Learning

I was clenching my teeth again. I know when I’ve been doing it because I’ll yawn and my jaw will go POP! If that’s too much information for a first sentence I’ll just give you the gist of what this is all about now: I stumbled upon one of those little mental tricks, or hacks, that’s helped me find some extra balance. I’m going to tell you what it is.

But first let me ask: Do you ever put everything you have to do and everything you want to do on a mental carousel and get dizzy watching it go round and round? I just realized while writing this that people only get dizzy watching a carousel spin, not riding one.

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A mentor once told me, “Your twenties are for learning. Your thirties are for taking action.” It’s funny I remember that now, the day I turn 30 years old.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what it means to reach this age. So far, it’s been a humbling reminder of how long and short life really is. I’m lucky to have made it this far, yet there’s still so much ahead. When we reach a “milestone birthday” there’s only so much time for reflection before we have to ask, “What do I want the next 5, 10, or even 30 years to look like?”

Throughout my twenties, I made it a habit to write down any quotes or pieces of advice I came across that seemed valuable. Going through those notes now, I’m shocked at how many great pieces of wisdom I’ve collected. Certain pieces I wrote down years ago, but am just now beginning to understand. There are others I wish someone had told me when I turned twenty.

One of my favorite books is Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius. Besides its overwhelming amount of straightforward wisdom, I love the idea that the Emperor of Rome (the most powerful man on Earth back then) sat down each night and wrote advice to himself on how to be a good person.

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With the new year upon us, it’s time to look forward and define what we want out of the next twelve months. My New Year’s resolutions always look pretty similar to years before: learn a new language, write that novel, reveal the abs that hide behind my love for french toast.

But before we decide what’s next, we need to look back. What worked? What didn’t? Which habits are we keeping or kicking to the curb?

Early last year, I added one small habit that ended up making the biggest difference in my life. It was something I had naturally avoided for most of my life.

It was using the simple phrase, “I don’t understand.”

This year, my resolution is to say it much more often.

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I watched his eyes glaze over as more words drooled out of my mouth. If I hadn’t been thinking about other things while I spoke, I would have been bored too. My brain on auto-pilot.

I was telling him about some digital marketing, SEO package he should buy from me so his business would get more algorithmic foreplay from Google. I said all the right things at the right time in the right tone. Blah, Blah, Blah. He didn’t understand. Neither one of us cared.

Tens years ago I had a telemarketing job. After the first year, I had memorized the script and taken so many phone calls that I could recite the information while reading the newspaper.

I’d answer questions and overcome objections without losing my place in the sports section. I still made sales. But never as many as I made in the first year while I was learning and still excited.

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Listening to him talk was like panning for gold. He’d go on for hours, mostly about himself, or about one of his new girlfriends that were half his age. We used to work together.

Each morning, he’d drive up an hour late in his Porsche convertible, wearing some terrible Tommy Bahama shirt. He’d call me into his office and I’d sit there, sifting through miles of mud and needless chatter before anything that resembled relevance would shine through. But when it did, it was gold.

Despite the constant river of sh*t flowing out of his mouth, he managed to come up with one great idea a year. The board members knew that if they were patient, eventually one of his long winded ramblings would produce something golden.

We’ve all heard how it’s the getting past failure that leads to success. That overcoming hardship keeps us strong and resilient. It’s the highs and lows of life that hold the answers.

But what about the time spent in the middle? The seemingly useless chatter of the world. What lessons hide in the ether of everyday monotony?

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