The Know First Podcast Episode 14 Sweet Home Chicago

The Know First Podcast, Episode 14: Sweet Home Chicago

“We are writing a very important Thanksgiving Proclamation — and possibly a new action adventure series. Nobody here is checked out.”

– Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborn, The West Wing

This has been hard, hasn’t it? And by “this,” I mean life. While yes, the past eight-and-a-half months have been fraught, it would seem that collectively for the past several years, we’ve all been swept up in the ongoing disappointments of ineffective leadership, of social and political unrest. This has increasingly been a time when the unknowns outpace the knowns, and I for one am just exhausted. 

In addition to the expression “Know, first, who you are, and adorn yourself accordingly,” another adage I attempt to live by is “control the controllables,” and it would figure that those also seem to be outpaced by that which I have no control over. 

Worse still, there’s little I’ve found effective in combating this out-of-control feeling. And for those who know me best, they know it is not for lack of trying.

As this is the week of Thanksgiving, and as I am a week away from entering my forth decade on earth, I’m overcome with reflection, contemplating what has comprised my life, from my earliest memories of that wonderful itchy feeling that could only come from rolling in the grass of our seemingly endless backyard at the end of a hot Kansas summer day, to the cool, smooth green leather interior of the Mercedes my father rented in Switzerland and drove all over the continent, that comforted me, a forlorn traveler in a foreign land. More than those early memories, lately especially, I’ve found myself captivated by more recent memories… memories of the many places I have lived, the many roles I have played, the many attempts I have made to improve myself, and my wife has been quick to point out, I’m going through a very typical midlife crisis in an otherwise atypical time, a time in which our collective human experience has met possibly its truest test.

In a year plagued by pain and loss, with our breaking points completely redefined, I’ve found myself utterly debilitated by siloed living. Admittedly in the past few years, my sense of community has been winnowed through some poor decision-making on my part, but this year the word community has become utterly meaningless in my life. I have no real concept of my community anymore, and truthfully, I miss a lot of people. 

One of the best decisions that I’ve made in the past several years was to stop. For the first half of my thirties, I was running faster than my body and brain could keep up. I wasn’t running to or from anything, I wasn’t trying to outpace some buried demon. I just saw opportunities, and I took them. It what’s led me to move to Chicago on the first of January, 2011. It’s what led to years of crisscrossing the country as the creative driving force behind Basil Hayden’s. It’s what led to the summer of 2014, while filming Made Right Here and attempting to maintain my bourbon duties that in reflection led to a summer spent almost entirely on the road. All of this running caught up with me, with my friendships, with my romantic relationship, and in the middle of my third decade, I attempted to redefine a lot of things. Those efforts led to a move to Los Angeles. They led to the abandoning of some friendships that had soured. They led to the redefinition of some friendships that weren’t so good in effort to make them better. After a trying period in Los Angeles, defeated, I journeyed back to my hometown, St. Louis… a place I moved to at the age of 8 and was never fortunate enough to find community. I’d hoped this time in St. Louis things would be different. They were in a few ways. I met and married a wonderful woman and become a step-father to two brilliant, brutish, ball-busting beauties. I connected with my strengths and addressed many weaknesses. I realized, after a lengthy Peter Pan period that it was time for me to become an adult. Tired of singing for my supper, weary of spending more time on my business than in my business, I abandoned a brand marketing consulting practice in effort to better settle down. I wanted to ground myself in a company, a steady corporate environment… and truly for the first time in my adult life, find a place where I could build a career to be proud of. I was looking for a place where I could learn and grow and evolve. I found it in a place called Maritz. Unlike many newcomers to Maritz and unlike many of you listening to this episode, I was intimately familiar with the company. They were responsible for the planning and execution of many of my early vacations, as my mother, brother and I would tag along on my father’s weeklong business trips usually in the summertime. Among the many things Maritz does, it’s perhaps most well-known for its planning and execution of events, meetings, and incentive travel… an industry — you can imagine — that was first and hardest hit by a global lockdown. With the onset of COVID-19, my role in the company shifted. I transitioned a team of communicators and designers to be laser-focused on the impending crisis. I found myself working seven day weeks throughout the pandemic only to watch the team I led slowly get disbanded through layoffs, and then in the final weeks of August, I stood idly by as my superior cruelly took on my role as if my contributions were meaningless in the waning days of my tenure. 

Throughout the past eight-and-a-half months, with my wife and our daughters, we’ve searched our souls and come to realize Chicago is our home. My wife is from the North Shore. Our kids were born in Chicago. When Marla talks, alls I hears is. that sweet sausage sound of Bill Swerski and his Superfans. It’s a place I called home for close to six years, and it’s the only place I’ve ever been truly comfortable. We found ourselves on weekends we did not have the girls during the pandemic making the twelve hour roundtrip trek to and from Chicago to begin to envision what a move might entail. We fell in love with a little North Shore town with a gazebo in the square. Our kids said it reminded them of Stars Hollow, the fictional town that was home to Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, two of the three Gilmore Girls. Marla and I are hopeful we’re able to find connections there that eluded us in St. Louis. 

That has been the gift of this time: the exploration of our interiors, and I don’t about you, but my insides continue to tell me the same thing they’ve told me for years. Lead with love. Try your best to channel your actions with empathy and compassion, and take your time. Like me, I’m sure many of you are in the process of reprioritizing that which really matters. 

That you’ve taken time to listen to this means so much. Thank you.

Tune in next week when my guest will be Ana Andjelic, former CMO of Mansur Gavriel and the author of The Business of Aspiration.

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