Tag Archives: Gratitude

The Fastest Way to Stop Feeling Angry: How a Dying Child Changed the World

father hugging children

(Image/penneylaw.com)

“I hate you, dad!” he yelled from his bedroom. “You always want me to do things how you would do them, and I don’t want to! I’ll never be like you! You’re the worst dad ever!”

I was getting a divorce the last time I lost my breath while standing still.

The little person I love most in the world is about to turn 9.

He had refused to follow some simple instructions, said something dickheaded, so I sent my only child to his room to think about it for a while and threatened to cancel his upcoming birthday plans if he didn’t leave the door closed.

I’m sure I did it wrong.

He got angry and yelled a bunch of unkind things from behind his door that I’d never heard him say before.

It feels sometimes like he’s all I have. He’s the only person who gets everything I have to give. My entire life literally revolves around his wellbeing and needs.

I hate you, dad, he’d said.

That left a mark.

I’m pretty sure Maria McNamara never said something like that to her parents. And I’m pretty sure her parents—Ed and Megan—never sent her to her room for being a little shit-machine.

Maybe that would have happened at 17. Maybe after dad told her: “You’re not walking out of this house looking like that, young lady,” or after mom told her: “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do with your phone, Maria. We love you and if we have to read your texts to understand what’s going on in your life and keep you safe, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Probably not, though.

maria mcnamara - prayers from maria

Maria McNamara (Image/Prayers From Maria)

Look at that cute freaking face. That’s the face of a future class president, or the girl who won’t let others feel left out and who always stands up for the kids getting picked on, and then credits her parents for instilling good values and setting a great example.

Maria McNamara would be 17 today, enjoying her final high school summer break before senior year. She’d be getting her senior photos taken pretty soon. Maybe she’d have a boyfriend.

Maria died when she was 7.

One day, everything was normal and her parents probably felt frustrated with her and maybe occasionally used frustrated-parent tones with her. And then the next day doctors told them their baby girl had a cancerous brain tumor and would die within a year’s time.

“We knew on that day that our lives had changed forever and that we would never be the same again,” Megan McNamara wrote.

[NOTE: If you want to quit reading or are in a hurry, please at least scroll quickly to the bottom of this post to learn about a child killer we can identify AND do something about.]

I often wonder how much I’m getting wrong as father.

He’s my only child.

I wonder how verbalizing my frustration with certain things he does or doesn’t do might harm him. There’s a happy medium somewhere between not sweating the small stuff and providing adequate parental guidance.

I replay moments in my head and wonder to what extent he maybe feels like I’m too critical of him, or somehow disappointed in him.

I write a blog with a name symbolically rooted in the powerful human desire to feel adequate and accepted—to feel like we’re “enough.” If I foster feelings of inadequacy in my little boy, shame on me. He must always know he’s enough. I hope I can figure out how to always make him feel so.

What if I died today?, I wonder sometimes.

Maybe my heart will stop suddenly in my sleep. Maybe I’ll get T-boned at an intersection by a high-speed driver who never saw the light. Maybe I’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get killed in an armed robbery.

What will my son feel and believe about himself because of these moments?

I don’t know.

But I do know that if I knew today was my last day with him, I certainly wouldn’t be wasting time on anger or sending him to his room.

I know that if I knew today was my last day with my son, he would never feel like I’m being hard on him. He would never feel anything except all of the intense and unconditional love I have for him.

In a life where ANYTHING can and does happen, one wonders how we so easily lose perspective on The Things That Matter.

Whoever you would want to see and talk to. Wherever you would want to be. Whatever activity you would want to be doing. In our final hours.

Those are the things that matter.

How easily we forget.

Little Maria had a brain tumor called a glioma. It is the second-deadliest form of cancer in children.

Her dad and mom, Ed and Megan, searched desperately for a way to save Maria. What they discovered was that cancer research focused on glioma prevention or recovery was virtually non-existent.

They then spent the next 14 months feeling unimaginable things—they and their three other children.

“In the course of the 14 months from Maria’s diagnosis, we watched her go from having balance issues, double vision, sleeping excessively and vomiting to bouncing back almost completely to normal after radiation in what is known as the ‘false hope’ stage,” Megan McNamara wrote. “From there the tumor began to grow back and eventually rob her of everything a child loves to do. She endured horrendous debilitating headaches. Eventually eating, swallowing and breathing became difficult. She watched as her body slowly began to shut down. I wasn’t even able to hug her tightly as it caused too much pain. As she saw herself becoming worse, Maria would tell us ‘I think we should go back to St. Jude’s.’ We had to tell her that St. Jude’s could no longer do anything for her anymore.”

How Little Maria Spent Her Final Days

She didn’t feel sorry for herself nor spend time praying for herself.

She spent her final days intent on praying for other children and other families battling cancer.

“Through it all, Maria showed tremendous character and dignity. Her strength, her courage and, most of all, her faith, left marks on our souls that have changed us forever,” her mom wrote. “She never thought of herself. Instead she chose to pray for all children suffering from cancer and their families. She prayed that the doctors would find a way to help them. She is our hero and her fight became our inspiration. Her prayers became our mission.”

Lighting Up the Darkness

People sometimes say “Everything happens for a reason,” and I don’t like it for the very reason that sometimes little kids get cancer, and I’m sorry, but I’m not okay with attaching concepts like Fate or Purpose to Maria’s death and the agony felt by her parents and siblings.

But I also understand that THIS is why people say that.

The suffering endured by Maria and her family provided an opportunity for a tiny person with a giant heart to inspire those around her.

And now we have Prayers From Maria – Children’s Glioma Cancer Foundation, dedicated to funding global research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for these childhood brain tumors.

 

Why I’m Writing About This and Why it Matters So Much to Me

I know a guy.

He is easily among the best and most-inspiring people I know. He has become a personally significant mentor and friend. He owns a web-design firm with a few business partners. They are amazing people doing amazing work. Their company’s stated mission and purpose is “to help humans flourish.”

Not to maximize profit (though they run a fine business). But simply to—as a business—lift people up.

Their remarkable team walks that walk on and off the clock. My personal admiration for them knows no bounds.

They are donating a bunch of their time, talents and money to Prayers From Maria.

They didn’t stick their hands out asking my consulting partners and I, or anyone else, to help offset their costs. They said simply that this is an amazing organization doing difference-making work and invited us to be a part of helping people who need and deserve it.

I feel honored to be asked, and would have wanted to help them EVEN IF the cause didn’t matter to me.

But I’m a father. This matters to me.

I think about how fast my son is growing. Too fast.

I think about how I’m not promised tomorrow, or even five minutes from now.

How everything can change at any moment.

How truly, humbly, grateful I feel right now to have a healthy little boy.

How grateful I feel to have another opportunity to hug his precious face and see about mindfully adjusting how I communicate with him. About mindfully adjusting how I choose to think and act today with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To be here.

Right now.

Soon it will be time to go hug my son.

Almost 9 years old. Who’s luckier than me?

Maybe you. I hope you feel this too. The thing that replaces hurt and anger when we see things from another perspective.

Thank you for being you, Maria McNamara. For all you gave. And all you continue to.

Do Something Amazing Today

I don’t feel good asking you for things. If I ever get a book finished, I’ll surely be spamming you with pleas to purchase five copies.

I’m trying to save whatever goodwill I’ve earned for that.

But some things are bigger than me and more important than how comfortable I feel.

Right now, there’s a father somewhere who is about my age who has a son about 8 or 9 years old. Like me. But instead of getting ready to celebrate his birthday, he’s saying goodbye. Helpless. Trying to be strong for his wife and family. Trying to keep it together at work.

Right now, there’s a little boy out there around my son’s age who will grow up to be a father himself. And one of his kids is going to be diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Today, that diagnosis would be a death sentence.

But tomorrow, it doesn’t have to be.

Please join me in helping people save the lives of children and give hope to their parents.

There is no amount too small to give.

Thank you so much for reading this and doing something meaningful for other people today.

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Please Help Me Build Something

bald eagle

(Image/Christopher Martin)

NOTE: I try hard to not ask you for things.

That’s not how I want this relationship to work.

But today, I must.

Because someone who matters to me asked for my help. And only you can make it possible.

You can skip the storytelling and contribute to something deserving and meaningful.

Or you can learn why I care. Because context matters.

We’d haul buckets full of water and live fish to the barn where my grandfather had built a fish-cleaning station.

There, I’d watch him club the heads of fish to kill them before I’d help him descale and filet them. Later, we’d have a fish fry.

The meals were delicious. The process was routine if I was fishing with grandpa. I didn’t think or feel much about it at all. It was just the way we did things.

My third-grade son and I recently started fishing together. I’m not sure what took me so long.

I asked him the question: “When we catch fish, do you want to keep and eat them, or release them back into the lake?”

He insta-answered: “I want to put them back.”

I was glad. Because I didn’t want to club fish heads.

I don’t judge people who fish for food. And I promise I’ll fish for food any time a food shortage or survival situation calls for it. But so long as I have access to a nice seafood counter at my local market, I’m cool with not intentionally killing fish myself.

I didn’t think about things like that when I was in third grade.

But my little boy does.

Years ago, so did another boy growing up in Minnesota. When he was in third grade, a representative of a raptor (birds of prey, not dinosaurs!) educational outreach program visited his school.

The speaker invited the boy to approach the live eagle perched on their arm.

It was Scott’s first close encounter with a raptor.

And it changed him forever.

The Subtle Art of Achieving Balance

One of my dearest childhood friends went through divorce about a year after me.

My divorce was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

Her divorce was maybe the fourth- or fifth-worst thing to happen to her, because she has survived Life Things that destroy people, leaving most of us in perpetual states of identity crisis and disrepair.

When we take enough damage, breathing and moving ceases to mean we’re alive.

My friend knew she wasn’t really alive anymore. Sometimes, we just break.

I’ve been broken.

In her search for balance, she enrolled in a program designed to help people achieve the kind of Mind, Body and Spirit balance that allows humans to thrive.

The process has been transformative.

I see and hear the changes in the things she writes and says.

The final step in her journey was to team with others as part of her leadership training to create something meaningful by enlisting the help of at least 100 people.

She joined 16 others to form the team who would choose Children and Environment as focal points for their final project.

Scott, the third grader from Minnesota who turned his eagle encounter into a lifelong passion for learning about and protecting birds of prey into his adulthood, just happened to be part of her team.

It Means: ‘To Seize’

The word Raptor—that is the classification of large birds of prey which includes eagles, falcons, hawks, osprey, owls, etc.—is derived from the Latin word Rapere, which means “to seize” or “to take by force.”

I see my friend taking her life back. Seizing moments. It’s a big deal.

And in Charlotte, N.C., she serendipitously met 16 like-minded souls willing to unite and work for something that mattered.

They’re going to build—with their hands—a large outdoor playground on the grounds of the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, N.C., just north of Charlotte.

Something lasting. Something for children. Something that serves the big-picture mission of ecological balance most of us rarely pause to think about. (Here’s an entry-level primer on how raptors help balance ecosystems.)

They are raising money to pay for the raw materials, hardware, and tools needed to complete the project.

Maybe you care about raptor conservation. Maybe you care about children. Maybe you’d like to do me a personal favor.

Maybe you just like helping people. I hope so.

I didn’t need a reason other than someone who was fundamental to my character development, who has always been there for me, and who I have NEVER seen on the wrong side of a kindness argument say: “Can I please ask you for a favor?”

I should have known it wouldn’t be about her.

Help My Friend, Children, and Life Flourish

Please show others what’s possible by making the Carolina Raptor Center Playground a reality. No amount is too small.

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That Probably Doesn’t Matter

caveman fire

Do you have ANY idea how much better life got once the cave folk discovered fire? (Image/en.paperblog.com)

“What probably doesn’t matter?”

Most things. Most things don’t matter.

Whatever has you stressed. Whatever you’re doing instead of playing with your children. Whatever you’re doing instead of the things that make you feel joy. Whatever you read in the news that pissed you off this morning. Most of the things you thought about, and most of the things you said, and most of the things you did today. (Not all! Just, most.) None of that shit matters.

Here’s a thought experiment most of us have probably done before: (Don’t cheat. Do it. Yes, especially you.) Imagine an asteroid of the world-ending variety is barreling toward Earth, and that you’re NOT the kind of asshole who is going to loot stores for flat-screen televisions and diamond rings. It doesn’t matter when impact is. Tomorrow. Three months. Take your pick. The experiment works either way.

Now, even though you should write this stuff down and look at it every day for the rest of your life and live accordingly, I know you won’t because you’re too busy like me worrying about things which don’t actually matter. So, instead, just think really hard and try to remember it later when you’re contemplating replacing your family room TV with something bigger and more high-definitiony. “OMG, my 50-inch 4KTV is soooo grainy and shitty compared to Randy’s new 60-inch 4KTV!!! Watching ‘Force Awakens’ on Blu-ray isn’t even fun anymore!!!”

You, everyone you know, and every stranger you meet has a fast-approaching death sentence.

Who do you want to be, and who do you want to be with?

What are the things you want to say to people you know and love?

What do you want to experience, and why?

In a non-apocalyptic, real-life scenario, what’s stopping you from doing those things right now? Okay, back to We’re All Gonna Die…

Are you still pissed about that thing you saw on Facebook?

Are you still stressed about whatever you’re stressed about?

Are you still hung up on politics, your favorite sports team, that argument you had over the weekend, or work “problems”?

If you’re dead next month or next week or tomorrow? Those were rhetorical.

Maybe we can make better choices.

OMG, Let’s All Freak Out About [Insert Stupid Thing Here]!!!

Last week, the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer was released, and it was pretty awesome but that’s subjective and not why I mention it.

I mention it because it only took humanity via the internet about an hour to try to ruin it for everyone.

“OMG!!! ANOTHER female lead?!?! WTF, Star Wars?!?! Are we ever going to see another male lead?!?!”

No, Guy Who Is Super-Mad About a Second-Consecutive Female Lead in a Star Wars Movie. Every Star Wars film from now until the end of time will have a female lead, you know, except for the Han Solo and Boba Fett projects which have already been confirmed. Settle down, shit eaters.

Some people got worked up because the writers included a martial arts expert in the story and had the audacity to cast an Asian man for the role.

One guy on Twitter counted the number of male and female actors appearing in the ‘Rogue One’ trailer, categorized them by race, reported the numbers, and used them as evidence Disney is secretly racist and sexist.

I wonder how many of those people would give a crap about racial quotas, and how many actual racists would measure people by skin color if that asteroid was showing up tomorrow.

Sometimes, people care about stupid things

I did something important for me and my son Saturday on a one-night Cub Scouts camping trip.

There was a decent-sized group of parents and kids staying at the campgrounds. We rented two cabins. One with a kitchen with all necessary appliances, running water, central heating, two bathrooms, and located right next to a parking lot; and one thin-walled wooden ice box with visible gaps under all the doors, large bugs crawling around, super-uncomfortable cots, one fireplace for heat, and some rickety open-air outhouse toilets at least a football field away that—even in a biological emergency of epic proportions—were so uninviting that I would have chosen death by dysentery before using them.

My son and I drew the short straws and were asked to stay in the Haitian shanty while 90 percent of the Scouts and parents were staying in the well-heated Bellagio. In total, four dads and five sons were asked to stay in the rustic cabin.

The overnight temperatures were in the low teens. Very, very cold.

Because of a no-show, two beds became available in the Bellagio cabin late in the evening. The head Scout guy asked whether I’d like to stay there with my young son, and even though I secretly wanted to say yes, I did the right thing by declining.

“I have electricity and climate-controlled air every day of my life. We need this,” I said, truthfully.

My son, who has never known life without the mobile web and unlimited on-demand video content, was forced to entertain himself by laughing with his friend in the neighboring bunk, making faces at each other in the glow of the fire.

I slept next to a three-inch-thick non-insulated wooden wall, purposefully avoiding the bottled water on the window sill next to me because there was no simple way to biologically purge it. I can’t overstate how cold, wet, muddy and all-around uncomfortable it was outside where wild turkeys and deer kept their distance from the howling coyotes.

When you don’t want to drink water (which many in the world don’t even have easy access to) because “using the restroom” is more trouble than it’s worth, and you feel cold in your bones when not under several blankets even though you’re well-dressed for the conditions, your brain starts working better.

Functioning thermostats are neat. Insulation is neat. Running water is neat. Appliances are neat. My bed is neat. The ability to go to the restroom whenever and without stepping outside is neat. Kitchens are neat. Pavement is neat. Overhead lighting is neat.

You get the idea.

Perspective. A change in focus. Like we’d all have if that killer asteroid was heading this way.

Wives: ‘How Can I Be a Better Spouse?’

Relativism is a funny thing.

For wives married to shitty husbands, I stand with them in their intolerance of hearing bullshit comparisons in defense of lousy spousal behavior. “I don’t cheat on you like Rodney does on Kathy!” or “At least I’m not drunk every night like Gary!” or “At least I provide this nice house for you to live in unlike Trailer Park Bob!” as if those things somehow magically offset shitty husbandry.

Guys, just because you know other guys who score F grades on the “Am I a Good Husband?” Test does NOT make your D+ or C- something to brag about.

But on the other hand, a wife using relativism as a tool to achieve perspective? Might that be useful? I think so. I think seeking out the good in people and situations is the surest way to avoid feeling miserable all the time, which is really important to avoid.

Wives ask me all the time via comments and email: “But what about ME?! I can be a shitty wife, too, sometimes. What more can I do?”

Some people really are married to shitheads. I know this.

But, sometimes? They’re married to pretty great guys and have spent years ignoring many of the good things about them, choosing instead to focus on the “bad things,” or on everything that’s missing.

Sometimes, wives are so pissed that Netflix is buffering in the middle of their show, they forget to remember and be grateful that they’re watching high-definition video on-demand for $8 a month on a kick-ass TV made possible by the technological miracle of readily available internet access and electricity.

As comedian Louis CK famously said: “Everything’s amazing and no one is happy.”

God knows I’m not asking wives to just grin and bear it if they’re dealing with abuse or neglect. But everyone needs to accept more responsibility for their lives and how we feel about ourselves, and that, by definition, includes married women.

Look around and see how others live. Recognize things about their lives you’re happy you don’t have to deal with. Feel good about those things.

Look around at what you have. Recognize that MOST of it consists of things most people around the world don’t have but wish they did.

Even the aforementioned Trailer Park Bob lives like a king compared to millions.

This isn’t just a wife thing.

EVERYONE needs to work harder at gratitude.

EVERYONE needs to work harder at recognizing that how we feel about almost everything is based less on each thing’s individual merit, and more on how it compares to something similar, or our preconceived expectations.

I’m 37, and I’ve already heard four generations lament the loss of the “good old days.” About how something from our particular childhood was somehow infinitely better than every other generation’s childhoods in human history.

It’s because we’re ego-centric, selfish, ignorant, lack humility and always forget to ask the right questions. You know… relatively speaking.

But I don’t think we have to be that way.

Because if the asteroid was coming, we wouldn’t be.

And since none of us are getting out of this alive, you might say that it kind of is.

 

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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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No Bullshit: Gratitude Changes Everything

gratitude_being_grateful

If you’re anything like me (and pretty much every other person, ever) you have countless memories of looking forward to getting or achieving something, and how awesome it feels for the following five seconds before you totally take it for granted and start wanting something else.

THIS IS WHY YOUR RELATIONSHIPS FAIL.

This is why you feel a little depressed and unfulfilled.

This is why even though we have nice cars and smartphones and HDTVs and houses and good jobs and attractive partners and beautiful children and awesome friends and supportive families, we STILL want more shit.

Like most things, this sucky part of the human condition is not without its perks. Without a predisposition toward achievement, humanity would have died off eons ago from disease and lion attacks because cavemen would have discovered how to make fire and just stopped trying new things forever.

The cost of ambition is the destruction of internal peace and contentment. Of our individual pursuits of happiness.

It has a name, and I didn’t know it until today: Hedonic adaptation.

It is the psychological phenomenon of boredom and dissatisfaction taking hold over time as we adjust to positive life changes.

It’s why the person who gives you intense crushy tummy butterflies and lusty pulses of orgasmic euphoria can turn into your feel-nothing roommate just a few years, or even months, later.

It’s why your brand-new car from a couple years ago from which you once handpicked the occasional pet hair from the carpet, is now sufficiently unclean and fails to deliver those fun I’m-proud-to-drive-this! feelings when you climb in.

It’s why no material thing or salary increase or lifestyle change IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE has ever capably delivered long-term happiness to the person unaware of the dangers of hedonic adaptation (which I’m pretty sure is more than 95 percent of everybody.)

OMG! What Can I Do About It???

There is, literally, only ONE cure for this life-destroying ailment. And that is to actively, deliberately, vigilantly practice gratitude.

Your choice, every day of your life, is: Really and truly feel thankful for all of the great things in your life OR suffer a slow descent into miserable shittiness.

That’s not an exaggeration. Remember when P. Diddy was wearing those silly Vote or Die! shirts, and we were all like: “WTF, Puff Daddy!? Are you and The Family going to murder non-voters!? That seems like an overreaction! Ohhhhhhh. You just mean, voting is really important and we should all do it, and you chose that slogan to spread the message? Got it now! Sorry, but that’s stupid. You don’t die when you don’t vote, because we would totally hear about that in the news.”

Anyway. This gratitude stuff is nothing like that. I’m more right about this than Puffy was about the voting/death correlation. Please don’t listen to him, unless it’s his track “Victory” with Notorious B.I.G. because that shit was mad rare.

Find a way to say “Thank you” and really feel, deep in your heart and soul, genuine gratitude that your life doesn’t suck and is actually quite blessed.

“But, Matt! My life DOES suck right now!”

I’m totally putting my hands up right now in the universal sign language for “Fair enough.” I get it. I’m a whiny turd every time something doesn’t go my way, too. It’s because I haven’t mastered this gratitude thing yet and forget how good I really have it.

I forget EVERY DAY.

Right now, a woman in some faraway place is holding her dying child because of the trickle-down effect of not having sanitary drinking water in her village.

Someone else doesn’t know how to read. Someone else can’t find employment. Someone else will get shot or sexually assaulted walking in his or her neighborhood today. Someone else has a child with a terminal illness.

Others can’t pay the electric bill.

Others have no car.

Others have no home.

Others have zero people who love them.

I whined a little yesterday because I got stuck in traffic for, like, 30 minutes, and everything worked out fine.

My 7-year-old asked whether I wanted him to starve to death because his stomach was rumbling before dinner.

Tomorrow, even though I’m a thoughtful eater portion-wise, I am still likely to throw away more food than millions of people scattered throughout the world have available to them.

If You Don’t Start Now, You’ll Forget and Stay on the Hedonic Treadmill (and that’s bad)

I know it sounds like a bunch of hippy dippy bologna.

I know.

But this is real. And if you (and I do this constantly, so I have to believe everyone else does too) ever say or think: “When X, Y and Z happens, EVERYTHING is going to be different and I’ll finally be happy!!!” it means you’re an unwitting prisoner on the Hedonic Treadmill. Just running and running and running and never getting anywhere. Just like me.

It’s time to get off.

We celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States tomorrow. The day where most people remember to say “Thank you!”

Please remember to say Thank you.

Just maybe, all that gratitude will be contagious.

And just maybe, if we catch it, it will save our lives.

(Note: A massive Thank You to Amit Amin at Happier Human for all the great content that contributed to this post.)

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Try Something Else

Author and food systems expert Anna Lappe said that. Probably about food systems. But it could have been about marriage.

Author and food systems expert Anna Lappe said that. Probably about food systems. But it could have been about marriage.

I was 15 minutes early for the church thing.

My ex-wife lives close so I expected her and our son to show up soon. The church thing was for him and other kids his age.

His mom and I are good about going to events together to support him. It’s the kind of thing that was uncomfortable in the early months of separation and divorce, but I now find totally okay and occasionally pleasant two and a half years later.

I asked a guy if he knew where the kids and families were sitting. He pointed to a spot on the far side of the large church. I recognized a few faces. Whenever my son and his mom showed up, we’d sit over there.

But the minutes ticked by. And everyone filing in for the 9:30 a.m. start time wasn’t my son and his mom.

At 9:26, I finally sent a text: “Are you here?”

She replied at 9:29: “Walking thru parking lot now. Where are you?”

I told her to go through a back entrance. There are two of them. I stood by one while I waited, guessing incorrectly that she would choose it. It was 9:31 and church was starting. I sent a text describing a lady passing out things our son would need to grab.

She asked again where I was sitting, but instead of answering, I told her where the kids and families were sitting together.

Because I’m divorced and feel shame easily, particularly among the school and church parents where it seems like all their families are still intact, I didn’t go sit with them, electing to wait for my son and ex to arrive.

For that same reason, I also chose not to walk across the front of the entire church in front of hundreds of people to meet them after the Catholic mass started.

Long story short: My son wasn’t sitting with his parents together like we’d planned. Mission: failed.

My non-Catholic ex-wife spent the next hour with our son who was upset because he didn’t know where I was, and was forced to do a semi-ceremonial Catholicy thing with him that she might have felt some discomfort doing.

I was a little pissed because she arrived late and perceived her lack of punctuality as a sign she didn’t respect this Catholic thing she wouldn’t have to worry about if it wasn’t for me (which isn’t true).

She was a little pissed because she felt I didn’t try hard enough to sit with them and didn’t like that me not being with them upset our son.

She lives close. So I assumed she just didn’t try hard enough. But what actually happened was they spent the night at his grandma’s house much farther away, and when they arrived with what would typically be enough time, they found no parking spots and ended up having a long walk to get there.

She thought I was being unhelpful not telling her where I was sitting, instead telling her where our son was supposed to sit with his classmates.

OF COURSE I wanted to be next to my son. But I thought him being with his classmates for this special occasion was the bigger priority.

That probably seems like a typical misunderstanding.

But that’s exactly my point in telling it. THIS RIGHT HERE, is how divorce happens. She didn’t do anything wrong and tried her hardest to make the moment special for our son. I didn’t do anything wrong and tried my hardest to do the same. With limited information about one another’s thoughts and feelings, we were both a little bit pissed at one another, even though NO ONE DID ANYTHING WRONG.

That’s How Your Marriage Ends

Sometimes he’s a drunk or an addict.

Sometimes she’s financially manipulative.

Sometimes he’s a degenerate gambler.

Sometimes she’s sleeping with a guy at work.

BUT.

That’s not usually what happens. Usually, two well-meaning people get married with the heartfelt intention to love one another forever, and raise good kids, and enjoy backyard barbecues with friends, and holiday gatherings with family, and trips together to Disney World and the Grand Canyon.

And then slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, little moments like the one I described above start to invade and infect our psyche and emotional chemistry.

She thinks he’s thoughtless and irresponsible.

He thinks she’s unfairly bitchy and never happy.

She thinks he’s selfish and that all his decisions revolve around self-interests.

He thinks he’s already changed so much of his behavior and lifestyle for her, he doesn’t understand why she’s always so dissatisfied with him.

She decides he’s never going to change and eventually grows exhausted by him. Because there are only two possibilities: He’s a childlike moron incapable of being a responsible adult partner and co-parent, OR he’s as smart as she thinks he is and cares so little about her feelings that every day he chooses all the fuck-you-I’m-going-to-do-things-my-way stuff that she’s been pleading with him to stop.

In either case, she can’t trust him anymore. He’s no longer SAFE.

Not because he had sex with someone else.

Not because he gambled away their money.

Not because he’s an unreliable financial provider or not physically capable of protecting her from harm.

But because when she bares her soul to him, nothing changes. So she must not matter enough to him. She loves him in theory, but the feelings go away. It’s hard to stay in love with the person who hurts you every single day. Because he’s no longer safe and behaves like someone who doesn’t love her, she stops being sexually attracted to him. Sex becomes super-infrequent or dries up altogether.

All this time, her husband thinks she must be a little bit crazy. She’s hormonal and imbalanced. SHE MUST BE. Because he does love her. Very much. Of everyone he has ever known or currently knows, she’s the one he chose to spend the rest of his life with. She’s the one he was willing to forsake all others for. If he’s a father, there’s a secondary layer of love and protection he feels. He loves his kids a lot and he knows how amazing she is at caring for them. He could NEVER do what she does, thus her safety and wellbeing become even more important to him.

He spent his entire life going to school and hanging out with his friends.

Many of his best memories are Friday nights on the football field, or up in the stands at basketball games, or playing golf or soccer or poker or video games, or watching MMA or boxing or pro wrestling with his friends.

He has this loyalty he innately feels to his friends. They’re like brothers. Either because they played sports together, or roomed together in college, or served in the military together, or worked together, or any other bond-forming activity guys often do.

Now, he spends maybe 5-10% of his social time with them, or participating in hobbies ingrained in him from all those years. He thinks it’s REALLY unfair that even though he gave up the vast majority of those activities and hobbies for his marriage, she still complains about what little time he spends on all those things he has always loved.

She didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where she constantly feels invalidated because he either offers a hundred reasons why she’s being an unreasonable, nagging bitch, or he totally withdraws and doesn’t communicate with her at all.

He didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where he is constantly disrespected and made to feel inadequate even though his PURPOSE in life is to provide the best life possible for his family.

She stops sleeping with him.

He starts jerking off thinking about the office receptionist or that waitress at his favorite lunch spot.

She gets huge crushes on any man who appears to show genuine interest in her because her husband hasn’t talked to her or looked at her that way in years. He really gets me, she thinks. I want to sleep with him.

He gets his kicks from the female friend or coworker who listens to him complain about how unappreciated he is at home. She feels bad and wants to help so she puts his penis in her mouth, and he justifies it because his wife hasn’t slept with him in several months. What did she expect me to do!?, he thinks.

The guilt and shame pile up for everyone.

The shoulders are just a little bit heavier every second of every day.

Quiet moments alone are no longer peaceful because those are the moments the skeletons rattle loudest.

No one feels peace or innocence anymore. Not like when you were kids. You miss it so much, and it’s amplified by watching your kids. Because they’re pure and innocent and you want them to stay that way, but you can’t protect them from all the shit. There’s just way too much of it.

You feel like you’re constantly failing them because how can a broken, flawed person like me ever expect to raise children to be great people while protecting them from every danger?

What You’re Doing Isn’t Working

Two things:

  1. The above example is a fictional hypothetical situation that is NOT autobiographical but I believe is one super-common example of how marriages break and deteriorate into tar pits of shit.
  2. Your marriage or relationship has some element of all this going on in it. The reason it’s so easy to write this off-the-cuff example that will probably resonate with a kajillion people is because I read and hear the same stories over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It’s totally frustrating and depressing.

You’re doing the same things everyone does, and when you do that, you get divorced and often end up sad and angry and hurting with sad and angry and hurting kids. It’s a real shit show.

A suggestion: TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

Hey Husbands: Your wife is going to leave you, and may or may not start sleeping with another man and take your children away. It’s horrible, and you and your family deserve better. If your wife tells you there’s a problem, and you don’t agree because you don’t think it’s as big a deal as she does? I have bad news. There’s a problem, and she’s going to leave.

Hey Wives: You’re not wrong that your husband who pledged to love you forever is a little oblivious and thoughtless, and should absolutely be prioritizing your feelings on all matters related to your emotional wellbeing so you can feel safe in your own life and trust that it will be here tomorrow. But you are wrong about your husband not loving or caring about you. And you’re doing a piss-poor job choosing WHEN, HOW and in what TONE OF VOICE to tell him how dissatisfied you are.

If I knew how to cure marriage problems, I’d have already written the magic-bullet bestselling book of all time, and currently be enjoying the spoils of commercial success while also kind of saving the world.

Every couple, and every individual, is different. Unique. Nuanced. Special.

And when we pledge to love and cherish and serve one another for as long as we live, it is our solemn duty to figure out what we can do to make our partner’s lives better.

Guys, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your wives. You don’t need to agree with her. You simply have to care that the person you love most feels serious pain and fear. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—alleviating her pain and fear—you’re going to be much happier.

Ladies, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your husbands. You don’t need to agree with him. You simply have to care that the person you love most in the world feels seriously unappreciated and undervalued. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—making him feel respected for all of the positive traits for which you originally fell in love with him, and valued for his many contributions to your life—you’re going to be much happier.

My ex-wife had a choice: Be pissed because I wasn’t with them during the church thing. Or appreciate that I tried my best at the expense of my own happiness to make sure our son was getting the most out of the moment.

I had a choice: Be pissed my ex-wife didn’t make a better effort to arrive sooner. Or appreciate that she—a non-Catholic—goes out of her way to support and participate in things she doesn’t always understand or agree with.

The moment passed.

Later that night, I had to run a pair of our son’s pants to her house. We do little favors like this all the time.

The anger and frustration from earlier was gone.

Despite her annoyance, she had sent me a video in the afternoon of our son riding his bike like a big boy. I appreciated it.

Despite my annoyance, it was my pleasure to bring clothes to her that he needed for school. She appreciated it.

Gratitude.

It’s the baseline emotion necessary to achieve happiness.

And just maybe, while you’re searching for answers on what to do next? On how to get through to him? On how to get her to respect you or sleep with you? On how to save your marriage? On what else you can try?

Maybe you can start with something you learned before entering kindergarten.

Saying thank you.

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A Response to “Hey Internet: Stop Trying to Inspire Me”

(Image/janrisher.com)

(Image/janrisher.com)

Jamie Varon published a four-minute read that rose to the top story on Medium where I saw it today.

It’s rare to strongly agree and strongly disagree with something at the same time, so I was delighted to stumble on a written piece that did exactly that. It made my “Now what the hell am I going to write about today?” process an easy one.

The following is Ms. Varon’s post supplemented with my occasional interruptions. As always, I’ll totally understand if you don’t care.

Hey Internet: Stop Trying to Inspire Me (By Jamie Varon/Medium)

I think when people are ultra-positive and have this incomparably sunny disposition toward the world, I get turned off. There’s a lot of stuff out there which attempts to make you feel inspired, but ends up leaving you feeling ashamed for being human. It would be easy for me to say:

“Everything happens for a reason!”

“Life is an adventure!”

“Love solves everything!”

“Happiness is a choice!”

These are easy words to say. Easy things to think. Easy, easy, easy. But, their meanings dry up the moment life happens.

Interruption #1

I think most reasonable people with basic reading-comprehension skills can understand and appreciate what Jamie is saying here. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one, been divorced or through a bad break-up, lost a job, was abused or neglected or mistreated, struggled with addiction, fought horrible illness, etc. totally gets it.

You feel like you die. Your entire body hurts. You think and feel things you’ve never thought or felt before. You don’t know what to believe anymore. You don’t know what’s real. Because everything you’d ever believed or “known” about yourself prior to that moment is gone. Lost. To this new, strange version of yourself. Because everything just changed.

I empathize with how Jamie might be feeling. Because when I was sobbing and broken, if someone told me to chin up, I wanted to punch them in their stupid, fucking faces. I get it.

But then she loses me.

Because it’s just as easy to say:

“Everything is meaningless.”

“Life is boring and painful.”

“People are hopeless.”

“We have no control over our feelings.”

There’s a lot of gray area in the arena of human emotion. Can we CONTROL our emotions when we just found out someone we love died? When someone intentionally hurts us in cruel ways?

Not really.

But can we, generally, take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings and work daily to take care of ourselves, to practice gratitude for the many beautiful things in our lives? (Yes, I think EVERYONE, no matter what, can feel legitimate gratitude for their lives, and I’ll accept the challenge should anyone disagree).

It all starts with “Thank you!” For food, or health, or shelter, or clothes, or friends, or hugs, or employment, or children, or pets, or opportunity, or this next breath.

If you can’t find a reason to say and feel “Thank you!” then forgive my bluntness, but you’re doing this whole being-alive thing wrong.

Jamie continues…

I have spent far too many nights feeling ashamed that I couldn’t be more positive, happier, better, stronger. I’d look at these shiny people plastered with positivity and I’d wonder where I went wrong. Why was I so affected by the world? Why didn’t every day feel like an adventure? Don’t these people have to pay bills and have uncomfortable conversations and wake up sometimes with a headache and an axe to grind? Why was I seemingly the only one so deeply affected by the human experience?

I don’t want to be inspired anymore. Inspiration is cheap. It’s easy. It’s flowery. It’s drenched in promises no one can fulfill.

I want to feel understood. I want to feel heard. I want to feel like my weird and twisty and dark thoughts and fears and feelings are not unique to me. I don’t need someone negating my experience in order to provide me with sweet words fluffy as clouds — and just as transparent. I want gritty and real and raw and I’d rather see people fucking up than trying to act as if they never do.

I’m tired of people trying to inspire me to have a better, bigger, happier life. Let me exist. Let me fumble. Let me find the patch of light in the long tunnel of darkness. Let me figure out some shit on my own. I say we need less fake inspiration in this world and more realness. Less doomsday. Less fake happiness. More real shit. Less preaching. More storytelling. Less advice. More community.

I wish people would stop trying to perfect my life. Everybody is selling the magic pill to happiness. Why do I have to be so happy all the time? CAN I LIVE?

Interruption #2

It’s hard sometimes to look over there at those people and just feel: What the hell is so great about them and so shitty about me that everything about their lives is perfect and everything about mine is so, just, uggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh?

But we are REALLY BAD guessers, sometimes.

Remember how you felt about Tiger Woods before you found out he slept with every woman you know, or Bill Cosby before—you know—unbelievable, or that person in your personal life who did something so out of line with the story you had always told yourself about them, that everything changed once you learned the truth?

Their lives aren’t perfect, either. Those people (the authentic ones!) who want to help others. But they CHOOSE to focus on the good and not the shit. The light. Not the dark.

They ALSO feel shitty and scared and confused. But I admire them for trying to encourage people instead of ignoring them, or worse, playing the victim card and discouraging others along the way.

She said “Everybody is selling the magic pill to happiness.” And maybe some people are. But those frauds are easy enough to spot. The people who are closest to figuring it out don’t use smoke and mirrors. They don’t have to. They’ve been to the bottom and write authentically and authoritatively about it. They’re the ones worth listening to.

Jamie gets so much right, though.

I love this: “I want gritty and real and raw and I’d rather see people fucking up than trying to act as if they never do… More real shit. Less preaching. More storytelling. Less advice. More community.”

Even more importantly, she hones in on the most valuable aspect of human connection through the written word (and probably every other type of social interaction):

“I want to feel understood. I want to feel heard. I want to feel like my weird and twisty and dark thoughts and fears and feelings are not unique to me.”

Preach on, Jamie. You (yes, you) are not the only one. You are never, ever, ever, EVER the only one.

It’s so important for people to realize there are others who think and feel just like them. That they’re not freaks. The effect it has on our hearts and minds is extraordinary.

You’re not a freak. And it is TOTALLY human and normal to think and feel whatever you think and feel. It’s the culmination of every experience you’ve had right up to this moment. We shouldn’t have to apologize for that.

But to deny the power of GROWTH or the ability to positively influence our lives moving forward? To act as if whatever’s going to happen is going to happen and there’s nothing we can do about it? That we’re all just a bunch of hopeless victims of whatever comes next?

That’s just someone lying to themselves.

Like that one time they thought Bill Cosby was a great guy and the kind of role model the world needed.

Jamie continues…

I want you to know that you don’t need to fix yourself if you’re not smiling every moment of the day. Sometimes you have very little to be grateful for and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s hard to muster up the energy to be happy with what you have when you want so much more from the world and yourself. That’s okay. It’s okay to be angry and to be kind of dark and weird and not a ball of positivity every moment. Sometimes it’s okay to be bored and to think that happiness is a bit boring because it kind of is. Sometimes it’s fine to be moody and sad and contemplative and to solve problems with a glass of wine or a pizza or some good sex I don’t even know but it’s okay to just not have it all figured out, to have no answers, to just be like, what is the point of anything.

It’s okay to feel like the ground is shaking beneath your feet. It’s okay because everything is temporary. You can lose your footing one day and be on top of the world the next. Things can change in a blink. Happiness is as fleeting as anything else. These fake salespeople who act like they have the cure to being human really grind me up. All they serve to do is make you feel ashamed for not having it all figured out. They sell your aspirational experience and bake shame into it.

Just promise me that the last thing you’ll do is be ashamed of where you’re at in your experience of being a human. Nothing good comes from shame. It’s about the lowest vibrational place you could be operating from. Avoid shame and anything or anyone that causes you shame. Get it all the hell out of your energy field. Shame is not going to motivate you. It’s going to drain you.

If there’s one promise you can make for yourself, let it be this: I will not let myself be ashamed of my unique experience of being human. Forget the positive bullshit: that promise, that mantra, that state of mind is what can really change lives. A person incapable of cowering to shame is a hero — considering all the many reasons our world gives us reasons to be ashamed. To forgo the feeling of shame is an act of radical resistance. Let yourself be. To truly be. What freedom.

In Conclusion

I think the world today shames people more than any other time in history. The internet is the world’s loudest microphone and we are bombarded with You’re not good enough! messages everywhere we turn. We need to work out more, have better sex, eat healthier, make more money, be better parents, go to church more, stop believing in God, being more tolerant, holding onto our values—whatever.

No matter who you are, it’s not hard to find something to tell you how much better you could be! And if you order right now, we’ll toss in a second one absolutely free!

A person should never feel like there aren’t others out there who feel as they do.

A person should never have to look at their social media feeds and feel like everyone’s lives are so much better than theirs.

A person should never feel ASHAMED of who they naturally, organically, authentically are.

I co-sign with that and so much of what Jamie wrote in this piece. I think she was doing what so many of us do. Just saying: I hear you! I won’t judge you! You’re fine just the way you are! You’re not alone!

And I applaud it. Enthusiastically.

But there’s that other thing, too. The part I strongly disagree with: “Sometimes you have very little to be grateful for and that’s okay.”

That’s NEVER true. Not ever.

Almost every one of us woke up this morning and we could see and hear and had the use of our limbs. People love us. We have food and shelter and electricity and functioning brains and beating hearts and air to breathe.

As my favorite comedian Louis CK once said:

“This is earth, and for trillions of miles in every direction it fucking sucks, so bad, it’s so shitty that your eyes bolt out of your head, because it sucks so bad. You get to be on earth and look at shit as long as you’re not blind or whatever it is, that you get to be here, you get to eat food. You get to put bacon in your mouth. I mean, when you have bacon in your mouth, it doesn’t matter who is president or anything, you just ahh, ahhhhhh.”

We are miraculously fortunate to be here. The odds against us even existing are beyond mind-blowing.

The least-fortunate human on earth could spend the rest of their lives writing down reasons to feel grateful and never run out of things.

And every day we feel sad and miserable (that is NOT one of those fresh-wound moments where even the most-stoic person alive feels pain), is a day to seek more things to be thankful for.

Like a treasure hunt.

The treasure hunt to real happiness.

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One Month to Live

This is Paul Coakley. He's my age and he died Tuesday. This is what love looks like.

This is Paul Coakley. He’s my age and he died Tuesday after just a month of knowing anything was wrong. I think this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I think this is what love looks like.

Someone important died and I never got to meet him.

He was married with three kids and has a fourth on the way. He and his wife learned just before Christmas that he had cancer. He had surgery the day after Christmas.

He died Tuesday.

I didn’t know Paul Coakley.

But we have a bunch of mutual friends.

They all say he was amazing and I believe them because they’re pretty amazing themselves. Every one of us knows someone who represents the best of humanity. Those people with an endless supply of kindness and smiles. With infectious laughter. That squeeze the most out of life while constantly giving more of themselves to others than they take for themselves.

That’s who he was. 

What if You Only Had a Month Left?

Paul’s friend asked me that.

“What would you do?”

How do you answer that question honestly without feeling like you’re wasting every second of your life? Maybe that’s the point of asking. It’s in our nature to take things for granted. To lose sight of the fact we all have a one-way ticket out of this life with our names written on them. We get caught up in our routines. And we forget to live.

What would I do?

I have a son. He complicates the answer to this question. My life is for him. I think I would do all the things we do now. I would just be more mindful of every precious second.

But I would also have a lot to say. I’d write more. I’d write and write and write and write, because a month isn’t long enough.

I’d write here. I’d try to finish a book.

But most importantly? I’d write something to each individual in my life, past and present, who left a mark. Something specifically for each person. Maybe it would matter to them. Maybe it wouldn’t. But there would be an actual piece of me living in those words and maybe they’d care.

Why do we wait for deadlines? Why do we need to lose someone else to reflect once again on the opportunities we waste?

Tragically flawed, humans are. I try to think of it as endearing. Because irony makes me laugh.

I didn’t know Paul Coakley.

But had I gone to the university my mother wanted me to, we’d have probably been friends.

Guys like Paul make me feel a mixture of things. And even though he’d hate it and even though he’d insist it was unnecessary (because I know people just like him), some of it would be feelings of inadequacy.

Feeling inadequate is almost always a bad thing and a useless human emotion that holds us back. But maybe not in this case. Because Paul’s was a life worth emulating. I don’t have the first problem with an exceptionally good man making me want to be better than I am.

I think he made a lot of people feel that way.

There isn’t a greater legacy.

Do you know people in your personal or professional lives that you find difficult to get along with? Maybe you avoid them because you don’t have much in common, or because they make you feel stressed? Maybe you don’t invite them to your parties or for Friday after-work beers?

I think most of us do that.

Paul either didn’t know how, or didn’t want to.

If someone was getting marginalized socially, he turned up the friendship with them because no one was getting pushed to the side on his watch.

I think about all the times I had the opportunity to be a better friend to someone in school or at work or to show kindness to strangers.

And I pray in those moments I remember how I feel right this second to remind me to walk that higher path.

People always ask: What do you want out of life?

I want people to talk about me the way they talk about Paul Coakley.

I have a lot of work to do.

Be Good to Others

Everyone in your life—everyone you dislike or fear or hate or shun or avoid—they’re all going to die. All the strangers you pass on the street or in the store and pay no attention to are going to die. Every single one. Maybe tomorrow.

Why aren’t we more kind?

Someone important died and I never got to meet him.

Light up the darkness. And live. Hard.

Because life’s too short.

Because yours is a life worth emulating.

Because you’re important.

The Coakley Family

This is the Coakley family.

As you can imagine, the lives of this pregnant mother and her three children just got infinitely more challenging. If they weren’t just about the most-beautiful people I’ve ever read about or heard about, I wouldn’t ask. But this family is worth it. If you want to make a difference in the lives of deserving people, you can read about the Coakleys and make a donation here.

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How to Change Your Life and Always Feel Good

a-charlie-brown-thanksgiving

Warning: If you’re someone who A. Reads this blog regularly, or B. Prefers feeling miserable, you can skip this one because you’ve seen most of it before, or potentially run the risk of feeling better about your life.

Please just stop.

Just for a minute.

Stop.

And use every bit of brainpower and awareness and common sense you possess to ask yourself: Why am I doing this?

Doing what? Doesn’t matter. Anything. Whatever you’re doing.

It probably applies most to your job if you have one, or your decision to attend school if you’re a student.

It probably applies to your home life. To your relationships. To your decision about where you live and whether you rent or buy, and what you do when you have free time.

But it really applies to every waking moment.

Why are we doing this?

“What is it that you really want?” people like to ask. It’s a really great question. And we’re sometimes quick to fire off some answers that we probably think are true.

Money!

True love!

World peace!

Or maybe something more specific.

A million dollars!

A spouse who makes me feel safe!

An end to all the fighting in the Middle East!

I think I want all kinds of things. A more-lucrative career. Writing success. Maybe a really nice house and cars. Maybe the means to go on adventurous vacations and see the world. And little things. Like a massive television or a kitchen and bathroom upgrade or my favorite team to win the championship.

Sometimes I feel bad when I don’t get what I want.

Sometimes We Need a Wake-Up Call

The ability to empathize can sometimes provide us with the dose of reality and perspective we need without actually having to suffer through a crisis or tragedy. That’s always nice.

Other times, maybe we need the bad things to happen to us.

I lost my family.

The two most-important people in my world. One gone half the time. A little boy I sometimes feel as if I’m constantly failing. The other, gone forever.

And I felt so horrible that all of the things I thought I wanted I quickly realized—for the first time—just how irrelevant those things like money and new televisions really were.

When you’re broken on the inside, there is no checking account balance large enough to mend you.

Early this year, I had a tonsil infection with symptoms that mirror Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There were a few days where I thought I might have an illness serious enough to kill me and I was scared.

I’m pretty sure having a really luxurious kitchen or a 100-inch television wouldn’t have quelled my fears.

Last May, I was whining about my life right here when I learned about a lovely child named Abby Grace Ferguson. A little girl who the doctors say has a terminal illness they’ve never seen overcome.

Abby has a mom and dad.

A mom and dad like my son’s mom and dad. My son is 6. He’s in first grade and my soul bleeds any time I let the briefest thought pass through my brain about something bad happening to him.

Abby’s parents believed her to be perfectly healthy until she was 8, when she was diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome—a rare disease that causes progressive brain damage. Without a miracle, or radical medical advancement (which they’re working on!), Abby will lose her ability to walk, talk and feed herself. She will more than likely lose her hearing and have seizures. Most children diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome do not live past their teenage years.

It’s unimaginable. What her parents must feel.

But I can assure you, me having Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma would seem like a pleasure cruise by comparison.

Everything is relative. Some people prefer to deal in absolutes. I try to stay as open and flexible as possible. Because the older I get, the less sure I am about how much I really know.

But I do know one thing.

I Know What You Want

I’m not saying you don’t want money. Because it’s easy to want.

I’m not saying you don’t want love. Life is emptier without it.

I’m not saying you don’t want world peace. Things would be less messy, scary and complicated.

When you strip away EVERYTHING? All the noise and bullshit?

All you really want is to feel happy. Is to feel content. Is to feel inner peace.

That’s it. That’s what you want.

You think money will make you feel content. You think the freedom and purchasing power it provides will make you feel happy. And you believe you’ll have more peace if you eliminate debt and don’t have a horrible boss and have sex regularly with someone you trust who says I love you and makes you feel confident and safe.

You want the stuff because you want that feeling. That feeling we call “happy.”

We don’t need stuff or status to feel good about our lives.

You could lie still on a couch watching reruns and feel amazing about your life if you only felt happy enough. And there are people like that. They’re called stoners and tweekers. Drugs are not a good choice. But they DO illustrate my point fabulously.

You don’t need more money.

You don’t need a nicer car or bigger house.

You don’t need things.

And if you believe otherwise, you might be doomed. I think most people are. To a life of dissatisfaction and sadness. And that’s no way to live.

I might argue you only need ONE thing to be truly happy: Gratitude.

“What!?”

Genuine, heartfelt gratitude is the prerequisite to true happiness, and you can change your life overnight simply by realizing it and working daily to stay mindful of it.

You have a house and aren’t sleeping outside in a box with no money or food? Thank you!

You have friends or family or children or pets to love and love you back? Thank you!

You can hear music and people speak because you’re not deaf? You can see sunsets and attractive people and your child’s smile because you’re not blind? You can walk or kiss or have medical insurance? You have lungs and breathe because you’re not currently drowning or being choked by someone mean and horrible?

Thank you!

Some people are going to roll their eyes. “You know who says ‘Money doesn’t buy happiness?’ People who don’t have any!”

Not everyone can be helped. Pity them and move on.

We have enough.

You ARE enough.

Choose happiness because it’s so much better than feeling terrible.

Choose gratitude because you can never be happy without it.

Choose love because you get what you give.

Tomorrow isn’t here and yesterday hardly matters.

All we have is right now.

I am eternally grateful for you.

Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Here I Am

Just a few minutes. To live. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. But right now.

Just a few minutes. To live. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. But right now.

We never turn it off.

Ever.

Our minds, like a humming hard drive, always buzz, buzz, buzzing, jumping from one thought to the next. From a distant memory, to a worry about something that hasn’t happened yet, and might not.

It is our most-important physical asset. Nothing functions without our minds. We are not even ourselves without them.

Our minds are the things we use to experience the world. Writer and speaker Andy Puddicombe said it best during his 2012 TED Talk in London: Our minds are what we need for happiness, contentment, emotional stability. They are what we use to exhibit kindness. We require them for focus, creativity and productivity. And yet, we don’t take any time to take care of them.

We change the oil in our cars. We wash our hair. Brush our teeth. Vacuum the carpet. Mow the lawn.

We spend so much time maintaining things in our lives.

But rarely our most-important asset. We don’t take time for it. And then we get jacked up when shit goes wrong. We experience it as stress, anxiety, fear. We experience it as sadness, anger, depression.

We spend an estimated 47 percent of our waking lives reflecting on the past or thinking about the future. Nearly HALF our short lives, given to times that don’t really exist.

I want to learn how to be present.

I want to learn how to be mindful.

I want to learn how to live in the now.

At work, I sometimes get lazy and don’t shut off my computer each night before I leave. Regularly restarting my computer allows all the necessary security and network updates to load. It allows the machine to take a break and reset so that it’s performing optimally when I need it.

When I fail to restart it, the computer will often bog down. It will have trouble performing too many tasks at once, and I often am forced to restart it just so it will work properly.

Our brains function much like computers. More powerful than any man-made computer. So much to do. So much to control.

Yet, we don’t perform routine maintenance. We don’t let it rest.

Reset Your Mind

Meditation never made sense to me.

You mean, you just… sit there? Doing… nothing?

Precisely.

What a waste of time!

I used to think that very thing. Who has time to do… nothing?

Never mind that I’ve wasted approximately 600 billion hours high, drunk, playing video games, watching movies or television, or doing something else equally unproductive.

Over and over again as I’ve navigated this new life of mine, I’ve read books or blog posts, or listened to podcasts from people I really admire. People who are living life like how I want to be living. And over and over again, I noticed a common theme in so many of these people I respect and admire: They were meditating daily.

It was time for me to try.

Many of you may already know this, but I didn’t: Meditation IS NOT a bunch of Ghandi-looking monks sitting silently by gardens and waterfalls or in temples or little worship huts.

You CAN meditate that way. But that’s not what it is.

There are people in my life who are curious about meditation. Intrigued by the concept when they learned I was going to give it a shot. People not unlike me. People who have been through hard times and are trying to grow into the very best versions of themselves.

What do I tell them when they ask? What IS meditation?

I Found Me

In a quiet little church I’ve driven past hundreds of times on my work commute and never really noticed, I found myself tonight.

I, for the first time, subjected myself to a guided meditation I’d been curious about attending.

I was not struck by lightning. God did not audibly speak to me. And I’m no wiser about what my next major life move should be than before.

But in that quiet little church, I was ME.

No stress.

No worries.

No pressures.

No responsibilities.

No chores.

No phone.

No speaking.

No texting.

No typing.

No nothing.

I sat in a chair, and with the guidance of the woman leading the class, I was able to achieve a state of relaxation I didn’t know was possible.

I have a body. But I am not my body.

I have emotions. But I am not my emotions.

I have thoughts. But I am more than my thoughts.

And you let every ounce of bullshit in your entire life go.

And you just let yourself… be.

I can’t explain it. I don’t know that I want to try. And I’m sure the experience is different for everyone.

It was truly profound.

But not BIG and LOUD.

More like a whisper.

What is meditation?

Peace.

It’s peace. And I want more.

I used to toss and turn and fret about finances when I didn’t know where my next paycheck would come from after an unexpected layoff a few years ago.

I used to sleep in a guest room and feel sorry for myself every night while I tried in vain to save a failed marriage.

I used to shake and cry because everything about my life felt broken and wrong.

All I wanted—the ONLY THING I WANTED—in those moments was to just not feel shitty anymore.

I needed all the ugly to go away. I needed to feel peace. I needed to be me again.

My little personal-life comeback tour has caught fire.

I’m making healthier choices.

Walking a higher path.

And seeing the fruits of my self-improvement efforts paying off.

I am—dare I say it?—something very close to happy. In the deepest recesses of my soul. I am close.

In the evenings, when I do the right thing and shut down my computer, my machine performs like a champ.

In my life, when I do the right things, my body gets lighter and stronger, my mind gets sharper and confident, and my spirit feels peaceful and whole.

It wasn’t that long ago: not attractive enough, not smart enough, not rich enough, not strong enough, not tall enough, not good enough.

We cannot change the things that happen to us.

We can’t.

But we can change how we experience them.

Just breathe. In, then out.

I’m tall enough.

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