"Don't be a chicken": 1 year later, today was hard.
"Don't be a chicken!"
The words were bluntly shared to me in a windowless office of an FM radio station in Springfield, Missouri.
It wasn't the flowery advice I was hoping for as I contemplated leaving my financially rewarding and respected role (especially for my age) in divisional digital radio leadership. However, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
It was the spring of 2018 and I was sitting in the office of KTTS-FM program director Mark Grantin. While PD may have been his formal title, his actual role was more of the captain of the ship, Chief Listener Advocate and damn good human being.
My days of having "Mr. Mark" as a local manager had long passed as my career progressed to leading digital audience strategy not just for my hometown station, but our national portfolio, however time and time again I still turned to him for advice on how to tackle a difficult conversation or consider the consequences (good and bad) my decisions might have.
He genuinely cared.
He cared about the listeners, the talent, his fellow staff, the artists and even the clients. Mark just cared about people in general.
We were talking about taking a leap of faith I was considering to leave my job and my hometown to serve the mission of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. For every reason I wanted to take the role with ALSAC (the organization dedicated to fundraising and awareness for St. Jude), I had 10 more why I wasn't ready or worthy.
Countless hours and miles (#ChaseRUNS) had been dedicated to their mission of finding cures and saving children but yet here I sat subconsciously asking one of my earliest professional mentors for a reason to say no.
"Don't be a chicken!"
You see Mark was a cancer survivor. Not just once, but again and again.
Mark was the guy that drug himself back to the station the day after a round of chemo because he had a passion for his people, his brand and his community.
What I didn't know at the time was Mark's latest battle was worse than any of us could see.
His short and candid words may have been because it was the only way he could convey his important message given the own fight he was taking on.
I took his words to heart, turned in my notice, and headed to Memphis to accept the challenge.
My second night in Memphis as I searched for an apartment and attended the ALSAC National Training Meeting, I got the word that he had passed away.
I talked to co-workers still in radio about why it wasn't fair.
I felt guilty for not being there to say goodbye.
But then something special happened. My new St. Jude colleagues begin to all share stories of their own admiration for the man who played a role in my decision to be here.
Some had never even met him.
People from every division and background knew this radio programmer from a small town in Southwest Missouri, not for having the highest fundraising totals (although he consistently rallied his listeners to raise six-figure totals year over year), but for the courage and kind heart he shared with all those around him.
My sadness didn't go away but a new drive to live his final advice to me became more important than ever.
One year later, less than a year after starting my role at ALSAC, I presented to a standing-room-only crowd of my colleagues on digital disruption and audience centricity. I have grown to lead a team that is responsible for making sure millions of donors can easily contribute at stjude.org, and I take on each day reminding myself "not to be a chicken".
Today was not easy.
Mr. Mark came to my mind over and over. His spirit, courage, and determination were top of mind as I listened to colleagues, doctors, and patients talk about bold ideas to face cancer head-on.
Today was not easy, but I would not have wanted it to be.
Mr. Mark will always have my love and admiration. I can only hope I am making him proud in return.....by not being a chicken.