Tag Archives: Self-improvement

How to Feel Successful, Increase Self-Esteem and Eliminate Envy

all-i-do-is-win-win-win-no-matter-what

I know a guy who almost never loses a game of pool.

He’s one of my dad’s closest friends. He’s awesome in all of the ways which matter, and I love him like family.

But if you didn’t know him and love him like family, he might seem to you like just another guy. He manages a hospital maintenance staff. I’m not super-familiar with his financial status, but I’m not under the impression people who care about net worth would be overly impressed.

My father’s social circle has a lot of three kinds of guys: Guys with really nice cars who race as a hobby, guys who are awesome golfers, and guys with—at least by Midwestern terms—kind of a lot of money.

But the hospital maintenance manager isn’t really any of those things.

I don’t know whether he sits around thinking about this. As if he’s somehow deficient because he isn’t up to the same standards in those super-specific silos as most of his friends. I hope not, and doubt it.

When I was younger, I—objectively speaking in the context of 1980s Americans—didn’t have money in my family. My parents were young, divorced, and at best, lower middle-class. I ate a lot of free school lunches in my early years.

Some of my friends did come from families with—at least from my narrow perspective and life experience—a lot of money. Big, awesome houses I’d visit and sleep in on weekends, and nice, expensive cars.

Maybe feelings of inadequacy and insecurity started back then. I’m an only child and didn’t have a big brother or sister to help prepare me for The Things That Happen Next in your growing years, and I did a crappy job being transparent with my parents, choosing to live inside my own head rather than talk things out with people who loved me and probably knew Things.

But I don’t remember feeling particularly inadequate or insecure back then. In fact, I feel as if I had a charmed childhood and social life through my school years. Whatever my neurotic hang ups might have been, I can’t recall a time I felt intentionally excluded from anything that mattered to me. I felt well-liked and reasonably popular, which are fun things to feel.

It was during the slow death of my marriage where I developed some insecurities and self-confidence issues which are very un-fun things to feel.

Some combination of failing to rise to the level of Very Successful, Special and Unique Snowflake I’d always imagined for myself, and losing my job with a new baby at home, and feeling my wife pull further and further away while seeming to like, respect and want me less with each passing day, turned me into someone else.

Every Facebook or Instagram update from someone I knew with their smiling and happy family on another vacation or in their super-nice home proved to be another reminder of what a loser I’d really turned out to be.

Must be this tall to ride.

Before the hospital maintenance manager and family friend I know was someone who I knew and loved, he was a total stranger. Several years ago when I met him, he was a new addition to my father’s vibrant social circle.

I didn’t know a thing about him, except what a few guys in the room were telling me: “See that guy? He never loses at pool. He’s an absolute badass. One of the best I’ve ever seen or heard of.”

I’m not a particularly skilled pool shooter. I’m okay. I’m kind of okay at everything. I tend to be average at most things, and great at none. But if there’s an impromptu pool tournament, sure, I’m in.

My dad has a couple tables. He’s good, as are many of his friends. They all have their own, expensive cue sticks, rarely miss shots, and never take them unless they know where the cue ball needs to be to make the next one or two. They’re high-level players.

But none of them are like our friend, The Badass. The unassuming hospital employee. When he’s on, he’ll make other awesome players look average, and average players look weak and pathetic.

Generally, if you miss even one shot against him, you’re finished.

Ignoring that material and superficial things lack meaning and rarely move the Happiness needle on our lives, he can’t hang with the other guys on the golf course, nor can he buy a bunch of expensive cars, nor is he going to elicit financial envy from any of them.

Compared to them in those very specific areas, he might appear or even feel lacking.

But at a billiards table? You’re in his world.

A world where he’s king.

Who Would You Trade Places With if You Had to Take All Their Baggage, Too?

James Altucher, one of my favorite writers, was having dinner with another excellent writer, Ryan Holiday.

Holiday asked Altucher whether he ever feels envious of others.

“Yes,” Altucher said, “I’m envious of people.”

Holiday shared his mental strategy for eliminating feelings of jealousy or envy, and Altucher wrote about it in his recent post, The One Cure For All Envy and Jealousy:

“Here’s what you do, Ryan said. If you are envious of someone, you can’t just pick one or two things about them. Because it’s their entire history that has got them the one thing you are envious about.

“So, he said, picture that you can change places in every way with them. But then it’s forever.

He said: Would you do it?

“While he asked that, the hostess of the restaurant came up to us, She looked at me and asked, are you on TV?

“No.

“You’re Ted Mosby, right? From the show ‘How I Met Your Mother.’

“No, I said, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

“She kept staring and then walked away.

“Let me think, I said to Ryan. What about X, would you change places with him? – And I named someone we both admired.

“No way, he said, look at A, B, and C with him. Would you want those?

“Hmm, no.

“Who else do you admire? he asked.

“I had to think for a long time. There’s a lot of people I admire but which among them do I envy.

“I named some more people I envied but for each one, he named some attributes that I would definitely not want to have for myself if I switched places for that person.

“I guess you’re right, I said. I’m happy being me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be having such a fun dinner right now with you!”

I often wonder why it feels like I know several people in real life who would make AMAZING political leaders, but I often find the people I actually have to choose from to be deficient in several areas. I know people who you’d want to run through walls for in an effort to elect them President of the United States. People with unquestionable leadership skills, charisma, and as much integrity as you’d require from a public figure.

But they’ll never be president. There are a TON of brilliant and amazing people out there. Entrepreneurs, doctors, educators, business leaders, etc. But nobody like them ever runs for president.

Why?

I figured it out several years ago: Because none of the really smart people want the job.

It’s shitty! Have you ever studied the gray-hair quotient of presidents entering office versus leaving it? It’s a stressful, shitty job where half the world hates you, where you’re headline news almost every day, where your private life is almost always on display, where people don’t believe good things which are true about you, where people believe bad things which aren’t true about you, where you receive death threats all the time, and aren’t even paid particularly well in the context of being that famous and powerful.

In many ways, being President of the United States is one of the best jobs in the world.

In many ways, it’s also one of the worst.

Would you trade places with someone else? Even if you had to take on all the bad parts, too?

Bring Others Into a Place Where You are Master

Another of my favorite writers and thinkers, Tim Ferriss, taught me how to stop comparing my life to the highlights of other people’s lives I might see on social media, and feel more gratitude and pride about the things which make me, me.

This is The Secret to Feeling Successful, and you can start RIGHT NOW, and all you have to do is ask yourself a better question.

Ferriss’ focus was on business success, but it won’t take a business degree to understand how this mental trick can apply to ANYTHING in your life, and essentially be summarized as Enjoy Being the Big Fish in a Small Pond.

From Ferriss’ New Research and a Dirty Truth: Read This Before Chasing the Dollar:

“What to do? There are a few ways to use the currency of time, and awareness of positional economics, to your advantage to beat the Joneses on new terms:

  1. Focus on “relative income” — defined as hourly income — instead of “absolute income,” misleading annual income that doesn’t factor in time. If you assume a 40-hour work week and 2 weeks of vacation per year, estimate per-hour income by cutting off the last three zeros and dividing in half. Thus: $50,000 per year –> $50 divided by 2 = $25 per hour. Relative income can be increased by increasing total income for the same hours, getting the same income for fewer hours, or some combination thereof. More options with more life.
  2. Determine your precise Target Monthly Income (TMI) for your ideal lifestyle — the goal of most rat-race income competition — and focus on structuring mini-retirements to redistribute retirement throughout life. There’s an excellent Excel spreadsheet here for calculations.
  3. Determine your “where” of happiness. It’s not necessary to permanently move to a country with depressed currency, but even temporary relocation to a domestic (check out Forbes’ publisher Rich Karlgaard’s Life 2.0) or international location with a lower cost-of-living resets your peer group and positional economics barometer. Being perceived as rich often translates into perceiving yourself as rich. Neat trick and a hell of a lot of fun. Two of my top picks for positional resets are Argentina (see “How to Live Like a Rock Star (or Tango Star) in Buenos Aires”) and Thailand.
  4. Develop appreciation in tandem with achievement. Subjective happiness depends on appreciating what you get as much as getting what you want. The first step to true appreciation is perception: cultivating present-awareness. I recommend experimenting with lucid dreaming as tested at Stanford University, in particular the “reality check” exercises of Dr. Stephen Laberge.
  5. Develop competitive social groups outside of work. Participate in games outside of income mongering. Train or compete in a sport where income is a non-factor. That dude makes $1,000,000 a day as a hedge fund manager? I don’t care–his golf swing sucks and he has love handles. Here, it counts for nothing. Oh, and her? I know she just got promoted to national manager for IBM, but so what? I just scored 5 goals on her. In this world, I rule.

“Don’t let rat racing be the only game you play against the Joneses,” Ferriss wrote. “There is always someone willing to sacrifice it all to earn more, so let them. Just remember: it is entirely possible — in fact, common — to be a success in business and a failure in life. Take the red pill and think different.”

I’d like to believe that how we feel doesn’t really matter, since our feelings wax and wane all the time, and it’s hard to trust our own emotional swings.

But the truth is, how we feel DOES matter. Our feelings affect pretty much all of our decision making, and our decision making affects pretty much everything that happens to us.

Some people might roll their eyes at the idea of using Jedi mind tricks to feel better about their life. Like it’s fake. Like they actually have to do something more or different or better to ACTUALLY be better.

And I’m saying that’s bullshit.

Go chase whatever sets your heart on fire. I’m not suggesting we all sit on the couch, do nothing, and celebrate it.

The truth is true no matter what we believe: We’re already tall enough to be Jedi.

We already win. And we might as well enjoy it.

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How to Brew Magic Sex Potion

magic sex potion

(Image/betterphoto.com)

Author’s Note #1 – This is intended for men focused on long-term monogamous relationships. It’s NOT for “pick-up artists,” who I’m confident know WAY more than I about how to succeed at having cheap sex with many strangers they’ll never see or speak to again.

Author’s Note #2 – Hey mom! Maybe you should skip this one.

Talking about sex is uncomfortable for some people.

I think it’s because many of us grow up only hearing about it as this naughty, taboo thing we’re not supposed to be doing or thinking about until we’re married.

Some people grow up avoiding sex in an effort to do what they’ve been taught is the right thing. Most of that group is probably doing so out of fear. They might be afraid of eternal damnation, moral judgment from others, disease, unplanned pregnancy, or something I haven’t thought of. Another group might not be afraid at all, but rather are deeply committed to living according to their moral code.

Maybe we succeed in our individual pursuits of avoiding sex or sex-related activities and enter marriage as shy, awkward and intimidated virgins.

Or maybe we failed in those pursuits, and spend our lives carrying a bunch of guilt and shame around like painfully heavy and oversized luggage without wheels.

In EITHER case, we’re suddenly supposed to shut off 25 or whatever years of psychological conditioning the moment we enter marriage because A. It’s totally okay to have sex now!, and not only that, but B. You better be kind of awesome at it, because no matter how much someone might want to deny it, a healthy and active sex life IS ABSOLUTELY one of the structural foundational elements of a marriage that lasts.

Or, put another way—failing in your marital sex life has a few different eventualities, and all seem bad: Divorce, Affairs, Miserable Marriage, or a total psychological disconnect from one’s sexuality in order to cope in a life devoid of physical intimacy.

I’ve been putting more effort into not categorizing things in terms of the gender divide, but sometimes the evidence is so strong that something is true for MOST people, that efficiency demands it:

While men and women both crave sexual satisfaction, the things that create feelings of arousal in men are often not the same things that produce sexual arousal in women.

Men’s sexual cravings tend to be more—I don’t know… superficial? Men’s arousal is often tied to visual stimulation. Body parts. Images of women in the throes of sexual ecstasy. And unfortunately, from novelty—something new or unfamiliar. Men are more prone to view an orgasm as the end game in and of itself. The research shows that sharing the experience with a partner is typically less important to men than it may be to women.

Women’s sexual arousal is much more psychologically rooted than in men. In fact, women often experience a civil war of sorts between their physical and mental responses to sexual stimuli.

Put more simply, a male erection is a virtual guarantee of sexual interest and arousal. But a female exhibiting physical evidence of stimulation can be 100-percent detached from the experience psychologically and emotionally.

In other words, a good female actor willing to lie can convincingly fake sexual pleasure, while men sort of can’t.

How to Make Your Partner Want You

Sometimes I look at the search terms people used to find this blog.

Last week, I saw this one: “magic potion to make a woman crave for sex.”

I laughed and made a note of it. But then I found myself thinking about it because it’s a conversation topic with merit.

I think this is a critical component of healthy relationships, and fits neatly into the overarching We Must Learn Empathy conversation.

If men assume (as I naively did for years) that their female partners generally experience sexual thoughts and activity in the same ways they do, it’s no wonder there’s so much dysfunction, cheating and crappy relationships happening.

Put another way, your wife or girlfriend leaving you because of your inability to understand how leaving dirty dishes by the sink can inflict severe emotional harm would be essentially the same thing as her leaving you because of your inability to satisfy her in the bedroom. (Hint: It would have almost nothing to do with your bedroom skills or the quality of your performance.)

My anonymous friend stumbling on MBTTTR during his digital quest for magic sex potion is highly unlikely to ever read this. But maybe someone else will.

The Recipe for Magic Sex Potion

1. Wake up each day, and intentionally think and feel: I choose to love my partner today. No matter what happens or how my mood swings, I love her. I am grateful that she chooses me despite my flaws. I appreciate the many things she does for me. Think of those things. There are A LOT. Pick one of those things and then, by speaking face-to-face, writing a note, sending a text, making a phone call or maybe some other really cool way, communicate to her that you appreciate something she does. There’s nothing too small to notice.

2. When you hug her (daily), do it for six seconds. Not four or five. Six. That’s how long it takes for important brain chemicals to kick in and boost our emotional connection with the person we’re hugging. Six-second hugs. Be mindful of stuff like this. These things matter.

3. When she tells you stories about her day, or wants to include you in a life decision she has to make for herself or your household, LISTEN attentively to her stories, and be engaged enough to provide feedback if (and only if) she requests it. Because I have bad news: Your penis WILL NOT make it all better for her. However, if you actually sacrifice just a little bit of time each day to actively listen to your partner, she will be infinitely more interested in touching it.

4. Become an empathy expert and practice demonstrating it. I’m serious. It will change your life. You can actually FAIL a little bit at empathy and still improve the health of your relationship simply through your demonstration of TRYING. Empathy Wizardry. That should be your new thing. So much sex, potion seeker. Or I should say… empathy wizard.

5. Avoid at all costs anything which forces her to do something your mom would have done for you. It’s okay if she WANTS to. I’m talking about the things she doesn’t want to do. Cleaning up after you. Reminding you of that thing you have to do this week. When you put her in a mother-like position, then she starts to feel like your mom and doesn’t want to bang you. This isn’t discussed enough.

6. Be kind. I don’t mean “nice.” Nice is bullshit and it’s not enough. BE KIND. If you don’t know the difference, this might be a good time to figure it out. Not being a prick should be a given. It might be time to learn why she gets upset with you even though everyone else in the world thinks you’re such a nice guy.

7. Exercise, but not because you think she likes toned arms and a flat stomach (even though she probably does). That’s gravy. Exercise demonstrates and results in a few things which women do respond to sexually: A. Self-respect, B. Discipline and follow-through, and actively doing those things breeds within you C. Confidence. These are important ingredients.

There are many other ingredients you can add to your cauldron while you brew future batches of Magic Sex Potion, and I’d love to learn other things I can add to improve this recipe.

People hunting for magic sex potions want a shortcut. A life hack. That’s what Pick-Up Artistry is for. If you love the idea of dying old and alone with herpes, feel free to explore some of those ideas.

But if you’re someone who craves companionship, contentment and connection every day for the rest of your life with a partner who genuinely derives pleasure from satisfying you sexually and from your touch, I think you’ll find this concoction to be an effective tool.

Order your Magic Sex Potion today and I’ll throw in a nice bonus gift:

A guarantee that you’ll literally be a better man every day for the rest of your life, reaping countless riches in the process and helping others do the same.

Go kick ass, potion seeker.

…..

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Empathizing with Hitler: How Being Aware of This One Thing Can Save the World

empathy

It’s so much more important than I ever knew. (Image/abigailleighphillips.com)

Settle down, kids. I don’t mean it like THAT.

I think I know why our relationships fail more than half the time, and how most men—even good-character guys who are easy to get along with—can be colossally shitty husbands and boyfriends.

Every day, millions of wives and girlfriends turn to the internet desperate for an answer to this question. Sometimes they find this blog and write me comments and emails asking various forms of it.

This question is at the heart of this blog’s existence and my personal search for answers because it’s the same question my wife—crying and desperate—begged me to answer during our marriage fights. It’s the same question many—maybe even, most—wives and girlfriends ask themselves about the men in their lives:

“Why don’t you love me?”

We husbands and boyfriends stand there dumbly because we’re at a total loss. How crazy is this chick right now? Why don’t I love her? I gave up (or am planning to give up) my ENTIRE LIFE to marry her, share the rest of my life and things and experiences with her, and have children with her. I say ‘I love you’ every day. EVERY DAY! How in the hell can she stand there, question my love for her, and expect me to take her seriously?!

We think she’s from another planet, and we tend to act like it. Even if we’re not being actively hostile, our inability to understand why she’s upset down deep in her bones, twists the knife even further.

She thinks we’re from another planet, and she tends to act like it, especially when she’s packing bags and moving out while we stand there like drooling oafs.

And why?

Because most of us don’t know what the word “empathy” means, or that if we worked to be as skilled at empathy as we are at driving cars, or playing golf, or whatever our primary work is, our lives would transform from shitty to awesome.

Important Things Men Don’t Often Understand or Think About

I think when we strip off all the clothes and trimmings, and let it stand there naked and exposed and broken down to its most basic form, the truth about common destructive male behavior in relationships stems from the following:

1. Men don’t know what EMPATHY is.

2. We don’t know it is the most critical skill to acquire in order to have good relationships and avoid divorce.

3. We don’t WANT to learn about it because it’s ignorantly mistaken for a feely “girl” concept that threatens our sacred identity as Real Men.

4. Behaving in ways that avoid the appearance of weakness (even though most of us secretly feel weak and afraid at times under our faking-it masks) trumps love-affirming behavior because we don’t realize our wives are actually going to leave us, and that it’s going to be way worse than our fear of looking weak.

5. Men are mostly unaware of this, like we’re living in The Matrix, and don’t see the world as it really is.

A Short Lesson on ‘Awareness’

Consider this parable from the late novelist David Foster Wallace: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’

Men Are Unknowingly Empathetic, Just Like the Nazis

I used Adolf Hitler’s name in the headline for cheap shock value and in a Moonwalking with Einstein-sort-of way, but I could have used the name of anyone who sucks. Joseph Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao Zedong. Osama Bin Laden. Take your pick.

It’s important to disassociate the concept of empathy from good vs. evil, or right vs. wrong. Two evil people can empathize with each other. One good person could even empathize with an evil person if he or she wanted to. A compassionate Jewish widower could conceivably empathize with a Nazi man who lost his wife.

Empathy is NOT an emotion. It’s not a feeling. Empathy is simply the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

“Empathy is a choice. And it’s a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling,” said author and speaker Brené Brown in this excellent little video designed to help viewers understand the distinction between the words “Empathy” and “Sympathy.”

Every man who isn’t a sociopath (mental health experts say 4% of the population is sociopathic) probably exhibits empathy regularly, even if it’s only with a few like-minded people, like his guy friends.

Guys who are heavily invested in tribes (like friends or athletic and business teammates, brotherhoods, and enthusiast groups) likely behave empathetically in most interactions with fellow tribe members.

I’ve known and seen countless men who prefer to hang out with their buddies than their wives or girlfriends. It’s because there exists a MONUMENTALLY IMPORTANT connection with his friends that doesn’t exist between him and his significant other. He’s simply never been able to label it before. But it has a name.

It’s empathy.

“Empathy? Stop being a gay pussy, Matt, and start being a man,” a terrifying percentage of guys would think if they actually read this far into the post. But they usually don’t because they don’t know they need help. They don’t know they lack empathy in their most critical relationships, and they don’t know that it matters.

They just don’t know.

How do we make people aware of a nuanced concept so subtle that it escaped me for 36 consecutive years, including recently, while I was looking for it every day?

While wives Google: “Why doesn’t my husband care about me?” or “My husband is an asshole” (which this blog ranks #1 for), men want answers also: “Why does my wife hate me?”

All along, most of these men loved their wives. But because they lacked empathy skills and often never realized it was something to worry about, their wives BELIEVE their husbands don’t love them. Over time, wives retreat emotionally because it’s virtually impossible to perpetually love someone who perpetually hurts you. When she retreats, it often feels like hate, repulsion and disgust to her husband.

And sometimes it is.

Men, You MUST Understand What Empathy Is

Again, guys already do it! They sit next to each other at the bar, or on the patio table after a round of Saturday golf, and one says “Betsy is all over my ass right now to repaint the half-bath in the basement and she got all pissed off last night and this morning about us playing golf today,” and his friend says: “Ha! Join the club, brother. Val wants me to help her plan a Disney trip for us and the kids next summer that I don’t really want to take. They’re always complaining about something, right?” and then they clink their beer bottles together at 11 a.m., delaying their return home by ordering another round.

THAT. IS. EMPATHY.

And if you can figure out how to intentionally behave and speak to your significant other (and pretty much everyone!) with conscious empathy, you will transform all of your close relationships (spouses, children, siblings, parents), and then, like MAGIC, a bunch of drama and dysfunction will begin to disappear and life will suck less, and maybe even morph toward amazing.

It’s EASY to empathize with friends who think and feel and like all the same things we do. It’s why we have all of these naturally easy relationships with people who share our interests, temperament and circumstances.

It’s DIFFICULT to empathize with people whose thoughts, feelings and interests conflict with ours.

Empathy is a life skill which requires practice and repetition. So, first we learn that it’s a thing. We wake up. We become aware of the water. We learn what empathy actually is. Then we decide whether we care. (Since your life will suck more and your marriage will fail or be defined by misery if you don’t, I hope you’ll choose to care.)

Then we get started. With a real, God’s-honest chance to change the world.

More Resources on Empathy

Thanks to readers of this blog, I was introduced to Dr. Brené Brown’s remarkable research, writing and speaking on critical ideas most men aren’t actively thinking about. But it’s only because they don’t know how life-changing it would be if they did. Brown’s work kicks ass. 

Here are a couple things to get you started:

Brown’s TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability

Brown’s online courses, COURAGEworks

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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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11 Books That Will Make You Smarter, Sexier and Awesomer

stack of books art

I read a lot.

I do it for three reasons:

  1. I believe it’s the most-efficient way to get smarter. I’m kind of obsessed with learning about everything. When I was a kid, any learning that wasn’t hands-on was a total drag and I just wanted to play. I’m older now and my priorities and interests have shifted. I want to be a genius capable of solving any problem, but I’ll have to settle for Moderately Smart Guy Who Reads A Lot (and uses Google).
  2. I’m also kind of obsessed with new ideas and discovering new ways to do or think about things. That, combined with the desire to write things, makes it wise for me to read often.
  3. I want to be sexier and awesomer. (I have little evidence this part is working, but I think it probably is.)

Not everyone likes reading or wants to do it as much as I do. But maybe you’d like to try something new. For everyone who loves books like me, here are some exceptional ones I’ve read in recent months that I hope you enjoy too.

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

So many people are miserable because they hate their jobs and/or lives. Sometimes it seems like certain people have given up. They throw up their hands: “This is all there is!” Some people perform mundane jobs and live what I might consider mundane lives. I’m probably one of them. Sometimes people in lives like that feel satisfied and content. I applaud those people. But there are others who always feel like something’s missing. I often feel that way. The call.

Jeff Goins explores this phenomenon and the personal journey in this fantastic book about how people find their “calling.” What you were meant to do.

I love it and you probably will too because I have excellent taste.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Damn near everyone wishes they were better at something. For example, I’m shitty about cleaning my house (which is why I bought and will read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing once I stop putting it off), and effectively managing my refrigerator, and finishing my large-scale writing projects. I was officially diagnosed with adult ADHD yesterday (which I already knew and told you about), and which is an inexact science, but I still believe in personal responsibility and Duhigg’s book helps me understand why we are prone to do or not do so many of the things we do. Good stuff.

Double Feature

Steal Like an Artist 

steal like an artist

and Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

show your work

Both books are really quick, interesting reads that I have trouble differentiating from one another because I read them back-to-back within the same week. As someone interested in the creative process for writing blog posts, and more-ambitious things like books, the lessons Kleon imparts here are important to me. If you want to MAKE anything, read these books and thank me later. (Just kidding. No need to thank me. But seriously, read them.)

Models: Attract Women Through Honesty by Mark Manson

models

I’m a little embarrassed about this one because one might get the impression I was trying to learn “pick-up” artistry (which I was not, and which this book is not about, though Manson addresses it). The author’s mission is to help men become the best versions of themselves and develop what he calls “true confidence.” Not false bravado, but legitimate comfort with oneself to establish healthy boundaries while navigating the sometimes-scary dating landscape. This book taught me a lot of things about myself, and I imagine almost any man would benefit from the important truths and psychological lessons. Frankly, I think most women would like it too. Manson has quickly become (even though he’s a bit younger than me) one of my favorite writers. You should sign up for his highly infrequent blog posts here.

Choose Yourself by James Altucher

choose yourself

This guy is my favorite writer. He has written two new books since this one (The Power of No, which I haven’t read but do own on Kindle; and The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth, which I have yet to read because A. I don’t have that much money, and B. My book stack is beyond obnoxious and I just haven’t got to it yet.) Altucher is a genius and I love him. I read every blog post he writes, I listen to his podcasts on road trips, I subscribe to his monthly newsletters, and suspect I will buy every book he writes for as long as he chooses to write. No one has affected my thinking more than Altucher, and my life is better for doing so. Choose Yourself is exactly what it sounds like: A guide to rethinking EVERYTHING and making your own rules in a world that often wants you to play by someone else’s.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

on writing well

I’m in the middle of this one now. It has already taught me so much about the art form I love most. Zinsser provides a ton of important lessons about what separates good writing from bad. (I do a lot of bad.) And the real value lies in the editing and rewriting portion of the work (which I NEVER do on this blog, sorry.) Many of you are writers, too. If you have never read this masterpiece, please remedy that soon. It’s accessible and amazing for writers of all levels and it WILL make you better. Even if you can’t tell from my work.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by bird

Another book on writing, but less on science and more on art. I can’t describe this book, because its qualities are intangible. But I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you: It’s magic.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss

ferriss four hour workweek

This one is a dirty lie because I haven’t read it yet, and I’m sorry to deceive you, but not really. It has 3,700 reviews on Amazon with a 4 ½-star rating, so I feel good about including it. Ferriss’ bestseller is in my monster stack and I will get to it and almost certainly write about it when I do. The reason I wanted to include it is because Ferriss is extraordinary and you should know who he is. I’ve read and listened to Ferriss many times in interviews and podcasts and articles. He’s exceptional and magnetic.

There’s never enough exceptionalism and magnetism in life. Tim Ferriss, yo. He’s legit.

The True Measure of a Man by Richard E. Simmons and Jerry Leachman

true measure of a man

Men have an identity crisis in 2015 because what it means to be a man in today’s society is radically different from what it meant for previous generations. Some men feel lost, like rudderless ships. I feel that way sometimes. People want to know why. We all just want to know WHY!?!?!? for everything. If you’re a guy and nodding your head right now? Please read this. It will help you make more sense of things. (You should read it even if you didn’t nod your head.)

Become An Idea Machine: Because Ideas are the Currency of the 21st Century by Claudia Azula Altucher

idea machine

Claudia is James’ wife. So she gets bonus points from me simply by James-related osmosis. But I don’t want to minimize what she’s done here. Claudia took a staple of James Altucher’s self-improvement advice and made a nice, useful book out of it.

Bottom line: There is no skill I would rather possess than the ability to come up with great, creative ideas on-demand. Something shitty happens? BAM. I know what to do.  I want to complete a new goal? BAM. Here’s the methodology for tackling any problem with high-level thinking and execution.

That’s what this book will teach you how to do if you’re willing to grind and sweat a little (don’t get excited—I don’t mean that sexually.) Everyone can and will benefit from this book.

I always believe tomorrow can be better than today.

So, I read. Because I want to be a part of the solution.

We have Father’s Day coming up. And also, just, life.

Maybe you or someone in your life can benefit from one of these.

I hope so.

Please have a great weekend, everyone. Love you guys.

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A Funny Little Thing

kevin hart

Because of work stuff, I can’t write today.

Soon (tomorrow?) I’m going to tell you about the time a clinical psychologist befriended me via this blog and asked me whether I’d ever looked into the possibility of having ADHD.

I scoffed at first. No way! I’m totally normal! Everyone lets their auto insurance lapse and has trouble planning ahead! Everyone sucks at keeping their house clean and forgets things all the time!

And then I read about ADHD. About how it impacts your day-to-day life. What the common traits are of the people (about 5% of the population) affected by it.

I thought ADHD was a bullshit label people used to drug hyper kids. Kind of a fake, made-up thing.

But then I read what undiagnosed ADHD adults experience at home and at work.

Whoa. That’s me.

Then I read some more. That’s me too!

And some more. Goodness.

And even more. HOLY SHIT.

Another Eureka moment.

Why have all of these things happened to me? Why do I do the things I do the way I do? Why can’t I fix this?

Now I think I know why.

And just maybe, this will change everything.

More to come.

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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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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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Here I Am

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

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

We never turn it off.

Ever.

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

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

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

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

We spend so much time maintaining things in our lives.

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

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

I want to learn how to be present.

I want to learn how to be mindful.

I want to learn how to live in the now.

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

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

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

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

Reset Your Mind

Meditation never made sense to me.

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

Precisely.

What a waste of time!

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

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

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

It was time for me to try.

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

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

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

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

I Found Me

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

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

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

But in that quiet little church, I was ME.

No stress.

No worries.

No pressures.

No responsibilities.

No chores.

No phone.

No speaking.

No texting.

No typing.

No nothing.

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

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

I have emotions. But I am not my emotions.

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

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

And you just let yourself… be.

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

It was truly profound.

But not BIG and LOUD.

More like a whisper.

What is meditation?

Peace.

It’s peace. And I want more.

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

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

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

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

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

My little personal-life comeback tour has caught fire.

I’m making healthier choices.

Walking a higher path.

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

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

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

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

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

We cannot change the things that happen to us.

We can’t.

But we can change how we experience them.

Just breathe. In, then out.

I’m tall enough.

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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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