Momentum Podcast: 39
An Awkward Moment In A Hotel And An Incredible Travel Hack
by Alex Charfen
Over 20 years ago one one of my first major consulting trips, I had one of the most awkward moments I have ever had in a hotel.
I did however learn a lot about successful people and an incredible travel hack…
Full Audio Transcript
I'm Alex Charfen and this is "The Momentum Podcast" made for empire builders, game changers, world makers, shot takers and creators of all kinds, those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to.
We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Shouldn't we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them and rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny.
We define it. We don't understand defeat because the only way you lose is if you stop and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate that there could be a better future and instead of just daydreaming what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent positive human evolution and we always will be.
This is Episode 39: "An awkward moment in a hotel and an incredible travel hack." I'm actually really excited to share this with you. As a kid, if you know my origin story, you know I read obsessively about success and even as an adult today when I can get my hands on third-party accounts of people that I've read about before or a new biography of somebody who's really intense or a autobiography or life history, I still can't help, but go and research and obsess over successful people.
In my career, I then started having the opportunity to be up close and personal with intense, successful people and what happened was amazing because when you read about successful people in books and when you read autobiographies or life histories what you miss is what's between the lines. You miss the fact that how awkward must Thomas Edison have been given the fact that he not only proposed to his wife in Morse code and then was upset he didn't get an answer. She didn't know Morse code, but he also named his kids Dot and Dash. How different was Thomas Edison really? I mean the brilliance that created the light bulb is the same brilliance that got him sent home from school. When I started to get up close and personal, when I started to work directly with incredibly successful people, I got to see that we're different and just we look at the world in a different way.
One of the CEOs that I got to work with early in my career and I feel so privileged that I did was Howard Johnson, who was the founder of Targus, the mobile carrying cases, mobile accessories. Now it's mobile everything. When I first met Howard, I started working with him in South Florida and representing his company. I did a lot of major brands and they had less than 20 skews. I think they were doing about somewhere around 20 million dollars a year. That company went on to become this billion-dollar mammoth in sales that just took over so much of the retail space and really created the retail space of mobile computing. Howard, he was just a genius. He was one of the most amazing people I ever got to spend time around and always willing to give advice, always willing to share, but on our first trip together, I had one of the most awkward moments I've ever had.
Howard and I were in the hotel bar. Back then I drank. It was my early twenties and we were in a hotel bar. It was our first trip to Latin America and I had started representing Targus and my company was going to roll out that brand in all of Latin America. We essentially took over the territory and became Targus' Latin American branch. In fact if somebody called from Latin America, the calls were transferred to me or somebody on my team and so this was a really important trip. I remember we were on our first stop. We are down in the hotel bar ... We were having a few drinks. We had some dinner. I think we even sat at the bar and from what I ... Now yeah. I'm having trouble retelling this 'cause it was so awkward.
I tell the story all the time now and I remember telling Howard eventually, but what happened was we had dinner. We had a couple drinks. We were talking and Howard said, "Hey, you know you look tired. Are you ready to go upstairs." I said, "Yeah. I am. We've got a few meetings tomorrow. I want to make sure we're both ready so yeah let's go up." He said, "Okay, but let's just finish our drinks and then you have to come up to my room for just a couple minutes. I want to show you something."
I was in my early twenties and I immediately got nervous because Howard was about maybe 50, mid 50s and I started noticing him as he said that he was a really sharp dresser. He was always really happy and he had been really kind to me the whole day. I didn't know what was going on and I remember saying to him, "Howard, I am really tired." It was like the best excuse I could come up with. "Howard, I'm really tired. I'd love to just be able to go to sleep." And he said, "Alex, you can. That's great, but I need you to come up to my room for just a minute. I want to show you something and you're not going to regret it."
I can remember thinking like holy crap is this guy making a pass at me? And just feeling like nervous and what should I do? I remember not knowing what to do next, but thinking I was probably about eight inches taller than Howard, probably about maybe 80 pounds heavier. I remember thinking like if anything awkward happens. Or if something bad happens here, I have the upper hand. This guy's not going to like pull one over on me. Nothing's going to happen so I might as well just go with him 'cause he was so earnest that I needed to come up to his room.
I can remember getting up from that bar, sweat was pouring into the back of my pants and I didn't realize it until I stood up. It was air conditioned and I was so nervous that my heart was beating out of my chest. I remember thinking this is one of the most important clients I have. I can't offend him. What the heck is going on? I remember we went and I started thinking to myself, okay, watch for anything odd or anything awkward, anything peculiar. I was following Howard to the elevator, looking to see if he was like smiling weird at me or doing anything. He didn't. It was relatively normal. We got into the elevator. I think he comment something about dinner or whatever. I was like, "Well, the tone hasn't escalated here. It hasn't gotten weird so maybe I'm safe."
We got out of the elevator. We are walking down the hall to his room, still my heart was beating out of my chest. I'm trying to tell myself to calm down. Howard's really well known. He was a successful CEO. He had lunched [Aprica 00:07:40] strollers before Targus. He had sold that. This ... I didn't ... I was trying to trust the situation and I remember we got to Howard's room. He's like, "All right. You got to come in for a second," so he put the key in. He opened it, opened the door and I went in.
He goes, "Okay. You stand over there by the bed." And I'm like, "What the hell?" Then ... he walked into the bathroom and he turned the shower on hot and he came out and he said ... I mean the shower was getting turned on hot and so I'm standing over by the bed thinking holy crap. Is Howard jumping in the shower? What the hell's going to happen next? And I'm like thinking he's in between me and the door, but if I hit him hard enough, I'm going to get right to the door and then he came out with a towel. He said, "Alex, I want you to do this every time you travel."
I'm like (deep sigh). "What Howard?" He said, "Every time you travel, I want you to do this. See, we stay in these hotel rooms. They get really dried out. The windows don't open. The air doesn't circulate enough. You get a lot of dead stale air in here. It's going to dry you out overnight. You'll find you get nose bleeds. Or you blow your nose in the morning, you'll see remnants of blood or you wake up and you've been mouth breathing and we get dried out. We don't act normally. We don't sleep normally in hotels, but this is going to help you. From now on when you travel, you just turn the hot water on and then take a towel and do this."
I remember he stood in the doorway of his bathroom and started swinging the towel around in circles. My face must have registered either surprise or relief or something. He said like, "Oh, yeah, Alex, this is going to be a life-changer for you. You're going to do this every time you travel." I remember for the first time in probably 20 minutes, I took like a real breath and thinking, oh, man, what a relief. It was so interesting to me because well, first, I said, "Well, thanks Howard, I really appreciate it."
Then he went on to explain that what he was doing was putting moisture into the air, but it was also positive ions and that it was going to affect the way that I breathed and so I needed to go straight up to my room. Turn on the shower, let it run for about five minutes. "It's a bit of a luxury 'cause you're going to waste a little bit of water, but it's going to change how you sleep and make sure that you get that towel going so you're really like putting the moisture and the positive ions out into your bedroom. I said, "Thanks, Howard. I really appreciate it."
I remember thinking, leaving his room, Howard, he was eccentric. He was different. He wasn't afraid to be exactly who he was all the time, too. He was the type of guy that if we had had a full day of meetings, which he and I often did. I did a lot of business with Targus. It was just such an amazing learning experience. Where if we were driving back to a hotel, he would turn to me and say, "Hey, I'm going to take a nap." Then he'd just go down. In two or three minutes, he'd get himself down and then he'd like 20 minutes later, wake up and be great.
He was just such a unique individual and I remember walking out of his room that night thinking first, wow. I must have been really silly because Howard, here he was trying to help me travel better 'cause we were going to do a lot of traveling together. Then I remembered going up to my room or I remember going up to my room and everything Howard said was totally true. There's a lesson here that successful entrepreneurs are truly eccentric and different and so if you are different and eccentric and do things your own way, then you're on the path to brilliance. You're on the path to changing the world because that's how every single person in history who matters to be remembered is. They were different. They were eccentric. They were awkward. They did things their own way.
Steve Jobs wasn't the first one to insist on going barefoot. Einstein had that taken. I think that when we, as entrepreneurs, lean into our differences, lean in to what makes us different, we are inherently leaning into our strengths and from that point forward, with Howard, I have never stayed in a hotel room ... Well, there's times I forget, but I always have the intention when I stay in a hotel room to either fill the tub with hot water or let the shower run for a few minutes and stand in the door with a towel. It really does change how your body reacts to hotel rooms, but the greater lesson that I learned that day with Howard is that he just confirmed so much of what I had read and what I had thought.
When I was a kid, I was crazy awkward. Different than everyone around me, but the more I read about successful people, the more I read about people like us, people throughout history who matter to be remembered, the more I realized, they were awkward and different and suffered cognitive dissonance and had periods in their lives that they didn't even know they might not make it. Being there with Howard showed me that it wasn't just my assumptions, successful people really were different and they were a lot more like me than I ever thought success would look like and if you've ever felt different or awkward or a party of one, think back in history to everyone who matters to be remembered. Everyone who you remember and understand that they are just like us and that is your club.
Next time you stay in a hotel, I dare you to run the water and flip a towel around and you will find, you'll have one of the best night's sleep at a hotel you've ever had. Join me next Monday for the entrepreneurial personality type podcast, number 30 or sorry. You had number 30. No number 40 and I'm so excited to be anniversarying our 40th podcast. Look forward to sharing it with you.