Northeast Tennessee

Mission Accomplished

Northeast Tennessee Johnson City Erwin Kingsport

Tomorrow marks the official two-year anniversary of F3 Northeast Tennessee. This Saturday (June 16) we will hold our official annual convergence workout to celebrate the occasion. After planting and leading the group for the past two years, I’ll be handing off the Regional Nant’an role.

As the convergence approaches, I’ve been doing a good bit of self-reflection on the past two years. Given my propensity for burying my emotions, only to have them surface when speaking in public—I think it’s prudent to express my thoughts ahead of the actual convergence.

***

As I think back to my early days with F3 and my personal journey, I see very clearly the influence of F3 Lexington on what has become F3 Northeast Tennessee.

I wasn’t really a leader in South Carolina. It was already a big, mature region when I started. There were more than enough High Impact Men (HIM) to carry the load. In tent pole leadership language—I was a lone wolf, bat flipper. Not the typical archetype for planting a new F3 group in a new community.

While I knew the move was the right thing to do for my career and family, leaving F3 was probably the most difficult aspect of the move. Despite my lone wolf tendencies, I am self-reflective and observant. I recognized the footprint F3 had on my life and the lives of those around me. As the move approached, those emotions took over. I talked to some guys about starting a group in Johnson City and started the process, informally. However, after the move, I went dark for a while.

The thoughts of starting a group in Johnson City sounded great before the move, but after the move, the reality of what it would take to get the group up and running set in. I retreated back to my lone wolf tendencies. I came up with many reasons why I shouldn’t start the group—I’m not a leader; I like doing my own thing; I’m an introvert, not a people person, I won’t be able to get guys out; I don’t want the responsibility; my family needs more time to adjust. Perhaps at the core, it was a fear of failure or self-doubt.

Two things happened that made me realize it would be terribly selfish if I didn’t share what I had experienced in South Carolina with my new community. First, F3 Lexington had a family lose a child after a long, difficult battle with a seizure disorder. He died after I had already moved. I vividly remember tearing up at the sight of shovel flags planted across the front lawn of the church, the church I attended—more shovel flags than I could count. A family was experiencing a loss that’s unimaginable to most of us. While nothing can fill that void or take the pain away, I witnessed an outpouring of love and support like I’ve never seen before. It was moving. It’s the moment I truly realized the spirit of F3 and the power it has to transform communities. I witnessed it again at Cheech’s funeral.

The second is more trivial, but no less important. A team was down a runner for the Palmetto 200—I jumped on the team from Tennessee. It had been 9 months since I moved. As the son of a pastor, I’ve moved enough in my life to know one thing—it’s never the same when you go back. No matter how badly you want it to be like it was, it’s not. Time passes and people move on to new phases of life. It’s not bad, just different. I was nervous. After 9 months of working out by myself, I was missing that connection—the brotherhood that I’d grown to appreciate. Deep down, I was afraid the connection would be lost, that things wouldn’t be the same. From the time I pulled into the parking lot, my fears were immediately relieved. It was like my battery was empty and I plugged back into an energy source. It’s difficult to describe, but it was palpable.

Ken Doll was on the team. He asked when we were going to get F3 going in Johnson City. I had been thinking about it, but not committing. After that weekend, I knew I had to plant the group.

Like many, F3 filled a void in my life. It forced me to stop retreating to the solitude of myself. It taught me that being a lone wolf was not the best way to go through life. It taught me that relationships are not just important, but needed. It taught me to push myself beyond what I thought capable. It taught me how a community of brothers rallies around each other during the darkest times of life. I couldn’t keep that to myself—we set a date.

Outside of my wife and children—starting F3 in Northeast Tennessee has been the single most meaningful thing I’ve done with my life to this point.

***

I worked out in Founders Park a couple times before the launch to get a feel for the AO and make sure it was the right spot for the group. The week before the launch I kneeled by the park entrance, not something I normally do. My prayer was simple—I prayed that this group would be a place where all men, regardless of where they are in life, can come to not just get in better shape, but also find the strength, encouragement, and acceptance we all need to get through life. I prayed for the guidance and wisdom to use my limited abilities to build a culture where guys push themselves, but more importantly, take care of each other.

Two years later, I’d say that prayer was answered. Approximately 320 men have posted to at least one F3 workout. We have five AO’s across multiple towns, each having an impact on the lives of men in their respective communities. Men have transformed themselves physically—countless pounds lost, countless PRs set. Men have become mentally tough and more resilient. Leaders have risen—at the AO, at home, and in the community.

While all of those things are important, they have never been my marker for success. It’s never been about how many guys showed up to the workout, how many AO’s we planted, or how many PRs guys set—my marker for success has always been the answer to two simple questions. If something happened to me (or any of our PAX) and my children were without their biological father—would this group of men step in and be their father? When one of our men goes through the dark valleys of life—will the rest of us stand at the ready to do everything we can to help them make it through?

That is my definition of success. Have we built a brotherhood that transcends a workout? Have we built a brotherhood strong enough that I trust the men around me to take care of my children if I were no longer here? Have we built a brotherhood strong enough to know that we’ll have each other’s back during our darkest days? That’s what I learned from F3 Lexington. That’s what I’ve tried to build in Northeast Tennessee.

Heading into the convergence, I’ve been thinking about the answer to those questions. I can unequivocally answer—yes.

It has been a success. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it.

I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish. I’ve done all that I can do—given all that I can give.

As we head into the next phase of F3 Northeast Tennessee—it’s time for new leadership. I’m not the person to lead us through the next phase and that’s something I embrace.

***

This experience has allowed me to discover leadership potential I didn’t know existed. I’ve learned to use the fear of failure and self-doubt as motivation and resolve.

I’ve also learned that leadership is a mirror—I’ve learned more about my own character and integrity over the past two years than I have during my life up to this point. Sometimes I liked what I saw—other times, I didn’t. I have made mistakes. I’ve learned that my pride remains a stumbling block. I’ve learned that my words have meaning—the power to motivate and the power to create strife. I’ve learned the humility of apology.

When it’s all said and done, my sincere desire is that despite my mistakes and shortcomings, what’s been started in Northeast Tennessee will have a lasting impact on the lives of men in this community.

Just know that my life is infinitely better because of you men. For that—I’m grateful.

Donatello

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