How my mom influences me every day.

As I prepared for Mother’s Day this year I wrote not 1, but 2 different blog posts about my Mom. On Mother’s Day I decided to publish The most important gift my mother gave me. Which meant I had to figure out what to do with my bonus post.

This week is also special for my Mama. Somehow she managed to birth all 4 of her kids in the 4 days between May 22nd and May 25th. You can read about that little bit of Motherly Wizardry in the post: What makes these siblings freakishly unique. So to kick off my Mom’s Giving Birth Week, here is the Non-Mother’s Day Mother’s Day post.


Happy Mother’s Day! A great Mom is like a subscription to the Jelly Of The Month Club, because it is the gift that keeps on giving. I have an amazing Mom. Which is total luck. Because I simply inherited her. But my Mom, Jill Albrecht, has given me an unfair advantage in life.

Mom-ing Runs In The Family

My Mom started off life with an unfair advantage too, because she had a great Mom. My Grammy, Lillian (Anderson) Sprau was a saintly Norwegian American woman. She had 9 children and lived to be 100 years old. When you have 9 kids to practice on, you get to really hone your mothering skills. My Grammy taught my Mom those skills. My mom then taught her children, including me and my sisters Heather, Alison and Donielle.

Big Stuff

My Mama taught us all the big stuff. The importance of a good education. How to advocate for ourselves and for others. To value time with family. And the value of humor.

Little Stuff

My Mom taught us countless little lessons too. In fact, one of the lessons she taught me probably seemed so small to her that it wasn’t much of a lesson at all. But I still use it every day.

Make Your Own Lunch.

My my mom wisely delegated lunch making responsibilities to me and my sisters at an early age. After all, we had a vested interest in eating. By the time I was 12 years old I was packing my own lunch every day before school. It quickly became a habit.

I packed my own lunch every day in junior high and high school. After I moved out of the dorms in college I made my own lunch every day. When I started my first real job after college I made my own lunch too.

Fast forward 2 decades. I have had a successful career in advertising. I have had fancy pants sounding titles, including Executive Vice President, Chief Creative Officer and CEO. Today, I own my own business, an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. Yet every day before I leave for the office I still make my own lunch.

Why

  • It saves me a lot of money.
  • I have portion control.
  • I can eat wherever I am.
  • I can eat whenever I get hungry.
  • Nobody can spit in my lunch.
  • It creates a predictable routine.
  • I don’t have to think about where to go for lunch.
  • It teaches my children a good habit.

Key Takeaway

Our mothers create good habits and values that last a lifetime. In fact, you may be surprised how many of your daily habits, your brand preferences and your techniques were created by your Mom. After all, before you met your Mom you were pretty clueless.

Thanks Mom for all the big things you gave me. But today, I am also thankful for the little things. The things I do automatically because you taught me to. They benefit me at home, at work, with friends and amongst strangers. You did a wonderful job teaching me to do things your way. I don’t know what happened with my sisters. They must be Dad’s fault.

A lesson from my son on the value of mistakes.

Over the past week my family and I enjoyed a spring break trip to Texas. On Good Friday my son Johann and I got up early to nab poolside seats for our last day before returning home. In fact, we got down to the pool before it was open for the day. But there was no moose out front telling us the pool was closed for two weeks for cleaning and repairs. So we found some Adirondack chairs near an outdoor fireplace, and sat and talked, like fathers and sons should.

Good Talk Russ

Good Talk Russ

Johann is one of my favorite people to talk to because his mind dances. We talked about whether Star Wars took place in the past or the future. While I said it all seemed futuristic, he reminded me that it took place long ago in a galaxy far, far away. We covered funny Chris Pratt lines from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. And we talked about the leaning tower of Pisa.

The Leaning Tower

As we discussed the leaning tower from a long time ago in a country far, far away, Johann shared an interesting observation. He said, ‘You know Dad, no one would care about the tower if it wasn’t leaning. It is the leaning that makes it interesting.’

I asked Johann if he thought there was a life lesson to be learned from the leaning tower. He quickly replied,

‘Even our failures can be a work of art.’  -Johann Albrecht (age 11)

Key Takeaway

Don’t beat yourself up over your failures. They make you and your story more interesting. Make the lean in your tower work for you. Make a wrong turn at Albuquerque, then make that your catch phrase. Don’t avoid your mistakes. Embrace them. They are often blessing that pay dividends for years, or even centuries to come.

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

The best way to pay lower taxes next year.

April 15th is once again upon us. If you pay a lot in taxes it might feel like Uncle Sam is upon you too. This time of year people always complain about how much they owe the government in taxes. Clearly the complainers don’t know how easy it is to dramatically lower your tax burden.

Disclaimer

Before I share my surefire tax lowering technique I should acknowledge that I am not a licensed tax professional. So anything I share here should be verified by your tax consultant, or by actually reading the IRS publications. But I am pretty sure this is not the same tax lowering strategies used by Wesley Snipes, Martha Stewart or Willie Nelson.

Tax Paying Experience

While I am not a certified tax professional, I own my own business and file taxes in 3 different states. I have been paying taxes since I was 14 years old. I have calculated my taxes on my own and I’ve used Turbo Tax. Today, I use a team of professional tax accountants. All 3 of these tax preparing approaches have confirmed my bulletproof tax reduction strategy.

My Tax Reduction Technique

My surefire technique for lowering your tax burden is so easy anyone can use it. Even better, it is legal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

If you want to pay far less in taxes next year simply make far less income.

The Ultimate Tax Hack

If a lower tax bill is a high priority, simply throttle back your effort and contribution at work. Unless a family member owns the company, or you are really, really good-looking (#Zoolander), you will certainly feel an equal drop in both your compensation and your tax liability. It’s that easy to do. In fact, it is much easier to lower your taxes significantly than it is to raise them.

top view of man holding android smartphone near macbook and newspaper
This is not me. It’s a stock photo created to represent someone doing business or taxes. Or perhaps it’s a photo of a magician about to make that phone disappear by drawing your attention to the succulent in the upper left hand corner, then slipping the phone up his sleeve. Any hoo, the image is here to add visual interest to the story. I hope it helped.

My Tax History

When I was in high school and college, I typically made between $3000 and $5000 working during the summer. As a result my taxes were tiny. In fact, I am pretty sure the government lost money on the time they spent reviewing my taxes.

In the first year after I graduated from college I made $21,000. My taxes were still really low. In fact, the government gave me almost all of the money I paid in taxes back to me. When I received my refund check from the IRS that year it was accompanied by a note that said, ‘Thanks for the laugh!’

My Taxes Today.

Now I make a lot more money. And I pay a lot more in taxes. In 2016 I started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. Clearly I didn’t listen to those who told me that if my income goes up, my tax bill will too. In fact, this year I will pay more in taxes than I made in gross salary during the 7th year of my career. And I love it.

photo of a woman holding an ipad

Reinterpreting Those Damn Taxes

Taxes are a sign of success. To pay a lot in taxes you have to make a lot of money. If you are paying a lot more now than you did a few years ago, congratulations! You must be making a lot more. If your total tax bill is obscene, even better! You must be making an obscene amount of money!

The Tax Reminder

Remember, taxes enable us to pay for things together. If it weren’t for taxes, you would have to build your own roads, your own schools, and your own parks. But thanks to the tax system, we all give a little and get a whole lot in return. Which means that taxes help us save money overall, and increase our quality of life. If you are not paying taxes it is like going to a pot luck dinner and not bringing any pot or any luck to share. That makes you a mooch. Or a free loader. Don’t be that kid.

Key Takeaway

To pay a lot in taxes you have to make a lot of money. Never lose that perspective. Be proud of that money you contribute to benefit us all. I hope you make a boatload of money next year. Then I hope you ship a life raft’s worth of tax payments to the IRS to help save us all. Be proud to pay a larger tax bill each year. It’s a sign of success. Sure, it’s easy to slash your tax bill by lowering your income. But after you’ve done that once you will realize it feels a lot better to pay a lot more.

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

What is the defining event of your life?

John McCain died of brain cancer this week. In the first alert I received on my mobile phone announcing the death of this long time senator from Arizona, there was a lengthy summation of his life. Which was remarkable to say the least. But there was one new thought in the summation that jumped off the screen at me. Figuratively, that is. There was no literal jumping.

McCain was a Naval fighter pilot who was shot down, captured, imprisoned and tortured for 5 and a half years in Vietnam. But upon his release in 1973, he was determined to make sure that his experience as a POW was not the defining event of his life.

This is a great reminder not to allow bad things to be the things others remember about us. It is a great reminder to continuously push ourselves to do more and be more. We have the ability to add so much good to our life story, our careers, and our relationships that it minimizes the bad.

McCain’s story also reminds us that even in a life full of happiness and success we have the ability to do more and be better. I’m working at it. I hope you are too.

This is the best fuel for the best attitude.

I  am in the middle of a major research project on life. While the research is ongoing, I have discovered, after collecting more than four decades worth of evidence, that life is hard. My study reveals that life is hard at work, at home, in your relationships, and even on vacation. No one is immune. And there is no cure (except that 80’s band with Robert Smith).

Facing Reality

Things go wrong all the time. Disappointment shows up repeatedly without an appointment. Things break. Bills pile up. Bills lose Super Bowls. And just when you think you are in the clear, something happens to remind you that you are clearly not in the clear.

Entrepreneurship

I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, two years ago. And I have faced a constant stream of challenges, requirements, setbacks and surprises. As an entrepreneur, you have to be ready for whatever craziness comes your way. Because it will come, and it will be crazy. Like marrying-a-Kardashian-crazy .

A Common Trait

Since starting my entrepreneurial journey I have surrounded myself with other entrepreneurs. I have noticed that the rock stars have a special trait that enables them to be successful in the face of the constant barrage of adversity and the WTF-ity they will inevitably face. And it just may be the most valuable asset in their organizations.

A  Helium Attitude.

Helium is perhaps the most magical element on Earth. Because it floats! In fact, you can fill a balloon with helium and the balloon floats too! Had Sir Issac Newton seen a helium balloon float skyward as he saw that apple fall earth-ward, he would have had a much tougher time discovering the laws of gravity. Because helium always rises above the gravity of a situation. Your attitude can too. If you let your attitude get sunk by setbacks, then your attitude is not an asset.

I don’t think about having a good attitude. Because I don’t know what that means. I think about having a helium attitude. Which is a mindset, an approach and an interpretation of the facts that rises above the circumstances. A helium attitude remains up, even when your plans fall down. Thus it always provides the perspective that things will get better. This is an entrepreneurial imperative.

Lifting Others

The helium attitude helps lift others too. Someone needs to rise above the disappointment and frustration that we all inevitably face. The helium attitude bounces back quickly, and offers other people a high point to focus on as they navigate forward. Which is why it is important for parents, leaders, teachers and preachers to fill their attitudes with as much helium as they can get (#highandfunnyvoices).

Key Takeaway

Life is unpredictable. One moment you feel like you are on top of the world. The next moment, you feel like the world is on top of you. But a helium attitude rises anyway. Don’t let setbacks, curveballs, and negative people drag you down. Do what helium does, and just keep rising. Your attitude is everything in life. Make sure you fill it with the right fuel.

A short reminder for the shortest day of the year.

Christmas brings renewed hope for Christians.

The new year provides a fresh start for us all.

And the new fiscal year offers businesses a chance to measure new growth.

But don’t overlook the importance of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It’s a symbol that every day for the next 6-months will have a little bit more sunshine than the day before. This is a great reminder that even the darkest times hit a maximum. And after that maximum, things get a little better, and a little brighter every day.

 

 

Focus more on the things you love.

My business plays in a fun sandbox. Brands across the United States and Canada come to my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, looking for smart new ideas. Our team of strategic and creative thinkers explore ideas that extend far beyond what most clients could create on their own. Clients love us because we reveal new possibilities. And because we do ridiculous things that make them laugh a lot in meetings.

Exploring the Possibilities

Clients often hire us to help them reimagine their brand. On a recent project our team presented our client with 40 new logo options to choose from. Yes, 40. We pride ourselves on offering a great range of thinking so that everyone can find something they like. You know, like a buffet. Or a boy band.

Once we concluded the share of new logos and opened the floor for discussion (ok, so the floor didn’t really open), I was surprised by the very first comments that followed. One of the clients said, “I REALLY don’t like option 9.” Then he spent several minutes elaborating on why he didn’t like option 9. After several others shared their favorites, this client spoke up again and said, ‘Did anyone else dislike option 9 as much as I did?’

The Weaponry Way

Let me let you in on one of The Weaponry’s secrets. The reason we show multiple ideas is because our clients might not like them all. I’m fine with that. My friends at Coca Cola sell a wide range of drink options so that we can all find something we like. I love Coke and Gold Peak Tea. I don’t focus on the fact that Diet Coke tastes like liquid bike tires.

It is a waste of time to focus on the things that we don’t like. Or the things that don’t work. I think of the creative process like finding your way through a maze. Once you find yourself at a dead end, immediately turn around and start exploring another option. To stop and focus on that dead end, or worse, go back to the dead end to see it again, and think about how dead that end really is, is a waste of time.

Maximizing

A few years ago I did a Strength Finders analysis. The test concluded that I am a Maximizer. Which means I don’t spend any time focusing on what happened in the past, or what can’t be changed. I focus on the possibilities in front of me and how to make something good into something great. Which is a good construct to have when you are a professional creative. Or an entrepreneur. I help my team and my clients find ideas with a lot of potential, then bring out the maximum potential in each of them.

The Take Away

Focus on the things you love most. Spend your time looking for the solutions, the answers, the wows. The beautiful building, the kind act, the smart idea, the great looking jacket, the blog post about focusing on the things you love (that you loved enough to like and share). When you see something that doesn’t work for you, move on. Focus on the great, the exciting possibilities, the things that make you happiest. You will find more good in the world. Let’s all let go of our own option #9. The other 31 options are better anyway.

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The key to longevity from my 100 year old Grammy.

Yesterday was my Grandmother’s funeral.

Many people have told me they are sorry for my loss. But I’ve had nothing but gain.  My Grammy, Lillian (Anderson) Sprau, was 100.5. She was a purebred Norwegian saint from Minnesota.  She was the sweetest, kindest person I have ever met.

She was also fun and funny. She loved to travel. She loved a good party. And she loved her family. She was married for 67 years before my Grampy realized he couldn’t keep up with her at 92. She had 9 children, 23 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren (not including those of us regular grandchildren who were also great).

I used to call my Grammy regularly on my commute home from work. We would talk about all kinds of things; from weather to family happenings to politics to travel to world news to sports. I would always spend a part of the conversation talking about our family heritage. I knew that Grammy was my best source of family history, and that she wouldn’t be around forever.

On one of our calls, when Grammy was in her northern 90’s, I asked her, ‘What is the key to living so long?’  She paused a moment, then stated confidently,

‘I think you can’t take everything so seriously.’

That is some great Grammy advice.

The stress we feel when we take life so seriously wears down our machinery. As of 2017, humanic machinery still can’t be replaced. So often we take work, politics, sports, family, school and social interactions so seriously that it takes years off of our lives.

As you go about your day today, remember my Grammy’s words. Don’t take everything so seriously.  Don’t stress yourself out. Don’t let others do it to you either. Have fun. Find the humor in life. Laugh more. And live more.

 

The most inspiring statistic in Super Bowl history.

Wow! Originally I thought I would post something today about the Super Bowl LI commercials. But I barely remember them. The fragments I do recall are only because I’m trying really, really hard to come up with something. As if I’m being interrogated during a crime investigation.  Um… there was the Skittles spot. Um… then Alfa Romeo showed up for some reason. Justin Timberlake referred to an old NSYNC song. And Terry Bradshaw was a mess. I’m sorry. I’ll go back and watch them later to see what I should have remembered.

Last night was all about the game. It was hyper-relevant to me and my social circles because I grew up in New England as a huge Patriots fan. But I recently lived, and still own a home, in Atlanta. I have great love for my Atlantans and the way they embraced the Y’Albrechts.  I didn’t want either fan base to lose.

But I wanted the Patriots to win.

I won’t recap the entire game. FOX, ESPN and the NFL Network can do that ad nauseam.  I’ll simply share a couple of inflection points.

At the opening kickoff the game was close. Really close.

Then, when the Patriots went down by two touchdowns, the announcers were quick to point out that no team in Super Bowl history had ever come back from a 14 point deficit.

Gulp.

That concerned me, statistically. But come on, my team is the Pats! You know, Tom Brady, Malcolm Butler, Bill Belichick. We can make up 14 points wicked fast. It was early in the game. I’ve seen this movie before.

But suddenly it was 21 nothing. Even the eternal optimist in me was discouraged going into halftime down 21-3.

It didn’t get any better in the 3rd quarter. In fact, the Patriots were down by 25 points with just over 2 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.  That was 2.5 times the largest lead any team had ever overcome in the Super Bowl! This was not good.

I felt like 12-year-old Adam, watching my team get steamrolled by the 1985 Bears. I was having painful Steve Grogan, Tony Eason flashbacks. Even Billy Buckner made an appearance.

There, in the lopsided 3rd quarter, an amazing Super Bowl statistic was born. Maybe the most shocking statistic in the history of sports. It has the potential to change your life if you let it. According to ESPN:

Atlanta had greater than a 99.5% win probability when leading 28-3 in the 3rd quarter.

Or, said another way (which may be statistically illegal):

New England had less than a 0.5% win probability when trailing 28-3 in the 3rd quarter. 

Yet we know what happened.

I am not viewing the comeback as a Falcons fan. I don’t see a letdown. Or a choke. Or an improbable loss.

I view the comeback as a Patriots fan. It was unbelievable in the truest sense of this overused word. And as the statistic shows, it was all but impossible.

But I also look at this crazy statistic outside of football. As a human. As a father. As a family member. As the owner of The Weaponry. As a friend of people battling with terrible hardships and nasty diseases and demons and addictions. What happened last night is a reason for the hopeless to hope. To believe the unbelievable. I have never purchased a copy of a championship game. But this game belongs in my library of reminders and inspirations. It may belong in yours too.

Winning in business is hard. It requires you to never give up, never give out and never give in. Let this game and this statistic serve as an inspiration when you are pitching new business, cold-calling, interviewing and recruiting. Let this game remind you to push harder when you are behind in revenue. And when you are ahead of projections. When you are losing market share and when creditors are calling. There is always something you can do to turn things around.

To my Falcons-fan friends, I know it hurts to sit on the other side of this inspirational teeter totter (seesaw). But the Falcons are on the rise. Great things will come your way too. Take it from me, going through a game like this, or getting demolished by the 1985 Bears, makes the eventual Super Bowl win even sweeter.

Could you pass the Fender Bender Test?

Sunday afternoon I was in a fender bender. Boo. I was driving my daughter home from basketball practice. We were having a nice conversation about her practice and I was looking forward to making chili when we got home. Then I was going to bake a couple of pies with the apples we picked at a local orchard in the morning. Then Normal Rockwell was going to sue me for infringing on his schtick.

I was driving within the notorious Five Mile Circle of Doom: that 5 mile radius that surrounds your home. Statistically, this is where the majority of accidents happen. As I passed into the invisible circle I slowed down because a tanker truck was stopping at a railroad crossing in front of me. Then I heard it. That telltale crunchy metallic BANG of a car slamming into another car. A moment later I heard another BANG. But this time I felt it too. I had been hit from behind. And suddenly the chili, apple pie and Norman Rockwell lay in shattered fragments on the pavement. Now Danica Patrick was going to sue me for stealing her schtick.

I pulled my car off the main drag and onto a side street. I got out of the car. And that’s when I realized what had happened. I had been part of a 3 car pileup. I was the third and final ball in a Newton’s Cradle fender bender.

Back on the main road there were two cars still intimately engaged like two dogs getting it on in public. Which is always such an awkward thing to see. Even for dogs.

After a moment the two cars disengaged and gingerly limped off the main road and onto the side street with me. We got out of our cars and remembered to first ask if everyone was okay. Then we introduced ourselves. This is one of the all-time oddest ways to meet someone new. Hey, crash here often?  How about this crashing inducing weather we’re having?

First I met the woman who hit me. I’ll call her Laura (because that is her first name, and her last name is too difficult to spell). She was driving a new grey Honda Oddessy mini van. She had a car full of humans and was finally heading home from a long day of volleyball at the high school.

The person driving the car that created the crash was a tall goofy boy who was college-dropout aged. He was odd. And he raised an eyebrow of the responding police officer who said, “I’m going to talk to him first. He’s acting pretty shifty.’ But I don’t think he was acting. That was just him being himself.

This left me, Laura, her kids, and soon her husband John (who came to help) to talk amongst ourselves as we waited. And the more we talked the more I liked them. They were nice people. Laura asked my daughter how her basketball practice was. Which was a very nice thing to ask a kid who had just been in her first accident. And it demonstrated Laura’s ability to think beyond herself, even though her brand new minivan has just been dented, gashed and bruised. And her engine was now wheezing like a junkyard conversion van. John was friendly, composed and funny. He said, ‘Well at least it didn’t happen during the Packer game.’ I laughed.

But as we talked we realized we had more in common. Laura and I had both gone to the University of Wisconsin. We quickly found several people we knew in common. And then we realized that we both work in (and love) advertising.

So there we were. Our cars dented and saddened by recent events. Yet Laura was cool, collected, considerate and humorous. Which are the traits you need to have to be successful in advertising. Because in this industry fender benders and traffic jams and last minute surprises are routine. After this surprise-round of speed networking we decided that we should meet again to talk about doing business together.

While we at The Perfect Agency Project don’t recommend getting in an accident, it does provide a valuable look at how people respond to the negative. It gives you a good look at who they really are under pressure. And if you like them then, you will probably like working with them too. Laura passed The Fender Bender Test with flying colors. Would you? I encourage you to think about it. But I hope you never know.