Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Separation Anniversary

separation agreement

She took off her wedding ring one year ago today.

That’s when I learned she did, anyway.

It was Easter Sunday, but nothing was coming back from the dead in our house.

I will probably be doing a lot of reflecting this week.

Lisa at Lessons From the End of a Marriage published an important post titled When Will I Feel Better?” which tackles the question every person dealing with a life trauma wants the answer to.

A person doesn’t really understand the full spectrum of human feeling until they experience a great loss. Some people lose parents or siblings or friends or someone else close to them at a young age.

But their experiences, while unfair, raise an interesting question: Are they better equipped to deal with life trauma as an adult due to being tempered in fire at a young age?

Maybe.

But it doesn’t matter. Because everybody is going to go through their own personal hell sooner or later. I don’t think there’s any defense except to make your life the most-balanced and content it can possibly be.

It’s officially been a year.

Do I feel better?

So Many Stages

There’s nothing one-size-fits all about any of this.

Everyone’s situations are different. And everyone’s ability to cope mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually varies for a million different reasons.

Here’s what happened at our house.

A Great Loss

Without warning, we lost my wife’s father. My son’s grandfather. The closest thing I had to a dad locally.

He was a fantastic human being.

There was nothing fair about what happened next for anyone. My sweet mother-in-law lost her husband and a home she helped build with her bare hands. My wife and her brother lost their father. A really good one. They lost the only “home” they’d ever known. Their place to go on beautiful summer days. Perhaps the perfect place to wake up Christmas morning. My son lost his grandfather. Both deserved more time with one another. I had a million things I wanted to do with those two and my brother-in-law.

Nope.

And I lost my wife. Right then. It just took me several weeks to figure it out.

I’d heard of grief changing people. But I’d never seen it up close and personal.

She shut down hard.

And instead of leaning on me, she told me losing her father meant she lost the only man in her life that really mattered and made her feel safe.

She pushed me away. She said I could not help her.

That everything she thought she felt about me and our marriage was now uncertain.

That’s when I moved into the guest room.

The Guest Room

I slept in the guest room for about 18 months.

It was an extraordinarily challenging time.

Every day consisted of me waking up sad and going to bed sad and waiting for her to make a decision about whether she was going to choose to stay married.

At some point during that period, a light bulb went off. And I knew who I wanted to be.

I did the best I could to piece it all back together. Whatever I did was wrong. Nothing worked.

Sleeping in the guest room was the second most-horrible experience of my life. But that’s where I became a better man.

Whatever I am today that is good—that can maybe help people—came together in that guest room.

The Exit

It felt long and drawn out. After breaking the news she was leaving on a Sunday night, I had to work the next day and came home to watch my wife pack a suitcase for her and our son and take him to her mom’s house.

If you’ve been there, you know how surreal it feels. We’d been married nearly nine years. Your brain is in complete denial.

Maybe she’ll come back!

Maybe she just needs some time away!

And at that point, I did think she would come back. Maybe an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder situation. Or maybe she would decide to not break up our son’s home. Or maybe she would simply decide the horror of losing half of her son’s childhood seemed worse than the horror of being married to me.

This lasted exactly 11 days.

The Boyfriend

My wife was in love with someone else.

I found out 11 days after she moved out. My then-four-year-old son let it slip in a conversation when asking me if I knew the guy. It took me about 30 seconds to piece it all together. Who knows how it would have played out had he not asked me that.

That information changed everything.

I went nuclear. Not the stable kind.

Because regardless of the details, timeline, circumstances, etc.—that’s when I realized the person I thought I knew best was someone I didn’t know.

That is some earth-shattering shit. When you find out someone isn’t who you thought they were. It’s easier to deal with when it’s just some person at work, or a friend of a friend. It’s more complicated when it’s the person you married and had a child with.

This is the thing that left the biggest scar of any life event I have ever experienced.

It has poisoned me in ways that are hard to explain. The wounds have closed. The pains I feel now are merely ghost pains. But I still feel them.

I still dream about it.

I still get goosebumps when I drive by the hospital where they met.

I still cringe when I hear his name.

I have an unfair hatred for cyclists now. Simply because he was a cyclist.

I never want to go see our local minor-league baseball team for the rest of my life because that man was part of my son’s first-ever baseball game. I put a tee-shirt on my son the other day with the team name on the front. It gave me a stomach ache.

I took a girl out to dinner a few weeks ago. We went to a restaurant where I feel certain my wife ate with that guy. Ugh.

I care about being strong. I care about pride. I care about holding my head up.

But the complicated feelings associated with that entire period still course through my veins almost every day.

Almost every day, I think about that man.

And I think about her liking him. Loving him.

Our marriage legally ended exactly one week after our nine-year wedding anniversary. And that was the day I found out her relationship with that piece of shit ended.

Not even five months after she left.

Not even five fucking months.

It was good that it ended.

But it was bad, too.

So cheap, my entire adulthood.

What a waste.

Acceptance and Healing

There was no healing during those five months. None. I foolishly tried online dating because I insanely thought that if I could be with someone else that I would balance the equation and not feel as bad.

As if that would put us back on equal footing.

But I wasn’t ready to date, and I sucked at it, too.

I was so tired of feeling like I didn’t have any control. Like she had the upper hand.

But she always did.

Once that relationship was over—and I knew she and my son were in a healthier, safer place—real, actual healing finally did begin.

That was August.

And here we are. Seven months later.

And, yeah.

I feel better.

I don’t know if I’m better. Sometimes when I talk to my father about divorce and he tells me stories about my mom driving me 500 miles away from him when I was four years old, I can hear the anger and resentment in his voice. More than three decades later, you can still hear the bitterness.

Maybe I will always feel this.

Maybe that’s my penance for all the things I got wrong in my marriage leading up to it breaking.

Maybe that’s going to be part of the fuel that helps me continue to grow as my years advance.

One year later?

I can breathe.

I can laugh.

I can relax.

I can enjoy being in my home.

I can look forward to seeing a girl who isn’t my wife.

I can say bye to my son without breaking down crying after he leaves.

But, one year later?

I can’t let go of the anger.

I can’t stop wanting her to care.

I can’t shut off my desire to try to protect her.

I can’t escape the memories that haunt me.

I can’t make her stop mattering.

She dropped off our son at my house over the weekend. I asked her if I could hug her. I do miss her. I do want her to know that I’m trying hard to be a big person. That I care.

She said I could.

So I did. And kissed her cheek.

She didn’t reciprocate.

Which is okay.

Because, one year later?

A lot of things are different. A lot of things are better.

But a few things?

They’re exactly the same.

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The Perfect Amount of Death

Comic by Tyson Cole.

Comic by Tyson Cole.

Austin Kleon starts every day by reading obituaries.

Not to be morbid.

Not to obsess about death.

Not to channel sadness.

But to celebrate life. To focus on the present. To live every moment.

Kleon is the author of Show Your Work!, which I loved, and Steal Like an Artist which will be the next book I read when it arrives today or tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking about the need to be aware of our mortality for a long time. I’ve written on the topic several times.

But Kleon really got me thinking about this.

We don’t have to be excessively morbid or sad or whatever about death. I’m not trying to be edgy or dark. I’m just stating a fact disguised as an opinion: We’re all going to die. We’re dead. A death sentence. All of us. Everyone we know and love and everyone we don’t know.

It doesn’t have to be so big and scary. And even if it is, we should use it as a tool right now.

It can be the perfect reminder to live.

The perfect amount of death.

The Infertility Plague

What if there were no more kids? No more babies? Like in P.D. James’ The Children of Men.

Seth Godin asks better questions than any journalist I’ve ever seen. That guy would have been an amazing reporter or television guy if he wanted to be. And he asked that one the other day.

Godin fires wisdom and thought-provoking commentary to my inbox multiple times per day. I feel guilty quoting the same guys over and over again, but hell. He’s the best for a reason.

He wrote his No more kids? post a couple days ago, and I think it applies to this “perfect amount of death” idea quite nicely.

“What if, in some sort of sci-fi solar flare cataclysm, it was impossible for humans to have more kids? No more babies.

How would we treat the last generation? Would we say to the youngest student on Earth, “sorry the school is really run-down and crowded and poorly staffed, but we don’t want to invest in you?” Would we let the last generation grow up in poverty, or would we do everything we could to ensure that this one last time, we did it right?

To make the example a bit more banal, what if your organization discovered that it would never have another new customer? That the customers you’ve got now are the last ones you will ever have… Would you treat them differently? 

Sometimes, when it seems like there’s an endless parade of prospects walking by, it’s easy to discount this particular person.

No new prospects, no more new web visitors, no more untouched email lists… And far more dramatically, no more new students, no more chances to open doors, inspire genius or create connection.

I wonder what happens when we treat children and customers like maybe, just maybe, they’re the last chance we get to do it right.” – Seth Godin

We Can’t Forget to Live

We all have the right to spend our time any way we choose.

My way is not necessarily more right or wrong than anyone else’s. In fact, it’s a certainty my way is more wrong in many instances.

All you have to do is look around you. At all of the wasted life and opportunity.

I’m not denigrating other people’s choices. But most people aren’t happy about them. It seems to me that most people regret the way their lives turned out, at least in some respects.

But what if we were permanently mindful of the fragility of it all?

What if there were no more kids?

What if there were no new friends?

What if we all had our Countdown to Death™ watches ticking away on our wrists?

You still choosing the huge wedding over world travel?

You still choosing the mortgage over financial freedom?

You still choosing the cubicle over things that fill your soul with joy and inspiration?

The perfect amount of death will remind us to do that, I think.

To not be afraid. And to not be sad.

Just an effective daily reminder.

To kiss the girl.

To laugh more.

To dance when it sounds good.

To take the leap.

To speak up.

To run faster than the dream so you can make it your life.

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The Man in the Mirror

Artwork by Suzanne Marie Leclair

Artwork by Suzanne Marie Leclair

I see him every morning when I step out of the shower.

We stare at one another again while I’m brushing my teeth before bed.

The guy in the mirror.

I used to wonder what he would look like in his mid-thirties. Back when he had his entire life ahead of him.

That kid was alright. Balanced. Unsure what he wanted to do with his life, but totally sure of himself.

That kid got pretty good grades in school. Got along pretty well socially. Loved by his parents. Confident with girls. Hopeful and optimistic about his future.

You could see it in his eyes. Good things were coming.

And he knew it.

What if You Couldn’t Wake From That Dream?

If you never woke from a very realistic, lucid dream, how would you ever know the dream world from the real world?

That makes me think about self-identity. How we view ourselves. And just how in tune with reality that image really is.

When you’re a confident kid growing up, and you start hearing about girls with eating disorders and whatnot in high school and college because they have an unhealthy and distorted self-image, or worse, the suicidal kids who feel completely unloved and useless, it’s not something you can understand.

At least it wasn’t for me.

I could never make sense of the beautiful people who didn’t know they were beautiful and would engage in self-destructive behavior chasing something that wasn’t real.

And I don’t just mean people with physical beauty. Because as we age and become less superficial, we discover beauty isn’t always packaged like cover girls and diamonds and sunsets.

We find it in a mother holding her newborn. In an elderly couple holding hands in the park. In a story about a college basketball player and his relationship with a gorgeous young cancer patient.

Somehow, as I aged, I lost confidence.

You watch your best friends go on to have beautiful marriages.

Highly successful careers.

Embark on ambitious adventure.

And you start reflecting on your life and comparing it to others or to what you thought it would look like when you were young and hopeful and optimistic.

But your life doesn’t look like that at all.

Your marriage doesn’t feel happy.

The bills pile up.

There are no vacations to exotic locations.

You don’t have fun with friends all the time like you used to because everyone’s busy.

You lose your job.

Family members die.

The downward spiral depresses you.

You’re not strong enough.

You’re a disappointment.

Everything falls apart.

You lose yourself.

Two Decades Later

Sometimes I’ll just stand there and stare. Letting the eye contact linger between me and the man in the mirror.

Who are you?

The hazel eyes have more green flecks than I remember.

There are signs of aging around them. Every glance at a clock or calendar sounds just a little bit louder than it used to.

Tick, tick, tick.

The gray hair is really coming in. A daily reminder that the kid I remember is, in a lot of ways, gone forever.

I miss seeing the self-assured smile. The eye twinkle that only hope can provide. A face free from the rigors of life’s occasionally cruel twists.

One of the girls I met recently calls me “gorgeous.”

She says it all the time. About that same face I see in the mirror. About that same body that can and should be so much more than it is.

I don’t see gorgeous. I still see the guy my wife left.

But I’m working to look past that. I’m working every day.

This morning, one of my co-workers—a guy who’s been married a long time and has a somewhat warped sense of what my life is really like—said casually in conversation that I was “awesome at meeting women.”

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Maybe I should let him read some old posts.

What is he seeing that I’m not?

He’s seeing something. My social life is inching its way back toward vibrancy. My dating life is light years ahead of where it was throughout every second of 2013.

Maybe there’s a lesson here. About perspective. About relativism. About what it means to be an adult.

We have two possible outcomes every day and most of the time, it’s a choice: Live or die.

If we’re going to be alive, we’re going to have mountains of shit pile up on us. And I choose life.

I think being an adult is a little like being a muscle.

I think once we’ve matured and stopped growing, we need to be broken down and put back together bigger and stronger.

To grow. To be tough enough. To be tall enough to ride.

I’m not gorgeous. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I’m not awesome at meeting women. But I met some. And they like me.

And maybe I waste too much time worrying about what I’m not, or what I used to be.

And maybe you do, too.

And maybe the people we see in the mirror aren’t who we think they are.

Maybe they’re something more.

Maybe they’re tough enough.

Maybe they’re tall enough.

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How Writing Brought Me Back to Life

Connect. Breathe. Say thanks. And, love.

Connect. Breathe. Say thanks. And, love.

I died a little the moment my wife told me over dinner she wasn’t sure she loved me anymore.

The world kept spinning. Life kept happening.

But not in my house.

I stopped living. Right then.

At first I was angry. Who the fuck does she think she is?

Then, terrified. What if she leaves? Oh my God. My life. My wife. My son.

Then, introspective. Hopeful. What have I done to cause this? What can I do to save it? How can I be a better husband? A better father? A better man?

But I never shook the fear.

Then I Secret-ed that shit into reality. She walked out.

Exactly 359 days ago. I’ll never forget.

The house was so empty. So quiet.

And then I died even more.

In the beginning, it was pure panic. I could barely move. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t focus.

I started watching The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad on Netflix to fill the hours, but I would have to rewind things over and over again because my mind wouldn’t stay focused on the story.

My favorite fiction writing on television couldn’t mask the enormity of all that real life in my midst—the bare spots on the walls, the messier-than-usual house, and the dead silence that greeted me when I walked in the house or woke up each morning.

I was desperate.

I tried to drink it off with friends, but it was hard for me to engage. Drunken conversations almost always involved me reflecting on the state of my life.

I’d meet a pretty girl at a party or a bar, or I’d be sitting around with my friends with whom I was CERTAIN were tired of me bringing them down when I was around.

Don’t talk about your divorce! Don’t talk about your divorce! DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR STUPID DIVORCE, ASSHOLE!, I would tell myself over and over again.

Within five minutes, I’d have talked about the divorce.

It’s like I couldn’t help myself. It would just spew out of me. The animated corpse. A zombie with a fake smile.

We Need Connection

Like your brain. It’s one big thing. But really it’s a bunch of connected little things. And if those connections disconnect, you die.

Romantic partners require connection. If you become disconnected from your spouse or partner, the relationship will die.

We need—(I think. I don’t know. I just know what happened to me and assume it happens to other people, too.)—to be connected to other people.

I died a little on the inside during the 18-19 months in which my marriage was in limbo.

Life was not being lived. Sleeping in that piece-of-shit guest room. Cut off from damn near everything that mattered to me.

Just sad and angry and crying and scared.

And I was on life support those first few months after she left. Because, literally, every dream I ever had about my future went up in flames. 359 days ago.

And Then There Was You 

I withdrew from friends and family.

Became somewhat reclusive for the social animal I really am.

And I attacked the keyboard. It was awkward telling people at parties and other places how shitty my life was, but dammit, it was cathartic telling you.

It was therapeutic.

It was healing.

Most importantly? It created connection.

We need it so bad. Like oxygen. And water. And love.

The writing connected us. The feedback connected us. The ideas connected us. The emotions connected us.

And it brought me back to life. One published post at a time.

I became reanimated.

Like watching your own child grow, it’s so gradual, you just look at them one day and think: Holy shit! When did they learn how to run and jump and talk and think and teach us about ourselves!?!?

One day, I just didn’t post to the blog.

Not because I didn’t want to. I always want to.

But because I didn’t need to.

Because I’m kind of alive again.

Lazarus, come forth.

Never Stop Connecting 

As soon as I realized what Twitter really was (an amazing place to connect and exchange ideas, as well as a totally customizable real-time breaking news feed) I fell in love with it.

I’ve never had much to say there. But I used to spend much of my free time perusing my feed for breaking news and hilarity.

Of all the social networks that exist today, Twitter in my opinion best reflects humanity.

And I completely vanished from Twitter when I “died.” And like most things you quit, it’s easy to forget why you liked or needed something in the first place when you stay away from it long enough.

I created the @MBTTTR Twitter account a couple months ago, and it’s been such a treat being reminded each day what an amazing place it is.

So much life and laughter and creativity and genius is exchanged there.

My favorite writer on the planet, James Altucher (@jaltucher), follows me thanks to a kind and generous tweet from Michael Maupin, author of Completely in the Dark (@completelydark) who graciously spends more time than I deserve reading things I write here.

I can’t explain to you the depths of the purely heterosexual man-crush I have on Altucher. Him following me on Twitter is the equivalent of a high school basketball player being followed by LeBron James or an aspiring pop star being followed by Justin Timberlake.

Twitter offers a lot of gatekeeper-free access to some of the most-brilliant minds on the planet. Reconnecting with Twitter has breathed even more life into these healing lungs.

Thank you, Life. I’m so grateful for you.

But We’re Not All Writers

Not everyone is going to have the inclination to connect the way I did. To just send little pieces of themselves out to the world and see what comes back.

That way is not for everybody.

But we are all human. And I am right about that whole oxygen, water, love thing. Those are critical to being alive.

Just like connection.

So you must find another way. The way that works best for you.

I need it.

And you need it.

And we can’t spend enough time doing it. (That’s what she said.)

Maybe you feel dead like I did.

And maybe you want to feel alive.

Connect!

With your friends. With your family. With your co-workers. With strangers. With God. And if you’re not into that—with the universe.

Just say “thank you.” Try to mean it. Fake it ‘til you make it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I borrowed a little bit of life from each person with whom I connected. And I continue to borrow that. But we can’t spend our lives taking and taking and taking.

So, we invite people to connect with us. And then they borrow a little bit of our life force.

Giving and taking. Sharing. Connecting.

Saving lives.

Making miracles.

Rising from the dead.

And then we’re all breathing again.

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The One Where Everything’s Different

Tomorrow happens.

Tomorrow happens.

At 4:37 a.m. Central Time, I turned 35.

I’m completely unfazed. I’m less interested and less affected by the occasion than anticipated.

But the build-up to today in my head was a little bit bigger than other birthdays.

Because even though the only constant in this life is change, this is my first birthday where everything feels different.

Statistically speaking, if life’s a race, I’m at the halfway point.

I am mathematically likely to die between the ages of 70-71, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

I’m not to a place in life where I spend a lot of time worrying about that. In fact, none at all. I always try to stay aware (unsuccessfully) that my clock could stop ticking any second. It’s hard to live passionately and with purpose if you’re not always aware of how precious life and time really are.

I am the sentimental sort. Always have been.

I am acutely aware of certain meaningful anniversaries. I like flipping the calendar on New Year’s. And I tend to think of birthdays like our own personal New Year’s. An opportunity to grow. To have a better year than the last.

Turning 30 was a pretty big milestone in a lot of ways.

I had been married five years. We just had our son. I was employed in a different industry.

I don’t remember how I felt on my 30th birthday. But I tend to always think five years down the road. About the metaphorical tomorrow.

Divorce Changes Everything

My wife and I used to talk about it a lot.

We’d learn of friends having marital problems. And there were others who seemed destined to have them. And of course, there were those wearing their masks, pretending everything was okay.

She and I would be driving around, or sitting at the dinner table, or hanging out in the living room.

The math said about half of our friends’ marriages wouldn’t make it.

But who? Certainly not ours! We love each other too much. That could never happen.

Maybe them, we’d say about a particular couple. Or possibly them, we’d say about others.

But not us.

We said it a bunch of times.

Not us.

But here we are. Five years later.

35.

And it was us.

It was me.

And now 35 feels so much bigger. If life was still “normal,” today would be even more of a non-issue than I consider it now. I don’t feel particularly weird. On the inside of me. There is more peace with the milestone than anticipated.

But that five-year plan? Gone.

And now there must be a new one. At least, that’s what my brain wants to do. It always wants this nice and neat and safe five-year plan where I have my eye on some end goal. Something to chase and work for.

And at age 35, I don’t have that.

I have absolutely no idea what my life might look like five years from now.

That has always been true.

But I just didn’t know it until now. And that’s the great lesson for me today. The reminder that our plans don’t always work out the way we want them to, or thought they might. That we are not promised tomorrow at all.

But the Sun Will Rise

With or without me.

The earth will spin. The sun will rise.

That’s my gift this year. And it’s my favorite gift of any I might receive. That growth. That maturity. That knowledge.

I thought of an important math equation on my drive to work this morning. I’m probably not the first person to come up with it:

My Choices + Time = Today

And acknowledgement of that equation—that truth—is my gift today.

I am here because of my choices combined with the natural course of time.

And wherever I am on my 40th birthday will be determined in large part by whatever My Choices are moving forward.

In my career. In my friendships. With my family. And in my romantic pursuits.

I’m 35.

And I’m getting sweet and thoughtful “Happy Birthday” text messages from girls I didn’t know 365 days ago.

Wow.

Because the future is uncertain.

Because life happens.

Chuck Noland said it in Cast Away.

“And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”

Maybe nothing.

Maybe something.

But for sure—opportunity.

If I wake, tomorrow happened.

Smile.

Because anything can happen.

And a lot of those possibilities are really good.

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The Phantom Traffic Jams

Traffic jam

You’re cruising down the highway, getting where you want to be.

Out of nowhere, you’re hitting your brakes.

Then, you’re completely stopped.

Sonofabitch.

You mutter a few bad words. Maybe you call or text someone to tell them you’ll be running late. Maybe your gas tank isn’t as full as you wish it was. Maybe one of your passengers has to pee. Maybe you do.

Or maybe you put a smile on your face. Maybe you grin and bear it.

I can’t control traffic. I can only control me.

Or maybe you lose your shit because you’re a person like me and are always in a hurry to get out of the car. Maybe you get irrationally upset when things annoy you while you’re behind the wheel and you turn into the ugliest version of yourself.

What the-!?!?

Usually, I mutter a bunch of horrible things that make Jesus and all of my dead relatives sad, and then I calm down and remember that I can only control me.

Eventually traffic gets moving again.

You’re super-curious.

What could have caused this massive traffic jam I’ve been stuck in for a half hour?

Eventually, you’re travelling at normal cruising speeds. There was no accident. No obstacle. No construction. No nothing.

A phantom traffic jam.

Weird.

The Power of One

Just one asshole.

That’s all it takes to cause a phantom traffic jam.

I have two routes to choose from every morning when I drive to work. One is highway. One is back roads.

A train crossing was flashing red lights at me this morning, so I turned onto the highway.

Traffic was horrible. Three lanes of horrible.

Some mornings, everything is fine. Many others are just like this. The results are generally the same on this stretch of road.

Phantom traffic jams.

I was in one this morning.

Just a bunch of drivers heading to work. Many people merging onto the highway, and pulling off on their various exits.

While we’re all human and mistake-prone, motor vehicle operation brings out the worst of humankind. And when there are a bunch of drivers travelling 70 miles per hour throughout three lanes of traffic, it only takes one mouth breather to slam on his brakes because he was texting and driving, or some attuned driver braking or swerving to avoid the girl furiously applying her makeup while talking on the phone to one of her friends while merging into highway traffic with a baby in the backseat.

“Horn (an MIT computer scientist) says it’s like a wave flowing backwards,” said NPR science correspondent Joe Palca in a radio interview that you can read here discussing phantom traffic jams. “People who study this talk about chaotic systems and positive feedback, but the practical consequences are that the amount of drivers having to slow down increases the further back you are from the original incident.”

Just one asshole.

Causing hundreds of drivers to make Jesus and their dead relatives sad.

It only takes one.

“Hey Matt! Who Gives a Shit?”

That’s a fair question.

Everything’s a metaphor with me these days. Even phantom traffic jams.

Because it only takes one incident (and that incident may have been an innocent mistake) to cause a huge chain of misery for a bunch of other people.

There’s no way to prevent these from happening. Because the world will always have selfish people taking and taking and taking, or some normal person accidentally getting it wrong.

The world will always have people who don’t care as much as others about doing the right thing.

Men who cheat and lie and abuse women are always going to “ruin it” for the rest of us.

Women who gold dig, use sex as a weapon, and abuse men are always going to “ruin it” for the women trying to do the right thing.

Naughty kids are always going to “ruin it” for the less-naughty kids.

Almost every crappy rule in the world is in place because of those select few who abused the freedom and privilege once afforded them.

Sometimes our spouses make thoughtless mistakes. Our children are clueless. Our friends are busy just like us.

We all accidentally annoy one another. Causing phantom traffic jams. Because we weren’t paying close enough attention.

We can choose to scream a bunch of obscenities and act like assholes. I’ll probably do that for at least a few seconds.

Or we can choose to be in control and make good choices.

Patience will get us through the incident at the exact same speed as if we act like assholes. And if we’re extra astute, we can choose a detour. A different route to get us where we need to be.

The road less traveled.

We can even do one better.

We can be part of the solution.

Paying attention. Keeping an appropriate distance away from the person in front of us. Keeping an eye on the person behind us.

Doing our little part to help ease the congestion by doing all the little things thoughtfully and conscientiously.

Being the change.

Making it just a little bit better for others and ourselves.

Until we’re all smooth sailing again.

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Faster Than Sound

The world's smartest people thought this might be impossible 80 years ago.

The world’s smartest people thought this might be impossible 80 years ago.

Bullets could do it.

Cannon balls could do it.

But no one knew whether a human being could do it.

The smartest people in the world didn’t know whether it was possible for an airplane—or a person inside—to withstand the physical pressures of travelling faster than sound.

There was only one way to find out: Try.

It required a group of people dedicated to the mission and the will to build something theoretically capable.

A group of people willing to ignore conventional wisdom. Who wouldn’t listen to the excuses for why they couldn’t.

And it required courage. Someone brave enough to be the first to do something new and different and dangerous.

A decade later, on Oct. 14, 1947, a huge boom reverberated across the Mojave Desert.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager piloted a rocket-powered plane faster than the speed of sound—the first known instance of man breaking the sound barrier.

A little hard work and bravery.

Changed the world.

What If?

I’m not a very brave person sometimes.

As a single guy, not a week goes by where I don’t see some girl I wish I had the courage to talk to, but I rarely do. Because I’m irrationally afraid of rejection as if I’ll be sitting around five years from now (or even five days from now) giving two shits about being rejected by some stranger I may have ended up not liking anyway.

And of course, she might say yes.

But sometimes I am brave. Sometimes I have the courage to ask. And sometimes they say yes.

There are moments when I feel awesome. Maybe it’s because I’m looking handsome-ish. Maybe it’s because my jokes are working. Maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by friends. Maybe it’s because of magic.

I don’t know how to bottle that magic, otherwise I would and drink it every day.

What if we could bottle that magic?

One of the world’s most-brilliant marketers is a man named Seth Godin.

He wrote this yesterday:

Happy wowday

Halloween gives you permission to dress up. April Fool’s, a chance to play a prank.

What if there was one day of the year where you had permission to do things that made people say, “wow.”

Acts of generosity or bravery or insight…

What if you focused and practiced and got your nerve up and leaned way over the edge, just one day of the year? If you could get out of your comfort zone for a few hours in a way that benefitted and delighted people you care about, what would that look and feel like?

Today might be your wowday.

Or tomorrow.

Up to you.

That guy often gets my wheels turning in ways others cannot.

I love being rebellious. Challenging the bullshit I observe. It’s because I almost never do it, and when I do, it’s because I strongly believe in whatever I’m fighting for or against.

My job in Corporate America has bullshit rules.

And our domesticated lives in the suburbs have bullshit rules.

And we walk around doing so many things—school, work, church, marriage, etc.—because we’re programmed like robots from the womb to do them.

A girl I went to high school with in Ohio moved to London for nearly three years.

Some of you are like: “Yeah, Matt. No big deal. People do things like that.”

Others are like me.

Move to another country? Are you insane? That’s big and scary and wayyyyy outside the box!

And listen, I don’t want to move to another country. I like the States. A lot. I live here on purpose. But it’s really just a metaphor for all of these things we do, somewhat thoughtlessly. Because it was sort of pounded into our heads from a young age that this is just what you do.

Is it?

It’s okay to do these things because we want to. Because we choose to. But, because we were brainwashed to? Because of habit?

Some habits are bad. Even if most other people do them, too.

Bullets broke the sound barrier before man because bullets are smart enough to stay out of their own way. That probably isn’t true. Bullets probably aren’t very smart at all.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.

If we strip away the doubt—all of the excuses for not doing something. If we ignore the people who tell us we can’t do it—that we’re not good enough. If we challenge the status quo—can’t we change the world like Yeager and his flight team?

Can’t we be bullets?

Can’t we break the sound barrier?

What if the only thing we did today was make or do something that made people say “wow”?

Just a bunch of people making magic?

I bet people would hear that for miles and miles.

I bet people would write about that day.

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The Dream Weaver

We can learn how to be unbeatable.

We can learn how to be unbeatable.

As the clock ticked down on my marriage, I was a total wreck of a human being.

I faked it well. To friends. To family. To co-workers.

I can fake a lot of things well.

But every single day was shitty. Suffocating. All I wanted was to feel like the person I married wanted me in her life. But that almost never happened anymore. It had been going on so long, I forgot what the old “normal” even felt like.

Sometimes she’d be extra-cold in the morning and I’d stand in my kitchen and cry before driving to work.

Sometimes she’d be extra-cold at night and go to bed without saying goodnight and she’d walk around our bedroom above me—each footstep a kick to the face. Sometimes I’d cry then, too.

It was extra pathetic.

But I like to talk about it because it’s embarrassing and I think it’s important to unload that stuff. I spent so many years not crying that I think I was saving it up for moments just like that. Similarly, I spent so many years wearing masks and hiding things about myself that I think I was saving up these embarrassing stories for moments just like this.

Men aren’t supposed to cry. Not the tough ones anyway.

Maybe I’m not tough.

The Karate Kid wasn’t tough. Daniel was getting his ass handed to him by the Cobra Kai until Mr. Miyagi morphed him into the champion of the All Valley Under 18 Karate Tournament.

Maybe I can learn The Crane Technique like Daniel.

I’m being obnoxious. But I’m also being serious. I don’t know whether I’m tough. Probably depends on how we define it.

But I’m beginning to believe very strongly that we can be anything we want or need to be.

So if the world needs me to be tough, I will be.

After all, I don’t cry much anymore.

The Wrong Side of the Bed

I felt super-shitty when I woke up this morning. And it’s not because I drank too much for St. Patrick’s Day. (I did not.)

It was because I had a very lucid dream about my ex-wife and she was upset with me.

It felt just like all of those mornings and nights where I was desperate to earn a smile or a hug or some kind of acknowledgement or approval, but never did.

I don’t remember even one detail from the dream. I only know she was upset with me. But more importantly, I cared.

I cared so much.

So, I woke up this morning a total wreck. Just like I was a year ago in the final hours and days of our dying marriage.

Why do I care?

I don’t know why I care. Habit? Programming I haven’t fully purged?

It’s really not important. I got cleaned up and started focusing on my day and I feel fine now.

But the memory of feeling horrible stuck with me. All because my ex-wife, whose approval I could never win, was living in my subconscious.

You’re not good enough!

This is good news.

That I can go from innocently living my life to feeling absolutely horrible because an imaginary version of someone was upset with me.

THAT’s how powerful my mind is.

It can take something that isn’t real and make it real.

I’m not a huge fan of Tony Robbins-like rah-rah speeches about the power of positive thinking. I don’t like corny things.

But I’m right about this.

I must be.

I wish you could have felt it, too. These extraordinarily powerful feelings because of something that didn’t even happen.

It’s good news.

It means I can choose how I feel.

It means I get to decide who I want to be.

It means I can live my dreams.

It means I can make the impossible possible.

And I don’t know much.

But I think it means you can, too.

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How to Get Lucky

A four-leaf clover is easier to find than you think. You just need to be prepared.

A four-leaf clover is easier to find than you think. You just need to be prepared.

“Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur, Dec. 7, 1854

The odds of finding a four-leaf clover are about one in 10,000.

Those are long odds.

But you can give yourself a huge advantage by attacking the mission with a prepared mind.

A four-leaf clover is a mutation of normal three-leaf clover. Geography and time of year contribute to the frequency of the mutation. I don’t have any clue where they are more likely to occur. But I did read the mutation is more likely to happen in late summer than during other times of the year.

I also read that there are several types of clover. But there is one type more susceptible to the mutation than other types. The Trifolium repens—the clover patches you see with the little white flowers that make your lawn look extra shitty—is the variety statistically most likely to have four-leaf clovers within the patch.

So, with that information…

How to Find a Four-Leaf Clover

  1. Take advantage of the late-summer weeks and months. The four-leaf clover mutation occurs more frequently then.
  2. Locate a patch of the white-flowered clover. The mutation occurs most often in that type of clover.
  3. Do not sit on the ground going through each, one by one. Stand up for the “birds-eye” view of the patch. You’re not looking at just one then. You’re looking at hundreds. And as your brain adjusts to the visual rhythm of three-leaved clover, your eyes will more easily be able to pick out the four-leaved anomalies.
  4. Clover grows from roots like every other plant. So, when you find one, you’ll be more likely to find others nearby. Because other clover sprouted from the same root system will share the same genetic code, making it EVEN MORE likely to find some. A four-leaf clover “hot spot,” so to speak.

Ta-da! You found a four-leaf clover. Lucky.

Luck is still a factor.

But, going in prepared? You position yourself to get infinitely luckier than everyone who didn’t prepare to get lucky.

How to Be Lucky in Four Steps

James Altucher is my favorite person I have never met. I love him. And I’m going to keep writing about him because I think everyone should be reading him and thinking about the things he thinks about because the world will be a better place if everyone does that.

In his writing, he often includes his personal method for achieving balance in a world that’s out of balance. He calls it The Daily Practice.

There are four components. Think of them like four legs under a table: Physical, Emotional, Mental, Spiritual.

The four quadrants of your life. And if you keep them healthy and steady, your table won’t wobble.

If you neglect one or more of them, your table is going to be shitty and annoying and out of balance.

You owe it to yourself, and to all of the people you love, and to all of the people who love you to make your table awesome. Like an Amish craftsman would.

Be Abram Yoder. Or Miriam Hershberger. Or Jacob Miller. (Those are apparently super-common Amish names. *shrug*)

Altucher is a genius.

And if you’re willing to accept, as I have, that we need to make changes in our lives in order to experience the inner peace and happiness we all crave, then I beg you to spend some time reading and thinking about the following:

How to be THE LUCKIEST GUY ON THE PLANET in 4 Easy Steps

Because you don’t have to feel shitty.

You don’t have to feel weak.

You don’t have to feel scared.

You don’t have to feel unloved.

You don’t have to sit around waiting for the world to deliver you a better option.

You can take it yourself.

There are no guarantees. Even if you do everything right. Even if you’re fully prepared, there’s still no guarantee you’re going to find any four-leaf clover.

But the world isn’t going to do too much of the work for us.

We can sit around letting things happen to us, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad.

Or we can take what’s ours.

Get lucky.

And make shit happen.

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Play ‘Til the Ninth Inning

Be a closer.  Image courtesy of blog.fantasysp.com

Be a closer.
Image courtesy of blog.fantasysp.com

Two horrible things happened to me after turning 30.

I lost my job.

And I lost my family.

In both instances, the cuts were deep. I’ve never known rejection like either of those incidents.

To be sure, your wife leaving and deciding to love someone else makes you feel pretty worthless.

And generally speaking, divorce is about a million times worse than unemployment.

But this is also true: I have never felt like more of a loser than when I was laid off from my job.

The Job Hunt

The local job market wasn’t exactly clamoring for laid-off newspaper reporters.

Finding work as a reporter would have been even more difficult than what I was facing at age 30: Reinventing myself.

I did the only things I could. I made my résumé the best it could be. I tapped into my local network. And I started doing the work I wanted to do in my new professional life.

Without realizing it, I chose myself.

I caught a few breaks, and I started a freelance business creating marketing content for several companies and organizations.

But I did something more important than that.

I showed tenacity and sticktoitiveness.

A company for which I wanted to work invited me to interview for an opening in their advertising department.

But I didn’t get an offer.

The head of human resources liked me, though, and kept fighting for interviews.

One day, I showed up for one of the company’s job fairs. I met with another department head for a writing position.

But I didn’t get an offer.

I was invited to interview with a third department. Internet marketing.

It went well. But the other two had also.

No offer.

Days turned into weeks. And weeks turned into months.

I kept looking for opportunities. I was making money freelancing. And I still qualified for unemployment benefits during the weeks when I didn’t earn as much as my benefits were worth.

The clock was ticking on unemployment, though. The benefits were a couple weeks away from running dry.

Things were about to get really dicey.

One sunny afternoon, I was downtown attending a chamber of commerce luncheon to hear a speaker.

So, I didn’t get the phone call.

Back in my car, I listened to the voice mail.

It was the HR lady who liked me, asking me to call back. She had a job offer for me. For more money than I’d ever made before. She hoped I was still interested and available.

I’d never tasted victory so sweet.

I got ballsy and asked for more money anyway. (You should ALWAYS ask for more.)

And I got it. Two years worth of raises with one simple question.

Play ‘til the ninth inning.

I’m just finishing up the fantastic Austin Kleon book Show Your Work! which I mentioned yesterday. Everyone participating in the creative process should read it.

Near the end, Kleon tells an anecdote about one time he and a co-worker returned to their office building from lunch to find no parking spaces available. They circled and circled and circled the lot. Both were ready to give up, but just then a spot opened up, and they pulled in.

Kleon’s co-worker looked at him and said “You gotta play till the ninth inning, man.”

Kleon never forgot it.

And I hope I never will either.

Never Say Die

You don’t have to be a Goonie to appreciate what it means to have a never-quit attitude.

It’s impossible for me to think about this without thinking about my marriage.

I had spent a long time doing all of the wrong things.

And then my father-in-law died and everything turned to shit.

Shortly thereafter, I was in the guest room.

The guest room is an interesting place when it’s located directly below the bedroom you want to be in.

Because you stare at the ceiling. Because you hear her footsteps. Because there’s no running away from all that truth piled up on your chest while you’re trying to catch your breath.

And that’s when it started.

It was the 7th inning stretch.

I was tired. Exhausted. But I wasn’t quitting.

I cried.

I thought.

I prayed.

I read books.

I grew.

I was about to lose everything. I could feel it. But I was holding on.

The guest room is where I learned that love is a choice.

The guest room is where I learned that you have to give more than you take.

The guest room is where l became a different person. Where I turned into the kind of man that is going to play through the ninth inning.

And now I’m left with only questions. Questions that will go forever unanswered.

Now I’m back sleeping where I wanted to be. But the footsteps echoing into the guest room below are my own.

And no one is around to listen to them.

She’s gone.

Maybe she thinks about this stuff sometimes. Maybe she doesn’t.

But here’s the one thing I’m sure of.

The man she left was the best version of himself she ever knew.

And I’ll never stop believing that if she would have been willing to play just one more inning, we could have avoided everything crashing and burning.

Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore.

It probably doesn’t.

But the idea matters.

Because there are a bunch of other guys in guest rooms. On couches. Sleeping at their parents’ houses. All over the world.

Relationships in limbo.

Everyone’s hurting. Hurting so bad that quitting looks like an attractive option. Most people are going to quit. Because it’s the decision requiring the least amount of effort. The least amount of pride swallowing. The least amount of choosing love.

Everyone wants to fall in love. Few of us want to choose it when it’s inconvenient.

I have truckloads of regret over my marital missteps. But I sleep at night because of how I played toward the end of the game.

Maybe you’ll climb that mountain.

Maybe you’ll get that job.

Maybe you’ll save your family.

Or maybe you won’t.

But if you can muster up the strength and courage to play ‘til the ninth?

You’ll walk tall no matter what.

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