Category Archives: Work

Help Me Find a Partner

partner

My wife would get frustrated with me because sometimes I don’t finish things.

It’s a pattern that reemerges in my life repeatedly. A new idea captures my attention. I obsess about it. I dive right in, fully immersing myself in it, sometimes at the expense of other things.

I think that became exhausting for her because she isn’t that way.

I think she saw it as a sign of immaturity and lack of discipline.

I know she saw it as a weakness.

Discovering Strengths

I participated yesterday in a self-assessment program called StrengthsFinder, a program run by The Gallup Organization (the polling institution) designed to help people better understand their strengths and behaviors.

Strictly from a personality-profile standpoint, it reaffirmed what I already knew about myself.

Strength #1 – I am inquisitive.

I have a naturally curious mind. I collect information. I crave and pursue knowledge. I tend to collect things that interest me. I am interested in many things, so I am constantly trying to learn new things.

Strength #2 – I love meeting people and making friends.

I love meeting strangers and learning about them. I want to discover common interests and build connections. There is no such thing as too many friends.

Strength #3 – I am fascinated by new ideas.

“You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are,” my assessment report said.

No sentence in the history of the written word has more accurately described me. It is the very premise on which the majority of this blog’s content is based.

Strength #4 – I am hopeful and fascinated by the future.

I dream of every aspect of life being better in the future than it is now. It is that vision for my future and the future of those close to me that drives me each day. I am a dreamer. And I pursue those dreams. But, sometimes…

Strength #5 – I have an inherent need to start a new project or hobby.

I am interested in many new things, and when something captivates me, I need to be a part of it and throw myself into it. That makes me awesome at idea generation and starting exciting new adventures, but that also lends itself to me “quitting” things in favor of chasing the next dream that has captured my intense interest.

Something dawned on me very quickly as I evaluated my results and contemplated their meaning.

Everyone has a very different, very specific combination of strengths. And when those strengths don’t jibe exactly with our individual goals, or don’t align with our strengths, we can convince ourselves that…

Lack of Strength = Weakness

And that’s a lie. A lack of strength is an opportunity.

My ex-wife can be very shy. She is sometimes not a good networker or can come across as unfriendly because of her shyness and general preference for surrounding herself with a few close friends and leaning heavily on them.

And I might be guilty of thinking of my wife’s shyness as a weakness, instead of properly identifying her strength as a loyal friend who builds super-tight bonds with those closest to her.

Similarly, my wife thought I was undisciplined and flighty instead of recognizing what I actually have is a strong ability to generate new ideas and passionately pursue new challenges.

Our individual strengths are hardwired into every one of us.

I Want to Write Books

As you can imagine, my strength profile makes it very difficult for me to see a project somewhat epic in scope (like a book) through to completion on my own.

Frankly, that applies to virtually every aspect of my life (I’ve said many times that much of what ails me will naturally work itself out when I have a full-time romantic partner again).

The woman (a friend) who is coaching me through this StrengthsFinder process said: “Based on a cursory look at your strengths, you’re gonna need a partner,” in regards to completing book projects.

“What do you mean? A co-author?” I said.

“You’re a starter. But can tend to let things cool… a co-author… a publisher pushing you. Someone you empower to give you deadlines,” she said. “You need a partner of some kind who can propel you. Motivate you. You’ll have to figure out what that looks like.”

“Interesting,” I said. “Maybe an editing partner.”

“Exactly,” she said.

I love writing. I have a lot to say. And I’m very close to being ready to pull the trigger on these larger writing projects I have floating around in dozens of notebook pages, computer files and folders.

My favorite writer James Altucher often writes about the need for collaboration.

“There’s no such thing as a lone genius,” he writes. “Every Steve Jobs has a Steve Wozniak. Every Marie Curie has a Pierre Currie. Every Lennon has a McCartney. Even the most isolated genius (Picasso) had a Braque.”

I am no “lone genius.” I think that goes without saying.

But I do really want to finish these book ideas, if for no other reason than to learn how (or how to NOT) write and publish a book. It’s time to get started.

But I need a partner.

I don’t just want a partner. I need one. And I’m DONE thinking if I keep doing the same thing over and over and over again, it’s going to magically work one day. It will ALWAYS end the same if you keep trying the same thing.

We can call it a weakness if you must.

But I’m going to embrace my strengths. Everyone has them. And I’m going to leverage them. And I’m going to supplement my missing strengths with people in possession of the ones I need to accomplish my goals.

And I need one of those now. A person who possesses what I’m missing.

Are you a writer who has worked with an editor you like and respect? Are you an editor looking for a new project? Do you know how to find editors outside of traditional publishing? Do you have any tips for how to know when you’ve found the right person to work with on your most-important work?

I’m asking for your help.

I need a partner.

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The Bad Rules 

Bad rules irritate me.

Bad rules irritate me.

I handed the barista a $20 bill because I wanted to break it and leave her a tip.

“Thank you so much,” she said, “but we can’t accept tips.”

The Starbucks was co-located inside an elaborate new grocery store in my neighborhood. I gestured to my surroundings.

“Because you’re in here?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Feel free to not answer this question, but are you financially compensated for your inability to accept tips?” I said.

Without turning around, a second Starbucks barista behind her said: “No. No, we’re not.”

“So let me get this straight: The new Starbucks across the street has a bunch of workers in it and they all split the tips. You guys also work at Starbucks maybe 200 yards away and are paid the same wages, but can’t receive tips?”

“Exactly,” she said.

“Hmm. Sounds like bullshit to me. Thanks so much for the coffee.”

For all of capitalism’s faults, there is something beautiful about the freedom to pursue whatever work you want and for employers to be able to hire anyone they choose and pay them (so long as it’s at least the federally mandated minimum wage) whatever the employee is willing to work for.

Meaning, much of the responsibility lies with the employees who chose to work at a Starbucks where tipping isn’t allowed. They have the freedom to try to get a job at a Starbucks that does allow tipping. And they can get a job in an entirely different line of work if they so choose.

However.

I HATE BAD RULES.

Decision makers sit in board rooms and fancy offices and make decisions. These are presumably the smartest people in a particular company, so I’m always floored by the decisions that seem so poorly conceived.

I’m speaking out of school here about this particular Starbucks co-located inside this particular grocery store. I’m not privy to the legal terms of the two companies’ relationship, nor whether the Starbucks is owned by a franchisee and how that might factor in.

That said, I have a fundamental problem with a Starbucks employee doing the exact same job as another Starbucks employee literally across the street but making less money for it by virtue of a rule preventing that employee from receiving tips in a line of work where tipping is a common and expected practice and income supplement.

I know a guy who goes to school and works part-time at a Starbucks. I have no idea how many hours he works, but it’s not uncommon to earn an extra $50 per week from tips.

Quick and dirty math: If an employee is making $10 per hour and working 20 hours per week part time, they’re earning $200 per week, and $10,400 per year.

An employee earning an additional $50 per week in tips would earn $2,600 more per year than an employee not getting tips.

Thus, the tipped employee doing the same job as the non-tipped employee is earning about 25 percent more. Doing the same job! In the same town! Across the street!

And I don’t get it. And I don’t like it. Because it’s a bad rule.

And bad rules are bullshit.

Anyone With a Job Gets It

And if you don’t, you’re fortunate. Because many companies have bad rules.

For example, I have a job where in addition to my paid time off, I also have a week of unpaid time that I’m allowed to use. BUT. I’m only allowed to use it AFTER I’ve exhausted my paid time off. You know, at the end of the year when you’re spending the most money on gifts and travel and presumably have the least amount of budgetary wiggle room.

What would be the harm in letting employees use their unpaid time whenever they want?

It’s a “Because I said so” rule, and I’m particularly not fond of those sorts of edicts.

How about this one?: Single parent’s child gets sick and is forced to use vacation time to care for the child (and probably also get sick and use EVEN MORE time.)

You know what I do for a living? I write stuff. On the internet. And communicate via email with my co-workers, many of whom are close enough to speak to without moving from my office chair.

Millions of people have jobs exactly like mine.

Tools for the job? Functioning computer. Internet access. Maybe a phone.

If an employee can get her job done despite having a sick child at home (and won’t the proof be in the pudding based on production?), why are we punishing said employee simply because she can’t make it into the office?

Is she competent enough to stay in touch via phone and email and send in her electronic work electronically? I know I am. And I know that my superiors know how much work I typically get done in a day or week, and it would be simple enough to gauge how much work got done when I wasn’t physically present in the office.

I have every confidence that millions and millions of employees globally can do the same thing. Maybe the weather’s severe and driving conditions are dangerous and the kids have a snow day at school. Maybe a million different things that shouldn’t matter so long as the work is getting done at the expected quality.

But in many instances, they are punished for things completely outside their control.

One sick child equals one less vacation day. And for what? So they couldn’t be physically babysat by an adult?

It’s a bad rule.

And it’s bullshit.

We don’t have to tolerate bad rules and policies.

Slavery.

Women’s suffrage.

Prohibition.

Those are huge things that should not be compared to silly corporate policies, but are great examples of people rising up in opposition to things that don’t make sense.

There is A LOT of gray area in this world. So much that half of all voters in the United States believe something almost completely opposite of the other half about virtually every political topic. They’ll scream at each other and hurl insults in private conversation and on cable news talk shows.

It’s very frustrating sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The open exchange of new and different ideas is how the world becomes better. And how we grow.

But sometimes there really isn’t any gray area.

Sometimes, things are just bullshit and make little sense.

We should do something about those things.

You.

Me.

When?

Now?

Yes.

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The World Needs Clock Punchers

time clock

I bet I’ll panic when I’m dying.

I get nervous about things. And I’m pretty sure I’ll be nervous about dying.

Scared probably, unless I’m in so much pain I welcome the relief.

What will I think about?

I can only guess. But I’ve always been a good guesser. I will think about my son, hopefully an older man himself at that point. Maybe I’ll have grandchildren. Maybe there will be a woman I love. I don’t know.

But I do know one thing.

Much of what I feel will be predicated on my satisfaction with my life choices.

On whether I lived in fear, grinding out my prime years behind cubicle walls in a corporate office.

On whether I lived courageously. And took my shots.

A guy I work with thinks I’m too ambitious. He thinks maybe I’m not grateful for my job and the money I make even though I am.

Today, I was editing a contributing writer’s column for our company blog. The writer is a long-time, well-respected, talented auto mechanic and hot rod builder.

While describing how to fix something, he wrote about a tool needed to complete the job. According to this long-time industry expert, no tool of this kind exists for automotive applications. Only in woodworking, and they are all insufficient for precision metal cutting.

I turned to my co-worker and said: “People need this tool. Why is it no one’s making it?”

It sparked a conversation about filling needs in the marketplace. About how you capitalize on opportunity.

But it quickly turned.

“Do you really want to work 60-hour weeks?” he said. “Because that’s what it takes to start a business.”

“Well. I think there’s an argument for putting in long hours early, so that you can work less and earn more as you age,” I said.

“I don’t want to do that,” he said. “I just want to work my 40 hours and go home. The world needs clock punchers.”

Everyone Has a Role

He’s right, of course.

The world does need worker bees. The productive people needed to execute the various tasks that make businesses function effectively, providing their goods or services to customers.

Not everyone will be a boss.

Not everyone will earn top salaries.

Not everyone will accumulate financial wealth.

I have a friend preparing for law school. She’s taking the LSAT soon and has been highly stressed about it and other life happenings. Go-to-the-hospital stressed.

“This is important,” she said of the test, trying to justify the stress.

“No it’s not,” I said. “In 500 years we will all be dead and it won’t have mattered at all.”

She understood me.

“When you think about that… that so few things actually matter… what does it make you want to do?” she said.

We’re all going to die and none of this petty stuff matters at all.

We FREAK about all this stuff. Money. Spats with our spouses or parents or children or siblings or friends. About things going on at work. About some task that “needs” taken care of because we’re always busy, busy, busy! So much to do!

It doesn’t matter.

It’s amazing we’ve all convinced ourselves it does.

I thought about her question. What does it make me want to do?

You’ll probably think it’s cliché. But I said: “Love.”

Not romantic love. The kind where you shine light in the darkness.

I said: “Forgive.”

There is no peace without forgiveness. There can be no happiness without peace.

I said: “Laugh.”

Even though I can’t find any scientific proof to back it up, I hear over and over again the claim that children laugh about 300 times a day and that adults laugh less than 20.

Even if it’s not true, it IS true that life gets harder and grayer and crueler and heavier as you age. You grow up and make mistakes and the stains from guilt and past mistakes and sinif you believe in such a thingdarken our insides.

We feel just a little less innocent.

Just a little less hope.

Just a little less joy.

But if we could laugh 300 times a day, I think it would help.

I said: “Seek adventure” as my fourth answer to the question: What does the realization that most of the things we do not mattering make me want to do with this time I get to be alive?

For me?

Adventure is being spontaneous.

Adventure is travel.

Adventure is meeting strangers.

All four answers have one thing in common: The desire for FREEDOM.

The optimum human experience, near as I can tell, would be one where we woke up each day feeling safe, with the resources (financial or otherwise) needed to care for ourselves and our loved ones, and the freedom to spend our waking hours pursuing our passions however we wanted.

Hopefully, those passions would often serve something greater than ourselves, lest we find ourselves always drunk or high or having sex.

I keep trying to find a workaround. But I haven’t solved the riddle.

Near as I can tell, we have two choices to achieve a state of abundance.

Acquire wealth—to whatever degree you define it. (Some people crave $75,000 per year. Others crave $1 million per.)

Or, live a minimalist lifestyle. Reducing “need” eliminates the pressures and necessity of acquiring more money to pay for more things.

I prefer a combination. Spiritually, I do not want to need “things” because things have never made me feel happy or content for very long. Not even once.

But I also crave money because there are things I want to do (including charity) that I am unable to do at my current income level.

So, my plan is to acquire more money sans the desire for more “stuff.”

See You in 10 Years

I was irritated with my co-worker because I think he lacks vision and passion.

My co-worker was irritated with me because he thinks I’m an ingrate.

“Some people aren’t cut out for more than office work,” he said. “In 10 years, I’ll probably be gone, and you’ll probably be sitting right here. See you in 10 years!” he said.

There’s nothing wrong with punching a clock. Our jobs do not define us. Our jobs that won’t matter one bit in 500 years when we’re all dead.

But freedom?

Freedom matters. Because we don’t have a lot of time. And because we’re all going to die.

And we’re all going to have to ask ourselves: Did I give it everything I had?

Keep telling me what I can’t do, friend.

The world needs clock punchers.

But I’m not going to be one of them.

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Bring the Target Closer

Shooting-Target

When life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins was 24, he wanted to train U.S. soldiers to shoot better, despite having never fired a gun.

How can I—a guy who has never shot a gun—teach someone else to improve their shooting?, he wondered.

The first thing he did was find five sharpshooting experts and interview them extensively. He then cross-referenced his notes from all five interviews and found commonalities among them.

From those conversations he formulated his strategy for improving the accuracy of soldiers’ shooting: Bring the target closer.

He brought the targets only a few feet away for each student. Of course, everyone shot bullseyes. Then he moved them back one foot. Everyone shot perfectly again. Then he moved them another foot. More success. And so on.

This incremental and confidence-building improvement strategy increased shooting accuracy in the school by 50 percent.

All from the mind of a guy who had never before fired a gun.

I read about this yesterday in James Altucher’s excellent “10 Things I Learned While Interviewing Tony Robbins About His New Book ‘Money’.”

Altucher added one more anecdote from Robbins that really resonated with me. 

Look at Goals Differently

Altucher wrote:

“Tony told us of one time he asked people what their goals were. One guy said, ‘I want to make a billion dollars!’ At first this would seem like an admirable goal—set it high! There’s that horrible saying, “Aim for the moon, because even if you miss it you’ll find yourself among the stars.

“But Tony said, this guy didn’t really understand his goal.

He broke it down. ‘Why do you want a billion?’ And the first answer was, ‘I want my own plane.’ Tony told him, ‘Well a plane costs $100 million and you might only be flying 12 times a year. If you charter a jet for $30,000 an hour then it will take you forever to spend $100 million.’ So suddenly the guy didn’t need $1 billion anymore. He needed $900 million.

“By the end of that session,” Tony said, “it turns out to achieve the exact lifestyle he thought he needed a billion for, he needed $10 million.” This is still a lot of money but this was Tony’s way of bringing the target closer.

“When I read that in his book, I did the exercise with Claudia (James’ wife). Her numbers went down by 90% when we really went through it. What happens then? You feel relief. You don’t have to be on the hamster wheel of money for your whole life. What you want is freedom, not money.”

The Five Steps to Succeed at Anything

In the interview with Robbins, Altucher said, “Ok, I figured it out. You use ‘the Tony Robbins Method’”. Which he defined as:

1. At first you don’t know anything.

2. You find five people who are the experts in the world.

3. You extensively interview them.

4. You figure out the most simple things they have in common with each other.

5. You do that simple thing over and over and over and over (repetition).

And that’s how you succeed at anything.

Elegant, it’s simplicity.

Discovering Shortcuts Usually Requires Knowing the Long Way

Whenever I move to a new city, I find I’m always travelling the main streets and busiest thoroughfares at first because they’re the easiest to remember and the first ones you get to know as you’re learning your way around.

Inevitably, as I drive around, over and over and over and over again, I hone my sense of direction and increase my comfort and familiarity with my surroundings.

After a year or two in a place? I learn all the side streets and back roads. The ones that help me avoid busy, annoying intersections, or help me efficiently navigate obstacles, or shave minutes off my work commute.

I learn the shortcuts and become a proficient driver only after learning the long way first.

We’re always looking for shortcuts.

To riches.

To physical fitness or attractiveness.

To expertise.

To love or sex or friends or success.

And maybe that’s a bad plan. Maybe if we accidentally find ways to improve speed and efficiency, it’s great or fortunate or because we’re fast learners.

But maybe most of the time the best way to get really good at something is to really embrace that incremental improvement mentality.

Maybe the best way to improve our lives is to always make sure we’re looking at goals differently.

You want to have a happy marriage?

Practice communicating with kindness and patience, no matter what. Love without expecting or demanding anything in return.

Never say mean things. Ever. And if you can never say something mean to your spouse for one day, maybe you can do it for two. And three. And four. And maybe after a month of kindness you realize you can do it every day and that it’s worth it because you feel peace and happiness you’ve never felt before.

If I did 50 pushups today, couldn’t I do 51 tomorrow? And 52 the next day? And 53 the day after that?

How long before I’d be the strongest I’d ever been?

We have these small successes. And we know we can improve upon them the next time. We can ALWAYS improve. Just 1%.

Just one measly percent.

And then we’re a little better. A little smarter. A little stronger. A little kinder. A little richer. A little happier.

And then someone asks you how you are.

“I’m great. Really great,” you say.

And you smile.

Because it’s true.

You are great.

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We Only Need 5% To Say Yes

power-of-5percent

I work in a cubicle and I’m 35 and my life is always going to feel a little crappy and disappointing unless I do something about it.

Going to bed every night and doing the same thing each day is NOT a viable strategy for improving your life. We wait for things to change. But they rarely do.

Before you know it, it’s too late and you’re old and you can’t afford to live until you’re 85 anyway, so maybe it would be better to just die because at least that would be affordable.

Or.

Just maybe there’s an opportunity to play a leading role in making our lives what we want them to be.

Being 35 sometimes scares me because I feel like I’ve lost so much time, but it’s also not without its perks.

Remember Bill Murray’s Phil Connors character in Groundhog Day?

“Maybe the real God uses tricks, you know? Maybe he’s not omnipotent. He’s just been around so long, he knows everything.”

There’s an important truth there about life experience that you can’t fully appreciate until you feel it.

I don’t know when it happened. And it had nothing to do with my chronological age.

But at some point, I recently concluded: I’m not a kid anymore. I’m good at a few things. I’m capable, and I need to do something.

When I lost my job on Jan. 1, 2010, I knew my newspaper career was over.

The recession had slaughtered newsrooms everywhere. When no one’s making money, no one’s advertising. When no one’s advertising, news organizations are making less money.

That, combined with the breakneck speed with which the internet has grown as everyone’s primary news source, sealed print journalism’s fate.

The news business will never be what it used to be.

I needed to reinvent myself.

And I’ve never done particularly well with change.

Because of people I knew through my wife, I got some seed projects to get started as a freelance writer. And just like that, I became a guy who wrote marketing copy for websites and stuff.

I’m not shitty.

But there are limitations to what you can do when your primary discipline is writing. I was never going to be able to provide the comprehensive services people need from their internet marketing agencies, consultants, or in-house departments.

And frankly? I’m just not responsible and disciplined enough to handle all of the administrative aspects of business operation on my own. It’s because I’m a large child.

My business was never going to blossom into something more on the merits of my writing projects.

Damn. I need to get a job, I realized.

And I did.

I was offered a pretty good job writing website copy and blog content for two top-1% (by global traffic) sites. I also write email copy. The kind you get from Kohl’s or Groupon or Walmart or Victoria’s Secret.

We send lots and lots of email to customers.

We get an enormous amount of traffic from Google and other search engines and social media networks.

And you know how many of those people buy something? Single-digit percentages.

Sometimes less than 1%. Sometimes closer to 10%.

Let’s split the difference and call it 5%.

That means that for every 100 people that interacts with something I write—a blog post or retail email or an individual part page on a website where something is for sale, only a super-small fraction (maybe 5, at most!) ever buy anything.

We call it the “conversion rate.”

And guess what? In my line of work, a 5% conversion rate is fairly awesome.

Is There a Point?

A couple friends and I are talking about taking the skills we’ve developed in marketing and trying to build something from it.

A business of our own.

There are a virtually infinite amount of small businesses out there who do a subpar job marketing themselves on the web. We can make them more money. We know it. And better yet? We can prove it. Because almost everything is measurable on the web.

It will be a side project at first.

And God-willing, it will grow into something meaningful. Only time will tell.

But here’s the mindset I want to have, and I think it applies to most facets of my life.

In business, as in life, we’re going to hear “No” a lot. It’s probably going to feel too often.

Rejection hurts. And we get discouraged.

Based on the math I see, 95% of everyone who sees my stuff doesn’t do what I want them to.

That’s 95% rejection!!!

And without context that might feel like a lot.

But I do have context. You can change the world with a 5% response rate.

If 5% are going to do what we want to, then we only need to increase the amount of people we’re communicating with to grow. If 5% out of every hundred businesses we pitch say yes, we have five new clients.

Work twice as hard, we’ll have 10. And so on.

The conclusion? Success is a virtual certainty IF only you’re brave enough to ask enough people to let you help them, and then deliver good work.

We can hear “No” and feel the pains and discouragement of rejection 95 out of 100 times, and still win.

It may end up nothing. Or it may change everything.

No matter what, it’s another opportunity to choose ourselves and control our own destinies.

And there aren’t many things in life better than that.

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The Level Playing Field

typewriter

I will never be able to run faster than Usain Bolt or swim faster than Michael Phelps.

I will never be as intelligent as Neil deGrasse Tyson or Stephen Hawking.

I will never throw a football as well as Peyton Manning or dunk a basketball like LeBron James.

I lack the physical prowess, mental aptitude and genetic resources necessary to be a great athlete or a genius astrophysicist.

But I look down at these keys I punch expertly like an old pro: 26 letters, 10 numbers and a handful of symbols.

That’s it.

That’s all there is.

And my fingers dance. A beautiful sound I fell in love with during my days in the newsroom. An orchestra of tapping. The sound of a thousand word choices being made simultaneously in the great exchange of ideas.

One of my biggest childhood regrets is that I never learned how to play an instrument. I’ve owned two guitars, pianos and keyboards, and a full drum set. And other than some average-at-best trumpet playing in middle school, I’ve never been able to make music—something I love very much.

I have a mother and sister who are both very talented, musically.

I wish I’d inherited those same gifts.

Equal Opportunity – Since 1878

The modern QWERTY standard keyboard has been around since 1878. I once made the keyboard a metaphor for dating after divorce. It totally worked.

That’s how long everyone has had to get to know these keys: 136 years.

I haven’t taken any polls, but my guess is there is a higher percentage of proficient typists living in 2014 than there’s ever been given that so much of our time is spent in front of computers or mobile devices all using the same keys.

I just look at it. It’s simple genius. My brain completely ill-equipped to understand how I’m able to punch all these keys in exactly the right order to make each sentence. Endless possibility. That’s what this device represents. A world without limits.

This is the keyboard used by William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and the New Testament Gospel writers. (Just kidding.)

But it WAS used by Mark Twain. By George Orwell and Hunter S. Thompson. By Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. By Ernest Hemingway.

It was also used by Mark Zuckerberg to create Facebook. By Bill Gates to create Microsoft. By Larry Page and Sergey Brin to create Google.

Just look at the keys in front of you.

Punch these buttons one way, and you have Not-So-Bright-Internet-Message-Board Guy: “wtf your a idiot every moran know the knicks goin all teh way !!!!!111!!!!11!!!”

Punch them another and you end up with my drivel.

But somewhere in that endless sea of possibilities is the perfect combination of keystrokes. The perfect combination of words that make magic. That change lives. That introduce new ideas. That will pen the next Oscar-winning film. That will earn the TV news anchor her first Emmy. That will win the Noble Prize for literature.

And you don’t have to be the strongest. Or the fastest. Or the smartest. Or the best. You just need to have the keyboard and be brave enough to tap it. Disciplined enough to rewrite. And courageous enough to ship it.

You might even rescue someone 1,000 miles away.

The internet has made it easy. And we have no more excuses.

You have a song to write that will stir our insides.

An idea to share that can help change the world.

A story to tell that might save a life.

Everyone uses the same keyboard. No advantages. The same keyboard. The world’s greatest achievers. Using this exact same tool. What might be possible?

I was wrong.

I am a musician.

This keyboard, my instrument.

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.

A glorious symphony.

Calling you. Calling me.

Go create.

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What’s Possible Today?

Possibilities word cloud

Marital status aside—my life looks a lot like I thought it would when I was growing up.

I live in the Ohio suburbs. I’m middle class. My child goes to Catholic school now, just like I did.

When I was a kid, I didn’t really know what marriage would look and feel like, so I didn’t spend a great deal of time imagining it.

When I was a kid, I didn’t really understand what separates the financial winners from the losers. And I still don’t. I often feel like a complete failure. But compared to many people (the statistical majority, actually), I’m really doing quite well.

I hold myself to pretty high standards. And maybe that’s not psychologically healthy. But I don’t know how to quit. And I’m not sure I’d want to if I did.

Ask me why I’m 35 and have never been promoted at any of my three jobs since graduating college, and I’ll feed you an excuse: “Well! When you’re a newspaper reporter or copywriter in a corporate environment, there really isn’t much upward mobility!!!”

But the truth is that I’ve never made myself stand out as a leader of others.

Ask me why I lost my last job, and I’ll tell everyone how unlucky I was: “Oh yeah! Back in college, how could we have known what would happen to the newspaper industry!?!? I survived two rounds of corporate layoffs before the economic crunch caught up to me on a third round of cuts, and I was the least-senior person on staff!!!”

As if telling the story that way (which is all true, but all bullshit) makes you think any more of me.

The truth is that I didn’t prove myself to be indispensible to the publication. They knew they could lose me and there would be no financial consequences. There wasn’t enough demand for my writing and I never gave anyone a reason to care.

It’s not the economy’s fault my career is what it is.

It’s my fault.

It’s not the universe spoon-feeding me bad luck that has made me a single 35-year-old who works in a cubicle, leaving this dissatisfied taste in my mouth.

It’s my fault.

A little bit of ignorance.

A little lack of discipline.

A little lack of life experience.

But those three things all can be remedied.

So, what’s possible? What’s possible today?

Maybe Anything

More than once in history, the American people picked up their newspapers or turned on their televisions to learn the U.S. president had been shot and killed.

That lady over there just won a new car on a scratch-off lottery ticket.

A ping-pong ball bounced the right way last June, triggering a series of events that have turned the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers (my favorite team) into championship favorites after four straight years of horribleness.

Things just happen.

One day I was getting ready to fly to San Diego for a wedding and my wife told me she was pregnant.

Another time, when I was little, my mom put me in a car and drove me 500 miles away from my dad and we never came back.

You get the idea.

We know this already because life surprises us all the time. Like when we heard the Robin Williams news last week.

Things just happen. And we can’t see them coming.

The good news is that many of those things are not bad. And some are quite good.

I’ve just been thinking that maybe my life is a lot like how I thought it would be because I always thought this was “the way.”

You’re a little kid.

You go to grade school.

You go to high school.

You go to college.

You get a job.

You get married and have kids.

You try to get better jobs and raise your kids.

You retire and maybe travel in an RV, or live part of the year in Florida.

It’s hard for my brain to come up with things I haven’t seen or experienced. It’s hard for me to think beyond what I know.

That’s why I’m a writer in a safe corporate job at age 35, convincing people that often have less money than I do that they need to spend it on the things our company sells.

I was always so happy from childhood through college, and a bit beyond, that I never bothered to think about other ways to live a life, or what might happen if I was wrong.

Because, I was wrong.

What I’ve done, and what a lot of people do is A WAY. But certainly not THE WAY.

There’s no THE WAY.

Because while we all share so much deep-seated commonalities within our hearts and minds because of the human condition, we are all motivated by so many different things, and those motivating factors are changing constantly because of changing health or financials or children or death, or simply our individual passions and pursuits.

I want to get better at everything.

I want to get better at being a dad. A homeowner. A writer. A friend. A co-parent.

I want to get better at life.

And they don’t have a scoring system for that which matters. Some people measure it with checking accounts, or attendance records, or the cars in their garage, or their children’s achievements, or the photos they post to Facebook, or the job titles printed on their business cards.

And that’s fine. All of those can be good. And all can be bad. Most of the time, they really don’t matter.

In the end, our ability to thrive mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally in an ever-changing world is what gives us the balance we need to enjoy life. And I think people can achieve that balance and thrive regardless of their job, or their house, or where they graduated college, or how many people fawn over them at the next high school reunion.

There are all these things in life I want to do and experience, but I make excuses and just go to work 40 or so hours a week and hang out at home most of the time in a life that looks and feels a bit wasted.

I’d move somewhere fun! But my son is here and I can’t leave!, I’ll tell you.

I want to write and travel! But I need my job to pay for all of this… stuff!

I’d be hard-bodied and in the best shape of my life since I’m trying to attract a mate! But I’m still a little depressed over my failed marriage and the loss of my family last year so I don’t workout enough!

I always forget: Anything can happen.

I don’t know why I forget since we are constantly reminded.

We get so wrapped up in our little comfortable routines and we’re often too scared to leap. It doesn’t feel safe to leap.

But I WANT to leap. Maybe you do, too.

Because that clock is not slowing down and we only have one shot.

Because safe is boring.

Because the bad things that might happen are never really as bad as we imagine them.

Because we can handle it.

Because no matter how bad, good or great we have it, there is ALWAYS more to life than this. Than right now.

What’s possible today?

Anything.

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Misunderstood: The Rule of Thirds

Billions. More people than we can even imagine. And, given the opportunity, they will love you. We should focus on them.

Billions. More people than we can even imagine. And, given the opportunity, they will love you. We should focus on them.

My younger sister, a talented musician and vocalist, is afraid to write and share original music because she’s afraid of rejection.

“What if people think it’s bad?” she said, when I pressed her on why she’s not writing new material.

A Grammy-winning musician who teaches at the university she planned to attend after high school was making promises to her.

He was going to assemble the finest musicians he knew to play her music in studio.

He was going to get her studio time in Los Angeles and a record deal.

He was going to do all kinds of things for her.

Open doors. Grant opportunity.

But then he didn’t. He didn’t do any of the things he said he was going to do. And now my sister feels like she failed. Because the gatekeeper didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Because she’s waiting for permission to create her art.

“You don’t need permission to make what you love,” I told her. “Make it and share it. Good art will always be found and shared.”

You can see the doubt. The fear.

It’s the same look I have when I make excuses for… anything. It’s because I’m afraid too. It’s because I don’t know whether I’m good enough.

At writing. At work. At being a father. At being someone’s romantic partner.

“Have you heard of the Rule of Thirds?” I asked her.

She hadn’t.

As I explained it, I realized that the Rule of Thirds applies to more than just art.

That all of us are misunderstood. By someone. By our partners. By our parents. By our children. By our friends. By our co-workers. By our supporters. By our critics.

We Are All Misunderstood

By someone.

It’s because we’re the only species of which I’m aware in which two of us can look at the exact same thing and describe it completely differently.

Did she leave him for someone else? Or did he drive her into the arms of another?

Is that same-sex couple’s union an abomination? Or an example of love and courage in its purest form?

Was that deadly attack an act of terrorism—of pure evil? Or an instance of patriotism and the pursuit of justice?

Sometimes it can be as simple as words on a page. One sentence.

Without visual cues. Without tone of voice. Without knowing how the other person felt when they wrote the sentence, we apply how we’re feeling in a particular moment to fill in the knowledge gap. To apply meaning (that’s probably only correct a third of the time) to the sentence.

Relationships break over this type of misunderstanding all the time.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule exists to help artists understand and deal with criticism, but I really think we all need it as people to understand that the world does not see us as we see ourselves. Sometimes, that’s good. Othertimes, it’s bad.

Here’s the rule:

With anything you do or create, one third of people will love it (or you); one third will hate it (or you), and the remaining third won’t care at all.

This is an idea worth embracing, because there are a lot of people out there like me who aren’t very thick-skinned and who have an unhealthy desire to be liked and accepted by everyone.

I might get 40 nice comments on a post, but once in a while someone will let me have it, and I tend to focus on, and feel shitty about, that one comment. Should I ever expand beyond the WordPress bubble, I imagine this will get infinitely worse.

Most people I meet and know seem to like me. Maybe they mean it. Maybe they are being fake. I guess I don’t care as long as they don’t make me feel bad.

But there are others who clearly don’t like me.

Why does this person over here think I’m so nice and makes me feel cared for and respected, while this other person makes me feel like the lowest form of pond scum imaginable?

There are people who think I’m a shitty writer.

Why do these people over here think I’m special and talented while these other people think I’m worthless?

Should we spend our time trying to convince all the people who don’t like, respect or appreciate us, that they’re wrong?

That seems like a colossal waste of energy.

Because the truth is that one third of people are always going to think you suck. Let them.

Another third won’t pay any attention at all. I don’t pay attention to all kinds of things. How can I fault them for that?

Then there’s that last group.

The people who save our lives.

Make Things For One Person (Or 2.4 Billion)

In your artistic pursuits, everyone has one raving fan.

In your life, you have the equivalent of that.

So, maybe we need to be making things for that person. Living for that person.

Maybe we should be making things for the third in our corner. Maybe we should be living for those people.

There are people in my life who think I walk on water. People who tell me I’m their favorite writer. People who think I’m smart and kind and worth something.

Why not live for them? Why not write for them?

People will doubt us. Hate us. Tell us that we think, feel and do things that we actually do not think, feel or do.

People will tell us we’re bad.

That our work has no merit.

That we’re not good enough.

That our honest efforts toward love, friendship, and living a life geared toward constant improvement is something else entirely. That it’s dishonest. That it’s selfish.

We all have critics. Sometimes, harsh ones.

People who will never change their minds. Because they won’t. Or because they can’t.

The results are the same either way.

I know I can’t please everyone. Even people I really want to.

My best isn’t good enough.

It never will be.

And that’s just going to have to be okay.

There are about 7.25 billion people on this planet. One third of them are going to think I’m a stupid asshole. One third of them will never, ever care, no matter what I’m doing.

But that last third?

They’re going to love me.

They’re going to love you.

That’s 2.4 billion people.

People who will think you’re amazing just the way you are.

People who believe we’re more than what we think we are.

Wow. 2.4 billion.

That’s a lot of people to reach.

We better get started.

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The Quicksand

Quicksand

The more I fight it, the faster I sink.

My heart beats faster—but not in an excited, happy way. More like anxiety.

For months, I punched these keys. Almost every day. Bouncing between the past and the present and the totally inconsequential in an attempt to paint the picture of one average guy trying to make his way in the world after everything changed.

I thought maybe it could help me.

I thought maybe it could help someone like me.

And maybe it still can.

But something’s broken now. Something related to my writing and thinking and ability to produce is broken.

It doesn’t feel like cutting back. Like some necessary rest and relaxation.

It feels like sinking.

It feels like failing.

I want to be a writer. That’s who and what I want to be.

I am a father. I am a divorced guy. I am a friend and a son and a co-worker.

I know I am those things.

I don’t know that I’m a writer.

You’re not a writer if you don’t write. You’re not a writer if you can’t write. If I’m not practicing my craft… if I’m not growing and learning and discovering and experimenting… then I’m nothing.

I won’t have only become what I always feared most, personally—a failure at marriage.

I will have also become what I’ve always feared most professionally as well—a nobody. Just another punk in a cubicle.

Some of you are going to want to say nice things. You’re going to want to electronically pat me on the back and encourage me.

“Hey Matt! It’s totally okay! Take a break!”

“Hey Matt! It’s totally okay! You post way more than I do!”

“Hey Matt! It’s totally okay! I work in a cubicle, too!”

Please don’t.

There needs to be more to life than punching the proverbial clock wearing business casual.

We spend more than half of our waking hours sitting around offices and doing laundry and washing dishes and mowing grass and dusting window sills and vacuuming carpet and running a bunch of errands all the time. Half of those errands are because we want to own all that shit we’re maintaining and going to work for so we can finance having it.

It sounds so insane to me when I put it that way. And I don’t take it back. That’s exactly what most of us are doing.

I think that can be a very good thing for a family raising children. Stability and routine are nice things. Safety and reliability should not be taken for granted.

But for a guy like me?

The 50-percent dad?

It feels like a wasted life.

And don’t tell me it’s okay. Don’t enable me. Don’t say it’s okay to short-change our future selves. Because it’s one of the worst things we do as people. Sacrifice our futures for the now.

If I am the sum of my choices, then I am a punk in a cubicle because of those choices.

If I want to be something more, I need to make better choices.

In Over My Head

Several months ago, I wrote a post about writing—about how I wanted to be more than just a guy writing marketing copy for someone else.

A guy who used to read these posts but doesn’t anymore told me I needed to check myself.

That most of the people reading here are writers. And all of us dream of being able to pay for our lives writing the things we want.

About how hard and impractical that is.

About how most of us fail to achieve that.

That it might be time for me to reevaluate my goals. Lower my expectations. Dream smaller, if you will.

And maybe he was right. Maybe we’re all a bunch of foolish dreamers. A bunch of nobodies destined to stay nobodies.

Maybe I’ve been in quicksand this entire time. And maybe now I’m finally in over my head.

Maybe I’m trying to force something that really isn’t there.

Maybe I should just be happy with what I have.

Isn’t that what we’re all really chasing anyway? Contentment? Happiness?

But I’m not content.

I’m not happy.

The only thing I can think of to write about is writing and how much of it I’m not doing.

I don’t know how to escape the quicksand.

Just like I didn’t know how to fix my marriage. The harder I tried, the worse I made it somehow.

I can’t do that here.

I can’t keep forcing posts just to be feeding that ‘Publish’ button.

Maybe I need to step away for a bit. To go analog. To write with a pen and paper. Making notes for the book project. Making notes about all of the things I want to do or learn about or think about or experience and eventually write about.

Maybe that reader and commenter was right about me. About us.

That we are who we are. And acceptance is the key to making peace with it.

That things are just the way they are and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Maybe that applies to everything.

That we shouldn’t try to improve our schools.

That we shouldn’t rethink the way we approach our relationships which fail half the time.

That we shouldn’t try to fight disease and crime and poverty.

That we should merely accept these as facts of life.

Maybe sometime I’ll think and feel just like that.

But not today.

“Are you feeling, the feeling that I’m feeling?

Dreams are like fish. You gots to keep on reeling.”

 – Dreamin’, G. Love & Special Sauce

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How to Crowdsource Book-Writing Ideas

I've wanted to write one for as long as I can remember. I think it's time to try. Please help.

I’ve wanted to write one for as long as I can remember. I think it’s time to try. Please help.

I’m going to die.

I could be well over halfway to the end as I sit here and type. And I’m such a time-waster and procrastinator.

The hourglass—my hourglass—is always spilling from top to bottom. When it’s full, I’m gone.

Might be today.

I must never forget this.

That this might be the last post I ever write.

I want to think about it when I’m hugging my son. When a pretty girl is smiling back at me. When I’m surrounded by my family. By my friends.

I don’t want to live in fear. Or be scared or paralyzed by the morbidity of all of this.

I just want to be mindful of our precious time. To capitalize on all this world has to offer.

To live.

Because if I knew I had a week to live, I would do everything different.

So, why doesn’t knowing I MIGHT only have a week to live incite action within me?

Because I take things for granted, probably. Because the law of averages suggests I have more time.

Even if that’s true, I’m going to regret so much on my deathbed, all of my wasted, do-nothing moments.

It’s Time

If not now, when?

What am I waiting for?

I’m just scared. Really scared.

It’s time to write a book.

I’ve been blogging less than nine months. But the data sample is large enough and the evidence is clear: People care about personal, human, honest stories. And they REALLY care about their marriages, or their relationships with boyfriends or girlfriends.

It didn’t take me long to see the truth.

It doesn’t matter whether you live in Malaysia or South Africa or New Zealand or Spain or Korea or Canada or the United Kingdom, or here in the United States.

You love.

And you want to be loved.

That’s what we all do.

That’s what we all want.

Human relationships and all of the joy and sadness and anger and ecstasy and heartache and connection and brokenness that comes along with them affect each and every one of us. All seven billion.

There’s no market cap on the real gritty human being stuff that goes on within our minds, hearts and souls.

I always thought you had to be an expert to write non-fiction.

That’s another lie that so many of us believe.

You don’t have to be an expert. Because without asking the question, or having any way of finding an answer, I KNOW that all those well-read therapists and psychologists who are considered experts on marriage and family and relationships deal with the exact same bullshit we do.

No one is immune or safe from the human condition.

I am an expert.

And so are you.

I’ve written a series of posts titled An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. There are six of them. Some are poorly excuted. Others are decent.

They are the only blog posts I’ve written which have been organically shared by hundreds of people to their friends and family on Facebook and Twitter outside of this WordPress bubble.

And I think I understand why.

I think I’ve written about something that millions of people fully understand and can relate to.

And I think I’m sort of uncomfortably right about most of it.

Families break apart and children lose their security—their entire worlds—because two adults who just three or five or ten years ago swore before God, friends and family that they would love each other forever, but now can’t take it anymore.

It’s so bad they are willing to lose half or more of their children’s childhood. They’re willing to sacrifice their comfortable routines. Their homes. Financial security. Friends. Entire families.

Because the person they loved above all others became the bane of their existence.

And for what? So we can go try again with someone else and figure out it’s the exact same shit with EVERY person on Earth?

Surprise! We’re all human beings!

It’s a big secret, I guess. But I don’t want it to be. Because I don’t think there has to be this much brokenness.

And—Lord, forgive me if this sounds vain—I think I can help. Not everyone. Not even a lot of people.

But maybe just one.

Because I don’t think the average man is ever going to read Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus. I don’t think they’re going to read The Five Love Languages. I don’t think they’re going to read my favorite—How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.

And that’s great.

Because maybe they’ll read something I write.

Because I’d like to write something accessible to the average guy out there.

Guys just like me. Making the same mistakes as me. As well-intentioned as me, but maybe without the knowledge and tools to make it work.

Not because they’re not good enough. Not because they’re not smart enough. Not because they’re not strong enough.

But just because their toolboxes didn’t have the right stuff for the job.

I’m not cocky enough to believe I can help everyone.

But what if there’s one?

What if one family makes it because I spent some months writing a book? What if one guy reads it, and it just makes sense to him and he changes his life?

Isn’t that worth it? Even if it’s just a fool’s dream?

Of course it is.

I Need Your Help

I’ve never written anything longer than a couple-thousand words before.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

But I also believe I can do this. And that’s the first step.

My Questions for You

1. If you’ve been following along for a while, can you share what post topics you’ve read here that you consider meaningful enough to include? Ideas to expand upon. To research more. To potentially interview people about.

2. How long should a book be that we actually want men to read? As everyone paying attention knows, I’m entirely too wordy. When do we hit TL;DR status?

3. I will never repurpose a blog post in its entirety. That feels like cheating. But I am wondering to what extent I can use existing content (There are more than 250,000 words on this blog. The average book is about 75,000 or so, I think.) to help supplement the project and serve as the framework. What percentage of a book do you think is acceptable to supplement with previously written-about ideas?

4. Do you think this is a stupid idea?

5. What am I not thinking about, or what do you think I should be considering?

6. Would you think me an asshole if I scaled back on my posting frequency here in order to put more time into that?

7. Is this even remotely interesting to you? It’s okay to say no. In fact, I’m begging you to if you feel that way.

8. Do you think because I’m a divorced guy that failed at marriage that I’m in over my head trying to write a book like this? Or do you think it makes me the right guy for the job?

9. Do you ever wonder how long you have to live, and ask yourself why the hell you’re waiting to do something you really want to do?

10. I love you. Seriously.

The end is where we begin.
It’s crawling back, when
We run away, run away.
‘Cause the end is where we begin.
Where broken hearts mend
and start to beat again.
The end is where we begin.

­— Thousand Foot Krutch

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