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I’m at a cottage in Quebec. Sitting by a fire. In front of a picturesque lake. I spent the summer in San Francisco. California. With a small company called Google. They specialize in online search. And recently I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the amazing things God will do with your life…if you let Him.
I’ll admit, I’ve been a delinquent blogger. Things got busy at school last semester, I dropped the routine, and the posts stopped. And, unfortunately, 4 months of my life have gone completely undocumented. They exist only in memory. Wow, that sounded dramatic. But, as I have some time to reflect and relax before my 2nd (and last) year at HBS gets fired up, I figured I’d get some of my thoughts down from an amazing summer.
Google. The biggest internet phenomenon of our generation. That’s a fair statement, right? Facebook may disagree. YouTube might try too, but Google owns YouTube so that wouldn’t quite work. If I had to sum up my experience at Google in short description, it would be this:
Having finished an MBA Intern lunch (a free lunch from one of Google’s 18 cafes – sushi, Kobe beef burgers, fresh guacamole…you name it) with the Global VP of Sales, I hop on a colorful bike to ride it across Google’s huge campus (over 10 buildings, spread across the heart of Mountain View, CA). My MacBook in tow, I pass a group of Googlers playing beach volleyball, enjoying the warm, zero-humidity, sunny weather. Arriving at the next campus, I am greeted by some other Googlers engaged in a water-gun fight. I park the bike (for the next employee to jump on when he/she needs it), and I head inside to make my next meeting, a video conference with Googlers in Japan, Dublin, Singapore, India and London. We’re working to provide solutions for smaller advertising agencies, who utilize Google’s AdWords product to grow their clients’ businesses. After the fast-paced, 30-minute global “VC” meeting, I head over to challenge a fellow MBA Intern in a fierce ping pong match. And after some more meetings, emails, and work, I hop on the Google shuttle, which is equipped with free Wi-Fi, to head back to San Francisco (about 45 minutes north of Mountain View).
Okay, so I left most of the work parts out. And the one I did mention doesn’t make much sense because you would never have an afternoon meeting with counterparts across the world – the time difference prevents that. But, I did have plenty 7:30am meetings in order to accommodate global counterparts.
I actually spent the majority of my summer in Google’s San Francisco office, which is awesome. Overlooking the Bay Bridge, it houses around 500 Googlers. And, it’s growing every day. (Google acquired a small tech company during the summer, and suddenly, we had more competition around the ping pong table.)
Google’s work culture is extremely interesting. I would characterize it as young and fast-paced, huge and impersonal, friendly and humble, fun and innovative, positive and pet-friendly…performance driven but relaxed, informal but professional, transparent but secretive. Google is very much in an awkward adolescence as a company. It’s no longer a start-up (though the fast-paced, launch and iterate mindset makes it feel like one sometimes), but it’s still less than ten years old. Google employees are as smart and talented as it gets. Having 25,000, Google is trying to figure out how to ease the tension between systems and structure and red-tape and inefficiency. There’s endless opportunity within the company, but it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Google is having major world impact, but it can be hard to measure your own.
I genuinely enjoyed my summer. I worked on a project that had significant organizational impact, and I learned a ton about technology, organizational change, and leadership. Walking into the summer, I had 3 goals: to gain global business perspective, to contribute to and learn from an excellent company, and to build relationships with talented people who challenge me. I can say with all sincerity that I accomplished all three. And it was really awesome to learn how a different company operates. I could spend all day comparing and contrasting Google with Chick-fil-A. Maybe that’s another blog post in the making…
So the big question now is, what’s next? One more year at HBS, but then what? Where will I be one year from now? With Chick-fil-A in Atlanta? Google in San Francisco? Somewhere else? I’d lie if I told you that the uncertainty has never bothered me. But, when I get overwhelmed, worried, or anxious about what the future holds, I always try and go back to one fact: God is for me. He wants me to get where He wants me to go more than I want to get where He wants me to go. So, I’ll keep walking with Him in this adventure, praying hard to discern where He needs me most.
Stay tuned for another post about my San Francisco city experience…
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Every once in a while you come across a cause that captures your heart. A mission that grabs your attention. An idea that stimulates your mind. It happened for me this past week. Here it is: take families going through childhood cancer to the beach for a week retreat. Give them an escape. Away from hospital rooms, sleepless nights and chemotherapy. More than that – center the entire retreat around a three-part purpose: to help families laugh, reconnect with each other, and find hope in God. And that’s the Lighthouse Family Retreat.
It was 12 years ago when my youngest brother Tim died of cancer at age 11. He had osteosarcoma (bone cancer) for less than a year before he passed away. As a freshman in high school, I was faced with an intensely difficult situation. And, years later, I can hardly imagine how painful the time must have been for my parents. So, when I heard about the Lighthouse Family Retreat, I signed up to volunteer immediately.
My nephew Trey and I spent the last week in Seaside, Florida with 30 other volunteers and 10 families who have a child with cancer. We did laundry, made beds, carried stuff, served food, and got piled on by 6-8 year-old boys all week. There was pool olympics, a talent show, and a dance party. You would think that a retreat filled with childhood cancer families would be depressing. It’s anything but. Instead, the week is packed full of smiles and laughter. It’s bright. Fun. Full of life. Exactly what the families need. Allow me to share my three biggest lessons from the week:
It’s Healthy to Hang Out With Kids
Kids amaze me. Amputated legs, ports in their chests, bald heads…no matter. Kids enjoy life unashamedly. What age do we reach when we become more concerned about life’s problems than about enjoying the moment? Probably the same age as when we become obsessed with what others think of us. But, the kids I hung out with last week haven’t reached that age.
Take Chase, for example. At 6, he’s already had leukemia for a couple years. The cancer may force him to have hip replacement soon. And, what is my most vivid memory of Chase from the week? His football spike and unbelievable endzone dance. Ocho Cinco would be jealous.
It’s healthy to hang out with kids. They remind me that my worries really aren’t that big of a deal. A la Matthew 6:25-34. No wonder Jesus told us to have faith like a child.
Serving Others Helps You Realize Life is Not About You
As Donald Miller once described, sometimes I act like life is a movie about me. I’m the main character, and everyone/everything else revolves around me. I’ve become more vulnerable to this perspective since going back to school. Business school is a very me-centered culture. As a student, I’m a consumer, regularly asking, “what’s in it for me?” Serving at the Lighthouse helped shake me out of that mentality.
Trey and I were assigned as family partners to the Richards family. They have 3 boys – Max (10), Carter (8), and Beau (6). Carter has leukemia. Trey and I served their family during the week – we cleaned their home, did their laundry, left them encouraging notes, etc. One night we watched the boys so that their parents could go on a date. Some of the retreat parents hadn’t been on a date on years (cancer can ruin marriages too). Helping that happen was worth it’s weight in gold.
Life is not about me. And the only way to stop acting like it is to focus on serving others.
Faith is Based on Who God is, Not How Life is
Why do bad things happen to good people? I don’t know if I have a good answer to that. But, seeing the attitudes of the families down at the Lighthouse gave me a lot of hope. In the middle of experiencing hell on earth, a lot of the families remain convinced of God’s goodness. Their faith is based on who God is. Not what circumstances they’re currently facing.
Each day of the retreat week focuses on a different message. Day 1: God is Good. Day 2: God Cares. Day 3: God is in Control. Day 4: God Wants to Know You. Wow. If I fully grasped those four truths, there’d be no telling what would happen in my life. Seriously, what would it look like if my focus was on how much Jesus loves me? Instead of all those emails I need to send. Instead of how I have to find the perfect job. Instead of fill in the blank.
So, it was an amazing week. And now I’m left wondering: how can I take my lessons from the Lighthouse Family Retreat and apply them during my internship at Google this summer?
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This blog post is a tribute. Not to an interesting case study at HBS or an exciting trip I went on or to how great the Georgia Bulldogs are (and they are, in fact, great.) But, to a dear friend. A mentor. A spiritual brother. A man who lived life to the full. A man who loved people, including countless high school kids, unconditionally. A man who loved his wife, parents, and sister. A man who would dress up like a cowboy, referee or nerd in one moment and be sharing compelling accounts from the Bible in the next. A man who taught me a lot about what it means to love God and love people. This blog post is a tribute. To Mike Sweeney. Or, as everyone knows him, Sweeney.
I met Sweeney at some point in college. He was the Young Life (YL) Area Director in my hometown of Roswell, Georgia. Through YL, Sweeney had formed close relationships with my younger brother and his friends. An early 30-something hanging out with high school kids, Sweeney just wanted to love them, have fun, and if the opportunity presented itself, give them direction. I’ll never forget his words to me in December of 2005 after I had graduated from college. He said, “Hey Mike, I know you just graduated and are getting ready to start work, but let me know when I can start recruiting you to volunteer with Young Life.” I thought, “yeah, right. I don’t have time for that,” and laughed him off.
But Sweeney was persistent. He kept recruiting. And, I’m glad he did. You see, he was like that – he was persistent about sharing what he knew would bless you. He recruited you because he wanted you to experience the joy he had. It’s like he had a sixth sense about it. He invited me to a weekend volunteer leader camp at Windy Gap in North Carolina. And then to Young Life Club where Roswell High School kids gathered weekly to watch skits, sing songs, and laugh their heads off. Oh yeah, and to hear about who Jesus is. I was hooked. Seeing Sweeney in front of the mic, playing the guitar, bringing energy, life, and fun to the kids was magnetic. He had successfully recruited me.
A phrase that goes through YL circles is, “it’s a sin to bore kids with the Gospel.” I mean, if Jesus offers “life to the full”, then doesn’t that mean that following Him should be fun? Sweeney showed me how to have fun following Jesus. My faith became less about trying (and failing) not to screw up, less about rules and regulations, less about feeling guilty or judging others. It became about loving God (regardless of my circumstances). Loving people (no matter how they acted). Laughing. Smiling. Risk taking. Adventure. Trust.
Sweeney also showed me how to appreciate Jesus as a friend. I’ll never forget the way he prayed. It was never, “Oh dear, holy and gracious Father above all things, your name be exalted, thou art…” (not that there’s anything wrong with those prayers). But, instead, Sweeney talked to Jesus as if He was right there with us. Huddled in the middle of our Young Life Leader circle. And he talked to God as if he was conversing with a great friend over a beer or a cup of coffee. With respect, of course. But, with deep freedom and genuine adoration.
The other thing that struck me about Sweeney is how he interacted with other people. He could have had a high school kid look him in the eye and say, “I just drove drunk and got my girlfriend pregnant,” and Sweeney wouldn’t judge him. Sweeney didn’t judge. Or didn’t ever make you feel like it at least. Call you to a higher standard? Yes. But, lay on the guilt and condemnation? Never. I think kids wanted to be better because they knew how much Sweeney cared for them. Sweeney didn’t ultimately care about them being better though. He just wanted them to know Jesus.
16 months ago, three years after my partnership with Sweeney as a YL leader, his cancer came back. And after a long fight, Sweeney died last Monday morning. Sitting at his Memorial Service this morning, tears rolling down my face, I had time to reflect. On the man Sweeney was, yes. On the amount of people he impacted, of course. On the fact that he is now in Heaven because of his trust in Jesus, certainly. But more than that, the stories and tears and laughter caused me to reflect on the rest of my own life.
There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” And another where Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Though not perfect, Sweeney embodied those verses. And so it begs the question: How will I live? Selfishly, trying to build up my own accomplishments and accolades? Or arrogantly, trying to get all the credit? Or religiously, judging people when they don’t act the way I want them to? Or will I live like Sweeney lived? Simply loving God and loving others. Without conditions. Without reservations. But, with energy, joy, life, and enthusiasm. All the while recruiting others to do the same.
*To know more about Sweeney’s journey, check out his CaringBridge site, authored by his incredible wife Cabell.*
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Ok, it’s been way too long since the Boston Bing was updated. But, it’s been a busy few weeks, and I neglected the blog. No excuses, but I’ve had some great experiences. Experiences that cause me to reflect and ask questions like, “Is this really my life?” “What did I do to deserve these opportunities?” The respective answers: yes and nothing. Unmerited favor. That’s how great God is.
Three weekends ago – Skiing at Lake Tahoe with my best friends from high school and college.
Two weekends ago: Skiing in Killington, Vermont with HBS Sectionmates.
Last week: Spring Break – Sailing Trip in the British Virgin Islands with HBS Classmates.
So, needless to say, it’s been an amazing last month. And now, back from Spring Break, the home stretch toward the end of RC year begins. 8 weeks and final exams, and then we’re finished. And, while I feel a little overwhelmed at how much there is to accomplish in that short time (even though the pictures don’t show it, I do actually work once in a while), I take heart in a Bible verse a good friend sent me recently:
“The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.” -Exodus 14:14
Glad He’s fighting for me. I’ll try to remain still…and continue enjoying some of the best experiences of my life.
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I wear a scarf. I do yoga.
What’s happened to me? I mean, I knew God was going to open my eyes to new people and experiences when I moved to Boston. But, this is almost unacceptable. Seriously though, I have legit explanations. Don’t steal my UGA fraternity guy identity just yet.
First, about the scarf. It’s just flat out cold. Who knew that scarves are actually extremely practical? Certainly not the hip, stylish, “too cool for school” dudes in Buckhead. Try going scarf-less in Boston. The wind will penetrate your naked neck and make you feel like a freeze pop. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about – the frozen sugar water that slides out of the plastic, a flavor explosion in your mouth. I digress. But, the scarf is necessary. I promise.
Ok, the yoga. First, to clarify, it was Bikram Yoga, which I bet is the kind of yoga Chuck Norris does. I did it for the first time this afternoon, and it completely wrecked me. Think uncomfortable stretching positions in over 100 degree heat for 90 minutes. Also, for further justification, my chiropractor told me to go. Confession: I loved it and will probably go back…unless I can’t move in the morning.
So, we had this week off of class. Dedicated summer internship recruiting/interviewing week. It was actually a nice change of pace. I’m looking at a few different companies this summer. Really amazing companies too. Blessed to even be talking with them. Zappos, General Mills, Nike, Google…in no particular order. I spent most of my week doing stuff with General Mills – a reception, personality assessment, and two interviews. I’m extremely impressed with the organization too. The people are brilliant yet humble, passionate yet laid back, and interesting yet interested. Not to mention they make Lucky Charms, which very well may be the greatest cereal in the history of the world (I wrote this in my cover letter to them…seriously). Of course, Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a close second.
By the way, I find out this week if I get an offer with General Mills or not. The Nike, Google, and Zappos pictures will also become more clear. Fingers crossed, but with a great realization in mind: If nothing works out, if all my leads dry up, if no offers come, it means one thing: God has something even better in store for me. This is a key realization in the midst of all the surrounding pressure. Glad God gave it to me.
Experienced my second live college basketball game of the season on Friday night. Harvard vs. Cornell. Not exactly the Kansas Jayhawks, but Cornell did almost beat Kansas in Lawrence this year. Almost, thankfully. The game was a blast though. Lead changes. Big-time players. Andy Katz was even in the house. That’s a big deal for a Harvard game. My favorite part was clearly when the Harvard student section started chanting, “Safety School, Safety School” at the visiting Cornell fans. I was thinking how much smarter I would of had to be to have had Cornell as an undergrad safety school…For those keeping score at home, Harvard lost 79-70.
Beyond the job stuff and the basketball game, my week was pretty relaxing. I didn’t set the alarm once, I jogged outside (45 degrees and sunny) a couple times, and read for pleasure. Shocking, huh? I’m reading Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich. It’s getting me pretty fired up for March Madness.
At the risk of being too personal, I want to share something. While looking through an old journal of mine, I found the entry I did on Wednesday, January 21, 2009, the day I got accepted to HBS. It’s quite amazing to think how different things were then. And really cool to reflect on it all. Here’s basically what I wrote (before I had heard the news):
“God, if I don’t get accepted, praise you! For you have used this journey to shape me, stretch me, to test my faith and make me stronger…God, if I do get accepted, and this is my desire, praise you! For you have called me deeper into the journey to sharpen me, change me, love me, and show up for me.”
During a General Mills session, one of their Marketing leaders and a former HBS grad, Dave Eisen, said something really insightful about our time as students at HBS. He said, “Enjoy this time. HBS is an unmatched opportunity for self-discovery.” Wow. I couldn’t agree more and couldn’t have said it better. I’m continually blown away by how much I’ve learned about myself. And by how much God has helped me grow and change.
Exhibits 1 & 2? My scarf and yoga class.
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How do you motivate yourself? When the days are long, the work endless, and the weather cold. When every ounce of you just wants to sit in front of the TV and let Kettle Chip crumbs collect on your chest. When you watch every scene in Hitch on TBS in the name of procrastination. There’s a few things I do. Take a jog. Pray. Things that clear my head. Or, I’ll watch an inspirational movie scene. Or five. That’s what I did this week. And, I think it worked. My favorites? Braveheart – Rudy – Dead Poets Society – A Few Good Men. These are sure to fire you back up if you’re in a lull. They’ll give you just enough motivation to tackle the next case study, answer the next email, or make the next phone call.
It’s official. The Ashton Estate will live to see another year. After some back and forth with our landlord regarding parking, noise, and trash, we have reached a deal. But, not before he put our house up on Craig’s List (he said he’d take it down soon, but it’s still up: 9 Ashton Place.) I love the description: “Exquisite Victorian-era single-family detached house at the end of a private side-street just steps to Harvard Sq.” Exquisite? Not really. Victorian-era? It’s definitely old. Steps to Harvard Sq? A lot of steps. Either way, it’s full of great memories, and we’ll get to create some more in 2011.
In other news, I was featured in the Harbus, the HBS student newspaper, this past week. A Valentine’s Day edition, I was in the article titled “Eligible Men and Women of HBS.” A Sectionmate working with the paper put me in. I blame him. I also blame him for not including my phone number in the article. Oh well, I’m not sure any girl would go out with a guy who listed his favorite pick-up line as “Why does it feel like the most beautiful girl in the world is in this room?” It is creative though. No, I didn’t think of it myself. I’ll give Google credit.
The most interesting case studies of the week were Skyhook and Enron. Skyhook, a case in our Entrepreneurship class, patented the Wi-Fi technology responsible for the iPhone’s ability to pinpoint exactly where you are. It was fascinating to hear about the two founders, who spent months living in friends’ basements, neglecting their families, “borrowing” internet, and eating PB&J just to get by. And then, they get a voice message from Steve Jobs himself. Skyhook Co-founder Ted Morgan spoke to our class and said he thought the voice message was one of his friends playing a joke. Turns out it was serious, and after some tough negotiations (can you imagine negotiating with Steve Jobs?), Skyhook hit the jackpot.
Then, there was Enron. The other side of the coin. Huge profits in the energy markets. Recruiting top talent. Booming stock price. Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling were on top of the world. Then, Enron got greedy. Forming Special Purpose Entities (SPEs) to finance their risky ventures, their accounting went sketchy. And, no one admitted fault. No one came clean. And, it came crashing down. Proverbs 18:12 – “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.”
On a brighter note, I had some great visitors over the weekend. Elizabeth David and Lauren “Lollie” Thigpen made the trip up from Atlanta. They sat in on class with me on Friday. It felt like my worlds collided. Chick-fil-A and HBS. Atlanta and Boston. Elizabeth and Lollie were a breath of fresh air though. We watched the Olympic opening ceremonies with my Section on Friday, played foosball at a dive bar in Boston on Saturday, and enjoyed some great conversation at Dunkin Donuts and Toscanini’s in Central Square. Also, we ran into a 2nd year HBS student from Atlanta on Friday afternoon. She was with her bulldog that she got in Statesboro, Georgia. I almost stole him.
So, another week is in the books. Thankfully, we have next week off of class for internship recruiting purposes. So, instead of watching movies to motivate myself to work, I can watch them for pure entertainment. Although, if I watch all of Braveheart instead of just one clip, maybe I’ll lock-up a summer internship…
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How is it February already? Seriously, what happened? I swear it was January yesterday. Not that this is a revolutionary realization or anything, but time goes fast. If you’re not intentional about enjoying and making the most of it, time will disappear. “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” (From Tyranny of the Urgent). I think time our most precious resource.
This week I realized how precious time is. One of those, “you don’t appreciate a great thing until it’s gone” moments. I stayed home sick from class on Monday. It was nothing terrible, but a head cold had me feeling bad enough to inhibit me from using the time how I would have really liked to. For instance, I didn’t blog. Didn’t go to class (which, believe it or not, I would have liked to.) Didn’t go to the weekly Monday dinner with guys from my Section. Didn’t watch 24 (don’t worry, it’s DVRed.) And, I was scrambling to catch up the rest of the week. I guess this underlies the importance of taking care of yourself and staying healthy…
But, overall, I can’t complain – I’ve had a great couple weeks. We had our January Ashton Family Dinner with another impressive turnout. Dee Leopold, HBS Director of Admissions, joined us. She’s a remarkable lady – very authentic with a heart for students. Of course, I’m biased because her signature is at the bottom of my acceptance letter. Also in attendance, one of the co-founders of YouTube. He’s in my roommate’s Section. While humbly sharing his story, he casually mentioned starting up YouTube. A few minutes later, I shared my story and casually mentioned dancing in the Chick-fil-A Cow suit. To each his own, right?
Experienced my first collegiate hockey game last weekend. Harvard vs. Princeton. An Ivy league battle of epic proportions. Unfortunately, the Crimson couldn’t pull it out. Also unfortunate – walking home in the negative 13 degree windchill weather. The wind penetrated my coat, fleece, shirts, skin and muscle…my bones were cold. Also, I think the moisture in my eyes froze over because I couldn’t blink. I used to think that once the weather got below 20 it all felt the same. Cold is cold, right? I stand corrected.
Class has been very interesting this semester so far. And, surprisingly, my Business, Government, and the International Economy has been one of my favorites. I’m finally beginning to understand what GDP, interest rates, reservation requirements, and inflation do and mean. In other words, my knowledge of US banking and monetary policy goes a littler further than my previous understanding, which comes from the bank run scene in It’s a Wonderful Life (which our professor referenced in class).
More seriously though, we spent a couple classes discussing the Great Depression – what happened, why it did, and how to prevent it from happening again. Which raised an interesting question – can this happen again? While multiple people in class argued no (because the US has taken appropriate measures and learned from history), I was not convinced. I think it could certainly happen again, mainly because of human (maybe, more specifically, American) nature. We are wired to always push for more. To risk a little bit more and more in hopes of a greater return. Not just financially, but in almost anything. The little kid who puts his hand closer and closer to the hot stove to satisfy curiosity. Or me pushing myself to do everything at the expense of my health. We test the limits…and keep testing them until we get burned, sick or broke. That’s probably why the Bible says, “the prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 27:12)
So, class has been interesting. In two weeks, we’ve covered everything from Martha Stewart and Insider Trading to Apple and the iPod (or iPad!), Coca-Cola’s distribution network, the founding of Zipcar, and the effect of President Bush’s tax cuts. It’s been like drinking through a fire hose.
I’m currently on a flight back to Boston from Kansas. Spent the day and night in Lawrence, Kansas with the honorable Clay Britton and his lovely wife Katy. And made my annual pilgrimage to Phog Allen Fieldhouse, the home of the 2008 National Champions and current #1 team in the nation, Kansas Jayhawks. While watching Kansas win was satisfying because of my simple love of college basketball, I was struck deeper by the display of sustained excellence. The Jayhawks have won 55 straight games at home (in Allen Fieldhouse) – two full years without a loss there. So, I’m on my flight home thinking how can I achieve sustained excellence in my own life. Or for the next organization I serve…
I think the answer probably has something to do with enjoying and making the most out of every minute of every day.