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Friends Indeed

200711BVB0

200711BVB0

I’ve always believed that one of the keys to happiness is enjoying what you do for a living and savoring each day in one way or another.

Yes, we all want to make good money and have the sense that we’ve risen to a place of status and respect within our profession and, yes, we all know that meaningful work provides many different types of rewards, but for me, the greatest of these accrue to those who don’t simply work to live, but instead live to work.

When I get up in the morning and assume my role as a watershape designer, I invariably greet each day and its tasks with joy. And it’s not simply that I love this business (which I do); more important, it’s that I genuinely, honestly appreciate my associations with the many people I know as a result of what I do for a living.

More than money and success, to me the essence of feeling good about what I do boils down to the most basic of all human experiences – in a word, friendship.

THE BEAUTIFUL CIRCLE

I consider myself lucky in that I have lots of friends – so many that I’d be hard pressed to count them all. And I consider myself even luckier that the lines between friends and work associates have become almost completely blurred: Indeed, the conversations I have on a daily basis move so fluidly between work and personal interaction that I don’t even think about the distinction anymore.

What this means is that, most days, I laugh a lot, share all sorts of personal information and observations and often make plans for the next time I’ll speak with someone or make plans to get together. And through it all, a whole lot of work gets done.

As an example, let me discuss my relationship with David Tisherman. If you’ve been reading this magazine for any time at all, it’s likely that you’re familiar with his unique and occasionally confrontational style of communicating. And it’s true: He can be a difficult guy to work with sometimes – extremely outspoken and never one to hesitate to say exactly what’s on his mind.

The thing about David is that he’s such a powerful personality that people really care what he thinks about them, which is why, for example, I’ve seen so many students in seminars brought to the verge of tears by his criticism – or even by passing comments on their class projects or assignments. He’s direct, but always honest.

Yet if you ask anyone who’s really gotten to know David, they’ll tell you that behind the gruff exterior, he’s one of the warmest, most generous people on the planet. While he might rip you to shreds the first time he meets you, he might spend the next several years helping you in any way he can.

I say this about David by way of making an important point: When your work associates are also your friends, they can become invaluable resources. Speaking for myself, there are so many different ways David has helped me through the years that I couldn’t begin to list them.

Another friend of that caliber is Paolo Benedetti, someone whose name should be familiar to readers of WaterShapes. Just before I sat down to work on this column, in fact, I was on the phone with him discussing a detail we’re both using – a type of drain cover that can be surfaced with tile so it blends with the rest of a tiled pool bottom without creating a visual disruption. It’s wonderful custom detail.

I’m consulting with a supplier about making off-the-shelf versions of these drain covers. In talking with Paolo about it, he offered to send me a plan drawing I could use to convey precisely what the product would need to do – and did so without hesitation or expectation because he thought it was a good idea. That’s the kind of man he is, and I feel lucky to have him as a friend.

A GATHERING PLACE

I could go on and enumerate scores of other examples from my network of contacts, but you get the point: These people make my work a profound source of enjoyment and satisfaction, and I reciprocate in every way I can because that’s what it’s all about. We all support one another because we know that by cooperating and collaborating, we stand to improve what we do at the same time we transform our workdays from drudgery to big-time fun.

And that sort of opportunity is available to everyone willing to open themselves to the experience.

Indeed, one of the reasons the Genesis 3 program has been so successful is that, from the start, my partners and I set out deliberately to create environments in which program attendees who get into the spirit of the occasion can relax, have fun, eat good food, drink good wine and enjoy being in nice places while getting to know dozens of keenly motivated watershapers from all over the country. Personally, I’m gratified to know that it works, simply because these schools are both an expression and extension of my personal philosophy as well as that of my Genesis 3 partners.

Time and time again, the comment I hear from participants is that while they appreciate the professional information and contacts they make, what really hooks them is the camaraderie that develops in the course of a multi-day class. With a full decade of staging these programs behind us, my partners and I have the satisfaction of knowing we’ve shaped a substantial collection of people – some of whom now travel together, collaborate on projects and, in essence, see themselves as part of an extended family of professionals with common needs and interests.

Yes, we all have friends who have nothing to do with our working lives, but there’s something powerful to be said for having strong relationships with those with whom we share professional interests. It’s a common ground, a bond that lets us share information, help one another, talk each other through professional (and sometimes personal) challenges and, yes, network in ways that bring work to all our companies.

Moreover, this alliance of like-minded souls has entirely changed my attitude about trade shows. Where at one time showing up was like visiting the dentist to address a bad toothache, I now get a real kick out of showing up – especially for the past four years in which Genesis 3 has had a working partnership with the Aqua Show. We stage lots of seminars and education programs there (which is important), but what’s more amazing is the ongoing celebration in our booth.

The energy we all feel in that environment is infectious: Every year, more and more people show up, carrying plans, using their laptops to share their work and exchanging ideas with old friends while we all eat good food and sip good wine.

INTO THE FLOW

It’s great fun to be part of that scene, and I know I speak for my partners, David Tisherman and Skip Phillips, in declaring that we never tire of hearing the laughter in our booth and seeing the big smiles on people’s faces. Yes, we’re all there to forward our careers, but there’s no denying that our lives become richer in other ways through these experiences.

(The issue of WaterShapes you hold in your hands is, in fact, the one that will be distributed at this year’s Aqua Show. If you’re in Las Vegas for the happy duration of the event, please don’t hesitate to come over to our booth and join in the fun.)

Maybe through visiting with us you’ll want to become part of Genesis 3, maybe not; either way, I’m certain that if you spend time with this great group of people, you’ll come away with at least a couple of new friends. That’s just the way it is, and it would take a truly grumpy person to be immune to the good feelings that flow in every direction.

I could go on in this vein for pages, but I’ll wrap things up here with a few words about a good business relationship that has been transformed through the years into a great personal friendship. I’ve mentioned Bill Kent several times in this column, typically to mention my admiration of his accomplishments as a businessperson – but he’s also a great guy, a boon companion and someone I’ve been privileged to call a friend for many, many years.

Bill runs the Horner group of companies, but more relevant to this discussion, he and I spend a good deal of time together away from work, sailing around the Florida Keys. Spending time away from work with a professional colleague in this way has enabled both of us to see sides of our personalities that we’d simply never witness in a professional context.

Bill is a radically successful man and is extremely serious about his work, but if you get him away from all that out on the water, he’s capable of being quite silly. He’s not an expert sailor (in fact, he refers to himself as “worst mate” when he’s aboard), but that doesn’t matter. We spend our days talking about life, love, world events, books and a host of subjects in a way that reminds me that as we move through this world, none of us is alone.

WaterShapes publisher Jim McCloskey is another of my sailing buddies and makes what have become annual trips from Los Angeles to Miami to get out on the water, shed daily cares and have what often proves to be a ridiculous amount of fun.

If you ask me, people like Jim, Bill, Skip, Paolo and David are much more than people I know through work: They’re part of my life and because of them and many, many others I haven’t mentioned here, I feel like a rich man. They make my daily life easier and more fulfilling, and they’re also my good friends – and I wouldn’t trade either side of those relationships for anything in the world.

If you’ve tied into the greater community represented by the watershaping world, that’s great. If you haven’t, there’s no better time to get started than right away.

Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group; dedicated to top-of-the-line performance in aquatic design and construction, this organization conducts schools for like-minded pool designers and builders. He can be reached at [email protected]

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