The Blog

cherish silver linings
September 24, 2013

When Katie was little we used to do what I called a report on the day. I wanted to show her how much more fun life is when you mark your lessons and savor the silly. She wanted to delay bedtime, so this was an easy sell.

Mostly we talked about the fun we’d had during what became a cherished routine. We’d wrap it up with this question: “What are you looking forward to tomorrow?” When Katie was really little the answer was, “Waking up!”

I couldn’t get that out of my mind. Waking up? How many grownups still look forward to that? Most grownups I know look forward to hitting the couch after a hard day. Waking up and starting in all over again? Not so much.

Katie had her share of good questions for me. One of the best, one that became a template for our lives, was this: “What are we going to do fun today?” Today. It didn’t matter if we’d been enjoying the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World the night before. That was then. Today is today. “What are we going to do fun today?”

That question consumed me.

I didn’t realize how much it had until we helped Kate move to college a few weeks ago. Even now I have to stop myself from worrying as I pass her room on the way to our office. Every time I thought of her it was always with the goal of injecting even more fun into an already sweet life. Now there’s mostly only relief I did, wrapped in--for now, at least--longing for my old job.

But I’ve discovered a silver lining to Katie’s new address. Every time I forget it’s no longer my responsibility to make sure she’s having a good life, I stop myself. I hear my sweet little toddler’s voice asking what we’re going to do fun today, and I remember. Where she is, the answer to that question is: “Waking up!”

I’m not used to things getting easier.

figure it out
September 23, 2013

Once upon a time Katie asked me if it was okay to dream about majoring in a particular course of study at a university that may as well have been on the moon for how likely she was to get there.

Once we were out of earshot of our little dreamer Darrell told me, “She picked the most expensive school…in the most expensive city…in the world…”

We collapsed in laughter. I can tell you the exact spot on the sidewalk where it happened. We were just down the street, next to the high school football field where normal kids were playing out a normal evening in a normal life.

But when Katie posed this most important question I knew it was pop quiz time, and I gave her the same answer I would’ve regardless: “Of course…”

I didn’t know how we’d do it, but she wasn’t asking for that. She was just asking if it was okay to dream. Isn’t that sweet? Isn’t that just the definition of sweet?

You don’t answer no to that question, I decided, unless you’re some kind of monster.

Maybe you think it’s cruel to let a kid dream of what you’re pretty sure is impossible. I think it’s cruel to decide in advance what’s impossible. People made it to the moon, after all--and Katie made it to her dream school.

Our family motto, even before this happened, was: “We’ll figure it out.” That was tested but good during a scary few years, when we pumped more money into our business than a reasonable person would have. But I could no more give up on my dreams than suggest Katie water down her own. I’d like to think I was part of the reason she set her sights so high.

The first feeling you have after you commit to something huge is, “Gulp.”

Now what?

Now you go after it with everything you have, and don’t decide in advance how it’ll play out.

It’s okay not to know. It’s important to get help.

We woke up scared for years, and we forged ahead anyway. We kept going. We hung in long enough for help to appear, more help than I would’ve thought possible. Now it’s time to make good on those dreams--as much to thank people for their faith in us as anything.

And I’m pretty sure nothing good would’ve happened had we pretended we didn’t want what we did!

Dream on.

empty yourself out
September 20, 2013

It’s the circle of life. Eat for nutrition, dispose of the waste. Soak up inspiration, toss what doesn’t ring true.

I read. A lot. That’s one reason I change my mind. A lot. I open myself to the possibility of a better way of looking at things, and sometimes I find it.

One writer said he writes to empty himself out. And I thought, “That’s it! That’s what happens.” I fill myself up with experiences, sleep, and coffee--and by the next morning I can’t wait to commit a few observations to the screen.

It wasn’t always like this. I didn’t always know this about myself. So I filled myself up with what I thought was approval, or a donut.

What’s inside you that begs to be shared? Keep it bottled up and watch your life unravel.

You don’t have to take my word for this. You can read it in the Bible

“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”

recognize your calling
September 20, 2013

A friend called and left a message to say she was going to be late for work because she was reading the book I’m about to publish.

It’s a familiar feeling, if that’s okay to admit. Someone says, “I started reading and I couldn’t stop…” My heart soars, and it takes a while for me to float back to earth.

Every time.

It never gets old.

Find what makes your heart sing, and keep doing that.

Please.

keep expectations low
September 20, 2013

When we were in Europe this summer it got to be a running joke. Every time we asked if someone spoke English the answer was always some variation of, “A little bit.” Every time!

It made sense. Why set us up to be disappointed? Why not encourage us to talk slowly, to pause more? It couldn’t hurt the flow of communication.

Isn’t that great advice if you supposedly do speak the same language? What married couple hasn’t at least occasionally looked at each other in the middle of a sentence to wonder if it’s possible they hail from the same planet? You’re so foreign to each other you may as well be foreigners.

When my brother got married, he and my sister-and-law invited everyone at the party to write them a note in a little scrapbook with the best marriage advice we’d ever heard. I still laugh out loud, sometimes, at the memory of my sister’s suggestion: “Keep your expectations low.”

And I thought, “What’s the downside?”

I’m not suggesting you don’t get your hopes up. I want you to get your hopes up. But there’s a difference between expectation and hope.

Get your hopes up, know exactly what you want, and want it so badly it hurts. Just don’t decide in advance how you’ll get it.

People talk about their wildest dreams coming true--but the key word in that phrase, I think, is wild. You’re not the only one writing your life story. Allow for the possibility someone you haven’t met or some path you can’t see will take that dream, strengthen it in ways you didn’t know it was weak, and blow you away with its magnificence.

Expecting plans to unfold--or people to behave--a certain way smacks of something…not good. Entitlement, maybe. Impending disappointment? Almost certainly.

I do it sometimes. Sometimes I get my heart set on not only the “what” but the “how.” I’ve gotten better at catching myself, though.

Then I often think back to what was imprinted on stationery from another sister: “Stay loose, Mother Goose, and have a cool day.”

see magic
September 19, 2013

Steve Jobs is famous for saying people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Think of how often that’s played out in your life.

It’s one reason I love going on tours of homes. Who knew mirrors between the kitchen cabinets and the counter--and tiny lights mounted to the underside of those cabinets--could make that space look like it goes on forever and class up the entire house? I didn’t know until I saw it, and I keep that image close--as I traipse through a kitchen stacked high with squares of laminate flooring and doors for every room in the house and trim for the windows and those doors. I don’t even see those building materials. I see a pristine counter with a mug of hot chocolate ready to serve with whipped cream and butterscotch sprinkles. 

It reminds me of a teacher who years ago brought over homework when Katie was sick and had to stay home. “Oh!” the gal said. “A renovation!” I actually looked out the dining room window to see if she was talking about the neighbor’s house across the street. I didn’t even see the mess right in front of me.

Good thing!

be direct
September 19, 2013

Ever notice how difficult it is, when you’re dating, to admit the real reason you’re breaking up? You sidestep it, and your about-to-be former girlfriend tortures herself with imagined ways she fell short, missed signs, whatever.

Why not just tell her you met someone?

Too cruel?

Too vague is more cruel.

It sucks to be left behind, but it sucks worse to think you could’ve done something to alter the outcome when you couldn’t have.

Once in a while you’ll be called on to give someone bad news. You’re firing him. Being with her makes your stomach hurt. His negligence almost cost you your life. Resist the urge to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Sometimes it isn’t you. Sometimes it’s him.

Being specific is brutal and kind.

The greatest leaps I’ve taken in my work are because someone told me in detail where I fell short. It stung. Oh, it stung. But it gave me a place to start over from, and to do better the next time.

get your sleep
September 19, 2013

There was a program for parents only on college move-in day a few weeks ago, but attending it was out of the question. Miss one of the few remaining hours we had left with Kate? You have to be kidding.

I watched the video online the other night, and I was amused by what the gal in charge of wellness had to say. She wished they could get students to eat right and to get enough sleep. Something to the effect that was half the battle.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

How many grownups would find it infinitely easier to cope with their challenges if they ate what they knew was good for them, and consistently got enough sleep?

One session we did attend on move-in day--only because we could do that as a family--was hosted by a dean of the business school. She gave a short presentation, and quoted an article that summed up my feelings about this transition. She also warned parents how she'd answer any questions about internships that, yes, she'd already fielded: "Chill."

Eat right, get enough sleep, chill.

Advice for college, advice for life.