The Dreamy Old Quiet Days Are Over. (Again.)

Sometimes I chuckle at the thought of parents wringing their hands over Elvis’s gyrating hips. Especially in contrast to the stuff I have to keep my kids from seeing on network TV these days! I have also decried the negative side of modern technology, where it seems that most people spend more time staring at smartphones rather than starting real conversations. Don’t even get me started on things like sexting.

I often wish I could trade the problems of today for the problems of yesteryear. In retrospect, the old days always seem simpler and more idyllic.

It’s easy to blame technology for the speeding up of our lives, for the loss of true connectivity, and for the cheapening of our stories. But before we embrace another seemingly modern trait of blaming something or someone else for our troubles, take a look at this passage from William Smith’s Morley: Ancient and Modern, which was published in 1886.

With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion… the dreamy quiet old days are over… for men now live think and work at express speed. They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel… leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them… the hurry and bustle of modern life… lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, the day’s work done, took their ease…

Interesting, huh? Replace those newspapers in the photo above with smartphones and tablets and it wouldn’t look all that different from a modern New York City subway. There are new problems that didn’t exist 100 years ago, sure. But there are also solutions to problems we enjoy that our grandparents never did. Technology has always been an easy scapegoat, but it has never been the biggest threat to us being able to live rich, meaningful, adventurous stories.

The biggest threat to living those types of stories has always been…us.

Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick, Hat Tip to Jason Kottke.

Your Life in Jelly Beans

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Ze Frank made a cool video that shows your life in jelly beans. Using one jelly bean to represent each day of your life, he provides a visually stunning look at how much time we spend eating, sleeping, working, etc. Even more stunning is the small pile of jelly beans that remains when we factor all the “stuff” of living.

Borrowed time, indeed.

Living Life as an Adventure


What is the role of a parent? Obviously, keeping them alive is a big one. I’ve learned that feeding them semi-regularly and redirecting them away from hot stoves and wild animals helps with that. Teaching them morals, and how to be a positive contribution to society are important next-level responsibilities.

But what about being brave? Isn’t it important to teach them how to chase a dream and how to take risks and strive to reach their potential? [Read more…]

Do You See Weeds or Wishes?


A backyard flush with dandelions can inspire an hour of exciting adventure for a five-year-old. The exact same backyard can also inspire an hour of expletive-laden adjectives for a fifty-year-old.

Believe it or not, most of the things we don’t like about life are changeable. The tricky part is that in order to get the result we desire, the first thing that needs to change is…us.

If you’re disappointed or frustrated by your spouse, your job, your boss, or your kids, you always have the option of waiting for them to improve. Or you can instigate a small rebellion and spark a magical turnaround by changing the way you look at them.

On Borrowed Time


We went to the funeral of friend’s mom recently. She died suddenly of a heart attack while at home with her husband, who was only into his second week of retirement. When my father-in-law Gary heard the news and learned that they were both in the same age range, he reflected, “Wow. I guess I’m really on borrowed time.”

He’s right. But not just because he was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis in his twenties and probably hasn’t had a pain-free day since then. And not just because he continues to amaze his doctors with how long he’s been able to keep on going. He’s right because we are ALL on borrowed time. [Read more…]

How We Spent Our 13th Anniversary


Kim and I always do something childlike on our anniversary. One year we went to the circus. Another time we visited Toys “R” Us on Times Square. This year, we took the kids to Medieval Times.

Actually, that happened the day AFTER our anniversary. On our real anniversary, our sister-in-law watched the kids so we could play hooky and have lunch on a beautiful day. (Pretty childlike in its own right, I guess.) At lunch overlooking Lake Monona, we had a chance to chat about many things, gloriously uninterrupted.

We reminisced about our anniversary adventures.

We talked about the logistics of bringing the kids to a funeral the next day. It was for a friend’s mom, who passed away suddenly only two weeks after her husband had retired.

We talked about the fleeting nature of life, silently hoping that such a thing would never happen to us.

Then I asked Kim a question: “If this was our last anniversary together, how would you wish we’d have spent it?” [Read more…]

This Week’s Sign That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us


When I was a kid, I had a subscription to Sports Illustrated. Not sure if they still have this, but every week there was a little blurb entitled, “This Week’s Sign That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us.” It always featured some absurd factoid that was too ridiculous to believe but nevertheless, painfully true.

Well, the other day I heard a radio commercial for a local cable provider. It heralded as one of its biggest selling points a DVR that could record four shows at the same time.

Four shows at the same time!

Look, if you are in the target market that finds this a must-have feature, you need to seriously take a hard look at your life. Surely you were meant for more than this.

The most depressing thing? The apparent reality that the number of people who would jump at this offer must be somewhat significant, or else it wouldn’t have made it into the commercial in the first place.

Heaven help us.

Something Wonderful


Good advice. And when you take into account the fact that none of us actually knows what the future holds, doesn’t the alternative seem downright masochistic?

Kind of weird (sad, actually) that this good advice is “advice” at all, and not normal operating procedure.

What Success Really Looks Like


Everyone has their own definition of success. Mine is not to own a jet, hobnob with CEOs, or work a mere four hours a week. My definition of success is to be a force for good in the world and to make a decent living doing what I love while spending lots of time with people I care about. So far, so good.

The middle part — the “making a decent living doing what I love” part — THAT took the longest. Way longer than I’d imagined or hoped.

Success is not that hard. But it is rare because not many people are willing to do the work. The biggest requirement for success is just sticking to something for as long as it takes until you get the desired result (or something better.) [Read more…]

Career Is Never As Important As 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


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


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

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. ]



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?


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


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

No, not Twinkies.


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


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


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


“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 –

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


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


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.


The Art of Collecting


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.”


Art: “Roadster” by Jason Kotecki.

Your Golden Ticket is Waiting

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…]

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