What Matters to TOM GRIFFEN

March 26, 2012 |  by  |  What Matters

This is the second in a series of brief conversations looking at What Matters to people who are really taking on their lives. My aim is to uncover what matters to them deeply. To expose their foundational passion. 

If this conversation interests you too, let me know and share it with others who matter to you… 

Some of my words about Tom:

As the past (and beloved) owner of Fleet Feet, Aptos, an accomplished

businessperson, deep thinker, artist and ultra runner, I asked Tom to give me a bio he’s used in the past to highlight his accomplishments. He sent me this…:

“You asked for my bio and my inclination is to look at all the bios I’ve written over the past few years for various folks and then consolidate all the cool nuggets into one impressive conglomeration. That would be my ego’s response for an opportunity to sell myself and maybe even impress people. But I’m not going to do that today. I’m trying not to do that anymore at all.”

Since largely accomplished Tom Griffen wouldn’t give me his stats, I can only share with you who he is through our friendship. Because despite our extended sharing time together I don’t know much about Tom’s background. Which itself is a statement as to what matters to both of us.

I met Tom over coffee when he first came to Santa Cruz in 2008. As the new owner of Fleet Feet, Aptos, he contacted me to connect and discuss ways that we could support each other through our businesses. Coffee turned into a 2+ hour conversation that mostly had nothing to do with business. I knew then, he was a keeper. This type of insta-connection will surface with Tom intermittently, and when it does it will sync like puzzle pieces. Since he left Fleet Feet, Aptos to work for their corporate office in North Carolina, Tom will roll into town now and then on business and we’ll get together for dinner. We always close the place down.

Tom is thoughtful and observant, hard driving (sometimes to his demise) and nurturing. A sometimes sleeper of a hugely talented being, amidst a palpable sensitivity. A perfectly articulate, visionary. Tom has a knowing that doesn’t require me to explain my regular deep esoteric thoughts. He gets it. He gets a lot because he’s paying attention. To our mutual amazement our life processes seem to consistently be in sync.

Tom makes decisions about his life that are mind bending for some because he gets that life is now. What matters to Tom needs to happen now—not when the planets happen to align, or when he ‘retires’

If you have an opportunity to have coffee with him, take him up on it. You’ll notice that he authentically rides on your every word. And if you matter to him, he may even share with you that what matters to him most is…


Terri: Tom, people in Santa Cruz County may know you as an accomplished and beloved past Fleet Feet owner and ultra runner who moved back east to work for Fleet Feet Corporate. Currently you are looking at taking a few months leave of absence from your job to tend to some things that really matter to you. What would you say matters the most to you in your life right now? If you could sum up what matters to you in one word, what would that be?

Tom: I’ve lived a life full of amazing experiences ranging from fascinating to dysfunctional.  I’d change nothing if given a chance.  I may come across as a guy with his shit together but I have the amazing people of my past to thank for this mirage.  I channel them constantly as I make decisions that move me through life.  They are full of good advice, laughter and answers to hard questions.

You ask what matters most?  That’s an easy one.  At this point in my life I truly and whole-heartedly believe that the only thing that matters is happiness.  Not simply mine or yours, but everything’s happiness.  As I’ve started focusing on this I am realizing that everyone gets the idea of happiness, but not everyone makes effort to “do happiness”.

Happiness.  It’s not necessarily easy but it’s what it’s all about.

For many years I battled the real me without even realizing it. I became what I thought others would want me to be and I was wildly successful. But there was always something missing and I grew increasingly angry with life. When this anger became self-destructive I started noticing the importance of change. But it took years to do anything except beat myself up about this new-found insight.

Luckily, things eventually started to converge. The people I met, experiences I had, and intuition I began listening to merged my confusion into solid thoughts and beliefs. I was introduced to the real me and continue to learn from this fortunate culmination of life “happening”.  So sure I could go on and on about the myriad things that led me to this point, things like travel, academics, athletic competition, women, friends, food, sex, money, drugs, professions and other random and common life experiences. But I won’t. These things got me here now but they no longer matter.

I still have tendencies to fall into what my body and brain recall from my past. But I’m using my awareness of the moment to honor this “muscle memory” and move beyond it.

Terri: What things do you do regularly or are you changing in your life currently to generate that sense of happiness? What do you recommend for those for whom happiness seems to elude?

Tom: After truly coming to terms with what matters most I knew that I needed to make some changes.  I envisioned these changes to mainly revolve around how I was spending the majority of my time.  Certain things in my life had become hobbies that probably deserved more attention than an hour here and there.  After spending a year literally writing thoughts and comments on a 6”x7” canvas hanging in my bedroom it was obvious what preoccupies me – and it wasn’t my job.  Not at all. Lumping the ideas from the canvas together left me with a few main categories of interest.  These are the things that make me truly happy.  The five I came up with are art, animals, friends, philosophy and activism.  Had you asked me a year ago to come up with a list of things that created happiness I assure you I’d not have included all of these five things.  My notes over time painted an honest picture of what my belly desired – so rather than regret things when I am old I decided to take action.  I requested and was granted a 5-month leave of absence from my job.  That was step one.

Step two was examining the list to determine how I could stoke these hot fires in my belly.  I meditated on each one and what it meant to me.  What did I want from art?  What was this interest in animals about?  Why did I have friends on my list?  What the heck did I mean by philosophy?  And finally, why was activism so appealing?  I once was told by a fellow educator that one needs to determine what drives them and then hit the gas pedal.  At this juncture I’d barely gotten in the car.  But finally, after nearly 40 years, I was in it.  That is exciting.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like my job.  I enjoy helping folks develop successful businesses.  But for the next five months I plan to tap into that which I am passionate about  – something that would have been otherwise unavailable to me because of my job and busy lifestyle.  Life’s too short to not follow that voice inside.  Right now it’s loud and clear.

I believe we all enjoy the idea of happiness but we don’t all do much about it.  Or we somehow have come to confuse happiness with social or familial expectations commonly associated with so-called happiness.  It’s high time we collectively ask ourselves what truly makes us happy and then give it the credit it’s due.  Fact is, if I am happy, odds are I will exude it.  Someone will, in turn, catch it and maybe pass it on.  In a crazy world that seems so stuck in its ways and unchangeable, we still have complete control over how we accept what’s in front of us.  If you are unhappy or angry or frustrated, there comes a point when nobody’s to blame but you. Define what makes you happy and put your energy there. That’s being a responsible human being.

To contact Tom or follow along on his 5-month leave from work go to: