Three points in life stand out as the most pivotal in my “learn the hard way” journey. Two seconds before a car accident, two weeks in a foreign land, and the last two years have shaped my world to present day.
2 Seconds – The Accident
October 30th, 1991 early one morning, on the way to school, I was in a car accident that changed my life forever. After a very short mid-west morning rain shower, the curvy country road was just slick enough. My car lost control and smash into a telephone pole. It takes 2 seconds to fasten a seat belt, and I chose not to that morning. My head cracked the front window and the side beam that frames the car leaving me with 5 skull fractures and a hemorrhaging brain. After two unconscious weeks in the ICU, I came to. Couldn’t read much, couldn’t remember much, and my body felt as cloudy as my mind. I went from a straight A student, to struggling for Ds.
No basketball, no cross country, no quick movements at all until my head healed. The frustration, turned to fury which boiled inside of me. Dealing with a brain that would no longer think well, remember much, or stop hurting, was something I never expected or experienced. I recovered in the next 18 months. This time produced one of the hardest working mid-west boys around. The struggle of these days shattered my confidence. I was off to college with a strong work ethic masked by insecurity. As I looked around this college, I feared I was not good or smart enough to attend, but my passion to work hard pushed me through it. My IQ was damaged, and never coming back. But I had developed something in its place, that may have never happened without this accident… grit.
2 Weeks – The Loneliness
My experience at Wabash mirrors many college experiences, but at the time I felt that I was at a huge disadvantage because of my recently loss of brain power. Enter Jon Fischer. Imagine the most boisterous, animated, and brilliant man you could imagine…and times it by 2 that is Professor Fischer. As my advisor, Professor Fischer encouraged me to apply for the study abroad program. Luckily he was the chair of the program and helped me get in despite my 2.7 GPA.
So off I go Venice, Italy. For some peculiar reason, I thought knowing any NO Italian language would be no problem, how hard could it be? Everybody speaks English in Europe right??? I got my ass handed to me. Everything was difficult: ordering food, finding the right bus, communicating with my host family. During my first month, I hit rock bottom, or at least what felt like rock bottom. I couldn’t understand anyone, I couldn’t talk to anyone, and the blanket of loneliness set in. All those insecurities from my accident buried under youthful sarcasm exploded out to the scene. I was lonely. So lonely that I cried every night for 2 weeks. So lonely that I wrote poetry. Poetry? Not any poetry, dark and dramatic poetry. This went on for 2 weeks, until one day there was nothing left. Those 2 weeks of loneliness is exactly what I needed to whip me into shape. I had heard “This too shall pass” before, but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re in the middle of it.
“He who knows he does not know, knows most,” this quote from Socrates was my epiphany of that trip. Finally, I was forced past the loneliness and out of my shell to realize that I really knew nothing. This big giant world was bigger than I had ever imagined. I was okay with it, I sat with it. I like to call this the post-Italy Jason. Those 4 months and specifically those 2 weeks in Venezia gave me the thirst for knowledge, one that makes me the life long learner I am today.
2 Years – The Culmination
Let’s move this story to the present day. The past 2 years have been the best of my life. They have everything to do with the 2 second decision to not wear a seatbelt, and those 2 weeks of crying into my Italian pillow.
Because of my lowered IQ, a determination to always work hard emerged. Because of my loneliness, I became aware of all there is in the vast world around me and wanted to know more. I discovered EQ, not only as a way to function but also as a way to get ahead. Emotional intelligence is something that anyone can improve. Self awareness, empathy, gratitude, being vulnerable, all this and more make up the type of intelligence that you can grow with grit and a thirst for knowledge.
Enter Nantucket Bike Tours. Started in 2011, with only one intern from my alma mater, Wabash College. This internship program quickly went from a learning the ins and out of small business to a 10 week leadership boot camp. I realized that first year that the students could easily learn Quick Books, read about cash flow and Net Operating Income, but they lacked EQ. As our program became better each year, my wife and I found ourselves with something that really worked. This students could take these skills and apply them the rest of their lives and any profession. Anyone can learn about business in school, but there is no system that teaches EQ. So we use the bike tours as a vehicle to teach these life skills, and it works.
But it could only work in this specific situation right? Opening up a coffee shop seemed like a pretty good idea, but when we realized that we could apply the strategies of teaching EQ within another business, we were PUMPED! Let’s see if this model can make another type of business successful. Of course your product or service has to be quality, but to get ahead your business needs engaged staff that communicate well with each other and your customer. So we took the Name Game, the Smile Challenge, and all our teaching tools and focused on what each employee needed help with in regards to emotional intelligence. The Handlebar Cafe has one of the best cultures of any coffee shop I’ve seen! I receive compliments every week of how lucky I am to have such a great staff, how nice they are, and how well put together the team is.
Thinking about those 2 seconds and the 2 weeks, I’m so happy that I went through that. Without it we wouldn’t be readying Dale Carnegie every summer with the bike tour interns or killing The Name Game at the Handlebar. The culmination of our hardest times define us, if we can tap into them we can only do one thing, and that is to grow.