Such feats are easy to see and remember. But it’s not just what we see that makes Mahomes a unicorn. Much of his greatness is of his mind.
Patrick Mahomes' talent and physical skills are generational, if not unique in the history of the NFL. His Magic Johnson-like no-look passes. His shortstop-like 30-yard darts hanging in the air to throw across his body to hit a receiver in stride. His sidearm flings around defenders while he himself is diving to evade traffic. Seamlessly switching to his left arm when a defender grasps his right arm. His sneaky quick feet that make up for the lack of track star speed to turn what should be a sack or short run into 20- or 30-yard morale-killing first downs.
Such feats are easy to see and remember. But it’s not just what we see that makes Mahomes a unicorn. Much of his greatness is of his mind.
Trust is the backbone of any relationship – with individuals such as a spouse/partner, friend or even a financial planner, doctor, or your kid’s teacher or coach. More broadly, trust in institutions such as corporations, small businesses, government or media is essential for society to thrive and function with collective peace of mind.
Trust has been in decline worldwide for some time now. The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global survey in 28 counties including the United States, China, Germany, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Argentina, Sweden and more – a potpourri of cultures, political systems, religions and economic power – reveals a decrease in trust of corporations, and individual leaders in business, government and the media.
Today is World Kindness Day, and people show kindness through volunteerism, donations and grand gestures periodically. However, on top of those, simple acts of kindness everyday can uplift each other, nurture friendships and deepen bonds. I want to recount a couple of such acts of kindness over the weekend that took extra intent and effort, and revealed each person's strong commitment and character.
Last Friday I attended the University of Missouri's college basketball game against the University of Memphis. The athletic director for Memphis, Laird Veatch, is a long-time friend. Laird and I developed a strong friendship when he was in the athletic department at Mizzou. We texted the week of the game and said let's "catch up."
It was a bit of a passive text that many people send each other as a polite gesture. The words sound good and check off a box. But knowing an AD's duties on a short, same-day road trip, we both knew meeting would be difficult. Especially because I had plans for dinner before the game with a group of friends coming to the game.
Five years ago today, I was re-born, thanks to my wonderful friends Ryan and Traci Ferguson.
They gave me a priceless gift of a kidney transplant on Sept. 12, 2018. They put their lives and careers on hold for six weeks to help me overcome life-altering daily physical and mental fatigue and uncertainty about my future caused by end-stage kidney disease. Their grand act of selflessness and sacrifice progressively allowed me to return to a life with energy, passion and purpose each day since. And just as importantly, if not more, both Ryan and Traci have continued to touch the lives of others.
It doesn’t seem much of a coincidence that Ryan and my birthdays are just one day apart – August 20th and 21st. Not only are Ryan and I both Leos, but I like to believe the three of us share even more important things in common such as drive, competitiveness, compassion and empathy. Their remarkable blessing alone is a lifetime of evidence of the latter two traits.
All three of us are thriving! To show how lives can flourish for both the organ donor and recipient, here’s just a few things we’ve done in words and photos, together and apart, the past five years.
Within a year after the transplant, Ryan and Traci built and moved into a new home in Ft. Collins. Colo. just before I built and moved into a new home in Leawood, Kan., where my Mom lives with me now after my Dad passed and my Brother moved from California to be close to us.
Each of our careers have given us professional purpose. Ryan continues his career as an Associate Partner of IBM’s Cloud Hybrid Services Group and Traci hers as a Park Planner for the City of Commerce City, Colo. I transitioned from full-time to branding and marketing consulting for companies in healthcare technology (Cerner, WellSky and now Amwell), financial services (Edelman Financial Engines) and scientific innovation enablement (CAS).
Ryan followed a passion to fly and earned his pilot's license this year. My passion for mentorship has led my two most recent mentees to morph into two incredible friends-like-family whom I’m eager to watch blossom throughout their lives.
We've all traveled extensively for fun. I've been to the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean twice each, in addition to Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Denver, South Carolina, North Carolina and Oregon. I was honored to see where our nation's Declaration of Independence was conceived and signed, where the Liberty Bell rang, and where a young Sylvester Stallone ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum in “Rocky.” I went to see two iconic sports rivalries: Duke v. North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke (my Blue Devils won!) and Yankees v. Red Sox in Fenway Park.
Ryan and Traci combined international travel including to the Bahamas (five weeks after the transplant), Barcelona, Madagascar (bucket list!) with trips in the States including to New Hampshire/Vermont/Maine, Louisiana, Hawaii, Chicago, and camped at Glacier National Park (Montana), Yellowstone and all over Wyoming/Idaho/Colorado.
They regularly go to Red Rocks, which I got to visit with them. They’ve seen concerts including the Avett Brothers, Ben Folds, Jack Johnson and Pearl Jam. They also attend the WinterWonderGrass, a bluegrass festival in Steamboat Springs. They camp and float at Lake of the Ozarks, Lake Wappapello, Elephant Rocks State Park and Johnson Shut-Ins and go back to Missouri regularly to see their families in Camdenton and Adrian.
Of course, plenty of our journeys have been to see our Mizzou Tigers. Between the three of us, we’ve traveled to road games at Universities of Georgia, Boston College, Auburn, Kansas State, and Wyoming to rep our Tigers in addition to coming "home" frequently to cheer for Ol' Mizzou in Columbia!
Ryan and Traci obviously love music, but they love playing it too. Traci played guitar and Ryan played banjo at a dear friend's wedding. I joined my Mom and Brother to see my nephew get married in California. All of us continue to deepen our bonds with family and friends and develop new friendships.
Suffice to say, we’ve all kept moving, thinking, working, playing, connecting, learning and observing. We're all in a state of perpetual curiosity. An existential crisis like needing a transplant is an opportunity to think about what’s next. Whether you've had a health crisis or not, don't think too long. Start moving. Do things. Go places. Just thrive!
People work to live the life they want. Some get the luxury of work not feeling like work at all. Some reasons include fair compensation, perks and benefits, flexibility, and formal platforms that connect, include and value each employee. But in the best cultures, there’s more.
They’re invisible. They’re not anything people “get.” In fact, they are something everyone from top to bottom can “give:” The most human of vibes that come from emotional intelligence.
I’ve always been a dog person. They love unconditionally and always give and want attention. Cats are different. They love you when they feel like it – usually when they want to land the trifecta: food, attention or affection. Other than that, they are often indifferent.
Then I met my friends Clara’s and Vic’s cat Chester. Beyond his cuteness and cuddliness-on-demand - his demand - there is something special about him.
Chester certainly is interested in food, attention and affection, and so, so much more. He is never indifferent. His curiosity is endless. He is interested in chasing his tail as if it’s a separate living being and not an appendage. In climbing the Christmas tree to see what treasures or treats might lurk in the branches only to get stuck and meow for assistance. In pawing at every bag and box wondering if it contains food or toys, or something that he can turn into either. In every nook and cranny that leads him to get stuck in the three-inch space between the refrigerator and counter. In the photo above he’s finding wonder in a moment of either self-recognition or self-reflection staring at a portrait of him and his big sister Chunky.
All these observations made me realize what’s so special about Chester. He is perpetually curious. A lifetime learner. There are lessons in that for all of us humans.
If you’ve ever been on a safari, watch Animal Planet or your curiosity about animal behavior drives TikTok’s or Instagram’s algorithms to serve you videos of predators hunting the most “organic” of prey in the wild, you may have seen the difference in how lions and tigers find and dine on their meals.
If you do none of the above, just know that lions hunt in packs and they don’t mind sharing the spoils of their victory with their brethren. Tigers hunt alone and they are not prone to passing the plate to anyone, not even another tiger.
So lions must be great teammates and tigers must be selfish, right? Not so fast.
Figuring Christmas night would an easier night to travel rather than fight the masses the day after, and appreciating paying less than half the cost, I booked Southwest Airlines flights from Greenville, South Carolina through Atlanta back home to Kansas City. You probably can guess the travel hell I had entered...but lucky for so many of us who dared to fly that night, there were also angels in that hell.
My flight got delayed two hours in Greenville, but the gate agent there said our connecting flight in Atlanta was also delayed so they would likely hold it for the 11 people connecting to Kansas City. Upon landing in Atlanta, we rushed to the connecting gate only to find out that our flight went from “delayed” to “cancelled.” And from the looks of lines about 40 deep at each gate of Terminal C in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest, so had nearly every other Southwest flight.
The biggest opportunities always seem larger than life. A college application to your No. 1 choice. The bar exam. The perfect job. A health scare. A championship game. The outcome elicits visceral joy or profound heartbreak. Nothing much in between. You win or lose.
But it doesn’t have to be so black and white. At least beyond the moment.
I have a friend who has been a flight attendant her entire career. She has traveled the world for American Airlines and I can see considers it much more than a job. Rather than just make a living, she lives life. And always in a perpetual state of curiosity. I can see her passion for experiencing different cultures, histories and people. She certainly amplifies the saying “Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
The best part is she shares her travels with all of her friends and family by posting photos and videos, and even more importantly, describing the experiences, interactions with and observations of the people of each culture.
Her curiosity allows her to learn and experience, but also share what she observes and absorbs with many who may not have ever been or ever be within close proximity of the many people with whom she crosses paths.
Four years ago I received the blessing of a lifetime from my friends Ryan and Traci Ferguson. On September 12, 2018, one of Ryan’s kidneys was transplanted to me after my kidney disease had reached an inflection point that sapped my energy and prevented me from living a normal life, including working full-time. Both Ryan and Traci had volunteered to donate.
I fought the urge to make grand gestures to thank them, knowing anything I do would be inequivalence of infinite proportion. More to the point, I know both of them are so grounded that they would never want anything in return expect for me to make the most of my life. I decided the best way to do that was to use my strengths to help others.
I’m writing this to show how deeply an organ donation impacts not only the recipient like me, but others I know and don’t know, most with exponential degrees of separation.
“Go the extra mile. It’s not crowded.”
I can’t remember exactly where I saw that quote but it was likely shared by one of the many budding philosophers on Facebook or Instagram. However, in today’s world where everyone is “soooo busy” that many struggle to make adequate effort even for simple gestures, the extra mile is indeed a road less traveled.
Cheers to those who take the road. They set a higher standard and lift others up.
Competitiveness is a highly valued trait in most circles because it’s often the fuel to success and achievement. Having been in the business world after university and having played sports ever since I was in elementary school, I’ve been around the aura of competitiveness nearly all my life. In those settings, I’ve heard many people, including myself, describe themselves as highly competitive.
The wildly popular Netflix series Ozark recently finished its five-year run as one of the most-watched, binged and acclaimed streaming series in history. With veteran actors Jason Bateman (Marty Byrd) and Laura Linney (Wendy Byrd) anchoring the cast, and the meteoric rise of Julie Garner (Ruth Langmore), talent was certainly one foundation to the show’s success.
In our personal lives, especially those of us who communicate using technology or social media regularly, we are accustomed to nomenclature such as “followers,” “viewers,” or those who “liked” or “shared” something we thought was valuable.
We all learn mostly from those who are in our lives such as our parents and family, close friends, religious leaders, teachers, mentors and coaches. Once in a while, we are blessed with the luxury of watching, listening and observing someone from afar that exponentially adds to the collective perspective and wisdom absorbed from those that have been part of our lives.
When two people with familiarity and professional chemistry build unbreakable trust, they form a bond that benefits their team, company or organization, especially at the most critical moment.
That was the case in last night’s stirring AFC Divisional Round playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills. The entire sporting world and beyond is describing the electrifying 42-26 Chiefs OT victory as one of the best football games ever. There was one spectacular play after another under pressure by both teams, no turnovers and just four penalties.
Any loss is difficult for the ultra-competitive Nick Saban, head coach of Alabama football, who many consider the best college football coach of all-time. But a loss in the national championship game is most painful for someone whose singular goal is winning the national championship.
For 15 years at Alabama, and at LSU and Michigan State before, he has led programs to sustained success including a remarkable seven national championships. Despite unparalleled success, he is never complacent, turning the page on the last championship to focus on the season ahead. That competitiveness is embedded in the culture of his program.
Once in a generation, maybe once in a lifetime, our lives intersect with that one-of-a-kind person. The one who inspires and challenges us, makes us look deep inside ourselves to find untapped potential we never knew existed and helps us go to places we never knew we could. If we’re lucky, it’s more than an intersection, but a journey that allows us to seek that person’s steady heart, mind and hand in good times and times of adversity throughout life.
The world has always had – and will always have - problems and challenges. Fortunately, the world has also always had optimistic, industrious, curious and relentless people who choose to focus on solutions instead of those problems and challenges.
Solutions for every walk of life. For example, our health (life expectancy has increased from about 50 to about 80 the past 150 years); our ability to connect physically (planes, trains and automobiles, etc.) or virtually (Facetime, Teams, Zoom, Duo, smartphones, etc.); or moral evolution (more opportunities for all people no matter their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).
The Kansas City Chiefs have a rare luxury in sports – a fan base that always cares, win or lose. Sure, attendance will decrease if the losses continue, but apathy will never set in. When adversity hits, Chiefs’ fans manifest their “caring” in a confluence of disappointment, anger, “suggestions” on social media and sports radio, and hope, lots of hope, for resurgence. And there has been plenty of all of that the last few weeks as the Chiefs, a Super Bowl Champion two years ago and the Super Bowl runner-up last year, are struggling at 3-4 and in danger of missing the playoffs if they don’t right the ship.
I wrote a post earlier this year called “Leaders Need No Crown,” to underscore that one doesn’t need to have a title or be the head of any group of people to be a leader. Flipping that into a positive, the post implied that people without titles like director, manager, coach, pastor, CEO, quarterback, professor, president, etc. can be just as valuable as leaders, if not more, if they exhibit certain character traits, inherent or learned, and turn them into desired actions.
In the fictional, five-season TV drama series Friday Night Lights (now of Netflix), which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 2011, when Dillon (Texas) High School Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) went to visit his recently paralyzed all-American quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter), he found his former QB1 understandably wallowing in self-pity and self-doubt about what his future would be, not just in football, but in life, since he couldn’t move his legs or arms. The two had a brief, subdued interaction as the coach did most of the talking. However, as he turned to leave, Street said to his coach: “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.”
I’ve always had passion for leadership. Leadership is essential to making the world better in an infinite number of ways. Some leaders are visionary and can see solutions before problems even exist. Some leaders have the ability to be a calming or inspirational presence even without being present. The best leaders have a common tenant – rather than for power, glory or ego, their motivation to lead is to serve others.
Weaved into the fabric of America is sacrificing for the common good to preserve and advance our collective freedom.
Americans united and sacrificed during World War I and World War II not only by going to war across the oceans as a soldier, medic, nurse or cook, but in so many others ways right here in the United States.
About the Gray Area
The world is a better place when we work as a team, listening, understanding, thinking and then talking with each other about solutions to our challenges. Too often, we lose sight of that and become entrenched in what we already know or experienced, rather than consider what we haven't.
The Gray Area may highlight examples of solutions derived by saying "what about?" "why not?" or "think about." Sometimes, it will surface unconventional ideas for potential solutions.
Topics could include leadership, policy, sports, economics, music, culture and more.
It's a place for possibilities, not absolutes.
Please feel free to share your own thoughts about Gray Area posts on LInkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
I was born with critical thinking, trained to think objectively in journalism school at Mizzou, and to think about many perspectives at business school at Mizzou and Duke.