Tag Archives: Seize the day

The Perfect Amount of Death

Comic by Tyson Cole.

Comic by Tyson Cole.

Austin Kleon starts every day by reading obituaries.

Not to be morbid.

Not to obsess about death.

Not to channel sadness.

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

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

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

But Kleon really got me thinking about this.

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

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

It can be the perfect reminder to live.

The perfect amount of death.

The Infertility Plague

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Can’t Forget to Live

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

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

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

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

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

What if there were no more kids?

What if there were no new friends?

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

You still choosing the huge wedding over world travel?

You still choosing the mortgage over financial freedom?

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

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

To not be afraid. And to not be sad.

Just an effective daily reminder.

To kiss the girl.

To laugh more.

To dance when it sounds good.

To take the leap.

To speak up.

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

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The One Where Everything’s Different

Tomorrow happens.

Tomorrow happens.

At 4:37 a.m. Central Time, I turned 35.

I’m completely unfazed. I’m less interested and less affected by the occasion than anticipated.

But the build-up to today in my head was a little bit bigger than other birthdays.

Because even though the only constant in this life is change, this is my first birthday where everything feels different.

Statistically speaking, if life’s a race, I’m at the halfway point.

I am mathematically likely to die between the ages of 70-71, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

I’m not to a place in life where I spend a lot of time worrying about that. In fact, none at all. I always try to stay aware (unsuccessfully) that my clock could stop ticking any second. It’s hard to live passionately and with purpose if you’re not always aware of how precious life and time really are.

I am the sentimental sort. Always have been.

I am acutely aware of certain meaningful anniversaries. I like flipping the calendar on New Year’s. And I tend to think of birthdays like our own personal New Year’s. An opportunity to grow. To have a better year than the last.

Turning 30 was a pretty big milestone in a lot of ways.

I had been married five years. We just had our son. I was employed in a different industry.

I don’t remember how I felt on my 30th birthday. But I tend to always think five years down the road. About the metaphorical tomorrow.

Divorce Changes Everything

My wife and I used to talk about it a lot.

We’d learn of friends having marital problems. And there were others who seemed destined to have them. And of course, there were those wearing their masks, pretending everything was okay.

She and I would be driving around, or sitting at the dinner table, or hanging out in the living room.

The math said about half of our friends’ marriages wouldn’t make it.

But who? Certainly not ours! We love each other too much. That could never happen.

Maybe them, we’d say about a particular couple. Or possibly them, we’d say about others.

But not us.

We said it a bunch of times.

Not us.

But here we are. Five years later.

35.

And it was us.

It was me.

And now 35 feels so much bigger. If life was still “normal,” today would be even more of a non-issue than I consider it now. I don’t feel particularly weird. On the inside of me. There is more peace with the milestone than anticipated.

But that five-year plan? Gone.

And now there must be a new one. At least, that’s what my brain wants to do. It always wants this nice and neat and safe five-year plan where I have my eye on some end goal. Something to chase and work for.

And at age 35, I don’t have that.

I have absolutely no idea what my life might look like five years from now.

That has always been true.

But I just didn’t know it until now. And that’s the great lesson for me today. The reminder that our plans don’t always work out the way we want them to, or thought they might. That we are not promised tomorrow at all.

But the Sun Will Rise

With or without me.

The earth will spin. The sun will rise.

That’s my gift this year. And it’s my favorite gift of any I might receive. That growth. That maturity. That knowledge.

I thought of an important math equation on my drive to work this morning. I’m probably not the first person to come up with it:

My Choices + Time = Today

And acknowledgement of that equation—that truth—is my gift today.

I am here because of my choices combined with the natural course of time.

And wherever I am on my 40th birthday will be determined in large part by whatever My Choices are moving forward.

In my career. In my friendships. With my family. And in my romantic pursuits.

I’m 35.

And I’m getting sweet and thoughtful “Happy Birthday” text messages from girls I didn’t know 365 days ago.

Wow.

Because the future is uncertain.

Because life happens.

Chuck Noland said it in Cast Away.

“And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”

Maybe nothing.

Maybe something.

But for sure—opportunity.

If I wake, tomorrow happened.

Smile.

Because anything can happen.

And a lot of those possibilities are really good.

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The Calm Before the Storm

Like this. Only infinitely less cool.

Like this. Only infinitely less cool.

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

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

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

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

All that matters is the masthead.

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

Or the papers I wrote for.

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

The publications themselves.

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

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

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

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

It’s not scary.

But Sometimes it is Scary

I’m afraid almost every day.

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

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

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

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

And even more?

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

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

That always stings.

I Have No Idea What’s About to Happen

A WordPress editor contacted me last week.

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

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

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

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

13.4 million.

Holy. Shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pondered that question for a minute.

Then I wrote him this…

What I Would Do With a Larger Audience

I didn’t start writing to help people.

I started writing to help myself.

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

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

A selfish project turned unselfish overnight.

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

She’ll always love me.

No, she won’t.

I’ll always be there for my son.

No, I won’t.

I have a bright future.

Do I?

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

Go to work.

Pay the bills.

Run errands.

Maintain the house.

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the point?

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

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

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

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

I want people to know that I cry sometimes.

That I’m afraid.

That I’m insecure.

That I make mistakes.

That I sometimes get stuff right.

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

I’m not courageous. I’m not.

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

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

We connect.

And lift one another up.

One powerful word-inspired feeling at a time.

That’s how good spreads.

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

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

Absolutely nothing.

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Watch For Falling Prices

carpe_diem11

Walmart.com had a pricing snafu on its website this morning where some items were marked down ridiculously low and others were marked ridiculously high.

Popular video game Grand Theft Auto V was marked down to $18 and had sold out. Many toys and books and other items were marked down as much as 85 percent.

I overheard a co-worker mention it. It generated some office buzz. We got online and laughed at some of the prices, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures priced at $369.99.

There was either a glitch on the back end of Walmart.com’s web pricing, or someone hacked the site.

The Opportunist

I’ve never read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. It was on sale for $3.05. I put it in my online shopping cart. My favorite novelist’s new book—Michael Connelly’s The Gods of Guilt—is set to release on December 2. It was on sale for $3.05 as well, plus free shipping.

I plugged in my debit card info and ordered both books. $11 with a small shipping charge for the Gladwell book.

Boom. Savviest purchase ever.

I texted a couple people about it encouraging them to take advantage, knowing full well this was a pricing mistake and that Walmart was losing money each and every time someone ordered something at these prices.

Is this who I want to be?

Is it okay to do what I did this morning?

Let’s discuss.

The It’s-Wrong Argument

Of course it’s not okay.

It’s fundamentally no different than a bank truck getting in a freeway accident, having the bank’s money flying all over the road, and being one of the people who snatches up as much of it as possible and drives away.

I KNEW Walmart wasn’t having a special sale. The evidence was obvious. There was a glitch. A mistake. There was even the possibility that some rogue hacker had caused this, and here I was trying to capitalize on it. Near as I can tell, I swindled Walmart out of about $30 by ordering those two books this morning.

Would I ever walk into a Walmart (*shudder*) and just steal $30 worth of goods? Not a chance.

So, why did I think this was okay? Why was my instinct to jump all over what I saw as an opportunity to capitalize on the misfortune of others?

The It’s-Perfectly-Fine, Walmart-is-the-Retail-Satan Argument

Of course it’s okay.

Fuck Walmart.

They’ve been using brute force and high-volume buying power to put competition out of business for years. Little mom-and-pop shops all over the United States and presumably other countries are just shutting down because Walmart’s bean counters decided they could turn a huge profit by opening a new store in a particular location.

It’s a small-business death knell—the news of a massive discount retailer moving into town. At least for any small business that sells similar wares as Walmart. And Walmart sells an awful lot of stuff.

Walmart makes all of its money doing EXACTLY what I did this morning. Jumping at an opportunity to get more for less.

The Final Analysis

I don’t really know how I feel about it. My guilt meter isn’t exactly going off the charts right now.

In fact, my co-worker JUST came back from Walmart where she’d ordered some things at huge discounts and Walmart refused to honor the purchases she’d scheduled for in-store pickup. They canceled the orders. My co-worker didn’t argue with them, she said.

In my case, I asked for my books to be delivered to my house. I even paid the delivery fee for one of them. It will be interesting to see whether Walmart treats my order differently as a result.

I don’t particularly care either way, but in the end, I’d like to see my books show up on my porch one of these days.

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

Then, you know what I’m going to do?

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

And a decade from now?

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

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

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

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

But you will.

Carpe Diem.

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