How Erik got his man-card back

Some of my loyal readers recall my post a few months back that documented the emasculating purchase of a minivan. The van-buying experience was miserable because, well, I was buying a van… but most importantly because the dealership was a nightmare to work with.

Well, 8 months after that experience and 8 years of driving my super cute, super economical, super intimidating Hyundai Accent, I decided to make a change and go car shopping again.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Why would anyone want anything other than the classy Hyundai Accent?”

What my old car looked like… only way nicer than how mine actually looked.

That is probably the smartest question you could have ever pondered. The Accent is a hell of a machine.

Mine had no power locks and the key hole was only on the driver’s side so I haven’t opened the door for Caitlin in years. Her fault… not mine. She doesn’t have the patience for me to unlock the doors from the driver’s side, run around to her side, albeit at the speed of the Flash, and open her door. She just opens her door when the locks click open.

She’s so independent.
I love it when she takes charge.

Anyway, my Accent also lacked power seats, went 0-60 in… well… I don’t know that I ever made it to 60 mph, and was a stick (manual for the purists). The fact that it was a stick meant that it had the best Millennial anti-theft system on the planet.

Caitlin (a millennial) doesn’t know how to drive a stick, which was a blessing and a curse. She couldn’t drive my car and crash it into light poles, but at the same time, we could never switch cars when I wanted to cruise around town looking cool in her van… I mean… when I HAD to drive her van for manly things like going to Home Depot and buying big tools or wood or whatever is it that real men buy.

Car Shopping

Recent events have led to me making the decision to buy a truck. What’s more manly than a truck, right?

Quick aside: I’m noticing how often I’m referring to manly things. Due to the current cancel-culture of planet earth, please recognize that many of my posts have satire and sarcasm. Moving on…

So I want a truck. My heart was set on a Toyota Tacoma because I think they look amazing and I don’t want a big truck. I want a truck that drives more like a van SUV and can still fit in my garage.

A midsize pickup truck is all I need. I’m not into those massive trucks with monster tires, 9″ lifts, and stickers of a kid urinating on other truck brands. I’m not going to tow much of anything, I don’t need to haul large boulders, and I don’t feel the need to overcompensate for, well… you know.
At least not in my vehicle choice.

Based on my previous buying experience, I was dreading the whole process. So this time, I brought my 5-year-old boy with me so I could blame us leaving a dealership without buying on the fact that it was past his bedtime. Can you think of any better way to show how secure you are with yourself and your feelings than relying on your child as a way to tell someone no?

Toyota Tacoma

Jared and I went to the Toyota dealership first. We walked/skipped up to the front doors with confidence and enthusiasm. We approached the first person we saw and asked if they had any Tacomas we could test drive.

Response: “It’s my first day so… I don’t know. Let me check.”

Hmm… interesting start.

Another employee comes over and informs the new guy what he should do and escorts us into the building. There was a little tension there. Almost like an older brother/younger brother thing, but that’s beside the point.

They asked a few questions to see if I could afford a bicycle, let alone a Tacoma (I was in crummy clothes at the time). After they came to the conclusion that I was harmless, they pulled around a couple used Tacomas for us to check out. Everything looked great on the outside and Jared and I were ready to go on a test drive.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, I noticed that something was tickling my head. That something was the roof.

You see, for those who don’t know me, I’m 6’4″ when I stand up straight. I slouch a bit, but even so, the top of my head was touching the roof of the Tacoma. The seat wouldn’t adjust up and down, only forwards and backwards along with the seat tilt, so I could feel the roof during the entire drive. The only way to alleviate this issue was to scoot my seat way forward and lay the seat way back. It wasn’t comfortable and, if I’m honest, it was a deal breaker for me.

Another thing that ground my gears was how the Tacoma’s gears seemed to grind. I don’t mean there was a grinding sound, just that the transition between gears didn’t feel super smooth whenever I went to accelerate quickly (think freeway onramp). We used to have another Toyota that had the same issue.

Finally, two of the three seat belts in the back were buried under the seat so Jared couldn’t get buckled. Not a Tacoma issue, but still… strike 3.

I was devastated. My heart was set on a Tacoma, but the tickling was lame and heaven forbid I got in an accident and my noggin got lopped off, which would be less than desirable for me.

So… Jared and I moved onto the next option.

Ford Ranger

Right across the street from the Toyota dealership was the Ford dealership. Jared and I went over there and took a look at the Ford Ranger. The sales person was super nice and very helpful. We looked at the different packages they had a lot to offer. Jared and I liked the Ranger FX4 Lariat.

Me: Because my head fit.
Jared: Because it was a truck.

Oh, to be 5 again…

The Ranger’s headroom and lack of strange transmission transitions put this out in front of the Tacoma.

The downside was that I didn’t particularly love the look compared to the Tacoma and others I’ll mention. Even so, I could fit comfortably inside without having a cowlick on the top of my head and it drove nicely on the short test drive.

Jared and I were leaning toward this truck but we decided to try a couple more the next day.

Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon

Colorado
Canyon

The last on my list to test was the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon. These are essentially the same truck, just with different branding badges and located at the same dealership.

We continued our quest to this dealership the next day after Jared’s baseball practice.

The Sales Guy

Pulling onto the Chevy lot, we were excited. There was a line of trucks at the entrance to the dealership and Jared’s pumped seeing all these big, fancy vehicles. As we parked, a tall, skinny guy (relevant later) came out of the dealership and welcomed us. He asked the standard questions to me and then asked Jared if he likes sports. Jared, decked out in baseball clothes, told him he just came from football practice.

Dana wasn’t so sure that sentence was accurate based on the baseball uniform, and I realized that I have failed to properly teach my boy the difference between baseball and football.

I’m embarrassed, Jared is on cloud 9, Dana is confused, and we’re all headed to the part of the lot where the Colorados and Canyons live, facing the main road like a litter of puppies in a pet store window hoping people notice them as they pass by.

I told Dana where we were at on our noble journey and why I was bummed about the Tacoma. He could relate. He sized me up and asked if I was 6’4″ like him. We did the only thing two grown men can do when asked about their height. We both stood back to back, as straight as we could, and adjusted our hands on top of our heads to show that we were taller than the other, all while asking Jared to tell us who was taller.

Okay, it didn’t quite happen like that. It was more along the lines of us standing up as straight as we could, gazing into each other’s eyes, and realizing that we were, in fact, the same height. He empathized with my headroom issue because in one of his past professions, he drove a company truck (Tacoma) and his hair was constantly rubbing against the roof.

This guy gets me.

I liked the Colorado/Chevy looks more than the Canyon/GMC and told Dana that it’s time to test drive this puppy. Dana ran (literally) and got us the keys so we could take it for a spin.

The Test Drive

As we started driving, the first thing I noticed was that I fit comfortably inside with plenty of head room. Big plus.

It was cold that night so we were all shivering for a bit as we started driving. We turned on the heater to warm us up and Dana mentioned that his hands get sore and stiff when it’s cold.

I’m like, “Hey, me too! I’ve always had poor circulation in my hands.” Then, Dana pointed out a button on the steering wheel that is, in my opinion, one of the top 3 inventions of all time.

The steering wheel warmer

I don’t know if that’s the official name for it, but the steering wheel warms up, much like a bum warmer – what we like to call the seat warmers. This is huge because when it gets cold outside, my hands become pretty useless. But, armed with a steering wheel warmer, I feel like I have essentially become invincible. I pop that button on and the steering wheel warms right up. It’s brilliant.

The interior was leather and super nice. Given the car I was used to, I felt like I was in a luxurious space ship, and it was awesome. Big plus.

The infotainment system was fantastic and had everything I could ever want and more.

The truck accelerated nicely, brakes worked, and Jared was happy as a clam. Dana did a great job of answering all my questions and not judging my parking job as I tried to put the truck back where I found it, just at a strange angle that would make Pythagoras roll in his grave.

We looked at a brand new Colorado on the showroom floor with fancy wheels and a few upgrades. I informed Dana that I planned on being back the next day to continue the conversation around the new one, or the one we test drove.

The next day

I’d made up my mind that I wanted a Colorado. I was impressed and it checked all the boxes of what I was looking for. Now, I just had to go through that whole car-buying process at a dealership again.

Ugh.

I was not looking forward to that. In fact, I sent Dana the article I wrote on the van experience and asked him if this is what I had to look forward to, because if so, I wasn’t going to go through that again. He assured me it wouldn’t be like that.

So, after all that back story, here’s a quick review based on my experience of Riverton Chevrolet:

The Good

Sales Person:
Dana has been mentioned throughout this article. He was fantastic and very helpful. I feel like a good car salesperson’s job is to just be your friend more than anything. He asked questions to better understand what I was looking for. He showed me different truck options that would meet the things I was looking for, plus some extra features and recommendations. We had a lot of similarities in body dimensions.

That sounds weird as I read it back in my head.
We’ll try again…

We’re both tall and skinny. We both understand how the world is not built for people our size and he knew about how our impairments are alleviated with this truck.

He did a great job of helping me understand the next step of the process as I moved closer to the purchase and he didn’t bombard me with messages like some clingy girlfriend who asks if you’re breaking up if you don’t respond to her text after like 4.5 seconds. I appreciated that.

When I went back the next day, he had read my other article and even had a “no recording devices” sign propped up on his desk as a joke. It was fantastic and he did say, “Hey, feel free to record this because it’ll be the best testimonial we could get.”

I didn’t record the process, but he’s right, it would’ve been a great testimonial.

Even though the whole process took a long time (more on that later), Dana respected my time and would literally run back and forth to get keys, paperwork, approvals, and signatures. His hustle was legendary.

Sales Manager:
I think that was Scott’s role. He came around once price talks started happening. The person in this role at the dealership where I bought the van last year really caused things to go south and I was pretty clear to both Scott and Dana about my apprehension during this step. I kept thinking that Scott was going to slip something in that I hadn’t agree to, or tell me that some mysterious fee was required. Thankfully, that never came. Scott was great and everything he said and promised turned out exactly the way he said it would.

And that’s all I really ask for from anyone in this world.

Finance Manager:
In my van experience, this was the worst step of the purchasing process. At a different dealership, the finance manager made me say ‘no’ to an extended warranty 20-30 times. He insulted me. He went back on all previous promises made by others in the process. He refused to let me make a down payment until a manager got involved. He tried to force me to accept a rate 3 times higher than the rate my credit union pre-approved (who they claimed to work with). He told me certain fees were legally required when they weren’t.

At this present-day dealership, Ben was the exact opposite of all that.

Ben told me about the extended warranty they offered in a matter of seconds.

I said, “no thanks.”

He said, “no problem.”

And we moved on.

I was in shock. I thought it was some sort of tricky tactic and the warranty would come up later. I was bracing myself for the barrage of insults that never came. That was the last we spoke about extended warrantees.

I had been pre-approved by my credit union for a super-low rate. Ben said they were currently a point higher but he sent a message to the credit union based on what I said and got back a message back from the branch that we were good to go on the lower rate. It was awesome.

He said, “It looks like you wanted to make a down payment, how do you want to make that?” We made it happen.

The whole process with Ben felt like it took maybe 10 minutes to sign what I needed to sign, print off documents, and head out to my shiny new truck.

Ben – seriously, thank you. That was awesome.

Trade in
Two days prior, when I was test driving the Ford Ranger, that dealership checked out my car and put up an offer for a trade-in should I move forward with the Ford.

Riverton Chevrolet offered double what the Ford dealership offered.

Negotiation process
The whole negotiation process wasn’t bad. They came down a little and it wasn’t this hour long back and forth with the mysterious managers in the back.

Scott showed the price of the car along with an itemized list of all taxes and fees associated with the price he was showing me (I never got that after 4 hours with the other dealership).

He told me which fees were required. Given that my stepmom works for a dealership, I knew which fees are negotiable and which were not. Scott presented only one fee that wasn’t required but is standard across all dealerships and that is the Data Dots or Vehicle Theft Registration fee. He and I broke that one down and figured it out together.

There wasn’t high pressure, however, once they had made the concessions they could and agreed to what I asked, they kept my decision process moving forward rather than stalling. Basically, they took away all my barriers to buying to where I didn’t have any anymore. All there was left to do was sign.

The Could-be-better

Advertised prices
In my experience, this happens with 99% of dealerships. The internet price is designed to get you to the lot and looking at cars, but it’s not the price their going to give you to start.

This happened with the new truck I was wanting to get. The online price was at $42k-ish. Once we started talking, it jumped up to $50k.

Similar thing happened on the truck I ended up purchasing. Online, it was shown about $5k less than where our negotiation conversation started.

I’m not a big fan of this tactic. My ‘real job’ is in marketing, so I get the demand-gen idea, but I’m still not a fan. As I mentioned earlier, a rule of thumb I try and live by is if I tell you how something will go, or be priced, or will work, then it better go, be priced, or work that way.

In my experience, this was the only thing at this dealership that wasn’t as advertised as they say.

Time
From letting them know I wanted to buy the truck to when I left the dealership was about 3 hours. Now, there are a few factors that were a part of that, including some computers and printers going down, preventing anything from moving forward for a bit, but that felt like a long time.

Do I expect to be in and out in 15 minutes? No.
An hour? Maybe…?
3 hours? That felt too long. Especially since I wasn’t my usual chatty, friendly self given the car-buying PTSD I was experiencing from other experiences.

Dana did his best trying to cheer me up in my moody, anxious state, but even my favorite comedian would struggle keeping me entertained for that long.

Also, this was March 31st and I had 3 epic April Fool’s pranks planned that I had to get to. It was nice to get this done that night though, because I needed the truck to haul 10,400 ball pit balls to the office for this prank:
Office ball pit prank

Follow-up
The morning after the test drive, I had scheduled a time with Dana to come back and buy. After that happened, I got a call and voicemail from someone at the dealership stating we needed to talk ASAP. I got a text from them as well. I called back and they asked if I planned on coming back in to look at the truck. I informed them that I had already scheduled a time with my sales guy.

An hour or so after I had purchased the truck and was cruising around town in it, I got another call and voicemail asking if I wanted to come check out the truck I was now driving.

In the grand scheme of things, not a big deal. Just a CRM tweak to make sure the people calling me know that the car is sold… to me… and I won’t be coming back to buy the car I have already bought.

Final Summary

All in all, I am very satisfied with my car-buying experience here and the people I got to work with. I love my truck. My kids love the truck. When they first saw it, they were squealing with happiness and they ask me every day if we can go for a ride in the truck.

My boss jokes with me about how he finally feels comfortable sending me to meet clients now that I drive something that isn’t what I was driving.

A couple friends have mentioned that a midsize truck isn’t “really” a truck and that I should’ve gone with a full-size version, but that’s just not me and it’s not what I need.

Caitlin thinks it’s perfect, but what else is she going to say?

So… I feel like that man-card that was ripped into a thousand pieces and thrown into the wind after the van purchase – has been found.

Well, about 2/3rds of those thousands of pieces have been found and reassembled and taped back together, meaning I now have 2/3rds of my man-card back.

Good job, Erik.

My new truck

Hope you enjoyed my story. I write on the random things in life that make me think, laugh, cry, or that I find entertaining. If you liked reading this or some of my other stuff, subscribe to get notified when I post something new.

Thanks!

– Erik


Honesty or kindness? Pick one.

Let’s travel to Russia

It’s April 1st, 2008. I’m on an airplane, flying from Germany to Russia.

Rostov-na-Donu, Russia to be more specific. I’ve spent the past 3 months in the Missionary Training Center (MTC), a 39-acre campus owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints located in Provo, Utah.

It’s where newly-called missionaries spend between 2-12 weeks learning more about the church and how to do missionary work, among other things.

One of those other things is learning the language of the country to which you’re assigned and, if you’ve paid attention so far, you could guess which language I’ve been studying for three months.

Russian is not an easy language to learn for us English speakers. It uses a different alphabet with several sounds that our mouths struggle to produce. The average English word has 1.3 syllables. The average Russian word has 3.1. Much of that three months in the MTC involves my mouth and tongue muscles cramping while trying to make these ungodly sounds. Single words seem like paragraphs. I have a pounding headache most days from trying to remember vocabulary words and grammar rules.

There are entire days where we’re supposed to “SYL” – Speak Your Language. This means you try to spend the entire day speaking only Russian in my case, and no English. At the mature age of 19, after three months learning from Russian-speaking Americans and conversing exclusively with your fellow missionaries who speak just as poorly as you, I am ready to fly to Russia and talk about Jesus to the people of the country that produced the likes of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Mendeleev, Kasparov, and Anna Kournikova.

Piece of cake.

I feel confident. Why wouldn’t I? We all understood each other perfectly well in the MTC as we struggled through memorized phrases like:

“Hello, my name is Elder Soderborg.”
“What time is it?”
“How many people do you have in your family?”
“Chapstick.”

Chapstick? Why chapstick?

Well, the course that taught us this wonderful word translates it as – гигиеническая помада – in English letters – gigienicheskaya pomada…

English – Chapstick… 2 syllables.
Russian… see above… 10 syllables.

Remember how I told you Russian is rough. There you go.

But hey, surely people in Russia speak SOME English, so if I struggle with chapstick or any other Russian phrase, I can just explain it with really basic English said slowly and loudly topped off with elaborate hand gestures and they’ll get it. We’ll be fine.

Everything… will… be fine.

Speaking to my first Russian

So that brings me to April 1st, 2008. I’m on a plane from Germany to Rostov-na-Donu, Russia and I’m sitting next to my first real-life, genuine Russian.

I can tell he’s Russian. He looks different. He acts different. He smells different. And he’s definitely not speaking English to his wife sitting next to him. It must be some weird dialect of Russian. I can pick out a word here and there, but not much. He must not speak Russian very well…

I don’t remember his name. We’ll call him Boris, and after several minutes of me mouthing one of those memorized phrases I’ve learned over and over, I muster up the courage to speak Boris – a supposed Russian who speaks very poor Russian in my opinion – for the first time. I lean over to him and nervously force out (in flawless Russian) “What time is it?”

Boris: “Что?!”
Me: “What?”
Boris: “Что ты сказал?!”
Me: Uh oh… he sounds angry… “Uh… What time is it?” – Again, in flawless Russian with a hint of doubt sprinkled in my tone.
Boris: “асдфчаодичфаоисдйф” – At least, that’s what it sounded like to me.
Me: …
Boris: …
Me: *confused look
Boris: “You are American, yes?” (in English with a heavily Russian accent)
Me: “Yes. How did you know?”

He sounds just like the bad guy in pretty much every movie you’ve ever seen. He goes on to tell me that I speak Russian very poorly and he can’t understand me. He tells me that he realized I was asking what time it was, but I asked incorrectly.

“We don’t usually ask the time like that anymore. We ask it another way.”

I was asking the English equivalent of, “Of which hour do you have?” instead of “What time is it?”

He goes on to ask what I’m doing in Russia (all of this still in broken English still by the way. In fact, he and I struggle through our conversation entirely in English from here on out). I tell him that I’m on a church service mission and I’ll be there for about 21 months. He grunts and tells me I’m going to have a very difficult time because I don’t speak well at all.

“Not a lot of Russians speak English, and they won’t waste time trying to figure out your poor Russian. You must learn to speak better.”

Thanks Boris.

I’m not so confident anymore.

We spend the rest of the flight in silence as I try and cope with this man’s complete disregard for my feelings. Surely he understood my first question. Can’t he at least acknowledge that I was doing my best? Maybe mention that I sound alright for only three months of practice? Did he have to use the words “very bad” when describing my speaking ability? That wasn’t very nice.

This was probably just an elaborate April Fools joke he was playing on me. That’s got to be it. Maybe someone was filming this.

Wait, do they have April Fools in Russia?
(No, they do not)

Russians must not have a refined sense of humor like myself.

Russians are blunt

Your perception of Russians may be different than mine was before I went there. I thought that they were all angry, rude, stubborn, and drunk. Always.

Are there some that match that criteria? Sure.
Are there people in every country that match that criteria? Sure.

What separates Russians in my opinion is that they are unapologetically and brutally honest. They are blunt. They will tell you how they feel about you, your actions, your appearance, and your beliefs.

Marry or Murder?

Most of the conversations over the next three months follow the same pattern. I try saying something, I get head tilts, raised hands interrupting me, and the subsequent, “I have no clue what you are saying. You speak Russian very poorly, and I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”

I am completely dependent on an older missionary who speaks and understands the language better. 99 out of 100 Russians in this area don’t speak any English. As in, they don’t know a single word of English. I quickly learn that my charades ability is nowhere near as good as I thought it was.

Imagine being surrounded by people who you want to find a way to help, who you want to speak with and get to know, yet you can’t express a single thought. You struggle pronouncing any word correctly, let alone stringing a sentence together. You feel completely isolated, despite being surrounded by millions of people.

No one understands you. No one wants to understand you. You can’t understand a lick of what anyone else is saying. You can’t tell a taxi how to get you home. You can’t order food at a restaurant. You can’t tell if the lady in front of you wants to marry you or murder you… but from her tone… you’re pretty sure it’s the murder one.

I check with the other missionary:

Me: I think I’m following along and I’m understanding most of what she’s saying… but I just want to make sure with you… did she just say that she wants to marry me or murder me?
Him: Neither. She said your neck is bleeding from when you cut yourself shaving.
Me: Oh good. I thought she wanted to murder me. Sorry for interrupting. Carry on. I’ll be over here.

It gets better with time
After about three months in Russia, I started understanding the language better. I started speaking better. The headaches weren’t as common and I was becoming much more comfortable.

The missionary that trained me was at the end of his mission and went home. He was German and there were cultural differences that added friction to my already-rough acclimation.

My new partner happened to be a childhood friend, and he made everyday life much easier to handle. We had the same humor, we knew the same people back home, we both enjoyed the same topics like music, movies, sports, and the craziness of our circumstances. He spoke marginally better than I did to start, which forced us both to have to learn even quicker.

The biggest change that happened was that I slowly started to appreciate the Russian straight-shooter mindset. Sure, it wasn’t pleasant to be told that your tie looked ugly or that Americans are uneducated, fat, and lazy, but at least you knew what that person was thinking. I don’t remember backbiting or gossiping about someone behind their back because they’d say it straight to your face. If someone had a problem with you, they’d tell you, and you could tell them how you felt as well.

Is it all rude?

At the end of my two years, I feel like I spoke Russian reasonably well. Maybe my Russian mission president will comment on this and say otherwise, but I felt very comfortable conversing on just about anything. The reason I felt that way is because, just as they will tell you if you speak “very bad,” they will also tell you directly if you speak well.

Compliments in Russia are genuine. They aren’t forced out of someone in hopes of padding your ego. They aren’t thrown in as an afterthought to break an awkward silence. Russians are absolute masters at paying genuine, thoughtful, blunt, open-hearted, unapologetic, specific compliments.

I need to include people from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and other Eastern-European countries in this as well. They have this ability to be direct, both with good news as well as bad news.

And, may I be blunt?

I miss it.

The Invention of Lying

The Invention of Lying, starring Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner had recently come out around the time I was headed home. It was one of the movies I saw on the 10.5-hour flight from Moscow to New York. The premise of the movie is a world where nobody lies. Everyone is 100% honest. They don’t know what lying is.

Well, the character played by Gervais tells the first lie and things spiral out of control from there.

I love this movie. The thought experiment is interesting and fun and unsettling for me, and it reminds me of Russia.

“Now hold on Erik, are you saying that people in Russia don’t lie?!”

No. I am not saying that. They lie just like all of us. But in their conversations, they worry less about hurt feelings and more about getting to their truth and expressing what needs to be communicated.

It can come across as having a lack of tact. It can come across as rude.

American food has a lot of sugar

When I returned home to America, I experienced a culture shock once again, this time with food. Food here is incredibly sweet. Everything seems to be pumped full of sugars and artificial sweeteners. And I think that is a fitting connection to make. After being away for two years, I noticed that many of the interactions I had with Americans involved a ton of artificial sweetener pumped into every dialogue.

We have those knee-jerk phrases exchanged each and every day. It’s like a dance that we all know the steps to and have to stay in line.

“How are you?”
“Good, how are you?”
“Oh, we’re great!”

Meanwhile, they’re in the middle of a divorce, their dad just got diagnosed with cancer, and their dog died. But hey, everything is awesome! And when this person’s health deteriorates and their job performance suffers and they lose their job as a result…

“Hey, are you okay?”
“Oh yeah! I’m great! Hahaha! How are you?!”

That’s not healthy.

It’s a two way street

The problem in my little brain doesn’t sit solely with the respondent. I am guilty of asking ‘how are you’ without really caring to know the answer – keep reading for an example of when that went wrong. The asker and the askee both fall into this mold and mode of conversation, doing and saying what they are ”supposed to.’

Heaven forbid someone admit that they aren’t doing well emotionally. They don’t want to look crazy. And when you run into someone who breaks the script, it can be unsettling, abrasive, or sound like they are just being dramatic. And if this is how I react to a genuine, honest answer, why did I even ask?

For the first little while after I returned home, I was told on more than one occasion that I was rude. When asked if I wanted to go out with a certain group, I’d say, “No, I don’t want to spend time with that person.” When asked if I liked a certain meal or outfit, I’d share my honest thoughts. Certain former romantic relationships I had before the mission that I didn’t wish to pursue were handled poorly on my end based on the culture in which I now found myself. To be frank, I probably handled them poorly according to any culture’s standards.

I had to reacclimatize to the artificially sweetened mode of communication. I wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, I had just become more blunt than normal. I could never attain Russian-bluntness-status, but I had to become “nicer.”

I think I did. Too much so, in fact.

But now, as I think about it and go back to my time in Russia, which is better? Being brutally honest – or being nice?

And really think about that for a second.

Would you want your spouse, friend, coworker, or server at a restaurant to feel comfortable telling you how they really feel? Or, would you prefer that they wrap their real feelings in sprinkles, glitter, and rainbows to the point that you never really know what they’re thinking?

Would you rather feel comfortable and safe to express your feelings and opinions more openly to these same people – your spouse, your boss, your in-laws – or walking on egg shells hoping that your beliefs on politics, religion, raising kids, or life choices don’t set someone off, get you fired, or get you cancelled?

You don’t know me, you don’t care, don’t ask

Come back with me to Russia, the city of Stavropol this time. I’m walking around on the streets with my missionary companion and I see a babushka shuffling along. She passes by and I stop and ask her how she’s doing. She stops. She looks at the two of us. She asks, “Do I know you?”

“No, you don’t.”
“Then why do you care how I’m doing? I don’t know you. You don’t know me. You don’t really care how I’m doing. You must not be from around here. Don’t ask strangers how they are doing. It’s not your business and you have no reason to care.”

She shuffles away.

That didn’t go how it was supposed to… she went off script. She was supposed to say, “I am good! What are you two handsome boys doing? We should talk about Jesus.”

Turns out, my script was not even close to the final version everyone else was using.

There were countless other times where I’d ask a stranger or acquaintance how they are doing.

“My life is bad. I’m in the middle of a divorce, my dad just got diagnosed with cancer, and my dog died.”

Oh… okay. That explains the sadness. That may explain the smoking habit. That may explain the drinking, the depression, the acting out, the poor job performance.

The cards were on the table. The good, the bad, the ugly, it was all out there and now both sides are making informed decisions about how to proceed with the relationship.

There are moments where I wish I could return to a more blunt culture. It isn’t bliss by any means. It’s uncomfortable and hard, but I still miss it.

Opinions are just that – opinions

We all know that person who walks around being a complete tool shed. You know the kind, insulting as many people as possible and offering their contrarian opinion on just about every topic, most of which they know absolutely nothing. Not to mention the fact that nobody asked for their opinion… and then they say,

“Hey, I’m just being honest.”
“I’m just speaking my truth.”
“I’m just being blunt, did you want me to lie?!”

No.
Stop it.
You’re just being a jerk.
There’s a difference.

It’s important to understand that while a Russian may disagree with you, he or she understands that it is his or her opinion. Just because you hold an opposing opinion doesn’t mean you’re bad person. Just because that person doesn’t like your outfit doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t like your outfit, or that it’s bad, or that you have an irredeemable character flaw that will send you to hell. Opinions are just that – opinions.

Most of the time (not always), their opinions came because you asked for them. Russia isn’t a land where everyone is riding around on bears and insulting each other about clothing choices. For the most part, they are reserved and keep to themselves (Russians… not the bears… do not feed the bears). But if you open the conversation and want to know what they think, be prepared to find out exactly that. No sugar-coating.

Honesty is kindness

I have a goal to be more blunt. I want to be able to express opinions and beliefs in an open, honest way. This has become most apparent to me in a work setting. As I work with vendors, colleagues, or clients, there can be important information that falls through the cracks because I’m trying not to hurt feelings rather than say what I’m thinking.

I have lucked into a company and culture where everyone has the ability to be open, honest, and blunt about topics while still staying polite and kind. In fact, I appreciate the fact that if there is a concern, it’s laid out on the table immediately rather than sweeping under a rug to fester and grow bigger than it needs to be.

I think that bluntness is kindness, as long as everyone is playing by the same set of rules, the opinions are applicable to the situation, and egos are set aside.

Remember Boris? The guy on the flight to Russia who told me I didn’t speak well? As I think back to that conversation, I realize that he was extraordinarily kind to me. Rather than dismissing me and swearing at me under his breath, he took the time to teach me how to ask people what time it is. He gave me a heads up around the pounding headaches I would end up getting. He warned me that people wouldn’t want to talk to me, or give me the time of day, or respect my opinions if I couldn’t express them clearly. It was the kindest thing he could’ve done for me under the circumstances.

Thank you Boris.

Easier said than done

Watch, I’ve just opened myself to criticism by proclaiming to the world, “Just give it to me straight!” and then, as soon as a comment comes back saying, “I really don’t care for your writing,” I’ll huff and puff and write a blog post about it.

I’ve asked for feedback before and been hurt when it wasn’t what I expected. I’ve been asked to give feedback and hurt others when it wasn’t what they expected.

“Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.”
-The Fray

I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m making a concerted effort to tell people what I think when appropriate. I’m going on a no-sugar diet. Not real sugar… it’s the metaphor from earlier… Remember? Artificial sweetener = dishonesty… never mind. Just know that I ate an entire sleeve of E.L. Fudge cookies last night so a real-life no-sugar diet isn’t looking too realistic. But a metaphorical sugar-free diet when it comes to how I communicate… I’m working on that.

Maybe not sugar free… maybe just a reduced sugar diet.

We’ll see how it goes and how many people I offend.

If you don’t hear back from me, well… don’t follow my lead.

PS – Have you had similar thoughts? I’d love to hear your story.

The most predictable ending of all time

Want to know the ending to every real-life story?

I need to warn you though, and this serves as the most epic spoiler alert ever imaginable, so stop now if you want to hold onto any hope you may still have.

You’re still reading?!
Okay, I warned you.

The characters in every real story, every last one of them, no matter how good or bad, no matter how noble or vile, no matter how attractive or grotesque… they all… die.

Bummer isn’t it? We were all hoping for the happily ever after.

Now, your favorite book or movie may end before the chapter describing this final event is ever released, but nobody escapes this most-predictable of endings.

We all inherently know this. We all know that everyone dies, eventually. But we spend as much of our lives as possible trying to push that thought into the deepest, darkest, most remote recesses of our consciousness, hoping to bury the thought until reality reminds us that we can’t avoid it forever, no matter how badly we want to, or how much we exercise, or how much we pray, or how much hair dye and surgery we get.

So what’s the point in caring so much about the story when we all know how it ends?

The Gap

From birth to death, there is this interesting gap. We casually refer to this gap as ‘Life,’ and Life offers different things for each person.

For some, Life is full of fame, riches, and glory, opulence, gluttony, and luxury. Others are damned to poverty, disease, and tragedy, injustice, sacrifice, and pain.

Most, however, are somewhere in between, experiencing a little bit of everything. Life is as diverse as you can imagine, and a wise, fictional character who won over our hearts hit it on the head when he likened life to a box of chocolates. “You never know what you gonna get.”

We are so invested in this Life because, as far as we know, it’s the only one we get. Maybe reincarnation is a thing. If so, I hope to come back as one of my dogs. They have the life. Seriously, they eat all they want, the world is their toilet, endless love, affection, and table scraps from little kids dropping buckets of food on the ground, and the naps. Oh, the naps. But animals don’t treat it the same as we do as far as science can tell. 99.9% of living things simply eat, reproduce, and die. But we humans do more than just eat, reproduce, and die, right?

Our brains have evolved to plan for the future, postulate about a meaning to life, try to explore the stars, and search for answers to nature’s most difficult questions. We have Google and smart devices and YouTube celebrities… surely there’s a meaning to all of this. What is the point to all of the good and bad that happens around us?

Life’s ups and downs

Take the story of an expectant mother, for instance, who literally cried tears of joy in her bathroom after the brilliant piece of technology in the form of a little plastic device she peed on confirmed what she already felt to be true. She waited until her husband came home from work before she ran and jumped into his arms, and squealed in that high-pitched voice she does when she’s excited, talking so fast that no one can understand what she’s saying because 2, 3, 4 words are blending into one, and she shows him the the two parallel lines.

Phone calls, text messages, and social media posts avalanche from their phones to spread the good news. They have tried so hard, for so long for this day to arrive. Finally.

A few sick mornings later and the ultrasound pictures hang on their fridge with a recording of the heartbeat saved on a thumb drive. Later, a gender reveal celebration happens with blue everything – glitter, balloons, napkins. Congratulations and hugs and new ultrasound pictures with an appendage circled circulate among family and friends.

It takes days, no weeks for her and her husband to agree on the perfect name for their soon-to-be miracle. The classes, the showers, the clothes. The numerous close calls when she almost pees her pants because a baby is resting on her bladder 24/7 (only happened twice).

The restless nights because a baby is pressed against her spine. The super sense of smell and random cravings for dirtiest Mexican food her husband can find at 11 PM. The go-bag, ready to be thrown into the car at any hour of the night once her water breaks.

The frantic drive to the hospital, the monitors and the beeping, the hand-holding, and the sweat, and the pushing (thank God for epidurals).

And then… Life begins – with a single, soft, almost inaudible puff of breath.

And then… time slows to a crawl. The seconds start to feel like hours. Her husband looks worried. Why does her husband look worried?! Why are the doctors and nurses crowded around her baby?! What’s wrong?!

She’s screaming, “What is happening?! Where is my baby?!”

Then complete and utter silence.

She is numb, both physically from the epidural and emotionally because it can’t be real.

The shock.

The tears.

She now travels through the darkest, most depressing black hole of despair and pain imaginable. It will follow her for hours, days, weeks, months, and years after she holds the now-lifeless miracle that was destined for something special. He was supposed to learn to walk, go potty by himself, go to school, get acne, learn to drive, have a first kiss, get a job, find love, get married, have kids… he was supposed to have a Life.

But this time, Life only lasted for one, single, short breath.

And now, every year, this mother visits a patch of ground with a polished granite stone inscribed with the perfect name for her perfect little miracle who at one point brought eternal joy and hope and tears of joy. But tears of joy are hard to come by these days. And the cold stone reminds her of the eternal sorrow experienced on that dreadful day.

Why?

How is that fair, or just? How is that part of some eternal plan?
“How come it had to happen to me?!”
If she had a dollar for every time she asked that question, she’d be the richest person alive.

But she (and we) goes on searching for meaning in that death because there HAS to be meaning, right?!

God? Helloooo? Are you there?!

What’s your secret?!

Then there’s the centenarian.

The groovy gal who just celebrated her 104th year of Life. She survived women’s suffrage, a world war, polio, civil rights, and climate change. Those major events were a struggle to deal with, but they were a walk in the park compared to watching cancer overcome her husband of 50 years. The chaos of the world is simple compared to the loneliness of living without him for the past 34 years.

She’s also outlived three of her five children, watching powerlessly as they lost battles with time and fought through varying degrees of physical suffering. She’s outlived four of her grandchildren, taken in a variety of ways at various points of their lives.

But now the local news station wants to crowd into her tiny nursing home room and interview her on her birthday. They bring balloons and cameras and enormous, bright lights. Goodness those are warm!

A 20-something year-old reporter throws a microphone into our 104 year old’s face.

The contrast is striking.

This girl, with perfect, smooth, tan skin, and perky assets that seem to defy gravity, and curves in all the right places, and bleached-white teeth, and a $300 haircut, and the scent of perfume engineered to arouse desire, and the eyes of every male (and some females) glued to her as she saunters by. This girl hopes to advance her career by nailing this interview, and asks our frail, wrinkly, saggy, stinky 104 year-old friend:
“How are you so lucky?!”
“What’s your secret?”

“Lucky?! What secret?”

She lives alone, and has for as long as some of you reading this have been alive. She has watched every friend she ever had pass away. Her best friend in elementary school, who would walk with her to school each day (uphill both ways) died 40 years ago of breast cancer. Her first date, who took her to get an ice cream cone and was too afraid to hold her hand until 2-weeks later, died in a car crash when he was in his 20’s (80 years ago). Her coworkers at the job from which she retired 50 years ago are all gone.

Lucky?!

She needs help changing her clothes and going to the bathroom. The food she chokes down every day would make you gag. Her only human interaction is with the nurse making the rounds and checking off the boxes so she can move onto the next room where the guy who “sees things” stays.

Lucky?!

She has almost forgotten what her husband’s laugh sounded like. All she has wanted for 34 years is to see his smile again, or smell his aftershave, or hold any one of her three lost kids on her on her lap and hug them, squeeze them, and reassure them that everything is going to be alright.

She has been ready to experience that final chapter of Life for a long time, but it taunts her menacingly by being close enough to touch, but never close enough grab ahold.

God? You are there, right?! You’ve got to be there.

My experience with death

Admittedly, I’v been sheltered from death up to this point of my life when it comes to family and close friends. The closest experience I have with death is when my dog died suddenly while I was in high school. One minute, I was rubbing her head and telling her goodbye as I headed to school. The next, she couldn’t move, the whites of her eyes were yellow, and my parents took her to the vet to put her out of her misery before I got home. When my dad picked me up from school, he asked if I felt anything in particular throughout the day.

“No, why?”
“We put Kenzie down. She was in a lot of pain and we couldn’t wait.”

I cried for 2 days straight.

Outside of that, I still have both parents, both in-laws, I have my wife, three kids, and two dogs. Not a day goes by that at some random moment, the thought flutters into my mind of – What if?

What if I get the call informing me that there’s been an accident. What if that most recent hug I gave someone really was the last? What if I don’t get a chance to say goodbye?

I’ve had friends and family receive that call. Their lives shattered in an instant. It happened this past year to my stepmom.

“Julie, there has been an accident. Your son didn’t make it.”

He was 27. He had 2 young kids.

It was a car crash. Four other people were in the car. Everyone else in the car survived. He was in the back seat and didn’t have his seatbelt on because he was helping his friend buckle her seatbelt first as the car was speeding out of control down the road.

Click. She’s safe. Crash. He’s gone.
It happened more quickly than it took you to read this sentence.

No goodbyes to parents, kids, and friends.

How is it fair?

Why have I been kept from such heartache while others have had to live through suffering, disease, children who have taken their own life, or other renditions of their very worst nightmare?

I don’t have an answer here.

Life isn’t fair.

It never has been.

What happens after we die?

I remember as a kid being scared to death when my dad went out late at night for his work. I was worried that he wouldn’t make it home. I’d stay up into the wee-hours of the morning, waiting for him to come home, certain that something bad had happened.

About two weeks ago, he and I went to lunch where we ate the most deliciously bad Mexican food. Remember the kind? The same Mexican food our pregnant mother loved for 3 months?

My dad and I reminisced about life and the memories we’ve built together.

While trying to fall asleep later that night, that same old thought that I had as a child slipped back into my mind:

“What if dad dies?”

This thought kept my mind racing again into the early morning hours. When he goes, where does he go? What if it really is just lights out, and all those memories, and the plans we’ve made, and the dreams and hopes and understanding of the universe just dies with us?

I’ve had a knee-jerk reaction to the question of ‘what happens when we die’ my whole life based on the religious system in which I was raised.

“They’re going to a better place.”
“They don’t feel pain.”
“They are happy, and cheering for you, and running around with your dog.”

Since I’ve been quite sheltered from death throughout my life, I hadn’t really thought about it that much.

Until I did.

And it unsettled me.
And it got scary.
And even with a belief or a hope in something after death, it made me nervous.

Beliefs around death

I went on a quest of sorts, researching what I could about death. I read several books and stumbled across a docu-series on Netflix called Surviving Death, which was fascinating and raised even more questions. Disney put out a cute little movie called Soul that addressed the topic. By the way, how can a light-hearted cartoon get me thinking so deeply?

I started asking people around me how their perspective on death has changed throughout their lives. Some have suffered tragedies. Some have experienced the routine loss of loved ones who just grew old. Some, like me, haven’t had anyone super close to them pass away. Others care for patients of all sorts at a hospital or medical facility.

Some hold deep religious beliefs that shape their perspective on death. Others take a more agnostic approach and believe that this life is it, so don’t plan for life after death, live in the now.

While the mode of death is different for everybody, the eventuality of it is the same. While the beliefs in what comes next are different for everybody, none of us can ever be certain that ours is correct.

What if none of them are? Or what if they all are in some way?

Not one of us really knows what happens after death, so I try not to attribute certainty to any of this, but there have been those that have died, according to a clinical definition of both heart and brain activity stopping, and come back. What do they have to say?

Near-death experiences

There are several books and movies about this and I’m not going to recount it all here. There are even studies where researchers have travelled all over the world, into different societies and customs, to document the experiences of those who have survived near-death experiences. There are remarkable similarities in these experiences.

Communication with thought rather than words. Separation from the body and viewing a different dimension of sorts. Time distortion. Warmth. Calm. The feeling of love and the presence of other beings who care about you.

The Light.

I’ve written about my mom’s experience with cancer and gall stones in a previous post, and when she was in surgery having a gall stone removed that had split in two with one section lodging in her pancreas and the other in her liver, she had a remarkable experience that she has shared with me.

I won’t share it here, but it was eerily similar to many other near-death experiences. After the surgery, she asked the doctor if something had happened. The doctor looked surprised and a little uncomfortable.

“Did someone tell you something? Who told you? Yes, actually. We lost you for a minute and had to bring you back. We thought you were gone for good.”

Is there something outside of our understanding of consciousness and Life as we know it? I think so.

I hope so.

So, what’s your purpose?

Where am I going with this?

I haven’t got a clue.

But, whether you have a few breaths left or decades, what is your reason for living? To quote 22 in the movie Soul, “Is all this living really worth dying for?” Remember, most of what you do while alive will be completely and utterly forgotten in 100 years (or less). Yes, even by your posterity. That’s kind of depressing, isn’t it?

Some people seem to have found their calling in life. Their spark (again from Soul), their purpose, their reason for existing. They move through life with this laser-like focus and they stiff arm distractions like Derrick Henry running through defensive backs.

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But what if you haven’t found that calling yet? What are you supposed to do with the time you have left?

I’ve been struggling with this quite a bit recently. Every morning, in my drive to work, I speak to a being that I hope is real and I hope can hear me because I say it out loud,

“God, what am I doing here? What should I be doing with this life I have?”

HONK, HONK!

Some ass-hat is honking at me as the light turns green and interrupts my conversation this time. But the response is the same every morning.

Silence.

The main character in Soul had a similar thought:

“I’m just afraid that if I died today, my life would have amounted to nothing.”

Joe

I have no idea what my purpose in life is. I feel like I should be doing something meaningful for the world, even though I don’t know what meaningful really means. I chuckle as I write this, but maybe it was because my mom always told me I was meant for something special, which begs the question, is marketing insurance special? What about writing a blog that only a handful of people read? Or making seemingly every possible mistake trying to raise my kids? Is this considered meaningful?

I’m still working through this.

If you are too… you are not alone.

Maybe I think too much

Maybe I shouldn’t worry about any of this. After all, we don’t officially know. Even science works on faith sometimes.

Us humans like to find predictable results from “If/Then equations.”

If I ______, then _______ will happen.

The trouble with life is that we just don’t have very many predictable if/then truths that happen 100% of the time.

Take a seemingly easy one:
If you eat healthy foods, then you will live longer.
Well… not necessarily.

If you smoke, you will get lung cancer.
Nope, not always.

If you pray, you will get an answer.
Doesn’t always work out that way.

If you are the good guy, then you will beat the bad guy.
Sorry, not true.

If I die, then… what?

So why even try?

Good question. Your answer will be different than mine, and that’s okay. I find hope in the happiness and joy I get from wrestling my kids and making Caitlin laugh until she cries (happy cry), or hearing that someone read what I wrote and had the same questions. Of seeing my friends after weeks, months, and years and picking up right where we left off.

In 100 years, the name Erik Soderborg will likely be long-since-forgotten, and it’s not up to me to control that. There is only so much time I have in this life so rather than spend it worrying about things outside of my control, I’ll try focusing on what I can.

How I treat other people.
How I talk about other people.
How I treat myself.
What I believe in and what I hope for.
What I write and leave behind for my kids.

I hope that there is a higher power waiting for us on the other side with a super high-resolution TV and a killer PowerPoint that outlines this extraordinarily beautiful plan, which, when we finally come to see it, will leave us going,
“Ooooooh… okay… yeah, that makes more sense. I was WAY off, hehe.”

I hope that all the injustices and examples where Life just isn’t “fair” are put into context and we can see the beauty of it all.

Here’s the response from one of my closest friends when I asked him how his perspective on death has changed throughout his life. He is in his residency as a doctor (interventional radiology), a Christian, and one of the most humble and genuine people I know.

“Hey man, it’s interesting timing that you ask. I’m on pediatric surgery and had a particularly bad day on Sunday. We had a newborn born with a giant tumor that needed emergent resection, and she died on the table.

Another kid came in after a car accident and was taken for emergent surgery and died right after we finished. Three other kids came in from car accidents with relatively minor injuries, but had at least one parent die in the accident. It was a lot of sadness in one day, hard to see kids die, but probably harder to tell a mother her son died or watch a 14 year-old realize she’s an orphan.

It’s odd seeing so much death when the majority of my day is spent trying to prevent it.

It does, however, put into perspective the knowledge and power of God. I love biblical accounts of Christ healing because to me it just shows a perfect understanding of the pathophysiology of the human body He created.

I think if you spoke with most doctors, they’d reiterate how little we truly know about the body and disease. Yet we can make blind men see. We can make a dead man’s heart beat again. We can control some aspects of mental illness. If we, with our admittedly limited understanding can perform so called “miracles,” is it of any surprise that our Creator can do the same but on a much larger scale? That He can devise a way to make that same body in the Resurrection but devise a way for it to be free of disease and immortal?

I am in no way comparing a doctor to God or Christ, but if we are expected to become Gods ourselves and create life, at some point in our eternal progression, we will need to obtain the same knowledge God has about life, physiology, and death. It’s cool that I can start down that path, albeit at a snail’s pace, during this life.

Essentially, our inability to fully control death and disease in this life is a reminder to me of how impressive the knowledge and power of God is. I have become more confident in the reality of a Resurrection because I know it is possible.”

How’s that for perspective?

Those nightmarish scenes described by my friend may have played out in your life or in the lives of someone close to you. The weight of an experience like this is unimaginable and our healthcare workers are on the front lines of all of it.

The doctors like my friend who work 100 hour weeks trying to prevent these losses, but have to deliver the awful news to the families of those that don’t make it. Then, minutes later, try to put the sadness behind them and literally run to help another person whose life is on the line. Helping most and losing some, our first responders, doctors, nurses, and frontline healthcare workers see these tragedies each and everyday.

So thank you.

World(s) caving in

What I find troubling is that, in the case of my friend, in a matter of hours there were at least five families who, on that day had their worlds shattered. Their lives caved in on themselves as they lost one or several loved ones in tragic accidents. And scenes like these are playing themselves out every minute of every day across the world.

In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if a tragic loss isn’t occurring in your life this month (which I sincerely hope it isn’t), there is someone that you will interact with this week that is going through something unimaginable. They may not tell you, but inside, their soul is aching beyond belief. The thoughts and hopes and fears we’ve been talking about have crashed through their front door and made themselves at home in every room, every picture, every song, and every thought of the person or persons that have been left behind with sudden, unexpected, tragic, or untimely loss of the person who meant more than anyone else in the world to them.

Keep these people in your prayers or thoughts or whatever you believe brings hope and comfort and peace.

Death is still scary

Death still scares me. I am less afraid of the event of death itself (unless snakes are involved… because snakes are messed up), and more afraid of losing out on the time I would have with the people I care about. Should I die, I feel bad that my kids wouldn’t have their dad around and that Caitlin would have a period of time alone, left to deal with the fallout, and never being able to enjoy my sexual prowess ever again.

“Oh, come on Erik! That was a touching moment you just totally ruined! Gosh!”

Moving on… I guess the point is: focus on what you can control. And, unfortunately, odds are, we won’t be able to control how or when we end this Life, so use your time wisely… you never know how much you gonna get.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to stop writing and go wrestle my kids.

If any of you have found the answers for yourself, share them for the rest of us. Remember, just because something works for you, doesn’t mean it works for everyone.

And that’s okay.

I like to write. Some of it makes sense, most of it doesn’t, but if you’re into that kind of thing, subscribe and you’ll get notified when I post something new.

2020 Book List

I had a goal of completing 2 books per week throughout the course of 2020, finishing 104 books if my math is right.

We hit the goal. In fact, we snuck in a few more, finishing 116 books (43,080 pages). I say we because it took a lot of help, encouragement, recommendations, and tips from Caitlin, friends, and you reading.

Thank you.

I wrote a post called How to read 2 (or more) books a week detailing how I went about finishing this amount of books over the past year.

At this moment, I don’t have time to give a review, but I listed the date finished, title, author, and a rating from 1-5 based on how they impacted me at the point in my life when I read the book. I also put the books with a 5 rating in bold for quick reference.

There are several on here that my readers listed as life-changing books that I may have rated lower than life-changing for me. That doesn’t mean they weren’t great books, just the wrong timing for me. There are books I read for the 2nd (or 3rd) time that used to be 5’s but are now lower.

Hopefully you enjoy and can grab a few to put on your to-read list.

2020 List

NumberDateTitleAuthorRating (1-5)
11/1GritAngela Ducksorth3
21/9Fooled by RandomnessNassim Taleb4
31/11HypergrowthDavid Cancel3
41/11RangeDavid Epstein5
51/17NudgeRichard Thaler & Cass Sunstein3
61/19CashvertisingDrew Eric Whitman4
71/21This Won’t ScaleDrift Marketing Team3
81/25Inbound MarketingBrian Halligan3
91/25The Ultimate Sales LetterDan Kennedy2
102/2Predictable RevenueAaron Ross2
112/4Inbound MarketingBrian Halligan3
122/9The Price We PayMarty Makary5
132/12MindsetCarol Dweck3
142/15Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneJK Rowling5
152/15Future BabbleDan Gardner3
162/19The No Asshole RuleRobert Sutton2
172/24The Future of HumanityMichio Kaku4
182/25OtherLifeJason Segel & Kirsten Miller3
192/28OtherWorldJason Segel & Kirsten Miller3
202/29Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsJK Rowling4
212/29Seven Brief Lessons on PhysicsCarlo Rovelli3
223/4OtherEarthJason Segel & Kirsten Miller3
233/5Something Deeply HiddenSean Carroll4
243/7ConcussionJeanne Marie Laskas4
253/11UnaccountableMarty Makary4
263/16A Short History of Nearly EverythingBill Bryson5
273/17Physics of the ImpossibleMichio Kaku4
283/20Small Great ThingsJodi Picoult5
293/22Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanJK Rowling4
304/1The Count of Monte CristoAlexandre Dumas5
314/8Blockchain: The Next EverythingStephen P. Williams3
324/16The FountainheadAyn Rand5
334/28What Matters MostChanel Reynolds4
345/1One Second AfterWilliam Forstchen4
355/3Adventures Beyond the BodyWilliam Buhlman3
365/6The MastermindEvan Ratliff5
375/9One Year AfterWilliam Forstchen4
385/13What Every BODY is SayingJoe Navarro3
395/15Treating People WellLea Berman & Jeremy Bernard3
405/17The Final Day William Forstchen3
416/5Atlas ShruggedAyn Rand5
426/7Radical CandorKim Scott3
436/9American SniperChris Kyle3
446/12Permanent RecordEdward Snowden4
456/16Fear: Trump in the White HouseBob Woodward3
466/17WhistleblowerSusan Fowler3
476/20Face to FaceBrian Grazer3
486/21Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireJK Rowling5
496/27How Money Became DangerousChristopher Varelas3
506/28White FragilityRobin DiAngelo1
517/3EducatedTara Westover4
527/5HeroMeg Meeker3
537/5DrivenLarry H. Miller3
547/8Economics in One LessonHenry Hazlitt3
557/9Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixJK Rowling4
567/125-Minute Spider-Man StoriesMultiple3
577/12Good to GreatJim Collins5
587/13FreakonomicsSteven Levitt4
597/16The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleStephen R. Cover4
607/18The Power of HabitCharles Duhigg3
617/20The $100 StartupChris Guillebeau3
627/21Talking to StrangersMalcolm Gladwell3
637/225-Minute Marvel StoriesMultiple3
647/27Getting Things DoneDavid Allen3
657/30InfluenceRobert Cialdini4
667/30Start With WhySimon Sinek3
678/1Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceJK Rowling5
688/4The Sleep RevolutionArianna Huffington2
698/8Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsJK Rowling5
708/13Born to RunChristopher McDougall5
718/18I Am PilgrimTerry Hayes4
728/20Will it Fly?Pat Flynn3
738/25EndureAlex Hutchinson4
748/25Growth Hacker MarketingRyan Holiday3
758/28Crushing ItGary Vaynerchuk3
768/31Stillness is the KeyRyan Holiday3
779/4Crush ItGary Vaynerchuk3
789/7American AssassinVince Flynn4
799/23UntamedGlennon Doyle3
809/24Gmorning, Gnight!Lin-Manuel Miranda3
819/25Kill ShotVince Flynn3
829/26Enemy at the GatesWilliam Craig5
839/29Perennial SellerRyan Holiday2
8410/4The Logical LeapDavid Harriman3
8510/8Invisible InfluenceJonah Berger4
8610/17The Bitcoin StandardSaifedean Ammous5
8710/24Alexander HamiltonRon Chernow5
8810/27Your Money or Your LifeVicki Robin3
8910/30Permission MarketingSeth Godin3
9010/3012 Rules for LifeJordan Peterson 5
9110/30This is MarketingSeth Godin3
9210/31FactfulnessHans Rosling5
9311/1UnscriptedErnie Johnson Jr.4
9411/2The AlchemistPaulo Coelho4
9511/4The Spy and the TraitorBen Macintyre4
9611/6The NightingaleKristin Hannah5
9711/7How Will You Measure Your Life?Clayton M Christensen4
9811/10The Undoing ProjectMichael Lewis4
9911/11The Year of LessCait Flanders3
10011/16Enlightenment NowSteven Pinker4
10111/17UnbrokenLaura Hillenbrand5
10211/19David and GoliathMalcolm Gladwell4
10311/20The Book of MormonMany5
10411/20Never Split the DifferenceChris Voss4
10511/21Trillion Dollar CoachEric Schmidt4
10611/25DuneFrank Herbert3
10711/27Atomic HabitsJames Clear4
10812/10The House of MorganRon Chernow3
10912/13Love and Other Ways of DyingMichael Paterniti5
11012/15Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible VoyageAlfred Lansing4
11112/19When Breath Becomes AirPaul Kalanithi5
11212/20The Boys in the BoatDaniel James Brown5
11312/25SapiensYuval Noah Harari5
11412/26Leadership and Self DeceptionThe Arbinger Institute4
11512/29The Day the World Came to TownJim DeFede3
11612/31Think Like a MonkJay Shetty5
2020 Book List

There you have it.

2020 gave me a lot to think about, learn, and try to improve upon, and for that I am grateful.

What should be on my list for 2021?

The Importance of Saving Face… I mean Grace… no Face

This post is dedicated to THE Jeff Glauser.

I witnessed something amazing today, and I’ll do my best to describe what happened in hopes that you find it equally amazing. The lengths that we humans go in order to save face are incredible and fascinating.

So there I was…
…sitting at the stoplight on the south end of the Shops at South Town in Sandy, Utah. You know the light, right? By Starbucks and headed toward Costco.

It’s a crisp winter day with the sun shining. Some snow had fallen earlier in the morning leaving puddles in the road that reflect sunlight into your eyes, forcing you to squint through the brightness, constantly debating with yourself over whether the effort to reach down, grab your sunglasses, and put them on is worth it when you know they will be slightly smudged and you’ll need to wipe them on your shirt but never REALLY get them to the point where you aren’t convinced you may have astigmatism or glaucoma or something because it’s still blurry. Plus, you know that as soon as you go in for the second attempt at wiping them off that the light will turn green and you’ll hesitate for a half second causing the line of cars behind you to lay on their horns and remind you how horrible a person you are for holding up the world. So, you just squint and deal with the retina-burning sunlight.

You know… just your typical day.

I’m on my way to lunch to meet with a good friend, and I’m a bit anxious because the light is taking what feels like forever. It’s 11:58 and we agreed on lunch at noon. I’m still at least 3 minutes away and I don’t want him to think less of me for being a couple minutes late. Not that he’s that kind of person, he’s literally the nicest, least judgmental person I know, I’m just saying I don’t want to be late so if this light could move things along, that would be appreciated.

Anyway, I’m planning on going straight through this light and, to my right, is a big red truck. Now, this big truck is turning right and, as we all know, Utah drivers believe you can turn right at a red light as long as you have come to a rolling stop and traffic is such that you don’t cause an accident coupled with your or someone else’s death, yet you’d somehow still be able to find a way to blame it on oncoming traffic. Utah… amiright?

Come to think of it, most of us in Utah figure a red light is just a green light if we’re turning right. Stopping is optional.

Well, not to big truck guy. He is fully stopped at this light, following laws and waiting patiently.

We also know that if the traffic going ahead of you from your right to the left has a left-hand turn light blazing, you are good to go ahead and turn right as long as that left hand turn traffic isn’t pulling a U-turn.

Are you still with me here? Writing about traffic is fun.

Now, on the sidewalk next to big truck is one of those people holding a sign asking for help. Spare change, dollar bills, a job, etc. In our story, they are asking for change. Well, big truck guy is trying his hardest to avoid eye contact with this man with a sign and is fully enveloped in whatever is playing on his phone and whether or not his left-side mirror is positioned correctly.

It is at this moment that the left hand turn signal goes green for the other direction of traffic, opening a window for big truck guy to now turn right as oncoming, perpendicular traffic coming from his left is stopped to allow for the left hand turn signal traffic.

Who knew describing traffic patterns was so hard?!
Here are some pictures.

Scene 1: The Setup
Scene 2: Turning Scenario

Now, the impatient driver behind big truck notices that big truck should be moving and turning right as there is no traffic to hinder his turn, but for some reason, the big truck isn’t. So, impatient driver gives a little courtesy honk.

By the way, the man with the sign is past the big truck and is now side by side with impatient driver’s front bumper.

Big truck guy doesn’t hear or notice the courtesy honk and continues to hold his position (staring at his phone), so impatient driver gives a longer, more aggressive, double honk: honk hooooonk.

I have a view over to big truck driver’s window where he looks up from his phone, into the rear view mirror, forward to the red light, and displays a combination of bewilderment and frustration on his face as the light is CLEARLY still red (like his truck).

In what takes a microsecond, big truck driver realizes his egregious error that has cost the world 3 seconds of its time and left the impatient driver behind him questioning big truck driver’s humanity, but at this point the turn signal has ended and oncoming traffic resumes, making it unwise for him to turn right at this point unless he wants a hefty insurance claim and bill (not to mention protecting his pretty truck).

What is the big truck driver to do? He clearly made a boo boo and tiny driving errors like these are something that no one should make, especially not a manly man driving a big truck… You know what they say about those guys…

So, he digs in his car for a second, rolls down his back, passenger-side window, and calls the man with the sign back over to him. Big truck guy drops a few coins into the man’s cup and poof, no more egg on his face.

Phew, crises averted! Big truck guy has saved face.

Well wait just one minute my loyal reader, what about the impatient driver? Now he looks like a real tool for honking at and trying to prevent the charitable transaction between a kind, thoughtful, big truck driver and a man who needs help.

I shift my attention over to the impatient honker…
… sorry, when I skimmed that last line, a word looked like a different word and I had to re-read it to make sure I wasn’t getting inappropriate… Let me rephrase…

When my attention goes to the impatient driver, I realize that he couldn’t see that big truck driver was distracted on his phone, although he assumed it was the case, and now he sees that big truck driver’s lack of situational awareness is actually due to big truck driver’s charitable nature and Christmas spirit. I mean, he just gave the beggar some money despite being the target of honking and future protesters flipping his truck.

I imagine that the impatient driver thinks to himself, “Wow, I was wrong and completely out of line. Now I look like a real jerk to that handsome man in that little Hyundai Accent staring at all of us, watching what really happened.”

Then, he seemingly repents to his higher power, reaches around in his car, and slips a couple coins out his window into the beggar’s cup!

Isn’t this amazing?!

I’ve been wondering if the beggar saw everything go down the same way I did. And if so, I wonder how much more he could earn each day if he could somehow recreate this scene over and over again in a predictable way.

Could he somehow distract the front, right-turning driver to miss his or her initial turn opportunity and cause a line of angry tailgaters (not the football kind) to honk honk at the first position vehicle. Then, collect a copious bounty from people by helping all these well-meaning people save face for missing turn opportunities and honking at the charitable cars in front of them. Does anyone else see a Monty Python skit happening around this? Do they still do skits?

I don’t know if I have any deep, philosophical wisdom to share on this post. Maybe it’s that we humans hate to feel embarrassed about minor mistakes. Maybe we don’t have to be. We all make them and, in our attempt to cover them up, we could be making other people feel insecure about their own minor mistakes, causing a chain reaction that could end up as a lunch-time conversation and blog post.

There you have it… #deepthoughts

Hey, guess what? I try to post something ever so often. Some things are what I would consider witty (hopefully you do too), others are deep dives into the world around us, and still others are book reviews. If you’re into that kind of thing, consider subscribing. The only emails you’ll get are when I post a new story so yay! No spam!

Mom – the survivor

No, this isn’t some script to a creepy horror movie about an evil mother. As a matter of fact, it’s like… the exact opposite of that.

Let’s start with tragedy

“Geez Erik, way to pull us down.”
Well, we need to go here to appreciate what comes next.

My dad doesn’t remember a time when his mother wasn’t sick. She was diagnosed with cancer when he was young and his earliest memories are of her confined to her bed and him driving little toy cars over the mounds her legs made in the covers. He remembers her being weak and frail. The simplest of tasks would wipe out her energy for days.

This story (one I’ve shared in a previous post) is the most vivid memory he has of his mom.

His father (my grandpa) built a series of reflecting pools that fell into one another. These pools were filled with small, shiny pebbles and the water was pulled from a creek that ran through his back yard. There was a five foot drop from the second pool to the last pool.

One day, my dad was playing in the empty pools that had been drained for who knows what reason and he fell from the second pool to the last pool. He landed flat on his back, embedding dozens of these small pebbles into his soft flesh. The fall knocked the wind out of him, and once he could breathe again, he started screaming.

He remembers seeing his frail mother in her white pajamas shuffling toward him and, despite being a 5′ tall woman who had lost most of her muscle mass and body weight to the tortures of 1950’s cancer treatment with near-zero energy levels, scoop him up with unseen, superhuman strength, lift her injured boy and carry him back across the yard to the house. She laid him in bed and plucked each stone out of his back.

This physical exertion wiped out his mother’s strength and my dad doesn’t remember her ever recovering.

On November 18th, 1960, David’s mommy died.
He was 7 years old.
He was the youngest of 7 children and his older sister once told me,
“When mom died, you could see the light just disappear from his eyes.”

How does a parent explain this to a 7 year old?

I spoke to him this past Wednesday at lunch. It has been 60 years since she died and he still struggles to talk about his mom without getting emotional.

28 years to the day after she died, on November 18th, 1988, his youngest son (me) was born. My recent birthday is bittersweet for him.

My Mom

For those who have met my mom, I don’t need to say much. For those who haven’t, let’s just say she marches to the beat of her own drum. No one, and I mean no one, tells her what to do or what to think. Her Dutch pride and stubbornness were most definitely passed on to my siblings but somehow must have skipped me…

She protects her family like a ferocious mama-bear, willing to fight an actual bear if her kids (and now grandkids) are threatened. She likes to tell the story of my oldest brother in elementary school getting picked on by a couple older boys. My brother came home crying and spilled the beans on what had happened. My mom tracked those two bullies down and, in what would probably get you and I arrested these days, not-so-gently showed these kids what happens when you pick on one of Barb’s kids.

She is one tough cookie who could probably still kick the crap out of me (if she could catch me).

Unfortunately, she and my dad had a rocky marriage. I love them both to death but they spent nearly two decades in an unhappy marriage… for me.

A Crazy Time

The spring of 1996 was a whirlwind. I was in 1st grade and love was in the air. I had just developed my first crush on a girl and, looking back on it, did not handle this crush well. I spent the next 5 years shying away from talking to her, saying a total of probably 10 words to her over that time. However, I did later name one of our dogs after her so you can’t say I’m not romantic (and a bit creepy).

Back to the story… in April 1996, my mom and dad got some heavy news and had to explain something that I wouldn’t fully understand until later.

“Punkin (what my mom still calls me), your mommy has cancer.”

If you’ve been paying attention to dates, you’ll now realize that my 7th birthday was 7 months away. Once I connected the dots, I started crying uncontrollably. She grabbed me, sat me on her lap, and held me while trying to console her bawling son. She asked what was wrong, because surely a 6 year old couldn’t know what that all entailed.

I forced out one word at a time between gasps of breath and sniffling my nose.
“I… don’t wanna… be… like… dad! Buwaaah!”

My mom, slightly confused, assured me that she didn’t want me to be like my dad either.
“Oh Erik, I don’t want you to be like him either! He’s a strange, lazy man with no real ambition and you don’t have to be like him.”

Now I’m confused…
(Still sniffling and struggling to breathe) “No mom… I don’t… want… my mommy… to die… when I’m 7… like his mom… died… when he was 7!”

Mom: Oh, yeah… that too…

Fears

My mom’s biggest fears were not seeing me grow up and not being able to know her grandkids. She was on the phone with her best friend at the time and expressed these fears to her friend with my older sister sitting next to her. When she hung up, my sister told my mom that she was pregnant with what would be my mom’s first grandchild.

Treatment

The next year was packed with hospital visits.
In May, my mom started chemo. For that summer after chemo, my parents and I traveled the state because Utah had a little county passport you could get stamped by visiting each county. The county I remember the most was Kanab because my mom spent a few years as a kid living there. She showed me where her elementary school was. I didn’t realize it then, but my parents were trying to spend as much time together and with me in the event things didn’t turn out well.

The chemo caused her to lose her hair. Her hair would start growing back and I remember running my little hand over her head and thinking it was the coolest feeling in the world. But then her hair would fall out again with another treatment and she would have me pluck the little puffs of hair out of her head.

In September the stem-cell rescue (bone-marrow transplant) began. She had no immune system to fight anything and the slightest cold would have killed her so she had to be isolated in the hospital for a month. I could see her occasionally, but we had daily phone calls during the TV show Wishbone where she and I would sing the theme song together and talk about that day’s episode.

October: My mom’s first grandchild is born. She lived to see it.
November: Radiation and my 7th birthday.
December: On Christmas Eve in 1996, she graduated from radiation and went into remission.

Near Death

In April, my mom wasn’t feeling well. She went to the hospital and it turned out that she had a gall stone that was causing serious damage. The stone split in two with one half lodging itself in her liver and the other half in her pancreas.

She was put into an induced coma as they operated on her. They cut her open from her sternum to her belly button and later she learned that they had lost her for a full minute before bringing her back to life. The doctor told her later that he had operated on the exact same situation 2 weeks before, but that girl didn’t make it. My mom was lucky to be alive.

Can we get back to normal?

In May of 1997, my mom went back to work. Let me remind you that this is a month after dying and coming back to life. My mom is amazing.

And life was getting back to “normal.”

In August, just 9 months into remission, the cancer came back, this time in her hip. To make matters more uncomfortable, because of her compromised immune system, she got chicken pox again.

After another round of radiation, she was back in remission.

Incredible Odds

My mom was put in a support group of 10 other women going through a similar thing at the time. My mom was the 2nd oldest of the group at 43. They were all given 5 years to live.

This group would meet occasionally to go to lunch and provide support. They discontinued these get-togethers because one by one, others in the group would deteriorate and pass away.

At the end of 5 years, only my mom and one other lady were left.
80% mortality rate.

It’s estimated that 253,450 women will die this year from cancer.
That is 253,450 baby girls whose parents have to watch their daughter wither away and die. That is made up of wives whose husbands are now left without the love of their life. That is made up of young mothers whose kids will be raised without a mom. That is made up of soon-to-be grandma’s who won’t get to see their first-born grandchild.

5 months from now marks the 25th year that my mom has survived cancer. Using that 253,450 number per year, 6,082,800 women have died from cancer since my mom was diagnosed. The number is likely more than that given our cancer treatments and survivability rates have improved over the last 25 years.

Why was I so lucky?

Grateful that I’m not like my dad

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told that I’m just like my dad. Some say I look like him, others that we share the same humor outlook on life. My mom, whenever I did something that ticked her off would yell, “Ew! You’re just like your dad!”

I love my dad. He is my hero, but I am grateful that I didn’t share the same fate as him in relation to my mom.

My mom lived, and is still alive. She got to see her first granddaughter come into the world, and 14 more grandkids since. She retired from work after a long career and now takes care of a bunch of dogs, goats, chickens, and bunnies doing whatever the hell she wants in retirement. Things turned out pretty good.

My mom – the teacher
In contrast to the millions who aren’t lucky enough to be raised by their mom, I was.

And she taught me how to love.
Not just how to love, but to express that love with words, and hugs, and gifts, and time. She taught me to defend those we love at the sacrifice of our own well-being.

She taught me about the power of self-belief.
She looks back on that time with cancer and tells me how she would not allow herself to die and leave me alone. She would visualize the chemo fighting the cancer in her body. She would visualize her body’s cells destroying the cancer and telling her body to do what it needed to do so she could raise her punkin’.

She taught me empathy.
I am a religious person and genuinely believe that the only reason she survived when others didn’t was her Dutch stubbornness…

I joke. I believe there was divine help. I feel fortunate that technology had progressed as far as it had between my grandmother and my mom in the treatment of cancer. I am grateful for the friends, family, and neighbors for the cards, meals, prayers, and countless acts of service for my family during that time and since.

When I think about God and miracles and the spiritual aspects of this story I struggle. In my mom’s case, there were 9 other women in her group whose families were praying and pleading with God to spare them with against-all-odds miracles. Blessings were given. Deathbed bargains were made with God in hopes of saving them, yet 8 out of the 10 didn’t get what they were hoping and praying and pleading for.

There is so much hate and negativity and sorrow and pain and tragedy in the world each and every day. The people that we meet and with whom we interact are going through unimaginable trials. Countless people are praying and hoping that they or their loved one will make it, only to learn that they didn’t. My mom taught me to be grateful for what we have, but be sensitive to the others who don’t.

I hope we can appreciate what we have, because in the blink of an eye, what we have and hold dear and cherish, could disappear.

I love you mom.

How to read 2 (or more) books a week

I posted recently about my goal to finish 2 books per week throughout 2020. We haven’t completed the year yet, but I’m just ahead of schedule.

A kind reader asked how I go about finishing 2 books per week and I thought I’d share my strategy.

Disclaimer: This is just what I do. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, nor do I promise that you’ll retain everything and be able to recite the 5th word of the 246th page on command (I couldn’t do that no matter how many times I read something).

  1. Start (or keep) listening to Audiobooks.
    2/3 of the books I’ve read this year have been audiobooks.

    I use a combination of Audible, Libby, and RB Digital.
    We have all heard of Audible by now, but Libby and RB Digital are both apps that connect to your library account. I have a card from my county library and I can check out audiobooks through these 2 wonderful apps… for free!

    I have found that Libby is the most user friendly of all three of these apps and typically has more current titles than RB Digital.

    You can rent digital books if you want to strain your eyes staring at a screen even more than you already do, or there is a huge selection of audiobooks. Sometimes you may have to put the title you want on hold, but I haven’t had any real issues finding the books I want.

    You can check out the book for 21 days which, if you follow the next step, is never a problem.
  2. Listen at 2x the speed.
    My wife first heard my little trick when she stepped into our car that immediately started playing the audiobook I had queued up on my phone, playing at 2x speed. She asked how I could possibly understand what’s being said.

    I told her, “Easy, I’m a genius.”
    She laughed.
    I then said, “While I’m going to assume you agree that I’m a genius, it’s easy to understand at this speed, watch.”

    Of course, she immediately corrected me by saying, “Uh… don’t you mean listen?”
    Good one genius.

    Anyway… most apps allow you to adjust the listening speed. You need to trick your brain into thinking that 2x speed is normal or even slow. You’ll be amazed at how quickly this happens. I set the read speed to 3x and told her to tell me when she feels it’s at a comfortable speed. I then slowly decreased the speed until she said, “Stop.”

    I said, “You’re comfortable here?! This is like 2.9x!”
    She said, “No! Stop! The light is turning red!”
    Classic back-seat-driver, (who sits in the front) always telling me how to drive.

    At the red light I continued my reduction of reading speed until she said stop again. Of course, I had to reminder her that I am stopped and it turned into a whole thing.

    Eventually, 30 minutes later, we got back to this awesome experience and we noticed that she had determined that the most comfortable listening speed was 2.15x normal. Just to show her how far she had come in life thanks to marrying me, I went back to normal 1x speed and her eyes burst open.

    “That’s so slow!”

    “Yeah… I know. Our brain is awesome!”

    (This whole episode took less than 30 seconds. Your brain figures it out crazy fast).

    I typically listen to fiction novels at 2.5 speed because I’m there for the story more than retaining details. Find out what speed works best for you.
  3. I’m always listening to an audiobook and reading a physical book.

    No, not at the same time.
    I listen to an audiobook every time I get in the car, work in the yard, go on a walk, or have an opportunity to listen to something but am unable to stand still and read a physical book.

    I set aside a time every morning and every night to read a physical book. I still get in my fair share of Netflix and vegging on the couch, but I try to get through a chapter or two (or ten) at night.
  4. Share what you learn.
    I was very lucky to work with another book worm who actually reads more books than I do (and she reads mostly physical books). We’d have jam sessions about the books we were reading, give suggestions, exchange books, and give each other books for birthdays and such.

    I have since moved to a different place of work, but I still love getting her latest book recommendations. I have a few other friends who are avid readers and we do something similar, exchanging texts, going to lunch, and just talking about what we’ve learned from our latest book.
  5. Read a variety of different genres.

    I’ve found that if I go on a streak of reading books in the same genre, I start to get burned out. For example, I’m a marketer by trade and if I read a couple marketing books, I need a break. They all start to sound the same after a while. Same with religious, self-help, steamy romance novels, etc.

    I’ve read more fiction this year than ever before, dabbling in some sci-fi, action, drama, and racial diversity pieces. I’ve also read a couple poetry books that stimulated my brain in different ways.

    I highly recommend checking out a couple books that address a topic from a viewpoint with which you disagree. Try and listen to the other side of the argument so to speak.
    Get super angry.
    Call the author and anyone who agrees with him/her crazy and evil.
    Get super offended.
    And then tell everyone how much you hated it!

    Or… maybe you’ll learn a bit more about other people and find you have more in common than you thought.
  6. Keep track of what you read.
    I keep a good old-fashioned spreadsheet that I’ll make available at the end of the year. I put down the date of each week and the number of books so I can make sure I’m on pace. For example, at the time of this writing and based on when this year started, to be on pace I should have read 86 books by yesterday, October 28th. I should have read 88 books by Thursday, November 4th.

    I’m currently at 88 completed books and will complete 1 more tonight and another tomorrow.

    I also put the title, author, whether it was an audiobook or physical book, and rate the book on a scale from 1-5.

There you have it. My super-secret recipe for reading (at least) 2 books a week. I’m curious to know if you have any other suggestions to keep you brain stimulated.

If you’d like to get notified when I post something else or when I make my reading list public at the end of the year, consider subscribing.

Books that will change your life

“Do people even read anymore?!”

This was the response I got recently when I mentioned that I have a bit of a reading obsession. I set a goal for 2020 to finish 2 books a week, giving me a grand total of 104 books read in a year. (I documented the results here)

I asked for recommendations on LinkedIn & Facebook for the last 10 books to finish off my list with the caveat that only life-changing books be recommended.

I needed 10, I got 50… then 60… then 70… now we’re at 89!

Since I now have a whole list of books to read, I figured some of you may be interested in a list of life-changing books…. so… here is the list.

Title – Author – Recommended by
Bolded titles are books I have read (and also recommend).

TitleAuthorRecommended by
1The Spy and TraitorBen MacintyreMort Jorgensen
2Good to GreatJim CollinsDevin Peterson
3SapiensYuval Noah HarariAndrew Merino
4The Audit PrincipalArbinger InstituteMichael Deru
5How Will You Measure Your LifeClayton ChristensenIan Shields, Mike Zahajko
6The Undoing ProjectMichael LewisIan Shields, Jack Saunders
7The Obstacle is the WayRyan HolidayJoe Chacon
8Ego is the EnemyRyan HolidayKyle Ivins
9Stillness is the KeyRyan HolidayKyle Ivins
10RangeDavid EpsteinKyle Ivins
11Leading an Inspired LifeJim RohnEtu Moli
12The Hard Thing About Hard ThingsBen HorowitzEtu Moli
13The Slight EdgeJeff OlsonEtu Moli, Aaron Livingston
14The AlchemistPaulo CoelhoJordan Hanks, Sam Christensen, Dylan Anderson
15When Breath Becomes AirPaul Kalanithi Lauren Colby
16Being MortalAtul GawandeLauren Colby
1712 Rules for LifeJordan PetersonLauren Colby
18Leadership and Self-DeceptionThe Arbinger InstituteLauren Colby, Mike Zahajko
19Bonds that Make Us FreeC. Terry WarnerLauren Colby
20EssentialismGreg McKeownLauren Colby, Laura Stewart
21UnbrokenLaura HillenbrandLauren Colby, Melissa Macleod, Rachel Ray
22Born to RunChristopher McDougallLauren Colby, Jeff Larson
23Natural Born HeroesChristopher McDougallLauren Colby
24The Way of Kings Brandon SandersonJonathan Slaven
25The Boys in the BoatDaniel JamesJordyn Parry, Chrissy VanLeeuwen
26The Day The World Came to TownJim DeFedeJordyn Parry
27The Year of LessCait FlandersJordyn Parry
28SeabiscuitLaura HillenbrandMelissa Macleod
29Think Like a MonkJay ShettyDrew Worth
30Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant MessiahRichard BachStephanie Cannon
31EducatedTara WestoverTobi Bishop
32Watership DownRichard AdamsTobi Bishop
33Enlightenment NowSteven PinkerJack Saunders
34The Righteous MindJonathan HaidtJack Saunders
35The Coddling of the American MindJonathan HaidtJack Saunders
36Something Deeply HiddenSean CarrollJack Saunders
37BreathJames NestorJack Saunders
38The BibleManyRyan Ray, Tom Burton
39The ApocryphaManyRyan Ray
40The NightingaleKristin HannahMia Sliwoski
41Born a CrimeTrevor NoahMelissa Macleod
42FactfulnessHans RoslingMelissa Macleod
43The Moment of LiftMelinda GatesMelissa Macleod
44The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleStuart TurtonMelissa Macleod
45DuneFrank HerbertRon Case, Mike Zahajko
46Happiness Advantage Shawn AchorMike Zahajko
47Never Split the DifferenceChriss VossMike Zahajko
48Great by ChoiceJim CollinsMike Zahajko
49The Last LectureRandy PauschMike Zahajko
50The Book of MormonManyErik Soderborg, Tom Burton
51A Short History of Nearly EverythingBill BrysonErik Soderborg
52The FountainheadAyn RandErik Soderborg
53Atlas ShruggedAyn RandErik Soderborg
54Small Great ThingsJodi PicoultErik Soderborg
55Alexander HamiltonRon ChernowErik Soderborg
56Enemy at the GatesWilliam CraigErik Soderborg
57Why We SleepMatthew WalkerEvelina Petrova
58The 8th HabitStephen CoveyKat Keddington
59David and GoliathMalcolm GladwellMichael Ryan
60Moby DickHerman MelvilleCarl Ellis
61Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible VoyageAlfred LansingBogdan Gnatyshyn
62Atomic HabitsJames ClearPam Massey, Jeff Larson
63The 4 AgreementsJan Miguel RuizPam Massey, Reg Spittle
64The Innovator’s DilemmaClayton ChristensenTJ Lokboj
65PrinciplesRay DalioTJ Lokboj
66Cashflow QuadrantRobert KiyosakiTJ Lokboj
67American DirtJeanine CumminsLaura Stewart
68SiddharthaHermann HesseReg Spittle
69On the Shortness of LifeSenecaReg Spittle
70The Catcher in the RyeJD SalingerReg Spittle
71Peace Like a RiverLeif EngerPhillip Pay
72IshmaelKurt VonnegutHolly Ojalehto
73The Power of NowEckhart TolleHolly Ojalehto, Will Bowman
74Man’s Search for MeaningViktor FranklHolly Ojalehto
75I Know This Much is TrueWally LambJeff Larson
76UnscriptedErnie Johnson Jr.Scott Child
77Trillion Dollar CoachEric SchmidtChristopher Corbett
78The Promise to the OneJason HewlettMark & Kris Marshall
79The Lost Secret: Unlocking the Hidden Chapters of Napoleon Hill’s think and Grow RichMonica MainMark & Kris Marshall
80You are the GuruGabrielle BernsteinMark & Kris Marshall
81The Lincoln HypothesisTimothy BallardMark & Kris Marshall
82How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleDale CarnegieBrad Ball
83Americana: A 400 Year History of Capitalism in AmericaBhu SrinivasanBrad Ball
84CasteIsabel WilkersonLisa Bonta Sumii
85Be Our GuestJames Allworth & Karen DillonTom Burton
86Get a GripGene Wickman & Mike PatonTom Burton
87TractionGene WickmanTom Burton
88Value Proposition DesignerAlex OsterwalderTom Burton
89Extreme OwnershipJocko Willink and Leif BabinNathan MacDonald

What books am I missing?

(Not good) Evolution since 1776

I just finished reading Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. This is the catalyst that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create the Broadway hit, Hamilton.

This book is absolutely fascinating.

I had seen the musical and listened to the soundtrack (about a million times), and finally got around to reading this 808 page masterpiece. Chernow goes into every personal and professional detail of arguably THE most influential founding father of our country. His drive, work ethic, writing genius, and oratory mastery framed the constitution, our financial systems, and made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms we do in this county.

The biggest takeaway (other than Hamilton being one of my new heroes and making it onto my table of historical figures with whom I’d like to have dinner) was how dirty politics were at the founding of our country.

When political power is up for grabs, humans resort to the lowest of low by lying, cheating, and name-calling.

Ken Burns said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but human nature remains the same.”

Here is a small set of slandering comments made about various founding fathers made in the press. A handful were true, but the vast majority were blatant lies.

George Washington
Hamilton’s puppet, a coward on the battlefield, a British agent, a power-hungry monarch intent on ensuring the presidency was passed on through his family line, and incompetent both in war and government.

Alexander Hamilton
Accusations against Hamilton were many and I won’t list them all, but see if they sound familiar given our current political environment.

Impure blood, an illegitimate bastard, financial fraud, misappropriated federal funds, racketeering, bribes from other countries, spying for the British government, working to establish a monarchy, rape, incest, and countless extramarital affairs (one was confirmed to be true, many accusations were made).

Aaron Burr
Rape, incest with his daughter, hiring prostitutes, blackmailing women into prostitution, breaking up marriages by sleeping with women based on political position, abuse, and murder.

Thomas Jefferson
Spying for the French, adultery, rape (both of white women and slaves), abuse, desertion.

Again, some of these accusations were true (mostly the extramarital affairs). Most were not.

Several founding fathers either created newspapers with the sole purpose to slander opponents, hired writers at other papers to make up false accusations, wrote these horrible accusations themselves under pseudonyms, or did all three (Thomas Jefferson).

When we look at the political circus of our country over the past 250 years, when political power is up for grabs, human nature doesn’t change. Both sides revert to mudslinging of the worst kind, and we have to ask ourselves, “are we just puppets?”

What’s crazy to think about is that we have heard almost every single one of these accusations against the past 4 presidential candidates (Obama, Trump, Clinton, Biden).

Why do we let ourselves fall for it?

When will we see that we’re all being played by a system of political and media control that wouldn’t have a job if they didn’t incite hatred, disgust, violence, and scandal?

Maybe we don’t realize that it’s all a big game. Maybe we don’t believe we’re being manipulated in efforts to tear us apart, outrage us against other human beings, and shovel money toward media companies and political causes.

Maybe we are so determined to be ‘right’ that we’re looking for others to slip up, fail, and embarrass themselves so we can feel better about our own lives. Even if we’re wrong, we feel better about ourselves if those with whom we disagree politically do something wrong… and we find joy in it.

That is dangerous.

We are no better than uninformed colonial Americans reading the gazette.
In fact, we’re worse.

It’s gotten so outrageous that we believe, ‘like’, and share blatantly photoshopped images of our political foes in compromising positions. We believe Facebook and Instagram memes to be truth because we read words with which we agree in a nice font, set on a thought-provoking background.

Fake screenshots, misattributed quotes, and phony websites are true if they post what we agree with, but totally false if it’s something with which we disagree.

It’s easy to look back at history and think, “Man, they were so gullible!”

WE are the gullible ones.

I’m sorry, but your sources are no more credible than ‘their’ sources. All major media outlets have been caught falsifying stories, spreading propaganda, and faking coverage. We can easily recognize Communist propaganda (now Russian propaganda… funny how it’s always their fault), but we can’t recognize the propaganda being peddled in our country.

What do you think the Russians are saying about our media?
Hint: Propaganda

This started as a recommendation for you to read (or listen to) the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

It still is.

I loved it. Hamilton was a genius who did some stupid things. He was a loving husband who cheated on his wife. He was a loving father who went long periods without seeing his children. He was a loyal friend who quarreled and ended friendships. He was an imperfect man who made several missteps, miscalculations, and serious mistakes while trying his best to make his home, family, community, and country better.

Sounds like just about every person I’ve ever met.

We can choose to focus on the good people are trying to accomplish, or we can focus on their mistakes.

I genuinely believe that people on the Right and on the Left want to be safe. They want to feel protected. They want their families to be safe and their children to have opportunities in life that they themselves never had. They want to find more financial freedom. They want to enjoy luxuries in life. They want meaningful relationships with others.

We are more similar than different. And just because I have a different idea of how to get these things doesn’t mean we’re right or wrong, righteous or evil (we’ll write a post on that later).

We may disagree on things, but I’m working on trying to understand both sides of an issue rather than searching for fault on one side with a microscope while burying my head in the sand when something uncouth pops up on my side.

We can’t control how our beliefs are portrayed in the media. We can’t control what others believe, say, or do.

But be kind, both to people you know, and the people you don’t.
They could be going through the unimaginable, so give them the same lenience you would expect from others towards yourself.

You can control that.

What’s most important

They told me to work hard and forego the play.
Then others told me no, you must “seize the day.”

“Family can wait, more money should come first.”
“No, my friend, I’m sorry, but you’ve got those two reversed.”

“Good health is most important to living a good life.”
“Woah, hold on, the real question is how hot is your wife?”

Who am I, and what should matter most to me?
Can I just pay somebody else to tell me who to be?

Gurus and leaders endless ‘truths’ will impart,
and all their fancy books are recommended for my cart.

Influencer photos with nothing real to show,
All throw out their advice saying, “trust me, I know.”

Who am I to doubt everything they say?
Yet here I am still thinking, “Who are they anyway?”

Life is a cascade of different kinds of choices.
Each getting more confusing with all these different voices.

Maybe they’re right. Or wrong. I’m really not all that sure.
But, who will I allow to guide my own life tour?

Is it God, Karma, or some other guy on LinkedIn?
Or am I all alone, and should give up on all this thinkin’?

By reading every book resting on my shelf,
Will I find someone else, while losing my own self?

So, for now, I’ll work, I’ll play, and try to get some rest.
While beginning to ignore what ‘they’ all say is best.

Maybe you’ve found what you feel is the right way.
Or maybe something you knew was true, somehow change today.

Don’t be offended if your words don’t instantly persuade me.
Hell, they could all be correct, and I simply don’t agree.

You may see this post, comment, like, and share it.
But don’t miss the point, I didn’t write this thing for merit.

These words are not some doctrine, inspired or divine.
But the one thing you must never forget,
Is that these words are mine.