bookmark_borderWhat’s it like to grow up with a disabled sibling?

Reflecting on a childhood with a disabled brother is like digging through dusty boxes of childhood memorabilia you just found in your attic. Every item I pull out draws up memories I thought I had forgotten. Inanimate objects spur a sharp release of some emotion-related hormone from the bottom of my stomach, which flows through my veins and out to my limbs, before seemingly dissipating out of my pores. It’s almost like the opposite of drinking hot coffee.

There’s some kind of nostalgic or masochistic pleasure in these emotional flushes. It’s somewhat like a short roller coaster; There’s something addictive about the uncomfortable feeling of close death that isn’t pleasant but is novel and keeps you coming back.

Even though my logical brain knows there’s a to do list with “really important” things to be done today, I can’t be released from the box.

Perhaps a part of my brain unconsciously knows these memories are important to my survival.

Everywhere you go, people look at you funny.

I felt it deeply when I came home from college for a visit. I took JM out for pizza; specifically the Maui-Zaui from Round Table Pizza, his latest obsession. I had learned well and good by now: When it comes to what we’re going to eat, JM makes the decisions. It’s either that, or you block off the rest of your day to deal with the ensuing chaos (which sometimes occurs even when he does get what he wants).

But this visit was uneventful in that regard. JM knew he wanted the Maui-Zaui and that’s exactly what we went to get.

The reminder that we aren’t normal only set in when we left the safety of his group living home and headed out into public.

Why is everyone in this restaurant staring at us?

Oh, yea, my brother looks like an overweight transgender thug from the 90’s.

Thugs from the 90’s

If you’re not familiar with the 90’s thug look from the Inland Empire of Southern California, it’s worth taking a quick aside to give you the proper image. Here are some of the styles characteristic of this look:

  • Jean shorts so baggy they might be mistaken as pants
  • Long white socks with slippers or fat skate shoes
  • An uncomfortably baggy white T or Raiders jersey
  • The wallet chain
  • Slim, all black sunglasses

If you need more imagery, you can Google “California cholo thug”

The other ingredients

In the Inland Empire (aka IE), someone dressed like a 90’s thug – even well into the 2000’s – wouldn’t turn too many heads. However, when you mix in his top-knot haircut (he was ahead of his time in this regard), soft facial features from not being fully developed, and what you could call “bitch tits” for lack of a better term, you get an abnormal look from “normal” people.

Most folks don’t see people like my brother every day.

In retrospect, I can’t blame these Round Table Pizza goers for being curious. I suppose I would be too if I hadn’t grown up with JM.

Even though my mind knows these people are not trying to make us feel awkward, my body interprets the odd looks as a “you’re not one of us” signal. To be outcast from the community is death in the eyes of the reptile brain. I believe this vestigial reaction is the root of much stress we experience today.

When I go into public with my brother, we get the stares. Even after years and years, the initial shock still occurs but you learn to shake it off quicker and quicker.

Typical family roles are reversed.

It’s not rare for children to be placed in situations where they have to “grow up fast”. Humans must have an innate ability to snap out of childhood play mode and take on parental responsibilities when needed. I suppose it’s either that or die. Evolutionarily those who couldn’t step up when parents were gone would not live to reproduce.

My other brother stepped up to the challenge when my dad was working long hours, my mom was drunk or locked up, and someone had to care for JM + two younger siblings (myself and my sister).

While semi-independent, being responsible for JM was not an easy task on most days.

JM is what was once referred to as “high functioning”. His extremely rare genetic disorder impaired him physically and mentally. The hallmarks of his retardation are partial development, impaired cognition, and an insatiable appetite (hence the obsessions with Maui-Zaui pizza).

Side Note: The cultural norms on what adjectives are socially acceptable have changed and will continue to change, likely at an increasing rate. I’ve selected the best words available to tell my story as accurately as possible.

For the sake of helping you understand the level of competence JM had, the best comparison is the much more common developmental disorder: Down Syndrome. In fact, many of his friends, co-workers, and several girlfriends had Down Syndrome.

The ball game

When I was in college, I was able to secure a pair of handicap seats at one of our football games. JM loved sports. I was excited to share the experience with him.

I picked him up from his home, drove him out to the game, patiently walked with him up to our seats, and we watched the game together. At half time I went to get him some popcorn as he insisted, even though we had stopped at subway before the game.

Now that I’m older and have the benefit of reflection, I have realized what being responsible for someone else really means. Humans can be fragile and we protect our own (our friends, our family). I perceived physical and emotional threats from all directions when I was responsible for JM.

This is the heightened state of awareness parents must live with.

Every day there is an unexpected challenge.

I turned the corner into our cul-de-sac to see an ambulance and fire truck parked out front of our house. JM was sitting on the lawn, calmly, answering questions from one fireman while an EMT was inspecting his right leg.

I didn’t panic. By the age of 8 I was already going to and from school on my own and had become accustomed to unusual activity at the house. I suppose we were the family on the block that generated most of the gossip for everyone else.

In an attempt to light the grill to cook a burger, JM had poured gasoline through the grate and onto the unlit burners. He then lit it with a match. Unfortunately he had spilled some of the gasoline on his leg and that also ignited.

I’m told that after realizing his leg was on fire, he walked over to the hose, turned it on, and sprayed his own leg to extinguish the fire. Then we walked inside, called 911, and walked to the front yard where he sat patiently for paramedics to arrive.

Additional stress is placed on the parents.

Now that I’ve reflected on the divergence from social norms, the heightened awareness of being responsible for another person’s life, and the unexpected stress that can be thrust into your life when you live in an abnormal family, I’m starting to understand…

Some people are brought together by adversity. My parents were drawn apart. While my siblings and I now bond over our childhood traumas, my parents didn’t make it. I can’t say with any level of confidence that their problems arose from the challenges of raising JM plus the other three of us. It might have been my arrival as the 4th and unplanned child that set them over the edge. If it was, neither my dad or mom would ever truthfully tell me.

What have I learned from all this?

What feels like a burden can actually be a blessing.

Memories are an important survival mechanism. How we decide to relate to them determines how useful they will be to us.

I’ve drawn many lessons from the events of my childhood. The biggest and most helpful to me now is having perspective.

It’s a rare event that a week goes by and I don’t encounter a “problem” that causes me stress. It’s always the injection of an unexpected responsibility into my life that throws things out of wack. An urgent work deliverable, an unexpected physical ailment, or an unhealthy dose of cable news will do it.

My world becomes colored by the lens of scarcity, fear, and worry. Everything I’ve built over the years is going to crumble down. My energy is sapped. I lose confidence in my self image.

Then, a day later (sometimes much longer), the skies clear and life is good again.

My main tool for expediting this turnaround: Perspective.

Here’s my current plan:

  1. Put things into perspective by recalling past events that were much worse
  2. Remember how I felt then and how I was able to overcome them
  3. Capture that feeling of overcoming and use it to instill confidence in myself that this challenge is no different than previous challenges and I have the toolset to overcome it
  4. Then, get to work. That’s all there is that’s left to do. Put one foot in front of the other and let time do the rest.

bookmark_borderOur Generation: Millennials

We are more unique than any previous generation and arguably any future generations. We millennials are bearing the brunt of the biggest societal change in human history. Although most don’t see it yet, looking back on this period will show a colossal shift that dwarfs that of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, fundamentally changing human society.

Once we see this massive shift for what it is, trends and events that once frustrated us start to make sense. As a result of understanding our world, we can better navigate it, and ultimately enjoy the time we have here more.

Who are we?

Why are we so misunderstood?

How the internet changes everything…

Who Are We?

As commonly defined, we are the children of Baby Boomers – born between 1981 and 1996. But, as we will see, you can be Millennial in mind or heart at any age.

Amongst all the other stereotypes about millennials, one fact is true: We are the first generation to grow up with the internet… and this changes everything.

Wikipedia: The World’s Consensus on Millennials

Who are these millennials?

Viewed through the lens of past generations, we do some funky stuff:

  • Make money off selfies
  • Meet our life partners on dating apps
  • Consider playing video games a sport
  • Delay starting a family
  • Celebrate gangster rap
  • And so much more…

And we’ve been assigned some stereotypes:

  • Entitled – wait, so, you can’t just set things on cruise control after college?
  • Praise-hungry – since everyone got a trophy in our little leagues!
  • Job-hoppers – corporations don’t reward loyalty any more now than they did before.
  • Idealistic – because wanting to be socially and environmentally responsible is important to us (why was making money the only focus before?)
  • Addicted to phones – this one is probably true for many of us…

BUT we should not accept judgements from a generation that doesn’t understand that the pre-internet past is not a model for the future.

Why are we more different than any previous generations?

The internet has changed the game more than most older generations can fathom. I don’t blame them. For thousands of years power dynamics and methods for information exchange have been the same.

The ruling class ruled, the working class worked, the serf class slaved.

Information came from central sources: the church, the king, the governor, the newspaper, the radio, TV news.

Now what?

The rug is being pulled out from underneath the framework of society. Access to the internet enables social mobility and unfettered access to information.

Of course, there are the exceptions. Any baby boomer will gladly tell you “people in China don’t have free access to information”. While there is some truth to this, exceptions do not prove the rule. Trajectory of access to information via the internet is undeniable.

In 2012 about 2 Billion people had internet access. By 2016 it was 3 Billion. Most estimates now place us at 5 Billion or more.

Our World in Data

The Internet Changes Everything…

Access to Information

Throughout the entire 1900’s access to information didn’t change much. Gatekeepers decided what information to share and how to share it. Even with the radio and TV, there was virtually no mass peer-to-peer information exchange or unlimited access to information resources. All information came from the top down.

In the 2000’s the internet change everything.

Here’s a quick recap on the evolution of the access to information:

  • Scholars & Scribes – Pre 1440 the exchange of information was controlled by scholars who had access and the education to decipher text. The only way for anyone to get information was through word of mouth or by getting a book that was hand copied by a scribe.
  • Printing Press – Post 1440 books were copied and distributed at an exponentially higher scale. More people had access to it, but the traditional gatekeepers still remained.
  • Radio – Proliferated in the early to mid 1900s.
  • Television – Proliferated in the late 1900s.
  • Internet – Y2K

Politics & Power

Access to information and the means of peer-to-peer communication change the dynamics of power more than we realize and faster than we think. That’s why a few events in 2016 shocked the world.

If information was limited to the filters of print, radio, and TV…

  • Fringe ideas like Q Anon would have less channels to spread and gain traction
  • It would be more difficult for foreign governments to reach US citizens with propaganda
  • Politicians would be less incentivized to get into the spotlight and more incentivized to solve real problems
  • Voters would have less information, but likely less-polarized information

Yes, it is very plausible that the explosion of information access and peer-to-peer communication has a negative impact on our society and our well being.

However, I am optimistic about the long term benefits and see our current era of confusion as growing pains. We’re misapplying the power of the internet because we don’t understand it yet. It’s like we are dealing with alien technology. We don’t know how to use it yet. So far we’ve applied it for:

  • Infant Internet – sharing of info between universities
  • Toddler Internet – sharing of cat and dog videos, chat rooms
  • Teenage Internet – porn and chat room trolling
  • College Internet – rush to monetize anything and everything by everyone
  • Grad School Internet – TBD
  • Professional Internet – TBD

Daily Life

Having access to the rest of the world in the palms of our hands changes what we do from sun up to sun down. We’ve replaced a multitude of gadgets with one: the cell phone + internet. Along with that we’ve changed long-standing habits.

Tremendous changes have come to how we navigate, communicate, and spread ideas.

Really OldOldNow
Paper Map & CompassLandlines + Pen & PaperCell Phones
CurrierUSPSCell Phones
The BibleAlmanacs & EncyclopediasThe Internet

Last Thoughts

  1. The societal transition we’re experiencing is disjointed. It’s happening faster in some areas than others. I expect to see the seeds of change start in small pockets, with pockets of hold-outs (think of the Omish community in today’s US society).
  2. We should recognize this societal change for what it is and adjust the way we live our lives accordingly. Don’t live life in the new world by following the blueprint of the old world. While many principles will transition, many of the old rules do not apply.

bookmark_borderGood decision making is really energy management

How do we make good decisions and why is this an important part of our life?

What is a “good” decision?

A good decision is one you can stand by; a decision you can look back on and say, “if I was in that situation again I would do the same thing”. It’s a decision you easily defend and do not regret.

But for 99% of the decisions we make, we don’t consider how our preparation influenced the goodness of that decision.

Decisions to Regret

Can you think of a time you’ve snapped at a loved one over something small and meaningless? Then regretted it immensely afterward. What a poor decision…

Poor decisions are often non-decisions.

Good decisions comes from two factors:

  1. The quality of information at hand
  2. The energy available for processing it

Information Input

At the point of decision you can’t control what data inputs you have at your disposal. You can only control what to do with the information you do have.

The outcome of your decision is based on quality of information you have available from which to consider and select the best option.

Energy Input

If we have enough energy to think through scenarios properly, given all available information, we’ll make the best possible decision.

Things may not work out the way you expect or the way you want them to, but that’s because there are almost always too many variables outside of our control. However, if you utilize the available information to the best of your ability, you can have peace of mind knowing you’ve made the best decision possible.

If you make a rash decision you’ve cut corners, hastily or lazily making a decision without thinking it through. We default to corner-cutting to conserve energy…

Engage System 2 (Slow) Thinking

No one has explained the energy balance of cognition better than Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow.

Here’s an oversimplification:

Our brain is made up of two systems:

System 1 (Fast Thinking) – unconscious decisions made automatically or semi-automatically (breathing, blinking, fight or flight reactions)

System 2 (Slow Thinking) – conscious decisions we think through (what will I do today, how can I help my significant other, solving math problems)

Our brain is going to default to system 1, automatic decisions, if we don’t have enough energy to initiate system 2. 

Energy and Decisions

It turns out that a HUGE part of making good decisions is just energy management. Here’s a few ways I build the habit of making good decisions:

  • Don’t make important decisions when tired, hungry, or generally in a low energy state
  • Learn yourself – what activities, habits, diet, routines, give you high energy and what drains your energy (cultivate and energy building lifestyle; reduce energy draining activities)
  • Reflect on past decisions with context. Don’t evaluate how good a decision is with the information you know now (hindsight is 20/20). Only re-evaluate past decisions with the information you had at the time.

bookmark_borderAnd here I am…

Sitting comfortably.

Surrounded by “stuff”.

Stuff designed by the cleverest minds around the world.

Modern innovations built upon thousands of years of compounding knowledge.

All things to make life more convenient.

All things to bring ease and happiness to human life.

So why do I still feel an empty dissatisfaction?

bookmark_borderNot All Decisions Are Equal

Going with the flow is like drifting down stream. You let everyone and everything else carry you to where they are going.

If we have a destination in mind and we want to take ourselves there, we better decide whether going with the flow is the best path for us.

It’s not a constant fight

Some decisions are like being in a lake. Deciding to go with the flow doesn’t have a big impact on where we go.

Other decisions are like going over a waterfall. Irreversible thoughts that change our life forever.

It’s difficult to tell when you’re safely floating in a lake or on the precipice of a waterfall.

Breakfast might feel like a lake to many, but for some it can be a waterfall. If by eating a bad breakfast you trigger a cascade of bad or non-decisions throughout the day, you may find yourself further down the river than you thought.

For others, breakfast may have little-to-no significant impact on the rest of their day. They may be able to eat a donut and say to themselves “okay, I’ve had my treat for the day. Now the rest of the day is work, let’s get to it.”

Awareness is being able to step back and see what’s happening so you can make conscious decisions about your life.

Knowledge is the understanding of what may happen given various inputs (usually based on our own learnings or studying those of others).

Wisdom is the ability to synthesize our knowledge and act on it.

bookmark_borderGoing Against The Grain

Going against the grain.

Swimming up stream.

Implicit in the name is that it is difficult.

If it were easy, everyone would do it. But very few people do. And that’s one of the biggest things that makes it so valuable.

Water flows downstream taking the easiest possible route. As water molecules flow together they naturally go where energy takes them. They slip and slide getting to the lowest elevation, closest to earth, as quickly and easily as possible.

In many ways our culture is like the mountain and we are all molecules of water sliding downhill. A seemingly invisible force carries us all through life.

When we aren’t putting our own mental and physical energy in to make thoughtful choices about where we want to go, everyone and everything around us makes that decision for us. We slide through life, taking the easiest path.

Those who are aware of the big picture and can muster the energy to make thoughtful decisions have the ability to change the direction of their life.

bookmark_borderHow To Find A Mate

Finding a mate is relatively easy.

Finding one you really like, or “love” as we like to call it, is not so easy for most.

Maintaining that “love” is even more difficult.

Here’s how to find a good one

Step 1: Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do I really want in a mate?
  2. What would that type of person look for in their ideal mate?
  3. Who do I need to be to attract the type of person I really want?

Step 2: Focus on becoming the type of person your ideal mate can not resist.

The Philosophy

We focus too much on generalities without taking care of the day-to-day things that make up a healthy and fulfilling life.

We aren’t truthful with ourselves. We’re out of touch with reality in a way that is self detrimental.

Our conception of love is formed by unrealistic representations of relationships in movies, songs, and on social media

Our ingestion of media causes us to misinterpret other people’s relationships because we see the highlights of their “love” and not the struggles they are enduring together on a regular basis. Examples:

  • The all-too-perfect engagement photos
  • The professionally photographed holiday card
  • The Facebook update about their gender reveal

We are barraged with these on a daily basis.

Imagine only watching the highlight real of a basketball player and expecting that’s how they perform on every single play of the game. Then setting the expectation for yourself that this is how you should play.


We ingest the highlight reals of other couples, then project that on to our own lives, setting the bar way too high.

How can everything be so perfect all the time?

The Hard Truth

Humans are animals.

We have a brain designed for hunter gatherer and small tribe live, but we live in a modern world with smart phones and Instagram updates.

To find and maintain love, we need to bring ourselves back to reality.

We do that by asking and answering the tough questions.

  • What do I really want?
  • What will life really be like with my “ideal” mate?
  • What work do I need to do to become the person that can maintain a health relationship with my ideal mate?

bookmark_borderThe Human’s Source of Motivation

The human’s source of motivation is cemented firmly in its DNA, placed there by millions of years of evolution. 
Some combination of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs translates to man’s drive to live and reproduce.

We all have this gene (or collection of genes). It is what moves the biological world forward. Without it, life would slowly dissipate into darkness.

The basis of all life is to keep it going. 

Reproduction * Environmental Experiment  over Time = Evolution

Happiness, fulfillment, accomplishment; These can even be translated into hormones and molecular structures. Dopamine and serotonin are what the human strives for. Actions that support the human’s chances of survival and reproduction are rewarded in the brain.

What is your next goal?