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Personal Journey

My Visit to the Gulf Coast

July 26, 2010

In my blog title, Embracing Community is highlighted and is a major part of what I do.  Whether it’s online community or physical community – the idea is the same.  The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has had a major impact on me and I have been on a mission to organize an expedition down to the Gulf to document and bring back stories of the communities and the people impacted, while using social media to propel the message far and wide.  If you are not interested in hearing this perspective or would prefer not to get into the touchy subject of oil addiction, feel free to stop reading now.  But if you want to hear my perspective on the subject, by all means stick around.  I feel that it is my calling to spread this word, and I’ve made it a priority in my life and in my work.

I drove down to the Gulf this past Saturday to see for myself what was going on.  I must say, it was very different than anything I was expecting.  I didn’t go out on the water and didn’t see any oil firsthand, although there was definitely evidence of the disaster all around.  With Tropical Storm Bonnie approaching, the people down there got pretty nervous – mainly because of their experience with Katrina.  That came up several times in my talks with the locals.  I talked with a homeless man Gary out on the beach at Biloxi – he had ridden Greyhound down from Wisconsin with his bicycle to look for cleanup work. By the time he got there, there were no jobs left. He was riding his bicycle from New Orleans to Florida in search of work.  He was happy to have someone to talk to though, so I hung out with him for a while.

I kept driving and pulled off at Bay St. Louis and talked to another homeless man that was ranting and raving about all kinds of stuff and how our country was on the wrong track.  I took several pictures around the area – there was orange and yellow boom all over the place, and families and kids were in the water right beside it.  It was so bizarre to me – it just didn’t look right.  The water was very calm, which seemed strange to me since there was a tropical system offshore.

I drove through the Mississippi bayou and ran across a place called Turtle Landing in Pearlington.  The sign outside got me to turn the car around and go back.  I went to take a picture and knew that I had to go inside.  I sat down at the bar and ordered a beer and a Po’ Boy.  I started talking with the guy next to me at the bar and ended up staying for 4 hours just listening to him.  He is a school teacher in Slidell and a Katrina survivor.  He was telling me the stories of what they went through, which was pretty potent I must say. The people down there are pretty beaten down by it all and are fed up with the government to put it mildly.  The handling of Katrina and now the response to the BP spill have them really exasperated by the situation.  They don’t understand the moratorium at all – I heard it over and over again.  The industry is such a huge part of the economy there, and they just can’t comprehend how we can shut down all drilling indefinitely.

On Sunday after talking with Glenda at the Olde Town Inn I stayed in Saturday night in New Orleans, I decided to drive down to Venice, LA for one more trip to the water before heading home.  Glenda was pretty vocal when I asked her about the oil spill and how they had been affected.  The first thing out of her mouth was ‘Oh, bullshit!”  She went on a rant about how there is nothing to be worried about in terms of health impacts of the oil.  She went on to tell me how her father had worked in the Texas oil fields and never had health problems.  She did eventually say that the dispersants were another story and there might be some concerns there.  It appeared that New Orleans was alive and well, and there was no evidence that tourism had been adversely affected by the spill, which Glenda confirmed.

Anyway, Venice is about 2 hours south of New Orleans, and when you get down there, it’s basically the belly of the beast.  Oil company plants, heliports to transport workers out to the rigs, and other evidence of the pervasiveness of the industry on the local economy is everywhere.  I went down to the marina and talked with a couple of fishermen.  There was very little activity around the marina – all of the ships had come back into port in preparation of the storm that ended up fizzling out on Saturday.  They were getting ready to head back out on Monday to see what had happened over the weekend with the storm.  Of course, their main concern was not being able to fish, and they were really nervous about the impact of the dispersant on the fish population. They didn’t expect to be able to fish for at least a year.  The guys I talked to were being taken care of financially and were doing cleanup work for BP.  One of the guys I talked to though said that there were about 60,000 boats available, but only 40,000 were being used in the cleanup effort.  He said some people didn’t get picked – not sure how that is being handled and if those people are just out of luck.

The oil had not made it to Venice – evidently a lot of it was in the Grand Isle area.  I didn’t visit Grand Isle on this trip, but definitely plan to when I go back down in August.  By mid-afternoon on Sunday, I decided to head back to Atlanta and continue planning the trip later in August.  I felt that I had enough information to understand how our expedition could be structured to have the most impact here in Atlanta and beyond.

Several people asked me why I came down and what I was doing there.  Honestly, I was there because I care.  I care about what is happening down there.  I care about the people who have been impacted.  I care about the environment and the animals that have been impacted.  I care about our future and can’t stand the thought of this type of thing happening again.  Most of all, I believe that we are all in this together – we are each a part of a larger community and we can all play a part in moving beyond this disaster.

Stay tuned for the follow-up expedition back to the region.  If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, please drop me a line and let me know.  Thanks for being here – I appreciate it very much!

Lessons From An Ant

May 31, 2010

This weekend was truly remarkable in many ways.  I attended a childhood friend’s wedding in Waynesville, NC (about 30 minutes outside of Asheville) on Saturday and I had a chance to hang out in Asheville a little bit on Saturday and Sunday.  I had not been since I was in high school, so I was pleasantly surprised that the town had progressed so far in the 20+ years it has been since my last visit.

While I was visiting, I happened upon a cool coffee shop with an attached store called A Far Away Place that sold spiritual artifacts, stones, scrolls, books, etc.  The shopkeeper Kathleen helped me pick out the perfect wedding gift on Saturday, and when I returned to thank her on Sunday, she suggested I check out this place nearby that she called the boulder fields.  She gave me the name of a town and another shop to visit that would help me find the place, as it was one of those ‘locals only’ spots.  I followed the directions that the guy in the shop gave me and I ended up at a trail head on the mountain opposite Chimney Rock Park.

Now, I love a good adventure – especially when it involves going somewhere remote where nobody else is going to be.  It turns out that Chimney Rock Park is quite popular – especially Memorial Day weekend, so I was delighted to discover something totally away from all of that madness.  I started up the trail and quickly got to a fork.  I picked my path and started to hike.  The trail was wide and rocky, but had deep gulleys where rains had eroded the soil extensively.  I didn’t have proper hiking shoes at the time, but I made the best of it.  As I ascended, the trail got steeper and more rocky.  Eventually the clouds that I saw forming across the ridge opened up and I got a refreshing Spring shower.  My thoughts turned toward the eroded trail and I decided to head back down in case the rain got really bad.  Not long after I started back down, it stopped raining and I decided to take a quick break in a clearing about 1/4 way down the mountain.  I sat on a huge rock in the middle of the trail and began to eat the clementines that I had brought along for a snack.  It was then that I met the ants.

I noticed a couple of ants crawling around where I was sitting, but then I realized that one ant had a piece of a leaf or something that it was dragging across the trail.  Whatever the thing was it was carrying was about 4 times its size, yet it never let go of it, regardless of the obstacle.  I watched intently as this ant pulled the leaf through seemingly impossible terrain.  At one point the ant ascended a rock that was at a 90+ degree angle to the trail (the rock on the right in the picture below).  The ant never let go of the leaf.

While I was watching this ant and marveling at its dedication, I softened my focus just slightly and suddenly I noticed other ants around me.  Not right beside me, but far out in my peripheral vision.  I could see them all concurrently – their movements seemed to be in unison, although they were not in close  proximity to each other.  I noticed flies, gnats, bees, and various other insects buzzing about.  All of this I noticed just by sitting still and becoming Present.  The best way I can describe it is that there was a symphony of movement all around me that I never would have noticed had I not stopped and sat perfectly still for those few minutes.

I thought about the ant that was dragging the leaf and the movement of all of the ants and insects together, and it seemed to be telling me something.  First, it was amazing to watch this tiny ant pulling something much larger than itself, but then when it got to an obstacle that I was sure would divert it from its path, it kept going anyway.  What this ant achieved was incredible from my perspective.  Then, the collective movements of all the creatures that were in complete harmony with the forest reminded me that we are all connected to each other and to the Earth.

I believe the lesson that I was there to learn is that no matter what the odds seem to be in our lives, we can overcome them if we are dedicated.  Right now, there are challenges around the world that seem to be daunting at first glance.  Pick your crisis – there are several.  For instance, the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico – it seems hopeless sometimes when we see the devastating images, and many of us are asking if it is really worth gambling with our environment in the name of oil.  It seems that we are at a critical point on our path – perhaps even an inflection point, and we would be well served to remember the dedication and perseverance of the ants as we turn our attention toward alternative energy sources.

All of us have our work and our struggles, and we can achieve remarkable things when we hold the vision and keep moving through the difficult times.  I’ve seen this play out in my own life time after time.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to have the experience out on the mountain this past weekend.  It’s moments like this that remind me why I like to return to the woods as often as possible.

I’ll close with an incredible quote from Henry David Thoreau:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Thanks for reading.

Shifting

May 5, 2010

Lately I’ve been putting the foundation in place for some really amazing work that I believe is about to take off, and I have been thinking about how I use this blog.  In the past month or so I have shifted my focus toward pursuing consulting opportunities and even partner opportunities with a start-up community, which I’ll talk about as soon as I’m able to.  I would like for this blog to be much more about what I’m doing and the business that I’m creating and less about commentary on the social media and marketing field.  I hope that’s OK with the readers out there that have been following me.  And by the way, I think this will be much more interesting actually!

This doesn’t mean that I won’t be talking about social media, because it is a major part of what I do, but I want to show how I’m using it personally and also for clients.  I’ve written about this before, but I want to work with clients that are really trying to have a meaningful impact in the world, and I can’t think of a more important time for this to become a reality.  One of the clients that I’m working with is focused on helping people discover themselves through a unique, transformative experience with horses.  More on that soon.  I’m also working with the Atlanta Community Food Bank (I am also on the Advisory Board) creating a social media strategy, internal policy, and tactical plan for the organization, which is one of the biggest Food Banks in the country and serves over 700 partner agencies in North Georgia.  These have been really fun to work on because I can see the difference they are making in the world.  This is what I’ve been wanting to do with my career, and it’s turning into reality.  I believe it’s because I put my focus squarely in this area, so the opportunities are lining up.

I run across so many blogs from people that are truly living mindfully, and I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some of the people that have inspired me over the last 6 months or so.  Perhaps most significantly is Chris Guillebeau.  His blog, The Art of Non-Conformity is one of the most inspiring of any I have ever read.  Chris has chosen a different path for himself that is far from the mainstream, and he is on his way to achieving his goal of visiting every country in the world by his 35th birthday.  Another is Sarah Robinson and her blog Escaping Mediocrity. She has been very transparent with how her journey is unfolding and I find her writing to be quite refreshing.  Hildy Gottlieb and her Creating the Future blog is also a big one – she is in the process of renaming the Community-Driven Institute, and she is doing so out by allowing her readers to participate in the renaming process.  Very cool!  And of course, my good friend Lewis Perkins, who was inspired by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and created a blog called Women Are Saving The World Now.  Lewis is very passionate about this topic and has interviewed some amazing women that are doing exceptional work out in the world. These are some of the people that inspire me in my daily life.

So, as 2010 progresses, you can expect to see more of this type of writing on my blog.  Especially after I sell my loft!  I plan on traveling quite a bit this Summer and meeting some of the people that have inspired me in my own work.  My road trip to Alaska that I’ve wanted to do since I was 19 is on the agenda for this year.  Who knows what exciting connections I’ll make along the way?  Stay tuned if you’re interested in following me on this journey.  I promise I’ll be more active with my updates.  Thanks for being here!

Photo: ACFB Advisory Board’s annual Kids In Need toy drive

I Am Not Superman

April 19, 2010

This is a post that is weeks in the making and one that has been pinging around in my head consistently as I’ve been going through some big changes.  Despite loving the REM song back in the 80s, I’m in fact NOT Superman.  This is hard for me to accept, but alas, it’s true.

I was reading Chris Brogan’s post a couple of weeks ago on Redrawing, and it really resonated with me.  I’ve never been able to wrap my head around how he has kept up with everything he has going on for this long.  My hat goes off to him not only for keeping all the balls in the air, but for realizing something needed to change and taking steps to make the situation workable for him.  A couple of days ago, Chris posted another entry about the importance of story in our lives.  Immediately I knew this was going to be an element of this blog entry.

Stacks Tower LoftI have been doing a bit of redrawing myself lately, and I have come to some pretty big decisions on what I want to get out of life, my career, etc.  The biggest of these decisions is that I’m selling my loft, which is the place I’ve lived for the past 8 years – the place I’ve lived the longest of anywhere except the house I grew up in.  You see, I have become attached to it and it’s been a large part of my persona, and for good reason – it’s a great space!  But what I realized is that the attachment to it was no longer healthy for me and I need to move on in order for the next chapter in my story to open up. This is huge for me, and I could not be more excited about this decision!

I have worked for the past 6 weeks on prepping the loft to put on the market, and if you know me, you probably wonder what I could have possibly been doing all this time because the loft has been pretty much ‘done’ for several years now.  But I’m a perfectionist, and I wanted to make things a certain way before I invite the next owner in.  After much thought and careful consideration, I decided that I was going to list and market the property on my own, without a real estate agent.  I came to this decision because I know that I’m the best person on the planet to tell the story of my loft and to truly give it the best push it can get.  I also figured this would be a good case study for my business, as it will give me a great example of using digital/social media to spread awareness and find the perfect buyer for the property.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best way to go, and it feels like it’s done already – all I have to do it let it unfold.  My long silence here is due to the immense work that has been occurring on that front, and the fact that I was advised that a strong push right out of the gate was the best option for generating buzz.  Now it’s out there, so I’m off to the races!

So, what does this have to do with being Superman?  For one thing, I have had to be gentle with myself during this process, because I have been going in a million directions all at once and trying to achieve big things on multiple fronts.  I wanted to believe I could do it all, but the truth is I am only one man and I have limits.  What I did realize however is that for me, it’s truly about being present and paying attention to the signals that I’m getting.  Sometimes I have to say ‘no’ to opportunities when they are not the right fit for me, and at the same time be willing to say ‘yes’ to others that might not seem proven or guaranteed.  I trust my heart more than ever before, and the work that I’m pursuing is truly the kind of work that I want to do moving forward.  I have been presented with some incredible opportunities to work with amazing people that are doing meaningful work in the world, and these connections are part of what is propelling me forward along my path.

I was talking to my good friend Lewis Perkins last week about being gentle with ourselves when we get frustrated that we haven’t accomplished everything we want in the time we think it should happen.  We came to the realization that for us, if we start doubting whether or not we are accomplishing anything of if we’re on the right path, we need to step back and look at the past 30 days.  This was a big realization for me.  I’m great at looking at a 24 hour period and beating myself up for not getting everything done that I wanted to get done.  But when I look back at a 30 day snapshot, It’s amazing the level of achievement!

Just in the past 30 days, I’ve done considerable work on my loft (installed additional lighting in 3 rooms, painted, cleaned, organized, installed shelving, developed a website, Facebook page and Twitter account for it, and 45 other things that I checked off the list I created), worked on a consulting assignment with an agency that resulted in another 4-week contract for April, connected with Lisa Dee at Vista Caballo, my newest client and all-around inspiration, and made several other client connections that I’m in the process of nurturing.  Also during that month, I helped my aunt and uncle move into their new house in SC, which involved two Uhaul trips and a lot of driving, and I participated in the Hunger Walk where my team exceeded its fund raising goal significantly.  So, while I would love to have everything ‘done’ on my list, the truth is that I’m making great progress and have achieved some fairly remarkable things.

We all have our dreams, our desires, and our life’s work, but it’s not always obvious what we should be doing about it.  For me, it has taken a lot of trial and error, but I believe I’ve come through the process with a sense of clarity of purpose that I didn’t have before.  I know that I can’t be all things to all people, but I realized that I can do my best with what I have to work with if I pay attention to the signs and stay present.

Lately, I’ve connected with some incredible people that are helping me realize that the story of our lives has so much more potential than we often realize, but we have to get still and be ‘present’ in order to make these connections count.  We don’t have to chase everything that appears in front of us, but we do need to pay attention to the signs along the way.  We don’t have to be Superman (or Wonder Woman if you like), but we just need to be our very best self.  For me, that means helping to develop community around shared interests and causes, while aligning relevant brands and organizations with these communities.  This is what I’m best at, so it’s what I’m doing.  Who’s with me?

Photo: My Loft at Sunset

Connecting…

November 19, 2009

RoadAheadThis is a new chapter for me, and I’m looking at the road ahead with much enthusiasm and optimism.  I decided to start fresh with a new site and blog and make a renewed commitment to be more active with my own writing.  In the midst of this shift, I dug back through some old entries from the past few years to see if I wanted to move them over and I decided some of the content is still relevant. Hopefully they may provide value to someone.  Maybe even to you.

Exposure

Julien Smith wrote a couple of weeks ago about ‘showing your neck‘ and I thought he had some amazing insights with his take on showing weakness in public. It’s a short post and if you have 2 minutes, I really encourage you to read it.   Essentially, in life, we are all humans. People.  We’re on this journey together, and the more we can connect with each other as people, the closer our bonds will become.  This has become increasingly clear to me, and I’m striving to keep the human side in my work and my writing as much as possible.   The point is that by being more authentic, including ‘showing your neck’ – i.e. owning up to weakness, flaws, etc., we are all able to relate to each other on a deeper level as humans.  A little neck every once in a while is good.  Thanks for that reminder @Julien.

I’m posting this and launching my new site before it’s ‘ready’ according to my typical standards.  Instead of waiting on everything to be just right and perfectly designed, I’m making the leap and showing a little neck.  Time is too valuable to waste waiting.

Working with Intention

I’m looking ahead at the way I approach business with intention and purpose.  The moves that I am making and the work I am seeking are intentional, or specifically due to their alignment with my core values and beliefs.  Aligning passion for life and passion for business is not a long shot – the opportunities are out there, and I believe we simply need to open ourselves up to them and allow them to manifest in our lives.  We really can create our reality.  Smart thinkers have been proving this for generations.  I’m making a personal commitment to listen  – not only to what’s going on out in the digital world and within my networks, but to listen to myself and to what my internal guidance system is telling me.  From this place I will be better able to make decisions with intention that will line up the opportunities to move me forward toward my goals.

Voice

For me, my voice is saying that being a part of and actively promoting a sustainable future is my calling.  The relationships that I’ve cultivated and those that I’m developing now are the building blocks for this future.  Working with sustainable buildings, products, programs, travel – these are all areas in which I’m passionate.  More than any point in my lifetime, these ideals are becoming accepted in mainstream culture.  The idea that we can and should do better has seeped into the thinking of some important leaders in businesses, governments, and other groups around the world. At the same time, we are all becoming much more willing and able to share information with our networks than ever before. In essence, we are expanding our collective voice.  This alignment of sustainable thinking and social channels is amplifying the message, which allows these innovative ideals to spread even faster.  Is there a better opportunity than right now to propel this movement?  I think not.

Even as I was writing this entry, I saw a really cool tweet pop up in my TweetDeck alerts – it caught my eye because it was referencing a TreeHugger article on Starbucks.  I stopped to check it out and it definitely had my head nodding.  The article was an interview with Tony Gale, Starbucks’ Corporate Architect – in it, he discusses the initiatives that Starbucks has in place to make their stores LEED certified, and other steps that they are taking to be good stewards and community partners.  This guy is doing great work – I can’t wait to meet him! Interestingly for me, it was just last week that a career opportunity working with the Starbucks social media team also popped up in my TweetDeck, which I jumped on right away.  One of the reasons I got so excited about the opportunity is because they are taking steps like this out in the community.  And of course, they are known as having a pretty bang-up social media program.  Seems like alignment at work to me.

Connecting

As I embark on this new chapter for myself, I encourage others to show a little neck from time to time.  We’ll all be much closer as a community if that happens.  If we haven’t connected yet – please check me out on Twitter at @brandon101.  That’s where I tend to spread most of my thoughts on business and social media.  If you’re looking to connect on a more personal level, we can connect on Facebook at facebook.com/brandonsutton.  My only request is that if we’ve never met in person or we’re only distantly affiliated, please include a short note in the friend request so I know the context.  I use Facebook differently than Twitter, and to help manage the volume of info, this is what works best for me.  Thanks in advance!

Calling

This is my call out to the world, with a little neck thrown in for good measure.  I’m looking to create and explore opportunities with people who share these ideals.  I’ve got a ton of energy and stamina around this, and I have an open mind about what comes my way.  It’s time to get to work, and I’m ready.  More than ever!

Does this resonate with you?  I would love to hear what you think.  Thanks for being here – I hope you like what you read.