The Hunter Family Chronicles

Anyone that knows my family will agree that we lead pretty hectic lives. As an example, our son Brooks, went out to eat sushi with us at three days old, yes that’s DAYS. Obviously he didn’t eat any, but he was there. He is 18 months old, has been on at least ten round trip flights, been to Montana twice, lived on Miami Beach for three months, resides in Chicago, and frequents Ohio. You get it, right? Sometimes our schedule borders on the point of insanity. To keep track of it all, and to share a few of the stories, I decided to start a series of blogs that I’ll title “The Hunter Family Chronicles”.

The holidays are always crazy for us. We head back to both Cleveland and Youngstown for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Since our son was born, we’ve tried to make our schedule a little less hectic while in Ohio, but we still make the trip. This year we went to Youngstown on Friday Dec 20th – Monday the 23rd and stayed at my Aunt Sis’s house. After getting in around 8 pm on Friday, we started our Christmas celebration early Saturday at my Step Dad’s house with my Mom, brother Kyle, and Grandma (Mema as she’s known to our family). After eating and opening gifts, we had a little downtime before getting ready for the evening.

20140103-193244.jpg By the time we packed the car with all the gifts for Brooks, we barely had room for our suite cases. The funny part about it is that this was only our first Christmas celebrations of many for the week. The day was already long, but after putting Brooks to bed, we got ready and went to my Aunt and Uncle’s company holiday party.

The next morning we headed to my Dad’s house. We were supposed to get there early for breakfast then head to church with him and the family of a good high school friend. Unfortunately we slept in and missed church. Just for clarification, at this point in my life, sleeping in means that we got up around 8am! After breakfast and more present opening by Brooks, we went to see Uncle D (my dads brother) and Aunt Doe and the rest of the Hunter side of the family. My cousin Jamie and her husband have three children, so it was a little hectic over there but Brooks loved hanging with his cousins. We ate homemade Italian wedding soup and pasta so it was all worth it. When we finally got back to my Aunt’s, around 6 o’clock, we were stuffed and tired out. When we walked in, most of my mom’s family was there to visit and eat leftovers. Needless to say, we ended up eating and drinking again. By the end of the night I was so stuffed and tired, they had to roll my ass into bed! This was the first year we weren’t going to be at Aunt Jeanine’s for Christmas, so it was great to get to spend more time with everyone that night.

The next morning we drove to Cleveland to stay with my in-laws. We noticed that Brooks had developed a bad cough that sounded like Croup. Considering that my brother in-law and sister in-law have a 10 week old baby, along with two other children at their house, and that was where we were supposed to stay, we decided to take him in to get checked. As expected, they said it was likely early stage Croup and gave him a steroid to use if it got worse. We ended up staying at my brother in-laws anyways. That night we finally got to meet our new niece, Nadia Vidovich. She’s a little dark haired cutie.

On Christmas Eve, I meet a friend for coffee to discuss an entrepreneurial venture he was considering. I love to talk with entrepreneurs, both established and aspiring. It’s exciting to talk to motivated people that are willing to take risks. After hitting the gym to burn off some of that excessive eating I had been doing, I met my brother in-law, his wife and kids along with Melanie and Brooks at a mall. We were finally taking Brooks to meet Santa!

20140103-181504.jpg I know, a little late right? We had tried a few times earlier, but the line was huge, so we figured we’d wait. It all worked out in the end and Brooks actually liked Santa. That night we went to church. Luckily we went to the children’s service, because my man Brooks did not feel like sitting still. At one point I thought he was headed for the pulpit!

On Christmas morning we woke up later than expected, 7:30 am. With a 10 day old, an 18 month old, a 2 year old, and a 4 year old in the house, we expected to be woken up by 5:30 am. My niece and nephew were excited to open their gifts. On the other hand, Brooks could care less. At this point, he had opened gifts five times already. I told my wife he probably thinks he’s Jewish and celebrating the 8 days of Hannakka. We finished opening presents and breakfast, headed to my mother and father in-laws, and ate again! I’m lucky that my wife and I are so into working out. If we weren’t, we’d be morbidly obese with the way we eat during the holidays.

The morning after Christmas we jumped back in our completely over-packed car and headed back to Chicago. We didn’t have any time to spare. We had to get home, unpack, do laundry, and repack to fly to Big Sky, MT where we were meeting some friend to spend New Years….

When You Have Children, You’ll Understand

To everyone that told me that I will understand when I have children of my own, I apologize. I doubted you.

How could I have known? I never could have imagined that things would be so different. How could they possibly be? Then it happens. You realize that this child is something that you made. They are your flesh and blood and you love them more than you could have possibly fathomed.

How could I have known that I would look at my child and worry so much? I never could have imagined the emotions that are created when I see him sick or how I would do anything to make him feel better. It’s impossible to know the distance that you will go to make sure that another person is safe, until it’s your child. There are no limits. It’s been the most amazing discovery I have ever made.

My challenge will be learning not to smothering him. Even though, when he lays his head on my shoulder I never want to set him down, I know I will have to. I know he will get hurt. I know he must make his own mistakes as he grows up and learn lessons for himself. But for now, I will cherish every moment that he is my little guy and relies on me this much. I will teach him the lessons that he needs to be a good and happy person, regardless of how hard it is at that time. I could never comprehend when my parents told me that “this hurts me more than it hurts you”, until now.

To all of those lucky enough to be parents…I get it now. For those that do not yet have children…You’ll understand when you do.

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Time – Our Most Valuable Commodity

In a conversation with a friend this weekend, he mentioned that everything was going great in his life but he just needed to figure out how to make more hours in a day.  I told him to make sure he called me when he figured out how to do that!  It was really interesting timing to hear that comment because lately I’ve been realizing that time is my most valuable commodity.  We all play many roles in our lives.  For me, those roles include husband, father, entrepreneur, friend, family member, board member of Starlight Children’s Foundation, and aspiring Ironman.  As a kid, it seemed like there was an endless amount of time.  So much so that I remember actually complaining about being bored.  Even in college, it seemed like there was plenty of time to go to class, study, work, and maintain an active social life.  However, as adults, we have more responsibility than ever, and lately it has begun to feel like I can’t fit in all the things I have, or want, to do into a day.

http://roberthuckinsvictim.blogspot.com/2011/10/time-valuable-commodity.html
http://roberthuckinsvictim.blogspot.com/2011/10/time-valuable-commodity.html
This weekend I was invited to go to the Chicago Bears game by a friend that I haven’t hung out with lately.  With that in mind, and considering that I know he has good seats, my first reaction to his invite was “hell yes I want to go.”  Once I stopped to think about it, I realized that that might not be the best decision.  Considering that I had traveled on Friday, had a busy Saturday, was supposed to have dinner that night with my wife for her birthday, and both my wife and I would be traveling separately the next week and weekend, I decided that I should skip the game and spend some family time.  I’ve always had an issue “missing out” on things.  If there is something going on, I want to be involved.  When I moved to Chicago ten years ago, I had to start dealing with that issue.  In a city this big, there is always something going and I realized that I can’t be everywhere.  Since my son has been born, I’ve had to prioritize my time even more.

Recently, I mentioned to my wife that I was going to start having a purpose behind my actions.  Instead of just doing things to keep busy, I was going to make a conscious effort to think about how I wanted to spend my time.  At first the thought that everything I did should have a purpose seemed overwhelming.  I can’t always be “on” and I need a little down time too, right?  However, the realization that having a purpose doesn’t necessarily mean work, really helped. My purpose can simply be to have some down time, or to spend some time with my son.  The point is, I will think through my options and allocate my time according to what I want to achieve in life.  Instead of letting other people’s priorities and schedules dictate mine, I will spend my time according to my goals.

With the winter in full swing here in Chicago and the shortened days in effect, it has become more important than ever for me to schedule my time.  When I spend the time to plan, I’ve realized that things like early morning training session become a necessity, not an option, setting aside time in the evening to work becomes essential, and even relaxing on a weekend takes on a different meaning than before.  Lets face it, our lives are more hectic than ever and with technology and social media, it always seems like we are missing something.  Unless my buddy calls me with some breakthrough on making more hours in a day, time is going to remain our most valuable commodity.  If we don’t decide to prioritize how we spend it, we may wake up one day and realize that aren’t where we wanted to be because we didn’t.

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Keep Learning

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Recently I was fortunate enough to attend an Executive Education Course at Kellogg School of Management.  The course was focused on Organic Growth and Innovation.  Considering the topic, I was really excited to attend.  As the date approached, I have to admit I was actually a little nervous.  I haven’t been on a college campus in a learning role since I graduated from The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business in 2002.  I found myself worrying about things like if I was going to be able to keep up, how I would compare, both knowledge and success wise, to the others in the course, and all other sorts of things.  It didn’t make it any better that I the course started on a Sunday, so I had to leave my family on a weekend.  Sunday travel is never fun.  However, once I arrived on campus, I immediately felt comfortable and realized what a unique opportunity this was.  Not only did I have the chance to disconnect from the everyday things like work and home life to focus on learning on a specific topic, but I was also surrounded by really smart people from very diverse backgrounds.

photo 1     In the first session, the program Academic Program Leader, Robert Cooper, informed us that we would be receiving a lot of information in a very short time and, in an essence, “drinking from a firehose”.  He wasn’t kidding.  We covered so many topics in a few hour session that I wasn’t sure how I was going to retain it all.  That’s just it though, you don’t retain it all, but rather get some great ideas and processes that you can use in the future.  As Bob mentioned, none of these models or teachings are perfect, but rather what they have found useful for many other companies.  We were provided with binders with all of the slides and information so that we could go back and reference them in the future.

     The week was amazing.  The cases that we worked on and the people that we all got to meet were well worth the time and money spent.  I left incredibly refreshed, refocused, and re-energize. Some of the topics were spot on and exactly what we as a company needed to refine our process for evaluating and managing growth and innovation opportunities.  However, with all the benefits, I did find myself jealous of one group.  All of the leadership team from a company called Eclipse were there taking the course together.  They were all fun and smart guys, but what made me envious was that they got to go through this course together, as a team.  I can not imagine how valuable this was for them.  To their credit, they worked extremely hard during their time at Kellogg.  When the group completed a case study, the Eclipse team would usually break out and keep working on the overall concept, but specific to their company.  I found that trying to translate this information to others is a difficult task, so for their team to hear it straight from the program leaders mouth was a big advantage.

Now that it is a few weeks after the completion of my course, I’ve gone back to review the material that we received.  I’ve started to use one of the most pertinent models for a project that we are currently working on.  The fact that I’ve already used the model in case studies during the course proved very beneficial.  In fact, when I walked through this with the President of our company, it proved to be a valuable conversation starter.  We were able to hash out some strategies and gain further clarity on our approach as a result of this.  The model used was so relevant that he suggested that we ask Bob Cooper to come in and do a session with our executive team to review the principles associated with it.  This was something that I was hoping to do anyways because of the value that I saw the Eclipse team take from it.

Looking back on this experience, I wonder why I was ever nervous about it.  I guess venturing outside of your comfort zone and routine isn’t always easy, but obviously is worth while.  This opened my eyes.  I now see the value of both and plan on continuing to focus on learning not only from Executive Education courses and other structured offerings, but also by viewing my daily interactions as valuable learning opportunities.

Air It Out

Today I had a few difficult conversations that were long overdue.  They were being avoided on both sides because it just seemed easier to hope that the situation would clear itself up and go away.  In fact, the exact opposite happened.  By not addressing the elephant in the room, over time, the situation only got worse.  Time to think can be both good and bad.  In this case, it left more opportunity to stew over the past and construct stories and plots that weren’t based in facts, but rather in perceptions.  These conversations weren’t comfortable.  They weren’t fun.  They dealt with topics that had done serious damage to personal and business relationships.  Things were said that people didn’t want to necessarily hear, but that needed to be said.

The results were amazing and unexpected.  Instead of a heated argument, there was a candid conversation.  The expected digs and backhanded comments were replaced with sincere discussions of feelings and thoughts.  Everyone was given a chance to state their case and clear up misconceptions.  I know that I walked away with a weight lifted off my chest and some things to reflect on about myself.

Although the long-term results from this discussion can’t be determined for days, weeks, and months to come, it was a great way to attempt to restart and refresh.  Today, I learned that unless you are ready to completely walk away from a situation or relationship, which is easier said than done, that you owe it to that person or those people, and more importantly to yourself, to directly engage and address the issues.  Even if the relationships are damaged beyond repair, there is something to be said about the mutual respect that can be gained from just sitting down and “airing it out”.

 

To Grow, Step Aside

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I was talking to a fellow entrepreneur today and he mentioned that he is jealous of another entrepreneur because he is able to work ‘in the weeds’ on his company.  This guy has one successful business and is working on building another.  It was really interesting to hear him say that he missed working on a company that is in a start up phase, which made me think about a recent article that I read.  The article highlights the differences between Entrepreneurs and Managers.  They both play vital, yet very different roles within a company.

Entrepreneurs are often visionaries and innovators that like to create things, work out some kinks and then move on. They are the builders that turn these dreams into financially viable products or services.  On the other hand, Managers are the people who install and oversee the systems and infrastructure to keep a company going.  With that being said, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs often get antsy when their companies ‘grow up’.  Usually, the goal of starting a company is to make it prosper.  However as a company matures, entrepreneurs are often forced into more managerial type roles, when in fact their true passion is to be more ‘in the weeds’.  I found this particularly interesting because I recently faced this issue myself.

Not long ago, my company named a President.  This was an absolutely essential step to ensure our future success.  As the company has grown, so has the need for an experienced industry veteran to run it.  As mentioned above, a managers role is to install and oversee infrastructure and systems which are vital to the long-term health of the company.  They must be entitled to do so, or they will be set up for failure.  None the less, this is a scary notion for an entrepreneur, because in a sense, you are giving up some control.  A transition like this doesn’t come without its difficulties, more for the founder than anyone.  To allow a high level executive manager, like a President, to truly be successful in his or her role, an entrepreneur must step aside from the day-to-day of his company.  This should seem like an entrepreneur’s dream, allowing him or her to go back to being more ‘entrepreneurial’, creative, and innovative while still being involved in the business and big decisions.  However, it’s easier said than done when a company started as ‘your baby’.  If you are willing to take the risk, it will likely have tremendous rewards.  I’ve noticed that the experience our President has brought with him has already helped the company become more structured and focused.

This process has had an unintended side effect for me.  I’ve been freed up to think like an entrepreneur again.  I haven’t been as motivated or excited about the work I’m doing in a long time.  By having a President in place to manage the company, I am now in a place where I am able to work on some very exciting and potentially profitable growth initiatives for both my company and for myself.  This change has also provided me a little extra time to spend with my family and to do things like train for a triathlon.  The changes in my mental state and overall happiness are notable.  I’m sure there will be some difficulties to deal with as we continue this process and transition, but at this point, I can honestly say that this was the best move for everyone involved.  So if you are an entrepreneur that finds yourself unhappily managing your company as it grows, you should strongly consider finding a well qualified person to manage your business so that you can step aside to let it grow!

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A Five-Step Program To Kick Your Email Addiction

As published on Forbes.com 

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Hello. My name is Chris, and I’m an email addict.

Email addiction is taking a serious toll on both our personal lives and work productivity. Long gone are the days of handwritten letters, snail mail and faxes. Why use those outdated practices when you can simply type a message from anywhere and instantly send it to anyone in the world?

The problem starts when we abuse email and it begins to replace other, more personal forms of communication. A co-worker once said to me, “It’s easy to be an ass over email.” In order to be effective, email needs to be used correctly. Yes, it’s a phenomenal way to send a non-urgent message, a great use of recapping a meeting or telephone call, and possibly the best method for updating multiple people on a project. But it is very ineffective at conducting a discussion, carrying on a conversation, getting to know someone, or addressing a serious matter.

For many entrepreneurs, email has become a crutch. Below is a five-step program to kick the habit for good:

Say no to the ‘push’

This is the first and most difficult step. The key here is to remove temptation: You can’t kick the email habit if your phone is constantly alerting you that a new email is waiting to be checked. Go into your settings, click on the ‘Fetch new data’ button, and turn off the push notification. Doing this will put you back in control and allow you to check emails when you want, not when the sender sends them. If you are feeling adventurous, take it one step further and set your fetch data to ‘manual.’ This simple change will give you your personal life back.

Disconnect from your inbox

Timothy Ferris of “The 4-Hour Work Week” recommends setting up an autoresponse to incoming emails that announces that you are only checking emails twice a day. I’ve tried this approach, but it only pissed off my colleagues.

Instead of announcing to the world when you will or won’t be checking emails, start more subtly. Just do it. Check and respond to your emails only three times a day. The first thing that I do when I get to my office is download my emails. That sounds like an email addict move, right? But as soon my emails are downloaded, I disconnect from the Internet. This allows me to read and respond to emails without getting an instant reply, which could start an unproductive email conversation. I can then review, reread, and edit emails before I go back online — reducing redundant messages and more importantly, allowing me to delete heated messages that shouldn’t be sent in the first place.

When you actually connect again, you can take 15 or 20 minutes to quickly reply to any time-sensitive emails you received.

 Prioritize urgent matters

Efficiency experts in fields ranging from business to coaching agree that time blocking is a very productive habit. Finish one task before moving to another.

As I mentioned, when I get into the office, I immediately download my emails. I scan those emails for any urgent matters first. If there are urgent emails, I pick up the phone and address those issues immediately. Once that is out of the way, I start working on the day’s top priorities.

By dealing with urgent issues in person or over the phone, you can keep the inefficient email conversations out of your day.

Set expectations 

The key is to be consistent and train others to expect it. If you always address major matters in person or over the phone, people will begin to call you with anything urgent instead of using email. They will also start to think through what or when they email you, knowing that you will not respond immediately.

Bonus: You won’t have to worry that you are missing something by not always being connected to the Internet.

Deal with relapse

You will relapse. You will carry on an unproductive email conversation with someone and spend hours glued to your computer screen and email account, and you will become angry with yourself for doing it. This will happen. I guarantee it.

When you do, simply start over and get back into the groove of only connecting to emails three times a day, calling or meeting with people instead of emailing them, and blocking your time, including the time spent on emails.

Rinse and repeat until you get your life — and your productivity — back on track.

Put Me in Coach

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Since I was young, I’ve always known the value of having a mentor.  It makes perfect sense to have a person that can guide you through both business and personal situations.  I have also always believed in listening to the advice of those qualified to give it.  Why not learn from their mistakes and experiences?  However, for some reason, I was never able to grasp the idea of a business coach.  The thought of paying someone to help me make decisions just didn’t make sense to me.  I thought, “I’m a smart guy right?  Why would I have to pay someone to discuss topics and offer advice?”  I’m not a cheap person, so it was never about the money.  It was more about not seeing the value in it.

About two years ago I was fortunate enough to meet a respected person in my industry that I got along with well.  He was the President of a beverage company that has since been sold.  We have stayed in touch and I now consider him a friend.  In one of our conversations, he mentioned that the biggest reason that he was successful in his role was because of his “Success Coach”.  Needless to say, I was shocked by this statement.  It made me rethink my previous opinion on the subject.  He then referred me to his former coach and promised me that the coaching would change my life.  With a promise like that, from a guy like this, I had to check it out.

The first time I spoke with Robert Alderman, I knew that I wanted to work with him.  In a very even, non-boastful voice, he told me that he would only consider working with me because I was referred to him by Bill and that he was “too old and too rich to deal with any bullshit”.  I loved it and knew that this was the type of person that I needed to work with to really see some results.  He went on to explain that the first step in his coaching is to do an assessment to determine your behaviors, values, and emotional intelligence.  He encouraged me to go to his website and take the free mini-analysis first. I did and was amazed at the results.  After answering a few seemingly meaningless questions, this program generated a behavioral summary about me that was like reading an unedited autobiography.  It even included some of my unflattering behaviors.  However, when I was honest with myself, I knew they were true.  I was sold.

The coaching lessons, which at first consisted of debriefing me on all of the different reports, were like peeling of my own layers.  It allowed me to really get to understand who I really was and why I acted the way I did.  A great thing about Robert, at least for me, was that he was very blunt and didn’t pull punches, but in a nonaggressive or threatening way.  All of these revelations really helped me improve both my business and personal relationships.  As I later learned, the most common attribute of successful people is their ability to interact well with others.  Social interaction is the key.  Even more surprising was that fact that Emotional Intelligence, or your ability to recognize and control your emotions, is even more important than your Intelligence Quotient, or basically what you know.  The great news about Emotional Intelligence is that it can be changed and improved.  This was the focal point of my coaching.  The results were immediate and recognized by both my coworkers and friends.  As with any coaching, it takes practice.  I’m not perfect, but the most exciting thing to me is that I can see the changes in myself.  As my coaching continues to progress, we’ve discussed specific business topics.  Robert provides me with different perspectives to consider and offers alternative approaches.  Success Coaching is basically an interactive self help book.  Just like when I read those books, sometimes I’m reminded of things that I already know, often I learn something completely new, and occasionally my initial thoughts are just reconfirmed.  All of these are valuable.  However, with coaching I can go much deeper to discuss and work through more complex problems.  Even professional athletes need coaches to steer them in the right direction.  Why do we, as entrepreneurs, or just as people, think we can’t benefit from some guidance?  With that being said, I will give you the same advice that my friend Bill gave me.  Get a “Success Coach”, it will be the best thing that you’ve ever done for yourself and your business.

First Time Father

Fatherhood is one of those things that you just can’t prepare yourself for, no matter how much advice you get or how many times you hear that it will change your life.  On July 5, 2012, I found out just how profound this experience is when my wife gave birth to my son, Brooks Edward Hunter.  Since we didn’t know the gender of our baby, it was my job to inform the room once he was born.  At that moment of truth, I found myself speechless.   The doctor asked me multiple times to tell my wife if we had a son or daughter.  I was simply in shock.  Not because of the birthing process, but because I was experiencing the most amazing miracle life can offer, the birth of our first child.

I spoke to a good friend prior to Brooks being born.  He has two children and told me that when, not if, I wanted to talk about being a new father, to call him.  It sounded weird at the time, but I took him up on his offer within a month.  Among other things, we talked about how dads can feel left out at first.  The baby doesn’t “need” you like he needs his mother.  All of this was perfectly described in a recent article in Esquire Magazine.  We can’t feed him and don’t have that immediate connection that mothers do. That all quickly changed.

Now that my son is approaching his first birthday, I know that I am just as important to him as his mother, but in different ways. I can see how important it is for a child to have a father in their life by the way my son reactions to me.  With that realization, comes a new found responsibility.  It has always been clear that my job as a father and husband is to provide for my family, but I don’t think I grasped how big of a role a father played in a child’s life.  I am now thirty-four years old and am just coming to this conclusion.  My parents were eighteen years old when I was born.  They were just children themselves.  Understanding that now helps me appreciate how difficult it must have been for them.   Having a child, trying to do what they though was right and get married only to get divorced within a year, learning to support themselves and a newborn, all while trying to grow up themselves, must have seemed like more than anyone could handle.  With all that being said, I’ve been able to learn from their, and many others, mistakes.  My priorities in life have changed so dramatically over a year that I sometimes wonder if I’m still the same person!

I’m traveling this week for work, and this weekend, my company is sponsoring Bonnaroo with our product Island Squeeze.  I was scheduled to be there to see how things were going, along with having some fun with one of my business partners and another friend.  I had already made my travel arrangements when I mentioned this to my wife.  She reminded me that it was Fathers Day weekend, but immediately said that she had no problem with my trip…and honestly meant it.  She also said,  “Its your day, so you can spend it however you want.”  I thought about this statement that evening.  I realized that I couldn’t imagine spending my first Fathers Day without my son.  Not because it seems like that is what I am supposed to do, but because it is exactly what I want to do.  Anyone that has children may think that this is all common sense, but for a first time father, this is all new.  I quickly changed my travel plans so that I can get back on Saturday and spend the entire day, Fathers Day, exactly how I want…with my son!

Brooks sporting the new hat he got from his Grandma DD
Brooks sporting the new hat he got from his Grandma DD