Week Three under the lights. Rain is in the forecast, the temperature is cool and it’s getting a bit closer to fall. It smells not quite like football season yet, but almost. It’s a perfect night for high school football.
In the midst of an aimless adventure to find the meaning of life, I stirred one winter morning after a sleepless night in Chicago to find myself stress-riddled and in search of the meaning of my existence… That’s a pretty deep intro for an Invizzible Ink blog post but looking back at my five month hiatus from blogging, I intrepidly realized that humans cannot pretend to be someone we are not. Me, I’m a writer. I have been since the fourth grade when I won my first writing contest. (Insert unabashed plug) Fast forward twenty years five months ago, I was adhering to the demanding challenge of working full time in Chicago and going to grad school full time in Ohio while keeping a ridiculous travel schedule and managing school and work projects; And usually between the hours of midnight and 3 am maintaining a decent marketing blog. The trick to accomplishing all these goals was simple; Two years of non-sleep week nights. Healthy? No. But certainly advantageous to the accomplishment of what I set out to do.
What I found to be true of this endeavor was that one cannot maintain that routine for much more than two years; at least I couldn’t. Something had to give. Unfortunately for Invizzible Ink, when I started my new job in Chicago, my writing was put on the back burner. Not by choice necessarily, but by default. Hobbies took a back seat; evenings and early mornings gave way to the furious pace of trying to get up to speed with senior and other experienced team members conducting business. It’s exciting and exhilarating to make decisions that affect national programs and millions of impressionable consumers, but soon I found that the core of Invizzible Ink; the marketing mind that defined my day-to-day professional career was lacking organic substance. There was something missing that balanced my holistic mind-operation. Austin Powers would diagnose as a loss of mojo. For me, my mojo is writing. And I wasn’t writing. I was tired and not inspired until finally I realized what was missing… I needed to bring back Ink!
So how does one lose their mojo anyway? Well, I don’t exactly know but I know how one gets it back. One returns to their utility. – The definition of one’s purpose for living and ambition to leave one’s mark on the world. I’m not sure if Webster or Wikipedia would agree with my definition of utility, but in Business Ethics class, our professor John Annarino taught us the meaning of utility and it stuck with me and resonated deeper than any other lesson I learned in two years of graduate studies. Why? Because it was humanized. It meant something that couldn’t be added or subtracted. It lived and breathed in each member of our class and was left for each of us to decide for ourselves how we would define our personal style to learn, lead others, and live life.
One’s utility is the most important aspect of business in my opinion. It serves as my personal guide to making decisions and dealing with relationships. I vowed after reading Good to Great by Jim Collins and receiving years of coaching from hard working volunteer football coaches that life is about people first. “First who, then what,” as Collins would say. As I would say, life is too short and opportunities to make a difference in society are too abundant, to not focus on people first before the subject. At the end of my day, I work with people and for people so why not direct my focus on people? – A widget has never generated a single emotion that motivated, encouraged, or taught me a lesson that made a difference in my life, however I could go on for pages about the people in my life that have made Invizzible Ink possible.
Speaking of people, I think we as humans seek and desire many forms of acceptance from our families, employers and significant others in our daily routines to make sense of our existence here on Earth. I believe when we sacrifice our personal passions for obligations beyond our control, we are moved from living-comfort, to a place of reaction. When the speed of the game gets too intense and we are not in control, we lose our ability to make concerted and logical decisions. We panic. Get ahead of ourselves and forget the basis of how we progressed ourselves to our current state of being. And how did we all get to where we are today? People helped us. – Granted many of us have individual talents and successes but collectively, there has always been some person somewhere who gave an opportunity, believed in us, sacrificed for us, or extended a hand to us in some way. It’s people, folks! It’s not the stuff in our lives, it’s the people that make our world what it is. And I feel sorry for those who don’t get that, but it’s also my utility to help them realize what they are missing.
Over the course of the past two weekends I have spent time supporting high school sports in Ohio at the OHSAA state swimming and wrestling championship tournaments. Working in these sports have been a relatively new experience for me as I have always participated in team sports. My cousin Aaron was pretty much a stud swimmer in high school and went on to a successful career at Rutgers University, and many of my college football teammates at the University of Findlay were successful high school wrestlers, but was as close I really came to individual sports at the high school level besides my average showing each year as a member of the OGHS Track team.
What I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that there is something fundamentally different between team and individual sports at the high school level when it comes to competing at the state tournament. While I will always believe the greatest accomplishment one can achieve is a team championship title, at the end of the competitive day, it takes a group of individuals to contribute to that effort to accomplish that goal. There is certainly a crowned team award for first place in high school swimming and wrestling, but ultimately in sports such as swimming and wrestling, the attention is placed on the state champion. There is only one athlete atop the standings board in individual sports and I have been fortunate to experience some state champions in Ohio be crowned over the past two weeks.
Without a doubt the highlight of the past two weekends has been enjoying the all-access pass for the tournaments granted by the OHSAA. With the American Dairy Association’s involvement in high school sports and partnership negotiated with the OHSAA, we have been afforded access to the personal sights and emotions the athletes competing in the tournaments experience. As the relationship manager with the OHSAA, I have been quite fortunate to be in the action first hand. It’s wonderful to see up close and personal the emotion on a state champion’s face as they beat their opponent and realize they are number one.
Maybe the best feeling I’ve experienced in recent weeks came after experiencing the first state championship wrestling match of my life. The 103 lb match yielded a champion from Lakewood St. Edwards, Dean Heil. The kid is only a freshman but stood like a man in the circle of the Jerome Schottenstein Center platform as a champion. The excitemet on his face and abundance of emotion as the referee raised his arm as state champion caught me off guard. As the reality set in for Dean Heil that he was number one in the state of Ohio, reality set in with me that I was incredibly happy for him… Not so much that he had just earned points for his team, but because he was the best in the state of Ohio at what he does. It was a new feeling for me to experience, and I greatly appreciated the opportunity.
Heil was a gracious champ; shaking hands with his opponent and his opponet’s coaches. Then feeling the excitement take him over, he jumped into the arms of his awaiting coaches; embracing in a heart-felt bear hug. Soon after feeling the love from his coaches, Heil was grabbing his warm-up and off in a fast jog for the bleachers… At the end of his jog was his father; waiting for his son with a proud tear and open arms ready to embrace his state champ. It gave me goosebumps as I watched son and father share that moment. Overwhelming joy and pride radiating from a hug between father and son… It was a beautiful moment that only sport could have provided. As I approached hour 12 of that particular work day, I became overwhelmed with a sence of fulfillment and reward; and realized that sharing that particular moment with Dean Heil and his father was the reason that I do what I do… It wasn’t about the long workday any longer, it was about the brief moment that only a long day could have offered.
Invizzible Ink was created to highlight the positive aspects and rewards that sport offers our communities. Experiencing first hand a freshman in high school take the Division I honor of best of the best was a beautiful and very rewarding opportunity. It reminded me that sports marketing and working in sport is more than a business, it’s an opportunity to make a difference.
I had the best day today. I met with a friend who works as a Physical Therapist for special needs students in a district near and much like my hometown.
For the past year the American Dairy Association has been after our goal of placing Fuel Up to Play60 kits in schools. A kit contains tools that a school can use as part of supporting a healthy lifestyle in their building. We accomplished our goal and have been a part of some wonderful events as a result. Somewhere in the hustle and balancing of grad school and work though, I lost touch with the part of my job that allows me to be a part of changing kid’s lives. I felt that emotion again today for the first time in a while and I was reminded again that God is good.
The topic of our conversation was Fuel Up to Play60, a program designed by the Dairy Council and the NFL to create healthy lifestyles in schools. A typical school meeting usually includes getting as many students as possible to sign the pledge and track their progress online because their school can win some great prizes if they win the competitions. But this meeting was different. This meeting was how the program could be used in a one-on-one teaching scenerio between my friend and the special kids she works with.
I’m proud of the success of Fuel Up to Play60 in Ohio but there is also something to be said for the people like my friend who are able to take this program and use it with special kids to improve their quality of life too. One of the boys my friend was telling me about was paralyzed in a car accident from his chest down but despite his challenges was still a pretty good athlete and a football fan. She believes he could compete in wheel chair sports if given the opportunity and feels the Fuel Up to Play60 program will be the ideal program to motivate him. I hope it is.
Our programs and brands can and will be talkable but the people who are talking about us is really what makes our programs and brands what they are. Consumers are the reasons we do what we do. They are ultimately the consumers of our passions. We owe it to them to be our best, to be honest, and to be what we say we are; even when the going gets tough. In return, we receive knowledge and understanding of who our consumers are, what they care about, and what they are passionate about. That seems like a pretty fair trade.