KEVIN CARLOW

Documenting The Journey Of A Man On A Quest For Mindfulness, Peace, and Joy

On Sabbatical – Weeks 6 and 7: Creating Space For Accidental Magic

At the time of this writing, I am currently a full month “behind schedule.” It is Week 11 of my sabbatical, and I’m finally publishing the takeaways from weeks 6 and 7. Of course, these deadlines are completely arbitrary and self-imposed; yet, the challenge of maintaining a steady rhythm of publishing is revealing. It reveals to me several things. First, I continue to grow a deeper appreciation for professional writers, for those who have made a career out of writing things for people to read. There are countless excuses one can make to avoid writing. I have been practicing many of them over the past month. Another thing this challenge is exposing is my perfectionism; this blog has no commercial purpose, no “master plan,” and despite that, I still hesitate to hit the little “Publish” button. Self-doubt and perfectionism creep in. Is this really the best I can do? Did I capture all that this week offered? Is this actually written in a way that anyone will be compelled to read past the first few sentences? I am reminded that part of the journey of writing this blog, perhaps the main part, is simply to work through the struggles of a writing regimen, to pave the way for my future self and whatever he might write about.

Onward to the happenings of Weeks 6 and 7!

SETTLING IN TO A SLOWER SPEED

In the wake of our trip to Costa Rica, I think I may be starting to arrive at the slowed down speed a sabbatical can provide. I’m realizing that I no longer get what I used to call the “Sunday Angst-ies.” You know, that feeling you get when it’s Sunday afternoon and you realize you still have umpteen things you were hoping to do before the weekend is over? That feeling of, “I know I need to get a good night’s sleep tonight, but I also didn’t have as much time as I wanted to read my book or watch my show or write in my journal or insert-hobby-here, so now I have to choose between sleep deprivation and my own little slice of me time.” The Sunday Angsties used to hit me hard, but not anymore. The weekends are now just another day that ends in “y,” and the great part about this is that I can equally enjoy every day of the week. There is no added pressure to do certain things on certain days. It’s liberating.

For example, it was 2pm on a weekday, 89 degrees outside, and I’m in the front yard sitting in a yard chair with my two naked kids in front of me. These two free birds are oscillating between gleeful sprinkler run-through’s and, once exhausted, hammock lounging. At one point, with the aid of Elton John’s “Your Song” crooning out of our portable speaker, the one kid was lulling the other into a lazy, gentle afternoon siesta by rocking the hammock straps ever so delicately. The kids weren’t just entertaining themselves, they were giving each other a nap! It’s moments like these that make me appreciate just how sweet it is to unplug from our capitalist system and simply live. Honestly, it can feel a bit like magic.

ACCIDENTAL MAGIC

It’s happening when we have no agenda, no set structure for the day – these magic moments when we let the children lead the way. Society should be learning more from children. They haven’t learned all of its harmful norms yet. They are free thinkers, free beings, unbound by the ways adults have learned they are “supposed” to live.

This week, my one kid said aloud, while we were playing outside, “This is the best day ever.” The next day, the other kid, while being pushed in a swing, listening to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and nude as the day they were born, asked, “Daddy, can we do this every day?”

My kids are enjoying their days to the fullest, and the only thing I am doing is being with them. Sure, I set up the sprinkler, filled up the water table, and laid out a picnic blanket, but the rest was all them and nature. We didn’t go anywhere. We didn’t buy anything new. We’ve just been living. Together. With no time table. With an undistracted parent. And they are loving it.

This accidental magic is only happening because I am creating the physical, mental, and emotional space for it to occur. It is a worthwhile endeavor to practice the creation of openness and space. Free time, open space, lack of structure – this is where the magic happens.

LETTING KIDS CHOOSE THEIR OWN EDUCATIONAL ADVENTURE

People learn better when they are genuinely interested in something. I’ve been embracing the approach of waiting – waiting until one of my kids shows an interest in something and then diving in and following that interest as far as it will go.

For example, our local beach has a concession stand. We typically bring our own snacks to the beach, but let’s face it – it’s pretty tantalizing for a kid to see other kids devouring cold, creamy, icy treats on a hot summer day. Our kids have a little money in their piggy banks, but up until now, they’ve shown no interest in money. Fake money and real money have been the same to them – toys. In a world of online shopping and credit cards, no wonder it’s hard for kids to grasp the concept of money these days. But the concession stand is cash only, and all of a sudden – click! Now money is very interesting. This has then spurred numerous “lessons” where we sort and count coins, learn about the difference between cents and dollars, what money is used for, and so on. When we had counted up the one kid’s coins, it added up to two dollars. They considered the sum, frowned, and said, “Dad, I don’t think I have enough.” <PAUSE> Talk about a zinger! My entire journey leading me to sabbatical, trying to figure out when to quit my job, worrying about the uncertainty of what will come next… all of this has revolved around the question of “How much is enough?” After months of asking myself this question, let me tell you – this is not an easy question to answer! Somehow, I regained my composure and formulated a response. <RESUME> I replied, “How much do you think you would need to have to feel like you have enough?” After a beat, they commented, “I want to have enough so that I can buy ice cream at the beach.” Fair enough, kiddo. So I went to my jar of coins and doubled their “life savings” to four dollars. And yes, the next time we went to the beach, they blew about 3/4 of their life savings on ice cream. And it was the best money they’d ever spent.

On another occasion, I was out on our deck in the pre-breakfast morning with one of my kids, and they saw a tiny ant crawling on the bristles of one of our water toy paintbrushes. They were showing an interest, so I took an interest. We stared at and talked about this tiny ant for a good five or ten minutes. We talked about how it uses antennae to navigate its surroundings. We discussed that even though it’s small, its size doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a baby. Lessons that would have less likely sunk in had I been the one dictating when and what we’re going to learn about.

It’s also an all-around win to set up play “stations” and let the kids do as they please. Water is the absolute best toy on the planet. We paint with it. We dunk stuff in it. We funnel it. We watch water race down the slanted driveway. They wash my car for me. They wash their own bicycles and scooters. They learn what wet socks feel like. And with water, there’s no such thing as making a mess! We’re blessed to live in an area where water is abundant, and we do our best to limit our water waste (haven’t watered our grass in years) and teach the kids how water is a precious resource (e.g. once the buckets are empty, we’re not filling them back up). But if we are going to do some messy, unstructured, outdoor play, I’d much rather them spill a little water than be plowing through any other toy or material that needs to be made or purchased. Water for the win!

It was thoroughly fun to observe the urgency which with my kids made “Chocolate Stew” inside the water table. Yes, they’re choosing the less-than-ideal location of directly underneath the swings as their digging site for sourcing soil (one of Chocolate Stew’s two main ingredients). Sure, they’re wasting a bit of water that carelessly splashes over the side of the water table as they enthusiastically pour more solvent into their mixture. Yet, they are working together. They are creating and then solving many little problems in rapid succession. I am not involved in any way, and, for multiple consecutive minutes, I am able, within eyesight of them, to… wait for it… sit down. Miracle!

I am coming to realize that being a witness to and playmate of my kids is a big part of what the summer phase of this work hiatus is about.

CHOOSING NATURE OVER BREAKFAST SANDWICHES

One day this week I dropped off my kids for a three-hour gymnastics camp. What I chose to do with this time was to walk a total of five miles on the nearby trail system. I left the car in the parking lot of the gymnastics building (located in an industrial park) and walked until I was on the trail system, and I kept walking until I came upon the closest lake. Why? Why am I pulled in the direction of nature? Of movement? I love being with what I already have. Accepting that what I am and what I have is enough.

I know full well what Pre-Sabbatical Kevin would’ve done with this morning of freedom. He would have hopped in the car, driven to the nearest cafe, and dropped $20 on a breakfast sandwich and espresso that he didn’t need. He would’ve done so to “treat himself” for all of the “hard work” he was doing throughout the week, to “make the best of this precious ‘me time.’”

But instead, Sabbatical Kevin took in some fresh air, moved his body, worked up an actual appetite, and later enjoyed a healthy homemade lunch together with his kids.

While on the morning walk, I identified five plant and bird species using the Seek app. I continue to be mildly obsessed with this app that identifies any species you can take a picture of. Why am I so intrigued by this? For one, there is a lot to learn about the world around us, a lot that I don’t know! But I also sat with this question for a bit and came up with the following:

Things have names. Names have meaning. Meaning is information. Information is power. Power is control. Control is security. Security is comfort. Comfort is peace. So… By knowing something’s name, it brings me peace.

RECONNECTING AFTER ALMOST 20 YEARS

When I announced my sabbatical to my social media circle, I included a statement that spending more time with friends and family is at the top of my priority list, and that for whoever was reading this, it meant I wanted to be social with them. One person took me up on it. In this time of non-work, I was grateful to have a reason to set the alarm for 530am, feel the crisp morning air, and see the sunrise. We got a few miles of running in around the Mississippi River and got each other caught up on life after high school. Thanks for the quality time, Jenna Strain Lutz!

Man and woman athletes

KID QUOTES OF THE WEEK

  • “Can we have this day every day?”
  • “Can we do this tomorrow?”
  • (Six hours after gymnastics camp was over, out of nowhere) “My gymnastics was FUN.”
  • (Recanting a memory) “Yeah Dad, I heard you snoring last year. I heard it and I was like, ‘Excuse me, sir, what are you *doing* to that woman?’”
  • (Explaining to our family) “If you want someone to help, ask your superhero Dad to help!”

On Sabbatical – Week 5: A Week In Costa Rica, Seven Years In The Making

In order to properly write about this week of my life, I need to take us back. Back to the year 2015. But before that, I need to take us back five weeks, to the start of my sabbatical.

GOALS ARE MY WEAPON TO INFLUENCE THE FUTURE

When I left Corporate America in May 2022, one manager told me, in a farewell email, “your super power of breaking down goals and achieving them is beyond impressive.” It’s funny, the power it can have when someone tells you something about yourself. As I reflect on it now, I am someone that has set goals for myself throughout life, but I didn’t particularly consider myself a “goal-oriented person.” Yet, when I look at my track record, I have had the tendency to set up and knock out goals for a good 20 years. I really wanted to go to the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Got in. When graduating, I had the goal of going into business for myself. Did it. One lofty business idea I had was creating a large-scale event, from scratch — a free university welcome event to kick off the school year, paid for by sponsors. We estimated 5,000 students would attend. 15,000 students showed up, and our profit margin on the event was about 65%. Later in life, I knew I had the personal life goal of starting a family. Made that happen. During the pandemic I set the goal of running a marathon. Completed it. Each year in my career in sales, I had corporate quotas and personal sales goals. Most years, I either met them or smashed them. I know what SMART Goals are and try to use that framework when writing down lists of goals in my journal. But until the note in that last email from my former manager, it hadn’t really clicked for me as a label, as a trait of mine.

I had never considered myself among the class of people I admire, the “true” goal-oriented legends you read books about, visionary businesspeople or world class athletes who set lofty goals and stop at nothing until those goals are achieved. I read about people who have had success in their pursuits: the ultra marathoner who ran a marathon in every country in the world, the musician who locked himself in his home studio and didn’t come out until the song was fully produced and mastered, the young businessman who turned his tiny magazine into a global media enterprise, the athlete who set their sights on Olympic gold and won it — and I think to myself, “Wow, those people are impressive. They know how to set goals and achieve them, and it’s taken them to incredible heights. I’m just a normal person. I’m not like them.” And while it’s true, I’m not destined for Olympic gold, I now believe I am like them, insofar as I have an ability to set a goal and complete it. This is one of my super powers. How can I be putting this skill to its best use? I guess we will all have to stay tuned as the magic unfolds!

And if that farewell email wasn’t enough, it became evident on our recent visit to Costa Rica that this goal-completing ability really is one of my super powers. And with that, we go back seven years, to the year 2015.

ALL GREATNESS STEMS FROM A VISION

Kristyn and I were discussing the topic of children: whether or not to have them, ideal time, ideal age gap between siblings, and so on. We agreed that one idea we both liked was, at some point down the road, to live, with kids, in a different country. It would help them gain a more global perspective on life, and it would be one heck of an adventure for us all. The details were foggy, but the overall mission was clear — at some point, live with our kids in a different country. Over the next year or two, we had our first child, and then, two years later, our second, and we continued the conversation of where and when we might want to live outside of the United States. A Spanish-speaking destination made the most sense, since Kristyn already spoke decent Spanish, so from the get-go we had our kids in Spanish immersion pre-school. Kristyn had visited Costa Rica with her family as a teenager, and she got her second visit to the country with my family on a Christmas vacation in 2015. We had a most excellent time. So, from our positive experiences in the past, we looked to Costa Rica first as a possible destination for our eventual journey abroad. As I clocked hours of online research about the country, I was not turned off by anything I read and, to the contrary, was only lured in more.

Two people
Together in Costa Rica – December 2015

So, in 2018, we took a reconnaissance trip to Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region, where we visited multiple locations, met with realtors, and toured schools. We rented an AirBnB in a developing area that, from what we could tell on the internet, seemed like it might be a good location for us. But this was our first recon trip. There was no expectation of making any sort of big decisions. The loose idea was that, in the following months, we’d return to Costa Rica, but in a different region, to compare and contrast it with Guanacaste. Or perhaps we would do this recon trip to Guanacaste, realize it wasn’t for us, and plan our next info-gathering excursion to Mexico, Honduras, Spain, or elsewhere.

It was our last day of Guanacaste recon, and some other-worldly intuition, some knowing came over Kristyn, like the ocean washing up on the shore. Inevitable. Confident certainty. Which is particularly odd, since she has been, and still is, the less decisive person in our partnership; when we come to life’s many little crossroads, like what meals we should make for the week or should we wear the blue or the green to our friend’s wedding, I am usually the one to speak up with a quicker decision. But this time, the decisiveness was all Kristyn. She felt a deep sense of clarity. Further recon was futile. This was the place. The time was now.

Guanacaste Recon Trip – December 2018

Over the next four years, two of which were COVID-19 pandemic years, we worked toward the details of where exactly we would live. A plan was coming together, but due to pandemic travel restrictions, we could not return to the country, and even once restrictions were lifted, with vaccines not being approved for children under five (which just changed last week), we weren’t able to go actually see the location where we hope to live in 2023.

And then, in Week 5 of my sabbatical, we saw it. It was everything.

FORESIGHT 20/20

It hit me on the initial walkthrough of the house, not as much on the interior, but outside, on a covered deck, gazing out at a tiny distant sliver of visible Pacific Ocean, with a lush jungly hillside to my right and a rushing river flowing through the tropical forest behind. I felt an onrush of emotion.

Being a man that’s grown up in a patriarchal society, I have a deficiency in emotional intelligence. Feelings are hard. Society did not equip me with the tools, behaviors, and skills to talk about and express my feelings freely. It’s one of the areas of life I have the biggest room to grow. And so, even feeling and being aware of and being able to name “an onrush of emotion” is a starting point. But I’ve practiced some, and in that moment I was able to sit with the emotion, not panic but sit in it enough to allow space. Space for actual tears to form and roll down my cheeks, and space to be able to search the true feeling and name it. And the feeling was… relief. Relief that now the uncertain future is a little more certain. I had less fear of the unknown. This is where we will be living. This is where I will be drinking my daily mug of delicious, Costa Rica-grown coffee. This is the mountainside we’ll wake to every day. This is how the neighborhood howler monkeys sound. Up until then, the steps we had been taking to get closer to moving to Costa Rica all felt a bit like an upside-down, pandemic-infused dream, but in that moment, it all transformed from dream into reality.

So it was this feeling of relief from the ambiguity and fear of an unknown future, and also, after that, a feeling for which I didn’t have a word. So I sat with that, too. And it dawned on me – I was feeling happy, proud of my past self, proud of my past decisions, satisfied with the judgments and vision of the younger me. And it made me think of this phrase – Foresight 20/20.

You know how they say, “Hindsight is 20/20,” meaning that it’s easier to have complete knowledge and understanding about an event after it’s happened? Well, this feeling felt like our Foresight was 20/20, like the younger version of me was smack in the middle of the bullseye of knowing what future me would want. It was an extraordinarily rewarding sensation to have. I want to cultivate more 20/20 foresight.

Along the way, we’ve had moments of doubts. Many. “This is crazy.” “Are we really doing this?” “Are we robbing our children of some ‘better’ education or opportunities?” “How will we know if we still want this 4-5 years from now?” Countless questions more. Doubt. Uncertainty. Fear. Wicked cousins of emotion. I believe the ideal way to handle these feelings is not to avoid them but to go toward them. Stare them in the face. Learn from them what you will. And have the courage to push through them and press onward.

And through faith in those around us, a hint of that courage, more than our fair share of privilege, and a bit of luck, we got to see the result of the vision we’d had seven years ago, in living color. It was an affirmation that the old versions of ourselves could see our future. Something deep within us felt right about this spot, this plan, despite all the reasons why it might not work out. It’s validating and relieving that our old vision has not only come to fruition, but also feels so perfectly in alignment with the four-year-older version of me. To be happy with your past self is one of life’s best feelings, and I now aspire to impress my future self when making decisions. When at a decision crossroad, I ask myself, “Will this make my future self proud? Happy? Satisfied?” My intuition can take it from there.

Together Again in Costa Rica – June 2022

THOUGHTS FROM A WEEK IN COSTA RICA

A FRESH TAKE ON EDUCATION

We took a tour of the kids’ future school. We had already toured this school once on our 2018 recon trip, but now we could take the tour with our school-aged kids so they could see it and understand it for themselves. The school is one of our biggest draws to the area. It’s a bilingual school with half of the students being local Tico’s and the other half being international students from 30 different countries. Classroom sizes are capped at 20-22. They use project-based learning. The school year operates on trimesters with three different breaks throughout the year, rather than one big long break which can cause a mental “summer slide” in the developing mind of a child.

They put on a weekly “Feria” (market) every Wednesday for local merchants and students to sell their goods. We enjoyed being there to experience the Feria; we even had a First Grader give us his sales pitch for the homemade jewelry he had crafted.

Many nearby parents teach at the school. If you are a parent and aren’t a full-time teacher at the school, you are still required to contribute a minimum of 18 hours to the school’s activities throughout the year — a requirement I’m happy to abide.

Oh, and the school has gardens. And chickens. Many chickens! The curriculum includes an annual anchor project, which varies by grade. These anchor projects tend to model sustainability and self-sufficiency, and many anchor projects revolve around the chickens. Fifth Graders learn about and manage the compost at the school as their anchor project. The compost is used in the gardens, which is the Seventh Grade anchor project. The Sixth Graders are in charge of maintaining the chicken coops and feeding the chickens, while the First Graders are in charge of egg collection. Other grades work on recycling, water, and so on.

Everything about this school promotes a more communal integration with the community and with the school’s natural surroundings. This is what school should be. Everywhere.

WHEN DID SOCIETY AGREE EXTRA CLOTHING WAS A GOOD THING?

When we were in Costa Rica, and we were at a private house, with thick trees all around, not another human in sight, with tropical temps — we were naked. A lot. The kids mostly, but us grown-ups too. We saw how happy the little ones were to be free of their soggy bottoms. We wanted that same happiness. And why not? Because it’s not the norm? What’s not natural is putting clothes on when it’s 90 degrees and you have your own pool. It’s sad all the “rules” we think we have to live by. When was the last time the sun kissed your bare bottom? Answer: too long ago.

EMBARRASSING TRAVEL HICCUPS CAN HAVE SILVER LININGS

In our family, I am the planner, especially when it comes to travel. Even though it takes a lot of hours, I enjoy it. I enjoy the tradeoff of doing the work so I can arrange for the travel that I most want. This was a complicated trip, since we not only had international travel with children, but we also had life planning to attend. Meetings to set up. Tours to take. And while 99% of my planning was executed flawlessly, I had one small hiccup. When we finally arrived to the rental car lot (roughly 12 hours and two flights after waking up at 2:30am), I realized I had left my driver’s license at home. My license, which always stays in my wallet, had been removed from my wallet. By me. The day before we left. So that I could bring it to the nearby community beach as ID for our annual summer membership. I knew exactly where it was, sitting in a board short pocket in my bedroom hamper. That information was not especially useful at the current juncture. Kristyn was going to have to be our driver.

I dreaded breaking this news to her. I don’t think it’s most people’s idea of a good time to figure out driving in a foreign country. I felt bad to be burdening her with this responsibility. But it turned out to have the best silver lining ever, because there was actually something more stressful than driving around potholes and helmet-less cyclists biking on shoulder-less roads — handling the simultaneous navigation of those roads with spotty 2G cellular data and the management of two tired, hungry, hot, and curious children. Now that was some sweaty work!

Kristyn has already called “dibs” on driving next time.

WRITING REQUIRES PERIODS OF LIVING LIFE

I thought I would be writing nonstop while we were in Costa Rica this week. Writing down notes about the location and school. Journaling until my hand cramped up from all the inspiration I was feeling. Freewriting incessantly from my creative synapses firing. Instead, I barely wrote anything. I lived. I swam. I cooked. I laughed. If you don’t spend part of your life just living it, you have nothing to write about.

My Sabbatical – Week 4 – Prioritizing Pursuits And Accepting The Truth Of My Actions

A sabbatical is glorious in many ways, and it also has its challenges. With the stripping away of a more rigid daily and weekly structure, with a reduction of commitments and obligations, which grants me additional free time to allocate as I choose, comes a challenge. A challenge of variety, of options, of opportunities, of… open-endedness. There are many endeavors I wish to pursue, and all of them require minutes of the day (although some, such as living more mindfully, can be practiced throughout the day). How to prioritize? I have many goals I want to tackle all at once. I want everything to happen now. I want to be fluent in Spanish. I want to have five songs written and produced. I want five boxes to fill themselves of the stuff we don’t need and donate themselves to places and people that will use them. I want this blog to write itself. There are ten different website updates I want to make to this very site, not to mention the three other websites I want to be building, but each little change takes me ages since everything is a first, and firsts have a steep learning curve. And I know this kind of sounds impossible and “woe is me,” but even though I don’t have a day job right now, even with all those extra hours in the week, it’s still hard to make time for all of these things. Or even half of them! What things make the cut and which get left for later? This is the mental battle of my early sabbatical. 

I’ve noticed, though, that I am making time for certain things. I am preparing (and happily eating) home-cooked food daily. I’ve set up an exercise space in the basement and am getting out on the sand volleyball courts regularly. I am saying “yes” to my kids almost whenever they ask to play with me. Perhaps it turns out that the actions I’m making time for are my top priorities. We are what we do. 

Impromptu scooter ride midday on a weekday, because on sabbatical, Dad says, “Yes!”

One of the goals or tasks I keep writing down on my various lists is the project of purging. I’ve been wanting to purge, purge, purge. Strip things down. Declutter our house. Declutter my mind. But with planning for international travel coming up next week and trying to live slowly and not be too “busy,” I haven’t been making room for big purge projects. However, one thing I have been doing is playing with my kids and being present with them. Maybe that’s a fair trade-off? Maybe that’s what this week of sabbatical is supposed to be about. If I had been on a decluttering spree and grinding away at my laundry list of hobbies, I would have missed the following interaction with my kid.

With a delightfully tactful and simply-stating-an-observation tone, I had commented, loud enough for my kid to hear, on how hard it is to see any portion of the actual wood floor in our playroom. Any parent can relate. The kid stopped, eyed the playroom up and down, and turned their head to me and replied, “Daddy, I think we have too many toys.” Oh, I agree, young one. I agree. And so, without any further prodding or encouragement needed, we purged. Now, it was not the poetic, total toyroom overhaul that it could have been, but together, we picked up stuff and agreed whether it should be shelved or binned. 

And so, by letting go of the perceived need to be self-improving and making progress doing my long list of goals, and simply being a present father with my child, I not only got some decluttering done, but I also had a positive, bonding moment with my child. 

Letting go is getting me where I want to go. 

 

TANGENTIAL PARENTING HACK: If your 4-7 year old kid doesn’t enjoy “picking up” the play room or bedroom, suggest “neating” instead. Our kids all out sprint the other way when we mention picking up a room, but if we neat it, carefully replacing items to their homes ever so delicately and neatly like a member of the royal family might, oh, neating is so much fun! 

 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SILENCE

Sunday, June 12, 2022

I messed up earlier today. I intervened when I should have done nothing. Or rather, I spoke instead of silence. Silence is tragically underrated. Silence is where magic happens. A silent lake at night divulges a loon’s call from miles away. Silent, tantric stares with your partner can unlock an unknown depth of intimacy. Silence is where you learn. 

My co-parent and our kids were having a calm, strategic bedtime negotiation around the remaining screen time of the night, and since it was a “Mommy Night” (we trade bedtime nights), I was doing my job, which at that point was to stare out the window and do nothing. Be a fly on the wall. Let what happens, happen. And then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t doing my job. During a pause in the mildly tense but perfectly under control negotiation, I commented that, “this conversation is sure taking a long time,” attempting and failing to imply the logic of, “think of all the minutes of screen time we could have gotten by now had we simply agreed on something and started watching.” I just couldn’t help myself from intervening and trying to help the situation. The thing is, the intent of offering assistance doesn’t make all actions right. And the discomfort I felt in that moment is a me problem. 

Upon conversation with my partner and further reflection, many of my missteps in life stem from an underlying tendency toward perfectionism. A sense of editing and revision to live every moment with maximum efficiency, maximum rightness. Why is that instinct there, to always be improving, always be optimizing, maximizing, even if it doesn’t matter? I have a few ideas, and I’m also jotting it down as a future journal prompt for further unpacking. 

Ultimately, I need to trust my partner to live their own parenting journey. And I need to trust my children to have their own journey. From every stumble, at least I can always learn. 

 

REFLECTION FROM A HAMMOCK: BEING OUTDOORS IS BLISS

Sunday, June 12, 2022 continued…

I had been on such a high to come out in the gazebo tonight and write. I got what felt like a huge breakthrough earlier tonight by taking “one teaspoon more” as I embarked on nighttime cleanup duty, which started out with picking up the front yard while it was still light out. 

When it’s a Mommy Night for bedtime, it’s a Daddy Night for cleanup. I ventured out to pick up the day’s toys, chairs, and miscellanea. I left the camping hammock suspended between our two Eastern White Pines for last. It was a gorgeous Minnesota summer night, and the sun was just about to set over the neighbor’s house to the west. But I had cleanup chores to do and a long list of personal hobbies to pursue after that, so I briskly unclipped the hammock from its straps and had it half packed into its stuff-sack when I froze. I looked up and the pink and orange setting sun and thought to myself, “What the heck are you doing right now? You love sunsets and this weather is lush.” And so rather than charge ahead on my task list, I slowed down, reattached the hammock, and sank in to a reflective meditation by sunset. And laying there, ever so gently rocking back and forth, gazing up at the canopy overhead and the drifting clouds above, I had the following epiphany. 

You can sum up one of my truest pleasures in life in two words: being outdoors.

These are phrases transcribed from the 4:22 Voice Memo I captured on my phone while in that hammock meditation: 

  • “I find myself realizing that being outdoors does bring me joy. It’s as simple as those two words. Being outdoors. … Every time. Every time I’m connecting with nature, it brings this overwhelming sense of peace, where I feel like I can actually… touch my soul, feel my soul.”
  • “It feels… indulgent. Like I’m somehow not deserving of just sitting outside and enjoying the sunset, like I should be doing other, more productive, things. For my family. For myself. But… this is nourishing myself. Just, chillin’ horizontally, on a hammock, with my weight suspended, with a gorgeous sunset, underneath a forest canopy, is… one of the best things there is in life! And I just need to remember that in my day to day. When I’m outdoors, my bucket is getting full.”
  •  (Tangential commentary on the benefits of hammocks): “There’s something about the way a hammock works on your body… because you’re horizontal, because your hips are relieved of any pressure, the opposite of when you’re sitting… because you have this anti-gravity posture, it feels like you’re… cheating, like you’ve found the loophole of physics to allow your body to relax. It’s like the same tranquility of floating in water, but without all the work of paddling and holding your breath, not to mention the needing-to-find-a-spot-to-swim bit.”

I can’t get over how cool it is to be experiencing the recurring theme that slowing down and doing less results in more clarity, more joy, and, paradoxically, more progress

 

MUSIC IS MY MUSE

Sunday, June 12, 2022 concluded…

Eventually, the sun did set, and duty called. It was time to put away the dishes away, so I headed inside and popped in my AirPods. I’m washing, listening to this “Wondewall” remix on SoundCloud, and I’m dancing, quite well I might say, and it’s hitting me, that dancing may be a “tier two” passion of mine. If I’m being honest, I’m no Michael Jackson, but I do have rhythm. I started playing piano at 6 and played until middle/high school, where I transitioned to saxophone. I also played drums in the church youth band. I played a few small-town gigs in a jazz combo. I went on to play in Jazz Band at the University of Minnesota. I’m constantly tapping out percussive beats and improvising goofy song lyrics with my kids. And yeah, when it’s dishes time, I drop in the AirPods and get my dance on. Is there any better way to get the dishes done than to dance with them?

It’s good to acknowledge your strengths. I believe there is huge benefit to leaning into one’s strengths. And as vulnerable as I feel writing this, that I will come across as arrogant, I believe that it’s OK to be proud of my skills and that there is power in naming things, and so I will name that I have a skill of shared rhythm with my kids. Shared rhythm is one of the many concepts I’ve learned from Kristyn, and I believe that it’s an area that I often excel in, and I’m connecting just now that it may be in part because I’m a naturally rhythmic person. Shared rhythm is not necessarily percussive, of course; having a back and forth conversation or going for a walk together are also shared rhythm. But in the literal sense, I can feel things click with the young ones. For example, when my kids ask me to do “Run-Unders” with them, they are referring to me dribbling an extra large yoga ball, in our basement, as high as I can without ricocheting back off the ceiling, in a consistent, steady beat, so they can time out a sprint underneath without getting tagged by the ball. It’s wicked fun, and in the game we share the rhythm of the bouncing ball. (Of course, the huge yoga ball does eventually crash into them, but only when they choose the rhythm of silliness and stopping mid-sprint to let it crash into them, at which point I let go of the old game and pivot to align with the rhythm of silliness.) 

Then it was time to do the dishes for real, not just dance to a remix of Oasis’ crowd-pleasing masterpiece from the 90’s, and I switched over to Spotify. Spotify is one of the few apps I happily pay for every month. It’s a rare subscription bill I look at and am 100% at peace with paying. I absolutely love having the world’s music at my fingertips. Of its many delightful features, Spotify’s algorithm customizes a set of six “Daily Mix” playlists tailored to your listening habits and grouped by an overall “feel,” with “Daily Mix 1” typically being more of your frequently played, go-to songs, with Daily Mix 6 being the collection of the 10 random songs of that one obscure genre you secretly like and rarely, but every so often, listen to. I hadn’t used this feature in a while, and today, Spotify curated the most serendipitously customized “Daily Mix 1” to not only my specific, eclectic taste in music, but did so in a series of 8 or 9 songs in a row that perfectly fit the mold of the mood I wanted to be in. First with a couple blood pumping, foot-stomping jams like “LIGHT” by Parcels and Jungle’s “Smile,” then into a more relaxed, but still toe-tappin bass line of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up – Pt. 1”, and then slower still with a brand new release from Jacob Collier featuring Lizzy McAlpine and John Mayer, “Never Gonna Be Alone”… and as I’m writing this about music, it is really hitting me that music, rhythm, dance… these also are things that make my soul shine through.

Being outdoors, music, good food, family… what more does a man need?

And yet, even as I’m dancing away, synchronizing my dish scrubs and rinses with the beat of some of my favorite tunes by my favorite artists, allowing the rhythms and melodies to take over my body, in my own house… I’m noticing that it’s hard to truly, truly let go, to truly be the wacky, shirtless dish dancer that my soul wants to be. I think up more outrageous dance moves than I actually allow my body to do, even when no one is watching. It’s like there is this deeply rooted fear of judgment of others, fear of doing things someone might judge me for doing, fear of doing something other than what society expects me to do. 

Above all else, I need to allow me to be myself.

 

FINAL THOUGHT 

Writing is hard. I’ve had different pieces of this post written for a while. Procrastination gets the best of me. Steven Pressfield’s “Resistance” is real. It’s easy to find excuses to do anything but simply opening up a blank page and starting to write. Self-judgment. Perfectionism. Resistance takes many forms, and they all get in the way of doing the work. I suppose I am grateful to have made the first step, which is acknowledging their presence and typing this paragraph anyway.

OK, enough yammering, onward to Week 5 – a week in Costa Rica!

 

My Sabbatical – Weeks 2 and 3: Alone in the Woods, Mini Retirement Happy Hour, and Conversations With Partners

It’s astonishing how difficult it is to slow the speed of life down. Just as a train in motion cannot stop at a moment’s notice, a “normal busy American suburban life” has a lot of inertia behind it. Not only are there tangible, logistical things that “need” doing, like taking the kids where they need to go, mowing the lawn, and managing bills, but there is also the internal learned behavior of busyness, that being in a state of doing is good, productive, what one is supposed to do. And it took my venturing deep into the woods along the North Shore of Minnesota to realize just how deep that learned behavior runs within me. 

A FEW NIGHTS ALONE IN THE WOODS: REFLECTIONS ON FUEL, COMFORT, AND THE INERTIA OF LIFE

On Friday, May 27, 2022, I drove four hours north to George H. Crosby Manitou State Park for a three-night solo camping trip. It was my first-ever attempt at using a hike-in campsite, where my vehicle would be parked over a mile away my camp.

Overflowing backpack

I may have overpacked…

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park Entrance

Hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail at the entrance of George Crosby Manitou State Park

It wasn’t until I was a few hundred feet above the forest canopy, at a gorgeous scenic lookout point I did not even know I was hiking to, that I finally allowed myself to stop. I had been go-go-go, wanting to see all the coolest parts of the trails and check off as many boxes as I could, and when I reached this beautiful, peaceful lookout, a little voiced whispered in my head the phrase, “One teaspoon more.”

This is a notion I learned from Kristyn during our couple’s retreat this past winter; it’s the concept of allowing yourself the time and mustering the mindfulness to enjoy one more morsel of whatever you are experiencing that is bringing you joy. Perhaps you’re at the park with your kids and it’s time to go, but your kid is loving being pushed on the swings, or maybe you are giving a loved one a hug and it feels really good but it’s already been a few seconds and you’re approaching the time where it feels like you’re “supposed to” disengage, or perhaps you are quite literally cooking a delicious meal that calls for a tasty ingredient – whatever the case may be, you mindfully acknowledge that what you want is One Teaspoon More, believe that you deserve One Teaspoon More, and so you take the action and enjoy One Teaspoon More.

As I sat above the trees, on a perfect perch with a flat rock as a seat and another perfectly positioned boulder behind as a backrest, overlooking the forest with no one around but the birds circling in front of me, resting in the most beautiful spot I had seen in over three days in the woods, I found myself compelled not to take pictures, not to meditate, not to sit and soak it in, but to leave! I had been sitting for maybe two whole minutes and then stood up to walk away. Why? My brain was telling me, “OK, this was cool, onto the next thing. There’s probably other great stuff out there that you’re missing by just sitting here. Stop wasting time you lazy fool!” I had stood up and taken two steps away from the perch when Kristyn’s voice whispered in my head, “One Teaspoon More,” which was exactly what I needed to hear. I sat back down and breathed in nature’s beauty for another 10-15 minutes. I did nothing. It was glorious. And it served as a smack-in-the-face lesson for me that slowing down and taking One Teaspoon More is not easy. It takes practice. It takes mindfulness. And it is so worth it.  

Enjoying one teaspoon more of this tranquil view above Tettegouche State Park

 

Two other big themes emerged from my time in natural solitude: Fuel and Comfort.

Fuel. We need fuel to survive. Fuel is a critical component of any survival situation, and we ought to be more mindful of the fuel we use to propel and nourish our lives. The notion struck me while I was gathering firewood on night one of my outing; the skies were clear and many downed branches lay in and around my site. I did not bring a saw or hatchet with me, so I was relegated to using whatever fire fuel I could scrounge up with my bare hands. After a period of gathering, I looked at my stick pile and thought, “OK, this is the amount of fuel I have for the fire, and it will have to be enough.” Once I had gathered the firewood, I washed up and started boiling water over a very small backpacking stove. This stove uses a fuel canister to burn. The act of needing to gather my own firewood and noticing that I had to pack a fuel canister with me in order to cook made me more conscious of just how important fuel is to living things. 

One obvious form of fuel is food; as mammals, we need to fuel our bodies with calories, vitamins, and other nutrition to give our bodies energy. How one obtains, prepares, preserves, and consumes fuel has an enormous impact on one’s health and well-being. Am I in right relationship with the sources of my food fuel? How much fuel do I waste on a weekly basis? What steps could I take to plan ahead and prepare batches of fuel in advance, minimizing wasted time and fuel? 

But we also fuel ourselves in other ways. Consider mental fuel. Educating ourselves is fuel for our minds. As children, our brains are hungry to learn, hungry for mental fuel.  We can’t get enough of it. As we get older, do we get complacent? Am I giving my brain the fuel it needs to stay sharp and to learn new things every day? If I watch television or play a video game, what am I fueling my mind with? 

How about emotional and spiritual fuel? What activities, people, conversations, and meditations fill me with the emotions I enjoy and the spiritual sustenance I need? What practices can I put into place to mindfully keep my emotional and spiritual fuel tanks full? 

 

Comfort. When you’re out in the woods with only a backpack, your resources are limited. Resources is another word for comfort. If you have the resource of a couch, you have more comfort. If you are rich with food resources, you have the comfort of not needing to obtain food. Even more comfort if the food is prepared for you. If you have financial resources, then you have the comfort of not needing to put every penny to its absolute most critical use. Climate-controlled houses, grab-and-go food, smart refrigerators that tell you when you’re out of eggs – many of us live with way, way more comfort than we need to live a happy and healthy life. 

“How much comfort do I need?” “How does that compare to how much comfort I have?” Exploring these questions may provide some keen personal insights. But there’s an even more interesting question, which is, “How much comfort do I actually want?” For example, do I actually want to pay someone to maintain my yard, which on the surface provides me the comfort of not needing to do that task, but also puts me out of connection with the land I live on? Do I really want to buy a cheeseburger from the drive-thru, which will satisfy my immediate hunger, but will also unnecessarily contribute to global warming by eating beef (which generates more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food produced, by far, than any other type of food) and generate extra trash for a landfill, when I could just drive the extra five minutes to get home and eat some trail mix and a salad made from the planter boxes in my backyard? 

 

AN ANTI-CLIMACTIC CORPORATE SEND-OFF… WITH A SURPRISE TWIST!

On May 19, 2022, I quit my job in advertising sales. In a hybrid work environment with many varied team members working remotely on any given day, a last day at a job can be a little underwhelming. Over two thirds of my coworkers were working from home on my final afternoon on the job. I had worked on this team for the majority of my 30’s, put in hundreds of hard-working weeks, consistently surpassed sales quotas, collaborated on scores of commercial video productions, and closed some of the biggest deals the TV station had ever seen, and the final fanfare on the day of departure amounted to a pair of fist bumps from the managers who were the in-office managers that day. This would not do. 

So I concocted a plan, and on Thursday, June 2, I had a going away happy hour at a restaurant patio near the station, to which I invited over 50 current and former coworkers. People I had worked with closely over the years: fellow sellers, support staff, and managers. I received some enthusiastic affirmatives, as well as some declines, which is to be expected for any event. These people had other obligations, their kid was sick, they had another event they were going to, and so on. No sweat former work compadre, live your life! There were a good number of people, though, that either said they were going to come and, for one reason or another, did not, or they did not reply to the invitation. These are people that I considered some of my closest professional relationships, people whose company I genuinely enjoyed and wanted more of. And we’re talking about more than a handful of people here. This brought to light for me two things.

One is that it made me sad. Sad for our system, our society. People are overworked and are stretching themselves too thin, and it’s not entirely their fault. Yes, we make choices on how full we fill our plates, and many of us could stand to rethink how full of activity our lives are, but we don’t always get to choose everything. With the huge ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the workforce, as so many people are making career changes, more is being asked of loyal employees. If someone leaves a company, the people remaining have to pick up the slack until a new hire is found, which can take weeks or months. Bandwidth is a real issue affecting organizations everywhere. 

I do believe that there are a group of my former coworkers that truly did want to come join in the gathering, but their lives are just so busy that they prioritized or were obligated to something else above saying farewell to me. Now, I freely acknowledge I’ve said no to or avoided many social activities when I was working, with an excuse about having little kids and this or that other obligation or that I’m just so busy I don’t have time for this. But I realize now, when you are the person that is hosting the get together, when you are going to be a center of attention, when you are the one hoping to see someone, and those someones don’t show, it doesn’t feel great. It means a lot to someone to show up to their thing. And so in the future, if I care about someone and I’m invited to their thing, I’m showing up. 

The second thing it makes me realize is just how fickle a professional relationship can be. Perhaps other people are better at transforming a professional relationship into a true, real life friendship friendship than I. I thought I considered many of my former coworkers my friends. And I expected them to show up like a group of my friends from college would show up to a backyard barbecue, but that’s not what happened. Perhaps I could have done more when we worked together, giving more emotionally to those relationships while I was working to make those bonds more concrete after leaving work. That’s a lesson I’m going to take with me in whatever future work I do, in whatever future organizations I am a part of – that if there are coworkers I really enjoy as people, beyond the bounds of the work, I will put extra energy into making sure those relationships are strong enough to survive either one of our organizational exits.

As with many things in life, though, there was a silver lining. One of my former coworkers who did show up, Andrew, was heading straight from our restaurant to downtown Minneapolis for the Purple Block Party – a Prince tribute event celebrating the completion of a 100-foot Prince mural near the iconic music venue First Avenue. I seized the opportunity and joined him for an impromptu night of music and fun. Live music always brings joy to my soul. So while it wasn’t the night I was expecting, I think I actually enjoyed myself more than had things gone according to plan. Plans are overrated! 

Prince Mural Block Party

Coworker Holly gifted me the hat for future travels!

 

CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR PARTNER

Before the happy hour get together, I took the kids to school and then went for a walk to the lake with Kristyn, which turned into an impromptu conversation about our relationship, last two entire impromptu hours!

We were going to make breakfast, we had just made a pot of coffee, and we were starting to sip our coffee when Kristyn asked me if I wanted to watch some more of an online lesson video about this philosophy called Quantum Energetics. I had watched the first 20 minutes of this hour-long video with her the day before, and it was interesting but also not life-changing to me, so I replied by telling her I didn’t want to watch any more of it and that she could just watch it herself. This spurred a long conversation about how our dynamic will work in this new normal, the new normal of our mutual unemployment/self-employment. A mode where both of us are exploring new territories, learning new things and wanting to share those learnings and insights with the other person, but that other person has their own interests and learnings to be absorbing, and even without a day job, there’s only so much mental bandwidth one has and only so many hours in the day. How do we make space for it all?

It was one of the many conversations we’ve had over the last few months that I don’t think we would’ve had even just a year or two ago, at least not in as healthy a way that we did. It was an uncomfortable conversation. We both had opinions and feelings and, for me, those kinds of conversations can be hard to navigate. You know, ones with feelings involved. That’s scary stuff for many of us men! It can be hard to do the balancing act of expressing your own thoughts and feelings accurately, truly hearing what the other person is saying, letting what they say sink in, and work toward some mutual resolution/conclusion/next steps.

I explained how I love it when Kristyn teaches me things, but I only have so much bandwidth to learn about her favorite topics in addition to pursuing my own areas of interest, so we ended up coming up with the idea of having a weekly “Kristyn Class,” where over the course of the week I will have one assigned reading or lesson to watch and then we’ll make some time to discuss and debrief. It should be a great way to help Kristyn prioritize the things she wants to share with me most, which will also be a motivator for me to dive right in and know that it’s a manageable amount of content. 

I’m very grateful that we are at a point in our relationship where we can have these conversations and grow together from it. Looking forward to studying up in future sessions of Kristyn Class! 

Next up is preparing for a family trek to Costa Rica. More on that in the next sabbatical post! 

 

My Sabbatical – Week 1

While on a walk just moments ago, I had the following thought.

My goal is to take a two-year sabbatical, and it would be nice to give myself some sort of structure or discipline to document this journey. Two years = 104 weeks. What if I committed to writing a weekly blog post about my experiences over the past week? I can add to it over the course of the week and publish once per week. That would be a great way to not only document all the great moments, but also act as a fun way to review and assess my personal evolution over this time. 

So here we are. Week 1. 

I quit my job on a Thursday afternoon. Once I got the kids dropped off to school on Friday morning, I came home, made some coffee, grabbed my journal, and sat. I sat and stared out my window for two and a half hours. When a thought came, I would write it down, but otherwise, I simply sat and stared out at nature. Thoughts would come and go, thoughts of what I would do with my day. I practiced meditation and breathing techniques learned from the Headspace app, to let those thoughts go and to always bring my attention back to the breath. After taking this extended break to sit and simply be, I felt called to do something. My body wanted to move. The weather was nicer than it had been. And so, that afternoon, of all the things I could’ve done on the first day of being unemployed, I pulled weeds. I went out to my front yard and spent two hours clearing my land of last year’s dead leaves and this Spring’s new invasive growth. This is not a project I’d had at the forefront of my mind in the days leading up to my departure from the workforce, but in that moment, something inside told me it would feel good, feel right. So I put on some gloves, got down in a low squat (thank you Tony Riddle for teaching me this restorative position), and I got dirty. I used my body to connect with the Earth. I got low. I purged my land of what was old to make space for new growth. And now, with my physical environment cleansed, I feel more ready for the inner cleansing that lies ahead. 

Over the next couple of days, I was feeling compelled to start making lists, to “figure out” the optimal routine of my new normal. I’ve given myself the gift of time, now how I can ensure I don’t waste any of my precious, newly “purchased” minutes? I started writing down a list of all the things I could do with my time each day and week: practicing Spanish, running, meditating, practicing guitar, practicing piano, writing blog posts, various household projects… and then I wrote down the word “unlearning.” That’s when the pen took a break from the page. I realized that the drive to fill up my time, to optimize, to be busy with activities, is a learned behavior. Yes, I want to make sure I’m putting this precious time to good use, but what really is “good use” anyway? How can I know the answer to that unless I have taken the time to listen to my inner voice, and focused on unlearning and detaching from 15 years of Corporate America inertia?

Yet, at the same time, I do believe in the benefits of compounding and consistency; small activities done consistently over a long period of time yield big results. If you take 100 hours of your life and dedicate it to learning a new skill, say playing guitar, you will be a much better guitar player if you practice thirty minutes per day for 200 days than if you practice five hours per day for 20 days. I want to start laying these foundational building blocks for new skills, behaviors, and knowledge that align with my values. Balancing the effort of developing consistent practices with the effort of unlearning old constructs and shutting out external influences will be one of my biggest challenges! 

I am already noticing an enhanced presence with my children. I had always been pretty diligent about leaving my phone upstairs in the “family time” hours of 5-7pm, but now that I am completely unattached from an employer and devoid of the mental pull of the Outlook inbox, I am able to be more present with all the cool stuff my kids are doing. And when bedtime rolls around, I feel less compelled to rush them through the routine so that I can hopefully eke out an extra 12 minutes of quiet time for myself before I have to get to bed so that I can bring my “A game” at work the next day. I can let the bedtime story we’re making up together run on, and on, with no end in sight. Yes, let’s draw one extra picture on your sketch pad. Sure, I can tuck you in three times. If that’s what you need, kiddo, I’m here for you. 

We celebrated my youngest’s fourth birthday over the weekend, and I absolutely love how it went. The plan was as follows:

  • Go pick up donuts at the nearby bakery
  • Choose whatever breakfast food you want to eat
  • Pack your backpack full of whatever snacks you want to bring
  • Go to a park
  • Once tired of that park, go to another park
  • Continue through exhaustion until bedtime

It was such a low-cost, hassle-free birthday, and we all loved every minute of it. We celebrated on a Sunday, and as the afternoon went on and “dinnertime” approached (what even is dinnertime? who’s to say when we’re supposed to eat?), Old Kevin would have started to feel a mild anxiety, an antsyness to wrap up the birthday, get home, and get everyone settled in a good time to minimize stress and to be well-rested for the next day. Thankfully, Old Kevin wasn’t in attendance at this birthday party. New Kevin discarded the impulse to force an early departure from the park and kept right on playing. When the moment came for us to take a break and drink some water by a bench, all we had to do was ask the kids, “What do you think, is it time to go?” They put on their packs and started walking to the parking lot. No squabbles. No friction. And so by the act of relaxing and being in the moment, we actually reduced more stress than had we tried to strongarm them out of the park before they were ready just to try to speed things up to give ourselves more time. 

Monday.

Frisbee golf with a friend I haven’t seen since he had his second child eight months ago. Nice evening conversation with Kristyn by candlelight and incense. We discussed how it feels good when we choose each other and that we want to have that aspect of our relationship in balance. 

Tuesday.

Our youngest’s birthday! Our anniversary! We always have an amazing May 24 in our house! 

After our household birthday tradition of waking the birthday kid up by singing “Happy Birthday” and then measure the kid’s height on the hallway wall ruler, we bring them to school and then start our day. Kristyn and I start the day with what I hope becomes a new morning ritual of togetherness; upon one adult returning from school drop-off, we head outside with the dog for a walk to see the nearby lake. Sheesh, that sounds just lovely typing it out – why haven’t we been doing this all along?! 

Volleyball with friends at noon on a sunny, partially cloudy 65 degree day with the all four courts to ourselves. In a vulnerable moment during a post-game conversation with one friend, I asked what they think I need to work on most with my game, truly open to the feedback, and they said, “lifting weights.” And the thing is, he’s right. My technique, endurance, decision-making, communication… it’s all there. But in order to be a more dynamic volleyball player, I need to put on some muscle and weight train to gain vertical elevation and quickness. Old Kevin would have heard that feedback and felt constriction, felt ashamed. But New Kevin heard the truth in the statement; I’ve always been a skinnier guy, and lifting weights has always been a weak spot in my personal exercise routines. I want this to change. Weight training has now just shot up toward the top of the priority list. But first, I need to get ready for this backpacking trip to Minnesota’s North Shore. Only three more sleeps! 

Met up with the fam at Culver’s around 445pm to cash in our kids’ free frozen custard from their kids meals two days prior (yes, we held on to the paper bags that act as the “ice cream token”). And yes, that meant our kids got to have ice cream before dinner today. Life is too short to not celebrate things. 

Wednesday and Thursday. 

Gearing up for a solo camping trip at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park. 

Friday – 7:45am. 

I was so caught up in preparing for my first-ever hike-in camping experience, this is all the time I have for the week’s reflections. I am so eager to get out into the woods; whenever I spend time in the wild, it brings into focus just how convenient and comfortable our lives are. My goal with this 3-night camp is to get by with minimal provisions, meditate and write a lot, and return with a better understanding of myself, of what things and activities I want to “add back” into my life after stripping them all away for a few days. 

Into the woods we go! 

 

 

Choosing a Life of Mindfulness, Authenticity, and Less, and Letting Go of the Culture of More

It’s official! As of yesterday, I am no longer an employee.
 
I am now simply an untethered, wandering organism of the planet. After 7.5 satisfying years selling TV and Digital advertising for KARE 11, and after a total of 15 years selling advertising for a living, I’m getting out of the game.
Why?
  • Because I am accepting that what I have is, for now, enough.
  • Because life is too short and can end at any moment.
  • Because life is made up of chapters, and a new chapter is starting right now.
  • Because all my children want me to do right now is play with them.
  • Because I don’t believe in striving for more, more, more, just for the sake of having more.
  • Because I want to do more to make the world a better place for future generations.
  • Because I believe in listening closely to and trusting my instinct.
  • Because there is value in living slowly.
  • Because times change, and I’m not the same person I was when I was in my late teens and early 20’s and chose Marketing and Sales as my career path. 
  • Because, and let’s just be honest here, do any of us really believe deep down that we need *more* TV commercials in our lives?
Ok, so… What now?
 
Along with my partner, I am embarking on a 2-year mini-retirement. A sabbatical. A reshuffling of life’s typical timeline, where, as opposed to allocating all my retirement years to 65+, I am time-shifting two of those years to right now. Exactly what we’ll do with this time, and when, is largely unknown. What we do know is that we are going to attempt to strip our lives down to the essentials and reassess, from the ground up, how we want to live our lives.
 
What else do we know?
 
We know that in summer of 2023, our plan is to move to the beautiful country of Costa Rica, indefinitely. This gives us a little over one year to take all the necessary steps to get us from Twin Cities suburbs to Playa Flamingo, Guanacaste. It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming, it’s a dream, it’s a wild and crazy adventure that I’m feeling all the feelings about, and I’m thrilled to be able to share our plan with the world!
 
How am I able to do this?
 
I freely admit I am a beneficiary of privilege. I’m a white man in America. I come from a supportive family. Things have generally been working out for me. But I do believe that taking a break, even just a small break, from the minutiae of Corporate America is viable for more than just the super-rich.
 
My process has mainly involved asking myself hard questions in a journal and not walking away until I’d written down some answers. Questions like, “How much is enough?” and “What do I value above all else?” and “What visions do I embrace?” It was in the reflective process of answering tough questions like these that I realized I value the simple, fundamental things life has to offer, many of which don’t require material wealth, like: spending time with loved ones, being out in nature, exercising, cooking a nutritious and scrumptious meal from scratch, meditating, and creating stuff. When you value low-cost/no-cost activities, you don’t need as much.
 
The consumerist culture we live in is designed to convince us we have many more “needs” than we actually do. Part of my quest is to shed wanting and embrace a mindful, minimalist life.
What’s the Goal?
 
One of my top priorities for this time is to put my privilege to better use, to harness and hone my true inner super powers to unleash their maximum value for the benefit of humanity. My intent and hope is that the world sees a net payoff by me pointing my best strengths to the things I care about and value most.
 
Also, my partner and I believe that spending time as a resident of another country will be an informative, enlightening, and enriching experience for ourselves and our children. There are ways to live a great life that are different from the “standard suburban America lifestyle,” and we want our family to gain this perspective. We plan to do our best to learn the culture of Costa Rica, honor the land and its people, and foster a strong connection with our new community. 
What else is on the top of the priority list for the next few months?
  • Declutter (physically and mentally). Strip away all but the essentials. 
  • Live each moment as mindfully as possible, being present in that moment and feeling grateful to be alive to experience it (even if that moment is washing dishes).
  • Practice high-value activities, which for me are things like: hiking, learning Spanish, playing volleyball, running, cooking, and creative projects (music, writing, podcasting).
  • Invest time and emotions into my relationships with family and friends. When I’m going to bed at night, if I’ve spent quality time with loved ones at some point during the day, it feels like I’m closing out a high-value day. I want more high-value days! And the days feel even juicier when I’ve opened up, been vulnerable, and gotten into my feelings with someone I care about, so… more of this too! 
  • Develop consistent practices that align with my values and bring me joy, excitement, and contentment. Daily or weekly practices of meditation, Spanish, guitar, piano, exercise, and others. These practices will compound over time to bring me to a new state I could not achieve without a steady commitment. It will take some trial and some more error to hone the balance of practices that feels right, but then again, it’s an ever-evolving journey that will shift over time, so trick is to also practice tuning in to my mind, body, and spirit to hear what they need. 
  • Regularly ask myself, “What would truly excite me right now?” And then do it. 
 
I’ll be publishing more about this journey in the days and months ahead. I look forward to sharing it with you.
 
“The formula of happiness and success is just being actually yourself, in the most vivid possible way you can.” – Meryl Streep

Which Brand Won Super Bowl LVI?

While the internet and advertising pundits are all aflutter about Coinbase’s bold QR code “Pong”-style ad, and some might have enjoyed an ad with one of their favorite celebs or a dancing animal, I have a different take, and it can be summed up in one word.

Relatability. Do I relate to your ad? To its story, its characters, its concept. If I don’t relate to your ad, I’m either not your audience, or your ad whiffed.  

The best Super Bowl ads focused on one key message, a singular, highly relatable notion to stick in the audience’s mind. And the stickiest ideas are ones that are already there, already part of our everyday lives; we just don’t realize it until someone shows it to us in a story, a piece of art, a song, or, in this case, a commercial.

These are my Top 3 Super Bowl Ads with relatable, sticky concepts.

Pringles – “Stuck In” – Who hasn’t gotten their hand stuck reaching for the last Pringle in their iconic can? https://youtu.be/aP2up9N6H-g

Planters Mixed Nuts – “Feed The Debate” – For any nut-eaters and pub-goers out there, this age-old debate hit home. Not to mention the brilliance of sparking the debate to continue on social media after the game. And the closing line of clever copy, “Who knew American would tear itself apart over a relatively minor difference of opinion?” was a laugh-out-loud moment.  https://youtu.be/S72SIM-vMCs

McDonald’s – “Can I Get Uhhhhhh” – If you claim you haven’t stared at a quick-serve menu for longer than is reasonable, you’re kidding yourself. We’ve all been there!  https://youtu.be/hv5CzJdx6NE

Apparently I have an affinity for food brands! 

Why Sales Reps Should Deliver Bad News to Clients

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? 

When asked this question, most people choose the bad news first, so they can get it out of the way and end on a good note. However, most people with the good and bad news to deliver prefer to offer the good news first, so they can soften the blow of the bad news by easing into it with something positive. (Ref: “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink)

Sales reps love delivering good news. They are eager to share, and for good reason. Good news makes clients happy. The good news is seldom shared without being followed by written or verbal exclamation points.

“Your campaign over-delivered by 78%!”

“We were able to include 14 bonus ads for you at no charge!”

“I was able to get a discount for you approved by management!”

As in all client-oriented businesses, there inevitably comes a time when something goes wrong. An instruction falls through the cracks. Start dates are delayed. A click-thru URL was entered incorrectly. Between technical quirks and human error, it’s a miracle anything does run the way it’s supposed to. And when this bad news arises, sales reps fear it. Frantic thoughts enter the rep’s mind. Maybe the client won’t notice? If I can sandwich this bad news within a pile of good news, maybe it won’t seem so bad? If we get it fixed now, maybe we can just pretend like it never happened?

It’s easy to see the potential pitfalls of brushing some bad news under the rug. Not to mention the wear and tear on one’s integrity and conscience. 

If you want to move beyond “vendor” status with your client to get into the coveted “partnership” relationship zone, one of the best ways to become a trusted partner is to give your clients bad news, head on. 

Think about one of your closest friends. Now say you are planning a birthday party for yourself (because you’re an adult and that’s what adults do). Unbeknownst to you, this close friend of yours cannot make it. They have a conflict. They haven’t told you about this conflict. As the day draws nearer, you are getting all excited as the plans are coming together for your epic birthday bash.

In this instance, what would you rather your friend do? Would you rather they tell you they can’t make it as soon as possible, or would you prefer they hold off until the day before to break the bad news? Or perhaps you’d prefer they no-show and later offer an alibi or excuse?

Most people would rather be hit with the bad news head on, as early as possible. 

Business works the same way. If you have clients, and you’ve discovered some bad news about their account… just tell them. 

Why? For two main reasons. 1) The client will trust you more because you had the integrity to give it to them straight. Any newbie off the street can deliver good news, but only a trusted partner acts as if client and vendor are on the same team, taking the good with the bad. 2) Giving the bad news right away gives the most amount of time for problem-solving. Waiting to give the bad news at a later date only means that’s more time the problem hasn’t gotten better. 

I recently had an experience with my largest advertising client (responsible for about 20% of my annual income) where a problem was discovered with their ad campaign. The ads had all been running as intended, but our reporting technology had a breakdown. We place tracking pixels on client sites to link their ad campaigns to website visits from people who’ve seen the ads. The problem? Over two months ago, the tracking pixel had “fallen off” their website. (That was how my IT team put it. Did the pixel walk off a cliff? How does a piece of software code fall, exactly?) This meant that for two months of their annual campaign, we would not be able to deliver the reporting metrics the client had grown accustomed to. 

Upon hearing this news from my team, I was left at a crossroads. I knew I had to tell the client, because eventually they would find out anyway when it came time to review their April report and nothing was there. But how to explain? Over the phone? In an email? And when? Right away? Wait until we have a few other topics to discuss and then drop this reporting blunder bomb into the mix? 

I was dreading delivering this bad news because they are my biggest client, and I didn’t want to give them any reason to question their investment with my company.

In the end, I decided to call her up the day I found out the news and give it to her straight. Here’s how the conversation went. 

Me: “Hi client, how’s your day going? Oh I’m so glad to hear that. Say, you know how in all great partnerships, there’s a lot of good news, but every once in a while, there’s some not-so-great news? Well, I’ve got some not-so-great news for you, and I don’t want to beat around the bush, so here it is. Your tracking pixel stopped working on April 2. This means your April and May reports will not be available. The reason we didn’t find this out until now is because, while the pixel had fallen off most of your website, the pixel was still active on one page, so our system was not alerted. I have confirmed with my team that we now have new safeguards in place so that we’ll get an alert earlier next time. What we need to do now is get it reinstalled on your site, and I’ve just emailed you the pixel and installation instructions.” 

When I stopped to take a breath, here was her reply.

Client: “Thank you for telling me. And you know what? That timeline makes perfect sense. We did a large website update right around that time, so I bet our update is what caused the pixel to stop working. I never thought to mention this website update to you. I guess this is a learning moment for us that we need to communicate better to our marketing partners when we make updates to our website.” 

Could that have gone any better? I think not. 

A sign of any strong relationship is that both parties are comfortable and trusting enough to take the bad with the good, knowing that it will make the relationship stronger on the other side. 

Lessons From “Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer

After finishing Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild, I immediately took to my journal to write down my top lessons and takeaways from the stories of Chris McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp and the other adventurers noted in the book. 

I’m sharing this journal entry as-written to retain the essence of how I was feeling immediately after finishing the book. 

  1. Call your parents. They always want to hear from you.
  2. Life with less can be more fulfilling. 
  3. Convention is the enemy.
  4. We are prisoners of society, of civilization.
  5. Experiences are best when shared. Chris comes to this realization toward the end of his life after spending several months in isolation in Alaska. At first this expedition made him feel more alive than anything else. But after a time, he concludes experiences are better when shared with others. 
  6. Relationships and love matter. 
  7. Document your own life with pictures and journals. 
  8. Surround yourself with writings that move you. 
  9. Don’t wait to start living out your beliefs. Now is the time. 
  10. You can get by with much less than you think. 
  11. Chris McCandless blindly trusted so many strangers: for a ride, for shelter, for employment. To these people unknown to him, he showed courtesy, honesty, and hard work. In response, they all helped him. What would happen if we all gave people we don’t know the benefit of the doubt? Gave them compassion, love, and respect as the default? 
  12. Your limits are much farther than you think they are. Pushing those limits can be thrilling and exhilarating. 
  13. When embarking on a new endeavor, take time to learn from experts who have walked the path before you. 
  14. Be prepared. 

Raising the bar… and then lowering it

Last week I turned 36. One year before that, on my 35th birthday, I started the day with the goal of running ten miles – the farthest I’d ever run. On mile nine of that run I was feeling good; my spirits were up and my body was performing well. Somewhere in the that ninth mile I spontaneously decided to try to go for a half marathon distance, which I successfully completed. Miles 11, 12, and 13 were tough. It was a mental battle. I remember telling myself, “You can do it. Raise the bar. Don’t worry about how slow you’re running. Just don’t quit and eventually you will get there.” I mentally repeated the mantra I learned from Jocko Willink on Tim Ferriss’ blog/podcast: “Not dead. Can’t quit.”

I still remember the feeling immediately after that run; it was a rush, a feeling of pride, excitement, and illumination. Illuminating to me that us humans can push our bodies much farther than we think we can, if only we can muster the mental willpower to push us beyond our preconceived limits. 

In the weeks leading up to my 36th birthday, I had the goal of repeating the “half marathon birthday run” and making a tradition out of it. This year I started running a whole month earlier than 2020 and had clocked about 60 miles more on the road than the same time the previous year; however, I was also taken out by a cold for six days in late April and another six days in early May, causing a large dent in my training plan. 

So when the day came, May 16 2021, I did the opposite of the year before. I didn’t raise my bar. I lowered it. As I got ready for the morning run, I set my goal down from 13.1 miles to 10. In the midst of that run, I lowered the bar again and stopped at 9 miles. And you know what? I couldn’t be happier. 

Why? Because there’s more to last year’s story. After pushing myself to complete that impromptu half marathon, I paid a price. Right away I felt exhilarated, euphoric, alive. But, I couldn’t run for a week after that. I was sore in new places. I needed longer to recover. My body wasn’t sufficiently trained for that distance. 

This year, I ran nine miles (still my longest of the year), didn’t feel much strain, and felt great after. One day later, I was up at 5:45am for an early morning jaunt around the neighborhood lake, breathing in the fresh spring air and waking up to the day with the birds, bunnies, deer, and sun. 

I still believe we are capable of more greatness than we think we are, and it’s usually just our own mental blocks that are in the way. But I now also see the value in knowing your limits, listening to and being in tune with your body, and being in it for the long game. 

Grit gets you places you didn’t think you could reach. 

Wisdom is knowing when to unleash your inner grit. 

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