As you all know, I have taken a break from writing for Hey Hank News. My viewership has gone back to almost zero active viewers and my friends and family no longer talk about it. This makes me sad because writing for you all has been one of the most rewarding parts of my life. I don’t want to lose what I made. I have become lazy and unmotivated to post, but I want to come back to all of you. However, the other day my best friend brought up an essay I wrote a long time ago and that inspired me to bring HHN back to when it was relevant in my life. So now I make a new promise. I will post one thing a day. The content and topics will vary. But at least once a day I will publish things at least until I go off to college in September but I would like to try to continue this through college as well. Anyways. Day one in the renewal starts now.
Today, let’s talk about CardsCook. And I’m gonna be honest with you all about what has been going on, because that’s what this blog is all about: frankness.
Timeline real quick. End of my junior year (May of 2018), we are asked to leave First Baptist Church where we had been serving with the team at Clay Street Table weekly for two years. Let me rephrase that. I was asked to leave. Everyone else could stay. I was asked to leave because I was seen as the person who in their mind was using CardsCook solely for college application purposes. This was in light of me bringing media attention to the issue of homelessness – KGW, Katu News, KXL Radio had all been regularly reporting on CardsCook. And to say I was at the forefront of this would be accurate. I was the only one of the students with the connections of the media. I had created relationships with reporters at each of these places and we would text regularly. I was also the only one who would prepare for these interviews. I scripted lines for each of our members to say so we came off as competent. So this begs the question: was college applications a motivator for me? Am I limelight and credit hog? To a certain extent, cases for this argument could be made. However, I saw the media attention as mutually beneficial. Look at the current mayor of our city. He is never in the news. If you are doing important work, people will care enough to recognize it. Tell me one thing the mayor has been on tv for. So my point is, I see media as a value not only to rack up recognition for college or my ego, but also as a way to get things done.
Now, this media had manifested itself in the holy grail: NBC News. Let’s skip past all of this because anyone who knows me or has read this blog has heard about this far too many times. It’s even become a running joke between my friend and I. Not one I love because it points out how I like to rest on past laurels, but that’s a different discussion.
So it was the week after Lester Holt left Portland and our big piece had aired. I come to the door of the church and there is a 55-year-old woman guarding the door. She refused to let me in while opening the gate for all of my friends whom I had brought to the door. This was a tough day for me. I don’t get sad very often, but I became very sad that day. I had worked really hard to make CardsCook a thing. The students were at the door in the first place all because my friends and I had a vision and worked hard to see it through. And now, some grown men and women were telling me I was toxic and no longer could be a part of CardsCook. Meanwhile, Henry Hooper – a teacher and administrator at Lincoln who had taken the role of advisor of CardsCook – provided no support and didn’t defend me. Instead, he walked through the gate and asked that I follow the instructions.
So that was it for me and CardsCook. Here we are a year later. End of my senior year. I have not served a meal with CardsCook since then. Almost daily I get asked, “What is going on with CardsCook?” Each time, I shrug and say “you can serve weekly at First Union Gospel, but it’s not called CardsCook.” This is all true. Students are still cooking meals just as we were doing, but it isn’t called CardsCook. The brand I had created had become too toxic. I kid you not, they have changed their name to Flock Feast. I can, however, take comfort in the fact they have less Instagram followers than us…
Fast forward to the beginning of summer, and I sit down at lunch with Don Mazziotti, the man who has sponsored CardsCook for a year. He asks me what’s going on with the program he believed in. I lay out the same timeline I just told you. He responds with a paragraph of words that basically tells me one thing: “Hank, fix this.” He was right. He had believed in CardsCook. Invested his time and money into us. And now we were basically dissolved.
After that meeting, I texted Ben Brandenburger and we assembled a meeting at his house between him, myself, his brother – who is now a consistent member of Flock Feast – and Sam Denton. Sam is a super nice kid who is also the brother of one of my good friends. She and I go way back, I know Sam will be perfect.
At the meeting, roles are brought up. I tell the group that the one person who couldn’t make it to the meeting will become the new President. Elliot Shin. He doesn’t have the charisma. He’s doing it for the college apps. But he’s the hardest worker and he’ll get stuff done. In my mind, that’s all that matters, right? As soon as I say Elliot Shin, Sam and Ben’s brother flip out. They state that no one can work with Elliot. He is doing it for the wrong reasons.
So I am left with a decision. Do I bring back CardsCook with Elliot and hope that enough people can get behind him despite his leadership flaws? Or, do I watch CardsCook become a distant memory and put in place a fun and charismatic team that is Flock Feast with Sam Denton at the head? With reluctance, I went with option 2.
I’m not proud of it. CardsCook was important to me and I let people down. I made so many mistakes you guys. But at the end of the day, it was a great learning experience. Here are the four critical leadership rules I learned:
- Intent matters. Sure, people want their leader to be hardworking and smart, but intent really does matter. (I’m not saying I’m either hardworking or smart – look at how many mistakes I have made – but this is all I used to think mattered). Salt & Straw – the ice cream shop where I work embodies this in ways I will write about later. But people don’t want to work with even the most talented brilliant people if they think that their heart is in the wrong place. If you are leading people, make sure that people can believe in your intentions and values.
- Find a good partner. When I was starting CardsCook my sophomore year, I went with the first partners that reached out – Clay Street Table. Had I been wiser, taken my time, and met with other groups, we would not be dissolved a few years later. Who you work with is everything, and one of the few things you get to control.
- Making yourself irreplaceable is a blessing a curse. I started CardsCook because I wanted to be the most important person in something. In speech and debate, if I didn’t show up the event still took place, no one would notice. Same with sports and other clubs, being a cog makes you less important. However, when I started CardsCook, I failed to put together a system that would work without me. This was a huge oversight. Being the most important person at a company or nonprofit is good, but being completely irreplaceable is bad. Succession is critical if you want to work long term.
- Be a specialist. Be a steak knife, not a swiss army knife. CardsCook towards the end became unfocused. Were we just cooks? Were we media activists? Where we part of Lincoln or partnered with multiple schools? Why are we partnering with Portland Gear? Do we work for the city? Are we solutions or a band-aid fix? I never answered any of the questions and paid the price for it.
For those of you who got here, I promise my next pieces will be shorter, but thanks for hanging in there. And thank you to my friend who brought me back to this.