Tag Archives: Growth

And Then I Woke Up Three Years Later

(Image/Paramount Studios)

Are you mentally playing the Top Gun Anthem in your head right now? You should be. (Image/Paramount Studios)

I spent the first year depressed and freaking out.

I spent the second year using reading and writing to get to know myself.

This past year, time seemed to move faster than ever.

And then I woke up this morning.

My wife left on April 1, 2013. We’re funny about anniversaries. We can be five years removed from an event, and we feel good and our lives are in order, but then that date pops up, triggers a bunch of memories, and we’re left sorting through a bunch of feelings and trying to figure out what they mean.

I’ve yet to find a better word than “broken” for what I felt in the immediate aftermath of my marriage failing.

Not many people in my personal life knew how bad it was at the time. But it was bad. Your vital signs indicate being alive. But nothing else does. I roll my eyes at all the motivational posters and sometimes cliché- and a little-bit-fake-feeling “You can do it!” messages we’re bombarded with on social media, but some of them are cliché because they’re true. And one of those truths is how valuable of a life experience excruciating emotional and psychological pain can be once it’s in the rearview mirror and it’s not violently stabbing your chest and skull every day.

There’s the me before experiencing that, and the me right now.

Before experiencing that, I didn’t know how to empathize or even what it really meant.

And now I do, for having been through it. Success in love and marriage, in parenting, in super-close social and business relationships appears impossible without the ability to empathize. Maybe some people can learn it without having to hurt first. I hope so.

I tend to learn things the hard way, which isn’t the optimum path to personal growth, but it’s got to be better than never learning.

I was a WRECK. A total mess of a person. My chest felt tight every day. My head hurt every day. I felt full-body anxiety often. It made me vomit a lot.

I can’t remember many instances of feeling more pathetic than the times I found myself teary-eyed, puking, struggling to calm my heartrate, knowing I probably needed some serious couch time with a shrink but couldn’t afford it, and thinking: This is why she left you. And now no girl will ever like you because you’re a total failure.

There were a million things I wanted to know, but the thing I wanted to know most is: When will this be over? Soon? Never?

How to Heal After Divorce in 3 Simple Steps

  1. Stay alive by breathing.
  2. Love yourself.
  3. Repeat.

I said it over and over again, even when it was hard to believe: Everything is going to be okay.

It didn’t feel okay after one year.

It felt kind of okay after two.

And on the three-year anniversary of the worst day of my life, everything is absolutely okay.

I wish I could pass out little manuals to everyone struggling with the end of a marriage and/or loss of their children at home, including the 2013 edition of me. But there are no instruction manuals for grieving. There’s no “right” or “best” way to suffer.

It took me a long time to understand that I wasn’t suffering the wrong way. I didn’t think at the time that divorce warranted the devastation I felt. I didn’t think it was worthy of so much hurt. I concluded weakness instead of letting it be what it was—a highly stressful, totally life-changing event which psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially damages nearly everyone it touches.

Three years ago, I wanted to know what I could do to speed up the process. To fast-forward to the Okay part.

I never did find that button.

Here’s what worked for me:

1. I put my son first. He’s my baseline for all things. If it’s not good for him, I don’t do it. That helped heal the post-divorce relationship between his mother and I. It helped me build a kind, respectful, cooperative relationship with my ex-wife. I’d like to believe I’d care about her wellbeing regardless, but because she’s my son’s mother and an excellent parent and caretaker, one of the best things I can do for my child is treat his mom well. Which I try to do.

His long-term wellbeing drives my business endeavors and serves as a guidepost for me as I consider potential relationships.

2. I admitted that I don’t really know anything. Growing up, I thought being an adult meant you just knew stuff. The meaning of life. How to be disciplined and exercise self-control. How to not be afraid. Not knowing anything reduces the pressure. Not knowing anything allows you to ask better questions and stay curious. Not knowing anything helps you remain humble. Not knowing anything allows you to withhold judgment, and treat others and yourself better. Almost every adult is just making this up as they go. You’re not alone.

3. I wrote here. Putting thoughts and feelings to paper (or the keyboard) has long been touted by mental health experts as a good thing to do. Everyone’s experience will vary, but writing here created a lot of good in my life.

It forced me to look deep within for answers and explore uncomfortable topics.

I discovered other people who knew how I was feeling, and when life is hard, one of the most helpful things is the realization that someone else is walking the same path as you. It just helps when someone understands.

I got positive feedback about the writing, and that gave me confidence.

People sometimes said that it helped them, and that gave me purpose.

And the entire exercise of writing and asking questions and answering questions gave me something to pour my time and heart into when my young son wasn’t home.

And then I woke up one day and it was three years later.

My son’s mom and I had a couple friendly and peaceful text exchanges about our son.

I came to work and didn’t cry or puke in the bathroom.

I didn’t feel anxious, because I’m neither a wreck nor a complete mess.

Two different large websites published my work today in what has become a regular occurrence since the “dishes” post.

I like and respect myself—which is something a person should not take for granted—and I’m looking forward to liking and respecting myself even more in the future.

It was the worst day of my life. And God knows, conceptually, I regret the end of my family. But three years into the metamorphosis, I have to ask the question: Can the thing that changed me for the better, allowed me to explore relationships with my eyes wide open and an uncommon awareness, and granted me the opportunity to actually do something that matters to people, fairly be labeled the worst thing that ever happened to me?

I don’t know.

I only know that tomorrow arrived and everything really is okay.

And all I had to do was breathe.

Then again.

And again.

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How to Scare Bruce Lee and Get Awesome at Stuff

Bruce is smiling because he knows a fun little trick.

Bruce is smiling because he knows a fun little trick.

I remember looking at the non-alphabetized letters on the keyboard and being amazed that people knew how to type fast.

I was a little kid, and an older kid named Justin was watching me and some friends at one of their homes while our parents went out. The family had a computer even though not everyone had personal computers back then.

Justin said he knew all the keys. We didn’t believe him.

We blindfolded him at the desk chair and then yelled out random letters, totally mesmerized as he always found the correct key.

Amazing! How’s he doing that!?

When I was little, I was afraid of the deep ends of swimming pools because when I was 3 some little shit pushed me into a public pool and I sank to the bottom until the lifeguard and my mother pulled me out, but not before I was thoroughly terrified. I was probably 9 before I was confident and comfortable jumping into the deep end of a pool. And now? I’m no Michael Phelps, but I’m a competent, capable swimmer and enjoy it very much. Even in deep water like the Gulf of Mexico where I foolishly often swam alone upon first moving near a Florida beach after college.

I remember not being able to ride a bike.

I remember not being able to tie shoes.

I remember reading or hearing words I didn’t understand.

When I was 7 in 1986, I wrote a letter to Santa, and it looked like this:

IMG_0577

That’s how shitty I was at writing (and drawing reindeer). I found it in my baby book, along with this turd from the following Christmas:

“Dear. Saint Nick,

Please tell the Reindeer I said hi please give me some Ghostbusters and some Ghost

Please give me the Ecto 1 and Headquarters

Turn Over!”

*turns paper over*

“Hope you like the cupcake! Please Write Back!”

And then I drew Santa a crappy picture of himself with a black ink pen. He had just one boot on and a bunch of stars surround his face. It’s a terrible drawing and makes no sense. It’s because I was little.

I’m marginally better at picture-drawing now.

Today, I’m the fastest typist I know. I’m a fine swimmer, I don’t fall down on bikes, I tie my shoes with the best of them, and my vocabulary is well above average.

Some of these things I practiced because they were taught in school or because all my friends were doing them.

In no instance did I set out to achieve mastery.

It just happened.

Because that’s always the net result of doing something over and over again. (Except golf. That would appear to be a notable exception to this rule.)

Enter the Dragon

Bruce Lee, the most famous and one of the most accomplished marital artists in history, said: “I don’t fear the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks. I fear the man who practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Lee was smart. He knew that anyone who does something 10,000 times becomes skilled at that thing.

Something about it resonated with me.

Probably because I’m the kind of person who likes to do lots of different things. I have many interests and am pretty good at a bunch of stuff but not particularly great at any one thing.

It would be fun or rewarding to be GREAT at something.

If you were in a hurry, you could practice something (like a specific kick in Kung Fu) 500 times daily and hit that 10,000 number in just 20 days.

That’s just three weeks. That’s all. THREE WEEKS! To make Bruce Lee a tiny bit afraid of you.

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes. “THAT’S your point? Practice shit? Totally heard that one before, Matt. Thanks.”

I get it! I just think it’s really powerful to realize how great we are at all these random things (even if they’re super-simple like driving, or brushing teeth, or mowing grass, or making food, or whatever) simply by doing them many times. And I think it’s motivating to realize we could get REALLY good at something in three short weeks if we committed to becoming so.

I think sometimes we feel afraid. I’m almost always intimidated by learning how to do something new. It’s magnified when it’s in a strange environment while being watched by people I don’t know.

I’m STILL afraid (pretty much 100-percent of the time no matter how confident I feel five seconds beforehand) to introduce myself to a girl I don’t know at a party or bar or store or whatever.

Everyone has different fears. Usually irrational. But they’re real. And they hold us back from being as happy or successful or fun as we could be.

A lack of confidence is always the reason. When we don’t know how something is going to turn out, it scares us.

I was intimidated by this keyboard I’m using 20 years ago when I had no idea how I’d ever type accurately without looking at the keys. Now, I’m a typing badass.

I look down at my shoes. I used to slowly fumble around with the laces. Sometimes, I’d have to try a second or third time to get it right. But then I figured it out. And I’ve now tied shoes nearly every day for about 30 years. I’m a shoe-tying sensei. I’m amazing at it.

I can swim and ride bikes and I know so many words now because I read and write and talk so much.

Do something 10,000 times, and you’re not just playing. You’re winning.

What could we master with a few weeks or few months of repetitive practice?

I think if we can make Bruce Lee a tiny bit afraid of us, we can do pretty much anything.

I like typing fast.

And well-tied shoes.

(Thanks to my favorite writer James Altucher for inspiring this post.)

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Maybe It’s Time to Leave

I feel dirty suggesting that leaving a relationship might be a good idea. But honestly? It might be the only way he learns.

I feel dirty suggesting that leaving a relationship might be a good idea. But honestly? It might be the only way he learns.

My ex-wife reads this blog and probably often thinks: “Fuck that fucker,” even though she’s pretty nice to me most of the time.

Why?

Probably because I wasn’t like this when we were married, and sometimes when I write things, ladies will ooh and ahh because they believe I would make decent boyfriend material because I come off more enlightened than all the Neanderthals they date or marry because I am now more enlightened than most of them.

And she probably thinks the entire scene is a massive pile of bullshit.

Hard to blame her.

As with most situations in life, there’s a lesson to be learned here.

Sayonara, Hombre

Ignoring the fact I just sexed up Japanese and Spanish, and ignoring the fact that I REPEATEDLY have pleaded and begged and advocated for people to choose to love and be strong in marriage and fight the good fight even when it’s hard and inconvenient… I wonder…

I wonder whether leaving is the only way to know for sure.

To know whether he loves you.

To know whether he respects you.

To know whether he’ll fight for you.

I don’t know. I just wonder. Because that is how it worked for me.

I met my wife when I was 18—a drunk college freshman at a keg party. She looked, and was, spectacular in every imaginable way. At one point, in the middle of our conversation, I had to excuse myself to vomit in the bathroom. And she still married me.

There’s a joke there somewhere. But I’m busy trying to make an important point amid all the bad words and language-banging. A fantastic writer named Mark Manson made this important point first:

Most people only commit to action if they feel a certain level of motivation. And they only feel motivation when they feel an emotional inspiration.

I’ve won sympathy from hundreds—maybe thousands—of women here because I was crying and scared and missing my son and uncertain I could ever find someone to be with me again.

And that was real. I wasn’t faking. I actually cried. I was actually scared. Still am.

“And they only feel motivation when they feel an emotional inspiration.”

You weren’t there all those nights. Countless nights. Dinner was through and the kitchen was cleaned. And there she was on the couch, presumably open to suggestion. Presumably waiting for me to take the lead and show initiative. To do something together.

Anything, really. Talk. Laugh. Hold. Hug. Kiss. Cum.

But, hey! She was busy watching HGTV! I’ll go do this other thing I like to do!

So, I’d play online poker or watch football or go do this other thing that didn’t involve my wife—the person I loved the most but clearly wasn’t motivated to show in any meaningful way.

Sometimes we’d talk and she’d cry when things got hard. I’d try to comfort her but it wasn’t authentic because I felt secure in the relationship as demonstrated by just how much I took the entire thing for granted.

So, she was never comforted.

The hurt and frustration continued to build.

Me watching 24 on Netflix. Me playing poker. Me immersing myself in pursuit after pursuit, but never pursuing her.

Men don’t always realize it because we’re so focused on infidelity as the primary breach of trust in a relationship and a marriage’s worst crime. And it, along with physical abuse, is VERY bad. But men don’t always realize that emotional abuse can sometimes hurt worse.

Men leave their wives alone in the marriage. Physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I left my wife alone in our marriage.

And then one day, it all breaks.

Au revoir, marito.

Fuck that fucker.

But I Am Different Now

There is a fundamental part of me that will never change. We are who we are. But we do have an incredible capacity to grow and change and evolve as we learn and experience new things.

And I’ve learned new things. The hard way. And I’m a better person for it.

And maybe most people have to learn things the hard way for changes to stick.

I am a father. And I was a husband. And these things mattered to me very, very much. They defined me, which is why I felt so lost when one of those things went away.

I felt lost and sad and broken and angry. You know what that is? Emotional inspiration! And it works.

From Mark Manson: “And we’ve all slacked off for lack of motivation before. Especially in times where we shouldn’t. We feel lethargic and apathetic towards a certain goal that we’ve set for ourselves because we lack the motivation and we lack the motivation because we don’t feel any overarching emotional desire to accomplish something.”

Emotional Inspiration → Motivation → Desirable Action

My beautiful, crying wife feeling sad and alone wasn’t enough to get me to take desirable action.

Fuck that fucker.

So, without even trying, my wife did the perfect thing to help me finally overcome lethargy and apathy. She checked out, and eventually left.

And now? I’m me. Nice to meet you.

If you’re a hurting spouse or girlfriend, you’re just like millions of other women who fell in love with millions of guys like me. I want so badly for him—especially if he’s a father—to love you the way he’s supposed to. To keep your kids’ parents together. To show your sons how to be a man. To show your daughters what love is supposed to look like. To stand as an example to friends and family and neighbors for what it means to do love and marriage the right way.

Because that’s what we’re called to do. To serve something greater than ourselves. To lead through service. To love through action.

But, we are, inevitably, human.

And sometimes the inertia is so strong, and you’re out of tools in your arsenal to try to get him to move, and you’re out of energy to look for another way.

It’s against EVERYTHING I want to stand for. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the only thing that will work: Maybe it’s time. Maybe that’s the only way to inspire real change.

It took her leaving for me to ask the right questions. For me to recognize some truths I’d been running from.

And maybe it will for him, too.

There’s only one way to find out, and it doesn’t have to be forever.

But today is today and he’s not the man he promised to be. He’s not the man he’s supposed to be.

I wasn’t either. So, I can’t begrudge her resentment.

Fuck that fucker.

But look at me now.

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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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The Holidays One Year Later

happy-christmas

When you’re co-dependent and have never truly been on your own and you haven’t had sex in more than a year and then your wife leaves you, it feels like your life is over because you’re 34 and every second it’s: Now what?

You cry a lot and feel shitty and lack confidence and no women in the history of the universe have ever been attracted to that.

So much of your identity was wrapped up in your marriage and essentially all of your purpose was.

And when that identity and purpose go away, you don’t even know who you are anymore or what you’re supposed to do and it’s terrifying.

You have a lot of choices to make.

About who you want to be. And about how to get there.

But you’re still having trouble breathing. You’re still having trouble moving. You still don’t recognize the reflection in the mirror.

Being an adult is hard. And life is not always fair. And the choices we make are predominantly responsible for wherever we are in life.

If we can accept those three facts and make peace with them, we have a chance to move forward.

Especially that last one.

Because the choices we make moving forward will be predominantly responsible for wherever we are five years from now.

Something important happens during all that suffering. You get tougher.

And you figure out what really matters.

So instead of trying to win a pointless fight with your future girlfriend or spouse for no reason, you’ll act like an adult and exercise patience and kindness and sensibility.

Think of the last really awful fight you had with your spouse or partner. You probably wanted to punch them in their stupid face, because: Ugh—they’re so dumb and stubborn and mean and unfair sometimes!!!

I get it.

Now imagine a drunk driver runs a red light and crashes into their driver’s-side door at 50 miles per hour and now they’re not with us anymore. And the last thing you wanted to do was punch their face.

And you cry because you loved them more than you’ve ever loved anything. And you cry because you feel guilt and shame for feeling that way.

Perspective is a beautiful thing.

Figure out what matters. Fight for it. The stuff that doesn’t? Maybe let it go because car accidents happen and we’re not guaranteed anything because life isn’t fair, and being an adult is hard, but we should still be adults, even when it’s inconvenient.

Something else important happens.

Time passes.

You stop crying.

You stop feeling broken.

You stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Maybe you start making better lifestyle choices.

Maybe you start working out and taking care of yourself again.

Maybe you start laughing again. Laughing is important. Kids do it constantly and they’re happy and healthy. Adults rarely do and they’re sad and miserable.

And maybe you smile and laugh and are attractive again, and people like you because everyone likes smiles more than scowls and then you get some confidence back because all isn’t lost.

A year ago, I played “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on repeat while decorating the house for the holidays because it’s my favorite Christmas song, and I got sad over and over and over again as I kept pulling Christmas décor and ornaments out of boxes that belonged to my ex-wife, all with a different story attached.

I was obsessed with the idea that I would never find a girl to like me because I was mid-thirties and had a little boy and who could possibly want some loser castaway who probably deserved everything he got?

I spent the vast majority of Christmas Day alone, eating Chinese food and watching TV. It felt exactly how it sounded.

But then another year passed.

And I’m so far beyond the brokenness of yesteryear that I sometimes forget to be amazed by it all. To feel the gratitude the miracle deserves.

I felt like dying because the whole world ended.

But I just kept waking up anyway.

Just kept smiling at the people who lifted me up.

Just kept my sense of humor which has always kept me younger than my chronological age.

And now we’ve circled the sun another time. That was fast.

I’m going to break out the Christmas tree tonight and set it up for my little son who is the most-precious thing I have ever known.

I might still listen to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on repeat because it kicks ass, but I won’t be sad over and over and over again and cry like a wimp.

I’ll be hopeful. Maybe I’ll even watch Elf or Christmas Vacation and laugh some more. I’ll probably smile, even if I’m alone.

Because I don’t want to die. Because some girls will like me. Because I’m actually alive again.

Because it’s just about Christmastime and sometimes magic happens.

Because 2015 could change everything even though we don’t have all the cool stuff Back to the Future 2 promised us.

Because I recognize the guy in the mirror.

And despite all the flaws and immaturity and bad decisions?

He’s really not so bad.

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The Truth About Lying

truth

I looked my mom in the eye and lied to her about watching a movie I wasn’t allowed to watch even though she totally knew I was lying.

Even when I was young and extra-stupid, I was still smart enough to know she knew.

Parents just know.

It was a conservative house. No R-rated or even PG-13 movies for me. Even actually turning 13 didn’t convince my mom that PG-13 material was age-appropriate for me.

When I was probably 9 or 10, we had just one PG-13 movie in the house. Hiding Out. A random late-1980s Jon Cryer movie I’ll be surprised if any of you have ever seen.

I totally watched it whenever I had a few hours to kill home alone because I was young and liked doing things I wasn’t supposed to.

There was a word used in the film that no one ever uses: execrable.

And I used it once in a sentence while talking to my mom.

Because she’s not a vegetable, a small-brained woodland creature or a moldy piece of ham, my mother knew instantly I had watched the one movie in the house I wasn’t allowed to watch.

When she asked me where I’d heard that word, I told a lie.

Because self-preservation is one of our greatest instincts.

Because no kid wants to get caught doing things they’re not supposed to, or more specifically, punished for the behavior.

Because we don’t appreciate the freedom of honesty when we’re too young and innocent to know how poisonous dishonesty really is.

My son got in trouble in gym class this week for sliding on the floor even after the teacher instructed him not to. He wasn’t allowed to participate in gym that day and it made him cry.

We got a note from the teacher telling us what happened.

Our six-year-old denied it. He suggested his first-grade teacher was lying to us.

He gets his facts wrong a lot because he’s 6. But this is the first time I know of where he was being intentionally dishonest out of self-preservation.

He didn’t want to lose rewards and privileges. And I’d like to believe he didn’t want to disappoint his parents.

I never want to lie to him about anything not related to Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.

So, we hugged.

“Daddy used to get in trouble at school too, bud. And when the teachers told my mom and dad about it? They were never lying,” I told him. “I know it’s hard to tell the truth sometimes. Sometimes people say things that aren’t true because they’re afraid to get in trouble. Everyone does, man.”

And then we hugged again.

So here we are. Just a little more innocence lost.

He can lie when he’s afraid just like the rest of us.

But maybe he’ll choose not to.

When I was five or six, I spent a summer staying with a family during the day while my dad was at work. They had a little boy named E.J. He was a year younger than me.

We would run around behind their house, playing in sandboxes and doing Big Wheel stunts and picking raspberries while trying to avoid bee stings.

On one random afternoon adventure, we discovered a bucket of discarded motor oil outside a neighbor’s house.

E.J. picked up a pinecone lying nearby, dipped it in the bucket of oil and started drawing oil marks on the wall of the house.

I don’t remember feeling like we were doing anything wrong.

The neighbor discovered the oil mess on his house later and contacted E.J.’s mom—the neighbor lady who babysat me.

She sat us down at the kitchen table to ask us what happened.

E.J. told her that I did it.

I denied it.

She believed her son.

And I was simply the lying vandal shitty kid that helped supplement the household income for however many more days or weeks I stayed with that family that summer.

That’s the first time I can remember someone accusing me of something that wasn’t true.

That’s the first time I can remember feeling a real sense of injustice and outrage.

I’m almost certainly the only human being in the world who remembers the story and knows (or cares) what really happened.

The truth matters.

I hope I’m always brave enough to be as honest as possible without hurting people.

I hope my son is always brave enough to be as honest as possible without hurting people.

I hope the power of truth prevails for people who deserve justice.

I hugged my son so tight. The missteps of growing up have begun.

Everything’s going to be okay.

“It’s always better to tell the truth,” I told him.

Something I’m sure to repeat over and over and over again for many years.

Something I need to always remind myself to be.

Because we must lead by example.

Because honesty takes courage.

Because that’s where peace lives.

Because the alternative is execrable.

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The Belt Notches

Graphic courtesy of jamesclear.com

Graphic courtesy of jamesclear.com

I was dressing for work the other day when it happened. While buckling my belt, I noticed it needed to be pulled a notch tighter.

You notice because your belt develops this funny little hump where it gets settled into being buckled in the same notch over and over and over again. And then—bam. It needs a new home. Strange. Different. Uncomfortable, but not in a bad way.

My belt got tighter because I’ve been making good lifestyle choices, both in terms of physical fitness and eating habits.

You don’t really notice the changes day to day. The improvements are so incremental that they would seem nearly immeasurable. But, added up over weeks and months, they are not only noticeable, but in some cases—drastic.

Most of the time, I drive right by my ex-wife’s office on my way to and from work each day.

For many months, I noticed myself always looking back to see whether I could see her vehicle parked outside. I don’t know why. Old habits die hard?

What I do know is that it never made me feel good. There were even times I saw my little son hop out of the car with her right at the moment I was driving by.

That made me cry once.

A brutal reminder of all that had been lost.

Lisa Arends at Lessons From the End of a Marriage (who everyone dealing with divorce-related matters should read) once talked to me about emotional triggers. And she said something I’ll never forget. She said they’re going to sting. And it’s going to surprise you. But then, over time, you’ll notice they don’t sting anymore, she said. That you’ll drive by and you won’t feel horrible. You won’t cry.

And that will surprise you, too.

And then you’ll know. Like passing a test of sorts. That you’re stronger now. Braver now.

That you’re actually you again.

I can’t be sure when it happened. But I caught myself once jamming to something awesome on the radio. Smiling because that day was going to be a good day. Just, feeling good.

And I realized: I didn’t look back. I didn’t look to see whether her car was there.

Then I realized I didn’t know when I stopped doing that. Weeks ago?

Because it just happened. Slowly. Unnoticeably. Incrementally.

My mind will continue to process all of the many changes these past few years have brought.

My body will continue to get leaner, harder, stronger.

And my spirit will soar because of it. Taking me to places I’ve never been.

One little bit at a time.

1% a Day

My favorite writer James Altucher writes often about improving just one percent each day.

I like it because it makes sense to me. Here’s an excerpt from a recent post of his:

I have a friend who is feeling down. He doesn’t like his job. He’s uncomfortable with the people he is working with. He’s had this job for ten years so he’s afraid to bail now after putting in so much time.

He wants to make a fast change.

Every day, though, is a new day. The past is just a photograph. The present is everything we can see and feel and hear and touch and love and live. The future is a fantasy.

So today improve just 1%.

That sounds trite. What is “one percent”?

Maybe I’ll write a list of ideas today. Maybe I’ll take a walk. Maybe I’ll call someone I love. Or maybe I will shower twice and do pushups. (or, ahem, maybe shower once).

Maybe you can tell me: what are all the ways someone can improve their lives 1%?

Maybe I’ll eat 1% less junk food. Or read a book instead of some stupid news article that is filling up the inane news cycle of the week before it’s forgotten when the next news cycle hits.

Maybe I won’t argue about a stupid issue. Or maybe I will spend time with my kids.

Someone wrote a completely insane comment on my wall the other day. I delete it and move on. No need to argue.

Another person wrote a blog post accusing me of trying to control him with “Neuro-weaponry,” apparently developed by the U.S.Navy. I ignore it and move on. I don’t even like to swim.

What are some other ideas? I hope you can tell me.

1% seems like a small amount.

And it is a small amount. It’s tiny. It’s easy. It’s doable. Today.

But 1% compounds. If you improve 1% a day you will improve 3800% in a year. I don’t even know what that means. Life is not a number.

But it means your life will be COMPLETELY different.

I know this is true. My life is completely different than it was a year ago. And a year before that. And I can barely recognize the year before that. I can’t even remember two years ago actually.

Sometimes just a kiss improves my life 1%.”

Technically, it’s 3,753 percent. If you improve one percent every day for one year, you improve 3,753 percent. That’s a lot.

James is right. Our lives are not numbers. And I don’t know what it means either.

But I know I can get one percent better at something today. Probably more.

Everything changed. And sure, I’m still scared.

But not very much.

And not very often.

I’m alive. More than just surviving. Living. Progressing. And striving for achievement more than I ever have before.

Instead of worrying about tomorrow, and way down the road about things I can’t possibly control, I’m mostly concentrating on getting a little bit better today.

A slightly smaller stomach.

Slightly stronger arms.

A more-courageous heart.

A calm, capable, clear mind.

An unbreakable spirit.

I wasn’t strong enough before.

And maybe I’m not today.

But I will be. One percent at a time. 3,753 percent more one year from now. And a nearly incomprehensible amount, five years down the road.

“So, Matt. What’s your five-year plan?”

Oh, nothing much.

Just improve 7.85 billion percent.

Rad.

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How To Never Have Bad Days

candle_Candle_light_3008

I was offered a job when I was 28 that would have basically eliminated financial concerns for the rest of my life.

The job was 500 miles away, and ultimately, I had to turn it down.

I had dared to dream of a life where I was never again worried about how a bill would get paid. The future would not be: “How will I afford to send my kids to college?” but rather “Do I want to go drink wine in Tuscany or the south of France next month?”

I got sucked in.

Money for nice clothes. All my dream cars. The kick-ass inground pool and outdoor bar and kitchen I’d always wanted.

Then, poof. Gone. Not happening.

And all the sudden, my very decent car seemed like a massive piece of shit.

My very decent home seemed wholly inadequate.

My wardrobe? Ugh.

Those goddamn bills? Maddening.

The not-amused Universe started delivering messages, one at a time.

Message #1: You don’t know how good you have it.

I lost my newspaper reporting job on Dec. 31, 2009 as part of another round of corporate layoffs. I’d hold my one-year-old son—just watching him. How will I provide?

My wife went to work, dressed to kill, and exceptional at the work she does.

She’d come home. I’d be watching Yo Gabba Gabba with my son in sweatpants and a t-shirt. I must have seemed like the biggest loser imaginable. I was unemployed for 18 months. I finally felt real financial hardship. I finally learned that we are not guaranteed employment in this life. I finally learned that having a very decent home and driving a very decent car in a very decent town isn’t such a bad thing. I learned that having a good job is not something to complain about or take for granted.

Message #2: Money won’t help you.

About 18 months after losing my job, and after a decent run writing freelance copy from home, I was offered my current job as a writer in the internet marketing department of a reasonably large company. We do good work. It’s a very pleasant, professional working environment. I’m good at my job. Seem to be liked and appreciated. And I’m paid much more than I was as a news reporter.

Suddenly, we were prospering financially. Whew.

A few weeks later, we had a death in the family and my marriage totally fell apart.

No dollar amount could save us.

Message #3: Inner peace and happiness is what we should be chasing.

She left me.

My son was gone half the time. And I totally lost it.

And I learned my most-important life lesson so far. NOTHING is more important to our individual human experience, than feeling peace and contentment. (I like the word “happiness” which I incorrectly use in place of “contentment,” which is what I really mean.)

When you can’t even sit quiet and still because of fear, stress and anxiety, you’re left with almost nothing.

Trillions of dollars and exotic vineyards can’t save you. With every breath, you wonder whether you’ll ever feel like yourself again. It’s hard when we deal with change. Even small ones.

When you actually lose yourself? When you don’t know the person in the mirror and are afraid you’ll never find them again? I’m not sure I’ve ever known fear like that.

And that’s when I knew: There are few things in this life that really matter. And so much of what I’d been chasing is not on that list.

Bring It

I’ll never ask for hardships. I’ll never hope for trials and tribulations. I’ll never revel in tragedy.

But I have been thinking: What if I could learn how to embrace obstacles and life challenges, knowing I’m going to come out a better person?

When my wife left, I thought I might lose my house. I was afraid of adding more drastic change to my life. I was afraid of what people would think. I was afraid of losing my home.

The same house I resented when I thought I should be living in something more elaborate.

The same house I didn’t think was good enough for me.

When I was thinking one way, the house brought me misery. Now that I’m thinking another way, the house fills me with joy, comfort and gratitude.

Can that same phenomenon be accomplished with the hardships we face?

Of course it can. If we’re brave enough to not be victims. If we’re courageous enough to embrace growth opportunities. If we’re strong enough to take on all comers knowing defeat doesn’t come easily.

If I can find a way to not blame the world and other people for my life circumstances—to look at obstacles as they arrive and relish the challenges—I believe this life can be incredibly fulfilling.

Bad shit is going to happen no matter what. No matter what.

And we have two choices: Be afraid. Or embrace opportunity.

With mind tricks, really. With psychology. With perspective.

Tough challenges make me stronger.

Hard times make me wiser.

Moments of fear make me braver.

And I want those things. I want those things for me and for you.

Strong. Wise. Brave.

Courtesy of life, just, happening.

Gratitude.

Turning bad things into good things.

Turning darkness into light.

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The Man in the Mirror

Artwork by Suzanne Marie Leclair

Artwork by Suzanne Marie Leclair

I see him every morning when I step out of the shower.

We stare at one another again while I’m brushing my teeth before bed.

The guy in the mirror.

I used to wonder what he would look like in his mid-thirties. Back when he had his entire life ahead of him.

That kid was alright. Balanced. Unsure what he wanted to do with his life, but totally sure of himself.

That kid got pretty good grades in school. Got along pretty well socially. Loved by his parents. Confident with girls. Hopeful and optimistic about his future.

You could see it in his eyes. Good things were coming.

And he knew it.

What if You Couldn’t Wake From That Dream?

If you never woke from a very realistic, lucid dream, how would you ever know the dream world from the real world?

That makes me think about self-identity. How we view ourselves. And just how in tune with reality that image really is.

When you’re a confident kid growing up, and you start hearing about girls with eating disorders and whatnot in high school and college because they have an unhealthy and distorted self-image, or worse, the suicidal kids who feel completely unloved and useless, it’s not something you can understand.

At least it wasn’t for me.

I could never make sense of the beautiful people who didn’t know they were beautiful and would engage in self-destructive behavior chasing something that wasn’t real.

And I don’t just mean people with physical beauty. Because as we age and become less superficial, we discover beauty isn’t always packaged like cover girls and diamonds and sunsets.

We find it in a mother holding her newborn. In an elderly couple holding hands in the park. In a story about a college basketball player and his relationship with a gorgeous young cancer patient.

Somehow, as I aged, I lost confidence.

You watch your best friends go on to have beautiful marriages.

Highly successful careers.

Embark on ambitious adventure.

And you start reflecting on your life and comparing it to others or to what you thought it would look like when you were young and hopeful and optimistic.

But your life doesn’t look like that at all.

Your marriage doesn’t feel happy.

The bills pile up.

There are no vacations to exotic locations.

You don’t have fun with friends all the time like you used to because everyone’s busy.

You lose your job.

Family members die.

The downward spiral depresses you.

You’re not strong enough.

You’re a disappointment.

Everything falls apart.

You lose yourself.

Two Decades Later

Sometimes I’ll just stand there and stare. Letting the eye contact linger between me and the man in the mirror.

Who are you?

The hazel eyes have more green flecks than I remember.

There are signs of aging around them. Every glance at a clock or calendar sounds just a little bit louder than it used to.

Tick, tick, tick.

The gray hair is really coming in. A daily reminder that the kid I remember is, in a lot of ways, gone forever.

I miss seeing the self-assured smile. The eye twinkle that only hope can provide. A face free from the rigors of life’s occasionally cruel twists.

One of the girls I met recently calls me “gorgeous.”

She says it all the time. About that same face I see in the mirror. About that same body that can and should be so much more than it is.

I don’t see gorgeous. I still see the guy my wife left.

But I’m working to look past that. I’m working every day.

This morning, one of my co-workers—a guy who’s been married a long time and has a somewhat warped sense of what my life is really like—said casually in conversation that I was “awesome at meeting women.”

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Maybe I should let him read some old posts.

What is he seeing that I’m not?

He’s seeing something. My social life is inching its way back toward vibrancy. My dating life is light years ahead of where it was throughout every second of 2013.

Maybe there’s a lesson here. About perspective. About relativism. About what it means to be an adult.

We have two possible outcomes every day and most of the time, it’s a choice: Live or die.

If we’re going to be alive, we’re going to have mountains of shit pile up on us. And I choose life.

I think being an adult is a little like being a muscle.

I think once we’ve matured and stopped growing, we need to be broken down and put back together bigger and stronger.

To grow. To be tough enough. To be tall enough to ride.

I’m not gorgeous. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I’m not awesome at meeting women. But I met some. And they like me.

And maybe I waste too much time worrying about what I’m not, or what I used to be.

And maybe you do, too.

And maybe the people we see in the mirror aren’t who we think they are.

Maybe they’re something more.

Maybe they’re tough enough.

Maybe they’re tall enough.

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Faster Than Sound

The world's smartest people thought this might be impossible 80 years ago.

The world’s smartest people thought this might be impossible 80 years ago.

Bullets could do it.

Cannon balls could do it.

But no one knew whether a human being could do it.

The smartest people in the world didn’t know whether it was possible for an airplane—or a person inside—to withstand the physical pressures of travelling faster than sound.

There was only one way to find out: Try.

It required a group of people dedicated to the mission and the will to build something theoretically capable.

A group of people willing to ignore conventional wisdom. Who wouldn’t listen to the excuses for why they couldn’t.

And it required courage. Someone brave enough to be the first to do something new and different and dangerous.

A decade later, on Oct. 14, 1947, a huge boom reverberated across the Mojave Desert.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager piloted a rocket-powered plane faster than the speed of sound—the first known instance of man breaking the sound barrier.

A little hard work and bravery.

Changed the world.

What If?

I’m not a very brave person sometimes.

As a single guy, not a week goes by where I don’t see some girl I wish I had the courage to talk to, but I rarely do. Because I’m irrationally afraid of rejection as if I’ll be sitting around five years from now (or even five days from now) giving two shits about being rejected by some stranger I may have ended up not liking anyway.

And of course, she might say yes.

But sometimes I am brave. Sometimes I have the courage to ask. And sometimes they say yes.

There are moments when I feel awesome. Maybe it’s because I’m looking handsome-ish. Maybe it’s because my jokes are working. Maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by friends. Maybe it’s because of magic.

I don’t know how to bottle that magic, otherwise I would and drink it every day.

What if we could bottle that magic?

One of the world’s most-brilliant marketers is a man named Seth Godin.

He wrote this yesterday:

Happy wowday

Halloween gives you permission to dress up. April Fool’s, a chance to play a prank.

What if there was one day of the year where you had permission to do things that made people say, “wow.”

Acts of generosity or bravery or insight…

What if you focused and practiced and got your nerve up and leaned way over the edge, just one day of the year? If you could get out of your comfort zone for a few hours in a way that benefitted and delighted people you care about, what would that look and feel like?

Today might be your wowday.

Or tomorrow.

Up to you.

That guy often gets my wheels turning in ways others cannot.

I love being rebellious. Challenging the bullshit I observe. It’s because I almost never do it, and when I do, it’s because I strongly believe in whatever I’m fighting for or against.

My job in Corporate America has bullshit rules.

And our domesticated lives in the suburbs have bullshit rules.

And we walk around doing so many things—school, work, church, marriage, etc.—because we’re programmed like robots from the womb to do them.

A girl I went to high school with in Ohio moved to London for nearly three years.

Some of you are like: “Yeah, Matt. No big deal. People do things like that.”

Others are like me.

Move to another country? Are you insane? That’s big and scary and wayyyyy outside the box!

And listen, I don’t want to move to another country. I like the States. A lot. I live here on purpose. But it’s really just a metaphor for all of these things we do, somewhat thoughtlessly. Because it was sort of pounded into our heads from a young age that this is just what you do.

Is it?

It’s okay to do these things because we want to. Because we choose to. But, because we were brainwashed to? Because of habit?

Some habits are bad. Even if most other people do them, too.

Bullets broke the sound barrier before man because bullets are smart enough to stay out of their own way. That probably isn’t true. Bullets probably aren’t very smart at all.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.

If we strip away the doubt—all of the excuses for not doing something. If we ignore the people who tell us we can’t do it—that we’re not good enough. If we challenge the status quo—can’t we change the world like Yeager and his flight team?

Can’t we be bullets?

Can’t we break the sound barrier?

What if the only thing we did today was make or do something that made people say “wow”?

Just a bunch of people making magic?

I bet people would hear that for miles and miles.

I bet people would write about that day.

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