Wednesday, July 30, 2008

When the Spirit Moves You... 

I first realized I could see myself spending the rest of my life with Emily during our first weekend in Minneapolis and I actually started looking for rings that Fall, but it wasn't until the I got close to graduating that I seriously started planning my proposal strategy. It was pretty simple. All I needed to do was get a ring, ask her Father for permission, and then get down on a knee. As you can probably figure out from my last blog entry, my last couple weeks in LA were nuts, so I still hadn't done either of my "pre-proposal activities" by the time I moved to Minneapolis. I figured I still had time though, since we were planning to head to South Dakota on May 31st and I could ask Wayne (Emily's Dad) for her hand then.

What I didn't expect was how overwhelmingly tough it would be to follow this plan. On May 24th, Emily and I rented some kayak's and took off to kayak our way through the suburbs of Minneapolis. That entire week my head had been spinning and that morning was no different. I had spent 32 years looking for Emily, and now that I had found her I wanted her to know how badly I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her...but I didn't have the ring and I hadn't spoken with her Father. I had to follow the "rules" right?

As we paddled past wildlife and playing children my head was lost in the argument, "Nothing about us was conventional, so why was I trying to be conventional now? Just ask her! No! You need a ring! Says who?! Who are you trying to impress?"

Emily pulled me back to reality when she asked where I thought we should pull out of the river. We both agreed it would be better to stop early rather than follow our normal pattern of overdoing everything. The only problem was that we had no idea where we were. Our plan was to pull the kayaks on shore, find a road, call a cab, backtrack to Emily's car, and then come get the kayaks. As we unloaded our gear onto to dry land, we realized our plan might be a little tougher than we imagined. We were stuck behind some random industrial building in the middle of suburbia with no cell phone reception. How in the heck was a cab going to find us here?

This is where things get a little weird. As I dragged the kayaks towards the industrial parking lot, I saw a random taxi winding its way past rows of dumpsters right towards us. What was a taxi doing out here in the middle of our random industrial wasteland? As it turns out, another couple had left their car tucked away in this parking lot, and they took a cab back from the airport to pick it up. What are the odds that we would pull out of the river looking for a cab at the exact moment that a couple was getting dropped off to pick up the only car in the parking lot? Slim. Very slim.

Anyway, as Emily pulled away en route to get her car, I leaned back against the kayaks and continued pondering whether I should propose now or later. My gut was telling me to break the "rules", and my head was telling me to follow convention. I needed help, so I started dialing several of my successfully married friends for advice. It was Saturday afternoon, so they should be home right? Wrong. Six calls...six voicemails. Then it hit me...this was a decision I was supposed to make on my own.

When Emily pulled up in the parking lot my mind still wasn't made up, but I was feeling a little more fearless. The magic was in the air. Emily looked at me funny, "Are you OK?".

"Yeah, yeah, just hungry", I muttered.

After buying about $30 worth of mega-salad from Whole Foods we settled in for a feast on Emily's back deck. After the table was set and I walked out to join my future fiance for dinner, it struck me how utterly beautiful the night had become. The sun was sparkling through the wine glasses, the breeze was gliding through her hair...it was perfect. Was this the time? No, answered my mind. I was still stuck in convention.

As we began to enjoy our meal, the subject of MBA Enterprise Corps came up and we began discussing what our future could look like when and if I shipped out to work in Germany. Before we started, Emily asked if our conversation was just about Germany, or was it a bigger conversation about our future together? Was she reading my mind?

I told her how much she meant to me, and how committed I was to our future together. I wanted her to know how much she meant to me, but I was still letting the ring and the lack of her Father's formal permission keep me from asking the question that was dying to come out. As I finished pouring all this unexpected emotion into her lap, Emily looked up at me with a quizzical look on her face and said, "Thanks honey...that's sweet of you."

She wasn't getting it...wait a second, I wasn't even getting it. It was time. The time was now. It was time for my heart to take the wheel and for my mind to climb into the back seat. I got down on my knee, took her hand, looked into her beautiful eyes and asked her to be my wife.

She took her time with her response. :-)

My Dad says that for every second a woman thinks about it, that's an extra 20 years of happy marriage. If that's the case, we're set for 60 years!

As the tears and happiness washed over us, it hit me how perfect everything had worked out. I've spent way too much of my life trying to follow the "acceptable path", and I've finally found someone who inspires me to break the ridiculous rules that I've allowed to clutter my mind. I've spent way too much of my life following my head, and I've found someone who can teach me to listen to my heart.

Emily is everything I could have wished for and then some. She is someone I can see myself sitting on a porch with at 80 years old and still loving the conversation. She is someone I am proud to introduce as my wife, someone I will learn from forever, and someone I will be honored to raise children with. She inspires me to be a better leader, a better friend, a better citizen, a better man. I am stronger because of her, and I can't wait to share her with you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Finding "The One"... 

"Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward" - Soren Kierkegaard

Last July, if you would have told me I would be engaged and living in Minneapolis in a year, I probably would have involuntarily spit my drink out in your face. At the time I was busy working 60+ hour weeks for Deloitte Consulting and I had convinced myself that I needed to figure out how to quit screwing up relationships before I got into a new one. Then my friend Mary Shippy called.

Mary told me she was working with this amazing young woman that I had to meet. She claimed that she wasn't matchmaking, only that she thought Emily and I would love talking with each other. As luck would have it, Mary was coming out to visit me and a couple of her other Bay Area friends in a couple weeks, so she asked if Emily could come along. I was sharing a three bedroom college crash pad with my little sister and her two sorority sisters at the time, so I thought it would be a little strange to have two grown women sleeping in my keg-stained living room, but if Mary and Emily were up for it, I was up for it.

So...to skip ahead, Mary basically hand delivered my fiance to my living room. Nice. OK, back to the story. When Emily and I first met face to face I had my mind firmly made up that we were going to have a purely plutonic weekend. Emily was Mary's friend, I was bad in relationships, and my life was too complicated and packed with busywork to make time for anything but friendships. As the weekend progressed, this plan became more and more difficult to maintain. On our last full day together, the three of us were sitting back to back on the San Francisco coastline, and I felt Emily squeeze my hand. It sounds silly to write about it now, and we still can't agree who made the first "squeeze", but regardless, the impact was electric. All of a sudden the mental wall I had built around my heart started to crack.

However, like a good construction guy, I packed the crack with mortar and kept up my plutonic act. On Emily's last night in town she came into my room to say goodnight and everything in my body was screaming "kiss her!", but my mind was on lockdown. No. Not Mary's friend. Not now. Not until I have time. Not until I fix myself. I said goodnight, the weekend ended, and we went our separate ways.

Luckily for me, Emily was not deterred by my lack of initiative. A week or so later she texted, I called, and she asked, "So, are we going to see if there could be something powerful between us, or what?". Wow. You gotta love a woman who knows what she wants.

My response: "Absolutely not. I am the wrong guy for you...the wrong guy for anyone right now. You should run the other way as fast as you possibly can." What I didn't realize at this point was that the fastest way to get Emily to do something is to tell her she shouldn't do it.

Her response: "Huh, now that's a great strategy Sam. You plan on getting better at being in relationships by avoiding them all together? That sounds like a great way to stay lonely for the rest of your life."

Ouch. After lots more conversation, both light and heavy, we decided there was something worth fighting for in the spark we discovered on the beach that day. I wasn't really sure how I was going to pull off a relationship with a woman in Minneapolis, but as I hung up the phone I glanced down at my inbox and saw a message from my good friend Jared Antoni inviting me to his wedding reception in that very city in a couple weeks. Are you kidding me? A week earlier I would have trouble finding Minnesota, much less Minneapolis, on a map, and within seven days I have a new love interest and a reason to visit her in the middle of nowhere.

At this point I should probably step back and admit that I've spent most of my life moving up and down the west coast of the United States, so I'm heavily biased in favor of any state bordering salt water. This has caused plenty of drama with my South Dakota-raised, Minneapolis-loving fiance, but I think we'll be able to work through my coastal bias.

Anyway, Jared's wedding was a blast, and Emily and I quickly learned how rare and wonderful it is to spend time with someone who shares so many of your values. We both believe watching television is a waste of life, love to exercise our bodies, want to commit our lives to causes we believe in, value of our friends and families above almost all else, and can't get enough learning on any topic. Time flew when we were together or on the phone, and I felt, and continue feel, as though I learn and grow with every word we share.

After that first weekend we both knew we had something special. We weren't sure how in the hell we were going to pull off a long distance relationship between my MBA coursework and her consulting practice and Public Policy coursework, but for some reason we had faith that everything would fall into place exactly as it was supposed to. Over the next few months we found ways to meet up in the Grand Canyon, Mexico, South Bend, Nashville, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles and spoke on the phone every night. I never thought I could ever speak to ANYONE every night, but I found myself looking forward to our calls like they were my reward at the end of the day. Minutes and hours would fly by as our minds explored the fringes of any topic, from rebel attacks in Chad to the scientific proof of the validity of intuition.

It wasn't all philosophy and roses though. I went through a two month phase where I thought we couldn't make it, but Em pushed past my fears, followed her heart, and helped me discover that it is possible to be vulnerable and fearless...to love without running from rejection...to focus on what you want to create rather than what you're scared might happen. I still have much to learn in this area, but I never would have made it this far without Emily. Never.

As I neared graduation, turned down Deliotte's offer, and faced the uncertainty of my career search and the certainty of my student loans, Emily gave me the foundation of unconditional acceptance I needed to see through to the other end of the chaos. When the dust settled, I accepted an offer to join McKinsey & Company for the summer based on their stellar reputation, incredible projects, and their willingness to fly me to Minneapolis every weekend, regardless of the location of my client study.

The timing was incredibly compressed since I needed to complete my time with McKinsey before reporting for my volunteer assignment with the MBA Enterprise Corps on July 14th, so I basically took my last final on a Tuesday, Emily flew in on Wednesday, my family showed up on Thursday, I walked across the stage on Friday, moved in with Emily in Minneapolis on Saturday, flew to Nashville for McKinsey on Sunday and reported for work first thing Monday morning. Yeeeee haaaa!!!!

Life was good, and it was about to get better...

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