What do you want to be when you grow up? That relentless question that many adults ask young people can be filled with so much promise and anxiety all at the same time. The feelings evoked on a young person typically result in several questions: Am I supposed to know what I want to be when I grow up? If I do not have an idea of what I want to be, am I stuck “being” just one thing? Or, can I at some point change my mind, pivot, or go against the grain? And what does it even mean to grow up? Personally, I don’t feel grown! I feel (somewhat) mature but I certainly do not feel like I am done growing.
Recently someone asked how I found time in my week to explore so many of my interests. For me, I never saw it as a drain on my time to be more than just one thing, rather I saw it as a way to fill the hours in the day with something that brings me joy. Many of us are conditioned to tell anyone who will listen that we are so busy, when the reality is that we waste so many hours of the day. Think about the amount of time we give to social media, texting, and TV, and then let’s think about how many times we complain about being so busy. It just does not add up. Personally, business school coupled with a demanding job and a young family made me take stock of every hour in the day. Once I graduated, I promised myself to never give that newly discovered free time back to the universe!
As a child, my first dream was to play first base for the New York Mets. I’d work from Shea Stadium every summer evening and hear the crowd chant my name the same way they would cheer “Daaarrryl” in the 80s, when Daryl Strawberry and the Mets ruled New York City. Baseball was the first sport that I fell in love with and I still fanaticize about living my dream in fantasy camp at the Mets facility someday in Florida! Some dreams never die, and they shouldn’t!
All of us are more than just one thing. The problem that many of us face is that we lean in to one thing thinking that it may be too late to explore and we often think that if we go beyond that one thing, we may sacrifice the thing that puts food on our tables and a roof over our families. It takes an evolved thought process to understand that by having an interest in more than one thing, we will actually allow ourselves to be the best version of ourselves in our day jobs. Parent, spouse, executive, mentor, etc., we owe it to the people who look to us for guidance to be more than just one thing. Admittedly, I struggled with this for so many years as I grew in my career trying to define a path of greatness, as I ascended the proverbial corporate ladder.
If I think back to my high school years, I was convinced I’d be a journalist either writing for the New York Times or on camera delivering the world’s news to the country. I knew that I had the writing skills and the temperament to take on such a demanding and pressure-packed career. At the root of my desire to be a journalist was my intense enjoyment of writing and sharing my view of the world. I knew early on that I had the ability to craft a story that could resonate with audiences and it brought me great joy to see people react to my words. On my way to my journalism career, I took a detour and ended up working in media, but I found myself on the business side rather than creative, and that was ok. From day 1, I have always loved what I do. I love the relationships that I build while leveraging my business acumen. Most importantly, I love the impact that I can have on the people that I interact with daily.
So, what happened to that love of writing? Well, it never went away. I flirted with my passion from time to time, never actually making the commitment to share my words with people outside of my circle. For me, my writing is incredibly personal, vulnerable, and at times, very introspective. I love to explore topics, fiction or otherwise that give the reader permission to escape, even for a moment, and to intensely feel something. So many of us are conditioned to not feel. We go about our days filled with routine and we don’t feel anything deeply. We have a hard time connecting with each other and the environment around us. For example, when was the last time you smelled fresh air? Yes, we all inhale and exhale, but when was the last time you were actually intentional about smelling the fresh air? When you are done reading this, go outside, and take that deep breath and reflect on how good it feels to enjoy that moment. Well, I like to think of my writing as that deep breath allowing the reader to feel something. More on that later!
Each of us is more than one thing. After years and years of working hard, grinding, and as my mother would say, burning the candle at both ends and, in the middle, I finally found my passion(s) for life! My passion is based on doing great work and leading teams to win, as I know this gives me the permission and capital to be the difference that I want to see. Simply put, providing access to people who otherwise would not have it. It is the single thing, besides raising my family, that gives me complete joy, happiness, and fulfillment. The work is simply the vehicle for me to accomplish this.
While writing might be my first love, I have allowed myself to carry on a multitude of relationships with other loves. My interests are as diverse as what your place of workplace should be. Besides writing, I find myself consumed with varying interests. As an aviation enthusiast, I find myself obsessing on all things flight. While I am many, many hours shy of a pilot’s license, I study aviation relentlessly. As a young boy, I would stand in front of the window of our 11th floor Brooklyn apartment and watch the planes approaching JFK. As they passed in front of my window on a clear day, I would watch them touch down on the runway with the help of my parent’s binoculars. On very special occasions when I was home at 3 pm, I would be treated with seeing (and hearing) the Concorde pass by my window. If I knew what a bucket list was back then, I certainly would have said that flying on the Concorde would be one of them! Since that aircraft has been retired for almost 2 decades, I have had to settle for visiting the frame of one that is on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. To this day, I must look up whenever I hear a plane pass above, and by the sound of the engine and the sight of the winglets, I can identify the type of aircraft it is. Whether it’s the piercing buzz of an Airbus A320 or the powerful but somewhat quiet sound of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, I have developed a skill that is absolutely useless, and I love it!
Someone whose opinion I greatly value, once said to me that they admired that I have so many interests. Now, I never really thought about it as me having so many interests, rather me having a genuine intellectual curiosity. Nevertheless, I have decided to lean in and embrace it. What spurred that comment was most certainly a result of my obsession with space, space travel, and the likelihood that we are not the only form of life that has ever existed in our solar system and beyond. Next time you go outside on a clear night, look at the countless stars in the sky. Each representing a sun very much like our own. Some much larger, some much smaller, and many with planets orbiting them that we cannot see. As a matter of fact, on average there is at least one planet per star. About 1 in 5 Sun-like stars have an “Earth-sized” planet in the habitable zone. Now, knowing that fact, how can you not look up at the sky and wonder “what if?” If that does not have you thinking about what is in the great beyond, another fascinating fact is that it takes many light years for the light from those stars to reach Earth and your eyes. So, in reality, many of the stars that we are looking at may have actually come to the end of their lives by the time the light reaches us. While the closest star is about 4 light-years away, many are millions of light-years away. If I had to sum it up, when I am watching the stars and experience something like a shooting star or when I allow myself to romanticize the idea of something greater, it makes me think about when I see my children be amazed at something they discover. When the kids have that wonder about them, you just love them more than you even thought possible. That is the best way I can describe the joy I feel when I allow myself to drift off into space.
None of us are defined by one thing. In recent years I have discovered an appreciation of art and what it means to me. While I have zero ability to draw or create something artful, beyond words on a page – I think that’s what drives my curiosity and awe of art. By no stretch of the imagination do I consider myself an authority on art. I just like to look at and buy what I think is beautiful and tells a story, to create a conversation. I am grateful to have friends that have varying interests, and in turn allow me to learn from them. The pandemic has given me permission to learn and explore the art world and think about the theme of my growing collection. To date, I’ve made 8 purchases from artist including Ojo Ayotunde , Austin Uzor and Eric Steaple and when I look at my collection in aggregate, the common theme is about aspiration, hard work and potential of black people in our world. With a desire to present these works publicly at some point in the future, I spend much of my time listening to artists talk about their process and what the works mean to them. Life is a journey and with patience and time, I hope that one day I can tell a story with my collection.
Now back to my original love. I already explained my strong desire to have you, the reader, feel something. With that, I want to share one of my favorite pieces. I am so in love with this work that I have been hesitant to be vulnerable and share it!
When you are done reading it, I challenge you to think about all the things about you that make you more than just one thing, then go ahead and embrace them. That thing that fueled you as a young adult, but then work got in the way. Rediscover and inspire yourself, and then share yourself with the world!
I’ll Be Coming Home
Weeks turn to months and months turn to years
Pain turns to joy and joy turns to tears
Tears of grief to tears of relief
Relief that not only is she alive but that she waited
She waited for me to return when that was always uncertain
Relief that I am free from pain and can love now without hurting and never have to be alone
When that bell rings and that gate opens, I’ll be coming home.
Night after night these walls would hear me cry
I smell the night air but can’t see the sky, so I let my imagination fly into space
Space I haven’t seen in close to a decade and I wonder, just like the stars that we can see today but no longer exist, will her love?
Some things I just can’t tell on the phone or when I’m all alone
But when that bell rings and that gate opens, I’ll be coming home
That day finally came and I’m on my way
Back to my love
Regrets, I have many
Life lessons, plenty
But when I saw her face, I knew I had done at least one thing right
She waited and I am filled with so much joy that it quickly fills the room
She still smiles with her eyes
And when she laughs really hard, she often snorted which was so damn cute and although she couldn’t help herself, she often tried
It’s been years but the laughs flowed just like the day we met in first grade
I have my heart back and my life, once again, feels made!
For years I dreamt of this reunion and my imagination did not fail me nor did she with what she cooked
All my favorites that she remembered
I could not ask for a better homecoming
It was early spring but felt like Thanksgiving
Nikki, the love of my life, didn’t miss a thing
Except when we were about to eat, she realized she did, my favorite beer
I hadn’t tasted beer in years
Before I could tell her that I didn’t need it, she had thrown on her jacket, grabbed her keys and was on her way
See, my Nikki was a perfectionist in that way
I lost track of time as I started refamiliarizing myself with home
30 minutes later the doorbell rang and startled me because I was all alone
Did Nikki need help with the bags?
But when I opened the door it wasn’t my love; it was a heavyset man with a raspy voice and a badge
He said there had been an accident, Nikki was hurt, and it was really bad
My Nikki was gone, the house still smelled great and once again, I was all alone
When that bell rings and that gate opens, I’ll be coming home.
BN is a Brooklyn raised lover of writing, aviation, bourbon and the Howard Stern Show. He enjoys asking all the questions that we all think but never vocalize. He loves to connect with people with the purpose of finding that one thing he believes connects us all. He ultimately believes that there are less than 6 degrees of separation between all of us and if you spend enough time asking the right questions, you will always find that connection.
As a media executive, mentor, art collector, investor, university guest lecturer and promoter of equitable and inclusive environments, BN loves to use his political capital and influence to help all people find their passions, particularly for those who do not have the privilege of access.
Nothing makes him happier than spending quality time with the people that he loves and having a laugh. A self-proclaimed ball breaker, he prides himself in finding the funny in almost anything and everything.