Lifestyle Design

Contrary to Popular Belief, You Are Not an Octopus

octopus-with-crayons

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?

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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

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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

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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

different-is-cool

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?

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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?

No

no-yes-sign

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

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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.

Cheers!

What was your best part of 2014?

One Year to Live

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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

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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.

How?

Practice.

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

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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?

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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

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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.

The Most Important Thing To Remember About Your Story

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Many people come up to me after my speaking programs and say, “I wish I would’ve heard you when my kids were young.” There is sadness and regret over what are perceived as missed opportunities and memories lost.

I get it. One of the reasons I do what I do is to make sure people have as few “if onlys” as possible. But you can’t sail to the bright future in front of you when you’re anchored to the “if onlys” of the past.

I’ve seen movies that start slow, barely holding my attention. There’s not a lot going on. It’s unremarkable. But sometimes there is a spark, a turning point that takes place that catapults the story into a thrilling new direction. Suddenly I’m completely engaged, drawn into the story and excited to see how it ends.

Life can be like that. We get caught up in the river of rules and expectations set forth by others and the current pulls us in a predictable direction. It’s safe and plain and comfortable, with nothing too exciting going on.

But sometimes there is a spark, a moment that jolts us into a new way of thinking and an opportunity for a fresh start.

We all have backstories. Dark times, skeletons in our closet, or even just the regretful ache of time wasted. If we could go back in time, I’m sure everyone would have at least something they’d like to do differently. Until we can figure out how to really bend time with Delorians going 88 miles per hour, that is a pipe dream. Feel sad, sure, but use that sadness to fuel a change. See that spark as the gift that it is: an opportunity — and an obligation! — to do better right now.

Despite the missteps or missed opportunities you’ve experienced, know this: the credits have not yet rolled. You are not finished.

You can’t change the beginning of your story, but you can change the ending.

If you are still breathing, there is still story to be told.

20 Tiny Ways to Make Life More Amazing

tinker-book Our lives are stories. Sometimes living a better story requires making a big, hairy, scary change. Like moving across the country or taking a huge pay cut to do what you love. But most of the time we just need to be open to the art of tinkering.

I am super excited to announce a fun side project I’d been working on for an exciting new company called Snippet. They are doing some cool things in the publishing arena and have built a platform with tools that encourage writers to engage and delight their readers with a beautiful, connected experience.

The first of what I hope will be many collaborations with them is a Snippet about tinkering. It features 20 simple ideas – small experiments, if you will – that will get you thinking in new ways and get your story moving in exciting new directions. It also contains lots of interactive “discoverables” like video, photo slideshows and conversations on social media.

I love how it turned out; it’s super cool. And it’s only $1.99.

If you’re serious about improving your story, you should get serious about tinkering. Download it here.

What I Did Instead of Painting My Deck

chalk-deck

This is what my deck looks like right now. This is the worst of it, but there’s little bits of chipped paint everywhere. I was hoping to touch it all up before our Annual Summer Framily Cookout.

Which is today.

I’m pretty particular about keeping things tidy and taking care of my stuff, and it really bothers me that it’s not done. Alas, it’s been a busy week, and there were too many other things of higher priority. I could have snuck it in last night, but that would have meant not being able to go to the park with my kids on such a beautiful day. I figured that was more important than what other people might think about my deck.

We are all faced with choices like this every day. Sometimes a clean house, a fixed squeak, or a small home improvement goes a long way towards one’s sanity. Sometimes it’s a trap Adultitis uses to keep us distracted and focused on the wrong things.

I don’t always make the right choice, but on this day at least, I think I did.

Plus then I had time to make this:

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Have You Undergone a Freedomectomy?

freedom

I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier recently. It’s a great movie, even if you aren’t a superhero nerd, like me. The most chilling aspect for me was a scene in which one of the bad guys talked how history had taught them that people will not allow their freedom to be taken by force. They will rise up and resist. However, those same people will gladly give up their freedom in exchange for security. They passively allow themselves to be searched, monitored, and recorded so that they will be protected from danger. Of course, the people doing the searching, monitoring and recording end up having total control.

Just a movie, I know, but it hits a little close to home.

Lots of people willingly undergo a freedomectomy in exchange for the security of a guaranteed paycheck and health benefits, or the feeling that they are safe from the bad guys. They give up years of their life to be trained for jobs in industries that may not exist by the time they graduate. They give up slivers of privacy and freedom of choice in exchange for the flowery promises of government programs.

I love that Captain America places such a high value on freedom, which is what this country was built on. It’s one of the most important values in my whole life. Here are some of the freedoms I hold most dear.

  • Freedom to work with my best friend.
  • Freedom from corporate bureaucracy. (And meetings!)
  • Freedom from a schedule set forth by school boards.
  • Freedom from a commute.
  • Freedom to spend most of my time doing what I love.
  • Freedom to be my own boss and set my own hours.
  • Freedom to work in my pajamas.
  • Freedom to make Monday and Tuesday my weekend if I want to.
  • Freedom to fail. (A gift that not many parents give their kids, by the way.)
  • Freedom to benefit fully from the fruits of my success.

As Captain America would tell you, freedom does not come easily. Some of the freedoms listed above were achieved by many years of hard work and sacrifice. Others came from making tough decisions to go against the grain, breaking a few rules that don’t exist, and being willing to fail (and look stupid in doing so).

The freedoms above fall under the umbrella of my most treasured freedom, which is the opportunity to write my own story. Obviously, the way you choose to write you story may look way different than mine, and that’s cool.

The important thing is being mindful of living the story YOU want to live.

We all have choices (and usually more than we think). Every choice — where you live, where you work, what you eat, who you hang out with, how you react to difficult situations, how you spend your money or even your Friday nights — contributes to your story. Following the crowd, or doing the things you feel like you “should” do or are “supposed” to do, are often the equivalent of giving up your freedom in exchange for security. Sometimes we feel more secure being in a boat with everyone else rather than being on an island by ourselves, even if that boat happens to be sinking.

The problem is that with each freedom you surrender, your story sucks a little bit more.

The freedom to write your own story is an amazing gift. Are you fighting for it? More importantly, are you using it?

12 Big Ideas About Homeschooling from Penelope Trunk

natural-learners

By some standards, Kim and I are at the beginning stages of homeschooling. On the other hand, if you subscribe to the belief that homeschooling begins at birth, then we’ve been at it for over five years. Either way, we are still in the stage of learning as much about it as we can. There are so many different styles of homeschooling, so many misconceptions about it, so much philosophy of how human beings actually learn, and so much history that led us to the educational system we have today.

It’s endlessly fascinating to us both. We regularly find ourselves deep down rabbit holes, voraciously exploring books and blogs on the subject and excitedly emailing each other links to gems we’ve uncovered. At times it feels a bit obsessive, but when I pause to remember that this is all about our kids’ education and future, I wonder why this kind of “obsessiveness” is not actually the norm.

Amidst all of the digging, some personal beliefs have grown more ironclad, while other times I’ve been surprised to find myself doing a complete about-face on some opinions I held pretty strongly just six months ago.

penelope-trunkOne of my latest rabbit holes has been Penelope Trunk’s blog on education. Kim and I interviewed her several years ago on how to avoid being overworked. We knew she was an expert at giving out career advice, but had missed the fact that she pulled her kids out of school to homeschool them.

What I love about Penelope is her deep vulnerability and ruthless honesty. She is not afraid to say things other people won’t. That’s how I’d like to be. I don’t agree with her on everything (if I did that would be kind of creepy), but I love how her writing affirms some of our decisions but also challenges me to question what I believe. Plus, she links to a lot of great research, creating even more rabbit holes to explore!

Below I’ve included links to some of my favorite posts of hers, with pull quotes from each that either challenged me, surprised me, or had me standing up and shouting, “Amen, sister!”

To be honest, I debated a bit about posting some of these, for fear that people will think I’m trying to “covert” them. Believe me, I don’t have the energy for such a crusade, and I have learned in my adventures as a professional speaker that it’s pretty impossible to change anybody else but myself anyway. But I do believe that sharing interesting stuff is a gift. Like Penelope’s writing does for me, it can either affirm what you already believe or challenge you to see things from a new perspective. Either way, it’s a gift.

So without further ado, here’s Penelope…

4 Reasons you don’t need to be a teacher to homeschool
“Education reformers widely agree that self-directed learning is best for kids. Teachers cannot do self-directed learning in a classroom. We can’t afford that in this country. We’d have to have a single teacher for every four students. Which means that teachers can’t facilitate self-directed learning.”

Mainstream media is delusional about homeschooling
“Only 38% of all homeschoolers choose it for religious reasons. (And this includes the Lutherans, Hindus, Jews, etc.) But the majority are middle class parents just trying to get their kids out of a broken system.

Most parents will not be good teachers. But the reality is that kids don’t need their parents to be teachers. Kids need their parents to be parents. And kids are born as natural learners. They don’t need a teacher to make them a learner.

So the way homeschooling works is that kids are home, learning, and parents are there for support. Kids need tools, or suggestions for how to get what they need, and parents are there to do that. Self-directed learning requires an adult to be very present, but not very intrusive. It’s why self-directed learning works great at home, and is nearly impossible at school.” [Read more…]

What If Money Were No Object?

“Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.” –Alan Watts

It’s overly simplistic to say that all you need to do to be successful is to “follow your passion.” It’s and important factor, but not the only one.

However.

Money is a powerful force. Our view of it and need for it impacts our decision making in many — often subconscious — ways. One good way to make sure you’re on track for living a great story is to ask yourself, “What would you be doing if money were no object?”

How would you spend your time? What would be the first thing you did each day? What would be the last thing?

If your story seems to be stalled in neutral, sometimes taking money out of the equation can be a great way to get yourself in gear.

Life Is Bandwidth

Art by Hugh MacLeod

Art by Hugh MacLeod

From Hugh:

There are only so many hours in the day. There’s only so much one tiny, 3-pound collection of human neurons can handle. There’s only so much outside world you can afford to cram down your pipes. So don’t overload your system. Choose carefully.

It’s only after you stop trying to do everything, that you really start getting anything done. Exactly.

Life balance is a really tricky concept, because everybody seems to have a different definition of what it means. I do know one thing: you might be able have anything you want, but you certainly can’t have everything you want.

If a great life balance is achievable, it’s only by making great choices.

Virginia’s Birth Story

virginia-rose-blog

Jason and I are officially outnumbered! It has been a wonderful blessing getting to know our little Ginny Rose these last three months. I’d be lying if I said it’s been all rainbows and lollipops. Sleep deprivation combined with the winter blues is a bad combination. I’ll admit to having Googled at one point, “How do you know if your baby has colic?” The biggest disadvantage little Ginny had coming into this family is that she followed Ben, who was officially declared “The Most Chill Baby of 2012.” Seriously though, Jason and I agree that he probably cried a total of an hour during his first year of life. Ginny is more “normal,” I believe.

ginny-lucy

The biggest joys come from watching Lucy and Ben eat her up with love and affection. Lucy’s prayers of having a little sister were answered and she is 110% smitten. Ben took a little longer to warm up. He thought she was nice, but she did bump him into middle child status. Needless to say, “DaddyBen” was a real person the first month after Ginny’s arrival. Ben did not leave his father’s lap for the entire month! Poor Jason was dealing with a postpartum wife (with a cold), a newborn, AND a two-year-old who would not leave his side. I have an AWESOME husband who is also the most wonderfully patient and loving Dad!

ben-new-sister-600

When we posted the story of Ben’s home birth two years ago, I was surprised how many birth junkies we have out there. The story of Ginny’s birth is a really neat one which I am honored to share… [Read more…]

Everyone Else

Leaf Peer Pressure by Jason Kotecki

Leaf Peer Pressure by Jason Kotecki


Tarzan 2 is terrible compared to the first one with the Phil Collins soundtrack. At least that’s what Kim said after half-watching it with the kids while I was on the road.

I know, I’m just as surprised to hear that as you.

You know what separates the Oscar-winning movies from the ones that go straight to DVD? The ones that win awards are telling stories we haven’t seen before. Throughout the entire process — from the screenwriter to the producer to the casting director to the cinematographer to the director to the cast — everyone has the opportunity to do things the way they’ve always been done or to take a different tack.

Not different for the sake of different, mind you. Movies that are different for the sake of different may play well in art houses, but they’re mostly just…weird. It’s usually better to shoot for different for the sake of better.

When it comes to the story of your life, you’re wearing all the creative hats. You decide how you spend your time, your money and your energy. You get to pick your friends, your attitude, and where you live. Your dreams, your traditions, and your beliefs? You own those as well.

This may go without saying, but your story sucks a little more with every choice you make that’s just like everyone else.


[ About the Art: This piece gets its inspiration from a baby moon trip Kim and I recently took to Rhode Island. We visited an art gallery in Newport and there was a big painting I liked that featured some falling leaves on a stark background. It stuck with me. I’m sure my recent stint of raking leaves may have had something to do with it as well. If you look closely, you’ll also see an organic leaf texture incorporated into the background. ]

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