Do Dads Need Dreams?

Last spring I was heading up to Harriman State Park (1hr north of NYC) for a Bush Smarts gear testing / photo trip. Looking off into the mountains I had a realization that in the heat of having a kid and starting a company I hadn’t really maintained the notion of having dreams in life.

A year later I’m still a bit on the fence; one side of me thinks that a Dad should live an impassioned life–conveying to his family that life should be lived with zeal, but I think also that dreams can be a slippery slope. Their pursuit can become the embodiment of selfishness and ruin. Should Dads be entitled to dreams, for themselves and for the family? How does that play into your role as “head of household” if that’s your schtick?

To the Non-Dreamers:

At times I think my life is governed by hard & fast realities, with very little room for much else. While I’m growing Bush Smarts, I make all of my money from creative consulting, at times just skimping by to allow my wife to be at home with our son Charlie. We have a pretty typical load of American debt, a combination of credit cards, loans and school loans. The end is years away at our current pace. When I’m “realistic” about our budget, it is not a very forgiving situation at all so not dreaming and sticking to reality is a pretty natural course of life.

Something happened to me though, after 4-5 months of inflicting a frigid fiscal discipline on my family; I found that I was actually diminishing my and our ability to enjoy life. Sounds dreadful I know, but it’s true – we found that we stopped caring about anything other than getting out of our situation, without actually bothering to plot a trajectory of what that destination was, and what we would do when we got there.

In my past, pre-Charlie I would say, Whitney and I were filled with wanton adventure–always looking for the next trip, restaurant, dinner whatever. Experiencing our neighborhood and traveling were huge parts of our life and we really liked it. The DINK (double income no kids) lifestyle was quite agreeable, we had the full menu of life without ever looking at the bill.

Realistically, that left us was without any preparation or plan for how to live off of one income and fighting tooth and nail to stay above water. The dream became not drowning.

Be it for good or naught, I found solace in my grandparents generation – growing up in the Great Depression, learning to subside off of less and drawing fulfillment from the scarcest morsel of release.

Not dreaming, seems to be a very safe way to go about life. You dig your way out of life’s proverbial holes by stacking brick by brick, always keeping 3 limbs on the ground–knees and hand, the other to place the next brick. If you can stomach the monotony, you have little choice but to ascend out of your hole –  but I can make no guarantee the condition you’ll be in when you get there. It is a life driven by sheer discipline, void of inspiration or joy. The hardship isolates you, and insulates you from the very people you’re hoping to “save.”

You May Say I’m a Dreamer:

Well I’m not the only one… Recently, I’ve been riding the crest of an epiphany. Dreams have reignited their value in my life, though honestly I’m still dipping my toe in the water and playing it safe (baby steps). Much like a starving backpacker finding a prime-rib buffet in the woods, I historically have a tendency to charge into dreams with delusions of grandeur. Now being older, surlier and I guess you could say scrappier – I’m finding that my time spent in the trenches has enhanced my executional abilities to a point where my conversion rate of dream to reality is much higher.

In pursuing dreams, I’ve found there’s a newfound romance in our marriage. We look forward to the possibility of doing more together, and see glimpses of hope not as torture but as inspiration to go out and get more. My relationships with my wife and son are deepening, as my cold-hearted trap door psyche melts from the inside. Last Saturday I took my son around the neighborhood and even though he’s only a toddler we hung out – at least in my mind we did. It was probably some of the most fun I’ve had in months. More so–I’m ready to do it again next weekend.

He doesn't even know he's so money right now.

He doesn’t even know he’s so money right now.

Nightmares:

As I said in the beginning, I think that dreams unchecked can lead families to ruin. One thing I love about listening to talk radio (you’ll hear about Dave  Ramsey in a minute) is that you get an intimate glimpse into real life stories from around the country. What I find from call-ins, is that especially men often pull their families on half-baked schemes without every actually weighing the reality behind it. This is coming from a guy that co-founded an artisanal camping gear brand but hear me out. There’s story after story of the mechanic, contractor, good ol’ boy, or whatever who squanders everything his family has to fill up his tool shop with tools / cars / trucks / motorcycles to run a business that doesn’t exist.

My position is to differentiate dreams into those that are beneficial, and those that are detrimental. In the pursuit of a good dream, as I’m finding, every step along that path is a good one–not always easy, but always enriching, teaching and encouraging. Pursuing bad dreams leads to waste, resentment, hurt feelings, lost time – and empty pockets.

Here’s how I got here:

If there’s a silver lining to rock-bottom fatalism, it’s that if you can’t find a point to it all then you should realize that you’re creatively free to make that point whatever you like. In my case, I started seeing that many of my limitations were a result of invisible scripts that I had in my head – and those scripts needed to be evicted immediately.

You can’t make enough money to be comfortable, you’re a startup owner

This script was a huge hurdle to get me back in the dreamscape. In the fall 2013 I became a huge fan of Dave Ramsey (still am) and went nuts “growing up” and “getting real” about the direction I steered the family. Though there is a huge amount of wisdom in his approach, like anything else – in excess it can become its opposite. I found that rather than adopting a dream of financial freedom, I was basically crushing any prospect of dreams for the end goal of I guess financial…isolation? What would we even bother to do when we got there? As a reminder, I’m still on the road to financial freedom, but maybe switching vehicles 😉

Next I saw a blog post from Tim Ferriss about Avoiding Burnout that told an incredible tale of his intern Charlie (also my son’s name), and how he was running full-throttle for years before realizing that he was hopelessly burnt out and in need of resuscitation. His book Play it Away beckons the overworked and under-played to accept the harsh reality that playing is the only thing that can unwind the rigorous damage of job distress in your life. In the Ferriss’ article with Charlie, they prescribe an absolutely perfect test to see if you’ve gone too far:

  • Do I feel guilty or anxious when I’m not working?
  • Have I stopped playing with my friends?
  • Do all of my daily activities revolve around building a more successful career?
  • Am I always sleeping fewer than eight hours per night?
  • Am I consuming stimulants multiple times per day to hide my exhaustion?
  • Am I sitting still and staring at screens for most of my waking hours?
  • Do I interact with people primarily through screens?
  • Am I indoors all day long, depriving myself of fresh air and sunlight?
  • Do I depend on alcohol or drugs to cope with social situations outside of work?

I was blowing it on every single one of these points (except drugs I guess) and it propelled me to reframe the approach to my work. That’s a story worthy of its own post. From there I’ve started reconnecting, unashamedly with things that my wife and I enjoyed in our early days. Dreams don’t have to be sex under the Eiffel Tower–though that is on the bucket list 😉 but rather small things incorporated into every day life. Taking Charlie for “hang outs,” going for Sunday drives and even eating dinner without looking at client emails are all huge dreams accomplished, despite how trivial they sound. As my reality shifts, I know our path will bring those crazy things back, whether it’s treks in Iceland or cannabis in Colorado.

Key Takeaway:

  1. Dream, but use your brain. Here’s my guide to whether you should start a business.
  2. Use your dreams to enrich your family, not punish them
  3. You know yourself better than anyone else. Don’t let your Achilles Heel become your legacy.

What’s your story? Do you think that dreams make you selfish? Do you avoid them – do you embrace them at the cost of your family?

Fearless Living for the Family – STRIKE IT FROM YOUR HEART!

A few years back my good friend Chad Renfroe showed me this clip and my life was forever changed. I watched Apocalypto before then, but had never given this part a second thought. Its lesson is one of the biggest paradigm shifts that you can make, and will ripple through your family and work.

 

Fear is a POISON

Being fearless in your home and work is a mental struggle, but one that you can, and must, overcome. You have to realize that if you enter a marriage with fear, then you will bring that fear to your wife and pass it on to your children. As much as that sounds like something out of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, I tend to think it’s true.

Overcoming fear is a complicated process, but one that can be systematized with the proper approach.

Named must your fear be, before banish it you can.

~ Master Yoda

If you know what you’re afraid of, then you have to take the next steps–TAKE. STEPS. Don’t sit on your ass any longer.

1. Get pumped up to address the fear. This may require inspiration, motivation, meditation, frustration–whatever it takes. As a Christian if I feel like my thoughts or emotions are falling toward fear, I pray and remember that God is the only thing I should fear (Deuteronomy 13:4, Psalm 23).

2. If you don’t know how to face this fear, research similar people who have gone through this. That may mean Google searches, interviews or digging into your own past–journals, letters, etc. Find out where it started.

3. Grit your teeth and take blows. You are a man, you are created to stand in the way of opposing forced and to not falter. If facing your fear crushes you, then you still did something that most will never do. Learn from your mistake and try again. Remember that if fear is a poison, your top priority is to spit it out and find the antidote. If you think this statement is antiquated and sexist, let me spare you the time and don’t read this blog any longer.

 

Fear in Marriage

I made it very clear when I met my wife, that I did not want fear of any kind to be a part of our family. That may sound a bit abstract, but here’s some practicalities of common fears in marriage:

1. Security: financial, situational, reputation
2. Family: Parents, Grandparents, relatives
3. Children: Having, raising, etc.

My wife and I both came from divorced homes, and we are both adamant about not only never getting divorced, but about learning to vehemently love and serve each other better each day as life goes on. Part of that resolution is we agreed to never fear our financial situation, career situation, or extended family situation. We fully cling to one another emotionally, physically and spiritually–and that’s only possible when you can leave everything else behind. Both of our parents for reasons that boil down to fear.

 

Charlie, the fearless lumberjack.

Charlie, the fearless lumberjack.

Fear Surrounding Children

Have you ever met a child that was afraid of everything? If you bring the poison of fear into your home, it will affect your children and manifest itself in problems that you will have to deal with for the rest of your life.

The common fears you see will be written off as personality traits, however this is a dangerous slope.

Fears most seen around children:

1. People
Your job as a parent is to instill in your child a sense of discernment, so that he/she can easily understand who is a true stranger, who is to be trusted and who is not to be trusted. The word “socialized” in my opinion applies to dogs. Teach your child to be a human, treat him/her like a human and put him/her in social situations like a human. Kids look to their parents for social cues that say “this person is our friend” or “this person is a stranger, but we’re safe”

When kids don’t learn to differentiate friend/foe, they are most susceptible to predators who show them friendly interest.

2. Food
My son is 8 months old and literally eats everything except for milk & honey (sorry Promised Land). Within one week of starting purees, we pushed him forward into basically eating everything we eat, in milkshake form. Two months into it he’s had everything from chicken curry to carne asada fajitas. He continues to be healthy, happy and is gaining personality at an alarming rate. This is not “luck” this is common sense in action.

If you look up what the “experts” say, they suggest weaning kids into everything and waiting 4-day stints before introducing another food, as though foods don’t interact in digestion. What honestly makes you a “baby expert” anyway, shouldn’t that be having lots of healthy kids? Feed them what you have, that’s what our ancestors figured out.

I also think that making special meals for your infant/kid creates either an entitlement or an inferiority complex in kids. In a few instances, say when I’m eating stir fry and my son is eating spinach–he’s eyeing my stir fry and loses interest in the spinach. He wants to be treated like everyone else. Make your kid a part of your family, and not a sidecar of it. Unless you or your wife/partner has a deadly food allergy that could’ve passed down–grow a pair and feed that kid!

3. Having Kids in the First Place
When/how to have our kids was the only thing that my wife and I ever argued about. She wanted to wait at least five years, until we’d had our fun, and then after being tuckered out like a couple of old horses we’d start having those kids. The root of this, is that having a kid was my wife’s biggest fear in life.

My attitude towards it, was that kids are a natural progression in life, and we’re not morons so if a kid comes down the pike–we’d figure it out and make the best of it.

– Maternal Instinct, Fear as Inadequacy
In my archaic approach to life, I also keenly recognized my wife’s maternal instincts and knew that when the time came she would tackle Motherhood like a boss. A key way to identify that, gents, is to observe when your potential wife encounters kids–will the kids forsake their own Mom to come be with your wife? Even though that sounds like a threat (to your kid/wife) you should trust that your child’s intuition is acknowledging potential in someone else. I would encourage this and let the guy that brought her over know that this is a good thing.

– Loss of Fun, Fear of Change / Fear of Loss
Because our little Charlie was a surprise to us, we didn’t fall into some of the pitfalls of parents who desperately wish to have kids and are therefore in an indebted position to their kids. Charlie, a force to be reckoned with, came into our life–but it is our job to make him a part of our family, an entity that existed before him. This simple mental paradigm–making the kid conform to precedent, is not common in the “self esteem / entitlement” era, but I assure you it will make the world a better place for future generations.

We continue to live life, see friends, go out and do things per usual and we bring Charlie along for the ride. We instilled in him from day one the understanding that he needs to act as part of a micro-community, not the head of a monarchy.

Key Takeaways:

+ Fear is a poison, strike it from your heart
+ You are the family’s sword and shield
+ Don’t allow weak thinking to poison your family’s direction

 

Is this post archaic? What era – Middle Ages or 1950’s? What do you think?

 

Should a Soon-to-be-Dad Start a Business?

This is definitely a tough question and one that every Dad, aspiring Dad and unintentional Dad may have to tackle. Though there is no definite answer, here’s how I approached it and a bit about how things are working out. A big component in my book is going to surround how entrepreneur parents approached the same decision.

John and I had been friends for a few years since working together at Eastern Mountain Sports’ SoHo flagship. We both came from different sides of the design world and we discussed how we might put our backgrounds together to make some cool gear for ourselves. Our first project was the Bear Star, discussed in early August 2011. After some meetings, emails and sketches we were on our way to a prototype, but I was also planning to leave NY at the end of March 2012 to find some new adventures.

Fast forward to early November 2011 when John and I pulled in to Tuxedo, NY and were hiking towards our go-to campsite. Just days before, I’d learned my wife, Whitney, was pregnant. After only 6 months of marriage, this was definitely unexpected and certainly not “planned.”

John became the first person to hear that my wife was pregnant, so this creates the fork in the road. Leaving NY was not an option now, but was it a good idea to start a gear company?

 

Decision 1 : Do You Have Strong Partnerships?

This is the most crucial decision in whether or not you should start a business with a child on the way.

The first partnership starts at home–how are things with your wife/partner? Are you 1000% certain that he/she is behind this decision? How are you going to manage child care? Will someone stay at home? Whitney had a contract job that ended March 31st prior to the delivery. We decided that she would join my freelance work, making both our lives a bit easier. It was a really fun few months!

If your business is going to be a partnership or team, what is their opinion of kids or their understanding of work/life/family balance? In high-pressure environments, there’s a lot of people who have zero understanding of what’s involved with raising children–or preparing to have them. The last thing you want, is to enter a partnership/team and constantly feel like you’re behind because you have to go home at night. Luckily, John loves kids and has been hugely supportive of Whitney and Charlie. It’s important to remember that if we don’t take the time to properly raise our families–none of us would be here!

In your absence, are there people you trust who can help your wife/child along? This can be relatives, close friends, neighbors etc. We are extremely blessed to have a sister, friends, neighbors and an incredible church community who stepped in to help after delivery, offered advice before, gave hand-me-downs and spent the night when I was away. Whitney also started the Brooklyn Summer 2012 Moms which is now over 100 Moms in our neighborhood, with babies in the same age range. It takes a village!

John and I in Ohio, touring the factory that does our titanium cutting.

John and I in Ohio, touring the factory that handles our titanium cutting.

Decision 2 : How Viable is Your Business Venture?

Market testing is important, whether you’re opening a venture-funded web app or a lemonade stand. John and I aren’t number crunchers by nature, but we did extensive visual, marketing and brand research into where things are heading in our industry and in peripheral spaces as well. Because BushSmarts is a hybrid company, situated between the camping and design world, we definitely had our work cut out for us. The good news is, the writing on the wall shows that people are into making the outdoor gear market a little more design savvy, and urban folks dig our rugged style.

Also in this vein, how much experience do you have in the realm in which you intend to sell? Will you need additional education, training, tools or resources? John and I have both been camping and taking outdoor trips for decades, and I’ve spent years teaching skills to Scouts and consumers alike. We both have been working as professionals in the design industry for years also, so our major need in skills was in the account/legal/programming world. This is fairly common though, so for us we felt like making an outdoor gear brand was pretty rational for both of us.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 6.14.34 PM

A younger me, at Scout Camp. Who knew this would lead me to starting a gear company…haha.

 

Decision 3 : How Far are You Willing to Go?

DO NOT turn your business venture into a money pit. Set the amount you are willing to invest and stick to it. If that means a time limit, then set the point at which you will leave the venture if your goals are not reached. It’s way too easy to let ego, pride and selfishness completely submarine your family’s future–and it’s NOT worth it.

Also remember that things change. If your wife/partner or business partner/team is in a transitional state, you have a responsibility to have regular meetings about this issue and stay on top of it. When people are flexible and realistic, it’s very easy to operate a business that doesn’t end up in personal fallouts and implosion. John and I keep a totally flexible schedule about when we work, and we communicate about what we can and can’t do. Never throw your partner under the bus, about anything, ever. We’ve been working on Bush Smarts for over a year and a half, and we still have discussions about how we want to operate. Adaptation is sanity!

Key Takeaway

+ Receive and give grace
    Know that you’re not perfect, and that no one else is either

One of the pastors at my church said that grace is “being forgiven for something for which you don’t deserve forgiveness.” Whether you’re on the receiving end, or the giving end–remember that you make mistakes and your decisions often hurt and inconvenience others. Recognizing this and sending this to others will change the shape of your business.

There are many times when I overstep boundaries with John (being late, forgetting things, making typos and not checking them, etc) and with Whitney (not communicating my schedule, working late, overcommitment) and it’s eye-opening to realize how gracious people are when they’re still willing to put up with you. Have the courage to  forgive your vendors, your customers, your partner, your spouse. It may lead to a radical transformation in your business, and your life.

What’s Your Story?

I’ve written this from the perspective of a self-funded, online-based, cottage industry business. What were the key decisions you faced in starting your business with kiddie on the way?