My journey to Columbus actually began in Memphis in 2014. Stick with me on this one!
My plane had just landed and I stepped outside of the airport into the sweltering heat of a July day in Tennessee. I was already sweating as I crested the doors to the passenger pickup area only to discover that my shuttle was nowhere in sight.
It was my first time attending the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association University (ICCFAU) which is a week long educational retreat held every year on the campus of the University of Memphis. I was there to continue my academic growth as a funeral professional, but I did not know what to expect.
After what felt like an eternity, I saw my shuttle pulling around the corner. As it parked, another young gentleman walked up with bags in hand, ready to load onto the bus to campus. We packed up our luggage and the two of us piled in.
“Are you here for ICCFA University?”, I asked the man. “Yep, this is my second year.”, he replied. He introduced himself as Craig Stires, a funeral director from Columbus, Ohio. He was happy enough to engage in conversation with me about what I was in for: the classes, the people, the city, and the food. Especially the food!
Craig is a self professed “foodie”. Meaning: he has a particular interest in gourmet food. He told me all about his eating plans for Memphis that year, including a stop by a particular pastry shop for a peculiar dessert.
Now when I say “gourmet” I don’t necessarily mean Michelin star dining at every meal… sometimes it is the uniqueness of an experience that might make a “foodie” desire it. Craig wanted to go to a well known donut shop in town called Gibson’s Donuts. He was going for one thing, and one thing alone: a Maple Bacon Donut.
I, of course, could not say no to such a treasure. I may be more of a “food eater” than a “foodie” but I can certainly appreciate excellent cuisine when it’s on my plate. After that stop, Craig and I made it a point to join each other on adventures in gluttony throughout our stays in Memphis over our subsequent trips. You’d be surprised at how much food you can eat in a single week.
The best things I ever take away from the professional trips and retreats I make are the relationships that I form. For instance, Zach (the other Millennial Director) and I formed our friendship on that same trip in 2014.
I don’t consider networking a bad word. Then again, I don’t network in a traditional sense either. For me, networking is about making long lasting relationships over a period of time.
If you were to meet me at an event, you would probably leave with a good impression, NOT my business card. I’m not desperate for you to lose someone you are close to and for me to be your funeral director next week. I would rather find a mutual interest, something that bonds us so that when we see each other next… BLAM! We’re friends!
Real friends too! Not some hollow smile, fake hug, “how’s the weather?” kind of friends…
If you don’t want to be my friend, you’ll at least be my acquaintance. I will find a way to get through to people and ultimately connect on a level they are comfortable. Maybe it’s the Libra in me? I don’t know.
My relationship with Craig eventually lead to an exciting phone conversation. Craig called me one day and after we caught up for a little while he offered me an opportunity. He had told me before about his involvement with the Ohio Funeral Director’s Association. He was on the board of their Young Funeral Professionals group but he’d recently been a part of a committee looking for speakers for the annual Ohio convention held in Columbus. Craig knew me well and he knew about my involvement in civic clubs, professional organizations, and the community. With that in mind, he threw my name in the hat for possible speakers to present to their Young Funeral Professionals.
I was thrilled and stunned at the chance. I knew I was in a spot to do some good for other funeral professionals if I were able to concisely share my experiences. I accepted and began my prepping. It took time, it took guidance, but I was eventually able to get my ideas down into a presentation I titled: “Connecting as a Funeral Professional”.
I wanted to “connect” the dots for those at the beginning of their career as a funeral professional and what they could do to become more active in their company, community, and among their peers.
Well, the day finally came for me to make the trek to Columbus. I landed at the airport, I walked outside the terminal, and saw my shuttle (Craig’s car) and thought back to that day in 2014 and smiled…
You see. I had brought my relationship full circle. Sitting next to Craig on the shuttle in Memphis back in 2014 was only part of the equation. The other half was our willingness to NOT sit idle or quiet and let an opportunity to get to know someone new pass us by. Take a chance on meeting people where ever you are! You’ll never know what may come of the friendships you form.
Written by: Matthew Morian, CFSP
Matt is a licensed funeral director & embalmer in the State of Texas and is a founding member of Millennial Directors. He is also a monthly contributor to NOMIS Funeral Home & Cemetery News.