Around eight years ago, I moved back to my hometown of South Bend, IN from Chicago.

I had originally moved to Chicago to make music. But I discovered that the community was severely lacking. It was difficult to book shows as an independent musician, and finding other musicians to play with was almost impossible. I had found one weekly open mic down the road, but getting people to care about what I was doing was a struggle.

Around the same time, some friends in South Bend began talking. They decided that the city could have a thriving arts community—if artists and musicians decided to invest in the city. It wasn't that there weren't talented artists in the Bend. They were just disconnected. If we invested in building eachother up, we could have a thriving arts scene.

I was convinced. I put Chicago to my rearview and moved back home, extolling South Bend's potential to be a better home for my musical aspirations than the Windy City.

And for a few years, people looked at me like I was crazy. Some nights, I thought they might be right. We'd throw a show with a killer lineup, and five people would show up. 

But last night, my band played a show with a touring band from Nebraska. On a Monday night.

The venue was packed. The touring band said it was the best turnout they'd had all tour.

On a Monday night in South Bend.

It's been a long time coming, but the city no longer has the potential for a great arts community: it has one. Last year, there were three independent music festivals that were all well attended. One even had the backing of the city itself. I have several friends who make a living making art full time.

But it isn't just the arts community that's thriving: the Bend has become a great place for small businesses as well. My wife opened a makerspace. A friend started a recording studio. 

The city has become home to dozens of brewpubs, bookstores, and coffee shops: plenty of places where a restless freelancer such as myself can go to put on a pair of headphones and ignore the world.

Not long ago, Downtown was held together by one non-chain restaurant. Independent coffee shops would take turns struggling to stay open in different locations. Now, you could eat in a different local restaurant every day for a month and not go to the same place twice.

Even some of the long-abandoned hotels and factories in the heart of the city are being renovated and reimagined. Empty hotels are now apartments. The Studebaker plant, which has sat vacant since the company closed, has become home to a number of tech startups and nonprofits.

But the memory of the city's decay is not so distant from my mind. I am full aware that just a few years ago, many of the storefronts in town (including my wife's shop) sat empty. Musicians had a hard time getting anyone to their shows. Artists fled the city like refugees. 

And yet, now we are thriving. And hometown pride has never been higher.

It may not be permanent, but I'm certainly enjoying the ride.

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The other day, I was sorting through some old boxes, and I found a map.

It looked like an ordinary world map, but for the thin, red line drawn through waterways and across oceans. I recognized it immediately: this was the map I would follow to sail around the world.

It filled me with a strange sort of nostalgia, especially sitting in my house I own with my wife.

Because this isn't exactly the life I expected to be living. It's no secret to anyone that knows me that I never thought I would get married, or own a home, or even spend more than six months in the same city. Yet here I am, running a business with my wife and pouring into my hometown's local arts community—a hometown I actually moved back to after living in Chicago for a time.

But every once in a while, I catch a glimpse into the life I could be living. A friend will text me from the deck of the ship they're crewing from the Philippines to Australia. Another will Skype me during their tenure with the Peace Corps. A friend will make local news for being arrested in another country (he's fine now).

And for a moment, I'll think back to the life I thought I'd lead: a life of missionary ships and motorcycle tours and brushes with foreign authorities. A life of learning new languages, eating new foods, and never knowing where I'll sleep that night. A life of never ending excitement and adventure.

But as I've grown up, I've discovered that stability isn't nearly as boring as I expected it to be. Watching my community thrive and grow has been an adventure unlike anything I expected. Building long-term relationships with my neighbors and watching as they become their best selves is somehow more exciting than meeting new people in the first place. And continually building a life together with my wife is just as rewarding as discovering all of the wonders the world has in store.

Because I understand now that a life does not have to unpredictable or cosmopolitan or spread across international boundaries to be fulfilling. It just has to be good. 

And that's exactly how my life has turned out.

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I've never been a huge fan of silence.

As a kid, I almost always had the TV or radio on. Often, they were on at the same. To this day, if you walk into my mom's house, the TV will be on in the corner. With no one watching.

Some of my favorite video games have corresponding albums, because my CD player never turned off (Radiohead's Kid A is a great pairing to The Ocarina of Time, if you were wondering).

Even today, I'm surrounded with a constant buzz of noise. I'm just as addicted to my smartphone as anyone. Whether I'm watching Netflix or out to dinner or sitting in church, I'm constantly scrolling through memes. When I'm at home, I almost can't function without a record playing on the turntable.

I live in the city, so it's usually pretty easy to avoid silence. But when I visit my grandparents in the country, it's another story. They don't have internet connection or cell phone service. So when my family goes up for a three day visit, there's generally no avoiding long stretches of silence.

But recently, I've realized that it's not silence that I have a problem with: it's the clutter of my own mind. When I fill my head with media and memes and other mind-numbing activities, those things don't go away when I shut them off. They bounce around in my skull, rattling in my brain. And adding to that only makes the clamor worse.

But if I power through the initial discomfort, I've found that everything starts to settle. While the rattle in my head might be unbearable at first, eventually it starts to quiet down.

And when that happens, I can actually get a good look at myself. I can reassess my goals, take stock of my life, and just take a moment to rest.

Whether it's a quiet moment at the riverbank or just a minute of stillness in my living room, I've come to love the silence. Sometimes, I even leave my phone on purpose. Because otherwise, I'm just caught in a whirlwind of distractions.

Here, in the quiet, I can actually hold on to what really matters.

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It seems like every day, another struggling business is blaming their demise on Millennials.

From casual dining chains to breakfast cereal to golf to napkins, there is no American institution too precious to escape the cold, "psychological damaged" hand of the Millennials.

After all, Millennials are the most entitled generation ever, right? They're selfish, rude snowflakes who have no work ethic, no initiative, and can't put down their iPhones lest they deprive themselves of memes.

But as a business owner, that doesn't smell right to me.

Because whenever my wife and I have had a hard time getting customers to give us their business, we've never written off the customers and explained all the ways they're deficient.

Instead, we've always adjusted our own business strategies to reach them.

And it might just be my opinion, but these other brands would do well to ditch the old strategies to adapt to changing trends. It's not as if those trends are a secret: it's well known that Millennials value sustainability, relationships, and quality experiences. 

Cheap beer, microwaved meals, and ineffective use of land aren't exactly their cup of tea. They aren't impressed by overvalued luxury items

Half of them don't watch TV, and most of them use ad blockers. 

If these companies really want to reach Millennials, they need to switch gears. They need to meet Millennials where they are. They need to adjust their business models address concerns about sustainability, ethics, and transparency. They need to stop wasting money on ineffective advertising methodologies and invest in inbound marketing strategies.

If they do that, they might discover that Millennials aren't as fickle and disloyal as they think they are.

And then, they just might see their profits go up.

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​My wife and I run our own business. And as business owners, we know the importance have a strong brand.

But as we've redesigned our logos and introduced new color schemes, I've come to believe that branding isn't only important in business. It's important for life as well.

I'm not talking about designing a logo for your personal life (although my wife made one). But figuring out your personal "brand" is more than commodifying yourself. 

Because strong branding is more than just color scheme. A solid brand creates an identifiable voice. It gives your business a unifying vision to bring all of your business's activities under a consistent umbrella. 

Bringing these lessons into my personal life has brought me focus and cohesion.

Sometimes, I'll catch myself spending time on things I'd rather not be doing. For example, I can't resist any of those clickbaity Facebook lists about celebrity transformations, even though they split the content across several ad-ridden pages. Having spent some time building my personal brand and vision, I realize that this is not at all how I want to be spending my time.

It's also helped me in my professional life. Because running a business isn't easy. It's easy to get stuck on the mundane, day-to-day, billy paying parts of the job. 

And sometimes, that includes my side jobs. Running a business doesn't always pay very well. And around this time last year, I was working night shift in a factory. If there was ever anything that was contrary to my personal brand, it's working night shift in a factory.

It was giving us some extra cash, but nothing else. After some soul searching, I realized that I've been feeding my family at the expensive of my values. And there were other, far less awful ways to earn a living.

Even as an artist, focusing on an artistic brand has helped give my work a consistent thread.

You see, I play in a band. And sometimes, when we sit down to write a song, the sheer breadth of possibility is almost paralyzing. We can use any combination of notes, rhythms, words, and sounds we want. But that doesn't always mean it will sound like us. Pinning down the band's brand has helped us hone our sonic palette and create a more consistent and cohesive output.

So while it might seem a little self-serious, the branding lessons I've learned with my business have proved amazingly helpful in all aspects of my life.

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I've never been one to shy away from projects.

I've recorded albums, written epic poems, constructed huge home improvement projects.

Finishing those projects is another story.

My hard drive is filled with novels and screenplays and poetry collections that I started in a fury and never finished. I have walls that are marked with swatches of the hottest paint colors as my wife and I have hemmed and hawed for over a year to pick one.

Three years ago, I started a solo record. Last summer, I finally sat down to record it. I recorded most of a full track in a few hours...and I haven't touched it since.

This is nothing unusual. Everybody has piles of unfinished projects around them. But when you work for yourself, leaving things unfinished can have financial ramifications.

It's one thing to leave a passion project undone. But doing so with professional projects brings a special kind of pressure.

So over the last couple years, I've picked up a few practices to help me finish what I begin. And I'd like to pass some of them along.

MAKE A TO-DO LIST

This might be pretty basic, but it's amazing how often I forget about it.

Back in high school, we had school-provided agendas to write down assignments and test dates and special events. And in high school, I was an excellent student. I missed very few assignments, I was ready for every test, and I got good grades.

In college, however, I wasn't given a free agenda. My teachers didn't have always have the exam dates written in a little corner on the board. And my second semester, my GPA dropped low enough that I lost one of my scholarships.

It took me a while to figure it out, but I perform much better when I have a to-do list. And when I'm working on a bunch of different projects at the same time, it's very easy for me to forget that I started a project at all. 

Writing it down helps me to keep track of all the balls in play.

KEEP A LOG

A to-do list is helpful, but it isn't foolproof. After all, if the only thing on your to-do list is "write opera," it's going to be difficult to keep track of your progress.

Break your project into pieces. Keep track of what parts you've finished and what you need to do next. You might not be able to do some of the big things while you're on the bus, but there might be some menial bits you can get done on your commute.

LAY DOWN YOUR PERFECTIONISM 

There's an old saying that goes, "good is the opposite of best." But if you're trying to finish a project, the opposite is true.

Because at the end of the day, a finished project with some flaws is going to be better than an unfinished project. 

Too many times, we worry about not getting it absolutely perfect. When I recorded my first album, I spent around two months recording and multitracking instruments. Then, I spent around two and a half years mixing and re-recording. 

It never sounded good enough to me. There were tiny little mistakes in my performances, or weird spots in the EQ. I had written these songs years beforehand, but I had nothing to show for it. 

A couple times, I released rough mixes as demos. And looking back now, I'm not sure if there's much improvement between the rough demos and the album I released.

No matter how much you toil over your work, there's always going to be something you're unhappy with. Let go of it, and move on to the next project.

CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY

It's one thing to write a deadline in your personal notebook. But if you're the only person who knows anything about it, not much is at stake if you miss it.

Find some people to keep you accountable. Join a Facebook group or Reddit community. Find a friend you trust who can impose consequences for missed deadlines. Have some fun with it—consequences that are mildly embarrassing (or severely, if you're into that) can be a great motivation. 

DO THE THING!

I'm not going to pretend that I have all the answers for finishing projects. I'm staring at a loose sheet of drywall that I meant to hang in my basement months ago.

But these tips have done wonders to push me toward finishing more projects. 

Now if I could just remember where I put that stud finder...

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About ten years ago, my absolute greatest fear was responsibility.

I was a twenty-one year old college junior. I was a year from graduation, and I had absolutely no clue what sort of job I wanted to have after that. Mostly because I didn't want a job at all.

A lot of this aversion had to do with my fear of paperwork. I was not good with forms—at all. I didn't want to deal with insurance, or taxes, or mortgages, or auto titles. I just wanted to travel the world, drifting across borders with the wind.

The uncertainty of not knowing what country I'd end up sleeping in that night seemed a lot more manageable than the stress of keeping all those payments and documents and tax ID numbers straight. (Nobody tell me that my wife and I would end up owning our own business).

Admittedly, that was a huge overreaction. A couple in-depth study sessions and some explanations cleared much of that up.

Every once in a while, though, it's easy for me to feel like I'm just sort of playing at being an adult.

It doesn't help that I still enjoy punk rock and video games as much as I did as a teenager, or that I spend most of my days writing about music or movies, or that I set my own schedule (read: I don't get out of bed till ten).

At the same time, I own my own home—in a nice neighborhood too. I pay my bills. Just last week, my wife and I made a plan to pay off all of our credit card and student loan debt within the next year. That's some serious grownup stuff.

But every once in while, I find some clues to my perpetual adolescence. Like, when I forget to feed myself all day (oh, that's what I forgot today). Or when I add one more piece of mail to the stack of recall notices...for the same airbag issue. Or when I stay up past midnight writing on my blog while listening to ska punk (like, literally right now).

And it certainly doesn't help that I'm pretty sure about half of my neighbors think I'm unemployed. Which is natural: I dress almost exclusively in t-shirts, I have long enough hair to make any interviewer think twice about hiring me, and my car (an old conversion van) is parked in front of my house most of the time—unless I'm loading amps and drums into it.

But at the end of the day, the freedom to live like an immature teenager is why I started working for myself in the first place. And if it comes with the occasional, fleeting bout of self-doubt, it's still worth it.

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I'm not typically one to buy into "kids today" hysteria. It seems Gen Xers and Baby Boomers can find every excuse they can to complain about Millennials. We've been accused of killing everything from golf to luxury cruises. 

And while much of this criticism is either overblown or completely misinterprets the data, I can't deny that there's a fundamental divide between my generations and the ones before.

Specifically, between me and my own father.

My dad was born on a farm in South Dakota in 1949. His father's father was a farmer, and his father before him, stretching back all the way to when my ancestors emigrated from Russia. After he left South Dakota for college, he worked a number of menial office jobs until he was given the opportunity to purchase his employer's business. 

He put in long hours, eventually earning a six-figure paycheck. But you'd never know it by looking at him—he lived for years in a cheap duplex, spending almost no money on himself.

I, on the other hand, grew up as a rich kid in the suburbs. I didn't get a job until my freshman year of college, and even then, I only worked one day a week. Twice a month, my $50 paycheck would come in, and I would immediately cash it out and head over to the record store. 

I have inherited neither his work ethic nor his spending habits. 

For all of the differences in our value sets, though, we've managed to cultivate a closer relationship than ever before. It's been years since he's tried to teach me how to operate a boat propeller or tie a lure, there's a depth to our relationship now that we've never shared before.

It's not without its hiccups. He's often chuffed at my disinterest for outdoorsman-like activities. He peppers our conversations with witticisms that make my inner social justice warrior bristle. 

But instead of calling my dad out on his problematic sense of humor, or ranting about how golf courses are a poor use of resources, we try to find common ground. 

We bond over good meals. He helps me with home repair. We go into some business ventures together.

And maybe someday, I might just take up his offer to join him for his annual fishing trip to Canada. 

Because in a world that is becoming ever more divided, we don't need any more divisions. Especially in our families.

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I've never considered myself to be lazy.

But at a point, I have to admit to myself that I might be. I stay in bed until 9:30 most days. I haven't been to the gym in three years. I stop at every Taco Bell I see. I spend most of my nights watching Netflix with my wife as we work on our laptops.

These are not the habits of a person who takes care of their body.

I've tried a few times to change that though: my wife and I used to bike six miles every morning. I've tried the meal prep thing. We used to walk our dog around the three-mile riverwalk by our house every day—until it got too cold.

Recently, we started doing yoga along with a 30-day video series on Amazon Prime. We made it to day twenty...before we decided we'd rather sleep in one day.

I read more about new wellness techniques to try, thinking that if I just put the information into my brain, it will produce results.

Thus far, that hasn't been the case.

The truth is, inertia is hard to fight against. An object at rest wants to stay at rest. And I am that object. And in the winter time, when the days are short and the weather is cold, it goes against every evolutionary instinct we have to not eat too much and move too little.

But I'm not giving up hope.

Because the more I let myself be lazy, the less content I become. The sting of restlessness brews beneath the surface, and it will not let me rust. It will not let me atrophy. It demands that I rise: that I get moving, that I push my body in some way.

And while that hardly replaces a regular fitness routine, it will have to do until I get more disciplined.

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There's a certain security to keeping a day job.

Freelancers and entrepreneurs are well acquainted with being broke. And given that I'm a freelancer and my wife is a small business owner, we've learned how to make a killer meal out of Ramen noodles (hint: diced chives and an egg).

We've spent the last few years tied to a strict budget, making sure that every dollar was accounted for. would land us with overdraft fees—which were frequent. We constantly searched for ways to save on home energy. Most months, we scrambled to cancel automatic payments because payday was just a couple days later, and it was better to be late on our gas bill than to pay another $35 for overdrawing our account. We played the same game with our rent for the business.

But recently, our hard work has started to pay off. My wife's shop account got ahead enough to pay even the next month's bills. Some opportunities came to me that brought us to the sort of income we had before we quit our day jobs.

We celebrated. A lot.

Across the first month of our newfound wealth, we spent hundreds of dollars treating ourselves. We went out to nice dinners. We finally bought new shoes. I bought a few more records than I should have.

But then, we stopped to look at our finances.

The last time we made money like this, we spent it the exact same way. We made far more than we needed to cover our bills, but we saved none of it. We didn't want to make the same mistake again.

Just because we can afford to spend more than our bare bones budget allows, that doesn't mean we need to. We can allow for a meager spending allowance, but the extra few hundred we're making each month will be paid toward debt, saved, and invested, where it will do more good.

Because if we've learned anything in the few years we've been without a nine-to-five, it's that you can never count on tomorrow's paycheck. So make the most of .

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