Tag Archives: Challenge

“Why the hell not?”

Holden Caulfield doesn't get everything wrong.(Image courtesy of imgkid.com)

Holden Caulfield doesn’t get everything wrong. (Image courtesy of imgkid.com)

I’m reading The Catcher in the Rye for the first time.

Holden Caulfield is the protagonist, and while we don’t share a ton of similarities (largely because I’m 20 years his senior, and grew up in a small Ohio town), we share two ideas I think are really important.

1. We can be intelligent and well-educated even if it’s accomplished in unconventional ways and mired in self-doubt. 

Thomas Edison. Albert Einstein. John D. Rockefeller. Walt Disney. Bill Gates. Richard Branson. Charles Dickens.

Icons, all.

School dropouts, all.

All that means is, while I very much respect people with advanced degrees in higher education, and people who use traditional channels to educate themselves and advance their careers, the thing that really kills me is when people don’t play by the rules.

When people don’t ask for permission to do something with their lives they really want to do.

They say: Sorry. This isn’t for me. I’m not like everybody else. I’m going to go do this other thing. My way.

And they don’t just succeed. They soar.

I may never be anything like those people. After all, I am 36 and work in a cubicle.

But I sure do admire them.

2. It DOES NOT have to be this way.

Your love life. Your financial life and career. Your spiritual life. Your physical appearance. Your mental and emotional health. Your geographic location. Whatever.

Holden calls up his old friend Sally and gets her to agree to a date. And she shows up looking good. Really good. He’s a madman. He really is. And he just comes out and asks her to run off with him. He’s got some money.

Let’s go start a new life, he says.

And she says it sounds fun and all, but people can’t just do that.

You can’t just break the rules and go live whatever life you want.

Holden thinks that’s bullshit. And it’s exactly when I decided to love him.

“Why the hell not!?!?” he asks.

I’m not advocating irresponsibility. Two 16-year-olds shouldn’t run off together and live in some New England cabin with no means of taking care of themselves.

But that’s just old-guy, parent Matt talking.

I agree with Holden’s inclination to ask WHY NOT!?

People don’t think about this enough. People never think enough. I never think enough.

We never ask ourselves the right questions.

What are the right questions?

They are the ones that challenge our assumptions and beliefs and force us to consider an alternative. A better way.

Matthew E. May shared this classic story about the advent of Polaroid:

“Back in the 1940s, Edwin Land was on vacation with his 3-year-old daughter. He snapped a photograph of her, using a standard camera. But she wanted to see the results right away, not understanding that the film must be sent off for processing.

She asked, ‘Why do we have to wait for the picture?’ After hearing his daughter’s why question, Land wondered, what if you could develop film inside the camera? Then he spent a long time figuring out how—in effect, how to bring the darkroom into the camera.

That one why question inspired Land to develop the Polaroid instant camera. It’s a classic Why/What if/How story. But it all started with a child’s naive question—a great reminder of the power of fundamental questions.”

You do NOT have to stay in your soul-crushing job.

You do NOT have to go to that family event you’re stressed about because your mother will be disappointed if you don’t.

You do NOT have to say “yes.” Say NO. Say “no” a lot.

You do NOT have to go back to college to get a better job.

You do NOT have to have a “job.” You can make your own.

Because you CAN do whatever you want.

Sometimes I think about how fast time goes.

Holy shit, my son is almost 7.

Holy shit, she’s been gone two years.

Holy shit, I’ve been sitting at this desk for four years.

Holy shit, I’m 36.

The worst thing that’s ever happened to me already happened. I can’t figure out what I’m so afraid of, because you CAN’T KILL ME. And the day I’m finally wrong about that? I’m not going to be around to eat any crow.

And I don’t know when that day is going to come. But it might be tomorrow. Maybe even today.

We waste so much time doing things we don’t want to do because we lie to ourselves and believe them. We MUST do this! We have to!

No, we don’t.

You don’t really have to do anything.

Write down the 10 things that matter most. The 10 things you want most. Consider everyone you love.

And then maybe spend the rest of your life only pursuing those things.

The things that matter.

Don’t tell me you can’t be happy unless you follow the rules.

Don’t tell me people can’t just do that.

Because I’m with Holden.

Why the hell not?

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Calm Before the Storm

Like this. Only infinitely less cool.

Like this. Only infinitely less cool.

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already…” ‘Lose Yourself,’ Eminem 

Hundreds of thousands of people used to read my newspaper stories whenever they would get distributed nationally or globally by one of the news wire services.

My full name. First and last. There for a reader’s judgment.

But when you’re a newspaper reporter, most people don’t pay attention to the little byline.

All that matters is the masthead.

The Wall Street Journal. The Chicago Tribune. The Washington Post.

Or the papers I wrote for.

That’s who wrote all those stories in the minds of most readers.

The publications themselves.

I love when that little notification goes off on my phone letting me know that someone new is following the blog. Someone read something. It resonated with them. Then they hit the button.

Let’s see what else this guy’s got, they think.

Maybe they read some old stuff. Maybe they only read whatever happens next. I don’t know.

Slow, steady growth. That’s how business owners like to do it. It’s manageable. It’s sustainable.

It’s not scary.

But Sometimes it is Scary

I’m afraid almost every day.

I’m afraid of what you might think of me after I write something.

I’m afraid of what any friends I have reading this blog might think of me.

I’m afraid of what my ex-wife thinks of me.

Because now the masthead is me. I am the publication.

And even more?

My heart and soul lives in the words on the screen.

If people don’t like them, it means they don’t like me.

That always stings.

I Have No Idea What’s About to Happen

A WordPress editor contacted me last week.

She indicated she plans to shine a spotlight on the blog for a regular feature called Choosing the Perfect Blog Name. It’s something that was published at The Daily Post, and is the way I discovered a handful of really good bloggers.

She said she loved the name Must Be This Tall To Ride.

Choosing the Perfect Blog Name is such a popular feature, she said, that WordPress is going to start running it on its primary news blog in 2014 for a larger audience.

The number of people following that WordPress news blog as of right now?

13.4 million.

Holy. Shit.

I wrote about 500 words for a three-question Q&A. It’s scheduled to go live on Wednesday.

And then more people will read things I’ve written than ever before.

This blog has 500 and some followers and averages between 300-400 views a day.

I don’t have the first clue how many of those 13.4 million people might click through to the blog. And I don’t know how many of those might stick around to see what’s written next.

I just know that the unknown scares me. A lot.

But then something happened and I’ve felt better ever since.

A popular blogger—Opinionated Man at HarsH ReaLiTy (30,000-plus followers)—asked readers to, in less than 500 words, tell him what they would do with a larger audience.

“What would you promote or what are some of your goals in regards to blogging towards a larger portion of the world?” he asked.

I pondered that question for a minute.

Then I wrote him this…

What I Would Do With a Larger Audience

I didn’t start writing to help people.

I started writing to help myself.

But then, one comment at a time, the truth revealed itself to me.

When you tell honest, personal stories to people—to people who feel the same pains, the same fears, who have the same hopes and dreams—you help people by accident.

A selfish project turned unselfish overnight.

When your wife leaves you, son in one hand, suitcase in the other, your worldview is shattered.

She’ll always love me.

No, she won’t.

I’ll always be there for my son.

No, I won’t.

I have a bright future.

Do I?

When you have a wife and son, you have purpose. A reason for breathing. A reason for waking up every day and doing all the things we don’t necessarily want to do.

Go to work.

Pay the bills.

Run errands.

Maintain the house.

Without the family, you don’t have purpose anymore. It evaporates. Instantly.

You can’t make sense of it because she said “forever.” I’m sure I heard her right.

I never bought life-explosion insurance. So when the bomb went off, I didn’t know what to do.

I freaked out. Called a therapist. She found out I write. Encouraged me to journal.

Write for just me? Spew words onto the screen but don’t let anyone else see?

What’s the point?

I took her advice and started journaling. Only, dammit, it wasn’t going to live in the shadows.

THIS IS WHO I AM!, my writing would scream.

I’d cry the words. Scream the words. Bleed the words.

Because it has to matter. Or else, what’s the point?

I want people to know that I cry sometimes.

That I’m afraid.

That I’m insecure.

That I make mistakes.

That I sometimes get stuff right.

That I’m working harder every day to not be the kind of man another woman will leave. To be the kind of man a five-year-old boy can aspire to be.

I’m not courageous. I’m not.

But I’m not afraid to tell people who I am and who I want to be.

These are the things that move people. That stir their emotions. That light fires.

We connect.

And lift one another up.

One powerful word-inspired feeling at a time.

That’s how good spreads.

And despite my tendency to wander off into immature playfulness from time to time, at the end of the day, my writing exists to explore as much humanity as I can squeeze into a thousand-word post each day.

So, what would I do differently with a larger audience?

Absolutely nothing.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: