The Real Trophy

In 1999, I traveled north to a hunting camp in Buffalo County Wisconsin. I was beyond excited. At the time, Buffalo county was known for producing big bucks and had more deer per acre than any county in the United States. Al, my ex-second cousin-in-law (yes that is a real thing), owned a farm in the county and invited a handful of folks from all around. Little did we know at the time that the trip would be the first of many that not only produced several big bucks but more importantly created life-long friends.

The tradition started around July each year with the email invite from Al, and the banter would begin. A few months later we would all come together and spend a few days hunting, eating, and laughing. Each year, I was dead set on harvesting a deer and would spend the bulk of my time in the woods pursuing “Bullwinkle,” our groups name for the elusive “big one.” I would be up early, stay late and hunt in the rain and snow – no condition was too harsh. On the other hand, Al and Drew would get up bright and early, hunt for a couple of hours then make their way back to the comfort of the house where they would spend hours talking a reliving the good old days. Al and Drew were high school classmates, and 20 years older than me. I couldn’t believe they were not hunting more. After all, the license to hunt was $200, we only had a few days, and that was the whole point of the trip.

Our annual hunt eventually moved to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Over the years, others got invited here and there, but the three of us remained the core. After about eight years into the tradition, I found myself spending more time around the table with my two dear friends than I did in the woods. We would sit by the fire laugh and tell the same bad jokes as the year before. We would also shed a few tears as we discussed the reality of life. Since our tradition started, the three of us have lost both of our parents, and spouses through death or divorce.

I still hunted, but my focus shifted from shooting to spending precious time with my friends. Interestingly, an odd thing happened. While I was spending less time “hunting,” I became a more successful hunter. Don’t get me wrong, I prepared and put in the time, but hunting wasn’t my number priority, my friends were. I was no longer trying to impress.

My professional career has followed a similar path. For years, I spent hours and hours grinding it out, trying to impress. Like my hunting, I enjoyed some success, but there wasn’t a “Bullwinkle” on my wall. When I started focusing more on those around me than I did myself, I was able to find a real sense of purpose that allowed me to harvest plenty of “big bucks.”

However, the real joy for me has been observing others that I have helped equip to get the win and bring home the trophy.

Leadership guru, John C. Maxwell puts it this way: “When you open a door for yourself, you open one door; when you open a door for others, you open two doors.”

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