A few months ago I started reading Nancy Tillman’s “Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You” and Beatrix Potter’s “Sweet Dreams, Peter” to my first born son, Kalin, who was three months old at the time. As I was reading the sweet rhymes on each page of these classic nursery books I could see his blueish gray eyes lighten up as my voice changed with the sounds of each line. I couldn’t help but think about my grandfather, Luben Walchef, and the time I spent with him self-publishing a memoir of his unbelievable story.
Looking into my son’s eager eyes, I reached over to our bookcase and picked out the book that will forever give him a contextual reference for not only who his great grandfather was, but how his struggles and failures make up who we are as a Walchef family today.
I started reading him the Foreword that I wrote in 2004 to his memoir, “The Harvest: How a Bulgarian Farm Boy Grew Wealthy in La Jolla, California.” I am certain that he enjoyed Peter Rabbit’s rhythms more than he did listening to his dad’s introduction to his great grandfather’s book, but I was overcome with gratitude toward my grandfather for his persistence in making sure that we completed the project.
In May this year, I convinced Derek Marso, the owner of Valley Farm Market (who is one of my closest friends and business partners), to start a business and marketing podcast. Our podcast would allow any person with a curiosity for starting their own business an “all-access pass” to our insecurities, our screw ups and our dreams. While self-producing a podcast is certainly not the same as self-publishing one’s life memoir, there are distinct similarities with these two long-tailed storytelling mediums. During one of our most recent Behind The Smoke: BBQ War Stories Podcast episodes we went #BehindTheSmoke with Nicole Matthews who self-published her own book called, “Permission: Stop Competing And Start Creating The Life You Want To Live.” Nicole talks about how creating your own opportunities can be a game changer in your business.
On a weekly basis, Derek and I interview a diligently selected guest that can give our audience valuable insight into what it takes to not only own a restaurant, a butcher shop, a catering company, an event management business or even a sports franchise, but also what it takes to market your brand in this ever changing digital world. When I worked with my grandfather on his memoir there were no iPhones or voice-to-text transcribing software (although my grandfather bought numerous programs that he thought would accomplish this goal). We had a dictating machine and that’s all we needed.
After Derek, Cory Wagner (our Producer) and I attended the Podcast Movement Conference in Anaheim this year, we returned to Spring Valley with fresh knowledge that the new Bluetooth and voice technologies, as used in Amazon’s Echo & Alexa and Google Home, will be in all vehicles by 2020. The home DVR has already made commercials obsolete in our household. My wife and I will only watch recorded programming as we fast-forward through the (high-priced) television commercials. On a previous Behind The Smoke podcast episode with Scott Kaplan, the co-host of the Scott & BR Show on the Mighty 1090, we addressed the dire need for radio stations to begin embracing and offering digital media content in their sales pitches to clients. Engaging digital content (such as podcasting), presented in the most efficient and non-disruptive manner, is where companies need to start focusing their marketing budgets.
Having trouble buying into all this “futuristic” talk?
Check out this article by Teslarati about voice technology in Tesla automobiles or this article by Gary Vaynerchuk, “The Rise of Audio & Voice.” My sincere hope is that more hard-working individuals embrace podcasting as a primary digital marketing platform to share their stories specific to their unique knowledge, so that listeners like me can continue to learn in convenient ways for this day and age.
Back in 2004, in spite of not having the “technology” that would have made transcribing my grandfather’s book much easier, it didn’t stop us from pursuing our end goal of memorializing his story. In business, you have to overcome similar challenges. You might not always have the answer or the tools to make the job “easier,” but that should not stop you from forging ahead. When we first started the podcast, we didn’t have all the answers and we continue to learn as we go, but is in fact the learning that makes us better at our podcast and at running our businesses. Within the framework of our Behind The Smoke podcast, not only do we get to share valuable knowledge with our listeners through the interviews we conduct, but we get to sit front row, across the table, from other brilliant business minds. This is why I love podcasting so much; we get to give and receive at the same time. Every business should be looking at podcasting for a channel to connect with a profound audience. Whether it is to share your business tips, teach a skill or highlight family stories, podcasting should be embraced as an ever evolving digital media platform that can change the trajectory of your business.
For more information on how to start your own podcast or on self publishing a memoir with a loved one, contact me on twitter @ShawnPWalchef.
Below is my self-published Foreword to my grandfather’s memoir, “The Harvest: How A Bulgarian Farm Boy Grew Wealthy In La Jolla, California.”
In 2001, my grandfather Dr. Luben S. Walchef, first proposed the idea of writing the stories of his life into a book he could share with his family and friends. While some people encouraged the idea, others felt it was too ambitious a task for someone who had never before written a book. He was eighty-two years of age when he started collecting materials for this work. At that time, he was still highly involved in managing real estate properties, operating a breakfast and lunch restaurant, and running an assisted care facility for the elderly. It did not seem that he needed another challenge in his life.
Nevertheless, he started the arduous writing process by devoting a small amount of time each day to the project. Every day he would record into a dictating machine a story significant in his life. And as the amount of time he spent on his book increased, I noticed him opening up more as a person. The stories he once told at the dinner table now had a depth and a richness that he had never before expressed. Night and day I would see him reading books on how to write memoirs, on how to share one’s story with others. The more he concentrated on his book, the more I learned about him and about our family. After he would dictate a story onto tape, he would give the tape to his trusted secretary, Irene, or to me, and we would type it out for him to read.
The real impetus for his book came in the summer of 2002 when my grandfather, at the age of eighty-four, traveled to Europe to pick me up from my semester abroad in Alicante, Spain. His vision was to take me across Europe to each city that had been significant in his life so that we could gather the necessary information to complete his memoir. We did just that and more. Every morning he was awake before I was, planning a schedule to conquer each city. I was often skeptical that we could jump from the red tour bus in Paris to the clay courts at Roland Garros and then to the National Opera house in the one day’s allotted time, but his persistence and planning always prevailed. For me the trip became more than just a historical exercise or a tourist vacation. I was honored at a young age to have an entire month to spend with my grandfather, learning about his life and discussing love, religion, education, politics, free will and the meaning of work. He became not only my personal tour guide, but my professor, my role model, my inspiration, and, more importantly, my best friend.
I have always respected my grandfather, but when I first saw the small farming village where he was born and raised, I gained an even higher level of respect for him. I now had a visual reference to all the stories he had told me throughout my life. To see his mud-brick house with its grape-vines, and sunflowers lining the walkway and to see his village with its cobblestone roads untouched by time was indeed a humbling experience. My grandfather’s constant emphasis on education and hard work now made contextual sense.
When we returned from Europe, my grandfather worked feverishly to record all that he wanted to say. Together we attended writers’ conferences and seminars, attempting to find someone who could help mold my grandfather’s stories into a readable book. And by a stroke of unbelievable luck we found a writer/editor by the name of John Shore, who was more than willing to help us with this seemingly insurmountable task. From the moment he first walked into my grandfather’s home, he was eager to dedicate his full effort to my grandfather’s project. Every Monday for the next four months John would meet with my grandfather and me to go over the stories he had transformed into a powerful and compelling narrative of my grandfather’s life. Always meticulous in the getting the facts of that life correct, he made my grandfather’s dream a reality.
The story begins in a small impoverished Bulgarian village where young Luben Walchef was eager to acquire more information about the world. Ambitious to become a medical doctor, he traveled to war-torn Germany in 1941, not knowing a word of German. Having tried to study amidst heavy bombing in Berlin, he transferred to the University of Heidelberg, where he finished his medical studies during the American occupation. Hard work, education, and some help from friends along the way brought him to America, the land of endless opportunity. He raised a family in Cincinnati and then moved them to California in 1965. Never thinking about retirement, he invested in real estate and developed numerous properties in San Diego. And now his grandson has been rewarded with the opportunity to learn from a lifetime of curiosity, determination, failure, and success that have made my grandfather such a fascinating man.
Relating to another’s experience is a fundamental enjoyment we have in this life. Stories are passed down from generation to generation, and in them we learn to triumph over obstacles and failures. We laugh, we smile and we cry. What I have learned through this three-year process is that in each family parents and grandparents have valuable experience and hold precious information that we, their offspring, can cultivate and harvest in our lives. If we take time to listen and to ask questions, the stories we hear at the dinner table and at family reunions, which hold a special place in our elders’ hearts, can become a family treasure, an inheritance with timeless value. My hopes is that the readers of this memoir will gain inspiration from the stories of my grandfather’s successes as well as the failures.
I am grateful for the man who paved my own cobblestone road and who provided me a life of privilege and the ability to appreciate it. And I am blessed to have had the opportunity to have worked side by side with him in making this account of story of his life.
La Jolla, California