Keepin’ It Real with Cam Marston are weekly commentaries airing at 7:45AM and 4:45PM on Fridays on Alabama Public Radio since 2018. Each tells a story designed to deliver motivation, inspiration, or humor. The commentaries have won both state-wide and national awards.
The Keepin’ It Real with Cam Marston videos are 26 short (3:30s+/-) videos designed to deliver motivation, inspiration, and awareness around important workplace topics. Workplaces utilize the videos to build teams, develop a positive and inclusive workplace culture, and become a common conversation topic for employees, teams, and workplaces. The videos are branded for the organization and each video comes with a Learning Supplement to help team leaders debrief the video.
Some social media posts have been gettin’ to me a bit…
The caption read “blessed.” The social media posts were of a woman surrounded by her friends wearing designer clothes. Another of her on a private plane drinking champagne with friends. And another sitting in a suite with friends at a world-famous event. Perfect hair. Perfect teeth.
Blessed, it read.
Blessed? Really? I think what she meant was “More blessed than you.” Or maybe she misspelled blessed and it should read “Boast.” When Christians want people to see how well they’re doing, they post a “humble brag.” I think the new alternative to the “humble brag” is the “blessed boast” and social media is where it happens.
Social media is where self esteem goes to die. It’s where comparison happens constantly and comparison has always been the thief of joy. And if you want to feed from a comparison trough, social media is the place for it. It takes some wisdom and maturity to keep comparison from destroying self-esteem. Most young kids don’t have it. Heck, there are many days I’m not sure I do, either.
And before you argue, social media has its good points, too. Anyone looking on Facebook on their birthday knows what I mean.
But the blessed boasts get me. They’re never pictures of someone blessed to simply not be dead. Or blessed to be able to build wonderful things. Or blessed to be able to comfort those who are suffering. Or blessed to be able to make a donation that will help out the less fortunate. On social media, they’re always blessed to be in a first-class seat. Or blessed to be wearing a Rolex. Or blessed to own a nice new car. Here’s the recipe: Take a photo of yourself with things or doing things only the top one percent of society can access then hide behind God and your oh-so humble spirituality by captioning it with “blessed.” I’m pretty doggone sure God spits or throws a lightning bolt in disgust when he sees blessed boasts.
The way I understand it, the spiritual gifts we’ve been given, our “blessings”, are our unique talents and skills from our creator, if you believe such things and I do. Once we discover these talents and skills we are to use them to serve our creator and others. Our blessings are talents given to us to use for the betterment of one another. People who know this, and do this, are, in my experience, universally happier than the rest of us. They’ve found their calling and through their calling they are a blessing to us all. Blessing are not and have never been things.
I don’t mind the photos of my friends with fantastic items or doing fantastic things. But let’s be honest and caption the photos accordingly. How about “Oh my goodness. What a day. How did I get here? How lucky am I?” Or “I don’t have as many friends as the picture suggests but it’s a great day and I’m having a ball.” Are you blessed? Maybe. But your new Porsche has nothing to do with it.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
Recap and thoughts from a client call a few week’s ago. We were discussing a problem they’re having that all of us had a hand in creating.
“I didn’t realize it would be so hard.”
That’s from a conference call with the leaders of a mid-Atlantic hospital system a few weeks back. We were talking about their young, newly minted doctors. I was putting the finishing touches on a workshop for their spring leadership conference.
It seems that medical residency has gotten much easier. Less stress. Less sleepless nights. Less intensity. Less rigor. Once residency is over, the newly minted doctors are shocked at how hard the real work of being a doctor is. They’re demanding more money. More vacation. Fewer hours. When asked why, they say “I didn’t realize the work would be so hard. I need more.” The hospital is making major exceptions for the new doctors and it’s causing big problems. They told me of doctors leaving patients mid-procedure because their shift was over, assuming someone will show up and finish.
“What in the world is wrong with kids these days?” was my immediate response. But that’s misplaced blame.
A shoe box in my daughter’s bedroom is full of ribbons from her days as a young swimmer. They range from 6th to 11th place. She was never a good swimmer. She always got ribbons. Today she laughs at them. “Participant trophies,” she says, rolling her eyes. Let’s be clear: those ribbons are a parenting trend. Parents like you and me bought them and gave them out. We thought it was the right thing to do. Today, my kids are older and think participant trophies are silly. But the trophy’s impact remains with them today and it’s this: Any amount of effort, regardless of outcome, deserves recognition. That’s what a participant trophy is. The greater the effort, the more elite the participant, the more the recognition needed.
The young doctors in my client’s hospital system are no different. They’ve been taught by people just like you and me that since it’s hard and since they’ve put in a big effort they deserve more. Medical residency’s historically rough road has been flattened and paved for them.
“They’ve worked hard, let’s help them out,” some residency director, and likely a parent, said at some point. And incremental creep continually makes the road easier.
And it’s not just doctors, it’s everywhere. Add Covid money plus work from home and suddenly doing little and getting paid for it is possible.
I was clear with my hospital client: this problem is not solvable in a half day workshop. I can give them a new way of understanding the problem that will give them a start in changing their culture. The truth is, though, this is a societal problem that began long ago. The workplace solution is to model the behavior you want to see and make it the defining part of your workplace culture. It will take time. I told the doctors on the call, if you thought the final chapters of your career would be easier as the next generation steps in and takes the lead, it probably won’t. I’m sorry. But remember, it’s a problem that we – all of us – created.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
We need change. And someone who can bring it.
Another mass shooting last weekend. By the time this airs, there will likely be another one or two. It’s awful that these events no longer horrify us the way they should. I hardly read the story anymore. The details are all too familiar. A young male. An assault weapon. A troubled background. A history of affiliation with hate groups. Concerns by neighbors and employers of mental instability. And, boom. I’ve warned my children: at some point in your life, you’ll experience a mass shooting. Know what to do, I’ve told them.
Our politicians blame guns, blame parenting, blame hate groups, blame mental health, all trying to out shout each other. All hoping NOT to solve the problem, but, instead, all hoping to get reelected. Bluster. Pomp. Self-righteousness. Self-important. I’ve said it before: If it weren’t for politics these people would be unemployable.
Our world needs a prophet today. Someone who steps forward and offers a compelling alternative view of our reality that creates change.
Traditional faiths tell us that in times of chaos, confusion and disharmony, a messenger arrives, shouting from the edges, from the craziness of our world, showing us we’ve lost our way. There’s a better way, they say. We need that person now.
Prophets have always been outsiders but never strangers. They’re on the edges but are active in the customs and the traditions of the group they’re trying to reform. They see a truth that has escaped those of us in the center who gain traction by attacking each other. The prophets call attention to something different, something more important, and often, something obvious – right in front of us – that we can’t see.
However, aside from a tight group of early adopters, profits are reviled. They threaten the status quo. And those who benefit from the status quo act quickly to silence them. Pastors and priests make careers out of teaching the Bible’s lessons of the prophets. Rest assured though, if a prophet showed up and questioned the value and the teaching of churches and pointed to a new, inclusive path to eternity, those very same pastors and priests would attack.
But how would a prophet’s voice break through? Who could it come from? It won’t be a politician. Campaigning saying we’ve lost our way makes that person unelectable. It won’t be on social media. That person would be cancelled. It won’t be in business. That person would be accused of only trying to make money. And it won’t be through entertainers. THAT person would be cancelled. So who? And how? And from where?
Our world needs a prophet today. Someone to refocus us. To remind us of what’s important. No prophet ever said, “Hey. I’ll do it. I’ll be your prophet.” They took the job reluctantly, feeling inferior to the task, but compelled by change that needs to happen. Our world needs that prophet today.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to keep it real.
Lots of sights and sounds at New Orleans Jazz Fest.
My wife, a college friend and I stood amidst the peace and quiet of Jazz Fest in New Orleans last weekend along with what must have been 100,000 of our closest friends. It was a sight.
When my wife and I told our friends we were going, they reacted the same was as when I told them we were going to Mexico for spring break – “Oh no,” they said. “That’s dangerous over there. You’re going to get shot.” During my thirty-six hours in New Orleans, I never once felt unsafe. To the great disappointment of my schadenfreude friends, we returned to Mobile unscathed. Which has led me to the conclusion that many of my friends are ninnies and are best left at home.
I’m hoping heaven is a lot like the Gospel Stage at Jazz Fest. A cool breeze blew through the tented area. People were happy to slide a chair or two over to make room us. Most importantly, there were chairs. And, wow, the music. Argue if you want, but there’s more energy coming from the Gospel Stage than any other Jazz Fest stage. When you’re singing about the glory of the Lord, energy comes naturally. And when this middle aged, overweight, thinning haired white guy rose to his feet waiving his palms in the air to show that the spirit was moving…well, I couldn’t believe myself. It was very out of character. But I felt it. And I loved it.
One thing I don’t love are large sweaty shirtless men. Or even small sweaty shirtless men. And there were a lot of them at Jazz Fest. They were everywhere. We left the Gospel Tent to wander the exhibits and try the food…and they were everywhere. One of the hardest movie scenes to watch ever is the scene from Along Came Polly when Ben Stiller’s character plays basketball and, well, rubs up against a big sweaty guy. If you know what I’m talking about, you know. That was my fear. Shirts should be required when you’re standing in crowded areas waiting for the acts to start. And when the music starts, the shirtless men more than others, become quite the charismatic dancers. I minded my own business, but I kept them in my periphery hoping I wouldn’t have one of those Ben Stiller moments and have to wash my entire body in molten lava or, more likely, decide my life was simply no longer worth it.
After watching Jon Cleary play some fantastic funk music, we turned to leave and hordes of people were filing in to see Kenny Loggins finish out the day on that same stage. You gotta respect Kenny Loggins but, for me, his music isn’t good enough to risk proximity to gobs of sweaty, shirtless, charismatic dancing men. Not my scene. But in they marched, packing the area, eager for Kenny Loggins.
They were excited to get Footloose as they headed into the shirtless Danger Zone. Don’t Fight It. This is It. And as for me not seeing Kenny’s show, I’m Alright.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
Today’s Keepin’ it Real – the language of insiders.
I made a short statement the other day and my son immediately replied, “That’s cap.” C A P. Cap. I’m unsure what it means. It’s either “that’s the gospel truth” or “that’s a boldface lie.” I thought about it for a moment and decided I didn’t want to know.
For centuries generations have used hairstyles, vocabulary, music and clothing to separate themselves from adults just like my kids are doing today. We called things “cool” or “grody” or “sick.” Today my kids use Cap and ‘lit’. When I say someone was ‘lit’ it means they were very overserved. With the kids today, ‘lit’ means cool or fun or hip or exciting. There’s a part of me that wants to adopt this language to try to stay young. There’s a bigger part of me that says stay away.
My daughter and her friends use the word ‘like’ as an opening quotation mark. For example: “She said like I didn’t do it and I immediately said like it was you. I saw you. And then she said like, Well, that’s cap.” And again, I’m clueless.
The stay-at-home women in my part of town have starting using the expression “all the things.” It means just so much of everything. “I’ve got so many chores and errands and the kids need me and you know, all the things.” All the things. Listen for it. It will be coming from a SUV driver in yoga tights.
Sociologists have studied that shared words and, specifically, acronyms self-identify people as part of an in-crowd. At a financial services conference I was amazed by the overflow of TLAs and FLAs. Attendees bandied them back and forth to say to each other, “I am an insider” and to remind outsiders like me that I’m an outsider. Financial services love their TLAs, and when find a tidy TLA won’t do, they go to FLAs. Three letter acronyms and four letter acronyms, by the way.
In a conference call a few weeks ago I was immediately told through the use of insider language that I was an outsider. It was a passive aggressive masterpiece. The TLAs and FLAs numbered in the dozens. The guy leading the call was letting me know he’s my alpha. It wasn’t like he was a silverback gorilla standing on a rock and beating his chest to declare his dominance but it was very much like a silverback gorilla standing on a rock and beathing his chest to declare his dominance.
The evangelicals have an insider language, too. This may offend some of them, but you’ll recognize the use of the word ‘just’ in your prayers. “Father God, just just wrap us in your love and just heal our hearts with your manifest of greatness and just feed us with the bounty of your loving kindness as we just work to serve your steadfast love and just just keep your son in front of our eyes…” I stop listening and start counting. I can’t help it. And I’m pretty sure if the universe’s editor in chief were to speak to us he’d say ‘what’s with all the justs? The reason I don’t answer your prayers is I lose focus counting.’
I’m Cam Marston and I’m JUST JUST JUST just trying to Keep it Real. And all the things.
This week I’m on the heels of a spring break trip with my youngest children – my twins.
I’ve wondered how often my teenaged children brush their teeth. After spending a week in a hotel room with two of them I learned that it is much less frequently than I had thought. Spring break was last week. It’s already been quite a year in the Marston household. With a daughter off at college and my wife and son away on a trip with his classmates, the twins and I flew to an all-inclusive resort on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Unlimited smoothies and milkshakes for them. Long days of compare and contrast light versus dark Central American rums for my mojitos for me.
To my surprise and delight, somewhere in the past nearly sixteen years, my twins have become interesting. I’ve always loved them but there were times I didn’t particularly like them. I was, admittedly, very lacking in fathering skills or interests when my children were babies. I did what I had to, did what I should do, but I have a deep aversion to needy things or people. I plant things around the house that can survive neglect. Buying a car, my primary motivator is how much upkeep is required. My spouse is fiercely independent and self-sufficient. A baby, however, is the very essence of a needy thing. And for the twins, my wife and I were given a two for one deal we hadn’t expected.
It was in Mexico a week ago that I realized the joy of finding my children interesting. Asking questions because I’m curious about their thoughts and their opinions. Their voluntary observations of their surroundings were insightful. They thought about other people who they felt would appreciate the trip. And while they stared into their phones a lot – truthfully, so did I – they took time to observe, to notice, to wonder, and, from time to time, to empathize with strangers.
I enjoyed listening and watching as they worked to bring their high school Spanish classes into play asking questions and ordering food. They wondered what was on the other side of the ocean. They were curious, polite, and considerate of others. I was proud. And even with some very odd questions – the one that stands out is “Do you think my earlobes are disproportionate to my face” to which I had to reply “Of course they are. Amazing you’re just now noticing. We’ve struggled to not say anything. But they’re nothing compared to your big toes.” – I thoroughly enjoyed their company and was proud to tell my wife when we returned that I never grew tired of them.
Bonnie Raitt is right – Life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste. And my time with them was precious.
Their sixteenth birthday is coming up in about a month. They look nothing like their baby pictures any more, but that’s who I still see.
I won’t be giving them toothbrushes as birthday gifts, by the way. They’d go unused.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.
Listener’s responses from my request last week:
To the many of you who pulled your Subaru’s over last week and emailed me, thank you. For those who don’t know, I had a stroke about two weeks ago and am, thankfully, ok. I walked out of intensive care about twenty-four hours later. Other than a fistful of pills every day, I’m back to normal. And as I said last week, it was close and I got lucky.
My request last week was what does this all mean? I got very close, received an enormous outpouring of support, and got stuck on the question, “What’s it all mean?”
The emails from listeners had three consistent themes: gratitude, the small things, and people.
Lara Shows emailed to say “find joy in every day even in the mundane things” which I tried to put to use in the Atlanta airport Sunday with a delayed flight. I watched the planes come and go, tried to enjoy it versus getting upset about the delay.
Lawrence Hughey of Mobile and I exchanged a few emails. He wrote “all of us are surrounded everyday by blessings and miracles but we don’t see them. Our vision is faulty and limited. But for you,” Lawrence continued, “I’m betting your vision is greatly improved at this point.” And it is, Lawrence, and I hope to never lose that vision and I know I have to work to keep it.
There was Andrew Willis who works at Alabama Public Radio. He began as an intern where one of his first jobs was learning to edit audio content and used my commentaries years ago as practice. He’s now the Assistant Program Director and Radio Producer. His message: “It’s not about the lifestyle changes that you need to make, but the relationships you have with people. Set aside more time for those relationships. That’s where you really make a difference.”
Andrew, I don’t know if I make a difference or not, but I do remember lying on that table in the hospital and telling my wife I’m not ready to die yet. The imagine in my head was of my children and how badly I want to watch them grow up and celebrate all the chapters in their life that lie ahead. I’m not ready to acquiesce that dream yet. And I’ve made some subtle changes with them already.
In the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s guardian angel, Clarence, says, “You’ve been given a great gift George: A chance to see what the world would look like without you.” I was not given that gift, but I the stroke I had two weeks ago was a big scare. And I’m going to decide it was a gift and see what I can do differently going forward to try to make a difference.
My doctors told me to take it easy but get back to living. And all this rumination on life and such along with waves of emotion have been exhausting and they’ve left me feeling a bit melancholy. I’m ready to take my newfound lessons and move forward, renewed.
If you offered thoughts for me, I can’t thank you deeply enough. Truly, thank you.
Now, let’s get going.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.
It was big. I got lucky. And I’m not sure what to think about it.
My wife and I moved to Mobile in 2007. We had four children ages four and under and needed cheap arms and laps – better knowns as family – to help through this overwhelming time. We committed to staying awhile so my wife and I did our best to invest ourselves in our community. That investment manifest itself last week.
Last Tuesday morning about 8:30 I was on the treadmill. About 8:35 I was mumbling, drooling, the left side of my face was sagging, and I was leaning against the wall. About 9:20am I was rolled into the University of South Alabama emergency room from the ambulance. The stroke code team was waiting. My femoral artery became the channel for a catheter thingy that went into my brain’s right side with a grabber thingy on the end, surrounded a blood clot and removed it. I was fully functional moments later and I walked out of intensive care unit on my own the following afternoon. No damage. It was close. I got lucky.
In the uncertain moments I learned many of our friends, the families we know, our church community and so many others asked God to wrap his arms around me, to cloak me in his protection, to lift me up. Massive quantities of food have materialized. Flowers, too. Calls, texts. Notes and gifts from strangers in our mailbox. My wife and my community showed up to a degree I’m not sure I deserve. I’m beyond humbled and, honestly, am struggling with it a bit.
The stroke was not a consequence of lifestyle choices. My doctors can’t say “I told you so” because, per all the data, I’m in very good health. Which makes me ask, what’s the lesson here? What’s the takeaway? How do I change? What should I change? Or should I even change other this new diet of blood thinners? Should this event move me but not change me or change me but not move me. I don’t know.
The outpouring of support has caught me off guard. So many people have contacted me, my wife, my kids, my father, my brothers, all to check on me. All expressing gratitude that I’m Ok. My eyes have been regularly wet for well over a week, and they are again right now – not because of what almost happened, but because of what did happen – a gush of support. I’m unsure I deserve it.
I hoped to finish with an impactful lesson from all this. But I don’t have one. Truthfully, I don’t know what to do or say. I don’t know what to think about it.
Certainly some of you listening have similar stories. Stroke. Heart attack. Car wreck. Something. What’s time taught you? What’s the lesson? I need my intelligent and vocal public radio listeners to pull your Subarus to the side of the road and go to CamMarston.com where you can email me or call and leave a message. What’s all this mean? What’s the grand take away? I need your guidance. I’ll share what you share next week.
Until then, I’m Cam Marston and I am truly grateful to be here.
I’ve been offered an invitation to go camping…
Years ago, my wife and I got a deal on some camping equipment. We headed into the North Carolina mountains to a creek camp site and set up our fancy new tent and tried out our new gear. When night fell, we unpacked our fancy new sleeping bags that were rated to keep us warm well below that night’s low temperature, climbed in, and waited to get warm. And we waited. And we waited. Then we started shivering. Teeth began chattering. After an interminable amount of time, I asked my wife what time it was. “Ten PM,” she said. The night wasn’t even half over. It was awful. As soon as there was any hint of daylight we packed up, hiked out, drove home, climbed in bed. That was well over twenty years ago. The cold got into my bones that night and has never left. I’ve still not warmed up.
Mankind, and especially Western society, has gotten soft. In fact, a book called The Comfort Crisis documents this and I’m right in the crosshairs of that book. Humans have figured out how to make nearly any environment on earth more and more and more comfortable. Along the way we’ve lost some toughness, some resilience. At the same time, however, I don’t think the solution to too much comfort is to seek discomfort.
And this is on my mind right now as I have, once again, been invited to go camping. I have a certain friend who claims to love camping. And I think he really does. But he has a hard time finding anyone to go with him. He invites me multiple times each year. The reason that no one joins him is that we know camping is not fun. It is unfun. It is the inverse of fun. It is proactively seeking discomfort. And this current invitation involved a five and half hour drive one way to sleep on the cold ground for one cold night and then drive home. And I’ll say it again: Five-and-a-half-hour drive. Sleep on the ground. Very cold night. Drive home. Un-fun.
For two summers during college, I worked in Glacier National Park in Montana. Each summer I planned to become a camping savant. Each summer I camped one time and never did it again. I lay there all night hoping a grizzly bear would come maul me because it’s got to be better than this.
The idea of camping is glorious. Nature and hiking and self-sufficiency and wildlife and all that. It’s romantic. But it’s like horses. I love the idea of being a horse person. But I’ve been around horses. They’re big and they’re strong and they spook easily and run very very fast and I’ve learned that I love the idea of being a horse person. But I have no interest in actually being a horse person. The same is true with camping.
It disgusts my friend when I tell him this, but on a pretty night when the wind is out of the north with low humidity in the air, I’ll open my bedroom window and throw an extra blanket on the bed. And that’s as close as I’m gonna get to camping.
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to keep it real.
What my wife and I saw on my recent business trip to a Bahamas resort was more than enough.
My wife and I spent four nights at a Bahamas resort on a business trip and here are my observations. Here’s what I saw.
First, I remember hearing that most traffic accidents happen within five miles of the driver’s home. Seems inverse of what you’d expect. The reason? When you’re driving through your home territory, you’re so familiar with the roads, the traffic, the scenery and such that you let your guard down. The familiarity and the routine make you vulnerable to carelessness. When you’re out of your home territory, you slow down, take notice of what’s around you, and are cautious.
The same can be applied to people at a vacation resort. We were all strangers in an unfamiliar place, carefully navigating around each other in sometimes tight quarters and sometimes long lines, like drivers navigating unfamiliar roads. We were all polite and accommodating. Everyone was on their best behavior.
And the resort was huge – 2500 rooms – on 1000 acres fronting the beach. It was more Six Flags amusement park than a beachfront resort. There was a water park. And there were one million places to get overpriced food and two million places to get a very overpriced drink.
We heard at least five different languages. We saw lots of what I think were Orthodox Jews – it’s not something we see a lot in south Alabama, so I’m not sure – and quite a few people dressed in what I think was Muslim attire. There were same-sex couples of all ages and mixed-race couples of all ages. There were people dressed luxuriously as they walked through the huge casino, and some dressed like they lived under a bridge. However, for the most part, there were no sideways glances. No looks up and down. Just lots of acceptance, space, and privacy in close quarters. It was nice. However, there was one notable exception.
The one thing my wife and I saw way too much of was very, very small bikini bottoms. Actually, the reverse is true. We saw very little of the bikini bottom, it being so small, and a whole lot of what the bikini bottom was not covering. Bottoms were everywhere. Everywhere. Call me a prude. Call me whatever you want, but it was way too much. Many of those displaying were young girls and I felt awkward being around it. But there was no escaping it. If I looked towards the ocean, they walked in front of me. As I stood in line for a towel, there they were. At the pool. At the poolside restaurant. They were even walking inside through the casino late in the day. Bottoms. Lots and lots of bottoms.
It appears, with the way things are going, many of the women at that resort will soon be emulating the same bikini bottom Eve wore in the Garden of Eden. The majority of them were most of the way there and, well, I wish they weren’t. This old fuddy duddy wanted to say, “Pardon me, miss, at the risk of being rude, I don’t care what the fashion trends today are, do yourself and the rest of us a favor and please put on some pants.”
I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.