Joseph Ivan Long
AN OPEN LETTER ABOUT MY BIG BROTHER ON NEW YEARS EVE
Had you talked to me circa 2006 about where I thought I’d be personally and professionally come the start of 2020, I can assure you that I wouldn’t have told you that I’d be awaiting the birth of my first child, or that I’d be living in Toronto, Canada working hand in hand with arguably my favorite human on the planet, my wife. What I would have told you is that I would definitely have multiple children. As far as work goes, I would have explained, in a not so articulate way, that I hoped to be just like my big brother, Joseph, and would thus be doing something related to media creation. As an idealistic eighteen-year-old I figured I’d be able to ride the coattails of his success and mastery, breezing through the 2010s and onward.
Coming out of college in 2010 my sole focus was figuring out how to collaborate with Joseph. I wanted desperately to have him lead the way on all joint projects because I had intense imposter syndrome (and sometimes still do). Perhaps working alongside him would prevent everyone from realizing I didn’t have any clue what I was doing. I vividly remember sitting in his office one afternoon and lamenting to him that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do what he did. He set such an unattainably high bar, how could I possibly hope to become like him? In my mind I had so little to offer as a collaborator, there wasn’t a place for my limited skills to fit. He then spoke rubbish and told me that I would one day surpass his skill in some of the areas in which he currently led. He told me I shouldn’t try to be him because he needed more from me; he NEEDED me to develop skills he didn’t have so that we would be a better team. It is this conversation that highlights to me Joseph’s unique ability to motivate. He saw in me a future I couldn’t envision for myself. His unwavering belief in me gave me confidence and challenged me to seek ways to continue bettering myself. Over the years I have observed Joseph build up a vast number of people in exactly the way he coaxed me. I have yet to meet anyone who matches Joseph’s ability to subtly yet confidently empower, push, and help others believe in themselves.
Through college and over the last couple decades I’ve learned how to snap some mediocre still and moving pictures. Nothing I’ve created would warrant the Academy honoring me with a Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ve struggled with wins and losses in my work life. I’ve traveled the world while developing my own simplistic style of capturing beauty through my craft. I’ve sought the guidance of business coaches and self help books, hoping they would mold me into a more productive and effective leader.
As I reflect on the past and consider the beginning of a new decade, I can’t help but be transported back in time to my teenage self. I recognize that while my professional life has taken a whole sh*t load of unexpected twists and turns, there has been one constant, foundational piece – Joseph. I still rely on his guidance every bit as much now as I did as an inexperienced, starry-eyed eighteen-year-old. No memoir by a CEO or book about productivity has been as influential as he.
This will be interpreted as self deprecating and it shouldn’t be: I don’t deserve the credit I’ve received. Any amount of success that I’ve ever had in my career should be credited back to Joseph. Seriously. I know how to work hard and there is something to be said for that, but every important decision I’ve ever made in regards to my career has been run past and guided by him. Joseph’s unique desire to know ME, and care about ME, and understand what I’M doing in MY life to help get ME to where I want to go, and where HE believes I can go, is what has propelled me to step out on a metaphorical ledge time and time again. His steadfast belief, interest and investment in me has given me the courage to take risks I wouldn’t have otherwise.
The only thing Joseph has ever asked of me is that I pursue my best life while being unabashedly intentional about prioritizing the people I care about. This company and, more importantly, the relationships I am blessed to have, both personally and professionally, are a direct result of his leadership. He’s been the Yoda to my Obi Wan Kenobi from the get go. As a creative and human being, I value his approval and adoration more than any celebrity you could put before me. After all these years he still encapsulates so much of who I aspire to become.
You may be familiar with the phrase, “have an attitude of gratitude.” When I was a child, my mom had my siblings and I write thank you letters to random people in our community – the mailman, bagger at the grocery store, or attendant at the car wash, for example. It’s easy to focus on ourselves and ignore the many ways the actions of others make our lives a little better. In my adult life I have not made writing thank you letters as much of a habit as I’d like to, but I do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the ways we connect with and show appreciation for others. We are in this world together, and I strongly believe we should show gratitude and acknowledge the worth and value others bring to the world.
You will never see yourself the way I see you. You will never heap the justified praise on yourself the way I do. You will probably never think that the role and influence you’ve had on my life is all that special, but you are wrong. Your legacy and sheer brilliance is cemented in my mind, and is likely cemented in the minds of many others as well. The words you write, the conversations you have, the art you create, and the life you lead matters. You are everything to me. No price tag can adequately represent the influence you’ve had in my life. Thank you for being you, Joseph.
On that note, Merry New Year and may you all have a perfectly imperfect 2020 filled with everything you want it to be. Close out the year by going and reading Joseph’s blog here.