A good friend of mine, my brother-in-law, Ed, passed away in 2011. He was one of those guys that was really good at most things, especially the important things, like being a spouse, a dad, and a business leader. For most guys like Ed, 50 years old is a milestone year where one starts stepping back slightly from business to enjoy the family, to spend Sundays tailgating at the local football stadium with old friends, and coaching Little League sports at night if only to spend extra time with his kids. That's what Ed would have been doing had he not been busy dying. Having been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, Ed was given a death sentence in his late forties and within a few years he was gone, at least in body. In spirit he lives on through the wisdom he offered to others on life, business, and death.
Ed was voracious when it came to talking politics. Having been through the tumultuous election we just witnessed, most of the family would have steered clear of sitting next to Ed during this Thanksgiving if he were here. To say he was opinionated about matters of our country would be an understatement, but all the most amazing people in the world are insatiably passionate about something. There were other areas where Ed would avidly offer his opinion too, like business. He had been self-employed for most of his adult life and he was always quick to offer his opinion on running a business; from hiring employees, to firing them, to turning profits and avoiding losses.
Ed wasn't shy when it came to opening his mouth to offer an opinion, except that is when it came to how to live life. When it came to issues of life, he felt it best to live life by example, not by offering rhetoric or opinion. He believed it best to let people figure out things on their own. Rather than tell his daughter she was dating someone of questionable character, he would do his best to sit back and bare the agony, so she could figure it out on her own. When it came to matters of relationships, money, happiness, and well-being, he would pretty much keep his opinions to himself to let you find your own way.
Ed was a father to four amazing children, two from a previous marriage, Erin and Morgan who turned into two accomplished young women, and two from his marriage to my sister, Abby and Adam, who were in elementary school when Ed was diagnosed with his illness. When Abby and Adam were still four and seven years old, I started coming to their house weekly for a family movie night where I would have supper with their family and enjoy a movie with the kids. This weekly ritual began long before Ed was diagnosed, and it continued long after. In one of the rare instances where Ed offered his two cents about life, he told me that he was excited to have me there every week to spend time with the kids, but what was really important to him was "consistency." He explained that there was nothing more important for kids than being consistent and he would appreciate it if I tried my best to never cancel, or if cancelling was necessary, to do it well in advance of the scheduled movie night. He wanted his kids to know that Auntie Stacey would be there at the same time, same place, no matter what, every week. I did abide by his advice by dependably showing up each week except in rare instances in which I was traveling.
Never in 15 years of knowing Ed had he conveyed advice on how to live my life, and I'm convinced that the only reason he imparted advice in this instance was because his kids were involved. He wasn't the type to tell you how to live life, instead he lived his life by setting an example for others.
In life, in business, and in death, there is no quality that will lead you to excellence in whatever you pursue faster than consistency. In my continued quest for greatness, in parenthood, business, relationships, and life, I have found that the main ingredient to all things great is that of consistency. To achieve something awesome requires concerted effort, over and over and over, day in and day out, whether you feel like doing it or not.
Building strong relationships requires that you are present and giving of your time to the people most important to you, always. You can't be "there" for someone today, but not tomorrow. No, you have to be there for them, period, if the relationship is important to you. In the last four months of Ed's life he was living in a nursing home down the street from my house. I stopped by to visit him every morning on my way to work, bringing him his favorite ice coffee from the local coffee shop. He couldn't talk to me, or even move at all. Looking back today, I believe that I subconsciously realized that the only way I could repay Ed for his fifteen years of friendship, was to be consistent. He knew his coffee was coming every morning.
Ed was right, consistency is especially important for kids. I have a very busy schedule running several businesses, but what I learned from Ed is that my daughter needs to grow up knowing some things are absolute. I will be there every day by six to pick her up. I will spend time with her every night between dinner and bedtime, no matter what. No matter what, we will always do the hotdog dance at the end of her favorite program, The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. It might be silly, but at least it is consistent.
Consistency is vital to business. Consistency equals dependability. Businesses like Zappos thrive because they are consistent in the way they treat their customers and their employees. People keep coming back for more shoes because they know what they can expect. Nordstrom is another great example of reliable customer satisfaction. Human beings like when they know what to expect, and they keep coming back for more when they get it. The largest hamburger chain in the world, McDonald's is proof positive of that.
In the late stages of his illness, the family pooled together to get Ed a computer that gave him the ability to write out sentences using his eyes, which the machine would read to his guest. A conversation with Ed using his machine was always belabored, but it was better than the alternative. When visiting with his coffee delivery each morning I would have a short conversation if he was in his wheelchair and his computer was on. I remember explaining to Ed that the computer would enable him to communicate with the world through Facebook and Twitter. He would now be able to share his views about politics, business, and anything else. The thought of him being able to communicate with the world truly excited me, and I thought he would be equally enthusiastic. "Nobody wanted my opinions on politics before... I doubt they want them now," the automated machine chirped back. Even as he was dying, he was funny. He was right, too. He knew that people, above all else, are consistent.
In the final months of Ed's life he hinted that he would use his retina-controlled computer to put together his thoughts on life for his kids, something his little ones could refer to growing up, in absence of their dad. In the weeks after his passing the family searched his computer to download Ed's precious manual on life. The computer held nothing; no memoirs, no thoughts on life, no strategies for successful living. Our entire family was convinced that something had to have gone wrong, that maybe one of the nursing home employees accidentally wiped away the hard drive. We brought the computer to multiple experts, and all agreed, there were no final written recollections from Ed. Looking back now, I am quite confident that Ed's final message to his family and friends was that he was not at liberty to tell anyone else how to live, period. This message was as important as any he could have documented on his computer, and it was, above all, consistent.
Dedicated to Ed Quinlan, 1960-2011