Category Archives: Self-Improvement

Three Words for 2015

Since 2010, I have selected three words to guide my actions in the year to come. This practice continues to pay far better dividends than any specific goal I’ve ever set this early in the year. Eventually the words mature into clear goals, plans and actions, but starting with this process forces me to slow down and to set my intentions rather than just forging ahead. It helps me to consider the entire year rather than trying to shove everything I can into January (which usually just leads to burning myself out by February).

Before looking forward, I need to look back. To be honest, I’m torn. I think I did well, I’m just not sure I did well by the words I chose. Reading last year’s post, I see my initial intent when I selected Choices, Options and Harmony. I feel like I owned my choices. I feel like I created options at my existing job, taking advantage and dedicating myself to some opportunities that opened up in January. However, I had to let go of a lot of the personal projects I enjoy, like writing and podcasting. As for harmony . . . I was pleasantly surprised to discover how complete my family felt with the addition of our third child, but a newborn and a desire for harmony isn’t always a realistic desire.

Having these intentions helped, but much like the year before (and most before it), I had my set of intentions and my realities had their own. We went to battle and we ended up meeting somewhere in the middle.

So what about this year? I want to focus on closing the gaps between desire and reality. Yet more than any other year in my life, I’m struggling to clearly figure out what it is I want. Rather than trying to force myself to answer before I can even define the question, I’d rather focus on a few key areas that will help—regardless of what I want.

Healthier – I have a terrible relationship with my personal health. I have a terrible relationship with food. I have a terrible (yet delightful) relationship with beer. I have a terrible relationship with exercise. I’m getting fatter every year, and even though I will jump on one bandwagon or another to address this reality, I’ve never found a lasting way to get and stay healthy. Most of my attempts involve some rigid process that works well in the short run but never lasts. A big part of this, I believe, is the fact that while I want to be healthier, it’s not a core value for me. It’s just a reality that needs to be addressed. That or I’m going to die a lot younger than I, my wife or my children would prefer.

I also know myself and need to find a way to weave this into a life that doesn’t sacrifice every beer and burger . . . hence the word healthier, but not necessarily healthy. Basically, over the next year I need to figure out what good enough looks like for me when it comes to my health, and then I need to get there.

Re-situated – I’m currently happy in my position at work, but I’m miserable with our living situation. There’s now five of us living in a two bedroom, one bathroom. We love our neighborhood, but the kind of space we want is just not a financial reality here. However the more we talk about it, the less my wife and I are able to find a suitable next step. We need decent schools, we need it to be reasonably commutable for both of us (as well as our caretaker), we need it to be somewhere we actually enjoy living, and we need it to be financially viable. Something is going to have to give, but neither of us is any closer to having any concept of what that should be or where we’d like to end up. As much as “moving” shouldn’t be a year long goal, it’s not proving to be easy. But I’m tired of feeling like our space is temporary and would like to move towards a more permanent place to continue to raise my family.

Expression – When I look back year after year, this intent is where I struggle the most. I have a demanding work and family life. This makes it challenging to have anything left when it comes to side projects, like this site. I don’t always have the energy for it, but the desire to put a piece of me out there beyond my work or family life continues to persist. I have no earthly idea how I’m going to do it, but I need to make time to regularly create and share.

This is going to be especially challenging considering the aforementioned need to spend a fair amount of what little free time I have getting healthier, but the mental health and happiness that comes along with writing or podcasting is something that I can’t let go of either. As per usual, this will probably lead me to desire more than reality will allow, but as much as this can occasionally lead me to fall short, it just as often helps me push past what I initially would have thought was possible.

Words aside, I see my life going one of two ways this year. Either I will redouble my dedication to my life and career here in New York, or I will blow it all up and start anew. At the moment I have no idea which way it is going to go, or even which way I want it to go. But either way, I’m ready to get there already, as there’s just been far too much uncertainty over the past few years. More than anything, I’d like to see that come to an end or to a head this year.

Thanks to Chris Brogan for the inspiration. And in case you’re curious here are links to my three words from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The 21st Thing To Remember If You Are or If You Love a Person with ADD

From June Silny’s 20 Things to Remember If You Love a Person with ADD article on Lifehack:

True love is unconditional, but ADD presents situations that test your limits of love. Whether it’s your child, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or soon-to-be spouse, ADD tests every relationship. The best way to bring peace into both your lives is to learn a new mindset to deal with the emotional roller-coaster that ADD brings all-day-every-day.

Understanding what a person with ADD feels like will help you become more patient, tolerant, compassionate, and loving. Your relationships will become more enjoyable and peaceful.

Despite its wild popularity, having racked up over 1.7 million likes on Facebook, that article is probably the single most frustrating summary that I’ve come across in more than 25 years of reading about ADD and ADHD.

It’s not that the piece doesn’t make valid points about what those of us with ADD and ADHD often deal with on a daily basis. It’s not like there isn’t a benefit to a loved one better understanding the range of possible challenges we face. It’s that, ultimately, the article (and it’s companion on why we should love having ADD) encourages us to embrace these facts and then stops. Chances are, if you’re reading articles on why you should love having ADD or ADHD or how your loved ones can cope, you need to start taking concrete steps to deal with it.

Like the quoted article says, I have an active mind; I’m not a great listener; I struggle to stay on task; I have more than my fair share of anxiety; I find it difficult to concentrate when I’m emotional (or when I’m not); I get hyper-focused (often by complete nonsense); I’m highly impulsive; I’m emotionally and physically sensitive; I can be unexpectedly intuitive; I have foot-in-mouth disease, I’m known to think outside of the box; I’m impatient, disorganized, forgetful, overly ambitious, wildly passionate and prone to more than my fair share of procrastination. Throughout my life, the upsides of many of these traits have helped me to stand out and achieve, but unmanaged, the downsides have continually held me back. They have challenged every personal and professional relationship I’ve cultivated, every ambition and endeavor I’ve attempted.

Embracing Isn’t Enough For Us

While these Lifehack articles don’t explicitly tell us to stop improving once we’ve embraced these facets of ourselves or our loved one, I struggle with the fact that they don’t actually encourage us to do anything about it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this: Understanding and embracing your nature is an important step toward self-improvement, but eventually you have to build up the courage to deal with your challenges. For yourselves, but more importantly for your loved ones.

When I was finally able to make peace with the fact that I’m not quite neurologically “normal,” I became a far happier human. What I didn’t become was a more effective one. When my wife decided to embrace the challenges of daily life with an ADHD-addled man-child, it became easier for her to forgive my related shortcomings. What it didn’t become was easy.

ADD and ADHD, or any similar neurological disorders for that matter, are valid reasons for our challenges, but they aren’t valid excuses. And as anyone who carries their ADD or ADHD into adulthood can attest, understanding employers and significant others are in short supply. In fact, the understanding and exceptions we receive in our youth often fail to prepare us for this all-too-common reality. For most who carry these challenges into later life, no amount of desire and no amount of loving is enough to overcome those challenges. Left unchecked, our nature will get in the way.

You Need To Take The Next Steps

If you really want to excel, if you really want to honor those who love you, then own your challenges and begin to take steps to mitigate your nature. Feel free to read all the articles that tell you how special you are. Feel free to share resources that help loved ones grasp what you’re up against with your ADD or ADHD. Then take everything you’ve learned, take advantage of your loved one’s newfound understanding, and use it as a tool to attack your challenges.

Do you have ADD or ADHD? Is it getting in your way? Understand what you can about your nature. Embrace who you are and likely always will be. Then start seeking the help or identifying the steps needed to deal with your challenges.

Do you love someone who has ADD or ADHD? Is it affecting your relationship? Understand what you can about what your loved one is dealing with. Embrace that you’re not always going to understand the way they work. Then encourage them to do the work needed to improve, and be there when they fall short along the way.

Need more specifics on what to do next? Stay tuned.

Update: June Silny, the author that inspired this rant, posted a follow up on the same day that this piece went live. It’s titled If You Love Someone Who Has ADHD, Don’t Do These 20 Things and takes a far more proactive approach. I recommend it for those looking for a starting point on what to do next, and hope it gains anywhere near the traction of the initial post.

My favorite bit:

ADHD isn’t an excuse for an irresponsible lifestyle. It just means that what comes easy to you, may be difficult for them. It doesn’t mean that they can’t do something, it means that it’s harder for them. Simple tasks that you take for granted; such as opening mail, trashing junk mail, and placing your bills in a “to be paid” folder, feel like a climb up Mt. Everest to a person with ADHD.


Back To Getting Better

I haven’t written regularly in some time. Not for you, and not even for me. A fair amount of that has to do with a lack of time, which is in short supply with a full-time job, a wife and young children. But if I’m being honest, that’s just an excuse.

Some of my absence here had to do with the fact that I wondered if I’d outgrown—or had even achieved what I’d been attempting with—the site. Again, an excuse.

Another part of it was the fear of talking regularly, openly and loudly about being an ADHDaddled asshole with a tendency to struggle. I know that it’s been helpful to myself and to others. I know it has helped me grow. But I also worry that it will be harmful to the side of me who is a rather capable and ambitious employee working hard to help support a growing family. While there’s truth in this, it’s yet another excuse.

So why am I here? Why am I back?

The truth? I feel I’ve reached a point where I’m only getting better now in the ways that come easy to me.

I spent a ton of time figuring out how I can do better work, and, as one would hope, I am indeed doing better.

I’m nine years married and three kids in; I know what it takes to be a half-decent dad and half-decent husband. Every now and again I even feel like I come close to achieving these lofty goals.

But there are ways in which I’m yet to get better. Ways that I’m not even sure I’m trying all that hard. Ways that aren’t even entirely clear to me right now. More and more I worry that I’m letting what comes naturally be sufficient, rather than embracing what’s hard.

There are things in my life that I want to do that I’m not doing. Chief amongst them are writing here and writing honestly. Both for you and for me. There are things in my life that I need to do that I’m not doing. Such as the growing need to find a way to be healthy, regardless of my busy work and family life.

I want to get back to getting better. And while I continue to embrace the ways come with some measure of ease, I need to shift my focus back to the ways that don’t. And the best way that I know how to grow is to write here and to see what comes out.

I’m not unhappy. I’m not struggling as much in the ways I once did. But I’m also not striving as much as I’d like. I’m not risking as much as I’d like. I’m not writing as much as I’d like. I am however worried about what will come out as I go back to writing here, but I’m tired of making excuses not to anymore.

It’s time to get back to getting better. And while I’m not exactly sure what that will look like this time around, I hope you consider sticking with me. And perhaps even choose to join in.

Be More Like Chase

Who is this for? Those looking for a few takeaways from the recent NMX conference in Las Vegas.

I’m basking in the afterglow of an amazing few days at New Media Expo (or NMX as the kids like to call it) in Las Vegas. My notebook runneth over with nuggets of wisdom and truth. My panel with Chase Reeves, Justin Jackson and my podcasting partner-in-crime, Mike Vardy, was seemingly well received. My voice is gone but slowly recovering from a mixture of dry Vegas air and far too many conversations to count. And my liver … well, my liver isn’t very happy with me right now, but let’s not dwell.

I learned a lot over these past days, largely due to some of the best encounters and conversations in the halls and at the bar that I’ve had in a very long time. But if there’s one thing I’m going to remember, if there’s one thing I plan to take away, it’s this: I need to be more like Chase Reeves. In fact, I think we all do.

Now I’m not suggesting that I, or the rest of us for that matter, should try to start acting like him. We’d all fail miserably, and bartenders all over the world would struggle to keep up with the demand for Negroni and Fernet. I just noticed a few Chase-centric takeaways (they say you’re supposed to look for takeaways at conferences, after all) that I believe we could all benefit from.

Make Everyone Feel Amazing

The first thing you notice about Chase is how good he makes you feel. Then you realize that he makes everyone he comes into contact with feel exactly that good. You also realize that this isn’t about him wanting you to like him (no matter how many times tells you that this is why he does it). It’s about him actually wanting everyone and anyone around him to feel amazing. Good times follow good feelings, and Chase knows how to create them both.

I plan to start working a lot harder to make the people around me realize just how special they are. I plan on saying more of the things that I believe to be true about those people but feel far too self-conscious to say.

Work Hard, Get Good

Chase is a maker. He is a creator. A big part of his ability to make so many of the ideas in his head come to life are the skills he has painstakingly cultivated over the years. There’s no shortage of inherent talent and intelligence there, but it’s his drive to learn new skills that makes the man a force to be reckoned with.

I’ve spent so much time over the years trying to figure out what I really want to do with my life. I wish I had spent it all figuring out how to do things. Chase is the embodiment of what happens when someone continually takes the time to develop new skills. He’s a living reminder that building skills trumps chasing passions.

Don’t Know How Good You Are

The only thing more impressive than Chase’s skill is his humility. If I had half that man’s talent, I’d be insufferable. Even though Chase takes pride in his work, I’m not sure he knows just how magically delicious the fruits of his labor are to those of us who enjoy them. And even if he does know, he isn’t letting that fact get in the way of his strong desire to make whatever comes next even better and more meaningful.

This is a great and necessary reminder to stop worrying about how good I am all the time (because I literally worry about this all the time). I need to silence that inner voice and use that energy to work harder at getting better.

Create Memorable Moments

I dare you to forget meeting anyone who casually introduces himself as “Chase Wardman Reeves, from the Internet.” I dare you not to smile when you’re sitting at a bar and a group text goes out to inform everyone seated around you that, “We’re having a great time!” I dare you not to appreciate someone who—even though he’s as tired and has been as busy as the rest of us—acts as the event planner and camp counselor for an impromptu night out for 25 people. And I dare you not to love the guy who randomly asks if anyone is game to take a leisurely “Old Italian Man Walk” around the exterior of a casino just to think and talk about life.

I will never forget so many moments from the past few days, and this is largely due to Chase. It makes me want to put a lot more thought and effort into making more ordinary moments memorable.

Reach Over, Not Up

Chase has this great theory about building third-tier relationships. You should read his post (and this recent post-NMX follow up), but the short version is that those who embrace the third tier stop spending their time and energy trying to get the attention of heroes and potential mentors, and start spending it on the people doing, or aspiring to do, great work beside them.

I’ve been more than guilty of my fair share of shamelessly chasing the attention and approval of those who are more successful than I am. Heroes are great to have. I won’t be letting go of mine anytime soon, but I’ll be focusing my time and my energy on those doing kick-ass work right beside me.

Be Really Fucking Brave

For those of you us who know Chase, or follow his personal site, you know this hasn’t been an easy year. His family suffered a loss that no one should ever have to experience. And while the loss of a child is not something you ever get past, they’re getting through. This was the first time I’ve seen Chase since the passing of his son and he is handling an impossible experience with a grit and grace that I still cannot fathom.

There are a ton of obvious lessons here, but for the moment, I’m just going to admire a bravery I cannot imagine and hope I never need.

Chase Is My Big Takeaway

This past week I learned a few new things about marketing, about entrepreneurship, about podcasting, about the Internet, but other than several memories I’ll cherish, I plan to walk away from the experience with one clear desire: I want us all to be a whole lot more like my friend, Chase Reeves.

Chase Wardman Reeves, from the Internet, invests in himself, in others and in the moment like no one else I’ve ever met. And while there’s no way he could possibly be copied, I’m going to keep learning every damn thing I can from the man. And I strongly suggest that you do the same.

Walking Through Fire

Far too many of my childhood memories center around being teased and bullied. Braces, thick glasses, social awkwardness, severe ADHD and the ’80s seemed to work in concert against me. It was a crappy experience. It was also a defining one. Much of who I am is due, in part, to having been bullied in my youth. And while I’m not happy about this fact and wouldn’t wish bullying on anyone, I eventually came to a place where I wanted to make something positive out of all the negative.

Learning to stand up for myself was a big one. The problem that I eventually found is that too much of overcoming bullying centers around this act. I used to look at it as the ultimate solution. I think, to some extent, we all do. We get to the point where we’ve finally had enough, our fingers roll into a fist, and we finally, after all those years, punch Biff in the face in order to change our future (sorry … like I said … the ’80s).

Standing up for myself was always an important step, but it was only the first and it often wasn’t the most useful. Sure, I gained confidence and eased my pain, but it was always temporary. Standing up for myself took bravery, but it was usually more a byproduct of being fed up than it was a sign of strength. Those moments were rife with emotion and, more often than not, I held onto both the experience and the emotion far too long … usually until everyone involved, including myself, came off looking bad. I found that standing up for myself was important, but continuing to stand up to a bully after I’d said my peace just turned me into a different kind of bully.

Rather than becoming the very thing I hate, I started making the experience less about my tormenter and more about me. I started looking for a better way to get through these crappy situations with grace. I found inspiration in one of my favorite lines from Charles Bukowski, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”

For me, bullying is all about power. And this usually had less to do with someone trying to take power and more to do with my giving it away. For years, I gave away that power to just about anyone looking to take it. It wasn’t because I was unwilling to stand up for myself, I actually got pretty good at that early on (being rather tall and rather large didn’t hurt). True freedom from my bullies only came once I could move on from what they put me through. This happened when I finally started separating what a bully said from how they said it. It let me turn a a negative experience into an opportunity to grow.

There is no valid reason for what a bully does, but when you can’t let go, there is occasionally a word of truth hidden inside the hurt they spew (I find this to be especially true as I get older, as personal name calling turns into harsh professional feedback). Now not all bullying experiences involve nuggets of truth, but thankfully it’s always proved easier easy to move on from those that don’t. On the other hand, I find it impossible to move on when hearing something I fear, consciously or unconsciously, to be true. I can’t let go of the situation because I can’t make peace with it. Instead of trying, I just hold on to the anger and indignity (which, despite being justified, isn’t particularly helpful).

When it comes to being bullied, I’ve found that there’s only one thing I can control: the way I react. I think it’s worth it to try and make more out of that reaction. It never made me feel any less a victim in the moment, but it let me feel like less of one in my life. I couldn’t stop that fire Bukowski was talking about, but I was able to chose how I walked through it.

How do you walk through fire?

Three Words for 2014

Who is this for? Anyone looking for an alternative approach to annual resolutions, but mostly myself.

Ever since 2010, I’ve started my year by choosing three words to help guide my actions over the next 365 days. Rather than obsessing over specific projects or goals, I choose general terms that help me define a better arc for the year to come.

2013 was an unusual year for me, to say the least. Our family business sold (I’d worked there for 13 years and it has been in existence for over 65), I started a new position at the new parent company, and I shared less work online than I have in years past. This is not ideal considering Make and Deliver were two of my words, but the sale was an unexpected change, and I wanted to give this monumental shift in my life the attention it deserved.

The third word, and the one where I feel that I failed most, was Align. I wanted to figure out a way to better integrate my obsession with the ways we work and improve with my career in jewelry and marketing. While I feel there was less of a dichotomy for the first time in years, it came more from neglecting my work on the web in favor of the work that pays my bills and supports my family. It was not the kind of alignment I was hoping for.

As I head into 2014, I want to start to move past the recent shakeup in my life and figure out how to get back on track with the projects—both personal and professional—that matter to me most. I want to get back to defining and actualizing a better story for my life. With this in mind, here are my three words for 2014:

Choices – There have been several conversations on recently regarding the role that choice plays in our lives. For many, such as myself, who have a job that helps support a family in addition to personal projects on the internet, we question if we really do have a choice. We have a passion for the work we create and share, but that passion often does not bring in enough money to support our lives and families. It requires that we maintain a traditional job while trying to create something else on the side.

This year, as I continue to settle into a new job, rethink my work on the web and attempt to find a viable place to live, I want to continually remind myself that everything is a choice. These choices can feel limited by our current reality, but they are choices, none the less. I have some hard decisions to make make in 2014, and while my circumstances will be factored into every decision I make, I want to be mindful that every one of those decisions is indeed a choice. I need to remember that this is especially true whenever I try to convince myself that I don’t have options.

Options – Speaking of options, I want to spend this year ensuring that I create as many for myself and for my family as possible. I had no idea what to expect when I started working for a new company and with a new team, but I’m surprisingly happy. I’ve met several great people to learn from and to work alongside. I’m doing work I enjoy and have the potential to create things that I’m proud of in 2014. In other words, I don’t see myself leaving the new job, but as I said above, I want to make sure that the decision to stay is indeed a choice.

I also want to do everything I can to create options for myself both within and beyond my current position. There are several possibilities that arise when you leave a job of 13 years and start somewhere new. I want to make sure I identify and determine the right ones to nurture. If I believe anything, it’s that opportunities, and therefore options, need to be created. I want to make sure that I create as many as possible for myself in the year to come.

Harmony – I still feel no closer to aligning the various aspects of my life than I did in 2013. Not ideal considering it was one of three things I wanted to focus on. Circumstance certainly played a part on this shortcoming, but when I look back, a big part of my shortfall in this area comes from what I now believe to be a foolish approach. Last year I asked, “How do I plan to make a blog about self-improvement and productivity jive with a marketing and operations job in jewelry?” Having spent a year trying, I believe the honest answer is that I can’t. These are two aspects of my life that will likely remain separate.

Last year I tried to smash two things that didn’t belong together into one. It was a bad idea. This year, I want to see what happens when I accept them as two separate entities and work to fit them together.

While I’m happy with the year that was, it was the first time that my three words did not serve me well (if you’re curious, here are my three words from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013). In years past, I always felt as if I was building upon the year that came before. I always felt as if my efforts were leading me somewhere better. Last year I embraced some serious change and started finding my footing in a world that looks very different from the one I’d been working towards. This is the first time in a while that I feel I need to step back and take a hard look at the direction things are heading. Much like last year, I’m still not at the point where I have any earthly idea what my future should look like. In 2014, I want to do work and create plans that help me identify a way forward. I want to get back to a place where less of my energy is needed to process the present, so I can get back to creating some longer-term goals and determine a better direction for my future.

Thanks as always to Chris Brogan for the inspiration to create these words. If you have any words or any steps that you’re taking to make 2014 an even better year for yourself, I’d love to hear about them.

Breaking The Resolution Mindset

Who is this for? Those who continue to attempt, and fail with, New Year’s resolutions.

Like many, I’ve always taken this time of year as an opportunity to assess the year that was and plan for the year that will be. Like many, I used to set some very specific resolutions for myself. And, like many, these rarely made it past the first few days of the year. Having gotten pretty good at setting and failing at resolutions, I started looking for methods that would make a larger impact on my life and, hopefully, last more than a few days.

Over time I’ve settled on two tactics that have had made a greater difference in my life.

The List

I start my year-end process with a thorough GTD-style review where I look over all of my open projects, goals and areas of focus. This goes a long way towards getting a few stalled projects back on track (it also forces me to kill a few as well), but it’s the annual postmortem that follows that has proven to be a big help.

After I’ve looked over the things I’ve decided to do, I set my sights on a far more challenging mess: the human that decided to do them. Each year, I have at myself. I sit down with a Word document and a stiff drink (ok, several stiff drinks …), then I start writing down all of my self-directed frustrations and perceived shortcomings. I don’t bother too much with the accomplishments. For me this isn’t really about feeling good or bad about the past year, it’s about determining what needs to change. My intent is to get as clear a picture of my major and minor challenges as possible. I treat this like a GTD-style brain dump, except instead of the things I have to do, I attempt to uncover all of the things about myself I’d like to work on. This isn’t a particularly pleasant process, but for me it’s a useful one.

The Words

From here, I start to organize the list and try to identify patterns as well as some key areas I’d like to work on. The list is daunting, but I don’t bother trying to convince myself that I can tackle this all in one year. Cleaning up this list is a lifelong pursuit and often a failed one at that.

What comes next is taken directly from Chris Brogan. I don’t start making projects. I don’t try to enforce sweeping change. I just use the list to determine three words that are meant to guide my year (here are my words from 2011, 2012 and 2013). These words serve as a filter for my choices and a guide for my year. Eventually I have to turn these vague desires into actual projects with measurable progress, but there’s plenty of time for that. 365 days, in fact.

So often our resolutions are determined in a weekend, and they tend to last as long. You look down, notice you’ve gained some weight and resolve to lose ten pounds. It’s not something you really care about, it’s just something you feel you ought to do. Stop that. This year try putting in more time and more thought. Do the upfront work, really determine what you’re up against and then find a way to make some progress before you have to do this all over again.

These steps might help, but—as is often the case—how-to advice like this falls short. The frustrating truth is that, like me, you’re probably going to have take time to experiment. You’re going to have to find your own way of breaking out of what, if you’ve read this far, has almost certainly been an unsuccessful resolution mindset.