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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One of the best ways to deal with uncertainty

Uncertainty is everywhere. And the best thing we can do isn’t fight it, try to force things to happen—control. No.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is just do this—surrender.

That’s not the same as giving up. You’re not quitting. Absolutely not!

Surrendering is different. It’s not giving up; it’s giving in. And that’s an important distinction, especially in times like these.

It’s like quicksand. When you get stuck in it it’s terrifying and your temptation is to just fight and flail and twist and turn and writhe. The fear grips you and you want to gain control, but that only saps your strength and weakens you until you don’t have any energy to actually solve your problem.

Instead, when you’re in that situation, you need to relax. Make yourself light, and then you make slow and deliberate moves to get yourself out. It takes time, patience, and persistence.

We’re all in quicksand now.

We feel it. With a crazy political world, incredible divisions, an election year—a pandemic—looming possible school openings, quarantines, lockdowns, financial stress, and the list can go on, there’s just more to make us want to fight and flail and twist and turn and writhe, isn’t there? We want control but can never really get it, can we?

And we’re tired. We’re stressed, fatigued.

Stop trying to control and fight.

Instead, surrender. Don’t give up. Give in. Let your mind and body relax. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Think about today. Make a plan. Take deliberate and slow steps. Feed yourself. Feed your family. Find time to laugh and play. Create. Work. Find a way to survive.

Remember, you can’t control the quicksand: the political mayhem, people’s comments on Facebook, their ideologies, the economy. You can control yourself, your mindset, your prayer-life, your meditation practice, your routine, your actions.

Slow down. Let the future unfold. Persist. Go with the flow.

And, when you do, I believe, you’ll be free to find freedom.

You’ll even grow.

Love,

John


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Cookie saga continues

Our cookies got to a couple of friends and they were good, not perfect, but still delicious. It was a huge relief.

See, in my last post I mentioned that we tried a new way of packaging our cookies and weren’t sure how they would turn out. We didn’t want to fail, and more importantly, we didn’t want to disappoint our friends.

Really, our goal is to delight people with cookies and make their days, weeks, maybe even months. We want to put out the best cookie possible, not just in taste but in ingredients and experience. But then, we ran into fulfillment and shipping and logistics.

And our decision to change packaging made our minds go someplace dark. We had these terrible visions of the cookies being uneatable, off, wrong, bad. And then thinking they were going to friends like that sent shivers through us.

But that didn’t happen, at least with these two.

One friend, Adriana, in Frisco, Texas showed them on Instagram and storied about them. She was so excited and generous with how she spoke about them. It was all in Spanish, so I didn’t know how generous she was. But with my limited understanding that was very rusty and buried in the recesses in my mind from my two years of high school Spanish classes, I parsed out that the outcome was good. Later, she told us in a private conversation that she appreciated them and thought they tasted great.

Another friend, Dan, who lives in Washington State close to Seattle recommended our baked wares on Facebook and said some similarly kind and generous words. And he also gave some warm private words and very helpful feedback.

And what they both said about the condition of the cookies made us happy; but, more than that, we were relieved. It was like a huge boulder of worry that was on our chests was lifted after we got their feedback that the cookies traveled ok.

Now, we continue to wait. There are still many packages out there. And the surge of the virus is causing shipping delays with USPS; so, there’s that.

Waiting is one of the hardest things about life. It’s shrouded in uncertainty. These days are full of that. The expectations, fears, hopes all lie before us. And many of them are already set with nothing for us to do. And isn’t that the hardest part—the surrendering? It feels like an eternity. But it must be had and endured and experienced to do anything in life, especially something of consequence. It’s the suspenseful closing of one chapter before turning to the next. So here we are, as we turn the page, taking a pause, before the truth is revealed.

Regardless, we surrender to the outcome with prayer and expectation as others receive their boxes.

And as much as there is some pain in the waiting, there is also hope.

Stay well, my friends.

One last thought, we are open to any and all feedback. If you have some seriously negative thoughts, please send them our way. Of course we love the positive stuff too, but don’t hold back on the hard words. We need them, too.

As always, with love,
John


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The good, the bad, the cookie

Yesterday we baked and shipped 240 cookies that same day. It’s the highest count so far in the short life of our little company, Clean Cookie Co.

With our kids crying and needing food, uncertainties around fulfillment, the clock ticking down, and the sheer mountain of cookies, nonetheless, we made it.

Don’t get me wrong, we were grateful for it—all of it—it just wasn’t easy. Actually it was incredibly challenging.

Our daily routine was halted. My wife started baking early, like 3am early. I didn’t do my usual work. Cookies was all we did. All we could do. It was all hands on dough. Even our six year old chipped in by feeding our baby. It was mayhem.

Then there were the non-cookie, cookie issues. We had to keep all of the orders straight. We hated the idea of missing anyone. So spreadsheets were made and cross checked. Formulas were even used. “Who had vegan and non-vegan cookies?…Are you sure?” was asked multiple times.

That was hard; this was harder: packaging. Previously, we had shipped to others on the coasts, west and east, and customers and friends said they were good. But we wanted it to be better. So we tried a new way we’ve never tried before. It took a lot more work and made the cookies uglier, but we thought it would improve freshness for their trek to all parts of the country.

(To anyone who ordered, please let us know your feedback. And if there was a problem, let us know so we can find a way to make it right.)

Most of the orders for this heap of cookies came from friends. And we wanted it to be right, special, loving.

To be real real, we have no idea if they will be. And it’s nerve racking, really.

That’s the thing about starting a business or doing anything outside of your comfort zone; sometimes it’s not comfortable, at all. In fact, it can be straight up uncomfortable.

So after a full day of cookie-ing, we wait.

We wait for the shipments to get to you. We wait for you to eat them. We wait for your feedback.

We’ve enjoyed serving you, finding solutions to problems we never imagined solving, making more cookies than we ever thought possible, and packaging them up to send throughout our nation, from our kitchen to your tables.

And our hope is that they taste like home to you.


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When things get bad, go long

These days it’s easy to think that everything’s crap. But that’s wrong.

You need to go long.

See, the short-term is crappy. Yes, the pandemic is still here. It’s swelling. There’s a second wave. It’s looking ugly, uglier every day.

But, that’s shortsighted. You’ve got to look yonder. Over the horizon. Set your sights on the vista, farther ahead, further still.

I don’t mean distance, but time. Don’t measure life in days, or even months. Do it in years, far beyond the boundaries of immediate gratification.

We need to go long.

To “go long” is often a phrase used in investing. It means to buy an asset like a stock or index fund or something that appreciates—and you do this.

You hold on.

You don’t get out. You don’t sell. You don’t liquidate. You grip it tightly, knuckles whitened, even if life and fear and market gyrations and recessions scream at you to pull out. But no, you hunker down. Maybe you even double down. You’re in it to win it.

That’s what we need to do right now. We need to go long on life.

You need to invest yourself in something that will appreciate. And then, hold on. No matter what happens.

It can be in relationships, or a business, or your health, or spiritual wellbeing, or investing your money. Whatever it is, make sure it’s worthwhile and appreciates and pays dividends in joy and laughter and blessings and hope in the future.

And then, be patient and consistent, and you will see amazing payouts. Your investment will compound.

And you will be rich.


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Why we started a cookie business

Sometimes when things are terrible it’s necessary to start something delightful.

So last month my wife and I started a cookie business.

It’s an online store that sells gourmet gluten-free and vegan freshly baked cookies. They are made from incredible ingredients: organic this and organic that. And they are delicious. I’m the taste tester, so I should know.

But bragging aside, the main point of making something tasty is to spread just a little bit of joy to overcome the daily pains that seem to be mounting every day.

We get it. Kids are cooped up. The future is uncertain. The economy is struggling. News is the news, always negative. Schools are thinking about opening and we don’t know what to do. The second wave is swelling to who knows how high. And all of us are getting swept up into it and we are going for a ride to who knows where. It’s terrifying. All of it.

But taking a bite into a chocolate chip cookie floods us with memories of childhood, simpler times, summer bake sales, laughter, mom—home. It’s just love, baked.

That’s what we wanted to make, except in our fashion.

Our family has crazy dietary restrictions. We can’t eat gluten since we have major intolerances, and we have all kinds of sensitivities. My wife has been eating essentially the same limited foods every day, for every meal—literally. Our eldest can’t eat gluten and a whole host of other foods. And I find most meats make me feel badly and eat vegan most of the time, but for those rare occasions where I scarf down a ribeye. In other words, we eat crazy clean. No processed foods, refined sugar, etc. here. Don’t get me wrong. I want to eat Doritos, Krispy Kream donuts, Oreos. But I know I will feel terrible afterwards. Maybe you know what I’m talking about.

So we wanted to create something we and all of our friends and humans could feel good eating. Because, there’s enough feeling bad these days. And this is not just about feeling better emotionally, but good physically. That’s why we use the ingredients that we do. They’re great so we can feel good, in every way.

But if you want to know the truth, my wife has never even tasted our cookies. Not one. It’s because her food restrictions are so tight she can’t even try them, right now. She bakes them. She loves baking. But she can’t enjoy them. We are hoping that eventually she’ll be able to bite into the slightly-crunchy-with-a-gooey-center-packed-with-chocolate-chips beauts of a treat, someday, soon.

Nonetheless, she does take great pleasure in others enjoying her little creations. She delights in the knowledge that her joy inducing circles of chocolaty bliss brings others delight. That’s joy for her, for our family.

We started this venture at the end of May and we’ve been working out the kinks. It’s been fun. It began as an experiment, us playing around. Then orders came in. Not too many at first. But these, too, acted like waves. For the first week or so, most days were quiet with little activity. Then we’d get a sale here, a delivery there. Then one day in early June we had a large swell crash on us. Things went bonkers. And we started to wonder if we had something, something real.

Yesterday we posted on social media to our friends unsure what kind of reception we would get. And it was amazing. We had our biggest day of sales to date. We were astonished at the response and generosity. I mean, our cookies aren’t cheap. But people bought. Some kept buying. And they were gifting to this person and that person who lived on the west coast and out east and to a neighbor down the road or across the street. It was incredible.

To any of you who were a part of yesterday’s frenzy and are reading this, we love you, and we can’t wait for you to get a mouthful of this goodness.

So, friends, neighbors, and fellow humans, I’ll give more details of our journey and lessons and failures going forward, as well as other non-cookie related thoughts.

But for now, I’ll be delivering your cookies and sending them to USPS, with nothing but deliciously joyful thoughts and prayers and love that will show up at your doorstep. It’s not a hug, but it might be better.

Because, you know, when times are bitter, sometimes all you need is something sweet.

If you want to check us out, you can find us at www.cleancookieco.com and @cleancookieco on Facebook and Instagram.

Lots of love,
John and Rachel


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