An inspiring reminder to never give up on your dreams.

A few years ago Andrew Young spoke at my office in Atlanta. I was thrilled by the opportunity to hear him speak. Young is a political rockstar. He was a U.S. Congressman, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and mayor of Atlanta. Before all that, Young was a key figure in the American civil rights movement. And he was the first person mentioned by the Village People in the song Y.M.C.A.

I knew Young’s talk would be inspiring. But like so many memorable moments in life, one of the greatest sources of inspiration from his talk came from an unexpected surprise he shared.

As Young recounted the excitement and profound significance of the civil rights movement, he talked about just how impressive Martin Luther King Jr. was. He said that the whole movement was full of leaders. But Martin, as Young called him, was the clear leader of leaders.

However, it was a quick and simple fact thrown in for humor that still sticks with me 5 years later. Young shared that when King was in college at Crozer Theological Seminary school he got a C in public speaking. And no, a C in Seminary school does not stand for Christ-like, or Crazy-good.

Drink this in for a moment. As a pastor, reverend, priest, or rabbi your number one job skill, other than knowing a hell of a lot about God, has to be public speaking, right? And King was struggling in that department.

Yet we all know how the story ends. Ultimately, King is best known for his public speaking. In fact, there may be no one in American history better known for their public speaking skills than MLK.

If you asked me to name the 3 most famous speeches in American history I would say Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Kings ‘I have a dream’ speech, and then I would probably throw in Billy Madison’s ‘The Puppy Who Lost His Way’ speech, because I can’t really think of any others.

The fact that King, who became one of the most inspiring speakers in history got a C in public speaking in college adds to his inspirational legacy. It reminds us that where we start is not where we end. It reminds us to unearth our hidden talents, develop our skills and think about where we are going. Not where we have been. It also reminds us that disappointment and dissatisfaction can be powerful motivators.

In other words, have a vision of your fully realized dream state, and work to make it your reality. Which is exactly what MLK Jr. did.

If you are willing to focus, practice and work there is no limit to how great you can become. Overcoming initial discouragement is critical. Recognizing where you are in your journey and visualizing how much more you are capable of is key.

Remember, the worse you start out the more you are capable of improving.

Key Takeaway

Where you start is not where you will end. Focus on the process of improvement. If you are willing to put in the work, effort, learning, and practice there is no telling how much you are capable of. In other words, if you have a dream, keep at it until it is real. It is really up to you.

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

Are you accepting your destiny or making it happen?

There are two ways to think about life. The first is to think that everything that is happening to you, or going to happen to you, is already predetermined. Your story was handed to you, fully written, and you are simply following the script. The second way to think about life is that nothing is written. You are the one doing all the writing. The world is waiting for you to figure out the next chapter.

Driver or Passenger?

The first approach assumes that nothing is up to you. The second approach assumes that everything is up to you. Your position on this issue leads you take on two very different roles. One allows you to be passive. The second requires you to steer. It says that nothing happens until you make it happen. Like Mariah Carey.

However, there is a third option. One of the most accomplished Americans of the 20th century, and one the most quoted philosophers, said this:

“I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happenin’ at the same time.”

-Forrest Gump

This Gumpism is useful in explaining the universe and our role in it. It says that there are multiple forces at play at all times. It says that there are things we get to decide and things that are out of our control. It acknowledges that we all come into this world with some predetermined conditions, whether the insurance companies like it or not.

The Dealing

We are dealt a hand of cards that we have to begin the game with. Some hands are more advantageous than others. But the game isn’t over when the dealing is done. The dealing is just the beginning.

The You Factor

Gumpian doctrine allows for our own choices and decisions. It provides room for our grit, determination, motivation and action. We have the ability to set our minds on our own course, with our own goals and our own strategic plan. We simply must recognize that we don’t get to march unimpeded towards our goals, like Michael Strahan’s phony sack of Brett Favre in 2002 (as seen in this 20 second video clip).

The Cross-Traffic

There are too many people on this planet, all with their own goals, hopes and dreams for us not to get caught up in cross-traffic and competition on the way to what we want. There are natural phenomena and acts of God (or maybe Morgan Freeman or George Burns) that become obstacles in our way. All of which make life more challenging, and more interesting.

All Things Considered

Acknowledging that there are both pre-determined and self-determined forces at play is both a comfort and a frustration. It allows you to go after what you want. But it also means you may not find it, or that it will take longer, or be different than it was in your head. Because there are nearly 8 billion bees in this hive we all share. And some of them will occasionally get in your way. When they do, you may have to yield, but you never have to stop.

Key Takeaway

We all deal with a combination of destiny and autonomy. So set your own goals, chart your own course, believe in the greatest you that you can possibly imagine. But know that you are going to experience resistance and disappointment. Perseverance is king. You may need to try again, or take a detour to get where you want to go. Don’t be easily deterred. You may simply need to wait until it is your turn to complete your mission. That is half the fun.

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

If I could do it all again I would make more friends.

I always laugh when someone says ‘If I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything different.’ I appreciate the conviction of such a statement. But it shows that they have not learned and grown much during this dress rehearsal. So they obviously wouldn’t profit much from a life mulligan anyway.

My Re-do

I can find a seemingly endless supply of things I would do differently on my life do-over. I would have slowed down that night when I lost control of my car and flew it into a pasture full of cows Duke’s of Hazard-style. I would have skipped that Wednesday football practice when I tore my ACL my senior year. I would NOT have bought that cheap home printer that constantly jammed and guzzled ink like a drunken donkey. And I would NOT have taken work from that client who was like a real-life Mikey, and really did hate everything. Even Life cereal.

I have been thinking a lot lately about things I would change If I could do it all again. And there is one clear answer that rings out every time I ponder this question. It’s not a regret that haunts me. It’s not a mistake I would fix. And it’s not a detour I would take to avoid pain or punishment. It is something I wish I had more of.

More, More, More

If I could go back and do it all over I would make more friends. There is no greater asset on Earth. There are nearly 8 billion people on the planet. But when I think about the tiny percentage of those people I actually know it gives me a major case of FOMO.

When I was younger I remember people saying that the person who dies with the most toys wins. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It is the person who collects the most friends, who develops and maintains the most and best human relationships that really wins this game. And if those friends have lots of toys, even better.

Friends With Benefits

Friends deliver on our most basic needs. They offer a sense of home and belonging. They offer support, encouragement and inspiration. They make us smile and laugh and sometimes blow things out of our noses involuntarily. And as I have gotten older I have found you can never have too many people in your friend column.

Collecting Friends

I still maintain friendships from pre-school, elementary school, middle school, high school and college. I am still in touch with friends from all 9 cities I have lived in. I have friends I have met on airplanes, while on vacation, and while playing at the park with my kids. But I can’t help but think of all of the amazing friends I haven’t met. Especially the ones who have kidneys just like mine.

Work Friends

Friends have been the most important ingredient of my career success. My coworker-friends, client-friends and partner-friends have not only contributed immensely to my workplace wins, they have made me feel as if I am hanging out with friends all day long. In fact, I met my all-time best friend Dawn at work. And we have now been married for 18 years. #CompanyPicnicsAreTheBest

Entrepreneurship

When I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, it was my friends who became my first clients, coworkers and champions. Today, the business and all of the peripheral activities that come with it are a great source of new and growing friendships. In fact, I think of the ability to develop and maintain strong relationships as the greatest input to entrepreneurial success and the greatest fringe benefit of entrepreneurship.

The Greatest ROI

I have friends in every state in America and in dozens of countries around the world. They offer the greatest return of any investment I have ever made. But like the dollars I have squirreled away in my 401(k) plan, I wish had invested even more. Alas, if wishes were fishes we would all have a fry. So the best we can do is make more in the days and years ahead.

Key Takeaway

Keep growing your tribe. Make as many friends as you can in as many places as you can. Connect your friends to each other. Invest in your relationships. Make them deep and wide. At the end of our days, the only thing that matters is the impact we have made on each other. So create more impactful relationships, and enjoy the positive impact they have on you.

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

Find people who ask you questions you didn’t know to ask.

I have a new startup business idea in the embryonic stage. I know what I want it to look like fully-formed, but I don’t know some of the most basic details that will help me get there. Or at least I didn’t until yesterday (when all my trouble seemed so far away).

Good Call

Yesterday morning I had a call with an expert that I would need to partner with to make this idea a reality. He asked me many important questions about my plan that I simply had no answers to. There were a lot of TBDs. But with each of the TBDs, I became more D to find the answers.

One Giant Leap For Startupkind

That conversation was a huge leap forward for me. Because now I have my homework assignments. I know the answers I need to find. I know the boxes I need to chickity check. I know what I don’t know, you know. And like Robert Frost said, that makes all the difference.

Move Forward.

Entrepreneurship, and growth of all kinds, are adventures into the unknown. The most important thing is to start moving forward. Take a step and the next step will reveal itself. Kinda like a striptease.

Don’t be afraid to be asked questions you don’t know the answers to. Those questions are gifts. They tell you what you are looking for next, where you need to go next, what you need to do next. Because growth is all about what’s next.

Grow vs. Wade

Get in over your head. It is the fastest way to discover the next step. Getting into a conversation that makes you feel dumb is the best way to get smart. Stepping out of your comfort zone is simply the first step to expanding your comfort zone. That is how you grow.

Key Takeaway

When you step into the unknown growth is inevitable. It helps you collect questions. In the beginning, the questions themselves are the answers you are looking for. Learn the questions. Find the answers. Then find yourself where you always envisioned you would be.

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

Don’t spend your whole life busy and not make progress.

Being busy is not the same as being productive. In fact, busyness is like Fool’s Gold. It looks like business to the uniformed. But it is easy to be busy without getting ahead. In fact, you can spend your whole career extremely busy but not make any progress. The same thing can happen in your personal life too.

The 80-20 rule says that 80 percent of the results come from just 20 percent of the work. (And that 80-year olds seen with 20-year olds have money coming out of the wazoo.) In other words, if you are spending your time on the wrong things you could get little to no results. 

Earlier in my career, when I was with a very large advertising agency, the majority of my time was sucked up with meetings. And meetings about meetings. And to the uninformed, it looked like we were all super busy beavers. But very little wood was actually chewed. And we weren’t building any damn dams.

Today, as an entrepreneur, I see a direct link between how I spend my time and the value that time creates. The goal of any business is to make money. And if you are spending time on anything that ultimately is not helping your organization make more money, you are wasting your time.

Your wasted time and wasted motions at work hurt your career. Because they rob you of time that could be used for self-improvement, networking or creating value for your organization. Those are the 3 keys to making your company more successful, rising within your organization, and earning more for yourself.

If you find yourself in meetings that are not adding value, do one of the following:

  1. Change the meeting. Take the initiative to alter the meeting to make it more valuable to your organization and the people in it.
  2. Shorten the meeting. Help fast forward to the information that needs to be shared or decision that needs to be made, and be done. Often we take a lot of time to do what could be done in just a few minutes. 
  3. Pull the cord. Just like riding the bus, you can pull the cord and ask to get out of the meeting at any time. Be polite, but clear that you don’t feel it is a valuable use of your time. If you feel that way, it is likely that others do too.
  4. Text someone outside the meeting to pull the fire alarm. That works every time.

Key Takeaway

Time is your most precious commodity. Evaluate the way you are spending your time. Look for inefficient and ineffective uses, then eliminate them. Don’t let others waste your time. The opportunity cost is too high with this non-renewable resource.

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

To experience far greater success adapt an experimentality.

If you are like most people, you have enjoyed some success in life. But if you are like almost everyone, you haven’t enjoyed as much as you would like. To enjoy greater performances, better results, and more success you have to experiment. And this requires an experimentality.

An experimentality is a growth mindset. It is willing to learn and try new approaches in order to get better results. It is believing that good is not good enough. And that there is always a better way, José.

Constants

There are 2 parts to your experimentality. First, there are the constants. These are the aspects of your approach that don’t change. Your constants are the parts of your plan that are proven to work. These become elements of your repeatable process. Not only should you have constants in your approach, you should be constantly increasing the number of constants, like Constance.

Variables

The other part of your experimentality is your variables. These are the things you change to test the possibility of driving even greater results. There is more risk in the variables. But you will never change the magnitude of your success without adjusting the variables.

Like a David Copperfield show, this is where the magic happens. Changing the variables is the only way to experience breakthroughs. You have to be willing to try new ways, or you will always get old results.

10,000 to 1.

Thomas Edison said he never failed in his lightbulb experiments. He simply discovered 10,000 approaches that didn’t work. But through experimentation, and changing the variables, he found 1 approach that not only worked, it changed the world.

Without Edison and his experimentality, the world wouldn’t have known the lightbulb, the phonograph or the electric grid. And without Edison, nothing would appear above your head when you have a good idea. Plus, we wouldn’t have, ‘How many (blanks) does it take to change a lightbulb’ jokes. Scary right?

Whether you are trying to change the world, or simply change your world, keep changing the variables. The new approaches, techniques, and inputs are certain to impact your outputs. Some of them will lead to significant, vast, or even epic improvements. It’s up to you to determine which inputs those are.

Key Takeaway

Adopt an experimentality. The only way to get different results is to try different approaches. Keep track of your experiments. Note the impact of each adjustment. Because each one will get you closer to your goals. And one of them is likely to blow things wide open. Keep pushing until you find it. Don’t stop until the lightbulb burns bright.

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

The 2 things you need to get better at anything.

You are the greatest project you will ever have. As a human being, you are the most complicated machine on Earth. Which means there is no limit to the amount of self-improvement you are capable of.

Your improvements can be highly specific. They can be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, psychological, philosophical, or professional. But even these broad categories that all end in -al barely scratch the surface.

You can get better at signing your name, walking, selling, replacing an organ, or serving a tennis ball. You can get better at eating hot dogs. Just ask Joey Chestnut. You can get better at streaking. Just ask the dude who invited himself onto the field at Super Bowl LV. Heck, you can get better at eating hot dogs while streaking. And if you do you can probably get a sponsorship deal.

The 2 Ingredients

Regardless of what you want to do better, there are 2 key drivers of self-improvement: the things you learn and the things you do. Because you improve through a combination of knowing better and doing better.

1. The things you learn.

This is all about gaining new information. This can come in many ways.

  • Reading books, magazines, articles, and reports.
  • Watching instructional videos
  • Taking classes and courses.
  • Learning from others through discussions, conversations, observation, and spying.
  • Working with a coach or mentor
  • Experimenting
  • Experience

2. The things you do.

All the knowledge in the world does no good without action. Your actions drive results. Those actions include:

  • Effort
  • Focus
  • Commitment
  • Practice
  • Habits
  • Stamina
  • Optimization

Key Takeaway

Learn all you can. Then put that new knowledge to work through your deliberate actions. By doing so you will end each day better than you began. You are the greatest project you will ever have. And you are nowhere near finished.

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

100 Things I love.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I have been thinking a lot about love this weekend. Love is the most powerful and most positive emotion in our collection. To make the most of your time on Earth you should spend as much time as you can doing things you love, with people love, in places you love.

The first step is to know what you really love. Today, take an hour to write down 100 things you love. Not only will it force you to think about your favorite people, places, and things, it will serve as a guide, and show you how to live a life you love.

Here’s what I came up with. Surely there are many more things that should be on this list that I didn’t come up with in my limited time this morning. (And I’ll stop calling you Shirley.)

100 Things I Love (in no particular order, except the first ones.)

  1. My wife Dawn
  2. My kids Ava, Johann and Magnus
  3. My Mama, Dad and Sisters
  4. The rest of my ginormous family.
  5. My work
  6. Sweet Tea
  7. Hammocks
  8. Cliff jumping
  9. Road tripping
  10. Vermont
  11. Fishing
  12. Glacier National Park
  13. Boogie boarding
  14. Pizza
  15. Great puns
  16. Snowmobiling
  17. Laughing
  18. Making people laugh
  19. Mountain biking
  20. A great church service
  21. Great books
  22. Weddings
  23. Shawshank Redemption
  24. Lobster
  25. Hiking in the mountains
  26. Sunrises
  27. Black olives
  28. Elkton, Minnesota
  29. Thanksgiving
  30. Stompers
  31. Playing the card game Pit
  32. Throwing the discus
  33. Cheese curds (squeaky or fried)
  34. India
  35. Winning new business
  36. Running into people I know in random places
  37. Inside jokes
  38. My best friends from high school
  39. Outside voices
  40. The fresh tortilla chips from the Whole Foods in Dublin, Ohio
  41. Sabra Field art
  42. Wisconsin Badger football games
  43. Simon Pearce Glass
  44. Needing 4 wheel drive
  45. Montreal
  46. The Art Institute of Chicago
  47. Perfectly ripe pears
  48. Snowfall measured in feet
  49. My college track teammates
  50. Hilton Head Island
  51. ACDC
  52. Zucker Brother’s movies
  53. Canoeing
  54. Game night
  55. Roller coasters
  56. New York strip steaks
  57. Iceland
  58. My Madison Hall friends in ATL
  59. My funniest stories
  60. Investments that paid off
  61. Hearing that someone found value in something I wrote or said
  62. Energizing people
  63. Game of Thrones
  64. Real maple syrup
  65. Driving a tractor
  66. The smell of roses
  67. Handing out bonus checks
  68. A great quote
  69. The Patriots winning the Super Bowl (never gets old)
  70. Flip flops
  71. A great baseball cap
  72. Lifting weights
  73. My Dad’s Carmel Rolls
  74. A Red Sox World Series win
  75. Breaking Bad
  76. A military flyover
  77. Cheesecake
  78. The grand finale at a fireworks show
  79. A great performance by my kids
  80. My wife’s smile
  81. A great creative presentation
  82. Water parks
  83. Owning my own business (The Weaponry)
  84. Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream
  85. Discovering common friends (meaning finding out people we both know, not finding commoners and befriending them.)
  86. Raincoats
  87. Boots of all sorts. (Except the monkey from Dora the Explora)
  88. G-Shock watches
  89. Making my own t-shirts
  90. Making my sisters snarf
  91. The show Yellowstone (The park isn’t too shabby either.)
  92. The How I Built This Podcast
  93. Anything with Will Ferrell
  94. American Giant hoodies
  95. My Gerber tool
  96. My Kraken belt buckle
  97. Mount Ranier
  98. Manhattan
  99. Convertibles
  100. Overdelivering
  101. Campfires
  102. People who read my blog posts all the way to the end.

Key Takeaway

Fill your life with the things you love. The people, places, activities, feelings, food, and drink you love will lead you to a life you love. And life is too short to fill with anything else.

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

Why passing grades are not good enough in the real world.

There are 3 grades to everything. Which means everything you do can be evaluated, sorted, and stacked into 3 distinct categories. Everything.

Failure

The first grade is failure. It means you didn’t live up to the standards set. It reveals you either didn’t know or didn’t try. You never want to be in this world. Because failure never fails to fail. It is the easiest thing to do.

Passing

Passing means you met the standard. But that is it. The problem with meeting the standard is that everyone else worth a poo also meets the standard too.* It is not differentiating. It is just enough to get you into the game. (*Italicized, rhymed, and infused with poo for memorability)

A passing grade puts you in the commodity category. When you simply meet the standard you have to keep on fighting. You have no leverage. You are like a teeter with no totter. You have to lower your wages or your fee because so many others are right where you are. The world of the passing grade is crowded. Which means you have to stand in line for doors you may never get through. #anightattheroxbury

Flying Colors

The only grade that gets ahead is Flying Colors. When you push beyond the passing grade you earn this enviable distinction. This is where you earn options. People seek you out when your performance, product, or service is in this range.

When you earn Flying Color grades you can choose what you do and who you do it with. You can charge a premium. You can maximize profit. Maximize opportunities. This is where you have options. Because you are adding value. And when you add value first you can extract value.

Key Takeaway

The top tier is the only group that has control over their world. This is where you should always push to be. It takes more work. But not that much more. Plus, there is inherent joy and satisfaction in doing a job at a high level. Aim here. Get here. Take control of your opportunities here. Never settle for less.

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

What to do when you find yourself in a blizzard.

I woke up this morning to one of the heaviest snowfalls I have seen in several years thanks to winter storm Orlena. The lake effect snow machine is in full effect here on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. On top of that, the winds are whipping like the Dazz Band. And I say let it whip.

I love this kind of weather. Unlike hurricanes, tornados, floods and wildfires that leave massive destruction in their wake, a blizzard leaves the world better and more beautiful. After Orlena transforms the midwest and northeast into a fresh powder playground, images of the snowfall will be trending on social media like Gamestop. Or Grumpy Bernie.

My Daughter Ava sent me this pic from her room this morning.

Life Is Full of Blizzards

It’s useful to think of the challenges in your life like blizzards. They can be frustrating and disorienting. But once they pass, they often leave you better than they found you.

The Startup Blizzard

When I was first launching my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, the swirling uncertainty of startup-ness surrounded us. And that can really mess with you. Here is something I wrote about the experience we were going through 4 years ago.

From June 10th, 2016

Today I had a long talk with a co-worker who was having a hard time at work. Which is understandable. Because startups are kinda hard. Launching a startup is like walking in a blizzard. Wind and snow are all up in your grill. It’s cold. Visibility goes into the toilet. It’s difficult to navigate in these conditions.

In the middle of a blizzard, your survival instincts tell you to seek shelter. It’s natural to want to escape the relentless wind, disorienting snow and mounting drifts. Sitting by a crackling fire, drinking hot chocolate is far more appealing to most people.

But I like walking in blizzards. I like being out when no one else is. I like doing things that build my character, my will and my personal legend. In the same way a callus rises as the result of repeated friction, strength grows from pushing against resistance.

If a blizzard confronts you on your journey you have to keep walking. You must have faith that you know where you are heading. You have to take steps forward, even when it is hard.

Blizzards of the wintry, professional and personal kind are temporary. Eventually, the snow will stop falling. The wind will chill the eff out. And the sun will come out again.

When that happens, where will you be? It’s a matter of what you did during the blizzard. If you keep pushing, you will find yourself far ahead of where you started, far ahead of those who sought shelter, and closer to your ultimate goal. You’ll find the ultimate rewards far outweigh the hot chocolate you sacrificed along the way.

Key Takeaway

Blizzards are a part of life. They will make life hard for a while. But keep going anyway. Everything is more beautiful on the other side.

Follow Up Note

The Weaponry will turn 5 years old in April. Today we have 23 clients. Because we didn’t stop walking when things were hard.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them. If you would like a regular delivery of positive sunshine to your email, consider hitting the follow button on the left column.