Today. Today is the day where everything changes. Today will draw a distinct line in my life, a line that marks before and after. An end and a beginning. Today is the day that one of the best people I know starts a new chapter which forcibly creates a new chapter in my very own story book. Today, our story starts anew.
Four years ago, almost exactly, I woke up dreading what felt like the 100th interview in a long string of bad interviews. I was on the hunt for a workplace that would recognize and match my enthusiasm for children, teaching and learning, but all I seemed to encounter was under-excited interviewers and jobs that seemed to fall flat against my expectations.
I remember distinctly opening my eyes that morning and thinking “would it even matter if I just didn’t show?” And, oh boy, it would have mattered more than I could have dreamed.
I begrudgingly pulled on my recently purchased, interview outfit and fought the scary, downtown Columbus traffic to make it to my set interview time. I sat in the car mustering up any bit of positivity left inside of me. I forced myself to box up the forlorn, tired thoughts to the back corner of my head and fake an optimistic attitude. After a final, deep breath, I pushed open my car door and headed up the concrete stairs with less pep-in-my-step than anyone who knows me now could imagine. Little did I know that the feelings of seemingly insurmountable discouragement were about to be blown out of my mind by the tornado of sunshine and energy that is Kurt Huffman.
I don’t remember exactly what was said, but what I do remember is this bouncy, little man bounding toward me talking loudly and gesturing wildly. He helped lead me to the room that I was to be interviewed in by a panel of people (the largest and most intimidating interview setting I had ever been in) and already, because of his presence, the weight inside of me started to lift. A few questions into the interview, Kurt did his “okay, these questions are boring, lets get real” thing he likes to do and I felt that special *connection* I had been craving. I finally felt a spirit of like minded people all gathered together to create something bigger than themselves. The rush of joy and laughter that filled me during that interview (yes, joy and laughter in an interview) was only a taste of what was to come.
I started my career at COSI as a COW (the endearing term for someone who travels with the 15 foot/5 ton box truck of science experiments, COSI on Wheels). I didn’t know it in the beginning, but I was getting so much more than a job from COSI. I was getting a reason to wake up each morning. I was uncovering a passion for my work and for the people that I worked along side that I didn’t even know could exist in a workplace. I was gaining a family. This family was the first place that I had ever felt like it was my duty and responsibility to come to every situation exactly as I was, in my most honest form. Every single anomaly was celebrated and welcomed. Kurt sat as the patriarch of this family. The example.
He purposefully, yet covertly crafted the culture in which this family was to work and live. He allowed for vulnerability and questioning and not knowing the answer. He wanted us to be a group that bared their flaws and leaned into each other when we needed support and help. He showed us that even after a week of sleet, traffic, physical labor, and horrible people there was a funny story to be told as apposed to a reason to be jaded. He lead us through dark moments with the light of laughter and hugs. He reminded us that it was our lucky job to make sure kids had FUN while learning, so there was never a reason to take anything too seriously.
He innately understood something that so many do not. He knew that the culture of a team determined everything else. It is the predictor for productivity, team work and ownership in a workplace. He knew that it was with the utmost importance that this particular team spirit be upheld at all costs. He defended us and protected us from those who threatened to dismantle the magic we had created. He listened to and supported and encouraged us to be the best member of the family that we could be. And most importantly, he created opportunities for us to enjoy one another. He truly wanted us to get to know each other on a deep and personal level and care about the well being of each of our fellow family members.
He did this by creating a world that we all wanted to live in. I have laughed more at work than I have anywhere else. We kicked off every single week with a team meeting; I looked forward to this hour each and every week. We started the gathering with “learning moments” where we could tell stories of the previous week. We told stories of hardships and how we discovered ways through them or ask for help when situations left us at a loss. We shared the hilarious moments you can only encounter when working with children and the times when we got lucky enough to see the ever-beautiful “ah-ha” look of learning. We started each week commiserating and learning and laughing with one another. At the ends of these meetings we always left 15 minutes to enjoy each other with a team bonding game. We played two truths and a lie. We played charades. We just played. And this playing wasn’t exclusive to Monday mornings; we had a full assortment of holidays and traditions. Some of which included:
- Back to School Bash (Complete with a “guess who” of school photos)
- Halloween Dress Up Day (Including a “trick-or-treat” to other departments to ask for candy. Most people would end up putting assorted office supplies into our outstretched bags)
- Turkey Decorating Competition (and awards from the “Judging Committee” …aka Kurt)
- Holiday Secret Santa Exchange and Pot Luck Party
- New Years “Resolution Roulette” (this is where an assortment of resolutions are created and placed into a hat and then drawn by each person. I specifically remember a 2015 resolution of mine being “Drink more protein shakes. Get jacked. Pick up chicks.” I can firmly report that I was less than successful)
- Valentines Day Box Decorating/Valentine giving (and subsequent awards… the judging committee was very active in our workplace)
- Mikey’s Karaoke Nights
- Huffapoloza (Yes, a “Lollapalooza” in the Huffman backyard. Complete with a band line-up (UKULAMO FOREVA), camping, and karaoke)
- “The” Rehab Tavern happy hours
- Grey Day (the holiday specifically dedicated to making fun of Kurt’s fashion choices)
- End of the Year Awards (Think “The Dundies” from The Office… the judging committee is at it again)
- The Juan Pablo wig, Captain Virtue, Head-balling, Scaring Trausch, Running Laps, holding your pee like a 4 year old, rubbing your hands together when something was too exciting, etc.
The list goes on and on. Somewhere in between all of these things we did talk and do business, but that’s not what I remember. I remember laughing and loving my people more and more as the weeks passed. I wanted to work hard because I wanted to show up for these people that I cared about so deeply.
Through all of this, I have found a group of people that hold on to me tightly and wouldn’t dare let go. They jump in without hesitation when things get chaotic and elevate me to the best version of myself. They show me new and exciting sides of life. They laugh with me at my silly little shortcomings. They love me and I love them, unconditionally. I have met people who I truly call soulmates because of this family I was lucky enough to have been pulled into. Kurt is one of these people, but he is more than just one of the group. He is the reason this magic even exists.
He is the reason that I was brave enough to step out of a safe and comfortable professional role and forge through uncharted, murky waters. He showed me that I can do and make and be anything as long as I remember to bring my full heart to the table and never take life too seriously. He has had faith in me when I have not and he has lifted me up when I struggled to keep climbing. He has pushed me to do the hard thing in order to teach me that the hard way is sometimes the path to growth. He has shielded me from those who wish me ill-will and modeled what it means to lead others as apposed to “managing” them. He has made me laugh so hard that I had stitches in my side and also let me shut his office door to break down into tears. He has not just helped me to grow, but to flourish and thrive. I won the lottery when Kurt Huffman walked into my life.
So, today. Today is the day I step out into the world without my safety net. Without my personal and protective tornado of sunshine and energy. But, because of knowing him I am forever changed for the better. The ripples of his impact will continue out into my life and shape me for years to come. I will strive to be more like him and do my damnedest to impact others in the way that he impacted me. He has left me behind with a second family and the belief that I can continue to bloom and experiment and learn. He has given me friendship and leadership and confidence. He has left me with more gifts than I will ever be able to thank him for. And because I have had the pleasure of growing in Kurt’s ever-bright and nourishing sunlight I know that, in his ever-famous words, it will all be just fine.
*Trausch has asked me to include a “ditto” on her behalf.