Person: Steve Schram
Drink: Green Tea
Date: September 12, 2011
Location: Michigan Radio Office in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nobody can do it all by themselves.
The Monday I drove to Ann Arbor to meet Steve Schram I wasn’t in the best spirits. I’d had one of those weekends where everything felt uncertain: the ground I was standing on didn’t feel solid, I questioned every choice I was making, and I worried I was setting goals I wasn’t fit to achieve.
In short, my confidence had faltered.
It happens to everyone. With 365 days in a year, you’re bound to have a handful of bad ones. Really, you’re lucky if you only have a handful.
My focus over the past few weeks has been determining what happens after my post-college travels come to an end. I want to continue traveling, but my dwindling bank account is a constant reminder that I’ve got to find a way to make it financially feasible.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through 52 Cups is that with the right combination of passion, courage, persistence and elbow grease, you can make anything happen. That’s why I’m pursing what I really want in a career rather than settling on a corporate 9-5 that doesn’t fit me. This pursuit has more uncertainty and risk than the typical job route, but I can handle the uncertainty because I’ve heard enough success stories to know the end result will be well worth the effort.
Okay, saying I can handle the uncertainty is not entirely true. A more accurate statement is that I can handle the uncertainty 95 percent of the time. The weekend before Cup 48 falls into the five percent of time I worry I’ve bitten off more than I can chew and am too naive to notice.
That’s why I went to have coffee with Steve Schram.
The only thing I knew about Steve—aside from his job title of Director of Public Media at Michigan Radio—was that he is a close friend of one of my greatest mentors, Scott Westerman. During a conversation with Scott, I said I needed to have coffee with someone that gave good advice. Scott said Steve was the perfect person for good advice so I set up a meeting and hit the road to Ann Arbor.
I arrived at the Michigan Radio office in downtown Ann Arbor, Steve gave me a warm welcome before getting us both a cup of green tea from the break room. Then we started the conversation by exchanging stories about how we both knew Scott. I explained that I’d met Scott two years ago through my involvement with entrepreneurship at MSU.
Steve told me he met Scott over 30 years ago through his involvement with campus radio at MSU. When Steve and Scott were in college, the campus radio scene was hot. There were six campus stations (one for each of the housing complexes) and over 125 students involved in the production and broadcast. This was back before iTunes, YouTube and Spotify made music accessible with just a few clicks. Back then if you wanted to hear the hottest track you had to tune into the radio or call and request the song from the DJ.
Steve was one of those DJs and he loved it. From a young age he knew he wanted to be in radio. During high school he and a group of friends created a pirate radio station that they programmed every day after school. They treated it just like a regular station and focused on making it as professional as possible. Joining campus radio at Michigan State was an obvious next step and one that led to a successful career in the radio industry. Steve told me he never needed to join a fraternity; his friends in campus radio were like family and that remains true today even after 30 years.
While I have very limited knowledge about radio, (i.e. I can turn it on and change the station, that’s about it) I understood what Steve was talking about. My “fraternity” in college was a group of entrepreneurs crazy enough to think they could each build a company of their own and excited to help others do the same.
When I told Steve this he replied that I would end up being friends with many of those students for the rest of my life. We’d go to each others’ weddings, celebrate career successes and more. He continued that it wasn’t just celebrating great moments, it was helping each other through the tough times too.
A few years ago, Scott’s daughter was getting married in Florida and Steve flew down to attend the wedding.
At the time, Scott had a great job but was a considering an opportunity at Michigan State. Steve could see the decision was weighing heavily on Scott’s mind so during the reception he pulled Scott outside to talk. He listened to Scott’s concerns before expressing his opinion that the job was a perfect fit; something certainly worth pursuing. Steve wasn’t trying to tell Scott what to do, or make the decision for him, he just wanted to give an outside perspective and supportive voice.
Scott ultimately pursued the job and is now thriving at Michigan State.
Of course, Steve doesn’t take credit for Scott’s decision. His advice was just one of the many factors involved. But it was an important piece because Steve was a trusted friend and confidant.
I appreciated the story for a number of reasons. For starters, it was comforting to know that everyone—even the people we most admire—struggle with moments of uncertainty. More importantly, it made me feel comfortable enough to open up and ask Steve for advice.
I told him about the goals I was trying to achieve, how I hoped to achieve them and the uncertainties and concerns I had about the process. Although I had known him for less than 30 minutes, I knew I could trust him to give me encouraging yet honest advice about my situation.
And I was right. After listening to my story, Steve asked me questions about things I hadn’t considered and made observations I hadn’t noticed. Then he shared insights from his own career experience and the experience he’d had raising two sons.
By the end of the conversation, the uncertainty of my situation wasn’t quite so overwhelming. Steve helped me see the situation from an objective and practical perspective rather than the emotional and speculative perspective I’d had all weekend. I realized that I had become so wrapped up in emotions about my future I wasn’t able to think clearly—I needed someone to help me take a step back and see the situation from a higher level.
Scott sent me to Steve because he knew he could help me do that.
Cup 48 was an important reminder that there will always be moments of uncertainty in life. But more importantly, there will always be people that can help us through them—it’s just a matter of being brave enough to seek out the help and open up.
It was also a reminder that if you’ve got an opportunity to help someone else, you should take it.
Because nobody can do it all by themselves.