As I try to preach and practice: Make every effort to meet people. Go to events and gatherings with an open mind and most times you will encounter fascinating people. People who will reveal something new to you about yourself. And more often than not, these ideas and people create opportunities in your mind and in your life. The opposite is even more true. When you limit yourself by not meeting people, hearing different perspectives, and ultimately not developing options and opportunities, your life can be so much less interesting and fulfilling.
I am invited to so many events or gatherings that my immediate instinct is to try and bail and to just go home and veg. The gravitational pull of a quiet night on the couch is powerful. But I try to remind myself of the incredible things I have seen, learned, and been inspired by, if I just elude the nearly overwhelming feelings of resistance. And every time I do, something happens.
Last Thursday night was no different. I was out of town and flew home after a full day of meetings and travel. Somehow I agreed to a dinner on the other side of town that evening. As I was making my way from the parking lot to the restaurant, I was kicking myself for not saying "no". All the way into the restaurant I kept thinking, "How can I leave early?" "How can I get out of this?" Negative thoughts were darkening my mind and my outlook.
I break out of my foggy darkness to see my host Ted Habte-Gabr, who by the way I reconnected with a couple of months ago. Ted and I met in the good ole dot com days when he was running an extraordinary venture called Fathom and I was trying to advance the field of online education. We met in NY in what later was a failed strategic alliance. Lost touch with Ted for 10 years until he showed up on my radar screen and FB the end of last year. I remembered I was going to meet his girlfriend Lisa Napoli and learn more about newish book Radio Shangrila, her personal journey of self discovery in Bhutan. I smiled because I realized that my negativity was to be once again reversed!
I ask Ted where Lisa is. He looks at my quizzically and says she's back east promoting her book. And before I can digest this bit of off-putting news, Ted pulls me into a group and introduces me to Phil Bredeson, the former Governor of Tennessee (completed his second term 4 weeks ago). I am handed the Governor's new book Fresh Medicine. The black birds of regret return to my cranial roost and I begin to think about my exit again. How did I get into this situation?
7 of us dined with the Governor and I quickly realized what a privilege it is to talk to somebody who was running a state , even one as distant from my world as the Volunteer State.
Over some very good food I heard another great American story of a boy who grew up in a small rural town in upstate NY and developed a healthcare company. He sold this company at the age of 46 and could have retired, but looked for new challenges. He followed his new wife and crossed the Mason Dixon line and moved to Tennessee. He decided he could run for office and apply his considerable business skills to politics. He becomes the mayor of Nashville on his second attempt and is easily re-elected. He runs for Governor in 1994 and loses. He runs again in 2002 and wins by a narrow margin. In 2006 he wins with almost 70% of the vote in a landslide. What is remarkable about this story, there are many things, but the fact that a "northerner" can move into a state, become mayor of one of its most prominent cities in less than 5 years after moving there! And then Governor!
Governor Bredeson is a humble guy. He has no aires or pretensions. In many ways, the anti-politician. What you see is what you get. He explained that his rural upbringing helped him relate to people at the "Waffle Houses". He spoke plainly to them and he connected. He discussed how he did not let his mindset get in the way of his chances. For example, he successfully recruited the Titan NFL franchise to Tennessee by building a new stadium. Previously, he had never attended a professional football game!
What I loved most was his advice, "Chances are not your enemies." By keeping an open mind, listening to your heart and to others, you will discover new things and opportunities.
He also discussed his meetings that day with students at Claremont College. The Governor explained that he enjoyed these interchanges because he gets to hear the fresh ideas of the young and they get to see that a leader, governor, or someone who has enjoyed success is pretty normal. That up close and personal "leaders" are just people who have pursued their opportunities and chances. Governor Bredeson hoped that such exposure would give the students more confidence that they could do it too. He said that's what happened to him. When he was much younger he met leaders and big shots and learned how achievable those positions were. I had the same experiences many times when I meet and got to know prominent executives. The lesson repeats itself: meet people, especially people who are doing what you dream to do. When a long shot is brought up close, it becomes real and tangible.
I was very grateful that I agreed to have dinner at an inconvenient time and place, with someone other than the person I wanted to meet. :) My mind was clear and refreshed again. I learned many things that evening from a regular guy who achieved extraordinary things. We were fortunate to have leaders like Governor Bredeson. If you have the drive and focus you can do impossible things. That being humble will always win out. And overcoming resistance to take a few chances usually pays off in ways you never expected. Chances are never enemies. I recommit myself to befriend new chances that I encounter on my journey.
Thanks for reading. John