Finding My Point of View

For a few years on CNBC, there was a show on called Restaurant Startup. A series of chefs would pitch concepts to a panel of judges, they’d do pop-up restaurants, and a finalist would get investment from the judges.

Famous restauranteur and show judge Joe Bastianich in multiple shows asked the chef contestants “what’s your point of view?” After their answer, he’d say “A restaurant without a point of view is a diner.” He’s saying that if you don’t want to be generic then you need to have something about your food that’s different and that you want to share with the world.

For whatever reason, this really resonated with me. As a marketer, when I’m trying to help educate the market about a product, I’m searching for its point of view. What’s unique about the product and what it’s saying about how it wants to change the world?

I also think about my own point of view. I feel like I have things to say. I feel like I was put on this earth with a calling to big things… to change the world.

I’m in a funny season of life. People have started to look to me for advice as much as I look to others. Of course, I really want to help. It forces me to think about what believe. It forces me to crystallize my point of view.

I’ve thought a lot recently about discipline. I want to create a discipline around sharing more point of view more regularly here on this blog. I need to practice writing. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

To top it all off, in order to stay relevant, I need to be producing content. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, “Document. Don’t create!”

She was right under my house.

On Tuesday, May 28th, it’s the 8th anniversary of marrying my wife Lauren. On these milestone holidays (i.e. birthdays), I get really contemplative. I think about the story that God is telling through our lives. In this case, it’s the story that he’s telling through the life of Lauren and me together. I look back today feeling blessed beyond measure that Lauren is my wife, the family we’ve built, and by his grace become vessels of his love to our community and world.

But the background… God was building our story together even before we knew each other.

It all started when I graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in August 2006. Later that year, I accepted a job in Washington, DC at the Library of Congress doing web strategy.

DC is a funny place. It’ll always have a special place in my heart. Every person you meet wants to change the world. They work in Congress or a non-profit. They all wore the same suits and got the same haircut. Or at least that’s what it felt like to me. In that way, I felt like a misfit. I wore corduroy suit coats, not Brooks Brothers. I opted for the beard vs going for the standard DC clean cut. I also had a passion for how entrepreneurialism and technology could change the world and not Congressional policy.

While I went out and had the occasional girlfriend, looking back, nothing had that forever feeling. At in hindsight, I wanted to be with someone more than wanting to be with the right person. I wasn’t ready.

While I wasn’t investing myself in a significant other, I dove into the technology and entrepreneurial community of Washington DC. I’d go to a couple of meetups a week. I’d co-host my own gatherings and un-conferences to bring like-minded individuals together. And while during that season I’d probably preferred to find miss right, the connections I made and skills learned are still paying off more than a decade later.

It all changed May of 2010. I was at a church party at a friends house. I went to a Rwandan Anglican Church, which was mostly 20 somethings. I was in the backyard and headed to the bathroom where there was beer in the bathtub. And there she was. Lauren.

We both had been going to the same church for a while and it wasn’t a big church. I swear I had never seen here before. But she was there. I really think that prior to that party I wasn’t ready to see her. God showed her to me at that right moment. And what I was about to find out was that our story was intertwined in ways I couldn’t have imagined. But we’ll get to that.

So I met Lauren on the way to get a beer out of a bathtub. It was 5 or 6 at night. So the light was peering through the trees as it was starting to decline in the night sky. The light surrounded her as if she glowed. From the first moment, it was as if God was saying, “She’s special. Pay attention.”

In addition to finding Lauren very attractive, she talked about traveling the world on a year-long mission trip. She was into new technology companies. I remember talking about Airbnb. She had just used it on a recent trip to Boston. The company was no more than a year or two old. No one had heard of it and most thought it was nuts to stay inside someone else’s house. Similar to me, she had an early iPhone when most people thought it was crazy to spend so hundreds of dollars on a phone. Suffice it to say, she was different like me. My interest was piqued.

Later that night, we became friends on Facebook because that’s what ya did then. Ha!

Fast forwarding a few steps…

Well, I invited her to my birthday party which was a few weeks later. It was at a beer bar in DC, in the basement. I invited Lauren along with a bunch of other friends. Most of the night, I bounced around. At the end of the night, I sat down at the table Lauren was at. A mutual friend of ours Laura was there too.

The new iPhone 4 was about to come out. Laura parlayed the convo to the app Bump, where you could bump phones together and exchange numbers. She slyly suggested that Lauren and I show her how the app worked by bumping our phones. I didn’t have the app, quickly realized that I was about to get Lauren’s number, downloaded the app, connected to go out on a date. We’ve been talking every day since.

At some point, she started checking out my family on Facebook (and vice versa). She noticed that my sister and she had many mutual friends. Prior to DC, Lauren lived in Indianapolis. She went to Butler University. My sister worked as a nurse at a hospital in Indy.

Well, my sister lived not that far from the Butler campus. Lauren lived 4 or 5 blocks down the street from my sister. They went to the same church. Lauren’s closest church friends lived across the street from my sister. One of Lauren’s closest church friends was renting a room in my sister’s house. Coincidentally, my sister tried to set me up with that housemate.

Like a good brother, I visited my sister as often as I could. I went to my sister’s church. Chances are Lauren must have been there at least one of the times. Or… Lauren was across the street visiting friends when I was at my sister’s house.

Lauren was under my nose. God had her picked for me and our paths crossed, even before I was even ready to see or be aware that she was there.

As those of you that are married know, it’s a change to go from me to us. It takes a grace-filled covenant partnership with that other person. When you let someone else into that circle, it exposes all of your weaknesses and shortcomings that you’ve been hiding but in a way that makes you really want to work and grow together.

I thank the Lord for weaving Lauren and me together even before we met. I can’t imagine a better partner for life. Every moment has been a blessing that I don’t deserve.

Before I met Lauren, there were certainly those moments where I wondered if I’d ever meet her. Would I have to change who I am in order for it to happen? (There was that time I really got into running and the time I got really into trying to learn to play guitar.)

If you’re struggling, I hope that Lauren’s and my origin story together will demonstrate how we have a big God. He’s bigger than your circumstances. He loves you and has a plan for your life. By his grace, he can take any sadness or imperfections and turn it into something beautiful.

José Andrés Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

Today, it was confirmed that Chef José Andrés was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a Maryland congressman. 

I couldn’t think of someone more deserving. In an era that’s void of most strong moral leadership, Andrés has been the example for us all. His non-profit World Central Kitchen has been serving the communities hit by natural disasters, like the hurricane in Puerto Rico and the forest fires in California. 

Watch Andrés’s Twitter account. It will make you feel good about humanity again. 

Shaping a Political Culture

President Donald Trump and the words that he uses are shaping a political culture that will be here we’ll after he leaves office. New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens writes

Conservatives used to understand the danger. Why care about social formalities, modes of dress, niceties of speech, qualities of restraint? Not simply because manners make the man, although they do, but because manners also shape political cultures. How does a conservative movement that is supposed to believe that every healthy society needs powerful moral guardrails give itself over to a president whose every other utterance cheerfully knocks those guardrails down?

Weight Watchers for our minds

In a New York Times Op-Ed, columnist Frank Bruni talks about how the internet can be a safe have for people looking for communities that support their worst instincts.

He shares a quote from Apple CEO Tim Cook…

Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies.

Information can be as bad for your mind as sugar is bad for you body. Consistently feeding yourself bad info can make you sick, as is evident by Franks column.

We need to be smarter consumers of how we take in information. We almost need Weight Watchers for our minds.

Building companies that build bridges…

I love working on technology that helps people connect with one another and make the world a smaller place.

In his latest New York Times op-ed, Roger Cohen highlights AirBnb as helping to connect the world, regardless of your race or nationality. It’s a seemingly different story than nationalism, which seems to be hitting a fever pitch.

I wonder if we are looking in the wrong places to assess the state of the world. The twilight of an era, as in Vienna a little over a century ago, is always murky. With nationalism and xenophobia resurgent, examples of humanity’s basest instincts abound. They grab the headlines. At the same time, community and sharing, often across national borders, through digital platforms like Airbnb, BlaBlaCar and Facebook, expand. This is the world’s undercurrent.

Certainly makes you more hopeful.

We all need community.

In his most recent column, David Brooks highlighted a Baltimore-based non-profit Thread that provides a family-style community for underperforming school kids.

Thread has taken 415 academically underperforming students in Baltimore schools and built an extended family around them, with about 1,000 volunteers. Each student is given up to five volunteers, who perform the jobs that a family member would perform.

Each volunteer is coached by a more experienced volunteer, called the Head of Family. The Head of Family is coached by a Grandparent, who supports the Head. The Grandparents are coached by Community Managers, who are paid Thread staffers. Circling the whole system are Collaborators, who offer special expertise when called in — legal help, SAT tutoring, mental health counseling, etc.

America needs more organizations like Thread.

Making Pancakes from Scratch with Ruhlman’s Ratios

My kids roll through different breakfast foods that are their favorites. For a while, it was oatmeal. It changed to eggs and then yogurt. They’ve recently been into pancakes. Lauren and I eat a low carb so it’s not something we really ever have or keep pancake mix in the house.

Well, that’s no problem. Food author and commentator Michael Ruhlman wrote an amazing book called Ratio. In many foods, there are common ratios that you use to make them. For example, pancakes are 4 parts flour to 4 parts liquid to 2 parts egg to 1 part butter.

To make it even easier, Ruhlman has a Ratio app that you can use to pull up and calculate the output of the ratios, along with standard cooking instructions.

I looked in our fridge and pantry and I had all of the ingredients. And it’s Saturday. I didn’t have anywhere to be. So, we made pancakes… from scratch. It was easy and the kids LOVED them.

I highly recommend the book Ratio. It covers things like bread and biscuits to mayo and various dressings. It makes cooking increasingly easier. Maybe Saturday morning pancakes will become a thing with the kids. 🙂

My Favorite Coffee Equipment

When I was younger, I’d go grocery shopping with my dad. Before the store, we’d get a coffee. At that point it was sugary coffee drinks. At some point it morphed into a real love of the art of coffee.

I also noticed that with the right coffee gear you can get better flavor out of even mediocre beans.

Here’s the setup that I’d recommend…

  1. Chemex – I make coffee for my wife and I every morning. The Chemex is perfect for both of us.
  2. Chemex Filters
  3. Aeropress – When I need a quick coffee, like right now, I love my Aeropress. Brew time is under 2 minutes.
  4. Capresso Burr Grinder – The burr grinder is pretty key. It gets a more consistent grind than the blade grinder.
  5. Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle – You don’t want a straight boil. You want about 200 degrees. This gets it there easily. It’s pretty slow to get going but works well.
  6. Kitchen Scale – Gotta get the right amount of beans. I still use a 16:1 water to grinds ratio.

What does your coffee setup look like?

When I Almost Quit College

At some point, you get old enough and look at the crazy twists and turns and be like “ahhhhhh” that makes sense. In the moment, you wonder “why is this happening?” Years later bring perspective and the ability to see God’s divine plan in a situation.

One of those turning points is the end of my first quarter of my freshmen year of college. I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). I remember visiting with my dad. Attending felt like it was meant to be.

RIT was on a quarter (10 week) system, although they’ve just switched over to semesters. The academic term went fast and the professors prided themselves on jamming 15 weeks (semester length) of material into 10 weeks. The joke was that if you missed your first week of class you’d be so far behind that you’re too far behind at that point.

Lansing, Michigan isn’t a tiny town by any stretch but it’s not a BIG city. I was always an A/B student or a 3.5 – 3.8 GPA. Everyone was BLOWN away that at 13… 14 years old that I’d learned HTML and was making websites for others. At RIT, my major was Information Technology, which is like applied computer sciences. It’s more application than theory.  Albeit to say, my confidence was REALLY high in my abilities.

Well, I’d gone from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. Everyone was like me and a lot smarter. Plus like I mentioned classes were INTENSE. My first quarter included things like Discrete Mathematics. I swear it didn’t use numbers for the first 4 or 5 weeks. I also had Intro to Java Programming. Programming in Java is VERY different than writing HTML. It came with a bit of learning curve.

I remember getting my first grades for my first quarter and it was a 2.7 GPA. I was DEVASTATED. I’d really felt like I was at RIT for a reason. This was my career path. Why wasn’t school coming more naturally to me?  I paced up and down the academic quad for hours questioning everything. Should I stay? Should I quit? I could always get a job at CompUSA (remember those?) or Best Buy back in Michigan.

I  made the decision to stick it out.

How’d I get through it? I had the grace of God and… I put in the work. I trusted that God had put me at RIT for a reason. So if I put in the work, it’d pay off.

So thankful for the love, support, and encouragement from my parents. They’re amazing and the best parents ever.

I also sat in every professors’ office hours that I could find. Most college students avoid office hours. I went to ALL of them.  It was free help. If others weren’t gonna use them, I was. Ha!

I ended up graduating with honors and a 3.75 GPA.

On the whole, college was hard. School was a 60-70 hour a week job, if not even more. It taught me…

  1. Hard work – I’m sure it sucked for my parents to see their boy face adversity but I’m so glad I did. It’s impossible to know what it means to work hard and overcome something until you face a hardship, which is going to be painful. Life is going throw you situations where you’ll have to work hard. In all those future situations I’ve felt so much more equipped.
  2. Working smarter – When you have a million things to do and it feels like the water is quickly going past your head, you have to think differently about how you work. It’s not about working harder. It’s about working smarter. You have to find new ways to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of the day.
  3. Getting thrown into the deep end – So much of school was learning something new. In one of my programming capstone classes, the final project was learning a new programming language in 3 weeks and then teaching it to the class. You just had to figure it out. RIT taught me how to learn and love being in situations that forced me to learn.

When I left college, I sought out people that shared these values.  After searching for jobs, I moved to DC to work at the Library of Congress. The first people that I looked for were people that wanted more than a 9-5. I looked for people that if a problem popped up, they’d find a creative solution to conquer it. I hung out with programmers, nerds, and entrepreneurs and it changed the rest of my life.