Career Is Never As Important As Family

the-lincoln-family

Basketball Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently wrote an article for Esquire magazine entitled, 20 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 30. This one is my favorite:

9. Career is never as important as family. The better you are at your job, the more you’re rewarded, financially and spiritually, by doing it. You know how to solve problems for which you receive praise and money. Home life is more chaotic. Solving problems is less prescriptive and no one’s applauding or throwing money if you do it right. That’s why so many young professionals spend more time at work with the excuse, “I’m sacrificing for my family.” Bullshit. Learn to embrace the chaos of family life and enjoy the small victories. This hit me one night after we’d won an especially emotional game against the Celtics. I’d left the stadium listening to thousands of strangers chanting “Kareem! Kareem!” I felt flush with the sense of accomplishment, for me, for the Lakers, and for the fans. But when I stepped into my home and my son said, “Daddy!” the victory, the chanting, the league standings, all faded into a distant memory.

I struggle with this one almost daily. It’s hard when we are wired to spend more time on the things that give us an immediate or financial payoff. And it’s especially tricky when one’s career is very mission-based, like mine.

Adultitis will use anything it can to distract us from the things that are most important. Sometimes it can be pretty darn convincing. [Read more...]

Help Wanted: Family CEO

mom-upside-down

Help Wanted: Family CEO
Applicant is responsible for the management and safety of her subordinates at all times. She will be responsible for the overall health and development of those under her supervision, including, but not limited to, ensuring proper regular hygiene, ethics instruction, and recreational activities. She will foster appropriate communication and team building skills within her unit, which shall require expertise status in the areas of conflict resolution and communications. Being particularly fluent in primitive languages is a plus. [Read more...]

Play This Game Like the 8-Year-Old You Used to Be

play-the-game

This tweet was about baseball, but if we looked at “life” as a game, it would still serve as a stirring rallying cry.

When you were a kid, you spent a lot of time imagining the day when you would finally be grown up, with all the amazing powers that came with it, like independence and height and a drivers license. You had dreams and visions of the great adventures to be had, once you finally had the chance to call your own shots and live your own story.

So, are taking advantage of the opportunities now before you?

Are you playing this game of life with the heart and passion and fire of an eight year old?

If not, get to it. This game only has so many innings.

Small Talk in 140 Characters

iphones-unconnected
Sometimes I long for the days when an Etch-a-Sketch was the most technologically advanced gadget I owned.

Yes, I love my shiny iPhone and all the wonderful things it lets me do.

But I hate when a family is out to eat and I see them all face down in their smartphones. I hate it because it reminds me of how the pull to check email or send a tweet or scan status updates on Facebook pulls ME away from actually being present in my real life. It often distracts me on my dates with my daughter. And it sucks up the mental space that could have been used to pray or think or — gasp! — just BE.

Oh, the internet and smartphones and wi-fi has gotten us more connected than ever. But are we making any connections?

Everything seems so surface level these days; our conversations have deteriorated into small talk boiled down to 140 characters or less. It’s boring, meaningless, and a tragic waste of our precious time. Perhaps the reason we are the loneliest, most depressed, most drug addicted society that has ever lived is because we are lacking real connections.

We deserve better. Our family and our friends deserve better from us.

If you agree, here’s a crazy idea: Next time you’re with someone, put down the phone. Slow down. Shut your pie hole.

Instead, look. Hear. Be. Practice being present once in awhile.

Open your heart, offer your attention, and make a real human connection.

A small thing, perhaps.

But it’s a Small Rebellion of epic proportions.

[ About the Art: Just a little drawing in Photoshop about one downside of our technological renaissance. I was going to draw iPhones starting at iPhones staring at iPhones, but I didn't want your head to blow up. It's weird to think that in five years (maybe less) this drawing will have become adorably antiquated. Maybe I should have cut to the chase and just drew bag phones. ]

Tinkering

tinker-toys

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

The dictionary says that to tinker is “to repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled or experimental manner.”

Take special note of those words “unskilled” and “experimental.” For some reason, we grown-ups think we have to master something on our first attempt. Naturally, that’s impossible, so we don’t even try. Kids are under no such illusions. They tinker all day long.

And when you were a kid, so did you. [Read more...]

Are We Alive Yet?

are-we-alive-yet

When I was a teenager, I worked at a car dealership. The garage where I spent my days smelled of used oil, antifreeze, and in the summer, sweat (hooray for no air conditioning!). My job was to wash cars, run errands, and keep the shop relatively clean. It was good pay for a good job with good bosses and flexible hours. And I learned how to drive a stick shift and detail a car like nobody’s business, which will come in handy when I buy my Porsche someday :) By all accounts, it was a pretty great career for a teenager.

But that doesn’t mean I liked it. [Read more...]

Grammys, Mushrooms, and the Practice of Patience

patience

You know what there isn’t enough of these days?

No, not Twinkies.

Patience.

Here in Wisconsin, it appears that Spring didn’t get the memo about showing up. The weather suggests that Old Man Winter is holding on for dear life. I can’t help but wonder if the slight sense of panic that is bubbling up among citizens of the North is partially caused by our lack of patience. With smartphones keeping us constantly connected, our DVRs editing out commercials, and information on Twitter speeding by at warp speed, patience is more scarce (and valuable) than ever.

Marketers promise and the media celebrates fast growth and overnight success. And yet I was intrigued to hear the lead singer of of the band Fun accept the Song of the Year Grammy award for We Are Young. “I don’t know what I was thinking writing the chorus for this song,” he said. “If this is in HD, everyone can see our faces and we are not very young.” He shared that he and his mates had been working at their craft for twelve years.

Later in the evening, they’d go on to win the Grammy for Best NEW Artist. Go figure.

It’s easy to search for the quick fix, the easy shortcut, the secret 7-step solution that will shave years off our learning curve. Dissatisfied with advice like “do the work,” “write every day,” or “put in your 10,000 hours,” it’s not uncommon to either give up altogether or keep looking for something less…time intensive. Only to find ourselves five years later in the same exact spot, while we could have been light years ahead, if only we’d heeded that old boring advice.

Sure, there are some flash-in-the-pans and one-hit-wonders, but those fade away. The stuff that lasts takes time to develop.

I once heard a brilliant comparison between a mushroom and an oak tree. A mushroom grows extremely fast. An oak tree, on the other hand, not so much. It takes years to fully develop into the tall, sturdy, impressive specimen that it will eventually become.

The practice of patience leads to great things.

For although the mushroom grows faster, in the end, it’s still just a fungus.

Just Out of Curiosity

when-did-you-stop-living

On any given day, we make lots of decisions. Most, like the decision to stay a bit later at work, never seem all that consequential. But slowly and surely, they add up to tell a story.

Take some time to be mindful of every decision, or else you may one day find that those choices have created a story you never intended on telling.

How to Make Big Decisions

how-to-choose

When I was a kid, I had a hard time making decisions of any sort. It’s the stuff of family lore, and I am regularly reminded of how often I’d come to tears over having to choose between chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Fourteen years as an entrepreneur has sharpened my decision-making abilities, but that doesn’t mean every choice is easy peasy lemon squeezy.

We all face the tough choices from time to time. The ones with no easy answer and no certain outcome.

How do I handle my suddenly rebellious teenager?

Which job offer should I accept?

Is it possible to make ends meet if I stay home with the kids? [Read more...]

What Your Busyness Really Says About You

glorification-of-busy

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.”
The ‘Busy’ Trap – NYTimes.com

Yes, yes, a million times yes.

As I’ve written before, taking the drug called busyness is an effective way to feel engaged in life. But although it’s easier to stay busy than to slow down and make hard decisions about what kind of story you really want to live, the end result is not very satisfying.

I love this post by Andrea Scher about her refreshing new mantra: I’m actually not that busy.

Warning: if you measure your level of importance and value by how busy you are, there’s a pretty good chance the story you’re living sucks.

And yes, this is a reminder to myself as much as anyone.

Work Is Not The Villain

key-lime-state-of-mind

Many people dream about winning the lottery so they can quit their soul-sucking job and go spend their days lying on a beach, sipping margaritas and soaking up rays.

Only one problem. [Read more...]

Shake it Up

Etch-A-Sketch-HOF

Andre Cassagnes, the dude who invented the Etch-a-Sketch, passed away last month at the age of 86. An electrical technician, Cassagnes came up with the idea in his garage when he peeled a translucent decal from a light switch plate and found pencil mark images transferred to the opposite face. Initially dubbed the Telecran, the toy was renamed L’Ecran Magique, or ‘The Magic Screen,’ and made its debut at a toy fair in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1959.

Funny thing about Etch-a-Sketches.

Using one is ridiculously easy. But making anything worthwhile with it is really, really hard. The cool thing about the Etch-a-Sketch is how easy it makes it to start over.

Which makes the Etch-a-Sketch a lot like life.

Living is pretty easy, thanks to the fact that your brain, heart and lungs put much of it on auto-pilot. Making your life into anything worthwhile, however, is hard. Harder than spending an hour on Facebook or watching a Golden Girls marathon. But God, the dude who invented life, also made it pretty easy to start over.

Each new day is an opportunity to start again. With a clean slate and a new optimism.

Sure, you may have messed up yesterday in grand, spectacular fashion. It may not have turned out the way you would have liked. Maybe you got lazy, lashed out, fell down or said something you regret.

That’s ok. Today is a new day, a chance to try again.

Shake it up.

You Should Have a Mid-Life Crisis Every Week

If it means reassessing your achievements in terms of your dreams and, if necessary, instigating a desire to make significant changes in core aspects of your day-to-day life or situation, then you should have one at least once a month.

It’s the best way to stay out of the ruts that lead to a story you never intended to live.

life-moves-prety-fast

The Art of Collecting

roadster

During childhood, we tend to collect two things: toys and memories.

When I was a kid, I collected toys like Star Wars action figures, baseball cards, and Nintendo games. But I also collected neat memories of building snow forts in the front yard, picking strawberries at my Grandma’s house, and weekend getaways to the Holidome (with its glorious indoor pool).

Toys can be sold on Ebay for cash money — sometimes a lot of it — but memories? Those are priceless.

Interestingly, it doesn’t change all that much when we get older; we’re still collecting toys and memories.

Our toys are more expensive now: custom-built homes, iPads, designer shoes, Kitchenaid mixers, big screen TVs, sports cars, etc. But the memories — the things like Pajama Runs, Barbarian Spaghetti dinners, and surprise weekend trips to an indoor waterpark — they’re still as priceless as ever.

Turns out that the happiest people in the world spend their money on memories rather than toys.

I am fascinated by a concept put forth by Laura Vanderkam in her book, All The Money In The World. Using the amount of money typically spent on fancy engagement rings and weddings, Laura calculates how many date nights, bouquets of flowers, and hours of babysitting and housecleaning that money could buy over several years. She argues that these things would create more long term happiness and serve a couple better than a big ring and wedding.

We can use our time and money to collect toys or memories. We can do a little of both, sure, but for best results, make sure you’re being intentional about it.

I’ll leave you with a great quote from Laura: “Life is basically one giant memory. Creating good ones is a good use of cash.”

Indeed.

Art: “Roadster” by Jason Kotecki.

Your Golden Ticket is Waiting

Bloop
I created this painting last year for the inaugural Escape Adulthood Summit. We used the metaphor of a fish escaping from a fishbowl as a theme. Every group’s table featured a real live goldfish as a centerpiece. And each team used things like noodles and egg cartons and glue to create a “vehicle” their fish could use to escape. The t-shirts everyone received were emblazoned with a depiction of the Bloop! graphic above. And after two days of laughing, thinking, playing, sharing, and eating yummy things, I presented each of the attendees with a print of this image.

It’s something I think we can all relate to. It certainly applied to our decision to even host the Summit in the first place. For too long, Kim and I assumed an event like that would happen years from now. When our kids were older. When we had a bigger tribe. When we had more money we could afford to lose. In order for the Escape Adulthood Summit to become a reality, we had to escape the confines of our preconceived notions and self-limiting beliefs. [Read more...]

Easy Bake Ovens (for Boys)

easy-bake-oven-for-boys
When I was a wee lad, I asked for a kitchen set for Christmas.

My Mom denied my request, informing me that kitchen sets were for girls.

My disappointment gave way to hope the following year, however. While engaging in my favorite late fall pastime — reading the Sears Christmas catalog that arrived by mail — I was overjoyed to see that within the very pages of that fine, authoritative publication was the kitchen set of my dreams…and it was shown being played with by a girl AND a boy. I rushed to show my mom the the incontrovertible evidence. [Read more...]

Freedom I Can Wear

i-am-dressed-upFor years, Jason has been teasing me about my wardrobe around the house. I am the Mismatch Queen. “Homeless” is how he puts it, and I laugh — we both do. I DO HAVE matching comfy clothes. My mother-in-law faithfully supplies her three daughter-in-laws with cute new pj’s every Christmas Eve. (Thanks, Linda!)

And yet, when I enter my closet to “get cozy” (as Lucy puts it), I walk away looking like I am colorblind.

Why? I’m not sure.

But, I’ve come to the conclusion recently that “why” is the wrong question. [Read more...]

Lesson for Building Snow Forts (and Other Things)

snowfort-kotecki
I loved building snow forts when I was a kid. For those of us who grew up in climates with frosty winters, it was a classic childhood pastime.

After a big snowfall, it was it was easy to start visioning what sort of fort you would build. Your imagination kicking into high gear, you’d think about building two levels, with windows — and turrets! — along with a few secret passageways and, of course, extra thick walls to protect against enemy snowball attacks.

Here’s the thing: no matter how grandiose your plans, you always start out with a plain, untouched pile of snow. And if you caught sight of the neighbor kids’ fort — the ones who got started a few hours ahead of you — it might be easy to get a little jealous. I mean, they have a freaking moat. And is that a snowball CATAPULT? [Read more...]

Set Up a Life You Don’t Need to Escape From

Quotation by Seth Godin.

I don’t covet vacation days. I don’t work for the weekend. I don’t need alcohol to alter my reality.

I can’t imagine ever retiring. I have the best job ever, how could I ever retire from doing it?

I have a life I don’t need to escape from.

Of course, setting it up took a long time. Nine years, to be exact.

That’s how long it took after Kim and I got married to build this business to a point where we could support ourselves, buy a home, have kids, and say no to most of the work we didn’t want to do. Nine years of trial and error, amassing debt, and watching my younger brothers build houses and start families while we sweated it out in a crappy apartment with no air conditioning and a monthly grocery budget of about $100 a month.

How did we do it?

We just decided.

A long time ago, we decided that we were going to do whatever it took to create a life we didn’t need to escape from. There was no backup plan. We had faith that God didn’t put us on this earth to bury our talents in a job that sucked the soul out of us.

Once you decide, the rest is easy, because no matter what obstacle presents itself, you’ve limited your options to just two: give up or keep going.

Once you’ve decided, the choice is clear.

The Seasons of Life and a Stress-Reducing Secret

I became a father a little over four years ago. Before that, my wife and I had been married for eight years and worked together on our small business. We were used to working long days, coming and going as we pleased, and eating out at nice, quiet restaurants. We used to have a Cheerio-free backseat in our car. But now we have two kids, which practically makes me an expert at parenting.

An expert at knowing how little I actually know about it, that is. [Read more...]

Is Your Best Behind You?

“Peaked” by Jason Kotecki. Made on an iPad.

I don’t get people who say that high school was the best time of their life. Sure, high school had some great moments, but I could have done without the zits, the awkwardness, and the over-dramatization of trivial things. I just find it sad to hear people say the prime of their life ended when they were 18 years old.

Don’t get me wrong; I often reflect on the “glory days” of my past: playing second base for the varsity team in high school, the comaraderie of taking shop with fellow art majors in college, and the sweet, sweet freedom of the pre-kid days of marriage.

But those glowing memories are revisionist history. [Read more...]

7 Foolproof Ways to Feel Less Alive

Dear friend,

Do you ever suffer from that dreaded emotion of feeling alive? Are you always complaining about that spring in your step, the annoying perception of joy in your heart, or the gnawing sense that you’ve found your purpose in life?

If you ask me, no one should have to live that way, and it’s my mission in life to prevent these sorts of unfortunate conditions. Naturally, there are a host of things that will try and trip you up. Without even realizing it, you can find yourself feeling alive at no fault of your own. Here is a list — by no means is it exhaustive — of certain things you’ll want to steer clear of: smiling babies, as well as all puppies, bunnies and kittens, circuses, water parks, dolphin shows and magic shows, oversized stuffed animals, silly string, bean bag chairs, helium-filled balloons, and of course, Pop Rocks.

Besides all that, here some very effective techniques for turning your situation around: [Read more...]

It’s Time To Dream Bigger


It’s Time to Dream Bigger by Jason Kotecki. Made with Photoshop.

When we were young, we had no trouble dreaming big. There was no other way to dream. We dreamed big, often, and with reckless abandon.

But somewhere along the way, our heart got broken. A dream didn’t come true and it hurt like hell. [Read more...]

You’re Never Too Old


If you’re still breathing, there’s still story to be told.

Might as well make it a good one.

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