Uncorking a Story (Inspiring Stories)

Over the past few years, I’ve used the Uncorking a Story platform to highlight the work of authors, comedians, and entrepreneurs. I’ve become increasingly interested in uncorking the stories of people who are doing inspiring work in their local communities and that brings me to this current episode featuring Dawn Carpenter of The We Project, a non-profit organization that helps feed, clothe, and mentor needy people in Northern New Jersey.

This past summer, I interviewed Dawn’s husband Derrick for my “day job” as a focus group moderator/user experience researcher. While asking him some warm-up questions to build rapport, I learned that Derrick and his wife run a food rescue organization in Northern New Jersey and he briefly shared with me that the organization was inspired from a tragedy. I wanted to dig into this a little more, but I wasn’t being paid by my client to uncover a human interest story and had to begin asking a series of questions on his use of voice activated mobile assistants.

After our session ended, though, I asked Derrick if I could recontact him to learn more about The We Project and he put me in touch with his wife Dawn, who recently shared her story with me. It is a powerful one that underscores three lessons I’ve learned while doing this podcast.

  1. Something beautiful can arise from something tragic. You will understand what this means when you hear the story of Dawn’s brother, one of the driving forces behind The We Project.
  2. The importance of asking for help. Dawn states very clearly that if you don’t let people know what your needs are, they will never be met. This one really hit home for me, as you will learn in my introduction to this episode.
  3. The importance of putting thoughts into action. A lot of people can dream up ideas, but the ability to put them into action is what separates doers from dreamers. Dawn and her husband Derrick are definitely doers, and I hope you are as inspired by their story as I am.

To learn more about The We Project, visit https://www.facebook.com/wearetheweproject/. Feel free to email Dawn at wearetheweproject@gmail.com or give her a call on (201) 456-8908.

Direct download: Dawn_Carpenter_Interview.m4a
Category:Inspiring Stories -- posted at: 4:38pm EDT

  Today is a big day for Uncorking a story because I get to share with you my conversation with Bruce Miller, the creator of Smart Alex - a new, better for you, snack food. I love talking to entrepreneurs because I’m always left feeling inspired by their stories; the drive and ability to put thought into action is a skill that few people have and I think it’s worth uncorking the stories of those who do so successfully. Bruce Miller, though, didn’t set out to be a snack food disruptor (whatever that is). At an early age, he demonstrated a talent in art and his parents encouraged that by enrolling 11-year-old Bruce in a painting class.  From there it was off to art school in New Haven for college and then onto jobs at smaller ad agencies in Connecticut and New York before landing at Jordan McGrath, Case, and Taylor where he worked under James Jordan as a copywriter. My mother always said that behind every great man is an even better woman and interwoven in this interview is a love story. After moving to California to service his biggest client, Bruce kept up a long-distance relationship with a woman named Maria Guella. They soon became engaged and she, as well as the professional transition Bruce made at that time, would play an important role in the Smart Alex story. This podcast is being brought to you by my new book Motel California, the third in my Farrah Graham series. If you like an intriguing story with colorful and comical characters, Motel California is what you need to be reading right now. You can buy it online wherever books are sold (or give the image to the right a little clickity click, click, click). You can learn more about Smart Alex at: www.smartalexfoods.com Download Here
Direct download: Bruce_Miller_Podcast_final.mp3
Category:Inspiring Stories -- posted at: 3:15am EDT

John Seigel Boettner is a social studies teacher at Santa Barbara Middle School, but he’s not like one I ever had. It’s a special kind of person who can take middle school kids on a cross country bicycle trip across the United States and an even more special person who can do that through the Republic of Rwanda in central eastern Africa (Yes, that Rwanda). You see, John uses cycling and life experiences to teach his students lessons that they will never forget. In short, John is the kind of teacher you remember; the kind of teacher whose memory will hit you first as you think about the person you’ve become and consider how you got to that place. We don’t get many teachers like that in life but when we do, we should celebrate them.

I met john at an industry conference this past January. Now, you may be saying to yourself, Mike, you are not a teacher, what kind of conference could you possibly have met john at? Well, our paths do cross, but it’s not where you might think.

At Santa Barbara Middle School, John helped form an organization called Teen Press. You see, in addition to being an avid cyclist, John is also a film buff and he often uses film as a teaching aid. Years ago, when the Santa Barbara International Film Festival was coming to town, John wanted to give his students a chance to talk to some influential filmmakers. He had his students apply for press credentials and taught them some interviewing skills; but one important lesson he impressed upon his fledgling journalists was to go beyond the questions that Hollywood types get asked all the time; Who are you wearing? What’s your relationship status? What’s it like working with so and so? Instead, he wanted his kids to uncover what these people are like as human beings. And that's why, at one red carpet event, they handed Amy Adams a burrito!

This is where our paths cross. I interview people for a living for both this podcast and for clients who hire me to run marketing studies. The kids of Teen Press interview filmmakers, celebrities, politicians, and business leaders. Al Gore, Will Smith, burrito loving Amy Adams, and Clint Eastwood are just some of the names that the Teen Press of SBMS have interviewed. Someone in an industry association I am part of heard about Teen Press and invited John and some of his former students to teach a bunch of professional moderators (many of whom have spent more time interviewing people than these kids have been alive) – how to uncover humanness in an interview. It left a mark on me, so much so that I think I just created a new word, and I am pleased to share John’s personal story, in more detail, with you.

This interview is brought to you by my book Uncorking a Murder. A retired detective short on time works with podcaster Farrah Graham to right a wrong in this “Serial meets Gone Girl” thriller. Pick up Uncorking a Murder at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, or wherever books are sold online. Available in paperback and eBook editions.

Direct download: John_Boettner_.mp3
Category:Inspiring Stories -- posted at: 10:50am EDT

Episode 16 - Wayne Lavender

Wayne Lavender is the Executive Director of The Foundation 4 Orphans (F4O); an international organization dedicated to supporting the emotional, educational, physical and spiritual needs of orphans in some of the world’s most poor and war torn places.

Listen in to hear Wayne discuss how reading books such as Death of a Salesman encouraged him to reflect on the kind of impact he wanted his own life to have in the world. Hear how his calling to the ministry at an early age led to his ordination as a Methodist minister in 1984 and eventually to his first trip to Mozambique, where he experienced extreme poverty first hand. Wayne recalls how seeing this with his own eyes “captured his heart” and encouraged him to rally the support of those back home to help the most vulnerable among us.

After Mozambique, F4O established a presence in Iraq, where war has left countless thousands of children orphaned. Wayne discusses how he never felt safer than when amongst the Kurdish people who welcomed him – and other Americans – with open arms (and hearts). Next, F4O has its sights on breaking ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo where a new orphanage is “shovel ready.”

At the end of this interview you will hear how passionate Wayne is in his belief that caring for orphans is the highest form of charity on the earth and how it is a means to create a more peaceful world.

To support the Foundation for Orphans, visit www.F4O.org or call Wayne directly at 203-417-7362. His email address is wayne@F4O.org.

Direct download: Wayne_Lavendar_-_121616_3.34_PM.mp3
Category:Inspiring Stories -- posted at: 9:11am EDT

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dave Mezzapelle, a serial entrepreneur who founded the Contagious Optimism movement (www.contagiousoptimism.com).  He truly believes that we all have the capacity to make optimism contagious just by sharing our life’s adventures. That belief, along with a push from his Alma Mater Fairfield University, fueled Dave’s desire to write and publish a bestselling book series that contains real stories from real people around the globe demonstrating that every cloud has a silver lining. Today, the Contagious Optimism movement has grown beyond books to include TED talks and a series of Contagious Optimism LIVE events featuring  powerful talks from real people around the globe accompanied by music and entertainment.

I met him at the Contagious Optimism offices in Jupiter Florida and I must admit that finding the office was a bit of a challenge as his road has multiple names.  Giving up on my GPS, I called Dave to see if he could guide me in and when he asked me for a landmark I looked around and saw a sign for Carlin Park – I took it as a sign that I was on the right track!  The interview began a bit shakily at first given I was “greeted” by one of his dogs who used my Achilles tendon as a chew toy; fortunately for me I’m not that tasty and the dog turned his attention to something else.

As you listen to this interview you will agree that Dave is a fascinating guy and will quickly come to understand how someone like him could establish a movement called Contagious Optimism; he’s one of the most optimistic guys I have ever met. He as the ability to put thought into action and we discuss this quality at length in the interview.  I am coming to see how important that characteristic is in predicting one’s likelihood of success in any of life’s endeavors and the role optimism plays (why else would someone pursue an idea unless they believed they could work?).

Listen up as we talk about his early entrepreneurial initiatives and how he made lemonade out of lemons after his plan to work for IBM after spending three of his college years there as an intern took an unexpected turn.  Additionally, you will hear his take on the power of self discovery and why it is critical to always remind yourself of what your goals are.  Don’t miss the last five minutes of this interview when Dave gives his younger self three pieces of critical advice that he has learned in his journey of keeping his glass “completely full.”

Since we want to help make optimism contagious, the first 10 people to share this interview on Twitter will receive a free Contagious Optimism tee-shirt! Just go to our feed @uncorkingastory and use the #contagiousoptimism when you retweet!

As always, your feedback is welcome. Feel free to let us know what you think by emailing your comments to mike@uncorkingastory.com. Happy listening!

Direct download: Dave_Mezzapelle_.m4a
Category:Inspiring Stories -- posted at: 11:07am EDT

Episode 12 - Andy Greenfield

How important is curiosity in business? Andy Greenfield has a point of view. 

In 1996 I was a 22-year-old kid working in the new field of digital marketing while Andy was pioneering new ways of conducting business online.  By that point in time, he was already a successful entrepreneur although he would never use that term to describe himself back then. In his words, he was simply a guy who had the ability to put his thoughts into action.

In this interview Andy discusses the impact his upbringing had on his successes later in life and the role that curiosity played in it.  He discusses how this curiosity was nourished by his parents, who would serve as role models for how to treat other people with equality.

Andy’s path to running and selling two of the world’s most successful research firms, Greenfield Consulting and Greenfield Online, was not what you might call linear (or traditional). He dropped out of college, started a tennis court lighting business, moved to Colorado to build houses, and then had a conversation that would literally change his life. He went back to school, finished his undergraduate degree, completed graduate studies in philosophy and then…went into advertising.

But Andy didn’t stop there. You will have to listen to the interview to hear about his run in with the Mafia while running a limousine business, how the adage timing is everything was certainly true in his career, and why one should always trust their grandfather.

Andy has some advice for anyone looking to succeed in life:

  1. Trust your instincts, they are there for a reason
  2. Listen twice as much as you speak
  3. Don’t look back

Listen to the interview to learn more!

Direct download: Andy_Greenfield_Podcast_-_1_28_16_9.10_PM.m4a
Category:Inspiring Stories -- posted at: 9:21pm EDT

Episode 8 - GM O'Connell

In 1996 I was barely 22 years old when I started my career in advertising.  I worked for a company called FCB direct, which was owned by a holding company known as True North Communications.  No offense to Brian Rafferty, my boss at the time, but the job kind of sucked.  I was estimating call volume for a large telecommunications client who was using long format commercials to advertise their One Rate calling plan.  My primary task was to calculate the estimated number of calls the client's telemarketing center could expect to receive after one of these commercials aired. We had to know the gross rating points of each program that the commercial was aired during and then provide estimates back to our client so they could staff up their telemarking center with the optimal number of representatives.  I was commuting into NY and still living at home with my parents and barely making enough money to get to and from Manhattan.

Then one day in late 1996, a memo came across my desk announcing that True North "did a deal" with a digital agency in Westport, CT called Modem Media.  I went to their website and knew that I needed to work there.  In early 1997 my wish became a reality and I was hired into Modem's Research Department.

The years I spent at Modem were the best of my career. I worked hard, I played harder, and I was fortunate enough to meet some really great people.  Recently, there was a party held in Westport to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Modem Media.  A great time was had by all! At that party I caught up with one of Modem's co-founders, GM O'Connell, and asked if he would be a guest on this podcast.  He said yes and we met the following week at his home in Connecticut.  

We chatted about what led up to the start of Modem Media and what the early days were like. We discuss growing pains, lessons learned, and life post Modem.  I enjoyed our chat and hope you do as well.  

One apology to make up front, we did the interview outside as it was too nice a day to stay inside. As such, from time to time, the wind makes an appearance on this recording (I have since purchased a wind guard for my recording unit).  We had this conversation over a bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet and I suggest you uncork a bottle of the same as you listen to this; it will take your mind off the wind!

Direct download: Episode_8_-_GM_OConnell.m4a
Category:Inspiring Stories -- posted at: 11:58am EDT

Episode 7 - Dorothy Collins, CND

When I woke up this morning, I never could have predicted that one of my elementary school teachers, a Catholic nun named Dorothy Collins, would be introducing me to a post-op transexual named Cynthia.  Let me explain.

There are people in our lives who have a profound impact on us.  Sr. Dorothy was one of those people for me.  My family moved to Connecticut when I was 9 years old which meant my twin brother Jimmy and I would be starting the 1983-1984 school year in a new school.  I was entering 4th grade and I was nervous.  My nervousness turned to fear when I found out a nun would be my teacher because my prior experiences with nuns was not so good.  My first grade teacher, Sr. Peter Marie, made Joe Pesci's Tommy Devito character from Goodfellas seem like a nice guy.  Luckily for me, Sr Dorothy was nothing like I expected; she had a big smile and an even bigger heart (and she never asked if she was there to amuse me).

We re-connected recently at a reunion and I asked to interview her for my podcast. She accepted on the condition that I help her serve guests at the Soup Kitchen where she works a few days a week.  Our interview picks up right after we served hot meals to approximately 1,200 homeless people in New York.  Listen to this interview and your assumptions of just what a nun is may be challenged.  Listen to the end and you will hear me drop the tagline, "looks like a pump but feels like a sneaker."

I feel strongly that we should say thank you to the people in our lives who have had an impact on us. However, reflecting on this makes me realize that as people have an impact on me, I also have an impact on others.  This is something we should all remember whenever we are in the presence of someone whose life we may be touching.

As always, I hope you enjoy this podcast and feel free to join the conversation at www.uncorkingastory.com

As always, I hope you enjoy this podcast and feel free to join the conversation at www.uncorkingastory.com

Direct download: Episode_7-_Dorothy_Collins_CND.m4a
Category:Inspiring Stories -- posted at: 11:29pm EDT