Grew Up

When my oldest daughter was about 4 years old, I showed her a picture. It was an actual photograph, not electronic. She wanted a closer look, so she intuitively placed her thumb and index finger on the photo close together, and then spread them apart while in contact with it. She then tried a few more times and was frustrated that it didn’t change.

She was zooming in. She’d literally never seen a photograph that wasn’t on a screen before, and so she was confused that it didn’t respond to the input. At first I laughed in the way old people laugh about kids that can’t use a rotary phone, but then I realized how impressive it was. She was four years old, and her level of interaction with these devices was nearly innate. Things that adults struggle to learn will be second-nature to her.

A few days ago when she sat down with me to add a few words to this very blog, I didn’t even have to give her any instruction. She knew how to operate the keyboard – how to hold shift to capitalize letters or generate an exclamation point. When I was 7, I certainly didn’t – but I didn’t grow up around keyboards in the same way that she will.

If you’re young, never ever underestimate just how much value you can bring to the table simply because of stuff you grew up doing that older folks are clueless about. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can’t compete with more experienced people solely on that basis. I might have decades more experience than you in certain things, but there are other things that are literally second-nature to you that I have to struggle to learn. Find areas where those skills are in demand and use that to your advantage.

When Microsoft Office Suite was first being introduced, it was all the rage to be able to use it. It was a hugely in-demand skill that impressed employers and moved you along in the application process swiftly. So people caught up and pretty much every white-collar professional learned how to not only use it, but learned to indicate that they knew how on their resumes. For many people of that generation, the learning was formalized – classes or certifications, etc.

Now, I hear younger people laughing about the question. Not knowing it would be the strange departure, so it seems silly to even ask. Imagine there was a 6-week certification course in smartphone use. It covered things like downloading and using apps, text message communication skills, WiFi versus 4G, etc. There’s a segment of the older population that might think that was useful, but for a young person that would be laughable.

Older people and younger people bring different strengths to the table when it comes to value-add for employers. I see both populations struggle with naming that value sometimes. There’s plenty of ageism in both directions among hiring managers, but in general I think the older folks are better at knowing the positives they carry. They know the value of their experiences, their wisdom, and their maturity.

Young people, on the other hand, often struggle to realize just how many things are second-nature to them that would represent massive investments to learn for older people. Heck, I’m 36 and the whole reason I’m writing this post is because I started researching how to make short instructional videos that don’t look like garbage and people who are 15 are cranking out stuff that would have gotten you on national television when I was their age.

If someone grew up on a horse farm, then they know more about horses than someone who never saw one in their life before they went to college and got their degree in “equestrian studies.” But the degree gives you a certain sense of confidence that you know what you’re talking about (whether you actually do or don’t). So many young people have essentially a decade or more experience in complex skills simply by virtue of their generation, but there’s no “official” or socially-accepted category for that kind of knowledge. It’s not a degree, it’s not work experience, etc. But it would be insane to discount knowledge you gained because you literally grew up around a particular subject.

Take honest stock of your skills. Pay attention to things that you do well. If you’re thinking, “this can’t possibly be a valuable skill, because it’s so easy for me” – you’re exactly 180 degrees wrong. The fact that it’s so easy for you is exactly why you can use it to add value.

Counting Sheep

I’ve never been good at sleeping.

Somehow I just never mastered the elementary skill of shutting my brain down for a few hours. I exercise and eat well, but I’ve got very persistent insomnia.

I drink way too much caffeine, but even when I was completely caffeine-free this would happen. I drink caffeine now to combat the fatigue that results from not sleeping.

Years ago I took some time off to try to concentrate on doing nothing but getting a regular sleep pattern going. No work or other responsibilities for a few weeks. I used the time to get a lot of exercise outdoors, read books, avoided electronics, and avoided stress. The closest thing I got to a natural rhythm was a stable pattern of 30 hours awake followed by about 6 hours of sleep. The only way I can sleep for 8 uninterrupted hours is if it’s preceded by at least 48 hours awake straight, or at least a week of 3 hours or less per night.

I don’t like the idea of things like sleeping pills, because I always worry that I’ll need to wake up for some emergency and be unable to. I have three young children and don’t want to be unresponsive if they need something.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts! If you’ve got any good advice, I’m all ears.

More Direct. Fewer Words.

Here’s how to improve your writing: Be more direct. Use fewer words.

I struggle with this. I like to build strong visual analogies. But when you hand your work to an editor, they almost never say “you should make this longer.”

Look at your sentences. Highlight every word you could remove and still have the sentence make sense. Then remove them.

People’s attention is a finite resource. You’ll only have it for so long. Use it well.

Exponential Ideas

Sometimes I’ll get an idea that I like and think has potential, but for lack of available juice it’ll pretty much stay in the back of my head. Since starting this blog, I’ve gotten a nice outlet for those ideas – I can put them here. All the potential results of this are positive:

  1. Maybe it already exists! Funny anecdote – when I was a kid, I told my parents I had a great idea to save on our gas bill. I had realized that wood burns, and thought that it would be BRILLIANT to just put wood in a metal box and burn it instead of paying for gas like a sucker. So… I invented a wood-burning stove. I invented backwards. My parents swear I was a smart kid, but most of the stories of my childhood are like this. Apparently I “invented” the icebox the same way. The point is that just because you invented calculus, doesn’t mean someone else didn’t do it sooner. It’s good to pay attention to the world. So maybe this idea I’ve come up with already exists, and someone will read this blog and tell me about it, and then I’ll have the thing I want!
  2. Maybe it doesn’t exist, but someone will steal the idea and make it. Why do I think this is a good outcome? Because then I’d have the thing, which is all I really want. If I was going to make it myself, I’d do it. This is me being honest that I’m not. I use a lot of juice on other stuff, and I don’t have an infinite amount to spend on every idea. I have to pick my battles, and I’m working on a lot of other things that make me happy.
  3. Maybe it doesn’t exist, and no one makes it, but at some point I’ll circle around to it and do it myself. If that ends up being the case, it’ll probably be because a lot of people gave me good feedback.

I think one of the reasons you often see a lot of good ideas/innovations come from the same person or organization is because once a big part of your juice and daily life is dedicated to “develop ideas I have,” it obviously becomes easier to explore the possibilities of them when they come up. If you spend a lot of time writing, it’s easy to write something new that comes into your head. If you spend a lot of time building stuff already, it’s easy to build a new thing. Which is a good lesson in itself!

Anyway, now I feel like I wrote a lot of words about ideas in general and didn’t actually talk about this random idea I had. It probably won’t be worth the build-up, but I’m committed!

Here’s the idea: I run into a lot of emailed newsletters. Lots of people whose thoughts I enjoy have them, lots of industries that are relevant to me produce them, etc. The problem is that I don’t want 25+ email newsletters and I’ll never read them all if I get them. What I would LOVE is a software solution that lets me create an account and sign up for email newsletters through it, and then on whatever interval I request (daily, weekly, only Tues & Thurs, whatever) compiles all the newsletters into a single PDF (with links intact!) and emails that to me. Sort of like customizing my own e-zine out of the newsletters that exist. Then I can throw that e-zine on my Kindle or iPad or whatever and read it at my leisure.

Does this exist? Should it? Feedback welcome!

Juice

This isn’t going to be my normal blog post for the day, so you’ll sort of get a bonus one today. A few posts ago, I defined a term that I wanted to use in that post. The term was “juice,” and here’s what I meant by it:

Whenever you’re working on something, a lot of resources get used – time, money, effort, calories, social capital, decision-making fatigue, mental energy, sacrifices, and so on. Rather than write all of that out, I’m going to collectively lump all of that together under the term “juice.” So when I use that term, that’s what I’m talking about: the wide variety of resources, both tangible and intangible, that are required to make things happen.

I wanted to have that term defined in its own post, because I intend to keep using it (I think it’s a helpful concept in a lot of conversations), and I wanted to have a post to link back to. So I’m once again using the blog as an idea-organizer – thanks for playing along!

Happy Birthday, Buddy!

Today is my son’s first birthday!

While no one can predict the future, I don’t have any plans to have any more kids (I’m blessed with three, and I think we’re at capacity!), so that means this is likely the last 1st birthday I’ll be directly involved in for a while. At least until the grandkids start showing up, which is probably a ways off yet.

Buddy is a smiling, happy, active boy. He stomps little happy feet all the time, and laughs easily and often, even for a baby. He eats like a horse. He absolutely adores music, especially when his grandfather plays the banjo. He can beat on the bongo drums pretty well himself.

Before I had kids, I massively underestimated them. I had no idea a one-year-old could have so much personality; I sort of assumed they were all pretty generic until at least kindergarten. I certainly had no idea that a two-year-old could express complex ideas or be intentionally funny. And I couldn’t have dreamed that a seven-year-old could be the most interesting, fun and brave person I knew.

Added all together with the extra months, I’ve raised about 11 years’ worth of kids, given that their current ages are 1, 2.5 and 7.5 respectively. Sometimes it feels like about a hundred years.

Sometimes it feels like a few days. A blink.

I couldn’t possibly list everything I’ve learned about being a parent, every mistake I’ve made, every victory. But here are some big, big takeaways about parenting while I’m thinking about them:

  1. Kids want to be good. They just want to be active. Don’t spend your precious time trying to prevent them from doing bad stuff. Point them in a positive direction and let them run. Put all your effort into rewarding and encouraging good behavior, and you’ll almost never have to punish bad. I can’t remember more than a dozen times I’ve had to actually punish a kid with a time out or something – instead we spent a ton of time creating reward games for good behavior and heaping praise on kindness whenever we saw it. It’s worked so far.
  2. They are so, so, SO smart. You will never be prepared for how much smarter they are than you think they’ll be. They will figure you out fast. That also works both ways – they can perfectly understand you much younger than you think. By six months they’re not creatures of pure instinct any more, and you would be shocked at how much language they understand by then. You can just talk to them, and they’ll understand way before they’re actually able to talk back. They can also open everything you think they can’t open. At 7 months, Buddy unlocked a pin-protected phone. I mean, then the little “hacker” licked it, but still.
  3. You teach them literally 100% of their behavior. They don’t do anything you don’t teach them to do. If they bug you for snacks, it’s because at some point you gave them snacks when they did that. If they cry after you put them to bed, it’s because at some point you let that cry convince you to pick them back up. You can do whatever you feel comfortable with, but if you ever find yourself exasperated and asking “why do they DO that,” just remember it’s because you taught them to. That extends to a lot of behaviors as they get older – they’ll curse if you curse, smoke if you smoke, drink if you drink. You’ll never hide it from them. Use them as your reason for being better. More than anything, teach them to love.

I’ll miss having a little baby, but not nearly as much as I’ll enjoy the person he’ll grow into. Each of my children is more awesome today than they were yesterday; they become cooler people every day, and I love being there for it.

Happy Birthday Buddy, you entire meatloaf. I love you.

Bloodlines

I had a conversation with my seven-year-old daughter yesterday. I noticed she had a bandage on her thumb, and I asked her how she got it (the stories of my child’s myriad injuries are always great).

She said, “I was using a sharp knife to cut a cucumber and I accidentally cut myself. It was GUSHING BLOOD.” (Note: That probably means there were three drops, as my daughter’s talent for hyperbole is well-documented.)

I said back, “Oh, then you need more practice. Remember to count your fingers before you start cutting so you keep track of where they all are, and remember that you shouldn’t have to press hard. If the knife doesn’t go into the vegetable easily, you’re using the wrong one.” She agreed, and confirmed that the knife had indeed worked easily, but she’d forgotten to count her fingers so her thumb was in the path of the blade. She assured me she’d remember next time.

We then rode along quietly for a few blocks (this conversation happened in the car) while I thought about that exchange. Then I commented to her:

“Do you know that there are parents out there that would have heard you tell you me that story, and because of it would have told you that you’re not allowed to use the knife any more until you’re older?”

She made a face not unlike this one:

We talked about that for a while. About how parents often see their kids make mistakes, and conclude immediately that a particular activity is beyond them or that they should be shielded from it. Too often parents think their job is to minimize harm – real and imagined, actual and potential – instead of to maximize learning.

I don’t want to raise porcelain dolls that are afraid of knives. I want to raise scarred, knife-savvy badasses. You need to exercise some judgement here – I’m obviously not handing a knife to my toddler – but overall I think we err way too much on the side of caution.

When the bandage comes off my Beansprout’s thumb, she’ll be no worse for wear. But the impact of the confidence she gets from my encouragement and support as she learns to command the world around her will last forever. The Beansprout has many amazing qualities – she’s kind, she’s smart, she’s charismatic. But my favorite of all her positive traits is that she is dauntless. Fearless and unstoppable. And it’s not born from a lack of realism – she’s fallen out of plenty of the trees she’s climbed, taken plenty of nose-dives off the back of her bike, gotten stung by the bugs she catches. It only makes her quicker, more resilient, more sure of herself.

When I see her dangling from a tree branch, every nerve in my body shouts at me to run over, to grab her, to shield her from the consequences of her actions. But instead, I steel myself and say “find your footing, swing over to the next branch. I bet you can go even higher.”

While writing this, the Beansprout came over and asked me what I was doing, and when I told her I was writing about her, she asked if she could write something:

My dad is the best dad in the world. My mom is the best mom in the world. Try your hardest at everything you do!

(The preceding was typed entirely by the Beansprout, including proper punctuation and capitalization, and with no direction from me. I only added the italics. Photo evidence below.)