It is said that we are the company we keep. Recent events have given me the opportunity to truly evaluate who that makes me. My parents made the company my brother and I would keep a priority of theirs from the very beginning. Early in our childhood, they decided to leave the city and move to a brand new community in the suburbs: a then small town called Pleasanton. We had the benefit of wonderful neighbors, classmates, and teammates. We didn’t have much chance to find trouble and our version of it certainly was harmless in the big scheme of things. My parents, both having grown up in Oakland and my Dad being an Oakland Police Officer my entire childhood, made it a point to afford us the opportunity to periodically see that reality. They would playfully and pridefully remind us that we lived in “Fairyland” as we would regularly go into Oakland for dinner and along the way observe the challenges that many others navigate as part of their daily life. Drugs, absentee parents, violence, poverty, you name it. Real life.

My life was and is no less real, but it most certainly didn’t include navigating those obstacles. And though I am grateful for that, I am also appreciative of the additional context my parents gave me along the way. The opportunity to truly enjoy my childhood and be a kid was not lost on me. My family, my teachers, my coaches, my teammates, and my friends were excellent company. The streak of good fortune continued when at 17 I left to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. Again, amazing company to keep. Upon joining the Navy’s Cryptologic Community I once again found myself surrounded by people of great character, extreme commitment, and strong intellect. Though much of this felt serendipitous, I long ago became rather deliberate in seeking out and connecting with certain types of people. I continue to seek out and keep in my life people who make me better, give me reasons to smile, and are truly committed to serving others.

Last week, I had the distinct honor of participating in the retirement ceremony of a longtime mentor. He served our nation and Navy for nearly 37 years, leading at the highest levels of public service. As part of my duties as the MC for the ceremony, he had asked me to read the names of all of the senior leaders in attendance. The list was absolutely mindblowing. To think that all of these leaders put their day on hold to thank him for his service was just amazing. These leaders were his circle. This was the company he kept and will continue to keep. It was this circle that had helped shape him over the years and he most certainly helped shape. As impressive as the list of attendees was and as grateful for their partnership he remains, that was not the company he was most proud of keeping. It was his immediate circle (family) with whom he went ashore for the last time, locked arm in arm.

As I flew back to the west coast shortly after the ceremony, I was inspired to give thought to the company I continue to keep and the new circles of greatness that continue to welcome me. My current position affords me the opportunity to engage directly with extremely influential leaders across government and industry. That privilege is not lost on me. That privilege is temporary. The privileges of coming home to family, of maintaining relationships with people who have been a part of my adventure at various (and in some cases nearly all) stages of life, and of spending days with people who make me better (and who I truly enjoy being around) are the privileges that matter most. And if properly tended to, those privileges will not be temporary.

We don’t judge leaders on what they say they will do, but on what they actually do. At the same time, others can tell far more about us not by what we say we value most, but by the people we value most…the company we keep.

  • What are the shared characteristics of the people you value most?
  • What is the criteria for entry into your circle?
  • What are you doing to give others reason to make you part of the company they keep?