I heard the saying, “lash yourself to the mast” recently.  Not something we typically think about in this day of jets and teleportation…  (Ok, we don’t have that yet, but I’m sure it’s coming…)

OneDictionary says it means, “To continue in a course of action even when facing great difficulties and likely disaster. To resist the temptation to make a bad choice.”  It apparently came from Odysseus (in Homer’s Odyssey), where he ordered his men to literally lash him to the ship’s mast so he wouldn’t succumb to the temptation of the Sirens.

(The story depicted on an ancient vase…)


But it got me thinking – for me, what is the Siren’s call?  Easy:  $.  (Or Euro, Pounds, Rubles, and so on.)

It begs the question, “What is the course of action I want to continue on?”

Well, I wrote about money, and how it won’t buy happiness, a while back.  I heard a podcast recently that was more specific – money can reduce unhappiness to a point…

So, if money is not a course of action I’d lash myself to the last for, what is?

Enjoyment, contentedness, meaning

Why?!  Well, these things are fulfilling.  My opinion?  It’s what we were designed for.

My foremost position, my primary topic for podcasts and speaking, is this:

Measure your Mission

If you haven’t heard me talk about this phrase before, it comes down to this:  Peter Drucker, leadership guru, is attributed with (many variations of) “What gets measured gets done.”  He meant it as a little bit of a dig on managers who measure employee performance on # of widgets per hour, and don’t understand why quality goes through the floor when employees speed up to produce more.  There are countless other examples how mismeasurement results in unintended consequences.  

“Measure Your Mission” takes this concept and applies it to your mission, vision, purpose.  This works for companies (which is the focus of my consulting business) and individuals.

For me, personally, my (ineloquently worded) mission is to leave people and places better than they were before.

Tying a measurement or metric to my mission is a way of lashing myself to the mast.  It narrows my focus onto what’s important, rather than just the default, $.  (As a side note, I believe being smart about money is important.  No margin, no mission.  In personal life too – if you can’t pay your bills, it’s hard to focus on the most important things.)

I’m not perfect about this.  Here’s a great example:

One of my other businesses is real estate investing.  Sure, real estate is considered a great financial investment, but I always try to make it something more than money.  My wife’s good about this, too.

So, yesterday, when she was taking me on a video tour of three investment houses we just purchased – neglected, tired, overgrown – my thoughts were on the work required, the cost, and the revenue.  (Have to do those right, or these could be the last investment houses we ever do.)

But she said to me, in her loving way, “And we’ll be taking these empty structures and providing homes for people/families who need them.”

Measuring the mission:  When these 3 homes are done and sold, we’ll be +3 in providing homes to families.

How will you measure your mission?

(I work with mission-driven companies and organizations to help them remove barriers to scaling their companies and increase their impact.  If you’re a leader in one of these organizations, message me – I’d love to strategize with you about how Questful can help.)

There’s a scene in the 1992 movie Wayne’s World (geez, was it that long ago?!) where Wayne and Garth, the two main characters in the movie, are out playing hockey in the street.  An upcoming car honks, so the two call out to each other “car!” and move the hockey goal out of the street.  Once the car passes, Wayne calls “game on!” and Garth calls back “game on!”

(This movie clip has absolutely no relevance to what I’m writing here, but it went with the title and that scene cracks me up, so “Game On!“)

Slightly more related, I had an interesting time this morning, once inspiration to write struck, deciding whether to write first, or set up the pulled pork in the crock pot.  (The crock pot won.)

Why is this relevant?

Some would call this topic “prioritization”.  Which is more important to do at the moment?  Write?  Or cook?  In management speak, I might think of these things along the lines of the Eisenhower Matrix.  What’s important & urgent, what’s important but not urgent, etc.

From that perspective, I could say neither is urgent (except that the crock pot needs to go for 8 hours, so one might call it time-sensitive).  Both are important to me – I need and like to eat, and I love writing like this so I want to nurture the inspiration.

This is easy when making the choice between two activities.  But not scalable.

In life, we have a seemingly infinite number of options at any time, but not enough time, resources, or energy to do all of them.

Yes, that was a super long lead-up…

What Game Am I Playing?

This morning, I was listening (for the second time, actually…) to a podcast with Tim Ferris interviewing Derek Sivers.  As Tim Ferris says, describing most of his interviews, it was “wide ranging”, but the part that resonated most was a theme of recognizing what game you’re playing, and focus on that.

I’m sure we’re all aware by now that the more things you try to do at once, the worse you’ll be at all of them.

Yet, hard as I try, I still want it all.  Inner peace, minimalism, good health, a boat, a nice home, loving relationships, financial independence, and so on.

If I were to really make that list of what I want, I’m pretty sure I could reach a hundred things.  And with a high degree of confidence, I could tell you that some might overlap, but some will definitely conflict with others.

By contrast, we’re all aware of people who are single-minded on their goal and excel at it.  Not just the Michael Phelps types, but in a wide variety of “things we can excel at” – be it music or art, research or programming.  Often, though, if you asked one of them to whip up an omelet or mow the lawn, they would have no idea where to start.

So, is there a balanced approach to this?

I might start to think of it like this:  Have one or two things I want to focus in on – or, as was stated in the podcast, optimize or maximize for – and then find a way to squeeze in the things I have to do.

But what do we actually “have to do”?  Nothing, technically.  You might say, “But Matt, you have to eat!”  (And normally, I’d say “Heck yeah!  Let’s eat!”)  But in reality, I don’t actually have to eat.  Ever.  I just won’t like the end result.  So, no activity is ever required – we just have to be ok with the consequences.

The Formula

Find one or two (or three) things that I optimize for, combine the optimizing activities where possible, and keep my worrying and activities for everything else I do because of the potential consequences down to a minimum.

So, what would this look like?  I’ve mentioned in other posts that I value, and want, financial independence.  For me, that’s not Warren Buffet-level net worth; rather, it’s knowing I can cover my needs and wants without relying on others (or a job).  That can be achieved with winning the lottery, developing a robust passive income, or reducing my financial needs.  (I’m focusing on the latter two.)  And maybe there’s a second or third thing I’d optimize for.

Then, I might look at places where I’m mitigating against negative consequences (now I’m sounding like the consultant I am…), like health.  I enjoy learning about the causes and effects of various things on the body and mind, mostly because I don’t like the downside, not because I’m passionate.  Here, I’d want to figure out ways to do the minimum rather than nothing at all, in order to support what I’m optimizing. 

Finally, I’d look at my life to see what doesn’t fit into either of those two buckets.  Maybe those things need to go.

Exempli Gratia (I apparently value appearing “fancy”, with my use of Latin…):

I have cycled a lot in the past.  I’ve spent thousands of hours on the road, propelling two wheels forward with just my own energy.  I started as a kid, with a bike being my primary mode of transportation.  At 14, I got a road bike, and had long rides, either with friends or solo.  I’ve ridden all over the country, and have even thought about literally riding across the country.  I enjoy watching the Tour de France and other bike races on TV.  

However, I’ve ridden once in the past year.  My current bike sits right behind me in my office, I have riding paraphernalia stored throughout the house, a rack for the car taking up space in the shed, and so on.  The actual act of riding is no longer that enjoyable – sore butt, competing with cars and joggers, having to gear up every time, and all.  It’s become more of a burden than anything.

As I think through those things, the revelation that comes to me is that maybe what I like most about cycling is what it was to me in the past.  It was part of my identity then, but I’m kidding myself if I say it’s part of my identity now.

And yet, the pressure of “when should I start riding again?”, “what sort of shoes should I buy?”, “I need to clean and lube the bike”, all weigh on me.  It takes up emotional energy, which could have gone to good use elsewhere.

It’s quite possible that my best move is to retire my cyclist identity.

Why, Oh Why?

Like a two- or three-year-old, I ask “why?” often.  In this case, why are there so many things I want?  Whether it’s an identity (a cyclist) or a thing (a new barbecue), there have literally been tons of books written on the psychology behind this.

For me, it probably boils down to a few things:

  1. I still gravitate toward seeking others’ approval, or otherwise care what people think of me
  2. I’m not confident of my own identity, so I keep trying things to see what “sticks”
  3. I’m susceptible to messages that say “You should do this”, or “You should own that”

I don’t think I’m alone in those areas, but I can say confidently that those things definitely keep my life cluttered, and keep me from excelling at any given thing.

The Technique

So, I have distilled this concept down to a technique to gain some clarity on how to apply the formula to my life.  (Feel free to use this for yourself!)

Day 1:  Make a list of all the things you enjoy, love, feel passionate about, want, and so on.  Tips:  Do this while you’re in a good mood.  Make it exhaustive.  For most of us, the list could take up a page or more.

Day 2:  Make a list of all the things you “have to do”.  Taxes, clean the house, go to the gym…   Tips:  Do this while you’re in a “less than good” mood.  Make it exhaustive.  Feel free to categorize.  

Day 3:  Look at your Day 1 list, and see what items actually belong on your Day 2 list.  Tips:  You need to be very honest and introspective.  Recognize the things you “love” because of others’ pressure, messages, or approval.  Be brutal with the list (but not with yourself!!!).

Day 4:  Review your Day 1 list, and force-rank your top 3 items.  This means there are no ties, there can be only one #1, one #2, and one #3.  Tips:  Remember, this is YOUR list, not what others want you to say.  

Day 5:  Review your Day 2 list, and look for “have to do” items that can be crossed off because you’re willing to accept the consequences.  Tips:  This generally means the consequences aren’t very high, or because you have always assumed you had to do this thing.  If you get caught in an ethical dilemma, do what seems right, of course.  We’re shooting for improving your life, not “Breaking Bad”.

Days 6 and Beyond:  This is an ongoing review and refinement of your activities, in light of what came out of the first 5 days.  Do it daily, but limit the time spent – this is one of those things you’re doing to avoid the consequences.  Ask these questions:

  • Top 3
    • How can I do more/better in this area?
    • Are they still in the right order?  Do I still need 3, or are things better with 1 or 2 things?
    • Who or what can I learn from to improve this?
    • How can I make sure I continue to enjoy, love, etc. this thing?
  • Everything else
    • What things do I no longer need to do?
    • What things can be wrapped into my Top 3, without sacrificing enjoyment or improvement in the Top 3 area?
    • How can I minimize the time spent on these things?
    • What things can I delegate/outsource/ask someone else to do?  

Periodically, it may make sense to start at Day 1 again – life changes, priorities change – and this is highly encouraged.  However, don’t reset too often or you’ll create exhaustion, confusion, and so on.  Once a year, or after a significant life change, should be enough.

It’s my hope that doing this will create positive effects that ripple through your life.  An optimistic outlook.  More positive relationships. Success in however you measure it.

Game On!


Our culture has an interesting relationship with money.  While there are as many variations on this as there are people, the general sense is that we all want more money because we will feel better, people will like us more, we will be more acceptable.

There is also the contrarian approach of those who secretly want more money, don’t have it, and want to look like they know best.

So, if we hone in on one phrase to express this, it might be “money buys happiness”.

Is this really true?

Turns out, the jury is still out.

Let’s break this down a bit to get some clarity.  First off, should “happiness” be the desired end result in the first place?  I would argue that, instead of happiness, having joy, contentment,  and love are better things to move toward.  Happiness tends to be temporary, transitory, fleeting, and fickle.  Something might happen one moment that makes us happy, then the next moment, another thing might happen that makes us unhappy.  Joy, contentment, and love tend to be things we put in place deliberately.

If we look at money’s impact on joy, contentment, and love, John Lennon said it best: “Money can’t buy me love.”

There are nuances to this, though.  The lead author of a study connecting salary with happiness or satisfaction conducted at Purdue University said this:

“We found that the ideal income point is $95,000 for life evaluation and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being… this amount is for individuals and would likely be higher for families.”

Apparently, then, we can put a price on happiness, or at least connect a dollar amount to life satisfaction.

Another factor can be debt.  This article published in Quartz highlights how heavily debt depresses the sense of well-being, and conversely, how the absence of debt lifts the mood.  (I’d have to agree, having been on both sides of the coin plenty of times in my life…)

In other words, money can buy happiness up to a point, but debt is depressing.

But how do we explain the many stories of people who live in extreme poverty, or have very little, and have a high level of contentment?

We’d have to ask Mother Theresa or Ghandi (or a host of other examples), but I don’t think it comes down to a question of money (or lack thereof) for them.  Some of us (myself excluded) have learned the fine art of contentment, inner peace, self actualization, or whatever your favorite term for it is.  They have found a way to effectively control what makes them content, without being influenced by what’s around them or focusing on what makes them “happy”.

Contentedness is their superpower…

Did I go on a tangent here?  Nope – this is deliberate.

There are three things I want to get across with this:

  1. Money, or rather our relationship with money, has a significant effect on our emotional well-being
  2. Debt has an even more deleterious impact on us
  3. We’d all feel so much better if, instead of focusing on the financial picture or on happiness, we just keep our money straight and focus on contentedness instead


In my role at work, everything comes down to productivity and effectiveness.  I might even be considered, by some, to be an expert on utilizing process and technology to increase productivity and effectiveness.

For today, though, I’m going to give you a metaphor (technically, this is actually a simile…) from both the expert and the frustrated employee perspective:

Companies operate like they are in their own long-distance car races.

Imagine you closed down Interstate 80 – New York to San Francisco.  You then took each company, gave each employee a car that is representative of their capabilities as an employee, and gave those employees a goal with a prize:

  • Get to the other end.
  • Part of your prize is based on how fast everyone can get to the other end and how many make it.
  • The other part is based on what order you come in.  Come in first, get a bigger prize.  Come in later, get a smaller prize.  Don’t finish?  Get nothing.

Let’s see how various types of companies would do.

A company of one

There are a lot of variables and wildcards in this one.  A high-performing person operating as a company of one probably won’t break down along the way, and can probably go pretty fast.  This person probably gets a decent prize at the end.

On the other hand, someone with pipe dreams but no experience, talent, or grit is likely to find themselves stranded somewhere in the middle of Ohio, hoping for the kindness of a stranger.  If they reach San Francisco at all, it won’t be very fast.

A start-up

If this start-up has a group of high-performing individuals who can work with a team mentality, they’re likely to speed along the freeway, drafting off each other for additional speed and fuel economy.  They’ll help each other if something goes wrong, but if one person is consistently underperforming or having trouble, they’ll leave that person in the dust.

If this start-up has a variety of capabilities, but averages toward the low end, you’ll get a variety of different results depending on different factors.  If they help each other, they’ll get to the end, but much slower.  If they don’t work as a team, most are likely to break down along the way, and their arrival in San Francisco is questionable.

A global enterprise

As you visualized the previous examples, you may have noticed that each company collectively had control of their fate.  Here, however, is where we diverge from this trend.

This global enterprise has run this race many times, in order to achieve its enormous size.  It has experts in how to go fast and navigate the route.  It has maybe 400,000 quite reliable cars, including super- and hyper-cars, economy cars, luxury cars, you can imagine the people working in such a company.  It even has its own team to assist those who need it.

Now, picture the scene at the mouth of I-80, just a few miles west of Manhattan.  6 lanes of west-bound tarmac.  Everyone wants to get to San Francisco – all 400,000 of them.

It starts slowly.  The first out of the gate, including a Ferrari, a Corolla, a Lexus, and a Ram pickup, all hit the gas.  The Lamborghini stuck behind the Corolla gets impatient, and tries to cut in front of the Mercedes next to it in a bid to pass.  The Mercedes has to hit its brakes, slowing everyone behind it.

Fast-forward…  Everyone is finally hitting their stride, faster passing slower, but all slowing down when the person in front slows down – say for a curve, a lane merge, avoiding a deer in the road, you name it.

No big cities once you leave the New York metro area until…   Cleveland.

Now, everyone has to slow for freeway twists and turns, avoiding taking the wrong exit and ending up on I-77 South, narrower lanes through the city.  It’s a much hairier task to get 400,000 cars through the city, even on a closed course, than it does 100.

Because the prize is partially on personal performance, and partially on company-wide performance on which they have virtually zero influence, everyone wants to get in front of the one they’re following.

  • Stop and help?  That’s someone else’s job.
  • Listen to the organizational expert tell me how to drive?  They don’t know how I do things.
  • Follow executive direction?  Heck, they’re the ones driving the Bugattis, Maybachs, and McLarens up front.  There’s no way I’ll catch them.

At the end of the road…

As we work through this metaphor (simile), I’m pretty sure you get the point.

It’s much easier for a small organization to perform well.  There’s plenty of room for all to work toward the goal together.  There’s less incentive to promote self over group – in fact, it’s usually pointless if all are working together.

There are organizational experts who, using reliable data and studies, would suggest that the line between performing together like these small organizations and performing with the self in mind in the larger organizations is around 150 people.  Think about that for a moment.

If companies start to lose relative effectiveness at around 150 people, why are there organizations that are much larger?  Self-interest.  If the organization is larger, there’s more individual advantage to being a Ferrari among supercars.  It’s easier to hide mistakes and rely on the perceived stability of the large organization to attract talent and revenue.

Is there a lesson here?  I’ll leave that up to you.


Working in Corporate America, I find myself coming up against this unnamed, nebulous dilemma within myself.  I struggle with the actions of organizations and the people within, and with the intention underlying the actions.

I know I’m not alone in this – there are articles and movements and other evidence throughout history and in our current era that revolve around this struggle.

However, it wasn’t until recently that I was finally able to name it for myself.

Mind you, it may seem obvious once I lay it out, and there may be all sorts of content out there saying exactly what I am about to write, but it was a revelation to me.  Naming an object is progress toward understanding it.  Being able to give a name to the dilemma provides me with an anchor I can use to understand the dilemma and start to define how it applies to me.

The name?  Ruling the world vs. changing the world.

Many may read this and scoff, saying, “I’m happy with my middle class life.  I don’t need to change or rule the world.”

Before you write me off, read through to the end, as I think this affects more of us than you might think.  Perhaps even yourself.

First, some context.

Those of you who know me or who have read what I write here are aware I have been involved in purpose-seeking and self-understanding for a long time.  Sometimes I can think through it quite philosophically.  Other times, it’s just made me want to scream, cry, or curl up in the fetal position.

This activity has caused me to flit here and there, seeking a (preferably) permanent fix to this search for meaning.

  • You’ve seen me start numerous businesses that fizzle out.
  • You’ve seen me rant about my job, only to move to a different job with the same problems.
  • You’ve seen me go through depressive episodes simply from despair.
  • You’ve seen me be mildly self-destructive (or at least self-neglectful).

All of this – for lack of purpose, and lack of framework to define my purpose.

Enough about me…

As I’ve hinted above, frameworks (or at least naming the thing) are very helpful in doing anything meaningful.  Recently, I came across a framework for defining purpose (hats off to Dr. Michael Gervais for this one), which breaks purpose down to just 3 components:

  1. It matters to you
  2. It’s bigger than you
  3. It’s in the future

Ruling the world vs. changing the world fits nicely into those components.

It’s bigger than you – Arguably, it’s simple enough to say that changing the world = bigger than you, and ruling the world = all about you.  But let’s flesh it out to make sure.

Ruling the world, when done humbly and with a mentality of stewardship, can be bigger than you.  More often than not, though, the mentality does come down to personal gain:  Pride, power, money, etc.  So, for our purposes, with that caveat, ruling the world generally = all about you.

Changing the world, likewise, can also be twisted.  There are plenty out there who have gone on a misguided quest to change the world out of solely selfish or ill-informed ambitions.  I’d argue, however, that in many cases, this “changing the world” activity was borne from a “ruling the world” attitude.

Let’s just work from that simple statement at the beginning, then, and agree that #2 is generally best satisfied from a “change the world” approach.

It matters to you – Notice I didn’t start with #1.  Two reasons:  1) I wanted to keep the integrity of Dr. Gervais’ statement, and 2) The above bit will fold nicely in what comes next.

Finding something that matters to you can be especially hard when you are locked in despair and depression.  Sometimes you just stumble upon it by accident – it’s not always intentional.

Even when you have a good idea of what matters to you, you may have a combination of skills, talent, and temperament where you have no interest or intention of coming up with a new idea, business, organization, movement of your own – you would rather work for someone else.  Totally fine.

Guess what?  You can still pay attention to change the world vs. rule the world.

Here’s the hitch, though.  By working for someone else, you still need to examine your employer’s motivation.  (You can take this farther by examining the motivations of everyone in your life, but don’t let it turn you into a hermit or a crab – or a hermit crab.)

I’m going to use a very close to the heart example of “it matters to you”.

You’ve figured out by now that I’m good at what I do.  My employer thinks so, too, best as I can tell.  That’s a bit satisfying in itself.  But it still feels empty, devoid of purpose (other than paying the bills).

Is it bigger than me?  Absolutely.  Huge company, publicly traded, I’m working together with half a million other people to achieve my employer’s goals.

Is it in the future?  Sure.  It’s Sunday, and, to the best of my knowledge, I have a job to do when I start work tomorrow morning.

Does it matter to me?  Aye, there’s the rub.  My employer, along with (in my experience) the vast majority of large, publicly-traded companies, has a “rule the world” mindset.  Yes, they provide valuable, important goods and services.  No, they’re not actively working to undermine society in some way.  But at the same time (again, like most of these large companies), their #1 goal is shareholder return.

Who are these shareholders?  The company’s executives and institutional investors, with a dash of individual investors.  Basically, mostly people who no longer need to earn more, but continue to push for more out of a desire to “rule the world”.

Do those shareholders matter to me?  Only to the extent that pleasing them allows me to keep earning my paycheck.

So, since I have failed the “purpose” test with my job, I keep searching.  Maybe you have the same conclusion.

Somehow it always comes back to me…

So, what do I want to do about all of this?

First off, I want to encourage anyone who reads this to examine whether they really have purpose in their life, and if they don’t, to start seeking it, keeping the rule the world vs. change the world question in mind.

The other thing I want to do is insert the “Change the World” mentality into my guiding principles.  Whatever it is I’m doing, I want it to be about where I am contributing to and helping others, rather than how I am amassing money, influence,  recognition for myself.

Join me.



You’ve heard the saying, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach him how to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”  Shockingly, I’ve been giving that saying some thought.

You see, it seems that we’ve been putting the wrong spin on the word “teach” in this saying – specifically when it comes to self care.

I’ll get to my case later.

First, let’s look at this saying and its inherent metaphor.  The first half is obvious.  If someone doesn’t know how to provide for their own needs, it’s easy to just give them a little help.  And keep in mind that the saying doesn’t imply that giving help is bad.  Just, maybe, good instead of great.

(I’m not sure I could eat for a whole day off a fish, unless it was a big fish.  Preferably with a light beurre blanc sauce with lemon and capers, and a glass of chardonnay..,)

The second half is where we get tripped up.

We (yes, the collective “we”) misunderstand the word “teach”, or perhaps just get lazy with the term.

You can teach someone to fish by telling them to get a stick, a string, some sort of “hook-y” thing and stuff fish like to eat, put it all together, and drop it in the water.  Good to go?  Great!  Have a great lifetime of fishing!

Yet ask a true fisher.  Someone who spends weeks each year fly fishing in the Snake River.  Someone who sport fishes for sailfish daily.  Someone who has their bass boat in the lake every other weekend.  There is so much more.

  • What kind of gear to use?
  • What kind of bait?
  • Where to go?
  • What technique to use?

Just a short list of things that go through their mind, unconsciously at this point, as they fish.

To “teach” this well enough that someone could be assured a lifetime of good eating takes some time.  Enough that perhaps “coach” is a better word.

Now, back to the point.  Self care.

Self care, self improvement, personal development, or anything you want to call it, often gets short shrift.

You can go to a gym or fitness class, and learn one component.  You can go to a dietitian (and not many people do this…) to learn another component.  Spiritual teacher.  Meditation app.  Financial planner or financial guru’s book.  Career coach.  The list goes on and on.  Each gives you some level (whether surface level or a deep dive) of insight, and potentially coaching, in one of these areas.

What would happen, though, if you went to a fishing gear coach, learned everything there is to know about the gear, but didn’t learn anything else about fishing?  A lot of trial and error, after which you’d likely take up farming instead.

The same thing happens if you go to a fitness trainer, do all kinds of working out, but never address anything else in your life.  You go for 2 months, don’t really reduce the belly size (we all know most people go to the gym to deal with this…), and then you give up and take up professional YouTube watching.

Our selves are highly complex.

Everything is highly intertwined.  What we eat, how we move, how we think, how we interrelate with others, how we create.

And when we look at that short list, we can break it down even further:  Interrelating with others can be family, romantic relationships, friendships, community, work relationships, and on and on.

As we break it down into smaller pieces, the intertwining becomes even more apparent.  Our family influences our eating, our opportunity for movement, our thinking, our opportunity (or belief in our ability) to create.

In ancient, tribal societies, this was never an issue.  Your tribe of 50 helped moderate relationships as you all had to depend on each other.  You moved to get food, which was extremely natural at that point, and you created to entertain yourselves because there was no other entertainment.

As life has gotten easier, we have lost many of our opportunities for having our self care routines to be built into our daily activity, so we have to deliberately add them in.

When we deliberately add them in, we only do what we know to do.

We need to be taught, coached.

But we need to be coached in all of it, with an eye toward how each aspect influences other areas.  Ironically, that coaching often leads us back to a lifestyle more similar to our tribal selves than our modern life.

If you’ve read this far, let me know what you think.  I would love to develop ways to teach and coach with an eye toward affecting the entire tapestry of our lives instead of honing in on one or two components, and your thoughts will help me with that.

Love and peace to you all!

I have to admit:  I am struggling – or, have been struggling for a long time – with something I have observed in our society.

Some seem to view life, or aspects of life, as a competition.

What do I mean by this?  Here are some examples:

  • CEOs negotiating like gladiators to have another million added to their base salary.
  • World-class sprinters engineering every aspect of their lives to cut another one or two hundredths of a second from their 100 meter time.
  • Corporate boards voting to cut 10% of their workforce to get a 2% gain on their stock price (and ostensibly be able to upgrade to a larger yacht).

Or, bringing it back down to earth, how about these:

  • Normal people maxing out the credit cards to take that trip to Paris, so that they can post their Eiffel Tower selfies on Facebook or Instagram (and get those “likes”).
  • Normal people choosing the BMW 3-series instead of the Accord, expecting the admiration of their fellow commuters.
  • Normal people doing a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race just to show others their accomplishments.
  • Normal people putting on a brave face and acting like everything’s great, when, in reality, things are falling apart.

Guiltily, I have engaged in some of this myself.  My 80-meter yacht just wasn’t spacious enough for my summers on the Riviera…

Cheekiness aside, I’ll admit that I often get caught up in the competitive mindset in some way.  Listening to a Tim Ferris podcast with Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, this morning, I felt both envy toward someone able to interview one of the most powerful people in business and the desire to become a powerful CEO myself.  From that envy and desire, I shifted toward thoughts of “How can I make that happen for myself?”

But then one word stopped me in my tracks:  Why?

Why was it important for me to become a CEO?  Or be associated with one?  Sure, some extra cash might be nice.  The recognition would definitely feed my ego.  Oh, and it would move me up the invisible socioeconomic rankings.

It’s the competitive nature.  I apparently want to be seen as better than others, which probably translates to wanting to be seen as better than I currently see myself.


If I look at that previous sentence, it sounds like I somehow see myself as inadequate as I currently am.

Rephrased:  I am inadequate.

If I follow that line of thinking, how do I go from being inadequate to adequate (or more than adequate)?  Hmmm, let’s ask society what its measurement for adequacy or, perhaps legitimacy, is:

  • Recognition – At work, in the media, how many Instagram followers you have…
  • Achievement – A promotion, an award, the completion of something “important”…
  • Power – how much control you have over a department, company, country…
  • Money (or material possessions)

There may be more, but this is enough for our purposes.

Here’s the problem:  There’s no benchmark, no line we must cross to go from inadequacy to adequacy.  What’s the right dollar amount? $5?  $5 million?  $5 billion?  Recognition and achievement fade, so there’s always the next achievement to push toward, or more that must be done to stay recognized.  Power is always either increasing or decreasing, depending on your words and actions.

I hinted at another problem with this early on, with the job cuts:  Usually, our push toward increased legitimacy comes with collateral damage.

  • More time at work to increase pay, power, or recognition means less time with our family and friends.
  • Making tough choices for more money can have ripple (or tsunami-like) effects on others.  Remember the Great Recession?  What’s worse, the collateral damage often afflicts others who aren’t competing or have no means to compete.
  • Striving toward achievements of many kinds can be damaging emotionally if we tie our self-image to them – both from failure to hit that achievement, and from the (quick) fading of that achievement.

What’s worse, with so many others striving for the same thing, there are forces outside our control that may keep us from that thing that makes us adequate.  There can only be one “#1”, right?

Why would we are cause all this damage by striving for an unreachable target?  Why, because we see everyone else doing it!

Think about what you see in the media, what you see others around you doing.  They’re all pursuing bigger and better in some way.  They may even be purposely pursuing less in one area out of a desire to get more in another (false modesty).  When this concept is reinforced for us all day, every day, it’s extremely hard not to get sucked in.

So, what’s the answer?  Reframe adequacy.

What does it mean to be adequate?  If it’s not all those cultural markers of success, what is it?

I humbly submit my theory (ok, this is something stated by many people over the millennia and is nowhere near original, but I think it’s right on):  We are all adequate, sufficient, legitimate as we are.

We don’t need to do anything else in order to be “enough”.  We already are.

Think about what that would mean for you, if you knew that the raise you’re pursuing isn’t necessary for you to be enough.  If you knew that people already loved you just as you are.  If you knew you could give of yourself instead of stepping on others on your way up the ladder.

What would you do differently?

This would be a great place for a “mic drop”, but let me take it one step further.  Let’s all take whatever steps we can handle to make shifts – radical or subtle – in our lives to move toward this ideal:

  • Maybe less time with media?
  • Maybe time with your thoughts looking at why you think you’re inadequate, and ways to shift?
  • Maybe time volunteering, helping others in true need?

(Mic drop.)

A while back, I saw – no, became enthralled with – the movie The Greatest Showman, a story about P. T. Barnum getting his start in the circus business.

While the movie itself was inspiring, the music has been in my ears ever since.  Not only was the soundtrack amazing, but many of the included songs have been remade by other artists, sometimes even improving on the original.

In one particular song, from early on in the movie, Barnum sings, “A million dreams are keeping me awake” out of excitement for the world he’s envisioning.

I can relate wholeheartedly to this.  Whether it’s in my genes or somehow developed in me, I have this innate ability and need to dream about the future.  It usually doesn’t keep me awake, but when I’m in that “vision zone”, the dream is so close to reality I can feel it as if it’s real.

Here’s a fork in the road for this post where I could go off and explore a number of psychological and neurological concepts, but in this case I’m going to take the road more traveled:

In this New Year (and, some might say, new decade), dream new dreams!  Dream a million of them!  Dream so deeply that you can touch it!

And above all else, go out and take a step toward making your dreams a reality.  Then take the next, and another, and another…

Happy 2020, everyone!


This is one of those situations where something got my hackles up.  (I’m not sure what a hackle is, but they’re definitely up…)

I read an op ed article (which I won’t name or link to here) which, on one level, seemed fairly well-written and thought out.  It was on politics, and was discussing whether Evangelical Christians should support Trump at this point.

A few disclosures here:

  1. I have attended Christian churches for much of my life and have been involved with Christian organizations, many of which could be categorized as Evangelical.
  2. I no longer identify as a Republican, nor do I identify as a Democrat.
  3. I’m halfway through beer #2 while watching a bowl game, so please forgive any faux pas, typos, or linguistical slips…

You may love or hate Trump, that’s not the point here.

You may be Christian (Merry Christmas to you…), Jewish (Mazel tov to you), Muslim (starting to go outside my cultural knowledge), Hindu, Sikh, Atheistic, Humanistic…  ok that’s gone too far…  It doesn’t matter your belief system.

The problem I had with this article is that the author identified, without realizing it, a huge issue in today’s politics – which, incidentally, could be stretched beyond politics (in another post, of course.)  The issue is the “lemming problem”.

Lemmings have a reputation for a “herd” mentality.  Apparently that reputation comes from a 1958 Walt Disney documentary called White Wilderness, and is actually a myth.  Or, to keep with the tone of this post, “False News”.  Another rather gruesome myth about lemmings is that they explode.  They do not.  Ewwwwww!  (By the way, I’m still not sure what a group of lemmings is called, but I”m going to stick with “herd”.)

Since the collective Western consciousness understands the idea of lemmings, though, I’m going to stick with it.

Here’s the link:  When it comes to voting and political support, people are like lemmings.  They tend not to create their own opinions.  Instead, they identify with a political party, socioeconomic group, religious group, or some other “herd” and make their decisions and opinions accordingly.

Jumping back to the article, the premise was that Evangelical Christians need to, as a group, support or oppose Trump.

This, to me, is ridiculous.

Trump is who he is.  But everyone perceives him, his behaviors, and his presidency differently.  Even those in the same “herd”.

The same goes for every other political candidate out there.  For each, there’s often talk about who has which “herd’s” vote.  (Still wishing I knew what a group of lemmings is called.)  So and so has the Hispanic vote.  Another candidate may have the Evangelical vote.  As if they all perfectly agree on everything.

While this post may just be an excuse to vent, I’d just like to take a moment to urge all half-dozen of you (cheeky, right?) to think for yourself.  You’re all reasonably smart, have access to good information, and can make a decision on your own.

Being part of a “people-group” according to race, belief, geography, political leaning, or other slicing and dicing should not dictate your vote, your opinion, or your beliefs.

My name is Matt McCarthy, and I endorse this message.

I’ll let you in on a secret:  I failed a semester of high school English.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you’ve likely noticed that I have a decent grasp of the language.  By contrast, my French, which I got decent grades in, is practically non-existent.

Yet, I failed.

A big “F” on my report card.


How Could This Possibly Have Happened?

To put it simply, it had to do with homework.  I didn’t turn it in.  On the surface, this looks like laziness. It’s just writing some words down on paper and giving it to the teacher – just a bit of putting the nose to the grindstone and getting it done.  Tests?  I generally did very well in these – even without studying the content much.  I’m lucky in that way, I guess.

True, in some cases, I didn’t even start the homework.  In other cases, though, I got half-way, or even completely, done, but still didn’t turn it in.

In recent years, I’ve spent time reflecting back on this pattern.  (It wasn’t just this one English class – I did the same thing in many of my classes, and in a variety of things outside of school, as well.)  I came up with one primary reason why I would so resist turning in homework:


In some cases, perfectionism manifests in obsessive behavior:  Working harder, iterating, revising over and over, making sure to use all the exact right words in just the right order.  Then, when the work is finally above a certain threshold, handing it over, knowing it could have been better, and obsessing over how it could have been improved.

In my case, however, I knew perfection was unattainable.  Worse yet, my identity was so tied to doing everything well and right, I couldn’t stand for a teacher to tell me I had done something wrong.

So, rather than hand in something “acceptable” that could be graded, critiqued, or criticized, I’d take an incomplete.


Not because I was that bad at it, but because I wouldn’t put it out there for criticism in the first place.

Digging Deeper

As this Harvard Business Review article covers, perfectionism is increasing in our society.  This growing perfectionism leads to feelings of inadequacy, which goes on to depression and anxiety.  Not good.

The root causes listed in the article parallel my experiences fairly well.

Rewarding Talent and Knowledge – One nugget I’ve learned (intellectually) over the years is that talent and knowledge mean nothing by themselves.  Using the talent or knowledge productively is what matters.

Yo Yo Ma is an incredible cellist.  You might say he’s very talented at it.  Yet, the reason he’s world-renowned and world-class isn’t due to his talent – that’s just the foundation.  He has put in tens of thousands of hours of practice to hone that talent.

Albert Einstein is reported to have commented that he doesn’t need to store every bit of knowledge in his head – he just has to know how to find it.

Yet, growing up, I was constantly praised for knowing the right answers and being talented.  Many things came very easily for me, and I received heaps of approval for those things.  In school, I was rewarded for “regurgitating” the right answers on a test.  However, there was very little reinforcement for training and digging deeper for improvement.  So, I kept up what I was rewarded for.

There is very little that we’re inherently good at.  We all start things at the bottom of the heap.  We may move up faster in some things due to talent and genetics, but won’t ever excel unless we put in the work.

Focusing on Outcomes over Process – A number of authors and success/productivity experts have recently started highlighting a widespread mistake, which is paying far more attention to outcomes rather than the process of getting there.

What I mean is this:  You could achieve a goal because you took the right steps in the right order (process), or you could achieve it simply because of luck.  Either way, you achieved your goal, right?  No problem.

The problem is that expecting to repeatedly achieve goals based on blind luck is folly.  It’s not consistent or realistic.  On the other hand, if you consistently apply a solid process to what you want to achieve, you may occasionally fail if “bad luck” brings about barriers, but you are far more likely to hit your goal.

In school, we are given grades based on an end result.  Our paper met some criteria, or we got a certain number of answers right, and that’s what we’re measured on.

In life, it’s often the same thing.  We may receive accolades based on the end result, but not so often on the hard work and thought it took to get there.

I have been lucky far too often, particularly early on in life when habits are more sticky.  I have had things work out when not following a consistent process.  As a result, I developed a habit of relying on luck and talent to achieve outcomes.

Emphasizing Success – Endemic in our society is a focus on achievement.  Success may be measured financially, or based on hitting other observable goals, or on other accomplishments.  Yet, that isn’t always what matters in life.  What about love, community, relationship, integrity, and other characteristics?

When the societal rewards come from what we accomplish, that’s where we put our focus.  Then, when we’re not getting those rewards, when we’re not achieving perfection in those areas, we feel like we don’t measure up.

In my own life, I have only rarely received comments or attention about my qualities.  A very few people have shared that they appreciate me for me or for various character traits, whereas I’ve had many comment on areas I’ve been successful at (or not been successful…)

Punishing Mistakes – I’m going to be deliberately vague about my experiences in this bit, as the specifics are probably better left to therapy sessions…

That being said, part of my upbringing included random criticism and punishment for things I did “wrong”.  (I say “wrong” because, in most cases, these things were not breaking rules or laws, but simply didn’t mesh with someone’s opinion about the correct thing to do or way to do it.)  This happened from a very early age, so it was quickly rooted into my default neural pathways.

The random part of it created a degree of fear and trauma, as I never knew when it was coming, and it would catch me off-guard.

I still live with the sense of, “When will the other shoe drop?”

Essays in school were another place I experienced that random “punishment”.  If I turned one in, and the grading happened to be harsh when I thought I’d done well, I felt crushed.

Ironically, I unknowingly created a sense of control over the timing and reasoning of that punishment by not turning in homework.

Complicated:  C.  The second paragraph lacks depth where you failed to explore the purpose behind your premise.  (How the heck was I supposed to know I was to do that?!  I thought this was an “A” paper…)

Simple:  F.  You didn’t turn anything in.

Complicated:  Not knowing which homework would receive good grades vs. poor grades.

Simple:  Report cards came out on a regular schedule.

Now, if I had not experienced the early-on random punishment, it’s entirely possible I would see the grading on those papers as constructive criticism, and use it to improve my skills.  You could argue that this different mindset would also be present throughout my life.  We’ll never know…

Wrapping It Up

This is a long post already.  It’s just a big area to unpack.  But I’d like to end on something positive and constructive.

  1. We don’t need to be perfect.  It’s unattainable, and near-perfection has less impact on our world than we think.
  2. We can focus on process instead of outcomes.  Consistently following known steps to accomplish what we set out to do generally leads to the outcomes we want, while chance isn’t a reliable strategy.
  3. We can encourage each other and build up others’ character, rather than always talking about what we’ve been (or not been) “successful” at.

Lastly, take a moment out tonight and raise a glass to imperfection.

Surely you’ve played Jenga.  You know, the one with stacked blocks – you have to pull one block out from the middle and stack it on top, and the person who causes the stack to fall loses the game.

It’s such a simple game.  It’s just a set of 54 wooden blocks.

Dig a little deeper, though.  There’s so much symbolism and so many parallels to life in the game.

Tipping the Balance in Your Favor

You take a very close look at the stack before placing your cleanly extracted block on the top.  You notice that, on two adjoining levels, there is only a singular, center block.  Yet, you’ve observed that the stack is still showing signs of stability. Since there are 6 people playing, and the goal is for someone else to lose, you realize you can destabilize the stack enough on your turn that it won’t last long.  You set your block off-center.  Lo and behold, two players beyond you, the stack comes tumbling down.

While in the game of life, we’re (hopefully) in the practice of building people up (see the next analogy), there are still plenty of times where it’s a good idea to create your own advantage.  Look at Elon Musk.  He’s currently disrupting four different industries, all at once.  His electric car business, Tesla, tipped the balance in its favor by gaining tax credit status for car purchases, promoting the lower total cost of ownership of electric cars, and leveraging the rise of environmental consciousness in our society.  Pretty soon, you’ll start to see the dominance of the internal combustion engine come tumbling down…

Creating Stability Through Careful Planning

Another approach to the game is to work together to see how high the stack can go.  In Jenga, the 54 blocks are arranged in 3-across platforms placed perpendicular to each other.  This gives you a starting height of 18 platforms.

If all the players decide to work together, and remove and place blocks where the best balance can be retained, it’s possible to more than double the starting height.  The official record turns out to be 40 complete levels with two blocks on the 41st.  It may take an engineering degree to get to this point, but carefully planning the moves will certainly make your stack grow taller than haphazard placement.

Similarly, by stepping back and carefully planning your moves in life to build a solid foundation, you can achieve far greater heights than by simply doing whatever seems convenient at the time.  Sure, with greater risks, the tower may fall and you may have to start over, but the satisfaction of your soaring accomplishments will give you encouragement to keep on trying!

Finding Opportunity Through Gentle Experimentation

One useful technique to playing Jenga is the “Tap”.  You gently tap random blocks in the stack to find loose ones, easily pulling one of the loose ones out without toppling the tower.

In much the same way, people and companies will try out new ideas and different possibilities to determine which will work best.  When experimenting, though, the “gentleness” is the important part – it’s important to do so in a way that won’t disrupt everything else.  You find a safe space, or a low-cost method, or some other means of controlling your experiment to keep it from causing too much damage to everything else.

The Main Lesson

The lesson here is simple:  When grappling for answers to any question, always think of the Jenga tower.  It’ll give you the clues you need.  And it’s not just “life lessons”, it’s everything:

  • Physics?  Gravity.
  • Oceanography?  The tipping point when an invasive species kills the ecosystem.
  • Religion?  The Tower of Babel.
  • Music?  The pitch of the sound created when a Jenga block falls is right around 1000 Hz.
  • Baking?  The cutouts of the top crust of a pie call to mind a Jenga tower with blocks removed.

Need I say more?

This morning, a heinous crime was discovered:  Numerous innocent, positive habits were found lifeless, (allegedly) at the hands of the notorious Holiday Travel.  It appears they were suffocated by distraction, fatigue, temptation, and the alternate application of extreme busyness and boredom, all of which fit the pattern of serial habit killer Travel.

Among those found were:

Clean Eating – this poor, young habit had such a promising future.  Those following her would have enjoyed clear thought, lots of energy, youthfulness, and good health.  But the distraction and temptation of holiday meals and eating out – common techniques of Holiday Travel – did her in.  She put up a valiant effort, but just couldn’t survive the onslaught.

Creative Practice – ever the life of the party and the inspiration of many, Creative succumbed to fatigue, busyness, and boredom.  He put up heroic efforts early on, appearing strong and full of fight, but finally, the lights just went out.  He will be missed.

Work Ethic – Mr. Ethic was always thought to be the strongest habit of them all, but in the presence of Holiday Travel, he fainted, and, apparently, just died right on the spot.

Healthy Activity – Ms. Activity, as always, looked like she was battling Travel.  Walking tours, though, were just a smokescreen she put up to make herself look strong, when she actually had the least strength of them all.

With all the habits flagging, they missed the chance to fight Holiday Travel together, and separately met their demise…

Be on the lookout for habit killer Holiday Travel.  If you encounter this fiend, do not call the police – you must fight and resist with all your might to keep good habits alive.  Good luck and God speed!

Before I even start, yes, I have researched it, and no, apparently ostriches don’t actually stick their head in the sand to “evade” predators.  Experts say they’d suffocate.  Makes sense…

Humans, on the other hand, do stick their head in the sand.

Head in the sand, in case anyone doesn’t know what I mean, is just ignoring an obvious problem hoping it will go away.

I bet you’ve done it.  I have…

You all remember the “Great Recession”.  I, personally, didn’t think it was so great.  I had started a real estate development company not long before (boy, if I could have known…).  The signs of the looming financial apocalypse were becoming clear, but there was still a lot of optimism in the media that the slump wouldn’t last long.  By the time it was clear I had to throw in the towel, there were no jobs around.

I was already getting into some debt before closing the business.  On top of that, the only job I could find was not much above minimum wage.  I had a bunch of other major circumstances that sucked up a bunch of money.  Most of my expenses were fixed.  No way to cut back enough…

(You can probably see where I’m going with this…)

For a long time (12 months from starting that job to declaring bankruptcy), my head was either in the sand or hanging in shame.  I let bills and collection notices pile up for weeks, and then opening them (then shredding them) in a blitz.

So, the “sciency” part.  We humans (like many other animals) are built with an Acute Stress Response (also known as fight-flight-freeze), governed by the lymbic system in the brain.  When we stick our heads in the sand, this is an example of the “freeze” response.  This acute stress response is a positive when we’re suddenly being chased by a bear.  It’s not a good thing when every day brings a fresh reminder that money is tight.

Psychologists and scientists are now looking at PTSD as something that afflicts people who have endured long-term, cumulative stress, in addition to the typical cases of extreme trauma (war, assault, etc.).  PTSD becomes a vicious cycle in this type of situation if the stressor is not removed.  The PTSD actually increases stress sensitivity.  Head goes into the sand faster.  Lovely, right?

Back to the story – what happened after all of that strife?  I wish it was a fairytale quick-fix ending.  Instead, it has been a long process (no past-tense wording here).

Financially, the steps:

  • Bankruptcy.
  • I built a complex spreadsheet that projected cashflow out on a daily basis for over a year, and used it to monitor things and remind me of bills to pay.  (I’m still using it after all these years.)
  • Gradually, I’ve worked my way back into positions that paid what I need. (It took me until 2013 to get back to what I was making in 2006.)
  • I’m still digging out of a hole in a sense, since my wife and I raised 5 kids and, let’s face it, kids are expensive.  I hope to retire someday, but realize it may take extraordinary effort to get there.

Emotionally and mentally, the steps:

  • Facing the demons and getting past them, one paycheck at a time.
  • Going through a litany of professional and self-help steps to get past some of the prolonged trauma.
  • Daily doing my best to be grateful for the wonderful things in my life.
  • Time with people I love.

I may always have to fight the urge to stick my head in the sand, but at least I know the tendency is there and I have experience getting through it.


You’ve probably heard the old adage about assuming.  I thought I’d share a funny story where I assumed too much.

It was balmy that day, probably 80 degrees, in South Florida.  My wife and I calmly worked through our travel plans for Thanksgiving.  We’d stay in Westchester County for a few nights, then to Brooklyn to visit my son.  Flights booked, lodging booked.  No problem.

A month later, after we first arrived in New York, something happened that we should have realized would be a bellwether for our stay here.  After a few hours at the hotel – a light dinner and a glass of wine – we returned to our room to retire.  Not 5 minutes after we returned, we heard the fire alarm go off in the hallway.

Must be a false alarm, we agreed, but evacuated as instructed.

Over the next 2 hours, we pieced together what was confirmed the next day – a candle-lighting at a wedding in the hotel went wrong, and the ballroom caught fire.  Those 2 hours were darn cold.

See, the first thing we somehow assumed is that it would be as warm in NY as it was in West Palm Beach.  Intellectually, we knew it would be almost winter, but somehow, in the comfort zone of our mind, it wouldn’t really be that cold.

Fast-forward a couple of days.  We were set to head down to Brooklyn.  Sitting in the restaurant for brunch, we saw the first flakes of snow coming down.  A glance at the weather radar showed us a glimpse of the future – there was a very heavy storm on its way.  Earlier forecasts didn’t show it being that bad, but Old Man Winter was having his way.

Some last-minute finagling, and we cancelled our Brooklyn lodging for something much closer.  (Yes, we lost most of the money from that Brooklyn reservation…)

Our new digs for the next couple of days were very nice!  A wonderful, old inn with spacious rooms.  But here’s where assumptions come in again.  We assumed that, being a bit off the beaten path, the hotel restaurants (two of them) would be open often enough for our needs.

After a restful first night, we realize that nothing was open on site until 5 pm!  (And we had enjoyed an early dinner the night before…)

We fasted most of the day, with a small lunch from a vending machine, and decided to take a ride share out to a tavern we had eaten at a few days prior.  Another assumption: These places would stay open regardless of the weather.  They don’t.  Turns out our nice tavern wouldn’t open, and neither would the restaurant next door.  We walked 15 minutes in below-freezing snowy weather down the main street, trying to find an open restaurant.  Nothing.

Another ride share back, and we stuck it out until 5pm to enjoy our only meal for the day.

Now, I have to say we had a wonderful dinner, after all of that.

The lesson in all this?  Hmmm.  Let’s not get caught up in lessons, or science, or anything like that.  We all assume in some situations.  Things go right, things go wrong.  The best we can do is plan as best as we can, enjoy the adventure, and make the best of what happens.

So, did you stuff yourself at the Thanksgiving table yesterday?  Did you watch Al Roker in his battle with butter?  Great!  Let’s talk about diets!

To get rid of the Thanksgiving calories, you should go Paleo.  No, go Vegan.  No, fast a bit.  Go for a run.  Go low carb, slow carb, no carb, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, South Beach, Bulletproof… whew – way too many choices.

Really, there are some good choices in there, but that’s not where I’m headed.

We are getting bombarded with food-related information.  Between all the “breaking” information in our news feeds, healthy magazines at the Whole Foods checkout, and late night commercials for every chain restaurant under the sun, we are obsessed with food.

We’re also flooded with information on getting the perfect body.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you all about that.

Full disclosure before we go on: I’ve never been skinny.  I’ve always had some degree of extra padding, and it’s been a sore spot.  I’m currently 50 pounds lighter than my peak weight (ok, maybe 40 after last night, but who’s counting…), but by any metric (BMI, body fat %, inches), I’m still overweight.  So, I’m highly interested in this area.

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, podcast-listening, research on weight, metabolism, and overall health  Let’s talk about some important aspects of weight loss.

First, about exercise.  More and more research is indicating that the “calories in, calories out” formula just isn’t correct.  Further, weight loss – or rather fat loss or body composition change – isn’t primarily from exercise.  Don’t get me wrong here – exercise is healthy for the heart, brain, and many other aspects of our bodies.  It’s just not the primary mechanism for fat reduction.

Speaking of mechanisms, researchers and practitioners are uncovering a bunch of factors affecting fat loss.  The bad news?  It’s complicated.  The good news (for those who’ve tried all the diets and not gotten great results)?  It’s complicated.  Inflammation, hormone imbalance, gut microbiome, chemical and metal toxicity, mold exposure, brain trauma (even minor), previous illness – all can have an impact on body composition.  I highly recommend the route of functional medicine (google it) to uncover your unique situation related to these things.

But here’s one big factor: the Standard American Diet.  Even if you’ve never heard this phrase, I bet you already know what it is: Fried foods, highly-processed “stuff”, sugary sweets, and so on.

Over the last century, we’ve shifted from eating foods grown in our garden, meats cut in front of you at the butcher shop, and the occasional sweet to “food” that comes in boxes from a factory.

Go into a chain restaurant and look at the menu.  Those chains are now required to publish the calorie count of each meal.  Some of those meals are over 2,000 calories!  On a normal day, my body needs about 1800 – for the whole day!  And they’re full of sugars, simple carbohydrates, unhealthy oils for frying, and more.

I can’t connect all the dots on all the problems with the Standard American Diet in one blog post.  It’d be far too long.

But somewhere along the road, a few things happened:

  • Corn, wheat, and other commodity crop growers started lobbying Congress for “support” in the form of subsidies, legislation, and incentives to grow and sell more.
  • The US government published the “food pyramid” and other diet guidelines that put carbs (breads, cereals, etc.) as the biggest part of our food intake.
  • Restaurant chains decided they can increase profitability by increasing plate and helping size, while using cheap, processed ingredients.
  • Food producers set up “taste labs” where they minimize “sensory-specific satiety” and maximize “vanishing caloric density” to make you crave more junk food.  Also in the name of market share and profitability.

If you haven’t noticed, this is a topic that gets me fired up.  It takes everything I have to keep me from going on to all the other ways we’re practically forced into unhealthy lifestyles…  But I’ll save all that for other posts.

The diets I mentioned above?  Those, and other healthy choices, tend to have some commonalities: Low/no sugar, low/no simple carbs (wheat, rice, corn, potatoes, etc.), organic produce, low dairy, “natural” meats.  The main difference tends to be proportion.  Oh, and many of them don’t talk about tracking calories.

So, how can you avoid the Standard American Diet and get a start on a more healthy you?

  • At the grocery store, work your way around the perimeter.  Produce, meats, etc.
  • Avoid “food” from factories.  If you can’t avoid them altogether, read the ingredients and look for sugars, flours, etc.
  • If eating out, choose restaurants that focus on the positives above, and just make good choices – onion rings aren’t really a vegetable choice…

You and I? We’re on this journey together – let’s “starve” the food producers and be healthy.

Happy Thanksgiving 2019, everyone!  I thought today would be a great time to look at the latest trend of gratitude.

Ok, first off, it feels very strange to me that something like gratitude could be considered a trend…  Shouldn’t it be a character trait or normal reaction to the good things in our lives?  One would think…

The interesting thing here is that gratitude has indeed wound up in the same bucket as yoga and paleo.

How could we have gotten so far off track?  Using a bit of introspective magic, I see a few reasons in my own life.

We are constantly bombarded with messages reminding us of what we don’t have (yet, they hope…), and what we need and are incomplete without.  Everything from billboards to ads to social media posts.  Even as a kid, I remember getting catalogs from various department stores and mail-order houses (I know, I’m aging myself…), spending hours browsing the wonderful cornucopia (nice Thanksgiving-y word, don’t you think?) of things I could buy if I only had the money.  So, I was always focused on what I didn’t have rather than being grateful for what I had.

Most things came easy for me earlier in life.  Whether we’re talking about passing a test in school or having the things I wanted or needed provided without a lot of effort on my part, I didn’t recognize the huge value in those things.  Easy to skip gratitude for that which is easily obtained…

Frankly, though I don’t think I come off this way to others, I have a pretty huge (yet fragile) ego.  Being so focused on self, gratitude gets shoved out or ignored.

Enough about me.  Let’s talk about why gratitude is important.  (Hint: It’s not just because someone told you you should be grateful.)

Reframing – This psychological technique simply means using another way of thinking about a situation or circumstance to reduce anxiety or alleviate depression.  Gratitude is a great way to do that.

Relationships – When you show gratitude to others, you are simply more likable, and others feel more appreciated.  You’ll strengthen your relationships.

Reprioritizing – Spending time thinking about what you are grateful for can make you reflect on your values, and help you think about what’s really important to you.

That’s a lot of “re’s”…

I could get all “sciency” and discuss the studies showing the improvement in cytokines and other inflammatory biomarkers when gratitude journaling is used. But I won’t…

I did find a decent Forbes article putting the benefits in lay terms for the rest of us, though.

So, on this Thanksgiving, let’s remember it’s about more than just turkey, football, arguing about politics with family, or any other symbolic traditions you may have.  Take time today (and every day) to think about all the amazing things in your life.  Family and friends, the beauty of creation, all the times you’ve had a roof over your head and food in your belly, or just the satisfaction of listening to Holst’s “The Planets” as you write.

I’ve observed a few different types of people, when it comes to work, career, avocation, and the like:

  • Some just seem to inherently know they were born for a certain thing, and continue doing it to this day with passion.
  • Others seem to choose something – perhaps dispassionately – and then go down the path with contentment.
  • A third camp chooses or falls into a career, ultimately disliking it but grinding their way to retirement.
  • One last group seems to always be searching for that passion.

Also, from what I’ve observed, and from a bunch of articles I’ve read (not sure I trust the media’s take on it, but…), it seems the majority of people I’m around tend to fall into the bottom two groups.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned some of the writing will be uncomfortable, particularly for myself.  This is one of those times:  I fall squarely in the last group.

The things I do for work?  Not passionate about them.  Mind you, I do them well, and out of integrity, I make sure my employers/clients/anyone I’ve committed to gets more value than they were expecting.  But not passionate, not content, and not prepared to grind to retirement.

So, what do I think is the source of my confusion?  I’m not sure about everyone else in that last group, but I just think I’m weird.  I’m not just saying that flippantly.  Let me prove it.  Read on.

First off, what am I passionate about?  Here are a few things:

  • I’m passionate about exposing a disconnect between what we are fed in society versus what’s actually beneficial, real, good, and so on.  Example:  Sugar has almost zero human benefit, but food producers add it to nearly everything – even things that aren’t supposed to be sweet.  (I have a litany of similar examples – I’ll probably post about some in the near future.)
  • I’m passionate about playing good music.  By that, I mean music that has its own soul, that evokes passion, that took actual thought and creativity to write.
  • I’m passionate about travel and exploring.  Read about that here.
  • I’m passionate about quality goods, and “less is more” when it comes to possessions.  If I could get away with it, I’d much prefer to have a single, finely hand-crafted hardwood table than an entire house furnished with Ikea.

Interesting, right?  I don’t think anything there is strange in its own right.  The three don’t necessarily dovetail perfectly into an obvious path, but you can probably see some possible paths with part of the above, and if I dug deeper, I could find others to talk about.

What about my strengths?

  • Music – Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been making music since I was a kid.  I’m rusty currently, but a bit of effort gets me where I need to be.
  • Strategy and vision – Whether business or philosophy or (fill in the blank), I can grasp the subject, craft a big-picture vision, and then in the next sentence, start diving in to put together a functional roadmap to get to that vision.
  • Writing – I’m not Maya Angelou, Shakespeare, or even Robert Ludlum, but I do a decent job stringing together words into sentences into paragraphs to get a point across.
  • There are others, but this isn’t meant to be an inventory.

So, what’s the problem?  How am I actually weird in this way?  Well, there are a few hitches where I basically get in my own way:

I’m weird when it comes to relationships with people.  I have an intense need to feel accepted by them, which makes things like self-promotion, marketing, and sales very difficult.  Even posting the things I write is very difficult, because I worry so much about perception.  (In case you’re wondering, this is very different from being concerned about effectiveness with writing.  Effectiveness just means it’s clear enough to communicate your intent, and styled in a way that keeps the reader going.)  Will people like my writing (or me, for that matter)?  Will anyone care or read it?

Speaking of people, I see myself as horrible in social settings.  Put me at an event where I don’t know anyone, and I’m lucky to talk to 2 or 3 people.  I honestly feel it’s only the grace of other people, the grace of God, luck that’s gotten me as far as I am socially.

Long-term execution can be a slog for me.  You know that strategy and vision thing from above?  I’m stellar at figuring those things out and getting them going, but have no interest in maintaining them.  I’m not sure if this is a psychological defect or just a yin/yang aspect of my INFJ personality.

I’m not independently wealthy.  I don’t have the resources to hire promoters or others to fill my weakness gaps.  I don’t have the runway to sustain myself while pursuing a music career.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  OK, that’s probably not entirely true, and many people have hit their strides on the back half of life, but changing the wiring in our brains is easier at age 2 or 22 than where I am today (age not disclosed…).

What now?

First off, I know I’m weird.  I’ll bet there are a bunch of other people out there who are weird in their own way, and have their unique version of a similar struggle.  If that’s you, I’d love for you to comment.  Share your story.

Second, I’m not giving up.  Not to say I’ve figured it out, but I’m going to keep pulling on various threads to see where they go.  Who knows, maybe I’ll find that magical spot where passion, talent and skill, and societal need overlap for me…


Another realization I’ve had in recent years is that I like travel.  No, I LOVE travel!  Not the fly-all-over-for-work-every-other-day travel, but wandering travel.

I love seeing new places and things.

I love seeing familiar places and things in new ways.

I love experiencing different cultures.

I love the feeling of going places.

Maybe this isn’t a huge revelation.  I had traveled to more than half the US by the time I was 12.  (Much of it cooped up in a station wagon with my sister singing “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow…” incessantly, or in a way-too-small pickup with my whole family and the large family dog.)

I covered 48 states and 8 countries with a music group between 18 and 22.

I traveled full-time for 9 months with my wife in an RV, touching 39 states and 1 province, crossing the country 3 times.

OK, ok, not a revelation at all.

Here’s the thing, though.  We nomads are not uncommon.  (Technically, I’m more of a vagabond, since nomads travel to find food or pasture land, something I don’t have to worry about in my First World lifestyle.  But vagabond, like transient, itinerant, migrant, drifter, hippie, and others, has a negative connotation.  I’m gainfully employed, and just travel for pleasure.  I’m open to new descriptions…)

The wayfaring lifestyle is growing.  With mobile phones, the Internet, AirBNB, coworking spaces, and other nifty tools, living a lifestyle where you’re not tied down to a house and a workplace has become easier.  Want some examples?

But what are the downsides?  Surely, if it’s all roses, everyone would be doing it.  Honestly, I think one of the biggest barriers for people is that they’re used to being in one place.  They’ve never done it before, and don’t have examples of the lifestyle, so it must be hard.

To be fair, there are some challenges, but living the lifestyle isn’t as hard as you think.

  • Friends and family are a “Facetime” away.
  • Having less stuff to tote around is a blessing.
  • Having to plan ahead – well, hopefully everyone is doing that in their daily life anyway.  It’s just a different type of planning.

The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is that certain things “require” a physical address.  If you want to insure anything – like, say, your laptop – your insurance company wants your physical address.  Your bank, the IRS, your employer, they all want you to have a physical address.  There are ways around it in most cases, but it does become a logistical challenge.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way…

I’m changing it up.  I used to blog about motorcycles and work and urban planning and other things I thought people might be interested in.  It was fun, and I had some passion for it, but just went off the rails eventually, quietly…

What I’m figuring out, though, is that, as I near the start of another decade for me, is that I’ve been living my life according to a set of fabricated rules.  I get that it’s important to follow the laws of the land, to not steal, kill, or lie, the usual.  But there is another set of rules I’ve been living by:

  • Societal pressure to do or don’t do certain things, and
  • Behaviors I somehow subconsciously decided were rules for myself

When I add up all those rules, I ultimately haven’t been myself.  I’ve been just another nondescript person in the world, just another fleck in the static of life.

There are a very select few people I’ve let in beyond that set of rules.  And even then, I hold back to some extent, seeking to personify perfection against that fabricated set of rules.

It’s amazing how little sense that makes when laid out “on paper”.

But I bet I’m not alone.  Billions of other flecks in the static.

I’d be willing to bet that, instead of static, humanity is supposed to look like a carefully-woven tapestry – all because each of us is choosing to express the true self.

If you’ve ever looked closely at a tapestry, you’ll notice that, where solid colors appeared at a distance, up close there is a wide variation in color and texture.  Doesn’t that sound like humanity?  Meyers-Briggs has 16 different personality types, but endless variations on how those personalities are expressed.  There are millions of color shades, heights, weights, opinions, backgrounds, genetic and epigenetic combinations, just to name a few.

Now, I’m not going to go down the “Everyone needs to accept everyone else no matter what” path – although I believe that.  Instead, we all need to accept our true self and be willing to bravely let it out to the world.  If more of us do that, I think there will be more acceptance of others as a result.

I don’t know where I will eventually go with writing and creativity in the future, but here’s what I do know:

  • I am going to betray and expose some of those “rules” and lies I, and many others, believe.
  • I am going to do my best to create (and share that creation) many times each week – whether anyone reads it or not.
  • I am probably going to say some uncomfortable things – they’re probably going to be more uncomfortable for me than for those reading.
  • I am going to write about what matters to me, not what will give me good metrics.  I can do that elsewhere…