Rules That Don't Exist

We are constantly bombarded with rules that don't exist. This collection of “rules” comes from everywhere: parents, grandparents, politicians, first grade teachers, old dead white guys, and young celebrity trendsetters. We follow them (often subconsciously) for reasons that range from irrelevant to superstitious to downright stupid. Sadly, they often limit us from living better stories. Below are some we've identified so far. Did we miss one?

This Week In Rule Breaking


Rules that don’t exist are all around us, and they can keep us from living a life of awesome. In honor of the upcoming release of Penguins Can’t Fly, we are posting a different rule every day on our various social media accounts, using the hashtag #notarule. Some are rules we’ve uncovered, others have been shared with us from people like you.

Follow along on Instagram, Tumblr, or Facebook or share your own rule here!

Gina Goodbred submitted this one. Mixing holidays really makes Adultitis uneasy. Good.


My son will choose french fries over ice cream. Every. Single. Day.


He is not a very good table setter, though. But the job gets done.


Who says cats can’t play Twister? (via John and Patrizzia Gundich)


You definitely know you’re officially a grown-up when you stop doing this.


Krista Sobieski sent this in to remind us that birthday parties can be thrown for four-legged friends, too.


This Week in Rule Breaking


Rules that don’t exist are all around us. In honor of the upcoming release of Penguins Can’t Fly, we are posting a different rule every day on our various social media accounts, using the hashtag #notarule. Some are rules we’ve uncovered, others have been shared with us from people like you.

Follow along on Instagram, Tumblr, or Facebook or share your own rule here!

Took this one on a warm pre-spring day in Madison, where students were enjoying the sunshine even though the lake was still stuck in winter mode…


Once you reach a certain age, you’re allowed to take liberties with your birthday.


I couldn’t help but wonder how long this frame was like this, since it was so subtle.


Yep. Ikea put the kibosh on playing hide & seek in their stores, saying, “We have to guarantee safety in the stores and that’s quite difficult if we don’t even know where the people are.” Boo.


This Pi Day inspired rule came from Sarah Tipperreiter from Illinois:


Dying things green is an activity that universally enjoyed. Just ask Dr. Seuss.


#Notarule Caption Contest


Contest time! Pretty sure there’s a few “rules that don’t exist” being broken here…name one and we’ll reward our favorite with an 8×10 print of your choice! Leave a comment below – winner announced right here.

Update: Winner is Joie Booth!

Joie posted this over on Facebook and it made us laugh: “Goggles are only worn at breakfast. #notarule”

Thou Shalt Not Blow Bubbles in Thy Milk


Kim and I had a big test early on in our parenting adventure.

At dinner one evening when she was about two, Lucy got to drink out of a “big girl cup” with a straw. And for the first time ever, she discovered how to blow bubbles in her milk. In our household, this is on par with first words, first steps, and learning how to dunk cookies in milk.

It’s kind of a big deal. [Read more…]

Late Night Hosts Shalt Be Cynical


Kim and I love Jimmy Fallon. There’s something so childlike about him. Every time I see him on the Tonight Show it’s as if he’s a little kid whose dad is letting him use a power tool for the first time.

“This is so awesome! I can’t believe I’m getting to do this!”

I recently came across a great post by Zach Hoag that expresses it perfectly. Here’s my favorite passage:

What makes Fallon different from the others is the kind of childlike, optimistic, inclusive comedy he creates. While he can certainly engage in thick sarcasm, he is decidedly anti-cynicism. And rather than make guests the butt of his humor (as Letterman was often known to do) or the straight men to his punchline, Jimmy always gets his guests in on the joke, creating sketches, games, and bits that include his celebrity talkers and magically transform them from performers into just…people.

Here’s one of my favorite clips:

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Cynicism may be an easy way to appear hip, intelligent, and cooler than school. But to me, it’s just boring. Give me someone who’s not afraid to be silly, because as Fallon’s fellow Saturday Night Live alum Amy Pohler has said, “There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do.”

Not only is there power, but it inspires a lot of joy as well.

And the world needs that a whole heck of a lot more than cynicism.

Thou Shalt Get a Job With Benefits


[ This is an excerpt from “Penguins Can’t Fly +39 Other Rules That Don’t Exist.” Order it now and read about 39 more rules that might be holding you back from living the story you deserve. ]

Many well-intentioned parents, grandparents, and teachers urge kids to get a job with good benefits.

I couldn’t agree more. Except. [Read more…]

Thou Shalt Not Let Them See You Car Dancing


[ My book, Penguins Can’t Fly +39 Other Rules That Don’t Exist, is now available for pre-order! Here is one of my wife’s favorite chapters. ]

It’s an incontrovertible fact: It is impossible to hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” while driving and not transform into a head-banging, lyric-belting, steering wheel-pounding god or goddess of rock ’n’ roll.

In the cozy cocoon of your humble car, you are the Alpha and Omega of Awesome.

Your inner child is running naked in the rain and you don’t care who knows it.

That is until Adultitis reminds you that you are at a stoplight and there are windows in your car.

Stupid Adultitis.

It convinces us that we’ll look dumb or embarrass ourselves if we let loose a little bit. And so we don’t. We stay tight in our safe, comfortable little catacombs, while stress and anxiety entomb us. Rock the boat? Not me. Call attention to ourselves? Not a chance.

Stupid, stupid Adultitis.

While we are buying into the rule about avoiding foolishness at all costs, we often fail to realize that our childlike outbursts might actually uplift someone and brighten their day. I don’t know about you, but if I happen to catch someone summoning their inner Steve Perry, I smile.

What if instead of our traffic companions thinking we’re a little loony, we were actually giving them some relief? Happiness? Hope?

My friend Ina was part of a micro-movement that invited people all over the world to send in videos of themselves car dancing. She had some provocative insights to share about her own involvement:

What I’ve found by being freer in my dance, is that it breaks down the walls between people. We live in a car society where everyone is cruising around in their own worlds, disconnected from everyone else. When you share the joy that comes out of you when you dance, you break through the barrier of the car shell, and you touch someone or make them smile and bring a human connection to their day.

Think about it: by giving yourself permission to car dance with reckless abandon, you’ve suddenly become an agent of social change at the wheel. You’re Bono in a blue minivan, showing people it’s okay to lighten up, stop taking life so seriously, and enjoy the moment. Maybe that person who pulled up next to you didn’t know how they were going to pay their bills, but they saw you dancing, truly free, and in that moment, they felt relief. Or even happiness. Or perhaps the feeling that everything was going to be okay. THAT is powerful stuff!

Join me in an effort to be a little bit more willing to dance like no one else is watching—especially when people are.

Rock ’n’ Roll has a long history of putting on benefit concerts to help solve big problems.
your car just became the latest venue.

[ Like this article? Pre-order Penguins Can’t Fly +39 Other Rules That Don’t Exist and get 39 more that are just as awesome! ]

Thou Shalt Not Color On Thine Arms


Almost exactly one year ago, I drew a purple mustache on my son Ben. It was a dark day for Adultitis, my friends, and a great personal reminder about how big an impact a small rebellion can make.

Especially small rebellions involving washable markers.

Not long ago, an Escape Artist named Angel emailed me about one such adventure. While in the process of cleaning, she discovered her two-year-old coloring on his arms. Adultitis was at the ready, encouraging Angel to flip out. But she decided not to. She wrote, “As Adultitus was SCREAMING, ‘We don’t color on our arms’ somehow turned into, ‘Here, let mommy try.’”

After coloring in their masterpieces, the duo kept them on to go shopping and eventually posed for the photo above.

Being a parent is no cakewalk. But if you have young children, and you are not using the inalienable power of parenthood to draw on them, you really are missing out.

Even if you don’t have kids, may you not let the Adultitis-fighting magic of washable markers go untapped.

Thou Shalt Listen to Critics


With three kids six and under, it’s rare that Kim and I have the time to watch an actual feature-length movie. So when the stars align and I’m in charge of finding something to see, I pay quite a bit of attention to the reviews. I don’t want to waste our time, so if the Rotten Tomatoes rating is less than 60, I’m likely to move on. But sometimes I stumble across a movie I’ve seen before, one I really loved, and it has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 21.


Sometimes it makes me wonder if something’s wrong with me, and sometimes I wonder if I’m spending too much time considering what other people think.

There are critics all around us. They tell us what movies, books and restaurants we should enjoy or ignore. Some write official reviews in newspapers and magazines, but most of these critics are friends, co-workers, parents and peers. They’re eager to tell us where to live. What kind of car to drive. What kind of job we should have. How many kids we should have, how to raise them, and where we should send them to school.

They even tell us which pleasures we should feel guilty about.

I absolutely love this quote by musician Dave Grohl on so-called “guilty pleasures.” The language is a bit salty for some tastes, but it definitely conveys his passion:

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f&%#ing like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, ‘You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not f&%#ing cool.’ Don’t think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic.’ It is cool to like Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’! Why the f&%# not? F&%# you! That’s who I am, d@mn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of f&%#ing sh&t.”

Indeed, each of the things we supposedly should or shouldn’t like are little rules that don’t exist.

But if you really want to rile up the critics, try living an amazing story. You will attract them in spades, from people for whom you threaten the status quo, to people who just don’t see the vision. Some critics may think they are doing you a favor, others might just be trying to feel better about themselves by tearing you down.

“No one has ever built a statue to a critic, it’s true. On the other hand, it’s only the people with statues that get pooped on by birds flying by.” — Seth Godin

Alas, critics are part of life. The good news is that we get to decide what to do with the information they give us. We are allowed to consider the source.

Not everyone will like the story you want to tell with your life.

Tell it anyway.

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.

Thou Shalt Not Doodle on Thy Car


In his book The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch talks about our attachment to material things. He writes that if our wheelbarrow or trash can gets a big ding in it, we don’t give it another thought, but a small scratch in our new car causes us to freak out.

I was reminded of that passage when I saw a story about this dude who let his artist wife draw all over his sports car with a Sharpie. Even if the style is not your cup of tea, you gotta admit that the end result is pretty cool.


Now, every once in a while you’ll see someone who has blinged out their beater jalopy with streaks of paint that make it look like an attendee at the original Woodstock. Good for them, I always think. If I had an old junky car, I might be tempted to do something similar.

But I’m gonna be honest here. We have a shiny black 2012 Ford Edge which we sometimes refer to as the Batmobile. Even though I am a trained artist, the odds of me painting a Batman logo on the side is somewhere between slim and not a chance in hell.

But a part of me — a big part of me, actually — wishes those odds were much, much higher.

I’m sure it has a lot to do with how much money we spent on it. I’m also sure I wish it didn’t.

Not many folks have the desire / courage to take a Sharpie or a can of spray paint to to their shiny new car. But just because something is extremely uncommon and might be supremely difficult to do doesn’t mean it’s not a rule that doesn’t exist.

On the other hand, just because something is a rule that doesn’t exist doesn’t mean you have to break it.

Considering WHY you wouldn’t is the valuable part.

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.

Thou Shalt Not Send Thyself Flowers


My friend Jeanne recently turned forty. By her own estimation, her life is wonderful and filled with love. But she admitted that it didn’t seem that long ago when she thought that one of the worst things in life would be to still be single at twenty-five. No way could she imagine still being single at thirty-five. That would be HORRIBLE! And now here she was, tentatively peeking her nose out from under the covers as she awoke, still single, on the first morning of the start of her fifth decade.

Although weary of the feeling that would welcome her, she was pleasantly surprised to report nothing but fantastic, Adultitis-free feelings! And then, for good measure, she engaged in a small rebellion.

She sent herself flowers.

And she included a note, reminding herself that being 40 and single is just fine, thank you very much.

Now Jeanne admitted that at first, while she was ordering the flowers and writing the note, she felt narcissistic and even a bit wasteful. But she reported that seeing the flowers kicked Adultitis right out of her house (and the decade!), while helping her feel incredibly grateful for all of the blessings in her life.

We all need to be reminded of the blessings we have. And we all need to be encouraged from time to time.

There is no rule that those reminders and encouragements have to come from someone else, as this video clearly shows:

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Yep, I think we’d all be better off if we gave ourselves pep talks and flowers every once in a while.

Thou Shalt Not Have Fun in Elevators


Willy Wonka’s glass elevator was an Adultitis Antidote. How many elevators can you say that about?

With all due respect to Aerosmith, elevators are not usually bastions of fun. They are awkward little boxes in which everyone stares blankly at the floor numbers, tightens the sphincter, and puts on their best grown-up face while staring straight ahead. It’s the equivalent of entering a walk-in closet with random strangers and closing the door.

But taking a page out of Mr. Wonka’s book is not that hard.

My friend Dan plays a game called Elevator Fight Club with his kids. When they are in an elevator together, after the doors close, they begin a fake boxing match with each other. The action stops as soon as the doors re-open. Dan has reported that it’s not uncommon for the fight to resume quietly even when someone else is with them. And of course, the first rule of Elevator Fight Club is that you do not talk about Elevator Fight Club, so I’ve already said too much.

twister-elevatorInnocent, a UK-based maker of fruit juices and smoothies, installed a Twister game in their elevator. How awesome is that? I suspect it is nearly impossible to walk into that elevator and not smile. Which is actually the genius of it. Full-blown human knots don’t have to result for an idea like this to reap benefits. Even if no one actually plays the game, just the fact that it’s there makes the company more buzz worthy, and a more fun place to work.

Some people report that they sometimes face the back of the elevator while everyone else is facing forward. I’ll admit that I’m not brave enough to try that, but I’m sure it makes Adultitis very uncomfortable.

Adultitis dominates certain locations in this world, and there is no doubt the elevator is one of them. If you ask me, it’s a perfect place for a full-on assault against this vile enemy.

What are YOUR favorite ways to have fun in an elevator?

Thou Shalt Not Sulk


Corinne had just finished a long, hard day at work. She was looking forward to enjoying a juicy leftover hamburger from last night’s dinner, but when she opened the fridge, she discovered they were all gone. Fuming, she plopped into her recliner, wrapped herself in a blanket, crossed her arms, and settled in for a good sulk.

Corinne reported that she felt guilty for pouting, but the next day realized that her self-contained pity party wasn’t all bad.

She said, “It was a non-violent way to combat my tiredness and frustration, no yelling, no recriminations involved, and I eventually ended up calming down enough to find something else to eat anyway. Happy ending.”

Corinne’s story reminded me of the first time Kim and I were in Miami. One of the main things I wanted to do was experience South Beach. Three minutes in to the only opportunity we had to spend time there, it started to downpour. The weather forecast indicated it would stay that way all day. We had no choice but to postpone our beach fun for another time.

As Kim drove through the city, raindrops raced across the windshield taunting me, and I sat in the passenger seat sulking. Like Corinne, I felt guilty for doing so. I am the guy who makes a living fighting Adultitis, and here I was smack dab in the middle of an Adultitis-riddled pity party. I should be able to let this roll right off me, I thought. I am a hippocrite of the highest order, I thought.

Then, in that moment, I decided to be kind to myself. I gave myself permission to sulk. I gave myself permission to be disappointed, to feel the hurt, and to entertain the thought that the universe had conspired against me to send rain clouds and ruin my day. As I sat there fuming, I threw myself a most extravagant pity party.

And after about fifteen minutes, I started to feel better. I was ready to start thinking about all the good things we were able to do in Miami, and how in the grand scheme of things, this little thunderstorm was as small as it gets. In the end, the change of plans only ruined about fifteen minutes, instead of the whole day.

I am all for being optimistic and positive thinking (I’m a Cubs fan, for goodness sakes!). But life is meant to be lived and it’s meant to be felt. Sometimes the feelings are joy and elation, sometimes they are disappointment and grief, but they are all a part of being truly alive. Putting on a happy face to mask some sadness is not all that different than using drugs and alcohol to numb a deep pain. The problem is that those feelings never really go away, and in many cases, they bubble up later with devastating consequence.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to live in a world filled with Negative Nellies and Sulking Sams. But I think that it’s ok to experience the full spectrum of feeling alive, be it good, bad, or ugly. Be kind to yourself, and give yourself permission to be sad when you’re sad, hurt when you’re hurt, and disappointed when you’re disappointed. Those experience in the valley make the mountaintop moments all the more rich.

Sometimes a good sulk can be good for the soul.

Thou Shalt Not Let Thine Princess Dress Get Wet


A half mile from our house, there is a row of lakefront homes. A small sliver of land between two of the behemoths serves as a public access point to the lake. Last week, an hour before the sun tucked itself in for the night, we pushed our strollers through the skinny green passageway to enjoy the pint-sized plot of beach that was ours.

It wasn’t long before Lucy began wading in the water, delighted by the sand squishing between her toes. She was wearing last year’s Halloween costume — a pink and yellow princess dress — because, well…just because. The gentle waves kissed the bottom of her gown. I considered telling her to be careful not to ruin it, but reasoned that a little water never hurt anyone.

Meanwhile, Ben was outfitted in his Incredible Hulk costume — you know, just because —and was lying face-down in the sand like a big green turtle who had come in with the tide to build a nest. We’d be finding sand on him days later.

By the time I turned my attention back to Lucy, she was in lake water up to her armpits, sparkly princess dress and all! I stood there, in stunned silence, as the supercomputer in my brain whizzed through its vast database in search of some rule frowning upon the intermingling of lakes and princess dresses. The warm smile that beamed widely across her face suggested that perhaps this was yet another rule that doesn’t exist.

In that moment, Lucy was unquestionably living life as well as it can be lived.

Too often, we fall far short of this ideal. Why? Because we’re afraid of getting our princess dress wet.

Our “princess dress” is the carefully-curated version of ourself that we show off to others. It’s the way we look, speak, and act. It’s our degree and our job title, our home and hairstyle, our cars, clothes, and 401ks, all wrapped into one pretty package and tied with a bow that signifies that we are responsible, sophisticated, and successful.

In order to keep this princess dress looking good, we must live a life of restraint. No full-out running, no sitting on the ground, no eating messy things, and certainly no swimming in lakes.

We are given countless opportunities to dive headfirst in to the experience of life, but we are too afraid to mess up our hair, our clothes, or our reputation. Because running through puddles, making a mess, or doing something silly for sheer sake of fun sullies the dress we’ve worked so hard to preserve.

While settling for good enough, we miss the insanely great.

Guess what? After the dip in the lake, Lucy’s princess dress went into the washing machine and came out good as new.

Don’t settle for dipping your toes into this adventure called life. For best results, spend more of your time up to your armpits in awesome.

Don’t be afraid to get your princess dress wet.

Thou Shalt Repeat Airplane Safety Instructions as if Thy Were a Robot Low on Batteries


Southwest Airlines doesn’t operate out of Madison. If it did, I’d be tempted to fly it, mostly because of their reputation for having Adultitis-free flight attendants. I don’t even know how accurate that reputation is anymore, but it was refreshing to get a taste of how I perceive it to be on a recent Delta flight.

We were greeted by an enthusiastic (but not annoyingly so) young man who said, “I’m Ryan and I’m your MC on this one hour and twenty minute flight of aviation excitement!”

Accustomed to airline announcements sounding like they’re being delivered by Charlie Brown’s teacher, my ears perked up. As he went though the standard list of safety regulations, he playfully called out some of the inherent ridiculousness: “Now for the tricky part. To fasten your already-fastened seat belts…”

He even included some audience participation. “I’m assisted today by Courtney, who was recently named flight attendant of the YEAR. Let’s have a round of applause for Courtney!” To which the entire flight broke out into applause for a woman who, judging by her reaction, had NOT in fact been named flight attendant of the year.

He finished his short but entertaining spiel by saying, “If there is anything we can do to make your dreams come true, please press the green call button and Courtney will most likely be able to assist you. I, on the other hand, am not capable of such things.”

Over the years, Southwest has emphasized fun by making it part of the company culture. In short, they give employees permission to have fun. Ryan from Delta reminded me that it is not a rule that everyone else has to go through the prescribed pre-flight announcements sounding like a cyborg on its last battery cell.

So what does this have to do with you non-flight attendants out there?

While it would be great for every company to be wise to the benefits of fun, keep in mind that not giving permission is not the same as prohibition. Whether you are a flight attendant or an accountant or an administrative assistant, fun might not be an expressed part of the job description. But that doesn’t mean it’s banned. (If it is, you might want to find a new job.)

If you have a sense of humor, don’t leave it at home. If you have boilerplate babble you have to repeat day in and day out, maybe you can take some cues from Ryan and add a little personality to the script. If you have some otherwise boring task that must be done, see if there is a way to intermingle some mirth.

Humor can make people more comfortable, more trusting, more forthcoming, and more amiable. If you think your clients, customers, students, or patients could be a little more of those things, don’t wait for permission to make work more fun.

Soar to new heights with some unexpected silliness.

Thou Shalt Determine a Thing’s Importance by How Easily it Can Be Measured


How can you tell if the story you’re living is any good?

Before a speech I gave recently, the executive director of the organization that hired me was sharing the results of a survey they had commissioned to evaluate their effectiveness. By all accounts, this organization had met or exceeded all of their performance metrics. But as the leader admitted, “most performance metrics don’t tell a really good story.”

She’s right, you know. Things like income, expenses, and profit margins can give us a handy snapshot of the health and growth of an organization. But they do not tell the whole story. In fact, they can be a rather poor reflection of happiness delivered or lives changed.

After all, who can accurately measure how profoundly a soul has been moved? Or the precise generational impact of a tool that empowers an individual to lift themselves out of poverty? It’s much easier to calculate the things that are easily measured — like last quarter’s profits — and assume everything else takes care of itself. At best, this technique only provides part of the story. At worst, it can lead us down some bad roads.

Even more dangerous is when we measure our lives in the same way. Just like in business, our personal lives have a set of standard metrics that make for easy guideposts, not just to chart our own progress, but to compare ourselves with others.

Here are a few:

How much money do you make? How many Facebook friends do you have? How many square feet make up your home? What is it worth? What titles do you have or awards have you won? How many degrees have you earned? How many letters are after your name? How many hours do you work? How big is your office? How expensive is your car? What is your kids’ GPA? How many extracurricular activities are they involved in? How much money does that cost you? What about their tuition? How many boards do you serve on?

The answers to each of those questions are easily calculated. Many of us spend the majority of our time monitoring those stats while assuming that our efforts spent to increase them will result in a corresponding uptick in the quality of our story.

Not so fast. Just because something can be measured doesn’t make it important.

Try these questions on for size:

How interesting is your life? How adventurous is it? How fulfilled are you? How much of a difference are you making? How loved do you feel? How excited are you to start each day? How happy are you? How content?

That last group of questions is awfully hard to quantify. But they have a lot more to do with the awesomeness of your story than the size of your paycheck, your home, or your kids tuition bill.

Thou Shalt Wait for Permission from Your Boss Before Doing Something Awesome


Did you know that Steven Spielberg was actually going to use stop-motion to animate the dinosaurs for his film Jurassic Park? It was a no-brainer, especially since he had Phil Tippett, the master puppeteer who was responsible for bringing many of the Star Wars creatures to life. But then some rebels at Industrial Light & Magic who lived by the motto “Always question the established system” did some covert experimenting and the results ended up changing Jurassic Park — and movies — forever.

“I love the term ‘you will never.’ If I had listened to ‘you will never,’ the T-Rex never would have been built.” —Steve “Spaz” Williams

This neat short film tells the story.

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Thou Shalt Tear Here


I totally opened this from the other side and my Horsey Sauce came out just fine, so…#notarule.

Thou Shalt Be Excited When School’s Out for Summer


What’s a sadder reflection on our modern educational system: the fact that “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper is the de facto theme for students everywhere this time of year, or the fact that almost no one stops to consider that maybe it’s a problem that so many people feel this way about school?

I wonder… is “Thou shalt be excited when school’s out for the summer” a rule that doesn’t need to exist?

I’ll admit, the first day of summer vacation for me was always gloriously delicious. It meant freedom. But freedom from what, exactly?

  • Freedom from being told what to do all day long.
  • Freedom from having to jump through hoops for other people.
  • Freedom from having to spend most of the day memorizing facts and being lectured to about things I had no interest in whatsoever.
  • Freedom from the pressure of having to measure up to the artificial standards of coolness as decided on by a consensus of my immature peers.
  • Freedom from tests and book reports and homework!

What if you reimagined school so that every day felt like the first day of summer vacation?

  • Freedom to finally spend most of my day on projects you are interested in.
  • Freedom to spend a whole day (or week!) on a project if you wanted to.
  • Freedom to spend more time outside in nature.
  • Freedom to spend more time around (and be friends with) people of different ages and backgrounds.
  • Freedom to be yourself and not worry about what’s “cool” or not.
  • Freedom to do nothing once in a while.

That, my friends, is called homeschooling.

For me, it’s weird to think of taking a break from learning. The truth is that kids are learning every day, whether they are in school or not. So am I. So are you. But I get it. For kids, school is associated with learning. That’s why we’re sent, to learn stuff. So naturally, if school stinks, so must learning.

Maybe I’m alone, but I think it’s sad that the surge of freedom associated with the first day of summer vacation is such a common feeling in our society.

One of the things that excites me most about our homeschooling adventure — especially with the interest-based approach we are taking — is the chance to make Mr. Cooper’s rock standard sound like a song from another planet to my kids.

Now that would really rock.

Photo by Geoff Llerena

A Nine-Year-Old Declares the One Good Thing About Being an Adult

[This is a guest post by Champion of Childhood award winner Matt Haas (and his daughter Amelia.)]

I just finished reading the latest installment of the Escape Adulthood newsletter and it reminded me of a conversation I had recently with my nine-year-old daughter, Amelia.

We were driving home from school and she was lamenting that she “never wanted to grow up.” As a newly appointed Champion of Childhood, it was my duty to take a deeper dive on that comment and try and find a possible antidote to this dreaded disease. What did she know that we didn’t, and could it shine some light on this and maybe, just maybe, give us some sage advice to minimize the affliction? So I asked her to tell me why being a grown up is so bad. And I quote:

  1. Because you’re too big to do anything fun like kids rides and stuff.
  2. You look old and not like a kid.
  3. You have to stay home alone.
  4. You have to pay bills and taxes.
  5. You have to go shopping.
  6. You don’t like kids shows on TV anymore.
  7. You don’t like kids music anymore.
  8. You have to get a job.
  9. You have to clean the house.

The one and apparently only good thing about being an adult is……

  1. You get to have kids of your own, have a family and make all the rules!

So from the mouths of babes comes the answer to all that we seek. As “adults” we have the power to make all the rules, yet many of us fail to use the very power we are granted with age. Instead of making the right rules, like dance like no one is watching and the towel baths rule, we decide games are dangerous!

So tonight when you go home, stop whatever you are doing and watch your kids and they will help you decide what rules you really need to keep, and what ones you need to break! See you at the arcade!

Thy Father & Daughter Dance Must Take Place On Thine Actual Wedding Day


When Lucy was a newborn, I used to dance with her in our apartment to a song called Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman. I’d support her little head with my hand while doing spins around the living room, as if it were a grand ballroom, absorbing as much of that newborn baby smell as I could. The song served as a wonderful reminder about how fast time flies, and that it won’t be long before I’ll be dancing with her on her wedding day.

We still dance to it once in a while. Damn thing makes me cry every time.

And then I came across this story, which also makes me cry. Rachel Wolf’s father is dying of pancreatic cancer. She couldn’t bear the thought of not having the opportunity to dance with him at her wedding. The fact that she’s not even engaged didn’t deter Rachel. So she bought a wedding dress, rented a limo, and invited family, friends, and her father to a nearby park for the special dance.

And what song did they dance to? You guessed it: Cinderella.

Here’s the video, along with a head’s up: grab a tissue.

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This story is reminiscent of the folks who moved up Christmas for a kid I knew who was dying of leukemia. Who says Christmas can’t be celebrated in September? Who says you can’t make your own adjustments to the “normal” wedding traditions?

This is it, guys. The daily stuff of life that happens unnoticed while we worry about the future and busily check things off to-do lists are the magical moments we’ll look back on with fondness. THESE are the good old days. Don’t miss them while you’re busy making other plans.

And don’t let any so-called rules keep you from creating scenes made for fairy tales.

Does this remind you of any scene-making small rebellions you’ve instigated or witnessed? Share them in the comments!

Hat tip to Donald Miller.

Thy Laundromat Shalt Be Boring and Unappealing


“There’s nothing about a washing machine which says it has to stand in an unpleasant space.” — Ruud Belmans, Creative Director of Pinkeye

He’s right, you know. Washing machines may come with bulky instruction manuals written in seven different languages, but there has never been one printed with a rule stating that it should stand in an unpleasant space. Rules that don’t exist are EVERYWHERE, but they are so ingrained in us that we don’t even consider the benefits of breaking them.

The Belgians who dreamed up Wasbar did when they set out to design a new kind of laundromat. [Read more…]

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