There’s a Minotaur in my closet. I’m sure of it.

I’m six and that’s too scary for a boy my age.

It’s dark and I can see his glowing red eyes through the cracks in my closet door, and I can smell his acid breath from under my blankets.

If I lay still, I swear I can hear his snorts from behind a curtain of shirts and pants. I know I’m not dreaming because I only dream of school or space or Star Wars. I don’t dream about Minotaurs.

I can’t stay here under the blankets forever. My friends told me that Minotaurs can sense fear and they like to eat little boys for late night snacks. I’m really afraid and I bet I’m really tasty (because I like donuts and candy).

That Minotaur is going to eat me up. I have to get out of here before it’s too late.

Mom,” I whisper loudly into the room across the hall where my parents are sleeping. I don’t want to attract too much attention from the Minotaur. I hear movement coming from their room, but no response from Mom.

“Mom!” I say it a bit louder this time. My only hope.

“What?” She stirs. I hear my dad groan a question mark.

“There’s a minotaur in my closet!” If the Minotaur wasn’t on to me before, he definitely is now. Only a matter of time before he stomps through the closet door and eats me up.


“Can I come sleep in your bed?”

There’s a long silence. Then a snort behind the closet door.

“Just for 5 minutes?” I plead.

“5 minutes,” she agrees.

Now for my escape.

I carefully fold off my blankets and take a tip-toe step onto the floor. The wood floor below me creeks. Did I hear a huff just now? A puff? Time is running out. I have to get out of the room before the Minotaur attacks. He’s going to break down the closet door and gobble me up.

I bet I’m delicious.

I place a second foot on the floor and hold my breath. Did I smell the Minotaur’s breath steaming out of the closet? Is it warmer in here? I swear I can see his red glowing eyes through the crack in the closet door.

I hear my mom’s voice find its way into my bedroom, “you coming?”

I don’t respond. Can’t risk disturbing the Minotaur further. It’s now or never.




I dash for the bedroom door and hold my breath again. The Minotaur won’t catch me. My Star Wars socks make it hard to run on the wood floor, so I glide like a figure skater towards the open bedroom door. I’m sure of my escape when suddenly, my closet swings open to reveal the angry Minotaur! He huffs and snorts and kicks a hoof.

The faint light from the hallway reveals the Minotaur as it charges after me. He’s as tall as my ceiling and as scary as I’d always imagined. His eyes are glowing bright red and he snorts angry, hot steam from his nose. I turn back towards the open bedroom door and skate like a madman.

I might not make it. I just know he’s going to grab me with his strong, hairy hands and eat me up with his sharp teeth. I don’t want to be a Minotaur snack!

I hear my mom’s voice again, “honey?”

I turn back to look at the Minotaur, his claws reaching out to grab me, when he awkwardly places a hoof down on my slippery wooden floor and topples right over onto his snout. He makes a loud grunt and kicks a closet door clean off its hinges.

The Minotaur’s fall startles me and sends me stumbling towards a pile of Star Wars action figures near the door, but I grab hold of the door handle and fling myself into the hallway.

I made it. I don’t turn to look back at the damage.

I hurry into my parent’s bedroom and find them sitting up, waiting for me. “What was the commotion, son?” My dad asks.

“It was that Minotaur,” I reply nervously, “he tried to eat me, but I got away. I was too quick for him.”

I suddenly feel very proud of myself.

“Those monsters never can seem to catch you,” my mom chuckles, “you’re just too fast.”

I climb up into their bed and slide between them into a warm space waiting for me. We all bring the blankets up to our chins and snuggle into a dark and cozy sleep.

Monsters are afraid of grown-ups, so they can’t hurt you when you sleep in bed with mom and dad. But grown-ups scare me too, sometimes.

I wake up the next morning in my own bed. My room is tidy, even after last night’s close call with the beast. Dad must have brought me back to my bed during the night. I bet he scared away the Minotaur; looks like he fixed the closet door, too.

My friends are never going to believe this.

Later that night, I make a terrible discovery.

There’s a Werewolf in my closet. I’m sure of it.

It’s my seventh birthday and that’s too scary for a boy my age.

It’s dark and I can see his glowing orange eyes through the crack in my closet door.

“Mom,” I loudly whisper into the next room, careful not to disturb the snarling beast waiting among my shirts and pants, “there’s a Werewolf in my closet!”

My friends told me that Werewolves love eating up little boys like me. I bet I’m delicious.

“5 minutes?” I plead.

A long silence, then my mom’s welcoming voice.

“5 minutes.”

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April 26, 2017

Paterson: Movie Review

This post originally appeared in our movie review blog, He Said, She Said.

This movie gave me quiet, tender feelings.

The conflicts were muted, the love was pure, and in one important scene, the mere sight of a fresh notebook inspired an unusual feeling of warmth.

The film spans 7 days in the life of the title character and aspiring poet, Paterson. He wakes up each day to his “silent, magic” wristwatch with his girlfriend, Laura, snuggled closely next to him. He eats the same bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and gives a silent nod to their third wheel, Marvin, an English Bulldog.

After breakfast, Paterson heads off with his lunchpail to his job of being a bus driver for city transit. By night, he visits with Laura on their couch and listens to stories about her dream of the week — painting, learning guitar, or starting a cupcake business. His night ends when he takes Marvin for a walk and makes a stop at his favorite local bar on the way (Marvin waits outside, grumpily).

During occasional breaks in the day, we find Paterson sharing his poetry with us, the audience, a rare opportunity since we find him apprehensive towards sharing his poetry with others, even Laura. It’s in Paterson’s “Secret Notebook” of poetry where we begin to truly understand the world Paterson is experiencing, especially since Paterson himself has so little to say in dialogue form. A simple box of matches becomes an ode to his Laura. His daily bus ride becomes a meditation on metaphysics and existentialism.

The poetry is simple, yet layered and lovely. And in many ways, it reflects the rhythm and flow of the film itself. Scenes are quiet and reflective, often with no dialogue at all, choosing instead on one occasion to pan around the mumblings of a quiet bar and allow us to tell our own stories of the lonely people inside.

An avid movie-goer might expect Paterson to arrive home on day two — after the status quo is established — and find that his simple life has been turned upside down. This is especially anticipated after Laura whispers to Paterson early that morning that she dreamed they were going to have twins one day. But writer/director Jim Jarmusch uses Paterson as an opportunity to embrace the simplicity of a happy life and undoubtedly share his love of poetry. The film drifts by happily with only a few unexpected twists, representative of one’s typical life experience rather than an attempt to artificially surprise the audience.

I was most refreshed by the central relationship between Paterson and Laura. There’s little talk of conflict or misunderstanding. It’s clear from the beginning that these two care deeply for each other, and the film never strays from this central thread. Their dreams are celebrated together, and the climactic scene near the end is felt by them both (though they process the tragedy in their own, true-to-character-ways). When these two are together, we can’t help but feel at peace, and unusual feeling for a medium that’s built on conflict; it’s likely one of the only movies I’ve seen that breaks the film rule that all dinner scenes must devolve into a raging conflict.

In fact, some of the major household conflicts actually come from their dog, Marvin. He’s territorial of Laura and generally makes life a little worse for Paterson. Ashlee and I bellowed when Paterson sat on the couch across from a grumpy Marvin in act three and said softly, “I don’t like you, Marvin.”

Paterson isn’t for everyone. It’s awfully slow and you’ll feel all 115 minutes, but it’s rewarding in its restraint. You might also find yourself appreciating the poetry of it all.

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The only sin I ever did commit was lying to cover up a murder.

I told them I was innocent, that I didn’t even know the guy and those bastards had it all wrong.

I didn’t kill him; that’s the lie I told.

But I never meant to lie. You told me it’s wrong to lie and that the devil himself comes at night to claim sinners and liars.

Now I’m a sinner and a liar, Momma. I should’ve told the truth about killing that bastard while his bastard kid watched. I know I’m wrong, but I didn’t want to get caught, Momma.

You always told me Poppa was a lying son-of-a-bitch, and if I lied, I’d be a sinner just like him. I never wanted that, Momma. Honest.

So I want to be honest with you now, Momma.

I want you to know I’m not like Poppa. I was gentle. I told the boy that everything was going to be okay. I didn’t hurt him. I got blood on his shirt, so I wiped it off. But I swear I kept honest with him, Momma. I told him things were going to be okay, and I left him be.

I didn’t mean to lie, Momma.

I watched the bastard and his kid come home. I had a key. I hid where they couldn’t find me. I didn’t make a noise. I watched them open a can of black beans and make soup. It was just them, that bastard and his kid. I didn’t hurt the kid; he’s okay, Momma, I promise.

I came out after they got done eating their soup. I was hungry, but that’s not why I came out. I walked into their dining room with my shotgun and I told that bastard he couldn’t do nothing more to me and that’d be the end of all that. He got mad and came at me so I shot him in his chest. He died real quick and I saw his boy get real scared and piss himself when I walked over to wipe the bastard’s blood off his shirt.

Then it got real quiet so I told the boy to stay put and everything was going to be okay and I didn’t know what else to do. They didn’t finish the soup but I don’t think I was hungry no more. I don’t know who the hell would want to eat black bean soup, anyway. So I ran out of the house and dropped my shotgun at the door.

You always told me to be honest, Momma, but as soon as those cops picked me up from the roadside, I knew I was going to do something bad, Momma.

I lied. I’ve sinned, Momma.

I told them bastards I didn’t do it. I kept my head high and I told those bastards in blue to go to hell (right along with that bastard I killed). It just came out, my lie. I was real scared, Momma.

They took me in, and here I am now. Please don’t hang up on me, Momma. I didn’t mean to go off and tell a lie like that. I didn’t get up this morning and set out to be just like Poppa. I know what you always told me about him. You said he’d kill me if I crossed him and I saw you cry a lot the day he walked out. But you said it was good, because he wouldn’t be bringing those lies back into our house.

I’m glad he’s gone, Momma.

Are you glad?

They told me I’m in a lot of trouble. I know it’s wrong, but I don’t see all this fuss for just a little lie, Momma.

They told me I might not see you again. I might be getting put away for a long time and I might never come out.

I’m just like him now. I guess that’s why I’m in trouble. His sins are my sins now, Momma. I’m a sinner just like Poppa and I’ll die one, too.

Maybe I’ll die in here, Momma.

Maybe I’ll get to see Poppa again if I die.

But until that happens, I’ll never sin again as long as I live, Momma. I’ll tell the truth now and never lie again.

I’ll tell them I killed Poppa with my shotgun and his new bastard kid saw the whole thing. I’ll tell them I tried to wipe the blood off the boy’s shirt and that’s why my hands are covered in the stuff. I’ll tell them Poppa was a lying son-of-a-bitch and I deserve to be put away because I’m a lying son-of-a-bitch too, Momma.

I’ll make this right, Momma.

Would that make you proud, if I told the truth?

Tell me I’ve done good, Momma. That’s all I want. I don’t want you to be mad at me. I just want know I’ve done good, after all.

Please, Momma.

I put Poppa down, just like I know you wanted. You never said it, but I know you wanted it just like I did. He walked out on you all those years ago. He was a lying son-of-a-bitch. His new boy won’t hear no more of his lies. I told the boy it was all going to be okay. I wiped Poppa’s blood off his shirt just like Poppa wiped your blood off his and I told him it was going to be okay. God’s honest truth.

I guess I’ll go the grave with a dirty sin under my belt. Maybe the devil himself will come to claim me tonight.

But you know what? It felt good, Momma.

It felt good.

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April 17, 2017

The Service Mindset

In an early 2017 episode of How I Built This, Tony Heish, CEO of Zappos, described his company as such,

[Zappos] is a service company that just happens to sell shoes.

Zappos is seen as revolutionary in their commitment to customer service, an approach that Tony describes as somewhat nonsensical at times — doing things for their customers that their competition would never do. Their main goal is to make the customer happy at all costs. And it pays off; Zappos brings in an estimated $2 billion in revenue each year, and was acquired by Amazon in 2009.

What stands out most to me when reflecting on Zappos’s story is that, in an age of paying customers being dragged off of airplanes, the idea of offering genuine service is foreign to most of us. This only serves to reinforce a belief I’ve developed over the past few years.

Here’s what I believe.

We achieve higher career satisfaction, build better companies, and attract happier customers by adopting a servant mindset towards our work.

Your Career is an Act of Service

When we talk about our careers, what do we envision? A successful career looks like a long string of big promotions, big accomplishments, and an impressive resume. Too often, we believe that our career is about us. But I want to challenge this definition of a career.

Here’s how I’d define it:

A career is an extended period of dedicated service to a cause or organization.

It’s why we used phrases like, “serve as President”, “serve in the military”, “serve on a board of directors”. Achieving these positions is not an opportunity to dictate or wield unchecked power; it’s a call to greater service.

As our career develops, so too do our skills and talents that brought us into that career. But what are those skills and talents really for?

We use our skills to make the world around us better; we use them to serve our team, our company, and our customers.

To be truly effective in our work and build a great career, we must be willing to serve others and put their needs before our own.

How to Practice a Service Mindset

If we want to practice a servant mindset, there are 3 approaches we must take:

1. Drop the ego

Ego will bring you down, as well as your organization. We have to be able to admit mistakes and be vulnerable with each other.

True service doesn’t have an ego; we can’t assume we’re above an act of service.

2. Have an open mind

With a closed mind, we become selective about who we serve. We might withhold our service towards others who don’t share our viewpoints or position in life.

3. Avoid busyness.

I’m sorry, I can’t help you, I’m too busy.

Oftentimes, busyness is for us. We have to be careful not to hide behind busyness that could prevent us from taking a moment to help someone.

When someone comes up to your desk, take off the headphones, give them your attention. Simply giving people your time can be a major act of service.

Service Culture Attracts Happy Customers

If we adopt this servant approach to our work and put others’ needs before our own, what does it do for our business?

It breeds a culture of service. It creates an environment where, because we first served each other, we’re better able to provide great service outside of our business.

And by providing great service, we attract happy customers.

Who doesn’t love to be well-served by a company or a product, to feel like your needs and wants were truly met and exceeded?

 It’s an instinctive craving.

It’s why companies are investing millions in products that mimic the experience of having a person right there in your home, serving your every need (and why those products are so popular).

There’s no better customer experience than another human asking you, how can I be of service to you?

A Call to Service

As you walk into work tomorrow morning, commit to serving your team and your customers. With every interaction, ask yourself, how can I help this person?

When you treat your work as an act of service, it attracts loyal customers, it creates a great work culture, and it gives life to your career.

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April 14, 2017

Edit More

Some movies come together in the editing room. Most books come together with the help of skilled editors. And as flawed humans, it’s sometimes necessary to make edits of our own.

You can edit your health with new habits.

You can edit your career path with new skills.

You can edit your outlook with a good book.

You can edit your convictions with some self-reflection.

Edit more. You’re something good that’s coming together.

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April 13, 2017

Process vs. People

People come first.

When working with a team, you can either have a flawless process or a happy team.

Processes can be perfected, but this requires you to discourage failure and limit improvisation.

But people are at their best when they feel autonomous and can stretch beyond process. Failure leads to learning. Improvisation leads to fresh insights.

Don’t sacrifice people for process.

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April 11, 2017

The Littlest Bully

In fourth grade, I attracted a particularly nasty bully.

Sometimes, before class, he’d stop by my desk and slap me across the cheek. My response was always to clam up, and he always got away with it.

One day, while I was standing on first base during a game of kickball, the bully ran over to me and pushed me down in front of my classmates. When I looked over to the nearby teachers for support, I saw the bully’s mom–also a teacher—laughing at me while I brushed the dirt off my pants. It ran in the family.

An important detail here is that the bully was much smaller than me, at least by a foot. But I was a friendly, awkward giant and absolutely never stood up for myself. He knew this about me because we were best friends in first grade. I used to spend the night at his house and, on one occasion, we stayed up late and danced to the Macarena. It was new and cool then.

Then one day he jumped on my back during a basketball game. He screamed over my shoulder and said he wanted the ball. So I gave him the ball by smacking him in the mouth with it. It was an accident. But it must’ve hurt; he jumped off my back and responded in a way that I still remember vividly: he clenched his teeth, stomped his foot on the ground, gave a pained ugh! and walked away.

He didn’t pick on my anymore after that.

We went through eight more years of school together after the bullying phase, but things were different then. Sometimes I wished we could go back to first grade when we were friends. But he became a basketball star and I became a musician and our worlds never met again.

I looked him up on Facebook recently. I saw where he is in his life and I smiled. Good for him. Then I closed the tab and went on to other things.

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In 1999, NASA lost a $125 million Mars spacecraft due to a simple math error.

The navigation team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used metric units of measurement (meters, newtons), while the engineering team at Lockheed Martin used the English system of measurements (feet, pounds).

Rather than slipping into a stable orbit over Mars, the mismatch in measurements led to the spacecraft burning up in orbit.

There are two lessons to take away here.

First, check your work. Pay attention to details and avoid making assumptions. Re-read that email and make another pass at editing that paper. Better yet, get someone else to do it for you.

Second, unless you too are a rocket scientist at NASA, don’t take your mistakes so seriously. Those two engineering teams set the screw-up bar extremely high back in 1999, so you’re unlikely to make a mistake that extraordinary in your lifetime.

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Three years ago, my wife and I made the final payment on a $17,500 student loan bill. It took us one year using post-grad, middle class incomes, and we dedicated 40% of that combined income to debt repayment.

Beyond the initial excitement, debt freedom has had a tremendous impact on the trajectory of our life. Here’s what we’ve learned over these past three years.

Debt repayment provides valuable lessons

I’m thankful for my student loans.

When my wife and I were paying off our debt, we were forced to build good money habits. Overspending wasn’t much of an option if we hoped to climb out of the red. It was too stressful to ignore, and debt was holding us back from achieving our goals like world travel and buying a home with a respectable down payment.

Not only were we forced into good habits, there was an added benefit of discovering that, in our marriage, we didn’t need much stuff to make us happy. We were happiest when spending time together with a quiet night in or when we took a trip out for some cheap tacos and a matinee movie.

Happiness, for us, wasn’t expensive.

As a result, the months following our final debt payment were spent hitting the ground running. After a post-debt spending spree to celebrate, we got to work. We reallocated funds previously spent on debt repayment to investing in our future. We put money into index funds, increased our emergency fund, and started researching affordable and worthwhile options for world travel.

Lastly, with good habits in place, we found we were much less likely to slide back into debt. After three years of building our investments and cash reserves, debt is now a strategic choice for investment opportunities rather than a necessity for a comfortable life.

No more living paycheck to paycheck.

Net worth becomes a useful metric

Net worth is now our most-tracked metric of financial health. While we were in debt, we dreaded seeing the big red bars indicating our below zero financial standing. It was discouraging, so we avoided it.

But after climbing our way out of debt, we were able to analyze our net worth, watch for trends, and celebrate our monthly increases from investments and cash saving wins.

At every point in one’s financial life, net worth is either rising or falling. It’s important to remember that paying off debt is a rising action for net worth, so don’t be afraid to make monthly net worth checks part of a financial strategy early on.

Debt is a tool (that you’re probably not skilled enough to use)

You can only take advantage of debt as a tool once you’ve learned to live without it. If you’re falling victim to credit card debt or buying houses and cars you can’t afford, you’re the tool being used to generate a steady revenue for banks.

By comparison, someone who’s learned to manage debt effectively and not rely on it for basic needs can leverage it to start a business or invest in rental properties.

Credit cards can be incredibly useful if handled properly

When you’re not using credit cards as a means of buying what you can’t afford, they become an invaluable tool for securing inexpensive travel and other handy financial perks.

By aligning our credit card purchases to our budget and paying off our credit card in full each month, we’re able to take advantage of those credit card perks without paying credit card companies a penny in interest.

Money doesn’t have to be stressful

Debt freedom has many benefits, but one of the most important advantages is the alleviation of stress. In fact, contrary to the common marital stereotype, my wife and I don’t fight about money much these days.

Without debt, money troubles can go away entirely, if you so desire. Money becomes a tool to be controlled; it can be given away, used to travel the world, or a means to quit jobs and pursue passions.

Debt can control your life if you let it. It can determine where you live, what job you take, and how you think about finances. But if you find a way to remove it’s negative impact on your life, you’ll gain full control over your money, and by extension, the trajectory of your life.

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Regardless of your current mood or situation, make a point to give people a pleasant experience. Smile when talking to them. Give them your attention. Actively listen. Offer a genuine compliment. They won’t forget interactions like these.

Leave people better than you found them.

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