11 Takeaways from 10 Years of Marriage

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Today, Stacey and I are celebrating 10 years of marriage. A decade! We already celebrated back in June with a trip to Hawaii (summary: I recommend it). This feels like such a big milestone, while at the same time it seems like we’re just getting started. I am so thankful for the wife I have, the relationship we share, and the life we are building. It’s not perfect (no relationship is), but I have learned so much and been loved even more. She extends truckloads of grace and patience, and hopefully, I’ve been able to serve and love her as well. I can’t imagine the last decade without her. And I can’t wait for the next ten, twenty, thirty years.

Shortly before we moved back to Indiana from Oklahoma, someone at work pulled me aside and said this: “I have a few secret mentors – people who don’t know they are teaching me about life, but I watch and learn from them. You and Stacey are some of my secret mentors. I look at you and your marriage, and I’ve learned so much. Thank you for loving each other well, for having joy that shows through even when you don’t realize other people are watching.” That blew me away. It’s probably the greatest encouragement and compliment I’ve ever received. And there’s no way I would have ever thought anyone could learn that much from us just by watching.

If you have the time and interest, here are eleven takeaways I have from our first ten years of marriage. We haven’t perfected marriage (though there is a running joke about how I think we have). There are definitely things I’m forgetting or have left out, but these are few major lessons and reflections I see when I look back over the last 3600+ days together.

(The short version is this: strive to love sacrificially, serve at every opportunity you can, actively listen and engage in meaningful conversation regularly, give more than you think you can and then give some more.)

1. Learn how your spouse thinks, communicates, and makes decisions

Everyone has a unique perspective and process for navigating life. Some of the biggest challenges we had in the first five years of marriage stemmed from our inability to see the world through each other’s eyes. It wasn’t until six or seven years in that we started to really understand each other, largely by way of Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinders, and EQi. These are just tools, yes, but they have helped us begin to understand how we are wired, how we take in and process information, how we make decisions, what we value in relationships, and what we’re not that great at doing when left on our own. Stacey is a concrete thinker, a planner, action-oriented, and an internal processor. Knowing this helps me communicate in a way she can more easily understand and process. I can anticipate her need to plan ahead and give her time to make decisions. Knowing all of this has and continues to increase the quality of our day-to-day interactions.

2. Learn how you think, communicate, and make decisions

In some ways, it’s actually easier to learn how your spouse thinks, communicates, and makes decisions — because it’s new and external, you can approach it somewhat objectively (though not placing a value judgement on how or why someone else does something can be difficult). When it comes to our own habits and behavior, we are not even remotely objective. We’ve never known any other way of doing things, so unknowingly we assume we are doing things the right and only way to do them.

Get outside of yourself and really understand your wiring. See where you have weaknesses, but also learn how you can leverage your strengths and natural tendencies to engage with the other person and improve your relationship. I’m a strong feeler who goes on intuition more than anything, and I’m often too empathetic to what other people might need or want. Knowing this helps me avoid pitfalls and get out of my own way more often. It helps Stacey anticipate and adjust to my whims and gut feelings.

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Family photo, pre-Cole. March 2012.

3. Let people you trust see into and speak into your relationship

We have been so fortunate to have many different couples speak into our marriage. In “marriage mentor group” environments, we have been paired up with older couples who are decades ahead of us. Early on in our marriage especially, Stacey and I were better at talking about our relationship (good, bad, and ugly) in the presence of others. We’ve also been a part of at least one church small group where we were able to be really transparent and honest about our relationship (and others in the group did the same). Several couples who weren’t part of formal groups also became important relationships for us to learn from, observe, and ask questions.

One of the most powerful aspects of letting others see into your relationship is how they can essentially hold up a mirror and help you both see things you aren’t able to. If I’m being defensive and short with Stacey in a disagreement, I’m only going to get more defensive if she points it out. But when a trusted friend said to me, “Hey, you’re cutting her off and just reacting out of frustration,” it may have stung and been a little embarrassing, but I was able to hear it in the heat of the moment and actually listen to what Stacey had to say. I think I can safely say that our relationship would either have grown very little, or maybe even failed, had we not let others speak into our marriage.

4. Think about what your relationship needs more than what you need

This is a newer perspective I’ve been trying to maintain. And I’m going to quote at length from a book, As For Me and My House by Walter Wangerin. His central idea is to think of your relationship as a receiver of your focus and efforts. In part, this neutralizes any temptation to turn your partner into your competition within the relationship itself.

You have realized a common purpose together; that you are both committed to the nurturing, not of oneself and not of one’s partner, but of this third being, the Relationship; and that together you seek the wisest ways to do so— and you do them. Serving this Relationship, neither partner has to feel that change was imposed upon you; rather, each of you offers your various talents and the best of yourselves to the Relationship. This becomes a willing offering, never fearing that your spouse is “getting more than he deserves.” Why? Because both of you benefit in the Relationship’s good health.

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In front of our new house in Oklahoma. May 2013. (Nope: Stacey says this was actually our new house in Muncie, November 2014.)

5. Give yourselves time to get better at important things you might be bad at

Everyone tells you how important communication is in a relationship. And they are right. But you have to give yourself time to get better at it. Maybe other couples don’t struggle with communication on – but eventually, you’ll run into a brick wall, too.

I think Stacey was probably in despair early on, because of how bad we were at talking with each other. She was used to living with female roommates who would talk through the details of each day. Every day. This was not my experience heading into marriage. So expectations were off from the start (for both of us). I was watching TV and sort of listening to her, or staring at my computer (lovingly referred to as “the conflict box” for the first few years) when she wanted to have a serious conversation. In the first year, there were so many times I didn’t have the capacity to hold a conversation for more than five minutes, before I’d either stonewall or sabotage our talk because I didn’t know how to handle my emotions, her emotions, or solve the problem at hand.

Over time, with lots of failure, lots of advice, and intentional effort, we’ve gotten better at it. Recently, we talked for 2+ hours without any distractions, tears, or slammed doors. Maybe there are some marriages where you do that every single day and have since day one – but that has not been our experience. We had to build the muscles and the habits of active listening, empathic listening, and defusing emotions for the sake of the conversation. Communication is crucial for a healthy relationship – but have realistic expectations early on and give yourself time to build the muscles and (good) habits.

6. Know that a neglected love language is worse for the person who isn’t getting their “bucket filled”

Stacey’s primary love language is quality time. Which, for the record, doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on the couch watching a movie. So when she doesn’t get enough quality time (when her “bucket” isn’t getting filled up), it feels worse for her than it would for me – because that’s not my primary love language. Think of it this way: for someone who doesn’t have quality time as a love language, not getting enough quality time might feel like skipping breakfast. Yeah, it’s probably not wise, but you put your head down and get by until lunch. For someone who does have quality time as a love language, not getting enough quality time feels more like skipping out on all three meals in a day. Bottom line: it may not seem like a big deal if you’re not filling up their bucket, but that’s probably because it’s not your love language. This is where selflessness has to be the driver, otherwise it simply won’t make logical sense to you.

7. Disengagement is probably the biggest threat; it creeps up and is hard to detect

I love this quote from Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly

“Disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears—the fears of being abandoned, unworthy, and unlovable. What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can’t point to the source of our pain—there’s no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making.”

When we were in Oklahoma, our whole family drove to work together – Stacey and I were both working at LifeChurch and the boys had on-site daycare (it was great!). At the end of the day, I usually wouldn’t talk much, share anything about my day, and I had a fairly short fuse. Stacey often worried that I was upset with her or didn’t want to be around the family – but really, I needed time to transition out of work mode and into family mode. It wasn’t a switch I knew how to flip easily. Over time, she began to resent our drives home because it made her feel disconnected and unloved. It was a dull feeling that something was wrong, but she couldn’t point to a particular event, day, or statement that made her feel that way. It built up over time, and I was simply disengaged.

I had to learn how to communicate that I cared, I wanted to be present, to find even little ways to share my day – which in turn communicated that I did want her to be a part of my day-to-day life. I needed a little bit of down time, but without being selfish so that she wouldn’t be left to interpret vague circumstances as potentially threatening disengagement in our relationship. Another quote that describes this perfectly:

“…unless they learn to play a duet in the same key, to the same rhythm unless their lives finally achieve mutuality – a slow process of disengagement will wedge them apart, first secretly, psychologically, and then openly and miserably.” Wangerin, As for Me and My House

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Our first picture together. I flew out to visit Stacey at Estes Park, Colorado the summer after we met on a blind date. June 2004.

8. Recognize that selfishness drives a lot (all?) of your frustration

Especially as we’ve grown our family, I’ve seen that I get most frustrated (even angry) when I’m not getting what I want. Sounds like a three-year-old, right? How about thirty-three. So many times I don’t even realize I have expectations – what I want my night to look like, what the family will have to eat on a road trip, what time we’ll leave for dinner with friends. Because, again, we’re not used to thinking about the way we think, process, and make decisions. Marriage brings this to the forefront, even more so when you have kids. The more I able to do these two things, the less frustration I experience. First, try to make your expectations conscious at the very least, and verbalized whenever possible. It’s the unmet expectations we don’t recognize (realistic or not) that can do the most damage. Second, measure how much value you’d realistically put on whatever it is you are getting frustrated about. I’m misquoting somewhere here, but ask yourself, “Will this matter in 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 years?” That can help you get perspective on the importance or value of the situation or decision.

9. Recognize and celebrate the things you do well and enjoy sharing

There are things that you do well as a couple that others don’t. Things you do with little effort. You almost certainly have at least one common interest (and despite what a counselor one told us, going to bed at the same time does not count). This isn’t about comparing yourselves to other couples, but about thankfulness for the things that you do well or enjoy together as a couple.

Maybe you’re great at communicating. Or maybe you have a healthy sex life. Or you are able to stay out of debt and are financially generous. Those three areas are often provide the biggest issues in a marriage. So if you’re knocking it out of the park in any of them, celebrate! If not one of these three, find other things unique to your relationship that are good, steady, healthy. What’s something we do well? For starters, we’ll never get tired of playing “name that tune” to ’90s songs in the living room after the kids are in bed. (I also use to be able to pull out a killer [read: terrible] Bill Cosby impression that would induce laughter no matter the situation – but that’s no longer an option, is it?)

10. Put boundaries and routines in place to protect and cultivate the relationship you want

The pace and chaos of our lives today can distract and deflate our relationships gradually and without notice. So know where you weaknesses are, know where you are susceptible. (Faking strength is pointless, by the way.)

  • Maybe it’s getting sucked into your smartphone for hours: set some ground rules for limiting screen time in the evening. Put your phones in a drawer in the bedroom and commit to a few unbroken hours without them each day.
  • Maybe it’s spending too much money: set a budget (my friend Alex does a great review of two online budgeting tools) and review it together on a regular basis. Use Google Wallet or a Simple card as a digital “envelope” for discretionary spending. Do whatever is going to help you do today what you want to benefit from in a year.
  • Maybe it’s neglecting family for the sake of work: let your boss/co-workers know when you will be offline each night for family time. And then don’t let anything distract from that priority. To paraphrase Andy Stanley, someone is going to replace you in your job someday. You’re the only dad to your kids there will ever be. Let that help you set your priorities.
  • Maybe it’s sexual or emotional temptations: be a transparent and gracious partner for starters, then decide who you will or won’t have lunch with (if you’re tempted to be emotionally intimate with someone you shouldn’t be). Setup up X3 Watch. Find an accountability partner or couple that won’t judge you for whatever it is you are struggling with, but will help you find healing as you strive to maintain integrity and purity.
  • More than anything else, seek God together. Not sure what that looks like? Check out “From This Day Forward” from LifeChurch.tv. An amazing, practical, honest look at five commitments to fail-proof your marriage. We have a magnet from this series on our fridge still. We still don’t pray with each other regularly, but it’s something we both want to do together.
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Mother’s Day. We tried 🙂 May 2015.

11. Give thanks to God for everything you have

All things considered, we’ve had a great first ten years of marriage. We have a growing, active relationship based on our love for God, a mutual extension of grace and patience, and people in our lives that want to see our relationship thrive. We have three amazing kids. We’ve moved 5 times, owned three houses, lived in two states, and even had a dog for a few years. The only debt we have is our house and one car. There is no way I could have guessed this is what our first ten years would be like – and early on, I wasn’t sure I had what it takes to make for a healthy marriage. So we celebrate. Even in the darkest, stormiest moments, thankfulness can be the anchor that steadies the ship.

Marriage is also holy. In part, it’s purpose is to purify us and help us both become more like Jesus. So I take the hard, the bad, and the ugly right along with the great, the easy, and the beautiful. It requires sacrifice, humility, failure, and brokenness. Ultimately, I know God is doing a work in and through our marriage, to make us more like Jesus.

Anniversary Trip to Hawaii, June 2015

Anniversary Trip to Hawaii, June 2015

Bonus Footnote: I’m not a fan of the fatalistic marriage advice most men dish around to each other. “Just learn how to say, ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong, you were right.'” Do we need to apologize?  Yes. Are we wrong, often? Probably. But that “advice” and picture of marriage comes across as defeated, passive, disengaged, and helpless. How about advice like this: strive to love sacrificially, serve at every opportunity you can, actively listen and engage in meaningful conversation regularly, give more than you think you can and then give some more. When we move beyond the simple stereotypes and broad strokes most people jokingly paint their relationship with, we can learn how to engage with the real person that makes up the other half of our relationship and build a deep, meaningful, holy, and God-glorifying marriage that points to the grace and faithfulness of God himself.

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My 24-hour Podcast Binge

Last week, I made an unexpected trip to Oklahoma, to celebrate the life and faith of a friend and former teammate at YouVersion who had passed away. Driving to Edmond, Oklahoma from Muncie, Indiana is about 12 hours – each way. And making the trip solo for the first time, the only hope I had for enduring 1500 miles of midwestern highways, was fully indulging my podcast habit.

Over the last year, podcasts have come into their own right. Shows like This American Life have long been somewhat in the mainstream — and since I use to drive 50+ miles each way to get to work each day, I’ve appreciate long-form audio experiences for years. TAL, along with Radiolab, the Tony Kornheiser Show, and A Way with Words have long been a part of my listening habits. (My favorite podcasts tend to be long-form interviews and narrative storytelling – not just some dude sitting sharing his thoughts or reading poems from his parents basement.)

Serial was the podcast that exploded last year, carrying with it all podcasts directly into pop culture (even SNL took notice). Now shows like Startup, Mystery Show, and The Sporkful have become some of my favorites, and I don’t think I’m alone.

With two 12-hour drives on my own, I spent most of my drive binging on podcasts. I thought I might actually run out of episodes and finally be caught up on my favorites. But I actually learned about some new shows from friends, and now, I’m more “behind” than when I first began. So, what all did I listen to? Below you’ll find every show and episode I listened to.

Oh, and some of my favorites I stay completely caught up on, listening as they come out. So you won’t find any of those shows in my list below. Some of my regulars/favorites not included below are: No Meat Athlete Radio, The Tim Ferriss Show, On Being, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, Passion City Church, and Nomad Podcast, to name a few.

If you listen to podcasts, which ones am I missing? What are some of your favorite episodes? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter – I’d love to hear from you!

My 24-Hour Podcast Binge Playlist 

Click on the podcast name to visit their site/find these episodes. 

Sidenote: some shows and episodes include language that is not family friendly or safe for work. And it’s a broad range of topics and perspectives. Also, listening to someone does not assume total agreement. Learning is a process of seeing the world from a different perspective, taking some pieces and discarding others. 

TED Radio Hour

  • From Curiosity to Discovery
  • Animals and Us
  • Why We Collaborate
  • Shifting Time

You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes

  • Richard Rohr

The Distance

  • Ideal Box Co.
  • Hollymatic
  • Cheesecake, the Chicago Way
  • High Fidelity

Note to Self

  • Board and Brilliant: Boot Camp
  • What is Our Attention Actually Worth?

Relevant Podcast

  • Jon Foreman

Fugitive Waves (The Kitchen Sisters)

  • The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall and Rise of Thomas Alva Edison

Reply All

  • @ISIS

Invisibilia

  • Invisibilia Update

The Moment with Brian Koppelman

  • Paul Giamatti

Longform

  • Malcom Gladwell

RobCast

  • Water for Everyone, the Scott Harrison Interview

Timothy Keller Sermons

  • A Christian’s Happiness

Death, Sex, & Money

  • Joy Williams’ Public Breakup and Private Grief

Fresh Air

  • The Strange New Science of The Self

Radiolab

  • Shrink

The City Church with Judah Smith

  • It’s Overflowing

Your Move with Andy Stanley

  • Christian, Part Four

Footnote: These are the full episodes I listened to. There are probably another dozen that I started but either wasn’t in the mood for or just simply wasn’t interested in the topic. Too many shows and episodes to waste my time on something I’m not interested in. I also spent a few hours of my 24-hour binge listening to music or driving in silence. My brain needed a break from active listening. 

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30 days later, we now own nearly 500 fewer things

toysOver the thirty days of April, our family took on the #MinsGame challenge. Created by The Minimalists as a way to add a competitive element to jumping into a minimalist mindset and lifestyle, the challenge is to get rid of the number of items that matched the day of the month (1 item on the first, two on the second….thirty on the thirtieth!) for a total of 465 things in 30 days.

I just wrapped up the final tally and….we overshot by 13. That’s right, we sorted through, picked out, pilled up, and got rid off 478 things!!! Books, shoes, clothes, kids toys, kitchen items – it was a remarkable amount of stuff. By in large, it was stuff that wasn’t that hard to get rid of. That one of four key takeaways I had from taking on this challenge:

  • The more you do it, the easier it becomesAs early as the second week, after getting rid of a mere 28 things during week one, there was a noticeable difference in how long it would take me to decide whether I should keep something. The act of letting go, rather than getting harder with more stuff flying out the door each day, got easier. Each day of successfully letting go and consequently feeling very little loss (and actually experiencing lots of freedom) reinforced the truth that “we can never fully know how much of a burden our possessions have become until we begin to remove them” (Joshua Becker).
  • We have way more than we actually know. And that isn’t a good thing in this case. When I was embarking on this little venture, my wife wasn’t sure we’d be able to find 465 things to get rid of. Lo and behold, our house is actually quite a mess right now (living three kids under seven will do that) – so even though we got rid of hundreds of things, we aren’t living in an empty house. There’s less to clean up, there’s less just being stored in boxes and tubs. And in fact, this journey will continue for us – because it’s a refining process. It is a process. It should take time, it should be a lifestyle change, and not just a one-off venture.
  • Being mindful of physical possessions changes your perspective on more than just what’s in your closet.  When you are entering into week three, where you’ll have to jettison 126 items in seven days (and then another 234 in the final nine days), I was forced to recognize that I have an incredible capacity for consumption and materialism. Most of us do, actually. A majority of the things we got rid of, I couldn’t have told you where, when, or how we got it. And in many instances, months had gone by since I lasted used or looked at many things. When I recognized my penchant for consuming (and being consumed), I also recognized other ways were I was just consuming mindlessly – food, entertainment, social media. And I think I’ve started to peel back the layers on understanding why it’s so easy for me to just buy, take in, add to, or consume stuff in many areas of life. In many cases, to my own detriment.
  • Having kids made this process easier…and harder. To be fair, a third of the items we got rid of were kid toys or clothes. We’re the ones who most often are folding, picking up, sorting, and managing – which is why it was incredibly easy to downsize the number of figurines, trucks, and coloring books. It was also a great chance to teach and model to our kids that “stuff” just isn’t as important as we want it to be. We invited them into the process, and for sure there was some confusion (“Dad, why are you still getting rid of stuff? Do we have to get rid of everything?”) and even tears about getting rid of a once-favorite-but-long-neglected stuffed animal here or there. In the end, I’m so glad they have this experience to learn and grow from.

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I’d highly recommend you take up a round of the Minimalist Game. Don’t think you can do a full month and 465 things? Scale it back and just do a week – seven days, 28 items. Or do four weeks of 28 items. Decide what will stretch you beyond comfort, but not something you know you’ll give up on after a few days when it starts to get challenging. And let me know you’re doing it – I’d love to encourage you!

Resources to Check Out: 

Last thing: for posterity sake, I actually kept a rough list of all the things we got rid of. I’ll look back on this from time to time, to refresh my mind of the lessons learned and the weight that has been shed. For me, this wasn’t just a “diet” or a one-time challenge. It’s an intentional choice to scale back on the stuff I have to organize, store, pack, and move around – to get rid of the unnecessary and make space for the valued and worthwhile.

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“What ISIS Wants”, a surprisingly cool story about a laundromat, and more good reads


Another week (or so), and another batch of good reads. I’m currently reading through Donald Miller’s Scary Close as well. Review to come soon.

For now, if you only read one thing, read this…

What ISIS Wants from Carl Medearis

“As under-shepherds of Jesus’ flock, one of our most challenging roles may be to help our people question how they see their enemies.”

“…recognizing what we’re afraid of and why we’re afraid of it is a huge step in being able to love an enemy.”

And here are the rest of my favorite reads from the past week….

Teach Concepts, Not Features from Ed Batista

“…it’s because human behavior can’t be reduced to a set of algorithms that efforts to improve our understanding of relationships and group dynamics need to focus on teaching concepts, not features.”

Health Is a Vehicle, Not a Destination from the Minimalists

“…we’re not talking about vanity muscles or improved statistics or competing with others. Those are end results—destinations. But health is not a destination; it is a vehicle.”

Second Cycle: How a longstanding laundromat found its true purpose as a neighborhood gathering place from The Distance and Basecamp

“It seems funny for a laundromat, but we try to build an emotional connection,” says Mark, who was a newspaper copy editor before joining his father at the store. “And before I started here, I would kind of laugh at that. An emotional connection in a laundromat? No one wants to go to a laundromat. …But if you come here on a Wednesday night and get free pizza, and your whole family sits down at a table and has pizza while your clothes wash, that’s an emotional connection to your family. That’s a family meal you’re not losing because of laundry night.”

The book Onward from Howard Schultz

I finished reading the book from Starbucks’ founder and two-time CEO, Howard Schultz. It’s a good read, entertaining, insightful about the choices and the ubiquitous path Starbucks has taken into our daily lives in America (and beyond). It has some good (possibly applicable to others) insights from a successful business leader, while being a little self-serving in shoring up any misgivings you might have about their brand (but what else would you expect from a self-penned book on how you helped your own company “fight for it’s life without losing it’s soul”?).

Bonus: I also had the privilege of being able to speak at church on Sunday. You can listen here if you’d like.

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The Past Month’s Reads: Best Year in History, Risk, Success, Amazon, and Godin Goodness

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And I’m back. After a social media fast for the first three weeks of the year (such a good thing to do regularly), and several rounds of sickness for the family, I’m back into a regular flow of reading. So, here five great (or at least interesting/thought provoking) reads from the last five weeks.

Goodbye to One of the Best Years in History from The Telegraph

It might not feel like it, but we are safer, richer and healthier than at any time on record

A Better Way to Think About Risk from Harvard Business Review

Even though failure is a badge of honor in Silicon Valley, there are plenty of people who fail in launching new businesses and fade from the scene completely. What makes one person different from another? In large part, it’s resilience and openness.

The Everything Book: Reading in the Age of Amazon from The Verge (long read)

Amazon has…a reading room somewhere at Lab126, stuffed with comfortable chairs, where pinhole cameras study the way people really read.

In Pursuit of More Lasting Success from Becoming Minimalist

Happiness, fulfillment, and lasting success is found in our commitment to generosity—in viewing that our role in the world is to make it better for someone else.

Give People What They Want from Seth Godin

Don’t say, “I wish people wanted this.” Sure, it’s great if the market already wants what you make… Instead, imagine what would happen if you could teach them why they should.

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