Empathy

‘the noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding’ – Leonardo da Vinci

 

Last week, I found myself at church in Colorado Springs.  It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.  Growing up in New Hampshire, I have a certain expectation of what ‘church’ is, and what it looks like.  It usually takes place in a formal ‘chapel like’ building…with a steeple and stained glass.  But this church wasn’t that.  I’d characterize it as very modern as a facility, and more progressive as a religious institution.  Upon entering the massive lobby, I was introduced to a bunch of gathering areas with attractive seating, an open concept fireplace, touch-screen sign in stations, a cafe, and an aesthetic that seemed to call more for a space for community and sharing, than a strict setting for receiving a sermon.

Now, I would call myself a non-believer…and still feel that way after visiting this beautiful church.  Why did I go?  My daughter and I took the trip to Colorado from New Hampshire to visit my cousin and her family.  Knowing how significant the church is within their lives, and how passionate my cousin is about being part of it, I really wanted to try to understand what it was all about.  I wanted to learn from an institution that I’m now pretty removed from…that I don’t necessarily believe in.  I wanted to practice empathy.

em•pa•thy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

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All too often, we think negatively about the other side of the isle.  We ruminate on the differences between us.  We wonder how someone could be so shallow in thinking in a particular manner.  But progress and benefit comes from finding alignment, seeking out similarities, and respecting one’s position.

The church service began with an amazing band, playing rock/pop type music with a religious message within the lyrics.  Those lyrics were displayed on two huge screens on either side of the band, along with a video of the performance…so you could follow along with the song.  The band was amazing.  After that, there was a guest speaker visiting from another church, filling in for the pastor.  His message was so smart…so relevant to my world, and so easy to grasp onto…even by me (a non-believer)…and even though God and Jesus were central to the sermon.  I could sift the information, and gather the valuable pieces for myself.  I could understand how others could be so faithful here.  I could practice empathy.

This practice of empathy can seem warm and fuzzy, mostly reserved for vegetarians and yoga instructors.  And in some ways it is.  It’s choosing to lead with love as the intention.  It’s honestly taking another person’s feelings into consideration, and honoring and respecting those as you exchange words.  It’s forgiving and welcoming instead of judging.  Do you try to do that?  When was the last time you were truly empathetic to someone with opposite values of your own?  On the other hand though, this practice is very practical.  It’s a win-win for both sides.  It allows for necessary changes within society to more efficiently take place.  And it provides us with a broader perspective…one that leads to a more rich and fulfilling life.

I left the church with a newly found respect for my cousin and her family, on top of the love I already had.  I felt so lucky to share this experience with them, and that they welcomed me so warmly to a sacred part of their lives…without even knowing my thoughts on spirituality or religion.  And I felt really positive about a community that thinks differently than me…knowing that they are practicing something so worthy, and that their doing it just so right.

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When I was 21, I was working at a local car dealership, detailing cars that were traded in when customers purchased a new one.  I had worked there with my best friend for the past 2 or 3 years…basically since high school.  My friend found a gun in one of the cars.  He told me about it, and took it home.  Within a week or two, my friend committed suicide with that gun.

Since then, as you can imagine, I’ve had very negative connotations associated with guns.  I was never really interested in them to begin with…and this situation, being my first real connection to a hand gun, immediately deterred me from becoming comfortable with them.

You see, from my perspective, as naive as this may sound to you, my friend was dealing with something that made him unhappy for some time.  And he was ‘living’ with that.  When a gun was introduced to his environment, things quickly changed.  It seemed to me that had he not found a gun, he’d still be living.  I know, I know… he may have found another way.  But try to understand how it felt to me…try to feel it…practice empathy for me if you can.

Now, many years removed from that situation, I’m still not interested in guns.  I’m definitely not as sensitive to it as I once was.  I just don’t care to have one.  And part of that decision was certainly shaped by that early experience that I had.  Recently though, I’ve had great conversations with two guys that love guns.  They both seemed to believe in owning guns for sport, as well as for a way to protect themselves…their homes…their families.  And instead of focusing on how dangerous that could be, or wondering why they feel they need some of the weapons they have, or telling them why my perspective is more valid in today’s world…I listened.  I gave my best effort to respecting their values…their reasons.  I provided an opportunity for them to voice why they accept that owning guns is effective and significant.  I practiced empathy.

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I hope that by going to church…that by talking guns…I, in some small way made others feel positive about their position.  I know that by doing both, I felt more positive about my own.  Not ‘positive’ as in all-knowing and never swaying…’positive’ as in good…healthy…happy.  When we practice empathy, we expose ourselves and others to the fact that the world is full of vastly diverse perspectives.  We open ourselves up to the multitude of possibilities and opportunities.  And regardless of how small we move the needle, we make the world a better place.

Thank you so much for your time,

Jimmy Thorpe

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work/life balance

‘…life is about balance.  The good and the bad.  The highs and the lows.  The pina and the colada.’ – Ellen DeGeneres

 

I haven’t worked since December 1st.  It’s about time to get back at it!  Honestly, I’ve done a couple of things to earn money since then, but for the most part…I’ve been doing other things…things that don’t make me money…things that simply make me feel happy, content…fulfilled.  And while the term ‘work/life balance’ has become overused and perhaps stigmatized, I still pay heavy attention to it, and feel that you should too!

For most of us, it’s simply expected that work at a job will take up the most amount of time in our lives…more than most of the other things we do.  I came to realize that it’s highly beneficial to enjoy the work I’m doing, considering all of the time it takes up.  I also figured out that self-employment can lead me to a place where I can work when I want to, and work how much I want to.

My previous career was teaching English, in which I worked a 190 per year schedule.  I enjoyed the vacation weeks, and the summers off, but it always felt that the job was pulling, looming over me, causing me to still think and stress about it even when I wasn’t there.  I had nightmares about lesson plans (this was early on in my career), and I felt this incredible guilt if I was ever too sick to work a day.  I could never shut it off.  This wasn’t the only reason I quit.  There were many more, and you can read about some of it here.

Before leaving though, I had started a landscaping business called East Concord Grass Roots.  It began as a way to make some more money in the summers after my daughter was born.  But I began to enjoy the freedom and autonomy associated with running my own thing.  I could choose the days I wanted to work.  I could say, ‘no thank you’ to jobs I didn’t want to do.  I could work an extra long day when it fit.

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What I eventually created though, was a schedule in which I was able to stay home with my daughter on Mondays and Wednesdays.  I managed to get my work done on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.  3 days per week!  Once in a while, I’ll work a weekend day, but it’s not that often.  So from about April 1 to December 1 (which is 34 weeks), at 3 days per week on average…that’s 102 days per year.  I’m really surprised with that!  I just did the math for the first time right now…and can’t believe it!

Within those (let’s call it) 100 days per year, I’ve been able to make more money than when I was teaching.  That was also a huge surprise to me, as I realized it soon after starting the business.  Now, I certainly don’t make a lot of money, and live quite modestly.  I have a small, old house.  I drive an old car with 220,000 miles on it.  But this is all part of the balance…the decisions…the work and the life.  Taking both into heavy consideration, I’ve found a sweet spot for myself.

Early on in parenthood, I made the decision that I’d put in as much effort (quality and quantity time) as possible…especially in the younger, foundational years.  I’m so happy and proud that I’ve been able to do that.  And as I’ve aged, I’ve come to understand that I love to spend a lot time at home…reading, writing, cooking, creating, working on the house, etc.  These last two winters have really proven to give me plenty of that.  This previous winter was the first that I gave up snow plowing, as it was generally a source of stress and anxiety for me.  I did have to make sacrifices to live more frugally through those months.  But it was a deliberate decision, related to work/life balance, that I made in order to stay happier.  I was able to read and write more than I ever have during that time, and now I truly feel ready to attack another Spring season.

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Work and leisure and family are all so particular depending on who I talk to.  I’m not naive, thinking that anyone reading this should quit their job and start their own business.  I will say though, that I don’t believe that most people give this idea the attention it deserves.  I will also say that I see most people highly stressed by their job, and wonder if they consider the long term and far reaching effects of that…on their own body, life span…and on their children.  I will ask if you’ve given thought to this question:  Can you make enough money in 100 days per year as opposed to 260 days that most people work?  Can you be happier doing so?

Many of us follow the routine, structure, and norms of the current society…and then find ourselves in situations where we ask how we got there.  Maybe we find that we don’t enjoy being there.  We want something else.  I’m just writing this to let you know that if that’s you wondering…there are ways to figure it out.  It’s worth your exploration.  The variables of time and money will certainly run the gamut, depending on your family and the field you work in.  But it’s easy to see, this at-bat that we have in life…this one chance that we get…isn’t about chasing a paycheck or ‘burning the wick at both ends’ because that’s what we’re ‘supposed’ to do.  It’s about trying to achieve a rich and fulfilling period of time based on what it is that you want.

So what is that?

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Fictional case study #2 (Good guy Gary)

‘the path to success is to take massive, determined actions’ – Tony Robbins

 

It is interesting that we often look outside of ourselves for direction and advice.  We ask others what they would do. We actually value that advice more than we consider our very own.  Most people are just built that way. And with today’s social media world, it’s all on display. We’re constantly evaluating our choices, actions, posts…by the amount of likes or type of comments we get.  It’s harder to go truly insular these days, and stay discipline with your own feelings and opinions. But for the select few that can go there…and that can keep returning there…the payoff will be insane!

Take this fictional story as an example of that:  Gary is a 41 year old good guy. He works for an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) company.  He has a 5 year old daughter named Madison. Gary is divorced and has his own place.

He’s recently noticed that he’s about 30 pounds overweight.  He feels strong from the work he does, but he hasn’t seen his own muscle definition since two years out of high school.  He has that trendy new shape that’s now a popular hashtag on instagram…#dadbod. And even though that trend has made it seem more acceptable to wear the extra layer of blubber, he knows how much more attractive he’d be…how healthier he’d feel…if he lost the weight, or better yet…turned most if that weight into muscle!

Another thought that Gary has been having lately, is that he recognizes that he is modeling behavior for his daughter Madison.  She soaks up everything at this young age, and is watching his every move. As she’s growing up, he’s having more and more conversations with her about healthy eating and exercise…but when Madison is at Mom’s house, Gary is eating chips on the couch.  He isn’t practicing what he’s preaching. And deep down, he knows that he’s influencing his daughter. In some way, she’s going to inherently take on some of his practices. We are all ‘products of our environment’. Sure, there is the nature vs. nurture debate.  But either way, we are shaped by what we come from. The apple still falls from the tree, regardless of how far it rolls away.

Gary hasn’t done much research on exercise.  Like most of us, he hasn’t majored in exercise science…but he understands that some cardio, some strength training, and a lot of eating healthy is what will transform his body.  And he wants to get to the gym…he just doesn’t know which one to go to.  There’s Planet Fitness over here, Bikram Yoga over there, a power-lifting gym, a place that coaches olympic lifting…not to mention the 3 new crossfit gyms in town! bHe told himself (and his daughter) that one of his New Year’s resolutions was to get into better shape.  But it’s mid March now, and he figures it’s too late to have a beach body ready for the summer. He might as well wait until Fall to start really making a push for the next summer.

As Gary starts thinking about it too much, you can see how he starts getting into trouble.

He’s also feeling a little insecure…not that he would come out and say that to anyone! When he was a kid, his dad taught him that men don’t show emotions or feelings like that. Most of Gary’s buddies though, belong to one of these local gyms, or at least play men’s league basketball once a week.  Gary runs out of breath just going up a flight of stairs. He doesn’t want to have to start at square one at the gym, when everyone else is killing it. He’d be ‘that guy’…the one that can’t bench-press the big 45 pound weight plates…the one that’s sweating all over the elliptical machine after 5 minutes of use.  He doesn’t want to be that guy. Actually, he doesn’t want others to see him as that guy. This is again, an example of how some of us let others control how we live (or don’t live) our lives.

And even though this isn’t something Gary would discuss with Madison, it’s somehow passed down to her anyway.  Gary thinks he puts off an ‘I live on my terms’ vibe to his daughter…but the subconscious nuance to that is out of his control.  The subtleties of his actions, of his reactions, of his initial responses to everyday occurrences…are unfortunately telling Madison, ‘our family doesn’t crush it.  We worry some…about how we come across to others. We think and talk, more than we actually do.’  Gary could tell Madison how important it is to not worry about what others think, but his actions are creating 10x the results in the opposite direction.  It isn’t even a contest.

/nuᐧance/ – a subtle difference in;  shade of meaning, expression, or sound.

Another thought Gary has been having is about his gear.  His running shoes are so old and dirty. He only has 2 or 3 pair of athletic shorts.  His ipod is big and clunky and old and doesn’t hold a charge. He sees that everyone else has cool stuff!  New compression shorts and pants, bright sneakers and socks, and that cool armband thing that conveniently holds a new ipod out of the way.  And everyone pretty much only wears dryfit materials now, which Gary has none of. He thinks he’s going to look stupid…no matter what he does.  He thinks he should probably stock up on some of this gear over time…then he’ll be ready for the gym.  

On top of that, he knows the potato chips and chillaxing on the couch needs to change. He actually has some good ideas about eating healthy, but he thinks that he should finish up eating all of the junk in the house, as not to waste, then start getting healthier with his diet.  Once he gets his diet right, then he’ll feel more ready to approach the gym.

Boy…some of us can see that Gary is soft…physically and mentally.  He should just go! Who cares about all that stuff he’s worrying about?  

On the other hand, some of us can truly identify with Gary.  Sometimes it feels that we need to first take care of A, in order to feel comfortable trying B.  And sometimes it seems that other people have all the right stuff. And we don’t. But that’s just a losing mentality.  

By thinking too much…by wondering what ‘most others’ are doing…by giving energy to what other people might feel…Gary has already lost.  

If he focused on doing, and just starting somehow…he’d be well on his way to ‘healthy Gary’, who would be (by the way), the absolute best role model for Madison.  

At the first hint of a feeling that Gary had about being out of shape (that very day!), he should have laced up the old running shoes and gone out for a 5k run…no ipod necessary.  Leaving from his house, taking it nice and slow, he could easily complete the 3.1 miles. Imagine the pride and sense of accomplishment after that! Then, he could have made stir fry vegetables and rice for dinner…with some yogurt (instead of ice-cream) for dessert.  

Now picture Gary’s mindset the following morning…as opposed to all of that negative thinking he was doing in the other model.  Imagine the effect and influence on Madison that next morning as they approach the day together. I wonder what different experiences they’d have.  I wonder how much more she’d be exposed to in her childhood, going this route. And I wonder how much further Madison would reach into her own potential, living with a dad who creates action, instead of one who sits and worries.  

I don’t think we understand this effect as well as we should.  I know that I don’t myself. And I’m trying to be more aware of it every single day.  It is very obvious that the far majority of us have wonderful intentions. We all, of course, want the best for our children.  Gary wants Madison to be healthy…and wants her to know how to achieve and maintain that lifestyle.  And deep down, we all believe that we’re teaching our children all about what is right and wrong.  It’s worth considering though, that within that teaching, it’s much more effective to focus on doing…not on lecturing or thinking.  

 

Thank you for reading!

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Fictional Case Study (julie’s jelly)

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When we do more than we think (more actions with less pondering), we create the paths that we choose to walk down.  We make our own life happen, the way we want it to…the way that is most tailored for who we are deep down to the core.  We live, and die on our own sword.  

Take this fictional story as an example:  33 year old mom of two boys, Julie…wants to start her own jelly business.  She’s passionate about the strawberry jelly she makes at home. Her family loves it. She wants to start selling it online, to get it to as many folks as possible, and to create another stream of income for the family.  Her job as an elementary school teacher doesn’t provide her with the income that she really desires.

Julie tells her coworker (John) about her business idea at lunch break.  John says, ‘yeah that sounds fun, but I don’t think I’d ever buy jelly over the internet.’  

Julie then tells her boss Stacey (the principal at her school), who she is really friendly with. Stacey says, ‘It’s a good idea, but I tried selling candles online….and it didn’t really amount to much.  It’s harder than it looks.’

I hope you can identify with Julie.  She is really passionate and interested in her idea, but the two people that she thought would encourage her the most to go do it…actually shot her idea down.  Now, if Julie is thick-skinned, and loves a ‘chip on her shoulder’ attitude, she can use it to motivate her even more so. But most of us would start second guessing our idea, thinking, ‘maybe it is too hard to sell online…I’m not sure people will buy my jelly after all’.  Before you know it, Julie has put the recipe, canning jars, and label maker in the back of the cabinet.  

John and Stacey aren’t to blame for this.  If we went back and told them how Julie felt after speaking to them, they’d probably say that they didn’t mean to deter her at all…she probably caught them at a tough time during the day…and they actually really believe in Julie’s business idea…of course she should do it!  They were telling stories that they thought would be valuable to Julie, knowing what to expect when she does do it.  

This story illustrates the fact that we often put our hopes and dreams in the hands of others.  And we often choose people who aren’t necessarily ready to accept, and then motivate us in a way that’s tailor made for us.  We’re actually expecting too much from others when we do that. We look to others (who aren’t even aware by the way) to inspire and motivate us…to encourage our ideas.  That’s just a losing mentality.

I understand wanting to tell people what your up to.  It’s realistic that we’re going to socialize and share what’s top of mind.  But we need to be totally cognizant of what’s going on, in order to not get discouraged about our own ideas.  We need to be the one in control.

If Julie is like most people, when her husband asks her about that business she wanted to start, she’ll now have excuses and blame to be placed…both of which have nothing to do with her own self.  She may even start complaining more about her co-workers, and the fact that she doesn’t have enough money, and that the government makes it too hard to start businesses where she lives, and that learning to be tech savvy, and to figure out social media branding takes way too long and isn’t worth it.  

Because of what someone else said, and how they seemed to feel about it, she now isn’t going to follow up on her idea.  So sad! Do you see how Julie isn’t truly in control of her own life? She’s now dying on John and Stacey’s sword!

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What Julie could have done, had she considered doing more than thinking, is create an Etsy and Pinterest account and start tinkering with the sites, realizing which would be best for her.  After a couple of hours, she’d be savvy enough to post simple pictures and text.

She could have brainstormed a simple and catchy business name, and created an interesting logo for her brand.

She might have researched prices and locations for strawberries and sugar, and jars and labels, in order to find the most affordable way of getting a jar totally ready for the market.  

She could have created a Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat account for her jelly, so that she’d be able to get the attention of others with her brand.  

She may have called 15 local food, garden, and furniture stores, asking if her jelly could be sold there.  

She even could have started her own podcast…recording episodes mostly focused on everything jelly!

By the way, with today’s technology and opportunity, she could have done all of this on her laptop or phone while lying in bed wearing pajamas!  

And I have a funny feeling that if she had done all of this, and then went and told her co-workers, it would be a totally different conversation and outcome.  And even if the conversation was similar, the confidence and self-esteem Julie built up through her work, would allow her to smirk at the otherwise discouraging words said by John and Stacey.  

This Julie isn’t complaining or blaming.  She’s using all of her time and energy to do more.  She’s putting it all into her jelly business.  And guess who’s sword she’s living and dying on now?  Her own sword.

As much as I don’t want her to die, let’s look at how that actually is a possibility:

If we have to guts to live a life on our own terms, we must consider the fact that we will die that way too.  I respect and believe in that meritocracy all the way. We can’t have it one way, and not the other.

Look, Julie’s jelly might actually suck.  Maybe her family is spitting it out, or passing it to the dog under the table, and they’re too nice to be honest with her about it.  Julie could do all of this doing on the back of a crap product…and after the first round of sales, she’d die.  

Or, maybe Julie isn’t kind.  She doesn’t bring any value to the store owners that are carrying her product, she’s very hard to communicate with, and she doesn’t engage with any of her audience on the social media platforms.  She’s going to die.

While the doing should be the baseline…the norm…other variables like quality, consistency, kindness, value, etc. will certainly play their part.   

But remember, it feels so much better to die on your own sword than someone else’s.  As you can see, all of the blaming and responsibility come back to you when you put this into practice.  If your product didn’t work out how you anticipated that it would, it’s because of your own actions, or lack thereof.  This shouldering of all of the responsibility is actually liberating, though it seems more like pressure. Again, along with the control or autonomy you desire to have your own business or live your own life…you must accept the meritocracy…and the fact that it all comes back to you, good or bad.  Ultimate responsibility…ultimate freedom.

Now, if Julie’s jelly really does suck…all of that doing, experimenting, executing that she did, provided her with a foundation of data to sit on. All of the confidence and self-esteem and pride she has built up through the work, allows her a framework to adjust from.  Look, businesses mostly don’t get it right the first time. Great businesses listen to the market, and adjust accordingly. Julie may need to change the recipe, the label, the jar. She may need to adjust her attitude, her kindness level, her methods of communication. This is where we either fail and we’re done (we die on our own sword)…or we fail, learn, adjust, try (wield our sword again), and then win!   

To Do more than you think, means that you’re the one in control of your own destiny. You’re wielding your own sword. Your life isn’t happening to you…YOU are making your own life happen!

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Now, sharpen up that sword…and get out there!

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1%

‘i want to be different.  If everyone is wearing black, I want to be wearing red’ –

Maria Sharapova

 

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A couple of months ago, I came to the realization that doing something you’ve never done…as consistently and often as possible…can be really healthy for you.  It’s similar to my thinking around living ‘on the edge of comfort’.  And it’s all about continually challenging ourselves, and putting ourselves in positions to earn grit, to try, to do…to learn.

As I was reading yesterday, I came to another realization.  Yes, you can call it an ‘epiphany’ if that’s how you roll.  The people that are getting the most out of life…that are the most fulfilled and content…are doing what most other people won’t do, or aren’t doing.  The folks who are trendy, or first to the party.  The ones that are different, but intriguing nonetheless (first time using ‘nonetheless’…nailed it!).  There seems to be success and fulfillment in practicing the actions that most other people simply don’t.  We should all be trying to be part of the 1% crowd!

e•piph•a•ny – a sudden, intuitive perception of, or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

Being a 1 percenter (financially) has it’s own inherent connotations.  Some of us believe that those folks make too much money, and that they owe more of their fair share.  Others of us think that they create opportunities for the 99 percenters, and that their trickle down effect is truly beneficial to us bottom dwellers.

But I’m not speaking on financial earnings.  I’m talking about our actions…our choices and our experiences.

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So many people I know have had the same haircut since high school!  Switch it up a bit.  Try a different you!  Be the 1%

There isn’t much interest for me in playing in the middle…in doing what everyone else is doing…in doing ‘what I’m supposed to be doing’.  It suffices to say that there is much more intrigue in living on the outer edges…the fringes. And I’d go as far to say that better health, contentment, ‘success’, fulfillment, and overall happiness are found in living in the 1%

Here is an image, full of generalities, that should help illustrate my feelings here:

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Considering all of that, a 1%’er is a person who chooses to live life on their own terms.  They will live and die on their own sword.  Instead of life happening to them…they are making their life happen.

I challenge you to create your own 99% and 1% column chart.  Right now…write down 5-10 things you do that most of the population does.  Then, write down the things you do that only 1% does.  Use it as your journal entry for the day.  What can you take from your chart?  What can you learn about yourself?  Are you playing in the middle too much…where everyone else is?  Or, are you hanging out within that extraordinary population enough of the time?  And…what do you feel about your actions, considering what side their on?  Do your 1% actions bring you joy, vibrancy, passion, and love?  Do they put you around people that are good for you?  I bet they do!

Please share your chart with me, or any feedback from this in the comments, or on my Facebook page.  I’d love to hear some results, and learn more about this!  Here are some of my own results:

Some of My 99% actions

  • watching too much tv – March Madness, Celtics basketball, and I’m currently binge watching Breaking Bad for the 3rd time…oops.
  • consuming way too much sugar
  • not hanging with my guy friends enough
  • procrastination

 

Some of my 1% actions

  • I keep bees (and harvest my own honey)
  • cycling (road biking)
  • have my own business
  • work when I want
  • sing, and play guitar
  • eat a vegetarian diet
  • Write in a Blog
  • Have my own podcast
  • follow an ‘advanced athlete’ training program

 

Some 1% actions I want to pursue

  • swim (for fitness/health)
  • write books
  • start a wine club
  • start a dad/daughter club

 

All love!

emailsig

 

school ties

originally published on July 19, 2017

‘every child is an artist.  the problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up’- Picasso

 

*two books related to this topic…and that I highly recommend reading are The Global Achievement Gap by Wagner, and Home Grown: adventures in parenting off the beaten path, unschooling, and reconnecting with the natural world, by Hewitt.

Also, check out this blog on Unschooling by Leo Babauta


As Matilda grows closer to school aged, I find myself thinking about her education more and more.  She’s 4 years old now, and won’t be old enough for kindergarten until the Fall of 2018. So there is some time…but none like the present to consider options.  I honestly haven’t made any conclusions about how I feel in regards to kindergarten and school yet.  But I have read a bunch, spoke to some others about it, and think on it often.  Hopefully, writing on the topic will allow me to explore it more deeply, and help define what I truly believe in.  




step back

While you may think I’m speaking of a Steph Curry ‘step back’ 3 pointer, I’m talking more about what I believe all of us ‘citizens’ need to practice before thinking about education.  It’s a term that I’ll use to describe a pausing, stepping out of the box, and the employment of a wide and general perspective.  You see, I never questioned school really.  I’m not sure my parents did either.  Maybe your parents didn’t.  It’s just been accepted over time that school is where you go starting at age 5 and ending at age 18.  It’s what everyone does.  We’ve done it for a long time, and now you’re going to do it.  But what does that allow our children?  What does it provide them?  How does it challenge them?  How is it tailored for them?  What will it prepare them for?  And how will we determine their success within this institution?  



It is pretty obvious to me that a student that attends 180 days of school (let’s say a first grader), will know more facts and things than a child that doesn’t go to school for that 180 days.  The schooled student will test better, follow rules quicker, and be better prepared to take on the 2nd grade curriculum.  They will be ‘ahead of the curve’ compared to the unschooled child.  ‘Stepping back’ though…is saying ‘who cares’ to all of that.  It’s saying, standardized tests are not what define my child.  It’s recognizing that rules can be bent in life outside of school…there is always a loophole…and questioning everything is actually very beneficial.  It’s submitting to the rat race of parent’s claiming high percentiles of where their child sits, admitting that the curve that we’re all trying to get ahead of is a slippery slope that doesn’t matter as much as we’re drilled to believe.  Stepping back is believing that it’s ok that my child doesn’t ride a bike as well as other 4 year olds.  It’s ok if my child’s reading level isn’t where the common core says it should be.  I understand it’s difficult to be ok with that, especially considering societal pressure.  But…we don’t need to constantly compare each to another…and rank accordingly.  We all contain multitudes.  These microcosms and measurements are small pieces of our entire selves.  

math/statistics

6 hours per school day (approx) multiplied by 180 school days = 1080 hours per school year.  


12 school years + kindergarten = 13 school years.


13 school years x 1080 hours = 14,040 hours of total schooling through completion.

Is it too much?  Is it enough?  Are the hours used most effectively?

The average American 15 year old spends about 5 hours per week doing homework…and since students with a more advantaged socio-economic status tend to do more homework than less fortunate students, ‘homework helps perpetuate existing inequalities in education’, says the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) researchers. 

According to the Pew Research Center, the United States ranks ’38th out of 71 countries in math…24th in science…24th in reading’.  

While there have been some very small gains since the 1990’s, standardized test scores in the US have gone down since 2013.  

How are our schools failing us?  How are they preparing our children for the unpredictable, ever changing future?  Do test scores matter?  Do world rankings matter?  How are our children allowed to fail, and encouraged to try again…a different way? 

This TED talk is one of the most watched ever.  It asks the question, ‘do schools kill creativity’? And I highly recommend it! …the video…not killing creativity.




How kind is kindergarten?

Recent NH news has described how full day kindergarten will finally be funded here, as it passed through the NH legislature.  

Having discussions with many parents about this, I’ve heard a common thread…and that is that the schedule of full-day kindergarten will allow parents to send their kids away without having to pick up or drop off midday.  So basically, it’s the logistics that people are most happy about.  This is just what I’ve heard the most…not the entire story.  

I’ve also heard a bit of ‘my child will be more ready for 1st grade, which will then lead to future success’.  This argument is somewhat obvious to me again…but another area in which I use the step back approach.  Of course, any student that goes through the routine of a full day school schedule will be ahead of one that doesn’t.  They will test better, follow rules quicker, possess a deeper understanding of how a school day functions, sit at a higher reading and math level, etc. etc. However, the ‘leading to future success’ part has been proven wrong. The intellectual and social/emotional gains from kindergarten are found up to a 3rd or 4th grade level.  After that they drop off.  So if we step back and consider what the real pros and cons of full day kindergarten are, there is more of a story that I need to be told.  Some questions I have about it are:

How much ‘free play time’ will children have?  What is the curriculum, and where I can I find it?  What arts will be part of the school day?  Is funding this thing with Keno (a lottery game that I believe is currently illegal in NH) a wise decision…sustainable…respectable?  It feels…icky.  

I don’t believe anymore in sedentary, sitting in the desk, receiving curriculum from the teacher, following structure and rules, no risk involved, being told how to think and learn.  I know this isn’t every school and every teacher.  There are so many good ones out there…and they make a difference.  But the structure/institution seems to be broken…or lacking…and not providing the best possible return on investment.   

Take a look at this kindergarten in Tokyo, and look how different it looks from something our children will receive.  It’s experiential, creates wonder, involves risk, allows bending of rules, includes inherent challenges (physical and emotional).  

what now?

I was a teacher once.  I didn’t leave because I ‘disagreed’ with school.  I had surely lost the passion I once had though, and was feeling totally burnt out, lacking resources, lacking technology, looking at a pay cut the following year, wondering how to best provide for my young daughter in the years to come, and trying to run a small business on the side.  It was a multitude of variables pulling me away.  

I was a student once too.  I remember some good moments in elementary and middle school. I had some fun, and made some great connections with people.  The early years of school felt easy to me.  I got good grades, and I had good manners.  On the other hand, I remember often staring off out a window, or at a wall.  Not an inspired and dream-filled daydream.  It was always filled with the thought, ‘when will this be over?’  I remember feeling insecure, especially as I got older and entered high school, not fitting in, not knowing where to sit, how to get along.  Things became much harder for me then.  I failed.  I quit.  Fortunately, I went right back and finished.  But high school is a sad memory for me, and very negative.   I envy others when I hear they loved high school so much.  I’m happy for them, but that is foreign to me.  





I’ve recently became infatuated with this idea of Unschooling.  It’s not homeschooling, with a curriculum and standards.  It’s simply not going to school…and allowing the parent and child the decision on what to learn, when, and how they want to…ultimate freedom.  It sounds scary at first…and those thoughts of meeting grade level standards, keeping up with the Jones’, and how will my kid be successful with that? start to creep in.  But if we step back, we can accept that those worries don’t truly hold weight.  They don’t define us as individuals when we leave school anyway….and the same questions can be asked of a schooler…with similar validity.  There are so many other meaningful experiences that can be had within 14,040 hours, that may lead to more influential lessons learned.  

Take a look at this talk by an unschooler.  He brings up some intriguing ideas, and it’s refreshing to hear his perspective.  




Music:  This song is beautiful…and speaks about when a girl just has a way about her.

  

yes no, maybe so

your life changes the moment you make a new, congruent, and committed decision’ 

-Tony Robbins

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when the details on the surface are wiped away…what is left?

There are times in our life when we have to make a decision.  We find ourselves standing at a crossroads with options in front of us.  A typical crossroads would determine that we would have three options or choices. Picture driving up to an actual intersection of roads. It’s best to think of west.  The desert, tumbleweed, cacti, cactuses?  Both are accepted.  This setting just feels more serene and secluded.  And it’s just cool. No one is there to witness your decision.  It is just you and this place and the road you choose.  You can take a left, go straight, or take a right…3 choices.  Maybe a good way to use this analogy would be to match up each choice of road with an answer to the question, ‘should I do this?’  Of course ‘this’ can fit whatever situation you may have in your life.  With 3 choices of roads, road 1 is YES!  Road 2 is NO!  Road 3 is OTHER or MAYBE SO.


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she could make a new road with this!

 

Road 1

I think whenever we are asking ourselves ‘should I do this’, it’s usually because we already have a hunch that we want to do it.  ‘Go with your gut’, ‘follow your instincts’, ‘lead with your heart’, are all phrases that tell us we already know the answer.  Yes is the answer.  We know what we’d like to do, and deep down we know what we desire.  However, before we commit ourselves to road 1, we are faced with obstacles like fear and insecurity that will ostensibly reveal that this decision was a bad choice.  That’s terrible and very sad.  I think everyone needs more of road 1 in their life.  Be more of a ‘yes man’, and stop turning everything down. Embrace change and moving forward.  Covet growth and the learning process, especially when you find yourself on the edge of comfort.  Many of us talk about our passions and what we truly want to be doing.  We describe it to others.  We visualize it in vivid detail.  We think about how it will all play out in the future.  But then we don’t act.  This is why some psychologists have found that we shouldn’t actually talk about our goals.  By speaking about them, and receiving feedback from others, we actually feel a sense of accomplishment and we lose the passion, the edge, the motivation we once had.  This has happened to me many times.  It’s hard because we want to share our passion with others.  We want to bounce ideas. Maybe we should just share the tip of the iceberg…or bounce one small ball to someone. Don’t spill it before acting on it.  When is the best time to start acting on your passions?  Right now.  Immediately.  The clock is ticking.  

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‘Do what you want’ sounds negative and detached but if I teach and use effective language, I can help Matilda hold onto ‘acting on her desires’.  It’s really the same thing.  When we’re young, it’s natural for us.  But much like creativity, we tend to lose it along the road


 

Road 2

Being a ‘yes man’ and taking road 1 on your decisions can bring you places you never dreamed of.  However, there are often times when we have to say ‘no’.  Maybe you’re just done spending time with a certain person…maybe your schedule is full…maybe you’re just wiped out from being the challenges of parenting.  All these are totally justifiable.  I’ve learned that ‘no’ doesn’t have to be negative.  If we communicate to others our feelings and/or reasons along with our ‘no’, we should be comfortable and content in our position to turn something down.  Withing my business, I now notice myself saying ‘no’ more often.  I always try to say ‘yes’ and take road 1 when people have requests.  But for a variety of reasons, sometimes I turn things down.  In the past, I felt guilty or insecure about this.  But that doesn’t hold any weight.  I tell myself that if I can’t commit wholeheartedly to this decision, it won’t work out for either party.  Therefore, taking Road 2 can be understood as the best decision for all involved.  Road 2 shouldn’t be as worn and trodden as road 1, but don’t be afraid to lay new tracks when warranted.    


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‘I’m not ready to be done Dad.  I don’t want to leave yet’ is a phrase that I cherish and honor when I can. 
She’s taking Road 2, and saying ‘no’ to being done with something.

 

Road 3


Sometimes we can’t commit to a yes or no right now.  We aren’t ready to.  I actually use road 3 often.  I’m not so great at deciding on things right away.  I like to ruminate on the idea for a while…sleep on it in a sense.  I have come to realize that spontaneity is powerful and rewarding, and have started implementing that more in my day to day.  However, on some big decisions, I still hold value in deliberate consideration, weighing pros and cons over time and as I think of them, and documenting thoughts in a journal, before making a final choice. While mulling over an idea for a couple of days, an important variable will often arise that easily determines the outcome for me.  It’s like a subtle, ‘did you consider this?’  And I will know right then and there whether it’s road 1 or 2 that I’m taking.  Road 3 seems to be a loop around that brings you back to the same intersection later on.  It allows some soul searching, some road tripping, and a few pit stops to get your bearings and reassess your current location/situation.  

Maybe you have to let some time pass before you become close with that special someone. Perhaps you’re waiting for them to work something out on their end.  

You may need to save some money up, or line up your budget differently first.  

Maybe you feel overwhelmed and need to put a decision on the back burner until you feel more centered.  

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Decision making at the Scoop Deck

 

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What would you choose?  I go with something different every visit

 

Whatever it may be, we all have reasons to take road 3 at certain crossroads.  As I spoke of in the Road 2 section…be confident and content with your choice to wait on the decision.  It’s not a ‘non-decision’…it’s a decision to wait, and lock in to something when you are totally ready to do so.  With the quick pace of our lives, I’m often telling Matilda, ‘let’s go, make a decision quickly!’  But I try to catch myself…thinking, ‘wait…she can have all the time she wants to make a decision’ (within reason!).  I believe it will strengthen the ground she stands on, and empower her ability to make wise and timely decisions for the rest of her life.  

Be aware of your surroundings when you come to a crossroads.  Simply pay attention to your emotions and the physical changes taking place.  Take a breath before accelerating down the next road.  Remember, each and every even small decision will set your life onto a different path…possibly a different plane.  So choose wisely!  I wish you the best in your decision making!

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The sun is on me…and it feels good.

 

Music:  Kaleo is a band that started in Iceland.  That might contribute to their unique sound. I often forget about them for a while, and then hear them on the radio.  The sound is always intriguing…and since I don’t own any of their music, I always go home and put on some of their live stuff.  Matilda and I caught them live at the Newburyport Riverfront Music Festival last year.  They rock!  Give this song a listen!