Tag Archives: Success

Don’t Overthink It: To Live Better and Feel Happy, Have More Fun

happy face

“Fun is good,” Dr. Seuss is quoted as saying on the internet, so I can’t be entirely sure it’s true.
But even if it’s not, I could just quote myself saying it right now: “Fun is good.” – Matt
Because honestly, we need to be having more of it. Yes, even you. (Image/download-wallpaper.net)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you’re supposed to be having fun and feeling good, but you’re not and you don’t?

Not only is what you’re doing NOT fun, but there’s the bonus element of suckage resulting from your unmet expectations and ensuing disappointment.

There are countless reasons why something we expected to be good turned out to be bad. Maybe we’re having a fight with our spouse or partner and now the party we attended with them isn’t fun. Maybe we have a chronic injury and the pain we feel on long runs or bike rides sucks the joy out of a previously positive experience. Maybe we’re doing something alone, but we discover that we only feel good or happy when we’re doing it with other people. (Giggity.)

How much I like or don’t like something tends to be influenced heavily by my expectations leading into it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to not hype things up in my head so much, and have discovered many more pleasant surprises along the way as a result. I like pleasant surprises.

But something else has also happened as I’ve gotten older—I’ve had less fun.

I don’t think people want to admit that.

I think we feel guilty and ashamed when we take an honest, no-bullshit assessment of our lives and conclude: I don’t enjoy life as much as I used to.

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we’re married or in committed relationships and we don’t understand why the most important relationship in our adult lives doesn’t deliver more personal happiness. Maybe we’re afraid to admit to ourselves or anyone else how much of our lives we sacrificed to promise forever to someone else, only to feel much more disappointed than we ever acknowledge.

Shouldn’t my relationship deliver more joy and satisfaction than it does?

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we have kids and we love them so intensely. Shouldn’t I feel happier and have more fun as a parent than I do?

Maybe we’re embarrassed that no matter how much wealth, real estate, or career advancements we earn, we still sometimes feel a yearning when we’re laying still in the dark with nothing to drown out our most honest inner thoughts.

I’ve achieved and acquired so many things I believed would make me happy, but the truth is, back when I was just a poor kid playing backyard football in a small town no one’s ever heard of, I felt HAPPIER and had MORE FUN than I do now.

And once again, our unmet expectations take a poke at our insides, making the corners of our mouths just a little bit heavier. It’s harder to find our smiles when we find ourselves once again asking: WTF happened to my life? Why do I feel so unfulfilled?

Maybe it’s Just Me

I don’t mean to sound as if I assume your life sucks and that you feel depressed all the time.

I don’t feel depressed all the time.

My life doesn’t suck.

BUT. There’s no question that I don’t have as much fun as I used to.

And that dear friends—I believe—is the answer to the riddle.

Everyone’s Fun Looks Different, So Trust Yourself, Not What Others Say

I can sit for five or six hours in a poker tournament folding 90 percent of my hands and have fun.

My ex-wife thought that sounded dreadful. Even some of my fellow poker enthusiasts can’t stand the idea of folding so many hands. (Bonus Life Tip: That’s how you win poker tournaments—folding the vast majority of the time.)

Some people love crocheting. Or bowling. Or gardening. Or painting tin soldiers. Or reading biographies. Or watercolor painting.

No one can tell you what feels fun. It’s our job to try things and then evaluate as fairly and honestly as possible how pleasurable of an experience each thing was.

In a life where more and more demands are being placed on us from family and career responsibilities, and an increasingly more-connected world also means more distractions, the FIRST things most of us sacrifice to make room for these demands are the things that bring us pleasure.

We are continually being forced to cut out more and more of the things we do simply because we like them. And normally, productivity and accomplishment provides a sense of satisfaction. But almost inevitably, mandatory tasks always start to feel burdensome.

Nothing but divorce has ever depressed me more than the day I realized that I wake up every weekday, drive to work, and do something I wouldn’t necessarily be doing if I didn’t need the income, before going home only to wake up and do the same thing again the following day.

It’s still true right now.

I exchange the vast majority of my (non-sleeping) life for a paycheck.

Why?

(This is the depressing part.)

So I can have enough money to stay alive (food, water, clothing, health care), have shelter (mortgage), and afford transportation (car payment).

In a life with a finite amount of time, I question the wisdom in exchanging the majority of my life experiences simply to have a house to sleep in, stuff to store there, and a vehicle to drive me back and forth to the job.

To deal with this, I pursue several other things (including the writing I do here, and the speaking I hope to do in the future) in my limited spare time to have hope that I can wake up every day feeling more fulfilled and as if how I’m spending my time has more purpose and value.

But that’s a personal problem.

What all of us are ultimately pursuing is CONTENTMENT. And some people, who are either super-fortunate to have been born that way, or are models of practicing intentional gratitude, DO actually feel content to live in their homes and their towns and go to work every day.

They are rich in home life. In friends and family (or super-content to be mostly alone and reclusive—and for those wired for that—that’s great too). They are thankful for what they have and aren’t slaves to The Disease of More.

But we don’t have time for platitudes.

We’re not going to tell depressed people to “chin up.”

We’re not going to tell happy people how lucky they are that they don’t suffer as others do.

We’re not going to tell people that they’re wrong because of their likes and dislikes.

In the interest of self-care and supporting those we care about most, it’s critical that we make time to engage in activities that give us life and energy.

It makes us better romantic partners.

It makes us better parents.

It makes us better friends.

It makes us better members of the workforce.

It makes us better human beings.

The Importance of Discovering Our Happy Places

Kids instinctively do their favorite things in whatever moments and environments they’re in, given whatever resources are available.

Children don’t know all of their favorite things because they spend a lifetime discovering them. Some are given a narrow view of the world and limited opportunities because of whatever circumstances they’re born into, and others are introduced to unlimited possibility and have rich life experiences that are the result of substantial financial resources, or resourceful and supportive parents and adult role models.

Some kids are told that they can’t do certain things. Over and over again. Because their parents or siblings or friends or teachers roll their eyes at these childhood dreams and say very adult things like “Well, young lady. That sounds great, but how are you going to make money doing that?”, or “Well, young man. I’m sure you’d make a fine [insert dream-big idea here] but you don’t have the skills, knowledge, money, talent, geography, etc. Maybe you should think of something more realistic like being an assistant restaurant manager, or a third-shift foreman at the local factory.”

Even if you were supported as children, you can still hear and feel all of the naysayers every time you’re vulnerable enough to share an idea that makes you feel alive on the inside.

And then those closest to us tell us we’re silly and impractical, or otherwise leave the impression that we’re not good enough.

Husbands and wives have divorced, and children have gone years without speaking to their parents, for less.

The most fortunate of us can make a sustainable living doing things we love. (I am paid decently, mostly to write things. It’s a miracle, and I STILL complain because I don’t like bosses and rules, and occasionally demonstrate a gratitude problem.)

But often we invest time in activities that don’t pay us back with money. Social clubs. Hobbies. Parties. Travel. Volunteerism. Sports. Art. Whatever.

We do these things because we feel pleasure when we do them.

Sometimes it’s one thing. Sometimes it’s many things. Maybe some people can’t think of ANYTHING (outside of sex, drugs and alcohol) that they do simply for the enjoyment and fulfillment of doing it.

But you must.

And you must encourage your partners and children to do the same.

We place so much value on the acquisition of money and material goods, to the point where adults believe they’re happy when they’ve gotten enough money to buy the thing they’ve spent years believing “When I FINALLY have that magical thing, I’m going to feel successful and happy. THEN, I’ll know I’ve made it,” only to inevitably discover that the feeling is fleeting and then The Disease of More rears its ugly head once again.

I think goals are amazing.

I think wanting things and experiences and money is more than okay. I want them too.

But along the way, we forget to pursue happiness and joy ON the journey.

We forget to have fun. The kind of fun that’s OURS. Maybe other people like it. Maybe they don’t. But we must do things that light that fire of happiness within us.

It’s a feeling.

And the real magic of knowing that feeling is that once we identify it (which is easy as an unfulfilled adult because it feels so radically different from the rest of existence), we can begin to recognize it in other parts of our lives.

With our spouses or romantic partners.

With our children.

With our co-workers.

We begin to recognize the set of conditions that produces that feeling of fun and energy and enthusiasm. The one that makes us feel like the best version of ourselves.

It’s pretty cliché and platitudey for me to offer some bullshit like: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” or “Before you can love someone else, you must first love yourself.”

So I’ll leave that to the Instagram quote writers.

But in a life where our relationships with our romantic partners are THE #1 FACTOR in the quality of our life and health, and half of all marriages fail, I don’t think we can afford to ignore the importance of injecting fun into our lives.

It’s NOT selfish to pursue fun if that fun gives you the energy you need to be the best romantic partner and parent possible.

It’s UNSELFISH and important to encourage your partner to take some time to do things they need to do to find their happy place (which may or may not involve dwarf cowboys). If we need to step up and take something off of their plate so that they have the time to pursue THEIR passion, I think we’ll discover incalculable dividends.

We’re broken.

Messy.

Imbalanced and unsteady.

Amidst the chaos Life throws our way, one of the ways we can achieve balance and sure footing is to call timeouts for fun.

No agenda.

Just to be in the moment, or be with the people with whom fun spontaneously happens.

We forget to play.

We confuse acquisition, advancement and long-term goals as the happiness-delivering payoff to justify all the miserable drudgery we subject ourselves to while our most important relationships fail, and we feel ourselves slip further and further away from the US we remember from long ago.

When things just felt better.

When we were happy.

When life was fun.

It can’t and won’t look the same as it did back then. But if we invest less in feeling like failures for our lives looking and feeling differently than our little-kid dreams imagined, and more in simply pouring our minds and hearts into the things that fill our souls?

Maybe our children accidentally learn how to live better by watching us live better, and maybe our marriages and personal relationships thrive.

Because we’re no longer living for tomorrow.

But once again, just like when we were kids, we’re alive today.

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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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What Matters More Than Your Relationships?

the most important things are not things

(Image/esterpartegas.com)

As a child dreaming about the future, I imagined myself in life scenarios I believed would make me happy.

I dreamed of being an adult. Independent! Freedom to do whatever I want with my own money! I thought going to a job and being paid for my time would be better than going to school and hanging out with my friends every day. I thought having my own house would be better than living with adults who could restrict my choices. I thought having my own money would be better than my parents financially fulfilling life needs and occasionally just giving me some.

I dreamed of owning a big house. I won’t even want to go on vacation if I live in paradise every day! I didn’t know I was hopelessly incapable of keeping even an average-sized three-bedroom house clean and properly maintained on my own. I didn’t know about hedonic adaptation, and how we all adjust to every positive life change over time, and then it stops feeling as awesome as when it first happened or something was new. I didn’t know that could also happen to rich people who could buy anything they wanted.

I dreamed of fun things like having season tickets to all of my favorite Cleveland pro sports teams. I can go to every game! Awesome! I didn’t know how much I wouldn’t like hunting for parking spots downtown, or sitting outside in the cold for hours, or how watching games at home in 2016 would in many ways be a superior experience to driving to the stadium or arena; nor did I know how much my emotional attachment to my favorite teams would fade as life introduced me to new things to care about.

Some People Think Relationship Stuff is Dumb

They don’t care. It’s simply not on their radar.

I was out with friends recently. We were kicking around some important relationship ideas over beer and food when Jeff sitting to my left used a pause in the conversation to ask Ryan for his thoughts on the Batman v Superman movie. We all laughed and joked about Jeff’s less-than-subtle conversation pivot to something which didn’t bore him to death. But move on to comic-book movie discussion, we did.

One thought stuck with me: If Jeff’s wife ever decides to divorce him, he’s probably going to care so much more about the conversation we just had than he will about movies.

My divorce not only put me on the path to understanding how common human behavior leads people who were once in love to dislike each another so much that they’re willing to go through life’s second-most stressful event (according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale) in order to get away from their spouse; but also helped me achieve what I feel is a more appropriate and healthy perspective on life—one which prioritizes THINGS THAT MATTER.

Everyone will decide for themselves what matters to them. There are no universally right or wrong answers.

But there is strong evidence that most people are incorrect in their guesses about what will make them happy, and that elderly people who die slowly but alertly on their proverbial deathbeds express many of the same thoughts and regrets in their final hours of self-reflection.

How to Live a Regret-Free Life

A Hospice nurse interviewed several dying patients in an effort to compile commonly shared wisdom about how to live a life free of regret. Money, Career, Fame, Big houses, and Cheap sex were all conspicuously absent from the list, which actually looked like this:

1Live a life true to yourself; not the life others expect of you.

2. Don’t work so hard.

3. Express your feelings courageously.

4. Stay connected to friends.

5. Give yourself permission to choose happiness.

Perspective is really important.

That guy who just cut you off dangerously and rudely in traffic is a huge asshole who needs to learn how to drive, UNLESS we later discover he was rushing to a nearby hospital because his small child was undergoing emergency surgery and he didn’t know whether his little son or daughter would live or die.

When I was in my late teens and 20s, I despised “little-kid” things. Like Barney or The Wiggles or going to some elementary school performance where a bunch of kids who don’t know how to keep their shirts tucked in properly and are objectively terrible at singing and dancing are supposed to entertain me by singing and dancing.

You suck, little kids!, the younger me thought.

But then I became a dad. And watching his favorite kids’ shows is now (usually) a fun thing to do. Attending his little-kid school performances is (always) an absolute must.

Perspective.

Interview a hundred men and ask them what they want out of life, and a common refrain will be: “Success.”

Ask them to define Success, and you’ll get a bunch of different answers. I won’t pretend to know how other guys define it. I only know that it’s common to observe in men the tendency to avoid any activity or situation in which he perceives a high probability of failure—like how I’m afraid to go skiing in front of a bunch of strangers, or to play in a golf tournament if I don’t know what to expect from my swing after not playing for a while.

This Men Avoid Failure Thing is important in the context of a man’s marriage or dating relationships. Men often withdraw and/or actively avoid conflict in their relationships. We do this because our experience has taught us that we cannot succeed by having the hard relationship conversations. (Not because it’s not possible, but usually because we’re unskilled communicators lacking profoundly in the empathy department, so we just keep having the same fight over and over.)

Maybe that’s not just a guy thing. I don’t know.

Our Relationships Matter Most

I’ve written it a hundred times: I BROKE after divorce.

My head and body physically hurt. There was chest tightness and constant feelings of stress and anxiety that never really went away unless I was asleep or intoxicated. When I slept, I had bad dreams. When I drank, I blabbed constantly about divorce to both friends and strangers, and probably made everyone uncomfortable.

When your mind and body betray you every second of every day, NOTHING in life is good.

Work sucks. Parties suck. Dating sucks. Even spending time with your child sucks because it’s a constant reminder of your failings and the undeserved life sentence you just gave him.

Until I felt how true misery poisons, or at least clouds, every life experience, I never truly realized the importance of Mental, Physical, Spiritual, and Emotional health like I do now.

Mental health and addiction are huge factors in accidental deaths and suicides, and I’m woefully ignorant about and unqualified to discuss them.

But assuming some of these people took their own lives to simply get rid of the hurt, I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to realize that people who “succeed” and who are “loved” and who experience great fame and fortune and accolades ARE JUST LIKE US. Many of them had everything marked off on the Things I Believe Will Make Me Happy checklists shared by so many of us. But for reasons we can’t fully understand, they were so miserable they intentionally killed themselves or consumed enough drugs to end their lives.

Robin Williams. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Whitney Houston. Heath Ledger. Kurt Cobain. Hunter S. Thompson. Tony Scott. Ernest Hemingway. Marilyn Monroe. Junior Seau. Don Cornelius.

It’s staggering.

Until I first experienced true isolation, I never truly understood the critical role our human relationships play in our overall life experience. I’d taken it for granted every day because I’d always had it. In the context of our earthly lives, nothing is more important. You know it when it’s gone.

Perspective.

We neglect our intimate relationships and our families and our friendships in pursuit of “succeeding” at other things. Our jobs. Our hobbies. Our competitions.

And then sometimes we “succeed,” but no one’s around to share the success with.

And then sometimes we get old and die, lonely and afraid.

And perhaps all because of something as sneakily simple as HOW we thought about our relationships and what the word “success” really means.

Like many previous life lessons, it was one I had to learn the hard way. Maybe some others won’t have to.

Because it’s never too late to put our focus over there instead of over here.

Maybe that’s where we’ll find what we’re looking for.

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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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Watch For Falling Prices, Vol. 2

I feel good today. Because Walmart screwed up. Twice.

I feel good today. Because Walmart screwed up. Twice.

A few days ago, I found a brown package tucked behind a planter on my front porch.

I smiled.

Could it be one of those two books I ordered from Walmart?

I had received an email from them informing me that my orders had been cancelled the day after taking advantage of price glitches on their website to order $50 worth of books for about $11, including a small shipping charge. So I guess they screwed up twice. Yay me.

I had made the joke in the first post that I was going to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers—which I’ve never read—and use its contents to propel me to unimaginable success as I continue to move forward in my personal and professional life.

I wrote this:

“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.”

So, I picked up that package. I smiled. I opened it.

And sure enough, it was Outliers. And I thought to myself: Hell yeah. I just got a good deal. Because I try hard to keep my promises.

And then I got excited.

Because I’m going to be so freaking tall and rich and sexually active now.

The world is mine.

10,000 Hours

There are many nuanced, well-researched and brilliant observations made by Gladwell in this book (Which I haven’t started reading yet. I’m afraid of the growth spurt and having to buy all new clothes).

But the one most people seem to focus on is the idea that to master something, we need to spend 10,000 hours doing it.

All the greats do.

Musicians.

Painters.

Athletes.

Chefs.

Adult film actors.

Teachers.

Writers.

And I wondered: How close am I to putting in my 10,000 hours?

So, I began a crude analysis based on lots and lots of possibly incorrect guesswork.

It looked like this.

1. I’ve been writing quasi-professionally or professionally for 15 years.

2. In those 15 years, I have:

Written and edited news stories.

Written and edited shitty poetry.

Written and edited marketing materials, including email, brochures, web copy, advertisements and video scripts.

Written and edited blog posts—both corporately, and here.

3. From age 19-21, during my college years, including countless hours in the college newspaper’s newsroom and my summer and winter break internships, I estimate spending about 1.5 hours per day writing. For three years. That’s 1,643 hours.

4. From age 22-34, during my professional career, including even more hours in daily newspaper and weekly business publication newsrooms, operating my own freelance copywriting business, working in internet marketing in my current job, and all of my private writing including what I do here, I estimate an average of 2 hours per day writing. For 12 years. That’s 8,760 hours.

5. If my math is correct, and I have no reason to think it’s not damn close, that’s 10,403 hours.

6. Holy shit. I’m an expert.

The Definition of Success

My mom always defined success as getting paid to do something you love.

And I do.

In the grand scheme of writers, I’m probably even paid well.

But I want more. Because I’m selfish and greedy and want to go on vacations and have an in-ground swimming pool and maybe even a really fast car I don’t drive very often.

Also, I wouldn’t mind having financial security for my son.

Okay, fine. And maybe I would try to do a little good with it when I wasn’t busy sipping fine tequila by my pool while writing books people actually wanted to read.

And while I appreciate what my mother is saying, I can’t agree. I won’t agree. Because I don’t feel successful.

I feel grateful. But not successful.

My dad probably defines success more in financial terms.

He makes a lot of money now after pulling himself out of poverty and making a good career move in his late 30s. He reminds me all the time that we were all just as happy back when we were clipping coupons, driving shitty cars, and living in mega-humble conditions along a Mississippi River tributary. And he’s right. We were very happy despite the absence of money.

I know that money will not make me happy. I still want some. But I know there are wealthy people who are miserable. Money does not fill the voids in their minds, hearts and souls.

That can only come from love. And spiritual balance. And good health. And family and friends. And gratitude. And generosity.

Merriam-Webster defines success as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame,” and “the correct or desired result of an attempt.”

I think I like that second definition best.

Because that’s what I always want to happen—no matter what we’re talking about. The correct thing. Whatever’s best.

That’s my desired result.

Since the day I decided to pursue writing people have asked me what my goals were.

It’s so easy to say you want to have a novel published. And I always have. That was always my canned response.

But that’s bullshit. Because I can write a terrible book tomorrow, self-publish it, and fire it out to the world in hopes that a sucker or two reads a third of it.

Writers don’t want to write books.

Writers want to be read.

And I remember always saying that, too.

If just one person reads something I wrote and likes it. If just one person reads something I wrote and feels better. If just one person reads something I wrote and it compels them to be better, stronger, wiser, braver.

Then I’ll have done something. I’ll have been successful.

I’ve put in my 10,000 hours. Paid my dues. And I’ll continue to pay them because I have a love affair with the keyboard.

Think about all of the things in your life you’ve put 10,000 hours into.

There’s something.

Thinking. Loving. Tasting. Caring. Feeling. Praying. Hoping.

You’re a master of something.

Just like that guy over there. Just like this lady over here. Just like me.

It took a Walmart pricing glitch to see it.

But I’m just a little bit taller today.

And so are you.

Let’s go dunk on somebody. And be awesome.

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