The Blog

memorize six words
September 29, 2013

“I love to watch you play.”

Magic words.

Even--or perhaps, especially--when you use them on a grownup. Don't you love it when you can’t tell if a grownup is playing or working?

A guy who used to be a regular on the talk show worked from home--I think he still does--when his kids were little. He was playing with his daughter one day when a client showed up for an appointment. His kids were used to that, but this time he thought to ask his daughter if she knew why Daddy worked.

She did. “To get money to buy food and toys,” she said. To which he replied, “Well, yes. But the other reason Daddy works is that it’s my favorite way to play.”

Is work your favorite way to play?

If it is, cool.

If it isn’t, and that matters to you, don’t give up until you find something that is.

lose the illusion
September 26, 2013

It’s quite the order, pleasing people. They disagree with each other, after all, so just when you think you’re off one person’s list you shoot straight to the top of someone else’s.

Anna Quindlen knows the feeling. In her book, Being Perfect, she compares it to carrying around a backpack full of bricks.

Ze Frank sums up Anna’s book quite nicely, if unintentionally, when he talks about fitting in cardboard.

The Desiderata has a point, too: “As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.” Get along, be a peach--but cut your losses with people who are determined to make your stomach hurt.

live better stories
September 25, 2013

“If I keep doing what I’ve been doing, what will have to show for myself someday?”

The honest answer to that question has helped me make the big changes, even when circumstances didn’t force those.

The thing I’m most afraid of, as it turns out, is a boring story. 


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.


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.”