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Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts tagged relationships
Your Definition of Success is Too Narrow

Yesterday, my friend Matt Cheuvront posted an "inspiring" video. While the dedication of the student athlete and his physical prowess is admirable, the speech in the video is less than helpful. The story of the young man and the guru is told (which I've written about before) and then the speaker encourages his listeners that in order to be successful, they must want that success more than parties, sleep, or TV. I can surely appreciate the sentiment. I am a big believer that often what stands in the way of us achieving a dream is the 30 minutes lost to a sitcom rerun or the discipline of rising early to carve out time to work on something that matters.

But, where I draw the line is at the notion that success is equal to income. As the speaker in this video articulates with the examples he uses, one will only be deemed successful when they forget to sleep because they are earning wads of money.

That notion of success is too narrow.

Any definition of success that does not include an appropriate valuing of human relationships is garbage and should be thrown out like the trash it is.

Are parties not as important as succeeding, as the speaker suggests? Maybe. But skip every party you're asked to and soon your friends will stop inviting you, no matter how many awards you win. Is money nice to have? Certainly. But it's no fun if you can't spend it on those you love because your life is absent of any significant relationship.

Check out the top five regrets of people on their deathbed. Do you know what you won't find? The lament that they didn't listen to the guru enough and spent more time working.

Screw the definitions of success that are dictated by dollar signs. I say work your crappy, unexciting job if it means you make enough to spend on those you love while spending quality time with them, too. Chances are good that the people who care about you the most don't give a rip what title is printed on your business card (I bet they've never seen your business card). Instead, they want to know that you'll be at dinner, at the dance recital, and at the beach with them next summer. They want you there at bath time, bedtime, and story time.

And if you want success money more than you want relationships, then chances are good you're headed for personal failure. You fail when your life is full of regret. And the best way to live a life as free of regret as possible is to take it easy once in a while. Or a lot of once in a whiles, especially if it means you can sleep late next to someone you love, party hard with lifelong friends, or teach your child how to kick back and do nothing at all.

Don't believe motivational speakers when they tell you that you have to ignore everything else to be successful. They're peddling a lie. Instead, believe your family when they say they want to see you more often.

Go home, take a walk with them at sunset, and breathe deeply knowing that at that moment, you are the most successful person in the world, doing the only thing that matters right then.

What is your definition of success?

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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.

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.


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.


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.

The Walls We Build

I'm thinking about paying an annual fee to become a member of Delta's airport lounge system. This would get me access to a whole world of amenities at many of the airports I visit, traveling as much as I do. Truthfully, I marvel at what awaits inside. I read online about the snacks and the drinks and the WiFi and the newspapers and (in some cases) the showers and I can't wait until one day I get to walk inside and know I belong. And that's the ultimate allure, the belonging, isn't it? Surely, I could save money by buying a newspaper or snack in the main terminal with all the less-fortunate souls. So it's not the perks as much as the membership in something that seems exclusive that appeals so much to me.

So it is with any walls we see erected in our path. What's on the other side? we wonder to ourselves and our close friends. Is it worth joining? Would they really let me be a part of it? What will happen when I'm 'in'?

It feels like that when you're a freshman and considering rushing a fraternity or sorority. It feels like that when you visit a new church or interview for a job or start making new friends or move to a neighborhood or find a MeetUp group. Can I be a part of this?

And then we learn the rules. Every group has a wall, a barrier to entry and access, keeping it closed off to absolutely everyone. Otherwise, there would be no mystique or even benefit to joining. If everyone could walk into the airport lounge, it becomes no different than the rest of the terminal where free newspapers are only had by lurking at a gate whose flight is boarding and scrounging for one a passenger left behind on her way to the plane.

But, not all walls are necessary and many should be redefined. Some walls are offensive and archaic, based solely upon gender or race for no good reason. Others are silly, made of ritual and tradition that are no longer formative or important. And some exist merely because of geography or income and aren't as prestigious as they seem.

We need to rethink our walls.

Robert Frost's The Mending Wall is wise in its words:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence. Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That wants it down.

Walls are as only as good, in my opinion, as the people inside them. I don't care much for your fraternity or church or giving circle if it's full of bigoted, obtuse, ignorant fools who only like to think themselves important. In fact, if I get in your club by jumping through a series of hoops only to find I became worse in the process, then your walls were nothing but time-wasting nonsense.

Rather, the walls themselves should consist of the caliber of the character of the members. A neophyte should wonder Am I as good as those inside, those I admire? or Will membership improve who I am? One shouldn't ask himself Can I meet the requirements of membership? but rather Can I live up to the incredible standards of humanity that those inside seem to set on a daily basis?

Walls should make things better, not just exclusive. Are the walls of your organization (the requirements for members) making the people on the inside better?

If not, then I recall another famous wall quote, something to the effect of it needing to be torn down.

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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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Freedom From Worry

"If I had just a little bit more money..." "If I win the lottery..."

"If I get the promotion..."

"If I get into that school..."

"If my idea hits..."

Complete those sentences however you like. At the heart of each is the notion that with a little (or a lot of) cash, the right opportunities, the stars aligning, or things going in our favor, we'll be set.

But what is "set"? Is there a certain amount of money we can have and then want no more? A certain pedigree, title, or recognition?

In my experience, each is ever-changing. Get a million bucks and then you'll be restless until you get a million more. Rise to run the company and then you'll itch to start your own and grow it bigger.

What we're all chasing is freedom from worry. We believe - for some reason - that if our bank account is big enough or our house is in the right city or if we meet the right person that we'll never worry again. Each night we'll lay down and while darkness settles in, our minds won't race with "what if?" questions about our lives. Certainly, at some point, worry will leave us and we'll be blissfully at peace with the world and our place in it.

Oh how I wish that were the case!

Get as much money as you want; it won't prevent any nasty disease from creeping in and ruining you. Find the right person; they don't come with an iron-clad guarantee and that they'll be around forever. Land your dream job; any company can go bust.

Does that cloud have a silver lining or is that its gray underbelly, waiting to burst and drench my parade?

None of us can live without worry. There's always something. The best we can hope to do is manage it, keep it at bay enough to enjoy our picnic in the sun. Sure, rain is possible, and if it falls, we'll pack up and dance barefoot while getting soaked, creating a memory that can't be duplicated or taken from us, captured in our hearts to draw upon when we're lonely or sad or bored so that we can remember the day when we laughed and did the Charleston, drenched, making the most of a bummer of a circumstance.

We can't truly ever live without worry, but perhaps we can find joy in its midst. The fragility of human relationships exists to remind us that these things aren't to be taken for granted, ensconced, buffed, and fit for a mantle to only be gazed upon when things are going well. The reality that any of our connections can fall to the floor should spur us to take care of each, to nurture and cradle them so that we can understand and appreciate what it is we're holding. And while it can still fall and shatter, it may be less likely to do so if we're careful, courteous, and conscious with what it is we have and cognizant of how beautiful and delicate these treasures of people are.

Worry is like a brake, then, there not to keep us idle, but to help us go as fast as we can, knowing that we will be able to slow or stop when our speed has reached a point that it can be dangerous. With time and wisdom, we can tap the pedal to call our attention to the proper guardrails and lanes so that we don't veer off aimlessly into a direction we shouldn't be headed.

No amount of anything will free you from worry. But the right amount of life will have you living fully despite worry's troublesome presence. Worry wasn't meant to drag you down. It was meant keep you grounded so you could flap your wings with rapturous joy when you get the chance to fly.

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What Michael Grinder Taught Me About Public Speaking

One of the highlights of my brief time with CAMPUSPEAK thus far has been attending their every-other-year conference, Huddle. This is a chance for all the speakers on the roster to get together, learn from each other and from experts, and become better at what they do. Keynoting the event was Michael Grinder, someone who bills himself as a communications expert, particularly when it comes to non-verbal communications. And in just five minutes, I'd learned more from Grinder than I had in my hundreds of times on stage.

Many times, we think that the bulk of our impact as speakers comes from our words. Michael showed us otherwise. Sure - words matter, but so do all the things we do when not saying something.

Here's a sample:

  • The first thing out of Michael's mouth was, "The first thing you need to know about me is that I love my wife." This floored the audience. Here was a guy hired to come teach and he begins with his values? But what a way to start it was. Instantly, Michael became someone we admired and trusted, which is important for an audience. A personally invested and connected audience is one that will listen.
  • Michael then carried on along this line, reminding us that it's imperative we know the difference between life as a speaker and life as a husband, wife, or whatever else we are when not on stage. He said, "No matter how good a problem solver you are at work, that's not lovable at home." In other words, most of the time, our loved ones aren't looking for us to spout wisdom; they just want us to listen.
  • "If you're in a bind, stop making statements and start asking questions." This is good with an unresponsive audience or when things get tense at any job.
  • "Make sure your audience walks away with value, not just adrenaline." Great speakers don't just pump their audiences up; they give them something to use.
  • "Influence is not just about power. It's about permission." People need to willingly give us their attention if we're to be successful.
  • "Brilliant communication gets people to be accountable to themselves." This is what is 'motivational' many times about speaking. You're motivating people to believe in themselves, work hard, and be their own coach and hardest critic.
  • "Leadership is comfort with uncertainty."
  • "If you want to help something you say sink into someone's long-term memory, increase or decrease voice volume from the baseline." A whisper can be as effective as a shout.
  • "Speaking 'techniques' are like a match. They aren't ethical or unethical in and of themselves. How you use these techniques determines whether or not what you're doing is ethical." If you're great at speaking, those skills can't and shouldn't be used to manipulate. There's no real impact there.
  • What makes a great speaker isn't whether or not they can employ great skills; it's when they choose to use them.
  • "Our perception of ourselves is the number one thing that gets in the way of our professional development." We can all get better.

What's the best speaking advice you've ever received?

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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.


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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