Author Archive
The People Behind the Brand: Crafting a Compelling Narrative Through Talent
  • September 12, 2023

In a world where consumers are bombarded with countless brands vying for their attention, what makes a brand truly stand out? It’s not just the logo, the catchy slogan, or the multi-million-dollar ad campaigns. It’s the people. As leaders, CEOs, and entrepreneurs, understanding the pivotal role your people play in brand narrative is essential. They are, in many ways, the very embodiment of the brand.

The Silent Brand Ambassadors

Take a moment to reflect on your last visit to a Chik-Fil-A. It’s likely you remember more than just the taste of the chicken sandwich (or if you are like me and have celiac, you remember the grilled nuggets). It’s the warm smile that greeted you at the counter, the genuine “my pleasure” that resonated as you thanked them, and the unexpected acts of kindness you witnessed or experienced. These actions, subtle yet profound, narrate a brand story that no advertisement ever could.

Similarly, with Emirates Airlines, it’s not just about luxury travel. It’s the exceptional care from the flight attendants, the personal touches, and the commitment to service excellence. The average Emirate Airlines flight attendant speaks more than 4 languages.

These people-driven experiences become synonymous with the brand itself.

Every Interaction is a Brand Touchpoint

Every email sent, every call answered, every handshake exchanged, and every social media post made by an employee speaks volumes about the brand. In today’s digital age, a single tweet or a candid behind-the-scenes Instagram story from an employee can be more influential than a polished corporate advertisement.

This notion becomes even more pivotal when we understand that in an era dominated by social media and digital interactions, human touchpoints become invaluable. They provide authenticity, an increasingly rare and sought-after commodity.

The Role of Leadership in Brand Narration

But how do you ensure that every teammate, from the C-suite to the frontlines, is telling the right brand story?

  1. Hire For Who: Hire people for who they are rather than just what they know. This includes customer service. We would often take candidates out of the sterile environment of the office for interviews. Sometimes, this would include restaurants. We would observe how they treated the wait staff as this is a position of (presumed) power over another.
  2. Culture First: Before you market externally, market internally. Ensure that your organizational culture is steeped in the values you want your brand to reflect. Our core value of customer service at Contegix embodied this – “WOW the customer, every time, every engagement, with integrity and zero exceptions.”
  3. Empower Team Mates: When teammates feel valued, recognized, and empowered, they naturally become brand evangelists. They’ll take pride in what they represent.
  4. Consistent Training: Regular training sessions can help inculcate the brand’s ethos, ensuring everyone understands and lives by it.
  5. Celebrate Successes: Sharing and celebrating instances where teammates have gone above and beyond can serve as inspiration for others. As a leader, every problem is yours, and every success is the team’s.

The Future of Branding

Branding is no longer about just getting the message out. It’s about living the message, every day, through every interaction. As highlighted in the preceding article on “The Art of Writing Effective Board of Director Reports”, it’s the talent – the people – that form the crux of any successful venture. When these individuals embrace and embody the brand, the narrative becomes not just compelling, but also authentic.

As leaders, it’s imperative to understand and leverage this invaluable resource. After all, in the words of Richard Branson, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

In today’s market landscape, where authenticity reigns supreme, remember that your people are not just part of the organization; they ARE the organization. They are your brand.

Unacceptable vs. Undesirable: A Crucial Distinction
  • September 5, 2023

Over a decade ago, I found myself wrestling with a challenging business decision. A customer, experiencing rapid growth, requested additional services to scale their infrastructure. However, they could not immediately afford it, and they were not entirely sure they would ever be able to afford it. They were in the process of securing more funding and promised to pay us once they had the money. At the time, we were profitable, but taking on this work would significantly impact our cash flow.

My mentor noticed my struggle and posed a question that has stayed with me ever since: which outcome was undesirable, and which was unacceptable? He pointed out that people often use these terms interchangeably, believing they mean the same thing when, in reality, they represent different levels of severity in most situations.

Ultimately, we decided it would be unacceptable not to give the customer a fighting chance to raise money, as it could lead to job losses or worse. (We would also fail at our core values.) Although taking the risk and not getting paid was undesirable, it was not deemed unacceptable. Most members of our team were never aware of this situation.

This experience highlighted the importance of distinguishing between ‘unacceptable’ and ‘undesirable’, two terms that, although often used interchangeably, have distinct meanings and implications.

Definition and Context:

  • Unacceptable: This term refers to something that cannot be tolerated or allowed. It is often used in situations where there is a clear boundary or standard that should not be crossed. For example, in a business setting, it would be unacceptable for an employee to engage in unethical practices or for a company not to comply with legal requirements.
  • Undesirable: This term refers to something that is not wanted or preferred but does not carry the same level of severity as ‘unacceptable’. It often denotes a less-than-ideal situation that one might be willing to tolerate or deal with under certain circumstances. For example, it might be undesirable to work late, but sometimes it is necessary to meet deadlines.

Nuances in Meaning:

Understanding the differences between ‘unacceptable’ and ‘undesirable’ is crucial because using one term over the other can have different implications. Labeling something as ‘unacceptable’ suggests that it is non-negotiable and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. On the other hand, labeling something as ‘undesirable’ suggests that, while it is not preferred, it is something that one might be willing to tolerate or deal with if necessary.


Using the correct term in different contexts can have significant implications. In a professional setting, labeling an employee’s behavior as ‘unacceptable’ implies that it is a serious issue that requires immediate attention and potentially disciplinary action. Conversely, labeling the behavior as ‘undesirable’ implies that it is not preferred but does not carry the same level of severity.

In a personal context, understanding the difference between ‘unacceptable’ and ‘undesirable’ can help in setting boundaries and managing relationships. It is important to communicate to others what behaviors are ‘unacceptable’ (e.g., disrespect, dishonesty) and what behaviors are ‘undesirable’ (e.g., being late, not communicating well) to establish clear expectations.


  • Business Context: A company may find it undesirable to lay off employees due to financial constraints, but it may be deemed unacceptable to keep them employed while not being able to pay them. Both decisions are horrible, and leadership should be accountable for how the company got to this point.
  • Personal Context: It may be undesirable for someone to cancel plans with a friend because they are feeling overwhelmed, but it may be unacceptable for them to push through and potentially have a breakdown.

    In my case, I plan to run Leadville Trail 100 again in the future. It’s undesirable that I must push it out until 2025 at the earliest. Why? Because the race has typically been the same week as the first-year (fka freshmen) dorm move-in for the kids. Missing the ability to help and support my kids in this monumental step is absolutely unacceptable.

Gabe Dorm Move-In - August 2023. I am approrpriately wearing my Leadville shirt.
Gabe Dorm Move-In – August 2023. I am appropriately wearing my Leadville shirt.


The distinction between ‘unacceptable’ and ‘undesirable’ is subtle but significant. While both terms indicate a negative situation, ‘unacceptable’ denotes a non-negotiable boundary that should not be crossed, whereas ‘undesirable’ denotes a less-than-ideal situation that may be tolerated under certain circumstances. Understanding and using these terms accurately can have a meaningful impact on our interactions and perceptions in both professional and personal contexts.

Entrepreneurship in My Hometown: Saint Louis’s Spirit of Independence and Neighborly Help
  • August 21, 2023

Nestled along the Mississippi’s graceful arcs lies Saint Louis, Missouri. A city I almost left, yet a city that tethered my heartstrings with invisible threads. My wife’s love of the city and the idea of raising a family (near our families) were driving factors in staying. Yet, the very duality I witnessed here – of fierce self-reliance complemented by unwavering community spirit – played a significant role keeping me here and helping me fall in love with it anew, every single day.

Saint Louis is far more than its historic landmarks, tantalizing culinary offerings, and melodic blues. It’s a confluence of contrasts: a city that embodies the rugged individualism of the frontier days while nurturing the very essence of Midwestern warmth and camaraderie.

I was recently discussing how those forces may seem at odds with each, and they also complement and amplify the other. I wondered if these seemingly opposite traits were somehow woven into our DNA.

Unity in Independence: The Saint Louis Paradox

Many cities champion independence or community spirit. Saint Louis, however, boldly celebrates both. Here, it’s not about choosing one over the other but understanding that both can harmoniously coexist, even enhance each other.

In Saint Louis, an entrepreneur’s path to self-sufficiency doesn’t mean treading alone. Our independence is amplified by knowing that a supportive community always has our back. It’s the belief that while our endeavors may be individual, our success is communal.

The Legacy of Pioneers: Individual Grit and Collective Triumph

Our city’s history is replete with tales of pioneers: those who ventured into uncharted territories, blazing trails with determination. But delve a bit deeper, and you’ll find that these pioneers often traveled in groups. Even in their quest for new horizons, they understood the strength in numbers, the power of collective knowledge, and the security of a shared journey.

This spirit echoes in today’s Saint Louis entrepreneurs. We’re fiercely determined and not afraid to carve our paths, but we also deeply value the wisdom of our peers, the guidance of our mentors, and the support of our community.

Balancing Act: Navigating the Dualistic Landscape

For someone unfamiliar with this ethos, the Saint Louis entrepreneurial ecosystem can initially seem paradoxical. How can one fiercely guard their independence and yet be so intertwined with the community? But it’s this very balance that’s the city’s strength.

Here, seeking help isn’t seen as a compromise on independence. It’s viewed as a strategic move, a way to combine forces, and a means to co-create successes. It’s not about diluting one’s vision but about amplifying it through collective effort.

Saint Louis Triumphs: Testaments to Duality

Our city’s success stories often spotlight this duality. Companies like Square and the myriad of startups that found their footing here did so by leveraging their grit and the city’s abundant resources and networks. This was paramount to Contegix’s growth and success.

In conclusion, I believe Saint Louis stands as a testament to the power of duality. i am sure we are not alone, but here, we do not just balance self-reliance and community spirit; we let them dance together, creating a symphony that’s uniquely ours. This approach is reflected in entrepreneurial networks like EO and YPO find their strength magnified here.

Life’s Natural Rhythms: Expansion, Contraction, and Concentration
  • August 16, 2023

Recently, Gabe asked me if I had any advice before he headed off to college, a question almost every parent looks forward to. After reflecting for a moment, I told him to say, “Yes,” to as many things as possible as he was entering a stage of expansion.

I shared with him a belief that has become a cornerstone in my understanding of life’s journey: we all move through repetitive cycles of expansion, contraction, and concentration. At any given time, different aspects of our lives are navigating through one of these phases, with many running in parallel.

We are, by nature, cyclic beings. Just as the Earth has its seasons, and the body has its rhythms, our life journey also follows a distinct pattern: from the vastness of exploration (expansion) to the refining process of elimination (contraction), finally leading to mastery or focus (concentration).

1. Expansion: The World is Your Oyster

Discovering the Boundless Horizon

It often starts with a feeling of being lost or at a crossroad. Maybe it’s after college, a job loss, or even a personal upheaval. The uncertainty may feel overwhelming, but it can also be the beginning of something beautiful: a phase of expansion.

In this phase:

  • Curiosity is the driving force. We begin to explore different paths, learn about various fields, and say “yes” to a plethora of opportunities.
  • Mistakes are not just expected; they’re embraced. They are the stepping stones to finding what truly resonates with us.
  • There’s a certain freedom in not being tethered to any one direction. It’s about breadth, not depth.

2. Contraction: Refining the Path

Shaping the Clay

Once we’ve explored the vast horizons, some paths begin to stand out more than others. Here lies the next phase: contraction.

In this phase:

  • We start discerning what aligns with our passion, values, and strengths. It’s not about saying “yes” to everything, but about choosing what matters.
  • By trimming away the unnecessary, we become more aligned with our authentic selves. It’s a process of elimination where we start to recognize what doesn’t serve our larger purpose.
  • This phase might be accompanied by tough decisions, like leaving a stable job that’s not fulfilling or distancing from projects that drain energy.

3. Concentration: Deep Dive into Mastery

Becoming the Maestro

From the vast canvas of options, now we have a clearer picture, a concentrated focus. This is the phase of concentration.

In this phase:

  • We immerse ourselves deeply, sometimes in just one or two areas of interest.
  • It’s where expertise is born. With dedicated effort and time, we aim to master our chosen field or craft.
  • There’s joy in depth, in knowing something intimately, and in being recognized for that expertise.

So, how does this play out in different areas of life:


  • Expansion: When we first embark on our educational journey, we are exposed to a wide range of subjects and disciplines. From mathematics to literature, from history to science, we expand our knowledge and explore different fields.
  • Contraction: As we mature, we realize we cannot master all subjects. We start to narrow our choices, diving deeper into areas that align with our passions and strengths.
  • Concentration: Once we’ve identified our niche or specialization, we enter a concentrated stage, honing our skills and knowledge in a particular domain.

Relationships & Dating:

  • Expansion: In our youth or after a breakup, we might date a variety of people, seeking what we desire in a partner.
  • Contraction: With time, we recognize essential qualities in a relationship and shed those that don’t serve our emotional well-being.
  • Concentration: For many, this leads to committing to one person, focusing emotional energy and depth in the relationship.

Hobbies & Personal Interests:

  • Expansion: We try our hands at various activities, from painting to running, to see where our passions lie.
  • Contraction: As we understand ourselves better, certain hobbies resonate more, and we begin to focus our energies there.
  • Concentration: This is the phase of mastery, where we dedicate time and effort to perfect our chosen interest.

Self-Identity & Personal Growth:

  • Expansion: Key moments in life might have us exploring different ideologies or philosophies, trying to find our fit.
  • Contraction: As we grow and accumulate experiences, we shed beliefs and habits that no longer resonate.
  • Concentration: This phase is about embracing our true self, focusing on growth within that authentic framework.

Conclusion: I wanted Gabe to see life as an ever-evolving dance of expanding horizons, refining paths, and diving deep into our chosen arenas. These cycles aren’t linear; they can and often do repeat. After achieving mastery in one area, the urge to explore new terrains may resurface. That’s the beauty of our journey — it’s dynamic, full of growth, and never truly stagnant. Whether you’re in the phase of exploring the limitless sky, refining your path among the stars, or shining as a bright constellation, remember: each phase is an essential step in the dance of life.

The Art of Writing Effective Board of Director Reports: A Future, Present, Past Narrative
  • August 8, 2023
  • 1 Comment

A few years back, a peer saw a copy of a Board of Directors report I submitted as CEO of a company. A Powerpoint presentation accompanied the report, but the report itself had piqued her interest. She specifically wanted to know the reasoning behind the order of topics.

Clarity and precision are paramount when communicating with the Board. The Board is responsible for guiding an organization’s strategic direction, and its decisions are rooted in the information presented. Consequently, the format and order of the reports provided to them should not be an afterthought. Instead, it should narrate a compelling, holistic story of the organization, moving from the future to the present and then reflecting on the past.

The following order seemed obvious to me. I wanted to tell a story with the primary focus on our future. Here are the five points I focused on:

(Note: I am leaving this somewhat generic due to protect the confidentiality of the organization.)

1. Culture: The Bedrock of the Future

Culture is the cornerstone upon which any organization is built. It shapes the vision, values, and long-term aspirations. By beginning a report with culture, we are essentially starting with the future. Culture informs where a company wants to go and what it hopes to achieve. It outlines the north star that guides decisions and actions. By understanding and cultivating the right culture, organizations set themselves up for future success, making it a natural starting point for any narrative.

2. Talent: Present Assets Crafting Tomorrow’s Success

Every company’s future hinges on its talent. The people who come in every day bring the culture to life, innovate, and drive success. Presenting talent next positions them as the present-day architects of tomorrow’s achievements. Talent provides a bridge between the aspirational elements of culture and the concrete aspects of operations. They represent the organization’s commitment to the future and indicate the steps being taken in the present to ensure that the future is bright.

Every time I am asked about the future of an organization, I point to talent – who we have building that future and who we are missing. People are the heart of innovation.

3. Operations: The Engine Running Today

Moving into the operational aspect brings the narrative solidly into the present. This is the heartbeat of the day-to-day, where plans meet execution. By understanding operations, the Board can see how effectively the company is running right now. It answers the question, “How are we currently executing our strategies, and are we set up for success?”

4. Sales: Indicators of Current Market Position

Sales, as a reflection of the organization’s current market position, continues the story of the present. It provides real-time data on how products or services are being received, how well the company is competing, and where there might be opportunities or challenges. In many ways, sales are the culmination of the efforts of culture, talent, and operations.

5. Finances: Reflecting on the Past to Inform the Future

Finances close the report by grounding the narrative in reflecting past decisions and their outcomes. The general financial health, liabilities, and cash flow give a comprehensive view of where the company stands as a result of previous actions. It offers both a look back and a basis for future forecasting.

In essence, this five-point report format tells a cohesive story: We begin by setting the scene with our future aspirations (culture), introduce our main characters and their actions in the present (talent, operations, and sales), and then reflect on how past decisions have shaped the current state (finances). This narrative not only provides a comprehensive view of the organization but also ensures that the Board remains future-focused while being grounded in the realities of the present and lessons from the past.

Unmasking Dissent: Loyalty in Disguise
  • May 30, 2023

Breaking the Ice: Bridging Dissent and Loyalty

If you’ve ever found yourself holding back a contrary opinion at work, or biting your tongue during a heated family dinner, you’re not alone. The idea of dissent is often shrouded in fear and misunderstanding. However, when I read Ozan Varol‘s telling of Netflix’s 2011 Qwikster saga regarding the risks of confirmation bias in Awaken Your Genius (A MUST READ!), a fresh perspective emerged as I thought back to my experiences and how I internalized dissent — the concept of dissent as a vibrant expression of loyalty. 

Reimagining Loyalty: The Dissent Paradox

We often equate loyalty with quiet compliance and unquestioning agreement. Yet, what if loyalty’s true essence is found in thoughtful dissent? A culture that embraces dissent is one that champions transparency, diverse viewpoints, and continuous improvement. Such an environment instills loyalty among team members, making them feel acknowledged and heard. It also breeds loyalty towards leaders who show openness and commitment to their organization’s betterment. Dissent, when conveyed respectfully and professionally, can send a powerful message: “I care so much about you and this organization that I am willing to be vulnerable to ensure we make the best possible decisions.”

Surely, dissent can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when it means challenging authoritative figures who influence your career. Yet, when an environment that supports dissent is fostered, it can trigger breakthroughs, personal growth, and the formation of a united, robust team.

So, let’s examine Netflix’s story about their 2011 Qwikster debacle and how they transformed from a company where a Vice President later told Hastings, “You’re so intense when you believe in something . . . that I felt you wouldn’t hear me. I should have laid down on the tracks screaming that I thought it would fail. But I didn’t.”

Unpacking Netflix’s Dissent Chronicle

Netflix’s 2011 Qwikster episode serves as a captivating case study of this principle. The announcement of Qwikster, a proposed standalone DVD-by-mail service, ignited a customer backlash and led to a significant dip in the company’s stock price. Netflix later reversed the decision. They also took a more important and long-term critical step. Instead of dismissing this setback, Netflix’s leadership used it as a springboard to create a culture that cherishes dissent.

To ensure that dissent is identified and expressed before a significant decision is taken, Netflix has implemented various systems across the organization. For instance, when a Netflix team member has a proposition, they often circulate a spreadsheet asking colleagues to evaluate the idea on a scale from -10 to +10 and to add comments. This system is not designed to serve as a democratic poll. Rather, it’s a tool aimed at facilitating feedback collection, measuring the magnitude of dissent, and initiating frank discussions. 

This system and, thus, the leadership recognized that averting future blunders required an environment conducive to voicing concerns and challenging decisions. This ‘dissent-farming’ culture nudged team members to express their views, even when these contradicted leadership decisions. This dissent, in turn, embodied an intense loyalty towards the company’s mission and vision.

A key point is that this dissent collection occurs before a decision or course of action. Doing such after can often be destructive and cowardice.

Hyper Loyalty: The Dissent Evolution

Netflix’s adoption of dissent reshaped its organizational culture and redefined the meaning of loyalty. By nurturing dissent, the leadership demonstrated their commitment to the company’s progress, thereby winning their team’s loyalty. Team members, by articulating dissent, displayed their unwavering dedication to the company’s success, symbolizing a paradoxical form of loyalty.

Netflix has gone from a culture where a VP did not feel he would be heard to one where Hastings stated, “To disagree silently is disloyal.”

The Last Word: Welcoming Dissent

In conclusion, dissent, when encouraged, appreciated, and constructively employed, can transform into a beacon of hyper loyalty. It underscores a commitment to shared goals, respects the multiplicity of perspectives, and cultivates a conducive atmosphere for growth and progress. Loyalty, therefore, is no longer synonymous with passive compliance; it is about caring enough to express disagreement, defy the status quo, and advocate for improvement.

The next time you encounter dissent, whether at work or over a meal with your family, don’t view it as a challenge. Instead, recognize it as a profound act of loyalty and a deep-seated expression of care.

Rethinking the December Rush: Why December Strategic Planning Is Probably Ineffective & Lacks Compassion
  • May 22, 2023

Every year, the holiday season rolls around, and with it often comes the daunting task of annual strategic planning. Traditionally conducted in December, this practice, upon closer examination, may be less than ideal. 

Let’s dive into why a rethink may be in order (aka. Why I hate this practice and your team probably does, too.)

Holiday Distractions

December is holiday season, a time when employees are either on vacation or mentally preparing for festivities. The period is rife with distractions, making it challenging to focus on annual planning. Consequently, strategic initiatives and long-term goals may be rushed, rather than thoroughly considered.

Emotional Complexity

Despite its portrayal as a time of joy, the holiday season can be emotionally taxing. Family pressures, feelings of loneliness, or memories of lost loved ones can complicate this time of year for many. Add these to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD affecting nearly 3 million people annually, peaks during the darker months of December and January.

Demanding tasks like annual planning during this period can exacerbate these emotional challenges, potentially leading to a decline in mental health and productivity. Moreover, this could create a pressure-cooker environment where employees feel they must suppress personal feelings for professional obligations. This approach not only undermines individual well-being, but also the creation of a supportive, empathetic workplace culture.

Frankly, many people are just trying to get through the holiday season without a blow-up with their inappropriate uncle who goes on random political rants or their crazy cousin who believes birds aren’t real. I don’t like contributing to the craziness.

Year-End Fatigue

By December, most are winding down and looking forward to a break. After a year of hard work, employees are often mentally and emotionally exhausted. This fatigue can negatively impact the quality of annual planning, with critical thinking and creativity suffering.

Incomplete Data

Annual planning relies on data from the current year. However, in December, this data set is incomplete. Planning without the full picture can lead to unrealistic goals or misguided strategies for the upcoming year.

Rushed Decisions

The time constraints of December often result in rushed decisions. Annual planning—a comprehensive process that includes reviewing the past year’s performance, setting new goals, and developing strategies to achieve these goals—requires time. If compressed into a short timeframe, the quality of decisions may be compromised.

Limited Flexibility

December annual planning leaves little room for flexibility. Once the plan is set, it becomes the roadmap for the following year. However, business environments are dynamic, and rigid plans made in December might not be adaptable enough to accommodate unforeseen changes.


Finally, it lacks intellectual honesty to believe we will get the best of people during December. Why would we want anything less when planning the important work for the next 12 months?

I am putting out this post now as we enter summer here in the northern hemisphere. These months will zip by with vacations and jam packed weekends. Before we let December sneak upon us, it’s worth reconsidering this practice given its potential drawbacks. Now would be the moment to adjust the timing or approach to annual strategic planning to improve the quality of strategic decisions and pave the way for greater success in the years to come.

Forgiveness and Apologies
  • February 6, 2023

You don’t wanna know my hurt, yeah
Let me guess, you want an apology, probably

– “Let You Down”, NF

Recently, our family was having a conversation on forgiveness, earning an apology, and accepting an apology. I was making the case that these are related but not synonyms. It opened a discussion about what each is and how they are related. In many ways, the first two are internal to the respective individuals and the latter is internal to the relationship.

Forgiveness means different things to different people. But in general, it involves intentionally releasing resentment and anger. It is an internally driven emotion, motivation, and practice for the person harmed in a scenario. It has very little to do with the person, people, or situation that played a role in causing the negative emotions.

Forgiveness is about finding peace and reconciliation within oneself. Forgiveness is the process of recognizing, understanding, and maybe even empathizing with the wrongdoings of another while releasing any negative feelings we may have towards them. It is the notion of looking beyond the hurt and understanding that a mistake was made and that one can move on.

Regarding my family, friends, and those I love, forgiveness often occurs irrespective of whether any apology was extended. It’s my goal to respond with empathy, kindness, and logic rather than to react with emotion and haste. I do not want anything to harm my internal perspective and love for the person. I want to be 100% responsible for how I respond and not cloud my feelings with false beliefs about someone’s actions. To do otherwise is to believe the person’s actions were intentionally malicious.

Earning an apology starts with the recognition of actions or wrongdoings that led to negative emotions, irrespective of the intent. It is taking responsibility for the role one played in creating the situation and feelings, irrespective of the goals and intent. It’s an internal recognition and then a promise to improve oneself.

When I am the cause of wrongdoings, I immediately want to head to the expression of an apology. It’s a conscious effort to understand what led me to this point. I feel I owe it to the other person to dissect the cause and my failures in it before even asking for them to accept an apology. Doing otherwise devalues the apology I am delivering.

Here is where accepting an apology comes in.

Accepting an apology is a slightly different concept. It is the process of receiving an apology from an individual and making the conscious decision to accept that apology; however, it does not necessarily mean that said wrongdoings are forgiven. It is the responsibility of the individual who has been wronged to decide whether or not to accept the apology.

In essence, forgiveness is a process of self-reflection, understanding, and letting go of negative feelings from wrongdoing. Earning an apology is about self-reflection, understanding, and accepting responsibility for the wrongdoings to then be able to improve and hopefully not repeat it.

Accepting an apology is the process of receiving an apology from another person and deciding if it is enough to overcome the wrongdoing. It is recognizing the effort made by the other party and taking this into account. It is a decision to invest in the relationship.

Regardless of how one decides to move forward, it is important to understand that forgiveness, earning an apology, and acceptance of an apology are three different yet equally important processes.

Evolution of Why
  • July 20, 2022

I have read Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and watched his Ted Talk a dozen times. The heart of Sinek’s message is that purpose drives people in an organization. Organizations succeed by clearly defining their purpose and deeply aligning people to that purpose.

Despite the numerous mentions by Sinek around individuals with powerful Whys, I never truly turned this question inward myself. More importantly, I never considered and realized how my Why has evolved over time.

“I don’t want to drive 100 miles. Why would you run that far?”

The Initial Why

I started running on March 26, 2010. Running, especially on trails, was never in my life plan. The joke is that one doesn’t have to outrun a charging bear. One just has to outrun the friend with you. At that time, I was the friend for you. I would have rather futilely fought off the bear than even try to outrun him or you.

Running happened because of my daughter, who was 6 years old at the time. I was tucking her in for bed after a long day. For me, the long day was filled with building a startup, trying to be a good husband and father, and consuming a diet of sugar, caffeine, and cheap food. For her, it was reading and playing princess with mom, including another retelling of our wedding story.

As I tucked this sweet, innocent girl into bed, she hugged me and told me how much she loved me. She reflected back on the story of my wedding. With glee and a partially toothless smile, she then poked my stomach and told me, “You have a lot of squishy. I don’t know if you are going to make it [to my wedding].” Another hug, and off to dreamland she went.

I started running the next day. I had no idea where running would eventually take me. It needed to take me to her far-off in the future wedding. I was committed to turning my life around so I could be there if she wanted me to walk her down the aisle one day. This was my Why.

I ate healthier. I discovered trails and found part of my soul out there. I ran half marathons, then marathons. I started running distances longer than marathons for fun and discovered there were actually races at these distances. Despite the changes and feeling much better, something always felt off. Healthiness did not feel like what I thought it should feel like.

My Why would change exactly four years and six months later after that first run. On that day, my wife and I sat in a neurologist’s office, awaiting the official words. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The words would come. Before they did, the doctor would say he had no idea how I ran ultramarathons. He was somewhat surprised I was even able to walk without aids or challenges.

It became clear that running and exercise had saved both the quality of my life and my life. I hammered down on running and races even more. I wanted to prove I could beat MS and every story I heard about it. It was about me and getting to her potential wedding. I was still private about my diagnosis. I would be the exception and be exceptional at it.

In 2016, I attempted my first Leadville Trail 100. My crew was let in on the secret of my diagnosis. They watched in horror as I tore my right hamstring 8 miles into the race and continued to run. I would fall short of finishing after running 79 miles with the torn right hamstring. (Hammer Nutrition Tissue Rejuvenator would later be key to my recovery.)

“You are injured. It’s ok to stop. Why won’t you?”

Evolution Of The Why

I would come back in 2018 to finish the Leadville Trail 100 despite food poisoning and my body struggling. I would end up bent over and leaning to the right. I attribute the finish to my Why having evolved.

Leaning to the right with 3-4 miles to go.

I became public about my diagnosis and the challenges in September 2017, on the third anniversary of my diagnosis. Finishing Leadville was no longer just about me. I had witnessed too many people struggle with their MS – not just physically but emotionally. It was about all of us with the challenges life throws our way. It was about trying to do the extraordinary even in the face of the ordinary being a struggle.

This became part of my Why. This became fuel to get me from Harrison Street over Hope Pass into Winfield and back for Merilee’s hug. I also used the race to raise awareness and money for MS research.

I asked friends and family to donate an amount per mile with the cheeky message, “If you like or love me, please consider pledging an amount per mile that will encourage me. If I ever pissed you off, consider pledging 5x as much to make me suffer.” We raised over $60k and made a dent in the universe. I think it mostly came from the love folks.

Today’s Why

For those who don’t know, Missouri is The Show Me State. A friend who also has MS and I decided that we would create a new narrative of what MS looks like. We would show the world, but we knew it had to be more than our story. We would bring the story to Jefferson City, our state capital, a mere 103 miles from my home in the suburbs of Saint Louis. Thus, The Show Me 100 ( was born.

We would live our state’s motto and show our politicians what this disease looks like – the good, the bad, and the ugly. We would advocate for those unable to do such and raise money to get us further in curing MS.

On February 27, 2022, we launched from my home at 5 am. We had 103 miles straight down the Katy Trail to get to Jefferson City. We also had a Why big enough for this endeavor. This was evident in the family and friends who came out to help us. It was evident by my state senator and his wife running with us. Senator Bill Eigel stayed with us for a few miles while his wife, Amanda, paced us for more than 20 miles.

Jon Franko, Amanda Eigel, Senator Bill Eigle, and me

Despite every preparation, the run was a microcosm of living with MS. The situation and conditions were more treacherous and unpredictable than expected. 

The weather leading up to the start left the trail conditions oscillating between ice and sludge. At mile 48, I tore my left calf. The tear would later be measured at 4 cm x 2 cm. The overnight temperatures dropped more than forecasted and significantly impacted us due to the slower pace from the torn calf. The other runner with MS suffered hypothermia.

Despite this, stopping the run, just like living with MS or any disease, was not an option. We had a goal to achieve and the Why to fuel us. Our Why had grown to represent those with MS and the supporters that donated $130k to our cause. 

On February 28, 2022, we crossed our finish line in Jefferson City. We would spend the next 2 days in the Missouri State Capital advocating for those with MS. Politicians spent hours with us and asked how they could help.

“Lose sight of the why and you will surely lose sight of your goals.”

Ray Dalio, Principles

Final Thoughts

It’s been more than 4 months since the run. Since then, I have heard from dozens of people with MS and other diseases. The message has been a consistent one of gratitude. They are grateful for moving the world forward in funding, awareness, and policy. More important, it is the gratitude for telling a different public story of those with MS. We are all fighting in this quiet, often hidden battle because our Whys matter – family, friends, and our fellow MS warriors.

But here’s the secret… it was love from and of everyone – Courtney, kids, family, friends, and all those with MS – that made these endeavors possible. That’s my Why.


Hammer Nutrition has with me every step of the way. When my stomach turned 10 miles at 2018 Leadville from food poisoning, my crew shifted me to a mostly Perpetuem diet. They alternated the flavors at every crewing point. It was a small bit of joy to discover what flavor I was getting. Surprisingly, mixing them tasted damn good too. By mile 60, Perpetuem was the only fuel I could hold down.

Perpetuem has remained the foundation of my training and race fuel since then. It was the nutritional basis of the Show Me 100.

Oh, and Tissue Rejuvenator has been key to recovering and preparing me to tackle the next goal because I haven’t lost sight of my why.

Prevalent Emotion During These Unprecedented Times
  • April 20, 2020

The world is on lockdown. The stock market is volatile. Unemployment has set multiple records and not in a good way. Politicians are acknowledging death. None of that might compare to the deprivation of human connection. 

We are socially distancing from people we love… or even like. We yearn for human connections beyond those displayed on a 5.5″ screen. We want handshakes and hugs, not YAZ (yet another Zoom). We want to greet our neighbors with a smile rather than suspicion if they washed their hands or have honored social distancing.

In the last few weeks, we have experienced a range of emotions as a new level of uncertainty has crept into the world. These times are rightfully driving the overwhelming feelings of fear, uncertainty, doubt, and anxiety for many.

I feel gratitude – an insurmountable amount of gratitude more than any other emotion. And a nagging desire to express the gratitude coursing through my veins because the source is worthy and surprising.

I realize that my family is navigating this pandemic with minimal pain. That drives gratitude. An overwhelming 22 million are struggling with unemployment. Courtney and I are blessed to still be working. I am fortunate to have a job that allowed me to transition to WFH easily. Courtney has been alternating between WFH and the clinic, which does impose some risk. Our kids have found a balance with online learning, personal time, and family bonding. We are focused on what matters. Oh, and we are getting up to work out together every weekday.

Yet, I realize that my family is navigating this pandemic with near-maximum risk. That has driven even greater gratitude.

I live with an internal enemy relentless committed to attacking my body. I have grown to accept this intrinsic threat and what it means. Multiple sclerosis is the result of an overactive immune system that attacks the myelin sheathing around nerve connections. In plain and fun terms, it’s like having a badass military force that can defeat almost any foe. They are also really bored. So, they attack a subset of those they are supposed to protect.

Many of us with MS and other conditions are on disease-modifying therapies (DMTs). In the case of my DMTs, my immune system is suppressed. It creates truckloads of risks and consequences. I have a minimally viable immune system and get sick easier than most. People with MS commit suicide at twice the rate of the population.

It also means those with MS are one of the most vulnerable during this pandemic – a virus that attacks the body and social isolation that attacks the mind.

I am watching a society sacrifice to help all of us, especially the most vulnerable. Nurses, nurse practitioners, PAs, MAs, doctors, and many other healthcare professionals are risking exposure to assist those with COVID-19. The backbone of society continues to strive to maintain our way of life and create some level of normalcy – retail employees, grocers, truck drivers, teachers, and many others. They are doing this with kindness and concern for all of us.

Tammy, a pharmacy technician at my local Costco pharmacy, is an example of this commitment. She was deeply worried about my health and going out in public even to pick up prescriptions. So, she voluntarily offered to drop off my prescriptions at my house. This is not mail order. This is not a Costco service. This is one person wanting to help another as she was going to personally drive them to my house during her time off.

And in all of that, I feel gratitude over fear, doubt, anxiety, or any negativity. When the best of humanity is in action to help one another, how could I not?

(NOTE: This was one of the most difficult posts to draft. These sacrifices are causing pain and struggle for many. That cannot be taken for granted.)