W.I.N. in Every Moment

What is “W.I.N.” and what does it stand for?

I’ll get to that in a minute, I promise. I assure you, though, that this has nothing to do with Charlie Sheen. (Although if #WINblog would trend worldwide like his outburst did, I wouldn’t complain.)

Before I get to today’s topic, I want to take a moment to share how touched I am by the way my Very Uncommon Wish for 2014 was received. I am honoured that you shared your personal stories with me about realizing benefits in welcoming critics, and I am humbled by the number of people who felt that my words could inspire or benefit others and shared my post with their friends and family. Thank you.

While I received a lot of positive feedback on that piece, I did not receive the comments I actually wished for: criticisms. When I asked some people if they had read it, a few of my more opinionated friends were rather short in their responses. While I am hopeful that for some it was probably just bad conversation timing, a different approach to blogs, or maybe they were digesting an uncommon way of thinking, I have to believe that at least some of them held back criticism of what I had written.

If that’s the case, please don’t hold back. A few days ago, I heard a very intelligent comment. “The person who gains the most out of a debate is the person who loses.” Again, I welcome your feedback on any article on Mark Unleashed. I can handle it.

One of the reasons I can handle it is because I am used to receiving criticism. I wasn’t always good at it, and I still falter at times, but I have a ton of experience. I am my own worst critic, and given my wish, I am therefore also my own best critic. So who better than to make my wish come true than me? And so the idea for this new post was born.

Friday night, sleepless in Montreal, I got to being a critic. What am I doing wrong? What’s wrong with my approach?

While I can certainly blame my sleepless nights on two weeks of trying desperately to get comfortable and sleep with surgical shoes on, the problem is bigger than that. I haven’t prioritized sleep. And it goes beyond sleeping. My time management skills, in general, are lacking. In university, like most of us, I crammed for exams and completed papers in the last hours before it was due (and that was when I didn’t ask for an extension.) Today, the situation is different but the problem is much the same. I wait until the last minute to accomplish things, make arrangements, I spend a lot of time on facebook, with online games (damn you, apps!), and I enjoy my TV shows and sports. I get everything done, but it’s not pretty – and it’s usually at the expense of my health.

While I do not have a solution for Charlie Sheen’s problems, I think I came up with one for mine. And if you’re anything like me, I’m confident this will work for you too.

I call it: “W.I.N.” – What’s Important Now?

It’s 11pm, and I can sit on facebook scanning memes and watching videos or I can go to sleep. What’s important now?

It’s 5pm on a weekday, and I can start another work-related task or I can put it all away because I hear the garage door opening and my daughter is home from daycare. What’s important now?

I can open up the iPad and play some You Don’t Know Jack or Euchre, or I can go shave my head because tomorrow is cleaning day. What’s important now?

It’s the middle of the day, and I’m on fire. Not really, but I’m getting lots of work done and being very efficient. Haven’t eaten anything all day though. What’s important now?

The goal here is pretty simple: get present to what I can be doing with my time that will actually make a difference. What action can I take that supports what I have declared to be important in my life? And what actions might be more appealing in the moment, but actually don’t make any difference.

What’s important now? In all moments, my daughter comes first and my health a very close second, so that I can be there for her.

My wife, my friends, and much more, are also very important to me, and going away to school and having international experiences has left me with friends from all over, in different time zones, on different schedules, and it’s hard to keep up with all of everyone’s news, as much as I want to. But in doing so, I have lost track of my priorities: the people and things who are most important.


What’s important now? I have only been playing with this very simple expression for 2 days and already I find it a powerful call to action.

I invite you to try it on for yourselves. Craft it to your unique circumstances and use it to your advantage.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing those other things in moderation. The trouble, for me at least, is that moderation can only be seen in my rear view window. I still have a lot to learn.

That being said, I am excited by the possibilities that open up when I ask myself this quick, concise, question:

W.I.N. – What’s important now?

P.S. As always, I welcome your comments below. I’m told that finding the place to put them is not obvious, so please look for “Leave a comment” or “# comments”. And, to not miss any new posts, please subscribe at the top on the right.

P.P.S. It’s been 75 minutes since I posted this, and I just did a google search on “What’s Important Now” – turns out I’m not the first to come up with this. Oh well. I had never heard of it before, so it’s new to me (and maybe new to you too?) Still, I hope that this way of thinking serves you well.


Real world lessons for students

On Thursday, November 10th in downtown Montreal, thousands of loud students marched the streets blocking rush hour traffic in protest against proposed $325 tuition hikes for the next 5 years, despite the fact that currently, Quebec is home to the lowest tuition fees in North America (by far), and will remain close to the bottom even after the hikes.

The protesters had their say today. Now I get mine.

Dear student protestors: Your hypocrisy disgusts me. You pretend that tuition hikes will “prevent access to education” and then form picket lines at your school to prevent your fellow students from having access to their education.

Worse, if your education means as much to you as you claim, why did you skip school today?

If my employer had not made other plans for me, I had planned on being at the protest carrying a sign that would have simply said : Tuition before iPhones, beer and cigarettes. Student protesters, your misplaced priorities disgust me. If you can afford a smartphone (and its monthly plans); if you go out drinking at least twice a month; if you buy a coffee every day; if you are a smoker (!!!), if you have gone away for Spring Break – anywhere – then you can afford tuition. Tuition first, then luxuries. Smarten up!

If you want a free ride, earn it through hard work and get a scholarship. Do not expect the public to continue paying your way to the detriment of our education system. I didn’t take university as seriously as I might have, but at least I didn’t expect you to pay for my bad habits. If you want to be a hypocrite, have your priorities backwards, or act like an entitled, spoiled brat, do it on your own dime.

Stop the drama and get back to class. It’s time to pay your fair share. This is the real world. You would be wise to start preparing for it.

’tis the season…

As we approach Black Friday (the day after American Thanksgiving, known for blowout sales, much like Boxing Day here in Canada), millions of North Americans’ thoughts turn to the coming holidays.

What is the first thing you think about when someone mentions the holidays? Is it the snow that’s likely to fall? Is it the list of memories you have from holidays past, shared with loved ones? Is it the list of people you are excited to spend time with this year? Likely not, but it should be. In the 21st century, most people, when thinking of the holidays, think immediately of the gift shopping they *need* to do.

It’s all around us. Commercials on the radio, on TV, and on banner ads on every conceivable website you visit tout the number of shopping days until Christmas, 33 today according to daysuntil.com. (Only 10 days until Chanukah!) Tens (maybe hundreds) of millions of dollars are spent reminding you of this most important deadline. Only a tiny fraction of that amount is spent in advertisements promoting the other, non-commercial, personal side of the holidays.

(6 years ago, I spent 3 hours watching the Quebec Parliament channel because I was touched by the personal recorded messages from parliamentarians from all political stripes. None mentioned gifts.)

Why is it important? Why do we give gifts? (not only for holidays, by the way, but for birthdays and other “designated” occasions too…)

Well, above all, this answer is personal – or at least that’s what most people will have others believe. In my heart, I believe that some people are genuinely generous. These people want only to share their good fortune, with no expectation of receiving gifts in return. Consider that this is a (very) small portion of the population.

Most people, I believe, give gifts because it has become a societal obligation of sorts. Years of effective marketing have created a false connection between the holidays and gift giving, and consequently between gift giving and love, or caring, or thoughtfulness. What is thoughtful about buying a gift because you are expected to? Or worse, because you don’t want to deal with the consequences of not buying one?

One very common trait in people is a desire to look good or avoid looking bad. It is easy to see how this trait comes into play when considering what kind of gift to buy, or whether to buy at all. It is all too common, when gift shopping, to consider what other people may likely buy for you in order to target a similar price range. Why? Only to look good or avoid looking bad in their eyes.

If you’re calling me cynical (or any similar adjective) right now, ask yourself where the term “Hallmark holiday” came from. How many people believe that they have “celebrated” Mother’s or Father’s Day simply as a result of sending a card? It’s an easy way out. Rather than making an effort to arrange schedules to be with loved ones in person, “I’ll just send a card” tells the story. Effective and relentless marketing has linked giving greeting cards with caring about someone. It’s an absolutely fabricated connection that we actually bought! This connection, created solely for profit and greed, has made Hallmark OVER $4.4 BILLION a year in sales. According to the “Greeting Card Association” (greetingcard.org), annual revenue from greeting card sales, annually, in the United States alone was OVER $7.5 BILLION.

And for what? A card that you look at once and then throw away, or keep and watch it collect dust and take up space, never to be seen again? The Hall family and others are laughing at us all the way to the bank.

(Imagine what would be possible if we took that $2 – $4 per greeting card and used it to buy food for the poor? to pay for beds in a homeless shelter? Or build a brand new shelter… )

While makers of greeting cards and non-essential consumer goods reap the benefits of our selfish desire for acceptance through gifts, many are suffering. One would hope that families who are struggling to put proper food on their table or pay for adequate and comfortable shelter would focus on these priorities before worrying about what gift to buy, but I would bet that this is sadly not the case for some. I know, though, that one of the major impacts of gift giving and receiving is, unfortunately, resentment. It comes from when someone expects to receive something that is not given, when they perceive that the value of their gift exceeds the value of the gift that was received, or when someone projects their own interpretation of the thought (or lack thereof) that went into a gift-giving decision. The result is often hard feelings, a form of upset that goes against the true spirit of the holidays. Anger that can last long beyond the batteries in your new video game.

Make no mistake. I am not, for a second, suggesting that these companies are at fault for personal problems in the home. I am a proud capitalist. I believe that our system works when innovative people come up with great ideas, execute them in original ways, promote them, sell them, and earn money to support their families.

However, more than my belief in capitalism is my belief in the utmost importance of personal choice and personal responsibility. We create our tomorrows by way of our actions today. By focusing so much on the “importance of gifts” and by falsely making gift-giving *mean* something about the giver, we are creating a future based more on material goods than on what’s important – quality time spent with those around us, fostering interpersonal relationships, actually getting to know people on a deep level. If we put more time and effort into what we are going to buy for someone than we do in making time to spend with that person, learn about that person, relate to that person, and nurture that person, then we are absolutely missing the point – as well as a huge opportunity.

This holiday season, may your thoughts be focused on the value you spend in minutes rather than the value you spend in dollars.

It took lots of out-of-the-box thinking to create the consumerist madness we are now experiencing, and it will take a tremendous amount of courage make the choices that we need to make to return our society to a place where caring is shown by spending time together, not by buying things. I invite everyone to do their part, to start now.

If, like me, you find yourself *stuck* in actions that don’t correspond to your morals and values, even if they go against common thought in 2010, listen to the wise words of Dr. Seuss:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Please accept my wish for the happiest and healthiest of holidays spent together with those who mean the most to you.

(Oh, and go out and give gifts if you choose to – but give “out of nothing”. Give because you were thinking about someone and saw something they would love. Give because you saw something neat and thought of someone special. Give without any expectations and without any fear of judgement. Give because you’re inspired by giving.)