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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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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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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Dear Mr. Biden, last night was a disappointment

The debate last night was very disappointing. I was rooting for you, Mr. Biden, but you failed to shine. Instead you got mired in the muck. You were easily rattled and resorted to name-calling, making you look weak and childish, not the man we need you to be.

Yes, you were dealing with a bully of the nth degree, one of the bulliest of bullies. It’s true. Trump’s a silverback, throwing his weight around, thundering about.

No, I don’t think he should be president, but he was true to himself. He’s a schoolyard brute. He lies. He distorts. He gnaws at you. He grinds. But that’s Trump. He was distinctly himself. He knows not how to be anyone else.

But that’s not what is most troubling to me, nor should it be for you.

The problem, I believe, is that I didn’t know who you are, Mr. Biden. Your identity and what identified you weren’t exactly clear in the debate. What I did see, I didn’t like. I saw someone who could be shaken, unsure, uncertain, unable to stand up for himself, or to a bully.

The best thing that you did was address the American people, and it seemed to convey a real concern for us. That was good. Yet, it didn’t seem to be enough.

You didn’t have a strong grasp of your message nor your platform. I really didn’t know what you were for. You need to figure out how to make Biden more Biden. Right now, you look like a man who wasn’t ready to cross sabers with the neighborhood tough-guy.

You need to be more distinct. If you’re going to be the kinder and softer president, do that. Or, maybe it’s the classier or geekier or whatever version. No matter what it is, be that. Be true. Because no matter what the opponent does, he seems to convey that type of authenticity.

You don’t.

You’re confusing. The Biden that showed up last night looked like one who wanted to be nice and polite but then got snippy and angry and frustrated.

Trump is Trump. Everyone knows that. That’s one of the most powerful things about him. His base knows him. Even his enemies know him. He’s predictably unpredictable. He plays to the mob. He doesn’t waver from his ways. That’s why they love him and appreciate him. He’s seen as an outsider. That’s what he wants. He says what he thinks. He does anything to win. Even deceive. That’s the truth we all know.

But what do you, Mr. Biden, stand for? Who are you? What are you made of? I want to vote for you.

I won’t vote for Trump. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

And last night, I don’t think Trump won. But I don’t think you did either.

And just because I’m against him doesn’t make me for you. Don’t get me wrong. I want to be for you. I’m just not there yet. I’m looking for more from you. I think we all are.

Give us a reason to believe in you. Give us a reason to follow you.

Don’t just tell us what you think we want to hear. Don’t do what you think will affect the polls. Do what you think is right, what will help the people, what will unify this divided nation. That’s what we need. We need real leadership.

We need you to lead.

One of the best ways to stay motivated

Many of us push ourselves to stay motivated. We force, cajole, pressure, sometimes even yell at ourselves to get going.

But pushing yourself isn’t as effective as being pulled.

I don’t mean being yanked or dragged like a prisoner, no.

I mean something summoning you by an irresistible force, like being in love, where you’re carried forth, wooed, because you want to be, have to be.

And the thing that best pulls us is this.

Purpose.

Purpose gives you meaning

It’s the why we do what we do. It’s the reason for which we live and act and rise.

Purpose gives us meaning.

It clarifies our lives, bringing it into focus, letting us see the reason for living.

Purpose gives you the feeling that you are connected to a bigger plan than just making money, accumulating things, raising your status, lifestyle, and well-being. It’s something you would die for. But more importantly, it’s something you live for.

Purpose propels you further

Purpose is life’s greatest magnet, drawing you forth. It beckons you to attempt greater feats, go farther lengths, pursue higher goals, and achieve more than you could ever imagine.

It provides the oomph to lean into the most challenging seasons of life, face the darkest times, learn in the face of failure. It strengthens us in the face of stress, fatigue, and uncertainty.

Purpose’s purpose

So, if you want motivation, energy, a reason to get out and face the day, don’t spend your time shoving and pushing yourself—no.

Instead, answer this question.

What is your purpose?

Doing that will help you do everything else.


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