Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Category Archives: Misc.

Social Media and Philanthropy, Start Early

Every year, my kids look to raise money for the American Heart Association. It’s a program their school supports and they’ve become quite the philanthropists. I think it’s equal parts “doing good” and the competitive nature of, who can raise the most funds, that keeps them motivated.

Together they hold the record for most donations, in a single year, with over $2,200. That was 2 years ago. Since starting this program, they’ve raised more money, together, than half the school has. The $2,200 was somewhat of an anomaly, but a great example of using your platform to support your mission. In 2015, Cora, on her birthday, participate in a fireside chat, at iMedia’s Commerce Summit, in Minneapolis. Yes, at 7, she presented…and she rocked it. At the close of her session, she told the crowd about the Jump Rope for Heart program and the donations, came rolling in!

This year, they’re looking to crush it.

What I like about what they’re doing is the realization that it’s harder and harder every hear and it requires even more creativity to drive action. 3 years ago they used their parents’ email accounts. Then 2 years ago, it was twitter and YouTube. This year it’s twitter, youTube, Instagram, Facebook and a twist on the experience. They realized that they couldn’t just do 1 video and call it a day, especially after participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. So, this year, they created a model where they’ll do certain things, when the donation amount hits a specific threshold. For example, they might donate their time, do some yard-work or write letters to veterans.

As a dad and a marketer, I couldn’t be more proud. I encourage you to donate or offer words of encouragement. Visit their page to learn more.

Remember, if you donate, I’ll buy your daughter’s Girl Scout Cookies, donate to your kid’s project to save a rare half turtle-half horse, in Australia or help drive whatever project is their passion.

If we don’t start them thinking about social, philanthropy and good, early, we all lose out.

What Happens, After Everest?

Photo Credit SmithsonianMag.com - Sir Edmund Hillary on top of Mount Everest.

Sir Edmund Hillary is credited as the first known person to conquer Mount Everest. Before him, George Mallory, was believed to have come within 300 meters of reaching the top. Tragically, not only did he never make it to the top, he died on that mountain. To come so close to one’s goal and fall short, must have been quite difficult to accept.

Before attempting to scale Everest, Mallory was asked why he wanted to do such a dangerous thing. He replied, “because it is there.” Often, people mistake that quote for something Hillary said.

Now, while Hillary didn’t say that famous quote he did say two other things that have gotten me thinking:

Motivation is the single most important factor in any sort of success.

and

While on top of Everest, I looked across the valley towards the great peak Makalu and mentally worked out a route about how it could be climbed. It showed me that even though I was standing on top of the world, it wasn’t the end of everything. I was still looking beyond to other interesting challenges.

Let me unpack those two quotes. They’re quite powerful. Choosing to climb Mount Everest the first time has to be incredibly motivating. There’s a natural rush that I can imagine in entertaining the idea of doing something for the first time. I also want to use “climb Everest” in a broad term – your “climb Everest” could be running a marathon, learning a new language, etc. –  Everyone has an “Everest.”

But, what happens, after you’ve climbed your Everest? Is it as motivating to climb it a second time? Probably not. If you’ve run a 5K, you look at a 10K, then a half-marathon, marathon, and so on and so on. Let’s be honest, it’s why things like Ultra Marathons were created.

I think I’ve always been a believer that once you climb Everest it’s difficult to get excited about something that’s an even bigger Everest. After all, if you’ve eaten at L&B Spumoni Gardens and had the best pizza in the world, how could any other pizza ever live up? But, seriously, think about it. If you’ve eaten at the best restaurant, drank the best whiskey, had breakfast with the president, etc. When you climb Everest, how does anything ever live up? I have often wondered if this is why people who have become the President of the United States, end up not pursuing other “jobs.” How could anything measure up to being the President? How could anything be more challenging or fulfilling?

The second quote is what’s given me the most to think about. Perhaps there is nothing more exciting and therefore nothing more motivating than climbing Everest…the first time. But, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other Everests out there to climb. The question of course is what else provides the same motivation, as Hillary stated, as your first Everest. And it’s that question, which boggles the mind.

Asking And Answering The Tough Questions

Answers (Credit PrestonBailey.com)

Before I got married, the church required us to attend an 8-hour, all day, Pre-Cana class. The concept of the class is to force couples to have honest conversations about serious topics. By having those conversations, before you got married, you’d be better prepared for marriage and thus would have a higher likelihood of having a successful one.

Let me set the scene a bit. I sat a table of 10, with 4 other couples. Beyond my table of 10, I believe there were 5 – 7 other tables in the room. There was a couple who facilitated the discussion. We were given a workbook to use. A number of topics were in the book. The format was for the facilitators to explain the topic and why it matters. Each person was given 10 – 15 minutes to answer the questions individually and then there was time for you to discuss the questions with your future spouse.

While I don’t have a copy of my Pre-Cana paperwork, there were 2 topics that I remember discussing.

  1. Children: Let’s start with do you want children? If so, how many? How do you plan to raise them? Will religion be part of that upbringing? So forth and so on. You’d think this would be a relatively easy conversation. After all, how could you get engaged without discussing this important topic. But, I can tell you, there were people who had never discussed this. One couple, at our table, was so far off in their answers, they got into a fight. If memory serves me right, the female half wanted 4 children and the male half of the relationship wanted 0. Now think about that for a second. If you’re debating between 2 or 3 kids, cool. Even 1 or 2. But, 4 vs 0?!
  2. Finances: Among the many questions in this topical area, was a real gem, that ignited a fight at our table, that was bad, they were asked to leave the room. They never came back. The question at hand was fairly straightforward: how will your finances be divided up? Will you have a joint-account where everything is pooled together or separate accounts with pre-allocated “things” for each person to pay/budget for or would you have separate accounts and a joint account for shared expenses, like a mortgage? I’ve always been a joint-account guy, as was my future spouse. For us, was this was a fairly basic question. But, for this couple it was not so simple. The female half assumed/answered, “joint-account.” The male half, picked separate accounts. She made it clear that part of why she was marrying him was his paycheck. His explanation for his answer was quite sensible. He claimed she spent far too much money on bags and shoes. She was able to do that because of the subsidization she was receiving from her parents. He had no interest in funding her shoe and bag habit.

I can’t speak to the merits or statistical value of Pre-Cana. I don’t have facts or figures. But, I can say the concept of asking and answering tough questions isn’t limited to the idea of marriage. Personally, there was more to apply from that class in my professional life than there was in my personal life. Asking tough questions and having answers when they’re asked of you, is not always enjoyable, but it is incredibly helpful. When we skirt around an issue, we don’t get to full resolution. Here’s a small set of tough questions you should feel comfortable asking and be comfortable answering:

  1. What’s the next role you want?
  2. How quickly do you expect a promotion?
  3. I don’t feel I’m fairly compensated. I believe $X would be more in line with my value. Do you agree and if so, when can we adjust my compensation?

Over the years I’ve definitely come to see the value in asking and answering tough questions. I’ve also seen the problems that arise from moving the goalposts. For example, let’s take the couple at my table who disagreed about how many children to have. What if the answers were originally 2 and 2, but then a year into the marriage, one of them changed their mind and no longer wanted any? That’s a radical change.  How would you handle that? In a business world, what happens if you went from agreeing to have someone on your team move to an international office, only to have them back out at the last minute?

Our answers to tough questions will change over time. That’s normal. Time shapes our views. The difference though between changing an answer and moving the goalposts, is all about perception. When we provide a dramatic change in an answer, unannounced and without prior “warning”, it will feel like the goalposts have moved. But, if we have constant dialogue about the things that matter most, we don’t feel like the goalposts moved. We aren’t blindsided. We view it as something that was going to happen, given all the previous discussions pointed to this change.

From time to time, I do wonder if those two couples ever ended up getting married or if the distance between their answers was to great to overcome. Either way, the value in being forced to confront and discuss the answers to tough questions, can’t be overstated.

The Comparison Conundrum

We’re all guilty of falling into the trap that is, comparison. When we’re at the gym, we look left, we look right and we then evaluate how we’re stacking up. If you’ve ever been running, especially in a race, we size of the competition, so to speak and make a snap judgement about whether we should be faster or slower than someone. There’s of course the old, “grass isn’t always greener” concept, where we look at our neighbor’s lawn, house, car, etc.

Apple vs. Organge

This passage from a study, published in Neuron, really nails it:

We found that although people estimated their abilities on the basis of their own performance in a rational manner, their estimates of themselves were partly merged with the performance of others,” says first author Marco Wittmann, a doctoral student in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Oxford. “The findings potentially have implications for social interactions in the workplace as well as clinical disorders such as depression.

In essence, we’re wired to constantly evaluate ourselves, not against our own goals, but against what we perceive someone else to be achieving. Perception is a funny thing. It can drive you mad. I know, because, I’ve definitely been there.

On the one hand, comparisons are helpful, because they provide context and a way to understand how something is performing relative to a norm or average. When used correctly, comparisons are incredible helpful. When I say “correctly”, what I mean is that when the variables are known, the evaluative criteria established and a norm to work off of, you have a perfect combination of elements needed to make a comparison useful. For example, is my 7 year old son, underweight or not growing fast enough? Can my 9 year old daughter read at a 4th grade level? A 5th grade level? Or is she reading below her grade level? In both of those scenarios, you have known variables (weight, height), you have a norm (avg weight/height for a given gender, at a given age) and you have defined evaluative criteria (that height or weight relative to the norm).

In those types of scenarios, comparisons are helpful, useful and logical. But, where comparisons start to fall apart is when you begin evaluating situations that are not as mathematical and structured as the height and weight situations. In particular, as someone who’s worked for other people for ~20 years and managed people for more than 10, there are 2 workplace scenarios that come up, routinely, that create great stress, because the comparisons aren’t structured.

  1. Promotions: Why wasn’t I promoted, but so and so was? Good question. I’ve asked it before. I don’t ask it anymore. I stopped 10 years ago. Why? Because, trying to compare yourself to someone else, even if you’re in the same role, is a fool’s errand. There are so many variables to consider. Everything from soft skills, like “executive presence” to experience and tenure to active career planning conversations. Additionally, if what you’re looking for is a promotion, comparing yourself to the job description for the role you want is far more structured, logical and productive. Lastly, I once found myself in a situation, early on in my career, when a peer of mine had been promoted. An email was sent out. I was irked. I scheduled time with my manager and basically explained how unfair it was and how was more qualified than the other person. She let me go on for about 15 minutes. And, finally, she said, “You are being promoted. Well, you were. It was taking longer than anticipated, because we also wanted to give you a bonus, on top of your increase. But, candidly, this outburst, gives me hesitation.” I did get the promotion and I learned a valuable lesson. #1, don’t compare yourself to other. #2, there may be other things at work, that you’re not aware of. Be careful not to put your foot in your mouth.
  2. Compensation: I should be making more money. The market rate for my role is $X and so and so makes $Y. Fair compensation is important in an organization. In an ideal world, a great organization, continually evaluates existing compensation, market rates, employee potential and then continually looks to invest fairly into their employees. “Fairly”, you’re asking; yes, “fairly.” Let me explain. Let’s say you have 3 employees, with the same title, experience and role. Person A, has been with the company for 5 years and joined in the same role they’re in, today. Person B, was hired 3 years ago, but from another internal team. Person C, was hired this year. It is conceivable and likely, given how they came into the roles, that their pay would be different. As I wrote in 2014, if you changed jobs every year, you’d be guaranteed to be evaluated against the current market rate. Said another way, your max base compensation potential, is always gained when/if you switch jobs every single year. That’s just one problem with evaluating comp. You have other variables like performance level. Is person A, statistically a better performing person than person B? If so, wouldn’t their increases each year be higher? Or, would you pay equalize the increases so that a high performer is compensated the same as good or poor performer? It’s not black and white.

I have found, over the years, the single distinguishing characteristic, between good and great employees, is an appreciation for context. For example, asking for a promotion, 3 months after you’ve been promoted, is unrealistic. Demanding a raise of Y%, when the company just had layoffs and reported poor financial results, is tone deaf. Context is critical. Context is understanding the nuances. Having an appreciation for context, makes you a better, more well-informed employee. With context, you can make smart comparisons.

Just because you can make a clear, structured, factual and logical comparison, doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want. The world is filled with scenarios where value is in the eye of the beholder. The Miami Heat didn’t value Dwyane Wade the same as the Chicago Bulls. As such, Wade left the Heat and joined Chicago. Why? Context. The Heat wanted to get younger. The Bulls wanted to win now. It’s that simple.

Lastly, I’ll answer the age old maxim of “that’s like comparing apples and oranges.” Yes, you can, in fact, compare apples and oranges, if the variables are known, the evaluative criteria established and there’s a norm to work off. If the question is which fruit is a better source of Vitamin C, this is an easy comparison. If the question is, which fruit is better, you have a difficult comparison, full of subjectivity.

 

On Camera Gear

There’s a long standing joke, told by photographers, based on Arnold Genthe’s autobiography, ‘As I Remember‘ that goes something like this:

A photographer invites his friend and his wife over for dinner. While waiting for dinner to be plated, the wife looks over the great photos on the wall and says, “I love these photos, they’re amazing. You must have a great camera.” The photographer smiles and nods his head. A few weeks later, the couple returns the favor and invites the photographer friend over for dinner. After clearing his plate, the photographer expresses to the wife who made the dinner, “I absolutely loved this dinner. It was amazing. You must have great pots and pans.”

The point of the story of course is that it’s the photographer who is responsible for the great photos, it’s not the gear that’s used, just like it’s the chef who prepares the meal.

Photographers love this story, because it over-values their contributions, while undervaluing the tools. I subscribed to that line of thinking for years. But, eventually, you realize the gear does matter and probably matters more than we’re willing to admit.

I’m often asked why my photos are so sharp, have such great color, etc. And I tell people, outright, it’s the gear. It’s because I’m shooting a Nikon D810 with a Zeiss 50mm Makro Milvus lens and you’re shooting with your iPhone. This isn’t to say an iPhone can’t take great photos. They absolutely can, under the right conditions.

Buddha in Kyoto. Taken with Nikon D810 and Nikon 35mm 1.4 G.

But, better gear gives you a better shot of capturing the moment. When you can shoot 8 frames per second at 24 megapixel resolution, with a full frame sensor, you’re going to have a better chance than shooting with an iPhone 6. That said, the gear can only take you so far and it can also highlight mistakes in technique.

I’ve been shooting since I was about 8. Always, Nikon. Always. From manual manual focus lenses and manual camera bodies like the Nikon FE2 to the legendary auto focusing Nikon F5 to the first real digital consumer SLR, the Nikon D100 to my current Nikon D810, I’ve owned many different camera bodies and no shortage of lenses. I’ve also tried dozens of digital image processing software suites. Here’s my accumulated knowledge and advice for what to buy:

  1. You’ll have a lot of options for camera bodies. But, at a high level, you have Full Frame, Cropped Sensors and Micro Sensors. As a general rule of thumb (but not an absolute), the larger the sensor the better the image quality, color fidelity especially at night. You pay more for Full Frame…and by more, nearly double. If you can afford Full Frame, go Full Frame. But, never invest in the Full Frame at the expense of quality lenses. Never.
  2. Once you pick a body type, you’ll pick a brand. Though my allegiance is with Nikon, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter which brand you pick. Honestly, there isn’t.
  3. Lenses are more important than bodies. As a rule of thumb, avoid zoom lenses. Most are cheap. They promise you versatility, but you sacrifice so many other benefits. Think of lenses like knives in a knife set. Knives have a purpose. Lenses have a purpose. Don’t buy a new lens, until you’ve mastered the previous one. Also, don’t buy a knife set. Buy individual knives. Also, buy lenses that are fast. Where possible F1.4, but you won’t lose much going to F1.8. And generally, you’ll save hundreds of dollars going from F1.4 to F1.8. My recommendation is to look at a 50mm F1.4 lens. Regardless of brand, it will run you about $500. A F1.8 version will be half that.
  4. Get a good quality camera strap. I recommend the OP/TECH Reporter series.
  5. There is no such thing as the perfect Camera bag. Too many options. Too many use cases. But, I nice versatile solution that’s low cost would be the Lowepro Orion. It’ll carry your camera, 2 lenses a flash and some other supplies. It’s also lightweight, durable and doesn’t look like a camera bag, which means it doesn’t attract the same potential theft risk.
  6. Work on your form. There’s nothing more impactful than holding a camera the right way. Doing it the right way, eliminates vibration, making your images sharper. There’s no shortage of links and books that will help you improve in this area.
  7. Avoid cheap tripods. What you gain in cost, you’ll lose in performance. Here’s the thing about tripods. You’ll probably only need one, over your lifetime. Yep, just one. Spending $300-ish, might see, crazy, but not when you amortize it over a decade of shooting.  I recommend something like this, from Giottos. It’s carbon fiber, a solid height and supports 3rd party heads and plates.
  8. You will need software to process and manage your images. Think of it like a digital darkroom and file cabinet. For oganizing and managing images, I use Adobe Light Room. If you’re looking to save cash, both Microsoft and Apple, offer free options that do the job. Your camera manufacturer will also offer you free software with the purchase of your camera. They’re fine. At some point, though, you’ll want something better. When that happens, get DxO.
  9. Buy a portable hard drive to backup your library. I have over 10,000 digital images. They’re backed up to a Lacie hard drive and backed up again to another hard drive.
  10. Avoid anything called a “kit.” For example a camera kit, will contain a camera and 1 or 2 lenses. Run. Run. Run away. Per advice #3, you think you’re getting a deal, but in reality you’re getting mediocre lenses. You’ll also see things like a starter kit, which might contain a cheap tripod, a memory card and some other things. Again, this seems like value. It’s not.

Beyond the gear, take a class. Yes, I’m serious. Take a class that will teach you how to use your camera, proper form, composition, etc. Your pictures will be better for it. Your local community college probably has a course that’s less than $150. It’s money well spent.

Lastly, go out and experiment. Decide you want to shoot something, be it a bird, graffiti, architecture, alleys or trains. It doesn’t matter, just practice. Tied directly to this, never accept or offer to shoot someone’s wedding or other major moment, until you’ve practiced, apprenticed and are willing to put your name and finances behind what you’re committing to. It’s irresponsible.

So there your have it! Hopefully, this will help you become a better photographer, even if all you’re capturing are your kid’s birthday parties. And believe me, as a father of 2, those are some of the most important memories to photograph.

 

Killer Customer Service Strengthens Loyalty

Happy Customers (Photo Credit, Shopify)

In any “relationship” between a customer and a company, there are no shortage of things that can go wrong. I get to see this up close and personal, every day, in my role, at Walgreens. From the item wasn’t in stock, to an extra call to your Dr. needed, a coupon not working the way the customer expected and a line at checkout there’s a lot of ways for us to miss the mark. Granted, I’m biased, but I think we do a great job of listening to customers, understanding their tension points and looking for ways to reduce, or even eliminate those tension points all together. Try the “refill by scan” feature in the Walgreens app, the next time you need to refill your prescription and you’ll never go back to calling in.

Statistically, with so many things that could go wrong and high customer expectations, I always appreciate and in some cases, find it quite remarkable, when companies either:

  1. Proactively address a bad experience
  2. Go seemingly, above and beyond

Generally, if you were to ask someone about their last negative experience with a company, they can answer instantaneously. But, ask them about a great one and it’ll take some time to provide an example. Just look at your social media feed; you’ll see complaint after complaint and negative experience after negative experience. I too am guilty (though less so these days) of over highlighting the bad and rarely shining a light on the good. And yes, there is a lot of good out there.

With that in mind, I want to tell you about 3 fantastic customer service experiences I had in the past month.

Southwest

I love Southwest airlines. I tell people how wonderful Southwest is, so much, I’m sure they think I work for the company or somehow get compensated. They don’t always get it right. And, when they don’t I share that with them and others. Airline travel is tricky. There’s a lot of variables that are 100% out of the airline’s control. For example, weather. On a recent flight, we were 4 hours delayed. This was not a weather issue, necessarily. This was mechanical one. It started with the inbound flight being delayed because of weather in Denver, I believe. But, they were able to make some magic happen and re-route another plane to Minneapolis, leaving us only 30 minute delayed. Much of that, they could make up in the air. But, when that plane landed, they had a mechanical issue. No idea, what it was. But, an hour later, they let us board. We go to take off and…another mechanical issue. Back to the gate. 2 hours later, finally, we take off. All-in-all, we were 4 hours late. This was a 7 PM flight, originally. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled. But, before I even had a chance to complain, I received an email from Southwest, apologizing for the situation. To boot, they even provided a $100 flight credit. Think about that. They knew they screwed up. They knew customers were impacted. They knew loyalty would be tested. And they knew to try and make it right. Bravo!

Verizon Wireless

Raise your hand if you love your wireless company? That’s what I thought. I’ve been with Verizon for 10 years. Yes, I pay more than T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and every other competitor, but Verizon has always had great reserve, that’s reliable and killer customer service. The other day, was a great example of that amazing customer service. I woke up, as I normally do, at 6:30. I picked up phone, which apparently, was blowing up all night. I had 20+ text messages. Well, look at me, Mr. Popular, eh? Not exactly, it was a text message warning from Verizon every time, we, as a family, went over our 12 GB monthly plan. Somehow, we chewed through 20+ gigabytes of cellular data…over night…on just one person’s phone. This made no sense, for a lot of reasons. I mean, let’s start with, that’s a lot of data to go through in 8 hours, over night. Also, it was limited to just one family member’s phone. Then, you have the fact, we’re always under our 12 gigs. Oh, and, we were only 4 days in to the billing cycle. Something was wrong, right? I called Verizon and spoke with Justin. Justin listened to my situation. Offered some help. Reviewed my history. He was mystified and agreed something was off. He connected me with Apple, directly, so they could trouble-shoot. Justin promised to call me back within 30 minutes to see what Apple had to say. Apple did and agreed something wasn’t right. Justin called back. Yes, he called back. When’s the last time that’s ever happened? I filled him in. He then put me on hold, connected with another Apple person and someone else at Verizon. Time on hold, was no more than 5 minutes. When he came back, he said, he didn’t have a solution. But, to make things right, he would up my plan to 50 gigs, ensuring I’d have the data needed for the rest of the month. Then, next month, he would personally credit us for the difference, switch our plan back to the original plan (a legacy plan, by the way) and call me back personally to confirm. We even set an appointment for that call. Mind, blown!

Room & Board

Some people refer to Room & Board as, Room and Broke. Yeah, you pay a premium for their great furniture, white glove delivery and, you got it, great customer service. Last fall we purchased a coffee table. We love this coffee table. Last week, I noticed something wrong with it. The front left corner was separating. Strange. Odd. R&B has great craftsmanship and all their furniture is very durable. I emailed R&B about my situation. Leah responded the same day. She expressed dismay, shock and indicated how bad she felt. She asked for photos to help her understand the situation. What she didn’t do was accuse me of somehow being behind the issue. She didn’t cast blame. She asked for information that would help her, help me. I sent the photos. She asked for a few more, from a different angle. Each time I responded, she responded, the same day. After 2 days of back and forth she wrote me to say:

  1. She felt bad
  2. They want to make it right
  3. She had already conferred with her manager and her manager agreed they should replace it
  4. But, there was a problem, the designer, no longer makes this piece….
  5. However, she was going to write the designed and ask if they could make a 1-time exception, given the circumstances

From there, she explained, she’d back to me in a week. 4 days later, she wrote with unbelievable news. The designer, would in fact make the replacement unit…at NO charge. R&B would handle the delivery and the removal of the defective unit. Again, this was an item that was 9 months old! Think about that. Wow!

Look, there are great examples of companies doing the little things and the big things. But, it’s true, the old maxim about a person with a good experience telling 10 others, but a person with a bad experience, telling 1,000. Of late, I’m trying to celebrate the great examples and pausing before I share the bad ones. Try it.

What Is Happiness?

“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

Brilliant writing and perfectly delivered. I’ve been thinking a lot, of late, about “happiness.” In particular, is not happiness simply a willingness to accept contentment? we’re happy in a moment, there’s nothing else worth pursuing, because to pursue something more, is to give up the happiness we have.

Google, “how to be happy.” You’ll find no shortage of results. One of the most referenced answers to that question is the book “The 9 Choices of Happy People”, by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks. The first choice is, to recognize that “intention is the active desire and commitment to be happy.” Simply put, you must the “decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviors that lead to happiness over unhappiness.” If you will, being happy, is a choice. We can choose to be happy, or we can choose not to.

I don’t know if I buy that. It feels more akin to the famed “Serenity Now” Seinfeld episode from 1997. In it, George’s dad, is advised to say, “serenity now” ever time his blood pressure starts to boil. It’s a way to control the anger, let it go and in essence, choose to be happy. Of course, it only works temporarily, because you can only suppress a feeling for so long, before it bubbles to the top and one’s true feelings are expressed.

But, I feel that’s a surface level analysis of happiness. What’s had my brain working over time is the notion that perhaps part of the reason for a lack of happiness is we’ve never truly learned or been taught, how to be happy.

What if happiness, were a skill, in the same way that learning to sail, fly a kite or play a guitar, were a skill. What if you could teach people to be happy. If happiness were a teachable skill, we could be measured on our ability to achieve happiness, in the same way we evaluate someone’s proficiency in learning Spanish.

But, if it were a teachable skill, it would also be an optional skill. For example, I have no interest in learning to surf, but you might. I’m no more, nor less an individual for not wanting to learn.

If we take the Don Draper speech at face value, happiness is actually a bad thing. It leads to complacency. It makes us comfortable and in doing so makes us vulnerable to someone else who’s not complacent…not content.

Draper on Happiness

To be clear, there’s a massive difference between things that make us happy and having happiness. A single thing, statement or look can make us happy. But, happiness is the state of being happy. And, that, is a critical distinction. Happiness is about being perpetually happy. Is that possible? Should it be aspirational? I don’t know, but I tend to think no.

The happiest people I know have never achieved happiness. They just aren’t wired that way. They’re constantly chasing the next thing that makes them happy. It’s the journey, not the destination. The destination will never be reached. I tend to find a closer kinship with these people than those who claim be in a state of happiness.

If you find me in your Fantasy Football League, you’ll hate me. I’m never satisfied with my team. I’m constantly tinkering with it…looking to trade something for something else. Each successful trade makes me happy. But, I have no idea what the final team configuration should be, thus happiness is not remotely possible.

I certainly have more questions than I do answers. But, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I believe:

  1. Happiness shouldn’t be an end goal
  2. Happiness can’t be taught, but you can be wired to simply not sweat the small stuff (aka serenity now)
  3. There’s greater satisfaction in starting from a moment of no happiness and then achieving a temporary state of happiness, than there is in simple being in a constant state of happiness

For such a high interest topic, there’s little to no resources that address if happiness is a skill that can learned and if so, how do you teach it. There’s no shortage of self help books that explain happiness is a choice…as if, you can flip a switch and instantly go from whatever state of mind you’re currently in to a zen like state of happiness. Perhaps, if that were true, we wouldn’t need the books.

Don’t Dig A Hole You Can’t Crawl Out Of

Will Rogers

Will Rogers was an incredibly funny guy. But, as most people know, there’s many a truth in jest. In a 1964 edition of The Bankers Magazine, he eloquently stated

Let me tell you about the law of holes: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

It’s funny, but it’s spot on. A riff on Will’s astute quote would be, if you dig yourself into a hole, it’s on you to dig yourself out.

As children, this is a fairly easy concept and those of us who’ve found ourself in holes, know all too well, that there’s a right way to approach the situation and a wrong way. I think a key element to this is that you have to take accountability and proactively look to pull yourself out of the hole you’ve dug. As a kid, I was constantly digging holes. Frankly, I’m convinced, I kept digging them deeper to see if I could keep rescuing myself.

Knowing how to dig yourself out, as a kid, is fairly easy. Clean your room? Yep, good start. Take out the trash? Doesn’t hurt. Apologize? Damn straight! It’s fairly simple. But, the key…the often overlooked key…you can’t wait for your parents to tell you what to do. Granted, the first few times, they might need to, but eventually, if you’re perpetually digging yourself into a hole, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to recognize there’s a blueprint for getting out.

  1. Recognize the situation – there are often clear signs, you’ve dug yourself into a hole
  2. Accept the accountability. In fact embrace it.
  3. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do to get out.
  4. Take stock to think through what needs to be done – avoid a wide overreaction. There’s a temptation to completely do the opposite of what you’ve already done. Often times, that doesn’t fix things; it makes them worst.
  5. Fix it, quickly.

I’m sure there’s some other minor things, but the above is a good start. Ultimately, it’s about accountability and desire. You have to want to make it right. You have to want to think about, how to make it right. And, then, you have to make it right.

10 Things I’m Absolutely Digging Right Now

Mr Jump!

Every so often, I like to give props to companies and products that I’m enjoying, so that others may enjoy them too. No rhyme or reason to the items on the list, just a bunch of things I’m a fan of, right now.

  1. Parker’s Heritage Promise Of Hope: Simply put, the best bourbon I’ve ever had. Good luck finding it though. If you do come across it, buy it by the glass, the bottle or the case.
  2. Stance Socks: Just love them. Smart marketing move by the NBA to partner with them as the official sock provider. Yes, the official sock provider. In particular, I have found these to be the best snowboard/ski sock I’ve ever owned.
  3. Mr Jump: It’s an addictive game. Addictive. I can’t stop. It’s frustrating, unrelenting and rewarding. It’s also FREE. Go get it, now.
  4. Stratego: My 6 year old son, John, got me hooked. He wanted Stratego for Christmas, so his sister picked it up for him. I’d never heard of it, let alone played it. After downloading the app and practicing, I was an instant fan. The board game is equally as much fun.
  5. Nike Cortez Shoes: I’ve always loved the Cortez. Was really excited when Nike brought them back last year. Picked myself up a pair late last year, in Obsidian (aka Navy Blue) and I have to say, I’m a huge fan.
  6. The Grinder: Rob Lowe at his best. The humor ranges from dry to side-splitting. I have no idea how far this show can go, but I’m hooked.
  7. Iwachu Cast Iron Omelette Pan: I love cooking. Never had a legit cast iron pan. I know many people hold Lodge pans up on a pedestal. I have to say, this pan is pretty stellar.
  8. Title Boxing Club: Last year, I joined the Title Boxing Club, in the West Loop. Was always intrigued by boxing and joining a gym, but it took me til I was 36, to finally do it. The boxing club experience is great. I’m sure my location and the instructors there, have a lot to do with making it fantastic. If you’ve been looking for something low impact, moderate to high cardio and total body, join a Title Boxing Club, in your area.
  9. POC Lobes Goggles: I feel like goggles aren’t given enough focus. You buy warm gloves. You buy warm socks. You buy a solid helmet. And then, all too often people under invest in their eye care. Love these goggles. They rock. I really love the fact, if the lenses get damaged or if you ever want to change them, you can….simply, easily and relatively cost efficiently.
  10. Mechrider C6: Yep, I got a hover-board. Yes, I know it doesn’t hover. I’m ok with it. This one doesn’t catch on fire or blow up. I confirmed it with them and the review sites. They use legit Samsung batteries. I’m a fan. My Mechrider rocks.

I’ll be back next quarter with a new list of things I’m absolutely digging on.

Live Like You Were Dying

Fear, it’s a powerful motivator. We’re all afraid of something. Snakes, spiders, heights, etc.; take your pick, there’s emoting out there we fear. Mine, is getting old. When I say, getting old, I don’t mean aging. I don’t fear a slower metabolism, grey hair or wrinkles. If anything, I welcome those changes. I mean, I have you seen Clooney these days? He’s 54, with salt and pepper hair, wrinkles and the guy looks great. Nah, aging is something I embrace, But, getting old? Yeah, that scares the pants off me.

You don’t have to be “old” to be, well, old. Some of the oldest people I know are young in age. When I think about getting old, it’s in the way, that Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon, famously said, “I’m too old for this shit.”

That statement, is the pure embodiment of what I fear. It’s the idea, that you can no longer do something, because of your age. Too often, after time has slipped passed us, we turn the idea of a bucket list. As I’ve written before, I have no interest in a bucket list. I don’t want to wait til the end to try and capture some semblance of what was acceptable in my youth and make it something that I cross off the list.

I would prefer to take the approach outlined in Tim McGraw’s hit, “Live Like You Were Dying.” Instead of waiting til the proverbial end to capture the energy of your youth, I’d rather, have that energy, every day. Bud Light’s 2015 Super Bowl campaign, “Up For Whatever”, absolutely nails this concept.

Call me to go sky diving? I’m in. Text me at 2 am to grab tacos? I’m in. Delta has a killer deal on tickets to Beirut? Yep, I’m in. I genuinely believe, what makes aging so challenging, is that we forget to keep living. We manage things. We keep things in perspective. We’re more measured. We play it safe. Thanks, but no thanks.

My fear is to grow old. Every day, I work to make that fear, an irrational thought, by choosing to live every day, like was dying.