5 Random Observations From Vacation.

I’m on vacation this week with my family. We loaded up the Family Truckster and headed south for a week of warmth and adventure. But there is no Wally World for us. This trip is actually last year’s spring break beach trip that got canceled because of the plague. One year later we are certainly enjoying it more than we would have last year.

I have had a lot of time to think over the past few days. Here are 5 random things I’ve been thinking about during my time away.

  1. The work must go on. Even when I am on vacation there is work to do. It is what you sign up for when you become an entrepreneur. To minimize the impact on my family I work early, or late, or both. I am thankful for all the work to be done. I don’t believe in work-life balance. I believe in work-life integration. My vacations are evidence of this. I appreciate my team at The Weaponry who keep things running while I’m away. I’m also thankful for my family who understands my work commitments. They enjoy having food, clothing, and shelter too. And they see how having a job helps pay for such things.

2. Your family role is part of your career. Your role within your family is your most important role of all. You should view your parental and spousal job performance as part of your career success. You need to take it seriously or you will be the only one at your funeral. Seriously.

Me and my 3 interns catching the Baylor vs Gonzaga game.

3. My people are everywhere. I am at the beach in Florida. And I discovered several friends nearby. My former Engauge co-worker Raghu was in a hotel room right above mine. (We first talked on the balcony.) Our across-the-street neighbors from Atlanta, Christy, Kevin, and Fam, are less than a mile away, and we had lunch with them yesterday. Our Columbus, Ohio friends Troy and Katie are just down the beach a piece. So we had dinner with them last night. Running into your people randomly makes the world feel smaller. And better.

The Allens and the Albrechts: Brought together by spring break and alphabetical order.
Raghu isn’t as good at smiling as I am.

4. Boogie boarding is my jam. If I am on vacation at the beach I am boogie boarding. It represents everything you need to know about life. It’s about positioning yourself well, being prepared when opportunities come along, enjoying the ride, and laughing off the crashes. Oh, and if you are not careful you could lose your britches. For more on my life lessons from boogie boarding read 16 important life lessons I learned from boogie boarding.

Skimboarding is my daughter Ava’s jam. I don’t have a pic of me boogie boarding. No one really wants to see that anyway.

5. Funny things happen every day. Each night my 10, 13, and 15 year old kids love to recap all the funny things that happened each day. There is no shortage of funny things to talk about. It’s a great reminder that life is either a comedy or a tragedy, depending on which things you choose to focus on. I choose the funny.

Thanks for reading. I hope your day is full of meaningful work, friends, family, and funny.

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

How habits help you do things you don’t feel like doing.

Excuses are easy to find. They are everywhere. Like Subway sandwich shops. And they can get you out of doing just about anything if you let them. But like James Taylor said, don’t you let them.

For years now I have committed to writing and sharing 3 blog posts per week, every week, for however many weeks there are in a year. (Which is like, 76 right? Or is that how many trombones lead the big parade?)

But today is Easter. And it’s a Sunday. (It seems like Easter falls on a Sunday a lot. Like Chick-fil-A cravings.)

Plus, I am on vacation. And I have a hundred other things I could be doing.

But, here I am, writing anyway. And you’re reading my Easter morning post. (Thank you!) Because I’ve developed a habit.

Habits destroy excuses. Because habits make actions automatic. They help you build momentum. Because once you get the flywheel turning you don’t need willpower, or discipline. You just do it. Like Nike. Or like one of Pavlov’s drooling dogs.

Key Takeaway

Turn your most important actions into habits. Science shows that by the 60th repetition an action becomes a habit. After that it is easy to keep your commitment. So develop your habits. Keep showing up. Keep coming back. Keep working, or writing, or exercising, or chopping wood, or whatever you have committed to do.

And special thanks today to my man Jesus. I appreciate you Bro! I’ve been using the Forgiveness of Sins you gave me everyday too.

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

How to turn your setbacks into success.

Progress is not linear. It zigs and zags. It stalls. It reverses. In fact, progress moves like a good 1980s breakdancer. It often leaves you spinning on your head. And wondering why you are carrying around a large piece of cardboard, and a boombox.

But don’t fear the setback. Setbacks are a profit center. Because, like Alanis Morissette said, every time you lose, you learn. Which means that setbacks are full of education, growth and things you, you, you oughta know. They make you smarter and stronger if you let them.

Obstacles, challenges, and losses provide game film to study. They reveal weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and flaws. And they teach you how to strengthen your weaknesses so you can overcome challenges the next time you face them. Luckily, life supplies a Hong Kong Buffet of challenges to overcome. So you will always have more opportunities to put your loss-based learnings to good use.

Key Takeaway

Don’t lament the setback. Embrace it. Dissect it. It provides a very specific, high level course in personal or professional development. Enroll in that class. Take good notes. You’re sure to come out smarter and more prepared than you started.

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

Are you sinking, floating, treading water or swimming?

How is your life going?

How is your career going?

How often do you stop and ask yourself these questions?

(And how often do you get asked 4 rapid-fire questions to start an article?)

Self-Evaluation

If you don’t perform a simple self-evaluation regularly you are likely to waste valuable time and energy moving in the wrong direction. Or not moving at all. And honey-child, your time is far too valuable to be wasted.

The 4-Mode Method

We are always in one of these 4 modes: Sinking, Floating, Treading Water, or Swimming. (We are also sometimes in pie à-la-mode, but that’s a different story.) Use the following criteria to determine how things are going at any given point.

Sinking

Sinking means you are not keeping up with the most basic requirements. You are falling behind. You are regressing. You are deeper in effort-debt each day. Sinking is failing. Untreated health issues, substance abuse, and other addictions can all contribute to sinking. Without an intervening act, sinking will lead you to the bottom of the pool. If you are sinking you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. If you don’t, sooner or later you won’t be able to ask for anything again. (That went dark quickly…)

Do you sink you are sinking? (Ask in your best German accent.)

Floating

Floating means you are putting in the minimum effort. You are waiting. You are doing nothing to improve, grow, or progress. You are simply letting external forces have their way with you. Floating leads to a lot of regret at the end of your days.

Don’t be a floater. Also, don’t wear a white shirt in the water.

Treading Water

Treading water means you are putting in an effort. You are expending energy. But it is ineffective. All of your motion is simply enabling you to hold your current position. Your intention is good. But your results are not. It is like floating but with a terrible return on your calories burned.

Treading water is motion without results. It’s also what people are doing in scary movies before the underwater thing attacks.

Swimming

Swimming means you are making progress. You have forward movement. You have coordinated efforts. Swimming means that you have discovered a repeatable process that works. You have direction. You have a goal and you are working towards it.

Just keep swimming.

Key Takeaway

Always be swimming. Know what you want and work to get it. It’s the only way to get ahead. And it’s the best way to make the best use of your time.

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

Why adults should tap into the power of playing Pretend.

When I was a kid we didn’t have electronics. Check that, we had one television in our living room. It had no remote control, so you had to get up and go to the TV to change the channel and volume, or to fix the vertical hold. I didn’t have any video games. Our only phone was wired to the wall. And the only fun things you could do with the phone was prank call your friends, or dial 867-5309 and ask for Jenny.

The Pretender

As a result of my Amish-ish youth, I had to find other ways to fill my time. One of my go-to activities was playing Pretend. It worked like this: I pretended I was someone else with a more interesting life than my own. That’s pretty much it.

My pretending covered a wide range of roles. Sometimes I pretended to be a farmer, doctor, astronaut, or soldier. Other times I pretended to be a professional athlete or a cowboy. I used to pretend to run a chapel in my basement. And my older sister Heather and I even used to regularly play (wait for it…) Brother and Sister! We played together the way we saw brothers and sisters play on TV, or in the movies. Which meant that we got along better and did way more adventurous stuff.

Today I am full-grown-ish, yet I still play Pretend. Because I now recognize that if you play Pretend long enough, and really commit to the part, you can make things happen for real.

How it has worked for me.

College

In college at The University of Wisconsin, I pretended I was going to be an advertising creative. So I declared a major in journalism to learn about writing, strategic communications, and the other isms behind journals. I also declared a psychology major, because I wanted to know more about human thinking and motivation. I realized that declaring a major is simply a fancy name for playing Pretend. Just like kilt is a fancy name for man-skirt.

Entrepreneurship

In 2015, at the height of my employed career, I started pretending I was an entrepreneur, and that I owned my own advertising agency. So I started doing all the things I thought entrepreneurs do. I read books about launching and running businesses. I hung out with successful entrepreneurs. I wrote down all my plans. And I talked to people as if I was a real entrepreneur. Suddenly, real people started asking me if I could do work for them with my pretend business. When that happened, my pretend business instantly became a real business. Just like Pinocchio became a real boy. No lie. And no strings attached. Today that business is called The Weaponry.

Blogging

About the same time, I also pretended that I was a blogger. So I did what I thought real bloggers did. I went to a blogging website called WordPress.com, I created a pretend blog, and I started writing pretend posts. Then, after I had written 5 of those, I started publishing them. Within minutes people started reading them. You, my reader-friend, are proof that I am a real blogger. Because you are most certainly a real reader. (Maybe you could write ‘Real Reader’ in the comments to confirm my Real Reader hypothesis.) My blog has now been read in nearly 130 countries around the world. (Because there aren’t 130 countries crowded into one part of the world).

No ending to the pretending.

Today, I am playing Pretend more than ever. Over the past year, I have pretended to be a cartoonist, an author, a community organizer, a high school track coach, an investor, an employee of a tech start-up, a t-shirt maker, and the owner of a food business. All of these things that I have pretended to be are now in various stages of reality. Just like Kanye West.

What About You?

Are you pretending to be who you really want to be? Are you pretending to do the things you really want to do? It’s easier than you think. Just act like you did when you were a child. You knew what to do then. Simply do the same thing now. And if you pretend all the way, you will get all the way to what you were pretending to be. Just like Jackson Browne. Or Chrissie Hynde.

Key Takeaway

Never stop pretending. It is the first step to creating. It is how you activate your beliefs, manifest your dreams, and live into your vision. Because when you pretend hard enough everyone will take you seriously. Including yourself.

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

To accomplish more, learn to quiet your curiosity.

Curiosity is a powerful force. It drives creativity and innovation. It fuels growth and understanding. It inspires us to challenge assumptions and explore new frontiers.

However, just as curiosity can be highly detrimental to cats, it can also be the kryptonite to your success. Because unchecked curiosity kills focus. And focus is the key to progress.

When attacking your work you need a singular focus on the task at hand. (Even if you are in a relationship.) Curiosity is constantly working to distract and disrupt your focused efforts. Like a gremlin. Or The Noid that used to ruin your pizza in the 80s.

Curiosity, paired with the access to infinite information and endless rabbit holes at your fingertips, means that a fleeting thought or a sparkle of a question in your head can be instantly acted upon. By following your curiosity you destroy the momentum, thinking, and effort that pays off in the form of progress, creation, and accomplishment.

You have to train yourself that curiosity is not to be acted upon when you are in total focus mode. Or what I call ToFo. Which is when your most important gains are made. You need to fight curiosity like you would defend your house if you wore Under Armor. Or the way you would combat an opponent during competition.

It is valuable to train your brain to take greater pleasure from defending itself against the sirens of curiosity than from the scratched itch of answering trivial questions. Learn to recognize the negative influence of ill-timed curiosity. And don’t be afraid to tell curiosity, ‘You be illin’. (Just like I told spellcheck that it must not be a Run DMC fan.)

The Question

Ask yourself, ‘If I pursuit this curiosity now, will it distract me from more important work?’ When the answer is yes, simply don’t pursuit the answer. That simple act of denial will help you accomplish more every day..

Key Takeaway

Curiosity is a double-edged sword. While it drives innovative thinking, it often distracts us from our most important work. Make social media, search engines and other curiosity sucks off-limits during sessions of Total Focus in order to enjoy maximum progress. Put in the mindpower needed to accomplish the task at hand. Keeping curiosity at bay is the single greatest step you can take to accomplishing more. Focus on feeding your focus. There will plenty of time for curiosity when the work is done.

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

Why it is so darn important to be patient with yourself.

When I was a little boy I had a piece of needlepoint art hanging on my wall. It featured a simple image of a little cowboy and his broomstick horse. On the needlepoint were the words, Please be patient… God isn’t finished with me yet… It was a daily reminder to a growing boy that I was a work in progress.

My art looked a lot like this. Except it had a wooden frame. And both of my ellipses had 3 dots.

Today, most people would consider me a full-grown man. After all, I can grow a full beard and mustache. I am over 6 feet tall and can reach the highest shelves on my tippy toes. I am married with 3 children. I own my own business. I can legally drive a car, vote, and drink alcohol. Although I vote not to drink alcohol because my tastebuds stopped maturing when I was 13, right in the middle of my chocolate milk/ Fun Dip/ Pop Rocks phase.

Despite the fact that I have been wearing the same shoe, pant, and shirt size for multiple decades now, I can proudly say that I am still growing. I am still learning new things every day. I ask questions. I read books and magazines. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts when I drive. And I watch a lot of hilarious videos that teach me things, like how much human weight is too much for a porch swing.

Plus, I still make mistakes. A lot of mistakes. But I learn from them. In fact, I get better by making mistakes. Because my mistakes help me discover more things I didn’t know. Like the fact that dickssportinggoods.com is a better place to find running shoes than dicks.com.

I am willing to bet that you are still learning and growing and making mistakes too. I hope you are. It is how the human machine continuously improves itself. It is the hallmark of intelligent life. And it is how we can all end each day a little better than we were when we woke up.

Key Takeaway

Let’s all remember that we are all still works in progress. Let’s be patient with ourselves and with each other. Because as I was reminded daily when I was a boy, God isn’t finished with me yet. And he isn’t finished with you either.

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

How to move your most important initiatives down the track.

We all have big goals we want to achieve. However, the goal setting isn’t the hard part. It is not enough to know what you want to do. It’s what you do do that matters. In order to achieve your goals, you have to take action. A lot of action.

The good news is that to accomplish your most important goals you don’t need to make things happen in giant steps. You simply have to make steady progress. I find it useful to think of my most important initiatives as trains. The objective is simply to move the trains down the track.

The Process

1. Identify your trains.

Start by focusing on your 1 to 5 most important initiatives. Remember, 5 is the max. More than 5 dilutes your attention and your energy. This is why we don’t have the Jackson 6, or go around high six-ing each other.

2. Start each day with your list of trains.

They could be businesses you want to build, fitness goals, work projects, passion projects, volunteer efforts, or travel plans. In fact, your trains can be anything you want to do, make or accomplish. Heck, your train could be to catch drops of Jupiter or to meet Virginia.

3. Write down an action you can take that day to move each train down the track.

Determine the next step in the process that will help you make progress. Always be thinking about the next task to take on, like A-ha said.

4. Take that action.

Some actions will move you inches. Some will move you feet. Some will move you yards. And others will move you miles down the track. However, all actions, large or small, will get you closer to your goal.

Keep Moving

The key is to get your trains movings. Your biggest goals, hopes, and dreams are like locomotives. They are heavy, powerful, and hard to get going. Simply getting the wheels to start turning can feel like a monumental task. Especially if your goal is to build a monument.

But once your trains start moving it is easier to pick up speed, like Sandra Bullock. You will soon find yourself taking more and bigger actions faster. Before you know it you will have momentum on your side. Your actions become habits. And you will start ticking off tasks like the clicking and clacking of a train speeding down the track. (By ticking off I mean completing. Not making-mad, like my parents used to say to me.)

At the end of each day, check to see if you moved your trains down the track. The answer should be clear. You either took action or you didn’t. If you did take action, note whether you moved inches, feet, yards, or miles. Of course, these are meant to be symbolic relative measurements. They translate to small, medium, large and Neil Armstrong-sized steps forward.

If you take no action your train will remain in the station. But through consistent action, your trains will reach their destination. It’s as simple and certain as that.

Key Takeaway

Move your most important initiatives farther down the track every day. Small, consistent actions start the wheels turning. Then come bigger actions with bigger results. Which ultimately help you build momentum. A train with momentum is very hard to stop. A person with momentum is nearly impossible to stop. Make yourself that person.

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

20 things I learned from the most unique year of my life.

One year ago today, on Monday, March 16th, 2020, I began the strangest, most interesting year of my life. My team at The Weaponry, an advertising and idea agency, abandoned our perfectly good offices in Milwaukee and Columbus and began working from home.

I had no idea what the future would hold. We were facing a mandatory government-enforced quarantine. In an unprecedented move, healthy people were being forced to quarantine at home in an attempt to prevent the relentless spread of a novel coronavirus called covid-19. Schools and businesses were closed. Everything imaginable was canceled. And hair began to grow wild and un-colored.

It was clear we were facing a historic global event. But I would have been shocked to know that one year later we would all be wearing masks in public and that we would be just beginning to crawl out of our year-long covid-induced hibernation.

The past 365 days have been fascinating. To mark the anniversary I sat down to reflect on what I have learned from this experience. Here’s what I came up with.

20 things I learned from the year of covid.

  1. Always have a rainy day fund. You can sleep easier at night knowing you are financially prepared for the unknown Whether it’s a rainy day fund or a virusy day fund, surprises can happen at any time. So have money on hand. (Well, not literally on your hand.) Because you never know when your income is going to stop coming in.

2. Crisis is full of opportunity. The past year presented an incredible opportunity for thinkers, inventors, problem solvers, and risk-takers. It has been a time for leaders to lead. It has been a golden era for innovation, upheaval, and for hand sanitizer salesmen. It has provided a great reminder to not stare at the problem. But instead, look at the new options available.

3. Good teammates are good teammates. Surround yourself with good people in good times, and you’ll appreciate them even more when things go bad like LL Cool J or Michael Jackson. #shamone. Even when my team was working from home they were accountable, responsible, dedicated and proud of the work they put out.

4. Adversity brings people closer. Despite the social distancing, we now have a tighter bond with our clients. It feels as if we went to war together and we were all fighting for our businesses. And for our right to party.

5. Marry someone you love spending time with. My wife and I got to spend more time together over the past year than ever before in our 20-year relationship. I loved all the extra time with her. Throw in my 3 kids and we had a great Quaranteam. There is a lot I will miss about our bonus time together.

6. Good advice is priceless. In tough times people need advice. Those who offer good counsel will always be sought after. Side note: Those who storm the Capitol will also be sought after. So don’t wear a distinct horned -helmet and face paint that draws additional attention.

7. We are all more adaptable than we thought. Things we thought we couldn’t do without we can do without. There is a huge difference between wants and needs. And we can all get used to new conditions quicker than any of us like to admit.

8. Toilet paper is super important Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But it makes the bum feel more bummed out. The toilet paper crisis of 2020 made us all reconsider the role these valuable rolls of squeezable softness play in our daily lives.

9. I am more productive without spectator sports. When all sports were halted I found a lot of other valuable things to do with my time. Remember to spend more time playing your own game. Because life is not a spectator sport. (But it is a board game from Milton Bradley. Batteries not included. Or necessary.)

10. A mask mandate is better than a mask suggestion. I was much happier wearing a mask when it became a requirement than I was when it was an elective. I appreciated us all looking dorky together. Thanks for making it non-negotiable, so I could negotiate other things.

11. Awards shows are not the same without the crowds. I have now watched parts of several different awards shows over the past couple of months. And they have all disappointed me. They are just not the same without playing to large crowds of famous people. Because I can see a small crowd of non-famous people in my own family room anytime.

12. We need to watch out for each other. I did a lot of Zoom socializing over the past year. I wanted to check in on my family and friends. I organized a lot of online events to make sure people knew they were not alone. We should keep doing that. Because technology will enable us to continue to stay connected to our friends who don’t live nearby. At least our non-Amish friends.

13. I miss almost everyone. Everyone I interact with is like a character in the play that is my life. When I don’t see you, my play feels less interesting. All of the characters together help make my life the rich story that it is. I can’t wait to see everyone regularly again.

14. I am happy to have a nice yard. When you are confined to just your home and your yard it is nice to have a nice yard. For a couple of months in the spring and early summer, it was like we were in prison. But if your prison yard is a full acre on a pond full of largemouth bass you feel like you are doing time like Martha Stewart. And it’s a good thing.

15. Isolation is great for accomplishing personal goals. When the initial lockdown was announced I began working on my first book. I now have a 50,000-word manuscript. I’m hoping to get it published without the need for more quarantining.

16. Rules are only rules under current conditions. All kinds of hard and fast rules changed during covid. Heck, even taxes weren’t due until mid-summer. I hope we remember this and remain more flexible moving forward.

17. Church from home offers larger communion portions. St. Albrechts Couchthedral serves up some tasty and abundant body of Christ that tastes remarkably like caramel rolls. And we have bottomless blood of Christ in whatever flavor you prefer. But nothing else about church from home is better. In-person church services are among the things I miss most.

18. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Over the past month, it is finally looking like we are closer to the end than the beginning. I can now imagine life returning to normal-ish by this summer.

19. We all have different tolerances. We all respond to crises in different ways. We all have different rules and risk tolerances. Don’t force people to conform to yours. We are all running our own race. Even if we are running it from the couch.

20. Humans are amazing. The fact that we whipped up these vaccines in less than a year and got them thumbed up by the approvers is incredible. Once again we have proven that the human mind is the most powerful weapon on Earth.

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

Never stop competing.

When you were young you competed all the time. You competed in the classroom and on the playground. You competed in the sports you played, or for the part in the play.

You competed for the best position in the band, orchestra or choir. Or you competed in chess, robotics, or forensics. Perhaps you competed for student council votes, in milk-tasting, in dance-offs, and with your Uncle Rico.

Then you competed for the attention of the boys or girls you were attracted to. You dressed nicely, took care of yourself physically, hygienically and follicly. You were thoughtful, kind, and you smelled good.

You competed to get into the good school or program. Then for the great job, the promotion, the raise. You competed to attract the great customer, client, project, or assignment. And you cared about the obscure awards that only your industry cares about. Like Outstanding Use of Whiteout in The Annual Low-Tech Secretary Awards.

Today, ask yourself Am I still competing?

Am I competing with my personal best? Am I still trying to learn, grow and improve? Or am I slowly coasting to a stop like a car that has run out of gas? Or like a skateboard that has run out of skateboarder?

Am I competing at work? Am I pushing to win for my customers and my teammates? Am I still trying to add more value? Are my biggest contributions still ahead of me. Or am I still milking my success from the 1900s?

Am I competing for my spouse or significant other? Am I taking care of myself? Am I treating my snuggle bunny in a way that makes me hard to beat? Am I still being thoughtful? And romantic? Do I buy flowers on non-holidays and when I don’t have to apologize for something I did, said, forgot, or broke?

Am I competing against time? Am I trying to do as much as I can within the limited time I have on this planet? Or at least during my pre-embalming fluid-filled time on the planet? (I have no idea how to properly hyphenate that last statement. If you are still competing in hyphenation let me know).

Key Takeaway

Never stop competing. Keep growing and improving. Keep pushing yourself and finding new ways to contribute. Keep competing for your spouse or significant other as if they have lots of other great options. Because they always do. Re-earn your role and your respect from others every day. Compete to make the most of every day. It is the best way to live your best life.

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