You & Improved

What Floats Your Boat?


Sometimes I see people who I can tell have Adultitis. They are not rude or angry, as you might think. The ones who have it the worst are a little bit dead inside. I’m not talking about clinical depression or the grief that comes from losing a loved one. It’s the sadness that comes from having gone such a long time without doing the things that bring them joy.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said that he would look himself in the mirror every single day and ask himself one question: “If this were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?” He said that if he answered no to that question for too many days in a row, then it was time to make a change.

The people with the worst form of Adultitis have said no to that question for too many days in a row.

Successful entrepreneur and popular TED speaker Derek Sivers suggests that we say no to everything that isn’t a HELL YES.

I like that premise, even if it’s not always entirely possible. For instance, paying taxes is not my favorite monthly activity. Also, I am not a fan of changing diapers. Alas, I regularly have to hold my nose and do both.

That being said, I do believe that the level of success and happiness you experience in life is directly related to how much time you spend on things that light you up.

What’s one thing that just the mere thought of doing fills you with giddy, anticipatory joy?

When was the last time you did that?

If you bury the things that light you up, things can get dark fast.

I’m not saying you have to spend every waking moment doing it.

I’m not saying you have to turn it into a career.

I’m merely suggesting that you might want to spend a little more time doing the things that float your boat.

Expect to Be Amazed and You Will Be


We have a wooded marsh with walking trails near our house. I love navigating through the oaks and maples on my morning walks. This time of year, the crunchy leaves carpet the forest floor, and the barren trees look like strong but spindly old fighters, girding up to take on one more winter. The best is when I spot a deer, and we have a little stare down before she gets spooked and runs off. I really, really love those moments.

deerInterestingly, my expectations play a big role in how often those moments arise. The times when I’m traipsing through the woods absent-mindedly, assuming it’s too late or too early for deer to be out and about, are inevitably the times when I come upon one unknowingly, startle it, and only end up catching a glimpse of its white tail as it bounds away.

The magical moments only happen when I walk with the expectation of a child; when I am quiet, alert, and filled with anticipation that I will see something amazing.

Of course, having that expectation is no guarantee that I’ll see a deer. But I’m guaranteed to miss it when I don’t.

It’s a lot like life. When you plow through each day, assuming that nothing good will happen, more times than not, you’ll be right. Amazing opportunities bound away as you walk right by them.

But if you navigate through each day mindfully, with eyes wide open, fully expecting to see amazing things…they will magically appear:

  • A stunning sunset on the ride home from work.
  • A random bumper sticker sends the sign you’ve been looking for.
  • The small unexpected gesture of love from your spouse.
  • A sliver of time to spend a few quality moments with your kid.

You’ve got to keep your eyes open for wonder. More often than not, it only shows up if you’re looking.

Or, in the immortal words of the great philosopher named Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Self-Made Successes are Exactly Like Unicorn-Riding Leprechauns


I sat for a long time on this painting, trying to decide if it was finished. I often add some sort of phrase to my work, to underline the meaning. But I kept thinking it could mean different things to different people, and I didn’t want to limit them all by choosing just one.

Kim and I are initiators; we like to think of ourselves as self-reliant. This is a good trait to have when you encounter closed doors. Instead of accepting defeat, you look for another door, or a window that might have been left unlocked.

This trait, however, makes it difficult to accept gifts. By definition, a gift is not something you can buy or acquire through an act of will. Rather, it is bestowed upon us. It’s free and requires nothing in return except for us to humbly receive it with gratitude.

Although Kim and I have accomplished a lot through our own talents and persistence, the truth is that we wouldn’t be here were it not for the gifts of others.

Our friend Jenna followed us to Madison and donated years of her time to work with us — for free! — doing whatever was required to help us get this thing off the ground. Our friend Sue helped out by helping to subsidize Jenna’s living expenses that we weren’t able to cover.

We amassed $100,000 in debt in the building of this company. Much of it was used staying afloat, finding our way as a company, as we tinkered, looking for a working business model. Survival would not have been possible were it not for some generous personal loans and gifts from our friends and parents. The majority of that debt is now gone, but the gratitude to those people who showed their belief in us remains.

The successful launch of Penguins Can’t Fly was another uncomfortable moment when we had to ask for and rely on other people to help spread the word. We saw every sale, every share, every positive review, as a gift.

Kim and I have a hard time owing people. We’re happy to climb the tree ourselves and get our own damn apples, thank you very much. We also love dispensing our apples to others. It’s fun to be able to help someone along with no expectation of reciprocity.

But accepting help from someone else? That’s a different matter entirely.

It’s awkward and uncomfortable and frankly, a full-frontal assault on our pride in a society that worships self-made successes.

Which, like unicorn-riding leprechauns, don’t actually exist.

We were not made to be alone. We were created to help each other. That means being generous with our time, talents, and treasure, but it also means receiving those gifts from others in our own time of need, too.

And so for me, right now, this painting reminds me to be grateful for all the people who have helped us get to now and to stay open to the gifts we will need to accept in order to get to where we’re supposed to be.

It also reminds me that providence doesn’t usually come all at once in bunches. More often it arrives just in time, apple by apple.

Yeah, that’s what this painting means to me. I’m curious what it means to you. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

The Danger of Eating Dessert First


A few weeks ago, I was on a Navy base in Florida, delivering my first program for a military audience. The meeting planner was very hesitant about me encouraging them to break rules, especially since they had just spent several (long, boring, excruciating) days being briefed on new procedures, policies, and regulations.

I still told them to break rules.

Of course, I am not calling for anarchy here. I understand the need for rules, especially in the military, where if you break a rule, someone could die.

The problem is that too often, we assign the same gravity to all the rules in our life, even though most of them don’t exist and the penalty for breaking them is non-existent.

Although it may feel like it, asking your boss for a raise — or that friendly person in line ahead of you at Starbucks for a date — is not a life-or-death proposition. Who cares if they say no? You are already NOT making more money or having dinner with that person, so in effect, nothing’s changed.

Except something has changed.

You were brave. Your comfort zone grew. You cut regret off at the pass.

And that’s if they said no. How cool is it if they say…yes?

Swap sides of the bed with your partner tonight. Watch a movie from a fort in your living room. Get that purple streak in your hair. Play hooky tomorrow and do something fun. Initiate a big project at work.

Sure, it might not work out how you’d like, but that doesn’t mean nothing good will come of it.

Remember, no one is going to die from you eating dessert first.

The Art of Little Things


We ordered a pizza last weekend from a local joint that we love. When the delivery driver pulled into our driveway, we were delighted to see that she had decorated her car for Halloween! Several large rubber spiders clung to her cobweb-laden Corolla, and when she came to the door, not only did she have a hot pizza, but she also pulled some fun stickers out of her pocket to give to the kids!

I guess you could say she was an over-delivery driver!

She didn’t need permission from her boss to do what she did. She didn’t even need much money. And I am certain that this wasn’t an official “initiative” handed down from above. Considering the big tip we gave her, I wondered why more delivery drivers don’t take more initiative like this.

Alas, some pizza delivery drivers are just pizza delivery drivers. But this pizza delivery driver was an artist.

No matter your station in life — but especially if you work for a big organization — it’s very easy to become paralyzed thinking, “I can’t change that,” or “I don’t have the power to do anything about this.” Although you may be right, a better strategy might be to focus instead on the things you can control. Even if they are very, very small.

You could bring in doughnuts to work for no reason.

You could start off each team meeting with a silly joke.

You could ask every customer you encounter today what their favorite movie is.

You could decorate your delivery vehicle for Halloween.

No, you may not have much pull to change the big stuff. Who cares? It’s the little things that have always made the biggest difference anyway.

You don’t need permission to be an Adultitis Fighter. You just need to decide that you will be.

How to Be a Millionaire


Who wants to be a millionaire?

Asking this to a group of adults is akin to asking a group of five-year-olds if they’d like to eat dessert first.

Sort of rhetorical.

Ever since I was a little kid, the idea of being a millionaire was very attractive. Richie Rich, Daddy Warbucks, and Bruce Wayne were all millionaires, and they had it made. Indeed, in our materialistic, consumer-driven culture, there seems to be a constant undercurrent that suggests if we could only figure out a way to become a millionaire — if we could just buy enough lottery tickets or put in enough time — life would be better and we’d be happier.

We are conditioned to think we never have enough. And so we spend a lot of time striving…but do we really ever stop to consider what all the striving is for?

Do you really need to have a million bucks to feel like a millionaire?

In thinking about the actual monetary value of the things that would make me feel like a millionaire, a list like this comes to mind:

  • The ability to order whatever I want off the menu without having to look at the price.
  • A kitchen table that always features a vase of fresh flowers.
  • Flying first class.
  • The freedom to homeschool my kids and go on adventures together.
  • Spending two weeks of every February in Florida with my family.
  • A hot tub where Kim and I can chat about our day and dream about our future.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. I’ve achieved some of these things, and am still looking forward to others. Here’s the thing: Were I to add up the total cost of everything on it, the sum would be far LESS than a million dollars.

In other words, I don’t need to BE a millionaire to FEEL like one.

What’s more is that if I were to include the things in my life that are truly priceless — my faith, my marriage, my friendships, and the good health of myself and my family — I feel embarrassingly rich.

Granted, you may have more expensive tastes than me, and would love to bathe in caviar every day. If so, I’m afraid this little exercise has been proven useless. But I’m willing to bet there are many people who need far less than a million dollars to live a life that makes them feel like a millionaire.

Maybe, just maybe, if we stopped to calculate how much money it would take for us to feel like a millionaire, we’d be shocked by how little it would be.

And then, instead of mindlessly striving for some unknown and unreachable ideal, we could spend our striving on something that mattered more.

Just my two cents.

You’re Better Than Einstein


I read the other day that Albert Einstein didn’t know how to swim.

And he was a terrible sailor, capsizing his boat so often that locals regularly had to tow him back to shore.

It made me feel good to read that.

I have never sailed, but I do know how to swim. It’s nice to know that I can do something Einstein couldn’t, and that he actually stunk at things.

I spend too much time worrying that I’m not enough. I’m not outgoing enough, smart enough, creative enough, disciplined enough, thin enough, or faithful enough to accomplish my biggest dreams. I regularly undervalue my gifts, and overemphasize my shortcomings.

Maybe you do the same thing.

We regularly compare ourselves to people like Einstein, who is regularly lauded as a genius, and cast ourselves in lesser roles in this grand production called Life.

Interestingly, our definition of genius has changed over the years. In the 14th century, a genius referred to a guardian spirit, and a very talented person was said to “have” a genius, because his or her gift was thought to be the result of some supernatural help.

Somewhere along the line, we evolved from the idea of having a genius to being one, which brings with it the connotation of being superhuman and great at everything.

But no one is great at everything. No one is even great at most things. We were designed to depend on one another. A single person cannot make a baby by him or herself. Babies can’t feed themselves or change their own diapers. And diaper companies can’t make money without customers.

Despite finding himself regularly waterlogged, Einstein apparently didn’t think it was important enough to invest any time in becoming a better sailor or learning how to swim. I’m guessing he didn’t waste any time comparing himself to Johnny Weissmuller.

If you haven’t heard of Johnny Weissmuller, he lived at the same time as Einstein, and he sure could swim. He won three gold medals, at the summer Olympics in 1924, three years after Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Weissmuller also became the best known actor to play Tarzan in films of the 1930s and 1940s. (His character’s distinctive Tarzan yell is still often used in films.) He had a different kind of genius than old Albert. Weissmuller’s Wikipedia page doesn’t mention whether or not Johnny was any good at math or science.

But he was way better than Einstein at swimming.

You’re better than Einstein at something, too. We all have a genius. We’re all good at something. A few things, probably. That’s our genius, and that’s what we need to share with the world.

Develop and share your genius. Disregard the things you stink at.

Even Einstein wasn’t an Einstein at everything.

The Magic of Unscheduling


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unschedule some time to go do something unexpected.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and My Broken Remote


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

Beware the Flow


Here’s an interesting tidbit:

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


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

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

I think we all know the answer to that.

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

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

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

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

Beware the flow.

The Shocking Truth About Your So-Called Priorities


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes sense to me.

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

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

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

Definitely not an ego boost.

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

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

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

That’s your priority.

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

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

How to Deal with Difficult, Adultitis-Ridden People


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

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

Unfortunately, the truth is…you don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple, although certainly not easy.

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

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

Anticipate Edits


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s another interesting tidbit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anticipate edits.

Do You Need to Be a Workaholic to Be Great?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The success and story of Steve Kerr gives me hope.

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


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

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

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

Answering the What-Ifs


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

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

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

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

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

Thou Shalt Be Realistic


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

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

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

The word “realistic.”

Who’s to say what’s realistic or not?

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

The Magical Moving Sidewalk


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we don’t have to.

Better to keep an eye out for a moving sidewalk.

The Future is Here (Minus the Aliens)

YouTube Preview Image

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

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

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

And yet here we are.

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

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

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

How to Make Good Things Happen


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s Your Secret Hideout?


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

I’m talking about secret hideouts.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not. It’s a necessity.

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

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

Facebook is the New Christmas Letter


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

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

Well, duh.

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

It’s our greatest hits.

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

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

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

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

The solution is a simple shift in perspective.

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

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

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



Every time I say no, I actually mean yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No means…Yes.

Instead of feeling guilty about your no’s…

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

Instead of feeling judged by your decisions…

Own your No.

It’s really a Yes.

One Year to Live


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Become an Adultitis Fighter!

Isn't it time to add a little happy to your inbox?