Are you surrounding yourself with the best people?

The legendary motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. That’s why it’s so important to spend your time with the best people. This past Friday, during the University of Wisconsin homecoming weekend, I spent 6 hours with an amazing group of former University of Wisconsin varsity athletes. These Badgers are some of the brightest, most driven, most fun, and most successful people I know.

Business Up Front

I kicked off homecoming weekend in Madison with a 2-hour advisory board meeting for the W Letterwinner’s Club. The advisory board is like Noah’s Ark. Because it features two former athletes from every varsity sport.

We meet to discuss how we can help our members develop more meaningful relationships with each other, both personally and professionally. We discuss how we can offer assistance, guidance and mentorship to graduating Badger student athletes. And we explore ways that our network can add value to the mission of the University of Wisconsin and its world class athletic department.

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The Dub Club representatives from track & field and cross country. And the handsome profile of a tall soccer alum in the top left.

Up In Da Club

The former Badger student athletes on the board are inspiring. They include Big 10 Champions and National Champions. They include All-Americans and professional athletes. They include school record holders and Hall of Famers. They include athletes who made it to the Final 4 and the Frozen 4.

Our youngest members just graduated from Madison. And our most senior members used to get run with Crazy Legs Hirsch, Alan ‘The Horse’ Ameche and Paul Bunyan when he was just a babe himself.

Today these W Letterwinners are crushing it in their post-collegiate careers. They are executives and entrepreneurs. They are administrators, professors and coaches. They are leaders and volunteers. And they are great parents, wives and husbands. Just spending time with these badasses enhances my own false sense of badassery.

Party In The Back

On Friday night, after the work was done, we did what Badgers do. We played. We migrated to the iconic State Street Brats, and joined hundreds of others at the annual Badger Athlete Reunion. We spent the next few hours together, talking, laughing,  sharing memories, making new friends, connecting dots, drinking beer and eating brats.

While it certainly looked as if we were having fun, we were doing more than that. We were strengthening our personal bonds. The bonds between former student-athletes who know just how hard it is to live up to the demands of academics and athletics at the Big 10 level. We were strengthening the bonds between Badgers who know that if you can excel in both the classroom and athletic arena at The University of Wisconsin, you have the critical tools and the skills to be successful for the rest of your life.

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Former Badger athletes at an impromptu meetup in Atlanta. Badgers are everywhere.

Key Takeaway

If you want to be great surround yourself with great people. Find rockstars who inspire you. Spend as much time with those special people as you can. It will make you a better person. I know it will. Because I learned that lesson in Madison as a student athlete at the University of Wisconsin.

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How to make a business trip more than a business trip.

I like to make the most of my business travel. After my work obligations are Sharpied into my calendar, I always fill the open spaces in my schedule with personal activites. That might include eating at an interesting restaurant, exploring, museuming or exercising. But my favorite activity to add to a work trip, by far, is socializing. Sometimes I meet new people. Sometimes I reconnecting with old friends. And sometimes I do both at the same time.

This Week

I had to travel to Atlanta this week for a film shoot. Since I had to fly in on Monday I began filling my afternoon with interesting activities. Here is what I did between 12:30 and 6:30pm:

  1. Had lunch with a former client
  2. Had back-to-back-to-back meetings with 3 different freelancers who are currently working with my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.
  3. Met with a college senior to talk to him about his career options after he graduates.
  4. Guest lectured to a college marketing class about creativity and the creative process.
  5. Stuck around 20 minutes after the lecture to talk to a group of 5 students who had more questions.
  6. Drove to my Atlanta neighborhood in East Cobb and talked to my neighbor, Dr. Betty Garrot about my recent trip to India (Betty’s family is from India, and they contacted me when I was in Bangalore).

Monday Night

It was a fun and interesting day. But what I had planned for Monday evening was really special. Last Friday I texted my college teammate Jabari Pride, who lives in Atlanta, and asked him if he would like to get together Monday night. He said yes. So I reached out to another, former University of Wisconsin track athlete, Lenton Herring, who lives in Atlanta, and invited him too. Then I reached out to Stephanie Herbst-Lucke, who was not only up for getting together, she invited us to gather at her home. So we decided to contact a couple more former Badger track athletes to tell them what we were doing.

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Jabari, Adam and Lenton. One fo these guys is allergic to shoes.

Just three days later, on a rainy Monday night in Atlanta, these are the Badger track alum who showed up:

  1. Adam Abrecht: Discus and hammer thrower from Norwich Vermont, now living in Milwaukee (but still a proud Atlanta home owner).
  2. Jabari Pride: Sprinter and all-around athlete from Los Angeles, now living in Atlanta.
  3. Lenton Herring: Jumper and sprinter from Gainesville Florida, now living in Atlanta.
  4. Stephanie Herbst-Lucke: Distance runner from Chaska, Minnesota, now living in Atlanta.
  5. Tina Erps-McGee: Sprinter and jumper from Bettendorf Iowa, now living in Atlanta.
  6. Terry Reese: Hurdler from Fort Wayne Indiana, now living in Atlanta.
  7. Scott Jenkins: Distance runner from Kenosha, Wisconsin, now living in Atlanta.
  8. Stephanie (Bassett) Orman: Distance runner from Bloomington, Indiana now living in Atlanta.
  9. Mark Euler: Jumper from Madison, Wisconsin, now living in Atlanta.
  10. Reed Connor: Distance Runner from The Woodlands, Texas, now living in Atlanta.
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Tina, Stephanie and Steph, between two lamps.

Socializing not Social Networking

It was an amazing night. I got to see friends and teammates I have known for decades, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. I also got to meet three new Badgers. We talked about our families and careers. We shared stories about our days competing for the University of Wisconsin. We talked about our coaches and the things we learned from Ed Nuttycombe, Peter Tegen, Martin Smith, Mark Napier, Scott Bennett, Mick Byrne, Mary Grinaker, Robert Hackett and others.

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Lenton telling us the story of how he invented the fist bump.

We talked about how there is no other experience quite like spending your college career in Madison. We talked about the unique people, the unique setting and the unique educational environment. Because of our shared history, the group instantly felt like a community. We traded contact information and made plans to gather again. Just like that, the W Club-Atlanta was born.

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The W-Club Atlanta, freshly birthed.  

Connect In Person

This was a great reminder to make sure you see your people in real life. It is great to keep in touch with each other on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. But people are better in person. We all need to experience real human connections. Those connections are strongest, and most impactful, when we are in a room, talking to each other, face to face.

Key Takeaway

I encourage you to reach out to your people. Get together with friends from home, from college or camp. Organize a gathering of former co-workers, teammates or roommates. Get together with your neighbors. Or create your own social or professional groups.

At the end of our days, the only thing that will really matter is the relationships we build, and the impact we have on each other. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. I did. And because of it, ten former Badger track athletes are now part of another special community 803 miles from Madison.

*Special thanks to fellow Badger, James Lucke for hosting us and joining us Monday evening! On Wisconsin!

My lunch with one of the greatest sportscasters of all time.

People die every day. This year I lost my friends Kirk McDonald and Kate Gruetzmacher in their early 40’s to brain cancer. I lost my 100-year-old Grammy to, well, being 100. And just before Christmas I lost sports broadcaster Dick Enberg, at 82, to a heart attack.

The Broadcaster

Dick Enberg was the sportscaster of my youth. He broadcast 8 Super Bowls, the Olympics, The Masters, Wimbledon, Major League Baseball, college basketball and boxing, His catch phrase, Oh My, was simple and powerful. And it followed many of the greatest athletic feats I witnessed as a child.

The Invitation

When I was a senior in college Dick Enberg came to the University of Wisconsin to give a speech at a banquet honoring student-athletes for high academic performance. I was a discus and hammer thrower on the track team and was proud to have been invited to the event. I was also being recognized as one of a dozen student-athletes who had earned a 4.0 GPA the previous semester. But I was most excited that Dick Enberg was going to be speaking.

The Luncheon 

Three days prior to the event I was informed that the athletic department had also arranged a private luncheon at the stadium the day of the banquet. 17 student-athletes were invited to have lunch with Mr. Enberg and participate in a discussion about issues facing student-athletes. I was one of the lucky few who received an invitation.

I arrived early to the luncheon, as we were requested to do. The athletic staff gave us the game plan and reminded us we were representing both the University and the athletic department. Which I assumed meant don’t talk with your mouth full.

The student athletes waited with great anticipation for Dick to arrive. He was finally escorted into the room and there was a brief introduction. Then an athletic staff member announced, ‘We will let Mr. Enberg go through the food line first, then the students can follow.’

I quickly realized that someone would have to follow Dick. And I thought:

Why not me?

So this discus thrower from little Norwich, Vermont marched over to the banquet table that held the spread of food, grabbed a plate, and stepped in line right behind Dick Enberg, one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time. We talked as we walked through the line. And when Dick took his seat, I took the seat right next to him.

The next hour was amazing. We had a great group conversation. Dick showed a genuine interest in our thoughts and perspectives. I talked about the challenges of being an in-season athlete in the spring of my senior year, and not having any time to focus on finding a job and starting my career after graduation.

Dick wisely predicted that the same commitment I had to my athletic and academic success would translate well to my career. He encouraged me to enjoy the rest of my senior year. Which of course, I did.

The Banquet

That evening I attended the banquet with my favorite journalism professor, Roger Rathke, and my aunt, Deanie Sprau, who lived in Madison and was a huge reason I was drawn to The University of Wisconsin.

The banquet was at The Great Hall at the Memorial Union. The room was huge and packed. There were about 500 attendees, including student-athletes, faculty, staff, and family members. It felt like a wedding. Our assigned table was at the center of the large banquet hall.

It was fun to see all of the athletes trade in their athletic department sweatpants and t-shirts for dresses and suits. Everyone was excited to have one of America’s best known sports figures in attendance.

After a warm welcome to the event by the master of ceremonies we were served our meals. Dick Enberg was seated at the head table with Athletic Director, Pat Richter, and other university dignitaries.

In the middle of the meal I saw Dick suddenly stand up and start making his way across the large, packed hall. I presumed he was either going to visit the little broadcasters room, or taking a moment to review his notes one last time before his speech.

All eyes were on Mr. Enberg as he cut across the middle of the room. He was on a path that would take him directly past my table. He got closer and closer to me.  When he reached my table he stopped for a brief moment, gave me a big smile, and patted me on the back like we were old friends. Then he continuing on his way and disappeared from the room.

Suddenly, friends from around the Great Hall flocked to my table to find out why, in this room of 500 people, had the guest of honor stopped to say hi to some random, albeit studious, track athlete. My answer was, “Oh, we had lunch together today.”  By the looks on their faces, that was an even crazier answer than they were expecting.

The rest of the event was nice. Dick’s speech was great. And I was proud to be part of this large group of high-achieving students who happened to participate in some outramural sports in their free time.

Thinking Back

That evening serves as a great reminder of how life works. Your efforts can get you into the room. But it is the relationships that you develop along the way that make you stand out from the crowd.

Dick Enberg was right about my career too. After I graduated my professor Roger Rathke, who was with me at the banquet that night, introduced me to his college buddy  from the University of Wisconsin, Paul Counsell. Paul was the CEO of the remarkable advertising agency Cramer Krasselt. I got an informational interview, and was offered a job as a copywriter. And today I own my own agency.

Thanks

Thank you Dick Enberg. Thank you for the Super Bowls. Thank you for the Olympics. Thank for coming to Madison and having both lunch and dinner with me. And thank you for the wise career advice. Things have worked out just fine for me.