16 important life lessons I learned from boogie boarding.

Vacation time is the most important time in your career. If you squander your vacation time it will have a negative impact on your work, your happiness, your family, your friends and your tan lines.

I spent last week on vacation at the beach in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. My family of 5 loaded up our Family Truckster and drove from the western shore of Lake Michigan to the Eastern Shore of the second largest barrier island on the east coast. We drove because we bring 5 bikes and 5 boogie boards, which are hard to stuff in the overhead compartment on a plane.

Boogie On Board

I spent a lot of time boogie boarding. It is one of my favorite ways to spend a vacation day. Boogie boading is like life (#gettingdeep). I have thought a lot about why I enjoy boogie boarding so much, and what it has taught me. Here’s what I came up with.

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My daugher Ava and I about to boogie.

Top 16 lessons I have learned while boogie boarding.

  1. Be present. When you are boogie boarding you become totally absorbed in the moment. Like Bounty. Being present makes you feel alive. Feeling alive feels good.
  2. You have to choose the waves you want to ride.  Opportunities come at us over and over. We have to decide which ones are best for us. Others around you will jump on waves that aren’t right for you. Let them.
  3. You have to kick to get started. To catch a wave you have to start with a little forward momentum. Which means you need to get moving first. Never forget that. My son Johann (11) says ‘If you don’t start kicking you’ll just float.’ #truth
  4. Sometimes you are too early. We often get excited about an opportunity too early. Oh well. We tried.
  5. Sometimes you are too late. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I’ve missed many a great wave because I didn’t time it right and it got away.
  6. Sometimes what looks great isn’t. A job, a client, an opportunity can look perfect. But it doesn’t turn out that way. This will happen. A lot. But on the other hand…
  7. Sometimes what looks bad isn’t. I have caught waves that I thought would be forgettable, and they turned out to be the best rides of the day. My career has been like that too. Some of my favorite clients and opportunities started inconspicuously. Don’t write them off.
  8. There will always be more waves to catch. Whenever you miss an opportunity, know there will be an endless supply of others. You just have to paddle back out and get ready for them.
  9. Sometimes a great ride ends with a spectacular crash. This is part of the fun. It’s part of the story and the experience. Take the ride anyway.
  10. Sometimes you lose your suit. Waves and jobs and life all have a funny way of trying to return us to our natural state of nudity.
  11. Sometimes you get stung by jellyfish.  3 of the 5 members of my family were stung multiple times by jellyfish on our latest trip. The sting is temporary. The story is forever. And now we include a bottle of vinegar in our beach bin. #nobodygotpeedon
  12. Sometimes you swim with sharks. When you wade into the ocean you are entering the shark’s world. I have seen sharks several times while boogie boarding.  Look for fins. Listen for the Jaws music. If you see or hear these signs, quickly back out of the water while not smelling tasty. The sharks will pass. There are sharks in businesses and social circles too. Keep an eye out for them.
  13. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and hold on. Really great waves can get gnarly. In those cases you have to get primal. Hold on to your board. Shut your eyes to keep the saltwater and sand out, and try to outlast the chaos. The rest of life works the same way.
  14. The scarier the wave the more exciting the ride. That’s all I have to say about that.
  15. Rip currents are real.  There is always a chance you will get sucked out to sea. We review how to swim out of rip currents and rip tides with our kids every time before we boogie. We also talk to our kids about how to avoid drugs and drinking and the wrong crowds. Which are the rip currents of dry land.
  16. People on the beach wish they were doing what you are doing. But people boogie boarding are never jealous of those lying on the beach. The same holds true of entrepreneurship and exercise and all kinds of adventure. Because Active > Passive.

Key Takeaway

Take your vacation time. Enjoy as much life as you can. Take chances. Be Present. Learn from everything you do. And come back better than you left.

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What is the defining event of your life?

John McCain died of brain cancer this week. In the first alert I received on my mobile phone announcing the death of this long time senator from Arizona, there was a lengthy summation of his life. Which was remarkable to say the least. But there was one new thought in the summation that jumped off the screen at me. Figuratively, that is. There was no literal jumping.

McCain was a Naval fighter pilot who was shot down, captured, imprisoned and tortured for 5 and a half years in Vietnam. But upon his release in 1973, he was determined to make sure that his experience as a POW was not the defining event of his life.

This is a great reminder not to allow bad things to be the things others remember about us. It is a great reminder to continuously push ourselves to do more and be more. We have the ability to add so much good to our life story, our careers, and our relationships that it minimizes the bad.

McCain’s story also reminds us that even in a life full of happiness and success we have the ability to do more and be better. I’m working at it. I hope you are too.

Is there enough adventure in your career?

In 2006 I had a 365 day calendar. You know, the type of calendar that has 365 sheets that are stacked like a thick pad of post it notes. I don’t remember the theme of the calendar. In fact, I have forgotten 364 of the pages. But there is one page that I will never forget. At least until the Alzheimer’s kicks in.

My life in 2006

The date was Friday, July 21, 2006. I had been at my first job out of college for nearly 10 years. I had been married to my wife, Dawn, for nearly 4 years. We had owned our first home for 2 years. And our first child, our daughter Ava, was about to celebrate her first birthday by smashing a cupcake into her face.

That July morning I tore off the July 20th page on my calendar like it was yesterday’s news (because it was), and revealed the following message:

“I have always wanted an adventurous life. It took a long time to realize that I was the only one who could make an adventurous life happen to me.” -Richard Bach

The Quote

This quickly became one of my favorite quotes. It serves as a constant reminder to adventure. To try new things. To move beyond our comfort zones. To make our insurance premiums worth paying.

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I keep this little square as a constant reminder to adventure.

We should adventure on our weekends, on our vacations and holidays. But we should also adventure at home on Wednesday nights. We should adventure in our reading and eating and driving. We should try new things, and semi-dangerous or even full-strength dangerous things on a regular basis. We should do the things Rupert Holmes sings about in The Pina Colada song (I know it’s called Escape, but who really calls it that? His lawyer?).

My Career

Shortly after reading this quote I turned my career into a legitimate adventure. After 10 years at my first job I moved on to my second job. I also moved to a new state, and took on 3 successively larger positions over the next 4 years. 7 years later, Engauge, the ad agency I worked for, was bought by Publicis Groupe, and I moved to Atlanta in a new role in a new company. Then, in 2015 I began planning to start my own business. Because that seemed like the natural next step.

Entrepreneurship

There is no career adventure like owning your own business. In April of 2016 I launched the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. And it has been the most exciting chapter of my career. As an entrepreneur, you learn like a college student on a daily basis. Which means that you are constantly growing and pushing yourself into unfamiliar situations.

It is in the pushing and growing and unfamiliar that the adventure happens. Threats and opportunities and excitement now surround me every day. And I love it. It is better than a television show, movie, or book. Because it is happening to me. I am not feeling someone else’s drama. It is very much my own.

Key Takeaway

Before you know it we will all be dead. So while we are here, create your own adventure.    Take that new job. Make that move. Go on that trip. Change careers completely, or get more schooling if you need to do what you really want to do. Start your own business or consult of side hustle or whatever it takes to add more venturing to your life. Give the person who delivers your eulogy something to write about. Give the rest of us great stories to read about.

Remember, no one makes it out of here alive. So there is no use in playing it safe. But as Richard Bach told me in 2006, no one else can give you an adventurous life. You have to make it yourself.

When you are great at what you do, no one cares what you wear.

Yesterday I had a bee and wasp specialist come to my house to handle a situation. A buzzillon yellow jackets found a small opening in my siding, and Goldilocks-ed their way into the just-right attic space above my garage, where they built a watermelon sized nest.

Dennis, aka The Bee Guy, (not to be confused with the Bee Man, Bee Boy or Bee Gees) walked up to the spot where the yellow jackets were throwing me a house swarming party, and calmly said he could take care of the problem. He said, ‘But first let’s look to see if there are any other areas of concern.’

Those Little Stingkers!

We walked around the house, and sure enough, he found another active area on the back side of the house that we hadn’t noticed. Then he got to work. He treated both of the nests, and soon it was clear that these Georgia Tech mascots were no longer active residents in my home.

The Kicker

Dennis never put on any protective gear. He never put on any netting, or armor or even bug spray. He did his work in jeans and a short sleeve shirt. And he did it really well. He talked me through each step. He even walked me through the proprietary equipment he used that he had invented and created himself. I could tell that Dennis knew his profession as well as anyone could (I bet he got all bees in school).

Key Takeaway

Don’t be fooled by clothing. It is easy to buy the right clothes to look the part. It is much harder to have the skills the part requires. There is no direct relationship between clothing and expertise. I have found over and over again that people who are truly experts don’t get caught up in looking the way you think they would or should or could. So focus on gaining knowledge and experience. Become great at what you do. The more value you offer others, the less value they will place on your appearance. Which is good news for a man who looks like me.

A great reminder from a bad dream.

Last night I had a dream that I was invited to The OSCARS. But I was indifferent about going. I made no real attempt to find appropriate attire. In fact, I figured some blue jeans and a decent shirt would do. Apparently I had The Oscars confused with The Allman Brothers.

On the afternoon of the big event I slowly put on my far-under-dressed OSCARS costume. My wife walked in, looked me over, and said, ‘You are not seriously going to wear that!?!’ But I was going to wear it. And I wasn’t being serious.

Making My Way

I slowly meandered towards the venue, not really caring if I got there. Then my Mom called via FaceTime. She was thrilled about me going to the show. Until she saw how I was dressed. My Mom implored me to find something appropriate to wear, but I didn’t listen.

A Lucky Break

After I hung up, I looked down and saw that somehow my very best clothes, including my tuxedo, were at my feet. I finally realized that if I wanted to go to the OSCARS, and actually be let in, I would have to put on the tuxedo. Which I finally decided to do. Then I slowly set off again on my journey towards the venue.

But as I got closer to the event, I could hear an announcement over a loud-speaker. A woman was warning, ‘You must be in your seat in five minutes or you won’t be permitted to enter.’ I began to panic. I ran as hard as I could.  But it was too late. I was too far away to make it to the show on time. Then I woke up.

Facing Reality

When I opened my eyes and realized it was all a dream, I quickly reflected on what I thought the dream meant. Here is my summation:

Breaking It Down

It was a classic bad dream. It played off of my greatest concerns. I had a major opportunity and I blew it. I had everything I needed, served up on a silver platter, and I didn’t realize it. I didn’t care. I didn’t prepare. I wasn’t listening to my Wife and my Mom, who I considered to represent the Universe. I caught lucky breaks, like having my right clothes show up when I needed them. Which, of course, is classic dream nonsense. But still, I didn’t act with urgency until it was far too late. The time had passed. The opportunity was gone. I blew it. As the other Cinderella once said, ‘You don’t know what you got, till it’s gone.

Key Takeaway

This dream played into my biggest fear. Which is not taking advantage of the great opportunities that come my way. I am afraid of not recognizing the chances and advantages and lucky breaks I have been given. I am worried that I won’t hear the messages that the Universe is sending me. I have a serious case of FOMO. But my FOMO is the vaccine that prevents me from contracting a boring life.

*Happy Monday!  Please recognize and take advantage of all the great opportunities that come your way.

Do you really want serenity? Or do you want to solve problems?

My time is my most precious asset. Not because my time is any more important than anyone else’s. It is certainly not. Just as Steve Miller’s time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future, I know that my finite time on Earth is steadily slipping away too. Like sand through an hourglass. Literally. Yet, it is this scarcity of time that is the major motivating force in my life.

My Increasing Impatience

More and more, I find myself interrupting others as they recount their disappointments in the past. I often crash pity parties to point out that time spent dwelling on the things that went wrong will not make them go right.

Spending Your Time Wisely

I am a problem solver, both by nature and by profession. As an entrepreneur and as a professional creative thinker, I view the limitations of any given situation simply as the rules that govern the solution. I have no time to relive something that went wrong in the past. All I care about is what I can do moving forward.

The Serenity Prayer

I find great value in the Serenity Prayer. If you don’t know it, or don’t know it by name, here it is:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  –Reinhold Niebuhr

Serenity Now!

Many see this statement as a path to Serenity. But I would have named this The Problem Solver’s Prayer. Because what Reinhold is praying for is the essence of problem solving.

Problem solving is like conducting a science experiment. To find a great solution to the challenges you face, you must accept the constants, and vary the variables until you get the results you are looking for.

Focus On The Possible

I don’t spend any time lamenting the constants. I accept the things I cannot change. I pour all of my time, energy and thought into the things I can change. You could say I focus on the positive. But I say I focus on the possible. Mine is not a rose-colored glasses outlook. I focus on reality. Because reality is full of positive possibilities.

Key Takeaway

Memorize the Serenity Prayer. Accept the cold hard realities of life. And spend all of your valuable, and constantly diminishing time focusing on the amazing opportunities and possibilities that exist anyway.

How to evaluate your career and your life with one simple question.

I love a good rule of thumb. While other people collect stamps, art or sports memorabilia, I collect rules of thumb. In fact I have far more rules of thumb than I have thumbs. Which, upon further reflection, is not saying much. But I love a good, simple lens through which to view complex issues.

The Search

A few years ago when I was looking to hire an Executive Creative Director in Atlanta, I found  many interesting candidates. While discussing their various merits, Michael Palma, my headhunter, dropped an interesting rule of thumb into the conversation. He said,

‘I think you always have to ask yourself, is the candidate’s best 5 years in front of them, or behind them.’

Evaluating The Path

person holding chart and bar graph

I found this to be a startlingly simple way to evaluate a job candidate. Because it boils a career down to trajectory. Is the candidate growing and learning and becoming more capable, more energetic, more inspired, more influential, more well-connected and more wise? Or have they peaked?  Have they begun coasting? Have they begun living off of past successes? Are they still seeking out bigger challenges? Are they still hungry and feisty? Are they still showering on a regular basis?

Self Evaluation

person on a bridge near a lake

Palma’s rule of thumb isn’t just useful when evaluating job candidates. Its real power is that it is a great way to think about our own careers. And our own lives. I have sought out and surrounded myself with people who maintain an upward trajectory. I am inspired by people who continue to grow and challenge themselves to do, learn and be more.

I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, as part of a personal growth plan. I knew it was the next challenge I needed to maintain my trajectory of growth, passion and impact. As the business continues to grow and expand, it is clear to me that the best 5 years of my career are still ahead.

Key Takeaway

Take a moment today to look at your own big picture. Are you getting better? Are you pushing yourself? Are you taking on challenges that scare you? Are you maintaining a commitment to life-long learning and self-improvement? Are your interpersonal skills, maturity and accountability improving? If not, it is time for you to spend more time working on you.