Three steps to making your new approach stick

If your approach is not working, then you may need to change it. I am doing a short series of blog posts about this topic. Last week, I described a process for changing your approach. Two weeks ago I described three indicators that your current approach is not working. In this post, I will share three steps for making your new approach stick. The steps are easy, but as we all know making a change stick is not. I hope you learn from my experience and do not make the same mistakes.

1. Implement it – don’t expect anything to be different until you implement your new approach. This step is actually the easiest to complete – all you have to do is start. But, it can also be the most difficult. I cannot count on my fingers and toes how many times I decided to make a change but never implemented a new approach. Several times I even spent a lot of time and energy crafting a new approach, but never got around to making it happen. The main reason I think implementing a new approach is difficult is fear of failure. What if it doesn’t solve the problem? What if your new approach does not work better? What if it actually makes things worse? Many times these fears are unfounded. Bottom line is that you will not know how well your new approach works until you try it.

Don't get stuck in the starting blocks
Don’t get stuck in the starting block

2. Measure progress – it will be hard to tell if your new approach is working, or not unless you measure your progress. Come up with the metrics you will use to determine if you are actually solving the problem. For example, I have been in debt numerous times. One time the amount of debt I had accumulated troubled me greatly, so I decided to change my approach. The approach was somewhat radical. I implemented several changes that wiped out the debt quickly. I was not confident that this approach actually addressed the root cause of the problem – more money going out than coming in. I decided to measure both the amount of debt I carried and how quickly it grew each month. After only two months, the same problem started to surface. I knew my solution worked in the short term, but would not suffice for the long term. After this analysis, I implemented a different approach – I changed jobs to make more money. I continued to measure my progress using the same metrics. This time the change worked. The problem was finally solved. More income than expenses equals no debt.

Measure your progress to determine if your approach is working
Measure your progress to determine if your approach is working

3. Stick with it and make tweaks – sometimes you will make progress after implementing your new approach, but improvements are not happening fast enough. You may ask yourself what do I do now. Should I stick with my new approach, or stop it and try something else. I recommend making tweaks rather than abandoning your new approach. Tweaks are different than major changes. They are small adjustments you make to your new approach. For example, one time I changed my approach to eating in order to lose some weight. As I measured my progress I recognized that I was losing weight, but not as quickly as I hoped. In fact, I would lose five pounds and then regain five pounds, and then lose the same five pounds. My weight was going up and down like a yo-yo. Overall my approach was working but I had to make some tweaks. One tweak I implemented was to start drinking black coffee rather than put cream and sugar in it. This one change made a positive impact and helped me achieve the result I was looking for. Make tweaks to get to the finish line. Don’t abandon your new approach to quickly. Give yourself some time. On the other hand, if your new approach is not working at all, then it is time try something different. You may end up trying several approaches until you find the one that works.

'I must say, that was quite a tweak you came up with.'
Tweaks can make a big impact

In this series, I have attempted to pass along my advice on how to implement positive changes in your life. Talking about it is easy. Making it happen is difficult. Enough talking – get out there and make it happen.

Process to change your approach

If your approach is not working, then you may need to change it. I am doing a short series of blog posts about this topic. Last week, I discussed three indicators that your current approach is not working. If any or all of these are true, then you should seriously consider making a change. In this post, I will describe how you do it – the process to change your approach. The process is easy and described below. I hope you learn from my experience and do not make the same mistakes.

1. Determine where you are – the first step in changing your approach is figuring out where you are. When I was in US Army Ranger School we would navigate through various terrain to include mountains, swamps, and deserts. If you were in charge of the patrol it was important to always know where you are. At some point during the patrol, the Ranger Instructor would ask the patrol leader to point out where you were on the map usually with a pine needle. You were not allowed to use your fat finger and fake it. Pinpoint accuracy is what they expected. If you were wrong, you were in trouble, and you knew it. They drilled this expectation into us because it is really easy to get lost if you have no clue where you are. Any path will work. I think the same can be true in life. If you have no idea where you are on the map of life, then how will you know if you are lost.

Determine where you are on the map
Determine where you are on the map

This step sounds simple, but it can be a real struggle. The reason why is that many of us are overly optimistic when it comes to evaluating where we are on the map. Are you ahead of schedule, or behind? Are you on a mountaintop, or in the valley? Have you crossed a bridge, or not? For example, if you have changed jobs, then you have already crossed the bridge. If you determine that the new job is not working out, and a change is needed, then you need to decide what to do next. Walk back across the same bridge (assuming that you did not burn that one), or find a new bridge to cross by finding another new job.

Have you crossed a bridge, or not?
Have you crossed a bridge, or not?

Based on my own experience, I tend to overestimate my current situation. In my head, I picture that things are not as bad as they seem, and will work out in the end. What I have learned is that I need to be honest with myself when determining where I am. You may need help determining where you are. Friends, family, and colleagues can provide perspective. When in doubt, ask you heavenly father for help in determining where you are. He sees all and may open your eyes to see a bigger picture than what is right in front of you.

2. Seek guidance from others – after you determine where you are, next you should think about what you will do next to change your approach. When I was younger I tended to try and figure out most things myself. A stupid mistake that really limited my options. Nowadays, I am a big fan of getting help from others. I have learned over the years that I do not know much. Others possess wisdom, knowledge, and experience that can benefit me. Why not take advantage of their life lessons. Don’t be afraid to talk with your friends, family, and mentors about your situation. They may have dealt with what you are going through, and have ideas for a better approach. In addition to seeking guidance from people you know, you can also learn a lot from experts. The number of resources available to you from experts in all fields is staggering. You can read books, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and research on the internet. Remember everything you find on the internet may not be true, or helpful, but there is plenty of great content available to you. Take advantage of all these resources when trying to figure out how to change your approach.

Seeking guidance from others can help
Seeking guidance from others can help

In the last blog post I mentioned that my approach to running was not working. I trained hard, probably too hard, to maintain the same pace and race times as I got older. But, it came at a price. My body suffered. I experienced multiple injuries and did not feel well almost every morning. Just getting out of bed was a painful event. Something needed to change. I spoke with several of my friends who also run, and they noticed the same thing. They were experiencing more pain and suffering than normal. I listen to a podcast called Fitness over 40. During one broadcast the guest was two college professors who created a training plan for runners to keep running into their later years. I read their book, and it really opened my eyes. The research they conducted shows that too much running is bad for you, and results in injuries. Duh – exactly what I was doing to my body. The book contained the training plan, that I implemented earlier this year, and I can already tell the difference. I feel better physically, and have a much better approach than the one I was using the past decade of my life. I can only imagine how much damage I would have done to my body if I kept to my old approach. I am avoiding all that pain in misery because I was smart enough to seek the guidance from others. BTW – I let all my friends know about the book. It is shown below.

Train smart to run forever
Train smart to run forever

3. Craft your plan – the last step in changing your approach is to craft your plan. Don’t spend too much time thinking about what changes you are going to make. Go ahead and craft your plan with all the details you will need for success. I am a big fan of actually writing down your plan. Writing it down forces you to really think through the details. I tend to get more clarity when I commit my plans to paper. In fact, I write down my goals for each year. Last year, I read Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward. Michael recommends that you create a life plan, and offers other life planning tools that I used for the first time this year. The tools really helped me craft my plan for the year. I highly recommend both the book and tools to others. It is one thing to craft a plan for a new approach- that is the easy part. It is another thing to implement the new approach. Next week I will cover that topic.

Living Forward by MIchael Hyatt
Living Forward by MIchael Hyatt

If your approach is not working – change it

There will be points in your life when you have to decide if your approach is working or not. You may ask yourself the question am I making progress, or am I just spinning my wheels going nowhere? It can be really hard to tell if a change is needed. Oddly enough, the easy path is usually to continue down the path you are on. The older I get the more I recognize that staying on the same path may not be the best choice. Changing your approach may be difficult, but it is worth considering. Over the next few weeks I am going to share my perspective on this topic – how do you change your approach. In this post, I will discuss three indicators that your current approach is not working. If any or all of these are true, then you should consider making a change. I hope you learn something from my experience.

1. You are not making suitable progress – measuring your progress can be challenging. In some scenarios calculating your progress is pretty straightforward. Let’s say you are trying to lose weight. Clearly, you can calculate your weight using a scale, body weight composition test, or other methods. The good news is that the scale does not lie. As many of us have learned, the bad news is that the scale does not lie. I actually weigh myself just about every morning. I am not obsessed about my weight. Rather studies have shown that weighing yourself every morning is an effective way to prevent putting on extra weight which is a challenge I face at my age. It will not appear overnight. This article explains more details about why weighing yourself everyday is not a bad idea. Remember – it is just one data point. Don’t panic.

Weighing yourself everyday
Weighing yourself everyday

In other situations, it can be difficult to accurately measure your progress. Some goals may take years to achieve, such as earning a college degree. In this case, I would monitor your progress against the graduation requirements for your degree. If you are off track, then you will likely need to change your approach. For example, I changed majors during my undergraduate years. As a result of this change, I was not on track to graduate in four years. Rather than stay in college longer I decided to take several classes during the summer so that I would still graduate on time. If I had not changed my approach, then I would have required more time and money to graduate. When it comes to professional goals, measuring your progress can be even more tricky. You are several years from that, so I will not cover that topic right now. Suffice it to say that if you are not making suitable progress then you may need to change your approach.

2. You are causing more harm than good – achieving your goals will take time, energy, and effort. In a previous post, I talked about the fact that some days you have to grind it out. I am a big fan of putting in your best effort, even when times get tough. Having said that I also think it is important to make sure that you are not causing more harm than good. You need to monitor the impact you are causing to yourself and others. The ends do not justify the means. You should not sacrifice everything to achieve your goals. This point is especially true when it comes to relationships and your health. If you are causing more harm than good in any of your personal relationships, then you need to reevaluate your approach. You may need to make changes to include ending a relationship. No one deserves to be miserable. Also, if your approach is causing health issues, then you need may need to change it. I am not saying that some pain is not needed for physical progress. Rather I am saying don’t be foolish when it comes to your health. Learn from my mistakes in this category. Many times I ran when I should have rested while training for an upcoming race. In my mind, I was doing the right thing. But, what I was really doing was tearing up my body. It seems like every time I took this approach I paid the price later with either poor performance on race day or an injury. Don’t’ be stupid like me. Listen to your body, and take care of yourself. Trust me – if you don’t you will pay the price later.

Take care of your body or pay the price
Take care of your body or pay the price

3. You lose your why – when things get hard I often ask myself “why am I doing this”. I think most people do. A strong reason why makes it easier for me to keep going. If I cannot answer that question clearly, then I may be in trouble. Sometimes you may lose your why. It does not happen all the time, but this question will show up in your life at some point. I remember being in Graduate School. At the time I was working a full-time job, trying to be a decent husband to your mother, and a good dad to you boys. Needless to say, I had a lot going on at this time. When I asked myself why I was getting a graduate degree the answer was clear. I was preparing for the future. I was getting ready to leave the Army and needed current skills to enter the civilian workforce. That why helped me get through some late nights and tough times. If you do not have a good answer to that question, and you have lost you why then it is time to consider changing your approach. I am not saying just quit. I am saying that you may need to come up with a new approach which is what I plan to talk about in the next post.

People lose their way when they lose their why
People lose their way when they lose their why

Be picky about being picky

In America, we have a lot of choices when it comes to the things we buy. Think about it. When is the last time you bought something and there were no options – only one item for purchase. If you go to a restaurant you will usually receive a multi-page menu describing all the various options. The Cheese Cake Factory menu is thick as a book. It can be overwhelming. Visit an American grocery store and you see how many different kinds of Ketchup there is. I like hot sauce. It is amazing the number of options you have when it comes to buying hot sauce. Let’s talk about Starbucks – the options seem unlimited. It is a pet peeve of mine to stand in line behind someone who takes forever to order their drink. It is not like you are making a life changing decision, but you would think so based on how difficult it is for some patrons to make a selection. Even after you order the barista may ask you more questions about what you want – whip or no whip? Really.

I am a big fan of not overthinking things when possible. With that in mind, I recommend that you not waste your mental capacity on trying to figure out what to buy. Look at your options, determine what you like, calculate what you can afford, and then buy it. Don’t spend too much of your brain power trying to buy just the right thing. You can drive yourself nuts if you do. If you get it wrong, it probably will not be a big deal. There are three exceptions to this approach that I want to share with you so that you can be picky about being picky.

1. Quality vs. quantity – you will buy many items in large quantities. Don’t waste too much time picking these items. For example, I run a fair amount and like to drink Gatorade afterwards. Gatorade comes in many types and flavors. I like G2 because it is low calorie, and am not that picky about the flavor. When shopping for Gatorade I buy whatever G2 flavor is on sale. If none of it is on sale, then I buy one of my favorite flavors. Problem solved. Wristwatches are another matter. It is unlikely that you are going to buy multiple watches at the same time. In fact, you will probably only buy a few over your lifetime. In this case, do some research so that you make an informed purchase. I don’t have a lot of money, so really expensive watches are out of the question. I own two watches – one informal, and one formal. I wear a Timex weekender watch that I really like. It costs less than $100. You can change the straps on the watch to match the clothes you are wearing. For work, I wear an Invictus watch. It is stylish and only cost a few hundred dollars. Nothing fancy for me.

Timex weekender wrist watch
Timex weekender wrist watch

2. Premium purchases – you will buy a few things that cost a lot of money. Cars, houses, and college tuition are top of list for me. When spending a lot of money like hundreds of thousands for a house, you should spend a lot of time looking, researching, analyzing, and comparing before making a decision. Work with a good real estate agent who can help find you the right house, at the right price, in the right neighborhood. Some shows on HGTV make it seem like you can find a house quickly. I prefer to take my time and spend a lot of time thinking before buying. Bottom line – you should love the house you buy. If you don’t love it, then hold off until you find one you do. When it comes to cars I never buy the first day I visit a dealer. I don’t want to make an impulse buy. It is an easy mistake to make when buying a car. I prefer to visit multiple dealers, do a lot of research, and spend some time thinking about the purchase. Three car purchases I made were good – the Accord, Tacoma, and my Jeep. The Lexus I bought was a mistake. I should never have spent that much money on a car. Choosing a college is similar – do lots of research to include visiting each school before making a selection. The good news is that researching cars and colleges is much easier these days with all of the online tools. These did not exist back when I was your age.

Jeep wrangler
Jeep wrangler

3. Money makers – you should save and invest some of your money with each paycheck so that you can retire one day. When it comes to investments there are an overwhelming number of options. Be picky about who you allow to invest your money. Many financial institutions will promise high returns and low risk. They use this marketing lingo to justify charging you high fees for managing your money. Don’t fall for it. Every dollar you spend on management fees is one less dollar that gets invested. It is really hard for money managers to “beat the market”, and they know it. I have done a fair amount of research on this topic and decided to keep things simple. I invest in index mutual funds with low management fees. Several reputable companies offer these type nowadays. I would never attempt to invest my own money in individual stocks. It takes time and energy, and expertise that I don’t have.

In most cases I don’t think there is much value in being picky about what you buy. There is a time and place to be picky. I recommend the three listed here. In case you are wondering why we have all of these choices, the video below explains why:

Blondie Forever

This week I saw the band Blondie in concert at Wolf Trap. Beforehand I was not overly excited about the concert. I was looking forward to tailgating in the parking lot with friends but did not have high expectations of the band’s performance. You may not know a lot about Blondie. They were a moderately famous band from the 70s and early 80s. They had multiple radio hits and were pretty well known back in the day. Blondie’s greatest hits album is a good representation of their early musical career if you want to sample it. Boy was I surprised when Blondie took the stage. They were really good and put on a great show. Afterward, I thought about why Blondie was so much better than I expected. I can think of three reasons.

1. Be your best – Blondie opened the show with the song “One Way or Another”. It is a really up beat song, and one of my favorites by them. They really set the tone by starting the show with a bang. I noticed right away that their lead guitarist was not one of the original members. He was a rather young man full of talent and energy. I appreciate the fact that Blondie was not afraid to augment their line-up with new members. It made them a stronger band and helped them be their best for their fans. Don’t be afraid to include others who can help you be the best that you can be, even if you become rich and famous.

2. Continue creating – Blondie played several songs from their new album, Pollinator, during the show. I have listened to their new album several times, and it is actually pretty good. Not their best album, but better than most new music I have heard this year. Whenever a famous band puts out and plays new music they are taking a risk. Their fans are always going to compare the new music to their old hits like I just did. This comparison is not really fair, but it happens nonetheless. I appreciate the fact that Blondie continues to create – writing new songs, recording them, releasing them, and playing them live. One of my favorite bands, U2, takes a similar approach. They continue to put out a new album every few years. In contrast, many other bands stopped creating new music years ago. Instead, they rely on their past accomplishments and simply play their greatest hits during their concerts. Simply put, this approach is lazy. Artists should continue creating. I want to encourage you to continue creating over your lifetime. Don’t stop and rest on your laurels, relying on your past accomplishments to carry the day.

Blondie new album
Blondie new album

3. Keep kicking – Blondie’s lead singer, Debbie Harry, is no spring chicken. In fact, she is over 70 years old. But you would never guess that watching her perform in concert. She does a great job singing their songs, moving around the stage, dancing to the music, raising the energy level of the audience. I was really impressed with her performance. Let’s face it – it is probably no easy task for Debbie to complete a concert. Rock-n-roll is a young person’s profession, but you would never guess that watching Blondie in concert. They are still touring, and keep kicking. I sure hope I have her kind of energy and enthusiasm when I am over 70 years old, and I hope you will too.

Just so it is clear – I am not endorsing Blondie as model citizens, or saying that you should act like rock stars. Rather, I am exploring ways to learn something new from them. I think we can learn something from everyone, as long as we are paying attention.

Here is a video from Blondie’s early days – probably their most famous song, “Heart of Glass”. It was filmed in a disco – old school.

Here is a video from their new album. The song is called “Long Time”

Learning something new

As you know I decided to start my own business. It is a new adventure for me, and requires that I learn a lot of new skills. Learning something new can be a challenge. The reality is that it takes time to learn something new. In fact, according to some experts it takes at least 20 hours to learn something new. In this TED talk author Josh Kaufman explains the learning process. It is worth watching.

We live in a culture that is big on figuring out better ways to do things. Hacks, shortcuts, and cheat codes seem to be all the rage these days. I am a big fan of learning. It is one of my strengths. I look for ways to learn things quickly, but I recognize that you have to put in the time. I am experiencing that fact first hand right now as I download new software tools and teach myself several new skills. It is taking some time. I am making steady progress, and will get there. During your lifetime you will need to learn many new things, so I want to pass along a few observations based on my own experience learning new things.

1. Starting out is usually ugly. When you start something new you do not know what you are doing, and it shows. It is going to be ugly. I remember the day Jill and I decided to play tennis together. She is good at tennis. She has played for years, taken lessons, and knows how to play the game. I, on the other hand, have played very little, never had lessons, and don’t really know how to play the game. As you might guess – it was ugly. She stood on her side of the court and simply hit the ball over the net repeatedly while I ran around like a mad man trying to figure out what I was doing. An odd thing happened the next time we played. My play improved, just a little each game, and we actually ended up having a competitive game. I still have not beat her in a game, but I bet I could if I practice on a regular basis.

2. Practice takes time. If only 20 hours is required to learn something new, then it should be easy to learn new things quickly. Right. The reality is that 20 hours is actually a fair amount of time. As Josh Kaufman points out in his TED talk, you will improve a lot the first few hours – which is great. But, you will need to press on and keep practicing if you want to actually get proficient. Riley – you are learning to drive right now. The DMV requires that each driver spend many hours behind the wheel before you get your license which is a good thing. Every drive knows that it takes awhile to learn how to drive and get used to the various speeds and obstacles that you will encounter. Put in the practice and get your 20 hours in. Don’t rely on hacks or cheat codes to make you proficient.

3. Get the help you need. The good news about our modern culture is that you can find help easily. We have numerous ways to connect and communicate with others. When I announced that I was going to start my own company on Facebook several friends reached out to me, offering encouragement, and potential help. Many of them have experience that will help me a lot, so I plan to talk with each of them. In addition to your own friends, experts exist, coaches are available, and the really good news is that you can find most of them online these days. In fact, you can learn a lot from others, and get help for free. Youtube is a gold mine of information. You may remember the time when I could not figure out how to change the tire on our old Lexus (it had wheel locks that the manual did not mention), I went to Youtube and found a video that explained how to do it. Most of these tools did not exist when I was your age. Take advantage of them. Leverage the expertise of others, and get the help you need.

I hope that both of you learn new things on a regular basis. It will help you grow and become a more rounded person. Gavin – you are excellent at playing the guitar. I encourage you to keep learning and become an expert. Riley – you are a great soccer player. I hope you keep playing later in life. It is a great sport, and will bring you a lot of joy. Scoring a goal never gets old. Trust me.

Learning never exhausts the mind.
– Leonardo da Vinci

Dunkirk Reveals Human Nature

War is hell. We all know that – at least I hope we all know that. We are reminded on a regular basis about both the horrors and heroics of war. Bottom line – it brings out the best and the worst in mankind. We have many books, movies, television shows, videos and monuments all aimed at giving all of us insights about war, and what it is like. As you know, I served in the military, but I never deployed into combat. I did spent many years preparing for it, studying it, and learning about it. Based on what I know and have learned from others – we get unique insights into human nature by learning from previous wars.

Occasionally a movie comes along that reminds us how awful war can be. Dunkirk is one of those movies. It is a grim reminder that WWII did not start well for the Allies. In fact, it was a military disaster on all fronts. The Germans were able to conquer much of Europe quickly. I watched Dunkirk last night, and really enjoyed it. The director lets history tell the story and attempts to personalize it by focusing on a small group of individuals who are caught in the action – soldiers and civilians. The movie is intense, and I think it points out three things about human nature that are worth reflecting on after watching the film.

1. We are all selfish. The battle of Dunkirk focuses on the fact that a large part of the British Army was surrounded by the Nazis early in the war and needed to be evacuated back to England before it is annihilated. It is a dire situation. The movie does an excellent job portraying how bad things were for the British. The enemy is closing in. All the British are trying to get out of France, and the only way out is via the English Channel. There are not enough ships for everyone. Time is running out, so various characters in the movie start to take matters into their own hands. It is an “only the strong survive” type situation which leads to selfish behavior. It should not be surprising that people get selfish. It is in all of us – the will to survive. It comes out especially when the stakes are high. Putting other first is a difficult choice to make, and does not happen naturally. Usually our basic instinct is to take care of ourselves first. Something to think about anytime you are in a tough situation. Look for this behavior in others, and monitor it in yourself.

2. We can all be heroes. The evacuation of Dunkirk ended up being successful because of the extraordinary deeds of many average people. The British government send out a call for help, and many answered. The film focuses on one family who joins in the action and plays their part in the evacuation despite many challenges. The director does a nice job keeping these everyday participants anonymous during the action. He does not treat them like super heroes. They don’t have super powers or any special abilities. They simply do what is necessary to get the job done. The same holds true for many other participants to include the Air Force pilots who fought bravely to keep the evacuation ships safe. Remember – heroes come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. Don’t be fooled by marvel and DC comics – there is no real Superman or Wonder Woman. They are not coming to rescue us. Rather it is up to normal people like you and me to be heroic when called upon.

3. We can fight another day. When WWII begins – the Nazis are prepared. No other country really is ready and it shows. Dunkirk is a pivotal point in the war. The French are defeated, and England evacuates in order to prepare for a potential invasion. British leadership is forced to make some really tough decisions. They are outmatched, and they know it. They need a new strategy. They decide to do something a little different than normal – they celebrate their retreat from Dunkirk. Normally in military operations any retreat is seen as a loss and should not be celebrated. But, British leadership realizes that the evacuation allows them to fight another day, and fight they will. The movie ends with Winston Churchill’s stirring speech that finishes with “we will never surrender”. Anytime I hear this speech – it inspires me. Also it reminds me that some days you will lose. In fact, you may need to retreat, regroup, refit, and prepare to fight another day. Notice that I did not say quit, but live to fight another day. It is a perfectly suitable strategy in some situations.

If you have not seen Dunkirk – I suggest that you do. Below is a link to the trailer for the film. Hopefully you get a lot out of the film like I did.

How to spend the summer

We are in the middle of summer – the weather is hot, the days are long, and you do not have school. You have more free time than usual during the summer, so the question becomes what should you do with all this free time. When I was your age I did many things during the summer to include sports, travel, work, and spending time with friends. I recommend that you do something similar. Don’t waste the months sleeping in late every morning, watching endless hours of Netflix, and texting back and forth with your friends. Instead I recommend working hard, having fun, and doing some physical training.

Working hard is an important habit to gain during your younger years. I am a big fan of getting a summer job. The work itself may not be exciting, but that is not really the point. The experience is what matters, and earning a little extra money is not a bad thing either. I worked several jobs during high school and college to include delivering pizza, helping out at the local movie theater, and cleaning up at a sheet metal plant. Each job was different, and taught me new things. I developed the habit of showing up on time at work, learned the importance of interacting with customers, and how to get stuff done without having to be constantly monitored. This summer Gavin is working and learning many of these same lessons, and earning some money for college. Riley – you will start working next summer.

The summer should not be all work and no fun. You have extra time, so enjoy some of it. When I was your age I had the opportunity to go to Europe multiple times to see and experience a different part of the world. I met a lot of new people, experienced new things, and really expanded my perspective of the world. Luckily for both of you I still enjoy traveling and already take you to Europe during the summer. I plan to continue taking you there each summer. Both of you have also been able to spend a lot of time in the Outer Banks at the beach. We have great memories from the many years we went to Duck. I encourage you to considering doing more of this as you get older, and the summer is one of the best time to go. Other things I enjoyed doing at your age during the summer was going to the movies, seeing the bands I liked in concert, visiting the beach, and hanging out with friends. I know that times have changed a lot, so I am not saying you should do the same things. Rather, make sure you enjoy your time off. Some of my best memories from my youth are from the summer time.

Summer months offer you an excellent opportunity to spend some time getting into shape. One excuse I use a lot when it comes to physical training is that I don’t have the time for it. That is not true for either of you this summer. You have plenty of time, so make it happen. The weather is perfect for getting out there for a swim, a bike ride, or a run. Going to the gym is another great option. I was on the local swim team at your age, so we would spend most weekends at swim meets which took a lot of time. As you know, I never pushed you to be a swimmer since neither one of you were very interested in the sport. But, that doesn’t mean that you should lay around the house doing nothing. Nowadays, I do some of my hardest training during the summer months. I recommend you do the same.

Trust me when I say that it is not likely that you will have more free time on your hands than you do right now. At my age, you get vacation days that you have to use wisely. With that in mind, I highly recommend you spend a little time thinking about how to spend your summer, and make it happen. Fall will be here before you know it. When someone asks what you did over the summer, avoid having to answer, “nothing”. A better answer would be I earned some money working, went to Europe, and got in much better shape.

Summer nights and my radio
That’s all we need baby don’t you know
We celebrate when the the gang’s all here
Hot summer nights that’s my time of the year

– Van Halen

Travel Journal – Lessons from French Culture

This summer we visited France, spending numerous days in Paris, Normandy, Brittany, and a few other locations. We saw a lot of great sites, and were able to experience numerous dimensions of French culture. Like almost every country in Europe, France has a unique culture. Well, it is just very French. I will not pretend to be an expert on French culture (I don’t even speak the language), but I have visited this beautiful country numerous times and have taken note of a few things I really like about French culture…and a few things that I would not emulate. Please note that I am not trying to stereotype an entire country’s culture based on my limited exposure. Rather I just want to note some things that you will remember from our recent journeys that I think can inform how we live our own lives. First, three things that I enjoy about French culture.

1. They enjoy a good meal. Let’s face it, the French know how to cook tasty food. As you can tell from my size, I do not have the most sophisticated palate, but I do eat like a King when I am in France. The list of French foods I enjoy is long, but not endless. I really enjoy croissants, croque monsieur, escargot (yes – the snails are delicious), baguettes with cheese (not the really stinky blue cheeses), onion soup, steak and mussels with fries, beef burgundy, andouillette, and crepes to name a few. Just typing that list makes me hungry. To be fair there are several dishes I don’t like such as liver pate, tartare dishes, or creme brulee. French food enjoys a good reputation worldwide, and it is well deserved.

2. They look good walking around. France, particularly Paris, is known for its fashion. You notice this walking around Paris, and other cities. Simply put, I have seen few French dressed like slobs. You can tell that most people spent some time thinking about what they are going to wear before going out the door. We here in America tend to be much more casual than many countries. I am not saying that is a bad thing. Rather I am saying that it is probably worth investing some time and money into looking nice. I used to dress really casual all the time, but try to dress more appropriately these days. I don’t think you would ever witness a French person walking around in their pajamas, and I have seen more than one person in Reston Town Center who looked like they just rolled out of bed.

3. They appreciate art. We saw so much great art in France. Their museums are full of masterpieces. In fact, the Louvre has so much art that I would never attempt to see all of it during one visit. The Orsay has a wonderful collection of impressionist art. We visited Monet’s house in Giverny. The garden there was as beautiful as you would imagine. I see their appreciation for art spilling into the colors and designs they use in everyday life. I am not an artist (no talent at all), but I do notice how prevalent art is throughout French culture.

France is a great country, but not all is sunshine. There are a few things I will note that could use improvement in France. Some of these are obvious, so I will not elaborate in detail.

1. Many people still smoke. The negative affects of smoking cigarettes are well known, but I guess the French don’t care. I was surprised by how many people still light up cigarettes on a regular basis…to include with coffee over breakfast.

2. Many people are working less. The short work week is a reality, and many stores are closed during lunch hours. Trying not to judge, but it just seems like the French work ethic is much different than ours. Granted, Americans probably work too hard, but it is noticeable.

3. The dog poop. I know it sounds crazy, but there is dog poop all over the place in many cities. For those who have been to France, you know this is true. For others, it is probably shocking. It seems like no one invented the plastic bag to pick up dog poop in France. Pay attention when you are walking around, or else you may get an unpleasant surprise.

As always, I enjoy traveling and learning from other cultures. In case you are looking for a humorous perspective on French culture, check out the video below from a You Tube travel channel that I watch on occasion. Yes – he talks about the dog poop too.

Tips for Traveling – France

As you know one of my goals is to visit Europe on a regular basis. In fact, we have taken a vacation there the past three summers. This year we went to France. I thought it was a great trip. We saw a lot of great art, walked through awesome cathedrals, strolled through half-timbered houses, visited historic sites like the D-Day beaches, ate wonderful food, met new people, created memories, and learned a little about what it is like to be French. There are a few specific reasons I like to travel, and enjoy showing you different parts of Europe. I think it is important to see other parts of the world. More importantly, you learn a lot while you travel. You learn things about yourself, about others, and how the world works. Below are three travel tips from our most recent trip to France. They are focused on the trip itself, not what we learned from the French while there…that will be in the next blog post.

1. Detailed planning helps make the trip go smoothly and creates lasting memories. Traveling is not easy. Things will go wrong. In order to avoid our vacations becoming a chaotic mess, I spend a lot of time planning the trip before we board the plane. You know this – you have seen the slides I create that describe the trip in detail. I know my approach is kind of geeky, but it seems to work really well for us. Some would argue that it is better to just “wing it” when it comes to travel. The idea is to show up without a plan, and just “make it up as you go along”. I am not a big fan of this approach, especially when you are traveling as a group like we were this year. I would rather invest the time researching and planning so that we make the most of the trip. The last thing I want to happen is for us to spend a few weeks in a country, shell out a lot of money, and not really enjoy it. To avoid this scenario I will map out the route, design an overall schedule, and a basic agenda for each day. That does not mean that every minute of every day is planned in advance. Rather, I like having a basic structure so that we get to see what we want to see, and get the most from each day at a pace that is comfortable. We always leave time in the schedule for unplanned excursions that arise during the trip. For example, this year we decided to drive down the Normandy coast rather than take the main highway. It was a beautiful drive full of amazing sites that we would have missed.

2. Use the resources that are available to stay organized and avoid mishaps. There are a lot of great tools available nowadays to help you plan for travel – books, websites, blogs, videos, etc. For example, I use booking.com for our hotel reservations. This website allows me to search for hotel rooms at all the cities we will visit. It includes reader reviews, photos, and detailed descriptions. The site allows me to track all of our reservations in one location. I almost always book rooms with a free cancellation policy, because you never know when you plan will change and you need to cancel a room. I also use trip advisor for researching, but rarely will book rooms through their site. There are several great websites like kayak and google flights to use when buying plane tickets. Let these sites do the searching and tracking of prices for you. It is amazing the price difference you may see in flight prices. For example, this year we stayed an extra day because it was cheaper to pay another day for the hotel room than to fly on a Sunday back to the states. YouTube has a ton of travel related content that is useful. I will watch numerous videos to extract tidbits of information about where we are going, what to see, and what to expect. Lastly, investing in a travel book is worth it. The reality is that a trip to Europe costs thousands of dollars, so it makes sense to spend the $30 on a good travel book about the area that we are visiting. As you know, I am a huge Rick Steves fan. His books, TV show, website and videos have taught me a lot about travel, and saved me a lot of grief while wandering around Europe. This year, we spent a lot less time waiting in long lines for tickets based insights gained from his France guidebook.

3. Live like a local when you can. One of Rick Steve’s mantras is to try to live like a local while you travel so that you actually experience the culture. It is easy to stay in comfortable hotels away from the action. Many enjoy this type of travel. I prefer to see what life is like for the locals. It is much more interesting than being holed up in a fancy hotel built for foreign travelers. For example, based on Rick’s recommendation, we actually stayed on Mont St. Michel for one night. Sure – it was expensive, but it was worth it. I knew that we should arrive late in the day as the day trippers were leaving, so that we could experience this unique site without hoards of tourists around us. We did, and have many awesome pictures to prove it. Another good decision we made was to spend multiple days in the Rue Cler neighborhood in Paris. We stayed in a funky modern hotel, and were able to see how the locals live in this pedestrian zone part of the city. Each day we ate breakfast at the local bakery where locals sip their coffee while eating a croissant, chatting with their neighbors about current events, and smoking cigarettes. As you learned the French still smoke a lot. At night we ate and drink in one of the local cafes watching Parisian life pass right in front of our eyes. I felt like we learned a little about what it is like to actually live in Paris – one of the greatest cities in the world. For anyone considering visiting Paris, this video gives more insights about staying near Rue Cler. BTW – the best croissant I have ever eaten came from the bakery on this street. It was dripping in butter and goodness.