Why People Matter Most

I still remember the first time I visited Rocky Garza’s house. Rocky and his wife Sara were hosting what we refer to at WELD as Wine Wednesday — which, unsurprisingly is exactly what it sounds like. We get together and have wine on Wednesdays. But in typical Garza fashion, this gathering was instead entitled Moscow Mule Tuesday — it was the only day available that week and who doesn’t like the added flair of a Moscow Mules?

I was pretty new to WELD which meant I had yet to learn that showing up to a social gathering only ten minutes late was equivalent to showing up 20 minutes early. My friend Tiffany Mc was the only other guest to have arrived, and she was being waited on hand and foot by the Garza’s. They brought her some barbacoa fresh off the grill to accompany her sautéed broccoli (the happy green kind, not the sad, mushy kind). Soon I had a drink in hand and realized that if Kinfolk magazine married the city of Santa Fe, their beautiful baby would be the house I now stood in.


The Garzas’ home in south Dallas featuring cute baby Ezra.

“What is this place?, I thought to myself. “Who are these people?”

As more WELDERS arrived, I spent the rest of that night in a blissful state of perfect comfort and happy bewilderment.

The Garza’s don’t just have impeccable taste when it comes to decor and party-hosting, however. They are also genuinely nice people. They like inviting others into their lives and their home, and they care about the people they work with and work for.

“I would rather host a dinner party seven days a week with eight people and create an experience for them and have deep, meaningful conversation every day of the week if I could. That’s just how I’m bent,” says Rocky.

Flash-forward two and a half years and Rocky and I are now talking in his office at WELD (that Kinfolk-Santa Fe baby theme still just as strong). A lot has changed since my first meeting with the Garzas. I got married and coincidentally moved in across the street from Sara and Rocky. The Garzas had their first baby, Ezra, this past fall. And after working as wedding photographers for 6 years, Rocky launched his new company, Staff Retreat Co., last spring which is many ways a fulfillment of his desire for a continual dinner party.

Rocky Garza is not a man of few words. The dude can talk, but he also isn’t about to waste your time with fluffy, feel-good phrases. He does not care about pomp and circumstance for the sake of pomp and circumstance. What he does cares about, however, is getting people to confront the realities of their fears, insecurities and doubts in order to grow and change personally.

Just the other day in what I considered a brief conversation, Rocky asked me what I wanted to be doing with my life. It was a simple, straightforward question and therefore obviously enough to make me cry a bit. I was in that moment forced to think through all of the unfulfilled dreams I often shove to the bottom of my to-do list. That’s definitely not a great feeling and not one I would chose on my own, but it is a feeling that matures with time.

When we see someone else truly cares about who we are and what we do, the power to do those things and be that person become a reality.

Rocky says he’s not magic, but he most certainly does have the gift for coaxing this out of people.

“I went to 12 schools before I graduated high school. For me, that’s played a big part in developing me to be a person that doesn’t know a stranger. I don’t know why we wouldn’t be friends, I don’t know why we wouldn’t be vulnerable with each other the first time we meet,” he says.

This is the heart behind Staff Retreat. Rocky is passionate about equipping people to understand that in order to pursue what you love, it’s important to first understand how you’ve been uniquely created as an individual. This shouldn’t be an abstract concept, but a set of useful values and strengths that describe you and you alone.

In a world where we’re constantly told success adheres to a very limited definition, and where the distractions from constant communication and technology seem endless, Rocky believes we’re missing the point. He’s insistent that success doesn’t come from a certain number of likes or followers, and that if we would just sit down with real people over a nice meal for once in our lives, we would have a much better idea of what matters most in life.

“I think the most daring, the riskiest thing that we could do is to be confident in living into who we were created to be and trust that that’s good enough.

And that it’s not just good enough, it’s the best possible thing to be unapologetic about who we were created to be.”

Rocky began dreaming up Staff Retreat Co. a couple of years ago after a trip to Nashville. At that point, the Garzas were shooting between 30–40 weddings a year and Rocky had started doing some contract work for a branding group in LA. During the trip, Sara and Rocky met up with some wedding photographer friends they had known online for years who were about to leave for their yearly goal-setting weekend. After that meeting, Rocky couldn’t stop thinking about all the ways small business owners and freelancers would not only benefit from a weekend retreat, but desperately needed this kind of outlet.

“Within that next week, all I could think about was that every other job I’ve ever had, there’s some sort of evaluation, there’s a staff meeting or a staff retreat. And I was like, why don’t we have that? How come as an entrepreneur no one is doing that for you? Instead, we make this shit up as we go, and hope that we have it all figured out yet the reality is none of us know what we’re doing.”

Staff Retreat Co. 36-hour retreats currently meet at 100 West in Corsicana, TX.

In the past year, Rocky has lead 22 creatives through his 36-hour retreat and monthly coaching. He’s also started smaller, gender-specific group events called identity mapping which guide participants through a day of coaching to help them identify their strengths and values. I know many of the people Rocky has worked with personally. Most of them I see at least on a week to week basis at WELD. No matter who the person is or what they do, the positive impact of Rocky’s coaching is undeniable.

You might expect personal business coaching like this to be something highly-focused on results — on figuring out how to make more money and obtain more clients. Yet Rocky says at least 60 percent of the 36-hour retreat experience is personal. He works hard to make sure this time is as much experiential as it is quantitative because only an experience where people feel free to be honest will lead to results (seems pretty straightforward when you put it that way). Rocky currently holds most of his retreats in the small, quaint town of Corsicana, Texas. The time spent there means no cellphones, no internet — none of your day-to-day distractions.

“There’s no fluff. You walk into this great house, put your stuff down. Walk downstairs and smell breakfast cooking and I pour you a hot cup of coffee,” he says. “Most people have never experienced anything like this in their life — not because I’m awesome, but because I’m just asking you to do something that I think all people really want to do — we’re just too afraid to do it by ourselves.”

And what we all want to do, Rocky says, is to understand that we are unique. That no one else in the entire world is made in the same way as we are.

“People are more interested in figuring out themselves than they are about hiring the right client or making enough money,” he says.


WELDER Tyler Sharp surrounded by his Staff Retreat Co. identity mapping.

Rocky follows up the retreat experience with monthly coaching sessions. While these are more focused on the practicalities of running a small business or freelancing career, they are also a way to remind Staff Retreat members about who they are first.

This method of thinking is bound to create ripple effects, and Rocky is hopeful that when people are rooted in who they are individually, it naturally makes them better community members. We live in a culture where so much of a person’s value rests on their career as well as how they outwardly present themselves. We often are assigned a value based on what we do for a living, and so we in turn work hard to give others the best us possible. (And the same is true in reverse — next time you meet someone new, try to not assign them a mental ranking based on their job.)

Yet confidence in the work we are doing as a result of confidence in our unique characteristics and personalities means that ranking falls away along with any need to present to fulfill false perceptions of ourselves. We are free to wine and dine, to enjoy the company of those around us thankful they’re doing their own thing while we have ours. And maybe even more so, free to join forces and make each other better.

“If we’re in a place where our identity is based on our actual identity and not our profession, then when we get together, I know what my role is and you know what your role is. It’s not better, it’s not worse, says Rocky.

“We should all be able to sit around a table and have the exact same value.”

With or without Moscow Mules, you better believe I’d show up to that dinner party.

Find out more about Rocky and Staff Retreat here.