The Power of Choice: A Boy Named Smoke

The Power of Choice: A Boy Named Smoke

“Well my daddy left home when I was three And he didn’t leave much to Ma and me Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze Now, I don’t blame him ’cause he run and hid But the meanest thing that he ever did Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue”” – Johnny Cash “A Boy Named Sue”

My whole life I’ve been asked if Smoke is my real name. Born John Smoke Wallin, I’ve been Smoke since memory. This might seem a trivial question, but explaining my name has been a reality for me since as long as I can remember. I attended a Young Presidents Organization (YPO) event last night in West Hollywood and met another member with an equally unique name. We connected on the issue of growing up with an unusual name and the challenges that presented each of us. He explained his story of growing up hating his name, wishing to change it, and then being given a choice by his family. He was offered a color TV or name change and picked the TV. He went on to describe the pivot that happened for him when he chose not to change his name and owning the decision for the rest of his life. “The day after my choice, someone called me a name and we fought. I stood my ground. From that moment on, I owned my name and it empowered me.”

I immediately realized he described my own experience. Growing up in multiple towns, from Hoboken, Boston, Siesta Key and ultimately Longboat Key. I changed schools and moved 4 and 5 times before entering high school. Each move provided the usual challenges of meeting new kids, introducing myself and getting asked (aka challenged) about my name. Kids generally want to be liked and fit in. Having a weird name always came with this challenge up front. As I’ve described it many times, kids can be very mean and I remember this being very upsetting. I can remember coming home in tears. I always felt like an outsider.

I entered yet another school for 7th grade and declared to my mom, “I’m sick and tired of getting made fun of, I am going to use my given first name at my new school”. Declaring that, and having mom’s full support, I entered Sugg Middle School in Bradenton, FL as John Wallin. The first day of school and throughout my 2 years there I quickly realized 2 things: 1. I did not respond to the name John. 2. There were 7-10 John’s in every class. No one made fun of me and I fit right in and yet realized I did not feel like me.

As I prepared to enter Bayshore High School I declared to my mom, “ok, I’m going back to my real name, Smoke”. I’ve owned my decision ever since. Having a unique name from HS through college through my business career is now a source of strength. I embraced the unique gift my parents gave me at birth. Proudly explain my American Indian heritage (very small) and my likely semi-hippie parents at the time. Everyone remembers my name and me. It is a part of what makes me me.

The power of choice in our lives is all powerful. Deciding something for oneself means you own the decision. The greatest gift my mom gave me was to let me choose.

If you are facing a challenge or problem great or small, think about the choices you have made to be in your situation. Realizing that there are many things outside our control, think about the choices you can make going forward that you do control. Worrying about things outside your control adds no value. Remember, once we have identified a problem or issue we all have these choices: to change it, to solve it or to live with it. Doing nothing is a choice. Once you realize this, you empower yourself and own the decision. No one can take it away from you.

By A Boy Named Smoke.

My YPO Graduation Remarks – Giving Thanks

My YPO Graduation Remarks – Giving Thanks

YPO Graduation - J Smoke Wallin

Last week, I chose to graduate a bit early from YPO “Young Presidents Organization” into WPO “World Presidents Organization” its sister organization for the over 49 crowd.  While I will remain active in WPO and the Food & Beverage Network and Deal Network in particular, the past twelve years in YPO have enriched my life greatly and its a good moment to reflect on that. Also I’d like to give special thanks to Todd Maurer for his remarks introducing me.  These are my remarks giving thanks at the graduation ceremony.

Todd Maurer giving remarks on Smoke Wallin at YPO graduation 2015

YPO GRADUATION – J. Smoke Wallin

Thanks Todd, I really appreciate your kind words!  Speaking of giving thanks, today is the anniversary of DDay 1944.

In 2003 when I joined YPO and “Forum Unplugged” my kids were 13, 11, 8 and 3, today they are 26, 24, 21 and 16… wow nothing like kids to express the passing of time.

Since then I’ve been blessed with a lifetimes worth of experiences professionally and personally as a direct result of YPO.   This was not an accident.  It did not just happen to me.  You see, I don’t believe in doing things part way.  Either you commit or you do not.  When I joined YPO I made a commitment to give and get as much as I possibly could.

Henry David Thoreau said “True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.”  This is YPO.

From Australia to India to the UK to cities throughout the US, YPO members have been welcoming and helpful to my family and me.  I know this because I dined at their homes, visited their businesses, attended their events and engaged with them in business.  I know the last 12 years of my life have been greatly enhanced by this commitment.

I will express my gratitude by sharing a couple of stories and mention a few people.

First, I met my wife Anitra on a YPO trip and that changed my life forever.  Thanks Darling.

YPO George HW Bush Event - Smoke & Anitra 2004

YPO George HW Bush Event – Smoke & Anitra 2004

I could stop there, but I won’t.

I joined Forum Unplugged and have had 12 years of deep relationships, friendships and confidences with 22 Forum mates.  They include:

  • Scott Webber
  • Don Palmer
  • Brent Eckhart
  • Mark Jackson
  • Bill McCarthy
  • Allen Furrer
  • Dan Horner
  • Chris Hilger
  • Richard Horn
  • Mike Bosway
  • Matthew Claymon
  • Gregg Schorr
  • Nelson Reyes
  • Jim Rapp
  • Brian Acton
  • Kent Morris
  • Todd Maurer
  • Anthony Brown
  • John Ryan
  • Bryan Brenner
  • Dave Foellinger
  • Dan Filby
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YPO Forum Unplugged

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Aspen_-_YPO

These are some of the finest individuals I’ve ever come to know and I am grateful for all they have done for me in my journey.

Some of our very best friends today are members we met through YPO including Bryan and Lara Sperber in Phoenix and Lesley Berglund in Napa

Through Networks, I’ve expanded my industry network tenfold.  Engagement in networks has been the single most important business and professional development aspect of YPO for me.  Fortunately, I’m excited to be able to continue through WPO as I Chair the 2016 Food & Beverage Roundtable in Napa, CA.

Looking back, I’ve lived so much life over the past 12 years it’s hard to summarize in a couple of minutes.   I’m not alone when I say it has come with great successes and great loss.  I’ve lost partners, friends and employees to both accidents and suicide.  I’ve had incredible business ups and downs and started numerous new ones along the way.  Throughout all of it, I’ve had YPO people to help me be better or simply to be there when I have needed it most.

To all of us, but especially those newer members… I’d like to remind you of some things that did not exist when I joined:

  • starting in my industry – there are 1,000s of new breweries, wineries and spirits brands available today that did not exist
  • There was no iPod or iPhone or iPad
  • There was no Facebook or Twitter
  • No AirBnB or Uber
  • no Freedom Tower
  • no Lucas Oil Stadium

All of these things that are now a part of the world and our every day lives.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

– A. Einstein

Looking forward, what will the next 12 years bring?  I spend a lot of time thinking about what’s next in brands, but I won’t try and answer that question here.  There is one thing that I do know…. I am confident many YPO people will be involved in changing both the world and my life for the better.

Thanks for everything you have given me.

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