Rivers of Thought

Life, Leadership, Business & Technology

4,000 Connectionssurpassed a milestone of sorts last month. When one Russell Bush reached out to me on LinkedIn requesting a connection, he became my 4,000th connection. FOUR THOUSAND! There was no balloon drop, no marching band, nothing to mark the occasion, only another cup of Starbucks coffee when me met up a couple weeks later (I did give him a signed copy of my book, Amplify Your Value, however). 4,000 connections.

OK, I can hear you now, “You must accept everyone’s requests” or “You can’t possibly know that many people”. The truth is I do not accept all requests. There have been some doozies over the years, like the guy trying to tell me my long lost relative left me with $10,000,000 in gold bullion, or, the woman from eastern Europe looking for a “friend”. Fortunately, those are few and far between. Mostly, I look for people who want to share insights, are in transition, or just looking to make a professional connection. (I’m not really looking to be sold to, so if that is why you are reaching out, chances are I won’t accept.)

As for knowing 4,000 people. I have to admit, there are some names in there that I do not remember how we connected. Sometimes, looking at the date we made the connection helps jog the memory banks, other times, that doesn’t even help. However, I do try to stay in touch will all of them. Part of my morning ritual (in addition to coffee with my wife and the Today show), is to review the notifications in LinkedIn and send birthday wishes, congratulations on work anniversaries and new jobs, and sometimes just to say “hi”. Sky Caserotti and I get a good laugh every year on his birthday when I send the message, we’ve been dancing that dance a long time!

I started on LinkedIn September of 2006, just a few short years after the platform launched. My first connection? Steve Johnson. Steve and I worked together at Thomson (RCA, now Technicolor). I recruited Steve to relocate his family from California to Indianapolis and join me at Lauth Property Group. During the real estate crash of 2008/2009, I was forced to lay Steve off as the company downsized dramatically. Believe it or not, we are still friends (I think)!

Those first couple of years, most of my connections were with colleagues from my Thomson days. I found LinkedIn a great way to stay connected as we all went our separate ways and our careers grew. Eventually, I started connecting with business partners, CIOs from other organizations and “old” friends. My oldest friend being Andy O’Donnell.

Andy and I worked together at Indiana National Bank (now Regions) a million years ago. We were in the bank’s running club, the Bison Stampeders. Just about every day, we would meet for lunch to go running. Andy was a bank officer and therefore had access to the Officer’s Lounge, complete with showers and lockers. I was Andy’s guest so often, I still get emails about Officer reunions, even though I never was one! We ran when it was hot (once being featured on the news for what NOT to do when it is 97 degrees), we ran when it was cold (weather too bad to be outside, we ran the stairs – 36 flights up, 36 down – twice).

Since Thomson was a global company, my LinkedIn connections were also global. My dear friend Laurent Ricard, jumps off this list. During one my trips to Paris when Carmen joined me, Laurent and his beautiful wife Agnès hosted us for a fabulous holiday dinner of quail and brussel sprouts. We met his two children. As time went by, his son Guillaume and I connected on LinkedIn and Facebook. He once recorded a guitar riff for one of my presentations. He is now contemplating an internship here in the US. Connections. Multi-generational connections.

In 2009, my number of connections jumped. I had left Lauth and was launching my own4,000 Connections business, Confluence Dynamics, a green business consulting firm. I added clients and colleagues in the “green” industry to the list. One of my first clients (perhaps my first) was Kevin McKinney, publisher of Nuvo, an alternative newspaper in Indianapolis. Kevin was gracious enough to take a risk on my business very early on, though he did question me extensively on what an IT guy knew about HVAC systems, plumbing, electrical and industrial cleaning. (For the record I was LEED Accredited!) Kevin would later play a major role in one of my son’s music videos. While that is a story for another day, it did spawn the phrase, “It’s not a rap video until the cops show up”, just sayin’.

To no fault of Kevin’s, my foray into this space was short lived, and in early 2010 I launched a job search. As a result, my LinkedIn connections jumped again. I was amazed at the number of people who met me for coffee. People I hadn’t seen in 20 years, said yes, I would be glad to help (Elaine Bedel). People I didn’t even know, said yes, when can we meet (Geoff Endris). It was humbling. Dozens and dozens. When I landed the CIO role at Goodwill, I was thankful for each and every one who said yes (no one EVER said no). I made a promise to myself, two promises actually. Promise one: I will never let my network go stale (hence the birthday and anniversary greetings, Sky). Promise two: whenever anyone asked me to network because they were in transition, the answer would always be “yes”.

Goodwill enabled me to connect with hundreds of people. Some colleagues at Goodwill of Central Indiana, some colleagues at other Goodwill organization, tied together by a common brand and a common mission. Some, like me, have moved on from Goodwill, but I know I speak for all of them when I say, we carry Goodwill in our hearts. Together we accomplished some amazing things. Together we built an amazing network.

I could go on and on. I am sure there are people in my connections where my memory fails me and I don’t recall the circumstances under which we met, however I’ve scrolled through the first thousand names and I remember each one. I could tell you where we met and under what circumstances. I could write a book…huh…I could write a book! I could write a book from the stories. What an epic story it would be. An amazing group of people. Some I’ve never met face to face, yet we have a shared history. We have touched each other, if only briefly. You are all part of my tribe. Thank you! Thank you for connecting, Thank you for sharing yourself. Thank you for your role in making me who I am.

by Courtney Joy Jemison

Today, I am excited to feature a guest post from Courtney Joy Jemison. Courtney and I “met” on social media. She reached out on Twitter after seeing some of my posts for People Development Magazine. As I read some of her posts, her messages resonated with me, and I believe they will resonate with you. Read more about Courtney at the end of this post. 

I’m on autopilot—completely lost in thought as I turn left down the main street I always take to get home.

Copyright Matt Choquette via Sapulpa Times

The street is unusually busy.

Reality slowly peels me from my pensive musing, but by the time the anomaly registers, it’s too late. I’m forced to a stop and I’m surrounded.

There’s a line of cars on my left, a brick wall to my right, a barricade of people in front of me, and a line of cars forming behind me. The neighborhood homecoming parade is slowly snaking through the blocked-off roadway. Not yet committed to the worst-case scenario, I lean forward and strain to see if the tail-end of this slithering sea is visible.

It’s not.

I throw my car into park and sit back. I’m conflicted. One part of me is nostalgic as I see the tubas towering over the proud populace. I remember the pride of being part of the marching band in the high school homecoming parade. The disciplined pace of your feet perfectly in sync with your musical comrades. The tight cadences of the snares and bass drums resonating in the streets—those streets that were specially blocked off just for us.

But the other part of me just wants to get home to see my babies. I become overly aware of the seconds ticking away, cutting into my precious time with them, and frustration overtakes me. I whip out my phone and write a stingingly sarcastic and defeated text message to my husband, whom—would you even believe it—has zero control over my ability to get home any faster. Nevertheless, the reasonless emotions have descended and deceive me into thinking that venting will somehow help.

In situations like these, our human nature tends to focus on finding someone with whom we can share the struggle rather than finding a solution to the problem at hand.

I become annoyingly aware of this truth and after my snippety text message, I’m feeling convicted. I know better than this. I made a vow at the beginning of the year to eliminate the negativity and instead, look for opportunity. Committed to upholding this vow, I turn to look behind me and I see an entrance to a neighborhood just 200 feet away.

I pull up the map on my phone and follow this street all the way through the neighborhood and out to the main road. I look behind me again and see that the line of cars I thought was a mile long is actually only three cars deep (amazing how negativity can augment “manageable” to “unattainable” so quickly in the mind). With only three cars in the queue, I know I could walk up to each and coordinate a streamlined reversal into this neighborhood starting at the back of the line. I realize if I’m going to do this, I have to act now before this becomes a logistical impossibility. A fourth car pulls in, seemingly mocking my indecisiveness and further threatening the ease of escape. All at once, my will breaks through my paralysis and I jump out of the car.

I walk up to each one of the drivers with confidence and purpose (mostly to convince myself that this is going to work). One by one, I deliver the hopeful news that if we all back up and turn into this neighborhood, it will conveniently take us out to the main road. You’d think this promising solution for escape would be received with enthusiasm. Man, was I as wrong as the girl who shows up to her friend’s wedding ceremony dressed in white. I was amazed to find that it was like talking to zombies that had to be snapped out of their tunnel vision. And in two out of the four encounters, I got push-back from people stating that they lived in the neighborhood just beyond the parade. I stayed upbeat and smiled as I assured them this road could lead them to those neighborhoods as well.

It’s incredible how committed we can be to the struggle even when opportunity is so clearly in front of us (or behind us, in this case).

Ultimately and thankfully, I was able to convince these four drivers to trust me and they began backing up one by one. We all managed to successfully slip the parade perimeter and make it out to the main road where opportunities were now closer to endless. I took an alternate route home and only ended up about 15 minutes passed my usual arrival time, greeted by those wonderful baby smiles and a husband genuinely surprised that my plan worked.


Up until my recent pledge to reprogram my pessimistic tendencies, I was the person that always had a reason for why something wouldn’t work. I’m ashamed to say that this was actually something I used to be proud of. I, of course, never saw this behavior as negative. I saw it as responsibly reasoning through something and giving a realistic assessment of how it would most likely play out.

Pessimistic people love this about themselves. They think they’re healthily dosing circumstances with a realistic prognosis, when in reality, they’re conceding victories and solutions yet to be realized by calling time of death prematurely.

Optimists, on the other hand, create their own realities. They shape their lives and their futures through proactive thinking, consistent habits, good decisions, and positive outlooks. They aren’t paralyzed by likelihoods and potentialities, rather, this energizes them to embrace new direction and forge new paths in their lives.

Optimism breeds creativity and creativity breeds solutions.

Knowing that, let’s immediately sever the socially acceptable pairing of optimism and naiveté. Naiveté is ignorantly swearing allegiances and blindly forming conclusions. So, let’s not fold the rotten fruit in with a perfectly promising batch of dough. Consider optimism for what it really is—a very powerful tool. And when it is employed as such, it can serve as an objective and creative filter through which all possibilities are considered before a final decision is made. It gives one the emotional and intellectual flexibility to entertain many different perspectives and outcomes, thus engendering the creative solutions that the pessimist is incapable of arriving at.

Caution: the conclusions healthy optimists reach also engender responsibility. This is what the pessimist is so skillful at avoiding. If they can suppress innovation and write off potential solutions from the outset, then they’ve successfully skirted the responsibility to bear them and see them through.

So, contrary to popular opinion, optimism is the more remarkable show of mental fortitude. It takes courage, discipline, and grit to shoulder the risks and responsibilities that come with being dedicated to problem solving.

So, the next time you feel the urge to pipe up in dissent, ask yourself, “Am I assessing or am I solving?

Challenge yourself to lock up your input unless it includes solutions. And always remember:

Negativity concedes the victory.

Optimism fights for victory.

Negativity assesses reality.

Optimism creates reality.

Negativity suppresses potential.

Optimism embraces potential.

Optimism, my friends, is not for the faint of heart.

Courtney Joy JemisonCourtney Joy Jemison

Courtney is wife to her unwavering solid rock and safe place, John, and mom to two beautiful quarter Koreans, Olivia and Ethan. She is the Chief Creative Officer at Jonah Digital Agency in Texas and a passionate writer on the topics of emotional intelligence and selfless leadership. You can find her thoughts regularly posted on www.courtneyjoy.com and to her Instagram account @courtneyjoy. 

This is a story of my friend Ben. I had the honor of working with Ben at Goodwill for about four years, give or take. He was about my sons’ age. Ben is a squirrely sort of dude. Think typical IT nerd, complete with glasses (no, they weren’t taped up), a book worm. Born to study, born to learn. Quirky sense of humor. Sometimes exposing itself at the wrong time, leading some to think him a bit socially awkward.

Whenever you needed something, Ben was there. Willing to pitch in and help. Many of you have heard of my “Creek Days”, those days once a year when I enlist as many friends as I can to help me remove trees from the creek behind my house. It is wet, muddy, backbreaking work. Ben was always the first one to volunteer each year, wearing a PS2 cable as a belt (“hey, I didn’t want to ruin a good belt!”). I told you…a bit quirky. Only two people have ever come to Creek Day more than once. In the five years of conducting Creek Days, Ben only missed once.

Over the years, Ben would pop into my office to talk. We shared many stories, stories of family, of friends, of life and music. 

I loved Ben’s story about meeting his wife Taleigha. He had two tickets to the Foo Fighters and no one to go with, so he posted on Craig’s list. Taleigha answered. They had moved in together a few months later, and were married a soon after. I had the pleasure of meeting Taleigha a couple of times when she visited Ben at the office. She had the brightest most beautiful smile, especially when she talked of Ben. Theirs was a beautiful love story. But with a dark side. Taleigha had cancer…brain cancer. I have never seen two people fight so hard. Fight against the disease, fight against the healthcare system, fight against all the odds.

They lost that fight and Taleigha passed away on June 17, 2018.

A few weeks after she passed, family and friends were gathered to remember her. It was the first time I had seen Ben since her passing. There he was, looking awkward in his suit, greeting everyone that attended. I hugged him, kissed him on the cheek, and barely croaked out the words “Bennie, I’m sorry, there are no words” between my own tears. How he continued to hold it together I will never know…shock maybe.

The service was a beautiful tribute to Taleigha. Her family and friends remembering her through their words and music. The pastor, who had known Taleigha since she moved to the area, and who had married them eight short years ago, spoke of Taleigha and her love of music and animals and people. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. And then…and then…and then Ben made his way to the pulpit. There are no words to describe the strength, resolve, and tenderness as he read his words…their love story…pausing only once or twice to maintain his composure. I cannot do it justice, so instead, I leave you with Ben’s own words.

“Almost two weeks from today, July 27th, will mark 10 years to the day that I met Taleigha Lugenia Victoria Elizabeth Clayton, now Frederick. We bonded quickly, that day, over a shared love of science fiction — particularly the X-Files — and through the hope that had been reignited in our hearts by a young senator from Illinois. We hadn’t planned for more than lunch, but decided to see the brand new X-Files movie released two days prior. It was an absolutely terrible movie, made better with great company.

The moment I first walked into her apartment, a week later, and was greeted affectionately — like an old friend — by her “shy, aloof” cat Mayo, I think we both knew that we had found in each other a partner who complimented our best selves.

Taleigha told me that night about her brain tumor. She wanted to make sure I was okay dating someone (it had been a week and, yes, we were dating) who had fought through such a dramatic battle against cancer. My reaction was to hug her tight, and to give her the first of many thousand kisses I would give her over the years. It was truly the beginning of our life together.

Five months later, we celebrated with friends as that young senator was elected as the first African American President of the United States. A month later, she had moved in with me — my new roommate. We knew we were far more and that we would be together the rest of our lives. Six months later our family unit would become complete when our beloved cat Mara joined, at Taleigha’s urging. We would later mourn that completeness, as we both wanted a family together — more than even the cats could provide.

From a proposal on the beach in Florida, to moving into our new home — not “Ben’s Condo” anymore but “our home” — to a wedding at the heart of this very city surrounded by many of the same friends and family here today.

And for a time, things were good. We traveled, dined, fought, saw concerts, and enjoyed each other’s company and the company of friends. Our love grew in the light of our young hopes and dreams. We talked about starting a family.

But cancer is a thief, and a villain. When her diagnosis came back, 5 years, ago she told me “I love you” and, quoting Doctor Who, “I don’t want to go.” For five years, we fought tooth and nail against this villain. During that time, we still traveled, dined, fought, saw concerts, and enjoyed each other’s company and the company of friends. We grew our love in a darkness that I truly hope no one here ever experiences.

And during that time, I powerlessly watched as the beautiful, eloquent and talented woman I fell in love with had nearly everything stolen from her. It took her career of helping others, it took her dexterity and the the wondrous piano music she played, it took her grace with words, it took her independence when it took her ability to drive, it took her hair (that she was so proud of), it took her memories. It took her ability to walk, to feed herself, to speak all but the easiest of phrases and words. And then it took her away from me. The only things she had at the end were her sense of humor and her capacity to love. Her last day on this Earth, she laughed softly at some silly joke I made and she told me “I love you.”

Taleigha’s favorite author was CS Lewis. She left me a little gift, as she had a passage bookmarked in his journal, A Grief Observed. In it, Lewis wrote of remembering his own wife as the person she was, not the picture of the person constructed in his mind. There is a tendency in all of us to remember departed loved ones as their ideal. Taleigha was very loving, but she could hold a grudge and be extremely stubborn — the Gumm in her, as she would say. She was kind, but she could be bossy and demanding. She was courageous, strong, and brave, but she had many many fears, especially of spiders!

We all love Taleigha, but not because she was perfect. She wouldn’t want to be remembered as perfect. She was flawed — as we all are — and we love her because of those flaws that made her human and because of the wonderful qualities she exemplified everyday, qualities that we could strive to achieve.

A friend, in offering me a small amount of comfort — call it a Quantum of Solace, for she loved James Bond too — reminded me of a quote from one of Taleigha’s other favorite works: Harry Potter. He hadn’t realized it was a favorite of hers, so I think of it as providence.

“Love as powerful as her’s for you leaves its own mark. To have loved and been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”

My love to all of you. Thank you.”

We love you, Bennie!

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