Monday, September 24, 2012

Love Does.

"I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, 
but now I'm more afraid of succeeding at things that don't matter."

Bob Goff's words reverberated in my brain like a gong struck with the full force of an Albert Pujols swing. I'm only halfway through his book Love Does, yet already Goff's firsthand accounts of whimsy have resonated with the cries of my heart. You see, if Mark Twain were writing about my life, he'd probably refer to this season as the "Gilded Period." Sure, there's a lofty title and trappings of grandeur acting as a thin layer of gold, but underneath is just a hunk of worthless iron. I'm not convinced the things I'm striving for really matter.

 Last week, I found myself in Las Vegas for a big meeting. It was the kind of meeting you spend months preparing for, the kind where the people who control the future of your livelihood evaluate if you're really worth all the money they're spending on you, the kind where you show up a full day early just to go through a complete dress rehearsal. Fortunately, our preparatory run-through ended at a decent hour, so I went out looking for adventure on the streets of Vegas.
with Dave & Alex

A few weeks ago, I found out on Facebook one of the high school friends of one of my college friends (how's that for a connection?), Dave, would be in Vegas the same time as me, celebrating his birthday with his girlfriend and other friends I'd never met. So naturally, I invited myself to his party. I know that sounds a little crazy, but this is my modus operandi when I'm on the road for business. The way I see it, if the company is paying all this money for me to be in a different city, I may as well make the most of it by building relationships with people I wouldn't normally get to see. Most of the people I call to hang out are either just acquaintances or friends I haven't spoken to in years. I'll never forget the shock in one high school classmate's voice when I called him - I'm pretty sure he was googling me as we spoke, trying to remember who the heck I was - his tone clearly communicated: "I haven't seen you since the 12th grade, and even then we weren't close friends!" In spite of all the initial awkwardness, the visits have made work travel infinitely more fun, and they have a good track record of being the perfect catalyst for turning an acquaintance into a close friend.

Such a beautiful group!
This past Thursday night was a different case altogether, and it was extraordinary. In addition to enjoying catching up with Dave, I was immediately enamored with his friends. I quickly found Alex and I shared an affinity for firearms (much to the chagrin of the girls, who clearly didn't find guns to be an appropriate dinner conversation topic), and sat on the edge of my seat as Beth told me about her work in helping people with disabilities live fuller lives. Liz's blend of sports and trade organization PR sounded like the coolest job ever, and I was glad Yijun had fresh New York cocktail bar recommendations for me. As for Sam, well, I'm still laughing at her awesome dance move, which I affectionately dubbed "The Standing Caterpillar" and I'm 100% certain any photo of her and Dave together would make it to the top spot on Reddit's "aww" thread. These were some of the most amazing people I'd ever met on my travels, and I wanted them to know it - genuinely.

Las Vegas is the gilded city of America. It's coated with glitz, glamour, and astounding facades, which make you forget it's all just built on a big pit of dry sand in the middle of the desolate desert. Sure, the Venetian features a man paddling a gondola on a canal through their lobby, but the pungent chlorine aroma reminded me I certainly wasn't in Italy. In a city where a counterfeit definition of beauty is used to extract money and fleeting happiness from its temporary residents, I had to let this group of wonderful people know they weren't gilded at all - they were the genuine article.

In Love Does, Goff claims the words spoken about us shape who we are, and thus "God speaks something meaningful into our lives and it fills us up and helps us change the world regardless of ourselves and our shortcomings. His name for us is His beloved." While profound, I still thought calling my new friends "beloved" was a little intense, so instead I decided to spend the rest of the evening telling them how beautiful they are (yes, both the guys and the girls). I told them how beautiful their jobs are and how they should be proud of their work, and I told them how beautiful their friendship is and how their group appeared to be the pure embodiment of joy. When we left a club full of people putting on a facade, I told them they were the most beautiful people in the place and how no one could take their eyes off of them. I had never spoken truer words - and I hope my compliments reflected the sincerity with which I said them. I'm sure compliments are a dime a dozen in this town, but hopefully they're a little more powerful when they come from someone they know is happily married and has no ulterior motives. Nonetheless, I continued saying them, and the night was amazing. I didn't make it back to my hotel room until after 2am, and even then I felt I had ended it too early and called Dave to see if they wanted to keep on partying. They wanted to sleep instead.
I'm not attractive enough to be in this photo.

The next day, the meeting did not go as well as I hoped it would. Some of the work I had put diligent effort into was completely disregarded, and some colleagues made comments that were very hurtful to me. On a normal day, this would throw me into a downward-spiraling buzzkill, but not today. I couldn't help but think the words of encouragement I gave my new friends and the hope that the words would "speak something meaningful into their lives" actually mattered way more than this presentation. As soon as the meeting was over, I called Dave because I wanted to see them again.

We sipped beers on his hotel room's balcony, and again I found solace in their wonderful company. Our conversations made the day's worries completely dissipate, and I wanted to stay all night. Yet I couldn't - there was somewhere else I needed to be, and I had to take the midnight flight out of Vegas to Atlanta.

My friend Harrison was getting married the next day, and there was no way I was going to miss that wedding. I had more meetings in Las Vegas on Sunday, meaning I'd get less than 24 hours in Atlanta, and wouldn't have time to recover from the brutal red-eye flight, but I didn't care - Harrison is a great friend, and I love him. My coworkers were shocked to hear this, and one even said: "Why in the world would you give up a free weekend in Vegas where you'd have a chance to network with all the senior executives to fly through the night, be groggy all-day, and get back on another long flight, just to go to a wedding?!" My answer was simple: Love does.
I would not have missed this wedding for the world.

I don't want to be gilded anymore, and I don't want to be focused on succeeding at things that don't matter. I'd much rather be known as the guy who flies through the night just to celebrate with a friend or by any of my new friends knowing they're not only welcome at our home in Atlanta, the red carpet will be rolled out for them any time they'd like to visit.

What I'm Listening to During this Post:

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