The Epiphany

My stepson, Walt, spent the last year volunteering with Americorps working alongside FEMA on disaster relief projects. In that time he’s seen more of the world than the previous twenty years of his life. His growth and personal development have been extraordinary to the point that we’re considering making Americorps a requirement for the rest of the kids when they finish high school.

Anyway, Walt decided that he wants to make a career of emergency management or disaster relief. Towards the end of his term with Americorps he accepted a position with FEMA working on an as-needed contract basis.

When disaster strikes he could be called up and deployed to pretty much any where in the US or or US territories. In the meantime he’s volunteering at the The Red Cross getting experience with emergency preparedness.

But since early December he’s been pacing the floor, chomping at the bit to be deployed with FEMA.

“I’m just waiting on them to call me.”

For weeks that’s been his response nearly every time I’ve asked what he was up to. Yesterday I asked how many times he had called to check in and ask about being deployed.

“I haven’t.”

“Walt, you have to call them!”

The words that came out of my mouth next hit me like a ton of bricks and have been running through my mind since.

“You’ve reached the point where, from here on out, it’s up to you to create the life you want. Nobody is going to do it for your anymore, and you only have two choices.

You can decide what you want out of life and commit yourself to achieving it, which is what you should do.

Or you can sit back and let life happen to you, which is what 99% of the people on this planet do.”

Holy shit.

Am I talking to Walt or am I talking to myself?

If I’ve read one book on living a life by design or controlling your own destiny then I’ve read a dozen. I have watched hundreds of videos and listened to many speakers who have said the same thing.

In fact I’ve repeated a version of this idea to myself and others for years. “The situation you are in today is result of the decisions you’ve made over the last five years.”

Notice the badge. Proud kid, and rightly so. Notice the beer, too, he’s proud to be 21.

Notice the badge. Proud kid, and rightly so. Notice the beer, too, he’s proud to be 21.

So it’s not a concept with which I’m unfamiliar.

But, standing there that day talking to a fresh 21 year old kid with his whole life ahead of him, I realized that I've only known it on a conceptual level.

I have never internalized it.

I have not lived it.

The truth is I got to where I’m at today, for the most part, by letting life happen to me. Further, I have no solid, concrete idea of where I want to be in five or ten years. And since I don’t know, I can’t possibly have a plan for getting there.

Sure, I have the generic plan. I want to be financially comfortable, have money for retirement, maybe a beach house and a boat. But those are just things. They are simply desires and do not equate to clarity around the life that I want to live.

That puts me squarely in the 99%.

I will be 43 years old this month, and I face the same decision as Walt.

I can remain content with letting life happen to me, or I can develop clarity around what I want the rest of my life to look like and then commit to making that happen.

Damn. I’m glad I’m only 43.

Failure vs. Apathy

On the way to school I posed this question to the kids.

“Why do we fall down?”

crash.jpg

“So we can get back up!” they answered.

I’ve trained them to answer this way to cultivate a mindset of resiliency. I do not want my children to be afraid of failure.

Failures, of course, are unavoidable. Not even Superman is 100% successful all the time. How we manage those failures though, well, it makes all the difference in the world.

Especially the small ones.

One of my goals is to write every day and, during the week, to publish what I write. Before Monday the last time I published something was December 18th.

By definition, I failed my goal when I didn't publish the next day.

I fell down.

Granted, it’s a small failure. It’s not like my business closed or I blew my life savings in the casino.

But look what happened.

I wrote something the next day, but I didn’t finish it and never published it.

The same for the next day, and by the fourth day I simply didn’t write anything.

Apathy, defined, means “lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.”

By that fourth day I’d begun to feel apathetic towards writing. I knew that I needed to do it. I knew that, deep down, I wanted to do it, I just didn’t care enough to sit down and write.

Predictably, that led to me feeling down on the whole idea, and it got worse from there.

I started making excuses.

“Well, I didn’t write yesterday, it won’t really matter if I skip today.”

Well, you can see how that worked out. A small failure of missing one day led to a much larger failure of missing 19 days.

Nearly three weeks.

I realized this morning that I need to add a second part to that question when I’m talking to the kids.

Q: Why do we fall down?
A: So we can get back up!

Q: When do we get back up?
A: As fast as we possibly can.

Can't Hardly Walk

Yesterday I went to a running store in Charlotte to pick up a pair of shoes. Staying on the path of continual physical improvement I’ve signed up for the Spartan Race on April 7th. I have exactly 60 days from today in which to get ready to whoop up on the other contestants.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done any serious running, maybe a decade by now. So I figured the smart thing to do was to get somebody to help me with shoes. I want to make sure I’m wearing the right shoes for the way I naturally run, and this place has a system that uses electronic sensors to tell you what shoes you need.


I didn’t know getting new shoes would be so hard.

I didn’t know getting new shoes would be so hard.

Those of you who have seen me walk understand my concerns and why I’m willing to go out of my way to make sure I get the right shoes. Ever since I was young folks have told me I have a rather unique stride, but that’s story for another day.

Anyway, I get there right at 10:00 for my appointment and right away the lady helping me wants me to take off my shoes and socks. I immediately wished I trimmed my toe nails, but that became the least of my concerns when she handed me a pair of socks.

“Here, put these on.”

I could see they were some sort of socks that worked with the sensors, which meant I was not the first person to put them on. Gross, I know, but at this point I’m committed. 
I’ve already driven 45 minutes to get here and I needed the shoes so I said a quick prayer for protection against possible toe fungus and slid them on.

Next the lady straps these big bands around my legs and cinches them down like a tourniquet before attaching triangular sensors to each of them so that I had reflectors front and back above my knees and ankles.

I had to roll my nylon shorts up so she could get the sensors on but, of course, they wouldn’t stay so she brought me a binder clip to hold them up. Finally we are ready to get started and I stepped, sock footed, onto a treadmill that looked like it was from 1980.

It started out easy enough, just some simple knee bends. She had these lights on tripods that shone on the sensors and she was recording the whole thing with an iPad. It worked fine in the back, but when she moved around front the equipment started acting up, so I had to do five or six sets of knee bends before it would record.

Next came the running. Still in sock feet I ran the treadmill up to the prescribed speed, a 12 minute-mile pace. Shooting from the rear there were no problems, I only ran for about 15 seconds. But when we moved around front the equipment wouldn't work right again.

“It didn’t record, keep going and I’ll try again.”

“Move a bit closer to the front.”

“Speed it up to the 11 minute-mile pace.”

“Try moving back.”

By now I’ve been running for six, maybe seven minutes. I don’t know for sure because the old treadmill didn’t have a display for time and, not planning on an actual run, I didn’t think to wear my Ironman® watch.

“Speed it up just a bit more.”

“Try kicking your heels up higher.”

“OK, let’s take a break.”

Thank god. I had to shed a layer. I’m pretty sure I had mile under my belt at that point and I was happy to just watch the sweat drip on the treadmill.

“OK, I’ve think I’ve got it now, let’s try again.”

“Ugh, I’m so sorry, can you speed it up a bit more?”

"A few more notches, please."

“And try kicking those heels up again.”

Eventually, I think at about the 1.5 mile mark, I was at a full sprint and my shoeless feet had enough. I had to call it quits because I wasn't about to injure myself just trying to get fitted for running shoes.

Using the old-fashioned "try them on" method I quickly settled on a pair of New Balance. By the time got to my truck my calves were already hurting and I knew I’d have problems today. Sure enough when I quietly slipped out of bed this morning (like a ninja so as not to wake the princess) I almost fell down because my calves hurt so bad.

All day I’ve hardly been able to walk. My legs are freakin’ sore!

Still, I’m going for a short run tonight.

I don’t feel like it.

At all.

I’d much rather snuggle up in the bed with Julia and watch reruns of Parks and Recreation since we have finally found something we can both enjoy.

But I’m going to run anyway, because nobody that I know has ever reached their goals by not chasing them just because they didn’t feel like it.

Undistracted

As 2018 wrapped up I found myself, like many people, wondering where the time goes.

Back in October it was, “wow, can you believe it’s Halloween already?” In no time that gave way to amazement that Thanksgiving dinner was on the table, and then wonder that Santa would be here any day.

In an instant the ball had dropped, the collards and black-eyed peas were gone, and now here we are on the eighth day of the month.

2.2% of 2019 has already vanished.

It will be Christmas again very soon.

Where does the time go?

I’ve come to realize that I lose massive amounts of time to distractions.

I have Lily and Sam, my biological kids, every Wednesday and every other weekend. It’s not nearly as much as I would like to have them so every bit of time is important. Because of the distance to their school we spend a lot of time driving and, although I’d rather not be stuck in the car, it does give us blocks of uninterrupted time to talk.

I deleted all my apps, but that was not enough.

I deleted all my apps, but that was not enough.

Uninterrupted, of course, if I’m not glued to my phone. But not long ago I realized that I had become just that - glued to my phone. Checking for new message or emails at every stoplight. Scrolling through Facebook as they ate pastries at Amelie’s. Seeing how many likes my latest Instagram phone had racked up while we were in the carpool line.

I was, quite literally, missing time with my kids.

So last month I deleted most of the apps from my phone. Facebook, twitter, email - all the apps that were causing me to compulsively check my phone. Since then my screen time has been on a steady decline.

It’s nice, but it’s not enough.

As I’m writing this I have a burning desire to check my email. There’s a tab open in my browser where I can see that a couple of new messages have arrived. Down at the bottom of my screen I can see in Flume, the app that I installed on my Macbook for Instagram, that I have new notifications. And until a couple of minutes ago when I muted my computer I could hear Facebook notifications calling me.

Once I check one of them it’s all over. My productivity for the rest of the day will be on a decline.

It’s so easy to bounce from one email to the next because they come in constantly. Then I get them caught up and think, “well, I better check to see if I have any messages” which, of course, I do. So I respond to those and when I click back over to my browser I’ve got more emails.

It starts this “cycle of checking alerts” and, meanwhile, the projects sitting on my desk aren’t getting done.

It’s hard to get anything done when you allow yourself to be constantly interrupted.

As a long term objective I want to become “undistracted.”

I have to because I think it’s the distractions that cause the time to go by so quickly. Although much of the technology we have today can be useful, if we don’t use it correctly and maintain control of it then it can begin to control us.

It becomes a distraction from the project at work.

A distraction from the game I’m playing with my kids.

A distraction from the conversations I’m having with my friends.

A distraction from the time I’m spending with my wife.

My first step was deleting the apps from phone. I’m satisfied with that - I’ve proved to myself that I don’t need them.

My next step is going to be scheduling times to check my emails rather than trying to keep up with them all day long.

From there, who knows, but I’ll tell you about it as I go along.

How do your prevent yourself from being overly distracted by technology?

2018 Coastal Road Trip

The 2018 Coastal Road Trip with Lily and Sam, my youngest two, was a roaring success.  Many of you followed us on FaceBook as we drove from Monroe up to Virginia and then down the eastern shore of North Carolina in our second attempt to see all seven coastal lighthouses in North Carolina.

As predicted, the trip was incredibly fun, but not without its setbacks. On day one the radiator blew out, causing us to miss the full day on Virginia Beach that we’d planned. And on the second night everything got soaked during a thunderstorm that brought so much rain we literally had a duck in our campsite the following morning.

On day three we arrived in Corolla Beach at about 4:45 only to discover that, starting this year, they require a permit to drive on the beach. And the only place to get one is 30 minutes away and closes at 5:00.  Oh well, no wild horses this year.

Every day was like that with something crazy and unexpected threatening to ruin up the entire trip. But we just kept rolling and, by the time we got back home, we decided it was the best trip we’d ever taken. 

Still, we’re going to have to do it at least one more time. When we arrived at Bodie Island on the fourth day the thunderstorms that we’d already endured for three days prevented us from being able to climb the lighthouse.  It’s now the only one that we haven’t climbed (except Ocracoke, which is not open for climbing) so we have to take this trip at least one more time.  

This year Julia, Jack, & LuLu joined us for the last two days. Maybe next time I can figure out a way to cram all of us into the truck for the entire trip. 

Maybe I’ll get a bigger truck?  

 

Lloyd acts like Trump

Lloyd is a pretty amazing guy and a great business partner. And if you know know him, you know that he’s an incredibly hard worker. I talk about going the extra inch - Lloyd is the one person that I know who always, always, always goes the extra mile in everything he does.

In work, in church, and in community. 

Today though, he’s struggling with community. See he’s on the the HOA board in his neighborhood. Those of you who don’t live in a neighborhood with an HOA, and especially those of you who have never served on such a board, might be surprised to find out just how much work is involved. There’s meetings, events to organize, letters to send. There’s always something. 

And it’s all about as thankless as thankless gets. I’ve served on such boards myself so I know from personal experience that getting a “thank you” is about as common as winning the lottery. 

Some of the work is not so bad. Organizing a big party for the whole neighborhood? That can be fun. 

What’s not fun is being the guy who has to knock on a neighbors door and remind them that they have to cut their grass.

Or trim their hedges.

Or remove the 17 junk cars with no tags that are sitting on blocks.

Or get the washing machine off the front porch.

Which brings me to the roof. Somebody in Lloyd’s neighborhood put a new roof on their house. The bylaws for the neighborhood have specific rules for the roofing and these folks did not follow those rules despite having been advised of them before the work begin. And reminded of the same while the non-conforming roof installation was in progress. 

Predictably, the HOA sent a letter to the homeowner advising them that the roof was non-compliant and requesting a meeting to discuss the situation. 

The response?

That homeowner sent a letter to everyone in the neighborhood (except the board members) bitching about having to follow the rules and personally attacking Lloyd. 

A couple of days later he got this hand written post card:

“We was planning to sell our house late this year. We was going to have you sell it. The way you treat the people around here is making us think diffrent about you. You act like Trump.”

So when Lloyd got to work this morning he was upset. He tells me the story and sums it up with “this is clearly affecting our business, what should I do?”

Not a damn thing, I said. Zip. Nada. 

They fact that someone blatantly broke the rules and is upset that they got called on it is not your problem, but it does speak to a larger question: what kind of people do we want to work with?

We work with people with whom we have mutual respect. We work with people who value what we do, value our expertise, and value our input. As with everything in life there are rules to buying and selling houses, and we work with people who follow those rules. We don’t work with people who are rude, disrespectful, or (most especially) untruthful or deceptive. 

So let’s evaluate this situation against those principles. The person ignored the prior input of the HOA, willfully violated the rules and acted as if they did not apply to them, and then pitched a fit about it like a baby who didn’t get his way. 

So is this really affecting our business?

No, because we would’t want to work them the in the first place. 

And, thankfully, we don’t have to.

Lisa

I sure am glad we have Lisa.

Sometimes people dread meeting her because they don’t really know what to expect. But, by the time she’s finished, they’re always glad she’s been there. 

See, the thing about Lisa is that she’s really good at what she does. A lot of times when she shows up things are a little out of place. In fact sometimes things are a total train wreck. 

Plus, when she gets there, there’s always a million other things going on.

Boxes stacked up.

Things in piles to go to be donated. 

Sometimes there’s a POD or a UNIT in sitting around.

The entire place might even be in complete disarray, like a bomb went off. 

There can be other problems too, like bad smells and bad colors and bad artwork. 

But none of that matters to Lisa, it doesn’t even phase her. She shows up and gets right to work assessing the situation. Room by room she goes through taking inventory, making notes, and taking pictures. 

Asking questions.

Making suggestions. 

The next day her report shows up. It’s a detailed plan of exactly what needs to happen in order for everything to be perfect.

“Put this in storage, and put that in the other room.”

“Take that painting down and move the table into the dining room.”

“You need to paint the walls in the kitchen and plant new flowers along the walkway.”

The list goes on, and by the time my clients have finished their house looks perfect. They say things like, “wow, we should have done this a long time ago!” and “who knew our house could look so good?”

This is the way it goes every time Lisa stages a house for us. Which is precisely why we have her stage every house that we list. 

I’m doing something a little out-of-the ordinary this week - showing houses. Usually once a client’s house is under contract they work with our Buyer’s Specialists to purchase their next home. But someone who’s house just sold insisted that I help her with the purchase myself. 

I was happy to oblige, but looking through pictures and touring houses from that perspective I’ve been totally surprised by some of what I’ve seen. She has been, too, because of course Lisa staged her house. 

Some of these places are a mess! It’s like they think that all they need to do, in order to get the best price, is just put a for sale sign up and wait for someone to write the big check.

That’s not quite how it works in the real world. 

I tell you, I sure am glad we have Lisa Glass.

Everything For A Reason?

People say that “everything happens for a reason.”

I don’t know where that quote came from. I Googled it and results were all over the place, including Marilyn Monroe. But I know that I don’t agree with it in the slightest. Further, I think subscribing to such a belief instills a self-limiting and potentially self-destructive mindset. 

For starters, plenty of things happen for no reason whatsoever. 

Plane crashes. Mass shootings. Cancer. SIDS. My wife’s surgery getting botched and nearly killing her last year.

There’s no reason for any of that; it just happens.

But, more to my point, choosing to believe that everything happens “for some reason” is to believe that nothing happens because I make it happen. 

I suppose one could twist the words around to mean that if I make something happen that I, myself, am the reason. 

But we all know that’s not how that phrase is used. It’s used to suggest that everything happens because of god or prayer or karma or some cosmic force. 

I’m not saying that stuff doesn’t exist, mind you. 

What I’m saying is that we have far more control over our lives that the “everything happens for a reason” mindset allows. 

Random things happen all the time for no reason at all. I listed some bad ones earlier, but good ones happen too. Like winning the lottery. There’s not rhyme or reason behind why people win the lottery. 

Aside from the random I am largely in control of my own life and my own destiny. We all are. We are products of the actions we’ve taken and the decisions we’ve made over the last five years. 

The thoughts in our head result from the media, music, television, books, movies, and other content we’ve chosen to consume.

Our bodies are the shape that they are because of what we’ve chosen to eat and how we’ve moved. 

We are in the jobs we are in because that’s what we chose to do and where we chose to stay.

We are in the relationships we have because we’ve chosen to create and maintain them.

Our minds, bodies, businesses, and relationships are all where they are today because of what we’ve chosen to do with them over the previous years, not some intangible or unfathomable “reason.”

For me believing that the things that happen to me are simply for this “reason” is the wrong mindset and I reject it in favor of believing that I have a very large degree of control over my life.

I Can't Control Everything

I was talking with Lily over the weekend, she was all worked up about some kid that was in her class last year. With school starting back in a few weeks she’s getting a little anxious that maybe he’s going to be in her class again.

Our conversation went like this:

“Daddy, he’s just so mean!”

“He tells me all the time that I’m not smart!”

“He picks on my clothes too, and tells me that I don’t know how to dress!”

“He even picks on my book bag, he says that glitter is for dumb girls!!”

“Lily,” I said, “when he tells you that you’re not smart, what happens?”

“I get really upset,” she said, “it just makes me so mad. I mean, my grades are way better than his so who is he to talk? And when he picks on my clothes it makes me feel like I’m not as good as him.”

“Okay, so when he says those things do the words actually hurt you?”

“No, it just makes me upset and unhappy.”

“So if it’s not the words that are making you unhappy, what do you think it is?”

“My reaction,” she says (albeit with her eyes rolling just a little bit). 

She's right.

Winner, winner. Chicken dinner.

Now to be fair she didn’t pull that answer out of thin air. She’s heard me say it dozens of times, so have all my kids.

I say it all the time because it’s true. 

In terms of my overall happiness it’s the one piece of advice that I’ve probably found more useful than any other. I don’t remember where I first heard it, nor do I know if there’s someone to whom it should be attributed.

I just know it works, so I try to keep it at the front of my mind.

It’s nearly universal. It applies to almost any person, any event, or any situation.

“I can’t control X, but I can control my reaction to it.”

When I remember that, I’m much happier.

Screw The Extra Mile

They say you should always go the extra mile and, in principle, I totally agree. 

But, practically speaking, sometimes that’s just not happening. Sometimes it’s been long day or long week or long month and I’m plain tired. 

Sometimes I want to throw my middle finger up and say, “F You, Mile!”

Like this week, for example. Work’s been crazy and, on top of that Lily and Sam are in two separate day camps with two separate schedules. Lily’s at a gymnasts skills came in Matthews and Sam is at a sports camp at the Harris YMCA. 

So in addition to the regular routine I’ve made either two or three trips to Matthews or Charlotte every day this week. In fact as I write this I’m fixing to walk out the door for trip #2 today, and then trip #3 will be at 8:30 tonight when Lily gets out of gym practice. 

I feel like I’ve been living out of my truck this week and my schedule has been turned absolutely upside down.

Y’all, I’m tired. Beat-down tired. 

This is a week for doing the bare minimum, if you ask me. 

I certainly don’t feel like I can go any extra mile.

But you know what I heard last week? I was listening to an episode of Tom Bilyeu’s Impact Theory at lunch, not really paying much attention. In fact I don’t even recall who the guest was but he said one thing that slapped me in the face:

“You can always go the extra inch.”

I thought about that the rest of the day and it’s been on my mind since. The extra inch. 

Yeah, I can do that. I’m going to make that “my thing.”

The day I heard it I returned one more phone call, even though it was 9:00 at night.

Last night I talked to my daughter for an extra half hour, even though I was well past being ready for bed.

Today I tacked one 1 more sit-up after doing 140 of them. 

I’m realizing that there are hundreds of opportunities each day where I might not have the time, energy, or resources to go an extra mile. But in most of those cases I can manage to a least a little bit better.

The extra inch. That’s something I can always do.

Sex With A Frog

On Tuesday Julia stopped by my office to talk. Remembering that we were going to see The Book of Mormon the following day I pulled the tickets out and asked her to put them in the car so we couldn’t forget them. It wasn’t until later in the evening that I realized, in hindsight, that something has struck me as odd about those tickets. 

Something had struck Julia as odd, too. 

About that frog, though, it was a minor character in this musical which was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the infamous SouthPark cartoon series. And yes, someone does have sex with it. But I am not kidding in the least when I tell you that it was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. 

I started laughing at the first line and didn’t stop until the end. 

A word of caution though, if I may. I knew it was comedy but I had no idea how irreverent it would be. The first five minutes is good, clean fun but it’s followed by an unceremonious shift towards rude, shocking, off-color, offensive, and downright vulgar.

But in THE BEST way. 

I’m serious y’all, one of the characters - a desert warlord - is named “General Butt F%^king Naked,” so you've been warned if you decide to go see it. Don’t blame me if you wind up offended. 

Anyway, back to those tickets, remember I said I’d noticed something about them? Jack had gotten home from band camp around 9:00 and was eating dinner in the dining room where I had my computer out tending to some work. 

An email arrived. 

Date: Tuesday, July 24th 2018 - 9:17 PM

Subject: How was the show?

Body: Thank you for attending The Book Of Mormon. We hope you’ll take a moment to fill out our survey. . . 

The rest of the words sort of trailed off the page. I could vaguely hear Jack’s words, muffled like Charlie Brown’s teacher if she was on her 5th plate of ravioli, when he said, “Tomorrow is Wednesday, right? What are you and mom doing again?”

I felt this sinking feeling in my stomach.

I ran back to the bedroom and hollered for Julia. “Baby, where’s your purse?” Digging the tickets out I looked and the thing that I had noticed earlier, but that didn’t quite register, was staring me right in the face.

The Book Of MormonSection: GT Right
Row: A
Seat: 110

Performance Date: Tuesday, July 24th 7:30 PM

You catch that too? We’d missed the show, we were supposed to be there two hours earlier, not 24 hours later.

I held the tickets up and told Julia to look close. She saw it immediately. Quickly I looked up to see if we could get tickets for the next night. They were available, but the price had nearly quintupled so a pair would have cost over $1,000 with fees. 

Disappointed, I climbed into bed. Julia sat down beside me and we kind of just looked at each other. Then her face wrinkled up (I know, that’s a miracle in itself) and she looked at me, puzzled. 

“Wait,” she said, “how did you get those tickets?”

“What do you mean?” I said, “They came in the mail.”

“Why did they come to you? I ordered them. Remember I wanted to get them for your birthday but they weren’t on sale yet so I gave you a copy of the ad wrapped up in a box”

“I don’t know why the came to me, but they did.”

“Something’s not right. When you handed them to me earlier I was trying to figure out how you got them because they have been locked in my office since I ordered them.”

“What? Since you ordered them?”

“Yeah, this isn’t right. Plus I didn’t have them mailed, I printed them. I’m going to my office. I’ll be back in a minute.”

With that she was out the door. Not five minutes later she was walking up to the porch with some papers in her hand, smiling. She handed them to me - two tickets for the show the following night. 

Does crap like this happen to y’all too?

It took us a while but we finally figured out that we were somewhere together and decided to order the tickets. We called some friends to see if anyone wanted to join us. At that point the show was months away and nobody could commit so I ordered the pair and never gave it another thought. They came in the mail, I put them where the tickets go, and forgot all about it.

Here’s the crazy busy life part: apparently Julia forgot all about it too, because a couple of weeks later she ordered the same tickets. 

Lord help us. 

It’s a shame we didn’t know beforehand. It really was a great show and I would have gladly watched it two days in a row.

Size Matters

The first step in starting this company was easy. Lloyd Trimble and I had a rock solid partnership and had been working together for a couple of years so there was no question that he was coming on board with me as an owner.

From there though, things were more complicated. 

To begin with, how do we attract and hire good people?

If you look at the Big Box Brokerages you’ll see that it’s a numbers game. Hire as many agents as you can and hope that some of them can sell houses. And even if they can’t you can still make money - desk fees, training fees, mark-ups on E&O insurance, etc.

This is the way most big outfits operate - hire anyone with a pulse and a real estate license. I remember way back when I was getting my license interviewing with all the Big Boxes in Chapel Hill. At the Coldwell Bank franchise they gave me a personality test to determine whether or not make a good broker. The results of that test indicated that I would fail miserably, but they offered me a job anyway, so long as I could cover the desk fees. 

If all you care about is numbers then this approach can certainly work. Look at the biggest Big Box in the country, they have over 150,000 agents. 

Impressive? 

To some, maybe.

But me, I look at what most of these folks are doing.

Cold calling.

Door knocking.

Begging for referrals and pestering the ever-loving hell out of their friends and family.

[Side note: Y’all, with the housing market in full swing and the surge of new folks in this business over the last 5 years it’s gotten sooooooo bad. There are literally more agents than there are houses that need to be sold. If 50% of the agents were vaporized today there would still me more than enough to serve the actual demand. 

I have a property listed right now where the owner fired her first agent two weeks into the listing agreement. That means the status of her listed changed to “withdrawn.” And when it did the telemarketers came out like rabid dogs - she got something like 15 calls in first day, starting before the sun came up.

It went on that way for a week, all with the same cheesy pick-up line, “I might have a buyer for your house.”

Maybe I should call that the "pick-up lie" as opposed to line?]

Anyway, over the last decade we’ve had as many as 10 people in the company and as few as four. Some of those people are still with us, some have moved on to other places. Some have even left for a Big Box brokerage and returned having learned they didn’t care for that culture.

But, for the most part, they’ve had one thing in common. They care more about their clients than their commissions. They have more respect for people than to telemarked them at 7:00 in the morning. They certainly would never “pop by” on Saturday morning and interrupt family time just to make a sales pitch.

That’s the way we like it here. In fact, none of that stuff is even allowed. 

And if that means we never have 150,000 agents I’m totally cool with that.

Beer Vs. Beer Belly

If I analyze my health and fitness over the last 20 years there are clear patterns. When the quality of my nutrition goes up, so does the quantity of my exercise, which sets up a positive feedback loop. Good food makes me feel better, which makes it easer to exercise more, which makes we want to eat better. 

Wash, rinse, repeat.

But there’s another pattern, one that looks like a wave. Up and down and up and down and up and down. And within that pattern - with the valley being “overweight & out of shape” me and the peak being “optimal weight and & in shape me” - there’s year another pattern. At each of valleys I’m not following any sort of diet while at each of the peaks I am. 

During every peak I’ve had some sort of prescribed protocol for eating (and drinking). 

But every time I’ve gotten to a peak I’ve dropped off the diet which has invariably led to a slow decline towards being overweight and in suboptimal fitness again. 

Every. Single. Time. 

I can trace that all the way back to the early 2000’s when I worked at Unifi Technology Group as a computer programmer. I remember riding to airport one morning for my flight and realizing that my pants were busting at the seams. Looking down, I could literally see my skin between the stitches. On the flight back from Austin I happened upon a book called Body For Life. It laid out an easy to follow diet and exercise plan that I followed. 12 weeks later those same pants were way too big for me to wear and I was in the best shape of my life. 

But as soon as I reached that peak it was all cheeseburgers and beer, all the time.

With predictable results. 

I’ve done the same thing over and over: achieve the goal, drop off the diet, get fat and out of shape again. 

So I’m once again following a diet, Tim Ferris’s “slow carb” diet which I’ve used in the past with good success. I’ve got a big red check mark on the calendar for each day I follow it including the cheat day on Saturdays, which is when I drink beer. 

This past Sunday I was knee-deep in the water at Carolina Beach with the sun beating down, the waves crashing, and the fish not biting. The desire for an frosty beer was strong. 

STRONG. 

It’s a Pavlovian response. I smell the salt in the air and I want a beer. 

I started to make excuses for why I could drink one. 

“Yesterday was cheat day, and I didn’t even eat that much.”

“I only ate one of those Twinkies.”

(Yes, I ate a Twinkie. Got it at the gas station. Y’all, those things are gross)

“Just one, what’s the harm?” I thought.

I still had a cooler full from the day before, so the struggle was on.

It was me vs. the beer and for a minute there I thought the beer was going to win, setting off a domino effect of beer, beer, beer, cheeseburger & fries. 

There would be no checkmark that day. 

Without a protocol to follow, I would have totally caved. 

But the simple act of having this protocol to follow made it easy to resist. It’s like I couldn’t let myself down - “you’re doing this, this is the way it has to be.”

Me: 1, Beer: 0. 

It’s taken me twenty-something years to learn that, nutrition-wise, I need a protocol to follow. 

I’m on my way back to the peak, now I just need to remember that when I get there.

The Best $60 I Ever Spent

“Daddy, come here I want to show you something.”

Normally when Lily says this her eyes are wide with anticipation. Despite the fact that a decade of experience tells her otherwise, she actually believes she’s going to talk me into buying whatever treasure she’s found.

On Saturday though, she looked anxious. But she’s strung higher than the fifth string of a banjo so a look of anxiety on her face is nothing new. So I didn’t think much about it as we walked from the back of the 47K Marketplace towards the front and out the door. 

On the sidewalk her bike was parked next to Lu’s. The girls have been super excited all weekend because we’ve finally allowed them to get out and ride around the neighborhood some. They feel like big girls. 

Of course they were lectured beforehand. 

With big freedom comes big responsibility. 

Stay together. Pay attention to traffic. Obey the street signs, and remember to use your hand signals. 

During our stop at the 47K Marketplace Lily showed me just what it means to be responsible. 

As we stood there on the sidewalk she pointed out a framed canvas about 12 inches wide and 18 inches tall. The canvas was nearly empty and perfectly white. Hanging from the top of the frame was a small wreath and below it a single word, “Welcome.”

It is very much an adult thing, and does not look like something and 9 year old girl would want. 

Still, I’m waiting for the sales pitch. 

Instead she kneels down and points at black scuff mark on the otherwise pristine canvas. With tears welling up she said, “Daddy, I was parking my bike and when I did I accidentally hit this with my tire and made those black marks.”

“Well,” I said, “I guess we will have to buy it.”

“No daddy!!!!”

She thought she was in trouble. The look of anxiety had shifted to fear. She clutched my hand desperately as I leaned over to pick it up. 

“Listen, you have to be careful. We talk all the time about paying attention to your surroundings and watching what you are doing. If you mess up something that belongs to someone else you have to make it right. And the way to make this right is to buy it.”

She started to cry. 

Little did she know that I was in the throes of a “proud daddy moment.” 

“Relax baby girl, you’re not in trouble. Accidents happen and you did the right thing by telling me. I’m really proud of you.”

Back inside the owner, Kay, was super nice about it. She insisted that we not buy it. “It’s my fault,” she said, “I put it to close to the sidewalk.”

“I can clean it up,” she said.

“Let me give you discount,” she said.

No, no, and no. 

The piece wasn’t just dirty. It was damaged, albeit slightly so. Perhaps not even noticeable. 

But it was damaged nonetheless, and it wasn’t Kay’s fault. Nor was it the artist’s fault. It was only Lily’s fault. 

And while I appreciated Kay’s offer, for me to not purchase it would have discounted the very quality that Lily was demonstrating. 

The next day we were out on another ride and Lily wanted to stop back in. After asking me if it was OK (which I really appreciated) Kay pulled Lily to the side and told her how much she'd been impressed by her honesty the day before. “A lot of people wouldn’t have said anything about it,” she said, “so I was really impressed that you told your dad.”

Then Kay handed her a $10 gift card for the shop. 

Lily beamed. 

As we walked out she said, “You see daddy, you should always do the right thing. Sometimes you even get rewarded for it.”

Yes baby girl, that’s right. 

Thank you, Kay Klaren, you made my little girl’s day. 

Hopefully I can convince her to spend her $10 on some more candied bacon for me.

New NAR Logo was only $250,000

$250,000 for this?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I’m no stranger to differences of opinion with other real estate agents. I run my business differently than most and have never been shy about calling out the shady, deceptive, and down right annoying business practices that are pervasive in this industry.

But, last week, I found what is probably the most common ground I’ve ever experienced since I started selling houses in 2005. I’m annoyed as hell about it, which puts me in the same camp and just about every other Realtor in the United States.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR), in their infinite wisdom and unwavering mission to innovate, decided that an update to the Realtor logo was necessary.

And they paid $250,000 for it.

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One quarter of one million dollars for something I could have ordered on fivver.com and had delivered in 48 hours for under $100. Shoot, Jason Walle over at Chain Reaction Studios probably could have turned it around in an afternoon for a few hundred dollars more.

The reason? According to the NAR:

“The roll-out of this work truly enables the REALTOR® brand to better compete and thrive in the marketplace in a way that is clear, credible, and compelling, while leveraging equities that NAR has earned over the past 45 years, and evolving our brand so that we can continue to lead the real estate industry over the next 45 years.”

LEAD THE REAL ESTATE INDUSTRY?

Ummm, bullshit.

The NAR has a damn monopoly over the real estate industry, courtesy of the MLS.

Not a monopoly over the public, but rather a monopoly over broker access to the data in the MLS.

Quick lesson for my non-realtor friends: there are “real estate brokers” and there are “Realtors.” The former is one who holds a license to work as real estate broker, the latter is one who holds a license AND has joined the NAR.

To join the NAR you have to also join a state association as well as a local association and, of course, pay dues to all three.

So if you can work in real estate without being a member of NAR, why join? It's simple: you can’t get access to the MLS to list homes for sale without being a member. The fees vary by state and local association but in 2018 the national association dues were $120 + $35 for a Consumer Advertising Campaign special assessment.

So that’s $155 per member.

Right now there are 1,289,206 members.

So for 2018 NAR received a total of $199,826,930.  Read here to see where the money goes. 

Just shy of $200M.

Basically the NAR is a big, dumb company. And like any other big, dumb company they make big, dumb decisions.

Call me crazy but I don’t see spending $250,000 on $100 logo as an effective means to “lead the real estate industry.”

Fighting Depression

Morning Folks,

I sure wish the sun would come out. 

This morning I woke up in a thick fog of depression. I had zero desire to get out of the bed. In fact, despite waking up around 4, I didn’t get up until nearly 6. 

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I kept pulling the covers over my head and pretending the birds weren’t chirping. 

Y’all ever do that?

I struggle with depression from time to time. I come by it honestly though, it’s in my blood. Most everybody in my family has struggled with it at some point, some much worse that others. For one of my grandmothers it was so severe that she was hospitalized. Some folks in the family have even attempted suicide. 

And some succeeded. I never got the chance to meet my Uncle David, he took his own life long before I was born. 

I feel bad for people that have chronic, long term depression. I’m only rarely affected by it and it’s usually short-lived. I’ve learned, over the years, to recognize it. That alone is a huge help because I can say to myself, “look man, you’re depressed today. You know that it won’t last so you have to just go through the motions until you feel better.” 

And when I can do that things start to get easier. The next thing I’ll do is pick some small goal that I can easily achieve in order to have a sense of accomplishment. Today that goal was making the bed. And this sounds silly, I’m sure, but making the bed seemed like climbing a mountain. I really wanted to get back in it, not make it up. But when I was done, sure enough, I felt the sense of accomplishment that I was after. And from there the next thing I had to do was a little bit easier.

You know what else helps? Writing about it. The simple act of putting these words on paper is incredibly therapeutic. Even if nobody reads it I’ll still reap the benefits of having written it down. This might sound silly, too, but I already feel way better than I did when I started writing this 15 minutes ago. And the benefit is compounded. Since writing every day is a goal for me I’m now able to put another check on the to-do list. 

The bed is made.

The writing is done.

If I can do that, I can do anything.

What shortcut?

Morning Folks,

Reminder to self: there ain’t no such thing as a shortcut. 

Yesterday on Instagram I put up a video of my son playing the drums.

The caption: How do we become great?

The hashtag: #practice.

Later, on Facebook, my friend Travis posted an article about the differences between “teachers” and “gurus.” Gurus, he said, sell you a feeling. A fleeting, feel good moment disguised as motivation. When that moment is over you’re back to the drawing board looking for some other shortcut. 

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Gurus are the purveyors of of just that - shortcuts. Shortcuts to instant success, overnight riches, and a toned butt. 

A teacher, on the other hand, will tell you like it is: there are no shortcuts. It all comes down to practice. They’ll show you how to do it, but you have to put in the work. 

You play your guitar, every day. 

You go to the gym, every day. 

You shoot 200 free throws, every day.

Whatever you want to master, you practice it every day. 

Along with practice, though, you have to be vigilant because the Gurus are everywhere peddling their wares. They’ve gotten really sophisticated in their ability to make themselves look like legitimate, so if you’re not careful you’ll be the fool who is parted with his money. 

Trust me, I’ve been there. 

Many years ago, when I was getting started in real estate, I spent more that I care to discuss on all manner of snake oil promising me the shortuct to droves of new clients and instant riches. Of course, none of it worked. 

Likewise, a pill will never be a shortcut for healthy diet and exercise. Remember Hydroxycut? I tried that stuff after someone told me it was the shortcut to getting six pack abs. All I got was a lighter wallet and heart palpitations. 

And then one time, as a shortcut to get people to attend an event I was hosting, I bought a list of 10,000 email addresses from a company that sold what they said were targeted mailing lists. Along with zero attendees it got me a couple dozen responses from people I pissed off, a threatening letter from my ISP, and my MailChimp account suspended. 

It all comes back to advice we’ve heard all our lives. If it sounds too goo to be true, it probably is.

And, 99% of the time, shortcuts are too good to be true

Cold Beer, Simple Ideas, and Big Results

Morning Folks,

I got a note from Sam’s teacher last night that his behavior was dramatically improved. I knew that he’d tried his best yesterday when Julia and I picked him up from school. He was beaming and couldn’t wait to show us the smiley face on his agenda. 

Later, while he and I were at drum lessons, Julia took the other three to the library. Our lesson ran about thirty minutes long, so she took them up the street to Southern Range Brewing Co. When Sam and I walked up to join them the place was packed. 

Now I’ve been this bar a time or two, and I’ve seen it pretty busy, but last night was something else. It was slam full with people spilling out the doors. Standing room only. In fact, the children were banished outdoors to play because there was no room for them to sit inside. 

I forgot to take a picture last night, so this one of the outside will have to do. 

I forgot to take a picture last night, so this one of the outside will have to do. 

It was Trivia Night. 

(Side note, lest you think us in poor taste: we weren’t the only people who brought their children to a brewery, so they were in good company.)

Anyway the place was packed and we got our butts kicked at trivia before heading home for supper.

I woke up this morning wondering why it was so packed last night. What was different?

Was it the beer? Nope, Dustin brews it right, but it’s always there.

Was is the service? Nope, the barkeeps do a great job but they’re always there.

Was it Kiki's pimento cheese? Nope. That’s good stuff too, but you can always get it there.

The difference was the trivia. 

The trivia was the little extra, the add-on. The special touch that brought in an enormous amount of people on an otherwise mundane night. A simple idea that probably doubled or tripled their business while making a trip to the bar just a little bit better. 

It didn’t take much effort. Dustin, the owner, called out the questions as teams wrote their answers on sheets of paper. After a set of questions the papers were exchanged and graded by another team. At the end of the night, the team with the highest score wins. 

Trivia. So simple.

That got me thinking about my own business. Like Southern Range, we have add-ons that make our clients’ experiences just a little bit better. Things like including professional staging for our sellers at no additional charge and providing an up-front home inspection so there are no surprises later. We also have an in-house attorney so that folks don’t have to attend closings - they can sign right at our office. 

People love that stuff, so we’re happy to do it. But the thing the love the most came from an idea that Lloyd had years ago. 

We bought a moving van. 

Moving is a mess, and can be really stressful. By handing over the keys to our van when people stop by to sign their paperwork we save them the step of having to rent a U Haul truck. It’s a simple thing that makes their lives a little bit easier and the experience of moving a little bit better.

To be honest, I was amazed. I didn’t think it would really matter to folks, but I was wrong. I run into clients all the time who moved years ago and they still talk about how great it was to just pick up our van. 

Sometimes the simplest efforts yield the biggest results.

Don't Let Anyone Steer You Off Your Path

Morning Folks,

Wednesdays are hard.

The tough thing about having been divorced is sharing my kids with another person. It’s not so much the shared time, per se, that makes it tough. Having my kids 40% of the time isn’t easy, but let’s be honest, there is a silver lining. Kid-free weekend twice a month where I can intently focus on my wife?

Sign me up.

No, the hard part is the different households. Different rules, different schedules, and different expectations. Lily & Sam say my house is "the strict house." So when they come there’s always transition period where they have to settle in to the rules.

It’s “yes sir,” not “yeah.”

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School night? No screens.

Bedtime’s at 8:00, so y’all get your butts upstairs and into your pajamas.

It’s been that way for as long as either of them can remember but that doesn’t stop them, especially Samson, from having difficulty remembering.

“Daddy,” he’ll say, “for some odd reason, I can’t remember if you let me play games on the computer when we get home.”

Yeah right, kid.

Anyway we’re having some minor behavioral problems with Sam at school. He’s developed a hypothesis that the classroom rules don’t apply to him, and he’s been busy testing it.

Here’s part of an email I sent his teacher this morning:

“Dear Ms. Taylor

I understand that you continue to have problems with Sam’s behavior in class. . . let me know if i need come pull him out and jerk a knot in his head.”

This gets to the reason that Wednesdays are hard. There are four and a half hours between the time I pick Sam up at 3:30 until he goes to bed at 8:00.

Minus one hour of driving, usually with him asleep, leaves three and half.

Minus an hour of drum lessons leaves two and half.

Minus about thirty minutes for homework & school prep leave two hours.

Minus another hour or so for dinner and I’m left with just 60 minutes. 60 minutes that I have to split between 4 kids, so Sam’s lucky if he gets more than 15 of those with my sole & undivided attention.

In those 15 minutes I want to play. I want to hug him and love him and make sure he knows how special he is. I want to goof off and run around the house and throw him over my shoulder. I want to remind him that he’s my favorite (for the record, I tell all the kids that)

That’s the hard part. From the time I pick him up I already feel like a drill sergeant.

“Stop interrupting your sister, Sam”

“Pay attention to the instructor, Sam”

“Stop eating with your fingers, Sam”

“Hurry up and get in the bath, Sam”

And tonight, in those 15 minutes, I have to get on his butt about being disruptive in class.

That’s the last thing I want to do. Especially since the day started off with me Facetiming him to talk about his behavior. I told him I was disappointed, that always upsets him. Now I’m worried that he’ll dread me picking him up later. That he’ll feel like my house is a prison. That when I drop him off at school tomorrow he’ll only remember the discipline and not the fun.

Despite my worry I know it’s the right thing to do.

The same applies to almost everything in life, does it not? When you know deep down that you’re on the right path you can’t let other people - friends, family, or even your sweet little darling snot-nosed troublemaker kids - steer you in another direction.

To Thine Own Self Be True

Morning Folks,

For Christmas this past year we bought the kids a Nintendo Switch game system. Before we let them so much as turn it on we laid out the rules, the number one of which is not taking it outside the house. 

Last week Julia was at school where’s she volunteering as a coach for Girls On The Run. They were winding down and LuLu had already gone to join her brother and work on homework.

Suddenly she was back.

“Mom!” she said, eyes wide, “Jack has the switch!”

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The next morning Jack & I took a ride. As we drove I asked him about the Switch being at school. Predictably, he responded with excuses. 

“I only did it because. . .”

“I just thought that. . .”

“But I needed to. . .”

I pulled over and put the truck in park. He knew he was getting nowhere. 

I asked him how he’d felt the morning before as he’d left for school. 

“What do you mean?”

“I mean how did you feel about it. There came a point when you slipped the Switch into your bag. When Mom dropped you off at school you told her you loved her and wished her a good day. You closed the door and walked inside, all the while knowing what was in your backpack. Did you feel good about that or did you feel kind of. . .ehhh”

He looked down, embarrassed. “Kind of ehhh. . .”

Now we’re getting at what I wanted him to understand. See, this has been a problem for a while. It started with the phone he got for his birthday last summer. Because of being deceptive with it - like pretending he’s using the bathroom so he can surf YouTube - it was taken away. And this isn’t the first time we’ve had a problem with the Switch. In fact, as it turns out, he’s been taking it to school since January. 

“I’m sorry,” Jack said, “I’ve lied to you, I’ve lied to mom, I’ve lied to my teachers. I’m really sorry.”

“That’s good, you should be. But there’s a much larger issue here.”

I went on to explain how lying and deception are related and accomplish the same things. I reminded him how being deceptive about his iPhone had resulted in it being taken away. I told him this this behavior, sneaking the Switch out, was no different. 

“The biggest lie you’re telling is the one you’re telling yourself, that it’s OK to do things even when they don’t feel right. If you’d taken some time to think about that you’d have realized the result was predictable: you’ve lost my trust.”

He didn’t like hearing that. Nobody does. 

Last week I wrote about how how I’d been lying to myself, too. For well over a year I’ve used a shoulder injury as an excuse to avoid working out. That result of that was also predictable - I’m overweight and out of shape. 

A number of people reached out.

“Just buy new clothes,” they said.

“You look great,” they said.

I could roll with that, I suppose. Belk has a sale on sport coats this week. And it sure would be a lot easier than all the eating right and walking around I did last week. 

But wouldn’t I just be lying to myself? 

That’s the kicker. If I can’t be honest with myself I can’t possibly hope to instill a sense of self-honesty in my children.