Lifestyle Design

Create a Legendary Portfolio


I studied illustration at Northern Illinois University. (Go Huskies!) I had some amazing teachers, but in that world, it really didn’t matter where I went to school or who I studied under.

What mattered was the portfolio.

In the art world, a portfolio is the curated collection of your absolute best work. The year after I graduated, I bought my first suit and drove up to the big city of Chicago to show my portfolio to art directors at various advertising agencies, with the hope of getting freelance work.

In less than a minute, these busy art directors would flip through my portfolio and pass judgement on what represented years of training and toil (and sometimes tears). The fantasy was that he’d be absolutely destroyed by the depth of my daring and weep tears of joy and jealousy at the level of my talent. He’d immediately call his art director friends and brag, “I’ve found him. I found…the one.”

Yeah…so that never happened. Instead, I heard things like, “Not bad, kid. We’ll call you if something comes up.”

Our lives our filled with days, and those days are filled with mostly ordinary moments. But you’re also creating a portfolio. Your greatest hits. The summary of why you were here.

What’s in your portfolio?

If someone took a few moments to flip through it, would they be blown away by your courage and curiosity and collection of unforgettable memories? Or would they say things like, “Meh” or “It’s fine” or “It kind of looks like everybody else.”

It’s easy to make safe work that looks like everybody else’s.

It’s easy to keep busy on things that make us feel productive but don’t really matter.

It’s easy to settle for making stuff we’re “supposed to” instead of creating the life we were made for.

An artist is someone busy building a legendary portfolio filled with laughter and adventures and extraordinary moments.

What’s in your portfolio?

How to Be a Millionaire


Who wants to be a millionaire?

Asking this to a group of adults is akin to asking a group of five-year-olds if they’d like to eat dessert first.

Sort of rhetorical.

Ever since I was a little kid, the idea of being a millionaire was very attractive. Richie Rich, Daddy Warbucks, and Bruce Wayne were all millionaires, and they had it made. Indeed, in our materialistic, consumer-driven culture, there seems to be a constant undercurrent that suggests if we could only figure out a way to become a millionaire — if we could just buy enough lottery tickets or put in enough time — life would be better and we’d be happier.

We are conditioned to think we never have enough. And so we spend a lot of time striving…but do we really ever stop to consider what all the striving is for?

Do you really need to have a million bucks to feel like a millionaire?

In thinking about the actual monetary value of the things that would make me feel like a millionaire, a list like this comes to mind:

  • The ability to order whatever I want off the menu without having to look at the price.
  • A kitchen table that always features a vase of fresh flowers.
  • Flying first class.
  • The freedom to homeschool my kids and go on adventures together.
  • Spending two weeks of every February in Florida with my family.
  • A hot tub where Kim and I can chat about our day and dream about our future.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. I’ve achieved some of these things, and am still looking forward to others. Here’s the thing: Were I to add up the total cost of everything on it, the sum would be far LESS than a million dollars.

In other words, I don’t need to BE a millionaire to FEEL like one.

What’s more is that if I were to include the things in my life that are truly priceless — my faith, my marriage, my friendships, and the good health of myself and my family — I feel embarrassingly rich.

Granted, you may have more expensive tastes than me, and would love to bathe in caviar every day. If so, I’m afraid this little exercise has been proven useless. But I’m willing to bet there are many people who need far less than a million dollars to live a life that makes them feel like a millionaire.

Maybe, just maybe, if we stopped to calculate how much money it would take for us to feel like a millionaire, we’d be shocked by how little it would be.

And then, instead of mindlessly striving for some unknown and unreachable ideal, we could spend our striving on something that mattered more.

Just my two cents.

The Best Thing About Art School


Drawing nude models in life drawing class and the fact that making a painting could be considered a final exam for a college course were memorable, but the thing I miss most about art school are the critiques.

Although “critique” might conjure up the idea of an agonizing session of scathing judgement, it really wasn’t. After a week or two of busily working on a given artwork, we’d all stop for a bit, and show our progress to the rest of the class. It was fun to see what everyone else had been working on, even it was a little nerve-wracking to share your own work. How would it measure up to everyone else? What would the teacher think? Would everyone hate it?

Ok, that does sound pretty terrifying.

But the reality is that because we all had to do it, a spirit of empathy prevailed, and we were usually much more compassionate toward the work of others than we were with our own. At least in my experience, there was always a general interest of helping each other get better.

In my illustration classes, statements like, “I think the focal point could be better defined,” or “the fingers on the left hand don’t look quite right,” or “the color seems to get a bit muddy on the side of her face” were not harsh criticisms but merely helpful comments designed to help take the piece to a higher level.

Critiques often had another purpose, especially in painting or drawing classes. You were required to talk about your work, specifically the concept behind it and you were expected to justify why you made the choices you made. I always found it to be a very meaningful exercise, even if I didn’t always agree with the commentary of my classmates or professors.

So here are some thoughts that might be worth pondering, particularly if you were to look at your life as a work of art:

1) You can’t make your painting better if you don’t step away from it once in a while and look at it from a new perspective.

2) We can believe that being asked a question is the same as being questioned. Or we can see it as an opportunity to share, to learn, and to get better.

3) If you had to explain your life, taking a stand for the choices you’ve been making that have gotten you to this point, would you be able to?

The Magic of Unscheduling


My dad used to build houses for a living. He believes that one of the reasons for the prevalence of mold these days is because homes are being built so air-tight and energy efficient, there’s no room for the house to “breathe.”

Our lives can be similar. They are often scheduled down to the minute, one day to the next, with no room to breathe. As a result, spontaneity is cut out and life gets stale and moldy.

As evidence of its sinister nature, Adultitis likes to cast spontaneity as the enemy, a disruptive force that wreaks havoc on our perfectly manicured plans. But in truth, spontaneity is the catalyst for magic in our lives. Spontaneity opens the door for wonder to walk through. It invites the Universe to surprise and delight us in ways we never could have predicted.

Indeed, our most treasured memories — the ones we reminisce about with loved ones — regularly come out of an unplanned moment of spontaneity:

The romantic indoor picnic by candlelight that time the power went out.

The impromptu Bon Jovi car dancing concert at the end of that long and tiring road trip.

The best milkshake you ever had at that offbeat diner you stopped at in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve never heard anyone say they have too much magic and wonder in their lives. But I’ve run across countless people – very productive ones I might add – who feel like their lives have turned stale.

Like travelers trying to stick one more pair of shoes into an already overflowing suitcase, we are ever on the lookout for the latest productivity hack that will enable us to squeeze one more action into our schedule. Our calendars runneth over with recitals, meetings, games, playdates, family obligations, and household errands. Even our vacations are scheduled, down to the minute.

Perhaps the productivity hack we are missing is actually scheduling time for spontaneity.

Can one schedule spontaneity? Isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron?

Well, we certainly can’t predict what will come from our moments, but we sure can schedule more space for them to happen. I like to think of it as “unscheduling.” Here are some tips that have worked for me:

  • One thing I cannot recommend highly enough is the commitment to practice a weekly Sabbath, no matter what your religious leanings may be. It totally changed our life and keeps us from going crazy.
  • When you plan out your day, don’t fill every minute. Create space for the unexpected phone call, friendly visitor, or the project that goes longer than expected.
  • And when it comes to vacations, fill even less. Sure, block out the big things, the landmarks and tourist attractions you’d like to see, but block out some space for the unexpected side roads or to merely just “be.”

Spontaneity builds relationships. It can breathe new life into stale ones.

Unschedule some time to go do something unexpected.

Beware the Flow


Here’s an interesting tidbit:

“The advent of the computer age promised shorter working hours and more time to play. As early as 1965, a US Senate subcommittee predicted that by the year 2000 employees would be working only 20 hours per week while enjoying up to seven weeks of vacation annually.” –Marion Elizabeth Witte, The No-Regrets Bucket List


We probably do get twice as much done in 20 hours today than we did in 40 hours in 1965. And it’s possible that 50 years from now, we will have figured out how to get just as much done as we do today in half the time.

The question is, will we finally give ourselves permission to not drive ourselves so hard? To devote more time to the people and causes we care about the most?

I think we all know the answer to that.

My friend John works in Chicago. He leaves his house before 6:00 in the morning so he can beat the worst of traffic. He told me that at that hour, if you’re not going 80 or 90 miles per hour, you’re liable to get run off the road. The police don’t stop anyone, because frankly, everyone’s doing it and they know that doing so is likely to make traffic even worse later.

90 miles an hour doesn’t feel that fast when everybody’s doing it. It feels normal, even.

Indeed, it’s always been and always will be easier and more convenient to just go with the flow. But that doesn’t mean the flow is the best place to reside.

In fact, the flow can take you in the opposite direction of where you really want to be.

Beware the flow.

You Are More Creative Than You Think


In one of his popular TED talks, Sir Ken Robinson reminds us that creativity is one of the primary qualities that distinguishes humans from animals.

This is an important point to consider. There are many animals who are extremely intelligent, but creativity is different. That’s why we don’t see any beavers building skyscrapers, chimpanzees baking banana bread, or foxes making recordings of themselves saying whatever it is they say.

If you are human, you are creative, whether or not you can paint pretty pictures or sing a show tune.

The choices we make every single day are creating the story of our lives.

Perhaps you feel like you haven’t had any say over your story, because of where you were born, who your parents were, where you grew up, or what school you went to.

Perhaps you would say that you didn’t create your story.

Maybe so, but you certainly can re-create it.

Just because your story is going in a certain direction doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

Steering your story in a different, more positive and exciting direction may be difficult, inconvenient, terrifying, lonely, overwhelming, or even all of the above.

But it most certainly is possible.

Worth it, too.

That Time I Slimed Adultitis


Yesterday morning, despite the fact that I had a full to-do list after having been out of the office for the first three days of the week, I decided to make slime with the kids.

Yep, slime.

They had been watching episodes of DIY Dad on YouTube, and the one on slime seemed especially fun, and not particularly hard. Out of the blue, I alerted my pajama-clad son that we were going on a secret mission: to get the supplies we needed to make slime!

He jumped off the couch and scurried into his car seat — still in his pajamas — and off we went to the grocery store. We picked up two bottles of Elmer’s glue, Borax, and some donuts for good measure. When we got home, my oldest was up, and after our sprinkle-covered sweet treats, we went about making some slime.

It was a blast.

I do not submit this story in order to enter myself as candidate for Dad of the Year. I share it as an example of how difficult it is to do things like this. I make a living encouraging people to toss aside the never-ending to-do list once in a while and spend time with the people they love, in the hope of helping people have as few “I wish I woulda’s” as possible.

People nod their heads, knowing how important it is. But it’s still hard.

I had a full slate of things to do, and only two days to do them before I was out of the office again. It was tempting to tell myself that we could make slime another day when I had more time. It would have been a lot easier (and less messy) to just stick with the plan.

But then I thought of the dear friend who saw one of her twin daughters through neuroblastoma when she was three. Now, twelve years later, this mother’s worst nightmare has come true as the sister has been diagnosed with the stage four version. The prognosis is not good.

And then I thought, “What the hell am I waiting for? A wake-up call like that?”

I wanted to make slime with my kids.

If not now, when?

I’m glad I did it. I don’t do stuff like this as often as I’d like to. It’s easy to want to be the parent who ditches some work for some spontaneous play with their kids, or the person who surprises her friend with tickets to an afternoon matinee at the movies. But it’s hard to actually ditch the guilt, ignore the shoulds, get off your butt, and just freaking DO it.

It’s easy to lie about doing it later. The danger is that eventually, later disappears.

Your last chance might be right now.

The Shocking Truth About Your So-Called Priorities


Do you ever struggle with balancing all of the priorities competing for your attention?

Yeah, me too. I’ve often felt like my life is the love child of the movies Mission Impossible and Groundhog Day.

Then I discovered this: The word “priority” first entered the English language in the 14th century. Notice the singular tense. It comes from the Medieval Latin word “prioritas,” which literally means “the condition of being first.” It was not until the 20th century that we went ahead and pluralized it, creating the word “priorities.”


Except for the fact that it’s impossible for there to be more than one “first.”

No wonder we get so frustrated when we try and juggle all of our “priorities.” There’s no such thing!

Before kids, my priority was my business. That is, it was the driver of most of the decisions in my life. Now my priority is my family.

But too often, I’d operated under the impression that both were my priority, which caused all kinds of trouble, because I felt like I was doing something wrong when they conflicted with one another. Turns out I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I was just trying to do something impossible.

Most people claim that their loved ones are their priority. But their actions don’t often reflect it. Not because they are liars, but because they are humans. With egos.

Maybe you’ll be able to relate to this quote as much as I did:

“Because of our proclivity to veer in the direction of things that stroke our ego, we tend to cheat at home. We give an inordinate amount of our time, energy, and passion to our work.”
–Andy Stanley, Choosing to Cheat

Makes sense to me.

You get awards at work. Special parking places. Better offices. Fancy titles. Respect from your peers. The feeling of accomplishment when you finish a task. Oh, and you get paid cash money.

In contrast, let’s take the job of parenting. It’s a job you do for free. There are no awards, fans, or fancy titles. It’s hard to tell if you’re doing a good job (and most of the time you feel like you aren’t).

My daughter Ginny recently went through a phase where she basically wanted nothing to do with me. She’d run away when I tried to pick her up. If I happened to catch her, she wriggled like mad to break free. If I tried to comfort her when she was crying, she cried harder. I’m not Mommy, ergo, I’m the devil.

Definitely not an ego boost.

My ego will take a line of people who clap after I speak and want my autograph, please.

Since I don’t want my ego to be the boss of me, I have to make a conscious decision about my priority.

Here’s the thing: saying something is a priority is easy, but entirely meaningless. The only indicator of your true priority is what you do, not what you say. When faced with a scenario in which you have to choose one thing over another — such as bringing work home to catch up on paperwork, versus spending the evening playing board games with your family — which one do you choose more often than not?

That’s your priority.

So when you feel like a crazy person trying to balance all of your “priorities,” cut yourself some slack. You are awesome, but you can’t do impossible things.

Instead, a better use of your attention is to make sure your intended priority and real actions are playing nice together.

Time for a Knock Knock Party


Last week, my daughter Lucy ran a pancake stand to raise money for Kindermusik. (Full recap here.) Although it caught one couple expecting to score some lemonade a bit off guard, everyone hailed it as a great idea and wonderful success. And it was, for many reasons, not the least of which were all the lessons Lucy learned in the process.

But another unexpected benefit was the opportunity to get to know many of our neighbors better, as well as meeting some for the first time.

Although I am always wary of waxing on about how much better the olden days were (I’m not that old yet!), it sure seems like neighborhoods were closer and more tight-knit a few generations ago than they are now. People are working longer. Kids are involved in more scheduled activities outside of the home. It often seems like the only thing we do in our homes anymore is sleep.

But Lucy’s Pancake Stand reminded me how important that neighborhood connection can be. And how bringing it back is not as hard as it might seem.

Food is always a big draw.

Helping your kids set up a lemonade (or pancake) stand is one idea. But you could also bake some cookies and share them with neighbors. Or invite them over for pizza. Bring a soft drink to someone who just finished cutting their grass. Or plan a Knock Knock Party.

A Knock Knock Party is a bit more involved, but it sounds pretty cool. It was shared with me by a lady I met after a recent speaking engagement. Tammy, who was a veteran of many such parties, explained them like this: A number of families would plan to rise VERY early in the morning and converge on the doorstep of an unsuspecting neighbor. After what I’d guess would be several knocks, the sleepy neighbor would open the door to behold a pajama-clad caravan of people, armed with eggs, bacon, and pancake mix, ready to whip up an epic breakfast for the surprised family. Any annoyance over the early wake up call would fall prey to the friendly banter, flurry of generosity, and aroma of frying bacon.

One thing is certain: Adultitis would not approve.

We spend a lot of time rushing around to pad our resumes, collect accomplishment, and accumulate things, but the older I get, the more I see that relationships are the best part of life. Connecting with others just makes life better.

Rekindling the richness of the neighborhoods of yesteryear is not that hard. Yes, it takes a while to build the relationships that make a Knock Knock Party possible. But you have to start somewhere.

I recommend pancakes.

Contrary to Popular Belief, You Are Not an Octopus


Today I’d like to talk about octopuses. Because it’s what we think we’re like when we multitask.

Yep, we imagine we’re like an octopus, one that’s holding a crayon with each arm, coloring eight different things simultaneously. Like a boss.

If only that were true.

If we are an octopus, we’re an octopus with only one arm, who colors one square inch of something, drops the crayon, picks up another, colors another square inch, drops that crayon, and on and on.

Research tells us that the human brain can only concentrate on one thing at a time. What we’re doing when we THINK we’re multitasking, is switching very quickly between two or more tasks. Which, studies also show, can temporarily reduce our IQ more than losing a night’s sleep or smoking marijuana.

Perhaps you already knew this. And yet we persist, all in the quest to get more done. Because life is happening so fast, it feels like we have to multitask just to keep up with everything.

Back in the day, it may have taken an entire hour for a woman to shell enough peas for her family’s dinner, while sitting on her rocking chair on the front porch. And yet she had time to soak in the smells of the lilac bush, engage in a meaningful conversation with a neighbor, and offer up some silent prayers for her friends and family.

Our ancestors could never dream about the technology we now take for granted. No question it makes us more productive. We can grab a can of peas from the pantry, pop the lid, and dump them into a bowl, in less time than it takes to say “Little House on The Prairie.”

The question is, what are we doing with all the extra time? More times than not, we are less like the old woman on the porch, and more like the headless chicken running around that her husband just drafted for dinner.

I am inspired by the idea of “slow parenting,” which I first heard about in an article from the Boston Globe by Jaci Conry.

“Loosely, slow parenting means no more rushing around physically and metaphorically, no more racing kids from soccer to violin to art class. Slow parenting cherishes quality over quantity, being in the moment, and making meaningful connections with your family.”

In the article, clinical psychologist John Duffy suggests that “parents just take time to watch their children, whether they are playing, doing homework, or eating a snack. Take a moment to drink them in. Remember and remind yourself how remarkable your children are. That pause alone, even if momentary, can drive a shift in the pace.”

I know I don’t do that nearly enough, but I am going to be doing it more. In fact, I think it’s a great recipe for more than just parenting. Perhaps there should be slow friendshipping, slow spousing, slow managing, and slow working as well.

We all want our lives to feel less fast. But there is no magic iPhone app or productivity hack that will magically make it so. No, the power to slow down is ours alone. We have to make a choice.

Quit pretending to be an octopus.

Turn your phone off during dinner. (Don’t just put in your purse or pocket.)

Dedicate 15 minutes a day to pray, meditate, or practice yoga.

Spend some time on the floor with your kid just doing what they want to do.

Actually use your vacation days, instead of saving them up for cash.

Or, buy some fresh peapods, and spend an hour shelling them on your front porch.

Do You Need to Be a Workaholic to Be Great?


Is it possible to be great and well-balanced at the same time?

By great, I mean championship quality. Among the best in the world.

And by well-balanced, I don’t mean that you’re never stressed, or are able to fit everything in, and be all things to all people. What I mean is that you don’t have to be singularly focused on being great.

People like Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) and James Cameron (director of Titanic and Avatar) are undeniably great. But if you dig into their stories, they certainly weren’t balanced. Neither would ever be considered for a “Father of the Year” award. Cameron has been quoted as saying, “Anybody can be a father or husband. There are only five people in the world who can do what I do, and I’m going for that.”

I want to be a great artist, author, and speaker. But I don’t want to sacrifice everything else to achieve it. Kim and I decided a few years ago that if we ended up impacted millions of people in a positive way, but our kids turned out to be a-holes (or grow up to regard us as a-holes), we failed.

So many examples seem to indicate that in order to be among the best in the world at what you do, balance has to be thrown out the window.

And so I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my commitment to my family would likely limit the impact I’d make on the world.

Then I read a Sports Illustrated article about Steve Kerr, the head coach of the recently-crowned NBA champion Golden State Warriors. I’m a Bulls fan, and have fond memories of Steve’s playing days in Chicago, so I was happy to see him win. The story gave me hope that perhaps greatness and balance were not mutually exclusive. An excerpt:

He is in a profession that does not normally lend itself to perspective, or balance. The sketch of the modern coach borders on caricature: watching Synergy cutups until his eyes bleed, writing notes until his fingers ache, falling asleep on the office floor and wearing the same tracksuit the next day.

Kerr hikes Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in Oakland. He surfs Pipes Beach in San Diego. He grills carne asada for his daughter, Maddy, and her volleyball teammates at Cal. For a week every summer he flies to a buddy’s ranch in Baja California and stays in cheap motels near Scorpion Bay. Or he throws up a tent on the sand. “What’s your ZFL level?” you can ask him, and he’ll reply with a smile, “Pretty high.” ZFL is one of his pet acronyms: Zest For Life.

After games, even losses, he doesn’t dive immediately into video on the plane. He cracks open a book, or plays Scrabble on his computer, while slow slipping a Modelo Especial. Only then does he queue up the video. Don’t get it wrong. None of this means he cares any less than his Belichickian brethren. He once broke a racket over his head during a tennis match. He practiced scribbling last summer so he could jot sets faster at timeouts. He drew 8 technical fouls this season despite losing just 15 games.

Kerr needs his books, his Counting Crows songs, his driving range swings at Tilden Park Golf Course to shield himself from the same competitive grease fire that consumes them all.

I love that: “to shield himself from the same competitive grease fire that consumes them all.”

Kerr is a direct contrast to Tom Thibodeau, former head coach of the Bulls. Thibodeau is well-known for having absolutely no life outside of basketball. He drives his players hard and himself harder, often sleeping in his office to watch game film. He is widely regarded as a great coach, but I wonder if his lack of balance actually hinders him from greater success.

It seems almost heretical to consider, but I’m beginning to wonder if Steve Jobs would have been even more successful had he paid a little bit more attention to things outside of Apple. Indeed, studies show that at a certain point, working more hours is a waste of time, based on the loss of productivity.

Look, I don’t really know any of these people. But I do know that we often worship the accomplishments of the super successful, while conveniently ignoring the trail of health problems and broken relationships left in their wake.

I have struggled to find examples of people who have achieved true greatness and maintained a true sense of balance. I used to think it was because they didn’t exist.

The success and story of Steve Kerr gives me hope.

Answering the What-Ifs


I met an engineer who liked her job, but didn’t LOVE it. She really wanted to be a graphic designer but was worried that if she tried pursuing it as a profession, it would take all the fun out of it. For now, it was a creative outlet that she enjoyed, and she didn’t want to risk losing that.

It was a perfectly legitimate concern that paralyzed her from taking action for no good reason.

This is an ideal example of the benefits of what I call tinkering. Rather than maintain an “all-or-nothing” mindset, where we demand knowing how it will all work out before we take a single step, just tinker.

In this case, the woman could do a call out to her network, letting them know she was open for helping out with any small design projects people might need help with, from a logo for a small business to a flyer, to promote the school bake sale. If she likes it, and it’s still fun, she can do more. Maybe it will grow into a full-fledged business someday. If she doesn’t enjoy it, she can stop, and keep her creative endeavors personal. And then at least she will know for sure.

Don’t let something you don’t know paralyze you from exploring opportunities to make your story even better.

Bankruptcy vs. Bullets: Putting Fear in Perspective


Back in the 1940s and 50s, after the second World War, one of the greatest periods of economic prosperity began. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the most overlooked is that the people coming home from the war were not afraid to take financial risks in order to pursue their dreams.

It would appear that the fear of financial ruin was nothing compared to bullets whizzing past your head.

The soldiers saw firsthand just how short life really can be. Coming home alive was a gift, and they were not going to squander one minute of it.

I’m afraid we’ve become sheltered. Accustomed to our steady paycheck, cable TV, and $5 coffees, it’s easier than ever to settle for security and good enough while hiding behind the guise of being financially responsible.

Don’t get me wrong. The thought of filing bankruptcy is scary, and Kim and I have come perilously close a few times. But I’ll take that over being shot at any day.

I think there might be one thing scarier, though, and it’s the prospect of getting to the end of my life and realizing I missed out on the adventure of a lifetime because I was afraid of things that weren’t as scary as I made them out to be.

I recently met a woman who worked in HR. After hearing a bit of what I do for a living, she admitted that she’d always wanted to launch out on her own as a consultant. Based on the conversation we had, I could tell she’d be a good one. “If I didn’t have bills to pay…” she began. “Maybe once we get my daughter through college…”

I offered the idea that she could begin tinkering by starting a blog sharing her expertise and begin moonlighting as a consultant on the side. Perhaps by the time her daughter finished school, she’d be ready to really fly.

I’m not sure if she’ll take those first steps, but I hope she does.

We can try and convince ourselves that the timing’s not right (hint: it never will be) and that we have plenty of time to launch our big dream.

Soldiers returning from war know differently.

One Thing The Best Stories Have in Common


I recently read about a Silicon Valley executive with a unique life balance arrangement. His wife and three young kids live several states away. He spends his weekdays in California, working at the office and sleeping at a hotel. He flies home every weekend, which is 100% reserved for family time, and squeezes in as many experiences as possible before heading back to the office on Monday morning.

I am embarrassed to say that my first reaction was to grab a saddle, mount my high horse, and conjure up every inherent disadvantage this scenario contained, and why it was clearly less than ideal for anyone.

But then my mighty steed bucked me right off into a mud puddle, which caused me to appreciate the fact that at least this guy and his family (who was included in the original discussion and ongoing re-evaluations) were being intentional about their life.

Seriously, this guy deserves a party just for putting thought into it. Most people don’t. At all. They absentmindedly go through life like a kayaker floating along without a paddle, letting the current of life take them wherever it pleases, only to complain about where they end up.

Heaven knows that the life Kim and I have designed is nowhere near the norm. I have no delusions that it would work for everyone, but it works for us, right now, and that’s what matters.

There are many right ways to live a great story. In fact, the best ones are unlike any other. The important thing is owning the fact that the author is you.

For best results, don’t try to write someone else’s story for them, and under no circumstance should you allow anyone else to write your story for you.

I don’t care how high their horse is.

The Future is Here (Minus the Aliens)

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I was born in 1976, the same year this interview of Arthur C. Clarke happened. He describes in great detail the gadgets we are using today.

The dude even pretty much nails the Apple Watch, which isn’t even officially out yet!

Considering I was a newborn when he made these predictions, I would not have understood any of it. But even if I’d watched it for the first time in 1983, when I was seven, I still would have been amazed by the future he so accurately predicted. It would have seemed like a far-fetched fairy tale. Keep in mind, the Atari 2600 would be released a year AFTER this interview, and we were still four years away from Pac Man.

And yet here we are.

The freedom to craft an amazing story has never been greater. It’s exciting to think about what will be possible forty years from now. But the real question is this:

What are you doing with the tools and opportunity we now enjoy, much of which seemed practically unfathomable just four decades ago?

More than binge-watching Netflix, tweeting about celebrities, and sharing silly cat videos, I hope.

Where’s Your Secret Hideout?


Superman has his Fortress of Solitude. Batman has the Batcave. For my wife, it’s the bathtub. My dad’s is his workshop. Mine is my studio. Or Barnes & Noble. Yours might look like a nature preserve, a scrapbooking nook, or a fishing boat.

I’m talking about secret hideouts.

A secret hideout is a place you go to recharge, reflect, or just disappear for a little bit. It’s where you can refill your Kool-Aid. Wonder. Dream. Decompress.

Everyone needs a secret hideout. Especially if you want to do super things. Like be a great parent, spouse, friend, or you know, change the world.

So, where is YOUR secret hideout? What is the place for you where time flies AND stands still at the same time? Where you feel a little bit more YOU after spending any amount of time there?

Maintaining any semblance of life balance is a challenging, never-ending pursuit. But one very straightforward way to keep Adultitis at bay is to spend a little time in your secret hideout each week (if not each day.)

Consider yourself warned, however: Adultitis would love for you to believe that spending time in your secret hideout is an indulgence, making you feel selfish or guilty.

It’s not. It’s a necessity.

Superman is literally freaking Superman, and even he can’t fight crime every second of the day. Even Superman needs time to recharge. Forgive my bluntness, but you’re no Superman. (Neither am I.)

Where’s YOUR secret hideout? When was the last time you spent some quality time there?



Every time I say no, I actually mean yes.

(What, am I the two-headed monster from Sesame Street?)

I know it’s confusing, but hear me out. It looks like this…

“No. I can’t connect for a long-overdue playdate on Friday morning,” actually means…

“Yes. I will take the morning to clean since we have people coming over on Saturday. If I can clean during the day on Friday, then I won’t have to stay up late on Friday night cleaning after the kids go to bed, and I’ll be able to be well-rested for our visitors which will help me enjoy the time more. I’ll also get quality time with Jason after the kids go to bed, which is rejuvenating and fills up my cup.”

“No. I will not add more work hours to my week, even though I feel like it would be helpful since my inbox is constantly overflowing,” actually means…

“Yes. I will make the commitment to put the kids first and be their primary caregiver each morning and two full days during the week, which allows me to find a healthy balance between the chores, ‘ourschooling,’ and the everyday management of the house, bills, etc., so that we can preserve our treasured Sabbath each week for rest and refueling.”

“No. I will not host a big extended family birthday party for my kids, even though there is social pressure to do so,” actually means…

“Yes. I will reallocate the money and energy we would spend on a big party to make each of their birthdays special by taking advantage of the freedom we have (as a homeschooling and self-employed family) to dedicate each of their actual special days to create amazing memories as a family of five.”

No is not negative (Sorry English teachers everywhere!).

No means…Yes.

Instead of feeling guilty about your no’s…

Instead of feeling resentful about what you can’t do…

Instead of feeling judged by your decisions…

Own your No.

It’s really a Yes.

You Have Two Jobs This Time of Year


Wow, it has been an amazing year. It was my thirty-ninth year of life, and my daughter Virginia’s first. I signed a book deal with a major New York publisher and earned my CSP designation. This summer’s Escape Adulthood Summit was the best one yet. We launched Escape Lab. And I got to take my oldest daughter Lucy on a business trip to San Diego, which turned out to be more fun than business.

I believe we have two important jobs this time of year.

The first is to look back at the year that was and recall the good parts. It’s easy to remember the challenges, the heartaches, and the things that didn’t work out. Every year has plenty of those. Meanwhile, it’s easy to forget the good stuff that happened, so it’s important to call those things to mind, in gratitude for the blessings that came our way, and to pat ourselves on the back for the little things we did to make our story better. You’re not ignoring the dark moments when you choose to remember and dwell on the bright ones.

The second job is to decide to make next year the best year ever. And the deciding part is the most important part. There are many things we can’t control. But there is an awful lot we can. One of the biggest tragedies is when people see life as something that happens to them. The amazingness of your story depends on one thing: YOU. And you only get one shot, so make it count.

Remember that amazing things can come from small steps.

This year definitely took the title as the one where we felt the most support and enthusiasm from the people who are part of this Adultitis-fighting revolution. Thank you for reading these messages, and for your kindness, your childlike spirit, and your willingness to journey with us on this adventure. I am deeply grateful.

We have big things planned for 2015. I hope you do, too. Let’s make a pact that come this time next year, we’ll both be celebrating that it was our best year yet.


What was your best part of 2014?

One Year to Live


If you only had a year to live, how would you spend it?

It’s a paradoxal cliche that we hear an awful lot, but don’t spend nearly the same amount of time thoughtfully considering.

I stumbled across a story shared by Chris Guillebeau about an artist named Robert Genn who developed pancreatic cancer and was told he had about a year to live. Here’s what he decided to do:

They considered how to spend the time they had left together. There were thoughts of trips to Hawaii or the Galapagos, but Genn wanted to end his life as he had lived it: in his studio, making art, with his family close by. James fashioned a reclining chair so his father could continue to paint, lying down, as his illness took a physical toll. “He made it is his mission to go as long and as far as he could with a paintbrush in his hand, and he was painting small canvases right up until the last few weeks,” James said.

“There’s a thing in the culture that says, if you’re given a year to live, what would you do differently? My dad did the exact same thing in the last year of his life as he had been doing for the first 77 years,” Sara said.

I found that incredibly inspiring, and a shining example of a life well-lived.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I received form letters rejecting Kim & Jason for syndication. And it feels like it was just yesterday when we were surviving on a grocery budget of $100 a month, or when we’d go to bed wondering if tomorrow would finally be the day our bank account would run dry.

There were many reasons we persisted though this desert time, but one I’d never formally put into words became evident when I read this article.

I want to design my life in such a way that if I found out I only had twelve months to live, I wouldn’t have to change a thing.

Of course, this sort of life doesn’t come about by magic. It requires the sacrifice to do whatever’s necessary and the persistence to never give up. It requires the bravery to break the rules that stand in your way.

But first, it requires the time and the mindfulness to truly consider what kind of story you want to live.

I am not a natural born rule breaker


Remember senior pictures? After reading my post about princes dresses, a reader told me that her niece got some neat ones of her in her prom dress. In a lake. The settling sun glistened off the water as the skirt of her dress floated around her.

The first thing I thought of was how cool that sounded. My next thought was about how I never would have had the courage to do something like that in high school. (Although once I got to college, I did go to one of Kim’s high school dances dressed as The Crow, so that’s something.)

I suspect that many people would presume that the guy writing a book about the rules that don’t exist would be a natural-born rule breaker.

But I’m not. When I was growing up, I did what my teachers told me. I colored inside the lines. I followed the rules. The main reason I got good grades was because I had a good short term memory and I was good at following instructions, which frankly, is pretty much all it takes. I was terrified of standing out or disappointing superiors.

I never tried smoking. I never got a tattoo. I never got sent to the principal’s office or burned anything down. I did try and convince my mom to let me get lines shaved into the side of my head, but she wouldn’t have it. Don’t get me wrong, I was not a perfect kid. I exhibited more than my fair share of jerkiness during my high school years, to which my parents will happily attest.

What I am saying is that although there are certainly those people who emerge from the womb as non-conformist hell raisers, I was not one of them. And although they inspire me sometimes, there is not much I’m able to learn from them.

Most of us are not natural born rebels. But in order to create an awesome story, you have to get reasonably good at breaking rules.



I like to call it tinkering.

You don’t have to be a natural born rule breaker. You don’t have to be brave every single second of the day. And you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to try little things here and there, letting go of the outcome.

Sometimes I’m too tired or lazy or afraid to break a rule that doesn’t exist.

But the slow progress of seeing my comfort zone grow by practicing being just brave enough is kind of addicting. The more you do it, the better you get. You begin seeing the benefits and feeling the freedom that comes from unshackling yourself from Adultitis, one rusty link at a time. And you want more.

But although it gets easier, it’s never easy.

Then again, living a great story never is.

How to Increase Your Odds of Saying Today Was a Good Day


The other day was really good. Nothing earth-shattering occurred, but it ended up just being really wonderful. After a decent night’s sleep, I made a breakfast of eggs, sausage and cinnamon rolls. Then we all headed to the local Apple Store to see if the wifi on my phone was broken. It was, and out of warranty, to boot. (Not great.) We decided to upgrade and order new phones (Super great!) After chowing down on that new bacon stuffed crust pizza at Pizza Hut, we drove home and Kim and I enjoyed some peace and quiet in the yard while the kids napped. Afterwards, we took advantage of the wind and did some kite flying. Then I threw some pork chops on the grill for dinner. After a quiet evening reading books to the kids, Kim and I watched an episode of The Blacklist after the kids went down.

ice-cube-diaperAs my head hit the pillow that night, I could almost hear Ice Cube singing, “Today was a good day.”

It got me thinking about good days, and how groundbreaking things don’t necessarily have to happen for a day to be labeled as good. It got me wondering if there was a way to increase the regularity of good days in one’s life, which reminded me of an article by Noah Kagan, called Hacking Your Best Day Ever.

The premise is to keep track of the things that make the good days good, and then intentionally build them into your everyday.

If you have a great day, keep track of things that made it great. Or at least spend a little time at the end of each day thinking about your favorite part. Over time, you’ll start to see some patterns.

Here are some of my favorite things:

  • Enjoying a big, leisurely breakfast.
  • Being out in nature.
  • Quiet time in prayer.
  • Playing with the kids.
  • Big chunk of uninterrupted time to work on art.
  • Engaging conversation with Kim.

Once you know what these things are, you are able to intentionally inject them into your day. There are no guarantees, but it does make the odds of having a good day drastically tilt in your favor.

And that’s a game worth playing.

What are some of YOUR ingredients for a good day?

Is It Your Job to Follow the Rules?


The animated movie The Croods tells the story of Grug, the stubborn patriarch of a family of cave people. He has protected his brood in the harsh world in which they live by carefully concocting a series of rules that limit their risks of being eaten. But when circumstances force the family out of their home an into a completely new environment, the rules are thrown into question and Grug struggles to adapt.

This is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, an interchange between Grug and his rebellion teenage daughter, Eep:

Grug: It’s my job to worry. It’s my job to follow the rules.

Eep: The rules don’t work out here.

Grug: They kept us alive!

Eep: That wasn’t living! That was just not dying. There’s a difference.

It’s a jungle out there. Following the rules is a great way to fit in and avoid being questioned, laughed at, or scorned.

But it’s not a particularly effective way of living an amazing story.

Why You Should Be a Hoarder


I’ve known since the day Lucy was born that I was going to cry on her wedding day. (An ugly cry, too.) I’d rather cry in gratitude over all the cool memories we created than in regret over the things I missed out on.

Recently, Kim and I enjoyed a nice campfire chat with my family about what’s “next” for everyone. Discussion covered things like new homes, new renovations, and new additions to the family. At one point, we were asked, “So when are you guys getting your next house?”

We were taken a bit off guard by the question. Was something wrong with our current house? We mumbled something about debt we had to pay off first. Although that was true, it wasn’t the whole truth.

On our list of priorities, buying a bigger house or acquiring more stuff really isn’t that high. Yes, we would eventually like to own a beautiful home on a lake with a wraparound porch and a big stone fireplace. But our main priority is to stockpile memories. Rather than fill our home with stuff, we’d rather fill our life with adventures.

It seems that everyone hoards something. Some people hoard stuff. Some people hoard money.

We are memory hoarders. [Read more…]

Is Struggle a Sign That You’re Doing Life Wrong?

hang-in-thereSometimes I look at my kids and see beauty. I marvel at the sparkle in their eyes and the sweetness of their smiles. I am overwhelmed by gratitude and joy, awestruck by how amazing they are and humbled to be entrusted with their wellbeing.

Other times I seriously consider the ramifications of dropping them off at the mall and driving to Miami, never to return. I have lamented the fact that were I to launch myself through a window of my home, none of them are far enough from the ground to cause fatal damage. More times than not, I am flabbergasted by how frustrating parenting can be.

I worry that word will get out that I struggle with Adultitis just like everyone else. That my life is not a Pinterest board come to life. That living in our house is nothing like living in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

I wonder what I’m doing wrong.

I suppose the reason I think I’m doing anything wrong at all is because I live in a society that preaches comfort and convenience. We are an impatient lot, what with the answer to seemingly every problem a click away. To struggle is to sin if you’ve got an easy solution available for just $49.99.

We’ve been sold on the idea that life should be easy, and if it’s not, we’re doing it wrong.

What a crock.

You know what’s easy? Doing what everyone else is doing. Giving up at the first sign of adversity. Abandoning a marriage instead of doing the messy work of making it better. Drinking or flushing our problems away when the consequences of our actions become too hard. Abdicating our parenting responsibilities to someone else. Living by rules that don’t exist.

Know what’s hard? Being intentional about every choice you make. Asking tough questions. Saying no to good things so you can say yes to better things, even if that means disappointing people. Staying in the moment with the people you love. Not rushing off to chase the next big thing. Being persistent after the first, second, and seventy-seventh failure. Breaking the rules that don’t exist.

It’s not a bad thing to strive to improve our circumstances in life, but it’s in the struggle where we grow. It’s a sign that we’re alive, actively engaged in our story.

Doing parenting (and life, for that matter) wrong is as easy as it gets.

Doing it right just might be the hardest job on the face of the earth.

Taking the easy route is by far the most comfortable. It also leads to a story that really sucks. And the worst part is that you often don’t realize it until the end credits start to roll.

No one’s life is as good as the one they curate on Facebook. No one spends all their free time doing all the cool stuff they see on Pinterest. No one has it all figured out.

But the ones who are living amazing stories are the ones who are brave enough to persist through the struggle. To practice being more patient and intentional and brave and fun and loving, even when they just failed at all five in the last seven minutes.

Be the one who refuses to settle for the safe and easy life. Living a great story is hard as hell.

And worth every bit of the effort.

Become an Adultitis Fighter!

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