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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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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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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When You Savor Life, You Are Rich

An urgency to live well grows in us when we see our parents growing old.

Or at least that’s what happened to me yesterday. 

“It felt like a few days ago when we took these pictures,” my mom said to my son as she showed him an album of Polaroid pictures of me when I was a one year old. Disbelief marked his eyes as she flipped through the images of me with chubby cheeks captured on instant film framed on the iconic white borders over four decades ago. 

Disbelief struck me too. It’s cliche to say that time moves so quickly. But when you are standing with your child socially distanced from your seventy-something year old mother looking at baby pictures of you learning to walk, with her saying it felt like a few days ago, it’s not cliche at all. It’s real

It’s a reality that slaps you in your face and kicks in the heart, urging you to live. You feel rushed to cram as much as you can in the years, months, days, because you sense the ticking of time somewhere out there, somewhere in you, flitting away. 

But, for me, making the most of life isn’t so much about doing more or going to exotic destinations or achieving incredible milestones, as much as I do appreciate travel and creating big experiences.

It’s more about savoring the little moments. The bite-sized love packets of the seemingly ordinary, like I was having with my son and mom looking at pictures of me drooling on myself, or having a nice meal at home laughing with my wife and kids, or sharing ideas and stories with friends.

When you can drink those in, that’s when you can really start living. Those are the times of connection that flow with fresh meaning. And by drinking them in, you’ll taste the goodness of life anew, like tasting fine wine for the first time as the flavors dance on your palate like little fairies having a party.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget those “smaller” events when we’re trying to check off our bucket-list. But when we are, let’s not forget the “normal” instances that truly make up the stuff of life. It’s less about the thrill and more about feeling intimacy, closeness in those meaningful everyday interactions that hold monumental significance.

In life, less is often so much more.

Savoring the daily joys fills the cups of our hearts to the brim and makes them overflow. 

It’s an abundance and flourishing that anyone can have. 

It’s here. Take it—every day. Enjoy.

You’ll be rich.


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True happiness can’t be bought

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The best things in life don’t come with a receipt.

But all of our lives we’ve been told—no, sold—that if we buy this or that thing we will be sexy, better, satisfied, happy. But it’s not true. We’ve been duped.

I remember going into stores and buying this or that article of clothing for my wardrobe, adding another sweater, button-down shirt, jeans, knowing full well that I would only be adding to piles of clothes that I already had and barely touched. But that didn’t matter.

What did matter was that I felt good after I bought it, for a bit. There was a buzz, a shot of happiness. But after a day or two, the buzzing ceased. I was just me again, with another shirt in my closet.

Then I stopped buying because I realized this.

Consumerism is a lie.

The truth is nothing you buy can fulfill you, make you whole, or delight you like the greater things in life.

Instead of purchasing things you don’t need, spend time practicing healthy habits, connecting with loved ones, doing meaningful work, learning, living relationally and spiritually rich lives.

Hug a loved one. Kiss your child. Laugh with a friend. Do missionary work. Read. Pray. Worship. Love.

No one lying on their deathbed regrets spending time with their family or living a life serving a mission greater than themselves or playing tag with their kid or seeking spiritual fulfillment.

Those moments can’t be purchased, but they are invaluable.

And anyone can have them.

It’s your choice.

One of the greatest blessings we often overlook

Time is a gift.

Each second is a boon for your life, it’s a harvest of blessings before you—a feast.

Drink deeply from it, savor each morsel, enjoy, laugh, love—live.

This very second has been given to you. It’s an opportunity and invitation to grow, learn, try.

That dream you’ve wanted to realize, the book you wanted to write, that relationship you wanted to form are all before you, and today affords you the chance to bring them about.

If you have time, you are blessed.

This moment is a blessing.

Enjoy!

The best thing about losing

Losing doesn’t just mean you’ve lost. For, when you lose, you gain.

Whenever a friend leaves, you move away, get fired, close a business, it’s awful.

We hate it. We should, because losing sucks. No one wants to have something taken from them.

But what I’ve noticed is no matter what (or who) was taken from me, I’ve always gained in place of the thing I lost.

When one girlfriend and I broke up, then another, then another, then another, time after time after time, I gained insight into who I was and who I wasn’t. I realized I was too picky, too arrogant, too something. And I saw what was really important to me and what was superfluous.

And when I moved across the country, literally, from NYC to San Diego, for a relationship that eventually broke, it made me feel like the greatest loser.

But that was right before I would meet the woman who would ultimately become my life partner, my love, my wife.

When you lose, you gain.

During one of the hardest times in my career when I got fired from the only job I was qualified for, pastoring a church, I lost big. I mean I went to graduate school for four years just to have the credentials to start this career path, this calling. So when I was terminated, I went into a depression and didn’t know if I would ever come out.

But through that, I also gained an understanding of myself and saw that God was with me and loved me even when I felt worthless. He made me worthy. And when it seemed like I was useless, He gave me a new job that eventually led me to start my own business; and I realized this was one the best things that could have ever happened to me.

When you lose, you gain.

After my father died when I was in elementary school, I raged. Life was black. Darkness swallowed me. I was lost. But now, as a middle-aged man reflecting back on those events and my learnings, what I see is this.

I don’t know who I would have become if my dad was still alive. Would I be as much of a fighter? Would I see life the way I see it—incredibly precious? Would I have been humbled so that I found faith? I doubt it.

I do know that I would have been different. And I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and the person I’ve grown to become because of the pain I’ve experienced.

Of course I’m not saying that I’m glad that my dad died. Death sucks. It always will.

But my meaning is that all pain, even losing the bedrock of your family, can strengthen you, grow you, and give you something you would have never gained without that horrible event.

When you lose, you gain.

The danger of losing is that you can get lost. It’s easy to lose ourselves to bitterness, anger, sorrow. And a dark season can become a life without light, where it’s always night, without a dawn.

But it needn’t be that way.

You can learn, grow, rise—gain.

There is work, though. Gaining doesn’t just come automatically. You need to be open to it. You need to look for it. As a miner who seeks for gold must dig, you too must sift through your mind and the world to find nuggets of knowledge, wisdom, insight after you lose.

For, in the rubble of losing, there are lessons to be learned about yourself, humanity, God, life. If you look for them, you will uncover them.

It needs to be sifted away from the debris of living and pain and bitterness. And there you will see it shining before you eyes, glorious and pure—golden and true.

The way you do that is by reflecting.

Reflection is the act of looking back on particular events, thoughts, feelings, and ideas that have occurred and searching for right understanding and learnings from them.

Sometimes this takes months even years to find the goodness. The death of my father and losing my career path took a long time to play out, and I couldn’t grasp any clear gains. But, eventually, I did.

Journaling, talking to friends, counseling, mediation, and sitting there and letting your mind wander helps.

That space and time help your mind open up to make new discoveries. And what you will discover is a new day, shining brilliantly before you, and more than that.

There will be a new you.

Reflections from a funeral

Funerals aren’t just about death; they’re also about life. And this past week, while at my friend’s dad’s funeral, I could see that he lived richly, and he knew it.

I don’t mean that he drove a Maserati, had a big house, or had some huge title. He didn’t. He was normal, just a regular Joe. Yet, to me, he was extraordinary.

His family loved him. Not in a surface-y love kind of way, where they covered up all the warts and talked only about the beautiful stuff for show. They knew his weaknesses well and talked about them but loved him despite them. It was genuine.

When his kids eulogized him, they shared how much he loved to laugh and make others do the same, and if he hurt someone, he was quick to apologize. He was vulnerable. He didn’t hide his flaws. He opened himself up to his children and allowed them to see him, as he was, broken, yet glorious and true.

That, to me, is extraordinary. To have your children not just love you but honor you for who you actually were would be one of the greatest rewards in life. It says you put your priorities aright. You poured your life into your children. You spent time with them and nurtured them, telling them stories, sharing what it means to be a good person, love God, be a good neighbor, countryman, parent.

One of the most moving moments of the funeral for me was the burial service. He was in the Air Force, and joining had a profound impact on him. So he chose to be buried in Jefferson Barracks, a National cemetery. He wanted the ceremony, the guards of honor, the salutes, the unified rifle shots, the flag. After the flag was folded, with such pomp, it was presented with deep sincerity by a person in uniform to his wife, thanking her for her husband’s “honorable service.”

The family cried. I cried. Others cried.

And through all of this, I could not help but reflect on my own funeral. What will my children say about me? Will they love and honor me? But that burial service marked me.

I won’t get a gun salute since I’ve never been in the military. But the words “honorable service” still rang in my ears, my heart, my soul. I wondered if I will be distinguished as a person who served honorably. And as I pondered, my mind kept drawing me towards my family.

As I am fathering these days, I’m keenly aware of my deficiencies, lacks. And I lack much. I’m far from being a perfect father. But I do want my children to know, despite my deep flaws, my severe impatience, and general stupidity, that I love them, deeply.

And at the end of life, will I sweat the money that I made or didn’t make, that deal that would have changed my lifestyle, the business I wanted to start or build? I doubt it. I would wonder if I was a good husband, father, son, brother, friend. I’d want to know that I was faithful, true, dependable, loving, as my friend’s dad was.

One last story about him. He was asked to become an elder, which is basically the senior leadership or board, in an important church in his city. And at this church, they saw eldership as the pinnacle of importance. But, he turned it down. He would rather be a deacon, which was seen as the lesser office that served the poor and needy so that he could serve. He didn’t need elevation nor the title to make himself feel important. Instead, he wanted to do important work. He just wanted to provide honorable service. He knew that was worth far more than a title.

We all need to remember that we will have a funeral. It will be us resting in that casket someday, whether we like it or not. And what is talked about isn’t the death so much as your life.

My friend’s dad did have a rich life, legacy. He did because he made decisions like becoming a deacon (not that being an elder is wrong for the right reasons), living simply, loving vulnerably, prioritizing his time well; he invested in his children. And he reaped a great reward.

Now, the question is, How do you want people to remember you and are you living in such a way as to bring that about now, always?

Answer that question well, and, as you close your eyes for the last time, you can also know you had a rich life.

One of the smartest things you can do

Getting smarter isn’t about knowing everything, it’s about admitting what you don’t know.

“I don’t know,” is such a simple phrase, but many of us have difficulty saying it to ourselves let alone to others. It makes us feel weak, vulnerable, stupid.

But you’re not. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. Saying “I don’t know” is one of the smartest things you can say, because it’s the beginning of learning. It’s the trailhead to gaining more understanding.

To learn is the only way to get smarter. And to do that, you must admit that you don’t know everything, you must open yourself up to the fact that you’re not as knowledgeable as you want to be.

So the next time you are tempted to act like you know something when you don’t, remember this.

Not knowing isn’t bad; it’s an opportunity.

Are you living for the right person?

We all live for people. But are you living for the right person?

Maybe you became a buttoned-up lawyer because your parents “made” you, when you really wanted to be an artist in paint-covered jeans, flicking the perfect strokes like Bob Ross, but it was too “impractical.” Now, you’re miserable. 

Or, maybe you’re feeling frantic because you never say no. Everyone says that you’re so capable and competent, and you don’t want to let anyone down and cause them to think that you’re not as capable as they think you are. So you’re doing everything: PTA, church groups, Boy Scouts, working late, going out with friends. You go. You do. And as a result you’re beyond overcommitted, and, even worse, you’re burning out. 

Or, maybe you have a significant other whom you love, but you find yourself going wherever they go and doing whatever they do. And you have your own ideas, but you aren’t expressing them. You don’t want to cause waves. You don’t want them to stop thinking you’re the perfect person. So you keep going along with them even if it’s not your true self. 

All three examples are of people who make other people their meaning. 

Maybe you can relate? 

Meaning is the deepest root of our lives. It’s planted in our hearts and sprouts up the reason for our existence. And for many of us, what’s rooted in our hearts are people, others, parents, friends, even strangers. 

There’s one major problem with that. 

People are fickle and impossible to please. They change their minds, are emotional, get in funks, are funky. And saddest of all, they die. That makes trying to impute the meaning of our lives into people, even our loving parents, insufficient. People aren’t enough. 

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. Parents, friends, others, should influence us. Their well-meaning words should be considered. We should take others’ advice.

But if you make your entire life about pleasing them, you are going to go for a ride you don’t want to go on. Because people are difficult to please—impossible, really—you won’t ever find them fully pleased by what you do. 

I’m also not saying that we should stop doing things to please people. If we do that, we probably wouldn’t keep a job, have friends, grow a marriage, be human. It’s natural to want to please people, good, even. And the reason we try to is found in this idea. 

We all want to be, not only accepted and loved, but favored. 

Many of us may not be familiar with that word, favor, but it’s what we really want, pine for. It’s more than just people saying that you’re good, or that they like you. Sure we want to be loved. But this is different than that, but not any less desired, needed.

You see, we’re dying to be seen. It’s that sense of recognition from your friends, colleagues, parents that you so desperately want, that they are not just looking at you, but see you. And they gush over you. They embrace you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. You aren’t just loved and accepted; they are proud of you. You are the apple of their eye, their treasure, treasured, esteemed. You are delighted in: Favored. 

But because we seek favor ultimately from people—fickle, inconsistent, and emotionally driven beings—we only get a nibble of what we truly want. It’s a morsel, not the meal; it’s the hors d’oerves, not the main course. It won’t satisfy our appetite because it’s not meant to. Without the entrée, it will frustrate us and leave us hungry. 

The issue that we run into with placing our meaning ultimately into the hands of people is that their hands are not big enough to hold it. 

What we should do is find the right person who can carry it. 

From my experience and learnings, the only person that is capable of carrying our meaning for us is God. 

He is the feast we are looking for. He is the person who can feed us what will truly satisfy. He’s not just the meal but also the dessert. He is ultimately the only person capable of carrying our meaning.

God is faithful, unchanging, consistent, true, good, loving, all-seeing, and all-knowing. He will not die. He is the ultimate person, with greater celebrity than Beyoncé and Jay-Z put together, more powerful than the US President, more royal than the Queen of England, and wealthier than Jeff Bezos. 

And he sees you

And all of the accolades, respect, honor, and fame that we pine for is found in spades in God. He’s the only true wellspring of favor. 

Root yourself in him.

He satisfies.