Checkmate

On the drive to school with my sixth-grader this morning, I asked her about some of the school activities she was considering.

I suggested the chess club. “Too many boys”, she replied. 

I came back with what a great mental discipline chess can provide—mastering strategy and learning to think a few moves ahead. 

She veered into a tangent about how some people see life like a game of chess, planning their moves and competing to win. 

I said, “But life is not a game that you win. You just get to enjoy playing.”

She responded: “But dad, YOU are winning at life.”

Me: (speechless)

Checkmated by an 11-year-old. 

Parents as gardeners, not carpenters

Psychology professor Alison Gopnik has a book coming out tomorrow about the parent-child relationship, and her recent essay, A Manifesto Against ‘Parenting’, in The Wall Street Journal is brilliantly provocative.

She suggests that too many parents see themselves as carpenters, mistakenly thinking they are shaping and building toward a finished product. Instead, she says, parents are more like gardeners, nurturing and protecting and making space for children to grow into their unique potential.

From Gopnik’s essay:

Instead of valuing “parenting,” we should value “being a parent.” Instead of thinking about caring for children as a kind of work, aimed at producing smart or happy or successful adults, we should think of it as a kind of love. Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny but to help them shape their own.

This resonates with my experience as a parent and as a leader in any capacity. Create the conditions that bring out the best in your kids and in those you serve as a leader. Then get out of the way as much as possible.

There’s a stanza in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet that has stuck with me since long before I became a parent:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

 

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

You are the message

“Your kids… They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” –Jim Henson

via Austin Kleon

What you consistently do and how you act, that’s your message.

What you say is pointless if it’s not in sync with who you are.

Even kids—especially kids—can see through empty words.

Obama’s greatest legacy: Family

From a Washington Post article I read on Father’s Day about President Obama’s remarkable commitment to his family:

Soon after being inaugurated, Obama established what New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor has called “an unusual rule for a president.” As he informed all his aides, he vowed to have dinner with his family five nights a week. That left just two nights a week for out-of-town fundraisers or dinners with fellow politicians.

At 6:30, Obama and his wife sit down with the girls for a family dinner without any outsiders — not even Michelle’s mother, Marian Robinson, who typically retreats to her own “home” on the third floor of the White House.

The evening meal, observed Obama’s former body-man Reggie Love, was treated “like a meeting in the Situation Room. There’s a hard stop before that dinner.” While aides sometimes call him back to work at 8:30 or 9, they rarely dare to go upstairs to bother him during the sacred dinner hour.

On most days, Obama also eats breakfast with his daughters. And as part of his commitment to his girls, Obama has been reluctant to visit Camp David, since various school activities typically require the youngsters to be in Washington.

Obama is extremely proud of his résumé as a parent. He boasts of having read aloud with Malia all seven volumes of the Harry Potter series; in his first fall in office, he also managed to read all of Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” to Sasha. But performing as a head of household did not come easily to him. As this supremely self-confident man acknowledged in 2006, “It is in my capacities as a husband and a father that I entertain the most doubt.”

Remarkable!

Even in his unimaginably demanding role as President of the United States, Obama created a system for prioritizing what is most important to him—his family.

If we know that quality relationships are the key to a happy life (and they are), why shouldn’t we all build systems, habits, and routines that prioritize our connection with family and friends?

Whether it’s nightly dinner with your kids, a standing date night with your spouse, or regular meetings with your closest friends, build barriers around what may be the most significant commitment of your attention, the time you devote to the relationships that matter most.

You are not running a country. If Obama can do it, you can, too.

Writing that moves: Posnanski makes like Maddux

My morning in this lovely AirBnB cottage near Venice Beach has been made reading a couple of Joe Posnanski’s pieces. (This west coast time zone had me up early, watching my kids sleep as we continue on our California vacation.)

Posnanski is a sportswriter, but it’s his stuff about fatherhood and family that gets to me. 

He wrote most recently about taking his teenage daughter to see the musical Hamilton. (Go read that piece now. It’s so, so good.)

I’ve never been a big fan of Broadway musicals. I had been underwhelmed years ago by Cats (hated it) and Phantom (meh). But we took our young daughters to see Wicked earlier this year, and I was wowed and truly moved. 

Then I heard some early hoopla about Hamilton and was intrigued enough to listen to the soundtrack. I’ve since listened to that soundtrack repeatedly and can quote key lyrics. And I’ve begun reading the Ron Chernow biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create a hip-hop infused stage production telling the story of an under appreciated founding father. And I know who Lin-Manuel Miranda is and have watched YouTubes of his commencement speeches and his beatboxing with Emma Watson. And I know I will regret not having seen the original cast perform Hamilton live. 

And Posnanski’s endearing story of taking his daughter to see this show resonated with me as an admirer of all things Hamilton right now and as a dad of daughters. I got all the feels and could imagine sitting in that theater with my older daughter and making a memory that endures.

I then read an older piece of his about taking his daughter to Harry Potter world in Florida. Also a delight and evocative of my experiences with my daughters. 

Posnanski’s writing sneaks up on the reader. He’s just casually unspooling the threads of a story. It’s conversational and earnest. And then—Pow!—without warning you feel something. You’re moved. It’s clear he’s been moved, and he takes you with him. 

The great Braves pitcher, Greg Maddux, my favorite baseball player, pitched kind of like that. He didn’t have jaw-dropping stuff. His fastball was average. He wasn’t imposing. But he was an artist on the mound. He was subtle and cerebral and his pitches moved in surprising, yet strategic ways. It wasn’t power or speed, it was movement and careful, precise placement that was thought through before the batter ever approached the plate. The pitch counts and the innings would unspool innocuously with lots of balls in play and runners scattered here and there. And then, all of a sudden, you had a complete-game shutout. 

Maddux was more of a craftsman than an artist. But the parallel to mastery of a hard skill seems apt to me. 

Movement. Artful placement. Beautiful stuff.  

The key in writing, I think, is to feel something that truly moves you and find a way to express it in such a way that your reader feels that same thing. 

Seems simple, but so few pull it off well. 

More music, more happy

My family recently upgraded our primary television and added a Sonos Playbar as well. It was an expensive addition to an already costly purchase, but it’s proving to be well worth it. (Remember: “The things you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get.”)

We use TV almost exclusively for streaming Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes, and it’s our kids who use it the most. But this new soundbar has us listening to a lot more music.

I’m no audiophile, but the quality of the sound from this Sonos soundbar is remarkable for just a single device, at least compared to what we had before.

And having great audio in our living room and the new Apple TV prompted me to give Apple’s streaming music service another try.

So, we are listening to music more often now, and it’s been a delight. We click on a playlist or album while having dinner or doing chores or winding down for bed, and it’s added a wonderful extra bit of joy to our home.

It turns out that Sonos has been doing research about this and is actively marketing results that show that listening to music out loud in your home has measurable benefits for the whole family.

Their study shows that households that play music out loud laugh more and have less tension. There’s a long list of other benefits highlighted by their research.

I know that turning on music makes us less inclined to retreat into our devices. Cooking and dining together are just more fun with music in the background. We find ourselves often singing along out loud together as we go about our evening routines.

You don’t need a fancy sound system or a sophisticated taste in music to reap these benefits. Just put on some music and tune in with those you share your life with.

 

Adam Grant on what thwarts creativity in kids

This was an enlightening New York Times column by the prolific young scholar, Adam Grant. He highlights research that shows that too much structure and a rules-focused environment are not conducive to sparking creative thinking:

So what does it take to raise a creative child? One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.

Creativity may be hard to nurture, but it’s easy to thwart. By limiting rules, parents encouraged their children to think for themselves. They tended to “place emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules,” the Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile reports.

My wife and I certainly fall into that “average of fewer than one rule” category. I’ve worried that we’re terrible slackers and need to give our kids more structure, like an actual bed time or chores and such.

But, thanks, Adam Grant. We will continue with our rule-free ways.

I do think there’s much merit to establishing a general sense of values and a clear direction and then leaving it up to the kids (or your team or organization) to use their own judgment and creativity to figure out how to proceed on their own. This less controlling approach is more interesting and organic and just more fun, too.

Precise rules and micromanaging might get the results you desire, but it precludes potentially better results you didn’t imagine.

School yourself, rule yourself

 

The table my wife had awaiting our girls today when they got off the school bus. She’s kind of amazing.
 
The last day of the school year and the first day of the school year are two of the happiest days. 

My daughters returned to school today, and there was much rejoicing. 

The kids are excited about new adventures, new teachers, and old friends. 

The parents are excited to have some structure back in their kids’ days. Last week my daughters were stretching the bonds of sisterhood as well as each others’ patience (and mine). School resumed just in time.

There’s a delight to a new beginning of any sort, especially as a school kid. Crisp, unfilled notebooks. Fresh pencils and new pens. New teachers and classmates. 

Possibilities dazzle. Anything could happen.

Even though I’m not in school, the rhythm of the season works for me, too. It’s a chance for me to start fresh as well. The daily routines that school days impose on my family can reinstill some discipline in my life.

I’m recommitting to daily habits that the leisurely pace of the summer months saw me neglect. 

School is back. So is my focus. Time to get busy being more awesome

Staycation, all I ever wanted

It’s my daughters’ last week off before school starts next week. And I’m taking the week off to be with them for one last bit of relaxation before the school-year grind begins.

I’ve done this the last couple of years. My wife has to work, so we don’t head to the beach. The kids and I just stay home and play.

The lack of structure is already wearing on me a bit. It should be a dream to have no schedule, no obligations. But I’m on day two and feeling restless. And occasionally feeling inept as a parent.

The three of us went to the pool yesterday afternoon. Usually that’s a sure-fire couple of hours of frivolous fun. This trip, however, was not a delight.

Walking in, the 8-year-old got mad at the 10-year-old about something and stuck chewing gum in her sister’s hair to make her point. (She later said she was aiming for her shoulder and her hair was just sort of in the way. Right…)

Gum in hair is a major kid crisis. And a parent nightmare.

Both girls ran into the bathroom and hid in separate stalls—the older sister to cry, the younger sister to hide. And I’m just dad, sitting outside the women’s locker room, waiting, wondering how to salvage the staycation afternoon.

They eventually emerged, a tangle of gum still in big sister’s hair and tears in her eyes and little sister still defiant, proclaiming her justification if not her innocence.

Injustice and plain meanness are the combination most likely to trigger any ill temper from me. But their delay in the locker room gave me time to pause and consider a response rather than a reaction.

I talked it out in the pool with each of them. It was lose-lose for me for a while. The 10-year-old didn’t think I was mad enough at the 8-year-old. The 8-year-old thought I was too mad at her. I was on the right track.

From a distance it’s easy to say how someone should react. But in the parenthood arena, face-to-face with your own kids and your own shortcomings, wisdom is a lot more elusive.

I do know that I would have regretted reacting out of anger. Pausing, even if you have to physically remove yourself from the emotion of the moment, will give you the best chance of choosing an effective response rather than simply reacting.

I know some people think a leader needs to show emotion, to let the team see some fire, even anger at the right time.

Not me. Seeing a leader rage at others or a parent going off on their child is a discouraging sight. I aspire to be the kind of leader and parent who chooses a response rather than vents a reaction. My ideal is a cool, calm, rational approach, even in the midst of the most stressful moments.

I don’t always, or even often, pull this off, and those are the cringe-worthy moments that stick with me in my regrets.

The girls ended the pool trip and the day with good spirits and sisterly affection. And with gum still attached to hair.

Fortunately, their mom came home that night and expertly removed the gum from the hair. She’s a superhero.

Thinking back on the gum incident, I’m reminded I should welcome the annoying little frictions of family life as well as all the toe-stubbing annoyances and button-pushing outrages we all face regularly with friends and strangers. They are opportunities to test our ability to respond, to master our emotions, to see even the most negative circumstance as a chance to learn and grow.

Super Dad and the hero quest of fatherhood

The college dorm room I shared with my best friend was at the center of the hall and, for that reason or not, became a gathering space for many of the guys. 

At some point guys on the hall began using our door frame to mark their heights, like little kids do to measure their growth.

Then it got silly, and marks for fictional characters started appearing on the door frame with, eventually, Batman at the very top.

I don’t remember the conversation that prompted it, but one night my friend Porter took his pencil, went to the door frame, and wrote “Eric’s Dad” at the top of the list of heights, above even Batman.

My dad is not tall, but Porter wasn’t being snarky. He was marveling at, and maybe a little jealous of, how much I respected and admired my dad. All my college friends, even those who had never met him, knew my dad was my hero.

I used to take for granted that I had a father who was engaged in my life in the best way and who was truly a role model and friend even through my teenage years and into adult life. But then I began to realize that was not the norm. 

Years ago I was taking my student staff through a training session at our campus counseling center. The facilitator was talking about the relationship counseling services his office provided and asked my group of a dozen college students: “How many of you would like to have a relationship like your parents?” 

I immediately raised my hand without having to think about it. 

But I looked around the room and realized I was the only one with my hand up. And everyone was looking at me like I was odd, including the facilitator who was trying to make the point that most people need better training on relationships than what they learned watching their parents.

It’s sad that I was the odd one and that too few had the good fortune I had in having parents that I genuinely admire and who sent me into my adult life relatively unscarred.

Now that I’m a dad I realize how hard this is. But it’s the most important job in my life. 

Maybe becoming a father later in life, at age 40, has been a blessing. I’m less interested in career accomplishments and life adventures than I was in my 20s and 30s. I just want to be a good husband and a good dad.

I don’t always come up with the right answer or a wise insight or respond with compassion and calm. I worry I could be doing so much more to be a better parent. But my daughters know they are at the center of my life.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make it onto either of my daughters’ dorm room door frames someday in a superhero showdown. But I hope to be the kind of father they look back on with appreciation and affection. 

Mothers typically just get it done, with or without or in spite of the dad. Mothers deserve a holiday more than once a year. 

Dads, sadly, there’s a low bar to cross in our culture for us to be considered exceptional. You’ve just got to show up and keep showing up. At least do that. 

If you’re a dad, realize you will have no more important job. Ever. 

If you have a dad, even if he isn’t always a superhero for you, let him know you appreciate him.

It’s never too late to start being the person you know you want to be and need to be for the people you love. 

Making that attempt is the only hero quest that matters.

Pick a path and get moving

A thought worth considering from Donald Miller’s memoir about relationships, Scary Close:

“I wonder if what might help couples build great families is to pick a place for their family to go and then hit the gas, to work toward their vision and build it out. Relationships have a way of stabilizing when in motion. Until then, they just feel like a road trip to nowhere.”

A direction to go in and action to move you in that direction can invigorate not just a couple or a family, but an organization or an individual. Even if you’re not completely sure which direction to pursue, just start. Pick a path you wouldn’t mind pursuing and get moving. You can then course correct as necessary.

Just existing in a relationship or an organization or a life without direction and motion will suck the energy from everyone involved.

Sweet spot

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I woke up this day after Christmas, stepping around empty boxes and delaying the clean up of the remaining dirty dishes from last night’s family dinner, and I feel remarkable satisfaction and gratitude. It’s easy to let some post-holiday blues settle in right about now. All the excess. All the stuff and the hurrying and the unmet expectations. And for what purpose, right?

And, yes, we spend too much money on things. And we eat food that doesn’t make us stronger. And we fill our calendar with gatherings and then just go through the motions much of the time, rarely making meaningful connections with our family and friends.

But I’m not feeling any sense of humbug now. I’m appreciating how good I’ve got it. Lately, when friends check in and ask about my family, I tell them we are in a sweet spot. Our girls are 10 and 7. They are somewhat self-sufficient. They can occupy themselves with books and games, and they still love to play with each other and imagine. We can carry on real conversations with them and talk about important things. My 10-year-old even wrapped my wife’s presents for me this week. But they’re still kids, wide-eyed and innocent and smitten by stories and the possibility that magic just might be real.

And they, for now, think I’m pretty cool. In just a few years, however, they will think they are cool and realize I am not. They will soon enough, a little more than a decade from now, have their own homes and their own young adult lives. We will be a part of their world but no longer the center of it.

So, our family is in such a sweet spot right now. Our kids are fully kids, with all the delight and occasional annoyance that comes with that. Tickle fights are still a thing. And cuddling and story times. We are living the dream and need to embrace this time and love the sweetness of the present moment.

*Inspired by Gruber’s holiday reminiscence.

Our family code

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My wife surprised me with this beautiful gift on Christmas morning – our family charge, hand-lettered by a talented friend. (Thanks, Candice!)

We came up with these four reminders – “Spread love; Live now; Be true; & Shine!” – when our girls were toddlers, and they can recite them on cue. We even had t-shirts made when they were little with a family logo on the front and one of each of the four pillars of our code on the back. (Yes, we can get away with being that kind of family without our kids rolling their eyes at us for a little while longer.)

I don’t know if having such a family code of conduct has any measurable impact on our behavior. But I know I need to be reminded regularly of the kind of person I hope to be. If these reminders can guide a response in a key moment for my kids, it’s worth the effort, and the potential cheesiness, to try to imprint and hardwire in our most prized values.

Crafting conversations

As you prepare for holiday gatherings with family and friends, think back on leaving previous gatherings and how you felt about your interactions with those closest to you.

I often leave those gatherings and realize I somewhat went through the motions of being affable and interested without actually having many substantive conversations. What if we were intentional especially this week about crafting excellent conversations and made a bit of an art of asking good questions and listening intently?

Ask couples to tell you the story of their relationship, how they met and courted. Ask older people about their greatest life adventures and any wisdom they want to pass on. Ask teenagers what music they’re listening to.

If you’re hosting, consider setting some guidelines and expectations for the conversation around the table. What if there were only one conversation at a time that everyone at the table was a part of, instead of people carrying on a lot of conversations separately? Or maybe you can use place cards to seat guests in combinations that might spark better conversations. Separate those who know each other well or spend plenty of time together already.

Avoid polarizing topics. Who wants to argue about opinions that most people are not willing to reconsider?

Here are some challenging, fun questions to spark memorable discussions:

  • What did you want to be when you were a kid?
  • What has been your greatest adventure?
  • Best vacation ever? Dream vacation?
  • If money were not a concern, what would be your dream career?
  • If you could spend a day with anyone on the planet, who would you choose?
  • What books have truly impacted you in a meaningful way?
  • Describe in detail what you imagine your ideal day would be.
  • What important truth do very few people agree with you on? (Potentially polarizing, though.)

Coming up with fun questions could be a group effort as well. You don’t need to treat a conversation like a job interview, though. One good, authentic question can start an organic flow of ideas that doesn’t need to be forced and can lead to a remarkable encounter.  The key is active listening and following up and probing for better understanding.

My wife is great at giving quality attention at family gatherings to her 90+-year-old grandmother. It’s a delight to see them engaged in a discussion. And too often the oldest people, the ones who have lived the most life and have the most stories, tend to be talked around rather than talked with.

My recent weeks of interviews at work reminded me how interesting it can be to just sit and inquire thoughtfully and listen carefully. In those 30-minute interviews I had more interesting discussions with complete strangers than I’ve had recently in many hours of gatherings with my closest family members.

Everyone wants to be heard, and there is so much untapped wisdom and insight we miss out on by just failing to have genuine conversations with the people who are most meaningful in our lives.

The truth is you don’t have to be particularly suave or charismatic or interesting to be known as a great conversationalist. You just need to care enough to make the effort to be interested in others and to listen intently.

 

The magical math of marriage

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I was intrigued by this book on marriage and ordered it last week. It just arrived, and I haven’t started it yet. I have not read many books on marriage. But I’m looking forward to thinking more clearly about how my wife and I can make our marriage even better.

I want to be more intentional about nurturing the most important relationship in my life. It’s easy to let the crush of busyness and routine, especially with two genuine, full-speed kids ruling our schedules, keep us from making space for our marriage.

I heard Joseph Campbell say that the key for a successful relationship is to put the marriage ahead of any individual interests. The marriage is a separate, unique entity. You don’t make sacrifices for the other person; you do it for the marriage, something bigger than even the two of you separately. And what we have together is more dynamic and has more creative potential than what either of us can realize on our own.

That’s some magical math. It’s synergy, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. 1+1 is somehow more than two.

Strong relationships are possibility machines.

Strong relationships are possibility machines, in families and business and in friendships. It’s worth making the effort to examine and nurture the most important relationship of all. Honoring my marriage will pay dividends to my kids. Loving my wife well is as much a gift to my kids as anything I could do for them directly.

What will matter most, what will mark the true success of our lives, is the quality of our most significant relationships.

Shine for someone

I found this anecdote a while back:

“Maya Angelou was once asked what was her secret to being such a good writer and poet. Her response was, ‘Because when I was a little girl, every time I walked into a room my daddy’s eyes lit up.’”

I can’t trace it to an interview with Maya Angelou or verify it’s her story, but it rings true for me and seems to fit what I know of her. Every person is unique and has the gift of their never-to-be-duplicated presence to offer. But that sense of worth needs nurturing, and the potential for a truly radiant spirit and creative gift can be quashed without regular doses of encouragement and eye-shining love.

Whose eyes have shined for you? Who has given you the courage to be your best, to dare to be more than even you have imagined?

My parents, my grandmother, my sister. They all made me feel like I was special. My wife has the most amazing eyes of anyone I’ve ever seen, and I was smitten on our first date when she shined those gorgeous blue eyes on me with as much delight and focused attention as I’d ever known, as if I were, at that moment, the most interesting man in the world.

And when I’m giving a presentation, I live for those in the audience who smile back at me, who nod and engage from where they are. Who laugh at my humor, or fake it just to be kind. And I want to be that kind of person for someone else when I’m in an audience.

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of people offer me encouragement throughout my life. Who do you need to appreciate for the encouragement you’ve received? Who have been your biggest fans?

And who gets the gift of your shining eyes? Who do you light up for? Whose fire can you warm yourself at?

I want to regularly light up for my wife and daughters and for the people I work with and for strangers who cross my path. It’s easy to take for granted the people we see often. But those closest to us deserve to be reminded that we are grateful for their presence.

It takes courage to express enthusiasm when “meh” is the prevailing sentiment.

Most human interactions are self-absorbed and monotonously sterile. Genuine enthusiasm and delight and focused attention seem shocking by comparison, and it takes courage to express enthusiasm when “meh” is the prevailing sentiment. But don’t you grow a little bigger inside when someone lights up at your presence?

Have the courage to be encouraging, to embolden those you encounter. Give your complete attention to the person in front of you. Genuinely connect with the random people you see and may never see again as well as with the people in your life every day. Be known for the energizing effect you have just for the delight you take in acknowledging the presence of others.

Get excited and allow your eyes to light up when others walk in the room. Shine for someone.

Designing my next decade

I’ve been thinking about the “long game” since last week’s post. With a big birthday for me this weekend – both digits are turning over – I’m in a reflective mood.

If the long game is, say, to peak at 60, I’ve only got ten years till maximum awesome. We tend to overestimate what can be done in a year’s time and way underestimate what we can accomplish in five or ten years. What if I were intentional about thinking through the kind of person I hope to be in ten years? What would be ideal at 60, in a range of categories? Health and vitality, family, work, friendships, accomplishments, lifestyle, daily routines…?

I’m going on vacation next week and will use some of my time at the beach reflecting on this and discussing it with my wife and daughters. What kind of person do I want to be? What do I want my life as a 60-year-old to look like? How can I fulfill my potential as a husband and father and friend? What can I contribute? How can I awaken possibility in myself and others?

In the spirit of showing my work, here’s a mind map I started on today. Once I have some goals in mind, I’ll work back towards creating some systems, some habits to lead me in that direction. Systems and process trump goals, of course, and I can begin immediately acting as if I am the kind of person I hope to be.

Why not invest time in planning for the long view? Why not design the ideal you for the next decade or more and begin crafting habits to realize that vision?

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What movies teach kids

I enjoyed this TED Talk by Colin Stokes about the way movies are affecting his young children. He makes some great points about the role of female characters, but his key point is what movies are teaching boys.

As the dad of two young daughters, I want my girls regularly to see strong and smart female characters in movies. (And they love movies.) But I want boys to see that, too. I want the boys and men who will be in my daughters’s lives to see women as just as strong and smart as my girls do.

Certainly, my kids are informed about their possibilities more from their family and the people around them in their actual life, but there’s no doubt the stories they consume affect them.

But it goes beyond just having more female lead characters. The stories need to be smart regardless of the gender of the characters. Some of the Barbie shows I’ve seen my kids watch are filled with girl characters, but they don’t model a level of thoughtfulness and intelligence that make the viewer better for the experience.

The quality of the stories we consume can shape the stories we tell with our lives. I want my girls to get lost in books and movies and comics that inspire wonder and delight and challenge them to live a great story themselves.

Beginner’s mind

Today was “meet the teachers” day at my kids’ school. Tomorrow is the last day of summer break. Rather than being sad, my girls are excited. (For now…)

A new school year is a new beginning. New teachers. Different classmates. New possibilities. I remember the little thrill even of picking out school supplies.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” -Shunryu Suzuki

In the real world we lose a bit of that built-in reset each year that comes with the academic calendar. A regular reset, a return to a beginner mindset can rejuvenate and awaken.

It’s worth manufacturing an opportunity regularly to rethink your work and your personal or family life every three or four months, or at least a couple of times a year. A retreat, an event, a built in breather to assess and plan and dream. Discard old habits, try new ones, and imagine some “what ifs” that just might change everything.

I know what we’re going to do today…

I’m off for the next six days to celebrate the end of summer with my kids. We’ve got no set plan. Yet.

But they go back to school next Wednesday, so we are going to make like Phineas and Ferb and come up with fun adventures each day until then. If you don’t know Phineas and Ferb, it’s one of the few kid TV shows I genuinely enjoy watching with my girls. It’s clever and big hearted. Phineas and Ferb are all about getting the most out of their summer, and each day they dive into remarkable adventures. Every episode begins with the sparking of a fun idea, and Phineas proclaiming, “I know what we’re going to do today!”

Imagine if every day you had an adventure worth talking about.

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