Life Lessons from Doing Puzzles with My 3 Year Old

For the last week-ish, I’ve been on winter break. We get off the week between Christmas and New Years. It’s been really fun to spend extra time with my family.

For Christmas, my 3.5-year-old Miles got some puzzles. They were really simple… maybe 12 pieces. But he’d never really been into puzzles before. I didn’t know how he’d react.

At first, Miles was really skeptical. As I showed him some tips for evaluating pieces and patterns, he got really into it. I got up from the kitchen table for a minute and I heard “I’m almost done.” I rushed back over to the table. He was so excited and I was being with pride.

He had two pieces left. He looked at each piece. He turned them around. He studied the surrounding pieces. He tried one way. It didn’t work. He flipped the piece around and tried it again. And it worked. He plopped in the final piece and he was done!

The experience got me thinking. How much better would life be if more of us approached our challenges in the way that Miles approached puzzles? He was skeptical at first but jumped in with both feet. He looked at what was in front of him. He assessed the situation. He tried something. Did it work? If not, he tried something different… over and over again.

Too often, we won’t even try. Or we’ll try putting two pieces together and then quit. We’re afraid of failure. We’re afraid of being wrong. We’re afraid of being judged by other people when we’re wrong. So, we don’t even try.

This attitude or mentality just doesn’t work. Life is going to throw new challenges at you daily… hourly. If you live your life afraid to try, you won’t get out of bed in the morning. I’m wrong ALL THE TIME but I don’t let that stop me. When I make mistakes, I look at what happened, why it happened, and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s really all you can ask.

We all just need to be a bit more like Miles 🙂 or really just like a child. Children don’t have the same base of experience. They’re so willing to take a leap without knowing what’s going to happen on the other end. As a parent, this is terrifying but at times admirable.

Sometimes naivete can be an advantage. When you know too much about something, you’re held back by those experiences and less likely to try something new. You need to be able to look at issues with a fresh set of eyes and take a risk.

We need to stop being comfortable.

We are a divided and broken nation filled with divided and broken people.

That brokenness isn’t something that can be fixed by policy. It’s fixed through the heart. That’s not an easy process. It’s hard and uncomfortable. Loving people amidst their brokenness isn’t easy.

How often do we worship at the idol of being comfortable? We do what’s easy and miss out on something more impactful.

I was really convicted by this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr...

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.'”

Why I Care About Politics

Over the last year, I’ve found myself more interested in politics than ever before. You likely see it in what I post about on social media, which I sure caused a groan out of some if not most of you.

There’s a famous quote, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” If you’re frustrated with what you see in DC, state or local government, it starts with all of us and that should concern you. It concerns me.

Politics isn’t just government. Politics is how we go about living our lives together. Wikipedia defines politics as “the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group.” If the government is broken… if politics is broken, it’s not the government’s fault. It’s our fault.

Our broken politics is never more evident than over the last 48 hours. Half of America is appalled by a perceived lack of respect for the flag and what it represents. The other half is frustrated by the lack of understanding of protesting racial injustice in America. We’re divided and not listening to each other.

Something happens and we all retreat to our tribal corners. We stop listening. We stop thinking or being skeptical. If America is going to survive, we have to do something different.

By sharing more of my intellectual journey through understanding the politics of our time, I’d dream that I can somehow facilitate the awkward conversations, listen to each other, and dig deeper. This is how we learn how to love one another.

With what you see on the news day in and out, it’s easy to stick your head in the sand but that seems like a cop-out. It’s time to pick your head up and get active. Otherwise, I fear that things will just get worse.

Building Habits — Reminders & Tracking Progress

I think a lot about the habits that I want to build. Habits are something automatic. They’re muscle memory. When an action becomes a habit, you don’t have to think about it. You just do it.

There’s a bunch of activities that I want to turn into habits. I want to be consistent about reading the Bible every day, drinking more water, picking up house at the end of the night, and reading a least 10 pages of a physical book.

There’s a number of iPhone apps that’ll track your progress and give you reminders for building your habits that I’ve found to be really helpful. I’m currently using Productivity but I’ve also used Coach.me. I know that I’ve heard of others. They’re great!

I’ve been using Productivity for several months. First thing when I wake up in the morning is to read the bible on the He Reads Truth app. Throughout the day, I’m filling up a massive reusable water bottle. I barely think about it.  Now, I need to think about what are the next habits that I want to build.

Time is a precious commodity. If we turn daily actions into habits, we can spend our time actively thinking about other things and not that.

Two Websites I Read Everyday

Now, more than ever, it’s so critically important to be informed about what’s going on in the world. I have a handful of new sources that I follow pretty closely. I’m a big fan of the New York Times and Vox for current events and politics. I read Recode and TechCrunch for tech news.

There are other sites that are fantastic. I just don’t have the time to pay attention to them all. You see some of them by following social media but you don’t see everything or from as wide of variety of sources.

I’ve become a HUGE fan of two news aggregator site: Techmeme for tech news and Memeorandum for politics. Both sites act as a one-sheet for their respective topics. You can read these sites and get headlines from a WIDE variety of different sites. I can read these two sites and I feel fairly confident that I’m getting a full picture of what’s really important.

The only kind of stupid question

So, for most of my adult life, I’ve been the young guy. I’ve been on the bottom of the ladder. Those above me have always gotten to know me really well because I ask a lot of questions.

In college, I learned quickly the magic of office hours. You could ask any and every question and soak up the answers. Suffice it to say I was a fixture. 🙂

Now I’m a little bit older and have the distinct privilege of managing an incredible team of marketers. So, now I’m the guy who gets the questions and I love it.

Something that I’m trying to blot of existence is someone saying “can I ask a stupid question?”

You should never be ashamed to ask for help or inquire about something. It’s when you don’t ask questions or assume the answer that you’re so much more prone to make mistakes.

I usually say back that “the only stupid questions are the ones that don’t get asked.”

Now when the actual question inevitably gets asked, I may not give you the answer you’re looking for. I may just point you in the direction of where to look. But you always need to feel comfortable to ask the question.

We live in an era where you ALWAYS have to be learning. That means you always need to feel comfortable asking questions.

I love getting feedback. 

One of the big lessons I’ve learned in my adult life is learning to take feedback. When someone tells you how they feel about you or what you do, it’s easy to get emotional and snap back. As you can imagine that’s not a productive experience for either side. 

One of my first jobs out of college was at a startup Clearspring. We were small and I was on the front lines of every inbound communication. A lot of people wanted to share feedback. At first, I had to hold back from responding emotionally. 

At some point, I realized that if someone cares enough to take the time to share feedback that it means that they care. Sure the feedback can be hard but it’s HUGELY important and you want more of it. Feedback is how you learn to move forward. 

Now, it’s important to say that feedback is just ONE data point. You have to learn how to evaluate the feedback but you also don’t want to live in a bubble, which too many people do. 

When someone says “you suck,” say “thanks” and “how can I suck less?” That’s the attitude. You need to be grateful for the opportunity. 

At Clearspring, my boss set the amount of product feedback I was able to pull in as one of my performance goals (KPIs), which I think is kind of brilliant. 

All in all, I think it’s so important to learn to embrace feedback. It’s big part of how to grow and learn. And it’s all about learning. 

Don’t be defensive. Be grateful. 

Ubiquitous Computing Comes After the Mobile Phone

I love new technology. I remember the day that iPhone came out. I stood in line for 3 hours at the Apple Store in Arlington, VA. Most of my friends thought I was CRAZY for spending $700 on a mobile phone. But I knew I was seeing the start of a revolution that would change the world.

Everyone wants to know... what's the next iPhone gonna be? We all waited with baited breath. The iPad was a relative hit. Then came them Apple Watch, Apple TV updates, Apple Airpods, which were all fine but nothing of iPhone caliber.

What if the next computing revolution isn't a device like the iPhone? Ubiquitous computing is the next revolution. Everything is a computer. Your watch is a computer. Your ear buds are a computer. Your house is a computer. Your car is a computer.  All of these are platforms that you can build apps on on top of.

Apple, Google, Microsoft start creating systems that allow us stitch all of these systems together into something even smarter and more useful.

It makes the Apple Watch seem like less of a disappointment in the shadow of the iPhone and more like a piece of the puzzle.

My Inbox Is NOT My To Do List

With a house, wife, kids, and a job that's getting increasingly more complex, I have to be productive. I have to know what I need to get done and then get it done.

There are so many inputs. I have email. I have a text messages. I have instant messages. I have social media. I have work group messaging. Everyone is vying for my attention. Everyone is asking me to do something.

For work, we especially love email and group chat. It's far too easy for it all to fly back 'n forth. You lift your head and find that you haven't actually gotten anything done for multiple hours.

I work very hard to not use email as my to do list. I use Apple Reminders as my to do list. I work off of what's in Reminders. I'll regularly check what's in my email, evaluate it, decide how it compares to what else is on my list, and add accordingly. If needed, I'll re-prioritize.

I'll do something similar with a number of different inputs.  I go through my meeting notes, look for action items, and put them in Apple Reminders. I go through my project planning in Trello and put my to do's in Apple Reminders.

My goal is that I have ONE LIST that I use to manage what I want to get accomplished during the work day.

Apple Reminders has been really great for my family too. You can share your lists with others. That way my wife and I have common lists for joint projects, things I need to do, shopping lists, etc.

Net net -- It's important to find and be disciplined about a system that works for you, where you can prioritize what you need to do and be in control.

Important Things Are Hard

Sometimes some of the biggest and deepest truths are the simplest. I've had one on my mind lately... important things are hard.

We all have those things that we want to do. We want to be successful entrepreneurs, we want to be thinner, or we want to be richer... you get the idea.

I was on Facebook and friend posted something to the extent of "Do you want to be thinner without putting in all the work?" And instantly everyone said YES, YES, YES.  Well it's all a lie. Losing weight and being thinner isn't something that you can do without making sacrifices. It may mean not eating that ice cream that everyone else is.

I want to have more time to read by myself in the quiet. That meant I had to get up earlier and forgo sleep. There are days that it's REALLY hard. I have force myself out of bed but I'm always glad that I do.

I want to get back into writing more often. That means I'm going to have to set aside time to write more often. That means I'm going to have to not do something else.

It's almost like we're trained to try and look for shortcuts. We want to be lazy. By cheating the process, you're gonna not get where you want.