Tag Archives: Personal Growth

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 2

black and white puzzle pieces

Puzzle pieces are cool because they sort of police themselves. Even though several pieces might look like they’ll fit together, they usually don’t, and even if they do, it’s easy to spot the problem and fix it. Try to think of having strong, healthy personal boundaries just like that. When you identify your boundaries, and you enforce them, crappy incompatible puzzle pieces don’t get misplaced and mess everything up. Healthy boundaries take the mystery out of dating and good relationships. Either you fail fast, and avoid a horrible relationship, OR you progress in mostly pleasant, functional ways with a romantic partner who is a great match for the long haul. The people who are still around after you enforce your boundaries like a boss? They’re the keepers. (Image/daninicoleauthor.files.wordpress.com)

You’re not going to like this, but you probably shouldn’t marry your girlfriend or boyfriend.

Seriously.

You know how it feels safe to eat bacon cheeseburgers, drink milkshakes, or maybe even smoke something without the fear of imminently dropping dead of a heart attack or developing lung cancer?

You feel that way because you have several years ahead of you, which is awesome.

But, you’re also intellectually aware that eating bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes for every meal and smoking a pack a day will end with you being a VERY unhealthy adult and will almost certainly rob you of several years of life.

I’m asking you to please think of your dating life in that same way.

Things that feel like no big deal right now will WRECK you in your thirties and forties. Big-time suckage.

And the only person who can protect you from those future shitty things is you. On this particular matter, you’re all you’ve got.

Because I’m capable of not concerning myself with three days from now in the interest of enjoying today, I promise that I understand that some or all of you will dismiss this friendly warning.

That’s okay.

I think maybe most people have to learn life’s most important lessons on their own. That’s how I am too. Every important lesson that stuck with me was learned the hard way.

The reason I’m even talking about this is because I got divorced about five years ago, and it was a WAY bigger deal than I ever realized divorce could be. And I say that as a child of divorced parents who lived about 400 miles apart through my formative years which made me cry a lot when I was a little kid.

Divorce was VERY hard, and I think most people don’t talk about it because they’re ashamed, or because it’s such an awkward and uncomfortable conversation to be on either side of. Divorce is COMMON. Thousands of divorces happen every day.

And common things seem NORMAL. Regular. Not weird.

And things that we think of as normal, regular and not weird don’t scare us. So we don’t protect or prepare ourselves because it never occurs to us that we should.

This is me trying to convince you that you should.

According to a couple of researchers who studied the health impact of major life events on human beings, divorce is the #2 most-stressful life event a person will ever experience.

According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce ranks ahead of things like going to prison, the death of a parent or child, and losing a body part in a horrific accident.

And I’m here to tell you that Holmes and Rahe weren’t playing.

You don’t want any part of it.

So when I say things that offend you a little and make both of us uncomfortable like: Your boyfriend or girlfriend who you currently feel super-in-love with is statistically likely to be your life’s greatest threat at the moment, I want you to understand why.

Let that sink in for a minute before we talk about what you can do about it.

The Boring Word You MUST Prioritize to Avoid a Crappy Adult Life

Boundaries.

When I was growing up, if someone tried to talk to me about boundaries, I would have tuned them out like when my gym teacher tried to stress the importance of stretching and eating vegetables.

I’m 17 and can do 25 more chin-ups than you, dude.

And it would make sense to me if you thought I was an asshole for disparaging your relationship that has always felt like a really good and healthy thing, and that it all seems pretty hypocritical coming from some divorced guy.

But I’m totally right about this, so I hope you’ll begrudgingly come along anyway.

Your future non-crying children who enjoy having both mom and dad living in the same house will really appreciate it.

What Boundaries Are and Why They’re Your Best Defense Against Divorce

Your parents aren’t going to like me using this example, but I think it’s probably the quickest way to cut through the bullshit, so I hope they’ll get over it.

I want you to think about being a girl in high school. A junior. Sweet 16.

I want you to imagine walking through the busy, locker-lined hallway, and as you walk by a group of guys, you hear one of them say about you: “Check out the ass on her. Oh man, I would love to tap that.”

You feel embarrassed, but you just keep moving. You kind of know who the guy is. He’s a cliché high school jock that you know is dating one of the cheerleaders. You know that he routinely harasses some of the less-popular kids in the hallway. He’s a jerk and a bully.

His comment made you feel gross, but it’s not as if you’ve never heard things like that before or even heard your guy friends say them about other girls. So, you leave it alone.

I want you to imagine that you have three rules for dating:

  1. You don’t go out with guys who have girlfriends.
  2. You don’t go out with guys whose only objective is to have sex with you.
  3. You don’t go out with cocky dickbags who intentionally bully other kids for a cheap laugh.

And now, I want you to imagine that the new semester has started and that same guy is in one of your classes. He approaches you after class one day. He smiles and asks you if you’d like to hang out sometime. At first, you’re like ewww, but you don’t say anything right away.

You look him in the eyes, studying them. You think he’s cute, and you secretly feel flattered that a popular kid wants to go out with you.

He seems nice right now. He’s so different when his friends aren’t around. Maybe I should give him a chance.

So, you say “Sure. Why not? Let’s get together soon.”

Fast-forward to your first date.

You went to the movies, or grabbed dinner somewhere. Maybe you went to a house party where someone’s parents were out of town.

And somewhere along the way, he kisses you. You like it. You kiss him back. Everything is great.

But then his hands start going to places you didn’t want them to go. “Oh man, I would love to tap that” is on repeat in your head. All of the sudden you don’t want to be there anymore.

You tell him to stop.

He finally does, but he’s got a surprised look on his face as if you’ve wronged him somehow.

“I thought we were having a good time,” he whines.

You make it clear that there’s no way that’s happening tonight.

Now he looks wounded. You’ve bruised his ego. What you don’t know is that he told a few of his friends he was going to get into your clothes tonight.

He doesn’t want to go back and have to explain to them how he failed.

Maybe he calls you a tease.

Maybe he calls you a stuck-up bitch.

Maybe he—inexplicably—calls you a slut.

Maybe he makes up a story about you to his friends, and maybe some people start talking about you at school, and maybe the entire incident is pretty horrible.

The girl in this example has good dating rules, I think. Reasonable ones designed to protect her from bad things happening.

But then, even though she had evidence that Captain Dickface was bad news, she still got caught up in a moment of weakness and rationalized why she should break her own rules just to feel good.

Then everything turned into a big shit-festival.

Because she broke her own rules.

Because she didn’t enforce her boundaries.

The girl wasn’t honest with the guy when he first approached her. Maybe she didn’t feel comfortable telling him how it really felt to hear him say that. The guy wasn’t honest with the girl about his true intentions. There are a million reasons, some noble, most not, for why he didn’t want to tell the truth. Predictably, in the end, it didn’t work out.

You might believe this scenario has little in common with married couples, but I would argue that THIS is largely why so many people end up divorced.

Not because of bullying and unwanted sexual advances, certainly.

But because of people being dishonest about their true intentions, and people failing to communicate and enforce their boundaries—probably because they’re afraid of rejection, or of being alone, or are afraid of what others might think about them.

Let’s Get Even More Real

Married adults sometimes have crappy marriages and get divorced. And you know who all of them were before they got married?

The same people who wouldn’t have liked hearing me say that they shouldn’t be marrying their boyfriend or girlfriend. They would have felt offended just like I would have, and maybe you do.

But now here they are, pissed off and resentful and full of regrets about wasting their life, hurting their kids, and being afraid of what might happen next.

And here’s the No. 1 reason that happened: They tolerated things that shouldn’t have been tolerated, they failed to communicate and/or enforce their personal boundaries, and ultimately lied to themselves and one another about what their long-term relationship with this boundary violator (or victim of our violations) would look like.

If your boyfriend or girlfriend (or better yet, someone you’ve dated a couple of times) does something that HURTS you, and after talking about it, there’s no evidence that he or she is going to stop doing that hurtful thing, you should cut them out of your life.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t forgive. Forgiveness is an awesome thing.

This doesn’t mean that all people who violate your boundaries are BAD.

Some will be good people.

They’ll just be bad marriage partners. They’re not the same thing.

I think that might be the worst part. Very good, very decent, very fun, very awesome people will violate your boundaries—either because they’re a flawed mistake-prone human being like the rest of us; or because they legitimately don’t SEE or FEEL the same negative consequence you do from something that happened.

You won’t want to cut all of them out of your life.

But please don’t marry them.

Please.

It’s okay for people to disagree. It’s okay for people who love each other to have their differences.

But it’s NEVER OKAY for the person we are considering teaming up with for the rest of our lives to HURT us.

Never, never, never.

You will accidentally be hurt in life. I don’t suggest walling yourself off from every person who wrongs you.

But I AM suggesting that your marriage will NOT succeed if you spend every day of the rest of your life with someone unwilling to honor and respect your personal boundaries.

Maybe you won’t get divorced, but you won’t like your life or your marriage.

You’ll be miserable.

Because people who have boundary issues are miserable. That’s just how it works.

How Do I Know Whether I Have a Boundary Issue?

Here’s a good start, from one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, who uses even more bad words than I do:

“Let’s do the ‘You Might Have A Boundary Issue If…’ list so you know where you stand:

  • Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain?
  • Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to ‘save’ people close to you and fix their problems all the time?
  • Do you find yourself sucked into pointless fighting or debating regularly?
  • Do you find yourself faaaaar more invested or attracted to a person than you should be for how long you’ve known them?
  • In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either amazing or horrible with no in-between? Or perhaps you even go through the break-up/reunion pattern every few months?
  • Do you tell people how much you hate drama but seem to always be stuck in the middle of it?
  • Do you spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault?

“If you answered ‘yes’ to even a few of the above, then you probably set and maintain poor boundaries in your relationships,” Manson wrote.

“If you answered a resounding ‘yes’ to most or all of the items above, you not only have a major boundary problem in your relationships, but you also probably have some other personal problems going on in your life.”

OMG. I Totally Have Boundary Issues. Can I Still Have a Happy Marriage?

Probably not.

But I have excellent news. You can absolutely fix your boundary problem. You can fix it right now, but it will probably take some practice before you get comfortable telling people to pound sand whenever they try to take advantage of you if you’ve spent most of your life not realizing that’s what was happening.

Boundaries are about your emotional health, which might be more important than you realize.

Emotionally healthy people have and enforce strong boundaries. And ALSO, having and enforcing strong boundaries makes you emotionally healthier.

Having strong boundaries means you don’t take responsibility for other people’s crap, and you ALWAYS take responsibility for your own.

I believe we must vigilantly enforce our boundaries (and respect others’ vigilantly enforced boundaries) in order to have high-functioning, healthy, mutually beneficial, and ultimately successful, human relationships.

And what that means is, when people knowingly violate our boundaries, we need to be willing to walk away and cut them out of our lives, which is a really hard thing to do. Because sometimes it’s your spouse, or a parent, or a sibling, or an old friend, or a co-worker, or someone you share children with.

The Bottom Line

When you don’t break your own rules—when you enforce your boundaries (while honoring other people’s)—you know what happens?

ONLY emotionally healthy people with a clear understanding of how to NOT hurt one another (or tolerate hurtful behavior) ever end up together.

It reduces the probability of divorce by probably 90 percent.

When you start tolerating behaviors that your mind and body are telling you not to tolerate, a bunch of bad things happen afterward, and tend to repeat themselves until everyone is miserable and gets divorced or stops being friends.

When you NEVER tolerate behaviors that you know you shouldn’t tolerate, maybe bad things happen once, but you can be sure they will never repeat themselves.

And the people who are still around after all of that filtering? After all of those strong and courageous and confidence-building demonstrations of self-respect?

They’re the keepers.

You May Also Want to Read

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Young People Planning to Marry Someday, Vol. 4

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The Truth is What We Save From the Fire

Value of hard things vs. easy things

Like vigorous exercise, a disciplined reading regiment, and giving more than we take in our marriages, there is VALUE — tons of it — in doing hard things. So maybe don’t run away. Maybe allowing ourselves to feel is THE way. (Image/Carl Richards – New York Times)

I’m afraid of someone using a circular handsaw to cut open my skull.

But I’m more afraid of dying, so if the choice is certain death or brain surgery, I would choose brain surgery.

I’m afraid of jumping off of 100-foot cliffs into unknown waters.

But I’m more afraid of being eaten by big-ass dinosaurs, so if a genetically modified hybrid Jurassic World dinosaur was chasing me, I would totally jump if the alternative was being Indominus Rex’s lunch.

Broken down in the most primitive way possible, human beings are motivated by just two things:

  1. Feeling pleasure
  2. Avoiding pain

Psychologists say most people devote more energy to avoiding bad feelings than chasing good ones.

I believe them.

It’s always the same.

Whether I’m standing poolside, on the edge of a boat, or on a sandy beach, and I know the water is especially cold (which I realize is subjective), it always takes me a little longer to brave the plunge.

The water generally validates my fears as my body revolts. I lose my breath a little. My male extremities disappear like a sick David Copperfield prank. I may or may not lose consciousness for a second. All I know is I want to sprint to warmth and dryness because swimming is supposed to be fun and not take your penis away.

However. Inevitably. In what feels like a few years, but is probably only a few minutes, your body temperature begins to regulate itself. Your breathing normalizes. Your body parts are usually all in place.

Phew.

Depending on wind and air temperature, your body often adjusts so well to the water that it begins to feel almost like a warm bath relative to the chilly air.

I was afraid to take the plunge. I was afraid of the discomfort.

But I always adapt. All of us do.

Change is uncomfortable. But we always adapt.

I allow myself to bathe in the discomfort, sometimes because there’s no other choice. But the truth hits you pretty fast: This was the only way to adapt.

We like to run from discomfort. We’re smart. We know that putting ourselves in certain situations, or subjecting ourselves to certain experiences are likely to cause discomfort. Sometimes, intense pain.

And we run.

But at some point, we realize the only way through it, is through it.

We allow ourselves to feel.

And God, it sucks.

But we adapt. We always adapt. And then some uncomfortable things no longer make us uncomfortable. Certain painful things don’t hurt as much.

Because we’re, just, stronger now.

So, Give Me The Fire

“Pain is sometimes an indication we need to set boundaries, learn to say no more often, or take better care of ourselves; but sometimes it just means that it’s human to hurt, and we need to let ourselves go through it.” – Lori Deschene

I don’t believe in fate, per se. I don’t believe necessarily that “everything happens for a reason,” because little kids get cancer. So, no.

But there is no question that enormous value can be gained from the horrible things we experience.

Maybe there were parents who weren’t very attentive to their child, and were on the fast track to divorce, but then their young child was diagnosed with cancer, and everything changed.

Maybe a sick child can teach you how to prioritize things that really matter in life.

Maybe overcoming adversity can teach them the life skills needed to handle future challenges.

Maybe the entire experience was a galvanizing moment for a struggling couple who finally learned how to choose love and practice gratitude.

Everything may not happen for a reason. But if you ask the right questions, you can always pinpoint the positive results of negative events.

If I have to choose between living with the wool pulled over my eyes, or feeling growing pains, then damn it, I choose growing pains.

I choose truth.

You fight for what you love. It doesn’t matter if it hurts.

You find out what it’s worth, and you let the rest burn.

Ashes from the flames, the truth is what remains.

– Switchfoot

Carry On, Warrior

That’s the name of Glennon Doyle Melton’s first book.

Her second book, Love Warrior, released Tuesday.

I caught a couple quotes from her recently that mattered enough for me to save them for a moment such as this.

Glennon said this in a recent Facebook post:

“I spent the first half of my life being afraid of pain. I found a million easy buttons to transport myself out of pain: Food, booze, sex, shopping, snark, scrolling.

“I was afraid of the wrong thing.

“I’m no longer afraid of pain — I’m now afraid of the easy buttons.

“Because I’ve learned that all my courage and wisdom I need to become the woman I want to be is inside of my pain. When you transport yourself out of it, you miss your transformation.

“First the pain, then the rising.

“You can do hard things, Warrior. You were born to do this.”

You will NEVER hear me celebrate my divorce. Not ever.

I failed my wife and son. I haven’t decided yet who I failed more.

It remains the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me.

Which raises something of a philosophical moral dilemma: Would I rather be married still walking through this world oblivious to the harm I cause others, to my wife’s persistent discomfort, and without the ability to help my son grow into a man capable of understanding what it takes to succeed in his human relationships?

Or… can I accept that this is what had to happen for me to arrive in a place where I have a real chance to be a decent human being moving forward?

Blissful ignorance and comfort? Or tormented enlightenment and discomfort?

I don’t know how to say that I’m happy my marriage ended, because that’s not how I feel.

I would NEVER say that I think my son’s life is better with his parents apart.

But I know how to say that I’m genuinely grateful for the opportunity to experience the kind of trauma required to instill real change.

I NEEDED to hurt.

I NEEDED the fear.

I NEEDED the anxiety.

I NEEDED to break.

I NEEDED to cry.

That was my path to right now. There could be no other.

I don’t know that anyone captures the true essence of the human condition in the midst of life’s most challenging moments as well as Glennon.

I wrote about my intense admiration for her in a post last month. And it’s because I am magnetically drawn to people like her — people who accept responsibility for their life choices, who don’t blame others for their problems, who courageously admit their flaws for the sake of helping and encouraging others, and are the ones willing to stand up and raise their hands to say: “This is what it’s REALLY like when I’m not pretending to be who I think everyone wants me to be!”

Because then we all get to feel a little more “normal” afterward. It takes the brave people admitting things for us to realize we aren’t the only ones with those same feelings and fears.

It takes courageous people to teach us how to live courageously.

From Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens’ story about the Love Warrior book release.

“It’s a beautiful lesson for each of us who takes on the responsibility and privilege of partnering and parenting: Do it authentically.

“I asked Melton if it’s daunting to embark on such a public life — book tour, speaking gigs — on the heels of announcing her separation.

‘I’m used to going out all busted up,’ she said. ‘It’s where I’m most comfortable. Now, more than ever, people don’t want shiny, perfect.

‘Lovely and easy and shiny people are really comfortable talking about their problems when they’re over,’ she continued. ‘We’re not allowed to struggle until after we’ve done our victory lap. That’s fine, but it’s less helpful than hearing from people in the trenches. How do I show up in the during? Maybe this all happened to me so I can go out there and be seen in the during.’

Thanks, Glennon.

I know exactly what you mean.

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This is Why Your Life Sucks

(Image/thoughtsprojected.wordpress.com)

(Image/thoughtsprojected.wordpress.com)

“Could you explain a little more about what you mean by core values?” Lisa asked.

Yes.

I think most people, including me, lack the ability to summarize their core values, and then shitty things happen afterward, and then we all struggle with trying to figure out why.

But THIS IS WHY the shitty thing happened. Because we don’t know what our values are.

Since we can’t go back in time, the only reasonable choice is to try to make tomorrow better than today.

Our inability to identify our values means we don’t REALLY know who we. And that prevents us from being able to communicate it accurately to others.

And that’s a problem. This non-programmed and ill-defined Life Navigation System is incapable of getting us to our desired destination without blind luck. Thus, whenever we’re not experiencing good luck that we may or may not have earned, life sucks.

I’ve been hammering on this point lately and it’s not just because I think I know things (I don’t), but rather because whatever personal advancements I’ve made in the past three years can be directly attributed to me honing in on my values and learning how to enforce my personal boundaries.

And on the flipside, everything about my life that sucks can be directly attributed to not honoring (or not knowing) my values in certain life areas, or compromising my boundaries (usually because it’s “easier” in the moment, even though we always pay for it later).

“What are Values and Boundaries? This Sounds Like Psychobabble.”

The words “values” and “boundaries” are the kind of words that always sounded like bullshit to me. They don’t sound like they mean anything. They’re just words adults used when I was growing up when they were droning on and on about things that weren’t fun to listen to, and if I HAD listened to them, I’d have had less fun.

Or would I have?

When I was young, I didn’t feel motivated to explore ideas like this or learn new things because everything was always good. I was healthy and safe. I felt loved by family and accepted by friends. All of my needs were met. Because I never wanted for things, I never had to ask myself how to get something I wanted, and then go through the growth process and hard work necessary to achieve it.

But then, almost exactly three years ago (April 1) my wife left, and my son didn’t live at home all the time anymore. I was sad, angry and ashamed.

I was nothing like the happy and confident person I used to see in the mirror back when nothing was wrong.

I was a broken, crying, terrified shell of that kid. If I’m not that person anymore, who the hell am I?

I didn’t matter, and I knew it.

I was weak, and I knew it.

I wasn’t worth a woman’s love or desire, and I knew it.

Those were hard truths to accept, but life is really hard sometimes. After a lifetime of mostly blaming others for anything that ever went wrong because it’s so much easier than raising your hand and accepting responsibility, I finally asked the right questions:

How did I get here? What could I have done differently to prevent this?

The answer is simple enough: I didn’t always live my values, and I didn’t always enforce my boundaries.

Suddenly, these “bullshit” concepts skyrocketed to the top of my This Stuff Really Matters list.

Here are two of my favorite explanations for these critical life concepts.

Here’s Debra Smouse at Tiny Buddha on VALUES:

“Values are who YOU are, not who you think you should be in order to fit in.”

“Why is naming your values important?

“Values are the backbone of life. They are the beacons on our path—in personal life and in business. When you identify your values and get clear with them, something magical happens: They come alive in ways you haven’t even imagined and illuminate and nurture your entire life from the inside out.
“If we don’t know what’s important to us, we spend a lot of time wandering and wondering what we should be doing. There is tremendous power in discovering and living according to our highest values, and experiencing inner peace as the natural consequence.

Here’s Mark Manson on BOUNDARIES:

“Healthy Personal Boundaries = Taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions or emotions of others.”

“People with poor boundaries typically come in two flavors: those who take too much responsibility for the emotions/actions of others, and those who expect others to take too much responsibility for their own emotions/actions.”

Why Does This Matter?

It matters because our lives suck sometimes, and outside of grieving the deaths of loved ones or developing a disease impossible to prevent, it’s pretty much always our fault. We feel INFINTELY more confident and in control of our lives once we accept this truth.

Your wife left you because you were a shitty husband.

Your kids rebelled because you made missteps as their parent.

You lost your job because you failed to make yourself indispensable.

You got sick because you make unhealthy choices.

You don’t have money because you’re unwilling to put in the work or take the risks it requires.

Your boyfriends always cheat and treat you like crap because you don’t love and respect yourself enough to not date men like that.

Bad things happen. And we really feel them because negative emotions tend to register more prominently with us than positive ones.

“A major reason for the more noticeable role of negative emotions is that they possess greater functional value. The risks of responding inappropriately to negative events are greater than the risks of responding inappropriately to positive events, since negative events can kill us while positive events will merely enhance our well-being,” Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév wrote in Psychology Today.

Maybe everyone else grew up faster than I did, but I was in my 30s before recognizing that the common denominator in most of my life problems was me.

Because I want to feel happy (the real happy that comes from internal peace absent fear, guilt, anxiety and shame) more than I want most things, I made the choice to try to define my core values, honestly communicate my boundaries to others, and then ENFORCE them.

That means, when someone I just met at my birthday gathering says something that genuinely offends me and contradicts my core values, she and I will have a totally uncomfortable and not-fun conversation right in front of everyone, and then when she tries to play nice later and reach out to me via Facebook Messenger in an attempt to score a date, I don’t consider it, even though that’s something I probably would have done just three years ago when I was desperate to feel liked and wanted.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Your core values are who you are when no one’s watching. Your core values are what you do and say because it’s your truth, and not what you do to win the approval of your friends, family, co-workers, classmates, neighbors or romantic interests.

Your core values are THE REAL YOU, not who we think we should be so people will like us.

When we live our values and enforce our boundaries, the only people in our inner circles end up being people who share (or at least respect) our values, don’t attempt to manipulate or take advantage of us, don’t bring unwanted drama into our lives, and who love, respect and accept us for who we REALLY are (and not because of what we do for them).

Values.

Boundaries.

Not the bullshit nonsense I once chalked them up to be, but rather ideas with the power to change everything. For the better.

More on Values and How to Define Them

From Dawn Barclay at Living Moxie: How to Define Your Core

From sourcesofinsight.com: How to Find Your Values

From Mark Manson: WHERE ARE YOUR F@#%ING VALUES?

More on Boundaries and Why They Matter

From Mark Manson: The Guide to Strong Boundaries

…..

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Marijuana, Bible Studies, and Bridge Construction

(Image courtesy of screen-wallpapers.com)

(Image courtesy of screen-wallpapers.com)

“Shit! I have to go.”

Everything was hazy and surreal in the smoke-filled room. It’s because four of us just burned a massive blunt. I was pretty high. There was nothing particularly weird about that. In college, I was often pretty high.

“Where do you have to go?” my friends asked.

“Bible study,” I said. “I forgot all about it.”

“Bible study!? You can’t go to bible study!” my roommate said. He didn’t say it because he, or anyone else in the room, had a problem with faith or bible studies. He said it because I looked and smelled and was acting exactly like someone who had just smoked a lot of marijuana, and he figured—perhaps correctly—that it wasn’t an appropriate time to study Scripture.

“Gotta do it, man,” I said. And then I ran off on my 10-minute trek to meet a guy whose name I can’t remember to discuss a chapter in the New Testament I can’t remember discussing.

You know, because in college, I was often pretty high.

Can’t Stay Hidden Forever

In January, an exceptional guy about my age died. Everything was fine. His wife was pregnant with their fourth child. He was in excellent physical condition. Then, the doctors told him he had cancer the day after Christmas. And he was gone a month later.

Just like that.

The story hit me hard. I had never met Paul Coakley. But I knew quite a few people who were close to him in college and stayed in touch into our adult years. The story was tragic and touching and I wrote about it.

A random Google search yesterday led one of Paul’s friends to that post. They shared it on social media and now several hundred people have read it, and many of them shared it some more.

Because that happened, more people I know in real life discovered this blog. The world closes in on me every time that happens. More people to judge the adult version of me. A version of me so different from the one they might remember when I was young, confident, always positive and optimistic, strong, brave, and afraid of little.

Now, they’ll find someone else.

A divorced single father who hasn’t lived up to his own expectations. A guy who failed to achieve professionally, socially and spiritually, the life I’d always envisioned.

I’ve been writing here for two years now. I’ve grown accustomed to many people reading the things I write.

But it feels so different when it’s someone you know. People you respect deeply and maybe wish didn’t know about all your skeletons. The skeletons on display here. I used to joke a lot about my mother and grandmother finding this place and freaking out. That will probably happen one day.

I use my first name and I show my face because I feel like a fraudulent coward if I don’t at least do that.

Someday, I’ll have to own all of it. It still scares me, even though I’m actively trying to care less.

You can’t stay hidden forever.

What I’m Doing Here

Relativism (the reality of things being relative to one another—not the philosophical doctrine) is a funny thing.

Some people have seen and done things many of us can barely fathom. Especially some kid from a quiet little Ohio town, like me. Those people read about me smoking pot and all the keg parties and my bouts with conscience regarding sexual desire as a young kid in church, and probably roll their eyes, because to them—Who cares!?

Others living purer, more disciplined lifestyles might be more offended by my casual references to sex or my somewhat cavalier use of bad words. And I still worry about what other people think of me. It’s a weakness. I’m working on it.

Except, here’s the thing: I KNOW everyone feels most of the same things I feel. Because I’ve been alive 36 years and that’s enough time to figure out a few things.

I wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies when I was 13. I grew up in one of those houses.

So it makes total sense that I wanted to party when I got to college and lived on my own. It’s totally human to want to learn and experience things for oneself.

The sex stuff? Everyone who claims to not understand is a dirty liar. Most people just don’t talk about it.

Everyone has a different definition of good and bad.

Behaviorally, I’ve long been a I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints kind-of guy.

Philosophically, I’ve always wanted to be a good person.

The older I get, the less I understand what it means to be a good person.

I only know that’s what I want to be.

I don’t know if it’s possible to bridge the gap between the righteous and the fallen. Because most of us don’t even know for sure what either of those things mean. But if there is such a thing—a bridge?

That’s who and what I want to be.

I’m probably doing it wrong.

If This is Low, I’m Looking for High

Being stoned during bible study is a metaphor for my life ever since discovering there are emotional consequences to various life choices.

Using the loose definition of these words, I want to be bad and I want to be good. I can’t look you in the eye and honestly say that I don’t occasionally want to do things I loosely define as “bad.”

I don’t know what it means to be a good person, but a good, loose definition might be someone who follows their conscience. Someone who has principles and sticks to them.

I’m certainly guilty of not always doing that.

I got high a lot back in college because I liked having fun with my friends.

I went to bible study because I liked the idea of pursuing a higher path (no pun intended).

And I’m always trying to offset some of the bad with some good. Like maybe if I do a bunch of good things, I can erase some of the bad things, even though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that.

Like I’m trying in vain to scrub away some dirt in a foolish attempt to convince people I’m better than I am.

But I’m not better. I’m just whatever I am.

And if I ever did get to the top, I’m not sure I’d know what to do with myself.

I’m sure the view is nice.

But, in truth?

I dig the climb.

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Bring the Target Closer

Shooting-Target

When life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins was 24, he wanted to train U.S. soldiers to shoot better, despite having never fired a gun.

How can I—a guy who has never shot a gun—teach someone else to improve their shooting?, he wondered.

The first thing he did was find five sharpshooting experts and interview them extensively. He then cross-referenced his notes from all five interviews and found commonalities among them.

From those conversations he formulated his strategy for improving the accuracy of soldiers’ shooting: Bring the target closer.

He brought the targets only a few feet away for each student. Of course, everyone shot bullseyes. Then he moved them back one foot. Everyone shot perfectly again. Then he moved them another foot. More success. And so on.

This incremental and confidence-building improvement strategy increased shooting accuracy in the school by 50 percent.

All from the mind of a guy who had never before fired a gun.

I read about this yesterday in James Altucher’s excellent “10 Things I Learned While Interviewing Tony Robbins About His New Book ‘Money’.”

Altucher added one more anecdote from Robbins that really resonated with me. 

Look at Goals Differently

Altucher wrote:

“Tony told us of one time he asked people what their goals were. One guy said, ‘I want to make a billion dollars!’ At first this would seem like an admirable goal—set it high! There’s that horrible saying, “Aim for the moon, because even if you miss it you’ll find yourself among the stars.

“But Tony said, this guy didn’t really understand his goal.

He broke it down. ‘Why do you want a billion?’ And the first answer was, ‘I want my own plane.’ Tony told him, ‘Well a plane costs $100 million and you might only be flying 12 times a year. If you charter a jet for $30,000 an hour then it will take you forever to spend $100 million.’ So suddenly the guy didn’t need $1 billion anymore. He needed $900 million.

“By the end of that session,” Tony said, “it turns out to achieve the exact lifestyle he thought he needed a billion for, he needed $10 million.” This is still a lot of money but this was Tony’s way of bringing the target closer.

“When I read that in his book, I did the exercise with Claudia (James’ wife). Her numbers went down by 90% when we really went through it. What happens then? You feel relief. You don’t have to be on the hamster wheel of money for your whole life. What you want is freedom, not money.”

The Five Steps to Succeed at Anything

In the interview with Robbins, Altucher said, “Ok, I figured it out. You use ‘the Tony Robbins Method’”. Which he defined as:

1. At first you don’t know anything.

2. You find five people who are the experts in the world.

3. You extensively interview them.

4. You figure out the most simple things they have in common with each other.

5. You do that simple thing over and over and over and over (repetition).

And that’s how you succeed at anything.

Elegant, it’s simplicity.

Discovering Shortcuts Usually Requires Knowing the Long Way

Whenever I move to a new city, I find I’m always travelling the main streets and busiest thoroughfares at first because they’re the easiest to remember and the first ones you get to know as you’re learning your way around.

Inevitably, as I drive around, over and over and over and over again, I hone my sense of direction and increase my comfort and familiarity with my surroundings.

After a year or two in a place? I learn all the side streets and back roads. The ones that help me avoid busy, annoying intersections, or help me efficiently navigate obstacles, or shave minutes off my work commute.

I learn the shortcuts and become a proficient driver only after learning the long way first.

We’re always looking for shortcuts.

To riches.

To physical fitness or attractiveness.

To expertise.

To love or sex or friends or success.

And maybe that’s a bad plan. Maybe if we accidentally find ways to improve speed and efficiency, it’s great or fortunate or because we’re fast learners.

But maybe most of the time the best way to get really good at something is to really embrace that incremental improvement mentality.

Maybe the best way to improve our lives is to always make sure we’re looking at goals differently.

You want to have a happy marriage?

Practice communicating with kindness and patience, no matter what. Love without expecting or demanding anything in return.

Never say mean things. Ever. And if you can never say something mean to your spouse for one day, maybe you can do it for two. And three. And four. And maybe after a month of kindness you realize you can do it every day and that it’s worth it because you feel peace and happiness you’ve never felt before.

If I did 50 pushups today, couldn’t I do 51 tomorrow? And 52 the next day? And 53 the day after that?

How long before I’d be the strongest I’d ever been?

We have these small successes. And we know we can improve upon them the next time. We can ALWAYS improve. Just 1%.

Just one measly percent.

And then we’re a little better. A little smarter. A little stronger. A little kinder. A little richer. A little happier.

And then someone asks you how you are.

“I’m great. Really great,” you say.

And you smile.

Because it’s true.

You are great.

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Now I Can Die in Peace

There will always be a higher mountain to climb.

There will always be a higher mountain to climb.

I root for professional sports teams in a city famous for not winning a championship in 50 years.

It’s almost statistically impossible to have a five-decade run of suckage like we’ve had in Cleveland, Ohio. That’s why sports fans in northeast Ohio collectively showcased the world’s largest erection in the history of sexual sports metaphors last summer when basketball star LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The return of James ignited a series of events that now have the Cavaliers as the odds-on favorite in Las Vegas to win the NBA title. Probably for the next five years.

Typical fans expect major injuries to crush all of our hopes and dreams.

Sensible fans simply hope this team built for dominance will deliver Cleveland its first major sports championship in five decades.

Fans like me engage in conversation about how many championships we might win.

I’m never satisfied.

With what? I don’t know. Everything?

My poor (at worst) to middle-class (at best) upbringing shouldn’t justify my high expectations. But I have them anyway.

This dissatisfaction would manifest itself in my youth as materialism. I wanted things. I had a lot of friends with infinitely more financial resources than my family did. There was no jealousy. Please don’t think that. But it did establish a standard in my mind. A standard of living which, if achieved, would seem to indicate you’ve “made it.”

Hardly anyone has money in college. So, when I started getting my full-time job paychecks from the newspaper after graduating, I felt like I made it.

I was living in an affluent beach town on Florida’s Gulf Coast, surrounded by boat owners, country club members and owners of prime real estate. I’d feed my lust for big houses and piles of cash by walking through multi-million-dollars homes on the weekends and dreaming of life in a place like that.

That’s the recipe for making a totally pleasant three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment three miles from the beach seem like a shitty place to live.

When we moved back to Ohio, we bought a house that would have cost three times as much in the town we’d just moved from. So it seemed awesome.

All it took was a job offer I was unable to accept that would have made me a lot of money to make my perfectly adequate house seem wholly not so.

I drive a new Jeep Grand Cherokee. But it’s not the Limited!!!

I have six televisions (and don’t even watch TV that much). But I need a new big-screen for my basement!!!

Everything is relative.

I might never have most of the things I want. But I could lose a whole bunch of things I already have and still always have everything I need.

Fortunately, my cravings are no longer material. I want to achieve a higher state of being. I want to walk a higher path.

I don’t seek things. I seek peace.

I’m intellectually capable of understanding that contentment and happiness come not from attainable things, but from within.

Even still. I want more.

Desire is Full of Endless Distances

That was the headline of marketing genius and prolific writer Seth Godin’s blog post today. I read it three times and hugged myself because sometimes that’s how much I love things I read.

Here it is:

“Just one more level on this game, she says. Once I get to level 68, I’ll be done.

Just one more tweak to the car, they beg. Once we bump up the mileage, we’ll be done.

Just one more lotion, she asks. Once I put that on, my skin will be perfect and I’ll be done.

Of course, the result isn’t the point. The mileage or the ranking or slightly more alabaster or ebony isn’t the point. The point is the longing.

Desire can’t be sated, because if it is, the longing disappears and then we’ve failed, because desire is the state we seek.

We’ve expanded our desire for ever more human connection into a never-ceasing parade of physical and social desires as well. Amplified by marketers and enabled by commerce, we race down the endless road faster and faster, at greater and greater expense. The worst thing of all would be if we actually arrived at perfect, because if we did, we would extinguish the very thing that drives us.

We want the wanting.”

Seth’s usually (always?) right. I think he’s a genius and a master of asking the right questions.

And I agree with him here.

There’s something tragic about it, too. About a life lived chasing and climbing and chasing and climbing… and never arriving, OR getting there and thinking: Shit. Now what?

I’m skinnier. But not skinny enough.

I’m stronger. But not strong enough.

I’m smarter. But not smart enough.

I’m a better man than I used to be. But I’m not good enough. And I’m now realizing I probably never will be.

Maybe I’ll never have my Rocky Balboa moment. Maybe I’ll never conquer all of my personal battles or achieve all my goals.

And there is something inherently dissatisfying about that. But it’s also honest.

And the truth is: I want the wanting.

I want to chase after the things that move me, even if it amounts to nothing more than a cat chasing its tail.

Because what the hell else am I going to do?

I want things. Things I may never have. Things that, if I acquire, might lose their appeal and have me looking longingly toward other things.

I choose to embrace the tragic purity of climbing and chasing knowing I may never arrive at my destination. That the Browns may never win a championship. That I may never have my dream home. That I may always feel like I have a bunch of growing to do.

We’re human. The real beauty is in the trying.

There. Now, I can die in peace.

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How to Not Choose Yourself

James Altucher is my hero and I love him more than anyone I've never met. The author of the HuffPo piece I read today would benefit from Altucher's wisdom.

James Altucher is my hero and I love him more than anyone I’ve never met. The author of the HuffPo piece I read today would benefit from Altucher’s wisdom.

It’s so easy to feel sorry for yourself.

I do it all the time.

Because I lost my wife. Because my son’s gone a lot and I really miss him. Because I don’t have as much money as I used to. Because I have expensive bills and repairs. Because my home needs more than I can give. Because I never meet single women, and when I do, there’s always a glitch.

We can all do it if we want.

We can point fingers at circumstances. Bad luck!

Other people. Unfair!

And we can never, ever, look in the mirror and ask the really difficult questions. The ones that make us squirm. The ones that make us want to run and hide and never see our reflections again.

What choices have I made that led me here?

What choices can I make today to improve my life?

Your reflection should have his/her eyes narrowed. Studying you. Judging you.

You should always love and respect yourself. But you should also hold yourself to higher standards than everyone else does. And when you fail to meet those standards, it seems worth evaluating what you can do differently to change that.

“I’m a Member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves’”

That was the headline of a Huffington Post piece one of my friends sent me this morning.

And when I first started reading, I just kept nodding. Yes. Yes, that’s me! Yes, that’s me too!!!

But then, the writer started pointing fingers in every direction but the right one.

And that’s where she lost me.

Because she used to have money. And dine out. And take vacations.

And now she doesn’t anymore.

It’s Corporate America’s fault.

It’s the politicians in Washington DC’s fault.

It made me sad to see someone who appears to believe deep within her heart and soul that she’s doomed to a life of poverty despite her education and previous success in the professional world. That there’s no future but a bleak one of living off government aid until she dies one day, sad and alone.

I’m not trying to pick on Kathleen Ann, the author of the HuffPo piece.

She is a human being with a story. A story with a bunch of details and context to which I’m not privy.

But she’s well-educated. And indicated she used to earn $100 per hour, which is a metric shit ton more than I make. So, I’m defaulting to the position of believing she is INFINITELY more capable of choosing herself than she displays in her woe-is-me piece.

Let’s dive in.

“I used to have a house. I used to go on vacations. I used to shop at department stores, get my hair done and even enjoy pedicures. Now, I don’t. I’m a member of the American “Used-to-Haves.”

Now, I’m renting an apartment and I’m desperately awaiting a check so I can pay the rent. Yet, I’m lucky to have an apartment that includes utilities. Despite my college degree from a prestigious college, and solid employment track record, I can’t get a job. It’s been so long since my corporate days, I now feel unemployable.

My age doesn’t help. But I’m as healthy as a thoroughbred, I appear quite young and would gladly accept a basic salary. I’m a bargain! But no. I’m freelancing for $15 an hour these days, but I used to earn $100 an hour. In fact, all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour. To make ends meet, I also work as an aide ($13.75 an hour) and run a small local company. And my annual earnings are under $20,000.

On “I’m a member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves.’”

I understand what she means. The middle class has gotten squeezed HARD. And it’s painful. My life is not subsidized in any way. I pay for everything myself. And I sometimes feel like people who work less have a better life than I do. I am responsible for my choices. But I do believe that, fundamentally, hard work should be rewarded. In my experience so far, that hasn’t really been the case, financially.

On “I can’t get a job.”

I want the author to define “job.” Because she said she will “gladly accept a basic salary.” And we don’t have any context here for what that means. What is a basic salary? $40,000 annually? $70,000 annually? Is she willing to relocate? Or no? Regardless of the answers to those questions, who is responsible for the outcome of those choices? You? Me? The government? Businesses? I submit only one person is.

On “all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour.”

Nonsense. Charge whatever you want. Choose yourself. I charge $60 an hour for my freelance work. And people pay it, or they don’t. They either think my work is worth it, or they don’t.

The market has never, and will never, dictate what my time is worth. If someone is unwilling to pay me an amount in which I can afford to do the job, I decline the work. The author can make that same choice.

On “my annual earnings are under $20,000.”

She works three jobs, she said.

1. She writes freelance.

2. She works as an aide for $13.75 per hour.

3. She runs a small local company.

I don’t know what any of that means. But I know that if you work full time at a fast-food restaurant for $9 per hour, you earn $18,720 per year, which is pretty much what the author said she earns working THREE jobs.

CHOOSE YOURSELF.

“I’m lucky to be in Massachusetts, where my health care is paid for, and fortunate to be of sound health and mind. But on days when I feel hopeless, I can envision myself 20 years from now, living in hardscrabble poverty.”

On “where my health care is paid for.”

The author doesn’t pay health care expenses. I pay $400 per month to cover my son and I, and that’s with the VERY generous more-than-half contributions of my employer. Maybe that doesn’t sound like very much to you. $400 per month for something I almost never use but MUST have is a lot to me.

And it decreases my sympathy for the plight of the author who recalls making more than $100 per hour at her last full-time job.

“Watching John Boehner and the Republican Congress during the past few years has been a stunning confirmation of their seeming disregard for the “Used-to-Haves.” As they pull down salaries of $174,000 a year, unparalleled benefits and the option of voting themselves a raise, their selfishness is unrivaled as they barricade health care reform, knowingly shut down the government, cut SNAP benefits and eliminate extended unemployment payments.

Congress doesn’t have the stones to call up their lobbyist buddies and corporate honchos and insist they hire more unemployed Americans for the American companies they celebrate and boast about.

The press calls it “The Great Recession.” It actually was the “Great Theft.” In the wake of this very public, often-glossed-over theft from the middle class, the perpetrators have been revealed. We know the American corporations without the courage, scruples or heart to help us, the ones responsible for the recession and the politicians who put the toxic policies in place. We “Used-to-Haves” aren’t stupid.”

On “John Boehner and the Republican Congress.”

And that’s when she lost me. Grinding a political axe.

Let’s get one thing straight: If you’re a politician in Washington DC, regardless of political party, you’re a greedy, egotistical, power-hungry maniac who ALWAYS puts your own needs ahead of your constituents. And I’d even be okay with that if you weren’t so smarmy and dishonest about it. It’s beyond corrupt, what happens at the highest levels of our government.

But choosing sides? As if one is good and the other is evil? That’s laughable.

They’re all assholes. Each and every one of them. And if they cared about you and me, they would—at minimum—put partisan politics aside to AT LEAST fix all the apolitical things that ail our nation and world. But they won’t even do that. It’s all about reelection and campaign contributions. If they worked together, they would be forced to not say ugly things about one another all the time. Without all the lies, no one could ever get elected!

Blaming politicians is too easy. All the Sean Hannity fans can hang on his every word and hate all the people who love Bill Maher and hang on his every word. Knock yourselves out.

Respect one another. Be pragmatic. Work together. Serve something greater than yourselves.

Do that? And I’ll vote for you no matter which side of the aisle you stand on.

“As a “Used-to-Have,” I’m beyond angry. I’m not a “Never Had.” I know what it’s like to pay bills on time and have a little left over. I remember vacations and pedicures and going out to dinner. As a “Used-to-Have,” I know exactly what Corporate America, lobbyists and politicians have taken away from me. The “Used-to-Haves” and the children of the “Used-to-Haves” won’t forget. The “Used-to-Haves” are educated. Many of us and our children have amazing talent and academic honors. We know how to get things done. And though all of the odds appear to be against us, we must refuse to give up hope.”

This was the end.

And I got a little upset about it. So I wrote my friend back expressing my disappointment in the author’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for any of her current life circumstances.

This girl is A LOT like me, my friend. I joke that she’s the Girl Me. Because we think similarly about many things.

While our big-picture philosophies align closely, we sometimes diverge on the details.

“This is just an example of what ails the human race. Finger pointing,” I said. “It’s less about politics and more about self-empowerment.”

I wrote that the author of this HuffPo piece REALLY needs to read my favorite writer James Altucher’s most-recent book “Choose Yourself.”

She is frustrated like so many of us with struggling to make ends meet despite being college educated and having a relatively good job in the professional world. She recently started working part-time to supplement her income.

She replied.

“While I agree with lifting up and self-empowerment, I am also beginning to realize that not everyone can make everything they want to happen come true here in America anymore.

“Not everyone can have a successful business. It’s a fact. You can work your balls off and still lose. And that goes for a lot of different industries.

“There is no guarantee.

“You know I am the first person to dream big and believe in making shit happen. However, I’m starting to realize it sometimes isn’t in the cards.

“Will that stop me from trying? Probably not, in a lot of cases. But is it true? Probably.”

I liked my response. And the sheer power of the truth in these words prompted me to write this post today.

“Of course,” I said. “It’s all a risk. Most successful people fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail at first.

“Remember the line about Edison’s trials in creating a functioning light bulb?

’Mr. Edison, how did it feel to fail a thousand times?’

“I didn’t fail a thousand times,” Edison said. “I have simply found 999 ways how not to create a light bulb.”

Fortitude.

We have no chance in this life if we believe other people get to decide who we are and who we can be.

We have no chance if we spend our lives waiting for someone else to give us a shot.

We have no chance if we sit around waiting to be granted permission.

Choosing yourself means you don’t need permission.

Choosing yourself means you manufacture your own opportunities.

Choosing yourself means you—and ONLY you—get to decide who you’re going to be today, no matter how many times you’ve fallen, how many mistakes you’ve made, and how great the odds against you might seem.

Choose yourself.

That’s where hope and opportunity live.

And you deserve it.

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The Lessons of ‘Breaking Bad’

Walter White from AMC's Breaking Bad. Bon voyage, awesome show. Thanks for the lessons.

Walter White from AMC’s Breaking Bad. Bon voyage, awesome show. Thanks for the lessons.

Author’s Note:

  1. There are no spoilers in this post.
  2. I know everyone’s talking about this show and annoying all of you who don’t care. I’m sorry. But it’s just that good.

Breaking Bad is the best television show with commercials that has ever been.

I say “with commercials” because HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax do amazing things with their original programming.

I’m new to the show. I didn’t start watching it until after my ex-wife moved out this past April.

So, I consumed all five seasons within the past five months via Netflix and watched the final eight episodes on my DVR culminating with last night’s outstanding series finale.

Perhaps it’s the timing of everything going on in my life combined with when I watched Breaking Bad. But to my memory, no show has ever made me as contemplative and introspective as this one has.

What Is Breaking Bad?

The main character in Breaking Bad is a man named Walter White.

When we are first introduced to him, he is a high school chemistry teacher.

He’s a husband. A father to a teenager with cerebral palsy. There’s a baby on the way.

Walt is a bit nerdy. A bit socially awkward. But smart. Liked by his peers and family, but maybe not respected by them.

A company he helped create but is no longer part of has grown into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

It eats at him because Walt makes a subpar high school teacher’s salary. And he works a second job at a local car wash.

We learn right away that Walt has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and that he may not live long.

He worries about how his family will survive financially once he’s dead.

Walt’s brother-in-law works for the DEA—the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Because of that relationship, Walt learns how much money there is to be made in the drug business. Walt decides to partner with a former high school student of his—a known small-time drug-dealer—to cook crystal methamphetamine to save up a decent nest egg to leave to his family after his death.

Because Walter is a brilliant chemist, what he creates is the crème de la crème of crystal meth.

It’s in high demand. From users. And from dealers, big and small.

And that’s when the money starts to roll in.

Walt gets a taste of unlimited money. Almost easy money. But now he has a new thing to protect. Riches.

Walt gets a taste of greatness. What it feels like to master something. But there’s always a bigger fish. A threat.

Walt gets a taste of power. But when you’re powerful, you become a target. And so does your family.

The meek, nerdy, dying, down-on-his luck underdog is easy to root for.

Then, slowly, one little incident at a time, Walt loses a little bit of his soul. He must protect his secrets, his money, his family and himself.

In order to do so, he must do bad things. Very bad things.

And it’s up to us to decide how we feel about those choices.

And it’s up to us to decide what lessons can be gleaned from the powerful story.

The Lessons

1. There are no shortcuts to success

Cheating has consequences. Dire ones.

But I’m not sure that’s more important than the notion that success requires sacrifice. It requires going the long way. It requires a daily commitment to excellence. It requires making choices that are both positive and wise.

You’re not going to get rich quick.

You’re not going to ace your college final without knowing the material.

You’re not going to win a gold medal without enormous work and sacrifice.

You’re not going to get promoted without displaying a long-term commitment to excellence.

You’re not going to get physically fit—or more importantly, stay physically fit—without that same effort.

You’re not going to have an unbreakable relationship with your partner without investing emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually in them.

You’re not going to have an amazing relationship with your children without demonstrating unconditional love and earning trust and respect through daily sacrifice.

I didn’t need to watch Breaking Bad to recognize this truth. But the show did an excellent job of reinforcing it.

Take the long way. The slow way. The hard way. The challenging way. The sustainable way.

Please.

Make a commitment to positively changing your life in some way, big or small. Don’t look for the shortcut. Just do a little research on the best way to accomplish your goal.

Maybe it’s losing weight.

Maybe it’s building stamina to run a marathon.

Maybe it’s learning a new language.

Maybe it’s fixing a broken relationship.

Nobody said it was easy. They just said it was worth it.

2. Everything in life is a tradeoff

In the end, what do we care about most?

Money?

Sex?

Love?

Houses?

Cars?

Power?

Fame?

Freedom?

I don’t like to talk about “feelings” too much. They betray us. Often. But I submit that HAPPINESS is really what we’re all after. That amazing feeling when things are just going right. When you feel on top of the world with hardly a care at all.

Will money make you happy?

Will sex? A better job? Fame and recognition?

What if you have your dream job (which might not actually be a “job”), your dream house, $100 million in the bank, and the daily freedom to do as you please with whomever you please? Are you happy then?

What if you have all that, but you find out you’re going to die in two weeks? Or two months? Or even two years?

Are you still happy then?

Walt had a nice family. Everyone loved each other and really came together to rally on his behalf once he was diagnosed with cancer.

As he morphed into a new kind of man throughout the course of Breaking Bad, he gained the money and power he craved. But he lost many other things.

It’s the eternal tradeoff.

And it always exists.

Your bigger house is going to be great. But your house payment and property taxes increased, you have more lawn to mow, you have more rooms to clean and you’re at a heightened risk for burglary.

Your new job is going to be great. But you have way more responsibilities, your bosses will hold you accountable now for the results of your individual endeavors and the team projects you manage. Your hours will be longer and harder. Your free time, less. You’ll think about work more when you’re home. You’ll have to answer phone calls and emails on family vacations. You’ll have to tell your children you’re too busy to play right now.

There’s really no end to the examples.

Anytime you add some benefit to your life or make some major change, you also forfeit something else.

Every. Single. Time.

It’s worth thinking about those things.

And it’s worth asking the question: Will this thing I really want actually make me happier?

Sometimes it will! It’s a question worth asking. But it will never be without a cost of some kind.

3. Lies are poison

If you’re doing something you can’t tell people about, you’re poisoning yourself and all of your relationships.

I don’t believe there are many exceptions here.

If something you’re doing must live in the shadows, it’s probably not making your life better.

It might be making an aspect of your life seem better. This is what happens when we start using “feelings” to justify bad behavior.

How many times must we see examples on TV, in the news, in the lives of others and our own before we make a commitment to honesty?

This isn’t something we need to do for others. It’s something we must do for ourselves.

4. No one knows the future

Walt’s transformation takes place over a two-year period. No one could have predicted he’d become what he became.

I like who I am.

But there are things about my life I don’t like.

I want more money.

I want female companionship.

I want fewer time constraints to travel and pursue personal passions and interests.

What could the pursuit of those things do to me if I allow myself to be compromised? If I turn my back on my personal code of conduct?

Could I turn into someone I no longer recognize?

Could I lose myself?

Could I become a monster?

Yeah, maybe.

Unless I remain committed to honesty. And living in the light. And serving something greater than myself. My son. My friends. My future partner. My God.

Putting those things ahead of my personal wants and desires. Always putting their needs first.

I feel confident that if I can maintain that commitment, that I’ll never lose myself.

That I’ll always be someone I can be proud of. Someone my son can be proud of.

And that I’ll always recognize the guy I see in the mirror.

That’s important to me.

5. It is never too late to break good

Redemption is one of my favorite words.

I like how it sounds. But mostly I like what it stands for.

After not being the kind of husband I wish I would have been during the early part of my failed marriage, I feel really good about the effort I gave in the final two years.

Those two years changed my life. They made me a better person.

It was redemption for myself. So that I can sleep at night, knowing I gave all I could to making it work.

I showed a lot of grit.

And now I know what I’m capable of. On the inside.

And now I know what kind of man I want to be.

I want to be a good one.

I don’t know what Walter White was at the end of Breaking Bad.

I don’t know whether he was a good man or a bad man. I guess that’s for each of us to decide.

Just as we get to decide who we want to be.

Every day we wake up is another opportunity to make the choice to be better than the day before.

To not look for the easy way out. The shortcut.

To recognize there are always tradeoffs when we make certain choices.

To remember to be honest. To avoid doing things we can’t disclose to the people we love.

To realize that the future is uncertain. Tomorrow is not promised us. We might not wake up. To take nothing for granted.

And that today, if maybe you’re not feeling so good about yourself and your life choices, you can choose right now to break good.

To try something new. To let go of fear and anger and sadness and regret.

And replace those horrible things.

With fortitude.

With love.

With honesty.

With peace.

With hope.

Being good makes you happy. But don’t try to be happy. That’s impossible.

Just try to be good.

Thanks, Breaking Bad.

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