Tag Archives: Career

5 Sales and Writing Secrets That Could Save Your Marriage (and Make Your Relationships Thrive)

telling a secret

(Image/We Share Pics)

Couples struggle in relationships because they don’t know how to talk to each other.

There are other reasons. But that’s the biggest.

Maybe I’m the only one, but nuanced, intangible things like “feelings” and “communication” and “psychology” never pulled much weight with me growing up, or even in my 20s.

Feelings?! Those are for girls!

Communication?! What’s there to talk about?! Everyone is basically the same!

Psychology?! That’s pseudo-science! Can’t we talk about something that matters, like football or movies?!

Yes, I was/am an idiot.

Those very accurate (if ignorant) thoughts and internal monologues explain why I’m divorced.

It’s worth repeating: If your marriage is miserable and broken, the reason is because you don’t know how to talk to each other.

Sure, you both have personal and collective problems outside of the communication spectrum, but two people pulling in the same direction who understand how to exchange healthy and productive dialogue about them will actually grow closer while overcoming the hardships together.

The future of our closest and most-treasured, most-meaningful relationships depends on us figuring this out. I say “us,” because I’m totally in the boat, too. A lifetime of bad habits and emotional triggers can only be broken and reprogrammed with new, better habits and thoughtful situational response.

Maybe my professional life can be a source of inspiration.

If Words and Sales Techniques Influence People to Buy Things, Could They Also Affect Behavior in Relationships? 

“They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.” — Carl W. Buehner

From dating through our divorce, my wife and I were together for 12 years.

Maybe it’s because we’re creeping up on four years since our separation and my memory isn’t what it used to be, but I can’t remember the specific words, tone of voice, timing and circumstances of any of our verbal spats.

I can only remember how it felt.

I was angry. Confused. Frustrated. Arrogant. Defensive. Ashamed.

Like most couples, we mostly had the same fight over and over again. A few details change, but it’s always The Same Fight®, with the same themes and argument patterns.

The Same Fight doesn’t always scare you when it’s happening because you’re used to having it. But The Same Fight is what infects hearts, breaks couples and destroys families.

People pay attention to, and try to change or fix things that scare them. Have you heard or lived the story of the husband who seems disengaged from his wife and marriage, but has a complete meltdown and goes into desperate Super-Husband Mode after his wife says she wants a divorce, causing “WTF???” reactions from a wife who felt ignored, unwanted and unloved for years?

That’s what I’m talking about.

Those men fighting for their marriages and families when it’s too little, too late are guys who would have made different choices all along had they only FELT what they now feel in their frightened desperation.

It’s the marketing and advertising industry’s most potent weapon — human emotion.

Coca-Cola is the world’s most recognized brand and, I believe, the top-selling beverage in every country on Earth where it’s sold except Scotland (where I believe it’s #2). Coke is last on the list of companies that need more brand awareness. Yet they spend a kajillion dollars every year on people-oriented or “feely” marketing campaigns and advertisements because they want people to feel good when they think about, or drink, Coke.

And this is a company selling a product that’s not particularly good for us.

I think maybe we should try to be more like Coke in our relationships, except what we are offering IS actually good for people. With due respect to the fine people at Coca-Cola, strong relationships and stable, cohesive families actually will change the world.

“But, Matt!!! Advertising and marketing stuff doesn’t work on me!!!”

Right. I used to believe that, too.

And maybe it’s true. I can’t prove nor promise that certain word choices will influence an individual person to take a desired action. But I CAN prove and promise that certain word choices influence people.

When I’m not blogging about what a shitty husband I was, I’m writing marketing content designed to influence people to buy or sign up for something. I see a lot of data. I read a lot about strategy for improving results.

And yesterday, for the first time, I asked myself the question: Couldn’t these ideas just as easily apply to our interpersonal relationships?

5 Sales and Marketing Tricks You Can Use to Improve Communication with Relationship Partners (and Everyone Else)

1. Pay Attention to Timing

It’s hard to sell Christmas gifts in April. It’s hard to sell swimwear to cold-weather residents during winter. It’s often impossible to sell things during a crisis.

For example, Sept. 12, 2001 was probably a bad day to launch a new mattress and bedding sale in New York City.

But more subtle than that in the marketing world is time-of-day engagement metrics for things like email open rates or social media posts and ads.

MANY more people will open an email at 9 a.m. Monday than at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, just as many more people will see and engage with a Facebook post or advertisement at lunchtime or 7 p.m. on a weeknight than most other times (though it varies by demographic – young people stay up longer, for example).

All that to say: Maybe dumping criticisms or complaints on people during their busy workdays, or making requests or demands of others right when they walk in the door from a long day at work or at home with small children (and we have no idea what they’ve been through) isn’t the most effective timing nor best idea.

2. Chemistry is NOT Pseudo-Science. Smile and Hug More.

I’m not a biologist or any other kind of doctor, but I’ve read about dopamine enough to know it’s one of, if not the, most influential chemical our body produces to give us feelings of happiness.

Smiling is measurably the highest positive emotional gesture we make. It makes others AND ourselves feel better. And it’s a non-verbal cue which connects us to others and signals that we mean them no harm.

Additionally, HUG. For at least SIX SECONDS. Not strangers, necessarily because that might be weird. But your spouse, for sure. After six seconds, the body releases all of these excellent chemicals, including dopamine, which makes everyone’s lives better.

You might not feel like smiling or hugging. You also might not feel like brushing your teeth, or going to the doctor, or replacing your vehicle’s tires. But you do it because it’s important.

Smiling and hugging (and the chemicals they release) are IMPORTANT.

Side note: When you are text-messaging, non-verbal cues AND tone of voice are absent. Stop discussing important things via text. Pick up the phone, or save the important stuff for later.

3. Use the Right Words

Effective marketing and sales copy is customer-focused. It either educates or entertains. Customers DO NOT care about companies. Customers care about how companies’ products and services can solve their problems or otherwise improve their lives.

A thoughtful copywriter always asks: “How does this make you feel?” rather than “Which message do you want to send?”

Specific word choice matters.

You, Because, Free, Instantly and New are the five most-persuasive words in the English language, according to data analysis of advertising and marketing copy. Using those words has a measureable impact on the number of people who will open an email or click something online.

What words have a positive impact on your partner?

What words have a negative impact on them?

Don’t know? Ask. Or pay attention to what words (and actions) soothe them or make them happy, as well as those that upset them. Keep track! Talk about them!

How is it that I know which words will help me improve my email marketing campaigns, but don’t know which specific words made my wife hurt or feel good?

No need to overthink that one. I was an asshole.

4. Talk No Longer Than 30 Seconds at a Time During Conversation

Brevity is critical in marketing. And while I’m decent executing it as a marketer, I’m fairly horrible in conversation (and writing blog posts, *ahem*).

I am the KING of the never-ending monologue because of the way my brain processes new ideas and keeps triggering new thoughts while I’m talking, but also because my dad used to monologue-lecture me. I can remember ALL of the things I did which earned the lectures, but none of the lessons dad tried to teach me.

I used to use a lot of words while trying to convince my wife she was wrong to be mad at me or on the wrong side of an argument.

Pro Tip: That shit doesn’t work.

“Sometimes we speak beyond what someone is able to listen to. What the research shows is that the human brain can really only hold on to four things at a time, so if you go on and on for five or 10 minutes trying to argue a point, the person will only remember a very small part of that,” said neurologist Andrew Newberg, co-author of “Words Can Change Your Brain.” “We developed compassionate communication with the idea of having several goals, and one of them is to speak briefly, meaning that you speak one or two sentences, maybe 30 seconds worth or so, because that’s really what the human brain can take in and absorb.”

5. Make three positive comments for every negative statement

Newberg’s research also suggests that negative arguments have a very detrimental effect to our brain. We need to pay particular attention to not let them take over and work against them by using the 3-to-1 ratio:

“When you get into a dialogue with somebody to discuss any particular issue, a three-to-one ratio is a relatively good benchmark to think about; you wind up creating the opportunity for a more constructive dialogue and hopefully a better resolution,” Newberg said.

In marketing, positive messages work better when consumers have time to ponder purchase decisions. (Your partner totally has time to ponder.)

And negative marketing messages work better when there are deadlines because people generally demonstrate a fear of missing out and want to avoid negative outcomes.

Both positive AND negative statements should be used in our personal relationships to communicate thoughts and feelings.

But, for best results, we must counterbalance the fear- and anxiety-producing ones by using much more positive and hope-inspiring words.

Less hate. More love.

Less anger. More forgiveness.

Less stress and anxiety. More peace.

No tricks or scams. No lies or deception. Just authentic, thoughtful word choice and message delivery.

What we say, where we say it, when we say it, why we say it, and how we say it all dictates whether our messages are heard, understood, and properly digested.

Though our behavior often suggests otherwise, our closest relationships are the most precious and important things in life.

Sales and marketing people. Writers. They’re not for everyone.

But in the realm of HOW to communicate effectively — maybe doing things as they do would go a long way toward inspiring change in the feelings and behaviors of the people we live and work with.

Of the people we love.

Only one way to find out.

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We Should Stop Blaming Marriage for Our Problems

who we blame for our problems

(Image/Carl Richards – New York Times)

“I’m never getting married! Everybody who does just ends up miserable!”

Sometimes you’ll hear people call marriage a contrived social or religious construct that goes against our human “instincts” to pursue hedonism and carnal depravity.

“Monogamy is unnatural!”

You’ve heard it all before, too. The cynicism from jaded people in unhappy marriages. From those on the other side of divorce. From children of divorced parents. From those experiencing the fallout of a failed relationship within their family or social circle.

The numbers are the numbers. Divorce happens often, and even when it doesn’t, many couples are extremely unhappy.

According to Ty Tashiro, who wrote The Science of Happily Ever After, 70 percent of marriages end in divorce, or feature two people who resent the hell out of one another.

I’m calling that a 7-out-of-10, or 70% failure rate.

And while some of these people may represent the lowest common denominator of human intelligence and behavior, millions of that 70% represent the very best of us.

Good people. Kind people. Successful people. Smart people.

People who generously start up non-profits to feed the hungry, or brilliantly invent something that changes the way society functions, or just that incredibly nice and funny person you know from work or church or the neighborhood.

And when the rest of us watch these people get married, have children, and appear from the outside looking in to “have it all,” only for us to discover later that he drinks himself into stupors just to cope at home, or that she’s banging Jim in Corporate Accounting. And when we realize the Perfect Marriage we see is a façade—a David Blaine illusion—we feel the sting that comes when Life makes another surprise-withdraw from our Hope bank accounts.

You feel a little bit like an asshole when you first realize you were naïve enough to believe the Tooth Fairy flew into your bedroom in the middle of the night, took your nasty unbrushed lost tooth, and in exchange, left you some arbitrary amount of money.

And maybe we feel that same sense of loss and self-doubt creep in each time Life lands another Adulthood sucker punch, helping us realize things weren’t what they had seemed.

Bill Cosby. Jared Fogle. Tiger Woods. Corrupt and morally bankrupt politicians and religious leaders. Repeated examples from people we know personally.

And in each generation, everyone collectively thinks the world’s going to hell as they age. “Things ain’t like they used to be!”

Or. Just maybe. Things have always been this way, and it takes the hard-earned experience and wisdom of adulthood to understand that most everyone is wearing some kind of mask most of the time.

It’s too uncomfortable imagining everyone seeing the Real Us. So we hide things. A little. Or a lot.

Just maybe, things aren’t getting worse. Just maybe, people have ALWAYS been this way and now, because of the internet, 24/7 cable news and a HD camera lens on more than a billion mobile phones, we all see and hear about it constantly.

Maybe You Don’t Know What Marriage Is

I’m not trying to insult anyone. Most of us can offer a simple definition for, or explanation of, marriage that passes the sniff test.

That’s not what I mean.

You know how when you were a kid, you wanted to be a rock star, or act in movies, or play professional sports, or be a NASA astronaut, or perform at Carnegie Hall, write the Great American Novel, become President, or start your own Fortune 500 company?

Maybe you wanted to be a doctor, or lawyer, or supermodel, or architect, or police detective, or fashion designer, or ninja, or Navy SEAL, or axe-wielding firefighting hero.

But then, while 1% of people competently chased and achieved their dream, the rest of us abandoned those ideas somewhere along the way to pursue other things, or actually tried for a minute only to realize the huge effort required to succeed, and THEN we quit.

Wait. You mean to be a star actor, I need to wait tables and live with seven other people in a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles or New York, and THEN wait for someone to give me a chance? To be a doctor, I need to go to school for 10 years and take on the national debt of a small country? To be a Navy SEAL, I have to put my body through THAT, and then stare death in the face on every mission?

Maybe I’ll choose something else.

And that’s FINE. You’re not wrong or bad. You’re a person, and the only thing you can do is make choices that make sense to you in the moments you’re in. No judgment. I choose the easy way several times per day. The only difference is, now I recognize how my life occasionally suffers because of it.

But that’s not the point either.

The point is, a million people THINK they want to be musicians or lawyers or politicians or authors or badass first responders when all they know is the idea of what that profession would look like in their heads. But once they actually experience the real-life version of the journey there, they’re all like: “Wanna just get a 12-pack and play video games instead?”

It’s Because You Didn’t Know

It’s not your fault. Your heart and mind were in the right place. You can’t possibly know what you don’t know. Most of us spend our entire childhoods in the education system and none of us are ready for the real-world applications of those lessons. That’s with AN ENTIRE INFRASTRUCTURE in place to teach us shit. What is it that you ever learn about marriage?

You see people happy to get married and live Happily Ever After on TV.

You attend weddings where everyone seems to be having a great time.

But you almost NEVER see MARRIAGE. Not even at home. Your parents didn’t give you the whole truth. Mom didn’t tell you how lonely she felt because Dad worked 50-hour-weeks, fell asleep in the living-room chair most nights, and hardly ever showed sexual interest in her. Dad didn’t tell you about sexually relieving himself with Playboy magazines, or how it was easier to relax watching baseball at the local pub with the guys than being home, or how the financial pressures of having a family made him feel like he traded in all his dreams to work the rest of his life to pay for other people’s things only to likely die 10 years sooner than his statistical life expectancy.

Everybody wears the masks. They do it to protect us. To “save” children from the challenges of Real Life, only to accidentally fail to prepare us for those very challenges.

They don’t deserve blame either.

Because they grew up the same way.

And so did our grandparents.

Ancestral sheltering. Performed with the best of intentions. But ultimately contributing to us understanding marriage about as well as we did the realities of being promoted to police detective, or the highly advanced mathematics required to launch space rockets.

“Hey, Matt! Are you EVER going to make a point?”

Yes.

Marriage Doesn’t Suck. We Suck.

Like being accepted to the NASA astronaut program, or becoming a gold-medal Olympian, or passing the bar exam, most of us don’t have ANY idea what marriage requires of us in order to be successful.

Marriage is hard.

Marriage requires intense vigilance mentally and emotionally. We need to be ON, mentally. Even when we’re tired and “don’t feel like it.” And we need to be ON, emotionally. The personal discipline required to be mindful of another person’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing in order to contribute positively to it and not ruin their lives (and often our own in the process) is intense.

People get married and see what it’s REALLY like, and decide maybe they’d rather get a 12-pack and play more video games.

People are unwilling to give what’s needed to succeed in marriage, just like they’re unwilling to train every day for the Olympics, or practice playing an instrument enough to master it.

We love the idea of marriage. We see everyone around us getting married. It’s hard to believe anything other than: Getting married is what comes next after getting a job!

But then the divorced people tell you how horrible it is.

Cynical people tell you how frequently it fails.

Hedonists tell you how limiting it can be.

“Don’t do it!” we hear.

“Marriage is dumb. I’m not doing it!” we say.

As if staying forever-single somehow brings a magical sense of fulfillment and contentment in life.

As if having children as single parents is somehow the universally preferred and most-effective way of raising them.

As if hard things which people work tirelessly to achieve should magically become easy things. So C+ math students can design space shuttle flight plans, and people who don’t work out can be paid millions to play sports, and people can be given medical licenses after a couple semesters of community college.

We choose the easy way. We choose comfort over discomfort. We do it ALL THE TIME.

And it’s okay.

But for the same reasons you don’t REALLY want to put in the work required to open your own European pastry shop, or get elected to Congress, or lose 40 pounds, maybe you don’t REALLY want to put in the work a marriage requires.

You’ll receive no judgment or shaming from me.

But I’ll really appreciate it if you’ll kindly stop blaming marriage for sucking as if it’s the institution’s fault you or your friends aren’t any good at it.

Our marriages don’t fail because marriage is inherently flawed. Our marriages fail because WE are inherently flawed.

And being inherently flawed is precisely why most of us need a hand to hold during Life’s hairiest, shit-hitting-fan moments.

The rewards of career success on our respective journeys are great.

The rewards of relationship success are equally so.

But with marriage, most of us begin our mountain climbs not knowing how high we’re going, and lack the proper equipment to get there.

It seems silly to blame the mountain when we fall.

Marriage is rewarding and beautiful when we make it so.

It’s something else when we don’t.

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Do You Want to Dance? Or Do You Want to Dance?

Napoleon Dynamite dance

“What are you gonna do today, Napoleon?” “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!” (Image/firstandmonday.com)

I’m probably a sucky dancer. Like, to people who evaluate dance quality.

When I was a little kid there were a lot of weddings to attend because my parents are from relatively large families. I remember my aunts trying to coax me onto the dance floor, but something about dancing in the center of the room with a bunch of people watching made me super-shy and I didn’t want to.

Eventually, they’d let me scurry off to do something else.

I got into school dances around 8th grade because then I was allowed to be close to a girl. High school dances were always fun. And by the time college rolled around, bottled Budweiser, the ice luge, and test-tube shots from the shot girls were more than enough to erase what little shyness existed during my social and physical prime. We be clubbin’. Yaeeyaae.

When I was the editor of my college newspaper, the president of the Black Student Union invited me as her date to the BSU homecoming dance. I was the only white person in the banquet hall. Despite having a dozen friends in the room, I still froze up pretty hard when she drug me out to the dance floor.

That was an opportunity to demonstrate courageousness in a life where I often hadn’t needed to. And I wasn’t up to it because I was worried about what everyone else was thinking.

Later, I ended up engaged and married to a competitive ballroom dancer who knew how to navigate dance floors of all types. She always wanted me to dance with her.

I did sometimes. But I mostly declined.

It was always about bravery. It was never rooted in not actually wanting to.

It was rooted in being judged by others and deemed inadequate. It was rooted in being judged by my partner and deemed unworthy.

3 Critical Dancing Tips That Aren’t Actually About Dancing

“I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.” – Martha Graham

1. It Doesn’t Matter What You Think

Your opinions regarding how good or bad you are at something couldn’t be less relevant. People are wrong all the time about most things. It’s because we’re not divine or psychic.

I stumbled on this excellent thing from Brian D. Buckley somehow several weeks ago, and loved it. In his post “You Do Not Even Have To Believe in Yourself” he recounts the story of famed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham who he learned about after clicking a Google Doodle honoring her.

He wrote this:

“The story goes that another artist came to Ms. Graham to talk about her own worries. She ‘confessed that [she] had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that [she] could be.’

“Martha’s response:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

“I love this because it removes entirely the idea that you might not be good enough.

“She’s not saying you are good enough, she’s simply saying it doesn’t matter. That variable isn’t part of the equation. There is art inside you that exists nowhere else, and you must bring it out, and that is all.

“This doesn’t mean you can be passive. You can’t wait for the Muse or your inner self to inspire you, nor can you merely dump your feelings on the page. Every art is a craft, and you are expected to forever push your skill to its limit. That’s what it means to ‘keep the channel open.’ And of course, keeping the channel open is tremendously difficult.

“But most artists – myself included – tend to make it even harder by piling worries and doubts on top of the work itself. Am I good enough? Will they like it? Will anyone remember this a year from now, or ten, or a hundred?

“None of that is your job. It isn’t part of the equation.”

2. It Isn’t Even About You

Mark Manson—a writer I admire very much—just published a new piece yesterday called “3 Important Life Skills Nobody Ever Taught You,” and it’s phenomenal.

I’m including two of the three here because they are must-share “dancing” lessons.

Because everything we have ever experienced or will ever experience involves ourselves, we mentally and emotionally treat EVERYTHING that happens to us as actually being about us.

“But here’s a newsflash: Just because you experience something, just because something causes you to feel a certain way, just because you care about something, doesn’t mean it’s about you,” Manson wrote.

But then he wrote the most-important thing I’ll read today, or possibly ever, and it speaks to the heart of why I was afraid of my wife thinking I was a shitty dancer, or hundreds of black students at a homecoming dance thinking I was a dorky white kid who needed to go back to the barnyard square dance where I belonged.

“When people criticize you or reject you, it likely has way more to do with them — their values, their priorities, their life situation — than it does with you,” Manson said. “I hate to break it to you, but other people simply don’t think about you that much (after all, they’re too busy trying to believe everything is about them).”

3. There’s Value in Doing Things Just Because We Can

You know how the internet and inspirational posters took the phrase “Dance like no one’s watching” and made it cliché, so now it’s lame to say even though it totally makes sense because we’ve all secretly danced by ourselves at home when no one was watching (except for our dead relatives and creepy binocular-using neighbors)?

You’re not dancing because you’re at a dance. Not to be close to a partner or find one after midnight on the dance floor. Not to win the approval of a bunch of peers who are clearly superior dancers to you, OR to win the approval of judges in a competition you want to win.

You’re doing it just because.

If someone wanted you to explain why, there might not be an answer.

I felt like it? Works for me.

Manson wrote that people need to learn how to take actions without knowing what the results might be.

“But most of life — that is, real life — doesn’t work this way. When you decide to change careers, there’s no one there telling you which career is right for you. When you decide to commit to someone, there’s no one telling you this relationship is going to make you happy. When you decide to start a business or move to a new country or eat waffles instead of pancakes for breakfast, there’s no way of knowing — for certain — if what you’re doing is ‘right’ or not,” Manson wrote. “And so we avoid it. We avoid making these decisions. We avoid moving and acting without knowing. And because we cannot act on what we don’t know, our lives become incredibly repetitive and safe.”

Paralysis by analysis is the saying, I think. Using the fear of the unknown to avoid taking any action at all.

I think that’s how we die in the suburbs after spending 35 years punching clocks, and where most nights were spent in the living-room recliner watching Law & Order and shit.

Some people may genuinely not want to do certain things.

Genuine things, authentic things, actual things—REAL THINGS—are always okay. Those things are truth.

But sometimes we pretend things are true that aren’t just because we’re afraid of something.

I think most of the time we pretend things are true because we’re afraid of change.

Because we don’t know what might happen next. Scary!

And maybe we’re not good enough. Our opinions don’t matter!

And maybe everyone will point and laugh and call us shitty dancers. Maybe she’ll stop wanting to kiss us. Their opinions matter less than ours.

So dance.

Maybe that means buy the plane ticket. Change careers. Buy the ring.

Maybe that means take a chance. Have an adventure. Start your family.

It doesn’t matter what the dance looks like, and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of it—not even you.

It only matters that you do it.

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The Worst Thing Wives Do

crime scene

(Image/iStock)

During our first year of marriage, my wife was so unhappy living in Florida that she wanted to move back to her parents’ house a thousand miles away and live with them instead of me, not knowing when or if I’d find a job back in our home state that would allow me to move there and be with her.

If anyone’s curious about when I started losing self-assuredness and questioning my self-worth, now you know.

Long before I was accidentally (but egregiously) a shitty husband, I was just a young guy trying to figure things out.

I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. The younger me spent a lot of time coasting through life, living for the next fun thing, and almost no time thinking about how my actions affected others, or what I could do to be a better person.

I was a young newspaper reporter, just a few years removed from college, living in a Florida beach town and writing business stories at a daily newspaper.

We got married when we were 25. In front of a few hundred people in a pretty Ohio church where people came from all over the country to support us. Family. High school friends. College friends.

It was a good day. A good day that represented everything we wanted our life to be after discovering that whatever good the sunny beach life brought us didn’t outweigh for us the negative consequences of missing the company, support and comfort of being around long-time friends and family.

As easy as it was for me to find a newspaper gig in the economically vibrant conditions Florida enjoyed in 2002, it was excruciatingly difficult to find newswriting jobs in the economically depressed conditions Ohio was experiencing a few years later.

Many people don’t understand the challenge, but I’ll explain it. Before financially viable online journalism existed, a newspaper reporter had the following choices: 1. Get a job with a city’s daily paper (of which there is usually just ONE). 2. Get a job with a business or alternative weekly newspaper. 3. Get a magazine job. 4. Abandon journalism.

I was just 25, and the macroeconomics of print journalism’s future hadn’t become obvious to me. I still believed I’d ultimately end up as a reporter for a large metro daily newspaper in one of the Ohio cities, or maybe even land an Ohio-based gig with The Wall Street Journal, the paper with which I was totally smitten.

But we have to walk before we can run, so while I had already begun forging relationships with editors at the big papers, it wasn’t realistic to think I could jump right from my first reporting job at a mid-sized daily to a major metro paper without a few years at another mid-sized paper first.

I stayed in touch with editors at all the viable papers, sending them front-page stories I was proud of, and keeping my name and resume in front of them.

Every so often, I’d be invited to fly up for a job interview.

That was exciting at first. My wife would light up with the possibilities. We’d tell our parents. We’d tell our friends back home. We’d poke around at real estate listings that were totally out of our price range and dream a little dream of a fairytale life where everything was perfect and beautiful.

Then, one by one, I’d fly back to Florida from each interview hopeful that this time it’s going to work!

I liked making her happy. I liked giving her things. I liked feeling as if she was proud of me.

But, of course, one by one, I’d get news that the newspaper was going to hire someone else. Someone who lives closer. Someone who better understands the banking industry. Someone with previous experience covering city hall. I either didn’t have enough experience, or I was going to be too expensive for the Ohio economy.

And one bit of bad news after another, she was crushed.

We were up here. High. Hopeful.

“Thank you for your interest in career opportunities with our company. We’re sorry, but at this time we’re moving forward with another candidate. You’re going to be an excellent reporter someday! Please stay in touch! We’ll be sure to keep your resume on file.”

Then we were down here. Low. Disappointed.

Close family members fighting scary health problems piled on the pressure. She felt helpless and far away.

Every failure to get a job offer represented me failing my new wife. I couldn’t give her the thing she wanted most: Home.

The High Crimes of Wives

I’ve written twice about what I’ve identified as the worst thing I’ve ever done to my wife. The second time, people got really upset with me about it.

It helped me (and hopefully all the male readers) understand just how big of an emotional trigger the subject of child birth and husband support actually is.

From the discussion came a question I’ve been kicking around since:

Taylor asked: “Question Matt: this abandoning wife in childbirth is evidently a very common husband sin of cosmic proportions; what is the wife equivalent? I’m guessing there is at least one really common wife sin of cataclysmic proportions that women just don’t get that is comparable to the shitty husband cop-out we’ve been discussing.”

I’m not comfortable speaking on behalf of men on this one. I’m not confident there is a critical mass of husbands who ever experience the unique circumstances which brought this on.

As always, I only know what happened to me.

Symbolically, What is Marriage?

Everyone has their own take.

Here’s what I thought it was: Two young people leaving the nests of life with their parents, and building a new nest with each other.

If you and your parents are the innermost ring in your life, when you marry, your spouse replaces them as the innermost ring. Then, your parents move out to the second ring in our little personal Who Do We Love Most? solar systems.

That’s what I was taught. That’s what I believed. And that’s how I felt inside.

One day, she looked me in the eye and said she wanted to move a thousand miles away to go live with her parents in Ohio and leave me alone in our Florida apartment.

I died a little inside.

In our first year of marriage, and at a time when we didn’t have the financial resources to buy airline tickets.

I didn’t have the gut-level emotional reaction I had during our separation and torturous march toward divorce, but—for me—that was very bad.

Very bad.

So bad, that—not unlike how I imagine my wife might have reacted had a crystal ball owner told her she was marrying a guy who would leave the hospital the night of her only child’s birth—if someone had told me the person I wanted to marry would choose her parents over me within the first year of marriage, I would not have married her.

Maybe we can chalk it up to young people not knowing how to express themselves honestly or ask the right questions.

So, what does that mean? What do you call that?

I’m not sure.

The person I had mentally, emotionally and spiritually replaced my parents with, didn’t do the same for me.

It made me feel as if geography and her parents were more important to her than her marriage. It made me feel something less than loved. It made me feel as if she didn’t trust that I could ever be enough for her.

Maybe those things are true. Maybe they’re not. I know better than to presume I know what other people are thinking.

I didn’t think I was committing a major crime when I left the hospital that night. I didn’t know that would be such a defining moment in our marriage. No matter what you think, I didn’t know.

I’m quite certain my perfectly decent and well-intentioned wife didn’t think she was causing significant emotional harm by wanting to be with her family, which because of health issues, was for more than just selfish reasons. I don’t think she knew that would impact me as it did.

We were just kids. Kids dreaming our dreams.

So, what’s the crime? Making him feel as if he’s not enough, and intentionally or otherwise, rubbing his nose in it.

She couldn’t trust me to be enough. And in the end, I suppose I proved her right.

And now we dream new dreams.

…..

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The Life Blueprint

blueprints

(Image/thescoutlife.com)

“All models are wrong. Some are useful.”Faris Yakob

The Life Blueprint® is a lottery system which varies from person to person.

Two people have sex and conceive a child, and on the day the child is born, they are given their customized Life Blueprint.

They vary dramatically from place to place. The kid slinging rock in south central Los Angeles who never met his dad has a schematic which looks much different from the one handed to the private-school teen from Manhattan’s Flatiron District.

The fisherman’s son in the Philippines has a Life Blueprint that looks and feels different from that of a bank president’s daughter in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I was handed a Life Blueprint, too. Just like them, and just like you. While all of them tend to vary among the various cultural demographics, we are all united in that we were all handed one with no attached instructions.

No one told us we weren’t obligated to follow the blueprint, and because we were babies and stuff, we weren’t smart enough to ask: “Umm. Why do we do things this way? Might there be a better way? Are we allowed to study other Life Blueprints and experiment? Are there examples of other people doing things differently and succeeding? What if we studied the Life Blueprints of a bunch of people we want to be like, and then follow the steps that apply to us? Why isn’t that an awesome idea?”

Maybe some people have these conversations through their formative years.

I didn’t.

I was just alive one day and felt happy to be loved and fed and hugged and protected by those who cared for me. Maybe if you live in a place where bombs fall at night, or with frequent gun violence in the neighborhood, or where people die often because there’s no accessible sanitary drinking water, you aren’t lulled into the comfort of the Life Blueprint. Maybe when you witness a bunch of shit and horribleness in daily life, you’re always looking for an escape.

So am I lucky? Because of my safe but perhaps sheltered upbringing?

Or unlucky? Because I accidentally believed one of Life’s biggest lies. The one we believed because no one told us differently.

The Way Things Are Here is THE Way.

We don’t see it as optional.

We see it as the path. Because everyone we see and everyone we know is walking it too.

What’s Your Life Blueprint?

I could have this wrong since I only have access to one brain, and it’s failed me before, but I’m pretty sure my Life Blueprint is shared by A LOT of people in the United States.

I imagine non-U.S. residents who haven’t spent much time stateside mostly think of New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and maybe San Francisco and Chicago as representative of typical Americans.

But I think most people grow up in places like me.

Some smallish town in what people on the coasts call the “fly-over states.”

We grow up going to Friday night high school football games, going to church on Sunday, knowing personal secrets about people in other families because so many people know one another, and we don’t have to drive far to see farmland.

I grew up in a small Ohio town just like that. There are many good things about such a life. And as with everything, there are tradeoffs, too.

The Way (When You’re Me)

My Life Blueprint was basic enough.

You go to kindergarten when you’re 5, and you go to school and do your best every day until you graduate from high school 13 years later.

You have to do a good job in school so you can go to a good college, because that’s The Way to succeed.

Then, when you’re 18 and know a million times more than your stupid, close-minded parents, you move away to college, but probably not too far, because out-of-state tuition is a bitch and because you need those idiots to give you money, and a place to do laundry and eat balanced meals when you occasionally come home because there aren’t any unmissable keg parties on the radar.

Then, you get your bachelor’s degree, which means you’re ready to be a professional-something!

Then, you have choices!

  1. Take a job doing a thing for very little money relative to the median household income and try to work your way up.
  2. Go get a master’s degree to demonstrate MASTERY of a subject.

Maybe it’s nice having a master’s degree. I know several people with them, and I don’t think any are morons. But after five years of an inefficient major-switching, college-newspaper-editing, pot-smoking march toward my piece of paper telling the world I Did It!, I wasn’t interested in sitting in any more classrooms.

The Career Way

I’d followed the Life Blueprint, but even I had the good fortune to walk a path different from the average college student.

I can’t be sure how other college graduates feel RE: preparedness to tackle their career upon leaving university life. But in terms of doing the job? I was in good shape. I graduated with a Communication degree with a concentration in print journalism after floundering through three semesters of Business school where I failed Intro to Computing—the basics of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint— TWICE, because that class was stupid and student loan money wasn’t “real money.” (I wonder whether I’m the only person to ever do that. Maybe!)

Because I was a college journalist lucky enough to be at a university with a fairly sophisticated newspaper published twice weekly (frequent by college newspaper standards), and hustled on summer and holiday breaks in professional newsrooms who welcomed my reporting, I had written hundreds of stories—including local front-page and even some national news—before getting a desk in the newsroom of a Florida paper after graduating.

I’m not sure what people who study economics, political science, or whatever feel after graduating.

But that’s kind of my point.

Take the poli-sci major who spends four years sitting in lecture halls and writing papers after reading pieces and parts of their 10-pound, $300 textbook. They graduate with $100,000 or more in debt, but they have their fancy new bachelor’s degree which will help political strategists or those managing political office staff realize how qualified they are!

Life Blueprint Challenge Exercise

What if the person who did that, instead of going to college, read one non-fiction book per week about political strategy, political history, biographies of politicians, or about any ancillary subjects important to those seeking political office?

What if the 18-year-old, instead of college, had volunteered all of her or his time to a local or state candidate’s election campaign, asking questions and experiencing life on the inside and building a network of strategists and elected officials?

What if, instead of going into debt $100,000 or whatever, they spent a fraction of that over four years traveling and gaining the kind of depth, perspective and maturity that only comes from experiencing new things?

Who do you want on your team, Elected Official or Person Running for Office?

The 22-year-old with mountains of debt, little to no experience, and a bachelor’s degree?

Or the one who read 200 books, worked on several campaigns, can pick up the phone for advice or to recruit help from a large network, has countless hours of real-world experience, and a ton of personal references from those she or he worked closely with?

On what planet would someone think the bachelor-degree way is better? Because the Life Blueprint said so, and so did all of our friends’, so we never question it?

And, honestly, Everyone 30 and Older Who Now Realizes Our Parents Knew Things: What is the WORST-possible outcome of this? Starting college as a 22-year-old and a ton of maturity and experience to apply to the classroom?

I don’t get it.

The Marriage Way

Where I’m from, you start thinking about marriage in high school or college. Anyone who has dated for two years might get married, and it’s not even weird. Seriously.

When you’re in high school, you’re surrounded by a bunch of single people just like you.

When you’re in college, you’re surrounded by a bunch of single people on the same general life path as you.

And even though Typical College Student demonstrates morally questionable behavior on the daily RE: sex, drugs and rock & roll, after a lifetime of church-going in Small Town, Fly-Over State, he or she has likely been taught that all sexual activity outside of marriage makes God, our parents, and most people we know really sad and/or uncomfortable.

Throw a bunch of college party-attending, single people with raging hormones, a lifetime model of seeing people meet and marry in their early to mid-20s, and a Life Blueprint in their back pockets reminding them they should hurry up and get married because of the sex thing, and also to have babies, because That’s Just What You Do—It’s The Way!, and it’s no mystery why so many young, well-intentioned people meet, fall in love, and get married without knowing The Things Married People Should Know.

Why do we do things this way?

Well, because we can’t know what we don’t know. And the Life Blueprint says we should do it this way. We look around, and everyone else is doing it that way, too, so it must be what’s best! I mean, everyone’s happy and winning the Game of Life, right?

Why?

Because we (and our children, if we’re not careful) believe: This is simply The Way things are done.

Because, models. All that we see, which tells us do this, and not that, because this is normal, thus obviously best.

But what if it’s not?

Because all models are wrong. There’s no such thing as One Size Fits All in the human experience.

But some models are useful.

Seek. And ye shall find.

…..

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New Things and Places Make You Grow and I’m Almost 1% of the Way There

Guy walking down road traveling

(Image/smagmagazine.wordpress.com)

Even though I lived in three different states growing up, I didn’t understand that people in other places were different than the people I was accustomed to seeing around me.

As I imagine there are many common traits among people living in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, so it is with people in Iowa, Illinois and the part of Ohio in which I was raised.

I was born in Iowa.

My parents split when I was 4 and I moved to Ohio to begin my school years. I spent a lot of time in Iowa and Illinois along the Mississippi River visiting my family throughout those years. Both places—Ohio, and the Mississippi River Valley—provide feelings of Home.

There wasn’t a ton of money floating around nor did I know anyone close to me with a passion for travel.

So I didn’t get out much.

Which is actually fine as it’s happening when you’ve never experienced anything different. Contentment is a highly underrated thing—a lesson I learned the hard way after graduating from college. What I lacked in material wealth and life experience was more than made up for in genuine contentment, surrounded by wonderful family and friends no matter which state I was in.

How do you manufacture a decent guy with a genuinely kind heart and good intentions who is capable of ditching his crying wife in the hospital hours after giving birth to his beautiful newborn son?

There are an incalculable number of factors, but I fear many innocent and well-meaning actions and conditions contributed.

I was born to very young parents. They were eightish years younger than my ex-wife and I when our son was born. I didn’t feel ready at 29. It’s hard to imagine how they must have felt.

I am, for all intents and purposes, an only child.

Because my mom is from a very large family of kind, loving people; and because my dad was from a mid-sized family who didn’t see me often; and because I made friends easily and was seemingly well liked by their parents and my teachers because I’m naturally outgoing and well mannered, I was showered with an almost-obscene amount of love, support and affirmation growing up.

These things feel good. And almost every day felt good. Being me was a very positive experience.

I think my dad spoiled me just a bit because of our unfortunate geographic situation which kept us from a typical father-son relationship. I think my mom took it pretty easy on me in terms of chores and responsibilities around the house because she was so accustomed to (and skilled at) accomplishing home management tasks from being the oldest of many brothers and sisters, so I got used to things just “magically” getting taken care of.

Folded laundry. Swept floors. Clean counters. Spotless bathrooms. Stocked fridge and pantry.

My only real job was schoolwork, and I could perform academically at a fairly high level without trying hard, and certainly without learning the material inside and out. After all that K-12 learning, followed by whatever I did to get a bachelor’s degree, I’d be surprised if I’ve retained even 10 percent of it. We’ll never know.

So what DID I “know”?

  1. Being myself makes most people like me, and I don’t have to work hard for things.
  2. I’m totally smart, which means when people disagree with me or challenge my beliefs, there’s an above-average chance they’re wrong.
  3. Life is beautiful, people are kind, and mostly good things happen, which means sad, depressed, angry or impoverished people just aren’t trying hard enough. Yay, life!
  4. People are mostly the same everywhere you go. It’s obvious because I’ve been between Iowa and Ohio my entire life, and it pretty much all looks and feels the same! Neat!

Certainly, attending a 20,000-plus-student public university after 12 years of Catholic schooling in a town with the same amount of people delivered some eye-opening moments.

Not everyone believes what I believe. Some objectively super-smart people disagree with some of my political philosophies and can articulate why without saying anything moronic. Also, I’m friends with black people! 

But the real shock to the system happened when I braved a move outside of my little four-state bubble in middle America, moving to a Florida beach town on the Gulf side to take a newspaper reporting job.

Because we all live inside our own heads and nowhere else, and because I hadn’t done a lot of travelling, and because when I had gone to other places, they shared many cultural similarities with my hometown, I assumed people were pretty much the same everywhere, at least in the United States.

In other words, I thought I was moving to Ohio with Nice Weather and Beaches.

It only took me a few months in Florida to observe how incorrect my assumption had been, and to learn an important life lesson at the age of 23:

Different people in different places often have different beliefs and different life experiences than I do, and those differences feel as natural to them as my normal does to me.

Oh, the Places We’ll Go

Last week, one guy I met while living in Florida told his oldest son to pick any place in the world to visit for a father-son trip. The boy (I think he’s 11) chose Tokyo, Japan. And off they went, leaving mom and the younger two brothers behind. Those two looked like they had an awesome time, and I imagine both father and son will have grown significantly from the experience in some way.

As I type, another friend is in the midst of a two-week tour of Europe. She texted me some photos from Switzerland that made me want to drop everything and go there. Mountains. Waterfalls. The greenest greens. And those totally rad “Ri-cola!” horns.

A new friend, author and potential future collaborator routinely travels the globe, has lived in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is married to a Dutch man she now lives with in south Florida, and returned less than a month ago from a speaking gig in Stockholm, Sweden.

That’s just regular life for her.

For me, that’s, like, whoa.

I started traveling domestically in my second job out of school, which had brought me back to Ohio. Every couple of months, I was going somewhere for a conference or industry trade show. It was then that I really felt as if I was broadening my horizons in my mid- to late-twenties.

I took a look at a map to evaluate where I’ve been.

Toronto, Ont. is my furthest trek north. New York City is my furthest east. To the south, Key West, Fla. And to the west, San Diego, Calif.

I downloaded an app where you can log all of the places you’ve been. I went through it carefully, marking my destinations.

Two countries. My homeland. And Canada. And let’s be honest. When you’re from the United States, and you occasionally get Canadian coins handed to you when cashiers are making change, and when the border is way closer than half of the U.S. states, it doesn’t really feel like international travel.

And unless I’m forgetting one, I’ve visited 24 states and Washington D.C.

That’s it.

About half of the states in my native country and a few cities in one Canadian province.

My new app was kind enough to calculate what percentage of the world I’ve seen.

That figure? 0.8 percent.

I’m 37 years old. And I try to write stories that I hope might help someone live and love better.

And I’ve seen less than 1 percent of this world.

There’s More to Life Than What We Think We Know

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about saltwater fish and coral reefs, but until I went snorkeling off the coast of the Florida Keys, I couldn’t accurately describe their beauty.

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about New York and Washington D.C. throughout my childhood, but until I walked the streets of Manhattan or sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I couldn’t marvel at all the steel and concrete that makes up NYC, or feel what a grateful American feels looking out over my favorite visual piece of our nation’s capital.

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about California and the Pacific Ocean, but I was 28 before I stood on Mission Beach for the first time and felt the awesome power of the largest body of water on Earth, and could finally understand why so many people are willing to move so far away and spend so much money to live near it.

I am a better, different, wiser, more intelligent, more balanced, more complete human being for having experienced the few life-expanding places and moments I have.

And I’ve seen less than 1 percent of all there is to see.

How much better, different, wiser, more intelligent, more balanced, more complete might I be if I see more? How much more might you be?

Maybe we owe ourselves the opportunity to find out.

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Maybe This is How My Wife Felt

Bill Murray throws golf club

This.

I want to quit my job even though I like many things about it.

It’s not just because I find traditionally structured 9-to-5s to be wholly dissatisfying, but because there aren’t cool-enough bosses (mine are mostly awesome) nor enough money in the world (I do okay) to buy my unquestioning loyalty.

In military, law enforcement, firefighting ladder companies, mountain climbing teams, space shuttle crews, and other applications, you’ll find an established chain of command. Not following—or even questioning—orders can be the difference between life and death. I understand this and have a fundamental respect for leadership structures and believe people in management deserve a modicum of respect by virtue of that chain of command.

The stakes tend to be less in for-profit business. I work for a private company. We sell things no one needs, but many people want. For better or worse, the bottom line is the bottom line, though our corporate culture is particularly people-friendly and community-minded.

By all appearances, inside and out, it’s an excellent company that is No. 1 in its market globally, has a reputation for being professional with customers and business partners, and has as many multi-decade employees as I’ve ever seen. I still want to quit.

I like my bosses and the vast majority of my co-workers. I still want to quit.

I like the actual internet marketing work I do and try to improve my craft every day. But I still want to quit.

And I think maybe there are a bunch of parallels here to how wives and mothers feel about their married lives, sharing homes with their husbands and children, and doing her best to raise good kids in a life where she’s being pulled in so many different directions.

I think maybe I feel about my job the way, in the end, my wife felt about me.

On Loyalty and Effort

I didn’t just accept this job five years ago because it seemed better than my old job, and come into it with a ho-hum work ethic and mindset.

This job, in many ways, saved my life.

On Jan. 1, 2010, I became another in a long line of laid-off newspaper reporters following the 2008 economic implosion. And because I’m never intentionally masochistic, I chose to move on from my journalism career and find another way to make money. I was jobless for 18 months, freaking out because I had a toddler son at home and a wife who clearly was not digging being married to an unemployable loser. I made money freelance writing, but with child and family healthcare costs, I needed to find something steady with a benefits package.

Eventually, I was hired into one of my company’s coolest and fastest-growing departments, and work with a bunch of good, smart people.

I went from total loser, to well-paid guy with a seat at the table for macro-level conversations about business strategy, overnight.

This job gives me the money to pay for my home and Jeep, and the money to support my son.

This job provided something steady during my divorce.

This job introduced me to friends I hope I’ll have forever.

This job gave me a real-world laboratory to study marketing and human behavior, and gave me a front-row seat to the constantly changing digital world where it’s sometimes hard to keep up.

I am grateful for this job. I LIKE my job. 

But I still want to quit.

And if my next career move wasn’t going to be me jumping off into entrepreneurial waters, maybe I’d already be gone.

Why?

Because the leadership at my company despite their best intentions are the business-world equivalent of shitty husbands, and no matter how many good things there are to appreciate and admire about them, I have—in metaphorical-relationship terms—transitioned to Apathetic Robot Wife mode, and recently realized: I’m done.

I’m done because I don’t care enough anymore. And the leadership at my company, even though they do so many good things for us and create a mostly nice place to work, is the reason why.

Husband: ‘Why Are You Doing This To Me?’

“Um. You did this to yourself,” she replies.

I was hired by my company to do a job. I write things—website copy, emails, blog posts—designed sometimes to educate and inform existing or potential customers, and sometimes to provide a very specific sales call to action. Buy this awesome thing right now!

They give me money in exchange for these services where I’d like to believe I make them a lot more money than I’m paid.

Like a newlywed bride, I was totally psyched to be here five years ago. I devoted a lot of time and energy to honing my craft, studying its impact, and generating new ideas. I felt emotionally invested in my work, proud of my contribution, and passionately spoke up in meetings about doing things “the right way” as I perceived them. Best practices = Success. I really believe that.

I came in early and stayed late. I poured myself into the work knowing I could make positive contributions, studying results, and always striving for incremental improvement.

Because in the digital world we can measure with decent precision the performance of a marketing email send, or blog post, or social media engagement, or web traffic, we don’t always have to guess how our customers respond to our work.

We often can see that doing X generates good results and more sales, and that doing Y does not.

My switch flipped to No-More-Fucks-Left-To-Give mode when my bosses made crappy decisions that costs us money for political and ego reasons, despite evidence supporting our protests.

Then we tried one more time and it happened again.

Surely, we’ll go back to doing the right thing with this overwhelming evidence we’re sabotaging our efforts, I thought.

And then it didn’t. And that’s when I felt a part of me shut off.

Okay, dicks. Have it your way.

One of my jobs is to write emails. Some people further up the corporate food chain probably don’t think it’s super-important. Kind of like how some husband feels about his wife’s efforts to keep the kitchen clean.

Our company makes a lot of money, so as a percentage, any individual email I write—some of which generate more in 48 hours than my annual salary—still might not register much with upper management.

Nonetheless, what I love about email marketing is that I can measure my impact on the company. If I write a subject line that gets 18 percent of people to open it and 2 percent of people to click to our website, that’s worth a certain amount of money. If I write a better subject line and copy, I might move 23 percent to open that email and 4 percent to click through. Over time, those incremental improvements are what I live for, professionally. I fight for those inches. If my effort and creativity improves those numbers just a point or two every large-scale email, over the course of a year, it means we sold a lot more stuff, and we make a lot more money, and I feel good when that happens.

I care. Not because they’ll give me a big raise if I do this. (They won’t.) Not because I’ll receive recognition or pats on the back outside of my annual review. (I will not.)

It’s because I take pride in my work, and I want to do it well. It’s because I’m part of something, and am invested in our success. It’s because I feel loyal, and it is my pleasure to make meaningful contributions.

I can live with the fact that no matter how hard I work, I’ll get little more than cost-of-living raises.

I can live with the fact that no matter how little someone else works, they will too.

I can live with the fact that I have to wear crappy business casual clothes that are neither casual nor particularly nice or professional like a good little cubicle soldier.

I can live with the fact that even though I can do my job from any internet-connected computer in the world, I’m not allowed to work elsewhere.

But I can’t live with the people I’m supposed to respect being given evidence their decisions cost us money and sabotage our work, and then watch them choose to stay the course.

They’re Not Doing It Purposefully

Making us feel shitty about our jobs, I mean. They’re not. They don’t know they’re doing it.

They’re good people. I’m sure if they REALLY UNDERSTOOD how their decisions affected the rest of us on a psychological and emotional level, they’d maybe do things differently. 

But they don’t get it. They expect us to work just as hard on the next project even though we know it can’t perform as well as it should. They expect me to care like I always have. They probably think because I no longer argue as passionately as I once did that I’m totally satisfied with things here.

Then, it hit me: My bosses are husbands who leave dishes by the sink.

And some of my co-workers and I are the wives who finally have had enough. I can’t keep giving THIS much of a shit for something that doesn’t reward the effort.

Maybe this isn’t what’s happening. Maybe they’re NOT stubbornly clinging to their I’m-The-Boss egos. Maybe they really believe they’re doing the right thing, and maybe they’re totally oblivious about how that impacts our job satisfaction, work performance, and office culture.

But if sure-as-shit FEELS like they’re intentionally doing things that undermine our efforts.

I could take it the first time. It didn’t faze me.

I could take it the first hundred times. There’s so much good here to be grateful for.

I could take it the first thousand times, even as frustration mounted.

But somewhere along the way, one of my bosses left one too many “dishes” by the sink.

And now things will never be the same.

I’ll write their things because they give me money to do so. But I used to write things with an attitude of wanting to give more than I take. That’s gone now, and I wish it wasn’t.

I want to believe in unconditional love in marriage, but I now understand there will always be some conditions.

If you wake up every morning, and your partner says to you “Hey! You’re a stupid, ugly asshole!,” and then punches you in the face, there are a finite number of times you’ll stand there taking the verbal and physical punch.

Sometimes, love dies.

I’m not sad about my job. I’m maybe a tiny bit angry. Mostly, I’m apathetic.

And no matter how comfortable I am, or how many fond memories I have, or how much I like and appreciate my job and wish things were different, I’m done now.

I don’t know whether I’ll leave in three or six months, or in one or two years. But I am leaving.

In my heart and mind, I’m already gone.

And no, the irony isn’t lost on me.

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The Things Men Love More Than Wives and Children

daddy wasn't there

Many guys are afraid of committing to relationships.

Maybe it’s because we know there will be work and sacrifice involved and it scares us. Or maybe it’s because we’re afraid of never having sex with a new person again. It could also be because the average diamond engagement ring costs $6,400; the average wedding costs $30,000, but the average 30-year-old guy’s (median age for first-time grooms in the United States is 29) salary is just $40,000.

Maybe we crave “freedom.” Or maybe so much of our self-identity is wrapped up in ourselves as individuals that we psychologically have trouble letting go of that even when we feel strong emotional bonds with another.

If you are a husband and a father, what is it that you rank higher on your My Life Priorities list than your wife and children?

Maybe we realize that divorce is mathematically a 50-50 proposition and since we watched our parents go through it when we were kids and suffered emotionally and logistically for it, we’re just super-cautious because we don’t want to make a mistake.

I was afraid to propose to my girlfriend.

I have trouble sometimes committing to what to eat for dinner, or what to read or watch after. I was 23 years old and terrified about getting married and then getting divorced like my parents did.

But girlfriends have fears, too. And sometimes young women dream of marriage and family, and then see many of their girlfriends getting engaged, and sometimes start to feel pressure to figure out that part of their lives. It’s a pretty big deal, so that makes sense to me.

Maybe that’s how my girlfriend felt. Like if I wasn’t going to commit, that she needed to know, so she could make an informed decision about what to do for the rest of her life.

Maybe a lot of young couples go through that.

And maybe a lot of other guys feel like I did: I’m running out of time, and if I’m unwilling to commit, I’m probably going to lose her.

We’re scared, sure. But at some point, it comes down to which is the greater pain. Letting go of all those commitment worries, or letting go of her?

The fear of losing my girlfriend was greater than my fear of losing whatever I was worried about losing by promising her forever.

Perhaps ironically, we were engaged on Independence Day in the U.S.—July 4, 2003. We were married a little more than a year later.

Men Take Vows Seriously, Too

Despite all of the fears and stresses and discomfort associated with marriage, a young man, with a million previous opportunities to walk away, psychologically approaches his wedding day with the mindset that he’s making the right choice: I love her. Who would I ever find that’s better? Why would I want to? This is the right thing.

I have a difficult time believing more than maybe one percent of people exchange wedding vows knowing secretly in the back of their minds that they don’t intend to fulfill them. Divorce is awful. And good marriage is very good. Almost nobody is rooting for dysfunction and heartache.

They want it to work. They want it to be good. Forever. And when we say “I do,” that’s what we all believe will happen.

Soooo, WTF!?

Yeah, I’ve been wondering that, too.

After all of that hand wringing and internal debate and deliberately choosing marriage and making the personal and financial sacrifices necessary to do so, why do so many of our marriages end up broken and shitty? And why do men so commonly engage in repeated and predictable behaviors that frequently doom their marriages?

These questions should keep us up at night, because it seems infinitely more difficult and complicated than it should be, and if any genius psychology experts are reading maybe one will try to explain it.

Because I think I know something. And it doesn’t jibe with the fact that 99% of marriage proposals come from the future grooms in the 6,200 weddings which take place daily in the U.S.

Most Men Who Go Through That Process Will Tell You His Marriage and Family are His Highest Priorities

There’s a chance I’m not getting this right. There’s a chance that maybe 20 percent of husbands and fathers would look you in the eye and say: “No. My wife and family are #4 on my list. My motorcycle, my social life, and golf are the top three.” or “My wife and kids? In terms of their importance in my life? Hmmm. Video games are more important. I missed my son’s surgery the other day for a work meeting. And there are a few other things I would always choose over them. But they’re definitely in the top 10!”

A deeply religious man would probably tell you that he puts God first, but I think you’d find that that humility serves him well in his marriage and his relationships with his children.

But, generally? I’m looking for an answer to the following question:

If you are a husband and a father, what is it that you rank higher on your My Life Priorities list than your wife and children?

My smart friend wisely observes that men often view their role as husband and father through the prism of being a provider, and then use that self-perception to justify putting so much energy into money-making endeavors, followed by taking recovery time for themselves to gear up for another hard day tomorrow.

And you know what? I’ll even buy that a little for those guys hammering out 60-plus hour weeks and providing high-end financial opportunities for their wives and children which grants them experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have, especially when both husband and wife mutually agree to the arrangement.

But let’s be real, please.

That’s not typical.

Most of the time, wives and mothers do MUCH more of the unpaid adult work required to maintain family life, and frequently make as much or more than their husbands. My wife and I were essentially 50-50 financial partners for the majority of our marriage, and the majority of my social circle is comprised of couples like that.

I get the same email several times per week: “Any time I say anything, he just gets defensive and accuses me of never being happy. I do everything at home with a 40-hour-per-week job. And I could almost live with it if he’d put more energy into the kids. But while they’re so happy to see him and want to play with him when he comes home and I’m making dinner, he always ends up playing on his phone, or the computer, playing a video game, watching something on TV, or whatever. It’s ALWAYS about him, and never about us.”

After she cleans the kitchen, bathes the kids, gets them to bed, starts a load of laundry, and mentally manages grocery lists, school needs for the kids, along with not losing sight of whatever needs done at the office tomorrow, she’s totally spent by the time 9 p.m. or whatever rolls around.

Maybe when she walks back through the kitchen an hour after cleaning it, she finds crumbs on the counter or a dirty glass by the sink.

Maybe when she collapses on the living room couch, announcing that she’s going to take a bath and go to bed, he absently says: “Okay. Goodnight,” without taking his eyes off of the football game, or looking away from his video game.

Or maybe he asks her whether she wants to fool around, and then acts frustrated when she doesn’t want to. Or maybe he keeps his frustration a secret and then jerks off to internet porn for her to discover later as one more thing to make her feel like she’s trapped in My Life is Shit World, with the only obvious means of escape being murdering him, killing herself, or divorce, the latter of which she’s beginning to fantasize about.

Thousands of people have told me almost this exact story.

To a certain degree, I lived almost this exact story.

It’s because it happens all the time.

And I’m trying to figure out why.

Someone answer the question. Maybe you, Married Guy Who Does These Things.

When you rank everything in your life in order of importance, where—if not the top—does your wife and family sit?

And if, as I suspect, you really believe your marriage and children to be the most important and precious things in your life, then I have just one other question:

What are you waiting for?

…..

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You’re Gonna See Some Serious Shit

Doc Brown and Marty McFly Back to the Future

“When this sucker hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.” Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown, Back to the Future

I’m a time traveler.

Just like you.

And it’s actually dangerous because when you spend all your time thinking about things that already happened, or worrying and dreaming about things that might happen someday, you’re never really being alive right now. You’re never here. Right this second. I have to remind myself sometimes that there is a right now. I have to breathe slowly and really concentrate and try to not think about something that happened earlier or wonder about something that might happen later.

I breathe in. Hold. Then out. And if you only think about the air going in and out of your lungs, you have a slight possibility of being mindfully alive for a few seconds.

I’m a dreamer. Maybe it’s healthy sometimes. Most of the time, it’s probably not. Because I’m an optimist, I often imagine something and I hone in on all the positives of this possible future, and I paint a rosy picture in my imagination where everything is great and I feel good and maybe a girl likes me in the end.

I dream about big things. Like my start-up company. I catch myself thinking about the rewards of our theoretical success a few years from now even though I can’t see all the steps between here and there.

I dream about small things. Like a party or fun weekend trip coming up. I catch myself thinking about having an amazing time with a bunch of other people who are also having an amazing time and everything is awesome just like it used to be when we were young and didn’t have baggage and shame perpetually tagging along.

I’m glad I’m a hopeful person. That I’m positive and not cynical. That I tend to find the silver linings instead of being dour and pissed off all the time.

But it has a downside, too.

When you default to a position of hopefulness and optimism, or more specifically, when you imagine the birthday or vacation or wedding anniversary or class reunion or holiday a certain way, and then when you really experience it, it’s a total letdown, you set yourself up for constant disappointment.

I experience that often. I build things up in my mind and then I’m disappointed because something I thought would be great wasn’t.

When you’re a little Catholic school kid from a little Ohio town most people in your own state can’t find on a map, it’s probably not weird to end up like me.

I’d walk home from school or deliver newspapers on my paper route, looking at the houses and daydreaming about my future. The houses were all basically the same, save the customary architectural tweaks consistent with middle-income Midwest homes designed at the turn of the 20th century.

I would live in a house just like that because people live in houses just like that.

I would be married because adults get married.

I would have a few kids because Catholic families have a few kids.

With age came ambition, if not direction. I wanted more. Financial success. A vibrant social life. There’s more to life than this.

No matter how much you evolve through high school and college, it seems like the life you lived as a child grew permanent roots. Like the baggage and shame, it follows you everywhere, and you were either blessed or cursed by whatever hand life dealt you.

I was both.

Where I’m from, everyone goes to high school, and then everyone goes to college, and then everyone gets married and starts a family.

Any deviation from that path is viewed through squinty-eyed suspicion.

Why isn’t that person following The Plan™?

It’s because those rule-breakers aren’t as smart as you. You know everything, and that will be obvious to everyone when you’re in your mid-thirties and life has turned out just like you knew it would.

Today is Oct. 21, 2015. It’s the day Doc, Marty and Jennifer travelled to in the future via flying DeLorean in the Back to the Future movie franchise. The Internet has been making a big deal about it for months.

Back to the Future (and the sequels) has been one of my favorite movies since I saw it at the theater in 1985. The time-travel story captured my six-year-old imagination. I’m pretty sure the first Back to the Future film is the movie I’ve seen more than any other though I don’t have an iTunes play count from the past 30 years to prove it.

In Back to the Future II (released in 1989), the movie makers created a version of the fictional Hill Valley, Calif. they imagined for 2015.

Flying cars and hoverboards are the obvious highlights. The justice system works swiftly because there are no more lawyers. Meteorologists can accurately predict changing weather down to the second. You can hydrate a little hockey puck-sized pizza in a small kitchen appliance, and enjoy a hot, delicious regular-sized pizza just seconds later. A bottle of Pepsi costs about $50. People wear self-drying clothes. Jaws 19 is playing in theaters. Kids no longer use hands to play video games.

Maybe adults watched Back to the Future II and knew most of that was never going to happen. I was 10, so I can’t be sure. I watched with wonder.

And what I’m thinking about now is how 30 years ago, I watched someone else’s vision of the future, and with three decades (technically, 26 years) to go, none of what I saw felt especially far-fetched to me.

But I look around today and it doesn’t look at all like the future Back to the Future II painted for me, even though 26 years ago it made so much sense.

We imagined a future. But it didn’t happen that way at all.

And in the context of the cars we drive, and the price of soft drinks, and our fashion sense, I think most of us are probably okay with that.

The part of divorce no one talks about is the part where you lose all your dreams.

People tend to focus on the loss of their spouse at home, or sharing time with the kids, or the financial costs of the split.

Change is hard. It just happens and suddenly you’re sitting alone in your house, and waking alone in your bed, and going by yourself to family gatherings to look everyone in the eye who travelled great distances to sit in church pews and hear you vow “’Til death do us part” before handing you a wad of cash. They ask how you’re doing and you can’t be honest because they’ll worry about you, or you’ll bore them for two hours while dripping in failure. Because everyone there is still married.

Back in that little Ohio town where that’s just what you do.

But I don’t know that any of that is the worst or hardest part.

I had plans.

With my wife and son and the daughter I never got.

With my successful career where we never again worry about money.

With Sunday afternoons 30 years from now where I’m grilling dinner and my grandchildren are running around the backyard. My son and his family. In both directions.

Because right up to the moment you hear: “I’m leaving,” everything is going according to plan.

You never—not even once—considered an alternative future. Not like shitty alternate-1985 where Biff is your stepdad, your father has been murdered, and your beat-up mother has massively gross, plastic boobs.

In Back to the Future II, Doc and Marty use a time machine to repair the damage.

But us? You and me? We don’t get time machines. The only time travel we do keeps us from living in the now.

I’m cool with the fact we don’t have flying cars. I was never a particularly strong skateboarder, so the absence of hoverboards doesn’t keep me up at night. And Jaws jumped the (pun intended) shark after Jaws 2.

In other words, the future happened. We’re here now. And relative to the movie’s imagined society, I’m more than fine with how everything turned out.

I think that same thing can be true in our personal lives.

The future was written. I could see down the road and I just “knew” how most of it looked and felt. And it was good.

But, really, it wasn’t written. I didn’t know anything. And it was kind of shitty and horrible when it actually happened.

Something real is eventually going to happen. Something real is happening right now.

Life will write the script that was always going to be written no matter how many times we try to pen it ourselves.

Now, I know I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

And just maybe, that’s a really good thing.

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I’m Not Special and It’s Okay

one million people

I’m going to die and no one will care.

I don’t mean “no one,” like zero people. Maybe someone will cry or write a nice note on an online memorial. I mean “no one,” like hardly anyone.

I’m not whining. It will probably happen to you, too.

Sometimes I hear about someone dying—someone famous. So famous that the death gets reported on primetime news, or becomes a trending story online. And even though they’re so famous that that happens, AND I’m a pretty informed guy, I still often won’t know who the dead celebrity was. Maybe they were an older actor or musician. Maybe they were successful business people or a famous Olympian.

I don’t always know.

They lived and made so much noise that their deaths were national or global headlines. And yet the news doesn’t faze many of us because the loss doesn’t register in our daily lives.

The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You (or Me)

It kind of blows your mind when you first realize this.

I had always heard how “special” I was, and that I was destined for big things.

The doctors told my parents I was probably going to die when I was born, and so when I didn’t, everyone said: “It’s a miracle! God kept you alive for a reason! You’re here to do something special!”

I heard that a lot, and because I didn’t think my family lied, I believed it.

But then you wake up one day divorced with a disappointing bank account and an untidy home. My family is a bunch of dirty liars.

“A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept being mediocre, then they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life doesn’t matter,” Mark Manson, one of my favorite writers, wrote in his most-recent post In Defense of Being Average. “I find this sort of thinking to be dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is only worthwhile if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population sucks and is worthless. And ethically speaking, that is a really dark place to put yourself.”

I always wanted everything bigger, better and faster. More money. Bigger houses. Cooler “stuff.”

Maybe I wanted it because there wasn’t much money floating around when I was growing up. Maybe I wanted it because I felt entitled since psychologically, I’d always bought the I’m gonna be special! notion.

I think my sense of entitlement was a major factor in my divorce.

My mom was better than some (in terms of teaching me about personal responsibility), but the truth is, I didn’t have a lot of chores growing up. If my school work was complete, I could mostly do what I wanted.

Then, when I became an “adult,” and wasn’t working, I wanted to be playing.

Sometimes my wife would get upset with me because I’d scoff at housecleaning on a Saturday morning when there was fun to be had.

Maybe that happens to a lot of couples. Maybe some moms spend so much time serving dad and babying sons that some boys grow up never understanding what personal responsibility looks like.

Maybe a lot of women are married to guys like that.

After my wife left and I started seeing my son only half the time, I completely freaked out. Maybe it was grief. Or sadness and anger and feelings of rejection. Maybe it was shame or guilt.

I just know I woke up every day feeling so horrible that dying didn’t scare me anymore.

When something scares you and gives you anxiety, and you can’t escape it because it comes with you wherever you are, and always greets you first thing in the morning, it fundamentally changes who you are on the inside.

I think sometimes people feel that feeling for the first time when they’re younger because they lost a loved one unexpectedly, or because of some other unfair trauma.

I somehow got to 33 before learning the most-important lesson I have ever learned: There’s no such thing as happiness when everything hurts on the inside.

Meaning, all these stupid things I thought mattered like money and toys and houses? A billion dollars and a yacht couldn’t have saved me from despair.

It was my wake-up call. None of this shit matters.

Imagine yourself at the end of your life. What sort of legacy will you leave? Describe the lasting effect you want to have on the world, after you’re gone.

I couldn’t think of anything to write. So I was grateful to WordPress editor Krista for posting this prompt today.

What do I want my legacy to be?

The truth is, in 100 years, no one will remember me. No one’s going to care.

There’s something unsettling about that. But maybe liberating, too.

I like to imagine myself peacefully drifting off in my old age looking out a window at something serene outside my home. And maybe that will happen.

But I could just as easily die in some dreary hospital room.

Or in my car.

Or five seconds from now if my heart stops beating.

Manson continues: “The people who become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they are obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. That they are mediocre. That they are average. And that they can be so much better.

“This is the great irony about ambition. If you wish to be smarter and more successful than everybody else, you will always feel like a failure. If you wish to be the most loved and most popular, then you will always feel alone. If you wish to be the most powerful and admired, then you will always feel weak and impotent.

“All of this ‘every person can be extraordinary and achieve greatness’ stuff is basically just jerking off your ego. It’s shit sold to you to make you feel good for a few minutes and to get you through the week without hanging yourself in your cubicle. It’s a message that tastes good going down, but in reality, is nothing more than empty calories that make you emotionally fat and bloated, the proverbial Big Mac for your heart and your brain.

“The ticket to emotional health, like physical health, comes from eating your veggies — that is, through accepting the bland and mundane truths of life: a light salad of ‘you’re actually pretty average in the grand scheme of things’ and some steamed broccoli of ‘the vast majority of your life will be mediocre.’ This will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid eating it.

“But once ingested, your body will wake up feeling more potent and more alive. After all, that constant pressure to always be something amazing, to be the next big thing, will be lifted off your back. The stress and anxiety of feeling inadequate will dissipate. And the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish with no judgments and no lofty expectations.

“You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences. You will learn to measure yourself through a new, healthier means: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about.

“Sounds boring, doesn’t it? That’s because these things are average. But maybe they’re average for a reason. Because they are what actually matter.”

Life is my son being happy to see me after a long weekend.

It’s a sunny day on the lake with friends.

Life is a new album I want to listen to over and over.

It’s when someone likes something they read here.

Life is finding joy in the mere fact we’re breathing.

It’s giving more than we take.

There are 7 billion people in the world. And if even 10,000 people (which is a lot) knew who we were and cared, we’d still be impacting less than one thousandth of one percent.

Describe the lasting effect you want to have on the world, after you’re gone.

I won’t have one.

Life is being okay with that.

It’s leaving things around us just a little better than we found them.

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