In review: 2016

The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on. — President Barack Obama

It’s my fifth annual year in review! I can’t believe I’ve done this for five years, but here I am. It’s been quite a year for me and my family, and I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for awhile.

In last year’s year in review, I wrote about how I suspected one of the reasons I wasn’t hitting goals was because they weren’t really well-defined:

I have learned that the reason why I don’t accomplish my goals, in part, is because they’re not really goals. A goal has a fixed moment in time you want to achieve something by, and I haven’t been doing that. These year-end reviews have mostly been good ideas instead of hard goals.

Thus, I gave myself some hard deadlines to what I wanted to accomplish. I put them in my favorite task manager, and then started the year ready to go.

I had four goals, with defined timelines for each:

  • Finish my house projects by May 1. It took a little longer than anticipated, but I considered the house projects completed on July 4. This was the last of the things I needed to get done for us to sell our house. Our house in Lawrence went under contract after six days on the market. We closed and moved to Kansas City on July 23.
  • Have an awesome birthday by June 8. Although it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped (a big soirée with a surprise party and surrounded by tons of friends), it ended up being a birthday full of reflection. Turning 40 turned out to be a pretty good thing.
  • Reclaim my time by March 1. It took moving closer to work to make this a reality, which I considered done by Aug. 10. After having commuted more than 90 minutes every day, my commute time has been shortened to about 40 minutes daily. This has had a huge impact on my mental health, and my relationship with my wife and kids.
  • Take a vacation by Aug. 1. I missed this by a couple of weeks, but for good reason. On Aug. 1 I went from being a contractor to a regular, full-time employee at the place I’ve been working since March 18, 2015. With it came some incredible benefits, and paid vacation time. I took the week of Aug. 10 off, and my family explored tons of Kansas City we’ve not seen before. It was a wonderful, relaxing vacation.

In other news …

  • Amy (the wife) and I completed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, during which we paid off $5,037 in debt.
  • We purchased grown up life insurance. Should anything happen to either of us, each other, or our kids, will be WELL taken care of.

I consider 2016 to have been a fantastic year. It was a smashing success. But it really seems that setting a date to achieve a goal was really key to helping me get things moving in the right direction.

Goals

So here I am; goals for 2017:

  • Pay down $10,000 in student loan debt by Dec. 31, 2017. This is going to require some vigilance, and some side hustles on my part. I’m encouraged by the amount of money we paid off during Financial Peace University, but some of that came from the sale of the house (although not as much as I would have liked). But I’ve got some extra streams of income coming in aside from my regular job, so I think we can make this goal. There is, however, going to be a lot of the kids hearing “it’s not in the budget” for awhile, however.
  • Create a passive/semi-passive income stream by Sept 1, 2017. We’re pretty good at cutting out unnecessary spending, but that will only go so far in obtaining financial goals. I’ve been learning about passive income this year, and I’d like to set a goal to have some extra income coming in by this date to help us pay off our student loans and meet the above goal. Since I’m currently making zero dollars from passive income currently, literally anything extra would be considered a success. I’ll shoot for a goal of $100 per month extra, however.
  • Hit my goal weight by June 1,2017. I go through these healthy/unhealthy phases and I’m quite tired of it. I’ve leaned on the old I’m commuting long distances and that’s why I’m unhealthy for a few years, but with my commute being much shorter that’s really not a valid excuse anymore. I really haven’t felt “healthy” since July 2013 when my wife and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary. I’m not ready to give specifics on my current health situation just yet, but let’s just say that by June 1, I want to be 25 lbs. lighter than I am now.
  • Have a regular date night with Amy by February, 2017. My wife has given up a lot in exchange for a life we have chosen to pursue that matches our values. We are homeschooling our children for a variety of reasons, and since she has the teaching degree it’s putting it to good use. She takes care of the homefront, and I bring home the bacon (mmmm, bacon). But that carries its own set of burdens. In essence, she’s always at work. Working parents get to get out of the house and away from the youngins, but the spouse at home isn’t afforded as many mental breaks. So my goal is to find a sitter, and by sometime in February, have regular, monthly date nights with the Mrs.

So there you have it. What a year. I’m so blessed to be where I am today, and I hope and pray for as good of a year in 2017 as we had in 2016.

I hope the same for you.

Civility

Last night I joined some other developers for dinner, and is common these days at one point the discussion turned to politics.

Now, it wasn’t a very deep talk. It was mostly talk of uncertainty with the regime change, and how the election season was especially nasty this time around.

But at some point in the discussion, one of my fellow developers appeared fairly agitated. Being the diplomat I attempt to be, I tried to steer the conversation to something more positive, but that was a tough sell. The discussion finally turned a corner, but it was a little uncomfortable for a bit.

I have a done a good job surrounding myself with people who have a variety of views on a multitude of issues. I’ve had my fair share of ribbing for my very complicated views, but I dish it out, too.

But I can’t remember a time in recent memory when I yelled at someone because he disagreed with my politics. We talk, we disagree. No big deal. Our lives are bigger than politics, and our relationships are certainly more valuable than incessant bickering.

And so, dear readers, I want to encourage you to treat others with respect when you engage in your ideas. Otherwise it’s going to be a very long four years if we can’t engage in civil discussion.

Even if you all are wrong.

Goodbye, Lawrence

Goodbye Obamaville

It’s things like this that make Lawrence special in its own, odd way. From the story: http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/town_talk/2015/may/11/a-prominent-goodbye-sign-from-defunct-pa/

It has taken me awhile to write this post, but I’m really glad I waited until I was fully ready.

Of course, it’s not like there was a time limit on this sort of thing. But when you live in a place for as long as I lived in Lawrence, KS, it feels like I owe her a goodbye letter.

What a ride. I moved away from the only area I had known as home from the southeast Kansas area to Lawrence. in March 2000. I was working as a reporter for a small-town newspaper in nearby Eudora, which had a familiar feel to where I grew up, but Lawrence was a whole new experience for me.

Streets were unfamiliar. I got lost a lot. I didn’t understand this whole thing about the Phog. Why is there a guy standing on a corner of Mass. Street with a sign that said “Honk for Hemp?” Who is this dude that walks around town with the black beret flashing everyone the peace sign? What about that guy who pushes a cart around downtown with a mannequin?

There were strange things in Lawrence, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. That first year was rough. I didn’t know anyone, and I mostly stayed in my studio apartment — which cost twice as much as the same type of apartment back home — watching movies I’ve never heard of from Liberty Hall. Not only could you rent movies from there, you could go see a movie on the big screen and grab a beer while you did.

But with KU having the appeal that it does, I soon learned that some guys from back home were going to be renting a house together. My lease was ending, and I was asked if I wanted to live with them. My life took another turn after that. I bonded with these three excellent men. We had amazing discussions about music, philosophy, religion, politics, and women. We played music together. We sharpened each other. It was fantastic. Lawrence’s culture helped foster an environment where four men could come together and grow in such a spectacular way.

And then I met the woman who would become my wife. She has since has told me it was a longtime dream of hers to move to Lawrence. A former military brat, she lived in Manhattan, KS. for her high school and undergraduate college years, but made the move to Lawrence to pursue her graduate degree.

She got the degree, and I got the girl. Eventually I got a job working for the City of Lawrence. Up to that point, I was driving elsewhere for my work, but it was that job that made me really feel like I was turning into a townie. I loved that job. I loved living and working in Lawrence. I put my heart into it, because Lawrence had my heart. We had a kid. A few years later, we had another. We bought a house. And then we added one more kid for kicks.

I really thought I was going to live in Lawrence forever.

But around 2012, things started to shift. A friend invited me to come apply for an open position and work with him at the City of Olathe, but it took me awhile before I could muster the guts to do it. Could I really leave working in town? But the opportunity to work with a group of people who were doing some more advanced work than I was doing alone was too good to pass up. I got the job, and went back to commuting.

It was the beginning of the end of my life in Lawrence.

I ended up moving from that job after a few years, and left the public sector. I began to see a bigger picture: there was much more opportunity for better wages, more things for the family to do, and less expensive housing if I was willing to move away from Lawrence. I felt a pull to Kansas City, but the decision didn’t come easy. We would have to sell our house, and move the family to a totally unknown area. I wasn’t sure I could leave, but I wasn’t sure I could continue to stay. I tried to find a job where I could work from home and stay in Lawrence, but nothing panned out for me.

We put our house on the market. It was under contract in six days. And on July 23, 2016, we left Lawrence for a new life in Kansas City, MO.

Leaving wasn’t easy. But I’ve had some time to really think about it, and it was the right decision. Lawrence’s housing market is overpriced. The job market is depressed job market (unless you want to get into food service, hope you like Mexican food!), and there doesn’t appear to be a vision for where the city will go in the coming years. Add to the mix that the city is in a state where the leadership is driving the state finances into the ground, and the prospect of the city becoming anything more than it already is doesn’t seem good.

That said, there are things I really miss about Lawrence. We left many friends behind. I miss my familiar haunts — places like Amici Italian Market and Deli, and Munchers Bakery — and the many wonderful parks we would take the kids to play at. I loved the group of bright minds at Lawrence Coders, a group of developers who live in or around Lawrence. Their insight helped shape my career.

If I think about it too much, I get a little angry. Why didn’t the city I love so much take its amazing potential and turn into something magnificent? The disparity between wages in Lawrence versus Kansas City is obscene. And according to the number of cars I saw on the interstate with Douglas County tags, many others had figured out that there was better money to be made elsewhere.

But, the move wasn’t just about money. At least, not fully.

Shortly after we got married, my wife took a job for the Lawrence newspaper throwing these ad-filled newspapers to everyone who wasn’t a subscriber to the actual newspaper (it was really just analog spamming), and in exchange we would get a discount on our cable/internet bill.

I helped her do the work, and we got assigned to a fairly nice part of the city on the west side. I noticed something about the houses we threw those paper to: there was often no one at home. There we were, spamming people at 6 or 7 p.m. at night, and these big beautiful houses had no one at home. I finally figured out why: they were off somewhere working to pay for the house they had in Lawrence, but weren’t home to enjoy it. That experience made me realize we weren’t going to be one of those people, and when the time came to make a decision, we chose moving over a life of commuting.

You cannot save time. Time is a resource that is spent whether you like it or not. But you can make choices to spend less time doing the things you hate and more time doing what you love. I wanted more time with my family, so the move was essential. I wasn’t going to throw almost two hours away every weekday to commuting anymore. I was done.

I loved Lawrence. It’s a city that taught me so much about myself, about how it’s OK to be different, about how to really love your community, and about how to stand up for what matters in a way that has dignity.

In the months since we’ve left, I’ve had moments where I find myself missing certain things here and there. I realize this is a good thing. It’s the sweet pain of love.

And so, Lawrence, goodbye. I really enjoyed my time with you. You will always have a special place in my heart.

A photo posted by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber) on

Forty lessons learned by 40

ericjgruber40

Today is my fortieth birthday.

This is going to sound strange, but I love turning 40. First off, I love that black (my favorite color) is the theme for turning 40. Secondly, I love the wisdom that is starting to come with age. I’ve got these white whiskers in my red beard, and I love it. I embrace my aged look. I like to think of it as patina. 

I truly believe I’m embarking on the most exciting decade of my life.

As is common with this age, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the lessons I have learned over the years. Let’s just get into it. 

  1. Celebrating birthdays is kind of silly. We should really be celebrating my parents who brought me into this world, kept me alive, and raised me in a safe and loving environment. 
  2. I haven’t had a greater thrill in my life than seeing each of my children being born. If I could bottle up the emotions that accompany watching that experience, I’d be a wealthy man.
  3. It is far cheaper to buy an expensive item with quality, than to buy several cheaper items of poor quality.
  4. Once when I was a kid I asked my dad what makes a curse word a curse word. He told me it was the connotation that society places upon a word that makes it a curse word. I reject that idea. I think a four letter word is trivial compared to telling someone they are worthless.
  5. Don’t air your dirty laundry online.
  6. Learning to play guitar is forever cool.
  7. Never wear pleated pants.
  8. Student loans are evil.
  9. If you’re too comfortable, that’s probably a bad sign unless you’re on vacation. Don’t get too comfortable.
  10. Fear can be an incredible motivator for self improvement. Embrace it and use it to your advantage. We must move in the direction of our fear.
  11. Don’t worry about what other people might think about you. They’re not living your life; they don’t know what you are going through at this moment.
  12. I have never gone wrong dressing nicely for an interview.
  13. Visiting other cities, other states, and other countries taught me to appreciate the life I have at home so much more.
  14. If something, or someone, seems too good to be true, it’s a very strong possibility that is exactly the case.
  15. Never use your children as a weapon.
  16. Don’t love things, because you are only a natural disaster away from losing it all. Then you will find out what really matters, and it isn’t your possessions.
  17. If you don’t have at least one vice, I don’t trust you.
  18. There are things I’ve said and done, all the way back to my childhood when I didn’t really know better, that I still feel awful about saying and doing. The tongue is a sharp sword, and the mind an incredible snare that can remind you of your worst transgressions.
  19. Beating yourself up about the past has no value. Move on, grow, try to not make the same mistakes in the future.
  20. There are people who come into your life who are toxic. Get away from them; they are poison to the soul. Some will come disguised as co-workers, some as friends, some as family. Get rid of them.
  21. There are people who come into your life who will change your life for the good. Some of them are teachers, some of them are co-workers, some of them are friends or roommates or family. These people are nectar to your soul, and you’ll miss them always when they’re not a regular part of your life.
  22. Time off is essential.
  23. The best things in life aren’t on a computer screen.
  24. If you write a book, the mileage you’ll get out of that will amaze you.
  25. Always tip 20 percent unless the service warrants less.
  26. Consume less and create more. The world needs your creations.
  27. If you come up with an idea of something you want to try and someone tells you “that’s a terrible idea,” them screw it and try anyway. Best case scenario is your idea is successful. Worst case scenario is your idea goes no where but I bet you will learn a lot from the experience.
  28. Experience is an excellent teacher. This can be a hard pill to swallow.
  29. Your spouse is your mate; don’t turn her into an adversary.
  30. You are going to figure out that you are wrong about some things. When you are given the choice between embracing the truth and “sticking to your guns,” don’t be an idiot.
  31. Don’t get too wrapped up in politics. No, really. 
  32. The best way to handle a compliment is with, “thank you.”
  33. The best response to someone who has lost a loved one is “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  34. Never auto schedule posts to social media.
  35. Yes, riding a motorcycle is as dangerous and as fun as it looks.
  36. With a few exceptions, there are no bad decisions. Rather, there are decisions and then you need to figure out how to deal with the outcome.
  37. You have to work really hard to be a true failure.
  38. Date nights are important. Don’t neglect them. They pay off dividends.
  39. Figure out what you want, and go after it. Beware of the things that will try and stop you. 
  40. Don’t put things off. Nike’s “Just do it” isn’t only a marketing phrase but rather, a philosophy.

When you realize you may be lying to yourself

In the last few years, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of moving back to my home (or close to it) in southeast Kansas/southwest Missouri. Every time I go home, there’s this strange siren song that calls to me: “Come back! You can make a difference here! You can share your vision to help rebuild and people will follow you! Come back, Eric! Come back!”

The thing is, we live far away from most of our family. Sometimes I think I’m doing my children a disservice by being so far away from our relatives. The kids are always talking about going for a visit, but it’s such a huge undertaking to get a family of five out the front door — let alone packed for an extended visit — that it doesn’t happen nearly as much as I’d like. When I was growing up, I was no more than 60 minutes (give or take) away from my furthest grandparents. I got to know my maternal and paternal grandparents very well. As an adult, our family is spread all over the state of Kansas. Currently, it is impossible to think my children will have the same type of relationship with their grandparents (and other family members) as I did with mine, and I find that unsettling.

My 20-year high school class reunion was last year. I took my family and we had a good time. At some point, the conversation turned to how the area really wasn’t like it was when we were growing up. It’s not just the fog of nostalgia; long-term data shows the area I grew up in is one of the poorest in the state. The county I grew up in often lands on the top five of least healthy counties in Kansas. Jobs are scare, cities are dying, and to really put the icing on the cake: the Walmart in my hometown closed this year. When even Walmart can’t do business there anymore, then you know things are bad.

Or as one of my former classmates who lives in nearby Kansas City said, “I’d love to move back here, but I like making money, too.”

trampolineTo put things in context, outside the True Value hardware store in the city of my birth (the hospital there closed decades ago), hangs a trampoline. Rather, it’s half of a trampoline weathered from years of exposure to the elements.

There was a time when it had a sign on it with a price. I presumed they didn’t want to take the whole thing down because it was at least showing they had the item in stock if someone wanted one in a box (you definitely didn’t want the “floor model”). During one visit, my wife and I were discussing the trampoline, and she said it had been in that condition for at least the entirety of our marriage — to date, 12 years. She even believes it looked like this when we were dating.

That stupid trampoline reminds me every time I come home of the siren’s call. I could show these people how to regain a sense of pride in their hometown. “I could bring my plan (yes, I have a detailed plan in my headabout how to fix a broken small town and restore it to some sort of greatness. I could people find the dignity they lost in a world that has forgotten them.”

I can hear my speech in my head: “True Value, tear down this trampoline!”

For years, I’ve had job search websites looking for openings around the Joplin, Mo., area with the thought that I would pack up the family and move back home. Those searches have mostly come back empty, a testament to how few jobs in the tech industry there are down there (at least any that I would be competent at). For a time, I thought that I would try another approach: I would get a job somewhere that would allow me to work remotely, and then make the move. But I found problems with that plan. “If that job didn’t work out, could I find another remote job? What if I couldn’t find another remote job in a reasonable timeframe? With not many tech jobs in that area, what would I have to do in order to make a living?”

And yet, it was a recent conversation that made me realize a hard truth: perhaps I had been lying to myself. I was talking about most of everything said in this post to a friend. The reply? “If you really wanted to move back home you would have found a way to do it by now.”

Wow. Smack me upside the head with a shovel.

I have been thinking about this a lot, and I still haven’t came to any conclusions. But the question is starting to eat at me: Have I been lying to myself?

I’m reaching a point in my life where I want to make some long-term plans for my future. I have dreams and ambitions and goals, or so I think I do. Maybe my ideas aren’t really legitimate. Maybe what I think are dreams, are instead me pining for a past that is long gone causing delusional visions of what could be.

Maybe it’s time to really re-examine a few things. This would be the week to do it. Soon we’ll pack up the kids and a minivan full of clothes for a visit to home once again during the holiday break. We’ll eat too much food. We’ll spend time with some of our extended family. I’ll even go to yet another funeral for the dad of a friend from the area (this will be the second “funeral for the dad of a friend from back home” this year). After it’s all over, I’ll think about all these things yet again during the three hour drive to where I live now.

And I would bet a crisp Benjamin that stupid trampoline will be waiting for me when I get there.

In review: 2015

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Another year, another annual “year in review.” Oh boy, where to start? How about all the things I didn’t get accomplished?

Setbacks

  • Total health reset – Nope. I got back into the gym for three months, but that was about it.
  • More minimalism – Nope. Things seem more out of control than before I started this journey. Every bit of progress made, was met with two steps back. I’d clean out the garage, and the kids would find a way to trash it. I’d pack away bins of toys, and the kids would drag them out after they found them. I’m really at my wit’s end with the lack of progress on the minimalism front at the house.
  • Write more – This is my fourth post of the year for this site, so no.
  • Start a podcast Sigh. No.

Accomplishments

  • House projects – I worked my tail off on the house this summer. I got a great farmer’s tan as well. I painted about 75 percent of the exterior, got sod for the backyard lawn, fixed some damaged boards on the front of the house, and replaced a broken front porch post. I was really happy with what I got done on the house and look forward to wrapping it all up in the coming months (after it warms up a little).
  • Changed jobs – More on that further below.

Goals

Looking ahead at 2016 … You know what, let’s talk about goals for a minute.

I have learned that the reason why I don’t accomplish my goals, in part, is because they’re not really goals. A goal has a fixed moment in time you want to achieve something by, and I haven’t been doing that. These year-end reviews have mostly been good ideas instead of hard goals.

  • Finish my house projects – I will finish my house projects by May 1, 2016. This includes finishing painting the last 25 percent of the exterior along with some minor repairs to do, and re-painting the interior of the house. Our housing needs have changed, so we will be selling our home of almost six years no later than Aug. 1, 2016 and finding more suitable housing for our family of five. We really love our neighborhood, but the home isn’t a good fit for us now that we’re a family of five.
  • Have an awesome birthday – This year, I will turn 40. To celebrate, I would love to have a fantastic party with anyone who has ever been part of my life. Maybe go out on the town, and invite anyone who wants to come by and say hello. Since my birthday is in June, let’s say this will need to happen no later than June 11, 2016.
  • Reclaim my time – For several years now, I have volunteered my time in many different groups and activities. I have been happy to serve others, but now I need to take a break and focus on my family and my career. And so, by March 1, 2016 I will discontinue my involvement in most of my extracurricular activities and hope that someone else takes up the reins. The sad truth is, the Pareto principle states that 80 percent of results come form 20 percent of the causes. I’ve been part of the 20 percent for a long time, and it’s time for me to step down for awhile. I simply can’t sustain this anymore and I owe it to my family, and myself, to disengage for awhile.
  • Take a vacation – Aside from the time off I took after my son was born in August 2014, I haven’t taken a week off for myself since May 2014. And even then, I didn’t go anywhere with the family. We’ve been taking “staycations” for years, but I’d like to take an honest-to-goodness little trip away from the area with the family. I will accomplish this by August 1, 2016.

More about 2015

I’m going to be brutally honest as I can: this year was an absolute roller coaster.

After nine years, I left my work in government to go work for a marketing agency. On one hand, I left because an opportunity came up that was too good to pass up, and I really felt this was my time to give it a shot. But on the other hand, my former job became so unbearable that I couldn’t stay there. It started out as one of the best jobs I have ever had, and then morphed into what was easily the worst job I have ever had.

It was so difficult to leave, because the people I worked with — my boss, my co-workers – they were this great work family that I loved. But some in the organization were absolutely bent on total control, and it forced many people out. Some left by choice, some left by force. Fortunately, I was of the former. I hope you never have to sit through a meeting where everyone around you is openly talking about how the organization is going to outsource your position. It was absolutely the most stress I have ever felt in my adult life, made even worse because some of these events were when Amy was pregnant.

It took me months let go of much of the anger I felt from that time. Not that it’s all gone, but it’s mostly subsided. My new job is really fantastic. I’ve learned so much since I started in March, and I’m certainly much better at my craft. There’s a line from Star Wars: A New Hope when Obi-Wan tells Darth Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

And that is exactly what happened. I never would have though that adversity could have such a positive outcome.

The rest of the year was filled with some pretty dark times. We went through (and in many ways still are going through) a dark personal tragedy against my family that I’ll never talk about online, and probably not even in person. It was far worse than the job debacle, but we’re getting through it.

And finally, our year with the boy  was especially difficult. Until a few months ago, he was a horrible, horrible sleeper. Amy and I were drained completely because the lack of sleep was taking a toll. Some relief came when we figured out he has eczema, and Amy’s internet research led her to Dr. Richard Aron. We have been using his protocol with our son, and it has had amazing, wonderful results. I can only hope that Dr. Aron’s methods can go mainstream; there are many in this world who suffer with eczema who could absolutely benefit from his methods. We are blessed to have found out about him, and to have physicians here in the U.S. who would work with an doctor overseas.

And now, here we are. It’s December. The boy sleeps through the night and his skin is looking great. The girls are doing great in school, and Amy and I have a pretty good relationship (with a few “aggressive negations” from time to time). I love, love, love my job, and I’m learning that I have power over my mind – not outside events. I am finding strength.

So what do I see in 2016? I see a theme of rebirth. I’m going to decouple some things from my life that need to go away, and I’m going to embrace some changes that I believe will be better for my family in the long run.

But most important, I’m not going to let another person have so much power over me that it makes me feel helpless and trapped. Eric is an Old Norse name that means “ruler.” I am free in so many beautiful ways. I will not be a slave.

Here’s to 2016!

Two books for vacation reading

The holidays are almost here, and you may find yourself with a little time to crack open a book. Here are a couple of suggestions that are both quick reads, but packed with excellent philosophy.

QBQ: The Question Behind the Question

Author’s website

Overview: This is a book about personal accountability both in work and in life. QBQ is one of my favorite books because it pings at your brain to always be thinking about the struggles you face daily. “Is there something I can do to make this better? What role can I play that can benefit a greater purpose? How can I own problem and turn it into a solution?” 

Warning: This book may give you a low tolerance for people who whine too much.

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph

Author’s website

Overview: This is a fascinating book about the merits of stoicism. “How can I face adversity (without complaining) and see it as a benefit? What kind of person welcomes struggle?”  History is littered with examples of people who embraced stoicism and ran with it to change their lives and the world. Based much on the writings of Marcus Aurelius, the author invites you to look at the obstacles in your life and see them for tremendous opportunities to reach another level in your own personal development.

Please let me know if you end up reading any of them. I would love to know what you think.

Author’s note: I originally published on an internal blog for work, but I also wanted to share here also.

Going to war

A fool and his money are soon parted. – English proverb (paraphrased)

In last year’s in review post, I talked about how we didn’t make a lot of progress on our final debt (we’re not including the house debt): the student loans. Today marks a special day for us as a family. Today we begin, in earnest, our war with that debt.

We’ve made some progress in the last few years with some of our debt. In July of last year we paid off all our credit cards (again) and got rid of them completely with the help of our shredder. But those student loans have hung around for what feels like forever. This week, we talked with the girls (since the boy is too young to understand human language) about our debt and our plan to get out of it. We feel its important to talk to our kids about money so they don’t make the same mistakes we did. I hope we’re off to a good start.

In addition, we gave them a promise: when the student loans are paid off, we will take a trip to Disney World. That got their attention.

I write this now to mark a significant point in our family’s history: today is the day we begin our great war. This might be April 1, but it is no joke — we are at war.

Maybe it’s time to get off your high horse

Author’s note: This was originally posted on Medium. I have adjusted the timestamp on this post to reflect when it was published on that platform. Since this is the home of my writing, I’ve decided to permanently move it here.

Recently I attended a new Meetup group focused on a budding new web framework.

This particular framework is interesting, and shows lots of promise. It piqued my interest enough that I shifted my schedule around to drive an hour to join others interested in this new technology and introduce myself. Before the meeting started, I mingled with others who asked the inevitable question: “So what do you do?”

The answer has been the same for some time now: I work in municipal government, and mainly with Drupal.

As the meeting progressed, I got to see some examples of the new framework, how it’s being used by the group’s members, and got to thinking about how I might use it for my own projects. One of the presenters showed a content management system he had built, which had a handy feature: in-place editing.

“To talk without thinking is to shoot without aiming.”

– English proverb

I was impressed at this framework’s particular implementation of in-place editing, and commented that Drupal has something similar but its implementation feels a little bloated, and certainly not as fast as the one I was seeing in this presentation.

“That’s because Drupal sucks,” the presenter said.

Now, I would certainly agree that there are things in Drupal that are easier to do with other tools. I would agree that this in-place editing feature seemed better than Drupal’s. I would agree that Drupal has entered interesting times where developers in the ranks are a little divided aboutwhere things are going.

But as I drove home, I couldn’t help to think to myself, “Maybe you should get off your high horse.”

Tell me if you’ve heard this before

Here’s a list of things that suck (allegedly).

Apple sucks. Microsoft sucks. Java sucks. Ruby sucks. Python sucks. Rails sucks. PHP sucks. JavaScript sucks. WordPress sucks. Starbucks sucks. Dunkin’ Donuts sucks. Chevy sucks. Ford sucks.

The list goes on and on and on and …

So here’s the deal: what works for me, might not be the best for you, whatever it is. And the great thing is, THAT’S OK. Governments, news organizations, and educational institutions have adopted Drupal, by and large, because it works for them. Ford owners buy their vehicles because it works for them. Dunkin’ Donuts drinkers (myself included) enjoy their coffee because it works for them.

So, to just flippantly say something sucks just because it doesn’t work for you is a wee bit immature.

I won’t be so bold as to say I’ve never said that something sucks. I will say, thankfully, that as I mature I’m finding it’s a big world filled with lots of opportunity, and I need to find what works for me and roll with it. And for that matter, you should do likewise.

Words have incredible power.

If I had a different mindset, I could certainly see myself thinking, “I don’t think I’ll go back to that group,” seeing as the first time I visited the thing that puts food on my table and clothes on my family’s backs was flippantly disregarded. But, I’m a big boy. I can take a lot of what you throw at me. But someone else might not be as resilient.

But that brings me to my final point.

Learn the fine art of thinking before speaking

We have a saying around the office: “I can’t fix ‘it sucks.'”

Criticism is fine, as long as it is useful. But criticizing for criticism’s sake? I don’t see the value in it. Perhaps before we speak, we should take Jason Fried’s advice and give it five minutes.

If you want to critique, offer ways things could be better. It could provide a fantastic opportunity to learn something for all parties involved. Through dialogue, rather than complaining, you might just gain insight that you couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Does that mean I don’t think there’s a time and place for disdain or disagreement? Oh my, not at all. But critiquing without discovery isn’t fruitful, and could end up doing more harm than you thought.

And frankly, that sucks.

In review: 2014

A long December and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last. – Counting Crows, A Long December

It is time for my annual “year in review,” where I take stock of the year and look forward at plans to come. Let’s just get into it.

Accomplishments

  • Completing a Whole30 (again) – One of my goals was to finish a second round of the Whole30. I did in January 2014, but wasn’t as pleased with my progress as I had hoped. I would later look back and realize I shouldn’t have been disappointed (more on this later in the post).
  • Build something – Another goal was to “build something,” in 2014, and I’m pleased to say I did. In March, I made a bookshelf for my daughters. I also cobbled together a wooden stable for my oldest daughter’s play horse, and made myself a little table to sit next to my recliner at the house. In the beginning of December, I launched Candy Cane Lanes, a project I have had on my mind for a few years.
  • Pursue minimalism – I got to see The Minimalists in person, and went home completely inspired. Shortly thereafter, I started writing about my (seemingly never ending) journey toward minimalism at The Chaff. I made great strides in getting rid of many of my personal possessions, but I still have such a long way to go.
  • Had a son – OK, this wasn’t really on my list of goals last year, but once we found out we were pregnant, it became a pretty big priority. Rogan Archer Gruber was born Aug. 23, 2014. I like him (but we are so totally done having kids).

Setbacks

  • Obstacle race – I really wanted to do a Warrior Dash or Tough Mudder race, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t make it a priority, so I didn’t train, and the goal was never realized.
  • The Final Debt – We didn’t make a lot of progress paying on our last debt (the student loans). After finding out we were pregnant, we stopped paying extra on debt and instead put money in savings. This was a wise decision, and one I don’t regret. We did keep ourselves from adding any new debt, especially when we cut up the last credit card in July.
  • House project – No, I didn’t get hardly anything done around the house that I wanted. I did get our garage door fixed, and took card of “necessary maintenance,” but painting and upgrades were a no go. At least I have all the paint purchased, should I have the energy to get started (babies tend to wear you out in the early months).
  • Stress, Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt – This year turned out to be a year full of change for me, with some positives with a lot of negatives. It’s been really stressful. I had to work hard to keep it together, but somehow, I did. But the stress of the year came with a price. I haven’t kept up my exercise routine that I was so diligently following. I used food for comfort instead of nourishment, and now I find myself longing to do a Whole30 to heal my body and mind (and probably go longer than 30 days). Things have sort of stabilized for now, but I need to do more to get things running optimum. Maybe I should set some goals. Speaking of which …

Goals

Looking ahead at 2015, I see it as a period for a reboot. Let’s just call it a rebuilding year.

  • Total health reset – Not long ago, I walked at least 10,000 steps a day, lifted two or three times per week, and ate mostly unprocessed, whole foods. I felt great. So, my goal for 2015 is to get back to that healthy mind/body state, without being preachy about it.
  • More minimalism – I am so happy with all I managed to jettison this year, but I have lots more to go, especially with a family of five. It’s time to get the kids on board, and really tackle the rest of our possessions, together. If Joshua Becker can do it, so can we.
  • House projects (no really) – I need to paint the inside and outside of the house. I have purchased bathroom flooring that needs installed. I also need to fix our lawn after all the wear-and-tear it took from my wife’s business, which closed in May. This may or may not preclude selling the house, but these projects need done, regardless.
  • Write more – Between this site, The Chaff, and my totally neglected development blog, Save Early and Often, I have no shortage of outlets for doing more with words. I do wonder how many blogs a minimalist can have and still be a minimalist …
  • Start a podcast – I’m going to put this in the “Maybe, we’ll see” category. I was recently a guest on the Better Know a Jackal podcast, and I really, really enjoyed it. I have the hardware, I have experience with making a few episodes of a podcast before, and I have the skills to put it all together. I think I’d like to take a stab at it, once I figure out some vague idea of what I think it might be about. But again, we’ll see. I’ve got plenty to work on already.

I guess that wraps it up.

I have this tradition where on New Year’s Eve every year I listen to the Counting Crows song, A Long December, while I wait for the ball to drop. It has been a long December, and an even longer year. Here’s to 2015; may it be one of rebuilding.