Over the weekend, I had the honor to be the keynote speaker for WordCamp Baltimore. (My theme was “Living Life as an Iceberg or a Ship,” which should be on WordPress.tv shortly and hope to share online very soon.)
But I want to share a little experiment I tried on Saturday.
As I walked to the venue for the first day of camp, I was seeking to steep my soul on my topic and the stories I would share later that day. And as I got my badge, I resolved to myself: “Everyone I see today, all day, who looks up or at me, as I pass them in the halls or see them at the coffee bar, I’ll just give them a simple smile.”
That’s it. That’s all. Just a little smile.
I knew I couldn’t connect deeply with every single person. But the one simple thing I could do all day — to show I was cared — that I thought might be impactful was to give others there a simple smile.
A gesture of recognition and warmth, just to say without words:
“I see you. And you matter.”
In my talk, I challenged them that: “Smile are free.” I told them about my day-long experiment. And said although I could make up statistics about it, scientifically I had read over and over how smiles have a profound effect on us — to ourselves and others.
And as I looked over the audience, I started seeing several people smiling back at me. And then more. And more.
I could feel the warmth, the acceptance, the recognition back to me. Little pings from one human to another. And it felt … good. Really good. The light of others humans signaling to me and a resonating glow turned on inside of me.
I am human.
I am seen by and acknowledged by other humans.
And I am accepted by them.
Your free smile today
Other than one or two people mentioning it shortly afterward (I missed the next day of camp as I flew home to my family), I don’t know the effects on the dozens of others I got to smile at during the day.
Did one smile provide a little light for someone struggling with something?
Did one smile remind someone of their importance and existence on this earth?
Did one smile inspire another, and another?
But I do know … smiles are a free yet priceless and powerful message to the human soul.
Last weekend, I went on a quick but epic roadtrip with my youngest brother, Matt. On short notice I needed (and let’s be honest, wanted) someone to go with me to our New Mexico cabin (about a 9-hour drive each way) starting on Friday night and getting back on Sunday night.
Matt and I are seven years apart in age. He’s a police officer and I type for a living. We didn’t grow up in the same home, but we’ve always had a brother bond that even if we didn’t see each other for months, we would start where we left off.
So for 18+ hours on the road and all the in-between time when we weren’t sleeping (barely), there wasn’t 5 minutes of quiet between us. We talked about everything from children, marriage to politics and career … and of course our hopes and dreams and thoughts about the future. We toasted and drank some excellent Balvenie. We grilled veggies and steaks. And yes, there were plenty of pranks, shenanigans and laughs.
After the trip, although we were both exhausted I could not wipe the grin from my face if I wanted to.
Yes, I have an incredible, supportive wife who is my best friend and amazing children that give me so much meaning and purpose and joy and love. Yes, I have a lot of close friends. But because of the busyness of life — career (running a business) and family (chasing two kiddos around and prioritizing my marriage), I see it’s truth.
In fact, I think you can walk the halls of many nursing homes and see this truth:
Here’s a couple of quotes that stuck out to me from the article:
“Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s.”
“In 2015, a huge study out of Brigham Young University, using data from 3.5 million people collected over 35 years, found that those who fall into the categories of loneliness, isolation, or even simply living on their own see their risk of premature death rise 26 to 32 percent.”
As I read further in the article, I saw more truths:
“Men need an activity together to make and keep a bond.”
“That’s why Schwartz and others say the best way for men to forge and maintain friendships is through built-in regularity — something that is always on the schedule.”
The key takeaway from the article hit home with me: We, men, need a regularly scheduled activity, especially in mid-life.
So it got me thinking about how I’ve tried to find that male bonding time …. and here are my thoughts.
My Goals for Guy Time
Just replacing on the activities with other friends, here are the most valuable values I have for those relationships that maximize those times:
Go deeper — the older I get the less I care about small talk. I want to get to the deeper issues of life. My best friendships are the ones where we skip the surface and talk about the iceberg of life — both the struggles and successes.
Be more open — my most valued friendships are the ones where I don’t have to wear a mask or a costume. I’m just me, being me. And vice versa. This is all about trust and respect. And no judgment. We all have skeletons in the closet. The most incredible experiences I’ve had is two humans being human together. Recognizing we all have emotions and feelings, hopes and dreams, whether they seem trivial to us or not. I’ve found I’m my worst critic and whenever I’ve been more human and open, I get open and human back.
Make lifetime memories — have fun and enjoy each other’s company. The best times are when we’re doing something fun, whether it’s white water rafting in Idaho (or New Mexico) or simply enjoying a drink while telling stories that become our legends. Life is so much about the moments you share.
Some Ways I’ve Found That Bonding
Here are a couple of ways I’ve found that CONSISTENT and ongoing time with my dude friends:
Monthly Mastermind Meeting — although it’s not a mastermind (and we have females in the group), for the last 5+ years, I’ve been meeting with a group of 8-9 Oklahoma City entrepreneurs (via Entrepreneurs Organization) every month for three hours. They’ve been my lifeline of sanity as well as success. It’s been so incredibly impactful on my success and sanity that I’ve also started another forum group in the past, and am in the process of seeding another one this year. I’ve found nothing like it in the world. Like-minded people, in similar stages of life, with the same values and goals, setting aside a block of time each month to work on our icebergs and share our lives with each other. The other one I’ve been a part of like this is one with five other WordPress peeps, but is mainly focused on work/career accountability.
Once a Year Retreat — Our Entrepreneurs Organization Forum group also does a retreat once a year for 3-4 days, typically in the summer around June. We’ve done some fun stuff together like fly fishing in Montana to flying jets in Vegas, but it’s always the times around the campfire that mean the most to me. I also look at PressNomics and CaboPress (conferences I try not to miss) as times for bonding with my business friendships. I shouldn’t even label them as ‘business,’ they are friends I’ve made through business.
Team Sports — I just recently returned to indoor volleyball, a sport I’ve loved since college, after the urging and push from my wife. In the past, Lindsey and I have also played softball and relished those new friendships and times. Although the team was co-ed, I enjoyed the camaraderie and bonding and looking to playing volleyball again in the summer season.
Filling in the Gaps with One-Off, Somewhat Random Opportunities
Roadtrips — my brother Matt and I are already planning our next roadtrip over the weekend. Watch out Moab, we’re coming for you in Jeeps! In August, we’ll be joining our dad and other brother and friends to go hunting in New Mexico. (I don’t hunt or like to hunt, but I won’t miss another trip with these awesome men.)
Lema/Miller Slumber Parties — my buddy Chris flew to Dallas to hangout with me for a couple of days and because we’re kids like this, we said it was our Slumber Party. We talked until way too early in the morning and had to force ourselves to go to sleep as it was so much fun. Slumber Party Party Deux is in a couple of weeks. I know, we’re geeks, but proud of it!
WordCamps — the Hallway Track is my favorite, especially at WordCamp US. It’s hard to get 5 feet before you’re talking and catching up with some awesome WordPress community friends. Some of my favorite memories are hanging out (and getting lost on subways) with guys like Michael Torbert way back at WordCamp Boston, or sharing one-on-one time with guys like Karim Marucchi over a good meal.
Portugal Pals — one way my COO and buddy Matt Danner and I stay close and in sync is through regular trips together. There’s something about flights and hotel rooms without much distractions that are always a blast. We just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime, epic trip to Portugal. #pals
Dad Dates — my buddy Jesse and I have children the same age AND gender. He graciously went with me to see the latest Star Wars movie recently. I also had dinner and got to see the OKC Thunder play (courtside, holy cow!) recently with my buddy Jeff. It’s awesome when you are in parallel life stages, and going through similar things.
Coffees and Lunches — I enjoy catching up with my buddies and making new ones (like I did recently when John reached out to me as he was traveling to OKC for a wedding).
Traveling — on our personal trips, Lindsey and I have a motto and mission: Make friends everywhere. And we have. I love making new friendships with those in new cultures and around the globe. It’s entirely changed the way I do traveling now. My goal isn’t just to see new places, but to meet new people. It’s so mind expanding and special. Our friend Marco and his family, on Father’s Day, took us on a full-day tour of Lisbon, Portugal. So much fun memories — made even more special when his mother gave us tiles that goes on her house (a very cool Portuguese tradition).
Partner Pals — some of my best memories of my business partners, Scott and Jay, have been on our trips, whether it was to visit the campus of Google and Yahoo or the White House. I want for more trips with these awesome men and role models.
Skype, Slack, iMessage chats, Facebook — it’s never a substitute for face to face, or elbow to elbow bonding times. But the article says men aren’t great at talking on the phone (I hate it) yet throughout the year my buddies and I seem to stay in touch via these text chats. My friend Jason is great at keeping up like this.
Reunions — after 20 years of not going to my high school reunion, I went a couple years ago and thoroughly enjoyed catching up with old friendships, although I have not kept in touch beyond liking their posts on Facebook.
Ideas for More Consistent Hang Out Times:
Once a Month In-Person Coffee or Breaking Bread — like every third Wednesday. It’s way easier for me to do lunches or daytime meetings than nighttimes with kids.
Once-a-Quarter Weekend Trips — very short roadtrips that get us away from the distractions of life with a focused activity — like watching a football game, or
Once-a-Year Retreats — as I mentioned I already do this with my Forum group … but another in a year would be super nice, like 2-3 days away.
Movie Night — whenever a new movie comes out, we go see it on Thursday night — if we can stay up that late!
Additional Thoughts and Caveats:
Spousal/significant other support is essential — My wife is my top relationship priority. Without the support of my wife, I wouldn’t do the things I already do, but thankfully she sees the value for my life, health and happiness, and I do for her retreats as well. We try to do regular checkins to communicate and see how we’re doing, one of the many reasons I’ve tried to winnow my business travel down drastically this year.
Too much time away — I realize with all these ideas, at some point, you can spend WAY too much time away from your family, which ain’t good. It’s all about time budgeting and again talking it through with your spouse and family. It’s interesting to note that Lindsey and I try to do these kinds of spousal retreats and getaways as often as possible. She comes first, always and forever.
Getting overscheduled — I try to have as few regularly scheduled meetings in my professional life as I can (let alone personal), and if I were to add too many things above, I’d get way too booked up, which would mean less time for family and family travel.
Prioritizing relationships — I realize there’s a limit to how many close relationships one person can build. Proximity is often the prioritizing factor just because it’s easier. Lema talks about how he approaches that here.
Gal Pals are just as awesome — over the years I’ve had so many special relationships with some awesome, wickedly smart, incredibly supportive ladies. I’ve found just as much joy with my gal pals and don’t want to leave them out in any way. In fact, looking over my Instagram feed for pics showed me how much time I have spent with these awesome awesome women.
In honor of International Women’s Day, I reflected on all the women who have made an impact and difference in my life and wanted to share and thank them here.
They’ve served as role models in unique ways, and loved and supported me throughout my life and at different points.
Mostly in chronological order … here goes:
Charleen Green — my mother. A single mom who raised two boys, while getting her college education. She inspired me in so many ways to become the man I am today. I’m so grateful to have had the most amazing mother ever. Hope I make her proud!
Betty Chaney — my maternal grandmother. Her elegance, her intellect inspired me. When I’d stay the night at her house, we’d have breakfast together and she would engage me on topics I didn’t feel worthy of discussing with her. Those conversations pushed me to think bigger and better. (I wish you were still with us to see your kindred spirit, red-headed great granddaughter!)
Dorothy Miller — my paternal grandmother. Her quiet love and commitment of our family, without any judgment, is why I’m so loyal to the people I love. She was from New Hampshire and I loved her accent too. She raised four children while her husband was on the first U.S. Navy nuclear submarine, The Nautilus.
Summer Mills — my cousin who is like my sister. Wherever I go, I always know we have a brother-sister connection. We’ve been through tough times and always had each other’s back, no matter what. Her sense of humor is incredible. Even though I am the butt of her jokes, I know it’s always in love with a tinge of truth. She’s also an incredible mother. And one of my best friends.
Kathy Porter — my aunt. My second mother. She loved me like a son. Fierce defender, but always encouraging and loving and there for me. And makes the best cookies ever.
Sandra Miller — my aunt. She was 16 when I was born and I was her first “baby.” She’s called me Cor-oreo ever since I can remember. She’s always been the warmest supporter and hugger in my life. And has showed up at every time I needed her most. She’s the premiere example of a caregiver. I try to love like her.
Diane Worsham — my aunt. From her example I got a profound competitive spirit and also insane family loyalty and commitment. And she was there for me in one of the toughest times in my life. Right there. Ready to protect me.
Charity Flowers — my sweet friend who nominated me for Student Council which was the start of a whole lot of leadership opportunities and eventually a full ride scholarship to the University of Central Oklahoma.
Sue Daugherty — my high school counselor who encouraged a rather insecure kid with silly ideas and urged me to run for Student Council President and helped me start our high school’s first newspaper. Incredible cheerleader who believed in the next generation.
Jasmine Long — my high school BFF and sidekick. She supported and believed in me even when I didn’t. We shared lots of laughs and tears together through the years. One of the most amazing friends.
Delaine Perkins — my boss at my college internship. She balanced family and work and inspired me to be a true professional. The greatest lesson she taught me was to always take the initiative. She was a fantastic writer and editor, and she’d never accept my second best. She also took a chance on a punk college kid and I’m forever grateful.
Farzie Razak — my editor at our college newspaper. She showed me how to be a real journalist in so many ways. And was a dear friend to me.
Louanna Miller and Shonda Miller — my sister-in-laws but more like just sisters. Both ran into my life while others ran out. Uniquely strong amazing women. They’ve loved my brothers and nieces and nephew (and the rest of us) while maintaining a keen sense for who they are and what they offer the world. Special special women to me who add their flair and spunk and smarts and beauty to all they touch.
Lisa Sabin-Wilson — my dear dear friend who I met through holding her gum at WordCamp Chicago and eventually helped me accomplish a lifelong dream of being an actual book author, when she asked me (maybe told me) to co-auothor WordPress All-in-One for Dummies with her. There are countless other ways she’s inspired me, encouraged me and just been there for me.
Rebecca Gill — my dear friend who has supported me and collaborated and partnered with me, and never kept score. She’s always about my win, as I am hers. A true giver, an encourager but straight and honest talker and a doer.
Kristen Wright — my teammate at iThemes and so often my right hand dude. Fiercely loving, committed, loyal, hard working and supremely talented. She makes my life awesome by the work she does and her presence in my life. I’ve seen her blossom and bloom in the past 5+ years and I’m honored to be her friend. But perhaps most importantly of all, she’s been an example of openness vulnerability, writing her memoirs, and helping me to do the same.
Patti Ream — our incredible office manager at iThemes. She gave me perhaps the best gift ever by sharing her “56 lessons in 56 years” letter to me. I’ve found myself reading it over and over to savor and unearth all the wisdom in it for living an incredible life like she has. She inspires me most by her consistent positive and delightful attitude. She makes everyone smile around her. She’s a light we’re all drawn to. Such an incredible example for me, especially when I’ve felt down or out about something or myself, I’m always reminded of Patti’s living, walking example.
Pam Owens — the best mother-in-law a guy could ever have. She’s adopted me as her own, embraced me (when I don’t wear orange) and been there for me and us. The best part is we’re friends (and now teammates on our volleyball league). How often does that happen?! That you can be pals with your mother-in-law and go on fabulous trips together like to Portugal and have a blast?! Additionally I’ve gotten to see another side and perspective of being a woman in today’s world.
Mary Owens — my adopted Grandma aka Mo. One of the strongest yet most loving people (not just women) I know. She knows who she is and doesn’t apologize for it either. Again, she’s loved me as her own and never thought or treated me as anything different. Her relationship with Papa Doc is one of the most endearing examples of love and life I’ve ever seen. A true, equals in all things, partnership.
Amber England — my dear childhood friend, once coworker and just amazing human being. She cares deeply about people. She’s work fiercely for others’ causes who might never know her name. And she’s someone I lean on for strategy and advice for almost anything I can think of.
A couple more I’ve met in the last couple of years — successful entrepreneurs and dear friends Deemah Ramadan and Valerie Riley and now my newest friend Sherry Walling, a Ph.D. psychologist working to help entrepreneurs.
And last but not certainly not least … the two starring women in my life:
Lindsey Miller — my beloved partner in everything and my wife and best friend. We met at a tough time in my life and she was there for me every step of the way, sometimes at great sacrifice. Her love has never wavered. She’s shown me who a great woman is, how to love, cherish and respect women like never before, and I deeply respect and admire and love everything about her. Beyond being an incredible mate and mother, we have the most balanced, empathetic and stimulating conversations that challenge me, from parenting to politics. And her confidence and belief in me, props me up, every single damn day.
Lillian Miller — my daughter. She’s inspired me to be a much much better man than I am. And the man I want all men compared to in her life. When I look in her beautiful eyes and her mesmerizing smile, I want every single good thing for her in life. I want her to have every right and privilege I have and more. She’s smart, sassy and beautiful, and the clone of my beloved wife. So watch out world. Having a daughter (and a son) is the most incredible gift ever. (Thank you again, Lindsey.)
I’m the man I am today … and a better human being … for all of these women and the countless others who have inspired, taught and encouraged me in their unique way who I haven’t mentioned here.
Here are some of my highlighted notes and comments from the book:
“Global suicide rates have spiked 60 percent since World War II.”
“In the United States, the rate of people suffering from depression has risen dramatically since 1960, and between 1988 and 2008 the use of antidepressants rose 400 percent.”
“Each year, forty thousands Americans take their lives, and worldwide that number is closer to a million.”
“Wealthier nations, it turns out, had significantly higher suicide rates than poorer ones.”
“Happy countries like Denmark and Finland also have some high rates of suicide.”
“The countries with the lowest rates of meaning, like Japan, also had some of the highest suicide rates.”
“Four in ten Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose.”
The “four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence.”
“We all need to feel understood, recognized, and affirmed by our friends, family members, and romantic partners. We all need to give and receive affection. We all need to find our tribe.”
Research shows the a “sense of belonging” rates as the most important benefit in a relationship or a group.
Belonging is about two thing: mutual care and “frequent pleasant interactions” with others.
Even “small moments of intimacy” matter called “high quality connections,” which are “positive, short-term interactions between two people, like when a couple holds hands on a walk or when two strangers have an empathetic conversation on a plane.”
It’s not about saving baby seals.
“Living purposefully requires self-reflection and self-knowledge.”
Researchers found that “knowing oneself is one of the most important predictors of meaning in life.”
“Living with purpose may make us happier” but ultimately it’s about making the world a better place.
In studies about finding meaning in work, the people who see their jobs as a way of helping others rank their jobs as more meaningful.
Although research shows raising kids can make for unhappy parents … it’s also a powerful source of meaning. (Amen to that!)
Parenting is often tough, stressful work, but extremely rewarding.
Storytelling is a fundamental way we make sense of the world and the things, people and events in our lives.
We use stories to help others understand us, and to help understand others better.
It’s all in how we tell our stories.
Redemptive stories tell about the transition from bad to good.
Contamination stories tell about transitions from good to bad.
People who tell contamination stories “tend to be more anxious and depression and to feel that their lives are less coherent compared to those who tell redemptive stories.” They are also less inclined to “contribute to society or younger generations.”
“We are all the authors of our own stories and can choose to change the way we’re telling them,” and in fact, can “edit, revise, and interpret the stories.”
My new bucket list item is go to a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas.
“A transient, or mystical, experience is one in which we feel that we have risen above the everyday world to experience a higher reality.”
Two things happen in transcendent states, “our sense of self washes away along with all of its petty concerns and desires,” and we feel “deeply connected to other people and everything else that exists.” The result is a sense of peace and well-being.
“Awe challenges the mental models that we use to make sense of the world. Our mind must then update those models to accommodate what we just experienced.” And we are transformed.
The paradox of transcendence is that we can “feel insignificant and yet connected to something massive and meaningful” at the same time.
One unique and rare transcendent experience is called the “Overview Effect” that astronauts get when they travel into space.
Astronaut Jeff Ashby said, “You cannot view the thin blue arc of our atmosphere from space without developing a great concern for the protection of that fragile band of life and a desire to contribute to its preservation.”
“The self-loss felt during a transcendent experience is sometimes called ‘ego death,’ and it prepares us for the final loss of self we will all experience: death itself.”
I’ve been digging in on practical ways to use these four pillars to finding meaning in my life and I’ll have more to share on the subject very soon.