You can’t deny people are awesome. Who doesn’t like sitting down with good friends to ask them interesting, insightful, and funny questions? That’s what 11 Questions is about. I’ll be featuring some friends I look up to as well as people within the community I’ve always wanted to get to know. As a bonus, I’ve updated some of the questions!
THIS INTERVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED BY CARLSON ON HIS OWN BLOG.
I regularly ask past participants who I should feature next on 11 Questions. Ben Hoyer turned me onto the Wenrich’s. I haven’t crossed paths with Michael or Megan before, so I did some research. Turns out they’re pretty rad. Megan helps save the planet at the Nature Conservancy and Michael designs some great spaces via his architecture firm, Michael Wenrich Architects.
But that’s not what made me like them so much. It was who they are and how they treated James (my assistant) and me that won me over. They’re some of the kindest people I’ve met. They invited us into their home like family, Megan making a wonderful charcuterie board and Michael fixing us some great cocktails. We talked more than we shot and the conversation was effortless. It’s always heartwarming to be in the presence of people who are truly interested in who you are. I hope you have some people in your life, like the Wenrich’s, that do that for you.
Who do you look up to?
Megan: I’m a total Pollyanna. I try to tune out negativity and surround myself with people/news/literature/movies/spaces to inspire, motivate, and humble me. It’s actually super easy. I tend to be more energized by average people doing extraordinary things in quiet ways than people who’ve achieved notoriety or huge success. The Good News Movement on Instagram makes me super happy.
Michael: I look up to a lot of people because I like to surround myself with people who push themselves and also push me by association. It could be because of their drive or passion. Sometimes for their intellect but more often their design sensibilities. It could also be for their wanderlust or thirst for adventure. A strong commitment to health and fitness is another trait in many that I look up to. I know it’s lame to respond to a specific question with a general answer so I’ll get specific. Megan Wenrich is someone I’ve looked up to for over (20) years because she possesses many of these traits that I admire. Many people I admire possess one or two of these traits but few possess as many as Megan and no one has had a more profound and positive impact on who I am and what I stand for.
Favorite book, album, or musician who has impacted your life?
Megan: “Freddie Freeloader (Kind of Blue)” by Miles Davis has been in my weekly music rotation for about 20 years and it still provides an immediate sense of calm as soon as I hear the first few notes. It never gets old. I just sort of exhale and feel relaxed.
“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi was one of my favorite books in the last several years. It follows the decedents of an Asante woman spanning seven generations starting in Ghana and ending in modern-day Alabama. It paints a rich and painful visual for so many important parts of history. She’s an incredible writer.
Michael: I love asking this question of others and I have struggled to answer it for myself forever. I tend to overthink this one and I feel compelled to say some classic and legendary book, artist, or album when deep down inside it is obvious to me what these highlights have been.
I’ll go with an album. In high school, I was listening to what everyone else around me was listening to at that time, rap, metal, punk, and some classic rock. It was 1989, I was in tenth grade and I became friends with a girl outside of my social circles. She was smart and quiet and she had a confident and independent spirit while the rest of us were being awkward and trying to fit in. Out of nowhere, in the middle of class, she turned and handed me a cassette tape (because it was the 80’s) and she said, “you have to listen to this.” It was Nine Inch Nails’ first album, “Pretty Hate Machine.” It had only been out for a few weeks. I had never heard anything like it and it inspired me to seek out more creative and less commercial music from that day forward.
If you could mate two different species of animals what would they be?
Megan: My undergrad was in biology so this question sort of stumps/horrifies me. Pass.
Michael: A duck and a beaver. Ok, I know that already exists but I could never come up with something this bizarre and interesting. I have always been perplexed and intrigued by the platypus. It is the sole living representative of its family and genus and it has such an incredibly small range. It was thought to be hoax when 1st discovered by European scientists. They thought a taxidermist sewed a duck’s bill on a beaver. In addition to its unusual appearance, it lays eggs and is also venomous.
Who in your life has inspired you?
Megan: My siblings are both sources of deep inspiration for me. My sister is a former pro-surfer passionate about sharing her love of the sport. She’s physically and mentally courageous, follows her heart, and practices healthy living and mindfulness every day. I admire the hard work she puts into being a better human and focusing on what she loves. And then there’s my brother who’s sort of like Santa Claus. He’s the most generous, jolliest guy on the planet. He’s never met a stranger, has a knack for turning awkward and tense moments into pure joy. He literally carries a sack of things to share with others at most times – not joking! It’s sort of like Mary Poppins. Anyone who knows him would attest that his real super-power is creating moments and experiences that are pure magic – the lasting memories we all crave.
Michael: This is the easiest question for me. One I always answer without overthinking. My second-year architecture professor, Jay Stoeckel. I was always a good student and well rounded ‘athlete’ but I never had a true academic or athletic passion that I committed to and excelled at. I was a ‘jack of all trades and master of none.’ That changed when I was 19 years old and I met Jay. I struggled through my first year of architecture school, a major I chose simply because I was strong in art and math and my high school guidance counselor suggested it. Jay saw something in me and lit a fire that has never gone out. I do what I do, I love what I do, and I have never looked back because of Jay (and my ridiculously talented studio-mates). Jay introduced me to my strongest and longest commitment and passion. It’s something I have been fully immersed in for the last 27 years and I am not sure I would have discovered it without him.
What are you proud of?
Megan: I’m proud of my determination to go after what I want in life. I rowed at the Head of Charles a few years ago, which had been a dream of mine since I started rowing in eight-grade. And more recently, I decided to go back to school. There was a mountain of reasons to push that goal aside. I’m five years away from having a child in college. I already have a graduate degree. It would be a massive time commitment on top of my rather large full-time job leading a team at The Nature Conservancy. It would be a strain on my family – oh and it would be crazy expensive. But I didn’t let all of that deter me. I broke down the barriers into bite-sized chunks and visualized a hurdle race. Last year I got into my top choice school and won a merit scholarship given to one woman in each class. I’m six months into a two-year executive MBA program at Northwestern.
Michael: I am proud of my kids. Cliche, I know, but it is not pride related to their accomplishments such as grades and trophies but pride because there are now two more really good humans in the world. I am proud of their kindness, their open-mindedness, their love and respect for other people and the natural world, for their flexibility, resiliency, and for their adventurous spirit.
What rejuvenates you?
Megan: Unstructured free time, preferably outdoors with my family when it’s 70 degrees and sunny. I feel restored when I make space to let my mind wander while I’m moving – walking, traveling, hiking, practicing yoga. My tendency has always been to create detailed plans and build busy schedules in pursuit of my goals. It can be hard for me to step away from working toward the future to be in the present but it’s so good when I do.
Michael: Running. Preferably on a trail but running anywhere is better than not running at all.
Is there anything you haven’t done yet which you feel compelled to do?
Megan: Where to begin!? My list is long. I’ve loved every chapter of my career so far but I’m hungrier than ever and in a lot of ways feel like I’m just getting started. I’ve got a lot of fire in the belly to drive more capital to climate solutions. On a more personal level, we haven’t really said this out loud but I think Michael and I are both pining to live outside of the US at some point (it’s possible we’re just going stir crazy from the pandemic). Oh and one thing we’re pretty committed to doing is recreating an epic cross-country road trip we took together in 1999; that’s when I was pretty sure I’d spend the rest of my life with him. We each budgeted a $500 budget for six weeks (excluding gas money and a stockpile of dried food we purchased in advance). We didn’t stay in a hotel the entire time. We crashed with friends to get from the east coast to the Rockies and then we car camped and backpacked the rest of the trip. We seriously had the time of our lives. We want to combine our original $500 budgets, adjust it for inflation and do the whole thing over again for our 20th or 25th anniversary.
Michael: I have two answers to this question and lucky for me, they are both very achievable. I simply haven’t prioritized the time and effort. Learning to play an instrument, most likely the piano, or learning another language, most likely Spanish. I love music and I prioritize listening to and ‘seeing’ music. As an architect, I am a creatively inclined person and I love the idea of creating music. I love to travel and really love traveling off the beaten path. Learning a language would help me travel in a deeper and even more rewarding way.
How do you balance your personal and professional life?
Megan: I perennially feel like the “Cat in the Hat” on the page where he is on the ball with a fish in a bowl on a rake and the books and the cake. At any given moment, the page could turn and I could fall on my face – and sometimes I do – but most days I’m wearing that silly grin the Cat wears when he’s (barely) juggling it all. For me family is the secret ingredient. Michael is my rock. He’s an amazing husband and father and such a true partner in every sense of the word. My career would not be possible without him. All of my family lives nearby and they’re a huge support system for us, my mom especially. I can’t imagine life without them. Also, it helps that I’m not a perfectionist or especially hard on myself when things are out of balance. Life can sometimes get chaotic and messy and I’m ok with it. #thistooshallpass
Michael: My kids. I would not say I have mastered it but I have a very healthy work/life balance because of my kids. It boils down to return on investment. I have never seen a more direct return on investment than when investing time with my family. A few more hours of work each day will not yield anywhere close to the return from a few more hours with family. Work can wait but kids are constantly changing and then suddenly they are no longer kids. I will not be that guy who lays on his death bed with regrets about not showing up for his kids every day.
Best place to eat in Orlando?
Megan: If you can get a table at my mom’s kitchen counter, I’d order her tomato tart. She’s a passionate gardener and grows a lot of her food at the community garden at Mead Gardens. She throws on whatever is in season – herbs, scallions, leeks, and a variety of her sun-kissed heirloom tomatoes. If I could eat one thing for the rest of my life, this would be it.
Michael: I like food that is honest and authentic. I like a thoughtful and highly curated menu. I like locally sourced, seasonal, and environmentally responsible food. I like a small-scale restaurant with a simple, clean design and neighborhood feel, so my answer is The Strand. I can go by myself, on a date with Megan, with coworkers, or out-of-town friends. It’s always the right spot.
How do you hope to be remembered?
Megan: Oh wow, Brian, that’s a big question. I’ve asked hundreds of philanthropists this question, but ironically have spent very little time thinking about it myself. The thing that comes to mind first is to be known as a good person who helped lift others up and make the world a better place.
Michael: This answer is directly related to an earlier question. My greatest hope is to be remembered as a great father. I would rather have an enormous impact on my two daughters than a lesser impact on many others.
If you were to choose a different career what would it be?
Megan: It’s is not exactly a career but I’d teleport to the PBS series The Durrells of Corfu. I could spend my life in season four. If you won’t give me that, I’ll go with entrepreneur – I love building teams, solving problems, raising capital, working hard, having fun.
Michael: I have asked myself this question a thousand times and I always come up blank. The only thing that comes to mind is something completely outside. Maybe an outdoor adventure guide or nature photographer. I am happiest when I am outside and it would be great not to stare at a computer all day.
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