Last week, I got engaged.
It was July 24th. I was down in the Outer Banks in the town of Duck. We were down for a week long trip celebrating my fiance's, Amanda, grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. Her aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews were all present. Her parents had organized the whole thing back in December. Everyone arrived the day before after long trips from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The evening of the first full day in Duck, NC we all went down to the beach for family photos. Her family hadn't had family portraits in almost sixteen years and I was a little nervous because I wasn't family...yet. Amanda and I have been together for almost three years now and our talks of getting married were getting more and more serious. Last year, we bought a house together and we got a dog. Before that, Amanda had moved into my apartment. In the last two and half to almost three years, we've been through and done a lot together.
So we're standing on the beach, she and I, taking the direction of the photographer to get into the best poses for our own shots. Many in her family believed because I got down on one knee I was proposing on the beach...in reality I'm 6'7' and Amanda is 5'2" (5'3"....eh, she's much shorter than I). About an hour later, we're back at the house toasting to her grandparent's milestone and several toasts from other family members really cap off the night. I sheepishly speak up and say "I have a toast I'd like to give..."
The next few moments were a nervous combination of excitement and reverence to which ended with me getting down on one knee and asking Amanda to marry me...and she said yes. That night and the whole week is ingrained in my memory now and forever.
Beyond sharing this personal moment with everyone for the sake of sharing in my happiness, I wanted share the importance having solid relationships are to you in life. I'm very lucky for the friends and colleagues that I have in my life. They have helped me grow into the person I am today and have helped guide me when I go off the rails. I can safely say that Amanda has helped guide me through some pretty dark times personally and professionally as well as been the sounding board I needed to work through ideas, projects and situations of a more pragmatic nature.
Back when I was at PPO&S, our one account executive Jeff gave me some interesting insight. Jeff was formerly the creative director and he more than 40 years of experience working as a creative.
"Nobody else understands how we [creatives] think. We'll get an idea for something...like an ad, a website, a TV spot at random times when what we are doing has nothing to do with the idea. It's take a great person to love and understand all of your quirks as a creative."
In my experience, that has proven to be true. I have definitely come up with ideas and plans that have baffled those around me into wondering what is really going on in my head at the time. Luckily, I have those people in my life that understand me and know what I'm going on about.
Solid relationships, in my view, are built on trust, respect and are meant to challenge you. Amanda certainly challenges me to think differently and be open to new ideas. My good friends and colleagues I work with share these qualities. As a creative, challenge and critique are part of the landscape. It is what compels us to produce higher quality work that fits the vision of what we try to achieve. In my opinion, a relationship without respectful challenge isn't a relationship at all. If you wanted a relationship where the other party only agrees with you and doesn't challenge you think differently...then get a tickle me Elmo or Teddy Ruxpin of any other child's toy that only tells you how great you are.
Respectful challenge sounds like an oxymoron. Respectful challenge is not an attack on a person and their beliefs, but rather a process where it gets you to consider other options. We're really good at focusing on one idea and when we are excited about it, we tend to solidify our thinking into one direction. Respectful challenge allows for seeing other possibilities. When you allow yourself to see and accept other possibilities, I see that as a gift from your friend/colleague.
A challenge that attacks your character isn't a challenge at all and the person who makes that attack is an insecure dick. A challenge that only tries to get you to follow someone else's ideas that only benefits their position isn't a challenge at all, it's a diva move.
Respectful challenge isn't always easy to hear. We're human and we tend to take other ideas and criticisms as a sign of failure. We tend to get defensive and retract because we don't want to be seen as "wrong". This is defining in building a solid relationship. When the mutual respect for each other is there and the challenge is clearly meant to help progress whatever it is you're doing to be more effective, inclusionary or successful that's when you begin to have a more meaningful relationship.
For me, the ultimate relationship is with my Amanda. We challenge each other. A lot. And sometimes, it gets heated, we get indignant with each other and we allow our own insecurities seep into our thoughts and words. Whenever you have a deep relationship like this....with a partner, long time friend, family members or even close colleagues...the stakes are raised because of the built up history you have with that person. It's easy to get "too familiar" and say things that can almost be perceived as an attack on one's character.
There have been a lot of times where I have had friends challenge my character as person because I was going down a negative route that was only going to bring me more pain in the future. These challenges were not attacks, but rather trying to get me to dig out of a rut that causing me a lot of personal pain.
In my career, I have had the kinds of challenges that pushed me into different types of work...development, research, marketing, etc. They have helped me grow in my career. Personally, I have had challenges that made me step out of my comfort zone and let me be more than what I perceived my character to be. Those challenges helped me grow as person.
The big takeaway from this post is that the people who love and care about you want you to be the best version of yourself as possible. Respectful challenge is only one aspect of your relationship and it's meant to help you grow.
Amanda and I getting married in October of 2017. We're going to challenging each other a lot over the next year and three months. As I begin to see more opportunities and possibilities, I am coming to respect and love her even more. The people I work with at Aspire Ventures challenge me on my perceived boundaries and in turn, I'm becoming a better designer and developer. My close friends challenge me to try new things or see other possibilities with personal projects and life scenarios.
They all make me a better person, and for that I say challenge accepted.