You & Improved

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.


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.

Remember Stanley


The other day I missed out on a good story.

I was in Toronto dropping off a rental car at the airport. In the parking garage I saw two people getting their picture taken with the Stanley Cup. It was such a weird scene. A guy had pulled it out of a big trunk that was on the ground next to a white Suburban. A young couple grinned excitedly as the guy snapped their photo on a smartphone as I walked by.

For a brief second, my inner child excitedly suggested that I ask to have my picture taken with it too. Unfortunately, Adultitis took over from there as questions flooded my mind.

Is that really the Stanley Cup? I mean, what are the chances? If it’s a fake, you’ll look like a real idiot.

You don’t even know the guy, and he looks like he knows those two people. Who are you to ask if you can get a picture with it? What if he says no?

He’s probably really busy anyway; he won’t appreciate the intrusion. Besides, it’s none of your business and you have a plane to catch.

In retrospect, all of those questions are pretty easily answered with a big “so what?” And as I dropped off the keys, I learned that the two people who got their picture taken were employees of the rental car company, which had a bunch of banners up proudly displaying their sponsorship with the NHL.


I proceeded to the airport, frustrated that my iPhone was without a fresh snapshot of me and the Stanley Cup.

To be fair, I am an introvert, which means it takes a little time to process things in my head before I can speak or act. It’s hard for me to be spontaneous, and the whole scenario unfolded over about 15 seconds. (Extroverts tend to have an easier time reacting quickly to new stimuli.) This quality is a real benefit when it keeps me from blurting out something I’d likely regret, but it stinks when it keeps me from a great story.

But I don’t want to use that as a complete cop-out either. Because at its core, the thing that paralyzed me was fear, mostly of what other people might think. Now, I’ve made great strides in this department over the years, but it’s pretty rare to find someone who is completely immune to this condition.

Trouble is, the more stock we put in what other people think, the more freedom we surrender. We miss out on the joy that comes from doing our own thing. We miss out on the fulfillment that comes from expanding our comfort zone. And sometimes, we miss out on the chance to add a cool scene to our story.

The good news is that any time I encounter another chance for a great story, I’m pretty sure “Remember Stanley!” will pop into my head, urging me to action. Now maybe it will for you, too.

Anybody else out there who can relate to this? Share your story (or missed story) in the comments!

The Edge of Expectation


I often refer to myself as a professional reminder-er. Sometimes I need to be reminded of things, too. Here is a letter I wrote to myself after being in the audience for an inspiring talk by the amazing Hall of Fame speaker, Glenna Salsbury. Perhaps it will serve as a useful reminder to you, too.

Dear Jason,

When you started this business, anything was possible. You had big dreams and high hopes. Sure, some things took much longer to materialize than you thought, and other things crashed and burned.

Don’t let those things define you, or blind you to the fact that anything still is possible.

Try to see life more like an exciting adventure rather than a series of obstacles. Keep putting things out there, letting go of the outcome. If they don’t work, no big deal. Don’t let the failure keep you from trying something else. You never know what’s gonna stick, but in order to find out, you have to try a lot of little experiments.

And for Heaven’s sake, don’t let one little failure dredge up all the past failures you’ve ever had. You lived those once, no need to live them again.

You can only think about one thing at a time. Instead of rehashing old defeats or anxiously visualizing tomorrow’s challenges, stay focused on all the wonderful things that have come to pass, and the many others that are about to! Spend more time playing the game of imagining what God might be doing behind the scenes this. very. minute. Like a kid in his bed on Christmas Eve, look forward to tomorrow’s blessings with electrifying anticipation.

Amazing things are in motion. Surprises and magic are ready to be discovered.

You just need to practice living on the edge of expectation.

[ About the Art: The sketch that inspired this one languished in my sketchbook for a long time. It wasn’t until I heard Glenna Salsbury regale the Wisconsin chapter of the National Speakers Association with story after story of supernatural providence that I settled on the verse. She said she always lives on the edge of expectation. In my experience, it seems like the people who expect miracles are the ones most likely to receive them. I want to be more like that. (Made with Photoshop.) (Buy the print!) ]

How To Be Really Famous (In a Way That Matters)


These days it seems like everyone wants to be famous. Which makes it kind of a bummer when you put up a killer photo on Facebook and only two people like it and one of them is your mom.

Online, there are all kinds of resources to help you become “internet famous.” You can learn how to increase your likes, followers, retweets, subscribers, page views…pretty much any metric you can think of.

But just because something can be measured doesn’t make it valuable.

Now behind the desire to be “famous” is the desire to be liked, admired, or regarded as someone of importance. And that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how many followers you have or whether or not you are on the cover of a magazine. Signing up to stay later at work, chair a prestigious committee, or serve as president of the association you belong to are not inherently bad. But our reasons for doing them can come from a desire to be liked, admired, or regarded as someone of importance.

Honestly, I often get envious of others who have more blog readers, customers, or Facebook fans than me. It makes me feel like I’m falling short and not good enough. I feel like I should be further along than I am, and it makes it harder to see the good that I am doing. Meanwhile, it distracts me. It gets me focused on people I don’t know, while ignoring the people I do. Why do we put so much stock in what strangers think about us?

Then I came across a quote that kicked my butt. It was from Mark Batterson, who wrote, “I want to be famous in my own home.”

Holy crap. That’s just awesome.

When it comes down to it, that’s what I want, too.

And it got me thinking, what would it take? What things do you need to do to become famous in your own home? Since there aren’t many $99 e-courses tackling that question, I had to come up with some ideas on my own:

  1. Be present. When you’re having quality time with your family, don’t ruin it by checking your phone every ten seconds.
  2. Be quick to apologize when you screw up.
  3. Be kind.
  4. Be fun.
  5. Be willing to disappoint the people outside your own home by turning down opportunities that would cause you to see your family less.
  6. And finally, it might not hurt to plaster propaganda promotional posters up of yourself (Dad is Rad! Mom is the Bomb!) all over your home.

I can honestly say that there is no better feeling in the world than to come home after a long flight, ride the escalator down into the airport lobby, and see your children wearing giant smiles and running as fast as they can to come hug you.

Just like anybody, I want to be looked up to. Admired. Respected. Missed when I’m gone. But if I’m not regarded in this way by the people who know me best, all the Twitter followers in the world just don’t matter.

What do you think about this idea of being famous in your own home? And more importantly, what do YOU think it takes?

[ About the Art: While in the middle of this one, I came up with the idea of doing label tape from the 70s and 80s for the words instead of my usual ransom note newspaper cutouts. I originally had sunglasses painted in, but as I was toying around with locations for the words, I decided to turn them into the sunglasses. Much more interesting to be sure, but nonetheless, a last-minute “happy accident.”

The idea for the fireworks also came to me just as I was about to call this piece finished. I figure they elevate this guy’s star power to sold-out stadium level. (Made with Photoshop.) (Buy the print!) ]

The Day I Turned Down My Own TV Show


OK, so it wouldn’t have exactly been my TV show.

I would have been the host of an established show called “Talk of the Town” in which I’d get to interview cool people around Madison. I was offered the job by a producer at a local TV station who heard me speak recently. If I did well, there was an opportunity to branch out into other shows, and maybe even create my own. Kim and I spent some time imagining the seeds of a pretty cool program we could do highlighting fun Adultitis-fighting things in our area.

While grocery shopping last week, I imagined what it would be like to be famous, even just in this part of Wisconsin. I’d be in the produce section picking out cantaloupe and someone would come up and accidentally bump my cart and then notice me and say something like, “Omigosh are you that guy from TV?” Then they’d roll away, with their shopping cart with three good wheels, flabbergasted by the fact that the guy from TV picks out his own cantaloupe.

I imagined rocking the local show so hard that some big national channel would come calling and pay me and Kim big bucks to do a show on their network. We’d get to go to all kinds of amazing places with our kids and interview even more cool people.

And then even people in Atlanta or Seattle or Peoria would recognize me as that guy from TV who actually buys his own cantaloupe.

The other day, I turned down the opportunity.

When it came right down to it, I don’t really want to be a TV personality. Some people come alive when they see a red light on a camera. Not me. I mean it’s fun, and I’m halfway decent on camera, but what makes ME come alive is being in my studio making art.

Last year, after years of being mostly dormant, I got back with my first love, art. And it was wonderful. I decided I wanted to devote more time to it, hoping that one day it could earn me enough money to not have to spend as much time on airplanes.

As soon as I made that commitment, it was amazing how many things popped up to derail me from following through. Steven Pressfield calls it The Resistance, and it is a bee yotch. It would whisper things like, “Your art is not that good,” or “Why are you wasting time on this when it’s not making you any money?” or “Hey, why don’t you watch this episode of Seinfeld for the 37th time?”

And then sometimes I would be presented with really good opportunities, like this TV show. And it could be easy to rationalize that such a show might be a great platform for my art and message. But then I realized that getting the show to that point would take a LOT of work. And all the hours I’d spend prepping and producing the show would be that many fewer hours I’d be able to spend doing what I really love: making art in my studio. I was also inspired by a post by Jon Acuff who was writing about the importance of saying no. He wrote:

“Each day I spend on the road away from my real goals, I get further away from being who I am trying to be.” –Jon Acuff

I have come to believe that when it comes to finding success and achieving your dreams, one big requirement is being completely honest with yourself. Are the actions you’re taking today leading you to where you want to end up tomorrow? Really?

In my speaking programs I often share that sometimes we have to say no to GOOD things in order to say yes to the BEST things. Turning down an offer to manage a McDonalds is easy. Turning down an offer to host a TV show, not so much. What an fantastic opportunity to take my own advice!

Maybe someday, when my art is more established and my kids are older, I’ll have more time to do something fun like a TV show. But for now it’s eat, sleep, speak and make art.

And buying cantaloupe unnoticed.

Shot Down on My Birthday

Earlier this month, I entered my first art contest since the Peru Merchants Halloween poster contest. It was as gory as a poster made by a middle schooler with a full set of Crayola markers could ever be.

Recently, a friend sent me a link for an art competition hosted by the Wisconsin State Fair. They were looking for someone to create a commemorative poster for this year’s festivities. The top four finalists would get $400, and the winner $1,000. More important to me would be the exposure for my art. The thought of my poster being promoted at the Fair and being purchased by all kinds of people was very exciting to think about!

When I learned about the contest, the deadline was already only a few days away; I’d have to act fast. Fortunately, the judges only asked for a sketch. (The four finalists would eventually have the chance to do a color comp.) Unfortunately, my style and vision for the poster could not be fully captured without color. So I spent about four hours coming up with my “rough sketch” that was honestly about 30% away from being a final piece. I wanted to stand out. I struggled with the composition and the colors. I let other more “pressing” things slide by the wayside. I had to spend extra money to overnight the packet to make sure it arrived on time.

I was pretty happy with how it turned out and felt good about my chances. The fact that the four finalists would be announced on February 11 — my birthday — seemed like a good omen.


The first email I read the morning of my birthday was one informing me that I was not selected as a finalist.


On the plus side, I did get 4 free tickets to the fair, on account of being deemed worthy of an honorable mention. So that’s something.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed. I have been at this long enough to know that there is no such thing as an overnight success. Most big breaks are a series of little breaks built on a foundation of many years of hard work. I know that winning this poster contest wouldn’t have catapulted me into rock star status in the art field. But it would have been a nice “little” break that let me know I was on the right track.

I could really use one of those.

They say that the people who succeed are the ones who got up one more time than everybody else. Rejection is always a fork in the road. Do you turn inward, cash in your chips and give up? Or do you keep plugging along, knowing that most yes’s demand a certain amount of no’s before they knock on your door.

I want to create the kind of art that inspires people and makes them happy; the stuff that gets hung in a kitchen or cubicle to remind their owners to stay childlike and persistent and hopeful. I dream of someday seeing my art on a national greeting card line, on pillows and coffee mugs in stores like Target, and on calendars like Mary Engelbreit.

Maybe none of those things will ever happen, but I can’t stop trying. I am an artist. Making art is what I want to spend most of my life doing. And so onward (and upward?) I go, secretly expecting that someday, in the biography of an artist who ended up impacting millions of people, there will be an tiny anecdote about the time his State Fair poster got rejected.

Signs of Adultitis

My hero in the sign world is the green go light. He’s constantly saying things like, “This is your time,” “You can do it,” and “Let’s do this!” He’s the kind of guy you want to hang out with, what with him being all positive and encouraging and whatnot.

He’s a rarity. Most of the other signs are harbingers of Adultitis: Stop. Wrong way. Dead end. Do not enter. Road closed. No smoking. No parking. No trespassing. No skateboarding. No shirt, no shoes, no service.

Falling rocks.

They’re a grumpy bunch, throwing down restrictions like Miss Hannigan from Annie. Theirs is a world of never, can’t, and don’t even think about it. They’re like the people at a party who are giving you all kinds of statistics about how unsanitary the bowl of Chex mix is.

Now I understand that these signs do us a service in preventing anarchy, but then again, IRS agents serve a purpose too, but people aren’t quick to invite them to dinner.

One thing that might be worth thinking about while we’re on the subject of signs is this: What kind of vibe are you putting out to your kids, students, patients, customers or co-workers?

Do people get the message that they can try new things, explore new ground, or ask a question without being shot down?

Are you positive, encouraging and open to possibility?

Or are you inflexible, quick to remind people of the rules, and point out why things can’t be done?

Now nobody thinks of themselves as a walking Falling Rocks sign, but it’s always worth taking a good hard look in the mirror from time to time. Usually our actions are pretty subtle, but they communicate our attitude loud and clear to the people around us.

In a way, we are all signs. The only question is what kind.

[ About the Art: This is another example of a finished piece that started out as a silly sketch. I wanted to make it more painterly than a standard cartoon, and I’m happy with the result. I chose the purple background to give the feeling of a foreboding storm cloud. No blue skies here! (Made with Photoshop.) (Buy the print!) ]

What is Your Glorious Purpose?

My favorite line in the movie “The Avengers,” is when the villain Loki declares, “I am burdened with glorious purpose.”

I love that line.

It’s pretty funny in the movie, because it speaks to Loki’s delusions of grandeur. Although, in truth, each of the heroes in the movie could probably say the same thing and mean it. But because their intent is noble, the connotation of the entire statement is changed.

I too, am burdened with glorious purpose. Not to rule the world, but to make it better.

Are you?

If you aren’t burdened with glorious purpose, then binging on Facebook and Netflix every day can be done without any guilt. But if you do share that burden, there’s never enough time. I feel like I have too many ideas and dreams and not enough life to accomplish them all.

Regardless of intent, people who are burdened with glorious purpose, the ones dead set on changing the world, always look a little foolish at first. We could probably all agree that the world could use at least a little changing, but who is anyone to think they’ll be the one to actually do it? But purpose mixed with tiny actions is very powerful. All the big, world-changing things had humble beginnings.

The Simpsons started out as a bumper sticker on the Tracey Ullman Show.

Michael Dell sold his first computers out of his college dorm room.

One of Fred Rogers earliest jobs was as a puppeteer for a local children’s show in Pittsburgh.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver started the Special Olympics in her backyard.

The Missionaries of Charity, which now consist of over 4,500 sisters active in 133 countries, started with one humble woman helping one poor person.

Let the naysayers laugh and the doubts roll off your back. You are not too small to make a dent in the universe.

Especially if you are burdened with glorious purpose.

What is yours?

[ About the Art: There are two types of people in the world: those who are burdened with glorious purpose, and those who aren’t. The former are the ones who make history, even though they seem a bit foolish to the latter.

I like how the color and texture came out in this one. Originally, the bird was completely blue, but I added a white belly and the flare of orange to make him pop out a bit more (and better reflect his boldness.) If you look closely, you’ll notice the elephant is overlaid with a very subtle texture of real elephant skin. (Made with Photoshop.) (Buy the print!) ]

Never Say Never


“I’ll never marry a blonde.”

I’d said that many times. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t have anything against blondes at all. It’s just that even though all of my friends had a thing for blondes, I was always more of a brunette guy. All of the girls I’d ever dated were brunette, except for one blonde I went to homecoming with sophomore year. Looking back now, I can see that this probably had a lot to do with the women I fancied in my youth: From Princess Leia to Lois Lane to my second grade teacher whom I had a second grade crush on.

The punch line, of course, is that my wife is blonde. And now, so are my kids.

When I was growing up, I was terribly shy and afraid of almost everything, especially new situations. I was often shamed for this, which usually only drove me deeper into my shell. It took me a long time to warm up to things — way longer than most kids — but once I did I was usually ok. But willingly throwing myself into new situations with people I didn’t know? Not going to happen. Back then, it would be very reasonable to proclaim that I would never turn into a professional speaker.

God sure does have a sense of humor.

As I’ve gotten older, I have gotten wiser about saying never. Mostly, I don’t.

Thinking we know how everything will turn out is foolish. Nobody really knows anything. Plus, uncertainty is a part of life. And although we often don’t like the consequences of that, much depends on our perspective.

I could confidently say that I’d never marry a blonde only because I’d never met someone as beautiful and remarkable as Kim. You could have confidently said I’d never turn into a professional speaker only because you wouldn’t have know how my faith journey would blossom and soar during my college years.

The word “never” seems so certain and sure of itself.

He will never walk again.

I’ll never get out of debt.

She’ll never turn her life around.

I’ll never figure this out.

We’ll never make it out of this situation.

Never seems permanent. But it only seems that way. The world is changing at an amazing rate. New cures are discovered. New technology is invented. New opportunities emerge. New people walk into your story.

Never say never. There’s never not a chance you might be wrong.

[ About the Art: I have always been intrigued by the idea that things that are commonplace to us were at one time considered impossible. Like airplanes, for example.

In my sketchbook, there is a drawing of an ostrich in a war plane. I liked how I drew him jammed into the cockpit, and I thought he looked silly in goggles. Later, I was thinking about the phrase, “When pigs fly,” and how it’s used to describe things that will never happen. One sketch led to another and before long, I came up with a squadron of things that aren’t supposed to be able to fly, cruising above the clouds in formation.

I had a fun time researching old war planes, borrowing details from them to create new ones. My father-in-law is an airplane nut, so I thought a lot about him a lot during this piece. I had a real dogfight with the sky, but it turned out to be the part I am most proud of. I think it reflects the soaring feeling of exhilaration that comes when you accomplish something that was supposed to be impossible. (Made with Photoshop.) (Buy the print!) ]

Pick Yourself


Times have changed. Back in the day, a college degree pretty much guaranteed you a decent job…somewhere. Not anymore. Paradoxically, the opportunity to chase a dream and create an amazing life have never been better.

Not long ago, the gatekeepers ruled everything. They decided what music should be played, what books should be written, what art should be displayed, what news should be shared, what agendas should be pushed, what business ideas were valid, and what dreams should come true. You pretty much had to wait for someone to pick you, whether it was to to attend their university, write for their publication, exhibit in their gallery, perform at their venue, or work for their company.

Some gatekeepers still exist, but they are not as powerful as they once were. You now have access to tools that would have made Edison’s head explode. Most of them, by the way, are free. Thanks to the internet — free at any library — and things like iTunes U and Khan Academy, you can learn anything you want to learn. With Skype, you can video conference with people anywhere in the world. You can use Kickstarter to raise money to fund that pet project or start a business. Tools abound that will help you start your writing career, publish your own books, record your own songs, sell your own products, and host your own concerts. The list goes on.

The question is no longer, “How can I make my dreams come true?” but rather, “When will I start?”

Even with all these amazing tools at our disposal, many people continue to wait for permission.

We wait for someone to offer us a job, reward us with a contract, or give us an opportunity.

We wait for someone to open the door for us, to give us their blessing, to tell us it’s time.

We wait for someone else to tell us we’re good enough, talented enough, or ready enough.

Meanwhile, Adultitis delights in the growing ocean of unfollowed dreams.

But real life is not a schoolyard version of dodgeball, where you wait anxiously for someone to pick you, hoping it’s sooner rather than later.

What is your big dream? You have the tools at your fingertips. You do not need permission to become a writer or a teacher or an artist or a musician or a business owner or a world changer. You are good enough, talented enough, ready enough, kind enough, and, believe it or not, brave enough to start.

With nearly a whole year ahead of us, it’s tantalizing to think of all the great things that could happen.

What are you waiting for?

[ About the Art: This art (and the post) are directly inspired by one of my heroes, the brilliant Seth Godin. The concept of "picking oneself" is deep soil for graphic interpretation. I like the idea of a box of chocolates, filled with an array of treats, each of them waiting to be picked. But all is dependent on the tastes of the person picking. One person might seek out a coconut cream first, while another might be allergic to coconut, and leave it uneaten or throw it out. The good news is that these days, the coconut cream can pick himself. P.S. My favorite part is the curly cue hair on the candy walking away. (Buy the print!) ]

On Making Progress


“Carry On.” Made with Photoshop. Buy this art.

My daughter Lucy is five. Getting her to go to bed has been a struggle since the Johnson administration.

Andrew Johnson.

I know that seems impossible, but when you calculate it in sleep deprived years, it adds up.

We’ve made progress on all fronts over the years, but there’s always…something. The latest challenge is training her that when she has to go potty in the middle of the night, she doesn’t have to wake me up to ask me a series of unimportant questions like “How long is it ’till morning?” and concluding with the ever-present, “Is that all the questions?”

She has traces of anxiety and obsessive-compulsiveness that are on the verge of being a concern but fall just short, mainly because they appear to be genetically passed on.

Thanks a lot, self.

If Lucy can make it to the bathroom three nights in a row without waking me up from a deep, delicious sleep, we agreed to get her an Elsa doll from the movie Frozen.

She has yet to string two consecutive nights together, but we are making progress. The ability to go to the bathroom without announcing it first, and tucking herself in afterwards were fairy tales but a week ago. This morning, as I fumed over our inability to eliminate the inane and half-delirious questions that occur in the middle of the otherwise smooth process, Kim sent me a photo she found online, overlaid with a quote from Plato that said, “Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.”

Boy did I need that. Although so slow it seems like backwards sometimes, Lucy is indeed making progress. And so when she woke up, I praised her for the good things she’s been able to accomplish.

That Plato quote is a good one, and not just for parents or teachers, either. I think it’s a good idea to keep it in mind when it comes to ourselves as well.

I am flawed. Imperfect. Regularly falling a little bit short. Like anyone, I have many struggles and foibles, and I am usually the first in line to throw stones at myself, if that were somehow possible. (I suppose you could throw one up and run under it, but I digress.)

Me and you, we’re works in progress. Focus on moving in the right direction. The going may be slow, but that’s ok.

We need to be kind to ourselves.

Yes, be kind. And carry on.

[ About the Art: This one was inspired by the song "Carry On" by Fun. Sometimes, when I'm sketching, I like listening to music and pulling out words and phrases that strike me. The illustrator in me plays with images that could work with the words. After the episode with Lucy and the quote Kim sent me, I pulled this month-old doodle out of the sketchbook and went to work. My first iteration included the Great Pyramids in the background, but I decided that was too...specific. I opted for more of a generic Grand Canyon type of background because it gives an overall sense of scale, but you're not quite sure where the turtle is on his journey. As far as the turtle is concerned, obviously it is a bit stylized. There is a tendency (at least for me) to draw turtles with droopy eyes and heavy eyelids that make them look old, slow and tired. My goal was to give this one more of determined expression. Mission accomplished? You tell me. (Buy the print!) ]

Twenty Questions to Start Your Year with a Bang


Are we afraid of curiosity because of what it (supposedly) did to the cat?

I’m searching for a reason to explain why kids are insatiably curious, while adults tend to grow less so over time. We’re often conditioned in school that that there are is only one right answer and everything else is wrong. But that’s not really true in the real world, is it? For example, what’s the correct way to raise a kid? To find a job? To make dinner? To propose to your sweetheart? To host a wedding? To be a good parent?

There are a lot of right answers to those questions.

The beginning of a new year is a popular time to infuse your story with more excitement, purpose, and joy. I submit that a great way to do that is by practicing the habit of curiosity. If you made a resolution to ask more questions this year, I guarantee that your story will soar to new heights. Here are twenty to get you started:

  1. What if I tried something new on the menu?
  2. What if I applied for that position?
  3. What if I woke up half an hour earlier?
  4. What if I stopped watching the news before bed?
  5. What would happen if I gave TV up for a year?
  6. What if I started dating my spouse again?
  7. What if I started going to church again?
  8. What’s something I really need to let go of?
  9. What’s one things we can do to have more fun at the office?
  10. How can I be a better spouse/partner/friend?
  11. What three things do I want to teach my kids?
  12. What’s my perfect day?
  13. What small steps can I take to experience my perfect day more often?
  14. What are five activities that I’m too scared to do?
  15. Who are five people that I really should reconnect with?
  16. Who can I help out today?
  17. Where am I failing to think big?
  18. Is my planner filled with stuff that really matters?
  19. When do I feel most alive?
  20. Where do I most want to see change in the world?

And one more for good measure: What would happen if I took the time to actually answer all twenty of these questions?

Get curious. See where it leads.

What question would you add to this list?

[ About the Art: I'm pretty sure I've never drawn a cat before this one. Thankfully, the internet is like 87% cat photos, so I had a lot of reference to choose from. I think it turned out pretty good. I'm not sure where that long red string of yarn leads, but I'm just as curious to see what's on the other end as the cat. I love the mystery that it gives this piece. (Buy the print!) ]

Bill Murray and a Lesson On Slowing Down

I love this awesome video (via Don Miller) of Bill Murray with some fans. He agreed to slowly walk down a hallway with the guys so they could film it as though they were in one of his movies. It’s pretty epic, and goes WAY beyond a simple autograph.

Here’s Don’s commentary:

It just goes to show you how great life can be if you’re willing to slow down for people. Of course, none of us are Bill Murray, but slowing down for your spouse, your kids or your friends for just a minute to really give them something that will blow their minds is a magical concoction that makes life great.

I couldn’t agree more. In a season typically filled with busyness, stress, and last-minute everything, it’s a particularly great lesson to let soak in.

If you want some REAL holiday magic this season, try slowing down.

“Have To” vs. “Get To”

My final speaking gig of the year was last week. It capped off a very busy run that had me giving five speeches in four days and included long drives and early mornings. As I reviewed my week before it began, there were a lot of “have to’s” running around my head: I have to do two programs in one day, then I have to drive this far, then I have to get up this early, etc. The general tone was that of overwhelm with a little self-pity thrown in for good measure.

Adultitis was on my back like a monkey.

However, the mere act of noticing that Adultitis had crept into my story was just the thing I needed to change the narrative. I decided to change my “have to” to “get to.”

I get to talk about something I’m super passionate about to four different groups this week. I get to relax and listen to music on my drive. I get to meet a bunch of new and interesting people. I get to break up one long drive with a dinner with my parents. I get to treat myself to a Salted Caramel Pretzel shake from Steak & Shake.

That little change in wording made all the difference. It reminded me of all of the much less desirable jobs I’ve had over the course of my life, and how blessed I am to make a living the way I do. Heck, less than 10 years ago, my current life seemed like a pipe dream.

Changing “have to” to “get to” is magic when it comes to mindset, no matter how undesirable the task at hand may be.

For instance, instead of lamenting that I “have to” shovel snow, thinking I “get to” shovel snow changes my focus to my good health, the fact that I own a home, it’s heated, and I am currently in it, instead of being stationed overseas.

This is a busy time of year. When we grumble about all the things we “have to” do, we welcome Adultitis into our day with open arms, and it’s easy to lose track of all the awesome things we have to be thankful for.

What things do YOU get to do this week?

[ The t-shirt above (and its female counterpart) is available at The Lemonade Stand! ]

How to Make Life More Exciting

I blame the microwave oven. Apparently it was the gateway drug that fueled our insatiable desire for immediacy. When you can cook an entire dinner in 30 seconds, why wait for anything?

I was shocked to see that our neighbor put up her Christmas tree the day after Halloween. I tried to imagine a plausible explanation. Perhaps she was leaving for a two-month trip to New Zealand and wouldn’t return until Christmas Eve, and she certainly wouldn’t want to have to unpack AND put up the tree? Then I started seeing and hearing of more people doing the same. I saw one house with a Christmas tree in their window and a jack-o-lantern on the porch.

Look, I’m not the Christmas police here. I’m not exactly sure what the “appropriate” time to put up your tree actually is. I only point it out because I see a bigger trend here that involves more than just the early onset of Christmas.

It involves the concept of waiting. Or rather, our increasing disdain for it. [Read more...]



Baby toes. Ocean sunsets. Cream puffs from the Wisconsin State Fair.

These are a few of my favorite things.

When we focus on the stuff that’s missing from our stories, it’s the equivalent of inviting Adultitis into your living room and encouraging him to put up his feet while you prepare him a seven course dinner. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be surprised at how difficult it is to get him to leave at the end of the night.

On the other hand, cultivating a sense of gratitude is like slapping a restraining order on the big jerk.

As much as I have to be grateful for, I still find it all too easy to take the good parts of my life for granted. And as the old saying goes, we don’t know how good we have it ’till it’s gone.

The recent post from my friend Ryan really struck a nerve with me. He wrote about the idea of taking one picture a day of something you are grateful for. One thing. And then post it on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or wherever. It’s sort of like a gratitude journal, except it’s so easy a caveman could do it. If cavemen had smartphones.

Well, color me inspired. I intend to celebrate Thanksgiving Day thirty times this November. Starting on the first, and for the whole month, I will be posting my one thing every day on Instagram, using the hashtag #thankstagram.

Who’s in?

You Know What’s Really Scary?


Halloween is that magical time of year when we enjoy getting the snot scared out of us. We attend haunted houses, watch horror movies, and dress up in horrifying costumes. But do you know what I think is REALLY scary?

Zombified children. Like the one in Pet Sematary. Those are pretty scary.

But not as scary as these things:

The thought of getting to the end of my life and realizing how much time I spent on stuff that didn’t matter. Not just the administrivia of life, but all the effort to keep up appearances by trying to impress people who don’t matter. Comparing myself to others. Time spent maintaining and taking care of “stuff.” And worrying.

I don’t even want to THINK about how many hours I’ve wasted worrying.

It also scares me that the average person watches 5 hours of television per day, which adds up to over 9 years of their life.

And the possibility that this might be my last year or month or even day on Earth is pretty scary, too. I’d hate to think of all I’d miss out on in the lives of my kids.

Most of all, I am frightened by the prospect of waking up at the age of ninety, looking back on my life, and wondering, “What if?” How many things have I missed out on because I was too afraid to try?

Other than on Halloween, nobody really likes to be afraid. But fear can be good, if it spurs you into action. My plan is to be ever vigilant about the story I’m living, by being mindful of how I spend my time, money, and attention. And to steer clear of zombified children.

What are you afraid of, and what are you doing about it?

Using Social Media for the Good of Your Soul

This is a guest post by our friend, Ryan McRae. Ryan has a wicked sense of humor and a neat way of looking at things. You can find him at, where you must check out his Man Card.

Right now, the internet is blazing with how social media actually disconnects us; we spend too much time on it and we are always looking at our phones, etc. And trust me, I get it and I’m the most guilty person on the planet. But there is a way to use social media for the good of our souls instead of cluttering our lives. [Read more...]

The Adultitis-Free Way to Win an Argument Every Time


At the most recent Escape Adulthood Summit, a woman named Kate shared an awesome technique for winning arguments.

It all started on a simple premise agreed upon by Kate and her husband. They decided that no matter how angry they were with each other during the course of an argument, if one of them said, “Lincoln Log!” they would both have to laugh.

(Actually, the word they used was “raccoon,” but she joked that it was already taken. Lincoln Log seemed fun — you can use it if you want. So does cantaloupe. Or sasquatch. Use your imagination!)

She described a typical scenario. An argument begins and quickly escalates, with both sides angrily stating their cases. In the heat of the action, just as Kate prepares to unload with both barrels, her husband says, “Raccoon!” At first she thinks to herself, “I CANNOT believe you pulled out “raccoon” right now; I was just about to bury you!” But inevitably, giggles burst free. Before long, both parties get some instant — and much-needed — perspective.

Most arguments usually morph into a match for superiority, with the actual reason for the argument is lost in the desire to win. When you use the “Raccoon” technique, it diffuses the situation in an instant, and cooler heads usually prevail.

Now you may wonder to yourself, “But who actually wins? The person who said the code word? The person who laughs first?”

That’s the coolest part: You both do.

It’s Adultitis that goes home the loser, its head hung in shame.

Your turn: What’s your favorite argument-diffusing technique? What do you think would make a great code word?

Your Comfort Zone: Friend or Foe?


We need to spend more time IN our comfort zones.

There, I said it.

In the self-improvement culture we live in, we’re constantly advised to shore up our weaknesses and do things that are out of our comfort zone. It’s apparently the magic path to success, riches, and enlightenment.

And I think it might be robbing the world of the best we have to offer.

Of course there is a pearl of wisdom in this adage. Trying new things is a great way to grow, build courage and collect wonderful experiences. But it also has the potential to lead us astray. Here are a few pitfalls:

It can trick us into thinking that we can be self-sufficient.

Its easy to get caught up believing that we can achieve anything, provided we’re brave enough to step out of our comfort zone and take it. But we were designed to rely on each other. That means nobody is great at everything. Each person is great at some things, okay at most things, and terrible at others. Although it goes against the myth of the self-made hero, we’re most efficient when we’re using our strengths to help others achieve their goals while relying on other people’s gifts to achieve ours.

It can subtly send the message that we’re not good enough.

No matter how big our comfort zone is, it’s always too small. There’s ALWAYS something else we’re afraid of, uncertain about, or uncomfortable with. I could spend all my time running on the treadmill of expanding my comfort zone, trying new experiences that scare me. I could go streaking. I could sky dive. I could eat snails. I could go deep sea diving and play pinochle with sharks. I’m sure I’d collect some cool stories, but at the end of the day, what have I built? What value have I added to the world?

It can downplay our strengths.

We have a level of comfort with the things we kick butt at. Give me a paintbrush, some tubes of paint, and a blank canvas, and I am in my comfort zone. Slide me under a car to change the oil…not so much. Sure, I could step out of my comfort zone and learn how to fix and maintain my own car. But try as I might, I’ll never be more than a mediocre car mechanic. The world’s all stocked up on mediocre, but it could always use more greatness.

I believe that we’re called to be great. And the only way I know how to be great is to spend a LOT of time doing something you’re already pretty good at. There are no shortcuts. Spending a lot of time expanding your comfort zone is an excellent way to collect stories, but it can also be distraction that keeps you from focusing on what it takes to become great.

I’m not convinced that the comfort zone is the enemy we sometimes make it out to be. Perhaps it’s there to give us a clue as to how we should be really spending our time. Maybe we should actually be spending more time IN our comfort zones.

What do YOU think?

Why Children Are Creative Geniuses


My friend and professional freak David Rendall sent me an awesome quote from Youngme Moon’s book, Different:

“Here is why children are such creative geniuses: Because they aren’t as old as we are, which means that they aren’t as experienced and they aren’t as rational, either. And this liberates them, to approach the world without prejudice. And so they will look at a Tupperware bowl and they will see a miniature boat; they will be handed a silver spoon and their first thought is to dig with it. To be occasionally inspired is one thing; to be chronically inspired is another. Children are chronically inspired, for the simple reason that they aren’t bound by well-worn mental heuristics, they aren’t encumbered by habit or convention or the arbitrary rules of propriety. They are mischevious and subversive; they heed their inventive impulses, even as we have been trained to suppress ours.”

This all begs the question: did this creative genius leave us forever upon our entry into adulthood, or is it still here somewhere, lying dormant within us? Is there a way to recapture this superpower of childhood?

I believe there is, but it requires two things. First, we need to train ourselves to see with new eyes. How? By spending more time with people who believe anything is possible. Hint: kids fall under this category, but so do some grown-ups.

The second thing is to break rules that don’t exist. How? Become more aware of them in your own life by asking “why?” way more often than you do now. Write the word “why?” on a post-it note in big bold letters and stick it on your bathroom mirror, computer monitor, or the dashboard of your car. Use it as a reminder to question your habits and assumptions any time you’re in the middle of doing something you’ve always done. Then practice by breaking small “rules” and see how it feels. Eventually, you’ll become more adept at noticing these rules, and once you experience the benefits, grow quite fond of breaking them.

Practice these two disciplines and you’ll unleash your inner creative genius and find yourself chronically inspired.

There’s also a good chance you’ll make Adultitis cry like a little girl.

Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy


“How do you do it?”

That’s a question I’ve been getting a lot these days. That’s because my life is a bit weird. I grew up with a stay-at-home mom and a dad who worked a normal 8:00 – 5:00 shift. Of course there were little league games and school events and birthday parties on the weekend, but for the most part, the basic structure of our weeks and months were pretty static.

My life now is nothing like that. I am on the road about 125 days a year. Sometimes, my family is on the road with me. Most of the time, they’re not. Every single one of our 52 weeks is different from every other. The only constant is that there isn’t one. Kim and I run a business together and are in the midst of preparing for our second annual Escape Adulthood Summit. We are both work-at-home parents, split childcare duties, and also homeschool. Bambino number three is on the way, which means we’ll have three kids five and under. It’s pretty crazy.

Let me be clear. I’m not complaining at all, because I LOVE the variety of my life. Nor am I the busiest person I know. Not by a long shot. But I’m not a stressed-out mess, either.

And I think that’s why people ask, “How do you do it?

The real answer? We have had to be ok with disappointing people. A lot. Which is really hard, because we’re both people pleasers.

But we also believe in preaching what we practice. And our insistence on being authentic overrides our people-pleasing desires. Kim and I have embraced the truth that we — and we alone — are responsible for our own story.

And so sometimes we say no to extended family get-togethers in order to say yes to a family day at the fair. We turn down a lot of opportunities with friends in favor of date nights to make sure we’re getting enough quality time with each other. I say no to a lot of volunteer positions because I know that being on some board will take me away from my family even more than I already am.

All of these no’s disappoint a lot of people who want us to do their “thing.” The tricky part is that their things are usually good, fun, and worthwhile invitations, and it’s really hard to say no. But we regularly remind ourselves that saying no to something good allows us to say yes to something even better.

Despite all of the advancements of modern technology, we are no different than cavemen in that we still only get 24 hours a day. When it comes to guarding our time, we protect our sabbaths and we’ve gotten pretty good at imitating a mama polar bear.

Now. These choices we make are not always easy or fun or even right all of the time. But we try our best to be mindful of all the choices we make.

I don’t presume that the choices WE make are the ones YOU should make. My only hope is that you are aware of the choices you’re making, and more importantly, WHY. It’s easy to shirk responsibility by acting like other people are making choices for us, but unless you’re still going to school and living at home, that’s not really true, is it?

None of this is easy peasy lemon squeezy, but it’s the only way I know of to avoid the regret of looking back one day to realize you’ve been living a story you never intended.

Let me ask you: How do YOU do it? What’s your best tip for making sure you’re living a story that’s your own, and not someone else’s?

Butter On One Side


So Kim asked Lucy if she wanted to help her make grilled cheese sandwiches. Convinced it would be like frosting a cake, Lucy signed on. Kim gave her a butter knife and told her to make sure she just buttered one side.

And this was the result.

One of my favorite things about hanging around kids is being regularly reminded that there are always new ways to look at things. When confronted with old problems that demand new solutions, our first step might be to develop a new way of seeing.

Your Next Big Thing


As of this writing, Kim is pregnant with our third child. The news came as a bit of a surprise. Not a shock, mind you, as we are well aware of how babies are made. (Pretty sure, at least.)

The fact is that although we were open to another child, we weren’t exactly planning on it. We had been getting used to the story of our family having just two kids.

When Kim first told me the news, I may or may not have cursed. Not in an angry way, but more in a “you’ve got to be kidding me” way. [Read more...]