Something we can hide in.

Movies compress months, sometimes years of experiences into two hours of entertainment. Screenwriters have to move viewers through the arc of the story in those two hours. As a society, the Hollywood story arc is a program that we follow for how we want stories to be told to us. The valiant hero overcomes odds to have a happy ending, spare us the details.

Our lives don’t fit that format though. They are filled with boring details that wouldn’t make the cut. We wake up every day. Brush our teeth. Have breakfast. Who cares.

Trying to transpose our lives into the movie story structure forces a stripping out of everything that would be boring to viewers. Or embarrassing to ourselves.

The clumsy dope in us all who screws up is the stuff of comedy. Comedy is the bravest story form, but few dares go there. We’ll laugh at others, but don’t put the bright light on us.

We strip and filter and cut away until we get to something acceptable. Something in the middle. Something safe. Something we can hide in.

A year ago, I led the fourth Health:Further Festival in Nashville. A team of over twenty people and many partners worked for a year to put it together. One thousand seven hundred people attended the event over three days. Lots of good things happened over those three days. Great talks, valuable connections, and new friendships were forged.

But it was hard. The festival was always hard.

Last Summer, the festival wasn’t the only difficult thing going on in my life. My son surprised our family by enlisting in the Marines, that took some getting used to. And a coalition of people working to bring Major League Soccer to Nashville was working around the clock to get the soccer stadium passed in the city council. A lot was on the line.

On the first day of the festival, I interviewed the CEO of HCA and the VP of Health and Wellness Transformation at Walmart on stage to a full CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame, got in a Lyft and went to Nashville City Hall, spoke right after Eddie George to the council about why it was so important to pass the vote for the stadium, and then Lyfted back to the Hall to close out day one of the festival.

Then I started drinking. Of course, that’s how I dealt with the stress. Two more days of nonstop activity and evenings of drinking to blow off the steam. Not healthy behavior for a leader of a healthcare event.

When the festival was over, the post mortem started. It was time to face reality.

We didn’t sell enough sponsorships.

The team was fracturing. We pulled it together at the end, but it was a hard road getting there.

My strategy and leadership were questioned, rightfully so. Leaders don’t get to make excuses; we have to own all the issues.

The aftermath of the post mortem was a transformation of our company that left no one untouched. It was clear that after four years, the festival served its purpose, and we needed to move on without it.

This isn’t life or death stuff, but the end of things we cherish brings grief. I grieved during this transformation.

In reflection, was it a success? Was it a failure?

It was both and neither. It was what it was. It was a hard thing that we dared to do that enabled us to grow and become the next version of ourselves.

Had I not gone through this challenging process, I would not have been forced to critically assess what Health:Further’s opportunity was and evolve it into something more focused and functional.

Without the festival, I would not be doing real work with brave leaders in the healthcare landscape. I wouldn’t be credible as a healthcare thought leader.

I would not be as thoughtful about what I work on, who I work with, and how I work with them.

I also wouldn’t know how full of shit the healthcare industry can be, and I wouldn’t be working on my health so diligently to stay out of its reach. I would not be sober today. I would not have rebooted my entire life, which has turned out wonderfully.

I’d be stuck. I’d be living an over-edited version of my story, where nothing goes wrong because I never try to do anything hard in public.

I love that guy who tried to do something big last year. He won on some things and lost on others. In net he grew, and so did our company. He did the best he could. He knows who’s with him for the long term; a small, strong circle. He knows more about who he is and what he’s capable of.

Because of him, I’m me today. And I am shaping up to be a champion.

I honor the crucial role that hard, shameful things play in making us better people, and offer them gratitude.

The Health:Further Festival is dead. Long live Health:Further. Thanks for the hangovers and the dress down. I’m much better for it.

Onward.

Have a grateful day.

— The Grind is my weekly newsletter and my most personal work. You can read more issues and even better, subscribe to receive it every Monday in your inbox at marcuswhitney.com

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