You & Improved

Do You Need to Be a Workaholic to Be Great?

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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

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“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

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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

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[ 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

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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

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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?

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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

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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.

No

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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

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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

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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.

How?

Practice.

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

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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

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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

not-sunk-yet

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

apples-and-oranges

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

first-coffee

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

kim-ben-romp

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?

freedom

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

remember-stanley

The other day I missed out on a good story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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