Weekly inspirational thoughts from our founder and chief imagination officer, Mark Henson.

6000 Miles And Only 10 Pictures? Yep.

I’m still pooped.

Rightfully so, I suppose, after driving 6000 miles in two weeks.

A few weeks ago my daughter and I decided — on a whim — to drive across the country. We traveled from Columbus to Chicago to southern California, loosely following the famous Route 66. Then we cruised up the California coast on Highway 1 to San Francisco where she hopped on a plane back to Columbus. Fortunately for me, my dad flew out to San Francisco and drove back across America with me.

We never knew how far we’d get or where we’d end up each day. We ate at local diners and booked hotels on the fly. If something caught our eye, we’d stop and check it out.

A partial – and I mean partial – list of sites we visited included Millennium Park in Chicago (with the famous chrome “bean” sculpture), the St. Louis Arch, at least two thousand miles of desert, the San Diego Zoo, the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, the Brady Bunch House (apparently only used for front exterior shots), Hollywood Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, Big Sur, an actual California wild fire (complete with dozens of fire trucks, bulldozers, etc.), The Golden Gate Bridge, a forest of Giant Redwoods, Yosemite National Park, and the Hallmark Cards worldwide headquarters in Lawrence, KS. That last one was a total fluke. We just happened to get off at that exit to look for a hotel and there it was.

When we got home, my wife asked me how many pictures I took.

“About 10.”

“You’re kidding, right?” 

“Nope. I really didn’t take very many pictures.”

“WHY NOT?” 

“I guess I just wanted to BE on this trip, not live it through my camera.”

“But how will you remember everything?”

“Why do I need to?”

Honestly, I’m not sure I’d remember everything even if I had videotaped the trip from beginning to end. One thing I know I’ll never forget is stopping in the middle of Yosemite at 11pm, getting out of the car, and just staring at a sky full of more stars than you can imagine. It’s first time I’ve seen the Milky Way stretch from horizon to horizon. Most people have never even seen the Milky Way because the man-made light on much of this earth keeps it from being visible. But not in Yosemite. It was the visual definition of awe-inspiring.

Another memorable moment was when I hugged a Giant Redwood. I did it to be funny and make my daughter roll her eyes (it worked), but if I’m being completely honest, the hug itself felt surprisingly GOOD. I gave that ancient tree a little love and it gave me some back. I think my daughter Snapchatted the moment to show her friends what an idiot her dad is, but a picture couldn’t possibly capture the feeling that I exchanged with that tree.

And a picture could never come close to witnessing my daughter experiencing all of this for the first time. I guess in the end I just wanted to drink that in as much as I could with my own two eyes.

This trip reminded me of some basic things in life that I truly love more than anything, like exploring the real world, immersing myself in nature, hanging out with family, and being 100% present while I do it. For me, it’s hard — no, IMPOSSIBLE — to do that with a phone in my face.

I’ve decided I’m going to stay away from technology for now. Oh, I’ll still watch the Olympics, I’ll still use my laptop to finish publishing my book, and I’ll still use Google Maps to get me from point A to point B, but I’m going to hover here in “technology vacation mode” as long as I can. I’ve done this upon returning from vacation before and technology always eventually creeps back in. This time feels different, though. This time I sense more permanence to the shift and I’m excited about that. I’m ready to spend more time in “real life” and less time in cyberspace.

This trip was a perfect reminder that real life is where the most amazing stuff is.

And yes, I’d recommend a road trip across America at least once in your life. With or without a camera it is a truly unforgettable experience.

Just do YOUR thing and you’ll shine just fine.

I didn’t go to the fireworks last night, but they were some of the best fireworks I’ve seen yet.

In my suburb of Columbus, Ohio, we take 4th of July quite seriously. I mean Norman Rockwell kind of seriously. A giant parade, day-long parties in every other front yard, and a good ol’ fashioned fireworks show — the kind where they still fire off just one or two at a time, with plenty of time to oooh and ahhh in between.

We live two blocks from the park where they put on the show. For the past 10+ years we’ve carried our blankets and munchies to the park, picked out a spot, and joined the crowd. But last night, we decided to stay home, partly because our old dog gets completely freaked out by fireworks, and partly because we were all too pooped to drag our butts to the park.

We’ve always suspected we could see the fireworks from our house, and last night we confirmed our suspicions. In fact, if you stand right next to my front door you can see about 90% of the explosions just above the trees across the street.

And while that perfect, small town firework display was underway, I noticed a smaller, yet equally impressive show happening just a few feet away from where I was standing:

A lone lighting bug was flashing his little light.

I’m sure there were others out there, but I looked around and couldn’t see any. And here was this little guy, flashing away as if he was the only light show in town. He was probably flashing before the fireworks began and he was still flashing when the grand finale ended.

He didn’t care that there were bigger, brighter, noisier lights getting more attention. He just kept doing HIS thing, working toward HIS goal. He wasn’t trying to impress the masses, he was just hoping to grab the attention of one other lightning bug that he could connect with and make some magic happen.

He didn’t get caught up in the ooohs and ahhhs of the crowd. He didn’t need to make a gigantic flash to get the attention he needed. He never tried to be anybody but himself, doing his thing, his way, at his pace.

I don’t know about you, but I have often been guilty of  seeking the ooohs and ahhhs of the crowd. I’ve also made the mistake of trying to draw as much attention to myself to get what I want as quickly as possible. As a writer and a business owner, it sure is easy to fall into that trap. It’s also easy to fall into that trap as an employee, a student, a parent, and every other role I’ve ever held in my life.

The problem is that in order to get that kind of attention, we often attempt to become a different person. We adopt someone else’s techniques or style or personality in order to generate a flashier appearance or a more attractive display.

When we see what someone else has achieved, we often do what they do in hopes of getting what they have. And then we lose ourselves in the process. We abandon what makes us unique and special and we become a cheap imitation of someone else.

There’s nothing wrong with adopting best practices or learning how to better relate to your audience/boss/friends/etc. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to cross the line into inauthentic mimicry.

I know this already (you do, too), but it’s one of those things that I need a periodic reminder of:

 

Just do YOUR thing and you’ll shine just fine.

 

Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t walk down to the park to watch the fireworks last night. I got a much better show — and a much needed lesson — from my little, authentic, lightning bug buddy.

 

 

Here’s What I Do When Life Sucks

I’ve been writing weekly posts for well over a decade. From the outside, it would appear as if I’ve been in the groove for a very long time. I have rarely, and I mean RARELY missed a week (and we’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of weeks). When I do miss a week it’s usually because I’m on vacation or a virus is boxing my brain around.

So you might be surprised at how many weeks I don’t feel like writing, ESPECIALLY something helpful or inspirational or encouraging. In spite of the frequency of my posts, I don’t always feel like I’m in the groove.

Know why?

Because life sucks sometimes.

Bad stuff frequently happens to me and people I care about. And it takes many forms, from major bad stuff like a death in the family to less major bad stuff like a night of insomnia. Bad stuff gangs up on me once in awhile, too, as if the Universe is playing some twisted game of “kill the quarterback”.

Sometimes it’s hard to get up in the morning knowing the bad stuff is waiting for me. Sometimes it’s hard to be nice to others while I’m carrying a big pile of bad stuff around with me all day. Some days it seems like the bad stuff is all there is.

But that’s not true, is it?

Yeah, life is full of bad stuff — not just for me — for EVERYBODY. But it’s also full of good stuff. If I asked you to make a list of all the good stuff and all the bad stuff in your life right now you could find a few things to put in the good column…EVEN ON YOUR WORST DAY. Don’t argue with me. You know I’m right.

But, this isn’t a post to tell you to “focus on the positives” or “just fill your heart with gratitude” for what you do have. Those ideas may seem like great advice to the one giving it. However, in my experience, when I’m in the middle of some bad stuff and someone tells me to “Look on the bright side…”, I have to resist the urge to punch them in the throat.

Instead, here are a few strategies I employ when life sucks:

1. I remind myself that my current bad stuff is temporary. There IS good stuff in life, I’m just not experiencing it right now. That’s not the same as focusing on the good stuff — it’s acknowledging both the good and the bad. It’s more like a healthy reality check.

2. I try to remember that other people are experiencing good stuff right now, even while I’m experiencing bad stuff. This reminds me to try to not rain on someone else’s parade.

3. I allow life to suck (if needed). Sometimes I can quickly change my situation and sweep away the bad stuff, but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I have absolutely no control over the situation, I just have to live through it and let it suck until it’s done sucking. I won’t lie, this one is hard.

4. I tell someone — sometimes I tell everyone — that my life sucks right now. Hey, there’s no sense in hiding it. THEY KNOW. I try not to make it the main topic of everyday conversation (see #2 above), but I find that when I’m going through bad stuff, hiding it from everyone in my life only makes it worse. Plus, “faking it” takes a lot of energy, which is already depleted when I’m dealing with bad stuff.

5. I write, even when I don’t feel like it. For me, writing helps me think, process my feelings, and express myself. In fact I often joke that most of the time my blog posts are just letters to myself that I share with the whole world. I also find that having something consistent to create helps me feel a tiny sense of control when my world is out of whack.

I didn’t write this to tell you that my life sucks right now. I wrote it to tell you that if you feel like life sucks sometimes, you’re absolutely right. And you’re not the only one who feels that way. We all have our ways of dealing with it and I’d love to hear yours as well.

And if I’m being completely honest, the strategies I mentioned above never completely pull me out of a funk, but they almost always lessen the intensity of life-suckiness that I may be feeling in the moment.

share the spark

Share The Spark

In last week’s post, I shared some thoughts on how to Live Like You Give A ****. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure if it would resonate or offend. Thankfully, it resonated.

At the same time, Alisha Thomas from my team published a post announcing something we’re calling Share The Spark — our new & improved, slightly-more-formalized effort to give back to our community as a company. At the time, I didn’t put these two two ideas together, even though one of the challenges in my post last week was to Give like you give a ****.

As I sat down this morning to write my weekly post to you, I struggled and struggled with what to write. I started two different posts and scrapped them. As a last resort I thought I’d just share Alisha’s post with you. Then it hit me — it was the perfect follow up to last week’s post. And it was clearly what I was meant to share with you this week.

I invite you to read Alisha’s post over on the sparkspace blog. And I hope you’ll be as excited as we are to share the spark.

Live Like You Give A F

Live Like You Give A ****.

Vegetarian tacos.

That’s where this all started.

One of my kids is vegetarian. The only problem is that this kid doesn’t like “vegetarian” food, so the meal choices are a) mac & cheese, b) black bean burgers, c) salad. Obviously, that’s not going to cut it long term, so last week I searched Amazon for a good vegetarian cookbook.

One immediately jumped off the screen at me and I thought, “Now THIS is a cookbook I can relate to.” It’s called Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give A **** (asterisks = my favorite swear word). The irreverence definitely caught my attention, and the recipes looked delicious and fairly simple (my top 2 cooking criteria for sure). I ordered it immediately.

I’m pretty sure there has never been a cookbook with a more clear wake up call in the title or the introduction (you know, all those pages that come before the recipes…the ones you never read). It forced me to admit that I HAVEN’T been eating like I give a ****. Not really.

The title rattled around in my head for days. The more I thought about it about the title, and its attitude, I started wondering what would happen if I modified the title and applied it to other areas of my life. I suspected it might challenge me to really evaluate how I’m showing up (or not) and participating (or not) in the various areas of my life that I claim are important to me. Here’s the list of modified titles I came up with:

Husband like you give a ****.

Parent like you give a ****.

Lead like you give a *****.

Do your job like you give a ****.

Run your business like you give a****.

Volunteer like you give a ****.

Learn like you give a ****.

Play like you give a ****.

Help like you give a ****.

Listen like you give a ****.

Write like you give a ****.

Speak like you give a ****.

Give like you give a ****.

LIVE like you give a ****.

Looking at all those titles — and admitting I’m not living up to all of them — has made me realize a few things:

1. I can’t give a **** at the same level in all areas of my life at the same time, and that’s ok.

2. I probably give a **** about too many things at once. Some/many/most of these things could be let go, or postponed until a time when I have the time, energy, etc. to truly give a ****.

3. If something is taking up my time, energy, etc. that I don’t give a **** about, why is it on my list in the first place?

Who knew a cookbook could make me think so much?

Sorry for all the ****, but sometimes a little **** is just what you need to hear.

You can blame the vegetarian tacos if you like.

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It's Time To Be The Boldest Person In The Room

It’s Time To Be The Boldest Person In The Room

There is a reason why you’re not getting where you want to go.

There is a cause for not getting what you want.

There is a correlation between how you’re acting and what you’re trying to achieve.

Here it is:

You’re not being bold enough.

No one has ever made a difference by sitting around and waiting for something to happen.

No one has ever accomplished anything even remotely interesting watching from the sidelines.

No one has ever won a fight by being timid.

There is a time for waiting. But it’s not now.

There is a time for going with the flow. But it’s not now.

There is a time for letting someone else take the lead. But it’s not now.

Right now, it’s time for you to be the boldest person in the room.

Deep breath. Ready…set…go.

Proof That Nice Guys (And Gals) CAN Finish First

Have you won a gold medal in the Olympics?

Have you won 70 different titles in your field?

Have you overcome cancer, not once, but twice?

Have you started your career over multiple times?

Have you used your passion, your life story, and your gifts to make a difference in the lives of countless others?

Have you remained a humble, generous, genuinely nice person through all of it?

Scott Hamilton has.

This weekend I listed to an interview with Scott on Donald Miller’s Building A Storybrand podcast. It was one of those “just what I needed to hear right now” kind of interviews. Scott talks about keeping your fire alive, overcoming adversity, and most importantly, how to win in life.

It’s so refreshing to hear a story about someone who disproves the idea that “nice guys finish last.”

I thought you might like to hear it, too, so here’s a link to the episode:

Listen on the Building A Storybrand website

Listen on iTunes

(The interview starts at 10:25 if you want to skip right to it)

 

Have a great week!

 

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Better Than Expected

Has Anything Ever Ended Up Better Than You Expected?

Have you ever ended up someplace you didn’t expect?

Maybe you’ve ended up on the side of the road with a flat tire. Or you’ve ended up in the emergency room. Or sitting across from someone who is telling your your services are no longer needed. I know, nice start to a post, right? We usually associate unexpected endings with something worse than we were shooting for. But have you ever ended up in a place that was BETTER than you expected?

I Think Prince Got It Right

 

After Prince died I became fascinated by all the things I didn’t know about Prince. People started coming out the woodwork to tell the world how authentic, principled, and generous he was.

I’ve reflected on this a lot, and I think Prince got it right. He lived his truth. He paved his own path. He stood up for what he believed. He passionately pursued his art. He befriend, mentored, and supported the underdog. He quietly, yet powerfully contributed to causes large and small. He invested in his fans and his community. He honored his faith. 

All of this can be summarized in a short, worthy philosophy that I hope to embody in my own life. Maybe you do, too.

Make YOUR music. Do good. Love people.

 

It might sound simple, but when we get to the end of our days, these are the things that will have mattered.

 

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Think You Can't Say No?

Think You Can’t Say No? Yes, Yes You Can.

You’d think such a short word would be easy to say, but saying no is hard! If you can’t say no, or if you’re not very good at saying it, or you can say it but you absolutely HATE it, you need to read this short post all the way to the end.

I like being the guy who says, “Sure, I’ll help!” I love providing great service to people, and I really don’t like to let people down. So I used to say yes…a lot. Every open moment on my calendar basically became first come/first served. Wanna grab coffee? SURE! Need a volunteer at Church? I’m your guy! A coach for soccer? I don’t know the first thing about soccer, but why not!

And, oh yeah, I also had a business and a family that both wanted my attention, too.

Along the way I discovered something about myself: I need a lot of down/free time in order to maintain high levels of creativity, energy, and focus. I was not born with an unlimited supply of these items and when my calendar is packed full, they get (and stay) depleted quickly.

I suspect you were not born with unlimited amounts of creativity, energy, and focus either.

You Must Learn How To Say No

You don’t just have to learn how to say no, you have to learn how to say no with confidence. It’s the #1 way to control the flow of your life. It’s like having a magic doorway that YOU control, and it only grants entry to the people, tasks, events, and opportunities that are truly the best use of your time.

Last week I shared how to double your free time to do more of the things you really want to do. I also promised I’d share my thoughts this week on how to say no. So here you go:

 

1. Block your calendar.
Look at your upcoming week or month and block every spare minute on your calendar. This is counter-intuitive because you’re thinking, “That time is really open.” But it’s not. Until someone takes it, ALL of it belongs to you.

If you do this — and you believe that you OWN all of your open time — when someone asks for some of it, you’ll think more carefully about it. Now you’ll be giving up YOUR time instead of just booking time on an empty calendar.

You can plan specific things to work on during your time or you can just block it with no label whatsoever. Entirely up to you and how you work best.

 

2. Consult your calendar first, every time.

If you have blocked your time effectively, your calendar becomes your protector. When your time is already spoken for, you can honestly and confidently say “I don’t have time right now”. You might also find yourself taking on less — which is NOT a bad thing — because you’ll start to realize how little time you really have to be amazing at what you do. And you’ll start getting better and better at protecting your time from things that distract you from that.

 

3. Know what your Kind, Confident No sounds like.

The only way to know what your Kind, Confident No sounds like is to a) craft it and, b) practice it.

If you’re always prepared, you won’t default to saying yes when someone requests your time. You also won’t say “maybe”, which is really just a delayed no 99% of the time.

Time is the only excuse you need. Don’t waste time creating any other story. “I’m sorry, I don’t have the time to do that right now” works in every situation. If you feel like that’s too cold, you can throw in “But have a great time” or “I wish you the best” or “I’ll do the next one” (but only if you mean it).

Many requests you can turn down via email, but you will also have to say no face-to-face sometimes, which is way harder. It is extremely helpful if you’ve heard yourself say it out loud several times. Practice speaking your no until you can say it with confidence and kindness. I find the car is a great place to practice saying things out loud. It’s also a great place to sing Zach Brown Band songs at the top of your lungs.

 

 

By the way, the ONLY thing people ever request of you is your time. It doesn’t matter if they’re asking for a report, a product, a meeting, a quick phone call, a volunteer, a service, etc. You may be delivering these “things” to them, but what they’ve taken from you is your time. Every time. And you don’t get it back.

I hope these last two posts help you gain back some your precious time (and creativity and energy and focus). Let me know if they’ve helped, ok?

And if you’ve got a solid way of saying no with confidence, drop it into the comments below. We can all use more examples and inspiration.