This is your bet of a lifetime

We’re all betting, but there’s more to winning.

You see, how we spend our time, energy, and money requires us to decide how we want to allocate them. How much time and money do you spend on this or that, invest in the stock market, get together or not, buy expensive clothes, or not are all investment decisions. They’re all bets.

Life is a bet.

But that’s not the problem, though. It’s that many of us don’t know how to bet well.

Some of you are conservative, others aggressive. Some of you play not to lose, others to win it all.

And, really, some make better bets than others. Some tend to win far more often.

And what makes the difference? That’s the question.

There are a lot of factors. But I think it boils down to one thing. It’s this.

Short-term thinking.

We think if we cut corners, or buy that shiny thing right now, or sell that stock to get the $1000 profit instead of waiting, we will be better off.

That’s why we buy fancy cars or too much house or refuse to save our money and invest because we’re too tempted by instant gratification.

But, all the while, we don’t realize that we are undercutting ourselves from getting the things we really want: respect, wealth, flourishing, wellness, etc.

See, all of those things take, well…time.

They are goals that take a lifetime of building, doing, working.

If you want healthy relationships, you need to cultivate them with truth-telling and integrity.

If you want wealth, you need to spend less than you make and save and invest your money.

If you want respect, you need to earn it one decision at a time and pay the same respect to others.

If you want wellness, you need to practice daily practices that make it so.

By betting well, you will increase life’s quality. You’re not just betting you’re life but how you will live, not just your livelihood but the quality of your life.

Making great bets take time to play out. They aren’t quick wins.

They’re long ones, even a lifetime. Knowing that will make the difference.

You’ll win more.


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Gratitude is good, but contentment is better

Gratitude. It’s something we hear a lot about, especially this week. But, there is something that has a greater impact on our lives, like gratitude, but more richly. What is it?

It’s contentment.

You see, gratitude is something you do, an action. But contentment is a state of being. It’s not just an act; it’s who you become. What I mean is that we don’t say “practice contentment,” like you would say with “gratitude.” Rather, we say to “be content.” We do say “be grateful,” but that often means for something or a particular time, like “you should be grateful for this present, or this food, etc.” Whereas, “contentment” is what you are. And therein lies the magic.

With gratitude, we’re told to give thanks for this and that, and we have our gratitude practices, journals and yoga poses (I don’t know if the last one exists or if I just made it up). But after we’re done practicing, journaling, yoga-ing. It’s easy for us to fall right back into complaining, wanting, pining.

“But John, I practice my gratitude sessions every day,” you might be thinking, “and I hear people talking about gratitude all of the time.”

I applaud you and am sure that you are practicing it, but I think we talk too much about gratitude; and not enough about contentment.

Because, even though you have that practice, you still live with dissatisfaction and envy and a grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Deep down inside, you probably think that if you get that upgraded car, or prettier spouse, or more money, or that new job, or better home, or whatever, then you’ll be happier. And you might be for a bit. But you won’t stay that way. That happiness will fade because practicing gratitude is a start, not the fulfillment.

Just because we practice gratitude doesn’t make us live gratefully. When we are content, that’s the fulfillment of gratefulness.

A sign that someone is content is if they look at their life and sincerely say, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, and I’m glad” even with all of the crap going on, the pain, the difficulties, mixed with the joys and blessings and goodness.

“Contentment” means you’re satisfied with who you are, what you have, where you are, etc. When you look around at your life and at yourself, you’re filled with satisfaction.

It’s not that gratitude or the practice thereof is bad—far from it. Gratitude is a part of contentment. To be content, we must have a gratitude practice and that can include our spirituality.

For Christians, like me, contentment should be particularly applicable to us. God is called our “portion” in the Scriptures, and that means he is everything we could ever need or want. And if we believe in him and that he is truly God, then we should grow in our contentment. We can know that this world does not have what we really want. For what truly feeds us and gives us joy isn’t here. It’s him, the Eternal Being.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I struggle with contentment, too. Very much so. Even when I’m doing my warrior one gratitude poses on my fancy yoga mat, getting my grateful namaste on, telling myself that I’m glad to be here right now, I can still feel a twinge of envy for this or that thing I want but don’t have.

But, I am improving. If I can, so can you.

So in this great season of Thanksgiving, let’s not just give thanks. Let’s learn to be content.

For, today is a gift.


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Patience: the secret to growth

Growth is a winding, circuitous, and weird path. It’s rarely a straight line. It doesn’t go the way we expect nor want it to go. Sometimes it even means going backward before we begin moving forward. 

And that’s not necessarily the problem. It’s this. The problem is we often expect our growth to progress linearly, and when it doesn’t, we get disappointed, frustrated, upset.

That can lead us to slow down our growth no matter where it is, or, sadly, some of us even give up. That’s why we need to see growth differently.   

What I mean by “growth” is any activity in life like learning, gaining physical capabilities or skill or fitness or spiritual development, etc. I mean any area of life where a human can progress and get better. That bettering is growth. It’s you getting better. 

And, yes, it requires hard work. We need to challenge ourselves and try to do it. We all know that. But what we may not know is that it’s more than that. 

Sometimes we must realize that even after working hard, things don’t always work. Sometimes you will have setbacks that will cause depressions. Sometimes you will feel like an utter and complete failure. But you’re not. 

You see, your growth isn’t linear. You’re on the winding path of growing. And as long as you are still trying and working and learning, you are still on that path, no matter how you feel in the moment. Even if you’re failing, you’re not a failure; you’re just on the circuitous route toward success. 

And, this is when we need patience. It’s the secret weapon for growth. Stop looking at your progress in terms of days or, worse, hours. No, look at it in terms of years, and decades. That’s what it often takes to make real leaps of progress. When you have that mindset, you’ll be able to overcome the hiccups of the day, or the week, or the month, or even years. The mistakes you made or the shortcomings or the face-plants will be blips in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re patient, you’ll give yourself space and time to grow. 

And, before you know it, you’ll see a better you. 

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How you can survive the pandemic

In this pandemic, our best medicine is to face reality.

Reality is being true to the situation at hand, you know, that we are in the middle of a pandemic and being with people is highly risky, especially indoors, mask-less. “Facing reality” means more than intellectual ascent, but actually practicing what you know to be true.

And, that might sound too obvious, but today I was at the grocery store and I saw a guy walking around the store with his mask dangling from one ear while he talked on the phone, flapping his bare lips. I wanted to say, “Hey, wearing a mask off of one ear doesn’t mean you’re wearing a mask.” Or, yesterday I heard about some family members of mine who are going out and even attending house parties.

I’m sure these aren’t stupid people. The ones I know are quite intelligent, well educated, “normal” people. Yet, they are still taking, in my opinion, outrageously dangerous risks for an unbalanced reward. I mean, why couldn’t that guy keep his mask on while talking?

You might be tempted to take the same kinds of risks. That’s probably especially true as you’re thinking about the holidays. I get it. I miss casseroles and pie. I want to hang out with family members, even that awkward uncle.

But, we are terrible at gauging risk for ourselves. We’re much better at it for others. We can see when something someone else is doing is too dangerous; but when it comes to measuring our own risks, we’re awful at it (read this article to find out more). I think that’s what causes that guy I saw on the phone and my partying family members to take bigger risks than what seems reasonable.

You see, right now, and for the foreseeable future, being true to reality is our best preventive measure to keep our loved ones and us healthy. Yes, there has been good news about Pfizer’s vaccine, but it’s not fully vetted yet. In other words, it’s still not real.

It can feel like the pandemic is close to ending. I feel it, too.

But it hasn’t ended yet. Just because we are close doesn’t mean we are there.

The last leg of a race is often the hardest one, and most treacherous.

When you think you’re winning is often when you can slack and let an opponent win. This mindset is why most accidents happen close to your home. We relax because we feel like we’re home when we’re still driving.

The reality is, we haven’t won; and we’re not home. Not yet.

But we can be. I think we will be.

And my hope is this, that as many of us as possible will get there, together—alive and well.


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Politics and investing

No matter who’s party is in the White House, the market is in the black.

The stock market has been volatile these past several days leading up to the election. And it’s easy to want to sell our investments with a click of a button and jump in a bunker and hunker down.

I get it. I was there last week.

But that doesn’t work.

You see the market has been going up for almost a century. Yes, it goes down here or there, think 2008-2009, or this past March, or last week or so. But, usually, it goes up.

That means we need to take the longview when we invest: Check out this chart.

Source: Bloomberg

And that’s true, no matter who wins the election. The blue lines mean a Democrat was president, the red, you guessed it, Republican. So whoever plops themselves behind the desk in the Oval office, if you stay invested, you will likely get wealthier. It’s not optimism. It’s just reality.

So don’t liquidate your retirement fund or portfolio.

Instead, vote.


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Become true for yourself

Don’t be true to yourself; be true to the truth.

“Be authentic.” We hear it all of the time. It’s about being true to yourself. But often, being ourselves is the last thing we should be. Often we can be awful. We make mistakes, fail others, hurt our loved ones. I mean, sometimes, I’m a terrible father. And that’s authentic. But that’s not who I should be. Often, being authentic is exactly what we shouldn’t be.

Instead, we should be looking to be better than ourselves. And the way to do that is by finding the truth.

Many of us avoid the truth because it’s unpleasant. We don’t like hearing what might make us wrong. That’s why we tend to read articles that only support the ideas we already believe. We’re biased. We’re so much so that we don’t even realize we are. So we stay the same. We don’t change. How can we if we never see ourselves as wrong?

But isn’t that what we all want? To change, I mean. Don’t we all want to get better? Isn’t this why you’re even bothering reading this post? We don’t want to be like ourselves; we want to transform.

And we do that by searching for the truth. It needs to be searched for, sought after. It doesn’t come to us; it requires work. It’s not easy. Admitting that you may not know as much as you think is a good start. Doubting our presuppositions helps us peel away our biases. From there, we can see that what we’ve “always been told,” may have always been wrong. To find the truth, you must read sources from the other side, talk to others wiser than you, and find and debate people who disagree with you. (And having a Facebook comment war doesn’t count.) You must hunt for the truth.

These days, there are many lies, or at least untruths and misinformation, being spewed out into the world. It’s getting harder to decipher truth from untruth. And it’s not just out there.

The ones that are often most disturbing are the ones we tell ourselves, the lies in us. It’s easy for me to fall into thinking I can never be this or that, or how my failures define me and my future, or how my worst fears will become a reality.

Maybe you do the same.

That’s when we must sit and really examine ourselves and our thoughts and pit them against science or God or the ideas of more learned people than us. Doing that will set us aright. And we will find that being truer to truth makes us far more ourselves and better humans than we could ever achieve by just trying to “be our authentic selves.”

See, being authentically true to truth makes us far more ourselves than we could ever imagine. It helps us transcend the lies and untruths. The truth isn’t about you or me. It’s bigger and better than all of us. And when we find it, it raises us up, transforming us to be better and truer than we ever could have been without it.

The truth sets us free.


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To live your best life, be wrong more

Often we worry about being right. But I think we should be spending more time being wrong.

Because sometimes, in life, being wrong is the most right you can be.

This sounds strange, I know. But that doesn’t mean it’s false.

You see, we live in a world that is obsessed with being right.

The schools we went to taught us that getting A’s, 100%s, 4.0 GPAs was the way to be.

And we learned that if we followed that paradigm of always being right, it would lead to success, riches—our dreams.

But that’s not how our post-school lives work. Real-life isn’t about being right. It operates quite differently. There aren’t A’s, 100%s, 4.0s here—no.

Work isn’t about perfection. It’s about creativity, ideation, iteration.

And, relationships are murky, muddled, messy. And no one is acing that class.

Life isn’t school.

Trying to be right all of the time makes us paralyzed, inflexible, ineffective.

Often, it keeps us from being our best. It makes us play it safe, take fewer risks, live less life.

And that, in my opinion, isn’t how most of us really want to be like. We want more. And, I think, we should.

To do that, we need to be wrong more.

See, there are times to “move fast and break things” to err on the side of doing things without knowing if those things we’re doing will work.

We need to experiment.

I’m not saying to be wrong just to be wrong.

No, that’s dumb.

What I mean is that we should be trying to do things that we’re unsure about, that are uncertain, you know—risky. And we’re not doing that for just any reason. We’re doing that for a very specific purpose—to reach our dreams.

But, going after them can make us wrong. What I mean is that you’ll make a lot of mistakes. What you do will be filled with failures and imperfections. That’s what happens when you pursue a dream: you’re wrong, a lot.

But, when we make errors, that’s when we can find corrections. Problems allow us to create solutions. Without an error, we often don’t know what to correct and how to move forward.

But the good thing about mistakes is that they are rarely final. After we make a mistake, most of us get retakes. We get to try again. We get second chances, and third chances, and fourth chances, etc.

And that’s where the magic happens. That’s where we get opportunities to learn from that wrong and make it better.

You can take a failed experiment, a terrible proposal, an ill-timed investment, a shuttered company, a broken relationship, and study them. And you’ll begin to understand what went wrong and how it could have been different, better and glean the lessons you need to succeed in the future.

Then, on a retake, apply those learnings when you try again in that next experiment, proposal, investment, company, relationship. Because as long as you are alive, you will have retakes.

Take them. And make the best of them. Take all of the wrongs and make them better.

And over the years and decades, you’ll see that you’ll be far more right than you would have ever been if you were only trying to be right. You’ll even live your best life.

In fact, you’ll have lived a dream.

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Endings are new beginnings

By embracing the end, you will start to see new beginnings. 

Sure, some endings are good, like getting out of a bad job or unhealthy relationships, etc. But I’m not talking about that. 

I’m talking about the things we don’t want to end, the ones that aren’t good. It can be as trivial as a great movie or show, or as serious as some major life change, or watching your baby grow up too fast.

It was a warm late summer morning, with golden rays of sun breaking through the trees, as the laughter of children rang through the air. Our firstborn was three and starting pre-school. It was his first day. We didn’t know how he would take us leaving him at school. It marked the first time he would ever be away from us. Our family was on the playground as other parents talked and the children ran around playing. Some kids were crying. 

But ours wasn’t, and he didn’t. 

When it was time for us to say goodbye, he almost didn’t care that we were leaving. We kissed, and he ran off with his new friends, unbothered. 

When my wife and I got into our car to drive home, we found that we couldn’t. Instead, we sat there and watched him. We cried like babies as we realized that our child was no longer a baby.

Endings are everywhere. They happen every day. 

Some endings just hurt. They’re hard. Really hard. They stun us. They may even kill a little bit of something inside of us. They can break our hearts. They make us cry in our car as we watch our baby growing up before our eyes.

Some of you are experiencing midlife. Like me, you feel it. And, it’s strange. It feels like you lost your youth somewhere along your journey, and you realize that you’ll never get it back. And you hate it.

Others of you are experiencing moving out of a city you love, losing a community, needing to find a new job, a loss of a career. And you’re having a hard time imagining what the future will hold because that end still has ahold of you.

All of us are feeling what the pandemic ended for us. Normal feels dead. The upcoming holidays smack us hard with that fact. 

And the problem is that we often try to fight those endings. We’re wrestling against the realities that we live in.

But, we can’t fight aging, and sometimes, we have to move, find a new job—change.

Sometimes fighting only hurts us. 

That’s why we must drop our fists and embrace the end. 

When you do that, you see life as it is. You accept the truth. You’re no longer wasting your energy running against it, no. You see that fighting some endings is like trying to stop a wave from crashing the beach—impossible. 

But, when you decide to let go of the past, that’s when something magical happens. You can see new potential, possibilities, opportunities.

You see, when you give in to the end, you welcome new beginnings. 

You see that life isn’t ending. Instead, you are allowing yourself to change, evolve, even transform. 

In midlife, you can take the learnings you gleaned in your youth and start to optimize your life. If you moved, you could start to appreciate your new home and begin to set new roots and make new friends. In the pandemic, you might see how good it is to work from home and how nice it feels to slow down. 

See, an end isn’t the end. It’s a new beginning.

And when you stop trying to fight the ocean waves, you can begin to swim with them. And when you do that, they will propel you to new places and possibilities.

You won’t be trapped in the past. You’ll be present. 

You’ll be free. 

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Civil war? I doubt it

Everyone’s talking about it. It’s in vogue. It’s the “it” thing. You would think we are talking about a new gadget or the newest Tesla. But, no, we’re not. 

We’re talking about this. 

Civil war. 

Yes, it’s a possibility—but so are Martians landing on Earth. Civil war is possible, but I don’t think it’s likely. 

This morning my wife listened to a podcast where the CEO of Whole Foods said that what he most feared in the near term was a civil war. Then, she asked me if I felt the same. 

And, the truth is, I am scared. The idea of a war on domestic soil where citizens, neighbors, friends, family take up arms against each other should send the fear-shivers down anybody’s spine. 

But, when I stop to think about, I’m less afraid. 

Here’s why. 

Those who really believe that civil war is probable are underestimating how difficult it is to mobilize a group of people willing to fight for a cause. Normal citizens don’t usually want to go to war, get bullets shot at them, feel like they don’t have a place to rest. Then add the additional complexity of fighting within and against their own country and countryman makes it all the more improbable. 

The Civil War, back in the 1800s, made sense. The Southerners had their livelihood, wealth, and way of life threatened (I’m not defending slavery at all; abolishing it was right; I’m just outlining the core reasons the South rebelled). And they all lived in a similar location or same region, where they had an overlapping culture. In other words, they had an existential cause and other characteristics that made mobilizing to fight the federal government easier. 

But it wasn’t easy. 

Mobilizing a war machine is never easy. And, I mean, anger and QAnon and white supremacy and Evangelicals do not hold those characteristics that the South had when Lincoln was the president. As radical as some of them may seem, I don’t think that they will be radical and organized and overlapping enough to actually band together to create a hierarchy or even some sort of loose coalition to begin a war. And I doubt that most of them would lay down their lives for Trump or some other cause.

Some livelihoods are at stake. Unions and blue-collared workers do feel threatened. And many of them will vote for Trump. And they may think that their salvation will come from Trump, but I am still skeptical that they will be able to form a war-making effort. 

People will fight, but I doubt they will make war. 

See, I believe there will likely be violence. The frequency of it will probably grow and escalate. There will be more protesting with higher amounts of violent clashes. That could and probably will happen no matter what happens after November. But, that doesn’t mean we will have warfare. 

You see, civil unrest isn’t the same as a civil war. 

Look, I get it. We’re all afflicted with worst-case-scenario thinking these days. How can we not? With a historic election, our countries weakened standing in the world, the rising of new world powers who want to take our country’s lunch money, a recession and deep economic uncertainty, and, not to mention, a pandemic, its easy to think negatively, pessimistically. The times seem apocalyptic.

But it’s not the apocalypse. Or, at least, I don’t think so. 

And I won’t say that a civil war is impossible. It’s not. It could happen. But we can’t live in the mindset of worst-case scenarios. Living in fear is no life. And it’s certainly not reality. 

One more reason I think this way is the stock market. It’s a pretty good gauge for where people’s minds are at and how they see the future. Investors are betting their money not just on today but also on tomorrow. And, as the market continues to climb, it appears they believe the world is going to be ok. Of course it’s not a crystal ball. But it is an indicator. The future is always murky, but it’s good to read the signs. And the market is signaling everything is going to keep chugging along. 

No, everything won’t be ok. There is much work to do to heal all of the fractures our country is experiencing. There will be unrest after the election. But it needn’t stay that way.

But being afraid of a civil war won’t help. We need to change our mindset from one of fear to hope. Better yet, we can find ways where we can take responsibility. 

And if we want to worry about anything, I think we should be worrying about this. 

How we can better care for our neighbors.


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Failing as a father

One of my greatest fears is to ruin my kids with my parenting.

You don’t have to be a parent to understand that fear. But when you are one, it just makes it more visceral, possible—real.

I’ve got two sons. They’re great. They love to play, roughhouse, laugh—all the good stuff kids typically do.

There are times when they misbehave. But that’s not the worst part.

I do, too. I get angry at them, and it’s wrong.

I’m not saying all anger is wrong. It’s not. Sometimes it’s right to be angry when your child disobeys you or does something bad for themselves or others.

And it must be dealt with, disciplined. But it needn’t be done angrily.

That’s where I fail. Instead of responding, sometimes I react. Instead of talking, sometimes I yell. Instead of instructing, sometimes I scold.

Yeah, I know. I’m failing.

But it’s not all of the time. I’m getting better. I do all of that reacting less and less, or, at least, I hope so.

And, there are some things that my kids and I do that are gloriously good.

These days, my firstborn and I go for bike rides. We ride all over the neighborhood. He leads the way. He’s trying new things like riding and taking his hand off of the handlebar or going with no feet on the pedals or pedaling while standing up. And I applaud him and celebrate his accomplishments. I shower him with encouragement.

Those are the best days.

I know that no father is perfect. But I want to improve my imperfections as each day passes. I want my son to have more happy days than sad. And when I must discipline him, I want to do it in a manner that is loving and true and good.

If you’re a parent and feel like you are failing your child, remember this.

All of our parents failed us in some form or fashion. I don’t know anyone who grew up with perfect parents, with a leave-it-to-beaver family, whatever that is. I certainly didn’t grow up that way.

And, really, who said parenthood was about perfection. Being perfect doesn’t work; life’s too messy for that. That’s why we should change the way we think about parenting.

It’s in the depths of imperfection and failings that we have the opportunity to choose to grow. It’s where we get to realize we were wrong and course-correct. It’s where we learn to become better fathers, mothers—parents.

To be a better father isn’t about always being right or good. I find it’s often about knowing when you’re wrong and admitting to it—and even being willing to ask your kid to forgive you for being an ass, temperamental, wrong.

It’s in the wrongness where we can be the most right. It’s in our worst where we can be our best. It’s when we fail as parents that we have the opportunity to succeed in parenting.

No, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being perfected. It’s about being humble enough to realize we are all in process.

And if you do that, you may not be the “perfect” parent, but you will be a good one. You will bring out of the best in your child by admitting to your worst.

Because, really, parenting is less about failing or succeeding, and more about this.

Love.

If you do that, you won’t ruin your kids. Even with all of your failings, you’ll raise them well.

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