21 Aug Choosing to Live Life in the Front Row, with Jon Vroman
Today I’ve got an awesome guest for you. I am excited to bring back my friend Jon Vroman because he was with us – get this – back in episode 34!
Jon is a social entrepreneur and award-winning speaker. He’s also a committed husband and father of two. And just for fun, why not? He’s an ultra-marathon runner as well. He has an amazing non-profit, called the Front Row Foundation. They create these incredible, unforgettable moments for individuals who are braving life-threatening illnesses. It might be a NASCAR race, a professional sporting event, a concert, Broadway play. They’ve done it all. They create a video for the person, their family and friends as well. It’s just such a gift. It’s so beautiful.
Jon has been busy since last we spoke. He’s written a best-selling book called the Front Row Factor: Transform Your Life with the Art of Moment Making. Plus, he’s launched not one, but two podcasts. The first one called, Front Row Factor podcast. The second one called the Front Row Dads podcast.
- Front Row Factor Book: https://amzn.to/2nqN1cS
- Front Row Factor Podcast: http://bit.ly/2M9wcRP
- Front Row Dads Podcast: https://apple.co/2ARDV2p
Jon, welcome back to DREAM THINK DO, buddy.
Mitch, this is fun, man. I was looking forward to this all week, and I just came off a pretty stellar three days, and this is going to be a great time. I appreciate who you are.
I love it.
I mentioned the Front Row Foundation. Tell people a little bit why the Front Row is so important, this concept, why do you live and breathe to get people into the Front Row?
What I love about your question is you asked why. We can tell people what we do, and they’ll get it in 20 seconds. And I learned from my buddy Clay Iberra that when people ask me what I do, I often say I help people live life in the Front Row. And they say that’s cool, what does that mean?
Exactly, tell me more.
Well, I’ll tell you a story. It’s the story of Sophie. I got introduced to Sophie about a decade ago, and this is very early on in our work with the charity. Sophie was battling a life-threatening condition, she had a brain tumor, and she was in the midst of heavy treatments. In and out of the hospital, daily, weekly, fighting migraines, multiple surgeries. She’s fighting for her life. Our charity goes to work to try to help her see her favorite performer who in this case is Kelly Clarkson, from the front row.
So we start working with the family, and we put together an incredible day. We pick her up at the house in a limousine, little Sophie’s wearing a purple dress, we pour her sparkling cider, we treat her like a princess. She is just having an awesome time leading up to this event. She knows that she will eventually see Kelly Clarkson live that night. And by the way, I should mention she is a true fan. The way her mom describes it when she gets in the car with Sophie if she didn’t turn on Kelly Clarkson, her daughter would just cry. When the Clarkson comes on, Sophie’s smile always gets big.
Every night before they went to bed, they had a dance party on the bed and danced to Kelly Clarkson. So on this night, she went to dinner at the Rainforest Café, and then off to the show. They had an incredible concert with Kelly, and the surprise came at the end when Sophie has fallen asleep, this is pretty late night for her, especially based on all the treatments that she was going through.
But we snuck her backstage, and we were waiting in a room for a private meet and greet with Kelly. When Kelly walked into the room saying, “Hey, everybody,” little Sophie awoke from this nap, looked up and got this beautiful smile, and Kelly and Sophie locked eyes. We have a picture of that moment.
I will tell you, that picture is so important for us, and that’s why we do what we do. Because eight weeks after that event, Sophie took her final breaths, and that picture of Sophie and Kelly hangs in my office to remind me of the power of moments in our lives. And what we believe as a charity is that our lives are made of all these moments. And that our job is to give meaning to moments. We call our community members moment-makers.
They don’t have to always be these grand moments where you’re doing a meet and greet with Kelly Clarkson, but they can be everyday moments in our lives. Sophie reminds me and reminds our community that our mission is to make moments matter. That’s our mission.
So that’s what our charity does, and that’s what now we’ve transitioned to doing in business too. In my keynotes, I teach people how to be moment-makers; how that affects your business, both with company culture and dealing with clients and customers. We talk about it in our dad’s group, about how to be moment-makers with our families and our kids. And we talk about it in the charity. So that’s the reason why we do all this; to do something good in the world to make the most of the time that we have.
That’s a beautiful thing. And it’s so metaphor-rich for everybody, especially in those moments. I remember we talked about those videos and how those become just such treasured gifts for the family. Because often, like with Sophie, they don’t get to spend a lot more time with their family after that, and it could be such a blessing to have that. As you said, it’s all about creating moments. We don’t know how long we’ve got on the planet, nobody does. So I love that you’re doing that and getting everybody in the Front Row as we go.
We’re more distracted than ever; we have more things drawing at our attention than ever. What’s one of the strategies that you throw out to help people to really be moment-makers, to really be intentional about that?
We talk about three forces that are at work and three strategies that anybody can employ, and this is for your business or your personal life. Recognizing the power of hope, celebration, and then being in the moment. Hope is what we look forward to. Hope isn’t this fluffy aspirational piece that isn’t strategy focused, and results focused. No, when we have real hope, when we have our dreams that are clear, what we do is we bring the power of possibility, the powers of future possibilities and we bring it into this moment so that was can do something about it.
I think about people we’ve helped like a young man named Thomas, who was in a wheelchair. We told him he was going to go to the Rugby World Cup, and immediately, he worked harder in physical therapy to stand for the national anthem. That’s the power of hope at work.
So if we want to be moment-makers, sometimes when we ask somebody what dream makes you come alive? We’re a moment-maker right then because when we ask the question, we bring their focus and attention on what it is that’s pulling them forward so that they’ll potentially change their actions in the moment to get them closer to what that is. So when I ask somebody what they’re grateful for, I immediately change the state of being that they’re in. When companies get to know what their customers want, what their hopes and dreams are; when employers know their employees’ hopes and dreams – we understand that if we can tie their actions on a daily basis to their true hopes and dreams, we can go and move forward.
There’s also the celebration piece, which is catching what’s great and recognizing the bright spots. This is a strengths-based approach. If we notice where the highlight moments are, we can then create more of them. So when we look back, we look for patterns, we look for clues, we look for the bright spots in our lives. And when we amplify the good, we can silence what’s not. I think that often companies make the best progress when they look back and ask, what did we do that was right? And how do we do more of that? In our lives, we can do that as a family. We look back and reflect and celebrate these past moments. That’s not living in the past, that’s using the power of celebration to amplify what’s good. So we understand that.
And then, when we use hope and celebration, we’re using those to be in the moment. And you could argue that that third force stands alone, which is that when I’m a moment-maker, I’m constantly asking. And this is the question we drive home. I think it’s powerful. It drives companies; it drives our charity. How can we constantly create an experience and celebrate the meaningful moments of life? How can we consciously create an experience and celebrate the meaningful moments of life? Because listen, whether you’re talking about a company or a family or whatever, you’re talking about the whole thing is just made up of a series of moments.
A great life is a series of great years, which are made up of great months, and those are made up of days, and days are made up of hours, those are made up of moments. And if want to create change, we do that at one moment at a time. We recognize the power of those moments. We walk into a room, and we never know who’s there or what relationship we might form. We never know what opportunity exists at any moment. But if we see it with possibility, if we see it with that ability to consciously create, which means we build that because of what we do, experience it, which is sometimes we’re just taking it in, or we’re having a moment. Or we’re celebrating something with people.
When we consciously do that, we then are more designers of our lives and our experiences. And while we don’t control a lot of what happens to us, we give meaning to moments. I always say we’re responsible for turning now into wow. The front row is just a metaphor for getting close to what matters most. That’s all that it is. So with your families, it’s your kids. With your work, it’s your passions, right? With your charity, it’s just helping people to feel alive.
That’s awesome. I love that. From a theoretical standpoint, it makes sense. But even as you were listing off those questions. What dream makes you feel alive? What are you grateful for? And being able to dig into how we can consciously create these experiences – your brain can’t help but go there. It goes from theory to actual tangible application, because your brain just starts to process those questions. So I love that, and I love that you’re doing it.
You now have this dad podcast. I know you as a dad. You’re an incredible dad, one of the best that I know. But it’s very rare for someone to take the business aspects of what they do and then, just so overtly and intentionally bring the dad, the parenting conversation, the family conversation into it. With all that you’ve got going on; the foundation, the speaking, the teaching, why take the time for a dads podcast?
Let me take you back a few years. So my older son was seven. My youngest was a newborn. And I’m in this place in my life where I’ve been building the business for quite some time. I’ve been an entrepreneur now for about a decade. I remember having this epiphany at a party where somebody had said, “What do you do?” And I started to answer with a typical whatever, the charity speaker, etc. and I cut myself off and said, “You know, I’m really a dad and a husband. And when I’m not doing that, I happen to do these other things.” And boy that felt really aligned with what was in my heart. But when I got home, and I thought about that, I said, “Yes, that’s it. I’m really a husband and a father. That’s the thing, when I get to the end of my life I’ll be most proud of, succeeding in that area of my life.”
But yet, I opened up my calendar and didn’t like what I saw. If your calendar is a reflection of your priorities, that’s really not who I’m acting as right now. When I looked at my desktop on my computer, I saw a folder for everything: taxes, fundraising for the charity, etc. Planning for hours, staff meeting for days. Where’s my folder for being a dad?
Where’s the dad folder?
I saw that something was out of kilter, but what to do about it, I didn’t quite know. One of the things I love is live events, I’ve always been a fan. I’ve had transformational experiences when I get out of the normal day today. I get around people that are amazing, that elevate my level of thinking. And I get a break. I sharpen the ax. I wondered, “Why am I not doing that as a dad? Where’s the dad retreat for me?”
And I looked around and didn’t see exactly what I was looking for. It didn’t seem to exist. I have a whole history of event planning. I’ve done this for 20 years. I’ve got the network of guys, so why don’t I just bring a few guys together?
So that’s what I did. I invited thirty guys to come together to Philly for three days. It was just a lineup of amazing friends of mine. I want to get together with these guys and ask a question: how can we build a brotherhood around this area of our life?
And sometimes it’s difficult. You get together with a buddy and you’re hanging out and you wonder if now’s the time to bring up my deepest, darkest most challenging place of being a dad and a husband. Or does that not fit the vibe of what we’re doing? Creating space for that is important.
Permitting them to have those conversations. Because if you’re a dad, a parent, you’re longing to have those conversations.
I knew that they were happening. With enough behind-the-scenes conversations with guys individually, I knew that they needed help in certain areas. Some guys needed help in their marriage; other guys were struggling with parenting and discipline with their kids, some were struggling with other issues. But whatever it is, we need to talk about these things. Well, after three days, the consensus was, “This was unbelievably helpful. We have to do this again.” So I started looking at how we could do this again, and I knew there was a need there. It was obvious there was a need.
So two years ago that’s what happened, and since then, we’ve built an entire business around Front Row Dads. Now, we have guys that are members of our Front Row Dads program. We have two calls a month; we have a private Facebook group, we’ve got two retreats a year that about 35 guys come together and hang out. We’ve got a retreat coming up this October in the Keys, and we’re just going to get together. We bring in experts. Guys have major breakthroughs. They walk away from these events saying, “That one idea is an absolute game-changer for my family.” The guys have had so many positive results that I’ve really shifted my schedule. I’m doing corporate speeches, but only about a dozen a year. My full-time gig is the Front Row Dads, and it’s so good to see these men have a space to be able to have meaningful conversations, talk about things that matter.
I love that. I know as a parent it’s the best, and I know it might sound trite, but it’s one of the toughest jobs out there. So hard.
So hard, but so beautiful. One of the things I always love to ask people that have become experts or those that help others. What’s one of those things for you that you first needed to learn for yourself, and maybe even part of the reason group exists is to remind yourself?
Let’s be clear; I am not a dad or husband expert at all. At all, and I never positioned it that way. I never said come to learn from me. In fact, I’m the least outspoken person; I bring in experts, I interview people, I’m on the journey with these guys. I did this because I needed it, not because I had a bunch of brilliance to share. I think we all have some wisdom. I think there are things I’m doing that are great, that guys can learn from if you look for my best ideas. And that’s the case with every guy in the group; we always want the wisdom to emerge in the room.
I shared with the guys that nine months ago, literally, nine months ago, I was going through maybe the darkest point of my marriage to date. I’ve been married for 10 years. I was going through a really tough time.
But I remember we had a dad training call with the guys, and we always bring in experts, or I might share some ideas about what I’m learning, or I invite some of the other guys to share. I had a lot of thoughts about marriage or being a partner, and boy did I learn a ton. I had countless conversations. We were going to a counselor, and I was learning so much. I was changing so much that a lot of what ended up getting shared with the guys came from a place of pain and struggle. And then eventually, there was a clearing of the skies, and I saw the sun again. And that was just such a great thing, so I come to this to learn. My wife has said to me, “You’re a much better dad and husband since you started this thing.”
I’m so grateful for this because here’s the big thing, I’ve asked a lot of guys who are at the end of their journey in life, guys that are in their 70s, and 80s; looking back what’s some of your best husband or dad advice? Almost every single one of them said, “Just appreciate it, relax a little bit, love every stage, love every moment, it goes by fast. Forgive, let go, don’t try to control everything.”
What I’ve never, ever heard from anybody, regardless of their personality type is sentiments like, “I wish I would’ve scaled a little more. I wish I would’ve done that extra Saturday gig.” I’ve never heard that. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s so easy to be in startup mode all the time. You always have a new project. You always have something with a big deadline, you always have a good excuse.
I’m so guilty of this. I tell myself I’m teaching my kids to be passionate. I’m showing my kids what hard work looks like. And you know what, that’s great. Of course, I want to show my kids what hard work looks like. But you know what, I think that some of us hide behind that. It’s easy to hide behind it. I’ve done it a million times, and I had to call myself out on that. That’s not the only thing our kids need; our kids need our time too. They don’t need to just see us crushing it at work.
Right. Absolutely. I’ve always wanted my kids to see my wife and I working hard. I wanted our boys to grow up in a world where you could be passionate about your work, where you are not just punching a clock, but in your dream job.
And sometimes that meant they were joining me on the road, They came to a bunch of events. My boys could give some of my talks probably better than I could now. It’s amazing what kids are actually capable of grasping.
I love when parents integrate. My buddy Joey Coleman just wrote a book, Never Lose a Customer Again. He has a crazy schedule, to put it mildly. He takes his kids (all under 10) with him on his gigs 70% of the time. They travel together. I love the idea of integrating your family into your work. One of our Front Row dads, Jason Shinpaugh, is in the mortgage business. He travels around in an RV. And his kids, they’re on track to see all 50 states. We had a family who was just with us for our Front Row summit here in Ohio where I am right now. And this family is on a mission to see all of the national parks. I think there’s 60 they said or something like that. And they’ve seen 40 of them.
The idea of creating value and value exchange, and relationship building that will all come from how we interact. I think that’s the real education is like, how do we interact in the world? How do we do life every day? How do we treat people? How do we treat the Earth? These are critical skills, regardless of what you do to earn a living.
I so agree with you that parenting, it is so not about being perfect, but it is about being intentional. And touching back on where we started the conversation of making moments. What would you say are some of the strategies that you’ve seen, especially on the parenting front and the family front, for making moments?
So let me tell you one that’s very personal to me. My dad was a Navy captain. He’ll be the first one to tell you, “I wasn’t there as much as I should’ve been.” My dad worked hard. He was out the door before I woke up, he went to the gym every single day. He walked in, he sat down at the dinner table, he ate, he went, and he read the newspaper, and he went to bed. He was very neat and tidy and very organized, and very respectful. But we lacked time together; I think he’d be the first to admit that.
One thing my dad did really well: he is a man of tradition and rituals. There is a house up in Wisconsin that was a part of our family for several decades. It was one that he spent time at during the summers. This is in northwest Wisconsin, and he has a lot of memories there. He, to this day, has his height measured on the wall in the kitchen from when he was five-years-old. His initials are engraved in the concrete walkway. I started to go there when I was a kid. When I was about ten-years-old, my dad said, “Hey, it’s time that we induct you into your club.” And I was like, “what club is that?”
It’s the FHA. And the FHA was established even before my dad was a kid, and he was inducted in. And then, even earlier in his life, he wrote out the rules of how to get inducted into the FHA, which I still have. It was typed out on a typewriter that I have a copy of. At ten-years-old, I had to do all these things that week when we were at the lake house. One was, I had to refer to all of the women as “Oh gracious lady of the lake.” I was ten, and I had an older sister, so you can imagine how painful that was to me.
I had to do all sorts of really interesting and yet funny things. Some of them just makes no sense. Like every time my dad or my uncle, who was also a member of the club, would say “10,000 aardvarks,” I had to do ten push-ups. So I would be out fishing in the boat, and they would say it, and I’d have to do ten pushups in the boat. And just silly stuff but really fun and meaningful stuff. And at the end of the week, they knocked on the door late at night. It was ritualized, and it was fun. It was like, a young boy kind of cool stuff. They had torches, and they took me out to the cabin, and they sat me down, and they explained to me what the FHA stood for.
I can’t divulge that information. I’ve been sworn to secrecy. But I can tell you is that he told me who we were, and who the Vroman’s were. So in our moment, my dad took the time to communicate values to me. He made it interesting, and he made it fun. That’s an example of somebody that is creative in being a moment-maker. And honestly, at the time, I remember having a good time with it. It’s the type of gift that has increased in its value over the years. In fact, at 43 right now, I appreciate that moment more than I ever have, and every year it becomes more and more important to me.
I think about so many other of those little moments that show up in my life. Like the time my uncle, who is a part of the FHA, wrote me a letter. I was 18-years-old. I’d never received a letter from my uncle before, always like a birthday card. But I was struggling at this point in my life; I was off-track, I was probably drinking a little more than I should’ve, I was getting in trouble. And my uncle sent me a letter reminding me that I’m a good person, and reminding me that my past doesn’t equal my future. I’ll never forget that letter. It probably took him less than a half hour to write that letter, maybe even 10 minutes. One page, single-sided, and I’ll never forget reading that letter and how I felt. I can picture myself holding that letter, and that was 25 years ago.
These little things in life. I can pick out several of those moments. And for all of us, we have that opportunity every single day to be a moment-maker for somebody in our families, in our businesses. I could give you example after example.
I always say that part of my mission is to bring humanity to our habits. It’s not enough just to be high-performing, I’m all about high performance. I’m all about achievement. But if we’re not careful, if we don’t bring and infuse humanity into that, we’re going to kill ourselves as a planet. It’s literally not going to work. It’s not going to be a happy ending for the world.
Okay, so we’ve been talking about making moments. You make moment through the foundation. We’ve been talking about the importance of making moments in our families. But let’s talk about moment-making in the business world. Because it can sound touchy-feely, it certainly can be. But it also is such an important strategy as well. So give us one story where a client, customer, someone that you know has applied this.
I can give you as many examples as you want. I’ll go with one that comes to mind right away. There was a man who had helped my wife and I, and I wanted to express my gratitude. I wanted to further the relationship. I wanted to express to this person that I really appreciated them and wanted to establish a relationship. I asked the husband about the wife – what were some of her favorite quotes. I did that same thing for the wife, I said, “Hey, I want to get your husband a gift. Don’t tell him. But what are his favorite quotes? What are things that he’s been quoted as saying?”
And so I took that and I ordered a set of Cutco knives – they are pretty incredible knives.
Cuts through anything.
They’re really, really nice knives. I got these quotes together from the husband and wife and had them engraved on the knives.
And then, I delivered this gift. The gift came from a number of different people. We made it a group gift, which actually amplifies the moment. That’s part of the experience, right? I organized it, but I involved other people that wanted to give a gift to this person. So we amplified the moment in that way. And then they got the gift and were absolutely blown away. You can imagine that, not only are they blown away in that moment, but that these knives sit on their kitchen counter every single day. They see them constantly, and they are brought back to that moment. Because often – and this is a really important piece about moments – we’re not buying a moment; we’re buying a memory.
I wanted to express my gratitude, and that was pretty much that. I was hoping for a future relationship with them, and sure enough, the next year I get invited to be on their yacht with a bunch of A-listers, people that I’m blown away to be around and hanging out with. It was a small group, eight people on this beautiful multi-million dollar yacht.
But not all moments have to be expensive ones. I’ll give you a great example. John Berghoff is a dear friend and, and he’s a founding member of the Front Row Foundation. He loves the charity, so this is his heart.
We wanted to celebrate all that John does. We got a journal, and on the front, it said Front Row Moments. We passed it around the room, this is 120 people, and we had every single person write John a one-page note telling him the impact that he had made in their lives, expressing love and gratitude. This book is worth more than anything you could ever buy. We presented this to John at the end, and I will tell you, that was moment-making. Words of affirmation, a thank you note, a thank you card, letting people know specifically what you love about them, why they’ve made difference in your life. That’s one of the easiest and best ways to make a moment. And I’ve got one more story, Mitch.
You’ve got the mic.
We have all these recipient events, these people that are fighting for their life. One of those people is Rebecca. Her Front Row event was to see Hamilton, the Broadway show. And all of our community, for 15 minutes, sat in a room and we wrote on paper, notes to her.
And we filled a box with 120 notes, poems, words of affirmation, love from strangers. So we’ve done this where hundreds, maybe even thousands of notes show up for somebody as a moment-maker in their lives. And just imagine that, imagine how you feel when that box of letters shows up. Reading them, and sitting with them and feeling that positive energy.
That is beautiful. I think today, being able to write something out is a rare gift. When do we actually receive something that’s handwritten? It could be such a beautiful gift. All of my bookmarks in the books I read, my Bible, all that stuff, are cards that people have sent, or cards that my boys handmade. Those are priceless. You just want to share those, treasure those, all of that. I love it, man. I just love what you’re doing, Jon. Just know the whole DREAM THINK DO family is rooting for you.
Again, go get the book, you’ll be glad you did, it’s the Front Row Factor: Transform your life with the Art of Moment Making. Go find Jon at FrontRowFactor.com, check out his podcast, all of that. Get in the community, get on board, help make even more moments happen. Plus, make some moments happen yourself. Jon, thanks for doing what you do, brother.
Thanks for having me, man. This was a lot of fun, I appreciate you.
Okay, what did you think? Did you love it?
Leave a comment. What stood out to you? I’d love to hear from you!
Plus… what do you think? Is parenting something you’d like for us to dig into more? Dreaming with your kids, dreaming as a family, how to encourage your kids, how to keep them safe, all those things – I’d love to hear your thoughts. THANKS!