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It Really Is Simple

Updated on January 21, 2016
Laguna Beach on a weekday
Laguna Beach on a weekday | Source

If there is one thing I learned from my vacation in Laguna Beach, it’s that you can find lessons no matter how carefree you plan to be. I was blessed enough to travel with a handful of my business partners to California shortly after Christmas to enjoy some sun and the impending New Year’s Eve party. I was the only single person in the trip – and while this might seem trivial now – it played a very necessary and vital ole to the lessons I needed to learn. Being what I could only refer to as a “rookie entrepreneur,” I was unaware of how to be truly carefree and comfortable; I was never in actual control of my life, and now I was three thousand miles away of what life was in control of me. I didn’t know how to relax, and simply not worry for once. With these friends, though, I managed to feel taken care of and in control, and it honestly felt awkward at first. I felt like comfort was the hot girl and I was the awkward “hover-hand” guy afraid to touch her shoulder. For a couple of days, I genuinely felt like I didn’t belong. I isolated myself as a single person who knew the basics (very basic) of being in business for myself, and did not possess the confidence to feel like I belonged to the group I was with. I spent much of the first day observing, and trying to understand if I should act a certain way, feeling on the outside. The company I was in, however, did not see me in the way I saw myself. They saw my dream – the same dream they had when they first started out. They saw the belief and drive to be something more than just an employee working for someone else for a lifetime. They welcomed me for my character and for my heart. They were no better than me, and I was no better than them…something that took me quite some time to understand.

As I mentioned previously, lessons can be learned no matter the environment, and yes, vacations included. One sunny afternoon was spent beachside with out friend and host, Dave, a Laguna local with a flair for surfing, energy drinks, and incredibly fashionable suit jackets. We gathered up several paddleboards and headed for the Pacific waters. I was enthusiastic, although clueless, to the idea of stand up paddle boarding (or SUP-ing). Growing up on the water I mastered kayaking, sailing, boating, jet skiing, you name it. So, I thought to myself, “If I can do all that, paddle boarding should be cake.” Frances, my friend and mentor, coached me into the ocean waters, and prepped me for standing. My mental pep talk was affirming me, “It’s easy, you got this. Piece of cake.” The idea of standing up on a paddleboard seems like a no-brainer; it’s standing. I’ve been standing for twenty-something years. The practice, however, proved my ever-so wrong.

One foot shakily made planted contact with the top of the board. “Flat surface, no biggie.” But while I focused on the board, I paid no attention to the fluctuating ocean waters beneath me. Second foot, then face plant. Again. Again. Alternating feet. Right foot, then the left, hesitating and falling; I could not stand on this damn board. Dave suddenly addressed Ten minutes of struggles in ten seconds as he glided past me with the grace of a ballerina and a tan enviable to any summer-worshipping New Yorker.

“Why don’t you try using both feet at once?”

I didn’t even get a chance to respond before Dave was gone, paddling off into the sun. Without really thinking, I got to my knees, planted my hands, and whipped both of my feet forward and underneath me in a fashion I could only credit to the yoga class I took in college. I was standing! And then, I was paddling! I must have been a quarter mile off shore before I realized how small my friends were on the beach, as I waded carefully with Dave and company into a patch of kelp trees. It was spectacular. I could see thirty feet down to the sea floor while small, unsuspecting fish weaved in and out of sight. The sun was starting to set, and it was still unbelievable warm for the end of December. I became overwhelmed with a sense of freedom in that moment. I knew I was in my business for life.

The lesson learned from my paddle boarding experience is to not assume you can do it alone. “In order to know anything, we must admit that we know nothing.” Just because I was a self-proclaimed water activities guru on the east coast, didn’t mean I knew a damn thing about paddle boarding. Similarly to business, just because I was talented in multiple fields, I didn’t know the first thing about being in business for myself. I could get past the rip tide, and into open water, but I couldn’t balance myself without a little faith in the help of my friends. All of my water talents required me to be seated, and paddle boarding called for me to hold my stance on a wavering ocean.

Being in control of your own business and destiny required you to go in feet first, both at once, and stick the landing. You can choose to hug the shoreline or paddle out and chase the sun, but if you don’t acquire balance first, you will not be successful in either.

The question I truly had to ask myself was whether or not I believed I had the gall to jump up on my own and hope my balance kept me afloat. Granted, I fell during the course of that day – whether it was from snagging my paddle in a heap of kelp, or from an unexpected rolling wave behind me. However, it was a whole lot easier to get up again once I figured out how to do it the first time. Similarly to life: isn’t it easier to get back up when you know how? Doesn’t life seem less scary when you’re able to rebound from a fall? This kind of forward failing is what motivates athletes to keep trying for greatness. It’s what makes successful people successful; not to mention a relentless strive to be better than they were the day before builds an incredible amount of character. It makes them want to show others how easy it is once certain obstacles are overcome.

If I’ve learned anything it’s that a person isn’t worth following if they haven’t gone through the adversity to get to their success. The greatest leaders are the ones who went through hell, and they base their own triumphs over how many people they help get through the same.

We spent an evening driving through downtown Los Angeles. The whole city crawled as people stopped to find their Walk of Fame Star to pose with. Mesmerized by lights and fame, eyes were either pointed to the sky at billboards or to their own feet while we rolled onward towards the residential hills of Brentwood in our rented Jeep. Successful entrepreneur and business owner Frank Luntz graciously opened up his home to my business partners and myself. I remembered feeling nervous to meet this powerful man, and feeling once again like I was simply along for the ride on this trip, unaware of how much I was actually learning. Frank answered his door, insisted we leave our shoes on, and proceeded with an extensive tour of his amazing home and collections. I was in awe to learn the first room at his home was modeled after his memories of Trinity College at the University of Oxford. It just so happened that I attended Wadham College, an across the street, smaller and more “artsy” neighbor of Trinity. I used to sit in awe of how prestigious and “clean-cut” Trinity was. “No wonder he’s so successful.”

Each room contained an incredible assortment of artifacts – art, war letters, pictures with famous people, etc. And it wasn’t the amount of stuff Frank had, rather his passion to preserve history that impressed me. Like a time-traveling record keeper, Frank owned newspapers, magazines, letters, and mementos significant to the time they happened. Each individual piece he kept in his collection, each themed room, stood as a reminder of what We the People came from.

When it came to the end of our tour, Frank left us with three pieces of advice.

  1. Do what you love
  2. Stick with it
  3. Everything in life evens out

I was blown away. I was completely swept with emotion, but I managed to hold any tears until I returned to the car. A man, business owner, philanthropist, and historian just broke down his philosophy of success into three bullet points. It was literally that easy. I was so blown away all I wanted to do was go home and share this philosophy with others. We thanked Frank and left for dinner in L.A.

“Aren’t you glad you came?”

I smiled and nodded. I was so thankful. I felt so blessed to be able to learn about myself with such a tight-knit group of people, willing to share. We all went out for pizza and sodas, and everything fell back into a comfortable state. This was official the new normal I wanted. This was my life I wanted – Ordinary people living extraordinary lives.

New Year’s Eve came and went. We arrived at Dave’s house, nestled in the Laguna Hills. His home was warm and inviting. It was uncluttered and modern – most of the guests had already arrived as Dave’s wife offered us drinks and an array of appetizers she had made for us. The music was fun, and it was the most relaxed group of people I had the chance of socializing with. No one was trying to impress anyone. It was feel-good.

I remember standing on Dave’s deck, over-looking Laguna as people were in their homes, some still sprinkled with Christmas lights. Beyond that, I could see the Pacific Ocean, reflected by the moon. The night was cool and clear, and I felt so at peace. I felt at peace with the choices I made to be in business for myself, and with the believe that I would be able to control my life without worry, thanks to the people who were so generous to mentor me towards success. I realized my main goal was simply to have choices.

The incredible and overwhelming (in a good way) week was coming to an end. Two friends and I got Bonzai bowls – if you’re ever in Laguna, get a Bonzai bowl. We strolled down to Oak Street Beach at low tide and set up camp on a large rock to eat our brunch. It was a New Year. The sun was warm for the dead of winter; as we appreciated the view and observed surfers young and old catch waves, a couple from Texas walked past with two eight week old puppies. The couple was pleasant and the pair of puppies, wet from the ocean, attached very quickly to the idea of sun bathing on our giant rock. Both dogs took a liking to me, and crawled up into my $400 Kate Spade purse. The husband and wife were mortified and apologized profusely, but I honestly could not care less. They didn’t need to apologize for innocence. And there was no other way to cap off my vacation than with sunshine, breakfast, the beach, good company, and of course, puppies.

I realized the lessons learned from my trips were in the moments shared with the amazing people I was fortunate enough to travel with. I didn’t know until I saw people investing in me, that investing into others gives me more value than any job or dollar amount couple. The history kept, the time shared, and the laughter produced spread more understanding into my life, and put into perspective of what it truly means to be an entrepreneur.

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