Only Floss the Teeth You Want to Keep

That’s what dentists tell you. You don’t need to floss all your teeth—just the ones you need to keep.

When it comes to your business, your life, or your relationships, a similar principle applies. You don’t have to pay attention to everything and everyone. But you do have to pay attention to what matters most.

It may help to identify some priorities. In my business I track only two metrics on a consistent basis:

1. Email subscribers

2. Product sales
My thinking is that if these things are going along okay, everything else will fall into place. I don't check other statistics or track anything else. Checking my bank accounts will not make more money.

This year I added a "relationship metric":

Every day I will write or call at least one friend.

It’s simple, but effective (at least for me). So far this year, I haven’t missed a day.

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“What Have I Missed in My Life?” Notes on The Novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge

"I think the message in the book is that we all have flaws we can’t resolve." -Amazon reviewer

I recently read Mrs. Bridge, a lesser-known novel from 1959 in which nothing really happens. A boring and largely unsympathetic character ambles though normal life events, rarely seeing her equally boring husband. Their three children have normal childhood problems, and eventually grow up.

Sounds thrilling, right? But underneath the surface, there’s a lot more going on. The novel is essentially about discontent and regret, or about encountering the panic and quiet desperation of an ordinary life.

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The Game Is Rigged, So Learn to Play the Game

You probably learned in kindergarten that life isn’t fair. You can’t always get what you want—and sometimes you might not even get what you need.

When something doesn’t work the way we want it to, we tend to dismiss the process as unfair, flawed, or even fraudulent. “That’s a scam,” you hear about any number of things.

Getting into college, for example, is unfair and flawed. Sure, you can study hard, join the service club, but “the game is rigged” in favor of people who invest in standardized test prep.

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One of the things I have yet to come to terms with is: what are the consequences of losing my brother? That is, what will be different now that he's gone?

Obviously I am still grieving, and even still largely in shock. I wake up every day remembering him, disbelieving for a moment that he could possibly be gone. But these are short-term circumstances, not long-term consequences. The bottom line is that I don’t fully know what the loss entails for me and for everyone else who was close to him. In my case, I just have no doubt that my life will be different, not only now but always.

Today is Ken's birthday. He would have been 32 years old. I probably would have texted him to say “Happy birthday, bro!”

And to be honest, that’s probably all I would have done. I might have sent a bottle of whiskey or a copy of a new book I liked, but in most years I usually just called or wrote. He was always better at birthdays and other holidays than me or anyone else in the family.

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Many Dreams Aren’t That Hard to Achieve

Toward the end of Up in the Air, the character played by George Clooney calls up American Airlines and asks to transfer some of his Frequent Flyer miles to his sister.

"How many miles?" the agent asks.

“Enough to go completely around the world."

I saw that movie with my parents several years ago, and when we left the theatre, my mom asked, “How many miles does it take to go around the world?”

She thought I’d know the answer, and of course I did.

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Lessons in Non-Conformity from Sesame Street

A reader sent me this fun video from a long-ago sketch on Sesame Street.

I love the turning point right at the halfway mark: Dan would do everything that Stan did, until one day he decides to make a change.

“Hi, I’m Dan. I decided I’m not going to do everything that Stan does anymore."

Isn’t this exactly how it works in life? You go along with the crowd, playing follow the leader and keeping your head down. The status quo is maintained—until it isn't.

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How to Change When Change Is Hard: Lessons from a Timid Mouse

I was coming back from a run up and down Mount Tabor in Southeast Portland. I know the route well. It’s about a 5-6 mile loop from my house, depending on which path I take. More often than not, when I’m home for a while I run it at least once a week.

As I neared my neighborhood toward the end of the run, I noticed a cat in a driveway. Being a cat person, I often say hi to felines when I see them out and about on my run. Cats being cats, sometimes they follow me for blocks, intent on being my friend for life, and other times they can’t be bothered to acknowledge my presence.

This cat, I noticed, was different. He was sitting on his hind legs in the driveway, staring intently at something. Maybe it’s because he was so intent on the object of his fascination, or maybe I was just tired toward the end of the run—but for whatever reason I decided to slow down and walk over to the driveway.

“Hey, what’s going on?” I said to the cat. (Yeah, I talk to cats the same way I talk to people. If you’ve ever had a cat, you understand.)

The cat gave no response. He was fully immersed in something, and as I got closer, I could see what it was. There was a mouse! A tiny one, shivering in an isolated section of grass near the driveway—and just a paw’s swipe away from the cat.

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The Emotional Balance Sheet

I often enjoy the personal finance columns by Carl Richards. In a recent one, he explains how to create an “emotional balance sheet” to quantify (or at least tally) your non-financial assets.

Carl tells the story of how he and his wife Cori made the choice for her to become a full-time mom, despite the fact that the family would lose more than $1 million in earnings over the next twenty years.

He’s quick to point out that the moral of the story isn’t “all mothers should stay home with their children”—which is good, since presumably many readers would make different choices. The lesson is a) to be clear about your intentions, and b) learn to value non-financial assets.

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Happiness Is a Superpower

3025340899_178b8f62b4_z I heard something in a dialogue recently. One character was complaining about being unhappy, and the other character replied, “You have a misguided notion of what makes you happy.”

The sentence made me stop and think. Most of us, at different times, have a misguided notion of what we think will make us happy. We go around trying out different prescriptions and remedies.

Maybe the new thing will work ... or maybe I should go back to the old one?

Maybe there's still something else out there, just waiting to be discovered?

That’s why the alternative to misguided notions—true clarity with the possibility of contentment—is so powerful. Knowing what will really make you happy, as opposed to what you think will make you happy, is no less a superpower than flying.

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After the Wave

Thanks to everyone who sent notes or sentiments or just thought about Ken and our family after reading yesterday’s post. I appreciate it all.

I’d also like to encourage you to not borrow trouble. This isn’t your burden, or at least it isn’t for most of you. I wanted to share what had happened for anyone who cared, but you don’t need to feel bad or think that there’s something you need to do.

In the best of cases, a story of loss can inspire you to live more intentionally and to not take your loved ones for granted. I’ve often felt inspired and challenged by stories of loss myself, so if that happens for some of you as a result of hearing about Ken, that’s great.

I’ll still be writing the blog, daily whenever possible, and I don’t want it to be all about sad things. As always, I’ll be writing about entrepreneurship and seeing the world and whatever life lessons I happen to pick up along the way.

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Let the Wave Crash Over You: A Letter for My Brother

Chris & Ken in the early years (ages 7 and 2) Dear Ken,

When I look back at all the memories we shared together, there are so many that stand out.

I tend to think of our childhood, which was not particularly a happy one for either of us—but my memories of you and me are consistently happy. I remember when we lived in different states and sent things back and forth to each other in the mail every week. We talked on the phone a lot then, too, but having something physical arrive in the mailbox was a fun thing that we each enjoyed.

I remember all the video games we played together. Well, I probably don’t remember all of them, since there were so many. But I remember going from console to console as we both grew up, sometimes competing against each other (you were always better at Sonic; I could usually beat you at Street Fighter) and sometimes cooperating.

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The Fear of Losing Prestige

Chiara Cokieng, born and raised in the Philippines, has been on a journey of multiple career changes. After graduating from a prestigious university program and landing a nice gig as an international consultant with assignments in America, she then quit her job to work on a business idea.

The business idea didn’t pan out, at least not right away—so she took on a new role as a full-time employee for a startup. She plans to see this commitment through, but eventually wants to go back to her own thing.

In all of these changes, she’s had to manage the emotional labor of shifting directions, including telling people that what she hoped to do was no longer happening.

Here’s what she describes as the most important thing she’s learned...

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You Can’t Live As If You Only Had Three Months to Live

4721798240_0beb2a46ab_z It’s a challenging thought: “How would you live if you learned you only had three months left?”

Most of us would probably make some changes, or at least we’d think long and hard about “what matters.”

If your job sucks, you’d probably quit. You might travel to that place you’ve always dreamed of. You might pursue a long-time dream that you never got around to until now.

And you’d almost certainly aim to restore harmony in any broken relationships, and perhaps say farewell to as many friends as possible.

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Sometimes It Doesn’t Work, But You Still Have to Try Anyway

You always hear about the people who took a chance that paid off. You always hear the try, try again stories—those case studies of overcoming what seems to be an insurmountable challenge.

You know how the story goes: so-and-so encountered failure a dozen times, but on the thirteenth attempt, they made it!

Then so-and-so says, “Thanks, everyone. I’m so glad I kept going. Victory was never guaranteed, but look at me now."

Sometimes, though, you head into a situation knowing that there’s a high likelihood of failure. I'm not talking about the possibility of failure, I'm talking about odds that would make a free-wheeling Las Vegas roulette player back away from the table and head straight for the buffet.

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“There’s Nothing You Could Have Done … But What If There Was?”

15812627982_fe477f8cce_z Last week I wrote about the unexpected loss of my brother, Ken. I mentioned that when terrible things happen, people tend to say, “It will all be okay,” but unfortunately this isn’t always true. What’s okay about a premature death? There’s no way to bring back a loved one, and that’s just not okay.

Another thing people say is “There’s nothing you could have done.” But just like saying, “It will be okay,” this isn’t necessarily true either.

When you come to a situation you can’t change, it’s only natural to look back and think, “What if?”

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