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Aloha Summer

24 Aug

This is one of my favorite weekends of the year.

After graduating college during Texas’ last major economic crisis in the mid-1980s, I did my best Magnum P.I. impersonation and escaped to Hawaii to work in the hospitality industry. After four years of surfing, scuba diving, and living the laid back life, I moved home to Texas with an island girl that was in for a bit of a culture shock.

My soon-to-be wife quickly realized that Texas and Hawaii are a little different so we started looking for a way to bring some of the culture of the islands to the Lone Star State. In 2002, we moved to the Hill Country and started the annual “Aloha Summer” Luau in our backyard. We hoped to make new friends in our new home by sharing the special spirit of aloha.

My favorite part of the luau is cooking the kalua pig in my prized imu, which is just beyond the edge of the yard. The whole hog is wrapped in banana leaves, stuffed with hot lava rocks, and smoked and steamed underground for sixteen hours. Richele rounds out the rest of the menu with island recipes and specialty items shipped from Hawaii by family members. There has always been a costume contest, games for kids, and tropical concoctions (some more potent than others). I am always happy to eat the leftover poi.

Three years ago, we had a couple of hundred people in the backyard when it started pouring down rain. After cleaning up hundreds of footprints from drenched partygoers seeking shelter in the house, Richele subtly suggested that we find another venue.

The following year we turned the luau into a composite community fundraiser. The idea was simple. Put on a traditional Hawaiian luau and invite non-profit community organizations that are doing good work for local families to participate and tell their stories. This way, they have a large crowd and a fun environment to build support, raise awareness for their cause and make new friends.

In 2010, we were able to donate $5,000 to participating organizations and increased that amount last year to over $9,000. Every organization receives a donation and in return, they are asked to provide an activity for kids and to invite all of their supporters to show up for the event. This year’s luau is poised to be bigger and better than ever.

When I moved to Hawaii at the young age of 21, I didn’t know a soul, but the “aloha spirit” of the people made me feel welcomed and at home. The “Aloha Summer” Luau aims to recreate the same openness, warmth, friendliness and sense of belonging that was shown to me years ago while we shine a light on the great organizations that work hard all year to bring that same spirit of aloha to our wonderful little community of Boerne.

The Debt

4 Jul

I was in debt the day I was born.

By pure luck, that happy event occurred in the United States. My parents, who are still married after 49 years, were free to have me. That was 1966 and my freedom was more or less secure. I was free to grow up to be whatever I wanted to be. According to my mother that even included becoming President of this great country. As there always have been, there were external threats to our way of life, but I certainly felt safe in my Mayberry-like hometown. This freedom was bought at a dear price by multiple generations before me and secured by a military comprised of people from all walks of life. I owed them something for our shared heritage.

I was well educated by wonderfully committed teachers – including my mother and grandmother – in public schools where US history and civics were still an important part of the curriculum. The prevailing culture valued hard work and moral behavior. Volunteers throughout the community played a role in my upbringing. There were little league coaches, scout masters, Sunday school teachers, and occasionally law enforcement officers involved in my raising. When I was ten, we celebrated our country’s bicentennial and we were reminded of our patrimony. The recognition of my debt was reinforced.

Compulsory military service in the United States ended in my teens, so after high school the people of the great State of Texas paid for me to go to college and then heavily subsidized my graduate education at a world-class university. From there, I went on to live the American Dream of raising a family, doing a job that I love, starting a business, enjoying financial security, and loving the freedoms of life in United States. It has been a good life that was only possible because of the liberties we enjoy in this exceptional country.

What has been asked of me in return for the gift of my heritage? Not much. Society asks that I obey the few laws we have that seek to restrain our more destructive behaviors and that I pay my share of the operations of our collective efforts through taxation. I do not believe that this is sufficient to discharge the debt I owe to my country for the opportunities I have enjoyed. This is why I am committed to service.

I reject the notion of the “self-made” man in the United States and the idea that if you “didn’t ask for anything from society” then you owe nothing in return. By luck of birth you were granted an enormous advantage. If you knowingly acknowledge that, then you can’t in good conscience ignore the debt you owe your patrimony. We receive tremendous benefits from our collective history. We have a civic obligation to recognize these benefits and to make an extraordinary effort to ensure our future success.

I remain in debt, and on this Fourth of July, I suspect that you do too.

Stelos Alliance Awards

29 Apr

We are wrapping up another great academic year tonight with the Stelos Alliance Awards banquet. We have the incredible honor to reward fourteen extraordinary student leaders for their service with scholarships and fellowships. They are the “stars” and it is our mission to make them shine brighter.

Tonight we will also honor four professionals for creating opportunities for these super stars. The inaugural Stelos Alliance Awards celebrate individuals and their organizations that support our mission by providing post-graduate opportunities for dynamic young people who assume the responsibilities of leadership while in college. The recipients cultivate a workplace that empowers young leaders and nurtures them through those first crucial years of their careers. The first award recipients are:

Each of these deserving award winners will have someone that they have mentored speak on their behalf at the banquet. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say. Thank you from all of us and those stars that you have made shine brighter.

I would also like to express my gratitude for Kim Brewskie Booker and Sandler Training for sponsoring this evening’s event. When we half-heartedly put out a general request for an underwriter, Kim said yes within fifteen minutes. Her faith in the mission of the Stelos Alliance is appreciated by us all. Thank you.

This is the fun stuff. Honoring, recognizing, awarding, and shining a light on the great work that these students and professionals do every single day. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday night.

Shine Bright!

Gratitude

21 Apr

We wrapped up the Stelos Alliance’s spring session of the Housley Principled Leadership Program yesterday on the fourth anniversary of Kevin’s death. This scheduling coincidence made the gratitude offered by the students a perfect tribute to our departed friend. The lessons learned in “Housley” memorialize a great man and set extraordinary young leaders on a learning path that will last a lifetime.

The topic of the final session is, “Service: Choice or Obligation?” This is a conversation about what we as citizens owe to our country. Is there something required beyond lawful behavior and paying taxes? Since it has now been two generations since we last had conscripted military service in the United States, even defense feels like a remote responsibility. How then do young citizens acknowledge the advantages bestowed upon them by their heritage? Is there a debt that is due to our patrimony and, if so, how and to whom should it be repaid? These are questions for us all to consider.

While we talked about the changing national ethos regarding service to country we concluded that the benefits that accrue to the giver are substantial and that systematically uniting the privilege of citizenship with responsibility is essential to preserving the long-term health of the republic. The students in the Housley program can articulate the benefits of being raised in the best country on earth. Far from being needy and narcissistic, these student leaders are prepared to dedicate themselves to serving their country and setting an example for their peers.

This is something that would make our friend, Kevin Housley, very proud. He offered himself to the community in numerous official roles and to the country in countless other capacities. He lived by the principles that we teach in the program. As the HPLP instructor and giver in this instance, I can positively proclaim that I benefit at least as much as the students. This goes well beyond the satisfaction of hearing their voiced appreciation. I learn from teaching, and it is making me a better leader. The program is both a gift from and a tribute to my good friend. It seems like yesterday that we gathered in the church to say goodbye. After four years I still miss him very much. I offer my gratitude.

Stumbling on Happiness

26 Mar

Why would someone remember fondly the day they went fishing in 28 degree weather with a broken hand and diarrhea? Well, we caught a bunch of fish and had a lot of fun. I remember being very happy.

We took a little detour this past week during the Housley Principled Leadership Program session and spent three hours talking about happiness, contentment, fulfillment, and life satisfaction. Since all of the program participants are planning to become titans in whatever field they choose to pursue, we though it made sense to think about where all of this striving is really going to take us. No one wants to wake up in their fifties and wonder what the hell they have been doing for the past thirty years.

If we are going to follow the instructions of our forefathers and pursue happiness, then we should spend a little time defining it and exploring how to get it. Money seemed to be a big factor in most students’ assessment of what will make them happy, but the evidence says otherwise. Once our basic needs for shelter, sustenance, security and stability are met, more money doesn’t seem to increase our day-to-day contentment (but we did determine that it can buy toys, freedom, experiences and “life satisfaction”.)

The real problem with happiness is that human beings are horrible at judging the things that will make them happy in the future. Using research found in one of my favorite books, Stumbling on Happiness, by Harvard psychology professor, Daniel Gilbert, we looked at the reasons why we are often unable to predict what will make us happy.

First, humans use past experiences to forecast happiness, but our memories do not serve us well. Our brains remember the good stuff and tend to forget or gloss over the bad (like my fishing experience.) Second, the way we feel in the present affects the predictions we make about the future. Anyone who has ever been grocery shopping on an empty stomach can attest to that. Lastly, we have a tendency to significantly overestimate the impact future events will have on our happiness – both positive and negative. The phrase, “I would be eternally happy if only ______” is almost never true even if “it” happens. The same is true for our ability to deal with tragedy and manufacture happiness afterwards.

I highly recommend reading the book and asking yourself – with the benefit of understanding the inner workings of your brain – whether those things you are striving for are really going to make you happy. The answer may lead you down a completely different path where you may stumble upon some happiness of you own.

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