You & Improved

Thou Shalt Not Sulk

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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

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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

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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

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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?”

20 Tiny Ways to Make Life More Amazing

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

I am super excited to announce a fun side project I’d been working on for an exciting new company called Snippet. They are doing some cool things in the publishing arena and have built a platform with tools that encourage writers to engage and delight their readers with a beautiful, connected experience.

The first of what I hope will be many collaborations with them is a Snippet about tinkering. It features 20 simple ideas – small experiments, if you will – that will get you thinking in new ways and get your story moving in exciting new directions. It also contains lots of interactive “discoverables” like video, photo slideshows and conversations on social media.

I love how it turned out; it’s super cool. And it’s only $1.99.

If you’re serious about improving your story, you should get serious about tinkering. Download it here.

The Day I Lost My Coffee Virginity

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I approached the bandana-wearing barista and bared my soul.

“I have a confession to make,” I started. “I am a coffee virgin. I’ve never had more than a sip my whole life.”

“Uh oh,” she said. “And you came here, of all places?”

The “here” she was speaking of was Anodyne Coffee. I was in Milwaukee working on the first draft for my next book. I’d heard good things about the place, and figured it would be a good spot to work. I love coffee shops, from the exotic smells to the hipster vibe. The only thing is, I don’t drink coffee.

Well, I didn’t.

On the twenty-minute walk from my hotel, the thought crossed my mind that maybe my trip to the coffee shop should include me drinking, you know, actual coffee. Even though I’d only ever had sips, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it, and it seemed like a pretty good way to waste $4.

Then I remembered Stanley. It was clear that regardless of my opinion of the coffee, ordering it would make for a better story than not. And at that, my decision was made.

“Normally I’d order a hot chocolate or something,” I explained to the barista, “But I figured today is the day. What would you recommend for a first time coffee drinker? What’s a good gateway drink?”

“Well,” she began, “If you like hot chocolate, you might want to try a mocha. It’s kind of like a hot chocolate with coffee in it.”

“Sounds good!”

“Do you want whip cream?” she asked.

“Sure, let’s get crazy!”

After receiving my drink, I found a spot to sit and took a sip. Instant deliciousness. Suddenly, a surefire way to waste $3.54 become a contender for the best $3.54 I’d ever spent. In a instant, a new world opened up before me. A delightful buzz coarsed through my veins as I pounded out a few chapters of the book. I decided to order another one.

I was a little concerned when the barista asked me if I wanted to “make it decaf this time, just in case?”

Just in case what? I thought to myself. I declined, deciding to cast my cares to the wind. I had a book to write after all!

I will say that I felt a lot like Jim Carrey in the movie Dumb & Dumber, when he was in the van, furiously pumping his arms back and forth, and said, “It’s like I’m running at an unbelievable rate, Harry!”

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One thing’s for sure. It may have been my first coffee, but it won’t be my last. I am certainly glad I took the plunge.

Now, to the billions of coffee drinkers worldwide, me trying coffee for the first time is as trivial as it gets. (Although being the last person on a bandwagon may be somewhat notable.) But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I ignored Adultitis and said yes to something that had the potential to make my story better. Even if I had not liked coffee, at least I wouldn’t have the regret of wondering if I would have and wishing I’d tried it.

This is an excellent example of what I call tinkering: Little experiments of little consequence that have the potential to move your story in exciting new directions. For me, trying coffee was a case of tinkering. If I liked it, awesome! If not, no big deal. Either way, my propensity for adventure got a little bigger, and my story got a little better.

Don’t discount the small steps you could take today to make your story more awesome.

You never know where something as small as a sip could lead.

What’s something small you’ve done in the last week that made your story more awesome?

When to Let Your Inner Child Romp All Over the Place

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I love the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. And I especially love this passage, where she’s talking about writing first drafts:

Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would have never gotten by more rational, grown-up means.

The child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.

We may look silly in the process, but sometimes the best way to solve nagging problems is to let our inner child romp all over the place. Who knows what golden nuggets will surface?

If we spend all of our time living our lives using rational, grown-up means, we will probably end up stuck in a pretty boring story.

Have You Undergone a Freedomectomy?

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I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier recently. It’s a great movie, even if you aren’t a superhero nerd, like me. The most chilling aspect for me was a scene in which one of the bad guys talked how history had taught them that people will not allow their freedom to be taken by force. They will rise up and resist. However, those same people will gladly give up their freedom in exchange for security. They passively allow themselves to be searched, monitored, and recorded so that they will be protected from danger. Of course, the people doing the searching, monitoring and recording end up having total control.

Just a movie, I know, but it hits a little close to home.

Lots of people willingly undergo a freedomectomy in exchange for the security of a guaranteed paycheck and health benefits, or the feeling that they are safe from the bad guys. They give up years of their life to be trained for jobs in industries that may not exist by the time they graduate. They give up slivers of privacy and freedom of choice in exchange for the flowery promises of government programs.

I love that Captain America places such a high value on freedom, which is what this country was built on. It’s one of the most important values in my whole life. Here are some of the freedoms I hold most dear.

  • Freedom to work with my best friend.
  • Freedom from corporate bureaucracy. (And meetings!)
  • Freedom from a schedule set forth by school boards.
  • Freedom from a commute.
  • Freedom to spend most of my time doing what I love.
  • Freedom to be my own boss and set my own hours.
  • Freedom to work in my pajamas.
  • Freedom to make Monday and Tuesday my weekend if I want to.
  • Freedom to fail. (A gift that not many parents give their kids, by the way.)
  • Freedom to benefit fully from the fruits of my success.

As Captain America would tell you, freedom does not come easily. Some of the freedoms listed above were achieved by many years of hard work and sacrifice. Others came from making tough decisions to go against the grain, breaking a few rules that don’t exist, and being willing to fail (and look stupid in doing so).

The freedoms above fall under the umbrella of my most treasured freedom, which is the opportunity to write my own story. Obviously, the way you choose to write you story may look way different than mine, and that’s cool.

The important thing is being mindful of living the story YOU want to live.

We all have choices (and usually more than we think). Every choice — where you live, where you work, what you eat, who you hang out with, how you react to difficult situations, how you spend your money or even your Friday nights — contributes to your story. Following the crowd, or doing the things you feel like you “should” do or are “supposed” to do, are often the equivalent of giving up your freedom in exchange for security. Sometimes we feel more secure being in a boat with everyone else rather than being on an island by ourselves, even if that boat happens to be sinking.

The problem is that with each freedom you surrender, your story sucks a little bit more.

The freedom to write your own story is an amazing gift. Are you fighting for it? More importantly, are you using it?

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.

However.

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

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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.

Dangit.

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

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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)

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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

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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.

wi-state-fair

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

Damn.

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

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?

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

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

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

“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

get-curious

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”

lucky-guy-heather-navy
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

warhol-waiting
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...]

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