The End of a Seven-Year-Long Chapter (The Beginning of a New One)


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Something happened to me last summer, and it is still happening.

In June, a friend sent me an article about hockey written by two financial gurus. They explained that there is a traditional strategy in hockey called “pulling the goalie.” According to tradition, if your team is down by one goal with one minute left in the game, the coach will “pull the goalie,” sending the goalie on offense in the hope of scoring a tying goal, while risking the chance of being scored on with an open net.

These financial gurus decided to run a statistical analysis of this tradition.

Based upon existing data, they concluded that, on average, it actually takes somewhere between five or six minutes of game time for a team to score a goal with their goalie on offense. The tipping point, where the reward of pulling the goalie is offset by the risk of being scored upon with an open net, was around five minutes and forty seconds remaining in the game.

In other words, every hockey coach pulls the goalie way too late.

The bigger problem, though, is that even in the face of this empirical data, no coach will ever pull their goalie with almost six minutes to go in a game and down by one. Because if their team was scored upon at that point, the fans would be calling for their firing and the front office would probably do it. It is not socially acceptable to pull the goalie that early in the game, so no one does it.

The question, my friend asked me, was, “Where do you need to pull the goalie in your life right now—even if it feels risky, even if it upsets people—before it is too late?”

Today, I ask you the same question: where do you need to pull the goalie right now, before it is too late? Is it getting an evaluation for your child who is struggling in school? Is it getting counseling for your child who is struggling inside? Is it getting your own help before the shame becomes all-consuming? Is it asking your spouse to go to marital therapy? Is it being vulnerable before the intimacy fades for good? Is it starting the book you’ve always wanted to write, or the business you’ve always wanted to run? Is it remembering how to play, before those distant memories of childlikeness fade even further?

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The Best Reason to Do Scary Things

facing your fears

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I used to hide on the floor of the car.

When I was seven, and our family crossed the vast Mississippi river on the big bridges around St. Louis, I’d become so terrified that I would huddle on the floor of the car until we had reached the other side. Long bridges over water terrify me. I had recurring nightmares about them as a child. I have no idea where this fear came from; it has been with me for as long as I can remember. I don’t have any other fears like it.

And I don’t need them; this one is stubborn enough.

A quarter of a century after I huddled on the floor of an old Buick over the wide Mississippi, I drove my young family from Illinois to Maryland, where my wife’s family lived at the time. My bridge fears were mostly forgotten. Suddenly, however, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was looming ahead of us, arching into the sky like an Evil Knievel stunt for the ordinary motorist, and I had my first panic attack. I drove us across the bridge that day, but it happened again on our way home. And then it happened again and again and again.

Every time we traveled to Maryland.

Several years after that first panic attack, I was telling my therapist about it, and his reaction was the grace I needed at the time, as a recovering perfectionist. “Kelly,” he said, “maybe you don’t need to be the best at everything. Why don’t you let your wife drive the bridge?” So, for the last few years, every time we cross the Bay Bridge, we pull over at the last gas station before the bridge, my wife and I switch seats, and my kids tease me as we cross the bay.

Which is fine—after all, at some point, every kid needs to learn their old man is human.

So, the plan had worked perfectly over the years.

Until last month.

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This Is Why Your Definition of Success Might Be Keeping You Stuck (And Here’s a Better Definition)

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One morning, I won a bunch of gold medals on my first try.

When I ride my bike, I use a social app, which tracks your route, distance, speed, and other metrics. Usually, other riders have created “segments” along your route—specific stretches of road or path in which your time is recorded and then ranked against your past rides.

On the day of the gold medals, I was bored with my typical routes, so I chose a new route with new segments, and I began. My legs felt heavier than usual, and the humid late-summer air was thick in my lungs. It was clear from the outset that this morning would be a long, slow, slog of a ride. So, when I finished the route and looked at my results I was, at first, incredulous.

Four segments. Four gold medals.

Then, as the dawn turned into day, it slowly dawned on me: it had been my first time riding this route, my first time completing these segments. So, no matter how badly I performed, it was my best performance of all time. At first, this was exceptionally unsatisfying. But then I realized why it was so unsatisfying:

My definition of success is all messed up.

My definition of success has to do with being the best, rather than being determined. My definition of success emphasizes conquests instead of courage. My definition of success focuses on the completion of projects, and it neglects the bravery required to begin them.

What if the first time we do something is always our best performance, regardless of how we perform, because getting started always requires the best kind of courage?

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The Ordinary Webs We Weave

It’s an early summer night and we’re doing early summer sorts of things, like boating and tubing on a river winding its way toward the Mississippi.

Then, as the sun dips low and the light gets long, we set our course for one of our favorite dinner spots. We prepare to feast. However, we are not the only ones feasting. A billion bugs just hatched. Suddenly, the air is thick with them, they are everywhere, plastered on the windshield of the boat, stuck on our sunglasses, caught in our hair and in our clothes.

As we disembark we notice, at the end of the dock, a spiderweb. It is coated in this harvest of insects. Heavy with them. Sagging under the weight of them. Quinn, who is ten, takes a look at it, and speaks truth: “Well, that spider had a good day.” I’m left digesting his words long after I’m done digesting the food.

Because in that spider I see much of humanity, including myself.

life purpose

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What I mean is, most of us have come to believe that the task of being alive is building just the right web in just the right spot at just the right time, and that bounty and abundance is the validation of the choices we’ve made. Our webs are our relationships and our accomplishments, our families and our kids and our jobs and our careers. We think we are here to build extraordinary webs out of our people and our purpose. And we believe if we do so, our webs should be laden with love, heavy with cash, sagging with satisfaction.

Here’s the thing, though, about that heavy web at the end of that buggy dock on that particular summer evening: it was just dumb luck.

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Why We Need to Wobble

I was accidentally sabotaging my daughter’s dream.

For two summers, Caitlin began the season dreaming of riding a bike. And for two summers, by the time the bees were on the buds and the cottonwood was on the air, that dream had been stashed away, along with her bike, in the back of the garage. I couldn’t figure it out. Caitlin is brave, but our practice sessions would always end in her fear and my frustration.

It turns out, I wasn’t giving her what she needed.

facing your fears

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A few weeks ago, signs of summer returned to our part of the world—grass got green and buzzing bees could be heard on the warming breeze—so Caitlin and I rolled her bike out of the garage, hoping for third times and charms. But, once again, the fear and frustration quickly set in. I began to wonder if a bike-riding gene had been deleted from her DNA. Then, the truth hit me. There was something missing, but it wasn’t a gene.

I wasn’t letting her wobble.

I was holding the back of her seat for stability, but I was holding on too tight. I was eliminating any sense of imbalance from her ride, so she would feel safe, so she could learn while unafraid. But, ironically, this had magnified her fear. Now, she wasn’t just afraid of falling; she was also afraid of the sensation of wobbling.

And wobbling is how you learn to ride.

Wobbling on a bike is the only way to learn balance. When you wobble one way, you lean your body in the other. When you overcorrect, you learn to recorrect. Eventually, you learn the skill of making countless minute adjustments to keep yourself upright and moving forward. Wobbling is how you learn to ride.

Wobbling is also how you learn to live.

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Dear Young Author (A Dad’s Letter to His Son About Writing and Living)

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Dear Son,

Already, at age ten, you are a decorated author.

I’m proud of you—at your age, I had neither the courage nor the persistence to enter a young author contest. And, of course, I’m thrilled for you—it is a joyous thing when a writer’s risk is rewarded with some recognition. But I guess I’m also concerned for you, because in my short career as a writer, I’ve learned something about writing and about living:

Why we write is why we live.

I don’t mean that we live to write. As Stephen King wrote, “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” What I mean is, while we are writing, we are also becoming. While we are writing, we are entering into a space within ourselves, and when we are done writing, we go out and live from that space. So, if you write honestly, you will live more honestly. If you write tenderly, you will speak more tenderly. If you write bravely, you will love more bravely.

And if you write to make your dad proud of you, your whole life will become a pride project.

Dear Son, not all reasons for writing and creating—and doing anything, really—are created equal. Don’t write because it gets my attention or anyone’s attention. Don’t write because you want to be popular or admired. Don’t write to make a name for yourself, and really don’t write to make money for yourself. Approval, attention, admiration, affluence. These are not bad things, but they are temporary things. Terrific things, really, but also transient things.

Don’t write to achieve temporal things; write to approach transcendent things.

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The Only Thing Better Than Being Remembered

The waves will wash us away.

I’m walking along the beach on the West coast of the United States when I see it, carved into the rock: “S+H 4 Ever.” There is a heart carved around it, and a date: 9/2014. At first, my heart is warmed—it must have been hard to carve, a labor of love. But then, very quickly, my heart is chilled. Three years ago, “forever” was carved deeply into a rock, and three short years later, the crashing water is already eroding and erasing the letters. In those fading letters, I saw myself. I saw all of us.

The waves of time will wash us all away.

purpose meaning

At some level, each of us is aware of this. So, we strive for immortality, by carving our initials into this life—we try to make our mark on the world. We try to make a difference. We long to be remembered. We hope to leave a legacy. We fight to outlast ourselves. But the truth is, aside from the occasional address in a field at Gettysburg, or a speech on the mall in Washington, most of us will not be remembered for very long.

Someone once said, “Every man dies two deaths. The first is when he takes his last breath. The second is the last time someone says his name.”

Our time here is short and, for most of us, the waves of time will eventually wash away even the memory of our existence, no matter how deeply we carve our initials into the bedrock of our lives.

Like I said, the heart-warming inscription only chilled me.

Two days later, though, I’m back in the heartland of America, and I’m sitting beside another body of water—a river—on a colorful, brittle autumn day. The season around me is yet another reminder of how everything and everyone is always dying and passing on. As I sit beside the river, the image of the waves slamming into the shore continues to haunt me. But then something happens.

As I watch the world around me, I see that it’s dancing.

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What Everyone Needs to Know About Chasing a Dream

There are two things, actually.  First, chasing your dreams will not eliminate pain from your life; it will simply give you a reason to endure pain. And second, you don’t get to choose your dreams; your dreams choose you

millenials chasing your dreams

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He gets knocked down, grits his teeth, and gets back on his feet.

My nine-year-old son Quinn is playing in his first soccer game of the season. We’re down 1-0, and he doesn’t like to lose, so he steals the ball back. Three defenders stand between him and the goal. He dribbles around two, but the last one knocks him to his knees again. Yet, again, he refuses to quit. He hooks his foot out, steals the ball back, stands, and kicks it into the corner of the net.

As his father and his coach, I’m proud of him.

But not because he scored, or because the game is now tied. I’m proud of him because he got knocked down twice, got back up twice, and kept moving forward. I’m proud of him because he had a goal and he stayed focused on it, rather than his frustration and his setbacks. I’m proud of him because, in the real world, this is what dream-chasing looks like. 

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What to Do When Your Path Is Covered in Darkness and Fog

I’m surrounded by darkness and fog.

Autumn drifts closer—the air is getting cooler, the leaves are getting drier, the crows are getting louder, and the days are getting shorter. Which means, if I’m going to get in my bike ride before the morning carpool, I have to begin in the dark.

On this particular morning, a fog has descended, reducing visibility to almost nothing, and I’m on a bike path, surrounded on all sides by forest. A small headlight illuminates the path ahead of me, but it cannot penetrate beyond a few feet.

I’m surrounded by darkness and fog, and it’s a metaphor for everything.


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As my feet push the pedals on this dark path, I wonder if maybe I should have just stayed in bed, where it was safer. Similarly, while I’d slumbered the night before, the doubt had crept back in, unbidden—doubt about this passion of mine, this writing thing. Six years of words on a page. Three-hundred-some blog posts. A book. I wonder if my words and I should have just stayed in my heart, where it is safer, where blood, sweat, and tears may not end quite so badly.

In every life, there comes a dark morning when you question the path you’ve chosen—the decisions that have left your life decidedly undecided. It’s the kind of morning that can turn into depression, if you have too many of them in a row.   

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The Life-Altering Decision to Love Your Limitations

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Around the time I turned 40, I became acutely aware of the passage of time.

Imagine that.

So, I’ve spent much of the past year trying to make the most of it. For instance, several weeks ago, I was planning to take advantage of a gorgeous weekend by camping out in the backyard with my kids.

Then, I got sick.

A summer cold that leveled me for most of a week. My throat hurt so badly I could barely swallow. I couldn’t climb a set of stairs without getting winded. The very idea of pounding tent stakes exhausted me. My body had reached its limit, and that limit did not include a night under the stars.

And it angered me.

It angered me because we are trained from a young age to believe we don’t have limits. We are told—in defiance of all reason and history—that we can be anything we want to be, and do anything we want to do. We are given all-you-can-eat buffets. We are given all-you-can-binge Netflix. We pay for unlimited data on cell phones, and we rent unlimited wardrobes on-line. We use oil as if it is limitless. We pretend houses can inflate in value without the bubble eventually bursting. We pretend the stock market can just keep on going up forever.

It’s no wonder we get a little angry when faced with a limit.

At first, limitations feel unjust, unfair.

We loathe our limitations.

While loathing them, though, we miss out on the opportunity to learn from them.

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