Tuesday, October 13, 2009

So, Where Were You?

Where were you?

If you grew up during the 60’s, as I did, this is not an uncommon question for you. Originally, you probably heard it in reference to the shooting of JKF. Personally, I have no idea where I was when President Kennedy was shot. Perhaps, terrorizing my older sisters or placing a piece of wood over my pet turtles and stomping on them because I supposedly wanted to see them without their shells. My family loves to tout this story to show proof of my deviancy but once again, I have no recollection. In this case I find my lack of memory convenient.

When I hear “Where Were You” I think of one event…The Apollo 11 mission and man’s first steps on the moon. To me, this is the quintessential event of America’s “coolness” as it clearly defined things that were important to me.

I have always been interested in the stars and what is out there. As a young boy, there were many nights I laid on the ground looking up at the night sky and letting my mind wander. The chance that we were not alone is the recipe of great fantasies. If aliens did exist, what did they look like? Did they have cool spaceships? Which people on earth would they eat first? Other life in the universe was the fuel for the imagination of not only me but surely many of other nerdy young boys.

But where we were when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon helps to frame up our lives. For me, where I was at the very moment of Man’s Greatest Achievement became such a part of my future but there was no way for anyone to have known at that time. And who really does know how much the present will affect our upcoming lives? Many things happen to us weekly that have an impressive impact on our coming days but it’s the truly big events that help to mark the calendars of our own personal timelines. If you need proof of this just think back to your life when you heard Elvis or John Lennon died. What were you doing when you found out the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded? What was going on in your life the morning of the 9-11 attacks? These types of monumental events help to take a snap shot photo of your life during this time period that is recorded in your brain. Unlike mundane everyday happenings, these types of pivot events help to imprint not only big but small details of your existence at that time.

On July 20th, 1969 the background for me was the State Park of Lake Cushman in NW Washington State. My parents along with my three other siblings were enjoying the great outdoors with another family we often camped with. We were eating outside, sleeping outside, suffering 2nd degree burns from the campfires outside and overall enjoying all that Washington’s Olympic National Forest had to offer. But this was no ordinary lake we stayed near, as later years would show me. There was something special about this setting that would become a very important part of me…of who I would become and my very happiness.

During our stay at Lake Cushman this week was also one of the most important personal achievements in my life. I learned how to water ski. And as I went on in my youth, I discovered I not only I liked to ski but I was good at it. Not being what you would call a natural athlete, when I found a sport or activity I could excel at I would embrace it. Skiing became my single best sporting activity I would ever do. It truly helped me discover that when you are good at something it gave you the confidence you need in life. I liked being good at something.

When I think of all the things that happened at Lake Cushman during the summer of my 8th year, I wonder if my memories would be as clear if we would not have stayed in the campground next to the older couple in a pick-up camper (They were probably younger than I am now). There was nothing particularly special about this couple other than the man had somehow shimmied up one of the huge Douglas fir trees at his site and attached a TV antenna as high as he could. Then, he hooked the wires up to a 10 inch, black & white TV that was plugged in to the cigarette lighter of his pick-up. To today’s standards, we would laugh at how primitive this viewing device was but to me this guy was Captain Kirk. Who had such cool gadgets in 1969? How did he have the foresight to bring them camping? Why couldn’t my dad be this cool? This would have been a good question to ask my dad except I knew better than to ever ask my dad a question. It was a survival thing. But the idea that all of us could be living our lives in the great outdoors and could witness an event that I think is akin to the discover of fire was awesome. Thanks old dude…and thanks Neil Armstrong. That thing you did on our only permanent satellite really helped me remember the things that were important to me that summer.

Lake Cushman has gone on to be my “happy place” in life and in my mind. My parents bought property on the other end of the lake the very next year and years later built a cabin there. I spent many summers skiing and spending more time on the water than on dry land. But my journey to adulthood also started there. My first game of truth or dare was there. My first game of hide and seek for the sole purpose to sneak a kiss was there. My first real experience with a girl was there. And at age 14, I met a boy on the lake that is still my best friend today. This lake played such a crucial role in the formation of my life but its funny how its beginning started with One Giant Step.

So when you look at the big occurrences that happened during the course our lives, think of not only that historic event itself but what was going on at that time in your life. It might just have been as important to you as a man landing on the moon.

So, where were you?

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun!

Time flies when you’re having fun!

I heard a flight attendant say this corny old line as I was getting ready to fly back to Portland this last week. Laura and I had spent four days with friends in Napa wine tasting and eating at some great restaurants but it was time to go home. Even though we had a blast and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to be with our time seemed to go quickly. Time just flew.

As I was lying awake this morning through my “oh too often early mornings of no sleep,” I was thinking about where I was six months ago. On this day half a year ago I was in Washington D.C. at the 2009 KFC Franchisee National Convention. I was traveling alone due to a couple of factors but mostly because we, as a family, are very busy and no one else could go with me.

Looking back this morning I was trying to remember what was going on in the outside world at this time. The Dow Jones tumbled 251 points this day in February as officials announced more bank troubles. President Obama made the bold promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. The little known quirky Slum Dog Millionaire had just won the Oscar for best picture and Tiger Woods had just announced his return to golf after being out of the game since June. While somewhat interesting in their own rights, none of these events were very memorable to me.

In the KFC world, the franchisees were struggling to get our sales back in the positive column and this was the main topic at our convention. We were excited to launch a brand new product but there was this feeling of worry, even slight despair as we talked quietly about some of our fellow franchisees that were in serious financial trouble. While these topics were closer to me than the national news, these events still faded gently over time in my memory.

I was wondering about why these events don’t register a more notable mental log in our own internal diaries and I realized it’s because these events happened around us and NOT to us. What hits our own recordable radar screens are the things that personally affect us. The type of events we know will change us and mark this time period as unforgettable. Things like personal loss.

You know the type of loss I am talking about. It might be the death of someone close to you. It might be the loss of job or fortune due to this economy. Or it might be the loss of someone whom you dearly love, not by death but from a relationship that is gone. Sometimes I believe this loss cuts the deepest and is one of the hardest to recover from. With death there is the finality of the event and depending on your faith, the comfort of a loved one living a in a “better place”. With loss of fortune there is always another day. But those that suffer from lost love live with the reminder every day of what was and healing takes place on a much different level, if at all.

But all of these types of losses mark our own mental time stamps. These events burn the time and date into your brain and for that reason, you know where and when you were. In essence, you never forget. The theory of time flying erodes into a molasses like pace and your loss seems to defy the laws of time as we know it. And it’s not fun.

I have not been immune to this unique year though I know I have been luckier than others. I mourn like others and I grieve for friends. I, too, have my reasons for a time stamp that is permanent and I will never forget. But I know things will be better tomorrow because I will make it so. Time may still seem slow but being sad only makes it worse. By refusing to allow tragedy and loss to maintain control, you rise above and wipe the fog from the windows. This allows you to see out.

And time does move on. It is often said that we can be defined on how we deal with loss and how we pick ourselves up afterwards. One of my favorite sayings goes something like this…”It’s not how many times you fall during the race that matters but how quickly you pick yourself up when you fall”. I am picking myself up. What about you?

And I can’t wait for time to fly again.

Don't Get Too Comfortable!

Don’t get too comfortable.

I can remember my dad saying this to me as a boy. It wasn’t unusual for me to come in the house and plop myself in front of the TV whenever I got home. He would proclaim this advice as a forewarning when he had something in mind for me to do such as cleaning the barn, or building a fence or one other of 3.5 million things he came up with to keep me busy as a teenager. I swear I moved a fence line somewhere on the property anytime he would go out of town. My dad’s philosophy on keeping us kids out of trouble was to keep us busy. Whether that worked or not is the writings for another time but it was his philosophy none the less. And living on a small farm gave him plenty of opportunities to keep me busy.

I also remember hearing something my dad told me about a good friend of his a few years later. This was about 7 or 8 years after I have moved away from home but I was working in my dad’s company. I always had somewhat of a soft spot for anyone that could maintain a close friendship with my dad as he could be a little difficult. At times, he was judgmental, often erratic and could be downright explosive when he drank. Friends that could see through to the good sides of my father also had to endure the rough edges. So anyone that had the patience or the goodness to be my dad’s friend earned my respect. This is how I felt about my dad’s friend RG.

RG was a home builder and this time period in the mid to late 1980’s was still struggling from a housing recession in our area. For years this good family friend had craved a very nice living for him and his family but a couple of things had changed. For one, the housing market was very soft. This meant that the once profitable business did not produce like before. But another thing had happened. With years of prior success, RG had been able to do less work and play more. He had been able to golf several times a week. He was able to spend weeks at a time in Hawaii. He had gotten comfortable.

I remember when my dad told me that RG was in financial trouble. My dad was bothered because even though his business was hurting RG still was doing all the leisure activities that not only cost money but took him away from his business. My dad’s sense of right and wrong was very strong even if at times it seemed hypocritical to me. He could not see why his good friend was not making the tough choices needed in these tough times. He felt RG had gotten too comfortable.

But I clearly remembered this lesson that unfolded right in front of me. I, too, was bothered why someone of RG’s experience would not do what it took to save his business. How could he not see that drastic times called for drastic measures? I told myself that I would not make that mistake. The cockiness of my youth combined with the self-confidence of my past good work ethic made me believe this to be an easy choice. This was one that ANY self respecting business man or family man would make, right? I vowed to not forget this.

Fast forward to 2009; after decades of strong sales, my business has seen the last 24 months of negative sales. Even though we have thrown everything we have at it, this economy continues to be a challenge for our company.

In September of this year marked my 25th wedding anniversary. For many years, Laura and I had planned to make our first ever trip to Europe to celebrate. But about a year ago, I decided it was not a good time to spend that kind of money. Instead, we could combine a business trip of mine to Hawaii this year in October with some extra time at the end for just us. Hey, it’s not Europe but who doesn’t like Hawaii? It would still be some vacation time to celebrate our anniversary.

Most recently, my business has been even slower. There appears to no light at the end of tunnel at the moment and I have taken some pretty severe steps to protect us moving forward. For instance, I have taken over the role of District Manager in our company with the person that held that position taking over one of our restaurants. I have always worked 6 days a week but now I am busier than I have been in years. We have made serious cuts in spending and if it doesn’t need to happen, it doesn’t. This includes business trips to Hawaii, let alone extra days at the end to vacation.

I feel bad for Laura that we can’t go to Hawaii and celebrate our 25th. Hell, I am not happy about it myself. I also feel terrible because I had some obligations to my fellow KFC franchisees on this trip as I am currently the President of the NW KFC Franchisee Association. But in my world of right and wrong, I can’t go spend both the time and money on comfort when business is so bad. There is too much to do back at home and I am busy.

I remember back to the lesson I learned watching my dad’s friend responding to his failing business. I refuse to bury my head in the sand. But I was cocky to think it is easy to do. No one likes to make the tough choices. No one wants to give anything up and that is just as true for me. I think sometimes we don’t realize how over time we get used to things being easier. But to survive and succeed I need to do things I don’t want to do. I don’t like it… and I don’t want to do it…but I must. I never want to say I wished I had done more. No regrets, right? I know what to do.

I won’t be too comfortable.