A slogan we have often used to describe the purpose of the WeMcLaughlins videos, podcasts and website has been “Turning The Heart Toward Home.” I (Jeff) rate very high on Tom Rath/Gallup’s Strengths Finders Assessment in “belief,” one of 34 strengths the assessment has identified as present in humanity in varying degrees of strength or weakness. Such a strength seems to dictate that the carrier will exhibit their full passion when what they are doing or selling aligns with their personal vision, convictions and/or interests. I have always believed in my family, and in the very concept in general. I acknowledge that my wife and I are an incredible team and we are wildly complementary, not just because we each possess unique strengths and abilities, but because we’ve decided to let our teamwork trump the potentially divisive (and often minor) details of life. In sweating the small things and holding on to a bigger picture, our partnership does more than survive the other. Rather, together we thrive. Because I believe, embrace and frankly enjoy being a husband and a dad and partnering and integrating all aspects of life with my wife, it’s the place I desire to give my greatest investment.
While we still have great strides to make, we have progressed toward this integration significantly in the past several years. Catalytic to our growth was the realization that our family was growing somewhat disintegrated. I was giving the bulk of my energy to my job, completely disassociated with Shannon’s #1 job of teacher to our homeschooling family. While the look of integration was there in that our kids were often dragged to various work functions and responsibilities just so we could be together, it had really become nothing more than cameo appearances that often benefitted my job and it’s influence, with little or no reciprocal benefit to our family. It was in one of our busiest seasons of this kind of lifestyle that we were confronted with the need to make a change.
Fortunately there was no crisis moment to report such as our marriage was on the rocks or kids having grown to resent mom or dad, we nevertheless took inventory of our lives and began to question our own plan as well as the cultural status quo. A century ago, and in some parts of the country even much more recently, the family depended on each other far more. There was far greater family integration because kids were involved in the family business, whether that be a farm or some other specific trade. Education was valued, but certainly not farmed out for the amount of time most kids are in the care of others for education in the present day. Further, a perhaps more valuable education was being provided by the parents themselves: a trade, passed on from generation to generation in the family.
As we began to entertain philosophical thoughts such as this, we discovered that, while not the majority, we had other friends simultaneously questioning the societal norm as well. Months later we discovered the story of a family who years earlier had been asking the same questions we were and eventually took action. Bob Farewell is somewhat enigmatic. Entrepreneurial to the core, his business ventures are widely diverse and his side habits include flying his ultralight powered paraglide aircraft over the vast farmland and orange groves of Central Florida. After hearing Bob’s story from an online recording we reached out to he and his wife Tina and found ourselves in their living room trying to explain how we wanted more for our family than just the status quo. As Bob himself shared about morphing his philosophy from businessman in the traditional sense to family man who’s business ventures now aimed to include his own kids as partners and learners, our hearts resonated. In the years since, he’s had the opportunity to talk with other dads who desire to do that very same thing: to bring dad home. I’ll confess that my deepest hope for our meeting with the Farewells was to walk away with a “can’t miss family business plan” that would guarantee the kind of transformation we desired within just a few short months; we left with no such thing. In retrospect, I believe we left with something better. Rather than hand me a “just add family” plan, Bob Farewell told me that day if this was something we truly wanted he was going to be relentless in asking us to account for our progress.
There is a question that most people are confronted with at some point or another in their lives: “if money were no object, what would you do?” We were asked that question in Bob & Tina’s living room, and our answer, though multi-faceted, included a desire to inspire curiosity in kids who are growing up a very virtual world, experiencing the wonders of the world digitally. Both Shannon and I grew up learning experientially. While shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers introduced us to people of different professions and interests, we both grew up with an insatiable desire to go beyond the regurgitation of information from paragraphs in a textbook. Furthermore, like most kids born in the 1980s, we still played outside, daily! The world was ours to explore and explore we did, sans portable video screens and the constant barrage of media and stimuli that those tend to bring. Without said distractions, we were learners, full of imagination. As we reminisced about this with Bob & Tina, we shared, passionately, that we longed to bring the next generation of media focused on experiential learning, a Mr. Rogers for the present generation of little learners.
For us, bringing dad home started with a vision of family integration. It then began to develop a focus and purpose: creating experiences in learning together that could yield shareable content with other little learners and their families who might otherwise fall prey to the monotony of life constantly in front of a screen. We also desired to create content that integrated children to their parents and contained resources to assist families in creating a family culture in the form of conversation starters and family challenges. Instead of isolating children in solo entertainent, we wanted to reconnect them to their parents and siblings. Now that we had a target, we could begin to create. There was just one problem: quality content creation requires resources. In our case it would be a significant amount of audio/video gear, a computer upgrade, software and much more. In retrospect it was best that we didn’t calculate the total cost of what we would need to make the dream a reality because while it wasn’t a million dollars, it might as well have been, given our budget. While our income worked for our budget, it wouldn’t support this kind of excess. Fortunately, we soon discovered that accomplishing this dream wouldn’t require further disintegration of our family. In fact, it necessitated the opposite.
When eBay begin in the mid 90s I was barely a teenager yet already had a love for entrepreneurialism. I grew up in a baseball household. My grandfather on my mom’s side played at the very low minor league level in the Cincinnati Reds organization. Each year during Spring Break my mom would take my brother and I to both Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach to see the Yankees and Braves Spring Training games (both teams have since relocated). We collected baseball cards, autographs and other memorabilia. As a teenager I began frequenting Saturday morning baseball card shows at the local malls. I learned at an early age how to interact with adults, propose deals and at times feel the pain and remorse of a bad deal. eBay opened up a whole new world of possibilities in the sports collecting realm. No longer was I limited to a local audience. I could now buy, sell and trade with a national marketplace, and that’s exactly what I did. I remember days where I’d come home from high school and find a check or money order in the mail for an item I’d sold. I’d go to the bank to deposit the money, make sure it cleared and then off to the post office to ship the item. The process is infinitely simpler now with the invention of online payment services and the ability to purchase postage right from home. Nevertheless, in an addition to an after school job, I was running an online business, albeit on a very small scale.
When I left for college in 1999, that business had become no more than a passing thought. The priority became getting a degree and entrepreneurialism seemed to only oppose that, at least according to conventional wisdom. Though I spent more than 15 years off eBay, when the time came to create additional income to fund our dream, that entrepreneurial spirit was still lingering. Shannon and I have always loved the idea of repurposing things. We live in a world of disposable goods and planned obsolescence and yet previous generations couldn’t imagine this kind of waste. Those were the generations where people were still handy and fixed what was broken rather than defaulting to discard. As this resonated with us, coupled with my past experience with e-commerce, we soon discovered that reselling was a hobby practically made for us. Though there were obstacles and hurdles along the way, including some very discouraging moments as we had to learn the hard way of how and what to source and resell, eventually we grew a side business that thrived beyond our wildest imagination. Through this side business, we were able to purchase every single piece of equipment we needed to create videos, podcasts, photos and media reflective of our vision and dream. The best part about all of this: this business has further integrated our family. Our kids help us source. They help prepare shipments. They are learning the ins and outs of business and entrepreneurialism. They see first hand the good and bad of customer service experiences. They are learning right alongside us.
In our situation, dad didn’t just re-orient his work schedule and learn to say no to some things all the while taking on a different kind of work that still removed him from his kids. No. Bringing dad home, for us, meant dad came home to work with his kids. He came home to learn with them and after all the work and learning, to play with them. No longer removed from their learning experiences in school and life, we’ve learned as a family how to incorporate all of these aspects of life, harmoniously. While there is still much to be done and we are certainly in the infancy stages of both running a business and creating content for little learners, from the ground up we’ve held to that vision of integration and watched with wonder at the successes already.
A 2nd grade boy was given an assignment to write a short paper about what he wanted to be when he grew up. This young man lived near horse stables and his dream was to one day raise thoroughbred horses. Each day he would get home from school and ride his bike down the street to watch the horses. With great enthusiasm he wrote a paper expressing this dream and handed it to his teacher with pride yet he was crushed to see the paper returned to him the next day with an “F” in red letters, and the words, “your dream is too unrealistic. Rethink the paper and I’ll rethink the grade.” Heartbroken, he shared the story with his dad who counseled his son that he would support him in whatever decision he made. The next day that young man, paper in hand, walked up to his teacher and slid the paper across her desk unchanged, saying, “you keep the ‘F’, I’ll keep the dream.”
You may not have a focus or target quite yet, but more than likely, you have a vision. Maybe you’ve even had it for some time now. What will it take to make your dream a reality? Who are you sharing that vision with and inviting constructive critique? Who are you networking with that can provide the wealth of knowledge you need to advance? We set as a goal to take baby steps every week, learning new skills, testing theories, meeting people with similar interests, recognizing that dreams wither and die in the prison of stagnation. Our vision was to bring dad home and better integrate our family and while the means you may accomplish yours may differ, there is one universal maxim: it won’t happen by accident.