I have had some of my best childhood memories from Thanksgiving. My mom, along side of her sisters (my aunts), in my Grandmother’s kitchen, cooking the big dinner. My could be found dad playing chess with my uncle, or my Grandfather in the den. My cousins, my sister, and I running were always around playing games, checking in on the grown-ups from time to time, seeing them happy and enjoying each other’s company. This was some of my perfect memories. While I have been known to only remember the good things and magically forget the bad moments, I am sure that Thanksgiving provided some of the most perfect examples of how I wanted to live my life. A group of people, that are together by choice, and are truly happy to be able to spend time with the others and do things for each other, truly enjoying their company.
As an adult, with my own family, Thanksgiving has been very close to that memory as a child. Certainly there are more responsibilities and challenges, like preparing for company, or traveling to the friends and family you are spending time with. This year I am in Texas, in the RV, with my family and Nick, and we are spending this holiday with Kristine’s brother, Scott and wife Patty. Kristine’s mom, and Niece are here too, putting it all together. A huge meal last night, Frisbee golf, games, puzzles, and even a football game in the front yard have made for a bunch of great memories already.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, trying to think of all of the things to be thankful for, I have made quite a list. I am certainly thankful the my incredible family, who have supported me when things looked completely hopeless and never given up on me. Kristine is the prime example of that, of course. If you were smart and looked at the facts, and the odds stacked against me in just about any of my life’s major endeavors in the past 20 years you would have a hard time imagining any kind of resemblance of success or security would come of it. Especially after the excitement of a new challenge is over and the reality of not having any results to show for it are in plain site, that is when Kristine has always showed the most calm confidence, saying to me, “EJ, you always make it right, you always figure out a way to survive. I am not worried.” Clearly Kristine has a higher tolerance level to less than ideal circumstances than most people I know. She is the perfect person for me and I am thankful that she is my mate for life. I am also thankful for my team of people at Jackson Kayak. The paddling team known as Team JK is a part of my life that really makes a difference for me. They assure that I am always in good company on the water and off. They care about my paddling and make sure I get in good training, and good paddling, and don’t get sucked into working all of the time and losing focus. Team JK, my business team of associates, and my partner Tony are another part of my life that have made me one of the luckiest people alive. Without my partner Tony, this company wouldn’t exist. Without my design partner David, we wouldn’t have the kayaks we have and I wouldn’t have him as a great friend. Without Dave Olson, I wouldn’t have somebody who can talk to me about the business, like it is a living family member that needs constant help and improvement, as well as having somebody believes that Jackson Kayak is so special and that success is the only option, and that we can make it successful, and just have to figure out how, to keep working hard at it and never give up. He is my right hand man and I am thankful to have him. Each person at JK does what they do best and they create a team of people that I am proud of and VERY thankful to be a part of.
My kids are gems. Emily is unsurpassed in her intelligence, maturity, and grasp on what is right and wrong. She has been beyond the danger zone as a kid to worry about since she was about 7. I can talk to her and ask her for advice and be better off than just about any adult I know. Dane is my buddy. We play together and things never seem to get very heavy. I scold him more than I should, as I try to hold him to too high of a standard of general behavior and the desire for things like a clean house or RV. He has the big picture under control, however. I am very lucky that at age 15, he is still my best friend. I still struggle to get his hair to a reasonable length, of course, but if that is his rebellion, I’ll take it. KC, is, well, a baby. I think he is cool, fun, and surely I love him. I must admit I don’t know much about him yet. Blue eyes, brown hair, fat and rolly looking, and happy most of the time, but screams bloody murder if you haven’t fed him on time. Looks like he is about to cry when you create an adrenaline rush for him (can’t write what I do in case there are child services people reading this, ha), but immediately turns it into excitement. I am sure kayaking is in his future. I am thankful that he is happy, and healthy, so I’ll stick with that for him.
Another thing that I guess i may have thought about, but not really, is that I am developing another friendship base in my customers that is becoming an important part of my life. The paddlers who buy boats from me, treat me like a friend more often than not, and consequently, I meet them and become their friends. I don’t know why, but it seems as if I am lucky in that those people all seem to be awesome people that I want to be friends with. They aren’t all like me, which would be boring, but they seem to have similar ideals, and at least feel that paddling is more than just having a great time. I really have been becoming connected to my customers in a way that makes my happier. My dealers who sell the boats are another group of friends, with a common goal too; to survive another year in this business. It is not an easy business to be successful in, but it is so important to so many people. Each dealer is important to JK, since they are our bread and butter. JK is important to our dealers since we supply a major line of kayaks for their business. In reality, however, we act more like friends, with common ties, and common goals, and a win/win situation is the only way we can survive. We share ideas, we let each other know if somebody isn’t pulling their weight, and we talk about things like being in the kayak business because we love paddling and how can we survive this drought, or this economy downturn, or how can we make sure our customers are happy. Each of these dealers, whether it be the owner, buyer, president, or all of the above, are becoming important to me as a friend, not just as a business owner. Their stories are inspirational in many cases and I am thankful to be close to these people. They are friends, who take care of my other friends, those who will paddle my boats, or those who just paddle, even if they paddle somebody else’s boat.
This season is now the holiday season. For me it just heightens my awareness of who and what is important to me. It is time for me to reflect on my life and how I am living it. What am I doing right, and what can I do better. Since life can be changed overnight, and priorities can change in a heartbeat, with a simple decision, I like to “put everything on the table”, as Dave Olson would say. Do I still want to compete? Am I spending enough time with Kristine, Dane, Emily, my dad, my sister, my friends, etc. . Is Jackson Kayak worth the time and energy I put into it. My heart and soul goes into this company and while I define it to a large degree, it is defining me at the moment. Is that good or bad? In 1997 during this same period, Kristine and I decided that we weren’t doing the right things and we sold everything we owned and moved into a RV for 7 years. That was a good decision, perhaps the most defining of our relationship, with nothing but good things coming from it. Are there paradigm shifts we can make that will set us free today? That, I believe is the hardest part of life. Thinking without boundaries. What about moving to Africa, or Mexico, or New Zealand? Why not? Not at least considering such things, and realizing that to lose something you have today is only bad if what you gain in the experience isn’t something you are longing for even more.
I am truly thankful that I can think like this, and that I can talk to Kristine with such things being open for discussion, and she will humor me.
Finally, in talking to myself, writing this, and in past experiences, what I believe today is:
The people in the world that are a positive force, that make things better for others, and that are fun to be around, are those who are grateful. They are grateful for everything. They are even grateful for the bad things that happen to them, as they know that these things define them, and without challenge they would not be strong. Those who feel the world owes them, they are unfortunately the ones who are takers and aren’t fun to be around.
For this reason, I will do what I can everyday going forward to be grateful for everything in my life. Thanksgiving is always a great time to kick of such powerful thinking, seeing that there are so many examples of people being grateful around us.