Today I learned:
1. Birthday candles: I always wondered at what age people give up trying to add the correct number of candles to your birthday cake. Today I learned that age is 37, and there is a very simple reason for it: Economics.
Everything up to 36 requires only one box of candles. It costs the same to decorate a cake for my 2 year as it does for my 4 year old, or for that matter for my wife.
But not for me.
As of today I am officially a 2 box’er. In a monetary sense at least it just isn’t worth it.
2. Kids: Sitting at the table tonight eating a 36-candle cake (lovingly made by my wife and kids) it occured to me that I enjoy my birthday now far more than I did a few years ago. You might expect that the reverse would be true. I am getting to an age where people start to worry about the number, but that doesn’t bother me. 37 is no worse to me than 35 or even 25 as far as I am concerned.
It is more that before kids I just didn’t pay much attention to birthdays. Now I can’t avoid them. At any moment in time the kids can spout off the next three birthdays in our extended family, and the number of sleeps to the next one. They love birthdays and a celebration is required. What I saw as just another day is to them a very, very big day. I don’t think they could even comprehend the possibility that I might not have agreed with them.
I think a lot of adults are like me. We go on day by day and don’t pay much attention to things like our birthday. Not everyone is like that though – I work with a few people that take a vacation day on their birthday every year. I always considered it kind of silly – why waste vacation day on a rainy Tuesday in November? -I am now just starting to get it. My kids have helped teach me that I need to rethink my position. It can be a good day, and if I want it can be a great day.
Time to open a nice bottle of wine.
Today I learned:
1. Blueberry Yogurt: My kids love yogurt. We have to buy in bulk to keep up with their appetites. They go through strawberry, vanilla and raspberry at an insatiable pace.
The problem is bulk packs all come with 25% blueberry flavour.They love blueberries but they hate blueberry yogurt.
Faced with an ever growing stash of the stuff I have two options: Eat it or waste it.
I just can’t bring myself to throw it out, so day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt. I love blueberries and there was a time in my life that a nice bowl of blueberry yogurt was appealing. That time has passed. At this point I hate the stuff. Can’t stand it. But day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt.
It occurred to me today, as I choked down another spoonful at breakfast, that life as a dad can be summed up in a bowl of blueberry yogurt: Ultimately what is in their bowls is more important to me than what is in mine. I know I am not alone in martyrdom. At my brother’s place it’s the leftover food. I haven’t seen the guy eat an entire meal from his own plate in 8 years. I think he feeds himself entirely off leftover scraps on the plates of his 4 kids. That’s life. We’re dads. That just what we do.
2. The Power of Suggestion: As I peered into my daughter’s dresser this morning to help her pick out clothes I noticed something odd in the corner of the drawer. Odd but not unexpected. With two little kids you learn that something odd is always going to be there. I actually check spots like this frequently to reclaim items like the whisk, TV remote or one of my shoes.
With today’s find I just couldn’t resist the overwhelming desire to mess with the kid.
Casually I laid out her clothes – pink socks, monkey shirt, striped pants – all typical 4 year-old garb. On top of the pile I added the piece de resistance: Ski Goggles.
She looked at me a little funny, but she didn’t say anything. She certainly didn’t object. The goggles actually went on first, making it tough to execute the shirt phase in our daily dressing drama, and 2 minutes later she was at the table laughing, sucking back yogurt and just generally looking at life through rose-coloured goggles. When I left for work she was still wearing them.
My wife walked her to daycare and apparently she was pleased to have them on – they kept the rain out of her eyes. The kid was still wearing them when my wife left for work too.
8.5 hours later when we returned to pick her up? Still on.
It all got me thinking about the impact we can have on our kids, and potentially on just about anyone, with just a subtle suggestion. I didn’t ask her to wear the goggles. I just put the idea in her head and she ran with it. She got to be the centre of attention. People around her got a smile or two. Everybody is happy. Win-win.
The power of suggestion is huge with little ones. Kids run with whatever tools you give them. Leave a few sheets of paper and some crayons on the table and within minutes you will find them drawing. If we leave out cookies they will eat them. Put out grapes instead and they will be gone, no questions asked. We can get them to do pretty much anything. Except eat blueberry yogurt.
When I kicked off the two things project I set a simple goal: Learn two things a day and blog about them for 66 straight days.
This post marks my achievement of that goal. To celebrate the accomplishment, for today only, I will go past my usual two things to reflect on what I have learned from the experience and to discuss next steps for this blog.
Today I learned:
1. Be Consistent: Practice, practice, practice. I am not saying practice made me perfect, but it made me better. Looking at my early posts, one thing is clear. I wasn’t very good. With practice, I feel like I got better, or at the very least I got more confident. This led me to take more risks in my writing and at the very least helped me feel better about what I was doing.
2. Be Experimental: The most fun I had came out of trying new things. Throwing Smurf into a conversation and finding enlightenment in the Honey Badger are just two of the things I would not have done without the blog experiment. As well, Email Free Day, The Streaming Diet and The Helping List have all improved my life in some small way. Life gets better when you take a few risks and try new things.
3. Be an Artist: I didn’t need to buy brushes and an easel to create art, and the energy that flowed out of committing to create something new from nothing everyday felt amazing.
My behaviour also changed unexpected ways. One impact was in how I consume things. After two months of blogging, Facebook is basically dead to me. It’s an exaggeration of course, but there is an aspect of truth to it. My consumption of media has shifted 180 degrees, moving away from passive sources and on to more active or creative forms. I was a classic Facebook lurker, visiting the site 3 to 5 times a day for several minutes just to see what other people were up to. Now I rarely visit the site – 1 to 2 times per week at most – and typically to communicate with a friend through messaging services. Instead, I now spend my internet-time reviewing sites that inspire learning and creativity.
4. Be fearless: This is easier said than done, and in truth it was an unintended result rather than an initial goal. When I launched the blog I was clearly fearful, and the emotion did not dissipate quickly. In fact, when it disappeared on day 24 I made a note of it. It was then that I realized my self-talk had shifted from “What am I going to write about today?” to “What do I get to write about today?” My post that day focussed on emotion, and at that point I finally felt fearless. Day 24 was also the first time I got up the courage to “publicize” what I was doing to people I actually know too – that is when I first referenced the blog on my personal twitter account (@darrenmcknight) and put up a link on my personal website (darrenmcknight.com). The lesson for me? Do something 23 times and it will finally get easier.
At the outset I found I immediately listened more closely. This in itself was a good thing, but my motivation initially wrong. At first I was trying to find a “nugget” in my conversations that I could write about. Eventually this faded away and I simply felt more engaged. Once I stopped looking for things to learn it was easy to focus on just listening. That’s when I started to find true nuggets.
All in all, this was a planned exercise in introspection and from my perspective it has gone very, very well. So well in fact that, goal accomplished, it is time to change things up a bit…
What’s next for two things I learned today?
The journey is not over, but the pace of blog posts is changing. I will still endeavour to learn and record two things every day, but from here on out I only plan to post a new blog piece when I feel the lessons learned contain ideas that are so “big” in my journey that I should share them with the world.
How often will that be? I really have no idea, and you will notice that I make no attempt to define “big.”
I will say this though: I have thoroughly enjoyed the self-reflection and creative outlet this blog has added to my life. With that in mind, some days big might be huge and some days it might be pretty small. Hopefully, at least, big will be entertaining…
Today I learned:
1. Smurf’ing Through Life: Since my initial Smurf-based post, I have been curious if other people speak “Smurf” as well as my four year-old. To test this out, and simultaneously amuse myself, I decided to try an experiment.
The plan: Casually replace a verb with the word “smurf” in a conversation and observe the reaction.
- Test #1 – Starbucks: “Can you smurf me a grande non-fat latte please?”
- Test #2 – indepedent sandwich shop: “I’ll have a turkey sandwich, and can you smurf me a chocolate chip cookie too please?”
The outcome: Other than getting exactly what I asked for, I noticed no reaction at all. People understood what I wanted, and were not phased by phrasing.
This raised a few questions: Were they even paying attention? Were the scenarios so routine they were only listening for key words? If yes to either of those, what does it say about how they are approaching their jobs and their lives?
This taught me a great lesson in being present and listening to what someone says rather than just listening for what I expect them to say. After all, what kind of life are you living if you just smurf your way through it?
2. An Epiphany in the Shower – Insights into Disability:
This section of the post requires a disclaimer. I am not disabled and in no way do I intend to offend anyone by trying to draw a parallel between my recovery from a relatively minor knee injury with related surgery and any permanent disability. It is simply that two weeks of dealing with limited function and mobility has taught me a few lessons about accessibility and treatment by others.
It hit me in the shower this morning.
I hate baths.
More specifically, I hate being forced to take baths. They are tolerable when you want one, but not when you need one. I’ve been taking baths for 2 weeks due to an inability to stand in the shower (and a restriction against getting incisions wet). As I enjoyed my first hot shower in what felt like forever it struck me that I simply didn’t want to get out.
This got me thinking about other things I have noticed in the last two weeks – things I would never notice if had no functional limitations. The lessons are interesting, and tell me a little about things I normally take for granted:
- Few people hold the door. I am on crutches. You can see me and hear me coming. In many cases you just passed me on the way to the door or elevator because I am so damn slow. You can see I don’t have a free hand. Why then won’t you do me the courtesy of holding the door? Obviously this is not true of everyone, but a lot of people – my guess is 15-20% – are either completely oblivious or just plain mean.
- Driving is awesome. The bus is terrible. Walking to the bus is worse and trying to do so on crutches is worse still. Cabs waste money. Waiting for rides from family and friends sucks. Being in control of when I come and go from places is a simple pleasure that I look forward to enjoying again soon.
- Carrying things kicks butt. If this was going to go on much longer I think I would invest in a jacket with about 100 flexible pockets that I could stuff full of everything I would need for the next 12 hours.
- Rain is the enemy. It makes paths – particularly those made of marble – into a beautiful and gleaming death trap. Plus, with crutches you can’t carry an umbrella.
- Snow and ice are the enemy’s evil siblings. A couple inches of snow and I was a prisoner in my own home. My neighbour – a very nice guy – did a great job clearing my path and sidewalk without being asked, but I was still not able to go out because a good chunk of the rest of the world doesn’t take the same care to make the walkways clear and safe. My guess is these are the same 15-20% of people referenced above.
My hat is off to both to those who need a bit of help to get by everyday, and those who selflessly help them. Two weeks of it was difficult to endure. A lifetime would be much harder to accept. Keep your head held high, and don’t worry I’ll get the door, even if the other guy won’t.
Today I learned:
2. The Helping List: As my surgical recovery continues I am still stuck on crutches, meaning my ability to carry things remains significantly impaired. Our 4-year old has really stepped up to the plate as “daddy’s little helper,” completing all sorts of tasks she would not normally take on. She has done this willingly, and she is very proud of herself for being able to help out.
The other night at bed time we sat down and reviewed all the things she had done to help out that day. As we talked, I wrote out “The Helping List” on a piece of paper. Even though she can’t read yet she was absolutely beaming as the list grew longer. This has continued for a couple days, and she is now excited about trying to do more and more to add to her list.
The thing to keep in mind here is this: Other than hugs and encouragement I have offered no reward. She doesn’t get anything tangible for all the help. The only thing she gets is the list itself, and how it makes her feel.
This got me thinking about how I interact with other people, and how helpful I am to family, friends, colleagues and strangers throughout the day.
If I knew I would be sitting down at the end of the day with someone to recap and write down all the good things I had done for other people throughout the day, would it change my behaviour? I’d love to say no – I am perfect already – but obviously that is completely false. There is no question it would change my behaviour, and there is no question it would make both my life and the lives of others better. The only question then, is why not do it?
Today I learned:
1. That won’t fit there! Earlier today our 2 year-old pooped on the potty – no small achievement in itself – and after an excited potty dance our 4 year-old examined the output from multiple angles and proclaimed, very seriously, “well…I think we’re going to need this…” She then went and pulled out the plunger from under the sink. Flushing proved her hypothesis correct.
What did I learn from all this?
- We need to buy the 2 year-old some prunes.
- The 4 year-old’s spatial reasoning is really improving. She already knew the square peg, round hole thing, but now she’s good to go with round peg, round hole too. Cool.
2. Pitching the e-Calendar: My wife won’t use an electronic calendar. I have my schedule online. We are forever destined not to know what the other is doing. If things don’t improve we may need to actually talk to each other to ensure we are on the same page.
Ok, it’s not that bad. We do speak, but we certainly aren’t on the same page with our calendars. This was highlighted for me today when I missed an activity that was on her calendar, but wasn’t on mine.
The truth is, I couldn’t live without my online calendar – the reminders (via email and pop-up) keep me on track and it is a constant reference accessed via phone, laptop and iPad. I don’t do task lists. I do calendars. If there is a task to do and it’s not scheduled, it’s not going to get done.
My wife actually has one too. I created a google calendar for her and it syncs perfectly with mine. The only problem is she won’t look at it. I have been trying for months – years maybe – to get her to make the shift but I haven’t ever been successful at getting her to shift for more than a couple days.
Today, I realized why.
It’s Marketing 101. I’ve been trying to sell her on the features, not the benefits.
In a renewed effort to get her on the bandwagon I did some brainstorming into why an e-calendar will make life better for her.
- It’s like a purse for your schedule. Sure, it doesn’t have a nice little pocket to hold receipts, stickers and fruit bars like your Mom-Calendar, but it holds a crazy amount of stuff. Each entry will hold links, clipped articles, recipes and other information so you will have it in the right spot when the time arrives.
- It will save you time. Synching events automatically will save copying between home and work. Recurrence settings will move birthdays etc. from year to year.
- It will save your butt. Automated reminders by email, pop-up or text will mean next year you won’t forget your parent’s birthdays and anniversary.
- It will always be accessible. Events come up when you are out and about, not when you are standing next to the fridge.
- It will keep you in the loop locally. Schools, sports leagues, dance companies and all sorts of organizations we are involved with use online systems, so their calendars can be aligned with ours.
To summarize my new sales pitch:
How would you like a product that will save you time, carry everything you need, cover your butt when trouble crops up, help you keep tabs on the neighbourhood and always be at your side?
Now, if I could just find a pen I would be able to get myself an appointment on her calendar to deliver my new pitch!
In a TED-themed post, today I focus on learnings from a morning spent enthralled in the growing online library of Ideas Worth Spreading.
Today I learned:
1. Leading with Lollipops:
“Maybe the biggest impact I’ve ever had on anyone’s life…was a moment I don’t even remember.”
– Drew Dudley
This quote comes from a powerful video (linked below) in which Mr. Dudley describes a time when a young woman recalled an interaction with him that had changed her life, and he couldn’t even remember it.
Mr. Dudley speaks about the idea of everyday leadership. He proposes we re-frame the concept away from money and power, to a more tangible concept we can all own. He suggests leadership is “the moments we create, acknowledge, pay forward and say thank you for.”
This idea is somewhat similar to the theme of Robin Sharma’s book, The Leader Who Had No Title (and I have already made it clear I am a fan of this concept). I consider myself a believer in this approach to leadership, and over the past several months I have been trying to emphasize it in interactions with everyone I meet. It gives me tangible ideas I can use to make me a better parent, manager, and friend. It formed part of the motivation for this blog, and it has certainly impacted how I approach my relationships with others.
The video also led me to consider a “lollipop moment” in my own life – one I have never said thank-you for. Here it is:
In 2007 I was looking at options for what to do next and I was considering a number of different academic pursuits, in the hopes I could open some additional doors in my professional life. I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what, until I met professor Darren Dahl.
I decided to attend an information session on the part-time MBA program at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, and as it turns out Mr. Dahl was the presenter. The experienced floored me.
Instead of providing basic information on the program, he energetically launched into a pseudo-marketing class, conducting a discussion on the BMW film series. I said nothing. I was totally caught off-guard. I also knew I was home. I left the session and immediately got to work arranging my life so I could attend the program. Fast forward a few years and I graduated in 2011.
Would I have done it anyway? Maybe. Only one thing is for sure: In that moment, he handed me a lollipop that changed my life, and he probably didn’t even realize it. He certainly never asked for anything in return. That’s leadership.
Link to Drew Dudley @ TedxToronto: (Trust me, it is worth your 6 min 22s seconds.)
2. Sibling Bonds:
“They are with us for the entire ride.”
– Jeffrey Kluger
I have known for years that my brother just gets me. My humour is littered with 80’s sitcom jokes that only he seems to be able to pick-up. Often, I make a joke and we are the only two laughing. Most people are looking at me curiously, wondering what I could possibly find funny about Kale in a salad.
Understanding the impact of our relationship, makes me keenly examine the relationship between my own children – two young girls that are 20 months apart. The girls are the best of friends but admittedly emotions shift quickly. At times they fight with reckless abandon. Within Mr. Kluger’s Ted video (linked below), he suggests children in the 2-4 age group engage in one fight every 6.3 minutes. Frankly I think either he is low-balling the number, or my kids help bring down the average.
The most thought provoking piece to me is Mr. Kluger’s conclusion: “Life is short, finite and it plays for keeps. Siblings may be among the richest harvests of the time we have here.”
This raised one question for me – how can I ensure my daughters value their sibling relationship in the way I do mine?
At their age, I can say it, but it won’t hit home. I can try to control the fights, but it won’t change much. There will always be another doll to yell about.
Instead it hit me the best way to accomplish this goal is modelling. They learn so much from what they watch and experience. What is the best way to build my daughters’ relationship? It might just be calling up my brother and inviting him and his family for dinner.
Time to make a phone call…
Link to Jeffrey Kluger: The Sibling Bond on Ted.com.
Today I learned:
1. I’ll never be a wine writer: I fancy myself as a bit of an oenophile – my expertise may be questionable, but it is improving and I at least approach the subject with a relentless enthusiasm to which the empties in my garage can attest.
That is why I am saddened to admit I would never make it as a wine writer.
This lesson hit me today, like the feeling you get after quaffing too much (or really any) Yellowtail, as I read this month’s edition of Ask an Oenophile in BC Business Magazine. One quote sealed it for me:
Everybody should drink more Beaujolais. It’s romantic, it’s sexy, it’s lyrical, it’s ethereal. Really good Beaujolais smells like you just made out with your first love in a field of fresh strawberries – there’s a smell of wet earth, a little sweat, ripe strawberries…This wine, especially the 2009 vintage, has this incredible Audrey Hepburn character. It’s lithe, but there is this enormous charm and depth behind it all.
I can’t talk like that.
More precisely, I won’t talk like that.
I could learn, but I need to be able to enjoy a nice bottle of Syrah and then respect myself in the morning.
2. Raising Successful Kids: I came across a thought-provoking blog post today about 5 Unusual Ways to Raise Successful Children (link below).
Several interesting points are made – I think there could be merit to the concept of giving incentive to learn from the masters. I particularly like one of the responses to the post which included a suggestion kids could learn alot from Ted videos. This seems like a viable way to introduce new ideas and it may be worthy of experimentation with our oldest daughter. With the recent explosion of TedxKids events, I expect age appropriate content may be more and more available, making this idea quite tangible.
The point I really keyed in on though was the final one in the article – teach kids to be powerful.
This led me to reflect on our approach to parenting. As the author recommends, we try to avoid any form of negative self-talk. We encourage the kids to avoid expressing actions in terms of accomplishment (i.e. “I am good at riding my bike,” or “I can’t tie my shoes.”) and instead we ask them to frame everything around the idea of practice. The thought is that this will ensure our kids understand that if they set a goal and then put in the time and effort, eventually they will be able to do whatever they want.
For example, when my daughter learned to stand up on skates, we congratulated her and then we talked about how the first time she tried she was not able to get up, but she practiced (by doing x, y, and z) and she gradually got better, to the point she was able to do it by herself. The idea is to re-enforce the concept that it doesn’t matter what you can or can’t do, it only matters what you are willing to put the time in to learn.
Thinking back now, this approach seems to be working.
Our oldest daughter now tends to frame her comments around the process of learning as the accomplishment, rather than the activity itself. We don’t hear things like, “Mommy, I cut my fish!” but rather she says “Mommy, I learned to use my knife!” Hopefully in the long run this type of framing goes a long way to helping our kids understand that setting goals and practicing will allow them to do anything they want.
Link to the original blog post referenced above: 5 Unusual Ways to Raise Successful Children.
Today I learned:
1. Perpetuating a Gender Stereotype: I hate to say it, but there is no denying it: Girls are natural caregivers.
Following surgery I was worried my little ones would be too rough on me or too demanding.
Two days in and nothing could be farther from the truth. In addition to an overwhelming desire to see my “owie” every 5 minutes, they seem to possess an innate understanding of how to take care of people. There is no jumping, no rough play, no crying, no demanding. I am being showered with hugs and kisses, gifted with cards and artwork, and lent even the most treasured of stuffed animals if they might conceivably give me some level of comfort. Pillows are adjusted, paths cleared for crutches and snacks retrieved. Nothing but the best for daddy.
I have no set of boys to compare this behaviour too, so it is possible this would be true of all kids, but I don’t get the sense that would be the case. My only real knowledge of little boys comes from the fact I was one once, and I hate to say it, but I don’t think I possessed the same patience and understanding at their age.
2. Disgusted by Another Stereotype: “Linsanity” looks good on the NBA. Ever since the Grizzlies left town in 2001 I have sought out, and enjoyed, every new reason I can find to despise the National Basketball Association. I still hold quite a grudge.
2011 Lockout? Petty greed, on both sides. I was sad it ended.
Lebron’s prime-time signing? The best of bad TV.
Ron Artest becomes Meta-World Peace? That would never happen in hockey.
Out of all of it though, I haven’t enjoyed anything more than “Linsanity.”
For two straight weeks, media outlets have been tripping over stereotypes – firings, inappropriate headlines, embarrassing graphics, over-compensation, and just generally making fools of themselves. It appears just about everyone in or around the NBA doesn’t quite know how to act when an Asian male (born in L.A. for goodness sake!) finds success in the league.
The one exception in all this of course is Jeremy Lin himself who seems to be taking his sudden rise to fame with a sense of grace and humility. No embarrassing quotes. No off colour remarks. No over-the-top chest pumping. He just keeps showing up and proving his game night after night. This is one of the few opportunities I can think of – Steve Nash aside – where we can learn something about how to behave properly from an actual NBA player. The NBA finally has a good story to tell, and it seems they just can’t find anyone to appropriately tell it.