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Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts tagged family
What My House Looks Like

My kitchen table has crayon on it. The upholstered chairs have sugary milk seeped in, puddling just below the surface. There is a smear of paint on the back door, left there two weekends ago after my daughter and I came back inside once we painted the stool on a patch of mulch near the fence. Fingerprints dot the area around most doorhandles and if you look for just a minute, that's a plastic chicken leg there by the couch leg. Its partner - mashed potatoes - is probably under a cushion. And his accomplice - peas - is nowhere to be found.

The pile of stuffed animals is getting higher. We have more Lego's than bin space to store them now. Those helium balloons she got for her birthday? They'll be floating quietly in our living room until they finally droop to the floor (around the time her next birthday gets here).

My home looks nothing like a catalog with those septic white rugs and no sight of dust. Nothing here is at a right angle and you'll find a wrinkle in most everything. Our shelves are cluttered and so are our lives.

My home looks nothing like the fake living rooms you find at IKEA or in a West Elm window. Here we have milk rings on counter and chocolate chips beneath the highchair.

My home looks nothing like I pictured, but it looks every bit like a family lives here. It looks like a place where my daughter is growing up, where she plays and runs and falls and rests. It looks like a place where my wife and I are making a life together, where we crash at the end of the day, where we lay to talk about where this is all headed and how we'll get there.

This place looks like life to me.

We're All Just Cleaning Up Spills

She finishes her doughnut and the evidence of what she just did is all over her face and fingers. The sticky icing, the sugary dough, and those rainbow sprinkles are scattered on her skin. I wipe with a dry napkin to no avail. This will require something wet and cold. She grabs her milk and gives it an inadvertent squeeze a second too soon. Before the straw can make it to her mouth, a few drops of liquid splatter on her shirt and the edge of the table. A small pool forms from the drops and she puts one finger in the puddle, splashing and sending milk flying.

I'm sure that later tonight she'll spill some yogurt. She may knock her cup of water off the table, squeeze out too much toothpaste, or drop her tiny container of crackers. And each time, I'll stoop low, find a towel or napkin, and clean. I'll scrub and wipe and dab until the spill is gone, her world is reset, and we can all carry on as planned.

As a parent, sometimes it can feel like all you're doing is cleaning up spills.

Scratch that - as an adult, all we're all doing is cleaning up spills.

We make a glorious mess of things sometimes, don't we? We quickly long for the days when our biggest mistake was losing our ice cream and not destroying a friendship. As grownups, we can lose clients, burn bridges, and waste a reputation with a few keystrokes or misplaced words. And there we are - left with a very big mess, needing more than a paper towel to make things right.

Kids make messes every day. If we do right by them, we show them how they can be cleaned up, how dropping pretzels isn't the end of the world, and how life can continue once we've done the dirty work of working with the dirt. In that small lesson, hopefully, we can show them that taking time to clean up is a chief duty of us humans. Leaving food, toys, or clothes in disarray is no way to live. Neither is leaving a heaping mess of hearts, dreams, and legacies.

None of us admit that we're as messy as we are. Beneath very put together facades, we all have some dirt, some grime, some spillage, and some clutter. If we could just press pause on our busy lives, perhaps we'd be able to focus on stooping low and putting back together that which we've broken or spilled.

The first step is to recognize what a royal mess we've made. When we've wrecked someone (including ourselves), we need to understand the damage done and assemble what we need to make it right. The most overlooked tool in this endeavor is time, which is teaching us a brand new lesson all by itself. The spills we make as adults are rarely cleaned and tidy in the time it takes to refill a plate of granola.

It can seem like we're hopping from one spill to the next - those of us with kids and those of us without. But in this hopping we see something of our role on this planet. By making so many messes due to our day-to-day lives, taking the time to clean is as much a part of who we are as what we do when our lives are so neatly organized and presented.

My daughter looks super cute first thing in the morning, when we come downstairs dressed and matching, clothes pristine and untainted. But that's not her. She's really the girl I see at around 5 PM, after a full day of playing and painting, eating and drinking. The stains and messes she makes during the day give her the stories that will turn into memories.

Let us go on, then, and make messes. We can't live without doing so. But let us also be wise enough to clean them up each time so that we can all keep playing together.

The Challenge of Love

Love can be so hard sometimes because human nature is very bad at living in the present. It wants to remember the past as better than it was and has dreams for the future that may never become reality. Yet with love, we're doing something for, toward, or with a person who is only in the present. Loving someone for who they were or for who we hope they will become is a wasted effort. We may as well write a Hollywood script where everything works out like we want. Such an exercise is a fun escapist fantasy, but isn't how the world works.

The challenge of love is to love the other person entirely and completely right now, for who they are. We love them for what they're doing right now.

Of course, in a blink, the person can change (and so will we) and we must begin again to love that new person with our new person.

This is what makes love so dynamic, volatile, and roller coaster-y.

True love is not boring as long as it is present.

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Here's a related post about why I think I'll be married to five different women in my lifetime.

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What's Left

You get up early, work out, get ready for your day, eat breakfast, go to work, work hard, go to meetings, fight traffic, come home, eat dinner, and then you're available for your family. You know this drill, right?

It's a terrible drill.

The way we currently work isn't working. What it means is that when we come home, exhausted, our families get what's left of our time, attention, energy, and concern.

This isn't how it's supposed to be. Work isn't supposed to get our best and our family isn't supposed to be stuck with what's left.

Some days, this is just how it happens, but when it's a pattern, there's a huge problem.

Why do the people we love the most get our second-rate selves?

This doesn't mean we have to slack off at work and do our worst. But it does mean we need to step our game up when we walk in the door and see those we love.

Want to make sure you have the best to offer your family? Here are four things that work for me:

Hang up the phone before you open the door

If you use your drive home to catch up on phone calls, make sure you conclude the call before you walk in your house. Nothing says that something else is more important than blabbing into a phone when you unlock the door to your home.

Take deep breaths and say goodbye to the workday

If you're head isn't clear, your family will be the first to notice. Even if you need to hop online once dinner is over and the kids are in bed, clear your mind before you engage your family.

Change clothes

My dad did this when I was young (so did Mr. Rogers), and apparently Tina Fey (as she recalled in Bossypants) does it, too. When you come home, slip into something more comfortable. Then, you'll be perfectly dressed for crawling on the floor, going for a walk, or doing something fun and messy with the family.

Serve

Want to show your family you care? Make dinner. Tidy up. Read every book your daughter demands you read to her. Bathe the kids. Make the bed. Wash the dishes. Love often looks like cleaning up, I've learned. Prove to your family that they come first by doing anything and everything to help them.

Remember: our family deserves what's best, not what's left. Make sure you have enough in the tank for them as often as possible.

What would you add?

Any tips that help make sure you give the best to those you love the most?

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I Don't Need a Building

I don't need a building standing tall on some campus or in some city with my name on it. I don't have nearly enough money for that. I don't need volumes of books written about me, read by the masses or by the scholars. I don't have an interesting enough life for that.

I don't need a holiday named after me, where people get off work and go shopping for mattresses on sale. I don't have enough notoriety for that.

I don't need a parade held in my honor, complete with a marching band and people waving at the crowds. I don't have enough pomp and circumstance for that.

I don't need a song written about me and what I may have done to inspire someone with a guitar and a dream. I don't have nearly enough motivational qualities for that.

...

I simply want to be written on the heart of a few people, who will remember the best parts about me when I'm gone. I want my legacy not etched in stone, but marked with a life well lived.

I think I have enough me for that.

What Time is It?

My daughter has no concept of time. She's not supposed to, being all of two-and-a-half. But it quickly gets frustrating when Mommy needs to get to work or Daddy needs to take a shower and someone else wants to line up dinosaurs or watch just one more episode or go down the stairs just right with her hand on the middle rail, tiptoeing so that each foot hits each step just right all the way to the bottom and then it's Mommy's turn to do the same thing. And when this all happens, part of me knows that very soon, she'll grasp time. And then we'll be on time, right? But at what cost?

When we learn the importance of time, we lose a bit of our innocence. Time is a tool manufactured by adults in order to further develop a world where numbers make sense in the context of bank accounts and calendars. Time is one of the few overlords we let master us, unable to be emancipated form its methodical and cruel gaze. Even when we're sleeping, he's eternally at work, ticking away until it's time to get up, get dressed, go to work, go to lunch, go home, and repeat.

Meanwhile, my daughter doesn't know she gets picked up at four o'clock. She just knows that Daddy or LaLa or Mommy is here so it's time to go home and play or to get an afternoon yogurt or to go see her baby cousin. She doesn't know that noon means naptime; she just lays on her cot at school like all her other friends do after a morning full of puzzles, stories, bubbles, and tricycles.

Shame on us for letting the clock run as much of our lives as it does.

Sure, we need the rigid, impartial drill sergeant of time to make sure we get on the plane when we're supposed to and so that we can pay our bills when they're due and so that we can get to the game in time for the first pitch. But letting deadlines and alarms direct our every move - even those outside of work - is the surest path to live a life that is never yours.

When I come home each day now, I take off my watch. There's no use in knowing when it's 5:05 and then when it's 5:32 and again when it's 6:01. Each second spent looking at my watch is a second I don't spend fully engaged in building a tall Lego tower or finding all the elephants to put next to the giraffes or counting all the bouncy balls.

With each glance at the clock I'm reminded of a life that is full of obligations, when things are needed by someone else, and all that I'll need to do to make everything happen by a certain date. But when I glance up to see my daughter putting a blanket on Dumbo, I'm reminded that my legacy will have nothing to do with deadlines and everything to do with playtimes.

This isn't a reminder just for parents, that the clock shouldn't have as large a role in our lives as it does. It's a reminder for any of us who are always running late or not getting enough sleep or unable to do our best work or cutting dinner short or figuring out how to shave seconds off of an already busy day.

Every second counts, but not every second matters. The chief purpose of our lives is to put more meaning into each moment.

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Learning Love

Blockbuster romantic comedies with hunky actors and perky actresses try to convince us that love is easy. As long as we're in the right place at the right time, we'll find the one we're meant for. Then, if we endure a few miscommunications, a quirky friend or two, some kind or work problem or ex-girlfriend conflict, it'll all work out. There's a reason rom-coms end when the couple finally gets together or gets married. It's because making a movie about what it's like to love someone for a long time would border on tedium and would ultimately be classified as reality filmmaking.

Being in the thick of love is like feeling your way through a jungle, looking for a path others have told you about but that you can't quite seem to find. Sooner or later, it dawns on you that it's up to you to make your own way in order to embrace this wilderness that is love.

I think love is learned. We don't learn it cerebrally by picking up a book about rules or ways or steps. We learn it from the middle out, dropped right into the context of relationship. There is no other way to understand what love is other than to experience it deeply, truly, and overwhelmingly.

Any other way of understanding it would be shallow. Watching a movie about it, reading a blog about it, or never giving in to its pull is like staying in the kiddie pool when there's an ocean to enjoy just over the horizon. Yes, the waves are scary, but we can never understand the freedom that exists on the open water until we relinquish the security that comes with the shoreline.

Each day I'm on this voyage, I learn a little more about how to love my wife, how to love my daughter, how to love my family, my friends, and my community. I learn what's required of me. I learn what each needs from me. I learn what I need to tell the others so that they, too, can learn to love me.

It is in the tumultuous ocean of love that I find the most comfort. Sure - uncertainly abounds. But, I have an anchor I can drop at any time to ground me and give me time to pause and regroup before sailing again.

Deep down, none of us wants love that is found in only 90 minutes, wrapped neatly with a bow. We want love that scares the crap out of us but is worth the journey because someone else is in the boat with us.

If we want to learn what it's like to love, we have to push off from the harbor, lose sight of what's familiar, and learn to navigate new streams. And when we do - no matter where this trip takes us - we'll find that staying on dry land caused us to miss so much. Regardless of how this journey ends, there is no other ride we want to be on, no other place we want to go, and no other people we want to share this stage with.

Onward. To/in/with/for love. 

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Why Are You Going?

In my line of work, I get asked a lot, "Where are you going?" It's an easy enough question to answer, filled with city names or airport codes. But I always remind myself - every time I'm asked that question - why I'm going. I go to speak or consult, but I also go to work and share ideas so I can help build a life with the two people I love the most.

We have to remember why we go, and not just where we're headed. Because a destination without a purpose is nothing but wandering. 

And while you can wander for a season, flitting about as freely a spirit as you wish, it's no way to spend your entire existence.

I love the "Where in the Hell is Matt?" video series. Here's the new one for 2012:

Mesmerizing, charming, humorous, and whimsical, these videos can excite something within us, and dare us to buy a plane ticket to anywhere but where we are now. Watch the video and be transported to Asia, Africa, the middle of the ocean - anywhere you dream of going, Matt has probably been there (and danced there).

But why? Just to make a viral video?

Watch the whole thing. The last location is probably Matt's why.

Our why doesn't only relate to travel. It can relate to our jobs, our hobbies, our commitments, and our time. If you find yourself working late, hating your career, or confused at what this all means, asking yourself why it is you do what you do helps you remember that you're not simply wandering. You have purpose. You have priorities. You have plans.

For me, all of those come back to a people. Life on a stage and in various airports brings me a step closer to being the kind of dad and husband I long to be. Talking to business professionals or college students is a very empty task unless I'm also able to communicate with my two biggest fans each day.

Facetime

I just finished Simon Sinek's book, Start With Why. A great read, the book reminds us that the best companies and movements in the world try first to answer the question of why they do what they do. Then, they determine how they'll do it and what they'll do in order to bring their core purpose into existence.

We have to do the same. We have to hold tight to our why. It's our compass, pointing us to where the work is and then pulling us back home again when the job is done. Travel without the compass of "Why?" and you'll just be going in circles, spending decades moving but with no real progress.

So let me ask you: "Why are you going? Why do you do what you do? Why are you?"

If you can't answer this question (and I'd challenge you to not mention money in your answer), stop what you're doing. If you don't have a why, then the work you're doing right now could be meaningless. Don't waste another second on it.

We all need a passion, but more importantly, we need a purpose.

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The Internet is Making Us Dumber

As you may well know, I'm struggling of late to come to grips with our fascinating and messy world of social media. What once seem so cut and dried to me as I worked with nonprofit and corporate groups to teach why they needed to update and tweet and tag is now a confusing minefield of statuses and likes. For me, this is amplified in my attempts to be a great parent and a good friend. It seems as though I'm not alone. This past Sunday, a lengthier analysis of what Facebook may being doing to us appeared in the New York Times. We may be coming for a digital reckoning, it seems. I don't care what these do for the profits of a now-public company. But I do care more than ever what our picture posting and online commenting is doing for us humans as we try in our fallible ways to build real community in our messy lives.

These aren't the gripes of an old curmudgeon, mind you. These are the concerns of someone who wants authentic friendship and meaningful relationships with those who help me feel significant and like I belong. I'm merely searching for the same things my ancestors needed while painting on cave walls and packing up camp when the seasons changed.

And maybe a season is changing for those of us who have grown accostomed to what all this newfangled technology was once able to do. 

There was a delightful novelty to the way Facebook once helped you find an old summer camp buddy or peer into what your old high school classmates were up to. Half a decade ago, it was neat to get a friend request from your old teammate, use your lunch break to scan through some pictures of his family, read about where he works and what movies he likes, and then mention it in conversation with your wife over dinner. And now? Now he's hidden from your newsfeed and you kind of hate him because he really loves posting misleading information about the President or how he can't wait for the new Nickelback album.

We wrongly assumed that we wanted thousands of connections that lacked real depth. As another reporter put it:

We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.

A world without conversation is a world without give and take. It's a world where learning takes a backseat to broadcasting. And we're all a little dumber because of it.

Compare our lack of conversation to the lack of relationship depth we have, magnified by our logging in (over and over again) to view the constant stream of updates and tweets. If you think you can get deep in 140 characters, I'm sorry, but you're badly mistaken.

What's another way to say lack of depth?

Shallow.

Assuming that online connection points are a valid substitute for offline relationships means we're shallow. Another word for shallow?

Dumb.

Our relationship IQ is shrinking right before our eyes.

I'm undertaking some steps over the next few weeks to better get a handle on what these tools can do for us - and what they need to stop doing for us. Balancing the private world of Dad with the public world of speaker and author is getting harder. Tools that promised convenience seem to fall silent in the face of moral or ethical ambiguity. Then again, they should - they're just tools. Faceless, soulless tools that do a job. They don't make judgements, wrestle with dynamic notions of what's best, or feel regret when a connection is missed (or even destroyed).

That's my job.

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I Will Build You A Thousand Sand Castles

We sat in the cool sand under an overcast sky and started to dig. We moved sand around looking for shells and then started to fill buckets in an attempt to build something. When the bucket could hold no more sand, I turned it over and lifted it again to reveal a small column standing there amidst the shovels and seashells. My daughter saw the beginning of the sand castle, grew excited, and then stepped on it, turning my work to rubble. She looked up, pleased, and asked, "Daddy build another sand castle so I can knock it over?"

Sure, my love. For you I would build a thousand sand castles.

This is what we do for people we love. We're willing to build and rebuild and then build again and again and then a few more times. We're not working with stone or marble when we're working with love. Our materials are fragile human hearts and delicate emotions. Often, each crumbles under the weight of everyday life, busy schedules, and the pressure to be perfect.

And when something falls apart or doesn't go as planned, if we're with the people we love, we stoop low again and start to build. We're not interested in doing work that will last for millennia; we do the work that's needed to make it through today because when we love somebody, all we want to do is spend tomorrow with them.

Love is not the thing that motivates us to create something that strangers will know us by. Love is the thing that compels us to do everything so that those who mean the most will know how much we care.

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The Hardest Thing About Parenting Today

I'm sure parenting was never easy. So, it's not like parents today have it harder than their parents did (or their parents did). Sure, maybe we have to lock our doors now and the threat of nuclear annihilation hangs over all our heads, but parenting a child is still fraught with challenges, whether it's a Cave Mom teaching her son to share rocks or it's a Soccer Mom teaching her daughter to share iPods. For me, the hardest thing about being a parent in 2012 is this:

To put down my f**king phone.

It's not that I'm texting friends when I should be playing Legos, or that I'm checking email when I should be reading about Curious George. When your phone is a camera and a voice recorder and a video camera and a photo editor and a blogging tool and a way to tell all the grandparents what's going on, the natural instinct is to get it all on tape (surely that expression is on it's way out). Let me record every tower, every costume, every utterance, I think, so that she'll have one heck of a rehearsal dinner video one day.

My parents didn't have the challenge of having to parent with a 4" connection to the world in their hands. Cameras were trotted out on vacation or at ballgames, never for lining up Little People or naming stuffed animals.

I don't think I can be a great parent if my daughter begins to think half of my face is usually blocked by a magical rectangle that has the ability to bring her Elmo on demand.

Dollhouse

A few weeks ago, I wrote (in one of my most popular posts ever):

Parenting – and life – happens in between online posts and updates. It happens when we least expect it. And when it does, when those memorable moments of teaching and learning and being happen, the best thing we can do is put down our phone and live as deeply and authentically as we can in that moment.

Capturing everything so we can tweet it and share it and edit it isn't living. I don't care how second nature our phone or computer usage has become or how more connected (is that even possible?) my daughter will be when she's a mom. When the need to record or document becomes greater than my need to be present, I've become more journalist than dad. 

That's not what I signed up for.

Here's to putting down our phones today until Grandma calls.

On My Impending Digital Detox

This time tomorrow, I'll be boarding a cruise ship. And when I do, my phone will be off and I won't check email for an entire week. I'll be on vacation. A real vacation. For the first time in over six years.

When you start and manage your own business(s), you take vacation, but you're never really not connected. I've taken time off from work, but checking email via my phone just to stay on top of things still happened while lounging near a pool or taking in a new city. Yes, I've relaxed, but I've never gone off the grid.

But, I'm doing it. I won't be going to the handy (and expensive) Internet cafe on the cruise ship just to read that day's email. I won't be posting pictures to Facebook of my daughter with Mickey Mouse in real time. I won't check voicemail. I won't be tweeting. I'll be radio silent.

When I decided to do this three weeks ago, I was a bit nervous at first. But after that initial anxiety went away, I've been nothing but excited.

I'll have a whole week of in-between. Whatever comes in can wait. I won't mistake urgent for important (at least for this week). I'll do nothing digital.

Pre-scheduled emails (like Dose and Cool People Care) will still fly. Tweets and status updates that were pre-planned will still happen. But no blogging. No commenting. No tagging.

Just being.

See you in a few.

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