The Power of Transparency

Each day I come up with a lesson I have learned in life and I share it with you. The lesson can be about anything but it can not be a fact-of-the-day or just something I heard. It has to be something I learned and can apply to living a better life, and that is what makes it challenging. Here is today’s lesson…


“I have one more question for you,” I said. “After hearing about our company and the job, and speaking with me through this interview… why should we want you to be part of OUR family?”

This is a very specifically worded question I ask every interviewee. For one, it is sending a signal that we are an exclusive club that only lets “our kind” of people in (“Why should we want YOU…?”). It also explains, in one word, our culture and how important it is to us (“Family”). Finally, it invites the person to explain what makes them special. It is the last chance to lock in the win, or fail the interview.

“Well,” the person applying for the open position said, “Frankly, I am surprised by how honest and straightforward you have been in this interview. I’ve never had an interview like this. You put me at ease and took as long as you needed to answer all my questions. Honesty and Integrity are obviously more than words to you guys. You demonstrated it right in the interview and even in the posting. I mean… who wouldn’t want to work for you?”

I am part of an executive team that is allowed the freedom, and encouraged, to do things our way. That means we offer a lot of the unexpected, from the start. For example, my job postings display the salary and benefits information in them. I never have to negotiate salaries and draw out the hiring process because it is plain to see what I am willing to offer.

I know our competitors might be watching, and maybe even counter-offering some of our would-be team members, but that’s fine with me. I figure if somebody is willing to work for the next guy for a dollar or two more, then that is probably not the right person for my team anyway. I ask our company to pay as much as we think is fair and affordable. If money is the biggest driving factor for our workforce beyond that, then I think we have the wrong workforce.

There is power in being transparent, though many companies still try to hold their cards too close to their chest. The way I see it, if I need somebody to help me, then they need to know exactly what they are getting into. Otherwise, they can only half-help me and I can only half-rely on them. Not a good mix for success.

In other words, if you want someone to help you climb a mountain, you don’t hand them a blindfold and a walking stick and say, “I expect us to be at the top by the end of the week.” Instead, you point to the peak and explain what obstacles you think are in the way, then say, “Okay, now that you know what I think we are up against, let’s put a plan together and try to be ready for surprises. Now, what do you think is the best way to go from here to there?”



These Are The Most Important Things In The World

Know your priorities.


Here are four things I never worry about:

1. What might happen to me after I die.

2. Why Lime-flavored candy does not taste anything like a lime.

3. How molecules feel about global warming.

4. When the word “boogie” will make a comeback.

I am not saying none of those things are important. I am just saying they are not important to me. Now here are 4 things that are more important than nearly anything else to me (in order of importance):

1. Philosophy. Without philosophy, I have no sense of values, ethics, moral character, or what it actually means to be human. In other words, without knowing how to think, I am of no value to myself or anyone else. This is paramount in my life–it is, to me, the essential element of being alive, of living.

2. Physical Health. After learning to be human, the next most important thing to me is to protect and value my life as a human. Understanding that my body is a bioelectrical machine means understanding it requires care and maintenance like any machine. If I am neglectful of that, I can not enjoy my life fully and, worse, I rob others of theirs by forcing them to have to care for me and worry about me.

3. Family. If know I am a decent human being and I have taken care of myself, then I know I can take care of Family and be of value to others. “Family”, to me, is not just people with the same bloodline. My family are the very close circle of people who contribute value to me, align with my goals, challenge my shortcomings, and make me want to be a better person according to my ethics and standards. My family, bloodline or not, are the people I know I can trust with the most important thing I have… my life.

4. Freedom. Once Philosophy, Physical Health, and Family are taken care of, I can turn my attention to personal freedom. Who owns my life? If it is not me, then am I okay with whoever is behind the wheel, making decisions on my behalf over the relationships, finances, and beliefs in my life? More importantly, why is it not me in any of those areas?


Knowing my priorities are important. These are always my priorities, by the way. I never “finish” one. They are all in flux, progressing at different speeds at different times. The point is these are the things I worry about before all else.

If I am strong in these four areas, then maybe I can start worrying why turtles try to cross highways. Don’t they know how slow they are?!?



Remember That Time When We Were SO Drunk?

Today’s Lesson: The best memories are the ones you can remember.


I was thinking of listing my Top Ten Favorite Memories of my life so far, just for me, just for fun–not a blog post. After spending hours debating the first few  (“well, that is a great memory but is it really a top ten?”), I decided it is a nigh-impossible task.

However, while sorting through the wake of my life, I realized something. All of my most memorable memories are ones where I was clear-headed, happy, sober, and usually doing something active. Walking to breakfast at a coffee-shop in Savannah, for example, or scuba-diving in the Guadalupe River in Texas, or playing in the ocean with my dad and brothers in Punta Cana.

I hear people reminisce over half-memories, where the sum of the story is, “We go SO drunk… yeah… that was a crazy night.”

If you really want to have fun seeing this in action, ask someone about their last family vacation and you will hear a turn-by-turn tale of funny adventures. Then find someone who has been to Vegas more than a month ago and have them recount their trip–you will get something that vocally sounds the way a freshly shaken jigsaw puzzle looks. “Oh man, you should have been there… the lights… $2,000 on Blackjack… amazing shrimp! And he took a picture… but she was a hooker! Then I saw Elton John and it… whoa… that guy, just like in ‘The Hangover’! Here, check out this picture… No, I have no idea who that is.”

I suspect the reason why “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is because no one actually remembers what happens in Vegas.

I do not mean to hate on Vegas, by the way. I have not been there since I was sixteen and I am sure it is still a cool place. The point is that our best memories probably do not involve excessive alcohol or sitting around watching television or playing video games. Those are not the things you will remember and want to share later. It is the time spent with family, laughing, or doing something novel.

In other words, I am suggesting your best memories are made when you are at your best. Those are the moments worth remembering.



Parents Be Parenting

Today’s Lesson: Parents just don’t understand.

My mom and dad have been visiting from Michigan. While they are here, we are being touristy and eating most of our meals at restaurants.

My dad (like most dads, I think) has insisted on paying for every meal, a pedicure, and even tried to buy us beach chairs.

Of course, Nicole and I are gainfully employed adults (and we did not have to pay to fly here and rent a hotel). We planned to buy their meals but I should have known it would be a fruitless endeavor.

I once argued with my dad over buying dinner. It ended with him having the final word, “If I want to buy my son something, damn it, then I am going to do it!”, prompting a sheepish, ” Yes, sir” from me.

I saw an opportunity this trip. Dad went to the restroom just before the waitress dropped off our bill. I smiled and reached for it but my hand was stopped short with a single, “Tsk” from Mom and a look that said, “Don’t even think about it.”

Parents will always be parents, even into a child’s adulthood. I think it is, in some way, both a token of affection and a subtle reassurance that you (and perhaps your long-time partner as extended family) are taken care of if you slip and fall.

Either way, I have learned to just be appreciative of it and thank Dad when he gets the check.


Family First

The world is growing bigger and smaller simultaneously. Choose your life strategically.


Moving across the country is daunting, to be sure, but there were several factors involved in choosing where we wanted to live. One of them was proximity to family.

Nicole and I narrowed down our list of places we wanted to pursue a life together to three main cities, and then eventually to one: Tampa, Florida. When we compared it to one of the other top two contenders (Austin and San Diego), I recognized two things fairly early:

1. There are no cheap flights to those cities and if everything went wrong, it would be very difficult to return to Michigan.

2. Though they both fit some aspects of our lifestyle better, one place they did not synchronize was with family. Most of our family are not vegan hipsters or music and technology lovers. Austin and San Diego are not at the top of their wish lists for places to visit repeatedly.

That meant we would have less access to the people who look out for us and less visits from our loved ones. Flights to Florida from Michigan are not always super cheap, but they are generally affordable and you can drive there in less than a day.

That helped make it easy to choose where our next adventure will begin.

Today’s Lesson: It’s okay to venture away from the nest… but be sure you know how to get back home.


Home Is Where the Heart Is

“Home” does not have to mean, “Where I grew up”.


Most of my youth was spent growing up near Detroit. Same for my two younger brothers. It is fascinating to consider their experience of Detroit, growing up in the 2000’s versus mine, growing up in the 80’s. They love the area; I am always staying as far away as I can. If my family was not there, I would never spend another minute there in my life and that would be one hundred percent fine with me.

For my brothers, Detroit is where they know every street name, where all their friends and family are, where they found their high-school buddies and first loves. The city itself is on the rise, growing up with them, and they can’t imagine really living anywhere else.

For me Detroit is where I was bullied, beaten, abandoned, and molested as a youth. It is where my best friend died, where my heart was first broken, where my marriage ended, where I lost my house and car, and the city itself was an infamous pit of decay and corruption when I was growing up.

It is interesting to me that the three of us can see the same city in completely different ways. Detroit is a city of hope for some, a city where hope goes to die for others.

That is probably true, in some way, of every city, which brings me to my point. A city is where people are supposed to go to LIVE. Regardless of where you grew up, if it is not where you are happy, then it is not “home”. Keep looking.

Today’s Lesson: “Home” is where you live, not necessarily where you spent a bunch of your time.


Today’s Lesson: Super Fly [140930]


The fly escaped again! This was my fifth attempt to set this dumb creature free and it avoided my help every time.


This house fly has been hanging out on my screen for more than a week. It never leaves but it continually tries to get out, except it only tries to exit via the screen. Not so bright.


I know it’s brain is smaller than mine but I have to wonder how many times I have used the same strategy in life. There have been times when I have been trapped by my own bad decisions and kept trying the only answer I thought was available. My friends and family probably saw obvious solutions but I was determined to do it my way, even to my detriment.


This has been mostly true in relationships (where everybody saw the train coming except me) but I have certainly been stupidly stubborn in other areas.


Sometimes you should reconsider the guidance of others if you keep trying the same solution to the same problem and getting nowhere. If everyone keeps telling you to use the door but you are insistent on trying to climb out the window and keep getting thwarted by the screen… maybe just try the handle once.


Incidentally, I finally caught the fly and set it free outside. I think it is now sitting on the screen outside trying to get back in. Some flies just don’t learn…



Today’s Lesson: Staying Up Late [140924]

Time spent with friends is sometimes more valuable than sleep. I enjoyed a rare moment with my peers, discussing work, strategies for success, and general life drama (with a bunch of District Sales Managers, there is plenty of life drama!).

We had to be up early for a meeting but we had so much fun enjoying each other’s company we reluctantly went to bed with only a few hours left to rest.

You should always try to have enough rest but, once in a while, the information or pleasure of an opportunity to share with others in a meaningful way is more valuable than fleeting dreams.


Today’s Lesson: Name Your Poison [140916]

Names are powerful. I know because my mother would never let someone call me “Mike” instead of “Michael”. She would correct them before I could say it was okay and now I have the same habit ingrained in me. Almost everyone knows me as Michael (my brothers will sometimes call me “Mikey”) and most people can not fathom relating to me as a “Mike”.


We name everything, of course. As a society, we love labels and breaking things into categories, perhaps to a fault. When we name something or someone, we are in essence, assigning it to a specific class or category. We are saying this thing, which we all agree to call “car” is somehow intrinsically different from those things, which we call “trees”, “roads”, and “signs”.


In other words, This is not like those.


My two younger brothers (notice the labels “my”, “younger”, and “brothers”) and I share the same father but they have a different birth-mother from me, which means we are technically half-brothers (more labels: “father, mother, brother, half-brother”).


The funny thing is, we never learned the distinction of being half-brothers until I was well into my thirties and someone explained it to me by chance. We always just called ourselves “brothers” and did not know there was such a thing as only having half a brother or that it mattered if you only share one parent. A brother is a brother to us. I believe this is why we are so close and why we love each other like… well, like brothers.


By acknowledging a distinction called “half-sibling”, I wonder if we alter the family relationship between two people, instructing them that they are somehow different from a “real” sibling.


Think about how these labels play out in other areas. Before you have a name for something, how is your world different? Think about babies who bump into things, get up, and move on until they learn how to name their pain, “Owie!” All of a sudden, life becomes much more dramatic.


Or consider the labels, “USA”, “China” and “Atlantic Ocean”. They are just arbitrarily created names but we give them tremendous significance. We believe this is different from that as if the world’s geography actually worked like it does on a map with great big, bold lines magically dividing our country from the ocean and other parts of the world. Of course, when you walk to the ocean, there is no giant bold-faced wall where the land ends and the water begins. They flow into each other seamlessly because the Earth itself does not recognize the distinction of the labels. They are the same.


So today’s lesson is something for us all to think about: What if we did not have so many labels? What if we simply never acknowledged the difference of a “dark-skinned” man versus a “light-skinned” one? Does Racism exist only because we give it a name? Will it only exist as long as we acknowledge it does? What if we simply did not have labels for Black, White, Straight, Gay, Male, Female, etc.? What if we only grew up knowing we are all human? What if “human” was not a label we created? What would the world look like then? Would we treat other animals and the environment differently if we never decided there was a difference between (us and) them?


What names are you willing to give up today?




Today’s Lesson: Is It Time For a Nap Yet? [140831]

There was a lazy moment this weekend where Nicole and I were killing time while visiting family.

My mom and dad were napping, mom sleeping in dad’s arms on the couch.

Nicole remarked how cute it was that they napped curled up in each other’s arms. That’s common for my parents; I had not given it a thought but I have definitely seen couples married more than 30 years that rarely sit on the same couch together, let alone nap like young lovers still discovering each other.

I think the lesson here is to hold onto that thing that made you fall in love in the first place. Our actions develop into habits which become expectations. A kiss goodnight, for example, starts as an expression of love, then develops into a good habit, and then only becomes noticed when it is missing because it is expected… but we are, at that point, as appreciative and mindful of the kiss as we are of brushing our teeth. It’s just something we do before we go to bed.

Of course, the answer, isn’t simply “nap together”–the point is to remember to be in love.