Tag Archives: Wisdom

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

pie-chart-people-count by Wonkhe

(Image/Wonkhe)

Imagine a pie chart.

But not the kind with only a few slices like you might see in classroom presentations or this image above.

Think about a pie chart that is attempting to illustrate every imaginable hobby or personal interest known to man.

Mountain biking.

Astrophysics.

Rap music.

Sewing.

Tap dancing.

Politics.

Mixed martial arts.

Gardening.

Architectural design.

Cars.

Books.

Religion.

Solitaire.

Ice sculpting.

It would be the largest, most impossible-to-read pie chart in history, but please try to imagine it anyway.

So, because we only live for about 80-ish years on average, and because most of us tend to grow up surrounded by “people like us” in our cities, towns, schools, sports teams, churches, etc., the vast majority of us only ever see a ridiculously tiny slice of this Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart in our lifetime. Add up all of our hobbies and interests over the course of our lives, and maybe none of us ever even come close to sniffing 0.01% of all of the possible things out there that people do and care about.

Kids growing up in rural Manitoba, Canada or Oklahoma are statistically likely to have different hobbies and interests than kids who grow up in the heart of Los Angeles or central Prague.

There are all kinds of wonderful applications for this thought exercise.

Dwell on this long enough, and the obviousness of how insane and bullshitty it is to dislike or mistreat other people based on their particular religion or skin color or political affiliations or personal preferences for who they love simply because they’re different than yours becomes really evident.

People have a nasty habit of classifying anything different than what they believe or prefer as ‘bad’ or ‘worse’ or even ‘wrong.’

I know it’s uncomfortable to think about the possibility that everything you were taught might be bullshit like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, but the sooner you come to terms with the fact that literally no human beings know, or have ever known, with 100% certainty the answers to life’s greatest mysteries (we can’t even get a manned mission to Mars—the nearest planet to Earth), the sooner we can all stop being gigantic dicks to one another just because some of us were taught different stories when we were little than other kids who were taught different things in faraway places.

But healthy self-awareness and mature social consciousness aside (which as a cool bonus will make you much less of an asshole for the rest of your life), the reason we’re thinking about this massive Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart is because I don’t want you to accidentally hurt the person you’re dating or married to every day for the rest of your life until you inevitably break up or get divorced and end up a lonely sad sack with no friends.

You’re worth so much more than that.

And THIS super-simple idea can help your relationship with your future romantic partner or spouse thrive, or at the very least, help you NOT accidentally sabotage it because you didn’t know this secret.

Relationship Secret: Care About Things Because the Person You Love Cares About Them

You are NOT a bad person for liking pro wrestling and video games, and hating classical music and knitting classes.

That’s not what makes a person bad. DIFFERENT does not mean the same thing as BAD.

However.

If you’re anything like me, you have a natural tendency to prefer some things over other things, and your brain mistakes your preferences and interests as having greater value than everything that ISN’T in your tiny sliver of the Imaginary Hobby & Interest Pie Chart.

Your stuff is “worth more.” Your stuff “matters more.”

So, maybe you love steak and you’re out with friends, and one of them orders some abomination like a well-done strip steak, and then dips it in ketchup when they eat it.

It is NOT bad that in your mind and heart, you’re secretly like holy shit, do they know how to ruin a steak dinner.

It IS bad if you say out loud: “Holy shit. What are you—stupid or something?” It will likely lead to having fewer friends and the people you spend time with not liking you very much.

And if the person demonstrating different preferences than you is someone you hope to have a long-term romantic relationship with, acting this way WILL end your relationship one way or another.

Don’t just think about food or musical tastes or what you like to do with your free time.

It’s everything.

Everything someone thinks, does, and feels is a result of all of their individual experiences from the moment they were born through right now.

Everyone’s 0.01% of the pie chart is going to be a different blend then everyone else’s, and inevitably lacking 99.9% of the life experiences necessary to objectively measure how much they like or dislike other slices of the pie chart they’ve never even heard of or experienced before.

Imagine a large black piece of construction paper.

One that I punch a tiny hole into with a needle.

And then I block your view with that piece of paper and ask you to accurately describe what’s on the other side only having that tiny pinhole to work with.

That’s what all of us are doing every second of our lives.

None of us have unlimited knowledge, time, nor the education and life experiences necessary to evaluate the big, uncharted alien world around us.

Everyone who tries ends up looking and sounding like an asshole, and they make their spouses or romantic partners feel shitty. They make their spouses or romantic partners fantasize about being with someone who wouldn’t communicate—verbally or otherwise: “Everything you like and care about is stupid and worthless. I don’t love or respect you enough to try to understand why it matters to you because it’s a complete waste of my time.”

Again: The Reason to Care is Because You Care About Them; Not Because You’re Naturally Interested in the Same Stuff

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how much this matters.

You have to learn how to silence your inner monologue that communicates how ugly that painting they love is, or how terrible that food they love tastes, or how crappy that song they love sounds.

It’s totally okay that you feel that way. It’s a math equation that made you feel that way. It would be impossible for you to NOT feel that way. You can’t control that.

But you CAN control what you do with that feeling.

I used to believe it was okay to just be honest and say out loud what I was thinking. I used to believe it was okay to openly mock or chide my friends or wife for everything they liked or believed that was different than my likes and beliefs.

But then my wife moved out after nine years of marriage and I lost a bunch of my friends and now every day is shittier and more difficult than necessary.

It seemed fine, totally fine, to like what I liked and pay no attention to the rest of it.

And if you want to live a single life with a bunch of surface-level relationships with other people (no judgments here—that’s totally an option if you don’t crave the things long-term relationships and marriage provide), it IS totally fine to live that way.

There’s no law against asshole-ism. Choose it if you want.

But.

If deep down, you’re embarrassed by the idea that you might be causing people you care about to feel awful and not even realize it, and if you’re really interested in a long-term romantic relationship or marriage that doesn’t end all shitty and horrible with a bunch of tears and lawyer fees, then try this one simple life trick.

That person you care about is super-interested in something that doesn’t interest you at all.

I’m not asking you to change your internal chemistry through sorcery to make yourself like stuff you don’t naturally like. That’s impossible.

But it IS possible to mindfully invest your time and energy to understand what it is about a particular hobby or interest that captivates this person you love.

It IS possible to learn more about it, and through that discovery, gain a greater appreciatiation for your loved one’s personal passions.

In addition to not constantly shitting all over the things that make your spouse or partner or friend feel joy, the simple act of you investing in what they care about will build a new bridge between you. A new bond. An extra tether, binding you together.

You know what happens when you add additional tethers to two objects, right?

They strengthen.

Become more secure.

Sturdier.

They don’t drift apart.

Steady.

They stay connected.

Together.

Always.

Unbreakable.

And if I may be so bold, I think every day of the rest of your life, and the lives of everyone you interact with will be better for it.

You don’t change the world one grand dramatic act at a time. You do it by making the slightest little course adjustments millions of times, causing other people to do the same. Like ripples in a pond.

Leaving everything just a little bit better than you found it.

Maybe they won’t write books or sing songs about it. But that’s what makes you legend.

That’s how you change the world.

And I can’t wait to see it.

You May Also Want to Read:

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

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

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

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‘This is why you shouldn’t get married’

bad advice

Including from me. (Images/quotesgram.com)

Grumpy old divorced or unhappily married men say it a lot.

They’re the guys complaining about their wives during the backroom poker game at the country club after a round of golf. They’re the guys nestled up to the bar who overhear younger men’s conversations about their girlfriends or fiancées, and then disclose the check amounts they wrote to their ex-wives after getting divorced as cautionary tales. They’re the husbands reluctantly getting up from a sofa or armchair to perform some inconvenient household task during a game or TV show they’re watching.

They look over at you, and then with varying degrees of seriousness—but the sentiment always being the same—say: “And this is why you should never get married.”

Which is sad, because they really believe they’re doing you a favor, imparting this hard-earned wisdom.

Millennials (those ages 18-34 in 2015) have overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest demographic age group in the United States. One in four (25%) say they will never marry. (Here’s one Millennial’s take on why.)

So the grumpy old guys will see many young people heeding their advice. Some of the time, that will accidentally be a good thing. But mostly it won’t be, because it has been demonstrated repeatedly that marriage has an overwhelmingly positive effect on society—improving individual physical and mental health of partners, increasing wealth, improving education, reducing crime, and most importantly, improving the future lives of children raised by their biological parents in a stable and loving environment.

Cynicism’s Silver Lining

There is one positive to be gained from all of these old guys telling all of these young guys not to marry, and for all of the young Millennials who view marriage as some archaic religious and social construct that has outlived its purpose in the 21st century.

And that’s that many young people (regardless of intelligence and relative “maturity”) are ignorant mooks by virtue of being young. Just ask every 70 year old whether they want to trade brains with their younger selves. Hell—ask me. And I only missed the “Millennial” label by a year.

Many young people blindly follow The Life Blueprint® which says they have to find their future spouse in high school, college, or early in their young professional lives “before all the good ones are taken!” and then get jobs, a house and start their families.

And in all of this behavior modeled after what most of us witnessed growing up, we simply never learn what we don’t know about marriage and human relationships. It’s so fun and easy! We love each other, and always will!, said every divorced person years earlier.

We don’t identify our core values, nor do we enforce our boundaries. Maybe we’re too scared to start again. Maybe we simply don’t realize that will be the death of our marriages and the reason that our lives suck. But we ignore the bad and charge headstrong into marriage believing we’ll be the exception to the rule.

Since no one bothered to teach us what relationships REALLY look and feel like and how to effectively deal with conflict—or better yet, preemptively prevent it through best practices in marriage and long-term relationships—we end up learning the hard way.

It’s hard to blame the parents and our education system. No one bothered to tell them either.

But This is Mostly About Men Unwilling to Own Their Shit

It started with this HuffPost Divorce entry: 5 Reasons Women Leave Their Marriages; In Their Own Words.

My original plan was to take each listed reason and explore ways people could avoid divorce and breaking up for those same reasons.

But then I read the top comment (more specifically, the comment generating the most engagement), got a little pissed, and decided to write about it instead.

Five women shared their personal reasons for filing for divorce. Commenter Greg didn’t approve.

“This is why you shouldn’t get married fellas. Her change of heart costs you a lot of money,” Greg wrote.

The comment has 140 Facebook “likes” thus far.

Greg reveals later in the thread that he was awarded custody of his daughter because his ex-wife is a heroin addict who didn’t show up to court for the custody hearing.

One wonders whether Greg and his ex-wife might have done a poor job aligning core values and enforcing personal boundaries in their relationship.

Regardless, Greg may have been a model husband victimized by a spouse who didn’t adhere to her marriage vows. How do you tell a man with that experience that you find his opinion misguided?

But let’s get honest. Because examinations of conscience only work when we tell ourselves the truth, guys:

You were a shitty husband just like me. Maybe you didn’t know what you were doing was wrong. Maybe you didn’t intend to hurt her repeatedly and leave her feeling alone in her marriage, which is pretty much the worst thing you can do to your wife.

You took for granted that she’d be there forever, so you didn’t try harder. You weren’t scared enough. You committed a few crimes accidentally, but then intentionally failed to make amends for them.

She told you what you were doing hurt her, and you told her she was wrong, or that she was making it up in her head. She told you what you could or should be doing to help her manage the household, and you played the You’re Not My Mom & I’m the Man of the House card. And when she wanted to talk about ways in which you could improve your marriage, you denied her your listening ear, accusing her of demanding MORE change from you while seeming unwilling to examine her own behavior.

“You’re acting like an ungrateful, spoiled little bitch. Nothing is ever good enough for you. You’re the best married person of all time. You’re an amazing wife who never does anything wrong! And I’m the worst husband ever who can’t do one damn thing right! It must be awesome being so perfect all the time! If you want to bitch about me some more, why don’t you find someone else who wants to listen to it because it’s not going to be me.”

Remember that?

Followed by you driving off to meet a buddy for a drink? Or retreating to another room to do or watch something you wanted to do more than have a conversation with her?

I mean, I wish I was the only guy who ever acted like such a childish douchebag.

I don’t feel any better knowing that I’m not.

There are a million reasons you shouldn’t get married.

Five short, personal accounts without additional context from divorced women on the internet SHOULD NOT be among them.

Because there are a million reasons you SHOULD get married.

Active and physically fit people sometimes die of heart attacks during workouts. Should people stop exercising?

People are sometimes hurt or killed while driving. Should we avoid getting behind the wheel?

Patients sometimes die in hospitals because of human error or unpredictable reactions to medicine. Should we stop visiting doctors while suffering health problems?

Bad news, guys: the problem was never the institution of marriage. It was us.

But maybe tomorrow we’ll make better choices, because I don’t think it has to be.

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New Things and Places Make You Grow and I’m Almost 1% of the Way There

Guy walking down road traveling

(Image/smagmagazine.wordpress.com)

Even though I lived in three different states growing up, I didn’t understand that people in other places were different than the people I was accustomed to seeing around me.

As I imagine there are many common traits among people living in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, so it is with people in Iowa, Illinois and the part of Ohio in which I was raised.

I was born in Iowa.

My parents split when I was 4 and I moved to Ohio to begin my school years. I spent a lot of time in Iowa and Illinois along the Mississippi River visiting my family throughout those years. Both places—Ohio, and the Mississippi River Valley—provide feelings of Home.

There wasn’t a ton of money floating around nor did I know anyone close to me with a passion for travel.

So I didn’t get out much.

Which is actually fine as it’s happening when you’ve never experienced anything different. Contentment is a highly underrated thing—a lesson I learned the hard way after graduating from college. What I lacked in material wealth and life experience was more than made up for in genuine contentment, surrounded by wonderful family and friends no matter which state I was in.

How do you manufacture a decent guy with a genuinely kind heart and good intentions who is capable of ditching his crying wife in the hospital hours after giving birth to his beautiful newborn son?

There are an incalculable number of factors, but I fear many innocent and well-meaning actions and conditions contributed.

I was born to very young parents. They were eightish years younger than my ex-wife and I when our son was born. I didn’t feel ready at 29. It’s hard to imagine how they must have felt.

I am, for all intents and purposes, an only child.

Because my mom is from a very large family of kind, loving people; and because my dad was from a mid-sized family who didn’t see me often; and because I made friends easily and was seemingly well liked by their parents and my teachers because I’m naturally outgoing and well mannered, I was showered with an almost-obscene amount of love, support and affirmation growing up.

These things feel good. And almost every day felt good. Being me was a very positive experience.

I think my dad spoiled me just a bit because of our unfortunate geographic situation which kept us from a typical father-son relationship. I think my mom took it pretty easy on me in terms of chores and responsibilities around the house because she was so accustomed to (and skilled at) accomplishing home management tasks from being the oldest of many brothers and sisters, so I got used to things just “magically” getting taken care of.

Folded laundry. Swept floors. Clean counters. Spotless bathrooms. Stocked fridge and pantry.

My only real job was schoolwork, and I could perform academically at a fairly high level without trying hard, and certainly without learning the material inside and out. After all that K-12 learning, followed by whatever I did to get a bachelor’s degree, I’d be surprised if I’ve retained even 10 percent of it. We’ll never know.

So what DID I “know”?

  1. Being myself makes most people like me, and I don’t have to work hard for things.
  2. I’m totally smart, which means when people disagree with me or challenge my beliefs, there’s an above-average chance they’re wrong.
  3. Life is beautiful, people are kind, and mostly good things happen, which means sad, depressed, angry or impoverished people just aren’t trying hard enough. Yay, life!
  4. People are mostly the same everywhere you go. It’s obvious because I’ve been between Iowa and Ohio my entire life, and it pretty much all looks and feels the same! Neat!

Certainly, attending a 20,000-plus-student public university after 12 years of Catholic schooling in a town with the same amount of people delivered some eye-opening moments.

Not everyone believes what I believe. Some objectively super-smart people disagree with some of my political philosophies and can articulate why without saying anything moronic. Also, I’m friends with black people! 

But the real shock to the system happened when I braved a move outside of my little four-state bubble in middle America, moving to a Florida beach town on the Gulf side to take a newspaper reporting job.

Because we all live inside our own heads and nowhere else, and because I hadn’t done a lot of travelling, and because when I had gone to other places, they shared many cultural similarities with my hometown, I assumed people were pretty much the same everywhere, at least in the United States.

In other words, I thought I was moving to Ohio with Nice Weather and Beaches.

It only took me a few months in Florida to observe how incorrect my assumption had been, and to learn an important life lesson at the age of 23:

Different people in different places often have different beliefs and different life experiences than I do, and those differences feel as natural to them as my normal does to me.

Oh, the Places We’ll Go

Last week, one guy I met while living in Florida told his oldest son to pick any place in the world to visit for a father-son trip. The boy (I think he’s 11) chose Tokyo, Japan. And off they went, leaving mom and the younger two brothers behind. Those two looked like they had an awesome time, and I imagine both father and son will have grown significantly from the experience in some way.

As I type, another friend is in the midst of a two-week tour of Europe. She texted me some photos from Switzerland that made me want to drop everything and go there. Mountains. Waterfalls. The greenest greens. And those totally rad “Ri-cola!” horns.

A new friend, author and potential future collaborator routinely travels the globe, has lived in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is married to a Dutch man she now lives with in south Florida, and returned less than a month ago from a speaking gig in Stockholm, Sweden.

That’s just regular life for her.

For me, that’s, like, whoa.

I started traveling domestically in my second job out of school, which had brought me back to Ohio. Every couple of months, I was going somewhere for a conference or industry trade show. It was then that I really felt as if I was broadening my horizons in my mid- to late-twenties.

I took a look at a map to evaluate where I’ve been.

Toronto, Ont. is my furthest trek north. New York City is my furthest east. To the south, Key West, Fla. And to the west, San Diego, Calif.

I downloaded an app where you can log all of the places you’ve been. I went through it carefully, marking my destinations.

Two countries. My homeland. And Canada. And let’s be honest. When you’re from the United States, and you occasionally get Canadian coins handed to you when cashiers are making change, and when the border is way closer than half of the U.S. states, it doesn’t really feel like international travel.

And unless I’m forgetting one, I’ve visited 24 states and Washington D.C.

That’s it.

About half of the states in my native country and a few cities in one Canadian province.

My new app was kind enough to calculate what percentage of the world I’ve seen.

That figure? 0.8 percent.

I’m 37 years old. And I try to write stories that I hope might help someone live and love better.

And I’ve seen less than 1 percent of this world.

There’s More to Life Than What We Think We Know

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about saltwater fish and coral reefs, but until I went snorkeling off the coast of the Florida Keys, I couldn’t accurately describe their beauty.

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about New York and Washington D.C. throughout my childhood, but until I walked the streets of Manhattan or sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I couldn’t marvel at all the steel and concrete that makes up NYC, or feel what a grateful American feels looking out over my favorite visual piece of our nation’s capital.

I’d seen and read a bunch of things about California and the Pacific Ocean, but I was 28 before I stood on Mission Beach for the first time and felt the awesome power of the largest body of water on Earth, and could finally understand why so many people are willing to move so far away and spend so much money to live near it.

I am a better, different, wiser, more intelligent, more balanced, more complete human being for having experienced the few life-expanding places and moments I have.

And I’ve seen less than 1 percent of all there is to see.

How much better, different, wiser, more intelligent, more balanced, more complete might I be if I see more? How much more might you be?

Maybe we owe ourselves the opportunity to find out.

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I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now When I Was Younger

(Image/financeandmortgage.com)

(Image/financeandmortgage.com)

I heard a car alarm going off while exiting the mall.

I’d have ignored it like I do most car alarms, but I was still on high alert from a previous car break-in in the not-too-distant past. I had left a large shoebox with about 70 compact discs in plain sight on the floor behind the passenger seat. I had also failed to remove the detachable face from my car’s CD player. Someone broke a window and stole them.

It was the first time I’d ever really felt violated. It’s a unique sort of anger. I replaced the broken window, the CD deck and about two-thirds of the CDs with insurance money and my father’s generosity.

Then, not long after that on my 17th birthday, my mom and stepdad took me to dinner and then the mall to buy me gifts. I realized while walking out into the mall parking lot that the car alarm I heard was mine.

My walk turned into a run.

Sitting in my passenger seat with my car door open was some asshole trying to yank the CD unit from my front dash, and my fight-or-flightometer was firmly set on fight.

Arms spread wide and displaying the universal sign language for Tough Guy® I yelled: “What the fuck, man?!” and just kept coming. I had every intention of slamming my heavy 1986 Buick Regal car door into him over and over again, but this guy was spry.

He jumped out and pulled a knife. It wasn’t a hardcore Crocodile Dundee knife, but it wasn’t some wimpy punk knife you wanted shoved into your gut either.

The switch flipped on the fight-or-flightometer, and I backed up. Dude ran away. My stepdad chased him, presumably less afraid of being gutted than I was. I always thought that was awesome, but only because he didn’t get stabbed. Later, I ID’ed the guy to police detectives from a series of photos at the police station. Maybe that guy is dead or in prison now. Or maybe he reads this blog and remembers that night (Hey man!).

Standing in my father’s kitchen with all four of my parents, my dad totally ripped my ass, which he almost never did. After going through all of that trouble with the police and insurance and him spending more money so that I could have my stupid (but awesome at the time!) car stereo that drove all the neighbors crazy, I had left a detachable face on the CD deck and more CDs just laying around in my car like a Welcome sign for thieves.

He was pissed. So I spent the evening of my 17th birthday, getting a verbal ass-kicking from my dad in front of all four of my parents who were pretty much never in the same room at the same time.

I totally deserved it, too.

(Listen to this song on repeat for the rest of the time you’re on this page, please.)

I turn 37 tomorrow.

For the same reason I left that detachable CD player face on even though I’d already had it stolen once, and the same reason I foolishly sprinted up to some stranger where I could have easily been shot and killed, I don’t know that there’s ANYTHING you could have told me 20 years ago that would have kept me from (stubbornly) “needing” to figure things out on my own—often the hard way.

I tell my young son 100-percent of the time we’re eating together to eat over his plate so crumbs and sauces and whatever fall on his plate and not on his shirt, lap, or the floor.

And pretty much 100-percent of the time, he gets crap all over his clothes and the floor. Because, almost certainly to his mother’s chagrin, he’s a little bit like his father.

But what if I could somehow get Doc Brown to fire up that old DeLorean time machine and hand-deliver it to myself in 1996? Wouldn’t I pay attention then? Probably not. But let’s pretend I would to eliminate some of the pointlessness from this exercise.

If I had to give the gift of knowledge and wisdom to a young man oblivious to his need for it in the form of a time-warped letter, what would I write?

A Letter to Myself on my 17th Birthday

3-24-2016

Dear Matt,

Happy birthday, dude! I really wanted to come back to ’96 and just have a nice sit-down talk with you, but Doc was all “blah-blah-blah… time paradox… blah-blah-blah… space-time continuum… blah-blah-blah… destruction of universe…” so I was like: “Fine, Doc. Whatever. Give him this letter AFTER you tell him he’s a 37-year-old divorced single father who lives alone, works in an office cubicle for 40-plus hours per week, and doesn’t smoke or even drink often to help manage the shame. It’ll probably go over his head because I was kind of a dipshit at 17.”

Sorry I said that. But you really are kind of a dipshit. You get solid grades and have an excellent vocabulary so you fake everyone (and yourself) out. But you’re totally dumb. This isn’t unique to your teenage years. You’re actually a moron all the way through your twenties.

Intellectually and maturity-wise, turning 30 is really good for you. But sadly, that’s also when a bunch of bad personal-life things will start happening, and since you fake being smart instead of actually being smart, your entire life is going to fall apart. Like, clinically depressed, fall apart. Like, have a few things in common with suicidal people, fall apart.

Today, you have no idea who or what you want to be. You see all these other kids who are going to go off to college knowing their career path. You see people who seem focused and disciplined and who seem to genuinely crave knowledge.

You sometimes wonder what’s wrong with you because you don’t know what you want to do with your life. You don’t know why you never seem to be able to maintain long-term attention and focus. You don’t understand why all of these other people want to learn things. School’s boring. You just want a job that helps you pay the bills so you can get to that next weekend party. Living for the weekend.

But now you have a secret weapon. The knowledge of what you WILL want. I’m going to tell you what some of those things are, how you can have them, and a few bonus secrets, too. You’re welcome.

There Are No Shortcuts

There’s only the long way. But here’s something awesome I didn’t expect at 17: Today feels the same as Today did in 1996. I know 37 sounds totally old to you. But it doesn’t feel old when you’re in the moment. The 20 years between your Today and my Today is more than enough time to master everything you want to master, even after learning what I’m about to tell you.

You Have Something Called ADHD

You’ll hear a lot about it later. You’ll think it’s made up. People will tell you it’s a fake thing Big Pharma is pushing to sell drugs to kids. And maybe it is! One of the best things about being 37 is that you’ll get really comfortable with the idea of uncertainty. It’s totally okay to not know things! Pursue knowledge. Pursue truth. Try your best. Learn about ADHD and how to manage it. That will help you with everything you do, and your relationships with everyone you meet.

You Value Money Too Much

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all. It’s nice to have. I’m just saying you rank it above most other things, and it’s a really bad idea. You should put most of your energy into the most important things. If you had a billion dollars, and then you found out you had brain cancer, would it matter that you were a billionaire? When your health is poor—mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally—everything in your life falls apart, and there aren’t enough dollars to fix it. Which brings us to…

College (Fresh out of High School) is Overrated

Not only is it overrated, there are some fields in which attending college can be demonstrably proven to be a bad financial proposition. It’s not your fault. In 1996, it seems like only the kids with no future skip college. The losers. And the conventional wisdom is you need a bachelor’s degree to get a professional job. But it’s a big lie everyone believes and I can’t figure out why. Some fields of study lend themselves to higher education. Law. Medicine. Engineering.

But pretty much everything else? You’re paying tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of dollars for a piece of paper that says you learned things that if you drank enough beer, you didn’t actually learn.

At 37, I’ve had three full-time jobs following college graduation, NONE of which benefitted from me attending college.

I’m NOT saying be a burnout loser. I’m NOT saying don’t learn things. But I AM saying don’t take on a bunch of debt for a crappy four-year degree after classes you won’t remember and having acquired zero useful life skills or valuable knowledge.

Instead, read every book you can on the subjects which genuinely interest you, and then spend 40 hours per week actively practicing a skill or attempting to create something in your field of interest, instead of sitting in expensive classes that won’t help.

Because you’re you, it will take you five years to earn your bachelor’s degree and cost a small fortune.

You can get 10,000 hours experience (a time length generally accepted as achieving expertise at any given thing) by putting in 40-hour weeks for 4.8 years. Guess how many 22-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees are experts at anything other than bong hits and using coin-laundry machines?

You’re Not the Only One Who Thinks and Feels That

About what? About anything. You have thoughts and feelings and fears and questions and beliefs, and you never talk about them with anyone because it feels safer to keep it a secret. Maybe you’re afraid your friends won’t be friends with you. Maybe you’re afraid your parents won’t love you. Maybe you’re afraid you’re a freak, and if everyone figures out who the real you is, they’ll all laugh at you, and you’ll die alone and celibate with no friends.

EVERYONE else is ALSO thinking and feeling those same kinds of things. That’s an awesome life secret. Don’t be a fake version of yourself in order to win the approval of your friends, or family, or people you know from back home, or for girls you meet. No one will like the fake version of you any more than the real version.

Just be yourself, no matter what, and enjoy the absence of insecurity that comes from being surrounded by people who love and accept you as you are. Changes your whole life.

You’ll Have to Change Your Eating Habits and Exercise Regularly to Maintain Your Shape

One day, your metabolism slows, and you’ll gain weight. You’ll have to exercise even though you’ll no longer compete in organized athletics. When you do so in the morning, you will feel really good all day long, and you’ll look better, and the combination of those two things will improve your confidence and performance in everything you do. Which is good.

Write Down 10 Ideas Every Day

You’re going to discover a writer you really like named James Altucher. He preaches this, and it’s because he’s really smart. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad the ideas are. The point is simply to habitually be able to come up with new ideas all the time. When you’re 37, the superpower you wish you could have is the ability to quickly come up with several viable solutions to ANY problem as needed. It’s how you help people. It’s how you make money. It’s how you improve at things. It’s how you do anything. You think of something that may or may not have been tried before. Then you figure out how to execute it. Then you give it a try and see what works and what doesn’t. Repeat the good stuff. Avoid the bad. The applications for your ability to generate new ideas are limitless.

Human Beings Weren’t Designed to Sit in Office Cubicles and Take Things So Seriously

You’re pretty good with people. You have a lot of friends. It’s one of the best things about you. Don’t let the world tell you that you should abandon the love you have for your friends and the joy you feel from social connectivity because “it’s time to grow up.” If you meet a girl and she wants you to abandon your social life for her because she wants no part of it, you run. You’ll never make it with anyone who doesn’t share your values. You need not be ashamed of valuing fun and your social network. It matters so much more than money ever will.

You will learn SO MUCH about romantic relationships and about yourself over these next two decades.

Don’t Marry Until the Day You Love Someone More Than Yourself

If you’re wondering whether she’ll make you happy, she won’t. Making you happy is your job. If you WANT to make her happy, you’re on the right track. Marriage isn’t for you.

Marriage is harder than you think, no matter how many people told you it was going to be “work.” It’s hard to be afraid of what you don’t know. But I hope you’ll believe that you should be. Fear is generally bad. A healthy fear of divorce is wise.

It’s hard to understand that being a good person is not the same thing as being a good husband or a good father.

When you’re young, you don’t realize something VERY important: Your brain is hardwired to feel bored when you do any one thing too long, or when you fall into routine and familiarity. It’s not just you. It’s every person in the world. It’s called hedonic adaptation, and it’s probably responsible for most divorce, feelings of depression, sexual affairs and addictions. If everyone knew about this, we’d all stop looking for the bigger, better deal all the time and ruining our relationships and destroying our chance at contentment on our never-ending pursuits of happiness we never achieve.

So, no matter how gorgeous, fun, kind, smart, sexy your wife is, you will get used to her like all other good things in your life you take for granted (health, income, safety, shelter, transportation, etc.). Make it a daily habit to feel gratitude for the good things in your life and major discontentment will never set in.

People who do whatever they “feel” like will never have healthy relationships, will never pay bills, or hold down jobs, or take care of children, or accomplish anything, EVER. We succeed when we rise above our feelings and make good choices. Some days you will feel “in love” in your marriage. Other days you will not. If every couple who didn’t feel “in love” got divorced, 100-percent of marriages would end in divorce. Never forget this: Love is a choice.

Lastly, there’s a word you don’t quite understand. You’ve just heard adults use it. It’s probably the most important word you can ever fully understand as an adult if you like healthy relationships and a low-drama lifestyle.

The word is: Empathy.

It sounds a little feely and bullshit to you. I get that. You know what else feels like bullshit? Divorce. So shut up and pay attention.

You’re alive and you think things. You look around and you see the world, and you react to others and life events based on all of the things that have happened to you from birth until right now.

This is very important. Every other person on Earth thinks and feels differently than you. Sometimes what they think and feel will conflict with your thoughts and feelings. This is okay. People disagree all the time, and often work things out.

Sometimes, something happens, and it feels like a HUGE deal to you and you can’t figure out why someone else doesn’t feel the same. Other times, something happens, and someone else makes a HUGE deal out of it, but you don’t get it because it’s not on your radar or doesn’t impact your life.

You’ll accidentally rub strangers the wrong way once in a while in situations like this. Fine. Whatever. Just try to be polite.

But here’s the really scary part: You’ll also accidentally upset those closest to you in situations like this. Like your girlfriend or wife. They’ll TELL you. And you STILL won’t recognize the gravity of the situation.

I know you don’t get it. She likes Reba McEntire’s music, and you think it’s absolute GARBAGE. And then when you say so in a chiding, not-particularly-serious way, she acts super-butt-hurt about it and you can’t figure out why. You think she’s overreacting and you’ll say so.

She’ll want you to apologize for hurting her feelings.

But since apologizing is tantamount to admitting fault, you won’t do it. You did nothing wrong! She freaked out like a crazy person. If anyone owes anyone an apology, she owes me!, you think.

You will KNOW that you’re in the right and she’s in the wrong.

You’ll know it because your heart tells you that you love her, and that it’s totally insane to conclude that your repeated mocking of Reba McEntire music is a punishable crime.

Every time a situation like this arises, you will argue your well-thought-out and honest point. You will see her anger and frustration grow. You’ll hold your ground because you’re certain she’ll eventually come around to your mature, emotionally stable and intelligent point of view.

And then one day, she’ll leave you. Over something as seemingly benign as a dish left by the sink.

You’ll be taken by surprise. First, by the move, then by how miserably broken and lost you feel. It’s hard to breathe sometimes when it REALLY hurts. It’s not something you’ve ever had to deal with. You’ll be terrified because you didn’t know the human body could feel like that. Joyless. Totally defeated.

Then you’ll go on living, and all around you everyone else is pretty normal. They laugh at jokes and do fun things on the weekend. You’re on the brink of a breakdown, and a constant threat to cry. (I know! CRY! Like in front of people. It’s wild.)

How is it possible, I can feel like THIS while they’re right there feeling like THAT?

BOOM.

Two people. Same situation. Two RADICALLY different experiences.

Empathy.

Things happen to other people that affect them emotionally in profound ways. You won’t always understand because the event didn’t affect you at all.

How healthy your relationships are, and how happy your life turns out will hinge predominantly on your ability to care about things that affect people in your life—not because they impact you emotionally, nor because you are naturally interested in whatever the subjects are—but because the people you love care about them.

On its own, this wouldn’t matter to me. But this matters very much to her. I love her. She matters very much to me. Therefore, I care about the thing, too. It now matters to me BECAUSE it matters to her.

That’s it, kid.

That’s your birthday present. You don’t understand how important it is, and if you work a little bit, you may never have to because all of your relationships can be mostly healthy, and free of pain and drama. That would be awesome for all involved.

It’s the little things that can change everything. Some crap like Reba McEntire. Or even just dirty dishes.

Now, go play your Alice in Chains and The Fugees, then don’t forget to remove the detachable face when you’re done.

Happy birthday.

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