Licensed to Kill

Around 8:00 PM Friday night I wished that I was anywhere but on a blinding strip of highway, just a few miles north of Toronto.

It was the worst weather you could imagine.

For endless hours the visibility was limited to a few feet. The wind didn’t gust. It blew constantly. Seemingly on demand, when the road got icier, it blew harder. Deserted cars, overturned trucks, spontaneous snow drifts all had to be dodged. I was helpless. Providing me a tiny taste of what a blind person must experience daily, ever hopeful they have safely chosen their path and that those around them are mindful of their vulnerability.

On several harrowing stretches I was forced to stop completely and pray that no one was dumb enough to even attempt to keep moving. Tornado-like snow gusts created a vortex around us that had me convinced our all-wheel-drive wheels would soon be airborne; with me powerless to return our ship to tarmac.

Nearly 180 minutes later, we made it safely to our destination. Beyond the obvious gratitude to the driving gods and relief to have kept my family safe, I was quietly pleased that only once had I let my true emotions show how frightened I truly was.

I think everyone got thanked for their divine intervention. The maker of my automobile. The aforementioned driving gods. My dog’s role as a good luck charm. My fellow drivers for being equally as cautious as me.

At the same time as I was issuing my gratitude, a driver just a few miles from us didn’t exercise the same caution as those that had shared the road with me. Inexplicably he (I actually don’t know their gender) decided to pass a transport trailer.

Seconds later they were dead.

So was their passenger.

Four other people were extracted from their vehicles.

Three were airlifted to hospital with serious injuries, including a one-year-old baby who was ejected from the car. Yet somehow survived.

What could possibly have been so important on a snowy Friday night in Clearview Township that the driver had to pass a transport truck in zero visibility conditions? Was he or she the parent of this child? Or was the baby from the innocent vehicle they struck head on? There were at least two people in that car severely injured. But thankfully alive. For now.

I don’t care how big of a rush you are in. I don’t care how impatient, self-important, impaired, or utterly stupid you are.


My “Secret” List of New Year’s Resolutions

Do you share your New Year’s resolutions?

A 2007 research study from the University of Bristol found that women were more successful at achieving their New Year’s resolutions when they shared them publicly.

At a weekend dinner party, I kicked off a discussion about resolutions and then was appropriately heckled when I tried to not to share mine. One could argue my conduct was misguided given the research, however the same study found the secret for men was to set measurable, goal-oriented resolutions.

I am strikingly influenced by both data points. I am always a big fan of measurement and I have been known to share more than one personal tidbit in my life. Both about me and those close to me…usually to their unfortunate chagrin. So it wasn’t totally unfounded when one of the dinner party guests whispered to my wife that my # 1 resolution should be to “get some duct tape for my mouth.”

Given that sort of sentiment, I should have received heaping praise for my reluctance to share. But there was a deeper reason. The best resolutions reflect something much more powerful than a simple “goal.” They provide a window into our soul.

For that, I wanted keep my resolutions list secret, or at least partially. Allow me to explain. I think it’s fundamental to the challenge we all face in life. And that is, we are human.

I had many successes in 2013. But I also had many failures. I am convinced that if I shared the events that I deemed unsuccessful, or the situations that cause me to lose sleep, or the demons that run through my brain daily…you may somehow see me as weak and unfit to be your consultant, colleague, boss, friend, or trusted family member. Most of my “resolution” checklist is built on these loose footings. Somehow it’s easier to make plans from ashes than flowers.

I realize this isn’t healthy. Allowing these issues to rule one’s life will take the colour out of 2014. So I have been trying to crystallize one simple, more positive resolution for the year. I don’t have it perfected yet and candidly that makes me happy. If I can distill it to a tag line, it wouldn’t be authentic. God knows I do enough of that in my life.

During the party I stated I wanted to avoid the one BIG work disaster that seems to throw a cloud over every year. Pretty sure each of us could circle that one on our calendars. But yesterday as I trudged my way through fresh snow on the Niagara Escarpment, I realized this resolution needed reorienting. Let’s make it positive. So instead I resolve that every day, I am going to chase the one BIG work triumph that will shine brightly over all else that happens. In fact I am so enthused by this idea, I plan to extend it to my family life, my circle of friends, my personal fitness, my coaching, my volunteerism, and even my pets. Okay, the last one I made up.

But I like this spin. Forget avoiding disaster, let’s chase glory! After all, there has to be a reason it’s called HAPPY New Year!

Happy End Year

Please stop staring at me.

You’re giving me the willies. Besides it’s not very polite.

What’s so interesting about me? I’m not the only person on the planet who is guilty of what I did. Don’t even try to tell me that everybody else is innocent. Shame. Ridicule. Teasing. All of your tactics are unfair and downright annoying.

I see your beady eyes Father Time. Gleefully telling me it’s December already. Laughingly mocking me that 2014 is so close, that I probably swallowed three days in January with my last swill from my cappuccino accompanying this writing session. Must be nice to be so darn smug.

My annoyance is founded. The truth hurts. It is December. I am down to only a few more weeks to achieve my New Year’s resolutions. Yikes.

What about you?

Did you lose that weight? Go to the cottage more? Make those new friends? Read those books? Watch less TV? Swear less? Drink less? Swear you would drink less?

Father Time isn’t just looking at me. He’s stalking you too brothers and sisters. Better finish off those 2013 proclamations soon.

Or you won’t have time to make any for 2014!

NCAA Record Holder

I set an NCAA Football record last Saturday night.

I did have help from one-hundred and fifteen thousand, and one hundred and eight other people. (Is that even how you spell 115,108?)

The record, which to be precise is 115,109, was for the largest crowd ever to see a single NCAA event… football, baseball, hockey, or otherwise. Michigan-Notre Dame football. Live on ESPN. The Game Day crew camped out in Ann Arbor, MI.

The best part about being there is that I can actually say when I am old (next week), that “I was there.” For real. Isn’t it amazing how many people were at the Joe Carter walk-off home run World Series game at SkyDome? Or attended the first ever Coachella? Saw Usain Bolt win his first 100M gold medal in Beijing?

I-was-there syndrome isn’t just related to major events. House parties. Political events. Epic bar nights. Flash mobs. Full moons. Solar eclipses. Floods. Celebrity sightings.

It’s amazing how the desire to have been witness to a great event suddenly turns the most honest of us all into stone-faced fibbers. Many times we don’t even do it on purpose. The conversation starts, the magic of the moment expands in every converser’s mind, and without an ounce of guilt you are suddenly nodding vigorously, ruthlessly implying your participation.

But I was there. Michigan-Notre Dame. 115,108 people & me. If you want, I will show you my ticket stub. Then you show me yours.

Workcations Don’t Work

Last summer I was pretty proud of myself. I took two weeks off and only sent four work-related emails. Of course the London Olympics were a serious distraction from the office rote.

Stupidly when I embarked on this vacay, I actually expected to work. The theory of this hot air balloon burst quickly when I crashed into this old world time warp called Spain. Since swapping the chaotic romance of Barcelona for the organized tranquility of Montreux, Switzerland…the work time hasn’t increased. But my productivity has…and today while yodelling down the mountain, I decided to share my epiphanies with you.

#1. Mark the hypocrite says don’t work on vacation, but if you feel the pressure to be available, then:

# 2. Take twenty minutes in the morning to work and no more. You will be horrified you can actually do everything that’s truly important in way less than the hours of candle burning you normally incur!

# 3. Email at the best of times is horribly misused. When you are away you realize how much so. Convince your team to use email as a data transmitter, not a conversation enabler, and your inbox will shrink.

# 4. Use the twenty-four hour rule. On home soil, this applies when you’re about to send an angry email. But when you are away, delaying all will allow you to edit your replies so they are divinely surgical.

# 5. Mull. Meditate. Ponder. Never do we have enough daylight hours to think. What better time to teach yourself new techniques.

Smile for the camera, it doesn’t know you’re working!

No Siesta

Can being on holiday really be this exhausting?

I didn’t get up until 8:22 today and I’m still fried. Trying to adapt to this time-warped Spanish way of life is taking its toll. As a man who prides himself on his nocturnal stamina, I’m a bit humbled.

Our situ is straightforward. We are about to complete a relaxing stint in the north of Spain. San Sebastián to be exact. It’s a legendary summer destination that puts a premium on massive beaches, swanky shopping, and endless restaurants, tapas bars, and cafes.

It’s not quaint. It’s teeming with people. But it has an ancient charm and a romantic pull that’s hard to describe. I said I wished we could stay for two weeks here and my twelve year old countered with “forever”. So it’s worth going.

But if I stayed two weeks I’m not sure I would make it. We’ve been eating lunch in the late aft and getting home from dinner after eleven. I can’t imagine being here sans kids and firing up for bar hopping at 2:00 AM per the local custom! But lots of people are.

I examine every face I encounter the next day. How late did you stay out? How does a two-hour siesta tide you over? What magic gene do you have that I lack?

Tomorrow we leave Basque Country for Barcelona. I’ve got four more days to get my act together or my name will be the subject of local ridicule.

This vacation stuff is hard work.

Ghost of Paignton House

Spent the weekend at The Rosseau in Muskoka, a JW Marriott brand property.

Their tag line is “nature on your terms.” Well when I got my bill I thought it was closer to “nature on a 36-month lease”…because that’s the term I will need to pay it down.

If you call four pools, three restaurants, half dozen elevators, and a golf cart shuttle service “nature”, then I guess they are right. This place is l-l-l-large. Dominates the skyline, overpowers the shoreline, and destroyed the sightlines for more than just one cottage. But truthfully… I loved it. Oh hippo-hypocrite that I am.

But one thing bothered me. I used to work “there” and nobody cared. See, back in the day, the same acreage on Lake Rosseau was home to Paignton House. A lovely wee conference and family resort, that was also affectionately known as a poor man’s Clevelands House. I have blogged about Paignton before. One of the Paignton traditions I loved was the hanging of the past staff photos in the lobby. When I last stepped into Paignton in the late ’90s…my 1984 & 1985 photos were still hung proudly. Fast forward to 2013 and no longer.

So I started asking questions. I asked my waitress. I asked my bartender. I asked the pool staff. No one knew where the photos were. No one knew about Paignton House. No one knew me!

I was reduced to being the ghost of Paignton past. How distressing. I needed someone to tell my stories to… like when our cabin neighbour “Jacque” (who wasn’t French, but was from Sault Ste. Marie so the racist handle stuck), was peeing into his overflowing toilet one night while straddling the basin with his feet wedged into the wall studs. There he was wedged, with the door wide open for all of us partying staff to see as he somehow rationalized adding fluid to an Alberta-like flow.

No one was ready to hear about my over-sized bunkmate who snored so loudly that my roomie Rosie & I went Muhammad Ali on him every night and still couldn’t beat him into silence. There were no takers for the tales that only a nineteen year old could dream of and those that didn’t happen I made up anyway.

Cottage parties. Staff hookups. Guest-staff hookups. Guest-guest hookups. Drunken bar managers emceeing an evening show (who was that?). The scary staff food. The carpools to the liquor store. The local couple who got drunk in my bar and fought every Sunday. The cottage couple who did the same on Tuesdays. The rich staffer with the Camaro and his harem of waitresses from our dining room. The rich staffer who quits after five weeks, because why work when you can party. The rich staffer’s groupie who followed the harem into the parties carrying the cooler of Malibu rum and beer. (Hey, I was darn good at carrying that cooler!)

I think the Rosseau needs to write some briefing notes for the staff enfants! I can’t be the first ghost to show up. It was the time of my life, or at least that’s the line we stole from the movie Dirty Dancing. I should have been provided an audience to hear about it!

Cabin Fever

I bet you wish you were at summer camp right now.

No parents. No teachers. No books. No piano lessons. No chores. No sisters. No dishes. No teeth to clean. Well hopefully my kids are cleaning their teeth.

Camp isn’t reality.

Your teacher is replaced by a counselor, barely ten years older than you. Every word he says is god-like. Just cause he’s a teenager and you are…ten.

Your parents are replaced by the camp director. He is the guy who couldn’t figure out what life after camp looked like, so he followed his heart and made his cabin his home.

Your classmates are replaced by cabin mates. When they aren’t hanging you from the top bunk by your underwear, they are your new can’t-live-without best friends. At least for two weeks anyway.

Your mom’s cooking is replaced by someone else’s mom’s cooking. At first the food tastes great, but when breakfast on Day 4 is clearly hashed up leftovers from dinner on Day 2, you wonder hopefully how much ketchup the camp has in stock.

Your showers are replaced by swim tests in icy lakes. Your chores replaced by cabin cleanup and the discovery of smuggled candy gone sour. Your music lessons replaced by camp sing-alongs featuring the waterski instructor cum David Myles wannabe who knows that either role is great girl-bait.

Your days are going too fast and soon you will be headed home. Too soon you will be too old for camp and some day you will be chained to some corporate desk, reading some corporate guy’s blog, painfully reminding you of joyful Julys gone by, and essentially infecting you with cabin fever.

Hats off to the Stampede!

I have an ache inside me today that you may not understand.

It’s an emptiness. A longing. A pining for something beloved.

Yes world, it’s the first weekend of July and I am not going to make it to the 2013 Calgary Stampede. It’s not news the Stampede is my favourite event of the year. It’s also not news that whether I had ten days of intense work or a one-day site check, I regularly made the event a key part of my travel calendar. And when work wouldn’t comply, I made it the destination for my buddy’s birthday trip.

Once the Stampede gets inside you it never escapes. You don’t want it to. The Stampede is civic pride, prairie skies, welcoming strangers, limitless parties, living heritage, and unparalleled volunteers.

It’s an event where experiential marketers relish the experiences they can create. Where networking is supercharged. Where sponsorship truly is sponsorship.

Authenticity is a cliche, except when it’s spelt Calgary Stampede.

Ironically I had reconciled myself to not going when I made the call a month ago. But then calamity struck. The floods. The damage. The turmoil. Yet as the waters subsided, stories arose from my friends in the West of a community rallying together.

The anticipation for this salvaged Stampede may ironically match that of the milestone 100th anniversary edition of 2012. So while I can’t be there to raise a toast to the perseverance of the hundreds of men and women who ensured this year’s event will happen, I can issue an electronic salute to them.

In true Stampede spirit, a white hat for all of them!

The Human Race

Events, such as the Boston Marathon, are the ultimate celebration of humanity.

Endurance events celebrate human achievement that many thought impossible in themselves. Festivals provide a stage for expression and recognition. Sporting events bond people together and prove that team colours are thicker than red blood.

Events aren’t supposed to result in death, amputation, devastation.

Events aren’t supposed to result in CNN, 911, 617.

Events aren’t supposed to result in this.

There have been many, many call outs for us to soldier on, carry on, move ahead. Events and organizers around the world are putting on a brave face. All of us realize the need for beefed up security and additional diligence in our planning. I want to add to the choir.

Our industry might be perceived as fun and games. But we hold the key to The Human Race. We create experiences, joy, and triumph. Now more than ever we must continue to do so.

In this nonstop age of media onslaught, only events will ensure people connect physically. Only events will ensure that we get to know our neighbours. Only events will drive the fitness of our bodies and minds.

Almost every person who reads this blog contributes to that. You need to realize how important what you do, what you do each and everyday, is to society. Whether you are a sponsor, organizer, producer, marketer, volunteer, or a marathoner.

Whatever your marathon is… keep running. Keep organizing. Keep supporting.

Look into the faces of your participants and recognize the importance of what you do.

You don’t organize events. You build people.

Don’t let some nut stop that. It’s the best tribute we can pay to the victims, their families, and the countless people engaged with the Boston Marathon.