Three Rules for Driving in Chicago Traffic

Most people are prompted to write because they have some terrible experience or because they have a burning message in their heart they need to share.

In my case, it’s a little of both.

On Saturday, Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I drove into Chicago from the suburbs. Since it was rush hour, the drive that should have taken us one hour took us two.

By the end of the trip—though I’m neither prone to fits of rage, nor inclined to acts of anger—I was having a rather tortured experience. You know the feeling: when you sit for 20 minutes in a line of cars at a traffic signal and just when you’re about to go through, a speeding car cuts you off. It inspires some grim emotions.

What if, instead of looking out for their own gain in driving, people were thinking about each other?

Ground rules for driving in traffic and in general:

Be Smooth
Growing up, my sister gave me one ground rule for driving: imagine you’re balancing a glass of milk on your head, and drive accordingly. AKA, your grandma doesn’t want to get whiplash from the half-mile drive to the grocery store.

Be Shrewd
Think you can make the light, but you’re not quite sure and there’s a semi speeding toward the intersection? Practice critical thinking. For everyone except the man himself, driving is not a time to be padding the Evel Knievel section of your resume.

Be Courteous
If you’re letting cars in on purpose instead of trying to keep them out and waving your hand angrily when you get cut off, it pays in two ways. 1) You don’t get a rage ulcer from repeatedly not getting your way, and 2) good will begets good will. If everyone is being kind to the other drivers on the road, everyone will get receive positive benefits from it.

If every Chicago driver lived by these rules, we’d have fewer accidents, fewer heart attacks, and fewer gray hairs.

Why You Should Love Doing Laundry

I looked up poems about doing laundry, but found mostly stream of consciousness rants from disenchanted housewives.

Being neither disenchanted, nor possessing an articulate stream of consciousness by this time of night, here instead is a list of all the reasons why you should love doing laundry.

Socks: If you wash your socks your feet won’t smell. That’s good, because if your feet smell, when you go bowling and trade in your shoes, it will ruin the taste of the pizza.

Jeans: Remember the day you called in sick to work but actually walked around New York City in the rain? At the next company picnic, your boss might be suspicious when he sees the mustard stains, muddy hems, and little white spot where you sat on bird scat without realizing it.

Undershirts: Every once in a while, when you’re lifting chili or saucy wings to your mouth, a little bit might spill around the neck of your white shirts. If you wear that under your collared shirt to a job interview, it will be distracting. So distracting that your chances of getting a job may be ruined.

Under-other-things: this is just a good idea for hygiene etc.

Dress shirts: Everyone knows the middle school boy look—crumpled shirt with sweat stains around the armpits. It shouts, “I found this under the bed where I kicked it last time I took it off.” You’re thinking, if it’s fine for them, it’s fine for me. Here’s how you should decide if that’s right: are you in middle school?

Dresses: Unwashed dresses have a certain limp look to them, a look that whispers, “Four wears ago I was clean. Now I smell like musty deodorant.” And if you wear musty deodorant on a first date, the effect will likely be somewhat underwhelming.

Skirts: Wrinkles and spots: 0, Looking professional: 1. The best way to get a promotion is to look like you deserve it.

Dress pants: Dress pants are notorious for collecting white powder-ish stuff, which the casual observer might mistake for dandruff, which would interfere with their ability to make eye contact with you.

Sweatshirts: It’s hard to make an every-wear wash case for sweatshirts—but when you notice your sweatshirt smells a little funny, and has sticky drips on the front from where you ate ice cream in the dark, coffee spots on the sleeves, and a little engine grease from when you changed the oil, it’s time to wash it.

T-shirts: See Undershirts and Dress Shirts.

Many of the reasons that pressure you to do laundry are social and societal—and maybe it’s nice for everyone else if you don’t smell funny and have strangely shaped stains on your clothing.

But what’s really nice is putting on clean socks, fresh-smelling jeans, and a crisply ironed dress shirt.

And that’s really why you should love doing laundry.

Eight Classic Office Personalities

There’s a lot of high drama in an office environment. Combining a small space with tight deadlines is bound to bring out people’s real personalities fairly quickly.

What personalities, you wonder? I’m so glad you asked.

Social butterfly
Things you’ll often hear from the social butterfly:
My computer broke so I’m just wandering around talking to people.
What did you think about the new movie? I went to see it with three different groups.
I invited 270 people to my wife’s birthday party—wanna come?

Prickly nice guy
Though it’s a label with an identity crisis, there are people in the world who can grumble about projects or people in one breath and check to see if you’re doing okay in the next.

But I didn’t do it
If I’m walking with my eyes closed and you’ve got your back to me, and I walk into you and you drop hot coffee on my foot, it wasn’t me. No one listens to me, I’m misunderstood, and I didn’t break it.

Fashion connoisseur
A lot of people (okay, me. I’ll admit it) have 10 or 15 outfits that they cycle through week after week. But there are some people with special fashion taste that dive into their closet, dig out some clothes, and make new combinations every day. And they somehow always look straight-from-a-magazine good.

Endlessly consistent
Signs that you work with one of these:

  • Every time you schedule an event or plan something, it’s the exact same as the last one, and the one before that, and the one . . .

  • Whenever you see something they’ve done, you get déjà vu

  • Deviating from the norm is simply not an option

Staunch introverts
If there’s one thing that can really give ulcers to 80 percent of a crowd, it’s putting four staunch introverts in a room with one social butterfly. Side note: though they say opposites attract, in this case it’s not true.

Information bank
Everyone prides themselves for different talents, but these people have a special talent for nosing into information, keeping it all in their heads, and pulling it out whenever needed.

Who you know
Somewhere along the way, someone said it’s not what you know, it’s who you know—and really, what better excuse is there for missing a deadline: I was having coffee and crumpets with the boss.

A lot of life is spent learning how to work with people.

The process often lives on a sliding scale that can move from ‘miserable’ to ‘frustrating’ to ‘rewarding’ to ‘delightful’ in a manner of moments (words, really), depending on how an interaction is going.

When you’re working through something with someone who’s different from you—social butterfly and staunch introvert go on eight-hour car trip to a sales conference—remember that you have as many idiosyncrasies as they do. Remember that you both need bountiful grace, and at times, neither of you will deserve it.

And remember that one of the great joys in life is overcoming relational difficulties and learning how to get along. Maybe even becoming friends, if you’re feeling crazy.

The Four Types of Laundry-Doers

A week ago my laundry experience spiraled out of control. Unamused, I wrote the following:

Tonight, laundry was a four-hour endeavor. Sharing eight washers and eight dryers with at least 260 people (closer to 350) means a few things:

  • For introverts, a trip to the laundry room is a veritable nightmare. There’s always a person there.

  • There’s only about a 15 percent chance you’ll get a machine on your first trip up—especially after five p.m.

  • Heavy machine usage dictates that at any given time, at least one of the machines is broken. Sometimes there’s a sign. Sometimes there’s not and you find out it’s broken after you load all your clothes and soap into it.

I spent most of my evening sitting in the laundry room, and observed four very distinct types of laundry doers.

1) The Bold: Because washers and dryers are such a hot commodity, there are signs all over the place asking residents to please remove laundry from machines in a timely manner. If you don’t and your full load is in the only stopped machine, The Bolds will march up, pull everything out, and dump it on the counter. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

2) The Timid: Even if the owner of the clothes in the machine left a note, “Please feel free to take my clothes out, I’m not coming back till tomorrow”, The Timids will stand there hesitantly, read and re-read the message, and discuss it with anyone in the room. Finally they’ll turn to the door, bag of clothes in tow, resigned to the reality of yet another week without clean socks.

3) The Patient: It is true that if you sit in one of the several chairs and wait, before too long you’ll get the chance to claim a washer or dryer. The Patients will camp out with a book or homework or just a suspicious glare whenever anyone else walks into the room, biding their time till there’s an opening.

4) The Angsty: Walking into the laundry room and seeing no empty washing machines may not seem like cause for stress, but for The Angsty it’s a perfectly valid reason to groan, glare, and huff and puff back into the hallway.

You’ll be please to know that I learned my lesson last week, and tonight my laundry strategy was much more successful (I define success here as low human interaction, no wait times, and not having to run the dryer three times in a row).

Kudos to everyone who has lived in an apartment and now owns their own washer and dryer. You deserve every moment of it, and all of us apartment folks would like to come live with you.

The Boy and The Bag

There was only one noteworthy thing about today.

While I was walking home from the vegetable market, I saw a mother and her four children lollygagging down the street. The oldest child can’t have been more than eight years old, the youngest somewhere around two. They were all slowly meandering along the sidewalk, taking up all of it and some of the grass.

Mom carried a few grocery bags, and each child carried one—well, almost carried. The smallest child, a little boy with big curious eyes, had one fist clenched around his bag handle and was dragging the bag along the ground. In his other hand he tightly clutched a set of keys. He kept pausing and looking back at his bag, then turning ahead purposefully. His mother went slowly along in front of him, coaxing him along and keeping a watchful eye on all her other children.

And then I walked past them, and that’s all that happened today.

To Be a Good Leader

There are a few different types of leaders.

Napoleon Bonaparte: Napoleon Bonaparte had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. France was looking for a strong military leader, and he was a young man with lots of ambition. He didn’t have decades of strategic experience, but he had gusto, verve, and lots of ideas.

David Ogilvy: David Ogilvy didn’t start out as the head of an advertising agency. He began his career as a line chef in a kitchen run by a martinet. This boss mostly worked in the office (planning food and stuff and things), but occasionally came out to exhibit that he could still cook a better dish than any chef in his employment. He’d earned his way to the top through years of practice and experience. Ogilvy held that principle for the rest of his career. To earn a high-ranking position, you must be an expert in your field and work your way up.

Most leaders in corporate America: Lots of people wake up in the morning and show up to work day in and day out. They’re responsible, they work hard, and they get the job done. When employers are looking around to give a promotion, this person is next in line and gets the role.

Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

But a successful leader needs a trait from each of these types.

Ideas: Napoleon Bonaparte had ideas. Lots of them. He wanted to do lots of things. Just because you’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it that way.

Expertise: If you’re leading people in your area of expertise that you love, you'll fall into approximately 2% of employed people. Maybe less. But to be a really good leader, you have to know the ins and outs of what you’re doing even if you don’t love it.

On any given day, you have to exhibit that you can write (produce, draw, build) something that’s not a spluttering mess.

—one of my favorite leaders

Consistency: When you’re leading people, they look up to you and wait for your input. And when you give an idea, they’ll act. If you give half-cooked ideas and change your mind after they’ve put 120 hours of work into your notion, things will go south faster than geese in October. Be consistent in your behavior, your thoughtfulness, even in your schedule. Not only will it make people trust you and listen when you speak, they’ll appreciate your stability.

If I were leading a discussion on leadership, I would ask the roomful of people what makes a good leader—and odds are they’d come up with more than a dozen valuable attributes.

We all know great leaders. Think of someone you respect and pinpoint what makes them excellent. Then emulate that.

How to Live Your Life

A not-necessarily comprehensive list of large life moments

Moving houses
Changing jobs

These major life events tend to demand lots of attention and years of plans that culminate in one day. Hours of thought, kinetic energy, and coordinating go into making everything perfect. For many of these events, we plan how we look, think about how we ought to act, and practice in the mirror for what we’ll say (besides births, unless you’re just practicing yelling etc.).

A definitely-not comprehensive catalog of the little minutes

Waking up
Seeing your family
Buying groceries
Spending time with friends

You encounter at least one thing on this list every single day—show me a person who doesn’t, and I’ll raise a skeptical eyebrow (that’s why I put sleeping on the list, so I could claim that. Unless it’s a college student . . .).

Most of the items on this list are habits. You and I have woken up every morning for so long (our whole lives, actually), that we don’t think about it when it happens. Just like we don’t realize we’re fuming at traffic, complaining about work, and gossiping about friends. It’s all so second nature we don’t even notice.

But shouldn’t we concentrate on the daily moments of life with as much effort and attention as we plan a wedding or buy a house?

If there are flowers missing from a bouquet at your wedding, it will not likely ruin anyone’s life. But if you’re rude to your cashier at the grocery store every week for an entire year, think of the emotional havoc you’ve wreaked.

Check your daily habits to see if you want to sign your name to them when you die, because you’ll have to explain to Someone why you did everything.

Live the little moments with as much intentionality as you live the big ones.

The Tiny Kind Moments

Monday morning, 8:07 a.m.
My ID holder extender doohickey (officially called a ‘badge holder’ for you types who care about that sort of thing) snapped. The company ID I’m not supposed to lose went flying up and then straight to the ground. Both of my arms were full. I was sweaty, wet-haired, and already uncomfortable (you’re familiar with my relationship with elevators?), and there were four other people on the elevator.

Before I’d formed a plan of action a nice gentleman pitied and saved me. He picked my ID up and handed it back.

I think I thanked him fervently? But I’m not really sure because he was mid-conversation with the lady to my left who had wide-set, sparkly eyes, light brown eyebrows, and a straight, pretty nose. They were discussing her carpal tunnel.

By the time I got to my desk I’d almost already forgotten about the small kindness and gone on to the next thing. But as I think over the past 16 hours that’s the 45-second moment that stands out.

There are lots of “most important” lessons here, things such as:

  • pick things up for people who drop them

  • just because someone might not say thank you doesn’t mean they’re not grateful

  • it’s the different moments in life that we remember

But it’s really a reflection of how life is a compilation of the tiny kind moments: smiling at someone in the hallway (even a weird-looking stranger). Thanking your cashier (genuinely). Asking a person how their day is going (and listening when they tell you).

God’s ultimate kindness toward us (yes, giving His Son to conquer the black-evil-torture of death for us) paves the way for our tiny kindnesses toward others.

That means being unselfish when you don’t feel like it, patient when you’re in a rush, cheerful when you’re tired and your foot hurts and you’re in a black humor because someone cut you off on your way to the dentist.

It means treating people like you’d want to be treated, every time.

It may feel like a series of small and insignificant moments—but your influence is broader than you think.

Creative People Are . . .

Know someone creative who you can't quite understand? David Ogilvy (in Confessions of an Advertising Man) cites research from a study done by Frank Barron about creative people. 

Creative people are especially observant, and they value accurate observation (telling themselves the truth) more than other people do.

They often express part-truths, but this they do vividly; the part they express is the generally unrecognized; by displacement of accent and apparent disproportion in statement they seek to point to the usually unobserved.

They see things as other do, but also as others do not.

They are born with greater brain capacity; they have more ability to hold many ideas at once, and to compare more ideas with one another—hence to make a richer synthesis.

They are by constitution more vigorous, and have available to them an exceptional fund of psychic and physical energy.

Their universe is more complex, and in addition they usually lead more complex lives.

They have more contact than most people do with the life of the unconscious—with fantasy, reverie, the world of imagination.

Biking and Fear

Yesterday it was almost a hundred degrees in Chicago—the kind of heavy, humid heat that hits you like a rolling wave when you step outside. The cicadas were crazy buzzing, the beach was mobbed by high schoolers and mothers and babies escaping stuffy apartments, and Curtis (he's very wonderful) spent the day drinking gallons of water and sweating more while he worked at a picnic in the park.

I set out to ride my bike to the store. Put aside the granular details about context (do you really care how high the curb was or how busy the road was or how it seemed like THERE WAS BROKEN GLASS EVERY 20 FEET?).

About three minutes into the ride I started regretting it—but by then it was too late to turn around. I continued along the narrow street with too much traffic and not enough space for me and my pretty red bike.

A metallic grey Audi whizzed past me, notable only because it was going a little too fast. Moments later, after I'd passed the line of traffic in the constant ebb and flow of biking patterns, the Audi reappeared. The driver, a well dressed, manicured woman, had rolled down her window in preparation for the moment when she would pass me again, so she could give me 


I still don't understand what she thought I was doing wrong—something about me being on the sidewalk or not. It's probably hard to be articulate while yelling expletives and instructions at a biker out of your passenger side window as you're driving 30 miles per hour.

I spent the rest of my afternoon thinking about what would prompt someone to react in that way, and had a few ideas:

  • A past offense. The biking culture in Chicago is startlingly arrogant. Bikes do whatever they want, wherever they want to, with little regard to rules of the road and other cars. An accident or two and about a half dozen close calls later, I try not to ride this way—but when there aren't any cars at a four-way stop, yes. It's very hard to want to obey the law on a bicycle.

Maybe the nice lady hit a biker the day before and was still upset about it. Maybe she was a biker once and got hit and was trying to help me. Maybe her husband works in the emergency room and always tells her about the bike accident patients he has to stitch up, and she's secretly trying to put her husband out of a job by preventing bike accidents. Maybe she just hates Chicago bikers.

Your guess is as good as mine.

  • A bad day. She could have just been fired. Maybe her teenage daughter got a tattoo that says, "My mom's breath smells awful in the morning" and she was upset about it. Her husband could have walked out on her, her neighbor could be stealing her mail, her father could have told her he was disappointed in who she's become.

If these are the case, I'm happy to help her out, though I'd rather do it by expressing sympathy for her than by being a human punching bag.

  • Fear. It's likely that the first time she whizzed around me, she was closer to my shiny red bike than she wanted to be. In some combination of being afraid to wreck her car and not wanting to hurt me, she decided to express how she felt about me (which wasn't great).

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I think her fear motivated her. If you have any experience with fear (if you say you don't, I'm moving into your house and taking your job and stuff and hoping that works for me too), you know it's a strong motivator—unfortunately, often it motivates us to make poor decisions.

David Ogilvy, in Confessions of an Advertising Man, lays out ground rules for clients to keep a good relationship with an advertising agency. One of them is to "emancipate your agency from fear."

Most agencies run scared, most of the time. This is partly because many of the people who gravitate to the agency business are naturally insecure, and partly because many clients make it unmistakably plain that they are always on the lookout for a new agency. Frightened people are powerless to produce good advertising.

After I resigned the Rolls-Royce account, I invited myself to visit the Ford Motor Company, "to get acquainted." To his everlasting credit, the advertising manager of Ford refused to receive me. He said: "Detroit is a small town. If you come to visit me, you would be seen. Our present agencies would hear about it, and they might be alarmed. I don't want to alarm them."

It's not that fear automatically makes people make the worst decision (i.e., agency sees client with other agency and all copywriters automatically commit suicide). It's more of a chain reaction: fear often brings out the worst in people as they scrape around for a shred of protection (e.g., agency sees client with other agency and everybody assumes they'll lose jobs so stop trying to write ads and start looking for other jobs). When I'm operating at my worst and seeking protection, I don't think about the implications of my actions. I become reactionary, lash out, and hurt the people who are closest to me, all for my own safety.

I used to think I was the only one responsible for being afraid—if I'm scared of the dark, of war, of death, of insignificance it's up to me to get over. But I think there are two parts.

One part is the story I'm telling myself. Do I believe there's a monster in my closet that only comes out at night? Is death going to be eternal separation from all that I love? Is war coming over Lake Michigan at every second? Will my grandma and my mom be the only ones in the world who ever read any of my books?

The stories you tell yourself become your reality, so work to keep your reality grounded in the truth.

Look in the closet.
Know the truth about death and eternity—that while we yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Read the news, pray for the authorities, trust God's plan to do good to those who love Him.
Remember that your significance doesn't hinge on the number of people you impact, it hinges on Who you're doing things for.

But the second part is new to me. As far as you are able, surround yourself with people who help bring you freedom from fear. Make friends who tell you the truth—both when it's hard, and when it's easy. Don't jump to conclusions when people say something, ask for clarity. Find colleagues, associates, and relationships that care enough about you to work on protecting you from fear. Know too, that in His very nature Jesus is freedom from fear. Find refuge in that.

I'm still learning to do both, and it's not easy. But it is healthy.

That way I don't go out and scream at an innocent biker on the side of the road.