Full Circle Reflections

by | Feb 29, 2024

 I had a full-circle moment this week.

In Chicago this week, cohort 2 of Presenting with Impact Workshop with Hightower Financial Services. About three miles down the road is the home of the Swirl, Uncle Julio’s Hacienda, also the home of my first “real job,” approximately 27 years ago. 

Uncle Julio’s is where I got my leadership legs, sparked my love of training, and smacked my naïveté out of me when it came to trusting that colleagues would be honest, trustworthy, and stand up at all times. Welcome to the real world, Erin. 

This week, during day one of the workshop, a participant made a spot-on comment, and I gave them a high-five, as I tend to do. There were mentions of the “Hightower High Five,” which I didn’t realize was a thing, but I’m here for it. 

Before the day had even started, three attendees from Cohort 1 swung by the boardroom, came in to say hi, and hug it out. 

After the day ended, two more Cohort 1 participants stopped in to say hi and hug it out.

Yesterday, all ten participants lined up to say goodbye after an incredible week, to say thank you and bye for now, and to hug it out. 

As I walked through the Chicago city streets on my way back to my hotel…walking being a strong term since I was EXHILERATED EXHAUSTED, I found myself getting a little misty thinking about my week this week compared to a week twenty-seven years ago at Uncle Julio’s. 

I got pulled into the backroom of the restaurant one day by my GM, Julie. She was there with another manager, waiting expectantly. I swung the creaky wooden doors open to the backroom and immediately knew something was up, and it didn’t seem good.

Julie proceeded to let me know she’d received reports that I’d been hugging people. The reports were true. I’d worked my way up through their manager training program. I had good friends there. I gave them some occasional hugs. Turns out the issue was that people were complaining because I was hugging some people but not others. I was playing favorites with my hugs. A certain sector didn’t like it. The hugging had to stop. 

For the record, I was harder on my friends than anyone else. If they were one minute late, they were spoken to. I made sure they didn’t always get the “best sections.” I made sure they weren’t always cut first. I wasn’t that green to realize people were watching and that I had to hold my friends to a higher standard so they wouldn’t seem favored. 

When I got the no-hugging order, I felt gut-punched. At first, I felt bad for making people feel uncomfortable. Then, I felt mad, because OMG get over it! I get perception/reality/blah blah blah but let’s look at what was happening! If anything, I would hook up my non-friends more than my friends to ensure the Erin-has-favorites perception wasn’t there! Apparently, that wasn’t enough. 

Then there was Julie’s delivery. I can’t even right now, but if I had to describe the tone, it was condescending, arrogant, patronizing, and superior. 

I walked out of that backroom with the trust bucket emptied, wary of who had complained and who was offended. 

Soon enough, I got over it. I also would not be denied. If people wanted either all hugs or no hugs, but really no hugs because Julie told me “no more hugs,” I’d comply. 


I started high-fiving the crap out of people. Everything was deserving of a high five. You sold a special? HIGH–FIVE! You finished your silverware roll-ups? HIGH-FIVE! You were prepared with your 3 clicky pens for line up? HIGH FIVE! You’re walking by me on a Friday night? HIGH-FIVE! 

To make sure everyone felt included, I high-fived EVERYONE. Even the people who were not amused. Or enthused. Pretty sure those people were the hug complainants. Which made those high-fives even more satisfying. 

Uncle Julio’s was a great place to learn the ropes. It also taught me about trust, the lack thereof, politics, jealousy, and corporate BS. 

Looking back, the no-hug talk was the start of the nonsense. Start of the seriously, this is how you’re going to lead? This is how you’re going to treat people? This is what matters? This is how you’re going to offer feedback? 

After three years, I was done with Uncle Julio’s. 

Twenty-three years later, I’m in a boardroom, in downtown Chicago, working with an exclusive financial services firm. Guiding people through a three-day transformational workshop, the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. 

Those folks sought me out for hugs. Those folks lined up for hugs.

It made me think of how far I’ve come, how all of the experiences add up, the lessons learned, and how I’ve kept putting one foot in the other when I knew something was nonsense to build a business that fuels me and to work with people who get it. 

There’s the Hightower High-Five. Now I’d like to think there’s the Hightower Hug. 

If you’re told no for no good reason, find an alternative and make it a yes. 

If you’re sensing their is nonsense and politics at your work and you’re playing along, do what you gotta do, own your role, and take responsibility for putting one step forward to something different. 

If you know that you want something different from what you have now but don’t know what’s next, trust that. Stay curious. Ask questions. Stay open to possibilities. See what doors open. 

If you’re not a hugger, I get it. Just know these days, you’re going to get a double high-five. 


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