You & Improved

The Magic of Unscheduling


My dad used to build houses for a living. He believes that one of the reasons for the prevalence of mold these days is because homes are being built so air-tight and energy efficient, there’s no room for the house to “breathe.”

Our lives can be similar. They are often scheduled down to the minute, one day to the next, with no room to breathe. As a result, spontaneity is cut out and life gets stale and moldy.

As evidence of its sinister nature, Adultitis likes to cast spontaneity as the enemy, a disruptive force that wreaks havoc on our perfectly manicured plans. But in truth, spontaneity is the catalyst for magic in our lives. Spontaneity opens the door for wonder to walk through. It invites the Universe to surprise and delight us in ways we never could have predicted.

Indeed, our most treasured memories — the ones we reminisce about with loved ones — regularly come out of an unplanned moment of spontaneity:

The romantic indoor picnic by candlelight that time the power went out.

The impromptu Bon Jovi car dancing concert at the end of that long and tiring road trip.

The best milkshake you ever had at that offbeat diner you stopped at in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve never heard anyone say they have too much magic and wonder in their lives. But I’ve run across countless people – very productive ones I might add – who feel like their lives have turned stale.

Like travelers trying to stick one more pair of shoes into an already overflowing suitcase, we are ever on the lookout for the latest productivity hack that will enable us to squeeze one more action into our schedule. Our calendars runneth over with recitals, meetings, games, playdates, family obligations, and household errands. Even our vacations are scheduled, down to the minute.

Perhaps the productivity hack we are missing is actually scheduling time for spontaneity.

Can one schedule spontaneity? Isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron?

Well, we certainly can’t predict what will come from our moments, but we sure can schedule more space for them to happen. I like to think of it as “unscheduling.” Here are some tips that have worked for me:

  • One thing I cannot recommend highly enough is the commitment to practice a weekly Sabbath, no matter what your religious leanings may be. It totally changed our life and keeps us from going crazy.
  • When you plan out your day, don’t fill every minute. Create space for the unexpected phone call, friendly visitor, or the project that goes longer than expected.
  • And when it comes to vacations, fill even less. Sure, block out the big things, the landmarks and tourist attractions you’d like to see, but block out some space for the unexpected side roads or to merely just “be.”

Spontaneity builds relationships. It can breathe new life into stale ones.

Unschedule some time to go do something unexpected.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and My Broken Remote


I’ve recently been lamenting the fact that our TV’s remote control is on the fritz. It’s not a battery issue, it’s just the power button that seems to be on strike. I’ve pegged my youngest daughter (the two-year-old) as the prime suspect for its early demise. Although I have no hard evidence, she is often seen secretly holding the remote, and the power button just so happens to be the only red button in a sea of black ones. I’m just saying.

Regardless of the culprit, my frustration joins the chorus of a gazillion other parents who have crooned, “This is why we can’t have nice things…”

On a seemingly unrelated note, one of the stops we made as a family during our recent #Notarule Tour swing west was to De Smet, South Dakota. It’s the location of one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homesteads, and has a lot of interactive things to do. Lucy read all the books with her Godmom Jenna, and we have been watching the television series together as a family. (They just don’t make shows like that anymore, folks. Plus, Michael Landon is a real national treasure!)

We were able to reserve one of the four covered wagons available to sleep in overnight, so that was the highlight. It was also the worst night of sleep I think I’ve ever had. It’s remarkable to think that our set-up – we actually had electricity, so it wasn’t exactly “roughing it” – would have been a dream to those early settlers.


Other discoveries were equally eye-opening. Covered wagons had wooden wheels; no shocks, struts, or satellite radio, and it took them all day to go 15 miles. At one point, Laura and her family lived in a dugout, which was basically a dirt home carved out of a hillside with one window and a single stove in the center. Of course, there were no supermarkets around, so they had to provide their own food, and make their own soap. One long winter, all they had to eat was plain old wheat bread. Which had to be baked day after day, after grinding the flour by hand, and eaten without any butter.


My kids got to try their hand at washing and drying clothes, like they did in the days before spin cycles and permanent press.


And they made corncob dolls just like the one Laura had. Honestly, I thought calling it a doll was a bit of a stretch. No face, no limbs, and certainly no karate-chop action.


It was a tremendous experience for all of us. (You can see pictures on our homeschooling scrapbook.) I came away awed by the ingenuity of these pioneers amidst such humble circumstances, and grateful for the multitude of things I take for granted in my own life.

It’s amazing how a change in perspective really can change everything.

Which is to say, I’m no longer all that concerned with the malfunctioning power button on my remote control.

Beware the Flow


Here’s an interesting tidbit:

“The advent of the computer age promised shorter working hours and more time to play. As early as 1965, a US Senate subcommittee predicted that by the year 2000 employees would be working only 20 hours per week while enjoying up to seven weeks of vacation annually.” –Marion Elizabeth Witte, The No-Regrets Bucket List


We probably do get twice as much done in 20 hours today than we did in 40 hours in 1965. And it’s possible that 50 years from now, we will have figured out how to get just as much done as we do today in half the time.

The question is, will we finally give ourselves permission to not drive ourselves so hard? To devote more time to the people and causes we care about the most?

I think we all know the answer to that.

My friend John works in Chicago. He leaves his house before 6:00 in the morning so he can beat the worst of traffic. He told me that at that hour, if you’re not going 80 or 90 miles per hour, you’re liable to get run off the road. The police don’t stop anyone, because frankly, everyone’s doing it and they know that doing so is likely to make traffic even worse later.

90 miles an hour doesn’t feel that fast when everybody’s doing it. It feels normal, even.

Indeed, it’s always been and always will be easier and more convenient to just go with the flow. But that doesn’t mean the flow is the best place to reside.

In fact, the flow can take you in the opposite direction of where you really want to be.

Beware the flow.

The Shocking Truth About Your So-Called Priorities


Do you ever struggle with balancing all of the priorities competing for your attention?

Yeah, me too. I’ve often felt like my life is the love child of the movies Mission Impossible and Groundhog Day.

Then I discovered this: The word “priority” first entered the English language in the 14th century. Notice the singular tense. It comes from the Medieval Latin word “prioritas,” which literally means “the condition of being first.” It was not until the 20th century that we went ahead and pluralized it, creating the word “priorities.”


Except for the fact that it’s impossible for there to be more than one “first.”

No wonder we get so frustrated when we try and juggle all of our “priorities.” There’s no such thing!

Before kids, my priority was my business. That is, it was the driver of most of the decisions in my life. Now my priority is my family.

But too often, I’d operated under the impression that both were my priority, which caused all kinds of trouble, because I felt like I was doing something wrong when they conflicted with one another. Turns out I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I was just trying to do something impossible.

Most people claim that their loved ones are their priority. But their actions don’t often reflect it. Not because they are liars, but because they are humans. With egos.

Maybe you’ll be able to relate to this quote as much as I did:

“Because of our proclivity to veer in the direction of things that stroke our ego, we tend to cheat at home. We give an inordinate amount of our time, energy, and passion to our work.”
–Andy Stanley, Choosing to Cheat

Makes sense to me.

You get awards at work. Special parking places. Better offices. Fancy titles. Respect from your peers. The feeling of accomplishment when you finish a task. Oh, and you get paid cash money.

In contrast, let’s take the job of parenting. It’s a job you do for free. There are no awards, fans, or fancy titles. It’s hard to tell if you’re doing a good job (and most of the time you feel like you aren’t).

My daughter Ginny recently went through a phase where she basically wanted nothing to do with me. She’d run away when I tried to pick her up. If I happened to catch her, she wriggled like mad to break free. If I tried to comfort her when she was crying, she cried harder. I’m not Mommy, ergo, I’m the devil.

Definitely not an ego boost.

My ego will take a line of people who clap after I speak and want my autograph, please.

Since I don’t want my ego to be the boss of me, I have to make a conscious decision about my priority.

Here’s the thing: saying something is a priority is easy, but entirely meaningless. The only indicator of your true priority is what you do, not what you say. When faced with a scenario in which you have to choose one thing over another — such as bringing work home to catch up on paperwork, versus spending the evening playing board games with your family — which one do you choose more often than not?

That’s your priority.

So when you feel like a crazy person trying to balance all of your “priorities,” cut yourself some slack. You are awesome, but you can’t do impossible things.

Instead, a better use of your attention is to make sure your intended priority and real actions are playing nice together.

How to Deal with Difficult, Adultitis-Ridden People


Since 94% of the population suffers from at least a mild form of Adultitis, odds are that anyone with a job has to work with someone infected with this vile disease. Maybe it’s a co-worker, or a client, or – gulp! – the boss. Sometimes the people I chat with after my speaking programs will confess to being married to someone with a full-blown case of Adultitis.

So the question, of course, is how do I fix someone who has it?

Unfortunately, the truth is…you don’t.

I am a professional speaker. Most speakers I know started their career with the hope of making a difference and changing lives. I certainly did.

If you do it long enough, you’ll likely to come across the uplifting statistic that informs you that your audience will probably forget almost everything you said the minute they walk out the door. Eventually you will realize that you do not have any ability whatsoever of changing someone’s life. Entertain, sure. Inspire, maybe. But change? That’s up to them, not you. (Newsflash: this little rule also applies to any husbands, wives, parents, and teachers who may be reading.)

It’s hard to not feel like you’re a professional exerciser of futility.

The thing is, the more quickly you accept this reality, the better speaker you become.

When you are not worried about the guy in the front row crossing his arms, or the lady who ducked out the back, or whether or not you will get a standing ovation, the more you will be able to focus on being your authentic, true self and allow your message to land where it will.

And THEN you might make some sort of difference for someone.

You may not make a living from being on stage, but the principle is the same. When dealing with people who have Adultitis, there is only so much you can do. This is it:

1) Do your best to be a good example. Take yourself lightly. Live your life cheerfully, with humor and joyful anticipation. In the best-case scenario, these people will see and be inspired by your approach to life and a little will rub off. Maybe they’ll even ask for your secret and then you can help them on the road to recovery.

2) If your example alone doesn’t make a dent, you should incorporate their office supplies or car keys into jell-o molds. (Just kidding.) (Not really.) Maybe you could try sending them flowers or a box of cookies. Maybe they just need someone to notice them and be kind to them.

3) If you’re still running into a brick wall of Adultitis, your only other option is to ignore them and do your best to limit your exposure to them. You don’t have to be mean about it; you just have to be intentional. Depending on your relationship, you might consider deleting them from your life. Harsh I know, but life is too short to have the joy sucked out of you by someone with a full-blown case of Adultitis.

4) “Woah, buddy,” you may be thinking. “That’s a little extreme. And it’s not exactly gonna work. This is my spouse you’re talking about,” or “I can’t exactly fire my idiot co-worker.” If extracting yourself from the situation is not an option, you should make a priority to surround yourself with people who are relatively Adultitis-free. These relationships will help bolster your energy levels, and serve as a forcefield from the Adultitis-ridden zombies in your life. (By the way, if you’re looking to connect with some other like-minded people who are the bees knees, join us for our next Facebook Party this Wednesday night!)

Is it an ideal solution? No, but it’s reality.

You are only the ringmaster of your circus and your monkeys. Focus on the things you can control: your attitude, your actions, and the people you choose to spend most of your time with. Let go of the things you can’t.

Simple, although certainly not easy.

Striving for an Adultitis-free life will not always yield the results you’d like. You may not be able to make someone change, but it’s always possible to make a difference.

Don’t be surprised if the difference is in you.

Anticipate Edits


I recently had a conversation with a scientist about how scientists are kids who managed to grow up with their curiosity intact, and now get to play with even cooler toys.

She expressed frustration that for a scientist, the Adultitis often sets in when submitting one’s work for review to the scientific community. The paperwork alone can be a nightmare, but most often it’s the curse of common knowledge that’s the real culprit.

Sometimes new theories appear pretty “out there,” challenging the very foundation of the status quo. It’s tempting to label the authors of these theories as kooks, dismissing them out of hand. Certainly, there are times when crackpot theories really are crackpot theories. But it is awfully dangerous to allow dismissal to be our default reaction.

For instance, there once was a man named Iggy who put forth a theory that had the potential to save countless lives. But it flew in the face of the established scientific and medical opinions. The crazy thing is, when it was tested, it worked. Every time. The only problem was that Iggy couldn’t give a scientific reason as to WHY. So poor Iggy was labeled a crackpot and was eventually committed to an insane asylum at the age of 47 and died 14 days later, after being beaten by the guards.

So what was Iggy’s crazeballs idea? Just that it might be a good idea for doctors to wash their hands before working with patients.

Fortunately for Iggy, formally known as Ignaz Semmelweis, a small group of curious scientists experimented with the procedures that he proposed, and his theories finally gained widespread acceptance years after his death, partly thanks to Louis Pasteur’s scientific confirmation of germ theory.

Here’s another interesting tidbit:

“The so-called Semmelweis reflex — a metaphor for a certain type of human behaviour characterized by reflex-like rejection of new knowledge because it contradicts entrenched norms, beliefs or paradigms — is named after Semmelweis, whose perfectly reasonable hand-washing suggestions were ridiculed and rejected by his contemporaries.”

It’s outrageous to think that scientists could be swayed by ridiculously irrational judgements and assumptions. After all, aren’t they supposed to be all about rational, systematic ways of acquiring knowledge?

But alas, scientists are still human, and we are all prone to this behavior. How many times have you prejudged someone, only to find that after getting to know them better, your initial appraisal was way off the mark? (most of my best friends fall into this category.)

We are taught in after-school specials that prejudice is bad, and if we catch ourselves doing it, we often feel guilty or ashamed. But my good friend Jessica Pettitt, who is a champion for social justice, reminded me that we shouldn’t feel guilty for making these judgements and assumptions, because we often make them for really good reasons. For example, to feel safe, or prepared.

What really matters is what we DO with these judgements and assumptions.

Jessica’s suggestion is this: “When you write that first story, print it as a draft, triple-spaced with extra wide margins. You do this because you’re anticipating edits.”

The scientists who originally branded Iggy a crackpot weren’t jerks for thinking that his ideas were weird. They were jerks because they didn’t leave enough room for edits to their original story about him. Which is a shame when you think about how many lives could have been saved.

Hopefully our actions will not lead to such life and death consequences, but it’s still worth remembering that not all kooks are kooks.

Anticipate edits.

Do You Need to Be a Workaholic to Be Great?


Is it possible to be great and well-balanced at the same time?

By great, I mean championship quality. Among the best in the world.

And by well-balanced, I don’t mean that you’re never stressed, or are able to fit everything in, and be all things to all people. What I mean is that you don’t have to be singularly focused on being great.

People like Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) and James Cameron (director of Titanic and Avatar) are undeniably great. But if you dig into their stories, they certainly weren’t balanced. Neither would ever be considered for a “Father of the Year” award. Cameron has been quoted as saying, “Anybody can be a father or husband. There are only five people in the world who can do what I do, and I’m going for that.”

I want to be a great artist, author, and speaker. But I don’t want to sacrifice everything else to achieve it. Kim and I decided a few years ago that if we ended up impacted millions of people in a positive way, but our kids turned out to be a-holes (or grow up to regard us as a-holes), we failed.

So many examples seem to indicate that in order to be among the best in the world at what you do, balance has to be thrown out the window.

And so I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my commitment to my family would likely limit the impact I’d make on the world.

Then I read a Sports Illustrated article about Steve Kerr, the head coach of the recently-crowned NBA champion Golden State Warriors. I’m a Bulls fan, and have fond memories of Steve’s playing days in Chicago, so I was happy to see him win. The story gave me hope that perhaps greatness and balance were not mutually exclusive. An excerpt:

He is in a profession that does not normally lend itself to perspective, or balance. The sketch of the modern coach borders on caricature: watching Synergy cutups until his eyes bleed, writing notes until his fingers ache, falling asleep on the office floor and wearing the same tracksuit the next day.

Kerr hikes Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in Oakland. He surfs Pipes Beach in San Diego. He grills carne asada for his daughter, Maddy, and her volleyball teammates at Cal. For a week every summer he flies to a buddy’s ranch in Baja California and stays in cheap motels near Scorpion Bay. Or he throws up a tent on the sand. “What’s your ZFL level?” you can ask him, and he’ll reply with a smile, “Pretty high.” ZFL is one of his pet acronyms: Zest For Life.

After games, even losses, he doesn’t dive immediately into video on the plane. He cracks open a book, or plays Scrabble on his computer, while slow slipping a Modelo Especial. Only then does he queue up the video. Don’t get it wrong. None of this means he cares any less than his Belichickian brethren. He once broke a racket over his head during a tennis match. He practiced scribbling last summer so he could jot sets faster at timeouts. He drew 8 technical fouls this season despite losing just 15 games.

Kerr needs his books, his Counting Crows songs, his driving range swings at Tilden Park Golf Course to shield himself from the same competitive grease fire that consumes them all.

I love that: “to shield himself from the same competitive grease fire that consumes them all.”

Kerr is a direct contrast to Tom Thibodeau, former head coach of the Bulls. Thibodeau is well-known for having absolutely no life outside of basketball. He drives his players hard and himself harder, often sleeping in his office to watch game film. He is widely regarded as a great coach, but I wonder if his lack of balance actually hinders him from greater success.

It seems almost heretical to consider, but I’m beginning to wonder if Steve Jobs would have been even more successful had he paid a little bit more attention to things outside of Apple. Indeed, studies show that at a certain point, working more hours is a waste of time, based on the loss of productivity.

Look, I don’t really know any of these people. But I do know that we often worship the accomplishments of the super successful, while conveniently ignoring the trail of health problems and broken relationships left in their wake.

I have struggled to find examples of people who have achieved true greatness and maintained a true sense of balance. I used to think it was because they didn’t exist.

The success and story of Steve Kerr gives me hope.

#notarule: winning at business and life by breaking rules that don’t exist


“Blessed are the rule breakers. They shalt inherit the Future. We have always admired the great renegades of business, brave souls who dared to deny the status quo, defy the odds, and pioneer a new normal. Nicolas Tesla. Richard Branson. Tony Stark. One thing all great titans of industry have in common is this: they were able to identify rules that don’t exist and had the courage to break them. Of course, there are plenty of rules that DO exist. If you commit fraud or neglect to pay taxes, I hope you look good in an orange jumpsuit. But the rules that DON’T exist greatly outnumber the ones that do. History is filled with examples of those who profited greatly by dispensing with so-called ‘rules.’”

This is an excerpt of my new ChangeThis manifesto that talks about the rules that don’t exist and specifically delves into how to get good at noticing these so-called rules and how to muster up the courage to actually break them.

It’s a quick read and free to download, please feel free to share it with friends, family, co-workers, bosses and sworn enemies (which may not be mutually exclusive.)

Answering the What-Ifs


I met an engineer who liked her job, but didn’t LOVE it. She really wanted to be a graphic designer but was worried that if she tried pursuing it as a profession, it would take all the fun out of it. For now, it was a creative outlet that she enjoyed, and she didn’t want to risk losing that.

It was a perfectly legitimate concern that paralyzed her from taking action for no good reason.

This is an ideal example of the benefits of what I call tinkering. Rather than maintain an “all-or-nothing” mindset, where we demand knowing how it will all work out before we take a single step, just tinker.

In this case, the woman could do a call out to her network, letting them know she was open for helping out with any small design projects people might need help with, from a logo for a small business to a flyer, to promote the school bake sale. If she likes it, and it’s still fun, she can do more. Maybe it will grow into a full-fledged business someday. If she doesn’t enjoy it, she can stop, and keep her creative endeavors personal. And then at least she will know for sure.

Don’t let something you don’t know paralyze you from exploring opportunities to make your story even better.

Thou Shalt Be Realistic


[ This is an excerpt from Penguins Can’t Fly +39 Other Rules That Don’t Exist, a beautiful and inspiring book that will help you uncover and break the so-called rules that could be holding you back from a life of awesome. Get it here! ]

“I do have dreams, but I try to keep them realistic.”

No one likes to admit they don’t have dreams. But no one likes to be called a fool, either. Or worse yet, a failure. After all, the bigger you dream, the more likely you are to fail. Claiming to have realistic dreams makes you sound smart. It gives the impression that you’re going places, likely to succeed, and are not to be sidetracked chasing any childish, crackpot schemes. But one of those words is terribly problematic.

The word “realistic.”

Who’s to say what’s realistic or not?

Do we really believe that Orville and Wilbur Wright were deemed “realistic” by their fellow townsfolk while they used their bicycle repair shop profits to try and build the world’s first “flying machine”? [Read more…]

The Magical Moving Sidewalk


When do mechanical issues in Los Angeles wreak havoc on a flight from Nashville to Detroit? When you’re trying to get home to Madison, of course.

I recently had a speaking engagement in Nashville and took Lucy with me for our second Daddy Daughter business trip. Everything was wonderful, until our flight home, which was delayed thanks to the aforementioned issues in L.A. That caused us to miss our plane to Madison by mere minutes, despite us sprinting though the airport. As I spoke with an airline representative (the specific airline doesn’t really matter, does it?) I struggled to understand where they put our bags while still fuming over the circumstance that had us staying the night in Detroit.

I mean, how else are you supposed to respond to missing the last flight home?

If you’re Lucy, you excitedly inquire about the likelihood of us traversing that awesome moving sidewalk a few yards away.

Please keep in mind that she was not unaware of our scenario, blissfully ignorant of the adulthood realities I was mired in. She was tired and hungry. She was missing her mom and her siblings. She wanted to go home, too. It’s just that the little wonders all around us were too numerous to be wasting time worried about things that just don’t matter, if not now, then certainly a few years, weeks, or even hours from now.

In the end, we checked into a hotel, ordered a sausage and pepperoni pizza, and ate it in bed while watching Cutthroat Kitchen on my laptop. (A chef had to prep and cook his entire dish from a bunk bed!) We made the most of our extra time together.

The world is filled with magic, if you’re not so mired In Adultitis to miss it. Shame on me for allowing the actions of an airline to steal my attention away from this fact. Thank God Lucy was there to show me a better way.

We don’t have any control over broken airplanes in Los Angeles that wreak havoc on our travel plans. But we have way more choice over how our stories unfold than we act like we do.

Sure, we can get all bent out of shape over the inconsistent airline, the careless driver, or the noisy neighbor. We can let them steal our joy if we want to.

But we don’t have to.

Better to keep an eye out for a moving sidewalk.

The Future is Here (Minus the Aliens)

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I was born in 1976, the same year this interview of Arthur C. Clarke happened. He describes in great detail the gadgets we are using today.

The dude even pretty much nails the Apple Watch, which isn’t even officially out yet!

Considering I was a newborn when he made these predictions, I would not have understood any of it. But even if I’d watched it for the first time in 1983, when I was seven, I still would have been amazed by the future he so accurately predicted. It would have seemed like a far-fetched fairy tale. Keep in mind, the Atari 2600 would be released a year AFTER this interview, and we were still four years away from Pac Man.

And yet here we are.

The freedom to craft an amazing story has never been greater. It’s exciting to think about what will be possible forty years from now. But the real question is this:

What are you doing with the tools and opportunity we now enjoy, much of which seemed practically unfathomable just four decades ago?

More than binge-watching Netflix, tweeting about celebrities, and sharing silly cat videos, I hope.

How to Make Good Things Happen


Many folks have asked me how I got my book deal. Basically, a literary agent came out of nowhere after seeing my art on Facebook, asked if she could represent me, pretty much wrote the proposal, and pitched it to a bunch of big New York publishers in person.

I know. If ever there was a “must be nice,” this is it. And it’s completely unhelpful for anyone looking to land a book deal of their own.

But that’s not really the full story. The real story is a bit longer and a lot more useful.

It starts about ten years ago during Kim’s lunch break when she was still teaching kindergarten. She would use these off hours to make sales calls for our young business. One day, she connected with a religious education director named Mary Jo, who took a shine to us and hired me to speak at her church. She insisted that there was a market waiting for us if we created a faith-based program that could hold the attention of both kids and adults. She was right. Her insight was what helped launch my speaking career and led to Kim’s retirement from teaching.

A few years later, we moved into an office space and held some cartooning workshops. We promoted it to our newsletter subscribers, and the mother of one of the girls who attended had been in the audience of that early program at Mary Jo’s church.

Fast forward about four more years, and we landed an awesome gig for a well-known technology company in Madison. The executive who helped approve the contract was Kristin, the very same woman who’d heard me years earlier, and whose daughter had attended the cartooning workshop.

Then, one of the employees of the tech company that hired us shared some of my art on Facebook to help promote the conference. And that person had a tenuous connection with Michelle, who saw the art and eventually became my agent.

It’s not a stretch to say that the book deal we got can be traced back to a cold call to a church about a potential speaking opportunity over ten years ago.

After really mulling over how things transpired, I’ve been able to uncover a few lessons that anyone can apply, whether you’re trying land a book deal or not. [Read more…]

Where’s Your Secret Hideout?


Superman has his Fortress of Solitude. Batman has the Batcave. For my wife, it’s the bathtub. My dad’s is his workshop. Mine is my studio. Or Barnes & Noble. Yours might look like a nature preserve, a scrapbooking nook, or a fishing boat.

I’m talking about secret hideouts.

A secret hideout is a place you go to recharge, reflect, or just disappear for a little bit. It’s where you can refill your Kool-Aid. Wonder. Dream. Decompress.

Everyone needs a secret hideout. Especially if you want to do super things. Like be a great parent, spouse, friend, or you know, change the world.

So, where is YOUR secret hideout? What is the place for you where time flies AND stands still at the same time? Where you feel a little bit more YOU after spending any amount of time there?

Maintaining any semblance of life balance is a challenging, never-ending pursuit. But one very straightforward way to keep Adultitis at bay is to spend a little time in your secret hideout each week (if not each day.)

Consider yourself warned, however: Adultitis would love for you to believe that spending time in your secret hideout is an indulgence, making you feel selfish or guilty.

It’s not. It’s a necessity.

Superman is literally freaking Superman, and even he can’t fight crime every second of the day. Even Superman needs time to recharge. Forgive my bluntness, but you’re no Superman. (Neither am I.)

Where’s YOUR secret hideout? When was the last time you spent some quality time there?

Facebook is the New Christmas Letter


Some people love Facebook. Others hate it. I find myself switching between those two emotions on a regular basis.

I’ve read people lament that social media is not authentic, that people only post the stuff that makes them look successful and happy.

Well, duh.

I don’t know about you, but our household saw a sharp drop in Christmas letters received this year. I’ve come to believe it’s because Facebook has become the new Christmas letter. In Christmas letters, people share some of the life-changing low lights, but for the most part, we celebrate the accomplishments and happy milestones we enjoyed.

It’s our greatest hits.

Facebook is a Christmas letter, written in real-time, over the course of the entire year. I think that’s a wonderful use of Facebook, even if it doesn’t tell the whole story. Frankly, no one wants to see photos of your in-grown toenail, or read the play-by-play status updates of your messy divorce.

So I don’t think it does any good to label social media as bad or accuse people of being inauthentic.

We don’t need to change what we post, we need to change our perception of what’s being posted.

Because the danger, and miserable onset of Adultitis, comes when we start assuming that everyone else has it together but us. It can lead to envy, jealousy and depression, all of which are uglier than that infected toenail. Indeed, comparison is a key factor in unhappiness.

The solution is a simple shift in perspective.

We just need to stop comparing our everday life to other people’s greatest hits.

P.S. Full disclosure: The adorable photo above was taken after a dinner out that also included a spilled drink, some sibling rivalry, and lots of whining. None of which are pictured here.

P.S.S. You can see even more of my highly curated greatest hits on Twitter and Instagram.



Every time I say no, I actually mean yes.

(What, am I the two-headed monster from Sesame Street?)

I know it’s confusing, but hear me out. It looks like this…

“No. I can’t connect for a long-overdue playdate on Friday morning,” actually means…

“Yes. I will take the morning to clean since we have people coming over on Saturday. If I can clean during the day on Friday, then I won’t have to stay up late on Friday night cleaning after the kids go to bed, and I’ll be able to be well-rested for our visitors which will help me enjoy the time more. I’ll also get quality time with Jason after the kids go to bed, which is rejuvenating and fills up my cup.”

“No. I will not add more work hours to my week, even though I feel like it would be helpful since my inbox is constantly overflowing,” actually means…

“Yes. I will make the commitment to put the kids first and be their primary caregiver each morning and two full days during the week, which allows me to find a healthy balance between the chores, ‘ourschooling,’ and the everyday management of the house, bills, etc., so that we can preserve our treasured Sabbath each week for rest and refueling.”

“No. I will not host a big extended family birthday party for my kids, even though there is social pressure to do so,” actually means…

“Yes. I will reallocate the money and energy we would spend on a big party to make each of their birthdays special by taking advantage of the freedom we have (as a homeschooling and self-employed family) to dedicate each of their actual special days to create amazing memories as a family of five.”

No is not negative (Sorry English teachers everywhere!).

No means…Yes.

Instead of feeling guilty about your no’s…

Instead of feeling resentful about what you can’t do…

Instead of feeling judged by your decisions…

Own your No.

It’s really a Yes.

One Year to Live


If you only had a year to live, how would you spend it?

It’s a paradoxal cliche that we hear an awful lot, but don’t spend nearly the same amount of time thoughtfully considering.

I stumbled across a story shared by Chris Guillebeau about an artist named Robert Genn who developed pancreatic cancer and was told he had about a year to live. Here’s what he decided to do:

They considered how to spend the time they had left together. There were thoughts of trips to Hawaii or the Galapagos, but Genn wanted to end his life as he had lived it: in his studio, making art, with his family close by. James fashioned a reclining chair so his father could continue to paint, lying down, as his illness took a physical toll. “He made it is his mission to go as long and as far as he could with a paintbrush in his hand, and he was painting small canvases right up until the last few weeks,” James said.

“There’s a thing in the culture that says, if you’re given a year to live, what would you do differently? My dad did the exact same thing in the last year of his life as he had been doing for the first 77 years,” Sara said.

I found that incredibly inspiring, and a shining example of a life well-lived.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I received form letters rejecting Kim & Jason for syndication. And it feels like it was just yesterday when we were surviving on a grocery budget of $100 a month, or when we’d go to bed wondering if tomorrow would finally be the day our bank account would run dry.

There were many reasons we persisted though this desert time, but one I’d never formally put into words became evident when I read this article.

I want to design my life in such a way that if I found out I only had twelve months to live, I wouldn’t have to change a thing.

Of course, this sort of life doesn’t come about by magic. It requires the sacrifice to do whatever’s necessary and the persistence to never give up. It requires the bravery to break the rules that stand in your way.

But first, it requires the time and the mindfulness to truly consider what kind of story you want to live.

I am not a natural born rule breaker


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.

How to Increase Your Odds of Saying Today Was a Good Day


The other day was really good. Nothing earth-shattering occurred, but it ended up just being really wonderful. After a decent night’s sleep, I made a breakfast of eggs, sausage and cinnamon rolls. Then we all headed to the local Apple Store to see if the wifi on my phone was broken. It was, and out of warranty, to boot. (Not great.) We decided to upgrade and order new phones (Super great!) After chowing down on that new bacon stuffed crust pizza at Pizza Hut, we drove home and Kim and I enjoyed some peace and quiet in the yard while the kids napped. Afterwards, we took advantage of the wind and did some kite flying. Then I threw some pork chops on the grill for dinner. After a quiet evening reading books to the kids, Kim and I watched an episode of The Blacklist after the kids went down.

ice-cube-diaperAs my head hit the pillow that night, I could almost hear Ice Cube singing, “Today was a good day.”

It got me thinking about good days, and how groundbreaking things don’t necessarily have to happen for a day to be labeled as good. It got me wondering if there was a way to increase the regularity of good days in one’s life, which reminded me of an article by Noah Kagan, called Hacking Your Best Day Ever.

The premise is to keep track of the things that make the good days good, and then intentionally build them into your everyday.

If you have a great day, keep track of things that made it great. Or at least spend a little time at the end of each day thinking about your favorite part. Over time, you’ll start to see some patterns.

Here are some of my favorite things:

  • Enjoying a big, leisurely breakfast.
  • Being out in nature.
  • Quiet time in prayer.
  • Playing with the kids.
  • Big chunk of uninterrupted time to work on art.
  • Engaging conversation with Kim.

Once you know what these things are, you are able to intentionally inject them into your day. There are no guarantees, but it does make the odds of having a good day drastically tilt in your favor.

And that’s a game worth playing.

What are some of YOUR ingredients for a good day?

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.

9 Nuggets for Non-Speakers from The National Speakers Convention


A few weeks ago, I was in San Diego with Kim and Ginny for the annual convention of the National Speakers Association. One of the highlights for me was getting recognized for achieving Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) status. Less than 10% of professional speakers have earned this designation, which is based on number of paid speeches given, income earned, client evaluations and a peer review panel.

I cracked up at some of the alternative ideas for what CSP could stand for, as suggested by people on our Facebook page: Celebrated Silly Person, Childlike Super Powers, Causes Smiles Permanently, Captain Smarty Pants, and my favorite, Can’t Speak Portugese.

jason-mark-eatonAnother personal thrill was that I was in the same CSP class as big Mark Eaton, the all-star center with the Utah Jazz who played with Karl Malone and John Stockton and against people like Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I had a bunch of his basketball cards growing up and got a picture with him a few years ago. I’m around six-feet-tall and he makes me look like an Oompa Loompa!

The best part of each convention for me is being able to hang out with my speaker buddies as well as being inundated with great information and inspiration. In fact, most of my best gems are just as relevant for folks who don’t earn a living running their mouth. Here are a few:

“Don’t start with what’s possible. Start with what’s cool. Write music that you can’t play. Do whatever it takes to play it.” —Mike Rayburn

“Just because something could be worse doesn’t mean you don’t deserve for them to be better.” —Kat Cole, CEO of Cinnabon

“If you can’t explain something to a child, then you don’t really know it.” —Sean Stephenson

“Don’t just ask questions. Question your answers.” —Eric Chester

“To get really good at (anything), you need to log flight time.” —Penn Gilette

“Your mind is always eavesdropping on your self talk.” —Jim Kwik

“One of the best ways to transform people is through story.” —Nancy Duarte

“A list of ingredients doesn’t make someone a chef.” —Jay Baer (on the concept of freely giving away your knowledge)

“To do things you haven’t done, you have to start doing things you haven’t done.” —Mike Rayburn

Which one resonates most with you today?

Is Struggle a Sign That You’re Doing Life Wrong?

hang-in-thereSometimes I look at my kids and see beauty. I marvel at the sparkle in their eyes and the sweetness of their smiles. I am overwhelmed by gratitude and joy, awestruck by how amazing they are and humbled to be entrusted with their wellbeing.

Other times I seriously consider the ramifications of dropping them off at the mall and driving to Miami, never to return. I have lamented the fact that were I to launch myself through a window of my home, none of them are far enough from the ground to cause fatal damage. More times than not, I am flabbergasted by how frustrating parenting can be.

I worry that word will get out that I struggle with Adultitis just like everyone else. That my life is not a Pinterest board come to life. That living in our house is nothing like living in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

I wonder what I’m doing wrong.

I suppose the reason I think I’m doing anything wrong at all is because I live in a society that preaches comfort and convenience. We are an impatient lot, what with the answer to seemingly every problem a click away. To struggle is to sin if you’ve got an easy solution available for just $49.99.

We’ve been sold on the idea that life should be easy, and if it’s not, we’re doing it wrong.

What a crock.

You know what’s easy? Doing what everyone else is doing. Giving up at the first sign of adversity. Abandoning a marriage instead of doing the messy work of making it better. Drinking or flushing our problems away when the consequences of our actions become too hard. Abdicating our parenting responsibilities to someone else. Living by rules that don’t exist.

Know what’s hard? Being intentional about every choice you make. Asking tough questions. Saying no to good things so you can say yes to better things, even if that means disappointing people. Staying in the moment with the people you love. Not rushing off to chase the next big thing. Being persistent after the first, second, and seventy-seventh failure. Breaking the rules that don’t exist.

It’s not a bad thing to strive to improve our circumstances in life, but it’s in the struggle where we grow. It’s a sign that we’re alive, actively engaged in our story.

Doing parenting (and life, for that matter) wrong is as easy as it gets.

Doing it right just might be the hardest job on the face of the earth.

Taking the easy route is by far the most comfortable. It also leads to a story that really sucks. And the worst part is that you often don’t realize it until the end credits start to roll.

No one’s life is as good as the one they curate on Facebook. No one spends all their free time doing all the cool stuff they see on Pinterest. No one has it all figured out.

But the ones who are living amazing stories are the ones who are brave enough to persist through the struggle. To practice being more patient and intentional and brave and fun and loving, even when they just failed at all five in the last seven minutes.

Be the one who refuses to settle for the safe and easy life. Living a great story is hard as hell.

And worth every bit of the effort.

The Most Important Thing To Remember About Your Story


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Must Be Nice


Next week I will be attending the annual convention for the National Speakers Association. It’s a natural human tendency to compare ourselves to others, especially people in the same field as us. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, if it leads us to discover areas to improve. But when it shifts into envy or jealousy, that’s a problem. I am already bracing myself for the “must be nice” game. In the speaker world, it goes like this:

Of course he gets booked all the time, he’s a former NBA player. Must be nice.

She’s got so many connections from working all those years in the corporate world. Must be nice.

I wish could juggle fire and do backflips like that. Must be nice.

I fall into it myself. I spend too much time noticing all the things I’m not, that I miss the things I am. One theme that drove itself home for me during last year’s convention was my talent as an artist. It’s one of the things I’m really good at, and it’s a skill that very few speakers possess. And yet, although I do incorporate my artistic gifts into my speaking programs and offerings, it’s almost as an afterthought. I have not made it a cornerstone to who I am and what I do, at least to the extent that I probably should.

This small revelation of mine might be patently obvious to you, as it is to many speaker friends that I’ve shared it with. Interestingly, our greatest gifts are often the ones we overlook the most, because we tend to undervalue the things that come easy to us.

And yet, were I to devote the time and attention to making my art an integral part of my unique selling proposition, there would inevitably be those who’d observe me from afar and say, “Of course he’s a successful speaker. Being a great artist is an killer hook and he can make his PowerPoint slides look amazing. Must be nice.”

I have a wife who shares my passion for fighting Adultitis and is very good at communicating with clients and managing travel details. She books all my gigs and all my travel. I’m pretty sure other speakers hate me for that. Must be nice, huh?

Now, the “must be nice” game is not exclusive to the speaking world. In your world, it might look like this:

Of course she is the top performer; she has a ton of contacts. Must be nice.

Everybody likes him because he is a natural born comedian. Must be nice.

She’s tall and athletic and got a free ride to college because she’s a great volleyball player. Must be nice.

He is able to afford a house like that because he’s a carpenter and can do all the labor himself. Must be nice.

Of course they get to travel all the time; they don’t have any kids. Must be nice.

He gets straight A’s and he doesn’t even have to study. Must be nice.

She has all the time in the world to be involved in her kids’ activities; her husband has a great job and she doesn’t have to work. Must be nice.

The “must be nice” we tack on at the end is our backhanded way of voicing our envy and making excuses for ourselves. It’s also a cop-out and a tragic waste of time. Everyone has unique gifts and circumstances and experiences that they can leverage and benefit from.

We all have a “must be nice.” Your job is to quit wishing for someone else’s, figure out what yours is, and make the most of it.

What’s your “must be nice?”

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