"It's the people that make the difference."

By Mike Stirk

Not too long ago, as I was preparing to begin working at GRAEF, I was speaking with a longtime friend and professional mentor.  We talked about what makes a firm special, what makes it unique, what makes a client want to work with a firm.  There is no doubt that expertise, location and affordability all come into play, but all those equal, “It’s the people that make the difference.”  I think we both arrived at this realization at the same moment.  It’s the experience, the projects and most importantly, the people. 

Those words represent my sentiment when I embarked on my journey with GRAEF.  I guess I’m sort of coming off a “mid-career crisis” of sorts.  That time that most everyone goes through, when you begin to wonder if what you have done adds up to anything, whether it be physical or philosophical.  Is there anything beyond a paycheck, beyond stuffing the coffers to hopefully cover your kid’s college expenses?  The times I missed a night out with my wife, or a 3rd grade drama club performance, or maybe fixing that door at home or calling aging parents, do they mean anything?  I’m sure we all wonder what we could have done differently, what we should have skipped and what we wished we had done.  It’s human nature, that one thing we all have in common, the one thread that runs through our collective fabric. 

I was recently watching a movie at home on a rare night with no obligations knocking at my door.  The story line and the actors are not recorded in the gilded halls of Hollywood.  The plot was thin and the cinematography not very imaginative, but there was that one shining moment when the main character has the obligatory epiphany…  the “mid-movie crisis” so to speak.  He almost looks into the camera to make his plea; “What am I doing?  Why is it that we do this work?  I tell you, it’s more than a job; it’s who you are, it’s what you become.”  That line struck a note that resonated for more than a few minutes. 

I thought about it and compared it to my own situation.  I think it is true to a large degree, you become what you do.  I think our jobs are one of the biggest influences on our lives, influences that include our parents, our families, what we read and what we have experienced.   There are no doubt other celestial or spiritual semaphores for all of us, but work is where the rubber meets the road.  I believe that if something influences our lives that much we should make the journey with people we believe in, who we trust and quite simply who we enjoy. 

A recent Instagram picture I took at a meeting, from the 50th floor of the Blue Cross Building. As I look at Chicago and see many projects from 23 years, some big, some small and some that I had a hand in making happen, more than the objects or the spaces, I remember the people I worked with to make the projects happen. There are a hundred memories in every lane of roadway, gathering of trees or line of street lamps that fade to infinity.
A recent Instagram picture I took at a meeting, from the 50th floor of the Blue Cross Building. As I look at Chicago and see many projects from 23 years, some big, some small and some that I had a hand in making happen, more than the objects or the spaces, I remember the people I worked with to make the projects happen. There are a hundred memories in every lane of roadway, gathering of trees or line of street lamps that fade to infinity.

With that said, when I sell GRAEF to a client, it’s not what we did, or what we can do, it’s who we are, the people, all of us.  We all lean on each other for example, for help, for encouragement, and when a job is finished, we should all be able to look each other in the eye and say “We did that, it’s who we are, now let’s do it again.”  That feeling, despite any bumps in the road along the way, is why I do it, and in the end, why I’d do it again.

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