How to be successful, summed up in 4 words.

I have a 4-word philosophy for success. I lean on it every time I want to do something new. It applies to fitness goals, to business and career success. It applies to creative endeavors, and charitable giving.

It applies to all manner of self-improvement and behavior change.

It is not secretive or complex. And because it is only 4 words long it’s useful even if you have a really, really short attention span.

It is:

Start Small. Think Big.

Start Small.

The key to success is action. You have to get going to get results. Too often people make the mistake of starting big. When you focus on the fully formed, fully finished version, the vision itself becomes intimidating. Which prevents people from taking the first step.

By starting small you create an easy on-ramp.  By giving yourself permission to start small you create an invitation to action. And that action, as small as it may be, changes everything. Think about how small COVID-19 started. #amIright

Think Big

Once you’ve begun, go all in. Think about what is possible if you keep going and growing. Think about momentum. Think about compounding actions. Once you have begun the results are only limited by your thinking. So go as big as you can.

Mom’s Know This

Every Mom knows that this is exactly how you raise a successful child. You start small. You teach the most basic skills, rules, and manners. Then you think big. You think of the successful person you want your child to become. And you do all you can to empower your child to grow into the best version of themself.

Thank you Moms. Thank you for giving us a great start when we were small. And for thinking about all we would need to be successful when we became big. It has made all the difference. Sorry we can’t take you to brunch today to show our appreciation.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Are you too vanilla to be successful?

I recently got a phone call from a CEO. He told me that he was worried about his organization’s brand. The company had hired another advertising agency to jazz up their image. But he felt like what they came back to them with was very vanilla. I pondered the idea of very vanilla. As if there was mediocrity, and then there was extreme mediocrity.

He knew his business couldn’t win against formidable foes with vanilla. He knew he couldn’t motivate his considerable team with vanilla. And he knew he couldn’t recruit top talent with vanilla. Vanilla is flat. Undifferentiated. Forgettable.

person holding vanilla ice cream on cone
In business vanilla is the kiss of death. Or maybe it’s the lick of death.

I knew I could help him. I have spent my career helping brands find their flavor. And vanilla is simply not on the menu.

We spoke for an hour. I shared how my team at The Weaponry would approach their brand development needs. Which included developing differentiated processes, products and services so that they truly had something interesting and ownable to talk about. Even if it didn’t exist today.

I enjoyed our conversation. But I was curious how he found me. And why he thought I was the right person to call.

Then he shared the following.

‘Adam, I don’t know much about The Weaponry. Or the type of work you usually do. But I saw you speak several months ago. And I remember you not seeming very vanilla. And I figured you could help us seem not vanilla too.’

Key Takeaway

If you want to be remembered you can’t be vanilla. You have to differentiate yourself in positive and meaningful ways. You can differentiate your personal brand by doing things differently. By breaking rules. And adding extra-anything to your personal recipe. Like energy or thoughtfulness. Or excluding a common ingredient altogether. Like shaving, laziness, alcohol, or pants.

Your business can differentiate itself with personality, product or process. You can stand out because of your pricing or packaging. You can be remembered for your people or your promise. Or simply be doing unreasonable things on behalf of your customers. But whatever you do, don’t be vanilla. Vanilla is the flavor of the crowd.

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

One of the best things you can do right now is plant radishes.

When I was a boy my family always planted a garden. Ok, that may be an understatement. We were the only family I knew that had fresh cow manure delivered by the truckload to be spread over our sprawling vegetable garden. Which meant that when spring was in the air it was really in the air at my house.

When I bought my first home I proudly continued my family’s gardening tradition. However, I buy my cow manure by the bag, not the big rig. It helps maintain more neighborly relations.

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My baby sister Donielle and one of our monster, manure-powered heads of broccoli. 

The Benefits

Vegetables you grow yourself taste better. Which alone would be enough reason to grow your own. But there is more. You can save yourself a lot of money growing your own fruits and vegetables. You feel safer eating your own harvest because you know how the plants were raised. And today, the garden feels like a safer place to go for produce than the local grocery store. Which looks like it has been taken over by masked suburban bandits, all trying their hardest to stay 6 feet away from each other.

Filling the Cornucopia

Each year my wife Dawn and I plant tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in the backyard garden boxes we built ourselves. We plant carrots, peas, beans, lettuce, onions, pumpkins and squash.

The Radishes

But my favorite things to plant every spring are radishes. I love the taste of radishes. They are full of flavor. And these bright red spheres of spice add color and personality to both the garden and to our plates.

But that’s not what I love most about radishes.

close up photo of radishes
You look radishing…

Time Passages

After we plant most of our vegetables we have to wait months to harvest them. Typically that means 60, 70, 80 or even 110 days of tending to them before we get eat. 

But radishes are different.

Ready Already

Radishes are ready quickly. Usually in just 20 days. Which makes radishes like short term goals. They offer a quick sense of progress and a tasty reward far before the other vegetables are ready. Radishes keep us motivated and satisfied until the peas, beans and lettuce are ready to step up to the plate. (See what I did there?)

Life Lessons

Gardening is like life and business. You must sow seeds before you reap rewards. Gardening requires long term thinking. There is watering, weeding, and fertilizing required along the way. And you only get out of it what you put into it.

agriculture bowl close up cooking
Life isn’t always a bowl of cherries. It starts as a bowl of radishes.

Reward Season

To get us to our long term goals we all need short term goals along the way. We need to see quick progress. Especially now. We know that our world and our economy will bounce back eventually. But we could use some quick wins. Some short term progress. Something tasty and rewarding to sink our teeth into sooner than later. So make sure you are planting seeds in both your personal and professional life that you can harvest and enjoy quickly. Preferably something legal in all 50 states.

Key Takeaway

As humans we need quick, positive reinforcement. We need these wins now to remind us that we are making progress over the short term. Which gives us the fortitude we need for the long term. The tomatoes, peppers, and pumpkins will all come eventually. But right now the radishes will help get us through.

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

Now is the perfect time to pay people in confidence.

A few months ago COVID-19 and The Global Lockdown may have sounded like a cool band name. But today they represent the two dominating forces on the planet. Right now they are locked in an epic standoff, like the FBI and The Branch Davidians. Physical and economic health is under attack. And we need Chip and Joanna Gaines to show up and save Waco with some shiplap.

Every day the news reports the latest health and economic casualties. But there is another human concern that is much harder to quantify.

Confidence, self assurance and motivation are waning. But you can make a difference. Even if money is in short supply.

Right now one of the most valuable things you can do is pay compliments. They can be the most valuable thing you ever give another person. Because they offer confidence, strength and resolve.

black and white laptop
Be this sign for others.

Compliments are the antidote against quitting, and, as a result, failure. Knowing that someone else believes in us is often all we need to believe a little more in ourselves.

I have had people pay me outrageous sums in compliments. Those compliments have expanded my self perception. And those comments helped propel me in ways that those who shared them could not have imagined.

Compliments always seem to land at the right time. When your trajectory is wrong, they help change the angle. When your trajectory is right on target a compliment helps you accelerate.

Too often we avoid or disclaim a compliment because we are afraid it will give the recipient a big head, or feed their ego. But like flour needs yeast to rise, amazing talent often needs positive feedback to rise to the demands necessary to turn great talent into skill, and ultimately results.

If you are wondering what you can do right now to make a difference, send an earnest compliment or 2. Or 200. Or 2000. Deliver it any way you like. You’re likely to make someone’s day. Like a sweet treat in the middle of a no carb diet.

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

The top 4 things I have enjoyed about entrepreneurship.

For many years I dreamed of owning my own business. Like Bruce Springsteen, I loved the idea of being my own boss. I liked the idea of making my own money. I thought that starting your own business sounded badass. Because that entrepreneurial leap seemed like Evel Knievel jumping a whole fleet of school buses on his motorcycle. And I wanted to try it myself to see how it felt.

My Leap Year Leap

4 years ago this week I did it. I launched the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry.  And the leap certainly has offered an Evel Knievel-type thrill. Yet with very little risk of broken bones. Which is nice.

However, the things I have enjoyed most are not being the boss, making my own money, or feeling like a badass. In fact, I could not have predicted the things I have enjoyed most ahead of time. They are benefits that you have to take the leap to discover. Unless of course someone takes the leap, writes those things down, and shares them with the world in a blog post. Like I am doing right now. 

The Top 4 Things I Have Enjoyed Most About My 4 Years of Entrepreneurship  

1. Getting To Say Yes To Anything.

People long to get to a position in life where they can say no to things they don’t want to do. But that is small thinking. When you own your own business you get to say yes to anything. Kinda like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.  If an opportunity comes along that seems too small, too crazy, or needs too be completed too fast I can say yes to it anyway. In fact, I can decide to work on anything that interests me. The budget can be small, or nonexistent. And I can still say, ‘Yes, we will help.’ In business, that is a super power. 

2. Paying People.

I always imagined that making your own money as an entrepreneur would be amazing.  What I couldn’t imagine was the feeling of sharing thousands of dollars with others for their hard work. And then tens of thousands of dollars. And then hundreds of thousands of dollars. The first day that I noticed The Weaponry had paid people over a million dollars I just stared at my Quickbooks screen and smiled, like a perv watching online porn. Ironically, the payouts have been the great reward in the adventure. Because I know we are positively impacting many lives. Not just mine.   

3. Creating A Valuable Tool.

Early in my career I was in a focus group full of power tool enthusiast. And when asked what his favorite tool was, one Tim Taylor-type said, ‘My favorite tool is the right tool I need right now.’ Then he grunted.

I’ll never forget that.  Over the past 4 years we have developed The Weaponry into a valuable problem-solving tool. Our clients turn to us because The Weaponry is the right tool they need right now.

This business is a valuable tool because it helps convert opportunity into reality.  It helps make the invisible visible. It opens new paths. And it magnetizes brands and helps draw people to them. When clients call us they are saying, you have the tool our business needs right now to be successful. Which makes building and owning that tool extremely rewarding.  

4. Having Wet Clay.

Before I started The Weaponry I thought of a business like an office with people and desks and a logo. But once you create your own company you realize that a business is really wet clay. And as an Entrepreneur you have the ability to shape and reshape the business any way you want. In fact, it is your responsibility to continuously reshape the clay to improve and optimize it. As businesses respond to the COVID-19 crisis, we are all reshaping the clay to make sure we are prepared for what the world needs today, and tomorrow. Because the world needs small businesses. 

Key Takeaway 

Entrepreneurship offers one of the greatest adventures on the planet. It is empowering,  rewarding and infinitely creative. It offers the opportunity to positively impact others in ways that are hard to imagine before the journey starts. Thank you for sharing in my journey. I can’t wait to see where we go next!

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

The top 4 sayings I lean on to make difficult decisions.

Four years ago this week I started my entrepreneurial adventure when I launched the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. It truly has been an adventure. Every day presents a new set of opportunities and challenges. Even more so since COVID-19 became the hottest thing on the planet since Gangnam Style.

My self-appointed title at The Weaponry is Founder & CEO. Which means that I have 2 main responsibilities. As Founder, my job is to find the business. As CEO, my job is to not lose the business. The first job is already done. The second will never finish.

Decision Making

It is a significant challenge to make all the decisions that a business leader must make. You are typically working without all the information you would ideally like to have. That’s why I have developed a core set of questions and reminders to help guide my decision making.

Top 4 Sayings I Turn To To Help Make Tough Decisions. 

1. Always do what you know is right.

This is always my #1 reminder. It taps into my most basic sense of right and wrong. If I  adhere to this I can live with any decision. Even launching New Coke.

2. Don’t worry how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose your cow.

If you are a business owner you are going to lose money. Sometimes in small ways. Sometimes in big ways. But you can’t live and die with each dollar you make or lose, or you would soon find yourself crying in a puddle of milk on the floor. You have to think big picture. And remember that as long as you are able to earn more money in the future, without taking your clothes off, everything will be alright.

3. We’ll do it this way until we know better.

Developing a great business requires developing great processes and procedures. As we develop The Weaponry Way we don’t set our process and procedures in stone. There is too much pressure on that. Instead, we believe in moving quickly, and establishing rules that guide us today. But we always remain openminded to adjusting and improving our approach as we learn more. My cousin Brooks Albrecht imported this approach from his time at Amazon. And things seem to be working out for that little bookstore.

4. What would I do if I was trying to beat me?

If you really want to make great decisions, think about each issue from your competitor’s point of view. Which is what Mr. Miyagi tried to teach Daniel San in The Karate Kid. It forces you to think of better, more aggressive approaches. It makes you think about meaningful differentiation. Which always elevates your thinking. And leads to better final outcomes. #WhoNeedsABodyBagNow

Key Takeaway

Good decisions fuel success. Yet we often lack the information we want to make the best choices. So develop your own decision making prompts and reminders to help you focus on what is most important and most valuable to you. It helps speed your decision making process. And leads to greater comfort with uncomfortable decisions.

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

The Weaponry turns 4! Here are 4 things I have done right along the way.

This is a big week in my world. On Sunday my family and the rest of the Christian Club celebrated Easter. Which is like Christmas for us sinners. But this week we are also celebrating the 4th birthday of The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I founded, on April 12, 2016.

When I first launched The Weaponry I was living in Atlanta. If you would have told me then that 4 years from now The Weaponry is thriving, with offices in both Milwaukee and Columbus I would have been thrilled. But if you would have then told me that no one actually worked in either of those offices I would have given you my best Whatchu-Talk’n-Bout-Willis look.

Celebrating our 4th birthday during COVIDPALOOZA makes for an interesting time. All of the Weapons are working together apart right now. But the business is well positioned during this unusual time. Which provides me an opportunity to reflect on the past 4 years.

Top 4 Lists

This week, to celebrate The Weaponry’s 4th Birthday I will share Top 4 lists. To begin, I am taking a look at what got us to our 4th anniversary and put us in a good position to weather the Corona-Cootie storm.

4 things I did right to help us get to our 4th anniversary.

1. I Took Action. 

Everyone has a dream. And I dreamed of starting my own advertising agency for a long time. But to actual start your own business you have to move beyond dreaming to doing. Starting in the fall of 2015 I took an endless series of small actions that led me to today.  So if you want to make sure you don’t die with your dream still inside you, take action to make it real.

Suggested readings to spur your action:

2. I Saved. (Not Like Jesus)

As a professional creative thinker I take lots of risks with idea exploration. However, I am fiscally conservative. I have been cautious with our expenditures, our office space and our staffing size. I have been conservative about leaving cash in the business, versus taking it home as part of my return. As a result, The Weaponry has strong reserves to outlast this downturn.

3. I Planted Seeds.

Business development is critical to creating a pipeline of opportunities. Over the past 4 years I have stayed in touch with old friends. I’ve made hundreds of new friends. I have had phone conversations, chocolate milk meetings and lunches. I have volunteered my time, I have guest lectured and given talks. I write a blog. I have given interviews and served on committees and boards.

All of those things are like planting seeds. You never know when they will sprout or what they will turn into. But over the past month, since we have been working from home, I have had 5 new seeds sprout into either new business opportunities or actual new clients. So keep planting seeds and watch what happens. #AndyCohen.

4. I delivered

The best source of new business is a happy client. And you develop happy clients by delivering for them. We have grown by keeping our clients happy, and expanding our work with them. We are also expanding by having happy clients leave for new jobs and bringing us with them to their new companies. We have had that happen multiple times already in 2020. I have a really great team. And I appreciate all that they do for our clients. It is why we are still here, and still growing strong.

Key Takeaway

To develop a successful business you have to take action. Without action you are just a dreamer. You have to save money so that you are prepared to weather the storms that will surely come. You must keep planting seeds by creating and nurturing relationships and providing value to others. Then you must deliver the goods. Nothing grows a business like happy customers. None of it is easy. And none of it is that hard. It is simply the price you have to pay to get what you want in life.

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

I always wanted to create an editorial cartoon. So I did.

When I was young I always loved editorial cartoons. They were like my favorite people,  both funny and smart. I loved the very simple package they came in, which was usually just a frame or 2. But they packed a sharp commentary into a simple piece of intellectually humorous art. I felt like my brain was wired to enjoy those cartoons. The same way it is wired to enjoy chocolate milk, Zucker Brothers movies and videos of people falling down.

Finding Time

For many years I have thought about creating my own cartoon. I have had no shortage of ideas. It is time that I have been lacking. Then COVID-19 showed up on my doorstep, like Ed McMahon with a van, a bouquet of balloons and a mandate for us all to stay home. The lockdown caused by the corona cooties has enabled me to finally spend time exploring this passion project. #silverlining

Dan Koel

On Friday I reached out to my great friend Dan Koel about the cartoon project. He was excited to explore it together. DK was my original art director partner at the ad agency Cramer Krasselt, where I first started my advertising career. Dan and I worked together for 10 years. And we have partnered on many side projects ever since, including the Adam & Sleeve t-shirt brand. Dan will drive the look for the project.

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That’s me on the left, and Dan Koel on the right. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I have a hard time telling us apart.

Kirky Cartoons

Dan and I have committed to making 66 Kirky Cartoons. Why 66? because behavioral research shows that by the time you have done something 66 times it becomes a habit. You are highly likely to perform a task automatically after that. So this will be an interesting creative experiment. As well as an experiment in human behavior.

Why Kirky?

When I wrote down the name The Weaponry as I was looking for a name for my advertising and idea agency, I instantly knew I had the name I was looking for. The same thing happened when I wrote down Kirky for this project. The name sound like a mix of kookie and quirky. Which are two of my favorite things.

But there is another reason for the name. Dan and I had a great friend named Kirk ‘Kirky’ McDonald. Spending time with Kirk was always a bright spot in the day. Kirk passed away in 2017 at the age of 43, after battling brain cancer for 2 decades. Now, Dan and I hope we can make Kirky a bright spot in the day for everyone who reads it.

Kirk and Ladies
Kirk McDonald (He’s the one in the middle).

Exploring like Dora

Below is an exploration Dan and I did for a March Madness idea. It seemed like we should get this one out while it is still March. We looked at this a few different ways.

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A. Very Simple

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B. More elaborate, with callouts around the globe.

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C. Many more callouts of the madness.

Please help us with our research by letting us know which one you prefer: A, B, or C. This project will evolve and improve with your feedback. It take a village to raise an editorial cartoon. And we’ll take all the help we can get.

Key Takeaway

If you have a passion project you have always wanted to do, do it now. We all have a little additional time in our schedules. Take advantage of it. As Kirky taught me and Dan, life is short. Take advantage of the time you have. And make someone smile if you can.

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

How we took care of business during the first week of remote work.

Last week marked a major shift for our country. The mood changed. The rules changed. Which meant that many brands had to change their messages and tonality in order to sound in sync with the times. While other brands that had not been part of our collective conversation finally found their pick-up lines working like Joey Tribbiani’s best material.

This meant a McFlurry of activity at The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency. While other business were grinding to a halt, our services were sought after like a jumbo pack of toilet paper at Costco.

Did I mention that my entire team also moved to our spring offices this week?  Which is a fun way to say that we all worked from home. So did all of our clients. You probably did too.

Here are some of the highlights from our week.

Monday

  • We had our first client meeting at 9am on Monday morning.
  • In that meeting we planned significant messaging adjustments to respond to new social and economic conditions.
  • We spent the rest of the day ideating. It felt like we were in a movie about advertising. Complete with Glen Frey’s The Heat Is On playing in the background.
  • At 5pm we presented a new creative campaign for that same client we met with at 9am. Boom!

Tuesday

  • We added 2 news clients to our roster.
    • 1 in Columbus, Ohio.
    • 1 in Los Angeles
  • We had a kickoff meeting to get the L.A.-based client rolling. Because there was no time to waste.

Wednesday

  • I had a 2-hour video call with my CEO roundtable to talk with other business owners about what they are facing, and the challenging decisions that need to be made in response to the current uncertainty. Several of the member’s businesses were essentially stopped in their tracks by the current ban on gatherings. Which made me extremely thankful for the strong demand for our services.
  • I did an interview with Julia Fello from WTMJ-4 (NBC) in Milwaukee about working from home. You can see the interview here. Thanks to Monica Baer for connecting me and Julia.

Thursday

  • We presented a new fully-integrated campaign for a new sponsorship that we created on behalf of one of our clients.  The campaign included TV, outdoor, long form video, print, in-store displays, event activation, barn painting, social media, digital display and vehicle wraps. That was about it. #ThingsBubbaSays
  • We presented 37 new logos designs for a long-existing brand as part of a major rebrand initiative. Our 4 clients were all on video-conference, from home, while under house arrest.
  • Thursday night at 11pm I received an email from one of our clients inquiring about availability to meet the next day. They wanted to discuss ideas for a new promotion to take advantage of the new normal. I responded minutes later with a meeting time on Friday to kickoff the project.

Friday

  • We presented a new content campaign featuring online videos, ranging from 15 seconds to 4 minutes long.
  • Late on Friday afternoon we received client approval on a re-edit and new voiceover language for a television commercial. I contacted the recording studio to book time with them to record and master 2 new spots. They asked if I wanted to book time on Monday. I said no, I wanted time today, or tomorrow, which of course was Saturday. Since it was late in the day on Friday, and most people had gone home for the day, we settled for first thing Saturday morning.

Saturday

  • My team, the audio engineer, voiceover talent, and editor gathered virtually to help speed new commercials to market to help our client respond to our current climate.
  • We sent brand new commercials to TV stations for immediate airing.
  • We took a deep breath, and were thankful for the ability to take deep breaths.

Key Takeaway

These are unique times. The rules, challenges and opportunities are different right now. Help your customers, clients neighbors, family and friends get through this and they will never forget what you did for them. Yes, the stage is different. Most of us are everything-ing from home. But what it takes to shine during these times is the same. So shine on you crazy diamonds.

Happy Leap Day! Now make your extra day count.

Happy Leap Day! February 29th is your lucky day. In fact, it’s luckier than a 5-leaf clover. And it’s rarer than a mooing steak. In fact, it is so rare that it only happens every 4 years. Like the Olympics, a Presidential election, or Halley’s Comet.

Opportunity Day!

However it is not the rarity of Leap Day that matters. It’s the opportunity. Today is a totally free, bonus day! Which means that today is the perfect day to do something extra. Like Michael Jackson said, today, ‘You got to be startin’ somethin’. Or finishing somethin’. Or working hard on somethin’. #MaMaSeMaMaSaMaMaCooSa

saturday-night-fever-1977

Saturday Day Fever

Even better, this year Leap Day is the perfect bonus day. Because it falls on a Saturday. Which means you probably don’t have to work or go to school today. So take a few minutes to think about those things you have always wanted to do. Those things you can never seem to find the time to start, plan or complete. And get rolling.

Possible Leap Day Activities:

  • Exercise
  • Take a hike
  • Play a Game
  • Start a blog, vlog, slog, or drink Glogg
  • Start a business
  • Pick up a new hobby, or re-engage in an old hobby, like Holly
  • Create a podcast
  • Play an instrument
  • Create a product
  • Start a book (reading or writing)
  • Paint
  • Marie Kondo your house
  • Volunteer, or sign up to volunteer
  • Go to church (or find a place of worship to go to this week)
  • Start a meetup
  • Join a club or worthy organization
  • Ask someone to be your mentor.
  • Call someone you haven’t talked to for too long
  • Find a dentist
  • Find a doctor
  • Find a nurse
  • Find a lady with an alligator purse
  • Start your taxes
  • Plan a vacation
  • Organize a girls night, or a guys night, or a Michael Knight.
  • Make a career or life plan
  • Do something that’s more you, because no one knows you better than you.

Start Now

I started planning my own business, The Weaponry, during a little bonus time like you have today. Now we have 2 offices and clients from California to Quebec. I also started this blog during a little bit of free time. And this is post number 411. #Information Now it’s your turn to go do something meaningful today.

Key Takeaway

Time is your more precious resource. Use it wisely. Alchemize it into magic. And when you get a bonus day, or a bonus hour, take advantage of it. Otherwise, when you come to  the end of your time, you will wish you had.

Which begs the question: What will you do with your Leap Day?

Note: Happy Leap Day Birthday to my great friend Jeff Hilimire, who turns 11 today. I wrote a review of his book this week, not even remembering that it was his birthday this week too.

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Jeff  ‘The Leap Day Birthday Boy’ Hilimire, showing how big he was when he was born. He looks kinda manly for being 11, right?