Tag Archives: Goals

If I Die Before I Wake

(Image/fbccoverstreet.com)

(Image/fbccoverstreet.com)

I think about dying sometimes.

I think about dying because sometimes people die.

I can’t decide how afraid of it I am. I tend to feel a little afraid of any situation in which I have no prior experience, or am missing a lot of information and don’t know what to expect. So I guess I’m a little bit afraid to die, which I like better than three years ago when being awake hurt so much that staying alive too long feeling that way seemed much scarier.

One of the worst things about being a divorced, single father is that there’s no one around to document life with my son. My little second-grader, thankfully, has several family members on his mom’s side who he sees pretty regularly.

But because we live far from my extended family, and I’ve been single for three years, there’s this huge chunk of my son’s life that only exists in his memory and mine. If I die today, he’ll only have a few pieces of visual evidence documenting our life together.

He curled up next to me on the couch last night. He wanted to look at old photos of him and us. Even though I’m an infrequent Facebook user, it’s still my largest repository of old photos.

It’s a time warp, because there’s close to nothing from the past three years.

If you judged and measured my life in terms of Facebook activity, it’s not hard to see the world turned upside-down in 2010, and stayed that way. My son didn’t recognize some of his friends from today because they were so young in the photos.

We got to Fourth of July photos from 2010.

“Look dad! That’s when mommy still came with us when we go to visit grandpa’s,” he said.

“That’s right, bud. You’ll see mommy in a lot of these photos,” I said. “See? There you both are. Look at that face.”

“That was one of my happiest years.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I was 3, and mommy still lived here.”

That sort of thing used to make me cry. I’m tougher now.

“Do you remember when mommy still lived here?”

“Yeah. I remember.”

We flipped back to Christmas 2009. There was a photo of him standing in the middle of my in-law’s old living room, a place he spent much of his first three years before the whole world changed.

“Where is that, dad?”

“Are you serious? You don’t know where that is?”

“I just don’t really remember,” he said.

I think about his grandfather—my father-in-law—all the time. We lost him unexpectedly one day, and some of us went into an involuntary tailspin afterward.

I don’t presume to know what happens after we die, but if it’s possible for him to peek in on his grandson, I know he is. He was an awesome grandpa.

I wonder what he thinks of me. Maybe he feels like I failed his daughter, and considers me a major disappointment. Maybe he hears me sometimes when I get upset with his grandson, and wishes he could tell me to chill out and maintain perspective.

You know?

Because we’re all going to die one day. And really? Who gives a shit about a few crumbs on the dining room floor?

Sometimes, I think about dying in my sleep.

I hope my son is with his mom if that happens any time soon.

She and I rely on mobile phones to communicate with each other. Sometimes when one of us is particularly busy and distracted, or we have our phones plugged in and away from us, the other worries that something bad might have happened after we don’t get responses to texts, or our calls go unanswered.

If enough hours go by, I start concocting potentially terrifying stories and possible explanations in my head, because that’s what I do sometimes in the absence of facts.

At my son’s age, even though he’d be really upset and afraid, I think he’d be able to use my phone to reach his mom. I think he knows to go to the neighbors for help in an emergency.

I hope he’ll be okay.

I hope my life choices didn’t add up to a freakish moment where a young child has to face the body of his dead father and try to figure out what to do next, and then not even have very many photos of our good times together to look through afterward.

I worry about my parents. I don’t call them enough, so maybe they secretly think I don’t love and appreciate them as much as I do.

I worry about my family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. I hope they know what they mean to me. They probably don’t. It’s probably my fault. But I hope they guess correctly.

I worry about you. Most of you won’t care or notice. But some of you will. If you’re still reading this meandering, self-indulgent post, you’re probably someone who cares. You’re probably someone who might notice when the updates simply stop. Hopefully by design. But maybe not. Maybe one day there just won’t be any more heartbeats. Then, no more posts. And maybe some of you will wonder what happened. Maybe some people will think I quit, or ran out of words.

Maybe some of you will guess correctly that I died, and be frustrated that there may never be a way to know for sure.

I might not die today. I probably won’t, since I’ve never died any of the other days I’ve been alive. But maybe I will. Maybe this is the day the top of the hourglass runs dry. That’s the point, really. We never know.

If I’m out of time, what is it that needs to be said, and to whom?

Is that really worth feeling upset over?

Shouldn’t the things people think about in their final moments be the things we put most of our focus on?

I think so.

I hope this isn’t the last thing I ever write. That they don’t find the plates I left in the sink. The stack of mail on my desk. The unmade bed. The unfinished Pinewood Derby car on the bench downstairs.

The last father-son project. Unfinished, like this life.

We probably don’t wake up one day feeling ready to die—feeling like we got it all right, and accomplished all we set out to do.

Maybe the best we can do is whatever’s in front of us today.

Offering to help.

Forgiving them.

Forgiving ourselves.

Trying hard.

Loving harder.

Choosing hope.

Choosing courage.

If I knew this was the last thing I would ever write, I would finish with a note to my son (Love you, kid.):

Thinking about dying is only awesome if you use it as motivation to take nothing for granted. I did many bad things. But I always chose hope, and it has never failed me. I hope you will, too.

I don’t spend most of my life thinking about dying. I promise.

I spend most of it thinking about living.

I spend most of it thinking about living because sometimes people really live.

Be one of them.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The World Needs Clock Punchers

time clock

I bet I’ll panic when I’m dying.

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

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

What will I think about?

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

But I do know one thing.

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

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

On whether I lived courageously. And took my shots.

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

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

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

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

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

But it quickly turned.

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

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

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

Everyone Has a Role

He’s right, of course.

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

Not everyone will be a boss.

Not everyone will earn top salaries.

Not everyone will accumulate financial wealth.

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

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

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

She understood me.

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

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

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

It doesn’t matter.

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

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

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

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

I said: “Forgive.”

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

I said: “Laugh.”

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

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

We feel just a little less innocent.

Just a little less hope.

Just a little less joy.

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

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

For me?

Adventure is being spontaneous.

Adventure is travel.

Adventure is meeting strangers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See You in 10 Years

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

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

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

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

But freedom?

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

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

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

The world needs clock punchers.

But I’m not going to be one of them.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Quicksand

Quicksand

The more I fight it, the faster I sink.

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

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

I thought maybe it could help me.

I thought maybe it could help someone like me.

And maybe it still can.

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

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

It feels like sinking.

It feels like failing.

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

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

I know I am those things.

I don’t know that I’m a writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please don’t.

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

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

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

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

But for a guy like me?

The 50-percent dad?

It feels like a wasted life.

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

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

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

In Over My Head

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

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

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

About how hard and impractical that is.

About how most of us fail to achieve that.

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

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

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

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

Maybe I should just be happy with what I have.

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

But I’m not content.

I’m not happy.

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

I don’t know how to escape the quicksand.

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

I can’t do that here.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe that applies to everything.

That we shouldn’t try to improve our schools.

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

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

That we should merely accept these as facts of life.

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

But not today.

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

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

 – Dreamin’, G. Love & Special Sauce

Tagged , , , ,

The Perfect Amount of Death

Comic by Tyson Cole.

Comic by Tyson Cole.

Austin Kleon starts every day by reading obituaries.

Not to be morbid.

Not to obsess about death.

Not to channel sadness.

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

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

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

But Kleon really got me thinking about this.

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

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

It can be the perfect reminder to live.

The perfect amount of death.

The Infertility Plague

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Can’t Forget to Live

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

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

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

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

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

What if there were no more kids?

What if there were no new friends?

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

You still choosing the huge wedding over world travel?

You still choosing the mortgage over financial freedom?

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

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

To not be afraid. And to not be sad.

Just an effective daily reminder.

To kiss the girl.

To laugh more.

To dance when it sounds good.

To take the leap.

To speak up.

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

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Watch For Falling Prices, Vol. 2

I feel good today. Because Walmart screwed up. Twice.

I feel good today. Because Walmart screwed up. Twice.

A few days ago, I found a brown package tucked behind a planter on my front porch.

I smiled.

Could it be one of those two books I ordered from Walmart?

I had received an email from them informing me that my orders had been cancelled the day after taking advantage of price glitches on their website to order $50 worth of books for about $11, including a small shipping charge. So I guess they screwed up twice. Yay me.

I had made the joke in the first post that I was going to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers—which I’ve never read—and use its contents to propel me to unimaginable success as I continue to move forward in my personal and professional life.

I wrote this:

“I’ll pick up the package. I’ll smile. Hell yeah, I’ll think. I just got a good deal.

Then, you know what I’m going to do?

I’m going to read Gladwell’s Outliers. Then I’m going to spend 10,000 hours doing something.

And a decade from now?

I’m going to be so rad at something, you’re not even going to be able to recognize me.

I’ll be tall and rich and smart and funny and getting laid and happy. Everyone’s going to be like: “Hey Matt! You’re so amazing and happy and sexually active! How ever did you pull off this magnificent life!?!?”

And I’ll say: “Walmart.com, baby. A glitch in The Matrix. I seized opportunity.”

They won’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

But you will.

Carpe Diem.”

So, I picked up that package. I smiled. I opened it.

And sure enough, it was Outliers. And I thought to myself: Hell yeah. I just got a good deal. Because I try hard to keep my promises.

And then I got excited.

Because I’m going to be so freaking tall and rich and sexually active now.

The world is mine.

10,000 Hours

There are many nuanced, well-researched and brilliant observations made by Gladwell in this book (Which I haven’t started reading yet. I’m afraid of the growth spurt and having to buy all new clothes).

But the one most people seem to focus on is the idea that to master something, we need to spend 10,000 hours doing it.

All the greats do.

Musicians.

Painters.

Athletes.

Chefs.

Adult film actors.

Teachers.

Writers.

And I wondered: How close am I to putting in my 10,000 hours?

So, I began a crude analysis based on lots and lots of possibly incorrect guesswork.

It looked like this.

1. I’ve been writing quasi-professionally or professionally for 15 years.

2. In those 15 years, I have:

Written and edited news stories.

Written and edited shitty poetry.

Written and edited marketing materials, including email, brochures, web copy, advertisements and video scripts.

Written and edited blog posts—both corporately, and here.

3. From age 19-21, during my college years, including countless hours in the college newspaper’s newsroom and my summer and winter break internships, I estimate spending about 1.5 hours per day writing. For three years. That’s 1,643 hours.

4. From age 22-34, during my professional career, including even more hours in daily newspaper and weekly business publication newsrooms, operating my own freelance copywriting business, working in internet marketing in my current job, and all of my private writing including what I do here, I estimate an average of 2 hours per day writing. For 12 years. That’s 8,760 hours.

5. If my math is correct, and I have no reason to think it’s not damn close, that’s 10,403 hours.

6. Holy shit. I’m an expert.

The Definition of Success

My mom always defined success as getting paid to do something you love.

And I do.

In the grand scheme of writers, I’m probably even paid well.

But I want more. Because I’m selfish and greedy and want to go on vacations and have an in-ground swimming pool and maybe even a really fast car I don’t drive very often.

Also, I wouldn’t mind having financial security for my son.

Okay, fine. And maybe I would try to do a little good with it when I wasn’t busy sipping fine tequila by my pool while writing books people actually wanted to read.

And while I appreciate what my mother is saying, I can’t agree. I won’t agree. Because I don’t feel successful.

I feel grateful. But not successful.

My dad probably defines success more in financial terms.

He makes a lot of money now after pulling himself out of poverty and making a good career move in his late 30s. He reminds me all the time that we were all just as happy back when we were clipping coupons, driving shitty cars, and living in mega-humble conditions along a Mississippi River tributary. And he’s right. We were very happy despite the absence of money.

I know that money will not make me happy. I still want some. But I know there are wealthy people who are miserable. Money does not fill the voids in their minds, hearts and souls.

That can only come from love. And spiritual balance. And good health. And family and friends. And gratitude. And generosity.

Merriam-Webster defines success as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame,” and “the correct or desired result of an attempt.”

I think I like that second definition best.

Because that’s what I always want to happen—no matter what we’re talking about. The correct thing. Whatever’s best.

That’s my desired result.

Since the day I decided to pursue writing people have asked me what my goals were.

It’s so easy to say you want to have a novel published. And I always have. That was always my canned response.

But that’s bullshit. Because I can write a terrible book tomorrow, self-publish it, and fire it out to the world in hopes that a sucker or two reads a third of it.

Writers don’t want to write books.

Writers want to be read.

And I remember always saying that, too.

If just one person reads something I wrote and likes it. If just one person reads something I wrote and feels better. If just one person reads something I wrote and it compels them to be better, stronger, wiser, braver.

Then I’ll have done something. I’ll have been successful.

I’ve put in my 10,000 hours. Paid my dues. And I’ll continue to pay them because I have a love affair with the keyboard.

Think about all of the things in your life you’ve put 10,000 hours into.

There’s something.

Thinking. Loving. Tasting. Caring. Feeling. Praying. Hoping.

You’re a master of something.

Just like that guy over there. Just like this lady over here. Just like me.

It took a Walmart pricing glitch to see it.

But I’m just a little bit taller today.

And so are you.

Let’s go dunk on somebody. And be awesome.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chauncey Billups Isn’t Real

As a child, I feared nothing. And I was going to be anything I wanted. No limits.

As a child, I feared nothing. And I was going to be anything I wanted. No limits.

I wanted to go to outer space.

Fly in space shuttles. Eat shitty space ice cream. Play on the moon. Colonize Mars.

I wanted to be an astronaut.

I grew up very close to the hometown of Neil Armstrong where they have an air and space museum named in honor of the first human being to set foot on the moon.

I had a lot of space books. I was always fascinated by the size and scope of Saturn. Jupiter. The Sun.

Our solar system is ridiculously awesome. And I wanted to see it all. I read a lot of little-kid space books growing up. I watched the Space Shuttle Challenger explode live on national television with a bunch of other kids in an elementary school gymnasium in first grade.

And STILL, I wanted to go out there. Unfazed.

I was young. Hopeful. Ambitious.

There were no limits. No restrictions on my dreams.

I was fearless.

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t genius enough to know astrophysics.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anything about aviation. Or engineering. Or advanced mathematics.

I was too ignorant to be scared of the dangers of shuttle launches. About how harsh and unpleasant the environments of every known non-terrestrial place actually is. To concern myself with the amount of time necessary to traverse the solar system.

Being a kid is amazing.

Who cares that I was never actually going to be an astronaut?

I wanted to be one. I believed I could be one. And I was happy.

Isn’t that all we really want? Happiness?

Of course it is.

Kids are our role models.

The ones that don’t know ANYTHING about limitations. Like my five-year-old son.

There are some lessons to be learned from their unbridled belief in what we might call the impossible.

The Death of a Basketball Star 

There’s only one problem with the mind of a five-year-old to whom facts don’t matter.

They sometimes use their no-limit superpowers to challenge truth. Conventional wisdom. Irrefutable proof.

My son’s godfather is one of my dearest childhood friends. An attorney who took care of all the legal work for my divorce hearing.

He has three daughters. They all have very pretty, relatively typical girl names.

But he doesn’t always call them by their names.

He calls them Frank. Or Rick. Or G.S. (an abbreviation for ‘gutter slut’).

It sounds approximately like this:

Daughter: “Daddy?”

Her father: “Yes, Rick?”

Daughter: “[Sister’s name] is taking all the dresses and doing something bad to them.”

Her father: “Hey! Frank! Stop being a little G.S.!”

This sort of thing makes me laugh and is consistent with the types of immature things we’ve been laughing about for close to 30 years.

Over the past few years or so, I’ve taken to calling people Chauncey. Or Chauncey Billups.

Billups is a five-time NBA All-Star point guard who has literally played for 25 percent of the NBA teams, but is most well-known for playing with the Detroit Pistons who he led to an NBA championship in 2004, winning MVP of the NBA Finals.

I like his name. Calling someone a Chauncey just feels so… organic. I do it a lot. I did it this morning to a driver who didn’t use his turn signal right after displaying total suckage at all other facets of motor-vehicle operation.

I call my son “Chauncey” or “Chauncey Billups” several times per week.

About a month ago, my son started saying “Chauncey Billups isn’t real!” every time I called him that.

I tried in vain to explain that, yes, Chauncey Billups is actually real. He’s a basketball player. In his prime, a pretty darn good one. And that he is a very real person. I showed him photos.

Doesn’t matter.

He’s five.

Facts don’t matter.

He can be anyone. Do anything. Create any reality.

Chauncey Billups isn’t real.

And Sometimes They’re Just Cute

I spent the past week writing down all of the things that kid said to me that made me laugh, just because.

Here are the highlights:

Me: “Good God, you smell like poop.”

Him: “That’s because I just went poop, dude.”

He grabbed a little toy. A little robot guy that can transform into a ball. He named him “Bowler” a couple years ago, and the name stuck.

“Hey Dad! Watch how fast Bowler is!” *does some rad fly-by move with Bowler and makes a whooshing noise* “He’s so fast he can fly through metal. He can fly through iron. NOTHING can cut through iron. Not even a pick ax. Right, Dad?”

We were eating Cleveland Indians peanuts on the deck off the back of the house. He loves cracking the shells as opposed to eating peanuts from a jar.

He said, “These are the best nuts. Are they the best nuts in your life, Dad?”

Then we were discussing our favorite sports teams. Basically all of the Cleveland sports teams because we hate happiness, apparently. The Browns in football. The Cavaliers in basketball. The Indians in baseball.

“You know who my favorite soccer team is?” he said.

“No,” I said.

“Tommy’s.”

“Tommy’s? Your friend at school?”

“Yeah. He’s the fastest runner in the whole school. I promise. He told me.”

He and I were practicing letters and reading one morning last week before work and school. Picking out words we could find on various objects. I have a fitness ball in my bedroom that I don’t spend enough time on. The brand is PURE.

“Hey, dude. Do you know what this says?” I said.

“P-U-R-E. That spells ‘exercise,’” he said.

He and I were watching a National Geographic special about dangerous reptiles. There was a segment about crocodiles.

“Hey, Dad. Saltwater crocs are cool. They can go in saltwater AND regular water.

“They can go in hot water AND cold water.

“They can go in any kind of water.”

He brought home a book from his school library titled Why Do Snakes Hiss?.

He pointed to the question mark in the title.

“Look, Dad! A mystery mark.”

“You mean, a question mark?”

“No. It’s a mystery mark.”

“Oh. You guys must call them that at school. That’s cool. But sometimes it’s called a question mark, buddy. It’s the symbol you write when you’re asking a question.”

He looked at me like I was the biggest dipshit on Earth.

“It’s a mystery mark.”

“Daddy’s a writer. I know about things like this.”

“Oh yeah? Well I can spell every color,” he said.

“Fine. Call it a mystery mark. You don’t have to be a little Chauncey about it.”

“Chauncey Billups isn’t real.”

Totally real.

Totally real.

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