The two birthday gifts you should be asking for above all others

My birthday is approaching.

My wife often asks me for possible gift ideas, as I can be a difficult person when it comes to presents. I am much more interested in eliminating things from my life than adding to it. The accumulation of stuff does not interest me. In fact, if someone would just agree to clean out the the extra furniture from my basement and remove the bins of clothing on the second floor of my home, that might be the best birthday gift of all.

But if cleaning out my basement doesn't strike you as a reasonable gift, there are two things that I want more than anything else, and I humbly suggest that you consider them as gift ideas for yourself as well. 

I promise you that they are far superior to any cashmere sweater, shiny trinket, or electronic gadget that you think you may want. 

Time

Truthfully, the best gift of all is the gift of time, and it's not a terribly difficult or expensive gift to give. In the past, my wife has hired people to cut the grass, rake the leaves, and shovel the driveway, thus returning this precious time to me.

Other options for the giving of time include babysitting my children, digitizing my photo albums, walking my dog, mulching my flower beds, bringing my car to the shop to get that light on the dashboard checked out, renewing my passport, determining the contents of the boxes in my attic, correcting all my spelling tests for a month, or offering to complete any task or chore that I would otherwise have to do myself. 

Your list would be different, of course Hopefully it doesn't include a warning light on your dashboard or mystery boxes in your attic. But I'm sure you can think of things that you would rather not do that a friend or family member is more than capable of accomplishing on your behalf.

I know what you're thinking:

"Matt, I'd rather mow my own grass and receive that cashmere sweater instead." 

"I'd rather complete the mountain of paperwork required to renew my passport myself and open a brand new iPad on my birthday."

"I'm more than happy to shovel my driveway. Give me that new Fitbit/star finder/water purification device that I have wanted for months."

No. I'm sorry, but you're wrong. I know it may seem presumptuous to tell you what you want, but trust me. I know. I know the difference between what you want and what you think you want, and the two could not be more different.

Studies repeatedly show that money spent on experiences generates far greater happiness than money spent on things. The gift of time is the gift of an experience otherwise lost to a mindless or meddlesome chore. It's the opportunity to play with your kids or enjoy dinner with a friend or read a book or watch a movie.  

I promise you that when you are lying on your death bed, surrounded by all of your material possessions - your stuff - your greatest regret will be the time you could've spent with friends and family. At that moment, the gift of time will mean more to you than anything else. 

It should mean that much today. Don't wait until it's too late to appreciate it.

Honestly, you don't need any more clothing or jewelry or electronics. 

You could do without the device that clips to your belt or fastens to your handlebars or makes imaginary things explode when you click the right combination of buttons. 

The thing you should crave - more than anything else - is time.  

Knowledge

Coming in a close second to time (and in many ways its first cousin) is the gift of knowledge. Find a way to teach me to do something that I’ve always wanted to do but never could or haven’t had time yet to learn. 

Either teach me yourself or find someone who can do it for you.

We all go through life wishing that we could do more. Accomplish more. Achieve more. This is a gift that would allow a person to take one small step closer to those dreams. 

For me, it's meant sending my wife to a cooking or an art class. 

For my wife, it's meant buying me an hour with a professional poker player or an afternoon with a golf instructor. 

In these instances, we walk away with nothing material but something far more valuable: The gift of knowledge. The acquisition of a skill. A slight improvement in an area that means a great deal to us. 

Far more valuable than a pretty scarf or a new sweater. 

In case you're thinking of giving me a birthday gift this year, here is the list of things I want to currently learn:

  • Change the oil in my car 
  • Hit my driver longer and more consistently
  • Install replacement windows in my home
  • Manage my photo library on my Mac
  • Wire my television for the best combination of sound and on-demand and/or cable programming
  • Strike-through lines of text in SquareSpace without having to learn how to code
  • Remove the occasional burst of static and background hum during the recording of my podcast

The consistently late are the scum of the Earth. Here’s a simple strategy to avoid being late in the future.

I’m a timely person.

I’m timely because I think it’s rude to be late. 

Even worse, I think it’s despicable for a person to be consistently late. The consistently late are a selfish pack of uncivilized heathens who should be pay higher taxes and be forbidden from ever celebrating Thanksgiving.

Consistently late is also a sign that you suck at life. It’s perhaps the clearest sign of all. If you’re a member of the consistently late clan, you should know that we all think this, and we despise you for it. We may like or even love you, but we despise you, too, for your selfishness and inability to act like a decent human being.    

image

TIME offers 9 Habits of People Who Are Always on Time. It’s a good list. I particularly like numbers 1, 2, 4, and 8. Adopt these habits and you’ll be much better off.

Allow me to add a tenth to the list:

Prepare yourself to leave the house well in advance of actually leaving the house.

For example, if you’re meeting friends for dinner, and you plan to leave the house at 6:00, don’t wait until 5:30 to get ready, even if it normally takes you about 30 minutes to get ready.

This makes no sense. Frankly, it’s insane.

Requiring 30 minutes to get ready is also insane, but that’s an entirely different set of problems.

If the last thing you do before leaving the house and prepare to leave the house, all it takes is one setback in your preparation process to cause you to be late. One item of clothing that unexpectedly needs ironing. One wardrobe reconsideration. One spill. One hangnail. One malfunctioning hairdryer. One unavoidable phone call. One screaming child. 

If you plan to leave the house at 6:00, why not get ready to leave at 4:00? Just be ready. Whatever benefit you think you are deriving from showering and getting dressed and applying makeup just prior to leaving the house, I promise you that you are the only person noticing it.

More importantly, the people who you are meeting would undoubtedly favor less attention to your physical appearance and more attention to your timeliness.

In fact, valuing your physical appearance over arriving on time is the epitome of selfish.

“I made you wait so my hair could look just right.”

Disgusting, yet it’s essentially what people do all the time.

I’ve proposed my idea to several of my friends and colleagues over the past week, and almost universally, they think it’s a ridiculous idea. “Get ready two hours before I leave the house?” said one. “That’s stupid.”

The only two people who have agreed with the merit of this proposal are the two people in my life who I can depend upon the most to be on time.

One woman and one man. Always on time, regardless of weather or traffic.

Also two of the most impressive and accomplished people who I know.

50 Healthiest Foods of All Time: A large percentage are a mystery to me.

TIME lists the “50 Healthiest Foods of All Time.”

I have never eaten 14 of them.

I don’t actually know what nine of them are, but then again, do you know what kamut or farro or kefir are?

image image image

The bad news is that I don’t like 31 of the foods on the list (presuming I don’t like the nine that I can’t identify).

The good news is that eggs, poultry, bananas, whole wheat bread, and cinnamon made the list.

Cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and ice cream cake did not, but perhaps they would’ve been items 51, 52, and 53.

How much would you pay for one more hour in your day. Hint: There is a correct answer, and most Americans got it wrong.

A new survey says that more than half (58%) of Americans are willing to pay cash in exchange for one more hour in their day, and that the average amount that these people are willing to pay for that extra hour is $2,725.

image

From the TIME piece:

The fact that people are willing to shell out that kind of cash is, well, sad, but also indicative of a larger problem that is unfortunately hard to buy your way out of: An out-of-whack work-life balance.

Am I the only sane person left in this world?

Only 58% of people would pay money to add an hour to their day? What the hell are the other 42% thinking? Do they have any idea how valuable an extra hour a day could be?

Sorry. Stupid question. Clearly they do not.

Time is the most precious commodity on the planet. More valuable than oil or diamonds or fame or even cold, hard cash. Time is a tragically finite resource for which there will never be any replacement.

Time is the great equalizer. We all have 24 hours in a day. No more. No less. If you can get an extra hour on everyone else, you would be an idiot not to pay for it.

If given the opportunity to purchase anything in this world, you should always  purchase time first, and then time again and again and again.

image

Yet 42% of Americans would apparently not spend even a single dollar for an extra hour a day.

Clearly traumatic brain injury is a more serious problem than I ever imagined. 

Next, let’s look at the amount that the average American would be willing to spend for an extra hour a day: $2725.

Have these people also been hit in the head by large objects?

An extra hour a day for the rest of you life isn’t worth the price of a motorcycle? Season tickets to your favorite baseball team? One-fifth of the average kitchen remodel in America?

I would pay as much as I possibly could for an extra hour a day. I would take out a second mortgage on my home for an extra hour in my day. I would forfeit a year’s salary for an extra hour every day. I would have another child with my wife just so I could trade my third-born child for an extra hour in my day.

An extra hour a day amounts to an extra 15 days a year. That’s an additional year of life every 25 years.

An additional year of life is worth less than $2,700?

People are insane. Stupid and insane. 

Lastly, let’s look at the rant of TIME writer Melissa Locker again:

The fact that people are willing to shell out that kind of cash is, well, sad, but also indicative of a larger problem that is unfortunately hard to buy your way out of: An out-of-whack work-life balance.

Sad? Has Locker been struck in the head by a ballpein hammer, too? Does she not understand the value of an extra hour a day for the rest of your life?

Sorry. Stupid question again. Clearly she does not.

The desire for an extra hour in the day is not sad. It’s not indicative of an out-of-whack work-life balance. Desiring an extra hour every day (and being willing to pay for it) is common sense. It’s logic. It’s an understanding of time on an economic level. A clear-eyed view on how short and precious life is and how valuable one hour a day, seven hours a week, and 365 additional hours every year would be.

Sad to be willing to pay for an extra hour every day? I don’t think so. 

What’s truly sad it how people don’t realize how fragile and tenuous our lives really are. How fleeting our days on this planet will prove to be. How much they will they will have wished for those extra hours when facing the specter of death.

An extra hour every day would be the greatest opportunity imaginable. And the greatest bargain of all time at $2,7o0.

My first date advice: Tell stories.

TIME’s Eric Barker reported on what science says are most appropriate and beneficial topics of discussion on a first date.

My first date with my wife wasn’t a declared date. It was dinner at Chili’s before we attended a talent show at the school where we both worked. It would be months before we would officially begin dating, but that hour spent talking over fajitas and guacamole sewed the seeds of our mutual attraction.

In truth, I thought my wife was perfect long before we started dating. Too perfect, in fact. I thought she was utterly and forever unattainable. I loved her long before she loved me, but I didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance in hell that I would ever date her.

You can’t imagine how often I still pinch myself when I see her sitting across from me, my wife and the mother of our children.

I told stories at that first dinner. I told her about my two near-death experiences, the armed robbery, my arrest and trial for a crime I did not commit, and my troubled, difficult childhood. I’m normally an excellent listener, but I remember talking a lot that night and sharing parts of my life in ways I never had before.

Maybe it’s because we weren’t on an official first date that I shared so much, so soon. I’m not sure.

Whatever the reason, it worked. Elysha and I had been colleagues for almost three years and friends for the previous two years, but that night at Chili’s was when things began to first change for us.

When asked about what first attracted her to me, it turns out that it wasn’t my devilish good looks, rapier wit, or undeniable sense of humor.

It was my stories.

She says that in listening to my stories, she came to realize that my life was so different than anything she had ever known before, and it was in the midst of that bit of storytelling that she began to see me as something more than just a friend.

I’ve been storytelling on the stage for three years now. I first took the stage at a Moth StorySLAM in July of 2011. In the short period of time since that first performance, storytelling has changed my life. I have found something I love and something I do well. I have met new and amazing people, and I am proud to call many of them my friends. My stories have been heard by millions of people around the country on the radio and podcasts.

But it turns out that long before my success with The Moth and the launch of Speak Up, storytelling helped me win over the smartest, finniest, prettiest girl I know. A girl who I thought was out of my league.

Eric Barker of TIME advises (based upon his review of the research) to talk about travel on a first date and avoid discussions about movies. He suggests leaning toward controversial topics and sharing a secret if possible. He points out that an even balance between talking and listening is ideal. He recommends asking your date if he or she likes the taste of beer if you hope to get lucky that night.

Me? I say to tell stories.

I used this strategy once in my life, and it resulted in one of the happiest days of my life.

image

Golf is in a decline because people are stupid.

TIME reports that golf is experiencing in a precipitous decline in our country.

Golf equipment sales have been tanking. The number of golf courses closing annually will dwarf the number of new courses opening for years to come.

Apparently people aren’t playing the game like they once did, which is a damn shame.

image

TIME offers five reasons why this is the case.

1. People are too damn busy.

The argument here is that it’s impossible to find four hours on a weekend to play 18 holes of golf.

As new dad Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal put it recently, speaking for dads—all parents, really—everywhere, “It is more likely I will become the next prime minister of Belgium than it is that I will find 4½ hours on a weekend to go play golf.”

Of course, there’s no need to play 18 holes of golf at a time (which TIME acknowledges). I probably play 40-50 rounds of golf a year, but a great majority of those rounds are nine hole rounds, played at 6:30 in the morning.

Also, as busy as everyone claims to be, the average American spends 34 hours per week watching television and almost 3 hours per week playing video games on console and mobile devices (with hardcore gamers logging almost 20 hours per week).

Everyone is so damn busy, yet they seem to have a lot of time for the couch.

2. It’s elitist and too expensive.

TIME also points out that golf can be made exceedingly affordable, but quickly discounts that notion:

It’s just that, by and large, the sport has a well-deserved reputation for being pricey—think $400 drivers, $250,000 club “initiation” fees, and too many gadgets to mention. The snooty factor goes hand in hand with the astronomical prices and atmosphere on the typical course.

I played golf for my first five years with a set of used irons that cost my friend $10, a driver that cost about $150, and a putter than cost $1.

I play on public courses which cost me $12-20 per nine holes. We walk the course instead of riding in a cart, which is good for us and saves us money.

Golf is supremely affordable if you allow it to be. 

As for the elitism, that all depends on where you play and who is playing with you. If you and your friends are playing on public courses, elitism doesn’t exist.

Dress codes on public courses barely exist.

If you’re playing at a country club that costs tens of thousands of dollars a year to join, yes, you will encounter elitism. Also strict dress codes and cigars. But this has nothing to do with golf and everything to do with who you choose for  friends are and where you choose to hang out. 

It’s just not cool.

Bah.

It’s too difficult.

This is the beauty of the game.

“The deep appeal of golf, once you get hooked, is that it’s difficult,”John Paul Newport, golf columnist for the Wall Street Journal, told NPR last month. “Normally when you play a round of golf, you step onto the green and that’s when all the intense stress starts. You know, this tiny little hole, you have to look at putts from many ways, you hit it a few feet past and you add up strokes quickly around the green.”

I’m not sure what Newport means by intense stress. Unless you’re playing in some PGA competition, the amount of stress is determined solely by yourself. I may feel pressure at times while playing, but it’s self-imposed pressure. The only thing riding on every shot is my desire for excellence.

Newport is also right that one of the appealing aspects of the game is the challenge. Golf is hard. It’s incredible complicated. You learn new things every time you play. Every single shot is unlike any previous shot. There are constant improvements to be made.

Yes, golf is hard. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so great.

Recently, lunatics have proposed changes such as 15-inch cups in order to make the game much easier and approachable.

image

This is stupid. This would strip the game of its luster.

Besides, there are already ways of making the game easier to play. Instead of larger holes, play from the red tees and shorten the course for yourself.

Also, learn how out to putt.

5. Tiger Woods.

Skeptics insist that golf isn’t dying. Not by a long shot. The sport’s popularity, they say, is merely taking a natural dip after soaring to unjustified heights during the “golf bubble” brought on by the worldwide phenomenon that was Tiger Woods.

This may be true, but it’s not why I started playing the game, and I can’t imagine quitting a game as great as golf simply because one of its stars is aging.

If TIME is right and these are the reasons that golf is in decline, people suck.

People have plenty of time. They choose to spend it stupidly.

Golf is absolutely affordable if you’re willing to play on public course, walk instead of ride, tee off with last year’s driver, and hit golf balls that don’t cost $5 each.

Golf is difficult. If you require ease and leisure in your life, play Go Fish.

Otherwise, find some grit and determination  and learn to play the game.

My most useless super power

In addition to my fairly useful super powers is one that is no less extraordinary but useless. Whenever I wake up in the middle of the night, for whatever reason, I can accurately state the time within fifteen minutes of the actual time, and oftentimes much more accurately than that.

Every time, without exception.

How I manage this is a mystery to me.

But an even bigger mystery:

How am I ever going to use this super power to defeat evil?

image