July 6, 2012
Did you enjoy your 4th of July Holiday? While I usually enjoy this Holiday, my mood this year was more somber than celebratory. For those who did not know, Mike Clough lost his long battle with cancer on April 6, 2012. Adding to my inclination towards reflection is the relentless bombardment by the media with stories hyping the disastrous state of our current economic, social and political woes. One can only hope that the awful sound of doomsday predictions being launched like rockets between political opponents didn’t detract from the fireworks. Its enough to make one wonder if the great social and political experiment called America is failing and our story is nearing its end.
Still, I refuse to give up hope for the fulfillment of the grand vision outlined by our forefathers. Sure there are discrepancies between what the founders intended and the reality of America’s story. But, this is a story worth telling.
The bones of all stories include the beginning, middle and end. Of these three, what we remember best is the end. The stories most worth telling contain fundamental truths about the human struggle to survive and triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds. Truly great stories have the ability to catapult us beyond our current level of understanding and alter what we believe about ourselves and the world.
America’s story was and still is about freedom. However, the free society described in the Bill of Rights requires that its members bear a heavy burden of duties and responsibilities. This is as it should be. The longer I live, the more I realize that anything worth having carries a steep price. But, while everyone wants life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not everyone is willing to pay the price.
Today, as I reflect on America’s story, I am reminded of other stories worth telling – like the life of Earl Michael Clough.
Earl Michael Clough, or Mike as he preferred to be called, was the son of a Seventh Day Adventist preacher. Much to his father’s chagrin, Mike rebelled and did not follow in his father’s footsteps with regard to the practice of religion. However, he did win his father’s respect as a salesman. Ironically, my own father used to say that the best preachers were just great salesmen.
When Mike was just a boy, his father would drive him to nearby towns and sit in the car grading papers while he walked door-to-door selling pencils. On the application for the job of selling pencils, Mike wrote “under 65” in the blank where it asked for the applicant’s age. Of course, this happened so many years ago that it wasn’t illegal for an employer to ask that question.
Before long, Mike was out earning his father, which wasn’t too difficult since preachers and teachers are typically not paid very well, unless you consider the fact that Mike was only 12. He ended up being the top performing sales representative in the country.
As Mike matured, success did not come nearly as easily. In retrospect, he realized that as a youngster, he had an unfair competitive advantage over the competition that he referred to as the “cuteness” factor. When his prospects would see this adorable young man dressed up in a suit and carrying a briefcase, they reacted immediately with positive emotions. Mike represented all that we hold dear and revere in our capitalist culture; an insatiable drive to succeed.
Hidden costs of the American dream
Perhaps Mike’s early business success left such an indelible impression on his psyche that it defined him. Like many entrepreneurs, Mike had a fierce drive to succeed which led him to start several companies, some more lucrative than others.
A key component of Mike’s success was an intense thirst for practical knowledge and an even greater appetite to see it implemented. Although he did not think of himself as a “geek”, he was usually ahead of his peer group in leading changes that improved business results. While serving as a senior executive in a large corporation, he brought the first computers into the company.
While his extraordinary talent for influencing people, early adoption of technology and single-minded dedication served him well over the years, Mike encountered the usual setbacks, distractions and detours.
Sadly, it was Mike’s single-minded dedication to be well liked and gain material rishes that impoverished his life. One of the things Mike used to say was “you can’t get the heat without chopping the wood”. While this philosophy served him well throughout his career, he neglected to apply it to other areas of his life.
Like Willy Loman from Arthur Miller’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “The Death of a Salesman“, Mike spent his entire life pursuing the American Dream and was only 63 when he died. To salesmen like Mike and Willy, the American Dream meant being well liked and attaining material success. Tragically, Willie and Mike’s obsession with success consumed them, leaving precious little time or energy for anything else. Perhaps the reason we find the play so compelling is because there is a little bit of Willy Loman in all of us. However, unlike Willy, Mike was actually well liked by many and did achieve success. Even more significantly, before he died, Mike recognized and admitted his mistake. To me, that was his ultimate triumph.
What do you want more than what you say you want?
One of the most successful business coaches I ever met used to tell his clients that what they wanted more than what they said they wanted was the chief cause of all the misalignment in their business and personal lives. No matter how vehemently we might express our convictions, values and goals, it is our deepest longings, especially those we have yet to acknowledge, that determine our destiny.
One example of this type of misalignment is a person who claims to care about the environment and preserving our natural resources but fails to take the time to recycle. While this person may cite valid reasons for not doing so such as not having a recycling service, the truth is that it is simply not important enough or they would do it. In other words, they are expecting to get the heat without chopping the wood.
In what areas of your life are you expecting get the heat without chopping the wood?
Necessary endings and new beginnings
Many of life’s endings are necessary. Just as the early Americans were compelled to end the Tyranny of British rule, I have come to believe that death is often the only recourse in response to the tyranny of diseases like cancer. If you know the anguish of standing by helplessly while someone you love suffers, you may be able to understand how death can be a necessary and welcome ending.
My perspective on death changed after living in Arizona for a number of years. One the most profound gifts I took away from that experience was a deep and abiding respect for the values, beliefs and practices of Native American Indians.
Dying and endings are not viewed the same way in traditional Native American cultures as they are by most Americans. In the natural world, whenever something that was living dies it is recycled into useful matter necessary to ensure the longevity of other life forms. It is all part of the interdependent and dynamic cycle of life. Contrary to the beliefs held by many of us from Western cultures, death is much more than a tragic loss. It is a vital component of what is needed to sustain the universe.
Another belief held by many Native Americans is that you must put back what you take. And, though Mike did not realize how “Indian” some of his philosophies were, he used to say, “you should produce as much, if not more, than you consume”.
Mike’s stated commitment and behavior were in complete alignment when it came to helping businesses succeed. He was one of the most professionally generous people I ever met. As a result, there are thousands of small business owners and professionals around the world who have benefited from his efforts. In this way, Mike’s story is a long way from ending.
Recently, I was reminded of how a person’s story continues after they die. Anyone who knew my late husband, Ron L. Fronk, appreciated the significant contributions he made during his lifetime. His professional speeches, seminars, books, audio-tapes and products have enriched the lives of people all over the world. Ironically, it was something that he did for fun that is making a difference today.
Although Ron was one of the most self-disciplined people you will ever meet, allowing himself few indulgences, he did enjoy playing golf, smoking an occasional cigar and brewing his own beer. My daughter Molly and her husband Greg so enjoyed Ron’s beer when they came to visit that when Ron died in the fall of 2003, I gave his beer making supplies to them. Greg has been brewing his own beer ever since.
This spring, Greg and Molly launched a microbrewery. American Sky Beer by the Hudson Brewing Company was inspired by the spirit of American heroism and individuality represented by the US aviators of World War II. The company slogan is “Let Freedom Pour”.
The inspiration for Molly and Greg was also personal. Molly’s grandfather (my Dad) served as a Tailgunner in the Navy during World War II. Greg’s grandfathers served in the Army during World War II and in Viet Nam. Also, Mike Clough was a member of the Special Forces during the late sixties.
Hudson Brewing Company, located at 1510 Swasey Street in Hudson Wisconsin, offered its first public tastings during Hudson Booster Days, Friday and Saturday, June 29 and 30. Distribution to area restaurants, bars, liquor stores and the opening of the brewery’s tap room with its aviation theme is slated for early fall.
One of the American Sky signature beers is called “Tailgunner Gold”, crafted from Ron Fronk’s original recipe. Another of their signature beers is called “Amber Salute”. An India Pale Ale called USA IPA will be released in September. You can follow American Sky Beer on Facebook.
So, what happens after the end?
Now that I have outlived two husbands, both of my parents, a brother, a sister, two sets of grandparents, most of my aunts, uncles and others too numerous to mention, I feel qualified to share some of my observations about this subject.
No matter what you may believe about what happens when someone dies, the impact they have had on others lives on. You see, like freedom, love carries a steep price. On a relation-ship; when someone you love dies, the course you’ve been on suddenly makes an abrupt turn towards a place you never intended to go and from whence you can never return; Life without the person you loved.
The difficulty in adjusting to this new place depends on how big of an impact they had on your life. The space in my life where Mike used to be is cavernous. Kind of like the one left by the icebergs when they receded from the place we now call the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
You may have noticed an absence of MainStreetChamber events and articles these past few months. My intention is to continue to serve the Minnesota business community. To that end, I am in the midst of a strategic planning process which more than likely will result in some repositioning. Please check this blog and/or your email for upcoming announcements.
Even though Mike died on April 6, 2012, it has taken me quite some time to be able to write about it. Each and every day, I wake up to the reality of life without Mike. One of the more challenging aspects of this new life is how to sustain the goals, objectives and activities and MainStreetChamber without him. Now, I must perform my own work as well as his. And, because I do not possess Mike’s myriad talents, many of the tasks he performed are not being completed on time, if at all. My hope is that those of you who have sent emails, tweets, texts or called will understand and grant me patience.
Start with the end in mind…
In my work as an organizational change consultant, I learned the importance of Steven Covey’s recommended approach in his wildly successful book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Habit number two is to Begin with the End in Mind. Covey asserts that we must vividly imagine the kind of person we want to be, the kind of life we want to lead and the success we want to achieve before it can become reality.
Is the person you are today who you want to be? Is the life you are leading the one you want? Are you achieving the success you desire? If not, start by creating a detailed mental picture. Hold it in your mind for several minutes each morning after you wake up and each evening before you go to sleep.
A dear friend of mine, Mark LeBlanc, is someone I consider successful both personally and professionally. Mark teaches business owners that in order to achieve success they must develop the discipline of focus, consistency and building momentum for long term growth and results.
Mark has been a game-changer for literally thousands of small business owners and professionals in the course of his career, whether in his live presentations, coaching or his books, Growing Your Business and Never Be the Same, inspired by his 500 mile walk across Northern Spain.
His support of small business and MainStreet Chamber, with no thought of gain has been incredibly valuable to me and to Mike. When I needed a favor for MainStreet Chamber, Mark always said yes. For that reason, I strongly urge you to become familiar with his work and best business practices. You can reach Mark through www.SmallBusinessSuccess.com.
Mark started a foundation to support young entrepreneurs and gives $3,000 grants each Fall to aspiring and deserving entrepreneurs under 30. If you know one, encourage them to apply for a grant. To honor Mike’s memory, please consider making a contribution. Call Mark at (612) 339-4890 for a grant application or more information on how you can support this worthy endeavor.
The rest of the story
Like America itself, Mike sometimes fell short of his ideals, but that did not diminish the enormous impact he made while he was alive. As a matter of fact, one of the most profound contributions Mike made during his lifetime had nothing to do with business. During the late sixties Mike was a member of the Special Forces and served as a medic in the army. His job was to administer medical care to the injured and dying soldiers who were willing to pay the steep cost of freedom.
Someone once said that the average life expectancy for medics during that time was seven minutes. So, you can guess how amused I was when Mike, who had seen more blood and guts within the span of a couple of years than most people see in a lifetime, told me the most harrowing experience he could recall was when he delivered a baby on a helicopter.
I wonder if Mike could have imagined that the story he intended to create with his life would be the one people would tell. The story Mike was trying to create was about a serial entrepreneur. He probably didn’t give much thought to the parts of his story that I would feel were worth telling. He must have known that I would tell his story because I am a writer. However, In addition to being Mike’s business partner, for those of you who didn’t know, I was also his wife.
Thanks to people like Mike, my father, Greg’s Grandfather and millions of others who have paid their fair share of the cost of freedom, America’s story is a long way from being over. However, if we hope to fulfill the lofty vision of our forefathers, we must step up and do our part to ensure it.
In summary, I would encourage you to be mindful of the impact you are having on those around you – positive or negative and to make sure the story you are creating with your life is the one you want to be told because it will be. Perhaps it will be a loved one like me, a colleague or a customer. But, your story will be remembered and told by someone. The question is will it be worth telling.
Please feel free to share your thoughts about America, Mike Clough or the lasting impact others have had on your life in the comment section below. Or, you can share them privately with me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org