Last Ride In

We have so many ceremonies around the firsts of things. We celebrate, we make promises, we create hope, we imagine the possibilities. We have far fewer around the lasts of things.

But the lasts are important. Putting a final bow on things lets us see them for what they were, in total. To measure our choices, and thus learn from them. To grow, and to say goodbye in a way that means something.

Pluck the good from your year, and tell stories. Look at your challenges both lost and overcome, and let yourself live in what you wrought. Don’t just count down the seconds until it’s all behind you. Cherish those seconds. Do one last thing – whatever it is. Whatever you resolved to do this year, get in one more rep. Paint one more stroke, write one more word, do one more push-up. Treat seconds as if they were years, because years are only seconds.

And there will be a last one. Don’t let it slip by so easily.

Skipping the Signal

Sometimes I think people, if given the choice, would prefer that others be given the ability to read their minds than the other way around.

It’s such a common lament: people yearn to be understood. But they don’t want to put the effort into creating that understanding. Why can’t other people just know that I’m sincere, or that I’m competent, or whatever other quality I believe I am?

That’s like saying, “why can’t riches simply appear at my feet?” All things take work, and communication is no different.

Part of being happy is not making unreasonable demands of the universe. If you want wealth, work. If you want to be understood, communicate.

Ask Away!

It’s possible for me to learn a lot about stuff without talking to other people directly. Tons of good information – more than I could ever consume – is just floating around out there in books and on websites and in podcasts and available to my own observation. If no other human ever talked to me again, I could still learn and learn and learn until the day I died.

But what fun would that be?

I occasionally see people get annoyed when they get asked a question. They say things like “I’m not Google,” or “it’s not my job to teach you this” or whatever. And that’s… technically true, sure. But I love it when people ask me stuff! Why wouldn’t I? If it’s something I know about, I get the joy of teaching it and also growing a relationship with another human. If it’s not something I know a lot about, then I get to discover some interesting new question and all the interesting new answers (and new questions!) that go along with it.

Of course, this might just be my personality. I even found a vocation where people pretty much ask me questions about stuff I know all day, and I really really like it. But I think it might be a general case that folks should be more eager to get asked questions. Sure, it can occasionally get tiresome and you need healthy boundaries. But most people are too reflexively, automatically dismissive when they shouldn’t be.

So, I promise you, if you ever want to know something from me – ask away!

Joint Task Force

Some of the absolute best time you can spend building a relationship with someone is time spent on a shared chore or project. In almost all cases it vastly outperforms time simply spent on relationship-building directly.

There’s just something about shared work that simultaneously greases the wheels of conversation and togetherness while also filling in all those gaps and uncertainties. It provides a shared goal, and the goal in turn reveals all sorts of things about the people involved that might be obscured in time spent solely trying to impress each other.

In fact, this works so well I’m shocked we haven’t converted some of the most elemental “get to know you” conversations into institutional versions of this. Job interviews are absolutely terrible – a far better version of them would be to just say, “hey, come do an hour’s worth of job-related activities with key members of the team.” You’ll get far more than an interview; that’s true of both sides.

For a first date, just build a piece of furniture together. You’d learn so much more, have much more fun, and you’d have a chair or whatever no matter how it ended up going.

Forget campaign speeches and pulpits. Someone wants to run for office? They should have to renovate an old house, top to bottom, with a bunch of people, while being filmed. I’ll find out everything I need to know.

The point is – when you want to really build a relationship with people, whether it’s a teammate, a child, a partner, a friend – do some work with them. Help them clean their garage. Ask them to help you fix your sink. Go volunteer together. But the core of human experience is joyful labor with our clan, so don’t avoid it. Embrace it.

No Wrong Way to Play

When my oldest daughter was about eighteen months old, we experimented with organized sports for her a little. In retrospect, she was way too young – not too young to enjoy herself, but too young to be getting anything out of the “organized” part. At some point, she was climbing on the gym mats and licking the windows while the other parents were forcing kids that they were certain would become international soccer stars to adhere to the rules. I yelled to my daughter “Have fun kid! There’s no wrong way to play!”

I got some decidedly unkind looks. I elected not to return.

It’s important to note what you’re trying to get out of an experience. Some things can be fun while also serving a different end, and it’s fine to adhere to rules that are more conducive to achieving that end. But some things are play. Play is vital – you learn more from play than from just about anything else. It stretches you in amazing directions. People say that swimming is one of the best forms of physical exercise because it uses so many different muscle groups in so many ways. Play is like that, for your mind. You use so many parts of it!

But here’s the thing – the more structure, the worse play becomes at doing exactly that. The more external rules, the less the play itself can shape the player. Rules are fine, but they need to come from within the play itself. The players need to be deciding them, evolving them, dictating them to themselves and each other.

My two youngest children each got legos for Christmas. They love them. My son uses them purely as an input to his vast imagination machine, building and breaking constantly and just putting them together as he needs them to represent whatever elements of his story he needs. My daughter focused like a surgeon, carefully building exactly the structure depicted on the cover. They both chose their respective methods with no direction from me. They both loved it. And they both sharpened their minds in some way.

And my oldest daughter? Her self-discipline is amazing; she’s on her way to black belt and she’s ten years old. Instead of forcing her to do something counter to the way she wanted to play, I just let her play. And when it’s time to do something else, she’s all in – because play isn’t scarce to her. It isn’t something she needs to hoard. Play is the ocean she swims in.

There’s no wrong way to do it, except any way that’s not what you want. Other people want you to swim better, so they try to hold you underwater or keep you in the shallows, but both are wrong. You can’t push them in or keep them out – kids or adults! You don’t even have to show them the water. They know. All you have to do is stay out of the way and nearby to help if you’re asked – and cheer at every splash.

Word Theory

Even though I’m not artistically inclined, particularly, I’ve always been fascinated by color theory. The way there can be rules and methods to something as seemingly subjective as “which colors are pretty together,” and the way that ties into everything from math to biology just has this spark of the divine order, for me.

(Want to have a fun twenty-minute distraction that will blow your mind? Here you go:

As my mind wandered a bit while thinking about this, I started thinking about colors as information. Any sort of sensory perception is information transfer. And whenever you have a deliberate, repeated form of information transfer, the human mind will have preferred ways of experiencing that information.

We can find one picture prettier than another, even if both are pictures of a house we want to study. We find mnemonic devices enhance our memory – rhyming information is easier to retain, and often more pleasant. We find compelling narratives easier to comprehend than dry facts. We like symbols over words for many concepts.

You can make any information easier to transfer if you also pay attention to the aesthetics. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, after all.

Of course, therein lies the danger. A spoonful of sugar makes the poison go down, too. The fact that beautiful information is easier to comprehend also makes it easier to believe, because we all want to live in a universe where truth is beauty and beauty truth.

And thus my strange paradox: when I write, I want the words to be prose. I want it easier for you to read. But when I read, I want cold iron, because I do not want to be tricked or lured.

I want to give to the world truth as I comprehend it. No matter the color.


I have always adored Christmas. As a father, very few things compare. And last year, I made a discovery that increased my joy tenfold. So here, having renewed my tradition and found it just as amazing, I’ll share it with you.

If you want joy, you don’t have to do anything to create joy. You have to aggressively and relentlessly eliminate bullshit. I can almost guarantee that your holiday traditions, if you have them, have at least several hours of stressful work that you don’t want to do. Everyone loves different things and hates different things, but we all feel compelled to do all of it. We feel compelled – by tradition, by social influence, by our families, whatever – to go through every last motion, no matter what it is.

If you love Christmas music but hate wrapping presents, don’t wrap presents. If you love wrapping presents but hate cooking the big feast, don’t cook the big feast. If you love cooking the big feast but hate running around to ten different houses… you get it.

We’ve gradually added so many bells and whistles to this holiday that we get caught up in thinking that the magic only exists if we carefully adhere to this combination of rituals. It isn’t so! The magic is far more durable than that.

Starting last year, I didn’t do any of it. I didn’t wrap presents. I didn’t hang lights. My kids decorated the tree because they wanted to, and I enjoyed it. But here’s the thing that makes it all essential: whatever time you save by skipping all that bullshit?

In that time, you must let joy flourish.

I skipped all that stuff, and here’s what I did instead: I piled my kids into the car, put on all my favorite Christmas songs (and their favorites, too!), and drove around looking at all the pretty lights. I drank hot cocoa and sang with my kids. I made merry.

You can do that too, and you can do it without needing to take some sort of stand against whatever it is you don’t do. Other people wrapped presents, and I love it! Other people put up lights, and I drove around looking at them! Other people made their merry in whatever way they wanted. I don’t at all think they shouldn’t have – unless, of course, they didn’t want to.

This is a celebration. Joy should abound. If it isn’t – what, exactly, are you doing? Who do you think cares about your toil?

God rest ye. And rest well – never tire of your joy.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas, Even

My children are happy. They live lives that are full of joy. Heartache isn’t unknown, but it’s a distant and rare event. Pain is a very minor worry. They aren’t sheltered, but they are safe. They see endless wonder in the world.

What more could I ask for? I am blessed beyond measure.

Judo for Life

Your ability to change the universe is extremely limited. You can’t effect more than the most miniscule changes, especially in other people. You can’t keep it from raining.

The secret power that you have is that you can move the whole universe around you. When it strikes, you can move. You can’t block, but you can dodge. You can adjust your position.

An enormous amount of pain in people’s lives comes from the sense that they wish to own a particular position in the universe, even if that position is hurting them. Someone buys a house on a flood plain. Shocker, it floods. So they try to build in water traps, levees, pumps. It still floods. They try to waterproof things, still floods. Dude, just move.

That applies in so many circumstances. People are frustrated or unhappy in their current situation, so they try so hard to make the situation different, instead of finding a different situation. The second is so much easier, and more fulfilling. Don’t let the universe strangle you. Flip it. Move like water. Find your space. Be happy.