My Totally Normal Addiction

I have an addiction.

I hate that I have it.

There are days when I succumb to this addiction for hours at a time and it leaves me feeling utterly worthless.

It takes me away from my family and I miss important moments in their lives.

This addiction can be crippling, even though it should be easy to overcome.

As I’ve gotten older, it has only gotten harder to avoid, and chances are high that someone in your direct family is fighting this same addiction.

How to get my attention

Growing up, there were really only three ways to get my attention. If you wanted to play, you had to write a letter (not very realistic), stop by the house and awkwardly stand on the porch hoping we were home and heard the doorbell, or call our home phone.

The actual means of directing my attention to you involved a doorbell, a phone ringing throughout the whole house, and/or a family member yelling my name on your behalf, letting everyone in the house know that you were trying to talk to me.

If we weren’t home, you either had to come back later or leave a voicemail on our answering machine (again, everyone in the house could hear that answering machine and who the message was for).

Our response could take minutes, or it could take days, and that was okay.

Middle School

Cell phones became more affordable when I was in middle school. I was in 8th grade when I got my first cell phone. It was a flip phone that could really only make around 10 minutes of calls a month and was only to be used for emergencies.

I felt so cool.

My parents were the only people with the number, so if you wanted to contact me, the steps to reach me were still the same as above.

As 9th grade rolled around, my life changed forever.

I got one of the first color-screen cell phones. This thing was sweet! Now my phone icons and the Snake game were different colors. How cool!

I still couldn’t make a lot of calls, but I could send text messages. At the time, we were billed by each message sent and received.

Now, other friends had phones. I had their number and they had mine. No shared line for my parents and siblings to monitor. No more waiting for hours to hear back from each other.

This was the magical time when we all learned that the only explanation for you not answering my text within 1 minute was that you were either ignoring my text or you had died, because we all knew that your phone was attached to you at all times.

My parents also had a tough time keeping my text message numbers below the threshold of sending us into bankruptcy.

High School

During high school, most of the phone technology available to me didn’t change much. It was still phone calls and texts going back and forth between friends. The big advancement was that you could now send pictures as well as unlimited text message plans, which saved my parents a ton of money, because I had a problem.

One day during my senior year, my dad called me into the family room and said, “we need to talk.”

He had (and still has) this specific tone of voice that conveys his disappointment, confusion, and a warning of trouble. He used this voice when he called me to the family room.

“I just can’t wrap my head around this. Can you explain to me how and why you would ever need to send this many text messages in a single month?”

He pointed to the cell phone bill and the messages associated with my number.

Total messages sent/received:
16,084

Part of me was proud. That was an impressive number and more than I had ever heard amongst any of my friends.

Then my dad started breaking down the math.

“You send or receive 518 messages every single day.”
“Somehow, you are sending or receiving 21.6 messages every hour.”

“Take away the average of 6 hours of sleep you get per day and that becomes almost 29 messages per hour.”

“You are sending or receiving 1 message every 2 minutes of every waking hour of the day.”

“How are you doing this while still being at basketball practices and games, paying attention in class, keeping up with homework, and any other activities that you wouldn’t be physically capable of having a phone in your hand?”

“Maybe a more important question is, Why are you doing this?”

His calm during this conversation unsettled me.

“I dunno,” I muttered, “I just have lots of good friends and we text each other.”

My dad let me know that things had to change. I was addicted to something he couldn’t quite put into words.

The numbers went down a bit over the subsequent months, but not by much.

Keep in mind that Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube, online gaming, and any other now-popular apps either didn’t exist or weren’t accessible to me on a phone. I can’t imagine what my high school life would’ve been like with those in the palm of my hand.

Growing out of it

After my senior year, I served a church mission. The first three months of this mission were spent in the Mission Training Center (MTC). My life was simplified dramatically. Now, the only way you could contact me was through letters or a weekly email.

No text messages. No phone calls.

For the first several weeks, while walking across the MTC grounds or while sitting in classes, I could feel my phone was buzzing in my pocket with a new message. I’d reach into my pocket just to be reminded that no phone was there, and this phantom feeling was my body creating these imaginary sensations.

Once I left the MTC, I didn’t have these false vibrations anymore. I left the MTC and went to Russia. Our companionship had a cell phone, but it was mostly just used for calls (texting in a foreign language such as Russian proved difficult). The conversations were public in that you or your companion always knew for what the phone was being used.

Life went back to being more like my middle school phone, much simpler and more manageable.

Adulting

Phone technology exploded while I was on my mission. Smart phones became more prevalent and more affordable. My first phone after getting home from the mission had access to the internet, YouTube, and the ESPN app.

Sweet!

I got a job and could now afford to pay for my phone plan. I was committed to sticking as close to my mission phone behavior as possible.

I didn’t send many texts and preferred calling people. In fact, Caitlin and I rarely sent text messages throughout our dating life. Even now, after being married for almost 10 years, we still call each other about as much as we text one another.

Well, the phones got smarter. The apps got more and more useful/entertaining/awesome.

The consequence: My addiction reared its ugly head once more.

Notifications

Your phone notifications are designed to control your attention. The consequence of that is an incredibly addictive feedback loop.

No matter what you may be doing at any given time, a notification is a little, “Hey… There’s something here and you may want to shift your attention over here… for the next 3 hours…”

A notification means someone thinks you’re important enough to want to get your attention. It’s flattering. It’s positive reinforcement that something you did was considered noteworthy to someone else. It means your attention, opinions, or thought are wanted by another person.

That’s a good thing, right?

My notifications come in these forms:
Phone calls, text messages, emails, calendar reminders, and app-specific notifications (think a Facebook ‘like’ notification, budget alert, etc.).

I send and receive WAAAAAY fewer text messages than I did when I was in high school, but what about these notifications?

I’ve run a number of experiments on myself over the past few years focused on my cell phone and the notifications I receive.

The Experiment

I set out to document every notification I received across three days. I would mark what kind of notification it was (text, call, email, calendar, app).

Side note: The first time I ran this experiment, I had just started a new job, so I wasn’t getting a heavy amount of internal or external emails related to work.

The Results

Two years ago, tallying texts, emails, phone calls, and social, my average number of notifications per day was 288.

That amounts to 1 every 5 minutes of a 24-hour day. I was getting about 7 hours of sleep per night at the time, so that, translated into notifications per hour awake equals 1 every 3½ minutes. Close to my text message problem numbers.

Now, think about the habit-forming behaviors this instills in my brain. If I am used to having a new email/text/call/calendar/app notification every 31/2 minutes, what do you think happens after, I don’t know… 5 minutes have passed?

Just like the Pavlov’s dog experiment, every 31/2 minutes I tap my phone to see if I may have missed the phone light up or the buzz when a new message came through.

I resolved to fix this.

Two Years Later

Immediately following that little experiment, I went through a bunch of the personal emails I was receiving from brands I liked or from whom I had purchased something, plus some others I didn’t even realize I was following. I unsubscribed from all of these lists.

I unsubscribed from several other email lists connected to my work email.

I disabled social media notifications like Facebook and LinkedIn (the only two I was on at the time).

Two years after the initial experiment, I remembered what I had done and wanted to see if I had made any progress.

The 3-day average of notifications: 85.
1 every 12 minutes (of waking hours). Not bad!

Today

Today, I’m somewhere in the middle, however, it’s not just notifications that are huge time wastes for me. The constant available content from video streaming services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, Disney +, YouTube, and others make it so easy to find a distraction. Not to mention scrolling through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the ESPN app.

Some content could be considered useful. How-to videos, learning new skills related to work, or online workouts can be useful. But, there are days where I spend hours watching a sporting event. Hours watching tennis and golf highlights I’ve seen 10 times on YouTube (Federer is soooo cool!!!). Hours scrolling through social media feeds. None of those are a result of a notification.

And it’s not just the phone. Screen time in general dominates my life. I tallied up the screens in our home:

2 TVs
4 Cell phones (2 active, 2 old phones the kids use to play games)
1 iPad
4 Computers
1 Video game console

12 screens scattered throughout the house and accessible at almost any time.

I spend 8 hours a day working on a computer monitor. I come home and write some pages to something I’m working on or a blog post. I’m in front of screens all day, every day.

My Addiction

Over the past decade, much of the human experience has transitioned from the physical world to the digital world. More and more of our reality is only accessible through a screen. More time is spent staring at a phone, computer, or TV, including the writing and reading of this post.

Less time is spent reading physical books. Less time is spent looking into my wife’s and my children’s eyes. Less time is spent working on my health or noticing the beautiful things and people around me.

I can’t help but think that our kids and their developing brains are not suited or capable of handling this kind of constant stimulation and connection without consequences. Hell, my brain isn’t suited or capable apparently.

I am starting to see the effects with my young kids when they are asked to put down the tablet or turn off the TV. I see the effects with teenage family members.

I have had several, yes, several friends and acquaintances whose marriages have been ruined by screen addictions even worse than mine as the husbands spend their days playing video games. They refuse to get a job. They forget to help out around the house or show attention to their spouse because they are gaming.

I hate seeing it happen with friends. I had seeing the dependence on screens in myself.

I justify it with,
“It could be worse!”
“It’s not porn!”
“It’s not drugs/alcohol/gambling… blah, blah, blah…”

It’s still an addiction.

Don’t let it happen to you.
Don’t let it happen to me. 

Oh, and my diet starts tomorrow.

New Goals and Controls

Here are a few things I am trying out in an attempt to cut down on my screen time (and I welcome any others you may have to offer).

  1. Silence is bliss
    I set all phone notifications to silent. This does not mean vibrate, this means silent. I can somehow hear that vibration noise from across the neighborhood, so vibrate doesn’t quite cut it for me. This helps me forget about it a bit so that I’m not listening or feeling for that vibration from a call or text.
  2. Specific hours of use
    I’m setting aside blocks of hours where my phone is not in my pocket, or even near me. I’m leaving it in the kitchen while I am working somewhere else.

    This strategy is applied to all screens, including the computer screen I’m staring at right now.
  3. Emails
    I have turned off the email notification at work and I check my emails during specific times of the day. I may not have any emails when I check, or I may have 20, but I have designated specific hours of the day to read and respond to emails. This helps me focus on the projects I need to get done without my attention being pulled off to other things while I’m in the middle of the creative flow.

My family needs me… and so does yours

Given the worldwide circumstances, my kids experience school through online learning now. Most of their school day they spend immersed in online learning through a screen. They take a break and want to play on the iPad. Then, they want to watch a movie, so they can stay quiet during Claire’s nap time.

Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to move them away from the screen and into sports, friends, the yard, the mountains, and the physical world.

My three kids have taken up playing catch with baseball gloves. They have a golden retriever puppy to wrestle and play fetch. They like running, riding bikes, and building nests for baby birds.

They like playing with their dad.

They don’t need me buried in my phone screen.
They don’t need me watching YouTube videos.
They don’t need me scrolling through my Facebook feed.

There is a time for all this, but it’s not while my family needs me present.

Think of the children!

If you have kids with cell phones, please think about this post. I know from experience that it is sooo much easier to just plop them in front of a TV or iPad to keep them entertained when I’m exhausted or want to browse my own phone.

We’ve had to break our kids from this pattern. We’ve caught them a few times sneaking the iPad or old phones away to play games in a corner of the house. They fight over who gets to use the iPad constantly. They shriek that it’s not fair and they really really really want to play games rather than go outside.

If you are the parent to a child that has his or her own phone, all I’m asking is to be careful. They have almost infinitely more access to almost infinitely more content (good and bad). With quarantines, this only becomes more of a problem.

The Future

The future is only moving more and more away from physical reality toward a more virtual experience.

I hope I can resist the addiction.

Maybe I’m too old fashioned.

If any of you are succeeding with this, please let me know how you’re doing it.

Sorry for the downer post, but maybe you or someone you know could use it.

PS – Is now a bad time to ask you to subscribe to this blog?

Hello middle-age, goodbye manhood

I’ve officially crossed the threshold.
I’ve passed on to the other side of life known as middle-age.

You might ask, “How does one know when this level-up status has been achieved?”
Buckle up (you’ll get the pun later), you’re about to find out.

It happened two weeks ago.

There I was, thinking that I was still this young, vibrant, embodiment of millennial manhood. I own a house (sort of). I drive a super-economical compact car (40 mpg baby!). I can change a light bulb and/or diaper in less than an hour (Caitlin usually changes our light bulbs…and most diapers… but still… I COULD change one in less than an hour… if I had to…).

Then, Caitlin said, “You know…” followed by the six words no pretend manly-man ever wants to hear:

I could really use a van.

“No… you couldn’t possibly mean that.”
“Why would you say such things?”
“What’s wrong with the small SUV that has all the kids on top of each other, enabling them to grind Ritz crackers into every orifice?”

“I thought you were used to the car seat squishing your hand every time you tried to buckle the kids because they’re all smushed together.”

“Our parking awareness has really improved knowing that the kids will yell ‘This is Sparta!’ and kick the doors open as hard as possible into the next car.”

300 This Is Sparta GIF - 300 ThisIsSparta Kick - Discover & Share GIFs

She tilts her head to the side with the “give him a second, he’ll comprehend what he just said in 3… 2… 1…” look.

Me: “why are you counting down?… Oh… I see it now…”

So, we’re buying a van.

Now the pun earlier makes sense, right? Get it?
Bonus points if you didn’t have to scroll back up to remember the pun.

Car shopping is the worst.

Buying a car is a miserable experience. Van inventories are low at the moment because, well, we live in Utah, and the car of choice for the larger-family-Mormon community is the minivan. Corona has also halted production so dealership inventories are slashed in half.

The private sellers for the brands we wanted either had too many miles or were too expensive, so we decided to try a few car lots.

I don’t know why, but I always pump myself up when I step onto one of these lots. I treat it like I’m about to enter a life-or-death KGB interrogation.

“You got this, Erik. Answer all their questions with another question… yeah… and don’t admit to liking anything… What else? Oh! Make sure to tell them you’d never pay that price and you’re walking away.”

Stepping onto the lot

I did all this research and found a dealership that had the three different brands we wanted to test drive. We got a sitter for the kids and drove to the dealership. En route to the dealership, I get this strange thought that this must be what it feels like when driving to a vasectomy appointment.

As Caitlin and I are perusing the lot, I come to the realization that I’m at the wrong dealership. Rather than use Google Maps, I just assumed I knew where I was going and now it’s too late… sales guy has spotted us… and is sneaking up on us by weaving through the rows of cars like Pac-Man chasing ghosts after eating a power pellet.

“How can I help you?” Zach asks.

“We’re looking for a used minivan.” I say with all the authority and manliness I can muster.

“We don’t have any used vans on this lot,” he said, “but we have several new vans that are way outside your budget. We could put you in loads of debt to get.”

Zach didn’t say that last part, but it’s what I heard in my brain.

Zach was actually super nice, helpful, and wasn’t pushy at all. He looked up other vans at the dealerships other lots for us and didn’t waste our time with sales tactics.

Good job Zach.

Caitlin gave me another one of her looks as we were leaving the lot.
It was the “I thought you did all this research and this was the place that had three vans I could take to the raceway tonight and test drive… How did you ever pass the 7th grade with those research skills? Maybe I made the wrong mate selection” look.

Surprisingly, this look has made its appearance more than once in our marriage.

We move on to the correct lot, but none of the three vans we wanted to check out looked as nice as their ads.

We’re an hour into this emasculating activity, and we haven’t actually been inside a van yet.

Unbeknownst to Caitlin, the day before, I had stopped by a dealership about 30 minutes away so I felt I had an ‘in’ here. I knew she’d love the van at this specific place, plus I felt like I connected with car salesman Clayton, so I was totally going to redeem myself and show her my superior hunter skills.

We get to the lot and the van is all ready for us to test drive. Caitlin does great. The van works and feels wonderful. It starts. It stops. You push a button to turn the car on, so that makes you feel like you’re igniting a Space Shuttle launch. Blinkers blink. Backup cameras are apparently things people have been driving around with for like 10 years. Sliding doors are amaaaaazing!

She made up her mind. This was the van.

I have to admit, it is super cute… ahem… I mean pretty cool. For a minivan, it looks and drives more like an SUV (Kia Sedona if any other men out there are looking for a manly minivan).

Here’s what a smashed one looks like.

This smashed-car image helps Caitlin realize how lucky she is that she selected a skilled car hunter like myself. We could’ve bought thaaaat.

Here’s what the one we looked at looked like. *Not actual size
Here’s another angle.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…
“Daaaayuuummm Erik! Why are you driving on a sidewalk near a pool of water?!”

The answer is, because why not? You can do anything you want in a minivan.

Also, this was taken from the internet. And I think it’s a luxury package that the van we had our eyes on didn’t have. But it gives you an idea of what we experienced… just better than what we actually experienced… It’s the Instagram age people!

Back to the story…

We return to the lot after I’ve kicked the tires and popped the hood to look at an engine that I have no clue how it works, or what to look for (but Caitlin doesn’t know that…). After admitting that I have no idea what I’m doing, she actually told me that it looked like I knew exactly what I was doing (man card still securely in possession). My seemingly-life-long friend Clayton comes out and asks how it went.

“Great! She loves it (don’t sound so enthusiastic, Erik!), I mean… there are others we’re looking at (we’re not), but if we can get to the right number, I think we’re ready to make this happen.”

“Sweet! What’s your number?!”

“If we can be out the door for $84,000, we’ll do it right now.”

…I got you, didn’t I?

You were all, “Whaaaaaat?! $84,000 for a minivan? Either this dude is way more loaded than we thought, or he’s got some great credit and serious future debt problems.”

I’m not going to tell you what our number was, but I let Clayton know where we needed to be and he told us he’d go get the finance manager to start talking money.

How car dealerships screw you (sorry for the language mom)

Car dealerships work around the quadrants below:

If you think you’ve negotiated them into a great purchase price, chances are, they got you in 1-3 other quadrants.

We didn’t have a trade-in because we had sold Caitlin’s car earlier that day. This meant we had one less quadrant to negotiate. This also meant that we needed a car ASAP, which put us in a poor leverage position.

What gives car salespeople and dealerships a bad name is that they won’t just come out and say what’s going on. It’s all a deceptive, shady, shell game of try and find where we’re charging you more than we need to. I acknowledge that I am speaking in generalities. Disclaimer: Not all car dealerships and salespeople are straight up liars.

Another disclaimer: The dealership from which we purchased our van was full of straight up liars. And earned the title of the most shady, deceptive, worst buying experience I’ve ever had. Hands down.

I’ll let you know where at the end of this.

As soon as we started talking numbers, everything went absolutely crazy.

Fees

You benefit from the results of our hour-long back and forth to get at what fees they were charging us. Clayton passed us on to Kyle to talk finances and then Clayton went to help other people. It took Kyle three trips back and forth to his manager to give us an itemized list of fees. These fees totaled $4,500 more than the list price.

Necessary Fees:

Tax, title, license – These aren’t fees you can negotiate and are paid to the state, not the dealership. The sales tax rate where we purchased our van was 7.25%. Title and license was another $160 or so.

Dealer documentation fee – From what I understand, this isn’t something you can really negotiate. The dealership charges this to everyone. You can’t get rid of it, but you can try and get them to reduce the purchase price by the doc fee amount. The dealers we spoke with ranged from $260 – $300.

Unnecessary Fees:

Vehicle preparation fee – This is a completely bogus fee they will throw at you stating that it covers the costs of preparing the car to sell. Usually this fee is between $100 – $300. Vehicle preparation is part of doing business and the fee is straight profit for the dealership.

Kyle told us their fee was $800.

I said, “No chance.”

Kyle came back to inform us that usually, they charge $1,600 for this so he was already giving me a deal at $800… but his manager gave approval to get rid of it.

VTR fee – Vehicle Theft Registration is another dealer rip-off scam in which the VIN is etched onto the vehicle’s windows and then the vehicle is “registered” into some kind of database in case it is stolen. Apparently, the registration process is optional, and you should have been informed beforehand. This fee is common across most dealerships, but you do not have to take it.

Kyle told us it was $400 and required by law.

I told him, “Nope. Not paying that either.”

Blinking Light Fee – If I didn’t want to get this deal done so badly, I would have laughed out loud. Caitlin and I asked Kyle what on earth this could be after he mumbled it in between his disclosure of the tax, title, license and VTR fees.

Kyle: Clayton already explained that to you.

Me: No, he didn’t.

Kyle: … *stares at me and shrugs*

Me: … *stare back confusedly at Kyle*

Kyle: … *repeats his stare-shrug*

Me: … uh… will you please explain that one to us?

Kyle: *rolls eyes* We installed a blinking light on this car so when you brake, the brake light blinks. This way, people don’t tailgate you and run into you when you stop.

Me: Are you serious right now?

Kyle: Yes, it’s an upgrade and is a fee you have to pay.

Me: We’re not paying those. I’ll pay this much for the car, I’ll pay tax, title, license, I’ll pay the doc fee. Not paying any of the others.

Kyle: Let me go talk to my manager.

Kyle came back and said we have to pay the VTR fee and Blinking light fee. Caitlin and I both stood up and walked out.

The next day

Our sales guy Clayton wasn’t around for our fun finance talk with Kyle. Once we left, I sent Clayton a message letting him know we had to walk away.

The following day, Clayton and I connected. He wanted to know what my out-the-door number had to be to make it happen. I told him. His manager approved a number close enough, so I told him we’d do it. I also asked if there was anything else. I didn’t want to make the 30-minute drive to the dealership if they were going to pull some bait and switch on me. He assured me they wouldn’t.

Financing

This brings us to our last quadrant.

After arriving at the dealership, I got to wait for 45 minutes as another person was finishing up in the finance office. No one entered nor left the finance office in those 45 minutes so this ‘other person’ must be able to disapparate or is wearing an invisibility cloak…

I did, however, look up if Utah was a one-party consent state, allowing me to record the upcoming conversation, with me being the one party to consent. Utah, as of this publishing, is a one-party consent state.

Even though Kyle had assured me the previous day that they work with my credit union and that I could make any down payment I wanted to get my monthly payment where we needed it to be, the new finance guy, Cord, told me something else. Cord told me that I could not buy the car at that price unless I put $0 down and financed the whole deal through their bank at double the interest rate at which I had already been pre-approved.

Cord also tried to sell me an extended warranty. I said no. He then continued trying to sell the extended warranty to me for 15 minutes, eventually resorting to the tried-and-true sales tactic of calling me stupid and ignorant. I guess that works on some people?

Cord told me I agreed to these ridiculous finance terms by pointing at a handwritten paper from the day before that had “6-(indistinguishable scribble)-dealer.”

After walking away from the deal again, another manager was brought in. Concessions were made.

I didn’t end up getting the warranty. The other manager allowed me to make a down payment. I got an interest rate between where my pre-approval letter sat and their absurdly high rate. Cord told me I was essentially robbing the dealership and that I should just not make the down payment the manager told me I could.

I made the down payment. We got the van.

Yay.

Learn from my mistakes

Not all car buying is this miserable (I hope). Actually, my stepmom has worked at a car dealership for years and was helpful through all of this. I would’ve gone through her dealership (Rand’s Auto), but they didn’t have any vans at the time.

Here are some tips:

  1. Negotiate each quadrant individually

If you have a trade in, negotiate that price independent of the other quadrants. Repeat for each of the other quadrants. Your purchase price should not be dependent on any of the other quadrants. Same goes for fees and financing.

2. Have these negotiations when you don’t need a car that day. Being able to walk away is a wonderful thing. Not being able to end the day without a car is not a wonderful thing.

3. Watch out for the guilt trips.

Cord told me multiple times that they weren’t making any money on this deal. He told me I had agreed to the absurd terms by having a paper that said 6 ~~~ dealer.

If the dealership tells you that they aren’t making any money on the deal, that’s not your problem. Chances are, they still are making money, and if they aren’t, that’s their fault for buying a car above what they could sell it for. It happens in business. They won’t sell you the car if it doesn’t make sense for them. Just like you shouldn’t buy the car if it doesn’t make sense for you.

4. Watch out for fake-fee deals.

They’ll tell you they usually charge $X but are only charging you $Y for a made-up fee.
Not your problem.

5. Plan on 1-2 hours of finance negotiation and signing.

It was 2 hours from when I got to the dealership agreeing to a specific price to when I left with the car and frustrated as ever.

6. Try to plan your purchase around the end of the month

We went at the beginning of the month. Probably would’ve had more success if we had waited a few more weeks.

Happy wife, happy life

I didn’t get all I wanted. In fact, I’m pretty sure I got swindled and hosed big time. But, Caitlin and the kids love the van.

My manliness is as low as it usually is, and I have officially entered middle-age-hood.

It feels… like I should probably be walking around in sandals with crew socks now.

I guess it could be worse.

PS – Caitlin has asked me my thoughts on a vasectomy… I feel like the minivan has accomplished the same desired outcome.

PPS – The dealership was Tim Dahle Nissan in Bountiful.

Clayton, the sales guy, was super nice and super helpful. I’m sure he sees this every day and has deals fall through once he passes them to the finance squad.

The salesperson seems to play the good cop role while the finance guys are the bad cop/straight up d-bags, followed by another good cop manager.

I have never recorded a conversation like this before, but I had the strange feeling that they were going to try something shady. The entirety of the purchase-day conversation is recorded in case one of them happens to read this and wants to try and defend themselves.

My run-in with the cops

It’s 2:45 am.

I’m on a train moving through southwest Russia, out in the middle of nowhere, right in the jaws of winter.

I’ve just fallen asleep after hours of trying.
It seems like the more you think about falling asleep, the harder it is.

I’m in a coupé (koo-pay). For those who don’t regularly travel on trains, this is a small, private room with four “beds.” The picture gives you an idea of what we’re dealing with.

Sleeping pads fold down and you’re provided with a pillow, pillowcase, linen (a sheet) and a blanket. As with most public transportation (and blankets), this coupé (and blanket) isn’t built for people over about 5’10,” so with me being 6’ 4,” these became quite uncomfortable, quite quickly. I’d have to lay sideways and tuck my legs in so I would fit on the platform (and cover my freezing feet with this tiny blanket!).

This is part of the reason why it took so long to fall asleep. I would instinctively straighten my legs only to be met with an ice-cold wall that seemed to be getting closer to me. The sleeping pad was about as soft as kitchen tile and it and my pillow smell like they’ve seen 50 years of smoke, alcohol, urine, and probably death…

…but I digress.

It’s 2:45 am and I have just… drifted off… to sleep…

The nightmare begins

…BANG!

The coupé door crashes open and flashlights are blazing a foot away from my eyes, blinding me and my travel-mate. Russian police are yelling at us and it takes me a few seconds to clear out of the sleepy fog.

“Am I dreaming?”

It’s freezing. And loud. Nope… this is not a dream.

The police are telling us to get up and show them our documents or we’ll be arrested. I reach under my musty, smoke/vodka/urine/death pillow where my passport and train ticket are lying and flip to the pages that confirm that we are here legally and that we purchased a train ticket.

“Give them to me!” demands the police officer, “let me hold it so I can see.”

He is standing above me, inches away, because again, these coupés are not designed for 4 people to move about freely.

“You can see it, but I’ll hold it.” I croak in my tired, hoarse, sexy voice in what I’m sure is a thick American accent.

“No, I want to hold it.” the officer responds.

“I’m sorry, I’ve been instructed by your government not to give my passport and ticket to anyone. You may look at it, but I’m going to hold onto it. By the way, I’m going to need both of your badge numbers.”

“You don’t need our badge numbers, just give us your passport.”

“Officers… you’re not the first we’ve dealt with and you won’t be the last. We know our rights here, and it is our right to have you identify who you are before we hand anything over. My passport and ticket are right here, and I’m happy to show them to you, but I need your badge numbers.”

They reluctantly rattle off their badge numbers, combining several of the numbers into one word. I write down the numbers and show them my passport, firmly gripping it with both hands.

The officer shines his light on mine while his counterpart does the same for my travel companion. He reaches for my passport to try and pull it away and I pull it back, similar to playing keep-away from my nephew with a ball he wants to try and steal.

“Uh oh! Too slow! Hahaha!”
(I didn’t do this in this particular moment)

I ask him if he has any other questions and he says no, reminding me that next time I should let him take my passport.

It’s 2:55 am.

I’m in the middle of Russia. I am cold. I am tired. I am irritated. And I’m not going to be sleeping the rest of the night.

This wasn’t the first time

While serving a church mission in Russia, I traveled. A lot.

For 7 of the 21 months, my companion and I would travel between all of the cities in our mission several times over, visiting every missionary in every city. We’d be on the road or rail to a different city every 3 days or so, sleeping on trains, floors, couches, busses, and taxis.

Our mission was roughly the size of Texas and if traveling from the northern-most city to the southern-most city, you could expect a 12-14 hour train ride. A more common ride was from the mission center to some of the outer cities. These trips were about 8 hours. We’d get to other cities by bus, taxi, or a version of light rail, but the train rides were something else.

Train rides meant you at least had the chance to fall asleep for more than an hour at a time. That wasn’t happening on a bus, taxi, or light rail. I never mastered the ability to sleep restfully while sitting straight upright in a bus seat or against a window with my head slamming against the glass whenever we hit a pothole.

Fun fact, Russian roads had a lot of potholes 10-12 years ago.

At least with a train, it was mostly private, you could lay down (sort of), and often times the repeating thuh-thump of the wheels along the track could be quite soothing. The banshee-scream, screeching brakes were not so soothing and woke you up every hour or two at each stop.

Sometimes we’d have other people join us in our coupé, but usually only if the train was close to capacity, and this is important, because any time we were joined by a fellow Russian travel-mate we never had any issues with the police. Not once.

However, every time we traveled in a coupé by ourselves (two Americans), we would be interrupted by a late night/early morning documents check. Our locked (apparently not locked) coupé would be forced open by two police officers, lights blazing, and demands to see our documents. No polite knock. No identification of who they were. Just a forced entry surprise party.

Maybe they went through and verified the documentation of all the other coupé inhabitants, but I never once heard any other doors being knocked on, forced open, or brusk voices after they moved past us.

The previous experience was near the end of my mission. I had already lived through several of these interruptions, so I knew what to do, I knew what to say, and I usually did just enough to agitate the officers, because I knew what they were up to and wanted to help them along as they came to the realization that they weren’t getting paid a bribe by me.

However, the first few times were so terrifying and unsettling that I dreaded train rides. I still, to this day, have nightmares about Russian train rides.

After a couple of these incidents, I asked our local legal representative what police officers could and couldn’t do with us, as well as what I could and couldn’t say to them. This is why I asked for badge numbers and held onto my passport.

Here’s the bottom line:

I was conditioned to distrust the Russian police by a handful of bad officers within the Russian police.

I have several stories of Russian police officers shaking us down for bribes or other instances of prejudicial targeting. Other missionaries had passports stolen by police who would then tell the missionaries they were going to be deported because they didn’t have a passport.

“But it’s right there in your hand!”

“Nope, I don’t see one.”

“Here’s $100 (in Russian roubles).”

“Oh! Here’s your passport! I didn’t see it before.”

We had missionaries taken to jail and we had missionaries barricade themselves in their apartments because rogue officers were trying to break in.

It’s just something we had to live with for 2 years, simply because we were clearly Americans and we were clearly talking about Jesus.

It didn’t seem fair.

We were hyper vigilant with paperwork, followed local laws to a ‘T’, and didn’t stay out late. We were only targeted because we looked like American missionaries.

We weren’t doing anything wrong.

Racism in America

I’ve done some serious soul-searching lately and had several conversations with friends and family members about racial affairs here in America.

This post comes well after the peak of tensions and news coverage because I guess I’m slower than most people. I wanted to think deeply about this issue and work through the problems in my head.

I’ve watched movies I’ve been told to watch. I’ve read books I’ve been told to read. All in an attempt to better understand racism and white privilege.

It wasn’t connecting for some reason. I saw and read the stories of racism and I thought to myself, “Yes, this is wrong. Are there really people out there who think this treatment of another human is okay?”

I read the explanations of white privilege and accusations that all white people are racist, and I couldn’t understand that either.

I couldn’t understand the anger. I still can’t understand the rioting and destruction of private and public property. I can’t fully empathize.

I struggle being called a racist simply because I am white. I don’t like being told that any good thing in life I have is because of my white privilege.

Racial Ignorance

I live in one of the most white-washed states in the country. Utah’s black population makes up only 1.6% of the total population. The majority of interactions I’ve had with black people have come through my former athletic endeavors, business relationships with contacts out of the state, and foreign travel.

I don’t have the life experience to know what it’s like in other areas of the country. I don’t know how bad it is. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up or raise kids outside of my sheltered area here in the Salt Lake valley. I may not ever know.

Does this make me racist?

Then… something clicked

The family and I recently went on a road trip where we had time to think, talk, and visit with friends along the way.

I had conversations with close friends and family members about all that’s going on and, admittedly, got a bit riled up and defensive around the media’s call for me to apologize for something I can’t control.

Then yesterday, for whatever reason, the train memory fluttered into my brain and a prejudice connection clicked.

The prejudicial treatment we consistently had to deal with from cops in Russia drove me nuts. I grew to distrust the Russian police. I would avoid eye contact with them. I would cross to the other side of the street if I saw them. I felt like their job was to track us down and bully us into a bribe.

Did every Russian cop bully, intimidate, and try to use us to pad his income?
No.

Did the majority of them?
No. Although, even Russians admit that the cops are notorious for seeking bribes.

Did some of them treat me poorly and cause me to distrust all of them?
Yes.

I had to endure the train interruptions, late night knocks on our apartment door, and “random” car searches at all checkpoints for 21 months.

Remember, I volunteered to go to Russia in the capacity of a church missionary and make it obvious who I was.

Now imagine having to endure that kind of behavior, only much, MUCH worse, over generations, for things you did not choose and could not control.

Only one generation removed

I am only one generation from Emmett Till, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, and Bloody Sunday. My parents were alive during each of those events. In even the not-so-grand scheme of things, that’s really not a lot of time.

These major events are the more talked about examples of racism in the 50’s and 60’s, but countless other violent occurrences were happening.

Every. Single. Day.

For centuries.

If one of my children ever decides travel to Russia, given my personal experience in dealing with Russian prejudice during my 21-month stint, what advice do you think I would give to him or her?

  1. Make sure you don’t let your paperwork out of your hands.
  2. Be careful while traveling.
  3. Be wary of the cops. They will find any chance they can to extort you for money.

Now, let’s focus (for simplicity’s sake) on if you are black, lived through the Civil Rights Movement, and experienced acts of prejudice and violence first-hand from law enforcement, the government, and private businesses.

What advice would you give your kids who are now my age?

  1. Make sure you don’t… let a white person think you’re flirting with a white woman? (Emmett Till)
  2. Be careful while… choosing a seat on the bus? (Rosa Parks)
  3. Be wary of… police officers? They will find any chance they can to get you. (Bloody Sunday)

Is this advice really that far-fetched given the life experience?

I don’t think so.

But, I don’t buy it

Does genuine, horrible, uncalled-for racism exist?
Yes.

Is every white person a racist?
No. Despite what certain talking heads and books may claim.

That is, as long as we can agree on the same definition of a “racist.”

Oxford Dictionary definition
Racist – a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

An audiobook I listened to recently stated the following (not a direct quote, but a summary)

“White people often get offended when they are called racist because they think a racist is defined as someone who believes a particular race (theirs) is superior to another. But actually, a racist means something else. A racist is any white person who cannot and will not ever be able to understand the struggles of blacks.”

Uh… I struggle to accept that definition of a racist.

Calling someone a racist carries with it highly charged, culturally shaped, evil connotations. If someone calling another person a racist is using that word to mean something other than a definition upon which we can agree, then let’s find another word.

Are many, possibly all white Americans racially ignorant to varying degrees? Yeah, most probably.

I will agree with the author that I and my fellow white men and women will never be able to fully understand the intense struggles of blacks in America.

Period.

Why can’t we white people admit that lack of understanding and not try to back ourselves out of it?

We don’t understand. We can’t understand. So, to fellow white people, let’s not diminish the struggles of the black community by shifting the narrative.

Oftentimes, we get charged up and devalue the statements of suffering we see in the black community.

I know I have… and recently… and I’m trying to work on it.

Here’s an example of a narrative shift:

“Well what about the Latinos/Native Americans/Asians/Muslims/Jews/ women/gays/religious/young/old/*insert prejudicial ‘Hello, my name is ____’ tag here?”

Stop.

I’ve just shared my train story. It was traumatic for me at the time. Do you really think it helps if, after hearing it, you tell me,

“Well, you know… Jews were sent to prison camps in trains.”
“That’s nice, but did you know that women make less than men?”
“Oh, you poor thing… it could’ve been worse and it probably wasn’t as bad as you made it out to be…”
“Blankets are the perfect size!”

Stop!

Take a deep breath.

Yes, prejudice comes in many forms.
Yes, there are several groups that have been severely discriminated against for a long time.
And yes, you’ve likely experienced some form of prejudice in your life.

But right now, acknowledging the suffering of black lives is not meant to say that other lives don’t matter or that other groups of people don’t matter.

“But wait! Chicago! Statistics! Reverse Racism!”

I know… I know… There is a place for those conversations.

Take the time to reflect. Then act.

It is okay for us to acknowledge racism against blacks and work to teach our kids that humans are humans. We are all imperfect and doing our best. We are no better or worse than others because of our race, creed, or nationality.   

I was in Russia because I hold firm religious convictions and believe that other people can benefit from turning to Jesus. Rather than stay in my house and read, I felt it was important to get out and spread the message, try and show others where faith may help, and serve people.

I think there is a lesson there.

If you believe that racism is wrong, sitting in your house behind your computer screen is a start, but there is much more you can do.

What can I do?

Most of what I’ve heard on what I can do points me to becoming more educated. Read books and watch shows that show acts of racism and courageous figures that stood up to it.

This felt weak to me for some reason. Getting educated is important, but what else can I do besides reading a book or sitting on a couch watching a movie?

Some great friends have continued to help me connect the dots with this. In addition to becoming more educated on the topic, think about spreading your convictions to others. Call out racist jokes for what they are. Call out racist behaviors for what they are. Don’t sit back and watch when you see acts of racism. Be a voice for love and kindness.

To any people of color who read this

I cannot control the fact that I was born white. I cannot apologize for something I have not done nor for something I wasn’t even alive for. I cannot speak for all whites. I can only work to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes as those who went before me. I can call out offenses and try to put a stop to them, and I commit to doing that.

To all people

We cannot control the circumstances into which we were born and raised. Racial ignorance, white privilege, poverty, wealth… we can’t control it nor can we change history. History is not there for us to change. It is there for us to see, and learn from, and build off of to enhance the good and hopefully correct the bad.

We cannot change the past.
We can influence now.
We can shape the future.

And turning each other into enemies is not the way to get to the world we want ourselves and our kids to live in.

We will not succeed until…

We will not succeed in growing individually or as a country until we stop playing identity politics and work to remove the hate within our hearts to those who are different than us.

We will not succeed in society until we stop hurting people and forcefully taking things from them.

We will not succeed if we think that because I didn’t hurt someone, it’s okay to sit back and watch others hurt people.

We will succeed when…

We will only succeed when we find respect for one another.
We will only succeed when we show kindness to one another.
We will only succeed when we learn to love each other.

But, what do I know?

I’m actually surprised you made it this far.

We should be friends.

Comment so I can learn where my blind spots are in all this.
What am I missing?

What Matters Most: : The Get Your S**t Together Guide to Wills, Money, Insurance, and Life’s “What-ifs”

Chanel Reynolds, 352 pages

Chanel Reynolds lived through the traumatic experience of her husband passing away suddenly in a traffic accident, leaving her to figure out single-parenthood, finances, insurance, and life without her spouse. As the most useful book I’ve read this year, I had to give it a recommendation with a brief synopsis of what’s in here.

The Story Itself

The book goes through Chanel’s life before, during, and after the accident. She reflects back on her mindset in the moment as she dealt with the chaos and confusion following the accident. She had to deal with things you’d never think of if you haven’t been through something like this.

What is your bank account and password if your spouse handles that?
What life insurance policies do you have personally and through work? Are beneficiaries designated properly?
What is the mortgage account number and password?
Social security number? Driver’s license number?
What to do with death certificates?
Where is your marriage certificate from the state?
What about a will? Or should you get a living will? What about a trust?
How would your spouse (and his or her family) want the funeral handled?
Buried or cremated?

These are some of the things she had to deal with and gives you practical advice on where to get started on these if you haven’t already.

The way Chanel was able to mix in the story with the practical application of things she wished she had taken care of before the accident was helpful for me. In fact, while reading I went through and checked my accounts and whether or not I had assigned beneficiaries. On 4 of the 8, I hadn’t. They are taken care of now.

I spoke to an attorney friend about a living will and trust. I made sure my life insurance policy was enough to take care of my family in the event the worst happens to us.

Caitlin and I had a conversation about what we want in the event we end up on life support, funeral preferences, and the awkward conversation of whether we’d be okay with the other remarrying. These conversations aren’t fun, but they are very important because you just never know when it is your or your spouse’s time to go.

There are what feels like a million things to worry about, but Chanel helps make it seem manageable. She also has a website in place to give additional resources and connect to professionals in specific fields (https://getyourshittogether.org/)

Support this blog and pick up the book here so I can get the $0.30 affiliate commission.

Fun fact: It’s actually called a “bounty” on Amazon. I can earn bounties if you purchase the book through my link. Sounds like a pirate’s quest or something.

Permanent Record

Edward Snowden, 352 pages

This was a cool experience. I finished reading the book and then watched the movie upon finishing the book. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt did a remarkable job playing Edward Snowden.

If you’ve ever wondered if your computer webcam is spying on you… according to Edward Snowden, the answer is yes. So is your phone camera and microphone. So is your app usage, your photos, and your web activity.

The book freaked me out if I can be open. Snowden talks about a person they were spying on. With their clearance, they could also spy any any acquaintances of the person of interest and any of the acquaintances’ acquaintances. Confused yet?

Anyway… Snowden pulls up the webcam of the person of interest’s son. He can see the son, see what the son is viewing, see the son’s son, and hear their conversation. All of this is done without this person’s knowledge and without their laptop webcam light showing that it was on.

He also talks about how the analysts would brag and show off nude pictures of girls they lifted from phones and compare. It’s not just the iCloud leak you need to worry about. If you’ve got naughty pictures on your phone or laptop… guess what… your boo may not be the only one who saw them.

Snowden gives a detailed autobiography about his upbringing, his jobs, his relationships, and the events leading up to his release of what he knew. He gives an update on where he is at the time of his writing and what his life looks like now.

He left me feeling like he genuinely cared about the privacy of not just Americans, but all internet users across the globe. I didn’t get the feeling that he had some, decade-long plan to infiltrate the government nor does it seem like he’s living a great life as a result.

The evidence he cites, laws he quotes, and policies he mentions seem to check out in that things were passed in the name of protection against terrorism that granted the government full access into anybody’s life.

Highly recommend this book if you are worried about Big Brother. I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’d rather not know, then I wouldn’t recommend this.

Buy it here on Amazon.

Fear: Trump in the White House

Bob Woodward, 448 pages

I haven’t experienced a more polarizing individual in my life than President Donald Trump.

Real estate mogul. WWE wrestler. Reality TV sensation. Womaniziner. President.

A family member of mine posts more anti-Trump content than seems humanly possible. Sometimes I wonder what this person does all day. I mean, the posts come from fake Twitter accounts, Trumps actual Twitter account, CNN, MSNBC, and other liberal sources so either this family member has a feed set with anti-Trump tags, or he or she spends A LOT of time searching for anti-Trump articles.

On the other hand, I have another good friend that is the Yin to the previously-mentioned family member’s Yang. This person is pro-Trump all the way and posts an equal amount of pro-Trump content every single day. According to this person, Trump has never said or done anything wrong. Ever. “Fake News!” to any quote, Tweet, or recording of Trump doing some pretty reprehensible stuff.

Both of these people must not have a social media policy at work because they are both all over it during work hours and their jobs have nothing to do with politics.

And here’s the deal. I love them both!

I’m no political expert

To be frank, I try not to pay much attention to politics and the media because it is a shit-storm of… well… shit (sorry mom). I paid more attention to politics in college, but it left me angry and paranoid all the time. I was more argumentative and constantly barraging my friends, wife, and in-laws with:

“The Constitution is being ripped apart in front of our eyes!”
“Can you believe how much money we spend on ______?!”
“Did you hear (insert every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard here)?”

These types of outrageous conversations have been reduced, and I’ve taken a step back from getting all worked up about every issue. My political philosophy at this point is Don’t hurt people and Don’t take their stuff (the title of an interesting book written by Matt Kibbe)

With that in mind, I came across Fear: Trump in the White House and thought, “why not?”

There is no such thing as unbiased

If someone is putting together a book, article, or statement on politics and they say they are unbiased:

I went into this book assuming that it was going to be a liberal smear piece written to scare readers into believing that Trump would usher in WWIII, all minorities would be sent to jail, and we would all lose our jobs.

The book spends most of the time covering the period from the year leading up to the 2016 election through 2018 so it kind of misses record stock market numbers, COVID-19, crazy stock market turmoil, and the Black Lives Matter protests.

True to the book’s title, it does make the case against Trump, but the author does work in some good stuff about President Trump as well.

After finishing the book, I had a tough time reconciling what I read.

Disclaimer: I’ve never met President Trump or his staff. I can’t make character judgments on the man behind the scenes. All I have to go on is what he tweets and what he says along with quotes from those around him.

Bob Woodward does his best to give context around all conversations and quotes, but who knows, maybe there’s an axe to grind and it’s all twisted a bit. I don’t know. I was pretty convinced as to the validity of the conversations discussed in this book.

The Good

The President of the United States has A LOT to deal with.

  • Here are a few of the decisions placed on President Trump’s plate, most of which have decades of history, nuanced background, and details you’d never even think of:
    Nuclear issues in Iran
    Sanctions on Iran and Russia
    Nuclear issues in North Korea
    Troops in South Korea
    The War in Afghanistan
    Consoling the families of fallen soldiers
    Tariffs and Trade talks with several countries
    Immigration
    Tax reform
    Speech after speech after speech
    Hiring high level positions, appointing high level people, and firing a lot of them
    Investigations into his campaign and personal life
    Twitter

    There are top secret discussions that we will never know about going on at the same time that should be kept secret to protect our country’s interests.

    I don’t care who you are, that is a lot to deal with and try to sort out in the middle of the countless press conferences, events he has to attend, and recreational time. No matter what you decide on any of these issues as the President of the United States, you’re going to piss off half of the country.
  • Trump cares about those in the military and their families.
    This book gives an impressive look into President Trump’s handling of fallen soldiers. The author points out that Trump’s brand is power, refusing to admit guilt, and showing no sign of weakness, but Trump gets emotional when it comes to fallen soldiers and these interactions are hard for him. It is made very clear that he cares deeply about our soldiers and he is visibly shaken when he has to welcome the bodies of those killed in combat, especially those with young children. There are several instances of Trump wanting to get our troops out of a war that doesn’t make sense to him.
  • The guy has accomplished several things that his predecessors struggled with. The author points specifically to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and China. I’ll let you read the book to get more details on that, but the author does point out that in some areas where President Obama was weak, President Trump has been able to be pretty strong.

The Bad

Based on those closest to President Trump and those who have worked with him, he is pretty clueless when it comes to how things operate. I’m not just talking politically (although he doesn’t seem to get that either), but economically and in areas dealing with international arrangements.

There are several gaffes where he attempts to make decisions that are not legal. I don’t mean criminally, I mean trying to get out of or alter treaties and sanctions or use our military in a way that isn’t under his purview.

This is part of the reason he was elected. He promised to drain the swamp and that he wasn’t going to play the political game. He was going to get things changed and get stuff done. That’s all fine and dandy, but as we’ve seen, there’s more to building a wall and getting Mexico to pay for it than just telling them to do that and them agreeing.

Meeting with international leaders doesn’t seem to go well. After such meetings, Trump talks about them being the best meetings and he and the other country leader being best friends, but those cited in the book get different feedback from the leaders themselves.

The book takes the opportunity to point out that some in President Trump’s staff spend a large portion of their time hiding documents from him hoping he’ll forget to sign an impulsive action he had earlier that day. These staffers also try to control his family members, more specifically Ivanka and her husband, as they try to push their own agendas using the President.

At the same time, President Trump despises being corrected or told he’s wrong. Loyalty is most important to him. Even when he is wrong, he expects those around him to be loyal and agree with him. He’s more likely to listen to family with no experience than generals with decades of first-hand experience.

The Ugly

President Trump has done some odd, stupid, and downright terrible things. Most of the terrible came before he was president so pro-Trumpers can back out of that all they want. Look back at what many consider great or inspired presidents and you’ll find that many were scum bags in their personal lives before and during their presidency. JFK and Bill Clinton come to the top of my mind pretty quickly in terms of their extramarital affairs, but both accomplished great things as presidents. I don’t personally believe that a president has to be without sin to effectively do the job, but at the same time, some discretion would be nice.

Get the guy off Twitter.
Several of President Trump’s staffers are quoted as saying that he needs to stop tweeting. Trump appoints officials via Twitter. Some had no idea they were a candidate for a position and Trump sends out a tweet that he’s proud to have this person on the staff. Trump doesn’t seem to have a filter and ends up having to backtrack… speaking of…

Trump straight up lies…
…a lot… and then lies his way out of those lies. Lather, rinse, repeat.
He is recorded and has tweets saying something and he will blatantly deny ever saying things. He defaults to “I never said that,” “Wrong,” or “I don’t remember ever saying that.”

It’s ugly. Try all you want to justify or twist things to make it look like maybe he meant something else, but it takes some cognitive dissonance to ignore.

Now, is he the only politician or president to lie? Heavens no.
Does, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” ring any bells?

It seems like lying is part of the job of any politician and especially the president. The difference here is Trump’s unfiltered, unhinged Twitter usage. Other presidents either didn’t have social media accounts, or, for President Obama, most of his were written (by someone else), vetted, cross-checked, and approved before sending.

The Book Itself

The book is worth the read simply to get an inside look into all the things that go into being president. There are other books that accomplish this, but if you want to get all fired up about President Trump, than pick this one up.

Bob Woodward does a good job of trying to instill fear (the title…) while still showing the good President Trump tries to do. You’ll definitely get more of a Trump’s-an-idiot vibe though, so know that going in.

Fair warning, politicians in general, along with Trump and his staff use incredibly colorful language full of 4-letter words, mostly beginning with the letter ‘F’.

The timelines and topics get pretty jumbled up and bounce all over the place. It’s not a linear, start-to-finish timeline so I got confused a few times.  

I found it interesting to hear the conversations that the president is involved in as well as the ramifications that every decision carries with it.

Buy the book here for the best online book-buying experience courtesy of Amazon. The link is my Amazon Affiliate link so if you buy through the link, you don’t have to pay any more for the book and Amazon sends me a hefty check of I think $0.03, so that’s nice. (It’s not a check. No one, especially Amazon, writes checks these days.)

P.S. In a country of 330 million people, how are my only two options Joe Biden and Donald Trump? Regardless of which party you tend to side with, can we agree that these two are just straight up loony tunes?

A tribute to dad

“Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad, and that’s why I call you dad”
– Wade Boggs

My dad is my hero.
Not because he’s perfect, just the opposite in fact.

When I was a teenager, he and I would argue about pretty much everything in an effort to out-stubborn the other. I would always win… wait no… he would win… he was the most stubborn… but I was right… so I would win.

I still remember us arguing about the fact that several intersections had cameras and sensors to detect when traffic approached so the light would change for the less-busy streets. He didn’t believe me. Even though we could clearly see there was something pointing at us. He stopped the car and told me to walk home.

When we weren’t arguing, he was my coach, my teacher, and a master story-teller. I was raised on my dad’s stories of his youth, and they were the most fantastic stories.

My dad’s childhood

My dad’s first memory of his mother was driving little cars over the mounds her legs made in the covers of her bed.
“I don’t have a memory of her when she wasn’t sick.”
His mom had cancer when he was young and was bedridden as far back as my dad could remember.

His father had built some reflecting pools that fell into the next with small pebbles in the bottom in his backyard next to a creek. There was a five foot drop from the second pool to the last pool. One day, my dad was playing in the pools and he fell from the second pool to the last pool. The water was drained so my dad landed flat on his back against the small pebbles that lined the bottom of the pool. The fall knocked the wind out of him. Once he could breathe again, he started screaming.

He remembers seeing his sick mother in her pajamas coming toward him and, with superhuman strength, lift her injured boy and carry him back to the house where she plucked out the stones embedded in his back. This physical exertion wiped out his mother’s strength and he doesn’t remember her ever recovering.

My dad tears up every time he tells the story. He taught me that there is nothing stronger than a mother’s love for her child.

His mother died from cancer not long after. He was 7 years old. He was the youngest of 7, and his older sister once told me “when mom died, you could see the light just disappear from his eyes.”

His father remarried and my dad became the 11th of 12 children, with the youngest girl getting all the attention as the little princess. My dad and his stepmom never got along and my dad was bullied by the older siblings close enough to his age to care.

In elementary school, he pulled a knife on a kid, cut off some of the kid’s hair, and told him never to mess with him again. He pushed the school piano down a flight of stairs just to see what would happen. On weekends, he’d go to the school and throw rocks at the windows to break them all out. He was a troublemaker.

My dad’s teenage years

He spoke to a pretty girl during his first day at a new middle school. Her boyfriend (we’ll call him Ken) found out about it and told my dad to meet him at the flagpole at the end of the day. A crowd gathered and enclosed him in the middle of the circle where Ken was waiting with his belt around his knuckles and two of his friends. Brave little Ken wasn’t going to give my dad a fair fight. Three on one to teach a lesson.

Luckily, the two biggest athletes in the school had taken a liking to my dad earlier that morning during some pick up basketball. They stepped into the circle on my dad’s side. Ken told them he didn’t have any beef with them, just my dad. They told Ken that’s fine, but if Ken’s two friends fight, these two would fight with my dad. Ken didn’t want any part of that.

My dad reflects on how you never know who’s watching or paying attention to what you’re doing. Try and work hard because you might just impress someone who can help you out in the future.

High School

My dad went to 3 different high schools. At the first, he stole cars for joy rides, shot arrows at houses, and tied fish line in the shape of an ‘X’ over the opposing team’s team’s basketball hoop. During warm ups, the first player went in for a layup and the ball rolled off the rim. The kid was surprised, gave a “shucks” expression, but it happens. After the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th players all saw the same thing happen, the coach went under the basket and threw a ball up from underneath, only to see it rebound right back at him. An announcement in school the next day asking for knowledge about the prankster didn’t convince my dad to turn himself in.

After his family moved to Provo, my dad had to try and make new friends. During this time, his stepmom gave his dad an ultimatum.

You see, my dad’s stepmom marked the good food for her kids and different food for my dad and his handicap brother. My dad decided to heat up some meat, potatoes, and gravy marked for the other family, but for his brother.

His stepmom confronted him, telling him that he and his brother were not allowed to eat that. He told her too bad, he was taking it to his brother. She hit the food and the hot gravy went all over my dad. She told his dad, “either he goes, or I go.”

My dad was sent to live with his sister in Southern California, more specifically Brawley. Here, my dad was a minority. The students were mostly Latino and African American, to further distinguish my dad in this town, he was one of only three seniors who were Mormons. My dad quickly gained a reputation as a good football and basketball player, earning the respect of the athletes of the school while not necessary acting like a Mormon.

One day, a group of black athletes were rounding up the white Mormons to teach them a lesson. The Church was in the middle of changing a policy that, at the time, prevented blacks from holding the priesthood. These guys had a couple Mormon boys pinned against lockers and it was clear that things were about to get violent. My dad stepped between them and said, “well then you’re going to have to teach me a lesson too.”
“But you’re not a Mormon! You’re normal.” they said.
“No, I am a Mormon, and if you’re going to do something to them, you’re going to have to do something to me too.”

They apologized and never gave them any more trouble.

My dad admits that he wasn’t trying to be a tough guy. He fully expected to get the another-word-for-crap kicked out of him, but he taught me to always stand up for your beliefs and for others, even if there’s a good chance you’re going to get beat up. “I was lucky this time, because it could’ve gone very differently.” Luckily, his earlier lesson from middle school helped him again.

While still in Brawley, a local gang leader who my dad and his friends affectionately nicknamed ‘Pizza Face’ (because of his bad acne) hit one of my dad’s friends at the grocery store while my dad was outside waiting in the car. The friend came back and told my dad about it. My dad drove to Pizza Face’s house, pulled the softball bat out of his trunk, and waited for Pizza Face to get home.

Pizza Face rolled up to my dad standing outside his car door with the bat. Pizza Face told my dad, “let me get in my house and grab my gun and we’ll see how tough you are.”

My dad’s response, “I’d like to see you make it to your house.”

Pizza Face drove away, but the principal of the high school later told my dad that he shouldn’t attend graduation because there were threats on his life.

My dad sticks up for his friends and never backs down from a bully.

Adulthood

As an adult, my dad was eating dinner at a Denny’s. There was a single black mother with her two kids eating in a booth. Two drunk white guys sitting nearby started calling her, her 6-year-old daughter, and 15-year-old son all sorts of vile names, taunting her and her children. One of the guys (we’ll call him Ken-2) grabbed a bowl of corn from the table and threw it on the 15-year-old boy’s face. The boy and his sister started crying.

My dad went over, grabbed Ken-2 by the arms and told him that’s enough.

“Oh yeah, what are you going to do about it?”

My dad was blindsided and hit in the eye by Ken’s friend (we’ll call him Jerry), and pushed into the bar. My dad grabbed a plate (if you’ve ever eaten at Denny’s you know these plates are thick), and smashed it over the Jerry’s face. He then started punching and wrestling Ken-2 until two police officers came and stopped the fight at gun point.

My dad fought against hatred and again, he hates bullies.

It couldn’t all be true… Right?

My dad told me these stories and several others throughout my time growing up, each with their own lessons that he’d learned. As I got older, I started to come to the realization that these stories may not have been 100% true, but I still thought my dad was the coolest, toughest guy around.

Just before I left on a church mission, he and I took a road trip to San Diego and passed through Brawley. We looked up one of his friends (one who was pinned against a locker in the previous story), hoping he still lived there. Turns out, he did, and he was more than happy to connect and show us around town.

The guy drove my dad and me around the town showing us what had changed and what hadn’t since my dad had left. We went to the high school where my dad’s friend went to the exact locker where my dad had defended him and his sister, recounting the story exactly how my dad had told me years before.

He drove us to Pizza Face’s house and told the story of my dad standing up to the biggest, baddest guy in town.

One historical landmark after another with the same recounting of what my dad had done to give this guy the most exciting year of high school.

It was hard to believe. My dad was telling the truth.

The best advice I’ve every received

My dad had a troubled upbringing. He did stupid things during his first marriage that took his two kids away from him. He’s made mistakes as he’s tried to navigate marriage, stepchildren, and life. He is still as stubborn as an ox and can lack tact at times, but he is the best man I’ve ever known.

Growing up, my father would repeat the same phrase to me every day. Going all the way back to elementary school, as I’d be leaving to walk to school he’d tell me,

“Do your best.”

I didn’t fully understand at the time what it meant and ran off to basic math and hopscotch.

In middle school during those awkward teenage years where I still needed him to drop me off to school, as I’d get out of the car he’d remind me, “Do your best.”

I’d roll my eyes, trying to look cool for my friends and not appreciate what he was saying.

In high school, as I’d leave home to go to school (now I had a car), before a test, or before an athletic event, he’d tell me, “Do your best.”

I thought that meant just getting good grades or winning a game.

I left home, went to another country, and tried to serve people on a church mission. I didn’t understand the language, I didn’t understand the people, and struggled with some companions. He wrote me a letter every week for two years. He’d sign every letter with, “Do your best.
-Dad”

I’d try and work harder.

Returning home, I started my higher education and began a serious relationship that turned into marriage. The classes were more difficult. The relationship was more complex than any I’d ever experienced before. The challenges and struggles were different than anything I’d ever faced. I’d go to him for advice and counsel.

At the end of our conversation he’d remind me,

“Do your best.”

Starting my professional life I began in a dead end job that frustrated me and left me feeling unappreciated. I didn’t feel like I was doing enough, making enough, changing enough. When I asked if things would get better, he’d assure me they would and say, “all you can control is whether or not you Do your best.”

Things got better professionally and then I became a father.
“How am I going to raise a daughter? How am I going to keep her safe, protect her, teach her?”

“Do your best.”

My dad volunteered for a while, teaching young adults at the local youth detention facility. These kids had committed crimes and were being held for sentencing. He would teach them the lessons he had learned throughout his life. I attended one of his lessons and the kids were discussing the cards they had been dealt.

“It’s not fair.”
“You don’t understand where we come from.”
“You’ve never had to deal with what we’ve had to deal with.”

My dad would answer that he may not know exactly what they’re going through and without giving too many details, he’d tell them they might be surprised how much he could relate.

One young man continued along the line of how could he live up to the expectations adults, judges, teachers, or police put on him.

My dad paused, looked over at me (I had been quiet the whole time just listening), and said, “This is my youngest son. Every day since he was a kid, I’d remind him of something when he’d leave my protection and go out into the world where I wouldn’t be there to keep him safe. Erik, do you remember what I told you?”

Without hesitation I answered, “Do your best.”

He looked at the kid and said, “No one expects you to be perfect. But all of us who care about you and love you hope and pray that you will always do your best. Things may still turn out differently than you had hoped, but do your best to get out of jail, get out of the life of crime, and get into better friend circles, better activities, and a more productive life.”

Now that I’m a father of three, my kids get frustrated (and scream, and yell, and cry… like… all the time). Math is “haaaard.” Reading is haaaard. School, soccer, dance, tee ball are haaaaard.

What do I tell them?

“Do your best.”

That’s all we can ever do. We won’t ace every test. We won’t win every game. We will mess up throughout our lives. But in the end, I think we’re going stand in front of our Father and he’ll ask,

“So, did you do your best?”

Thanks Dad.

Happy Father’s Day

P.S. My dad is still alive and well. He’s as stubborn and grumpy as ever, but he’s now more my best friend than he is my dad, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. When not under quarantine, we go to lunch every Wednesday to catch up on life and share what we’re dealing with.

Selflessness is Evil

“You are selfish.”

This is one of the most gut-wrenching insults a person can throw at you. It puts you into a special category of low lifes who suck the energy and resources from others to serve their own self interests.

Ironically, being called selfish is usually in response to you being unwilling to do something to serve the accuser’s self-interest, and is quickly followed up with, “You should be more selfless.”

But should you?
Is selflessness the ideal?
Is selfishness really evil?

Dinosaurs explain everything

Reflect back on preschool.

You’re a young child playing with toys in preschool and you have found the perfect toy dinosaur. Sharp teeth, a powerful tail, and bigger than the other toy dinosaurs.

Using your incredible imagination, this dinosaur is crunching all the other wussy toys and eating their innards because your dinosaur is the boss and king of this corner of the playroom.

Then Thomas waddles over.

He caught a glimpse of your dinosaur wreaking havoc on the other toys around you and now he wants a part of the action. As he sloshes over (clearly in need of a diaper change), he goes straight to the dinosaur in your hand and grabs it, trying to pull it away from you.

Luckily, you’ve learned over your short life that Thomas likes to steal your toys, so you had a death grip on your dinosaur as soon as Thomas’ scent wafted into your nostrils, betraying his sloppy attempt at a stealthy approach.

Now the real battle ensues.

You hold onto your dinosaur in an attempt to protect him. Clutching onto him as tightly as you would if he were dangling over the edge of a thousand-foot cliff, and you were the only thing that could save him from falling to certain death.

Thomas starts to realize that he isn’t going to win this struggle by brute force, so he resorts to psychological warfare.

Thomas. Starts. Screaming.

“Mrs. Hansen! He won’t share!” followed by shrieks, tears, and sniffles.

You have been cool, calm, and collected through all of this, and you try to explain in your 4-year-old vocabulary that Thomas just tried to steal your best friend.

But now Mrs. Hansen comes over to you and in a soft but stern voice says,

“Sweetie, you need to be nice and share.”

She holds out her hand.

You shake your head.

“You need to share with Thomas” she repeats.

You give in.

You hand over your partner, your friend, your dinosaur to Mrs. Hansen and she hands it straight to Thomas.

Magically, Thomas’ face isn’t red anymore.
He doesn’t have any tears of excruciating pain and endless sorrow.
His sniffles have disappeared.
In fact, he’s sneakily smirking at you behind Mrs. Hansen’s back as she lectures you on how we should be nice to others and share because selfishness is bad.

Thomas’ antics were all an act! And while he couldn’t win the physical battle, he crushed you in the psychological war as effectively as your dinosaur was crushing the other toys only a moment earlier. You start to wonder how Thomas is 4 years old and still isn’t potty trained but is somehow able to out maneuver you in this battle.

You were taught that forced selflessness was good, but there was nothing good or virtuous here. You were forced to be selfless in order for Thomas to obtain his selfish outcome. Thomas’ selfishness was rewarded while yours was punished.

Tragedies like this happen every day in preschools, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, businesses, homes, and governments around the world. The controversy isn’t always over dinosaurs (except at our house), but the tried-and-true strategy of labeling one person or group as selfish in order to get them to turn over their dinosaur to another selfish person or group has robbed many and forced them to pass resources to also-selfish second-handers.

Forced selflessness is not selfless.
Forced giving is not giving.
Forced charity is not charity.

What will they think of me?

The previous metaphor was jarring I’m sure, and I apologize for drawing up deeply buried memories of your preschool trauma, but what follows is the real evil. An evil that I believe causes more mental suffering, depression, and self-loathing than any other force in our world, and that is Self-Less-Ness.

Here are three quotes from The Fountainhead that I hope will help clarify what I mean by self-less:

  1. “It’s what I couldn’t understand about people for a long time. They have no self. They live within others. They live second-hand. Look at Peter Keating….He’s paying the price and wondering for what sin and telling himself that he’s been too selfish. In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self?

    What was his aim in life? Greatness—in other peoples’ eyes. Fame, admiration, envy — all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern.

    He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others.

    There’s your actual selflessness.
    It’s his ego he’s betrayed and given up. But everyone calls him selfish. That’s the pattern of most people.”
    – Chapter IX, Part 4, pp. 605

  2. “Listen to what is being preached today. Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men.

    He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion – prestige. A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: ‘This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me’.

    Then he wonders why he’s unhappy.”
    – Chapter IX, Part 4, pp. 607

  3. “To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That’s what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul – would you understand why that’s much harder?”
    – Chapter VIII, Part 4, pp. 576

Yikes.

When I first read these lines, they hit me like a sledgehammer right in the guilt bone.

That’s a real bone by the way.
I took anatomy in college so… I know things like this.
(The guilt bone is not a real thing).

In all seriousness, when I first read these lines, I thought about why I was pursuing the things I was in my life. At the time I first read these, I was a pre-med student with a lackluster intention of becoming a doctor.

I genuinely wanted to help people, but my whole life I had been fed the “you’re smart, you should be a doctor” line, so if enough people agree, then that is what I should do, right?

When I told people that I was pre-med and hoping to become an ophthalmologist, they would say, “oh, you’ll make a great doctor. I’ve always seen you as a doctor and successful and compliment, compliment, compliment.”

It felt good! It felt better than actually learning about the human body, because then I could regurgitate those fun facts to impress others that I was going to be a doctor.

Reading those quotes was the beginning of the end of me becoming a doctor. Because a doctor was not what I wanted to be. It was the prestige of becoming a doctor that I wanted.

I still get comments from well-meaning people about how it’s too bad I didn’t become a doctor and how that profession is so much more suitable/worthy of me than what I do now.

Uh… thanks?

What are you doing right now for others?

I’m not talking about acts of service (we’ll get to that later). I’m talking about all of the decisions you’re making every day in order to elevate the perception of yourself by performing an act that isn’t really you?

In other words, in what ways are you selling your soul and losing a part of your ‘self’ to fit in to what your friends, family, or society want you to be?

• Buying clothes that make you look like you’re in a higher financial position.
• Driving a car that makes you look like you’re well-off.
• Starving yourself to look ‘good’ for your trip to Hawaii and then telling everyone how happy you are with this diet when all you really want is to eat anything with more substance than a carrot stick.
• Working at a company you don’t believe in because that company is on the Fortune 500 list and pays well.
• Offering up how inspiring church was when the whole time you just wanted to leave.
• Loving a TV show because everyone else does and it gave you something to talk about, but deep down, you thought it was a huge waste of time.
• Buying a house you could barely afford in the right neighborhood because people told you that was the “responsible thing to do.”

The list goes on, and on, and on.

Confession time: I’ve done every one of these.

Well, what about serving others?!?!?!

Acts of service are good, right?

Right?!

Well… that depends.

What is the intent behind the act of service?
Because con artists serve others, and their motive is malicious.

Are you performing these acts of service through a genuine caring towards the person or cause that you are serving, or is there an ulterior motive?

Confession time #2: I’ve done both.

I’ve done service activities without any real concern for the cause. Instead, I hoped that it would pay off for me later, whether by looking good in front of a person of influence, or a future financial incentive.

I’ve also dropped everything to help in any way I can for people that I care for deeply or a cause I firmly believe in.

Side note: these confessions likely disqualify me from ever running for political office. Not that that was a life goal… just sayin’.

Selling selflessness with selfishness

I find it interesting that in the process of selling selflessness to the masses, the reward is still selfish. Whether it’s a million virgins waiting for you because you blew yourself up, or mansions in heaven for keeping the commandments, or social woke-ness for marching against a cause you don’t know much about, but because a friend told you camera crews would be there, you are so in.

The ends are still all selfish goals. So is it ever truly selfless?

Acts of Valor

I’ve spent a lot of time venting with a mostly negative/sarcastic voice, but I would like to take a moment and point out the real acts of valor that take place each and every day.

I’m talking about the soldier who dives on a grenade to save the lives of his fellow soldiers.

I’m talking about the mother who is home all day keeping her three kids alive, homeschooling them, and feeding them while she still finds time to work a job, take care of herself, and be an amazing wife, even though her husband doesn’t acknowledge her enough.

I’m talking about the person who donates an organ to save the life of a stranger, a friend, or a family member.

I’m talking about countless other examples of genuine goodness where people perform these acts because that’s just who they are.

It isn’t to impress a girl or boy. It isn’t to advance in life. It’s simply because deep down, what makes up the character of these people is the drive to help when, where, and how they can.

Back to the negative

Self-less-ness is evil.

The idea that we no longer have a self because we have prostituted off chunks of our soul to appease others is the evil this post is about.

More specifically, it is the Thomases of the world who know that by preying on society’s definition of selflessness they can rob others (the Thomas in the story earlier is the punk, not everyone named Thomas).

The evil is in the areas of the world that promote standards of appearance with Photoshopped thigh gaps, abs, and skinny arms in every magazine cover, advertisement, and movie that tell girls they aren’t beautiful enough so they should sell a version of their self to try and reach the unattainable.

The evil lies in the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses culture that diminishes self-worth if you don’t have the house, cars, clothes, toys, income, or job that someone else has.

The evil lies in the mass-media that forces you in one of only two camps on every complex societal and world issue, and labels you as racist, homophobic, bigoted, selfish, greedy, uneducated, stupid, or evil if you don’t 100% agree with what you’re told to believe.

Don’t fall for the trap. Humans are more complex than that.

You don’t have to be what everyone else is telling you to be.

In fact, if you are only what others tell you to be, then are you really you?

Wrapping it up

I hope you’ll join me in searching for and locating areas in your life where you may be masquerading as something you’re not, and then working to both find and live your true self.

Thank you to all the heroes out there putting their lives on the line for complete strangers, many of whom would, if given the chance, insult, berate, or kill you for serving them.

Thank you to the heroes who serve others because that’s just who you are.

You are an inspiration to me.

The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead held the top spot in my “Favorite Books” list for a long time and I recently decided to read (listen) to it again. I’m not saying it fell out of the top spot, I just don’t know that I can say I have a definitive favorite book.

My first published book review here was Atlas Shrugged, also by Ayn Rand, so I figured we’ll add her second most famous novel to round out the Ayn Rand series.

The Fountainhead (1943) was published well before Atlas Shrugged (1957) and is fewer pages than Atlas Shrugged. Don’t let that fool you though. Atlas Shrugged is 1088 pages, The Fountainhead comes in at a measly 720 pages.  

I have been told that whichever of her two novels you read first will be your favorite of the two. This review of The Fountainhead is coming second, but I actually read this book first and I do have a preference for this over Atlas Shrugged, although both are thought-provoking and impactful.

The Fountainhead highlights the difference between producers and second-handers. Instead of review, I thought I’d post some of the most meaningful quotes from the book and allow you to get a glimpse into some of the ideas that are within the book.

You will need a little context though so… here you go.

Howard Roark
The genius. The shunned architect. The hero.
Howard Roark knows what he wants, and he builds it. He doesn’t rely on popular opinion, or really anyone’s opinion. He is an expert craftsman and architect.

Peter Keating
Everybody’s All-American.
Peter took the right classes, graduated top of his class from the right school, and rubs shoulders with the right people. He doesn’t ever really know what he wants and instead, relies on the opinions of others to determine whether his work is good or not. His reliance on others’ praise as a barometer of his own self-worth leads to negative consequences in his life.

Last thing…

… before we get to the quotes (all but one of which are from Howard Roark). Read this book. Self-resolve and self-respect are encouraged. Selflessness is considered evil (I’ll put up a post on this as well). I highly recommend reading this book in its entirety.

You can purchase The Fountainhead on Amazon here. If you buy through this link, I would make a few pennies so if you’re against that kind of thing, you can find this on Amazon by taking the 3-second-longer approach of typing it into your browser.

Now, onto the Howard Roark quotes:

“Every form has its own meaning. Every man creates his meaning and form and goal. Why is it so important—what others have done? Why does it become sacred by the mere fact of not being your own? Why is anyone and everyone right—so long as it’s not yourself? Why does the number of those others take the place of truth? Why is truth made a mere matter of arithmetic—and only of addition at that? Why is everything twisted out of all sense to fit everything else? There must be some reason. I don’t know. I’ve never known it. I’d like to understand.”
Chapter I, pp. 18-19 ; Howard Roark to the Dean of the School of Architecture

“But you see,” said Roark quietly, “I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”
Chapter I, pp. 18-19 ; Howard Roark to the Dean of the School of Architecture

“If you want my advice, Peter, you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Never ask people. Not about your work. Don’t you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know?”
Chapter II, p. 28 ; Howard Roark to Peter Keating

“A house can have integrity, just like a person,” said Roark, “and just as seldom…Your house is made by its own needs. Those others are made by the need to impress. The determining motive for your house is in the house. The determining motive for others is in the audience.”
Chapter XI, pp. 136 ; Howard Roark

“To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That’s what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul – would you understand why that’s much harder?”
Chapter VIII, Part 4, pp. 576; Crony businessman

“I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, p. 743 ; Howard Roark

“No man can live for another. He cannot share his spirit just as he cannot share his body. But the second-hander has used altruism as a weapon of exploitation and reversed the base of mankind’s moral principles. Men have been taught every precept that destroys the creator. Men have been taught dependence as a virtue.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, p. 738 ; Howard Roark

“It’s what I couldn’t understand about people for a long time. They have no self. They live within others. They live second-hand. Look at Peter Keating….He’s paying the price and wondering for what sin and telling himself that he’s been too selfish. In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self? What was his aim in life? Greatness—in other peoples’ eyes. Fame, admiration, envy — all that which comes from others. Others dictated his convictions, which he did not hold, but he was satisfied that others believed he held them. Others were his motive power and his prime concern. He didn’t want to be great, but to be thought great. He didn’t want to build, but to be admired as a builder. He borrowed from others in order to make an impression on others. There’s your actual selflessness. It’s his ego he’s betrayed and given up. But everyone calls him selfish. That’s the pattern of most people.”
Chapter IX, Part 4, pp. 605; Howard Roark on Peter Keating

“Listen to what is being preached today. Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men. He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion – prestige. A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: ‘This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me’. Then he wonders why he’s unhappy.”
Chapter IX, Part 4, pp. 607; Howard Roark

“I was thinking of people who say that happiness is impossible on earth. Look how hard they all try to find some joy in life. Look how they struggle for it. Why should any living creature exist in pain? By what conceivable right can anyone demand that a human being exist for anything but for his own joy? Every one of them wants it. Every part of him wants it. But they never find it. I wonder why. They whine and say they don’t understand the meaning of life. There’s a particular kind of people that I despise. Those who seek some sort of a higher purpose or ‘universal goal,’ who don’t know what to live for, who moan that they must ‘find themselves.’ You hear it all around us. That seems to be the official bromide of our century. Every book you open. Every drooling self-confession. It seems to be the noble thing to confess. I’d think it would be the most shameful one.”
Chapter IV, Part 4, pp. 551; Howard Roark

“Men have been taught that the highest virtue is not to achieve, but to give. Yet one cannot give that which has not been created. Creation comes before distribution—or there will be nothing to distribute. The need of the creator comes before the need of any possible beneficiary. Yet we are taught to admire the second-hander who dispenses gifts he has not produced above the man who made the gifts possible. We praise an act of charity. We shrug at an act of achievement.”
Chapter XVIII, p. 739 ; Howard Roark

“The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men.”
Chapter XVIII, P. 738 ; Howard Roark

“Do you always have to have a purpose? Do you always have to be so damn serious? Can’t you ever do things without reason, just like everybody else? You’re so serious, so old. Everything’s important with you, everything’s great, significant in some way, every minute, even when you keep still. Can’t you ever be comfortable—and unimportant?”
“No.”
Chapter VII, p. 88 ; Peter Keating and Howard Roark

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The first airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, pp. 736-737 ; Howard Roark

“The creators were not selfless. It is the whole secret of their power—that it was self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-generated. A first cause, a fount of energy, a life force, a Prime Mover. The creator served nothing and no one. He had lived for himself. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the
nature of achievement.”
Chapter XVIII, Part 4, p. 737 ;Howard Roark

Where to buy: Here

How to influence people: The good, the bad, the ugly

Instead of a long build-up where I get you to spend more time reading for better stats, I’ll give you the basic structure right up front.

  1. Find something that someone considers valuable.
  2. Figure out how valuable this something is to that someone.
  3. Understand where that someone spends time and could possibly see this something.
  4. Put the something in front of the someone in a way that connects the dots between the something and the fact that it’s worth the cost to the someone.

If you have marketing experience, you’ll recognize the “4 P’s of Marketing.”

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Place
  4. Promotion

Go Marketing! Yay!

Quick exercise

What was the first “something” that came to your mind?
Was it the product or service your current employer offers?
Was it an idea you’ve been wanting to create to start up a new business?
Was it a service or skill you could offer to others in the form of coaching, teaching, or consulting?

I tried the exercise with Caitlin.
Here’s how it went:

Me: “What is something people consider valuable?”
Her: “Boats.”
Me: “Really?!”
Her: “Yeah!”
Me: “Where would someone spend time looking for boats?”
Her: “A lake!”
Me: …
Her: …
Me: “Okay… What would you charge for the boat?”
Her: “I don’t know but I would sell all kinds of boats at a lake. Cheap canoes and other boats.”
Me: “What would you pay for a boat?”
Her: “A million dollars.”
Me: “Uh… no.”
Her: “I am going to sell boats for a million dollars to people at lakes!”

A few takeaways.

  • Caitlin is adorable.
  • Apparently, she’s in the market for a million-dollar boat.
    Let me stop you now. We are not good for it.
    If you sell boats, please do not contact us with a million-dollar boat offer.
  • You’re welcome if you need a new business idea.
  • You can always count on your spouse to intentionally try and throw a wrench in your thought exercises.

What if the product is not a tangible thing

In Caitlin’s case, the product was something tangible. A boat. But let’s move away from tangible products for a bit. Because products don’t have to be something you hold in your hand (or on a trailer).

Take blackmail as an example. Let’s assume someone is blackmailing you.

  1. They have an email/picture/video that puts you in a compromising position (Product).
  2. They put a price on this information that they think/hope you’ll pay to keep it a secret (Price).
  3. They know your email address (Place).
  4. They send you an email with the other email/picture/video, the price you need to pay to keep it quiet, and the consequences if you do or do not send them the money (Promotion).

Let’s try another where your money isn’t the goal.

  1. There is a video of your favorite political figure tackling the latest political issue in an articulate way (Product).
  2. The video is 10 minutes long and packed with great comebacks if you ever get in an argument with someone who holds the opposite viewpoint (Price).
  3. The creator of the video knows that you spend time on Facebook and, based on Facebook’s tracking of your behavior, knows your political preference. They also know that a friend whose Facebook content you interact with often likes the video (Place).
  4. The video crosses your feed with a charged headline and a automatically starts playing with subtitles and a timer so you know what the video is about, how long it lasts, and you know you and your friend can talk about it later (Promotion).

Every interaction has product.

Yes, even this blog post. Products include things you can hold in your hand, services that take work away from you and put it on someone else, or information.

Every product has a cost. Those costs include time, money, energy, thoughts, and emotions. If you’ve made it this far, thank you. You could have spent that time doing something else. I hope this has been worth it… now… keep reading.

For you to influence others (or be influenced by others), the product and its cost must be placed in front of you in a way for you to make a decision as to whether or not that cost is worth it to you right now or in the future.

So much of the world today is pushing for the instant satisfaction and quick alleviation of pain, worry, emptiness, boredom, embarrassment and lack of pleasure at the cost of your time, attention, and ultimately money.

Buyer’s remorse

We’ve all been there. You bought something that at the time seemed a bit too expensive, but it looked so cool!

You were watching your idol on TV destroying his opponent so effortlessly that it looked like poetry in motion. Simply beautiful.

You envisioned yourself playing against that neighbor kid who keeps dismantling you on the tennis court, and the only possible reason that could be happening is because the equipment you are using isn’t the same as your idol’s.

So, you went and bought the same shoes, socks, shorts, shirt, headband, bag, and tennis racket(s) your idol was using as he destroyed his opponent who happened to play just like this kid.

And then, the next day, all decked out in your matching shoes, socks, shirt, headband, rackets, and bag, you proceeded to get destroyed yet again.

It wasn’t the clothes.

It wasn’t the racket.

But for a brief moment the day before, you were convinced that the $500 price tag on that equipment was worth the future victory you would have over Nathan. Now, you desperately want to return some of that stuff. You don’t even look good in a headband!

We’ve ALL been there… right…?

No?

… Yeah, me neither… I was just speaking in generalities…

Okay, maybe you haven’t tried to look like and somehow magically become Roger Federer in an attempt to try and beat Nathan in tennis, but we’ve all had buyer’s remorse in one form or another. Clothes, cars, houses, jewelry, the list goes on forever.

How about wasted time going down the YouTube black hole of recommended videos that seem to read your mind and keep you distracted for hours? What about the Facebook feed that gets you fired up about Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, Trump, sports, or cute kitties?

“…Must…resist…reading…the comments… What?! No way!”
*Start madly typing away to point out your brother’s grammatical error on his uneducated comment.

Was it worth it?

What’s the point?

Great question. I jumped into this and was hoping to figure it out as I went.

I guess the point is, the resources that you are able to exchange (money, time, energy, etc.) are limited. You only get so much of each.

There are a lot of great products, services, and ideas. There are plenty of worthy causes and beneficial places to put your time, talents, money, and energy.

The world is also ripe with filth, garbage, lies, and scams designed to rob you of your resources and direct you away from the more important things in life.

You know what things cause buyer’s remorse for you personally. You know where they typically find their way into your life. Now you know that us marketers are constantly trying to get you to behave a certain way. Don’t let us use those 4 P’s of marketing to distract you (too much).

The products will always exist, you really can’t change what the population of earth will produce, but you can influence how the other 3 P’s affect you.

You can determine what price you are willing to pay for the transaction.  

You can influence the places where you spend time whether physically or digitally.

And you can acknowledge when the promotion is put in front of you, albeit nearly impossible sometimes to resist.

Don’t let the things that are more valuable to you in the long run be traded for the things that seem temporarily valuable in the moment.

I guess that is all I’m hoping to say (and accomplish myself).

Caitlin said I just unintentionally convinced both of us not to get that pickleball court installed in the back yard… I should’ve never gone down this rabbit hole.