Permission to live

Give yourself permission to fail, to overreach, to try.

Give yourself permission to be imperfect, wrong, weird.

Give yourself permission to do that thing you love, pursue your dream, take a different path.

I’m not saying to do anything wrong or immoral. I’m just saying that there are a lot of things that are good that we want but we won’t let ourselves do them because they’re new to us or they might seem odd to our friends or we’re afraid of what strangers might think or, worse, what we might think of ourselves.

But that’s ridiculous.

Too often we lock ourselves in the prisons we create. We shackle our futures by saying no to ourselves even before anyone ever thinks to deny us. Chains of “can’t” weigh us down before we’ve even tried. We strip ourselves of the life we want to live before it’s ever lived. We’ve stopped ourselves before we even begin to think about starting.

That. Must. Stop.

Give yourself permission to give yourself permission. You are the key; free yourself.

And start living.

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The greatest reward for pandemic risk

Assessing risk is hard anytime, but, in a pandemic, it’s even harder. But it’s paramount.

People should think “The coronavirus kills and is unpredictable, so I should wear a mask, especially indoors, and socially distance so I don’t transmit or get infected and become a transmitter.” But many don’t.

Especially in the US.

People aren’t socially distancing. People aren’t wearing masks.

And I think it has a lot to do with how people assess risk. Yes, it’s not the only reason the virus is rampant in our country. Sure, people are selfish. And true, people think the pandemic is a hoax. But there’s also this critical mental exercise that so many of us fail to practice that often harms us. We don’t think realistically about the downside of our actions.

And, to be honest, that’s the wonderful thing about Americans: we are optimists. We attempt the impossible because we refuse to see the impossibilities. That’s what makes us scrappy, entrepreneurial, rugged, dogged, where many of us have an I-can’t-let-some-stupid-virus-stop-me-from-living-my-best-life mindset. That’s an attribute—in a pre-pandemic world.

My mother. I love her. She’s an octogenarian. She’s old. And last week she went to a store with my sister and picked up legos for my first born son. And I scolded her for it. Because, to me, going to the store with my sister to pick up legos for my son isn’t worth the risk of putting herself in danger of getting a virus that would likely kill her. But she scoffed at me.

The virus turns optimism against us. It seizes that which is usually a strength in a non-pandemic world and turns it into, not only a weakness, but a weapon. See, my mother’s ventures into a toy store can lead to her getting herself, or me, or my son, or others, sick.

Often we don’t even know what the stakes are. We’re completely unaware. That’s especially true now. I think it’s because the virus can’t be seen and anyone who’s sick is behind hospital walls and you can’t really see what is going on with them. All we have are some stories people tell us in the media or social media. And we lack the imagination and awareness (maybe even the humility) to apply those horrific accounts to ourselves.

Till it’s too late.

The pandemic is a long view problem. Short term desires and actions only threaten and kill more people. There are no quick fixes. It needs to be handled with creating new habits, patterns, thinking that affect our lives. But too many refuse to think that way, and, instead, they do what they want when they want because that’s what they’ve always done.

But the pandemic isn’t about losing money or failure or losing a job or getting broken up with—no. It’s about death. It’s about forfeiting your life, or, worse, your actions costing the lives of your loved ones. When we are cavalier and careless, trying to live on as if the pandemic didn’t exist, we aren’t endangering just ourselves; we are risking the lives of everyone we love, too.

See, the world has changed; and in order to survive, even thrive in it, we must also change. We must adapt. What once was safe is now dangerous, no matter how optimistic we feel. And with each interaction with the physical world, we must measure it against this new reality.

And if you do, there is reward.

It’s life.


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A new world: the Metaverse

Imagine living in a world where technology is so pervasive and intertwined in everyday interactions and experiences, and it is so immersive that it feels as real as the room you’re in right now. It’s not on a screen, but surrounds you.

That phenomenon has a name: it’s called the Metaverse. And I recently heard about it on a podcast. It was astonishing.

Listening to the interviewee, Matt Ball, talk felt like tuning into an evolved futuristic human sending a message back in time to tell us present-day people what his world is like. His words drew me into the future and I was awash with images of sci-fi world-like predictions and it felt like walking on the Starship Enterprise or something like that.

The Metaverse is not just virtual reality. It’s more than that. It’s various worlds and digital realities that will exist simultaneously, where people will be able to navigate and experience fluidly. It’s virtual reality (which replaces your vision with a whole different world) and augmented reality (which adds to your vision in this world, like using something like Google Glasses (remember those?) and seeing signs that aren’t in real life but can be seen with those glasses) mixed with other tech that likely doesn’t exist yet.

But most of all the Metaverse is a simulation.

It’s not real but it feels like it is, but in a way it is…real.

The technology appears to be decades away. But there are people trying to pull it forward, closer to the present—pulling tomorrow toward today.

Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, is at the forefront. His company owns and has nurtured the best simulation engine in the world called Unreal Engine. Many of the biggest games and movies run on it. Epic also owns one of the biggest games ever, Fortnite, which also runs on Unreal. And he offers it and many other services for content creators at a nominal fee, almost at cost, so that he can empower creators and the audience to improve the simulation experience and continue to innovate. Sure, that doesn’t create immediate value for his shareholders, but he’s trying to create the next big thing. And the innovation he’s nurturing, he believes, will drag the future closer to the present, actualizing the Metaverse sooner.

By the way, if you want to invest in Epic you can do it through buying Tencent stock. This company also developed Wechat, the largest messaging app in China, but also has a ton of other features like paying for your utilities, showing business profiles, and e-commerce, etc. It’s like WhatsApp on steroids. And Tencent has a 40% share on Epic, a privately held company, which means its stock can’t be bought on something like the New York Stock Exchange. But, if you bought Tencent, you would own a chunk of Epic. Tencent, you should know, is a Chinese company. So there is that added risk. And I’ll disclose that I bought and am holding their stock even before listening to that podcast.

You should also know that I’m not a financial advisor and this blog post isn’t investing advice. Consult a professional before you start plunking money down, or, at least, do some serious research. And, besides, the market could tank at any moment, since, you know, our economy is in the crapper and we’re in a pandemic.

Don’t be fooled by my words. I don’t know if I understand all of this entirely. But it fascinates me. And I wanted to share it with you because I had never heard about this before and it felt like it would be a welcomed distraction for you. And maybe, like me, you’ll find it otherworldly interesting.

Here are a couple articles about the Metaverse that you might find illuminating.

  1. From the Post.
  2. From Matt Ball.

See you in the Metaverse, friends.

Lots of love,
John

(Photo Credit: Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash)


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Hope, felt

Hope is there even if it’s hard to see.

Yes, uncertainty is everywhere and it’s certainly scary, especially these days. Yes, these times are dark and not knowing what’s around the corner is daunting.

But it’s not hopeless. Just because times are despairing and darkness surrounds us, we needn’t despair.

Often the light can’t be seen in the night, but it comes. It breaks night’s grip on the sky when we are frightened and sleepless.

Dawn dawns.

It’s inevitable. After the night there is morning, a new day, fresh like a newborn child, the reward after the pangs.

Do we know how daybreak will appear for us now? No. Do we know when? No. But, it will.

See, there have been generations and generations before us who’ve lived through terrible times. I mean, could you imagine living through World War I or II or the Civil War or the Revolutionary War or the Spanish Flu or the Black Plague or or or? No. But—many did. And yes, there was incredible tragedy. But humanity (I believe, by the grace of God) survived and, then, thrived.

As the seasons cycle in our lifetimes, there are also cycles that arc across the horizon of history that bring tremendous pain followed by brilliant flourishing. Spring always follows winter.

This time feels like the end. But it’s not. It means hope’s around the bend.

Wait for it. It will shine.

It starts in you. For, hope is best not seen. It’s felt.

In our hearts.

We started a podcast

So…a friend and I started a podcast.

There’s a lot of confessing, challenging, a bit of conflict, and a touch of cussing.

But most of all it’s a conversation between friends.

This project grew out of years of relationship and talking about our ventures and missteps and learnings and stories.

And we want to share them with you.

This podcast is a series of conversations about life, entrepreneurship, money, wellness.

But, really, it’s about improving our lives in midlife.

My friend’s name is Howard Lerner. He’s a great dude and entrepreneur and conversationalist. If you’re from St. Louis, you’ve likely heard of Kaldis Coffee. He started that company. After building it, he sold it.

Join us every week, as we put out a weekly episode. Here’s the latest one entitled Finding Midlife Motivation.

Feel free to ask us questions or give us topics you want to hear us discuss. And we welcome any feedback you might have. Contact me through this site or @itsjohnpa on Twitter or Instagram.

Find all of our episodes, and subscribe, on Spotify and check us out at www.howardandjohn.com.

Or if you want to watch us, go to YouTube to get the full facial experience. We don’t have the latest episode up yet, but you can watch one of our first versions.

Everyone, lastly, I just want to thank you for joining me on this journey. It’s almost weekly that I get to hear from someone that’s said they read my blog at one point or another, and that always makes me feel honored and grateful to feel connected to you somehow.

I love you. And I wish you the best as we continue this beautiful journey called life.

Lots of love,

John


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Finding purpose

What do you live for?

It’s a simple question. But it’s one of the most difficult to answer.

From my experience, many of us find meaning but few have purpose.

Purpose is the belief or reason we have for living. It’s different from meaning. Meaning is about the significance or feeling of significance for something or someone or belief.

For example, a purpose could be someone living to care for their family. Their meaning is sensed when they are able to help a sibling, daughter, or parent.

Usually I hear and read more about meaning but not so much purpose. But the latter gets down to the roots, into the guts of life, into our souls. It’s the foundation upon which we all stand.

Purpose is the reason for our existence.

What is more important than that?

And if we leave it undefined, we are setting ourselves on shaky ground.

In college, this question haunted me. I had no idea what my purpose was. And living without one caused me to fall into a depression. Motivation was wrested from me and all I wanted to do was watch Disney movies in my dorm room (which I did: there’s nothing like a college guy watching Little Mermaid on a Saturday night, alone in his room, crying and singing along with Ariel).

I was lonely, angsty, and angry. All my life I had dealt with the trauma of my dad’s death and other difficulties in my life.

And I felt rootless, restless (and sang Disney songs).

Soon thereafter, I became a Christian. Jesus became my purpose, my reason for living. And that belief has sustained me, and still does.

Now, I know that not all of you believe as I do. And my point isn’t to bludgeon you with my beliefs but to press you to consider your own purpose.

I think that many of us can go all our lives without knowing what we’re really living for.

And that robs us. It makes life emptier, less fulfilling. And I don’t want that for you. I know what it feels like.

But that needn’t be the case. There is purpose in the world for you.

Seek it. It’s there.


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Overcoming one of our greatest obstacles: ourselves

Our lives are determined not just by what we think but how we think.

Before I started writing I used to believe I couldn’t write. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that my high school papers, after being graded, had so much red ink on them that they looked like someone dragged a freshly killed animal over them. It was traumatic for me. And add the fact that I grew up in an immigrant family where English was a third language and Dr. Seuss wasn’t read to me, I thought I was doomed to be a poor wordsmith.

That frame of mind followed me all the way through college, into my career, and got worse when I started a creative agency, and reached all the way into my midlife.

But I was wrong.

See, in the cradle of our minds we nurture something that forms us all. It’s weened in the shadows of our psyche, hidden, growing into an idea or narrative that chokes our dreams and kills opportunities because we are often too afraid to challenge it.

This “how” we think is a framework of thinking that we all possess. They are the ideas that we have about ourselves and others and the world, that guide us.

They exist in the forms of memories, stories, experiences, phrases spoken to us in anger by loved ones, past failures, etc. And they hold incredible power of us.

Once I heard about puppies that someone was training and they used a gate to keep them in the kitchen. And one time, when the puppies were playing with the gate, testing the limits, it fell on them. And never again did they try to test that barrier. They were terrified of it even when they out grew it and towered over it; they dared not cross it.

We are those puppies. And we all have gates in our lives.

Even if we’ve outgrown them, they still feel like they tower over us and can hurt us, even if we can clearly see that all we need to do is jump a little and we would easily clear it. But, instead, the gate traps us.

But it’s not the gate that traps us but how we think of it.

You see, the puppies weren’t trapped by the physical gate. It was their idea of the gate that was trapping them.

The same was true of me: it wasn’t my bloodied high school papers and growing up immigrant that kept me from writing—no. It was my idea of myself that did that. And it held me back from doing what I enjoyed, loved, all because I was afraid of something I had outgrown.

What are your gates?

It can be anything. I’ve had friends who believed they couldn’t get married, or that they couldn’t be happy, or that they couldn’t get fit, or that God wouldn’t forgive them, or that the world is ending. Maybe you’re wondering if you can make it through this pandemic. There are endless options of the gates that imprison us.

To find out what they are, an exercise you can do it just to write down all of the things that you believe you can’t do but enjoy doing. Take time to slow down and really parse through your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and actually put them down either in your device or even on paper with a pen. Doing that will help you practice awareness. Wake yourself up to the way you see yourself. You don’t need to write Pulitzer Prize winning work. You just need to document your observations so that you can read it and reflect on the ideas and stories that are barricading you.

Also, you can’t do it alone. Often, we need help. For me, it was my wife and God. I felt like there was divine assistance that sparked my mind to see the possibilities, then my wife fanned the flame. There was a God given desire to write. And my wife had heard my musings and love for words and encouraged me.

“I can’t…” is too often said about this or that dream or possibility. But more often than not, it’s just a gate that fell on you when you were young.

It’s time to jump the gate.

Lots of love,

John


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Cookies, covid, and a confession

Three words likely have never been seen together, but there they are, in the title, all alliterated, and weird. Let me explain. A couple of weeks ago we shipped the most amount of cookies since the start of our Clean Cookie Company, but covid slowed our shipments; and we’ve got to own the fact that our packaging sucks.

When we got a surge of orders, we thought that we might need to refund close to a grand worth of cookies because we had never shipped that many cookies and performed a last minute packaging change. Yes, refunding all of those orders would have tasted bitter but we were ready to do it or ship out another round of them.

But we didn’t have to. The cookies got to almost everyone. However, it wasn’t all perfection.

One person said that USPS notified her that her package arrived but there was nothing on the doorstep. We’re still trying to figure out what happened to those phantom cookies.

But most friends, from what we’ve heard, received theirs and enjoyed the taste. Some of the cookies were uglier than others because of the ninety degree summer heat. But they got there, and they tasted fresh, which was a relief.

Covid caused massive delays. USPS had staffing issues. And what should have taken two to three days took five to seven. Not ideal. But considering the circumstances (that we’re in a, you know, pandemic), we were grateful they arrived at all.

We were also grateful that refunds weren’t necessary. But now have a different problem.

You see, our packaging isn’t great. Actually it’s terrible. Sure, it keeps the cookies fresh, which is great, but the material isn’t.

We vacuum seal the cookies in baggy plastic bags, which feels like a parachute of plastic, when we ship them.

And while I’m sealing them, my six year old is lecturing me about how much plastic we are using and how we’re killing the environment and how it’s wrong. Every word feels like a stab, because he’s right. And we’ve received similar feedback from customers, friends.

The truth is is that we’ve eliminated a lot plastic in our home. We use silicone and glass and steel instead for storage. And there’s a part of me that wants to justify that that’s good enough. But it’s not. And just because those bags keep our cookies fresh and good for our customers doesn’t make it fresh and good for the environment. We recognize that.

So we may not be refunding our generous and good customers, but we are looking to return our plastic bags. At least we are researching the best alternatives so that we can be good to the earth and still send cookies that taste like heaven.

We don’t have a good answer yet.

But, we are committed to finding one.

The YouTube ad that made me cry

Last week, we were watching a video when the greatest YouTube ad I had ever seen appeared. We couldn’t stop watching it. The skip ad button turned on and I ignored it. The ad went on for seconds then minutes. Until it ended nineteen minutes later. (I know, it might feel weird reading about a YouTube ad, but it’s just as weird or weirder writing about one.)

What was the ad? It was a Charity Water video.

Charity Water is a nonprofit started by a guy named Scott Harris. And in the ad he told his story from his challenging childhood in the suburbs to becoming a nightclub promoter in New York City. He got paid to throw huge parties and be around beautiful people and drink. It was fun until wasn’t. Eventually he discovered he wanted something more. That led him to abandoning that thrilling life and paying a nonprofit so that he can go with them to third world countries to take pictures for them as they did humanitarian work. When he was there, he discovered people drinking the most heinous water. It was dirty, muddy, diseased, bug infested water. And they (mostly the women in those villages) would walk miles to bring it home even though it was unclean enough to kill and carrying it was backbreaking work. That’s when Scott found his calling and started Charity Water which has a mission to bring clean water to the 780 million people who don’t have access to clean water.

Huddled around our computer screen with us was our first born. He loves YouTube videos. We’re Dude Perfect subscribers. These days we’ve been watching ones with deep sea fishing on BlacktipH. But this YouTube ad did something different to our boy. He saw people’s pain and had compassion. He saw for the first time that too many children didn’t have something he took for granted ever day—clean water to drink. And that was not the only story in the video that moved him.

There was a 9 year old girl, Rachel, who gave up her birthday in hopes to raise $300 for the nonprofit. She didn’t reach her goal: she raised $220. But weeks later she died in a car accident. It was tragic. But from the ashes of tragedy arose a phoenix of hope. As news traveled about Rachel’s death, people and media noted how while she was alive she offered up her birthday to give clean water to others—and many were inspired. They gave hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, eventually more than a million dollars for the cause she sacrificed for just before she died.

I was crying. And my son says, “I want to give up my birthday. I want to give money.” And he ran off to get his piggy bank and wanted to give right then.

“Buddy we can’t jam dollars through the screen,” I said gently to him.

“Why not? I want to give right now,” he said adamantly.

It was beautiful.

In times like these, when brokenness and sadness reigns, there are still stories that can shift our paradigm and remind us how rich we are. We have clean water. I still have my child. We are alive.

We are richer than we know.

If you have a chance check out Charity Water.

It’ll make you want to jam your money through the screen.

Most of all it will help you see the world afresh.


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Savoring life

Life is short; enjoy today.

This week an old friend’s wife died. It was sudden—tragic. She was young, around my age, too young to die. They likely had dreams of growing gray together, wrinkled, swinging on a creaky porch swing, talking about their grown kids and grandkids. Now that’s gone.

See, life can sucker punch you in the face. It can knock the wind out of you, and make you feel like you’re dying.

But that’s not my point. The point is to enjoy—no, savor—each day.

And I don’t mean to party hard and do something thrilling. I mean sip and take in the moments and the mundane things like embracing your spouse, telling your loved ones that you love them, eating a home cooked meal with family—the things we get to do everyday, but often take for granted because they are so normal. When placed against the finality of death, those are the things that matter most.

So let your palate of life absorb each and every flavor. Relish them. Feel satiated.

For life’s a delicious gift.

Give thanks.


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