in the story stood out to me.
‘The couple invested their whole life savings into the business.’
This is a great line to capture attention. It says that the couple was daring, and brave. It says they risked everything. They were in a must-win situation.All the chips were pushed to the center of the table.
Now the audience has to know what happened next! Bravo, dramatic story teller!
Risking It All
Most people seem to think you have to risk everything you have to launch a new business. Most people don’t have the stomach for such risk (although it appears Americans have no shortage of stomach). So most people never consider entrepreneurship an option. And I don’t blame them. But do you really have to dig into your entire life savings to become your own boss?
I launched my own business in 2016. I had worked in advertising for 2 decades. Then, in 2015, several former clients encouraged me to start my own agency. I began by dabbling with a nights-and-weekends side hustle. I did a little freelance work for my friend Dan Richards at Global Rescue, and earned $16,000. A few months later I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and ideas agency. Global Rescue was our founding client. I opened a business checking and business banking account with Wells Fargo, and put $6000 into the checking account, and $10,000 into the savings account.
My Initial Investment
So how much money did I use to start my business? You could say $16,000, because that’s what I put into my combined bank account at the start. You could say $6000, because that is what I put in the checking account. Either of those answers could be correct. But they would be correct, like saying it takes 3 licks to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.
No Money Down
The truth is that I started my side hustle by investing $0.00 into my adventure. All I needed to get started was my home computer, which I already had at home (hence the name home computer.) I was able to start providing value to others with the things I already owned. I simply needed action to start generating a new stream of income. I then diverted the new stream to form a reservoir. And once the reservoir grew large enough, it became my official pool of money to start my own business.
The Real Costs
To officially launch The Weaponry I spent $120 to establish The Weaponry LLC with my state. That’s all I can remember initially spending on the business. I started by working out of my home office, using my home computer. That cost me nothing.
My first real investments in the business were a dedicated work computer, a MacBook Pro, and an iPhone. It’s amazing how much commerce you can facilitate with just those two resources. And most people already own those two powerful business tools.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you need a lot of money to start your own business. You don’t. It costs almost nothing to birth a business. There are always ways to start small. You can probably go MacGyver-style and create your own business out of things lying around your own home right now (or laying around your own home right now, depending on your grammatical choices and intended meaning).
You’d be amazed by how much you could do with just a single run to the grocery store, or the Home Depot. The cost to get on the entrepreneur-ship is much lower than you think. Even if you ultimately want to do big, capital-intensive things. You don’t have to risk your life savings. You just need to get moving. Follow the Yellow Brick road. And pick up as many of those yellow bricks along the way as you can.
*To find out more of the things I am learning on my entrepreneurial journey, consider subscribing to this blog.
I grew up in Vermont. If you’ve ever met me you know I am very proud of this fact. Vermont was a wonderful place to be a kid. It was beautiful, safe and quiet. There were various career options available to Vermonters. We had a lot of maple syrup farmers, stone fence stackers, and a couple of world-class ice cream makers. But I didn’t know a single advertising professional.
I left Vermont for college and went to the University of Wisconsin. When I graduated and wanted to find a job as a copywriter for an advertising agency, I didn’t know anyone who could help me prepare for my job search.
A Friend of a Friend of a Friend.
However, I did have friends. My college friend Gina Wagner (now Gina Zanik of Salt Lake City) told me that a friend of her Mom’s might know someone who could help. A few calls were made, and through a friend-chain I was put in touch with a man named Paul Zukowski.
Paul, a grown man with a real advertising career, then did something remarkable. He took time out of his day to meet with me, a total stranger, on a Saturday, to offer advice on how to best present my work, to maximize the chances of landing a job as an advertising creative.
Paul not only owed me nothing, he was likely to get nothing in return for helping this penniless, jobless, cotton headed ninny muggins. Yet Paul offered me some of his valuable time and gave me some really great, if not unconventional advice. Advice that ultimately helped me land my first job in advertising. And this blog post, written 23 years later, is all he got for his effort. (Although, upon his death he may receive eternal consciousness. Which is nice.)
Thinking of Paul
I haven’t seen Paul since the day we met at Union South in Madison, back in 1996, But I have thought of Paul often. In fact, I think of him every time a college student contacts me asking for an informational interview. I think of him every time someone wants advice on launching their own business. I think of him every time someone who is looking for a new job wants to grab coffee. I think of him when an aspiring blogger wants to buy me a chocolate milk and learn how to get started. (You can learn most of what I know here.)
Paul Zukowski, a man I have seen once in my life, played an important role in my advertising career. When I was desperately trying to get my foot in the door, he showed me how to put my best foot forward. As a result I got a job as a copywriter. I then got promoted all the way to Chief Creative Officer, before launching my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry in 2016.
Paying It Forward
Today, I pay it forward and continue the goodwill that Paul started by helping others. This week I drove from Milwaukee to The Weaponry’s new office in Columbus, Ohio. During my drive I spent more than 3 hours talking to people who reached out to me because:
They were about to graduate from college.
They recently moved and were looking for a job and a network in a new city.
They had lost a job and needed to figure out their next chapter.
I don’t expect a thing from any of the people I try to help. Although I hope my willingness to help encourages them to help others down the road. Just like Paul helped me.
Sooner or later we all need a Paul Zukowski. We need someone who can help us chart a new course through a foreign land. While it’s great to find someone who will do that for you, it’s even better to be the Paul Zukowski. To be the one who offers help and guidance while expecting nothing in return. Because it sets off a chain reaction that can make a significant impact on a significant number of people for generations to come. Heck, it can even help a kid from rural Vermont (#redundant) start a career in advertising, launch a business, and launch a blog to share the story with the world.