There’s Always Someone Better Than You

Each day I share a life lesson learned that I have internalized and applied (or am trying to apply) to my life. I hope my lessons help you learn your lessons!

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Yesterday, I wrote about a lesson I learned while bicycling with a friend who had not been on a bike in a few years (he got saddle-sore quick!). He was feeling nervous about being so far behind me in experience. Yet, just one day earlier, I was riding with a more experienced biker and felt the same way! It was a great reminder to be a patient teacher.

It also helped realize something else:

“There is always someone better than you.”

We know this is true because records are broken all the time. There is always a new “Greatest _____ of all time”. Of course, I have heard this before many times, usually as a cautionary tale to temper my ego. If I was bragging too much or strutting unnecessarily, my mom would admonish me that karma would somehow right my moment of unbridled victory: “Remember, there is always someone better than you.”

What a depressing way to look at things! What is the point of trying to be the best, then? I see it differently now, though. No matter how good I become at something, knowing there is always someone better than me is now an encouraging thought.

There is always someone better than you… also means there is always someone you can learn from.

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It’s Better Than You Think

You never know what will resonate with people.

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I am still surprised when I talk about a favorite album, that somebody will almost always think the best song is the song I thought was the worst song on the album.

The same is true of my work. Often, the thing I put the most work into–the thing I am really proud of–feels like it is completely overlooked by my audience (or bosses, or friends, or family, etc.). On the other hand, the thing that demanded comparatively little energy, time, or intellect to complete will be one of my best received efforts.

There are a lot of reasons why your best is sometimes overlooked. It could be that your timing was not good, or that people’s concentration is elsewhere at the moment, or it is more interesting to you than to others. Regardless of the reason, do not take it personally.

I used to feel frustrated when a blog post I worked on for weeks bombed, and I would feel confused when a post I blew off in 10 minutes generated the most views or shares that month.

Now, whether I feel the post (or work) is good or bad, or whether people seem to love it or dismiss it, I like to believe either way it is probably better than I think.

 

 

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Are Your Weekends Getting Better?

The only way I know to improve is to assess, then practice, then assess, then practice.

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“How did we do today?” I asked Nicole as we settled in for the evening and reviewed our Sunday. “Was it relaxing?”

I don’t know about you but our weekends seem packed with shopping, chores, and tasks (groceries, cleaning, laundry, clothes shopping, grabbing food on the go, etc.). By the time Sunday night rolls around, we are ready to start our weekend! The problem, of course, is even when we plan relaxing things (like catching a movie or going to the beach), they turn into another task on the checklist. Even our relaxing becomes a chore.

We have been working to break that cycle, trying things like moving some of our weekend chores to weeknights (which packs weeknights but frees up swaths of time on the weekends–it’s a work in progress). The idea is to actually have freedom to do things we truly love on the weekends–like nap, paddleboard, and spend a day at the beach rather than a couple hours.

The biggest challenge is to protect the newly opened time. When I create space, I tend to fill it, but that is not the point of having time off together. The point is to finish the day with more energy than we started with while enjoying being together.

We assess our day now, reflecting on what worked and what we can do better next time. Often, it is as simple as, “We probably should have skipped the last two stores we visited and just bought those things from Amazon.” It is surprising how draining a day can become when you overextend just a little.

Nicole thought about it. “Yes,” she said. “Today was a really good day.”

 

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My Current Experiments

Today’s Lesson: Try, try, and try again.

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I have written before about the importance of living “an experimental life“. I think one of the best things we can do to experience the most life has to offer is to be curious and experiment. You can experiment with big stuff or easy stuff. It doesn’t matter. The point is to change your life around, turn it upside down now and then, and find out who you really are. You might find what is necessary in your life by distilling what is unnecessary. I thought you might like to know 3 of my current life experiments, just for fun. I have a lot of experiments going on but here are three that revolve around better sleep (something many of us struggle with):

 

1. Giving up caffeine. I still have mixed feelings about this one but I can definitely say there have been advantages. I think this is only week three but I have had no lattes (my daily habit for the last 6 years or so), no soda, no caffeinated teas. I drink water, herbal teas, mineral water, and sometimes club soda, kombucha, or tonic water.

So far, I have lost two pounds over three weeks (nothing to do with the caffeine, I know, but the sugar in the lattes) and I am sleeping a little better, but to be honest, I have not noticed a dramatic difference. Still, a little better is still better. I have slightly more energy throughout the day (but again, probably not the caffeine so much as the missing sugar crash). Stupid Starbucks. I’ll stay caffeine free indefinitely but the results, I would say, are out so far on this one.

2. No screens for at least 30 minutes before bed, and no screens in the bedroom. This has been a tough one. Not only do I typically check my social media and email before bed, but also it is how I like to wind down. Nicole and I will snuggle up and watch an episode of something on Netflix or some YouTube videos right before bed. However, all leading research in the field points to screen time as one of the biggest culprits for sleepless nights, throwing off our circadian rhythm. Stupid evolution. We have also banned all other non-sleep activities (except adult play-time) from the bedroom.

We have a fun fill-in, though. We sit across from each other on the sofa before bed, and take turns reading a book to each other. One person reads while the other massages their feet, and then we switch. It is wonderful!

So far, I seem to be sleeping slightly (but again, not remarkably) better. This might also be due to the caffeine thing.

3. Waking up a half-hour later. This was a risky experiment but it has been paying off the most, so far. I normally wake up at 6am and leave the apartment by 7. Usually, I arrive to work with about 10 to 15 minutes to spare, depending on traffic. Personally, I find the thought of waking up before the sun disgusting and appalling and I can not believe that any human would do it voluntarily. Stupid society. Out of desperation and anger, I decided to draw a line in the sand. I had no idea how I would hustle fast enough to get out the door on time, but I was done waking up at 6.

I decided to set my alarm for 6:30 and see what happened. Turns out, I just do everything faster. It is a bit of a rush and I end up leaving closer to 7:10 now, but I have not been late yet (it would be okay if I was but I take it as a matter of pride to always be where I agree to be when I agree to be there). Oddly enough, I also wake up before the alarm goes off.

This is the most dramatic of the experiments so far, in both action and results. Just waking up on my own 10 or 15 minutes later than when my alarm was set makes a HUGE difference in how I feel for the rest of the day. Less “fogginess”, less anger, less pouting, more energy, more efficiency (I love efficiency!), and no real loss of time. It’s crazy.

 

So there you are. Quick update on some of my current little life experiments. What are you trying, or what can you  try, to keep yourself in the mindset of living an experimental life?

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Why We Resist Having a Better Life

Today’s Lesson: Change is supposed to be scary.

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Whether it is acknowledging we need to lose 10 pounds or being on the receiving end of a family intervention and hearing loved ones tell us we have an abuse problem, or just adopting a new strategy at work, everyone resists doing things we know we must do to effect change.

Even when changing something is clearly for the better, we run from personal growth before we embrace it.

It seems crazy, even counter-intuitive, yet smokers struggle to quit smoking, dieters rarely stick with diets, alcoholics fall off the wagon, and there is always someone in the meeting who thinks everything is a bad idea without having a better one to offer.

The surprising thing is, if you think about it, our resistance to changing our lives is totally understandable. Even with a small change like losing weight, our first and immediate reaction is to resist, as it should be. Think of how dangerous change was to a person’s life up until the last 100 years or so.

Trying to lose weight was crazy in a world where food was scarce and not eating when you had the chance might have been tantamount to you skipping your last meal. You could not be sure if your hunt would be successful today or if the fruit tree you found yesterday was going to be picked over by other animals or tribes today.

Venturing out of your cave home into new territory meant uncertainty about where or when you might next find food, shelter, or safety. Of course, staying in one place indefinitely also increased your chances of perishing. The longer you stayed in place, the more likely you were to be found by a neighboring tribe also fighting for resources and the more likely you were to leave clues of your whereabouts to other would-be predators.

Albeit reluctantly, our ancestors embraced change and eventually moved on, traveled, explored, and sought out novel experiences, but never before being overly cautious at first. Just as today, we resisted change at first but eventually accepted the necessity of change.

The next time you catch yourself reacting to doing something new or different with initial resistance (or the next time someone reacts to your suggestion of change with initial fear), remember it is normal. Just as we jump when we catch something moving in the corner of our vision and then calm down and smile when we realize it was our reflection in a mirror, it is expected that we react to change.

The important thing is, after the initial fear, to properly evaluate the potential good and bad of any change and then take appropriate action.

It is okay to fear change at first. Just be sure to remember it is a natural reaction and it is both okay to feel fear and okay to let it go.

 

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It’s Better Than You Think

Don’t get so caught up in the running that you forget to do the breathing…

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It has been a stressful week. Uprooting our lives and leaving everything behind to make a dramatic (but well-planned) move to Tampa from Grand Rapids was not easy. Despite the welcome change in climate, there is still the pressure of building a new home, of me finding new work, of Rainee (our cat) settling in, and of Nicole and I not having much time to spend together (she has a new job with long hours right now).

Of course, buying all new stuff means having to shop for, and agree on, all new stuff and presently home does not yet feel like “home”. On top of that, Nicole’s had a death in the family last week, causing an impromptu un-budgeted trip back to Michigan. Needless to say, tension is understandably high and finding common ground is not always easy during transitions like this (for anyone).

The funny thing is, I can turn all of this right around and see it for the amazing things in it. There is a great love story here, for one… how many couples have (or take) the chance to say, “What are we doing here? Let’s go somewhere we both want to be and live in Paradise together!”? How many of us have the fantasy of just leaving everything behind and starting over? We totally did that!

I am in a place filled with sunshine, with an incredibly lovely and loving partner, living a life we chose instead of one we accepted. Every morning when I wake up, I open my eyes to a beautiful sunrise and for probably the first time in my life I have an opportunity to be picky about the next move on my career path (a rare choice for anyone, really). I am in great health, surrounded by great friends, in a great environment. In short, stress or no stress, it is hard to imagine life being any better!

Regardless of how good you have it, sometimes you have to be willing to open your eyes to see it.

 

Today’s Lesson:  There is no guarantee life will never have bad days but I see no reason to have to accept more than one at a time. After all, even on the worst day, life, as far as I know, is a lot better than the alternative…

 

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2 Ways To Live Better: Be Active.

There is a theme this week: I am sharing my 5 favorite tips that have worked for me in living a better life. Maybe one will contribute to you, too…

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Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of having great integrity. Accept it as a personal mission to always keep your word… even to yourself. You have probably heard the Latin phrase, “Mens sana in corpore sano”, which means “A sound mind in a sound body”. That brings us to today’s post.

2. Be Active. Notice I did not say, “Exercise”. That is a four-letter word in my world. I can barely stand the thought of running in place for an hour or just lifting something heavy and putting it back over and over. Some people love working out, but I find it challenging to think of anything more mind-numbingly boring than exercise for the sake of exercise. It’s just me. I would literally rather sit and do nothing, watching Netflix for an hour instead of actually doing something good for my body (but terribly uninteresting). So, for me, being active is the goal, not exercise.

Fitness, I have learned, does not have to come from lifting weights and running on treadmills. It can come from exploring your city by foot or bicycle. Or just moving from one room to the next in funny ways, like instead of walking from room to room, run like a bear or monkey with your hands and feet on the floor. Whatever will make you or your partner laugh. Do crab-walks to the kitchen. Hop. When you are sitting, fidget a lot. Tap your foot. Wiggle. Anything.

The point is to only rest when you are sleeping.

 

Today’s Lesson: Exercising sucks (if you are like me, anyway). Being active is simple: Just keep moving.

 

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When Is “More” Enough?

If I could rid the English language of a single concept, it would probably be to do away with the idea of “More.”

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I sat in my driveway listening to a story about immigrant slave workers picking tomatoes for Taco Bell and other big box restaurants. That was 2005. Now, at the end of 2014, they still live in the worst conditions I can imagine in the United States.

Up to 12 workers are packed into trailers as small as 10 square feet–essentially, a room with moldy walls and a single toilet. They work in fields 12 hours or more each day in the blistering Florida sun in hopes of earning a couple dollars (literally, a couple dollars). They are shuttled to and from work in rickety old buses and not allowed to travel anywhere outside of home or work. They live in enslavement camps, having come here, ironically, to escape their primary nation’s poor economy and chase the American Dream.

I remember my eyes welling with tears and anger while I listened to the story on the radio. I was sad about the obvious injustice and I was mad at myself. I was sitting in a 2006 Nissan Titan SE–an impressive (and expensive) truck with every luxury I could order it with. I made good money, then, and it was my first (and probably last) luxury car instead of just the best car I could afford.

It struck me that my truck was as big as the entire home of the 12 immigrant workers I was learning about, and many times nicer. The Titan cost more than 4 years of their salary, if they spent their money on absolutely nothing else, not even eating.

I was sitting in my spacious truck, parked outside of my house. Unlike their living quarters, my house had a fireplace, fully finished basement, 2 kitchens, jacuzzi tub, cherry wood flooring, a big backyard, and a large, covered porch complete with a love-seat rocking swing.

The Immokalee tomato pickers, I knew, would do anything to live my life. They could not even imagine having it this good. Clean, running water would have been a huge improvement for them. They would have collectively traded their lives for my truck–a vast improvement over their own mold-infested dwelling, let alone my house.

I was sad for them, but what really made me mad was that I had no idea how good my life was. Before the news story came on, I was feeling depressed and upset that I really wanted to trade in my Nissan Titan for a Tesla Roadster and my house was entirely too small for me, my estranged wife, and my 2 cats.

Worse, I was lamenting that I might never be able to afford the house I was going to visit that night–a mansion belonging to two millionaire acquaintances–a lonely, but friendly couple with a lot of money and time to spend. Their house was the one I imagined owning, with huge artwork murals decorating their living room with 20 foot high ceilings, a second level so large it literally had a bridge to cross from one side of the upper house to the other, and an expensive multi-level hardwood deck. I had two kitchens in my home but this couple had a gorgeous metal, marble, and wood professional grade kitchen with a preparatory island nearly the size of one of my kitchens. Their enormous house was lavish, tactful, and drool-worthy.

I was not prepared for our conversation that night. Much to my surprise they complained about their sprawling home and wished they had a bigger house! They pointed to the even larger mansion next door, which had turrets and was entirely built of stone like a castle, with a large rounded archway that doubled as a entrance-way and driveway. It was truly a stunningly large home. Nonetheless, I was flabbergasted. I glimpsed my future.

I knew, then, that I would never be happy with “more”. There is no end to what I will want. I had a Titan. I wanted a Roadster. If I had a Roadster, I would want a Porsche. Or maybe a boat, and when I had the boat I would want a yacht, and it would never end. Here I was, unaware that a low middle-class American making at least $30,000 per year (much less than I made at the time) fares better and is wealthier than 90% of the rest of the world’s people. I was the person that 90% of the world actually aspired to be… I have the lifestyle 99% of the world wishes they had. And I wanted more. The people who seemingly had everything I wanted… they wanted more, too. I wondered about the residents of the castle home. I wondered if they lamented over only having 3 homes, and a smaller yacht than their friends, and only a Tesla Roadster instead of a Lamborghini and a Roadster.

Well, flash forward about 7 years and I left most of that life behind. I took a job for about 1/5 of the pay I had then. It was definitely a harsh adjustment at first, but I started over and rather than embracing “More”, I actively chose to embrace “Less”. Now, I live a minimalist lifestyle, I make about half of what I used to, I own much less than half of what I used to, I even weigh less than I used to… and I have never been happier.

To be honest, I still struggle with wanting more. It is impossible not to think about all the “more” things you could have in a country that thrives on consumerism and marketing warfare. I am not decrying Capitalism, by the way. I am a staunch advocate for earning and enjoying the pleasures brought by technology and innovation, and I believe you should pay fairly for things that offer greater style, engineering, functionality, or design. No one should work for free or expect anything for free.

However, I find letting go of things that do not serve more than the purpose I need, or serve no purpose at all, frees me to live in less space yet have more freedom. For everything I can live without, I gain freedom over Space (less clutter in my life; more space to think), Time (I do not have to spend part of my life caring for trinkets I rarely look at or use), and personal Happiness (instead of wanting more, I am focused on wanting less and learning to appreciate what I have).

Businesses, of course, fall into the same trap of “More is More!”. The goal of every business I have worked for is a never-ending quest for the elusive “more”. There is never a definition of what is “enough.” No business seems to have an end-goal in mind of when they will be satisfied, of when their workers are generating “enough” revenue, of when their production is “enough” to make the shareholders happy. When your goal is merely to earn more and more money, how will you ever reach your goal? There is always “more” waiting for you.

On a social level, when your goal is only to be more thin, how will you ever lose “enough” weight? The body you see in the mirror will always be able to trim a little here or there.

When our goal is more racial, or gender, or religious equality, then how will we ever become equal? There is always some (person, group, or thing) that seems to have more equal opportunities than someone else.

When your goal is to always be “better” (a variation of “more”), then how will you ever be happy knowing you are “good enough” for yourself? When “more” is the goal, then “good enough” is removed by default. What would “enough” mean to you when it comes to being “good enough”? Do you know where better stops?

I know there are some motivated listeners and motivational speakers who would convince each other that some vague nonsense constitutes an actual destination (“being better is the goal”, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”, “just be a little better than you were yesterday”, etc.). The problem here is when you have no definition of when “enough” is enough, then you have removed the possibility of happiness and contentment. There will always be “more” and “better” waiting for you in life. “Infinity” is not a goal.
If I could remove just one concept from our ideology or one word from our language, I think it would be “More”. We do not need more. We simply need enough, and sometimes, sadly, we do not know when we have had it.

Today’s lesson: In a society where “More” is all we want, more or less, then I challenge you to start thinking about what the word “enough” means to you and consider that sometimes “Less is More”.

 

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Leaders Need Leaders

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” —Jim Rohn

 

Leaders love to lead. We enjoy thinking through situations, creating solutions, and solving problems. Great leaders, though, love to lead… other leaders. A talented leader understands the secret to successful leadership is to surround herself with people who are better at the skills needed than she is.

The real strength of a leader is in having a big enough ego to recognize there are people better suited to some skills than you, and to find a place for those people on your team.

Think about this: what if one of the most renowned coaches in history, Vince Lombardi, only accepted football players on his team who were not as good at football as he was? What if he was completely selfless and without ego and refused to recognize the greatness in others so that he was always the best player on his own team? How would he have led the Green Bay Packers to one of the longest-standing records of victory in history?

Today, I was humble enough (and smart enough) to rely on two of my leaders for help with an employee situation. They provided counsel, strategy, and a solution that was elegant and efficient because they are superbly talented at dealing with similar issues. I could have created a solution on my own and it would have turned out okay, but, like Lombardi, I know when you have a quarterback like Bart Starr playing for you, you let him take the ball and run.

 

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