Exploring My Personal “Why?” and Heroism

Phong Nha Cave, VietnamDo you ever spend time considering the why you do what you do? Do you look for the kernel from which the bulk of your actions spring?

On Saturday April 7th, I attended Minnebar, a techie conference held at the Best Buy campus. My goal had been to learn more about the latest best practices which I could take back to my workplace for implementation. My biggest takeaway though was an epiphany about myself

The first session, I attended what was effectively a round table on mobile app best practices with the best and brightest jumping in to provide insights into all aspects of the mobile app pipeline. I’ll admit, I got bored early on and based on the overcrowding, a bit uncomfortable. I decided to scrap my second class in that track and instead go to the branding option in the theater where there would likely be more open space and very comfortable seating.

The discussion focused on self-branding and how to line up your personal goals with your business goals. It was the standard exercise of looking at what you wanted to do as a kid and how you can do that as an adult, but this time you had to discuss it with those around you.

I once had a boss ask me about my personal brand and I blithely answered “Green Lantern.” I then proceeded to note that I was inspired/fueled by heroism, had a lot of raw willpower to overcome obstacles, was creative, and valued being able to be a utility player/renaissance man. That pitch didn’t go over so well and I thought about it when I considered announcing to complete strangers that as a kid I wanted to grow up to be a superhero. I decided to drop the “super” from my pitch. I then analyzed that against what I had already thought about with regards to careers and the like, and it suddenly all fit. I felt bad for my associates as I tuned them out after the initial start up conversation because I wanted to test my new hypothesis further. I started plugging in choices I made in the past and trying to decide whether they fit the new model.

Romantic HeroismFor example, when I was in my teens I wanted to be an attorney or a politician because I thought of those jobs as heroic. As they began to lose their shine in college, I considered English teacher (“Oh, Captain, my Captain!” anyone?). When I did my student teaching, the teachers turned to me for all of their technology questions and so I signed up for a Master’s program in Educational Technology. When I didn’t find a teaching job, right away after finishing the bulk of my curriculum, I switched out to web designer as it had been an outlet for my creativity. I then spent a weekend a month and 6 weeks each summer working with Upward Bound. The rest of my free time I spent trying to make the world a better place with the Junior Chamber or exploring heroism in computer games.

As I began to accumulate outliers that didn’t fit the overall scheme, I realized I needed to adjust the model to be more inclusive. I began to see that a large part of my life wasn’t just wrapped around accomplishing heroic ideals, as a man I had certain romantic goals for myself. I found myself equally inspired by Batman and Lloyd Dobler, so I altered it to “romantic hero” and the vast majority of my choices fit. But that’s really the subject of a whole new post as it gets a bit deep and personal.

In retrospect, a lot of what I write about in this blog comes from that root motivation – whether it’s exploring my literary heroes or getting in touch with my courage and confidence through ValleyScare or a ropes course. I’ve decided for the next year, I’m going to re-tune this blog  to delve deeper into heroism and my opinions on it. I’ve got an idea on a monthly feature with interviews of real life heroes from the non-profit sphere, but we’ll have to see how the first one fleshes out.

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: discopalace via Compfight

Gotta Cut Loose: Footloose and Neckties

Kevin Bacon promoting "The Woodsman" in Hollywood, CA.  October 14, 2004. © Armando Gallo / Retna Ltd.I’ve talked about my fondness for a number of literary heroes, but I’ve left out one – Ren McCormack, the protagonist of Footloose. He’s had an extended influence on my style, something I will now refer to as “The Footloose Tie.”


The movie came out in 1984 and I loved it. I remember leaving the Viking Theater in Decorah, Iowa and my feet couldn’t stop moving. It was energizing and it spoke to that part of me that feels the need to stand up to oppression. I think it was that summer that I bought my first necktie – it was a skinny tie covered in a tinsel-like metallic fabric that reflected a rainbow of hues. Most people nowadays would be loathe to wear a disco ball-themed tie on their neck, but I started wearing shirts with collars simply so I had an excuse to show it off. Like Ren, I wore the tie loosely, symbolizing my rebellious nature (or when I was feeling wild, on my head).

Eventually Miami Vice hit and the theft of professional attire worn ironically moved towards jackets. I rarely attended any formal occasions other than my brothers’ weddings where a tie was required and then I couldn’t wait until after the ceremony so I could rid myself of what I perceived as a noose.

Then I started working for Upward Bound and every summer there was a formal ceremony. My mentor turned me on to a cheat to get around ties – the Nehru collar. In the 90s I accumulated about 7 Nehru-collared shirts.

It wasn’t until I became a web designer that I started wearing ties again. As time progressed I started liking ties, the splash of color they can add to an outfit. As I became more acclimatized to the world of design I started foraying deeper into the less conservative patterns and embracing wild ties.

Then I moved to the world of web development – a land of t-shirts and jeans. I missed the ties, but I accepted the new uniform. I kept a sport coat in my cube for those days when I needed to go talk to the account managers and have them take me seriously with an Aquaman t-shirt on. One of my co-workers would wear a tie on occasion and I’ll admit, I got a little jealous that he could pull it off without losing his standing as one of the guys. One day I snuck a smirking “preppy” comment in and he caught my allusion to “Saved by the Bell.”

Ren McCormack 2011As management started noticing my effort and vision, I started pulling out the ties to stay on their radar and be ready for meetings. I wore them Ren McCormick-style to maintain my street cred in the department. I began noticing cool ties and they suddenly took on a shopping imperative that I did not intend, akin to shoe-shopping for some women. I would go in for a new pair of jeans and wander by the clearance rack for ties and try to rescue one or two, or if I didn’t find one I liked, I would wander into the full price racks and then find a shirt to go with my new acquisition.

The Fashion Statement

My point in all this is to build fashion awareness and acceptance of “The Footloose Tie” style of wearing a tie. I love wearing my necktie bling this way and in my mind, it says “I’m professional, but I’m not stuffy.” Some people see the necktie as a barrier between people, but I think it can add color and tie an outfit together as long as you don’t wear them so seriously. I’m not a fan of single color dress shirts worn without a tie or a coat – they look plain to me.

My problem is, not everyone agrees with “The Footloose Tie” as a fashion statement. Some see it as messy.

I’m looking for feedback and some perceptions on boundaries for the style. My perception is that if it’s worn straight and loose with the knot at or above the second button, it evokes a sense that the person cares about style/fashion but is open and approachable, similar to the statement of a sport coat and t-shirt.

What do you think?