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.

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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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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You’re rich

Do you feel like you have something to prove? I do sometimes.

I feel that urge to let people know that I’m doing ok; I’m successful; I’ve done something; I’m special. But why?

Comparing ourselves to others is a killer. It kills our joys, our happiness, our richness.

But I hope you free yourself from that, friends. I hope you see that life is more than how much crap you can put into your homes, more than your titles, net worth and where you lie on the imaginary comparison chart you place yourself and others.

Just because you have a lot of money, homes, wealth, doesn’t mean you’re rich. Having a lot doesn’t mean you have healthy relationships, wellbeing, wellness, character. Often the best of life gets eroded by the pursuit of more.

See, the secret to happiness is contentment.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have dreams, or try to do better, or succeed. You should.

But when you start looking around and comparing yourself, or scrolling down your newsfeed and wondering what it would be like to be so and so, that’s the problem. You’re always one scroll away from feeling life poor.

You might have reached great heights and attained riches, but still feel poor. And the act of comparison is the fastest way to dive into that dingy hole of feeling impoverished.

Because there will alway be someone doing “better” than you. Whatever “better” means.

Instead you need to focus on your life and enjoy what you have. More than that, you can be grateful, or, even, celebrate where you are.

You decide how rich you feel. And when you know that, you won’t need to prove anything.

Your contentment is proof of how good you have it.


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Things got weirder

These past few days things just got weirder.

An image of a married couple brandishing firearms and pointing them at people who were peacefully protesting shocked me.

They live in my city. They’re not far from me, which only added to the weirdness.

These people, who are basically my neighbors, looked like some strange mash up of Rambo and James Bond. And I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘What would cause someone to do something like that?’

And the only thing I could think of was this.

Fear—naked and unadulterated terror.

It distorts reality, dements our thinking, bends our minds away from facts into a terrible fiction. It makes peaceful protestors into “terrorists.” It can make something uncomfortable into a nightmarish scene that came from a movie like The Ring.

But the fact is that we all live with fear. They just lived it in public, captured on video, shared on public media.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending them. What they did was absolutely wrong. They could have killed someone. Their actions were reckless, foolish, and terrible.

But, I am trying to understand why someone in my city would do something so outrageous. What would cause someone to think, “You know what? I’m going to grab my semiautomatic rifle and take it out to the lawn and hold the line,” and then I say, “Hey, Honey! Grab your pistol and meet me out there!” I mean, you don’t do that unless you thought it’s a good idea, or felt compelled somehow.

And that’s the issue isn’t it? What made them think it was a good idea?

Any rational human would have known it would get filmed and splashed on social media. Anyone who would have taken a second and breathed in and out and asked themselves, “Is pulling out firearms in public the right move?” would have realized how idiotic it was.

Yet they didn’t. And they stood their ground, holding the line, imagining they were defending their hill to the death even though death never came for them.

St. Louis is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve live in other parts of the country (New York City and San Diego). I’ve traveled. But St. Louis is great. It has amazing amenities, it has rolling hills, lakes and rivers, bursts with color with the autumnal foliage, and the nicest people. (They usually don’t wave their guns around.) Really.

They will smile and wave at you. That’s right. Complete strangers look at you in the eyes, acknowledge your humanity and then greet you warmly. Let me tell you something, that didn’t happen in NYC. I love that place but it isn’t known for its friendliness. But St. Louis is friendly, exceedingly so.

Now you juxtapose that with these two gun slingers. It’s strange. But in a way it’s not.

St. Louis has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation for a reason. We love our 2nd amendment here in Missouri. And it doesn’t take much to see it. When I scroll down my Facebook feed, I’ll see friends holding their AR15 or a family member talking about this new “easy conceal and carry” that they bought for the missus.

And the city’s love for guns is largely due to the fact that we are a very conservative (I’m not using the term in the political sense, although that’s true, too) city. We love safety, comfort, ease of living. I mean, there’s a reason why this is one of the most affordable cities to live in and pays some of the highest wages. We love to be fat and happy here, quietly living in our fiefdoms in fly-over country, unbothered, unmolested, eating pasta, toasted ravioli, custard, and thin crust pizza until we are rub-your-belly full.

But then you have barbarians “breaking down” the gate terrorizing a private street, invading their land, penetrating their border and ransacking their village of a city block.

That broke up the tranquility of this couple’s existence and disturbed their daily life, the safety they felt. It’s likely they’ve been feeling uneasy for months, not just from the pandemic but the “riots.” Tensions within in their home might have been high, as it has been for many of us.

And seeing strangers barging into their neighborhood was the last straw, and their frayed nerves were exposed for the world to see, witness, jeer at, and ridicule.

They are the butt end of a national joke.

And yet, they’re not. There are many in our nation who believe them right and good, righteous even. More said, “Good for them,” than I ever thought would have, as if what they were doing was their God-given right and the best idea to execute. People even seemed to envy their behavior and saw it as something to aspire to, as if waving a gun at innocent people was an act one should do.

It’s disturbing.

The most ironic part of this whole situation was that the couple said that they believed in the Black Lives Matter movement. They didn’t want people to think that they didn’t believe in it they said in an interview after the incident. That was the weirdest thing I’ve heard in a long time. And that caught me off guard the most.

And I thought, ‘How could a couple who believes in Black Lives Matter point weapons at protestors who were for Black Lives Matter?’

We humans are frail creatures. Empathy isn’t just needed for some people, but for all people. I know what these people did was completely wrong and stupid. But if I’m honest with myself, I’ve been idiotic, brash, harsh, foolish. I don’t own a firearm but I’ve thought about it.

So, in all of this weirdness, I’ll end with this weird thought.

It’s easy to point the finger and wag our heads and say what is off with those people. But I wonder if we shouldn’t be grateful that we’ve been spared from doing something like that and acknowledge that if we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, that could be us. We could be caught doing the dumbest things we’ve ever done on video.

And if we think like that, maybe, just maybe, our world could be a little kinder, and generous, and gracious, even to those who are having the worst day of their life.


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You can survive this time

Sometimes authority is wrong. In America, it’s woefully wrong about the pandemic.

Everything is not ok. It’s not safe.

I’m not trying to be a fear-monger. I’m just telling you the truth.

I don’t want you to get sick. I don’t want you to spread this disease to your loved ones.

Look, our leaders are failing us. When leadership fails, we must lead ourselves.

When governments fail to use reason, data, wisdom, we must self-regulate.

We must stay informed and help, encourage, challenge, and bless each other.

I’m not saying this time is easy. No, it’s terrible. It kick-you-in-the-face challenging. It’s “unprecedented.”

We must use our minds, stay calm, and not rush into a world that no longer exists. It’s not safe.

But I have hope. I believe this will pass. It will be safe again. But it’s just not now.

In the meantime, practice caution, call friends and family, eat delicious food, read books, binge a show, learn a new skill, occupy your time with healthy, socially distanced activities.

And when you get through this, you’ll be stronger than ever.

Stay well, friends.

Love,

John


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Heal your wounds

The key to healing a wound is to move toward the pain.

You know the relational or financial or emotional problems that happen in life. They hurt us.

We’re wounded.

But if you don’t face the uncomfortable, even agonizing conversations you don’t want to have with your partner, friend, mother, it only makes the relationship harder, unhealthier.

Or if you don’t look at your finances as they are and really dig into them, that will only make your financial future grimmer, darker.

Maybe something in your past is haunting you. Some act you did or was done to you sits on your mind, heart, burdening you. And you want to ignore it, but it only weighs you down, like an anchor, drowning you.

The only way to heal is to move toward our fears, what pains us.

It’s like a cut.

My son runs around and often get scrapes and bleeds. When that happens, he knows the next thing we are going to do. We bring him into the bathroom and clean off the wound with soap and water. He screams, cries, hates it—all of it. But if we didn’t do that, he would only have bigger problems later, get an infection, or worse.

Likewise you need to push into the pain. Even after you grimace, maybe scream, you must press into the difficult conversation, make the terrible spreadsheet, talk to a therapist. You need to face the things that scare you.

And it will be like a surgeon taking a scalpel to an infection, cleansing you, healing you. It will keep you from greater pain.

It cuts, but it heals.

You’ll feel whole.


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