The most valuable asset to leave school with is not a high GPA or SAT score.

The end of the school year is fast approaching. And what a school year it has been! At graduation time I often reflect on my own schooling. It’s interesting to see just how much detail I can remember from that time. I can still picture where I sat in each class, the grades I received, and the number of times I laughed until I sprayed milk out of my nose.

The Numbers

There were a lot of numbers in school. And not just in math class. Do you remember your high school GPA? Or your class rank? How about your College GPA? Or your ACT, SAT, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT scores? (If you had experience with BVDs, HPV or OPP you probably remember those too.)

Most of us have a pretty good memory for these scores. Because it is how we measured how successful we were in school. They represented the scorecard of academic success.

However, there is another number from our school days that is even more important to your long-term success and happiness. Very few people think about it. Almost no one has it memorized.

Perhaps the best indicator of long term happiness and success is the number of friends you make in school. While the overwhelming focus is on academic statistics, the great residual value of your schooling is measured in humans.

Me and some of my University of Wisconsin dorm mates. We had a pretty good time in Madison.

Chuck the Clique

It can seem cool to find your core group of friends and circle the wagons. Or to create an exclusive group. But that won’t serve you best over time. A much better approach is to become part of many different social circles. This vastly expands the total number of people you are exposed to. And if you volunteer to be a sketch or sculpture model for art classes you get exposed to even more people.

Me and some of my high school friends just before graduation. With t-shirts. And no masks. It was a simpler time.

Get Involved

There are a wide variety of high school and college opportunities that are ideal for developing long-lasting relationships.

  • Sports
  • Dance Team
  • Cheerleading
  • Band
  • Orchestra
  • Streaking The Quad
  • Clubs
  • Plays
  • Smoking In The Boys Room
  • Volunteer Programs
  • Yearbook
  • Food Fights
  • Homecoming Committee
  • Fraternities
  • Sororities
  • Epic Prank Planning
  • Class Trips
  • Outing or Adventure groups.
  • Special Interest Groups Of All Sorts
  • Breakfast Club
  • Detention
Me and my college track & field teammates. I am still in touch with many of these guys. We smile more now.

High School

In high school, make a point of knowing as many people as you can. Get involved in extracurricular activities. Introduce yourself to your classmates. Learn names. Meet the kids in grades above and below you. It is especially easy and beneficial as an upperclassperson to introduce yourself to younger students. Because younger students will highly value having older friends, who can drive a car, and grow a mustache like Pedro.

A high school graduation night party pic. We’re looking tough because we just slammed some Capri Suns.

College

In college, live in the dormitory for 2 years, or even become a Resident Hall Advisor (dorm leader). By doing this you are exposed to far more kids than you are living in off-campus housing by yourself or with a handful of roommates. Having hundreds or even thousands of other kids within your orbit on a daily basis vastly increases the total number of friends you are likely to make during that time.

Me and some of my college roommates revisited our off campus house several years after graduation. The wallpaper was still there. But they were out of paper towels.

Introduce Yourself

At parties and at bars introduce yourself to other people. Make a point of meeting someone new every time you go out. Then connect with them on social media too. Because social media is an easy and informal way of turning weak relationship into strong ones.

My college roommates at Dave and Angie Schatz’s wedding. (I have no idea if that is how you possess a plural word ending with Z.)

The Number That Really Matters

My GPA in high school and college was fine. My SAT scores were fine. But I know far more people than most people I know. And that has been one of my greatest advantages in life and business. And one of my greatest sources of happiness and fulfillment.

Me and my high school friends at our last class reunion. The guys with bad backs asked to be up front.

Key Takeaway

Make as many friends in school as you can. Because the benefit of having many friends lasts the rest of your life. And while there is little chance for you to Billy Madison your way to a higher GPA or class rank later in life, it’s not too late to make more friends. Make it a lifelong habit. Or hobby. Or both. Collect as many people as possible. Because at the end of our days the person who has made the most friends wins.

*If you know a student who could benefit from this message please share it with them.

The simple trick to make your dreams a reality.

For months I thought about making a t-shirt design I really wanted. But I didn’t do it. For many years I loved the idea of writing my own blog. But I didn’t write one. For nearly 2 decades I thought about starting my own advertising agency. But I continued to work for someone else. You probably have similar stories. Because as Maya Angelou said, ‘We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.’

It is easy to consider me a dreamer, not a doer.

However, today I am wearing the t-shirt design that I wanted to print for so long. I am writing my 596th blog post. And for over 5 years I have worked at The Weaponry, the advertising and ideas agency that I always dreamed of starting. And when I pinch myself it actually hurts.

So what changed? What happened that turned these want-to-dos into dids and doings? The answer is simple. Like an OBGYN, I gave myself a due date.

‘Goals are dreams with deadlines.’

Someone Smart (But we don’t seem to know who.)

Dreams and fantasies float in infinite time. Reality, progress and completion are time-bound. To convert a dream into a reality you have to set a due date. And deadlines are like horse jockeys. (You should choose the shortest one that can do the job effectively.)

Key Takeaway

We often have a hard time getting started on big projects and life changes. So remember this: A Due Date gives you a Do Date.  When you have a deadline, even a false deadline, you alchemize fantasy into reality. You prioritize. You do what needs to be done. You can then put all the steps of the process onto a timeline. And timelines are like trains that deliver final results. Choo Choo!

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

** This blog gets published 3 times per week, because I set those 3 deadlines.

Why you should approach self improvement like a sport.

I first published this post a few years ago while reflecting on my track & field career. I recently shared the post with some track athletes and coaches who really appreciated the message, especially the Key Takeaway (so you could just jump to that). So I decided to repost it again during the heart of track season.

Pre-Note: Wednesday I was at a track meet and took the cover pic of our family friend Eva Brandenburg hurdling. Eva and my daughter Ava (confusing right?) have played basketball together since 5th grade, and are now having fast starts to their freshman track seasons. Keep an eye out for Eva. She is going to do special things!

Here is the original post, now in an unoriginal post...

I love track and field. I first got involved in the sport as a freshman in high school, mostly because I was terrible at baseball. But also because it was co-ed. And, I thought the fact that it was a no-cut sport significantly improved my chances of actually making the team.

Trying Everything

I have competed in a wide variety of track and field events. My resume includes the 100 meters, 400 meters, 1600 meters, high jump, long jump, shot put, discus, javelin, hammer, 35-pound weight, 110-meter hurdles, 4×100 meter relay, 4×400 meter relay, and, yes, even the pole vault (which I approached more like the high jump with a stick).

I have enjoyed every event I have ever competed in (except the 1600 meter run). I love the energy and atmosphere at track meets. But you know when track and field becomes really fun?

The Second Meet.

The second meet is the most important and impactful event in a track athlete’s career. In your first meet, you are just setting a baseline. But once you get to your second meet you walk in with a time, distance, or height to beat. And most of the time, the results in the second meet are a rewarding step forward from the first meet.

In track and field, every result is measured in minutes and seconds, or feet and inches. Which means that your linear progression is clear and quantifiable. Your undeniable improvement in the second meet gets you thinking about the third meet. It makes you think about practicing more, training harder, lifting weights, warming up smarter and getting some better hype music. You start wondering just how much better you can get. The seeds of self-improvement are planted, fertilized and watered in that second meet.

The Broader Lesson

This is not just a track and field thing. This is a life thing. The same principle of self-improvement applies to our careers, our relationships, our responsibilities and our hobbies. Our first attempts simply set a baseline. The second time we do anything we start the improvement process. We recognize that as we pour more energy, time and focus into any activity we get better and better. This is true of presenting a closing argument in court, hiring good employees and folding fitted sheets (although my wife, Dawn is so good at the fitted sheet thing that I focus on the closing arguments in court instead).

Key Takeaway

Don’t be afraid to try something new because you think you will be bad at it. You will be bad at it. Or at least you will be the worst you will ever be. But that first attempt creates a starting point. The climb from there is both exciting and rewarding. As you improve, remember that first attempt. Recognize how far you have come since you first started. It is one of the most rewarding reflections in life.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

5 Reasons why I got vaccinated.

On March 16th, 2020 my family and I began playing an epic game of dodgeball with the COVID-19 virus. We played to win. And winning meant not getting the virus. Every day the virus didn’t hit our home felt like a win. Like we made it to the next round on Frogger.

Gamifying COVID avoidance made it a competition that my family and I could win. But we didn’t hibernate. Not even close. In 2020 we traveled to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and road tripped from Wisconsin to Idaho. But we were smart and precautitory. We wore masks, socially distanced, washed, sanitized, wore garlic necklaces, burned our stuffed animals as sacrifices, and drank the blood of albino newts. You know, the basic CDC stuff.

The Vaccine

I have been a big fan of a vaccine for Covid-19 since, well, since the first talk of developing one. Because it is the only way we as a planet can beat the virus and party like it’s 2019.

Just as polio, chickenpox, measles, and corded telephones feel like challenges of the past, I wanted Covid-19 to be retired to the lore of yesteryear. That’s why I was ready for the vaccine as soon as I could get it.

On Saturday I got my second round of the Pfizer vaccine. I had no side effects other than my arm looked band-aidy. I know that there are still a few days before I reach maximum resilience, but I feel like I have won the game of dodgeball. And I am taking great pride in defeating my opponent, thanks to an army of scientists who quickly whipped up a sweet vaccine like Tom Cruise whipped up sweet cocktails in that movie where he whips up cocktails. (I forgot the name of the movie.)

Reasons For Getting Vaccinated

I was never afraid of getting sick. I’m not high risk. I have a robust immune system from all the dirt I ate as a kid, and as an adult. But I have plenty of other reasons to get vaccinated. Here they are in a particular order.

5 Reasons I got vaccinated.

  1. Because my kids can’t. I didn’t want to bring COVID home and infect 3 kids who didn’t have an option to get vaccinated. I didn’t want to be the reason they missed school, sports, music programs, or the Dad Appreciation Parade (that I am organizing).
  2. I don’t want to get other people sick. Other friends, family, coworkers, and lovely elderly people would be vulnerable if I got infected. I don’t like the idea of doing avoidable harm to others.
  3. Flying In a non-COVID year I fly a lot. Flying is odd right now. And the empty middle seats are going away. To fly again regularly I will feel best if I am not immunally naked.
  4. I want to see people again. Getting together with other people who have been vaccinated is a no-brainer. Getting together with people who have not been vaccinated is still a brainer. I don’t want people to have reservations about seeing me. I just want people to have reservations with me.
  5. To get back to business. Yes, my team at The Weaponry has been fully functional throughout the pandemic, with one notable exception. We really haven’t spent time with our clients or prospective clients in person in well over a year. There has been very little in-person relationship building. That is one of the greatest joys of business. And my next 2 weeks are already filling up with plans to see clients and friends (and client-friends) for the first time in 15 months.

Key Takeaway

Getting vaccinated feels like a win. It is how we defeat the threat of COVID-19. It is how we protect each other, especially those who can’t or shouldn’t get the vaccine right now. It is how we get back to life as we want it to be. And it is how we get back to developing culture within our organizations, and relationships within our communities. I am thrilled to be fully vaccinated, and I hope to see you in person soon!

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

The job title my Mother didn’t know she had.

When I was in 3rd grade my Mom, Jill Albrecht, attended my parent-teacher conference to hear how I was doing in class. Before the alliance began their conversation about my academic progress, or lack thereof, my teacher shared with my Mom that when filling out a form preparing for the conference I had listed my mother’s occupation as Zookeeper. With 4 kids under 10 years old, I thought that was an accurate description of my mother’s primary job as a Stay at Home Mom.

Her Real Job

However, today, as I reflect on my Mama’s career I have a different answer. My Mom has been my ultimate life mechanic. Whenever something went wrong in any area of my life she could fix it.

My Mama’s Life Mechanic Services

When I was hungry, she fed me.

When my clothes were dirty, she would clean them.

When my bed was was a mess she could remake it.

When I had trouble with my attitude she adjusted it.

When my wallet was broken she put a couple dollars in it to patch the holes.

When poison ivy blistered my skin she polished me pink with calamine lotion and stopped the itching and oozing.

When my confidence was cracked she welded it back together.

When my grades were broken she fixed them (before I could do anything else).

When my eyes leaked, she found the source and stopped the drips.

When my knee was broken my senior year in high school she organized the doctors to put it back together.

When my public speaking sputtered she fixed it. And fixed it... AND FIXED IT! (With a smile, a pause for impact, and eye contact.)

When she made chili and the muffler stopped working she… actually, she never could fix that one.

When my steering was off she aligned it.

When I ran too hot she added coolant.

When my headlights padiddled she always had a spare bulb.

To make sure my visibility was good she gave me fresh wipers, window washer fluid, and an ice scraper (because I grew up in Vermont).

My mom also taught me how to properly adjust the rearview mirror. Because some of the best views are behind you.

However, my Mom no longer needs to step in when things go wrong because she has taught me how to fix things myself. She has given me all of her tools. And today, there is no problem large or small that I can’t handle with the tools my Mama gave me.

Thank You Mama!

Happy Mother’s Day.

Why it’s important to give yourself permission to be an amateur.

When I became an entrepreneur one of the greatest gifts I gave myself was permission to be an amateur. Entrepreneurs ultimately need to know everything there is to know about starting and running a business. Yet the vast majority of this knowledge comes from on-the-job training. Which is how you learned to ride a bike. It’s how the Wright Brothers learned to fly. It’s how MLK learned to give great speeches. And how we all learned to do the Electric Slide (boogie woogie woogie).

By allowing yourself to be an amateur you allow for mistakes and put a premium on learning, not knowing. Remember, you could never learn to juggle without making mistakes. The same is true with standup comedy. And parenting your children. (Don’t tell my kids I said that. Who am I kidding, they already know.)

In every area of life, we start out stupid. Being okay with that and adopting a trial-and-error-and-correction mindset is the smart approach.

As an entrepreneur, I do what I know to do until I discover a better way. The secret is to always be looking for and open to that better way. Once you find it, you add it to your personal weaponry and you take another step forward. Those who reach the highest level of achievement simply never stop taking steps forward. Neither should you.

Key Takeaway

Allow yourself to be a beginner. Allow for mistakes. When you accept your amateur status the journey from ignorance to intelligence is more enjoyable and rewarding. Learn and grow as you go. Recognize your improvements. And know that you can apply this technique to anything in life.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Why I have so much confidence in the power of confidence.

When I was a kid there was a famous commercial where a group of idealists sang, ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke.’ The commercial made me believe that together we could solve world-thirst. But despite how much I enjoy an occasional ice-cold Coca-Cola, if I could give the world anything at all, it would be more confidence.

The Dictionary Definition

Merriam Webster, a woman who knew a lot of words, defines confidence in the following way:

Confidence: 

a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers

b: faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way

c: the quality or state of being certain 

Becoming A Confidence Donor

Many years ago I made a conscious decision to contribute to individual confidence whenever I could. I began handing out compliments liberally. I complimented people on strong performances. I noted how much potential or ability I saw in others. I highlighted skills and talents that people were really good at.

I let my positive inner dialog about others become an outer dialog, where I tell people the good things I am thinking about them. Kinda like Jim Carey in Liar Liar. I comment on quick math skills, strong customer service, a smart suggestion, good hair, a great attitude, a fun clothing choice, or the refusal to stop drinking Tab just because the rest of the world did.

I don’t feel awkward about offering others such positive comments either. Because I know it is like making a valuable deposit in their confidence piggy bank. And the fuller the piggy bank the more valuable it is when you need to butcher the pig.

Just as we can pay each other with money, we can also pay others in confidence. In fact, some of the compliments, encouragement, feedback, and support that I have received throughout my life have been more valuable than money. Because they have forced me to see myself as better, stronger, smarter or more capable than I recognized. Which in turn encouraged me to take bigger bets on myself.

The bets I’ve made on myself include raising my hand for challenging assignments, speaking up when I thought someone needed to, and stepping out of my comfort zone to develop new abilities. In fact, when I decided to start my own business it was my confidence in both myself and my team and our ability to make the business successful that made all the difference.

I string together my own successes like popcorn on a old-timey Christmas tree. Or Cheerios on a preschool necklace. That string of successes helps me believe that my next attempt will be successful too. Of course this is not guaranteed. And I have plenty of failures, missteps and mistakes. But I don’t string them together to tell a story about myself. Neither should you. Because it simply doesn’t help.

Key Takeaway:

Confidence is one of the planet’s most valuable forces. It fuels a can-do, will-do mindset. It provides courage to take on new challenges. It is like armor that helps you survive the attacks of life. Help build confidence in others through genuine compliments, support, and encouragement. It will prove amongst the greatest investments you will ever make.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message (because they are amazing) please share it with them.

How much are your priorities worth to you?

Yesterday I was in Atlanta on a business trip. I had been there since Thursday. My return flight was scheduled to be the last flight back to Milwaukee on Saturday night. Pre-Covid, when I used to fly with a naked face, I took that 2-hour 10:30 pm flight all the time. Because it allowed me to get a full day of work in before hitting the airport. But yesterday I finished early and was thrilled to be able to try to catch an earlier flight from ATL to MKE. 

The Fee

I got to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport at 3 pm, and went to a Delta kiosk (unpaid endorsement) to try to change flights. Because when I tried to call to change flights the phone system told me there was a 2-hour wait time. Which I thought was phoney baloney. But after just a few taps at the kiosk (tap tap tap in) an option to take an earlier flight at 4:30 pm appeared. However, it also came with a $75 change fee. 

I considered the fee for a moment. And I did the following math:

For $75…

I get home at 6:00 pm CT. Not Midnight.

+ I get to see my kids today.

+ I get to run in the house screaming MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!

+ I get to have dinner with my family.

+ I can go for an evening walk with my wife.

+ I can watch the sunset over the pond in my backyard.

+ I can participate in family game night.

+ I can toss a lacrosse ball with my son Magnus.

+ I can work on some discus technique in the backyard with my daughter Ava.

+ I can look for the new baby geese that just hatched in the nest in our backyard.

+ I can tuck my 3 kids into bed.

+ I can have a glass of red wine with my wife Dawn. (I can, but I won’t because I have the palate of a 6-year old and think alcohol tastes ucky.)

+ I can watch Netflix and chill with my wife Dawn. (Or I can watch a repeat SNL and probably no chill.)

_______________________________________

I could do ALL of these things for $75.

In that moment, I had the clarity and insight to realize that there will come a day at the end of my days when I would spend everything I had for that opportunity. I swiped my credit card and quickly snatched up one of the greatest bargains life had ever offered me.

Thank You

Thank you Delta for getting me home early last night. I did everything on the list. Plus it was 88 degrees in Milwaukee, which is unseasonably awesome in Brew City. Game Night was Klask. Dinner was Culver’s Butter Burgers on our back patio. And I didn’t take a moment for granted.

Key Takeaway

Time is the most valuable commodity on Earth. Enjoy every moment you get. Steal it if you have to. If you ever find it on sale somewhere, don’t think twice about paying for it. You’ll never regret more time spent on or with your top priorities. 

*If you know someone who would benefit from this message, please share it with them.