• lynneeveratt

Never Put a Skunk on Your Bus!

Updated: Feb 9

“Never put a skunk on a bus.” - Clark Todebush, age 5

As Gwenyth Todebush drove her 5-year-old son Clark to kindergarten, she told him that she was feeling a bit nervous about an upcoming meeting. “I know what to do,” her son replied, and proceeded to give her advice worthy of a world-class life coach, albeit in the picturesque language of a 5-year-old.

“Never put a skunk on a bus” is my favorite line from Clark’s pep talk to his mother. The skunk-free bus is the perfect image of the philosophy of Dr. Nate Zinsser, the Director of West Point's Performance Psychology Program, who stresses that you need to control how you think about yourself. Dr. Zinsser has worked with numerous elite athletes, including all-star NHL hockey players, Olympic athletes, and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning.

According to Zinsser, you must be selective and careful about what you allow aboard the bus of your mind. Don’t swing the doors open and welcome the skunks of past disappointments, missteps, and regret that will make your thoughts (along with the emotions and actions arising from those thoughts) stinky.

In his brilliant new book “The Confident Mind,” that’s brimming with practical advice on how to make your thoughts work for you rather than against you, Dr. Zinsser presents a daily 5-minute exercise that I've been doing and highly recommend.

Using the metaphor of a psychological bank account, Dr. Zinsser encourages you to look for the best in yourself and make daily deposits in your account to grow your feelings of confidence.

Take 5 minutes right now and reflect on the past 24 hours.

E = EFFORT In the past 24 hours, think of an example or two when you didn’t feel like doing something, or were doing something and felt your motivation waning, but you pushed through anyway. What gave you a feeling of pride in your effort? Write it down in your daily planner as I do, or your new ESP journal.

S = SUCCESS Identify any success you experienced, large or small. What did you get right today?

P = PROGRESS Think of the skills you’re currently working on. What are you getting better at?

The purpose of this “ESP” exercise, that creates a highlight reel of your day’s performance, is to train your mind to filter your experience so that you remember and benefit from examples of effort, success, and progress.

It all comes down to choice. How do you choose to think of yourself? Will you put a skunk on your bus, or will you…

“Think about the doughnuts of your day.” - Clark Todebush

Get Fully Charged on Never Put a Skunk on Your Bus

  • Dr. Nate Zinsser’s website


  • The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance,” by Dr. Nate Zinsser, Harper Collins, January 2022.

  • Interview with Dr. Nate on Chris Williamson’s Modern Wisdom podcast

  • Another interview with Dr. Nate from the Daily Stoic podcast with Ryan Holiday.

  • The soon-to-be Dr. Clark Todebush who coached his mother as she drove him to kindergarten is featured in “Need a Life Coach? This 5-Year-Old Can Help,” by Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, February 3, 2022.

A note on Wordle’s Wardle...

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Josh Wardle as an exemplar of “enoughness,” citing how Wardle resisted the siren call of venture capitalists who would turn his Wordle creation into an industry.

This past week, Wardle sold Wordle to The New York Times for an undisclosed seven-figure sum. You may have seen this headline and thought to yourself, “So much for enoughness. The Wordle guy totally sold out. In Wordle-speak he’s a PHONY.”

I would argue that Wardle is just like Joseph Heller, the bestselling author who amassed a fortune in royalties for his classic book “Catch-22,” but didn’t fall into the trap of comparing himself with others or hopping on a treadmill of obsessive achievement. Heller found contentment in his art and profited from it. Similarly, Josh Wardle enjoyed developing Wordle, playing Wordle, and watching others respond to it. He took what was rightfully his, selling his viral game to a publisher with a wordy 80-year history of producing (crossword) puzzles.

Enoughness doesn’t mean that you forgo accepting market value for your talents because you already have enough money. Enoughness means that you would be fine if your creation didn’t become a sensation, but since it did, you know what your values are and what you are willing to do and not willing to do to capitalize on your success while maintaining your peace of mind.

I believe that Josh Wardle has kept the skunks off his bus and continues to embody the contented spirit of enoughness. Hopefully The New York Times will do likewise and keep Wordle outside its paywall.

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