Blake Snow

writer-for-hire, content guy, bestselling author

Hi, I'm Blake.

I run this joint. Don’t know where to start? Let me show you around:

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Words to live by: Nobody cares. Work harder.

I recently stumbled on this phrase at a high school soccer game. I instantly liked it and can easily see what it’s popular among weightlifters, athletes, entrepreneurs, and optimists alike.

It also reminded me of some other mottos I’m found of:

  • The harder I work, the luckier I get.
  • Don’t take things personal.
  • Pity parties are a waste of time.
  • There is no shortcut for hardwork.
  • Life moves on, with or without you.
  • If you want something, YOU have to go out and get it (that’s your job).

And last but not least, “Do you know where the power lies? I said it starts and ends with you.”

When is it okay to lie?

Honesty is the best policy. Except in two very specific situations.

  1. To protect yourself or someone else from danger. For example, we tell our kids to lie if someone at the door asks if their parents are home when we aren’t. Similarly, if someone is trying to manipulate, trick, or hurt you, they don’t deserve the truth, as they will try to use it against you. In these situations, you should always lie and encourage the loved ones in your life to do the same.
  2. To protect the feelings of others. If you have someone’s best interest at heart and are not lying to them for selfish reasons, research shows it’s beneficial to lie when someone’s feelings are involved. The classic example is if your spouse asks if they look good before leaving the door, especially when there’s no time to change. Rather than exaggerate, however, a comical half-truth can work much better to boost the confidence of loved ones and hopefully illicit a calming laugh. For example, “You looked worse on your wedding day,” spoken with a playful smile.

When in doubt or when trying to avoid the natural consequences of your bad behavior, honesty really is the best policy. But in these tricky situations, careful lying is the way to go.

“Most humans don’t want the truth—they want to be told they’re okay.”

I have a super smart neighbor that’s now retired. After competing in the Olympics in track, he became a college professor as is the quintessential deep thinker. He dropped the following sentence at church recently, which gave me pause:

“Most humans don’t want the truth—they want to be told they’re okay.”

He’s got a point. I’m not sure if “most” humans don’t want the truth, but I know I lot of them would rather be told (or delude themselves) into thinking they’re okay. Granted, I think most humans are okay, but I think this line of thinking prevents us from progressing at times, myself included.

What do you think: Do humans value acceptance more than truth? And are the two mutually exclusive?

Published works: Hiking Half Dome, America’s most deadly day hike

My latest for Paste Magazine: “I’m lucky to have thru- and day-hiked some of the most remarkable outdoors on the planet: the Rockies and Appalachians in North America, Patagonia and the Inca Trail in South America, the Alps and Mont Blanc in Europe. I’ve even hiked the ancient Kumano Kodo in Asia, which is considered the oldest designated hiking trail in the world.

“But last month I hiked the most demanding (if not deadly) day hike in my life so far: Yosemite’s Half Dome, located in the soaring Sierra Nevadas of California. I stress soaring because, at nearly 5,000 feet tall, Half Dome is twice as tall as the Grand Canyon. In fact, at an average of 3,000 feet tall, Yosemite’s granite canyons are some of the most dramatic you’ll find anywhere in the world.”

Continue reading…

How free mentors make you awesome

You’d be amazed at the number of experts willing to give free advice.

There are countless stories of unknown people looking up some of the world’s brightest minds, and then cold calling, cold emailing, or cold messaging them on social media to get a favorable response. Although the success rate is usually low, it’s actually higher than you think. Because of this, reaching out to expert strangers is often worth it.

The success rate for getting free advice among friends, family, and former associates, however, is shockingly high and always worth doing. In fact, you’re probably leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table every year in free consulting and coaching by not reaching out and asking for help. For example, you could easily get guidance on your latest idea, work project, side hustle, hobby, or personal problem.

But you have to ask. Continue reading…

What I’ve learned after 8 years of ride shares

I booked an Uber for the first time in 2015 while traveling to San Francisco for work.

Since then, I’ve booked hundreds of Ubers (and Lyfts) all around the world. I haven’t rented a car since (although I’ve rented a handful of Turos in that time).

Eight years later with every intention of ride sharing indefinitly, here are eight things I’ve learned:

  1. Ride sharing saves me time and money. It’s much faster, usually cheaper, and more rewarding than renting a car or cab. I mostly use ride shares for business and vacation. I love it.
  2. Drivers like to talk about themselves. The vast majority of drivers are talkers. Granted, I’m good at listening and ask lots of questions, because I selfishly want to learn from other humans. But several drivers just unload and never ask a single question in return.
  3. I’ve been a free therapists to several drivers. Some drivers latch on to my ears and unload their life story. Some have even cried, which is pretty amazing. Sometimes it’s too much and disrespectful, if not unprofessional. But mostly I don’t mind.
  4. Other drives are perfect. They ask a few questions, break the ice, talk a moment over shared interests, then let me quietly enjoy the rest of the ride. I like these drivers a lot and tip them often.
  5. I’m a “top tipper” (but don’t feel like one). Without my asking, several drivers have volunteered that only 30% of riders tip. This is lower than I expected but roughly in line with what I do (I tip about 40% of the time, usually no more than a few bucks). I almost always tip on longer rides but hardly ever on shorter rides. Despite this, I’m considered a “top tipper” on both apps. I miss the days when Uber didn’t ask or even allow for tips and would gladly pay higher fares if tips were included.
  6. I’m 5-star rider. I feel like the competition is thin when it comes to garnering a quality rider rating. Being kind, respectful, taking a genuine interest in drivers (they are fellow humans after all), and being polite goes a long way. It also gets you really fast pickups from the best drivers in the nicest cars.
  7. I would love to hang out with several drivers. One in particular exchanged phone numbers with me but later ghosted my texts. I felt like I was in high school again after the rejection.
  8. I’ve only puked in one car. Just kidding. I’ve never puked in a car. At least not a ride-sharing one.

All hail ride sharing!

Book review: Raising Good Humans will make you a better parent

As the father of five kids, I take parenting very seriously. I used to read a lot of parenting books when my children were young, but I haven’t read any in recent years until stumbling upon Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields and Carla Naumburg

I didn’t like the workbook-like format and belabored thoughts on mindfulness, but I did enjoy several of the insights, especially as I’m increasingly raising teenagers over toddlers these days.

These are some of the lessons that stood out:

  1. You literally cannot access the rational part of your brain when your stress response is triggered.
  2. If you make your body seem less threatening, and speak in a calmer voice instead of yelling, you’ll have a less-stressed child—and you’ll get more cooperation.
  3. If we’re not fully present with our kids, we miss the chance to attune with their cues about what is happening for them under the surface. We might miss the signal that our children need a hug or help instead of more direction in this moment.
  4. Parental presence is key to optimizing the chance of your child having a life of well-being and resilience. “When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”
  5. Instead of learning from the moment, their stress response bypasses the upper parts of the brain and causes children to fight back, talk back, withdraw, or run away. They are not “misbehaving” in these moments, they are experiencing a stress response.
  6. Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.
  7. “Instead of teaching children how to consider their own needs in relation to the needs of those around them… we force children to do what we want because it seems more efficient, or because we lack the energy or skill to do it differently.”—Oren Jay Sofer
  8. “The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”—Denis Waitley
  9. Simplify Schedules: Children (heck, all of us) need free time to balance out their activities, get to know themselves, and feel peaceful.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Here’s why door-to-door salesmen are growing

Courtesy New Yorker

I “sold” religion door-to-door in Brazil two decades ago and I know it annoyed a lot of people. But this fantastic long-read on for-profit door-to-door salesmen makes me feel slimy because these guys are a nuisance and largely dishonest. The problem with door-to-door product sales is that many (most?) harbor the dishonest believe that every household needs what they’re selling. That’s just not true. But because of the rise of spam lists and not call registers, door-to-door sales are actually growing. Hustle always works. And so does taking advantage of mentally feeble buyers.

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Book review: The Good Earth is good reading, like Steinbeck on Chinese culture

I recently finished reading The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. It was the best-selling book in America in 1931.

Despite being nearly 100 years old, I found both the writing and story to be a fascinating inside look into Chinese culture, as observed by the author who lived in the country for many years with her missionary parents.

While reading the book, these adages quickly came to mind: “History repeats” and “You can’t always get what you want.” I also came up with another: “Corrupt culture corrupts men faster than usual.”

Rating: ★★★★☆

These were my favorite passages:

  • Moving together in a perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods.
  • But out of the woman’s great brown breast the milk gushed forth for the child, milk as white as snow, and when the child suckled at one breast it flowed like a fountain from the other, and she let it flow. There was more than enough for the child, greedy though he was, life enough for many children, and she let it flow out carelessly, conscious of her abundance. There was always more and more. Sometimes she lifted her breast and let it flow out upon the ground to save her clothing, and it sank into the earth and made a soft, dark, rich spot in the field. The child was fat and good-natured and ate of the inexhaustible life his mother gave him.
  • He belonged, not to this scum which clung to the walls of a rich man’s house; nor did he belong to the rich man’s house. He belonged to the land and he could not live with any fullness until he felt the land under his feet and followed a plow in the springtime and bore a scythe in his hand at harvest.
  • Then in this city out of which something new was always springing at him, Wang Lung saw another new thing he did not understand.
  • But over the fields and the water the moonlight hung, a net of silver mist, and in his body his blood ran secret and hot and fast.
  • But O-lan returned to the beating of his clothes and when tears dropped slowly and heavily from her eyes she did not put up her hand to wipe them away; only she beat the more steadily with her wooden stick upon the clothes spread over the stone.
  • Then the good land did again its healing work and the sun shone on him and healed him and the warm winds of summer wrapped him about with peace.
  • Now five years is nothing in a man’s life except when he is very young and very old.
  • Wang Lung felt as though air and sunlight had been suddenly cut off because of the numbers of grey men tramping heavily and in unison through the town.
  • There was the third son to wed one day soon, and with that over there was nothing left to trouble him in his life, and he could be at peace. But there was no peace.
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To reach more people, write “bright and emotional” copy

Fan mail is better than hate mail. As a public writer, I get a lot more of the latter than I do the former. That’s because angry people take action more than happy people.

Today, however, I received a heartwarming thank you letter from a reader who enjoyed my recent travel column. “I could feel  your passion,” she wrote. “Your story is different because on top of being bright, I can feel the emotion.”

When I write, I’m significantly more concerned with helping the reader feel than any thing else. When describing something, I want them to feel what I did when experiencing it, as opposed to just describing it.

Description is important, too. That’s where I try to be as bright, honest, and accurate as possible. I hadn’t realized it until this fan mail said it, but “bright and emotional” have been reoccurring themes to my writing for nearly two decades.

Of course, there are other styles of effective writing. Dark, sterile, and intentionally ambiguous to suspend the reader. But similar to how most people try to avoid downers at a party, I believe bright and emotional stories reach a lot more people because they resonate better.

So the next time you write something, try to emote like a human and stay upbeat when describing things. In doing so, I’m confidant you’ll reach a lot more people.

Published Works: 5 reasons to unwind at Cancun’s “newest” all-inclusive

My latest for Paste Magazine: “It’s amazing how colorful Cancun is on a sunny day, even if you’ve visited its beaches before. The ocean is a stunning combination of deep blues, cobalts, and teals—some of the most gorgeous you’ll ever see. What’s more, the celebrated city is home to more all-inclusives than anywhere else, which is partly why it’s such a popular vacation hop. (The other is Mexican affordability and American proximity.)

“With so many options to choose from, then, which resort stands out? As one of the very last a la carte hotels in Cancun to convert to an all-inclusive, Grand Fiesta Coral Beach is “new” in that it shuns the often pragmatic, systematized practices of traditional all-inclusives while staying true to its fancy heritage. Yes, the property is big and beautiful like other contenders. But the toothy staff are noticeably more attentive and personal, because they were “Hecho en Mexico” and clearly love their jobs.”

Continue reading…

BOOK REVIEW: Lost City of the Monkey God is riveting non-fiction; 5 stars out of 5

I recently finished Douglas Preston’s fantastic The Lost City of the Monkey God. It is an adventurous and profound true story about the recent discovery of a 500 year forgotten city located deep in the cartel-riddled jungles of Honduras. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down.

Without spoiling the ending, this is what I wrote in my journal after pondering the finish for several minutes: “Survival of the fittest, a total inevitability, is difficult to accept. But survivors are not all criminals. Few of them actually are, in fact.

“Our modern existence is not a tragedy or sad story. Yes, death and destruction checker our past. But it does not define our existence. We are better off as a species because of our past, not in spite of it.”

Rating: ★★★★★

These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…

What 10,000 miles from home feels like

Courtesy Shutterstock

On Earth, 12,450 miles is the farthest anyone can get from home. Take one more step in any direction, and you will have started your return journey from the halfway point.

Until I visit one of these places (aka 45° meridian east), I came as close to that point as I ever have last month. The distance from my home in Provo to Durban is over 10,000 miles, where I began a life-changing journey through the motherland.

I should have grasped this impressive separation sooner than I did. Upon booking airfare, total flight time read over 22 hours across three flights. “That’s a long haul,” I passingly noted, before moving to other travel arrangements.  Continue reading…

Published works: Everything you need to know before visiting Christ The Redeemer

Courtesy Shutterstock

Here’s my latest for Fodor’s: 

8 people you should be extra kind to

Deal_with_it_dog_gifI was jogging last week and ran past a parked patrol car. A cop was in it.

I make it a habit to wave to everyone I encounter, so I cut the air with my hand and smiled. He waved back and flashed a big grin, as if I had just made his day—as if he rarely gets acknowledged by civilians.

Surprised by the effect it had, I started thinking of other people that might benefit from extra kindness. This is what I came up with: Continue reading…

Using numbers to look your best

suit

ABC

The world is full of qualitative statements. Exaggerations. Subjectiveness that cannot be measured. The people that make such statements are easily forgotten.

Quantitative statements, on the other hand, leave an impression. They measure your place in life. My father taught me this at an early age.

When I was nine years old, I ran a fast 400 meter dash, which is no easy feat. The thing about the 400 is not a lot of people run it. It’s difficult, because it’s not quite a sprint and not quite a distance race. As such, few amateurs compete in it. At least that was the case when I ran it.

So my father encouraged me to run the 400. I did. All the way to the ’88 state finals. Here’s how it happened:  Continue reading…

My favorite saying of the year is empowering: “I won’t judge”

credit: last week tonight

credit: last week tonight

I believe final, condemning, or otherwise hasty judgment of others is like hatred. It is learned, immoral, and vile behavior that worsens with age and leads to unhappiness.

Obviously, we’re required to make mortal judgments on the accused if on jury duty. And we need to judge the fruits and motives of others to make important decisions in life, such as choosing friends, voting for government leaders, engaging in business transactions, shielding our children from danger, or marrying someone.

(Similarly, hatred of conditions—never people—can inspire action, but that’s another story).

While many of us struggle in making the above judgments, all of us suck when it comes to judging others out of misguided fear, selfishness, or an attempt to validate our lifestyle over another’s. It is this type of misjudgment that is so difficult to avoid.

Earlier this year, I learned a useful trick for combating this. Continue reading…

Descriptive writing: Is accuracy more important than feelings?

I was recently asked to ghostwrite an article about autism in the workplace. The draft I was given used “different” about half a dozen times to describe autistic people. As a writer, that’s five times too many; maybe even six too many, since “different” is a boring, catch-all adjective that’s too vague to hold any real meaning.

Like I always do when wordsmithing, I started replacing redundant adjectives with new synonyms to keep things moving. This is because readers quickly get bored, and my job is to keep them reading until the final punctuation.

As I rewrote and constructed new sentences, I used several adjectives and descriptions that were later rejected and/or deemed too sensitive at best, derogatory at worst. The words I chose didn’t imply “of little worth,” which is the definition of derogation. Nevertheless, all but “different” and “neurologically diverse” were rejected.

While I still enjoy incredible first amendment freedoms as a writer, I will say the craft has gotten slightly more sensitive in recent years. There’s even a double standard sometimes. For example, it’s deemed appropriate to refer to non-autistic people as “typical” but frowned upon to refer to autistic people as “atypical.”

Although 95% of my editors are fantastic, it’s discouraging when someone rejects my honest attempt to keep writing fresh with accurate and stimulating adjectives. It rarely happens, but some editors favor politically correct terms over clarity and diverse writing. Ultimately that’s a disservice to the subjects themselves—in this case a lovable, unpredictable, and soft-spoken subsect of humanity.

Moral of the story: When descriptive words are limited, I believe readers and subjects both lose. As I’ve said before, it’s better to offend one reader while reaching another instead of being ignored or overlooked by both. When describing reality, accuracy should always prevail.

Yes there are people that intentionally use derogative words to describe people they deem as inferior. But most of us aren’t like that. We should give the majority of people the benefit of the doubt. And we can always follow up if we’re unsure about someone’s intent.

You know—ask questions first, shoot last.

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Big problems aside, here’s why today is the greatest time to be alive

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While the world is far from perfect, today is a better place for the greatest number of people than at any time in history, regardless of race, gender, or 99% of nationalities.

This is especially true of higher life expectancy and living conditions in every country (including North Korea), less disease-related deaths, total poverty (i.e. checked capitalism usually works), war, dictators, injustices, and crime, and higher education and literacy rates.

You might be tempted to think that ongoing social unrest, COVID, and the Russian-Ukrainian war changed all of that, but you would be wrong. By a wide range of measures, there is simply no better time to be alive than today, even with its drawbacks.

Better yet, the fact that the world has slowly but surely gotten better, means the future will be better too. In fact, there’s no indication that society suddenly stops making social progress as equality improves or reaches a certain threshold.

I don’t mean to be insensitive to any one person or group of people currently going through a tough time. But how can you not like the overall direction we’re headed?

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How heeding our body clocks leads to better health

Courtesy NY Times

Can we improve our health by changing when we do something during the day? “Yes,” argue a growing number of circadian doctors.

For instance, the above report found that over half of our body’s organs and cells function on a 24 hour clock and perform differently depending on the sun. For example, our livers like to sleep at night, so if we wake them up with food when the sun goes down, they don’t do as good of a job and people who eat late are statistically heavier and sleep poorly.

The same is true of skipping sleep on the weekends to socialize or consuming more calories in the second half of the day. Researchers found that doing this wrecks our performance and digestion until we get back on rhythm. Athletes in particular are especially aware of this as it affects their income (as it does our office work, whether we know it or not).

Although we still don’t know all the ways sunlight affects organ performance, we do know that being active and outside more during the day leads to better sleep, which leads to better immunity, decisions, and ultimate health the very next day.

So long as we stay in rhythm, our performance and enjoyment of life increases. Talk about free medicine!

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The Dash: Poem by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning…to the end

He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
Know what that little line is worth

For it matters not, how much we own, 
The cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while

So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?

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Published works: Hawaii—7 days, 4 islands, 1 cruise

My latest for Paste Magazine: “This year I’m pretty sure I discovered the most convenient, if not affordable, way to island hop Hawaii. It’s called “inter-island” cruising and Norwegian is the only liner exclusively doing it. While other cruises incorporate a couple Hawaiian islands on larger South Pacific itineraries, Norwegian’s 7-day Inter Island Cruise aboard the Pride of America sets sail every week of the year from its home port in Honolulu.

“After port-hopping with my wife for seven days to Hawaii’s four most famous islands—Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and “The Big Island”—I’d use one word to sum up the experience: exceptional. As the only cruise ship in the world to fly a U.S. flag from its stern, Pride of America is a special, award-winning, and exotic journey into the heart of the country’s most fabled vacation destination. It’s like one big “Best of Hawaii” tour where you only unpack once while visiting five different ports and spending the majority of your time on land (no sea days here).”

Continue reading…

How to be disarming (and avoid crooks)

Courtesy Shutterstock

When someone is “disarming,” it literally means that their very nature, character, and personality make you drop your weapons. In modern vernacular, someone who is disarming is calming. They encourage you to let your guard down.

This is an excellent skill to possess, especially if you work with a lot of people in sometimes tense situations. While it’s healthy to be cautious and skeptical, sometimes each of us are also on high alert. Whether through previous baggage or PTSD, we are overly alarmed.

To counter this, a disarming person is vulnerable, unfiltered, honest, empathetic, and thoughtful. Some people might call this refreshingly real. That’s one way to be disarming.

Another way is to give another person a chance to process what you’re about to tell them. Prepare them for what you’d like to discuss. For instance, lead with “Can I ask you a difficult question?” if you need to talk about a touchy or sensitive subject, which should never be discussed cold. You could also try, “I have something sensitive to talk to you about. Is now a good time?”

As the discussion hopefully moves forward, don’t get emotional, which only arms someone further. Stay neutral and calm, even if things get tense. When you hear something that sounds harsh, try responding with: “What I heard you say was this: [What they said.] Is that right?”

If they rightfully call you out for doing something wrong or offensive, don’t forget to offer a heartfelt apology. “I’m sorry I did that. Will you forgive me?”

Now, a third way to be disarming is to be incredibly perceptive, hyper alert to body language, and charming. Often times to the point of being manipulative. You don’t want to be this kind of disarming unless you are a con man or crook.

Finally, what’s the best way to tell if you’ve been disarmed by a genuine person or a crook? The former will leave you feeling good about yourself. The later will make you feel good on the outside but uneasy on the inside. As if something was slightly off. Pay attention to those feelings.

Our gut instincts have helped us survive for thousands of years and they will help you to, but you have to listen to them. Good luck!

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3 hours too late: The price of slowly replying to email

I was recently invited on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to attend two icons of European sport in a single week: Wimbledon and Le Mans. It would have been an all-expense paid trip for my travel column.

Apparently some journalist couldn’t attend, so I was emailed a last minute invite in his place. First-class overseas airfare. Center court Wimbledon tickets. 5-star hotel. Several Michelin-rated restaurants. And test driving a fancy new sports car around Le Mans! I was giddy with the prospects of visiting and writing about the experience, but I knew not to count my chickens until they hatched.

Because I check email infrequently in an effort to stay sane and get more work done, I didn’t accept the invitation until nearly three hours later, after consulting with my wife. Several days passed, and I didn’t hear back. A few days later, I replied again and the publicist apologetically told me that “this invite filled up fast,” so I didn’t get the booking.

Maybe the person that did was a bigger deal than me. Maybe the good luck gods were conspiring against me. Or maybe had I checked my email more quickly I could have locked in the reservation.

Whatever the reason, I’ll never go back to constantly checking email like I did 13 years ago. If I actually did lose this gig because I was slow to respond, the last 13 years of better sanity and productivity were totally worth it. I’m certain the next 13 will be, too. But this one stings, even if it’s the epitome of all first-world problems.

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Reader question: What’s the best way to gain credibility as a new freelance writer?

Courtesy Shutterstock

My advice: Spend almost as much time asking people if you can write for them as you do actually writing for them. In the early days, I spent upwards of half of my time asking editors if I can write for them. Most ignored me. Several rejected me. But a handful said yes. In other words, being a freelance writer requires a lot of hustle. That lessens the longer you’re in the game and the more “free” referral work you get as you build your reputation. But even now after years of bylines I have to hustle to ask people if I can write for them. Good luck!

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Good music: 5 new albums I totally enjoy

Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately:

  1. Less Bad. My new album that doesn’t suck. Biased but proud. Listen to Sorta Social, Ricky’s Song, I Did It, and Carry On if you don’t believe me.
  2. Dropout Boogie. Groovy new Black Keys record that doesn’t disappoint. “Your Team Is Looking Good” is my current favorite.
  3. The Dream. Super weird new album by Alt-J is hauntingly beautiful and downright fun at times.
  4. Top Gun Maverick. Terrific score for a terrific movie. 10 thoughtful songs that make you feel good.
  5. Take The Sadness Out of Saturday Night. The latest album by Bleachers isn’t quite as strong as their first two albums, but this is a solid, softer album that still moves me.

Honorable mention: 12 Carat Toothache by Post Malone

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Published works: 25 Things to Do in Utah

Courtesy Shutterstock

My latest for Fodor’s Travel: “Utah does two things remarkably well. Its unique climate catches the driest, fluffiest snow in the world, which is terrible for snowballs. But it’s heavenly for skiing—like gliding on clouds. Secondly, it stars some of the most fascinating rock formations and canyons on the planet–the former is out of this world, the latter legitimately rivals the Grand Canyon. More than 60% of Utah lands are public, and about 100% (give or take) of those public lands are otherworldly, photogenic, recreational paradises.” Continue reading…

Published works: Say Hello to America’s Newest National Park, New River Gorge

My latest for Paste Magazine: “I adore John Denver’s “Country Road,” which is synonymous with West Virginia all over the world. But I never would have visited “The Mountain State” had New River Gorge not been named the nation’s newest National Park. Maybe I was a little prejudiced after learning about its coal mining mishaps, which left an enduring stain on the otherwise beautiful state and its unpretentious people.

“Whatever it was, I was wrong. West Virginia deserves your attention. Its newest and only national park is everything it’s cracked up to be; an outstanding place to river raft, mountain bike, hike, and rock climb.” Continue reading…

What I’m working on now: Is it weird that I moonlight as a musician? 😁

My third book is in the works

An old friend recently asked what I’ve been up to lately. Here’s the full answer as of this year:

  1. Freelance writing. I’ve been writing full-time for 17 years now. Since the Great Recession of 2009, however, writing explanatory tech and business stories for Fortune 500 companies has made up the bulk of my work. That continues today, writing mostly for software and consulting companies, as well as some travel publications for fun.
  2. Non-profit speaking. With the generous support of my good friend Craig, I started speaking to local elementary school students as part of my non-profit. We have more events planned in the fall, and it feels good to extend the movement beyond the book. Our first campaign includes giving away cool t-shirts to encourage people to “Live Heads Up.”
  3. Starting my third book. It’s called Today I Crush All Negativity, and it attempts to explain when and how to be optimistic and when and how to be pessimistic, regardless if you believe the glass is “half empty” or “half full.” If all goes to plan, I hope to publish the by the end of the year. I can’t wait for you to read it. I’ve interviewed a few billionaires for their perspective and hope to do the same with some homeless folks, too.
  4. Releasing my second album. I am so proud of it, promise it doesn’t suck, and hope you listen to it if you haven’t already. If you listen to just one song, make it “Sorta Social.” To promote the album, I even started a band to tour locally in Utah.
  5. Middle-age parenting. My family is rapidly becoming an older, adolescent family instead of the early childhood one its been for a long time. I can just feel it—and it feels special. I can talk to my older kids like an adult, and the younger ones are very independent. As part of that, I’m trying to deepen my relationships with them to hopefully avoid any future “daddy issues.” I feel encouraged by that and am closer to my wife than ever before.

The metaverse isn’t real

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Yesterday at my kids’ soccer tryouts, I overheard two young mothers discussing husband careers. Apparently one of them is starting a company that’s “building a rock climbing app in the metaverse.”

I smiled at the naivete. The metaverse isn’t real. It’s entertaining science fiction that recently became a buzzword to sell exaggerated internet developments.

It’s the emperor’s new clothes all over again—a modern Second Life. Remember that old hype?

To be clear, I’m all for building new things—even “pipe dreams” like shipping east coast water to west coast droughts. But substantial things are honestly described and easily understood every time.

Otherwise you’re discussing something that isn’t real.

4 ways to “live heads up” this summer


My friend Craig is generously helping me start a new campaign for my non-profit. It’s called “Live Heads Up,” a point I emphasize in my book Log Off.

(Spoiler alert: Living heads up is safer, more rewarding, and more fulfilling than living heads down on a tiny screen.)

Anyway, we printed off a bunch of t-shirts, and Craig and I are giving them out to local K-12 students. Our first “assembly” is tomorrow, and I’m terrified of this happening during my brief remarks: Continue reading…

The problem with academic writing: “The teacher must seize the student’s attention”

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

I don’t like academic writing. It’s mostly nonsense.

A few years ago, I said as much to my father who works in academia. Despite my insensitivity and lack of tact, I stand by my belief. Not because I’m incapable of admitting when I’m wrong. But because academic writing’s verbose language, impersonal tone, and dispassionate delivery ultimately fail to engage readers.

In other words, “Academics are really good at writing books that only academics will read, but they’re not very good at making anyone outside of academia care,” says Jared Bauer, co-creator of Thug Notes, in an interview with Huffington Post. “Teaching isn’t easy, so I’m not trying to shame teachers for not trying more radical approaches to literature education,” he adds. “But at the very least, I hope (our) show makes teachers realize that a student won’t volunteer their attention. The teacher must seize it.”

As I debated with my father that day, for writing to succeed, it must capture the reader’s attention. If it doesn’t, the writing won’t get shared, influence can’t happen, and the opportunity to learn is squandered, even among scholars. There’s no point to that kind of writing other than to serve as a reminder of how not to write.  Continue reading…

How to heal racism: Don’t mention it

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

My dad was born and raised in Northern Idaho. Few, if any, minorities lived there at the time. And yet my Indian-loving grandfather and grandmother taught him not to pay attention to race. Instead, they taught my father to accept each individual on their own merits, like many people had before.

My mother and father taught me the same. In fact, I can’t recall a single time when my dad mentioned race when describing someone. Bank robber in the news? He didn’t mention it. Star athlete in the news? He didn’t mention it. Poor family in need? He didn’t mention it.

Outside of home, I experienced a very different, if not disparaging “us against them” interpretation of race while growing up in the deep, formerly segregated south. That is you talk about race and generalize it all of the time. You divide or bond over it even. 

In middle school, for example, one girl who didn’t look like me insisted that minority races cannot be racist or prejudice. That didn’t make sense. Another classmate approached me one day and starting spewing derogatory and racist language, wrongly believing that I shared his toxic views because our skin looked the same. That didn’t make sense either.

Today, I realize we have to talk about difficult things sometimes, racial tension very much included. But I also believe someone’s race is a lousy indicator of their true character. If my own upbringing is any indication, we can either rehash the same juvenile discussions on race to similar effect, or we can take the more mature approach that my father did: in most instances where race doesn’t matter, don’t mention it.

I’m not saying this simple act can cure centuries of racism. But I know first-hand it has the power to heal. You should try it sometime (if you haven’t already). Unless you’re being asked by a cop to identify a suspect, please don’t mention race when describing someone.

How the Liver King built a social media, supplements empire eating raw organ meat

This is a fascinating long-read by Madeleine Aggeler: “The Liver King does own shirts, first of all. Several, he claims. I haven’t personally seen them, because when he greeted me in the cavernous entryway of his Texas mansion, he wasn’t wearing one. Nor did I see any in his closet later, which—though it contains approximately 900 identical pairs of athletic shorts and enough guns and ammunition to arm the military of a smaller nation—did not seem to contain even a single t-shirt. Nonetheless, he assured me that there are a few in there, somewhere. It was a bit like when a sign at a national park tells you there are mountain lions in the woods: You believe it, but you understand that you’re unlikely to cross paths with any.” Continue reading…

Book review: Phoenix In Their Own Words is a little off-putting, but mostly awesome

You can take a band out of France, but you can’t take French out of a band. Any foreigner who has interacted with a lot of French know precisely what I mean by that. It’s one of the many things Americans and British share knowing looks over. (Or conversely how foreigners share knowing looks over me and my fellow Americans.)

And I only mean that in a slightly derogatory way. I love the French and that’s not a backhanded compliment. I love that they invented modern democracy, cooking, and Daft Punk. Everyone outside of Paris are easily the most warm, welcoming, and endearing people on the entire European continent. I know because I backpacked through their rural towns for a week. Heck, I even like Parisians as much as I do New Yorkers, and that’s a lot.

But for many of us, there’s something slightly off-putting about the French and New Yorkers. In this case, after reading Phoenix: In Their Own Words, there’s a foreign arrogance, seriousness, and overly romantic way in which some of the band members tell their story.

The story is this: the band gives an album by album account of their life from their early years, into their successful years, and onto the recent years where they’ve still churned out incredibly catchy indie melodies. Published just before pandemic started and filled with candid photos, I really enjoyed the account, minus the aforementioned, albeit brief, encounters with foreign arrogance.

The vast majority of the book, in fact, is totally endearing. While I wish there was a little more inside music information, I quickly read the entire thing as an avowed fan and lover of both music and French culture. My favorite part is after being dropped by their label since their first three albums failed to achieve mainstream success, the thirty-something members doubled down, paid for their own fourth album, and turned it into their greatest success to date, both commercially and artistically. Later that year while headlining Coachella, Beyonce and Jay-Z were at the side of the stage belting the lyrics of not only their lead singles, but deep cuts from that album.

What an honor. What a story. What a band. ★★★★☆

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Published works: You Don’t Have to Be a Patriot to Love Washington, D.C.

My latest for Paste Magazine: “Know what the second biggest industry in D.C. is, after the federal government? It’s actually tourism—over 20 million people visit our nation’s capital each year. And it’s not just patriotic Americans and school buses filling the streets. Washington welcomes visitors from all over the world, which you’ll encounter as you walk the National Mall.

“I first visited D.C. as a junior in high school with a local youth group. Like most self-centered teenagers, I was disinterested by anything that wasn’t music related, a trip to D.C. very much included. But I left with a newfound appreciation for the arts, achievements, and history of America that week. “I will take my kids here someday,” I even uttered.

“That day arrived this year, after my wife and I booked our family for a weeklong visit over spring break, just in time to catch the last few cherry blossoms (while also skipping the swampy summer weather). In short, D.C. is a surprisingly quiet, clean, pedestrian-friendly city with arguably more free things to do than any other city on Earth.” Continue reading…

Behind every great man is a greater woman

This is a photo of my wife Lindsey taken 10 years ago in Twin Falls, Idaho. She has her hands full. At my request, she wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a family photo while driving back home. But she’s holding it together, juggling the kids, smiling for the camera.

The next month, she would unknowingly become pregnant with our fifth child. Surprise!

I love this photo. It perfectly captures the chaotic, selfless, and devoted life of not only my own wife, but mothers in general.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my wife. I don’t mean that in a vague, feel-good type way. I literally mean I wouldn’t be the full-time writer I am today without my wife. Let me explain. Continue reading…

Book review: Authentic by the founder of Vans is simple and clean business advice

It’s not as iconic, big, or as juicy as Shoe Dog, but Authentic: A Memoir of Vans by Paul Van Doren is a straightforward, if not understated, perspective on business success. Just like the shoes themselves. I enjoyed this quick read and threw it in the growing pile of inspiring American success stories.

Rating: ★★★☆☆. These were some of my favorite passages:

  • Hard work, honesty, and caring for people are what yield success. The beauty lies in simplicity, so don’t overcomplicate things.
  • My belief is that you can always teach people how to do things. What you cannot teach people is how to understand other people.
  • My experiment proved that we did indeed have a serious quality control problem: the people in charge of quality control had no idea what they were looking at.
  • When I started interviewing people for jobs with us, the first thing I would do after someone handed me his or her résumé was toss it in the trash. They would be horrified, of course, and get nervous, but when I proceeded to ask questions and have them tell me about themselves in their own words, they relaxed. How else could I find out who they really were?
  • We can all recognize that we need one another. I said it at the outset of this book, and I’ll say it again: no one gets anywhere alone.
  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Book review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is absolutely haunting

I recently finished When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. I was utterly moved by this powerful account of Kalanithi’s own life as a neurosurgeon, the most demanding physician in the world, and his own premature death in his mid thirties after contracting terminal cancer.

Not only was Kalanithi a paragon brain surgeon, though, he is an absolute poet on the meaning of life, the humanity of doctors, and making the most out of a terrible situation.

Rating: ★★★★★. These were my favorite passages: Continue reading…

New and improved: The 4 Burners Theory explained with more nuance

I’m a big believer in the four burners theory, which I first endorsed in Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting.

Here’s how I explained the idea in chapter 7: “Of all the research I’ve reviewed over the last decade, The Four Burners Theory is the leading cause of dying with regret. The theory argues that an individual’s life can be divided into four quadrants, or “burners,” of a conventional stove: family, friends, health, and work. “In order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners,” the theory states. “And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”

But since publishing the book, I’ve slightly updated the more traditional definition of the four burners. I do this by merging friends and family into a single “social” category, which many people already do, while adding “hobbies,” which is a huge area that humans devote time to. In that way, the updated burners cover all of your bases.

The same gas limits still apply, of course. If you want to be iconic at the expense of others, pick just one and jack up the heat (think: Steve Jobs). If you want to be great, pick only two burners and run ’em hot. If you want to be good, pick three burners and cook moderately. If you want to be well-rounded and multi-dimensional, slow burn all four.

The choice is yours. 🔥

Will power doesn’t work. To change habits, control your environment instead

Courtesy Shutterstock

My wife and I were recently talking to our kids about changing habits.

I learned long ago that will power doesn’t work. Never has, never will (i.e. if talk is cheap, thoughts are even cheaper). To change our behavior, we must change our environment with specific goals that reinforce one another.

For example, if you want to lose weight, you need to consume a lot more water and eat less processed foods and desserts every day. Exercise alone doesn’t work. Stacking good habits does, however.

In January, I set a goal to stop swearing. Not because I think it’s immoral or not hilariously funny at times. But I suspected that profanity had a direct effect on my anger, an issue I still struggle with.

I was right.

After setting a specific goal to never cuss this year in any verbal or written communication, my anger is at an all time low. Not since I took an anger management class seven years ago have I felt this encouraged.

I still stumble, of course. So far this year, I stupidly threw two S-grenades at my wife while bickering with her. And I dropped an F-bomb on Alexa after she failed to understand a verbal command for the umpteenth time. How embarrassing is that.

Still, there’s no way I’m going back to swearing, at least until I get a full and complete handle on my anger, which I’m getting closer to.

I’m grateful humans can change habits with the help of specific, daily goals. But we must pair those goals with other environmental habits to build momentum and make a difference. You got this!

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If this woman can forgive her concentration camp guard, I can forgive anyone

Corrie Ten Boom’s classic and powerful account of forgiveness is just as relevant as ever:

“Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently (as my former captor outstretched his hand). ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’”