Category Archives: Work

I Don’t Smoke Cigars

I loved the news business. And now I love something else.

I loved the news business. And now I love something else.

It’s the little moments that change your life forever.

The whispers.

The That almost happened! moments.

The close calls.

This was my big chance.

In the newspaper business, you rise through the ranks. A couple years here. A couple years there. And maybe a decade or so in, if you’re talented enough and willing to relocate and work hard, you can find yourself at a “destination paper.”

That means something different to everyone.

But to me, it meant a job at a Top 25-circulation newspaper.

Even from the sunny Florida beaches I called home during those first few years after graduating college, I had my eyes set on Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. The largest paper in my home state. The one that covered my favorite sports teams. And a Top 25-circulation paper.

When I let myself dream, I imagined being an Ohio-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

But there I was. Standing in the newsroom of one of the dozen largest daily papers in the country: the Detroit Free Press.

I was 26. I had absolutely no business being there and everyone knew it.

But still. I was there.

And they were considering hiring me for one of the most-coveted and most-important reporting jobs at the newspaper.

Falling Into Things

Some of my friends always knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Law school. Family business ambitions. Performing arts.

I never knew.

Still don’t.

I studied business when I first got to college because my plan was to eventually take over my dad’s small company. There was a lot of financial security in that plan. And I didn’t grow up seeing my father often, so this plan made sense to me.

But sometime during my 19th year of life, I started putting words to paper. I’d go park myself somewhere on campus. On some steps. Or a bench. Or a hillside.

And I’d just watch all the life happening around me. I knew I was in a special place. And I was aware that decisions I made then would alter the course of my life forever.

Halfway through my second year, I walked into the college newspaper office and asked if I could write something—anything.

They gave me an assignment. And then another one. And then another one.

And it was that easy. Getting my work published.

I was smitten.

Within six months, I was hired on as the news editor of our twice-weekly published paper. A year later, I was the paper’s editor in chief.

I was going to be a newspaperman.

Ink in my blood.

And it all happened by accident.

The Motor City

I was in awe, standing in the Free Press building. The home of the great Mitch Albom.

Wow. Eight Pulitzer Prizes, I thought. The paper has since won a ninth.

The first thing on the agenda upon arrival in the Free Press newsroom for my job interview was lunch with the business editor.

That’s where he explained to me why I was there.

“You write for page one. And I like that. I want my writers always writing for page one,” he said.

What he meant was he wants his reporters always writing their stories with the mindset that the managing editor could make the call in the daily news budget meetings to put those stories on the front page.

And he told me something else. The job was either mine or one other guy’s.

Either me—the 26-year-old they could mold into whatever kind of business writer they wanted. Or an older, veteran journalist who worked for Reuters and had been covering Detroit’s auto industry for three decades.

If the job was to be awarded based on merit, I had no chance.

The Free Press had a four-person team covering the automotive industry. And I was down to the final two vying for the fourth spot.

An opportunity to learn day in and day out from a group of amazing reporters. Two men and one woman. Writers with law degrees and in PhD programs.

Writing stories that would be read all over the globe. By my heroes at The Wall Street Journal. And by the people I hoped to one day work for at The Plain Dealer.

A Close Call

In the end, the Free Press went with the long-time Detroit journalist. He was the better choice if salaries weren’t a factor (I would have been a lot cheaper).

And a year later, I ended up in Ohio where I wanted to be.

Less than five years later, I was laid off from my reporting job—my newspaper career ending unceremoniously and embarrassingly.

And now I work in internet marketing. It’s a good job. I write there, too.

But really? I write here. And this is the writing I really want to be doing.

Exploring the things in this life that really matter.

I don’t want to track down union officials and auto parts manufacturers to ask them questions they’re unlikely to answer honestly anyway.

I want to talk to you about real life. About what really motivates us. About what’s really important on the inside of us. About why we’re really here.

Who knows what would have happened had I gotten that job in Detroit? Maybe I’d still be a journalist. Maybe I’d be a good one.

Maybe I’d still be married. Maybe not. Probably not.

I can never know what opportunities would have existed for me on that path.

Just as I can’t know what opportunities lie ahead.

But I love the blank slate in a lot of ways. While a little scary, I also see it as an unwritten book waiting to be written—both metaphorically and literally.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

What next week, next month, next year will bring.

But I know that I’m here.

That you’re here.

And that we can be whatever we want to be.

We only need to be brave enough to choose it.

Your dreams of yesterday are likely not your dreams of today.

And there’s no way to know what we’ll dream up tomorrow.

The storybook journalism career?

Close, but no cigar.

And that’s okay.

Because I don’t smoke cigars.

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How to Not Choose Yourself

James Altucher is my hero and I love him more than anyone I've never met. The author of the HuffPo piece I read today would benefit from Altucher's wisdom.

James Altucher is my hero and I love him more than anyone I’ve never met. The author of the HuffPo piece I read today would benefit from Altucher’s wisdom.

It’s so easy to feel sorry for yourself.

I do it all the time.

Because I lost my wife. Because my son’s gone a lot and I really miss him. Because I don’t have as much money as I used to. Because I have expensive bills and repairs. Because my home needs more than I can give. Because I never meet single women, and when I do, there’s always a glitch.

We can all do it if we want.

We can point fingers at circumstances. Bad luck!

Other people. Unfair!

And we can never, ever, look in the mirror and ask the really difficult questions. The ones that make us squirm. The ones that make us want to run and hide and never see our reflections again.

What choices have I made that led me here?

What choices can I make today to improve my life?

Your reflection should have his/her eyes narrowed. Studying you. Judging you.

You should always love and respect yourself. But you should also hold yourself to higher standards than everyone else does. And when you fail to meet those standards, it seems worth evaluating what you can do differently to change that.

“I’m a Member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves’”

That was the headline of a Huffington Post piece one of my friends sent me this morning.

And when I first started reading, I just kept nodding. Yes. Yes, that’s me! Yes, that’s me too!!!

But then, the writer started pointing fingers in every direction but the right one.

And that’s where she lost me.

Because she used to have money. And dine out. And take vacations.

And now she doesn’t anymore.

It’s Corporate America’s fault.

It’s the politicians in Washington DC’s fault.

It made me sad to see someone who appears to believe deep within her heart and soul that she’s doomed to a life of poverty despite her education and previous success in the professional world. That there’s no future but a bleak one of living off government aid until she dies one day, sad and alone.

I’m not trying to pick on Kathleen Ann, the author of the HuffPo piece.

She is a human being with a story. A story with a bunch of details and context to which I’m not privy.

But she’s well-educated. And indicated she used to earn $100 per hour, which is a metric shit ton more than I make. So, I’m defaulting to the position of believing she is INFINITELY more capable of choosing herself than she displays in her woe-is-me piece.

Let’s dive in.

“I used to have a house. I used to go on vacations. I used to shop at department stores, get my hair done and even enjoy pedicures. Now, I don’t. I’m a member of the American “Used-to-Haves.”

Now, I’m renting an apartment and I’m desperately awaiting a check so I can pay the rent. Yet, I’m lucky to have an apartment that includes utilities. Despite my college degree from a prestigious college, and solid employment track record, I can’t get a job. It’s been so long since my corporate days, I now feel unemployable.

My age doesn’t help. But I’m as healthy as a thoroughbred, I appear quite young and would gladly accept a basic salary. I’m a bargain! But no. I’m freelancing for $15 an hour these days, but I used to earn $100 an hour. In fact, all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour. To make ends meet, I also work as an aide ($13.75 an hour) and run a small local company. And my annual earnings are under $20,000.

On “I’m a member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves.’”

I understand what she means. The middle class has gotten squeezed HARD. And it’s painful. My life is not subsidized in any way. I pay for everything myself. And I sometimes feel like people who work less have a better life than I do. I am responsible for my choices. But I do believe that, fundamentally, hard work should be rewarded. In my experience so far, that hasn’t really been the case, financially.

On “I can’t get a job.”

I want the author to define “job.” Because she said she will “gladly accept a basic salary.” And we don’t have any context here for what that means. What is a basic salary? $40,000 annually? $70,000 annually? Is she willing to relocate? Or no? Regardless of the answers to those questions, who is responsible for the outcome of those choices? You? Me? The government? Businesses? I submit only one person is.

On “all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour.”

Nonsense. Charge whatever you want. Choose yourself. I charge $60 an hour for my freelance work. And people pay it, or they don’t. They either think my work is worth it, or they don’t.

The market has never, and will never, dictate what my time is worth. If someone is unwilling to pay me an amount in which I can afford to do the job, I decline the work. The author can make that same choice.

On “my annual earnings are under $20,000.”

She works three jobs, she said.

1. She writes freelance.

2. She works as an aide for $13.75 per hour.

3. She runs a small local company.

I don’t know what any of that means. But I know that if you work full time at a fast-food restaurant for $9 per hour, you earn $18,720 per year, which is pretty much what the author said she earns working THREE jobs.

CHOOSE YOURSELF.

“I’m lucky to be in Massachusetts, where my health care is paid for, and fortunate to be of sound health and mind. But on days when I feel hopeless, I can envision myself 20 years from now, living in hardscrabble poverty.”

On “where my health care is paid for.”

The author doesn’t pay health care expenses. I pay $400 per month to cover my son and I, and that’s with the VERY generous more-than-half contributions of my employer. Maybe that doesn’t sound like very much to you. $400 per month for something I almost never use but MUST have is a lot to me.

And it decreases my sympathy for the plight of the author who recalls making more than $100 per hour at her last full-time job.

“Watching John Boehner and the Republican Congress during the past few years has been a stunning confirmation of their seeming disregard for the “Used-to-Haves.” As they pull down salaries of $174,000 a year, unparalleled benefits and the option of voting themselves a raise, their selfishness is unrivaled as they barricade health care reform, knowingly shut down the government, cut SNAP benefits and eliminate extended unemployment payments.

Congress doesn’t have the stones to call up their lobbyist buddies and corporate honchos and insist they hire more unemployed Americans for the American companies they celebrate and boast about.

The press calls it “The Great Recession.” It actually was the “Great Theft.” In the wake of this very public, often-glossed-over theft from the middle class, the perpetrators have been revealed. We know the American corporations without the courage, scruples or heart to help us, the ones responsible for the recession and the politicians who put the toxic policies in place. We “Used-to-Haves” aren’t stupid.”

On “John Boehner and the Republican Congress.”

And that’s when she lost me. Grinding a political axe.

Let’s get one thing straight: If you’re a politician in Washington DC, regardless of political party, you’re a greedy, egotistical, power-hungry maniac who ALWAYS puts your own needs ahead of your constituents. And I’d even be okay with that if you weren’t so smarmy and dishonest about it. It’s beyond corrupt, what happens at the highest levels of our government.

But choosing sides? As if one is good and the other is evil? That’s laughable.

They’re all assholes. Each and every one of them. And if they cared about you and me, they would—at minimum—put partisan politics aside to AT LEAST fix all the apolitical things that ail our nation and world. But they won’t even do that. It’s all about reelection and campaign contributions. If they worked together, they would be forced to not say ugly things about one another all the time. Without all the lies, no one could ever get elected!

Blaming politicians is too easy. All the Sean Hannity fans can hang on his every word and hate all the people who love Bill Maher and hang on his every word. Knock yourselves out.

Respect one another. Be pragmatic. Work together. Serve something greater than yourselves.

Do that? And I’ll vote for you no matter which side of the aisle you stand on.

“As a “Used-to-Have,” I’m beyond angry. I’m not a “Never Had.” I know what it’s like to pay bills on time and have a little left over. I remember vacations and pedicures and going out to dinner. As a “Used-to-Have,” I know exactly what Corporate America, lobbyists and politicians have taken away from me. The “Used-to-Haves” and the children of the “Used-to-Haves” won’t forget. The “Used-to-Haves” are educated. Many of us and our children have amazing talent and academic honors. We know how to get things done. And though all of the odds appear to be against us, we must refuse to give up hope.”

This was the end.

And I got a little upset about it. So I wrote my friend back expressing my disappointment in the author’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for any of her current life circumstances.

This girl is A LOT like me, my friend. I joke that she’s the Girl Me. Because we think similarly about many things.

While our big-picture philosophies align closely, we sometimes diverge on the details.

“This is just an example of what ails the human race. Finger pointing,” I said. “It’s less about politics and more about self-empowerment.”

I wrote that the author of this HuffPo piece REALLY needs to read my favorite writer James Altucher’s most-recent book “Choose Yourself.”

She is frustrated like so many of us with struggling to make ends meet despite being college educated and having a relatively good job in the professional world. She recently started working part-time to supplement her income.

She replied.

“While I agree with lifting up and self-empowerment, I am also beginning to realize that not everyone can make everything they want to happen come true here in America anymore.

“Not everyone can have a successful business. It’s a fact. You can work your balls off and still lose. And that goes for a lot of different industries.

“There is no guarantee.

“You know I am the first person to dream big and believe in making shit happen. However, I’m starting to realize it sometimes isn’t in the cards.

“Will that stop me from trying? Probably not, in a lot of cases. But is it true? Probably.”

I liked my response. And the sheer power of the truth in these words prompted me to write this post today.

“Of course,” I said. “It’s all a risk. Most successful people fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail at first.

“Remember the line about Edison’s trials in creating a functioning light bulb?

’Mr. Edison, how did it feel to fail a thousand times?’

“I didn’t fail a thousand times,” Edison said. “I have simply found 999 ways how not to create a light bulb.”

Fortitude.

We have no chance in this life if we believe other people get to decide who we are and who we can be.

We have no chance if we spend our lives waiting for someone else to give us a shot.

We have no chance if we sit around waiting to be granted permission.

Choosing yourself means you don’t need permission.

Choosing yourself means you manufacture your own opportunities.

Choosing yourself means you—and ONLY you—get to decide who you’re going to be today, no matter how many times you’ve fallen, how many mistakes you’ve made, and how great the odds against you might seem.

Choose yourself.

That’s where hope and opportunity live.

And you deserve it.

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The Overdue Library Books

overdue-stamp

I’m coming unraveled.

And I’m angry.

At myself. At my ex-wife. At my life.

But mostly, it’s just me.

Own your shit.

I make bad decisions. And when you make more bad decisions than good decisions, the net sum is a shitty life.

And make no mistake, my life is shitty. And it’s my fault.

And I have two library books sitting on my passenger seat right now which represent just how ill-equipped to be an adult I really am.

The two books are Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, and Your Money Ratios by Charles Farrell.

I borrowed them from my local library several months ago and never returned them. They’re books designed to help me make better choices about my life.

I haven’t read either.

I got a bill a while ago charging me for the books. Replacement charges and stuff.

I haven’t paid it yet.

I see the books every day. And I just leave them there. Like a masochist.

I get phone calls from unknown numbers on my phone. Maybe a collection agency wanting me to pay the $50 for the books. I have the money. I should pay them.

But I don’t. And I don’t return them either. The library is nine blocks from my house. I drive by it at least twice a day.

A Bit of a Mess

That’s what I am. I’ve admitted to it here and there—talking about how I now let dishes pile up in the kitchen. How I let my laundry pile up in my bedroom.

But it’s really worse than I let on.

I haven’t vacuumed up the pine needles from putting up my Christmas tree before Thanksgiving. I haven’t organized my son’s room from the chaos that ensued after his mother moved out on April 1.

I haven’t completed a project for one of my very best friends. It should have been done six months ago.

I left the office a half-hour early on Friday and drove straight home. I didn’t leave my house—literally—until this morning to come back to work. A job and a life with which I’m growing increasingly dissatisfied.

Because this can’t be what life is supposed to be.

The Daily Grind

I wake up every day at 6:30 a.m., sleeping in because I don’t work out.

I take a shower. I stand in there a little too long. Maybe I shave. Maybe I don’t. I don’t really care.

I get dressed. Many times, I have to go down two flights of stairs to my basement laundry room to get a new shirt because I don’t always put my laundry away once I’ve hung them up in my laundry room. It’s not uncommon that I have to re-run the dryer for several minutes to eliminate wrinkles from my shirts I left in there overnight and refuse to iron.

Business casual. Always, business casual.

Half the time, my son is home. I suck at getting us both ready in time to leave at 7:50 a.m. which gets us where we need to be stress-free, even if there are weather or traffic issues.

I clock in like a chimp between 8:15-8:30 a.m., writing copy that sells stuff for other people.

I don’t eat lunch because I don’t have time to pack, and I want to write here, so I don’t go out for food, which is good, because then I’d really waste a lot of money.

I’m generally a little lightheaded when I leave around 5 p.m. every day, because I haven’t eaten since 7:30 a.m. and because I stare at two computer monitors all day—three, if you count my phone.

Then I drive home, half the time picking up my son, and the other half coming home to the quiet, empty, disorganized house.

I sometimes make food. Sometimes, I get takeout.

I take care of the chores I can’t ignore—all the ones related to “owning” my house. And then I go to bed and start it all over the next day.

What the Hell am I Doing?

I’m serious.

I need someone to explain to me the merits of what I’m doing here.

Because I make more than 150 percent of the median household income in my town, and I, quite literally, can’t afford to do anything besides pay my bills and eat food and drive to work.

I do this shitty, depressing routine every day. The only reward is my paycheck. And I spend my entire paycheck on all of the stuff I “need” to maintain this lifestyle I don’t even like.

A house. A car. A mobile phone. Daycare for my son. Food. Gas. College debt.

I spend 40-plus hours per week in a cubicle so I can do this same shitty routine every day for the next 30 years, when I might be able to retire and maybe just have enough money to maintain this standard of living for as long as my tired old bones stay together—assuming the market doesn’t crash and wipe out my life savings.

There’s got to be more to life than this.

There’s got to be better choices I can make.

There’s got to be a better way.

The Daily Practice

I’m rereading James Altucher’s Choose Yourself.

He’s the only person I know of that has felt worthless and horrible and couldn’t get off the floor, and then found a way to pick himself up, and then tells the story so other people can try to follow suit.

He employs something he calls The Daily Practice.

And I’m thinking it’s time to start baby-stepping my way there. It’s too big of a bite to chew all at once. But I have to take some kind of action.

Otherwise, I’m just going to die sad and alone with no friends and a son who can’t respect his father.

The Daily Practice is hard. Really hard. I’m highly unlikely to be able to do it all in one day once, let alone every day. But if I can knock out 75 percent of it, I have to believe my life will be infinitely better than it is now.

It’s going to start today.

I’m driving to the library as soon as I leave the office. I’m going to walk in and explain what a bad person I am and apologize. Hand them their books. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Most likely, I’ll have to pay them about $50. I probably own them now.

I could buy Rich Dad, Poor Dad today for $6.83, and Your Money Ratios for $11.39 from Amazon, which would have saved me more than $30.

If I don’t make a change, I’m going to die. Or I’m going to want to, which is basically the same.

I’m wasting my life.

It’s time to stop.

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How to Succeed at Anything

Da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" is more about Body, than Mind and Spirit. But it's still what I think of in my head when I think about this stuff. Stop looking at his penis.

Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” is more about Body, than Mind and Spirit. But it’s still what I think of in my head when I think about this stuff. Stop looking at his penis.

It’s not easy.

But it is simple.

If you want to succeed—in anything, whether it be love, or work, or sports, or academics, or building bridges, or telling jokes, or solving crossword puzzles—you need only do three things. Just three.

The three steps to success:

1. Attempt

2. Observe

3. Repeat

One of the world’s smartest content marketers wrote that in a blog post yesterday. I’ve spent the past 24 hours thinking about it when I wasn’t too busy thinking about football, or sex, or food, or how bad my iron shots were on the golf course yesterday.

Brian Clark is the author. He founded Copyblogger, and if writing is your thing, you may want to give them a visit even if you’re not looking to sell anything. There’s a lot of good writing and good-writing tips to be found there.

Clark writes: “Here’s the truth. You’ll never be truly ready, because the process doesn’t start until you start.

“Successful people start before they feel ready. And the only way to absolutely, positively know if your [whatever you’re working on] rocks is to put it out there.”

Attempt

He’s saying: Try.

Just try!

If you’re anything like me, there are a million things you never try. You’re scared. Not like little-kid-sees-monster-in-closet scared. But general human fear.

Of failure. Of rejection. Of humiliation.

I spent all 12 years with my ex wife avoiding snow skiing. I don’t particularly like snow.

Yeah, I live in Ohio. On purpose. (If you haven’t heard, I make bad decisions.)

But more importantly?

1. I’m afraid to try things in front of other people that I’m pretty sure I’m going to suck at.

I can’t begin to tell you how true AND debilitating this can be. I don’t do much dancing because of this insecurity. I know that when I go snow skiing, I’m going to fall getting off the ski lift at the top of the run. Everyone will laugh at me and I won’t be able to quickly ski away because I’ll just fall down again. And then they’ll all laugh some more.

2. I procrastinate.

My best friend from childhood is my son’s godfather. He handled all of the legal work for my recent marital dissolution. Free, of course. He’s the best. I think of him as family. I’ve known him since I was 6. Because one of the things I’m good at is writing website copy for businesses, I told him in April—in APRIL—that I would rewrite his law firm’s website copy and optimize it for search engines. I’m not even halfway done yet. Five months. I’m a bad person.

Don’t be like me.

Be brave. Seek adventure. Try new things.

Otherwise you’re just going to get old and sad and eat at the Golden Corral a lot and get diabetes and die after a doctor does a shitty job amputating the lower half of your fat leg you weren’t exercising. And then whoever’s left to collect the money from the medical malpractice suit will go on a bunch of adventures while worms eat your body.

The difference between true failure and just another leg on the journey to success are steps two and three.

Observe

Our lives are the sum of our choices.

How have these choices contributed to where I am now?

Mentally, I feel best when I’m reading regularly. When I’m getting decent sleep. When I’m mentally sharp at work, and on top of my chores at home, and when I’m thinking ahead as it pertains to my son’s and household’s needs.

Physically, I feel best when I’m eating well. When I’m exercising daily. When I’m connected physically, emotionally and spiritually with someone between the sheets.

Spiritually, I feel best when I’m doing things I think are right and when I’m avoiding things I think are wrong. I feel good when I volunteer. I feel bad when I don’t make time for prayer or church. I feel good when I’m giving. I feel bad when I’m taking.

Mind. Body. Spirit.

This begs the question:

Why would we make choices that make our lives worse?

I’m about halfway through my 35th year of being alive. I have a really nice data sample now of what the expected results of a particular action might be. And STILL I do retarded shit. Still.

One might conclude the human race is doomed. Or we can just limit it to me—a bad-decision-making self-fulfilling prophecy.

I think we need to think more about the choices we make that keep us from succeeding in whatever we set out to do. And make better choices today. Different choices. Then observe those results.

If you like what you see?…

Repeat

I understand what Brian Clark is saying here: Do shit. See what happens. If the results are good, repeat. If the results are bad, try something else. It’s the most rudimentary form of the scientific method.

Clark says it with a little more grace and professionalism. He writes: “The difference between true failure and just another leg on the journey to success are steps two and three.

“Pay careful attention to what happens when you try, figure out why, and carry on with a smarter perspective.”

I do believe in outside influences and extenuating circumstances.

But I also support the notion that we are often our own worst enemy. That our biggest roadblock to success in our various endeavors is something seemingly harmless.

Inertia.

History’s greatest minds taught us what inertia is. Newton. Aristotle. Copernicus. Galileo. Einstein.

But their focus was on the physical, observable world around us.

I believe inertia also affects us on a metaphysical level.

We get so comfortable with ourselves and our routines and our habits, that our fear and resistance to change overpowers the logical parts of our brains which tell us that change will improve things.

Two things tend to help you overcome inertia in your daily life.

1. Something awful happening.

2. Choosing yourself. Choosing to be the best version of you that you can possibly be.

Too often in my life, I’ve let something awful happening to me be the catalyst for positive change. Too often, I’ve had to learn lessons the hard way.

It’s the curse of procrastination. The consequence of self-doubt, fear and resistance to change.

And I’d like to do things the right way in this next chapter of my life. To choose myself. To do the right thing because it’s the right thing, then reap the many life rewards that come along with that.

A sharper mind. A harder body. A healthier soul.

It doesn’t take some cosmic or magical event to experience these things.

It just takes a little self-awareness.

And the courage to choose yourself.

To choose today to do one little thing differently. To do it better. To give just a little more.

To win. At everything.

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Bad Luck with a Side of Perspective

In the poker game of life, you have to be able to handle the swings.

In the poker game of life, you have to be able to handle the swings.

I played poker for the first time since my wife left.

Just a few hours ago.

My hopes were high heading into the game because I’m an above-average tournament player.

But it went the same as the rest of my life.

The house we played in was amazing. Everyone attending had a lot of money.

Everyone except me.

I kept waiting for the rich guy my wife is banging to show up and take my chips.

He never did.

But everything else that could have gone wrong did.

The Job Loss

Right around Halloween in 2009, the managing editor of the business publication I was working for called me into a conference room. I thought we were going to discuss a project or story he wanted me to work on.

He told me that the company’s downsizing as a result of the Great Recession was continuing and that my job was being eliminated. It was the third round of job cuts at the company that year. I had survived the first two.

Third time’s a charm.

They invited me to stay on staff through the rest of the year, but that come January 1, I would no longer be employed.

Everyone I worked with knew before I did. It was really hard to walk around the newsroom with my head held high after that. But I faked it well.

Telling my wife that my job had been eliminated was an equally awful experience. I told her everything would be OK. That we’d make it work. That I’d find a way to reinvent my career and find something more sustainable than journalism. That I’d find a way to make more money.

I was unemployed for 18 months if you don’t count the freelance copywriting business I started.

That’s one and a half years of my wife going to work every day with me mostly staying home with our son.

Mr. Mom.

She thought I was a loser. She never used those words. But she didn’t have to.

Believing in me was never part of her marital makeup.

Back on the Felt

I was dealt one good hand the entire night. A pair of jacks. And I had to fold them. Because I knew I was beat after an ace flopped.

And that was the theme the rest of the night: fold, fold, fold.

Concede.

Submit.

Give up.

I should have stayed home and mowed my lawn, I thought.

My tournament ended unceremoniously on a Hail Mary all-in bet that was called by a superior hand, which rightfully held up.

And bam. It was over.

In the grand scheme of poker playing, I’ve been here before. Many times. This sort of thing happens. And you have to be able to handle the swings. Poker is not about short-term gains. It’s about long-term ones.

But I could really use a positive experience or two. For real. And I wanted to win that game. Badly.

But Lady Luck still isn’t taking my calls.

It was miserable faking smiles while I shook hands and wished everyone “Good luck” before heading home.

A Side of Perspective

I checked my phone when I got in my car.

A text message and Facebook status update alerted me to news that shifted my entire focus.

The publishing company that owns the business journal from which I had been laid off three and a half years ago was relocating the publication to Detroit.

Almost everyone there is now facing two choices: Move to Motown or start collecting unemployment.

Wow.

My mind swirled. I felt bad for my friends there.

And then it hit me.

Thank God I got laid off when I did.

Because I’d be damn near suicidal right now if I had to deal with a job loss in addition to the rest of this shit.

I have a great job. I mean, it’s bullshit and corporate and a little too Office Space some days.

But it’s secure. My co-workers are mostly awesome. And I make way more money than I ever did as a reporter.

And I swore I would never again take quality employment for granted.

And the news that all of my old colleagues are now facing the guillotine really drives that point home.

I almost smiled. I do feel really bad for those employees. Because I know exactly what that flavor of shit sandwich tastes like.

But I couldn’t help myself. The corners of my mouth actually flirted with a smile.

Because EVERYTHING in this world is relative.

And for one brief moment, I got to feel lucky again.

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Change Your Culture, Change Your World

Don't try to change the entire world. Just try to change yours.

Don’t try to change the entire world. Just try to change yours.

I have a bit of a man crush on Seth Godin.

Because he, in many ways, represents who I want to be.

I work in marketing. And Godin writes for people just like me. But what’s so great about him is that much of what he thinks about and writes about can be applied to our personal lives.

I try to view it through that prism, at least.

As marketers, we want to instill change in consumer behavior by educating or convincing people to make different decisions that will either benefit them, benefit our brand, or God-willing, both.

Yesterday, Godin wrote a post titled “Change the culture, change the world,” where he makes an important observation.

Godin said that “most actions aren’t decisions at all.”

And I’ve spent the past 24 hours thinking about how we can apply his keen observations here to our personal lives.

He gives examples:

“In Reykjavik, shopkeepers keep their doors closed (it’s cold!) and if they were aware that in Telluride most stores keep their doors propped open (even in the winter) they’d think it was nuts.

“In China, the typical household saves three to five times as much of their income as a household in the U.S. This is not an active decision, it’s a cultural component.”

He continues:

“The list goes on and on. A practitioner of Jainism doesn’t have a daily discussion about being a vegetarian, and a female graduate of Johns Hopkins is likely pre-sold on the role of women in the workplace.

“If you ask someone about a cultural practice, the answer almost always boils down to, ‘that’s what people like me do.’”

Do you have anything in your life—something big—that you’d like to change? What about with your spouse? Or your children? Or your co-workers? Or your friends?

Do you make bad choices like me? Do you have addictions? Bad habits? An unhealthy lifestyle?

Because maybe picking the low-hanging fruit isn’t going to be good enough here.

Quitting Ben & Jerry’s might not reduce your waistline.

Forcing your kids to spend more time outside and less time watching TV might not improve their grades or their social lives or your parent-child relationship.

Making a date night once every couple weeks with your spouse might not fix your marriage.

“Powerful organizations and great brands got there by aligning with and accelerating tectonic cultural shifts, not by tweaking sales one at a time,” Godin writes.

You want to change your life? Go big or go home. That’s what it takes.

I wrote this to shitty husbands a week or so ago. But it applies to all of us: Don’t just sit around waiting for things to happen to you. Because while stuff WILL happen to you, very little of it is going to be good. Not when you’re passive. Take some control.

The faithful would wisely remind you that God’s in control. That we can’t do it all. And while I agree, I think a lot of people use that victim mentality as an excuse for not taking action themselves. Taking the lazy way out of accepting responsibility for their lives.

More importantly, the net result of inaction is your life flying by with you playing the victim. And when you think back and tell your life story, I want you to be the protagonist you can be proud of. A legit hero.

I play poker. Sometimes, very well. When I’m not playing well, it’s because I’m getting dealt shitty hands—life does that!—or because I’m playing too passively. I’m letting other players at the table control the action and dictate my moves.

But when I’m winning? I’m in control. The chips on the table are mine for the taking. And I know it. I mitigate my losses through thoughtful decision making. And I seize opportunities to rake big pots.

Godin has identified one of the many things that separate the winners from the losers in business. He finished his post with:

“There are two lessons here. The first is that the easiest thing to do is merely amplify what a culture is already embracing,” he said. “The second is that real change is cultural change, and you must go about it with the intent to change the culture, not to merely make the easy change, the easy sale.”

Don’t quit ice cream to get skinny. Work your ass off daily and reward yourself with ice cream occasionally.

Don’t try to be more involved in your kids’ lives by merely reducing their TV or video game time. Hell, just watch TV with them. And discuss it. Play video games with them. Or something else entirely. Be present in the moments they’re around.

Don’t try to fix your marriage with out-of-character flowers or surprise gestures of thoughtfulness like making dinner or cleaning the bathrooms. Make those things the rule. Not the exception. Choose to love—actively—every day of your life.

Give, don’t take. Ask friends and neighbors what you can do to help instead of complaining about your problems.

Because if we change the culture in our personal lives, we will—quite literally—change our world.

I don’t know what those ripple effects might look and feel like.

But I can’t wait to find out.

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