Stories

The Harvest is Plentiful

Thankful

Thoughts are things.

Tangible. As in, you can touch ’em.

Because they are real.

What are you thinking about?

Sometimes, I’m in the future.

In my head.

10, 20 months. 10, 20 years.

My son and wife are there to snap me out of it, to bring me back here. To right now. But I play in the future.

How I’ll teach my son to swing a bat and throw a ball and try juuuuuust hard enough (but not too much) to see if he’ll love my childhood, our nation’s, pastime.

How I’ll finish my book and see it on a bookshelf and cringe / smile at the dust jacket photo.

How I’ll grow grayer. And softer. And harder.

I hear my son and wife laughing across the hall.

Which brings me back to today.

Amino Acid Trips

The stuff that puts you to sleep. In the turkey. It’s tryptophan. Right? That’s what puts you to sleep? It’s not the 3,000 calories you put down in 20 minutes. Or the heat kicking on nice and toasty. Or you sitting on a couch, watching the Lions, the noise of the game crowded out by the sounds of family being familial.

Nah.

November is a great month. December, a long one.

From Thanksgiving to New Years, we are all given a nice holiday sandwich. And the meat is in the memories of years gone by.

There’s so much to be thankful for.

It may not appear that way if you read or watch the news. Or social media.

*shudder*

But there’s so much to be thankful for.

Look beyond your social media tryptophan, and find the true causes.

I hope you think on that. Because it’s real.

Drop the “The”

Colette’s watching the new Gilmore Girls special on Netflix. A year in the life.

It’s pieced into four episodes. Each taking a season in. A snapshot of. Back on the air after eight years.

Eight years!

That’s two runs at college. Almost three times through law school. Multiply it twice and you get a teenager who can drive. You can even spend eight lakefront storm winters in west Michigan…

A lot can happen. A lot does happen. In eight years.

While I spend a lot of time in the future, I know what’s past is prologue, and my magnetic north sometimes switches poles. For a season. And I reflect.

Eight years ago, I was headed back to Michigan. A California lawyer. An American dreamer.

Headed back home to God knows what searching for something, anything, to be thankful for.

I know what that is now.

To be thankful for being able to control my own mind. My attitude. My destiny. To chase dreams.

Somewhere, along these past eight years, I made a life.

My life.

I met my wife. Together, we created. We created a home. We created art. We created a child. We created a family. We daydreamed. We night dreamed. We road tripped. We emailed famous people and had lunch with them.

Just like that.

We even call some of them friends.

Hello, friends.

It’s weird, right?

Life.

In eight year increments. Or just in four seasons.

But I’m so thankful for it.

Everyday I’m Shuffling

I keep the door to my home office open, most of the time.

Sometimes, I get lucky and get a special visitor. I can usually hear him before I see him.

My son, running from down the hallway. I can hear his feet. Shuffling closer. Louder.

And I stare at the door. My eyes focused on the area about three feet(!) off the floor.

Anticipating, with glee, those eyes that are about to flash mischief. That face that’s about to beam rainbows. Appearing, like an angel, from the heavens above.

I am completely present in that moment. Waiting for him.

The world, the entire globe, stands still in those seconds.

And I find myself fully engaged. In euphoric gratitude.

Thankful beyond words. Beyond words.

Thank you.

For this beautiful dream.

Plentiful

I had an epiphany the other day.

That the reason I transitioned away from the practice of law was that it centered, at least in my experience, on having a scarcity mindset.

Indeed, much of the system (at least in civil courts) is to make you whole, to restore you, to make you as much as you were before the whole reason you decided to involve lawyers came to pass.

In the criminal justice system (and with particularly heinous acts, civil, too), it goes a bit further: Our society aims to punish the offender. It could be through monetary means, humiliation, and, worst of all, the loss of freedom.

Even the transactional side of law is geared towards a zero-sum game. Most favorable terms for the drafter of the contract. Getting and giving as much or as little as possible for the largest slice of ownership. Nitpicking over the provisions that govern everything that can go wrong in a deal.

All of this was and is a part of best practices in the business of law. It’s how an attorney gets paid. And largely why they get paid.

Lawyers are paid to see the down side. We are taught in law school for three years every single case of what can go wrong. We are taught to see weakness and expose it.

This overarching theme of scarcity stems from the idea that one cannot move on with one’s life unless they right this wrong. Without vengeance.

Without their pound of flesh.

Without justice.

This is a scarcity mindset.

And one I’ve struggled with my entire life.

1 of 1

When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards.

And I don’t mean I put them in bike spokes to make a clickity-clack sound vaguely reminiscent of a motorcycle like the generation or two before me. I mean I spent lots of money buying cardboard and putting them in one-inch thick lucite bricks and thought, quite lucidly, that these Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey, Jr. rookie cards would be my ticket to an early retirement.

Retirement from what, I did not know.

Of course, the law of supply and demand would have the last word, and every kid (and many more adults) who collected cards thought the same thing as I, and these plentiful rookie cards were soon worth little more than a nice meal out, or perhaps as a nice way to make your bicycle sound like it was motorized, rather than bullions or billions of gold.

Today, in card collecting, the trends are in one-of-a-kind cards. 1 of 1s as the lingo goes. These unique cards are inserted randomly in packages and due to its scarcity creates a mini-frenzy from hobbyists and professionals.

1 of 1? Even Willy Wonka made more than one golden ticket.

And so kids today who collect hunt these 1 of 1s, perhaps hoping that they are the golden ticket to a life free of three weeks of PTO and 49 of cubicles.

JOHNNY PLENTIFUL

It goes way beyond baseball cards. Way beyond attorneys. Way beyond vigilantism. This belief in the anti-plentiful. In the single pie.

We fight over percentage points. We die little deaths over heartbreaks (“but he was the one!”). We squirrel away the last piece of chocolate.

But fundamentally, when you look around, you should see overflow.

You should see that the pie is huge. And there are limitless pies.

If money’s your game, remember that a small percentage of a huge thing is often worth more than a huge percentage of a small thing.

Remember that generosity, and giving valuable things away for free without expectation of payment, is the key to going from an unknown person in your field, to a known, and then eventually over time and value, to becoming an expert.

You have to add value. Add it everywhere you can. Sprinkle it like value is an apple seed, and your name’s Johnny.

Spread and plant value.

Whatever your business does, whatever your company is, whatever you fancy as your personal brand, position your mindset as bountiful. As abundant.

As plentiful.

Are you holding on too tight to the things around you? To your company? To your clients? To your ideas? Are you saving your best stuff for behind the pay wall?

Open your fists. Let go of your most valuable ideas and start sharing them with the people you want to help.

The generous are free. And it’s often free to be generous.

And lest you think I’m trying to tell you all this to be philanthropic, you have me all wrong.

Because the beauty of adding value freely is in the way it makes you feel.

How it makes you feel.

The plentiful mindset is in your enlightened self-interest. Your charity is you. Everyone else is collateral harvest.

Let Us Pray

Let Us P(r)ay

This was years ago.

I’m sitting with the company CEO, and we’re spitballing ideas. Brainstorming. Mindmapping.

It was, by far, the best part of the job. The most fun.

The vision casting.

“But what we really have to do is figure out why people think our brand is cool.”

Our brand?

I hadn’t thought much of the word before, and it wasn’t used as much back then, but it was what I like to call a “moment of clarity” for me.

The truth was, there was a lot involved in making the brand cool. First, we shouldn’t call it cool, but I digress. It’s about the genre (fighting), the positioning (the best and most expensive), the tagline (“Be Inspired”), and most importantly, the devoted fans, including those receiving a paycheck (a melting pot of all cultures, classes, and creeds unified by a love of martial arts).

But what made people want to wear our t-shirts on a leisurely weekend out on the town? Heck, why did we do it?

What made people halfway across the world, people who have never stepped foot into one of our gyms, want to buy and represent our brand?

Why would they tattoo the company logo on their arm?

It’s so simple, so obvious, it can only be true.

It’s all about the promises we made (and kept).

And how we made them feel.

CLASS RING

Not too long ago, our family was in the market for a new car. Newborn turned to toddler, which means the days of sedans, even big ones, made less and less sense.

The morning we were to go on an extended vacation, I had the wild idea to go and take a look at a car an hour north of us. There’s plenty of time, I surmised, as I sped up the interstate to take a test drive, leaving wife behind shaking her head, but unsurprised.

I didn’t buy the car.

But I got a great story.

The salesman was a nice man. He was from our town. Grew up right around where we lived. Or maybe he was trying to build a connection, build rapport. Who knows. I didn’t mind either way.

He was probably in his late 50s or early 60s. A 30-year car salesman. A seller. A closer. As he was typing away at his screen, running numbers, I noticed a big, chunky, gold ring on his finger.

Trying to build rapport myself (this is a car deal, right?), I told him I liked his ring and asked if it was a class ring.

He thanked me for the compliment and said, no, but informed me happily that the makers of class rings actually did custom-make this ring for him.

What was the ring for, I asked.

To commemorate his Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Another moment of clarity.

Did he still own the bike?

Oh yes. Loves it. Rides it all the time.

So why does he have a ring on his finger to remind him of it?

HOLY MATRIMONY

We all get down on one knee.

For certain things.

To propose to a lover. To see what’s under the Christmas Tree. Even, these days, as a political statement.

But we also get down on a knee to say we love things.

Some of us wear a ring on our finger to signify a lifelong bond to an idea, or a product.

To a brand.

We could call it brand loyalty, but buying a ring to remember a bike you still own is a bit more than that. It’s a bit beyond love, even.

It’s worship.

It’s blasphemous, but true. It’s true.

What would make someone worship their Harley?

What does Harley bring to its followers? What does it promise?

Freedom, power, speed, masculinity.

What does owning a Harley make you?

A rebel. An outlaw. A man’s man. Or an empowered woman. A patriot.

“There’s just nothing like it,” the car salesman explains, unable to explain. Oh, I get it, I assure him. And I do.

I do get it.

And I can’t help but feel torn about the whole thing. Equal parts happy that the guy found what he was looking for, and sad that the guy found what he was looking for in an inanimate object.

The fact that he wasn’t wearing a ring representing the makers of the car dealership he worked for was just icing on an otherwise enjoyable, and instructional, cake.

The Secret Sauce

“If we can figure out why people think it’s cool to wear our stuff, train at our gyms, and use our gear, our growth will be limitless.” He smiled widely, waiting for my reply. The only thing missing was a big, gold ring.

I didn’t have a good answer then. I was just a kid who had and enjoyed big ideas.

Here’s what I have learned since, from salesmen and saints:

We all worship something.

Be it God, or something less than God.

Take a look around, inside, outside, and on yourself.

Who or what do you worship?

Do you know why?

What do they promise you? How do the promises make you feel?

Do they keep them?

In the end, let us pray we all believe in something a bit more than getting what we pay for.

Color tour trees

Autumnal

The best season is fall.

The fall.

I used to capitalize it, the Fall, because it meant so much. And because of the way we had to capitalize the seasons in school: Fall semester. Spring term. So much for an English major.

But mostly, I capitalized it because the seasons felt bigger, more important, than lowercase standing bestowed.

Crisp

There’s nothing like the cool breeze, hinting at winter. Hinting that you better hurry. The leaves turning burnt shades of gold and paprika, and falling, falling, everywhere. My son gleefully seeks them out. Pouncing on them to hear the satisfactory crunch between his toes.

His giggles. My wife’s smile, hugging herself with a cup of tea.

Football.

A pair of trusty jeans.

I’m good, I’m good.

It’s the best.

Color Tour

Autumn’s the best season, for whatever reason, for nostalgia. And as futuristic as I fancy myself, a lot of me is in my memories.

And now’s the time I remember. Reflect.

It’s important to do so.

Every four seasons, or so.

To play it all back.

How did we do?

What did we learn?

Remember that time when?

It’ll be winter soon enough. The holidays will come and we’ll toast another year gone by.

But for now, it’s the best time of the year.

To pounce on a Golden Leaf, or two, with the Ones You Love.

Champion Leader

Champion Leader

What’s your quest?

What’s the end game of your long game?

What do you want to have done after you are all done?

I want you to be a champion leader.

Al, Stop Making Up Phrases

First of all, don’t call me Al.

And second, a “champion leader” is a thing. It is!

Well, it is now.

You can be a champion without being a leader. And you can be a leader without being a champion. We have all borne witness. The superstar rogue winning a zero sum game, achieving artistry but leaving behind a trail of hellfire blazing behind them. And the inept naked emperor waving a golden goblet overflowing with penny wisdom.

All of which to say, you can be the best at all costs. And you can lead on a porcelain throne.

But should you?

What are the choices, then. Should you strive to be a leader or a champion?

Hmm?

Well, it’s simple really. You should be both.

You should be both.

Championship Leadership

A real champion wins the right way. A true leader inspires the right way. A champion leader inspires people to win the long game of life. They do it by uplifting those special men and women fighting the good fight, the champions, around them.

There are champions everywhere around you. Do you see them?

How often have you found that the very best kind of people are the hardest on themselves? The best and brightest champions need people who believe in them. Who pick them up when they fall down. Who look them in the eye and speak encouragement without wa(i)ver.

I believe in you.

Champions need help. I want you to help them. Don’t assume they get their entire confidence internally. They might get a lot there, but a pat on the back and a sincere “you are doing a wonderful thing here” is as heartwarming and life-sustaining as a boiling bowl of Korean stew in the middle of a Lake Effect winter.

You are doing a wonderful thing here.

Life is a long game. Play it as the champion leader.

The Five Stages of Competence

Have you heard of the four stages of competence?

It’s a learning model that describes the process of skill progression from ignorance to eventual mastery.

It’s a great way to figure out how we learn anything.

Everyone starts at the beginning. Where you don’t know what you don’t know. As you recognize your incompetence, you consciously acquire a skill, then consciously use it. Eventually, the skill is utilized without thought.

But to me, there’s something missing.

A fifth stage that trips most of us up. A hidden stage. A trap door.

Let’s back up.

The Four Stages

Here’s the original model for learning:

Unconscious Incompetence

We all start here. We do not know how to do something. And not only that, we do not know we do not know. We are just blissfully ignorant. Think newborns. Think about your earliest memories.

Your first steps.

When you were born, you did not know how to walk, and you didn’t even know you didn’t know. It simply was not on your radar. People came to you and that was enough. Until…

Conscious Incompetence

Here, you started to realize you didn’t know how to walk. Maybe you saw other kids walking around. Saw your parents running around. Suddenly, you realize that others are doing something you cannot do. And you want to do it. You see how important it is to be able to get up and go go go.

As a result, lots of your attempts to stand up and walk “fail,” and crash landings on butt and knees result. These “failures” in the second stage of the learning model are necessary to get to the next stage.

This is huge. Failure is a necessary component of mastery.

How many perfectionists do you know who are afraid to try something new? And how many grinders do you know who get a twinkle in their eye when they fall in the mud?

Conscious Competence

That magical day. When you learn to walk. You know how to do it. It may be wobbly, and you might wear a furrowed brow of concentration or stick out the tongue of deep focus, but you can walk now. You have conscious competence. The more you do it, the more you approach the final step of the four stages.

Unconscious Competence

You have walked enough that it’s second nature. You’re sprinting now. A hellion on two legs. You simply don’t think about it anymore. You just go go go. You have mastered the skill of walking. You have learned that to walk you have to learn you can’t walk first. Then you learn how to walk. Then you forget you know how to walk and just freakin’ walk. From zygote to toddler. A grandmaster at age two.

But there’s a missing stage. It usually happens to us somewhere in between the first two stages. Keeping us from learning the correct lesson.

The Fifth Stage

Conscious Limiting Beliefs

Most of us get stuck on our path of learning on this fifth stage. This platform of false truths. Your false truths. Your limiting beliefs about the world and yourself.

I could never be an entrepreneur because I tried once and failed.

Dreams are for kids.

Security is a 9 to 5 job. Retirement is a 401k.

Because I keep falling down, I will never learn how to walk.

Mark Twain described it best: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

It is what you know for absolutely certainty, that is absolutely dead wrong, that is limiting your life. Not unconscious incompetence, but conscious limitation.

Rather than not knowing what you don’t know, your conscious limiting beliefs are the real reason most of us fall astray of our path. The things we know for sure, that are positively not so.

Can you imagine where you would be if you believed as a child that because you kept falling down while learning to walk, you simply were incapable of learning how to walk? That walking was meant for others? That falling down was simply your reality?

Remember your tenacity. Remember how failure is part of the process. Treat everything as a grand experiment. A grand attempt at learning a new way to see. Or walk.

It all starts with baby steps. And it sometimes ends with grownup lies.

What’s holding you back?

Is it what you don’t know?

Is it what you do know?

Is it really true, what you’re so very certain you know?

Or is it something else.

Something. That.

Just. Ain’t. So.

Daring Spirit Alex Chung

Daring Spirit

Character, defined as a person’s essential qualities, is a great word. An aspirational word. Something to become. Something to be.

It comes from the greek word, kharaktēr, an old tool used to stamp a name or symbol onto an object to give it a distinctive mark.

We could call it a brand, and some do, but really, we are talking about character.

Your character.

Who are you, boiled down, distilled, to your essence?

Do you have an essential, guiding, quality that you live by? And if not, might I suggest a possible north star to lead you when you are lost?

Use the (Real) Force, Luke

There is, inside of us all, a force. This force gives us life, energy, and power to do bold, brave things. If we didn’t know any better, we would think it foolhardy, but we do. We do know better.

So we call it daring spirit.

When we see it in action, we rise and applaud. When we see it in ourselves, we are elevated. We touch our fingertips on heaven’s door. We actualize.

This audaciously venturesome force, this character trait, is within all of us.

But it’s a muscle.

And some have a well-developed, well-conditioned, daring spirit, and others have an atrophied, withered, seen-better-days one.

But we all have it. And if you have it, you can use it. And by using it, it will grow stronger.

That is the virtue of character.

Of using what is essential about you to further what is essential about you.

To have character is to live with it.

IF YOU DARE, YOU WIN

Fortune favors the bold. And he who dares, wins.

Be bold. Brave. Adventurous. Trust in what you cannot see, touch, smell, hear, and taste. Trust what you can only feel inside yourself. That inner fire. That inner spark. The one you maybe didn’t have a name for before today.

It is in your nature, in your character, to be a daring spirit.

Do you believe it?

And what is a life well-lived, except as an epic, an odyssey, a fairy tale, an adventure?

And who dares live it?

Not many. Not many at all.

How about you there?

Do you dare?

Play the Long Game

We overestimate what we can accomplish in one day. And we underestimate what we can accomplish in one year.

Have you heard that?

What do you think you could accomplish in a century?

Ladies & Gentlemen

Remember that song, Wear Sunscreen?

It was a commencement speech set to music offering the Class of 1999 advice on life. And I’ve got a soft spot for commencement speeches and life advice. Most of my friends hated that song, but I loved it.

I know, I know.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, it wouldn’t be sunscreen-related, it would be this:

Play the long game.

What’s that mean?

The Game of Life

It means looking towards your future when making decisions today. It means behaving like the stock market. Ups, downs, bubbles and bursts, but always, always, on the upward trajectory.

It means having a one-year plan, a five-year plan, and a ten-year plan.

And a hundred-year plan.

It means thinking about and writing your own obituary, and filling in the blanks by working backwards from the tombstone to today.

It means focus on building lasting relationships.

It means clients, not customers.

It means everyone you meet teaches you something, even if it’s only an example of what not to do.

It means constantly asking yourself questions like, “Will this matter in five years? In five days?” If the question is no, don’t worry about it. And start doing things that make you answer “yes” to these questions.

It means taking huge risks now if you’re not headed in the right direction.

It means saving for a rainy day (or year). Cash is king, now and in the future.

It means building a kingdom, watching it burn to the ground, and being thankful for the air in your lungs, and fire in your belly, to build again.

It means keeping your eyes on the horizon, keeping your focus on the main thing, and letting it be the setting sun you chase.

It means seasons, cycles, phases. A time to work. A time to rest. A time to plant. And a time to uproot.

The Long Tale

Too many of us are crippled by the minutiae of day-to-day decisions when they don’t matter. Not in the long game. Most of what we worry about does not matter.

Until it does.

Worry about it then.

You might have a hundred years left to live.

Or you might have one.

But why bet on the latter, like so many of us do?

The truth is, the game is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

And remember two principles, long gamer:

  1. This, too, shall pass; and
  2. Good things, the best things, come to those who wait.

Here’s something Apollo Creed didn’t tell you:

There is a tomorrow. And many more, for most of us lucky ones.

Play long.