Tag Archives: Work

Maybe This is How My Wife Felt

Bill Murray throws golf club

This.

I want to quit my job even though I like many things about it.

It’s not just because I find traditionally structured 9-to-5s to be wholly dissatisfying, but because there aren’t cool-enough bosses (mine are mostly awesome) nor enough money in the world (I do okay) to buy my unquestioning loyalty.

In military, law enforcement, firefighting ladder companies, mountain climbing teams, space shuttle crews, and other applications, you’ll find an established chain of command. Not following—or even questioning—orders can be the difference between life and death. I understand this and have a fundamental respect for leadership structures and believe people in management deserve a modicum of respect by virtue of that chain of command.

The stakes tend to be less in for-profit business. I work for a private company. We sell things no one needs, but many people want. For better or worse, the bottom line is the bottom line, though our corporate culture is particularly people-friendly and community-minded.

By all appearances, inside and out, it’s an excellent company that is No. 1 in its market globally, has a reputation for being professional with customers and business partners, and has as many multi-decade employees as I’ve ever seen. I still want to quit.

I like my bosses and the vast majority of my co-workers. I still want to quit.

I like the actual internet marketing work I do and try to improve my craft every day. But I still want to quit.

And I think maybe there are a bunch of parallels here to how wives and mothers feel about their married lives, sharing homes with their husbands and children, and doing her best to raise good kids in a life where she’s being pulled in so many different directions.

I think maybe I feel about my job the way, in the end, my wife felt about me.

On Loyalty and Effort

I didn’t just accept this job five years ago because it seemed better than my old job, and come into it with a ho-hum work ethic and mindset.

This job, in many ways, saved my life.

On Jan. 1, 2010, I became another in a long line of laid-off newspaper reporters following the 2008 economic implosion. And because I’m never intentionally masochistic, I chose to move on from my journalism career and find another way to make money. I was jobless for 18 months, freaking out because I had a toddler son at home and a wife who clearly was not digging being married to an unemployable loser. I made money freelance writing, but with child and family healthcare costs, I needed to find something steady with a benefits package.

Eventually, I was hired into one of my company’s coolest and fastest-growing departments, and work with a bunch of good, smart people.

I went from total loser, to well-paid guy with a seat at the table for macro-level conversations about business strategy, overnight.

This job gives me the money to pay for my home and Jeep, and the money to support my son.

This job provided something steady during my divorce.

This job introduced me to friends I hope I’ll have forever.

This job gave me a real-world laboratory to study marketing and human behavior, and gave me a front-row seat to the constantly changing digital world where it’s sometimes hard to keep up.

I am grateful for this job. I LIKE my job. 

But I still want to quit.

And if my next career move wasn’t going to be me jumping off into entrepreneurial waters, maybe I’d already be gone.

Why?

Because the leadership at my company despite their best intentions are the business-world equivalent of shitty husbands, and no matter how many good things there are to appreciate and admire about them, I have—in metaphorical-relationship terms—transitioned to Apathetic Robot Wife mode, and recently realized: I’m done.

I’m done because I don’t care enough anymore. And the leadership at my company, even though they do so many good things for us and create a mostly nice place to work, is the reason why.

Husband: ‘Why Are You Doing This To Me?’

“Um. You did this to yourself,” she replies.

I was hired by my company to do a job. I write things—website copy, emails, blog posts—designed sometimes to educate and inform existing or potential customers, and sometimes to provide a very specific sales call to action. Buy this awesome thing right now!

They give me money in exchange for these services where I’d like to believe I make them a lot more money than I’m paid.

Like a newlywed bride, I was totally psyched to be here five years ago. I devoted a lot of time and energy to honing my craft, studying its impact, and generating new ideas. I felt emotionally invested in my work, proud of my contribution, and passionately spoke up in meetings about doing things “the right way” as I perceived them. Best practices = Success. I really believe that.

I came in early and stayed late. I poured myself into the work knowing I could make positive contributions, studying results, and always striving for incremental improvement.

Because in the digital world we can measure with decent precision the performance of a marketing email send, or blog post, or social media engagement, or web traffic, we don’t always have to guess how our customers respond to our work.

We often can see that doing X generates good results and more sales, and that doing Y does not.

My switch flipped to No-More-Fucks-Left-To-Give mode when my bosses made crappy decisions that costs us money for political and ego reasons, despite evidence supporting our protests.

Then we tried one more time and it happened again.

Surely, we’ll go back to doing the right thing with this overwhelming evidence we’re sabotaging our efforts, I thought.

And then it didn’t. And that’s when I felt a part of me shut off.

Okay, dicks. Have it your way.

One of my jobs is to write emails. Some people further up the corporate food chain probably don’t think it’s super-important. Kind of like how some husband feels about his wife’s efforts to keep the kitchen clean.

Our company makes a lot of money, so as a percentage, any individual email I write—some of which generate more in 48 hours than my annual salary—still might not register much with upper management.

Nonetheless, what I love about email marketing is that I can measure my impact on the company. If I write a subject line that gets 18 percent of people to open it and 2 percent of people to click to our website, that’s worth a certain amount of money. If I write a better subject line and copy, I might move 23 percent to open that email and 4 percent to click through. Over time, those incremental improvements are what I live for, professionally. I fight for those inches. If my effort and creativity improves those numbers just a point or two every large-scale email, over the course of a year, it means we sold a lot more stuff, and we make a lot more money, and I feel good when that happens.

I care. Not because they’ll give me a big raise if I do this. (They won’t.) Not because I’ll receive recognition or pats on the back outside of my annual review. (I will not.)

It’s because I take pride in my work, and I want to do it well. It’s because I’m part of something, and am invested in our success. It’s because I feel loyal, and it is my pleasure to make meaningful contributions.

I can live with the fact that no matter how hard I work, I’ll get little more than cost-of-living raises.

I can live with the fact that no matter how little someone else works, they will too.

I can live with the fact that I have to wear crappy business casual clothes that are neither casual nor particularly nice or professional like a good little cubicle soldier.

I can live with the fact that even though I can do my job from any internet-connected computer in the world, I’m not allowed to work elsewhere.

But I can’t live with the people I’m supposed to respect being given evidence their decisions cost us money and sabotage our work, and then watch them choose to stay the course.

They’re Not Doing It Purposefully

Making us feel shitty about our jobs, I mean. They’re not. They don’t know they’re doing it.

They’re good people. I’m sure if they REALLY UNDERSTOOD how their decisions affected the rest of us on a psychological and emotional level, they’d maybe do things differently. 

But they don’t get it. They expect us to work just as hard on the next project even though we know it can’t perform as well as it should. They expect me to care like I always have. They probably think because I no longer argue as passionately as I once did that I’m totally satisfied with things here.

Then, it hit me: My bosses are husbands who leave dishes by the sink.

And some of my co-workers and I are the wives who finally have had enough. I can’t keep giving THIS much of a shit for something that doesn’t reward the effort.

Maybe this isn’t what’s happening. Maybe they’re NOT stubbornly clinging to their I’m-The-Boss egos. Maybe they really believe they’re doing the right thing, and maybe they’re totally oblivious about how that impacts our job satisfaction, work performance, and office culture.

But if sure-as-shit FEELS like they’re intentionally doing things that undermine our efforts.

I could take it the first time. It didn’t faze me.

I could take it the first hundred times. There’s so much good here to be grateful for.

I could take it the first thousand times, even as frustration mounted.

But somewhere along the way, one of my bosses left one too many “dishes” by the sink.

And now things will never be the same.

I’ll write their things because they give me money to do so. But I used to write things with an attitude of wanting to give more than I take. That’s gone now, and I wish it wasn’t.

I want to believe in unconditional love in marriage, but I now understand there will always be some conditions.

If you wake up every morning, and your partner says to you “Hey! You’re a stupid, ugly asshole!,” and then punches you in the face, there are a finite number of times you’ll stand there taking the verbal and physical punch.

Sometimes, love dies.

I’m not sad about my job. I’m maybe a tiny bit angry. Mostly, I’m apathetic.

And no matter how comfortable I am, or how many fond memories I have, or how much I like and appreciate my job and wish things were different, I’m done now.

I don’t know whether I’ll leave in three or six months, or in one or two years. But I am leaving.

In my heart and mind, I’m already gone.

And no, the irony isn’t lost on me.

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The World Needs Clock Punchers

time clock

I bet I’ll panic when I’m dying.

I get nervous about things. And I’m pretty sure I’ll be nervous about dying.

Scared probably, unless I’m in so much pain I welcome the relief.

What will I think about?

I can only guess. But I’ve always been a good guesser. I will think about my son, hopefully an older man himself at that point. Maybe I’ll have grandchildren. Maybe there will be a woman I love. I don’t know.

But I do know one thing.

Much of what I feel will be predicated on my satisfaction with my life choices.

On whether I lived in fear, grinding out my prime years behind cubicle walls in a corporate office.

On whether I lived courageously. And took my shots.

A guy I work with thinks I’m too ambitious. He thinks maybe I’m not grateful for my job and the money I make even though I am.

Today, I was editing a contributing writer’s column for our company blog. The writer is a long-time, well-respected, talented auto mechanic and hot rod builder.

While describing how to fix something, he wrote about a tool needed to complete the job. According to this long-time industry expert, no tool of this kind exists for automotive applications. Only in woodworking, and they are all insufficient for precision metal cutting.

I turned to my co-worker and said: “People need this tool. Why is it no one’s making it?”

It sparked a conversation about filling needs in the marketplace. About how you capitalize on opportunity.

But it quickly turned.

“Do you really want to work 60-hour weeks?” he said. “Because that’s what it takes to start a business.”

“Well. I think there’s an argument for putting in long hours early, so that you can work less and earn more as you age,” I said.

“I don’t want to do that,” he said. “I just want to work my 40 hours and go home. The world needs clock punchers.”

Everyone Has a Role

He’s right, of course.

The world does need worker bees. The productive people needed to execute the various tasks that make businesses function effectively, providing their goods or services to customers.

Not everyone will be a boss.

Not everyone will earn top salaries.

Not everyone will accumulate financial wealth.

I have a friend preparing for law school. She’s taking the LSAT soon and has been highly stressed about it and other life happenings. Go-to-the-hospital stressed.

“This is important,” she said of the test, trying to justify the stress.

“No it’s not,” I said. “In 500 years we will all be dead and it won’t have mattered at all.”

She understood me.

“When you think about that… that so few things actually matter… what does it make you want to do?” she said.

We’re all going to die and none of this petty stuff matters at all.

We FREAK about all this stuff. Money. Spats with our spouses or parents or children or siblings or friends. About things going on at work. About some task that “needs” taken care of because we’re always busy, busy, busy! So much to do!

It doesn’t matter.

It’s amazing we’ve all convinced ourselves it does.

I thought about her question. What does it make me want to do?

You’ll probably think it’s cliché. But I said: “Love.”

Not romantic love. The kind where you shine light in the darkness.

I said: “Forgive.”

There is no peace without forgiveness. There can be no happiness without peace.

I said: “Laugh.”

Even though I can’t find any scientific proof to back it up, I hear over and over again the claim that children laugh about 300 times a day and that adults laugh less than 20.

Even if it’s not true, it IS true that life gets harder and grayer and crueler and heavier as you age. You grow up and make mistakes and the stains from guilt and past mistakes and sinif you believe in such a thingdarken our insides.

We feel just a little less innocent.

Just a little less hope.

Just a little less joy.

But if we could laugh 300 times a day, I think it would help.

I said: “Seek adventure” as my fourth answer to the question: What does the realization that most of the things we do not mattering make me want to do with this time I get to be alive?

For me?

Adventure is being spontaneous.

Adventure is travel.

Adventure is meeting strangers.

All four answers have one thing in common: The desire for FREEDOM.

The optimum human experience, near as I can tell, would be one where we woke up each day feeling safe, with the resources (financial or otherwise) needed to care for ourselves and our loved ones, and the freedom to spend our waking hours pursuing our passions however we wanted.

Hopefully, those passions would often serve something greater than ourselves, lest we find ourselves always drunk or high or having sex.

I keep trying to find a workaround. But I haven’t solved the riddle.

Near as I can tell, we have two choices to achieve a state of abundance.

Acquire wealth—to whatever degree you define it. (Some people crave $75,000 per year. Others crave $1 million per.)

Or, live a minimalist lifestyle. Reducing “need” eliminates the pressures and necessity of acquiring more money to pay for more things.

I prefer a combination. Spiritually, I do not want to need “things” because things have never made me feel happy or content for very long. Not even once.

But I also crave money because there are things I want to do (including charity) that I am unable to do at my current income level.

So, my plan is to acquire more money sans the desire for more “stuff.”

See You in 10 Years

I was irritated with my co-worker because I think he lacks vision and passion.

My co-worker was irritated with me because he thinks I’m an ingrate.

“Some people aren’t cut out for more than office work,” he said. “In 10 years, I’ll probably be gone, and you’ll probably be sitting right here. See you in 10 years!” he said.

There’s nothing wrong with punching a clock. Our jobs do not define us. Our jobs that won’t matter one bit in 500 years when we’re all dead.

But freedom?

Freedom matters. Because we don’t have a lot of time. And because we’re all going to die.

And we’re all going to have to ask ourselves: Did I give it everything I had?

Keep telling me what I can’t do, friend.

The world needs clock punchers.

But I’m not going to be one of them.

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Doing What We Don’t Want To

kid doesn't want to

I sometimes want to punt my six-year-old when he says: “No. I’m not doing that.”

I’m a curious person. Always have been. If you’re asking me to do something, and I don’t want to do it, I want to know why I’m being forced to.

Why? Why am I doing this?

I really want reasons. Even if I think they’re bad ones, I like to understand why I’m being asked or told to do something.

Sometimes my parents or other authority figures would say: “Because I said so,” which is the biggest bullshit reason to do anything ever, said every enslaved human being in the history of the universe, and me.

I always try to give my son a reason for everything I ask of him. I’m accidentally a hypocrite sometimes, but I’m never intentionally one.

The house isn’t democratic. He gets his way the vast majority of the time because I don’t like to fight with him, but sometimes I need him to simply follow directions. He needs to learn to respect and obey the instructions of his parents, teachers, coaches, etc.

Why doesn’t he understand that all of these instructions are for his well being!?!?

I wonder how many times he has to drop food on his shirt or lap before my incessant reminders to eat over his plate or bowl will finally sink in.

He probably thinks I’m full of shit just like I thought my parents were full of shit because we all think we’re geniuses until we become adults and realize that we actually don’t know anything, never did, and that even really smart and successful people are part-time dumbasses too.

‘I Don’t Want to Go to School’

My son hasn’t said this yet. But he probably will.

Because school is sometimes stupid.

It is.

Not this early part my son is in. First grade is great. He’s really starting to figure out many things related to reading, writing and math, and I beam with pride every time I see his very capable little mind grasp a new concept or retain knowledge from a previous lesson.

But later? High school? College?

Let’s just say if you’re not doing something super-specific that requires specialty training and certification (Education, Law, Medical, Engineering, etc.) I feel like you learn very little of lasting value in school, academically.

I’m not saying EDUCATION is stupid. Education is amazing, and one of my many life regrets is not caring about learning when I was surrounded by academic resources and so many thought leaders, like I was in college.

For a guy like me? School is something you have to do in order to get a decent job. That’s it.

In fact, that’s REALLY the lesson of school: Learning how to complete projects you don’t want to complete and are not interested in by a certain deadline and to the judgement of others.

I didn’t crave knowledge when I was a student. I went to school because that’s what everyone else did! I wasn’t doing any thinking for myself back then.

Later, I craved a piece of paper that would tell hiring managers I graduated college, so they would think I was smart even though my diploma doesn’t prove my competence.

It’s more than possible I’m not giving my school years enough credit, but it really does seem as if everything valuable I’ve learned has been learned in the “real world” on subjects in which I am naturally interested.

Street smarts, if you will.

When I got divorced last year, my entire life fell apart, and I learned that falling apart emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, physically, financially is something that’s really important for human beings to not do.

But I never learned anything like that in school. I didn’t legitimately crave knowledge until after turning 30.

Because I read a lot about marketing principles, I know that if you give people reasons (even totally bogus ones!) for doing something, they are much more likely to comply with your request.

So when my son finally gets around to fighting us on going to school (hopefully he never does!) I want to be able to give him the reason why we make him go. The reason why it’s important for him to go.

What are the reasons why it’s important to go to school?

To learn how to get along with others? To follow directions? To learn a few basic things?

I’m sure a better advocate for the American education system could better answer that question. Near as I can tell, we send our children to school because we need them to be in a safe environment, and learning socialization skills and government-approved curriculum so us parents can go to work and help finance the government by earning money at a job and paying taxes.

I think they want our kids to learn enough to grow up and want to get a job so that they can help finance the government also, and have children that will also go to school and learn how to get a job they can pay taxes with.

It’s a little cynical. But it’s my most-honest answer.

I wonder how much of that I will ever say to my son. I’ll probably lie and say it’s to learn even though you really don’t learn much academically until you organically want to, and even though I never want to lie.

‘I Don’t Want to Go to Work’

I haven’t wanted to go to work dozens, maybe even hundreds of times.

But I almost always do go, even when I don’t feel like it. I have to pay for food and shelter. I have to pay for transportation. So my son and I can eat and sleep safely. So I can drive to and from my job that I need to pay for those three things.

People do things they don’t want to all the time.

We do it for our jobs.

We do it for our friends.

We do it for our children.

We do it for our spouses, partners, girlfriends/boyfriends, etc.

There’s nobility in sacrifice. In generosity. In inconvenience in the name of compromise, or serving others.

And those are important lessons I want to instill in my son. That I want to focus on when I’m muttering because I have to do something else I don’t feel like doing.

My favorite writer is James Altucher, and he writes so much about how he tries to never do things he doesn’t want to do.

It sucks? He doesn’t do it.

It makes him feel bad or uncomfortable? He doesn’t do it.

If people bring bad feelings or negativity into his life? He cuts them out.

It’s a little bit radical. But his point is easy enough to understand and get behind: Life is too short to spend most of it doing things we hate with people who make us feel bad.

Are these ideas irreconcilable?

Is it possible to live a life mostly doing things we want to with people who lift us up and make us feel good?

Or is this it?

Is the human experience always going to include inconvenience?

Living in cold, snowy places even when you don’t like the cold and snow?

Going to work in a cubicle, feeling unfulfilled, and financially limited by meager 3.7-percent raises once a year?

Always with chores and taxes and appointments and obligations we’d have no part of if real choice was involved?

I think maybe it is.

But then I think back to being a kid. Like my little man. So young still. So much to learn.

“No. I’m not doing that!”

Why doesn’t he realize it’s for his own good?

Maybe. Just maybe. There is more to life than this.

Maybe. Just maybe. We are where we’re supposed to be for reasons we can’t possibly understand right now.

Maybe. Just maybe. We’re being prepared for something greater.

Because we’re more than just water and bone.

Because we don’t have all the answers.

Because we sometimes have to do things we don’t want to.

But it’s really for our own good.

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We Only Need 5% To Say Yes

power-of-5percent

I work in a cubicle and I’m 35 and my life is always going to feel a little crappy and disappointing unless I do something about it.

Going to bed every night and doing the same thing each day is NOT a viable strategy for improving your life. We wait for things to change. But they rarely do.

Before you know it, it’s too late and you’re old and you can’t afford to live until you’re 85 anyway, so maybe it would be better to just die because at least that would be affordable.

Or.

Just maybe there’s an opportunity to play a leading role in making our lives what we want them to be.

Being 35 sometimes scares me because I feel like I’ve lost so much time, but it’s also not without its perks.

Remember Bill Murray’s Phil Connors character in Groundhog Day?

“Maybe the real God uses tricks, you know? Maybe he’s not omnipotent. He’s just been around so long, he knows everything.”

There’s an important truth there about life experience that you can’t fully appreciate until you feel it.

I don’t know when it happened. And it had nothing to do with my chronological age.

But at some point, I recently concluded: I’m not a kid anymore. I’m good at a few things. I’m capable, and I need to do something.

When I lost my job on Jan. 1, 2010, I knew my newspaper career was over.

The recession had slaughtered newsrooms everywhere. When no one’s making money, no one’s advertising. When no one’s advertising, news organizations are making less money.

That, combined with the breakneck speed with which the internet has grown as everyone’s primary news source, sealed print journalism’s fate.

The news business will never be what it used to be.

I needed to reinvent myself.

And I’ve never done particularly well with change.

Because of people I knew through my wife, I got some seed projects to get started as a freelance writer. And just like that, I became a guy who wrote marketing copy for websites and stuff.

I’m not shitty.

But there are limitations to what you can do when your primary discipline is writing. I was never going to be able to provide the comprehensive services people need from their internet marketing agencies, consultants, or in-house departments.

And frankly? I’m just not responsible and disciplined enough to handle all of the administrative aspects of business operation on my own. It’s because I’m a large child.

My business was never going to blossom into something more on the merits of my writing projects.

Damn. I need to get a job, I realized.

And I did.

I was offered a pretty good job writing website copy and blog content for two top-1% (by global traffic) sites. I also write email copy. The kind you get from Kohl’s or Groupon or Walmart or Victoria’s Secret.

We send lots and lots of email to customers.

We get an enormous amount of traffic from Google and other search engines and social media networks.

And you know how many of those people buy something? Single-digit percentages.

Sometimes less than 1%. Sometimes closer to 10%.

Let’s split the difference and call it 5%.

That means that for every 100 people that interacts with something I write—a blog post or retail email or an individual part page on a website where something is for sale, only a super-small fraction (maybe 5, at most!) ever buy anything.

We call it the “conversion rate.”

And guess what? In my line of work, a 5% conversion rate is fairly awesome.

Is There a Point?

A couple friends and I are talking about taking the skills we’ve developed in marketing and trying to build something from it.

A business of our own.

There are a virtually infinite amount of small businesses out there who do a subpar job marketing themselves on the web. We can make them more money. We know it. And better yet? We can prove it. Because almost everything is measurable on the web.

It will be a side project at first.

And God-willing, it will grow into something meaningful. Only time will tell.

But here’s the mindset I want to have, and I think it applies to most facets of my life.

In business, as in life, we’re going to hear “No” a lot. It’s probably going to feel too often.

Rejection hurts. And we get discouraged.

Based on the math I see, 95% of everyone who sees my stuff doesn’t do what I want them to.

That’s 95% rejection!!!

And without context that might feel like a lot.

But I do have context. You can change the world with a 5% response rate.

If 5% are going to do what we want to, then we only need to increase the amount of people we’re communicating with to grow. If 5% out of every hundred businesses we pitch say yes, we have five new clients.

Work twice as hard, we’ll have 10. And so on.

The conclusion? Success is a virtual certainty IF only you’re brave enough to ask enough people to let you help them, and then deliver good work.

We can hear “No” and feel the pains and discouragement of rejection 95 out of 100 times, and still win.

It may end up nothing. Or it may change everything.

No matter what, it’s another opportunity to choose ourselves and control our own destinies.

And there aren’t many things in life better than that.

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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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What’s Possible Today?

Possibilities word cloud

Marital status aside—my life looks a lot like I thought it would when I was growing up.

I live in the Ohio suburbs. I’m middle class. My child goes to Catholic school now, just like I did.

When I was a kid, I didn’t really know what marriage would look and feel like, so I didn’t spend a great deal of time imagining it.

When I was a kid, I didn’t really understand what separates the financial winners from the losers. And I still don’t. I often feel like a complete failure. But compared to many people (the statistical majority, actually), I’m really doing quite well.

I hold myself to pretty high standards. And maybe that’s not psychologically healthy. But I don’t know how to quit. And I’m not sure I’d want to if I did.

Ask me why I’m 35 and have never been promoted at any of my three jobs since graduating college, and I’ll feed you an excuse: “Well! When you’re a newspaper reporter or copywriter in a corporate environment, there really isn’t much upward mobility!!!”

But the truth is that I’ve never made myself stand out as a leader of others.

Ask me why I lost my last job, and I’ll tell everyone how unlucky I was: “Oh yeah! Back in college, how could we have known what would happen to the newspaper industry!?!? I survived two rounds of corporate layoffs before the economic crunch caught up to me on a third round of cuts, and I was the least-senior person on staff!!!”

As if telling the story that way (which is all true, but all bullshit) makes you think any more of me.

The truth is that I didn’t prove myself to be indispensible to the publication. They knew they could lose me and there would be no financial consequences. There wasn’t enough demand for my writing and I never gave anyone a reason to care.

It’s not the economy’s fault my career is what it is.

It’s my fault.

It’s not the universe spoon-feeding me bad luck that has made me a single 35-year-old who works in a cubicle, leaving this dissatisfied taste in my mouth.

It’s my fault.

A little bit of ignorance.

A little lack of discipline.

A little lack of life experience.

But those three things all can be remedied.

So, what’s possible? What’s possible today?

Maybe Anything

More than once in history, the American people picked up their newspapers or turned on their televisions to learn the U.S. president had been shot and killed.

That lady over there just won a new car on a scratch-off lottery ticket.

A ping-pong ball bounced the right way last June, triggering a series of events that have turned the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers (my favorite team) into championship favorites after four straight years of horribleness.

Things just happen.

One day I was getting ready to fly to San Diego for a wedding and my wife told me she was pregnant.

Another time, when I was little, my mom put me in a car and drove me 500 miles away from my dad and we never came back.

You get the idea.

We know this already because life surprises us all the time. Like when we heard the Robin Williams news last week.

Things just happen. And we can’t see them coming.

The good news is that many of those things are not bad. And some are quite good.

I’ve just been thinking that maybe my life is a lot like how I thought it would be because I always thought this was “the way.”

You’re a little kid.

You go to grade school.

You go to high school.

You go to college.

You get a job.

You get married and have kids.

You try to get better jobs and raise your kids.

You retire and maybe travel in an RV, or live part of the year in Florida.

It’s hard for my brain to come up with things I haven’t seen or experienced. It’s hard for me to think beyond what I know.

That’s why I’m a writer in a safe corporate job at age 35, convincing people that often have less money than I do that they need to spend it on the things our company sells.

I was always so happy from childhood through college, and a bit beyond, that I never bothered to think about other ways to live a life, or what might happen if I was wrong.

Because, I was wrong.

What I’ve done, and what a lot of people do is A WAY. But certainly not THE WAY.

There’s no THE WAY.

Because while we all share so much deep-seated commonalities within our hearts and minds because of the human condition, we are all motivated by so many different things, and those motivating factors are changing constantly because of changing health or financials or children or death, or simply our individual passions and pursuits.

I want to get better at everything.

I want to get better at being a dad. A homeowner. A writer. A friend. A co-parent.

I want to get better at life.

And they don’t have a scoring system for that which matters. Some people measure it with checking accounts, or attendance records, or the cars in their garage, or their children’s achievements, or the photos they post to Facebook, or the job titles printed on their business cards.

And that’s fine. All of those can be good. And all can be bad. Most of the time, they really don’t matter.

In the end, our ability to thrive mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally in an ever-changing world is what gives us the balance we need to enjoy life. And I think people can achieve that balance and thrive regardless of their job, or their house, or where they graduated college, or how many people fawn over them at the next high school reunion.

There are all these things in life I want to do and experience, but I make excuses and just go to work 40 or so hours a week and hang out at home most of the time in a life that looks and feels a bit wasted.

I’d move somewhere fun! But my son is here and I can’t leave!, I’ll tell you.

I want to write and travel! But I need my job to pay for all of this… stuff!

I’d be hard-bodied and in the best shape of my life since I’m trying to attract a mate! But I’m still a little depressed over my failed marriage and the loss of my family last year so I don’t workout enough!

I always forget: Anything can happen.

I don’t know why I forget since we are constantly reminded.

We get so wrapped up in our little comfortable routines and we’re often too scared to leap. It doesn’t feel safe to leap.

But I WANT to leap. Maybe you do, too.

Because that clock is not slowing down and we only have one shot.

Because safe is boring.

Because the bad things that might happen are never really as bad as we imagine them.

Because we can handle it.

Because no matter how bad, good or great we have it, there is ALWAYS more to life than this. Than right now.

What’s possible today?

Anything.

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The Quicksand

Quicksand

The more I fight it, the faster I sink.

My heart beats faster—but not in an excited, happy way. More like anxiety.

For months, I punched these keys. Almost every day. Bouncing between the past and the present and the totally inconsequential in an attempt to paint the picture of one average guy trying to make his way in the world after everything changed.

I thought maybe it could help me.

I thought maybe it could help someone like me.

And maybe it still can.

But something’s broken now. Something related to my writing and thinking and ability to produce is broken.

It doesn’t feel like cutting back. Like some necessary rest and relaxation.

It feels like sinking.

It feels like failing.

I want to be a writer. That’s who and what I want to be.

I am a father. I am a divorced guy. I am a friend and a son and a co-worker.

I know I am those things.

I don’t know that I’m a writer.

You’re not a writer if you don’t write. You’re not a writer if you can’t write. If I’m not practicing my craft… if I’m not growing and learning and discovering and experimenting… then I’m nothing.

I won’t have only become what I always feared most, personally—a failure at marriage.

I will have also become what I’ve always feared most professionally as well—a nobody. Just another punk in a cubicle.

Some of you are going to want to say nice things. You’re going to want to electronically pat me on the back and encourage me.

“Hey Matt! It’s totally okay! Take a break!”

“Hey Matt! It’s totally okay! You post way more than I do!”

“Hey Matt! It’s totally okay! I work in a cubicle, too!”

Please don’t.

There needs to be more to life than punching the proverbial clock wearing business casual.

We spend more than half of our waking hours sitting around offices and doing laundry and washing dishes and mowing grass and dusting window sills and vacuuming carpet and running a bunch of errands all the time. Half of those errands are because we want to own all that shit we’re maintaining and going to work for so we can finance having it.

It sounds so insane to me when I put it that way. And I don’t take it back. That’s exactly what most of us are doing.

I think that can be a very good thing for a family raising children. Stability and routine are nice things. Safety and reliability should not be taken for granted.

But for a guy like me?

The 50-percent dad?

It feels like a wasted life.

And don’t tell me it’s okay. Don’t enable me. Don’t say it’s okay to short-change our future selves. Because it’s one of the worst things we do as people. Sacrifice our futures for the now.

If I am the sum of my choices, then I am a punk in a cubicle because of those choices.

If I want to be something more, I need to make better choices.

In Over My Head

Several months ago, I wrote a post about writing—about how I wanted to be more than just a guy writing marketing copy for someone else.

A guy who used to read these posts but doesn’t anymore told me I needed to check myself.

That most of the people reading here are writers. And all of us dream of being able to pay for our lives writing the things we want.

About how hard and impractical that is.

About how most of us fail to achieve that.

That it might be time for me to reevaluate my goals. Lower my expectations. Dream smaller, if you will.

And maybe he was right. Maybe we’re all a bunch of foolish dreamers. A bunch of nobodies destined to stay nobodies.

Maybe I’ve been in quicksand this entire time. And maybe now I’m finally in over my head.

Maybe I’m trying to force something that really isn’t there.

Maybe I should just be happy with what I have.

Isn’t that what we’re all really chasing anyway? Contentment? Happiness?

But I’m not content.

I’m not happy.

The only thing I can think of to write about is writing and how much of it I’m not doing.

I don’t know how to escape the quicksand.

Just like I didn’t know how to fix my marriage. The harder I tried, the worse I made it somehow.

I can’t do that here.

I can’t keep forcing posts just to be feeding that ‘Publish’ button.

Maybe I need to step away for a bit. To go analog. To write with a pen and paper. Making notes for the book project. Making notes about all of the things I want to do or learn about or think about or experience and eventually write about.

Maybe that reader and commenter was right about me. About us.

That we are who we are. And acceptance is the key to making peace with it.

That things are just the way they are and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Maybe that applies to everything.

That we shouldn’t try to improve our schools.

That we shouldn’t rethink the way we approach our relationships which fail half the time.

That we shouldn’t try to fight disease and crime and poverty.

That we should merely accept these as facts of life.

Maybe sometime I’ll think and feel just like that.

But not today.

“Are you feeling, the feeling that I’m feeling?

Dreams are like fish. You gots to keep on reeling.”

 – Dreamin’, G. Love & Special Sauce

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Play ‘Til the Ninth Inning

Be a closer.  Image courtesy of blog.fantasysp.com

Be a closer.
Image courtesy of blog.fantasysp.com

Two horrible things happened to me after turning 30.

I lost my job.

And I lost my family.

In both instances, the cuts were deep. I’ve never known rejection like either of those incidents.

To be sure, your wife leaving and deciding to love someone else makes you feel pretty worthless.

And generally speaking, divorce is about a million times worse than unemployment.

But this is also true: I have never felt like more of a loser than when I was laid off from my job.

The Job Hunt

The local job market wasn’t exactly clamoring for laid-off newspaper reporters.

Finding work as a reporter would have been even more difficult than what I was facing at age 30: Reinventing myself.

I did the only things I could. I made my résumé the best it could be. I tapped into my local network. And I started doing the work I wanted to do in my new professional life.

Without realizing it, I chose myself.

I caught a few breaks, and I started a freelance business creating marketing content for several companies and organizations.

But I did something more important than that.

I showed tenacity and sticktoitiveness.

A company for which I wanted to work invited me to interview for an opening in their advertising department.

But I didn’t get an offer.

The head of human resources liked me, though, and kept fighting for interviews.

One day, I showed up for one of the company’s job fairs. I met with another department head for a writing position.

But I didn’t get an offer.

I was invited to interview with a third department. Internet marketing.

It went well. But the other two had also.

No offer.

Days turned into weeks. And weeks turned into months.

I kept looking for opportunities. I was making money freelancing. And I still qualified for unemployment benefits during the weeks when I didn’t earn as much as my benefits were worth.

The clock was ticking on unemployment, though. The benefits were a couple weeks away from running dry.

Things were about to get really dicey.

One sunny afternoon, I was downtown attending a chamber of commerce luncheon to hear a speaker.

So, I didn’t get the phone call.

Back in my car, I listened to the voice mail.

It was the HR lady who liked me, asking me to call back. She had a job offer for me. For more money than I’d ever made before. She hoped I was still interested and available.

I’d never tasted victory so sweet.

I got ballsy and asked for more money anyway. (You should ALWAYS ask for more.)

And I got it. Two years worth of raises with one simple question.

Play ‘til the ninth inning.

I’m just finishing up the fantastic Austin Kleon book Show Your Work! which I mentioned yesterday. Everyone participating in the creative process should read it.

Near the end, Kleon tells an anecdote about one time he and a co-worker returned to their office building from lunch to find no parking spaces available. They circled and circled and circled the lot. Both were ready to give up, but just then a spot opened up, and they pulled in.

Kleon’s co-worker looked at him and said “You gotta play till the ninth inning, man.”

Kleon never forgot it.

And I hope I never will either.

Never Say Die

You don’t have to be a Goonie to appreciate what it means to have a never-quit attitude.

It’s impossible for me to think about this without thinking about my marriage.

I had spent a long time doing all of the wrong things.

And then my father-in-law died and everything turned to shit.

Shortly thereafter, I was in the guest room.

The guest room is an interesting place when it’s located directly below the bedroom you want to be in.

Because you stare at the ceiling. Because you hear her footsteps. Because there’s no running away from all that truth piled up on your chest while you’re trying to catch your breath.

And that’s when it started.

It was the 7th inning stretch.

I was tired. Exhausted. But I wasn’t quitting.

I cried.

I thought.

I prayed.

I read books.

I grew.

I was about to lose everything. I could feel it. But I was holding on.

The guest room is where I learned that love is a choice.

The guest room is where I learned that you have to give more than you take.

The guest room is where l became a different person. Where I turned into the kind of man that is going to play through the ninth inning.

And now I’m left with only questions. Questions that will go forever unanswered.

Now I’m back sleeping where I wanted to be. But the footsteps echoing into the guest room below are my own.

And no one is around to listen to them.

She’s gone.

Maybe she thinks about this stuff sometimes. Maybe she doesn’t.

But here’s the one thing I’m sure of.

The man she left was the best version of himself she ever knew.

And I’ll never stop believing that if she would have been willing to play just one more inning, we could have avoided everything crashing and burning.

Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore.

It probably doesn’t.

But the idea matters.

Because there are a bunch of other guys in guest rooms. On couches. Sleeping at their parents’ houses. All over the world.

Relationships in limbo.

Everyone’s hurting. Hurting so bad that quitting looks like an attractive option. Most people are going to quit. Because it’s the decision requiring the least amount of effort. The least amount of pride swallowing. The least amount of choosing love.

Everyone wants to fall in love. Few of us want to choose it when it’s inconvenient.

I have truckloads of regret over my marital missteps. But I sleep at night because of how I played toward the end of the game.

Maybe you’ll climb that mountain.

Maybe you’ll get that job.

Maybe you’ll save your family.

Or maybe you won’t.

But if you can muster up the strength and courage to play ‘til the ninth?

You’ll walk tall no matter what.

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I Don’t Smoke Cigars

I loved the news business. And now I love something else.

I loved the news business. And now I love something else.

It’s the little moments that change your life forever.

The whispers.

The That almost happened! moments.

The close calls.

This was my big chance.

In the newspaper business, you rise through the ranks. A couple years here. A couple years there. And maybe a decade or so in, if you’re talented enough and willing to relocate and work hard, you can find yourself at a “destination paper.”

That means something different to everyone.

But to me, it meant a job at a Top 25-circulation newspaper.

Even from the sunny Florida beaches I called home during those first few years after graduating college, I had my eyes set on Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. The largest paper in my home state. The one that covered my favorite sports teams. And a Top 25-circulation paper.

When I let myself dream, I imagined being an Ohio-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

But there I was. Standing in the newsroom of one of the dozen largest daily papers in the country: the Detroit Free Press.

I was 26. I had absolutely no business being there and everyone knew it.

But still. I was there.

And they were considering hiring me for one of the most-coveted and most-important reporting jobs at the newspaper.

Falling Into Things

Some of my friends always knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Law school. Family business ambitions. Performing arts.

I never knew.

Still don’t.

I studied business when I first got to college because my plan was to eventually take over my dad’s small company. There was a lot of financial security in that plan. And I didn’t grow up seeing my father often, so this plan made sense to me.

But sometime during my 19th year of life, I started putting words to paper. I’d go park myself somewhere on campus. On some steps. Or a bench. Or a hillside.

And I’d just watch all the life happening around me. I knew I was in a special place. And I was aware that decisions I made then would alter the course of my life forever.

Halfway through my second year, I walked into the college newspaper office and asked if I could write something—anything.

They gave me an assignment. And then another one. And then another one.

And it was that easy. Getting my work published.

I was smitten.

Within six months, I was hired on as the news editor of our twice-weekly published paper. A year later, I was the paper’s editor in chief.

I was going to be a newspaperman.

Ink in my blood.

And it all happened by accident.

The Motor City

I was in awe, standing in the Free Press building. The home of the great Mitch Albom.

Wow. Eight Pulitzer Prizes, I thought. The paper has since won a ninth.

The first thing on the agenda upon arrival in the Free Press newsroom for my job interview was lunch with the business editor.

That’s where he explained to me why I was there.

“You write for page one. And I like that. I want my writers always writing for page one,” he said.

What he meant was he wants his reporters always writing their stories with the mindset that the managing editor could make the call in the daily news budget meetings to put those stories on the front page.

And he told me something else. The job was either mine or one other guy’s.

Either me—the 26-year-old they could mold into whatever kind of business writer they wanted. Or an older, veteran journalist who worked for Reuters and had been covering Detroit’s auto industry for three decades.

If the job was to be awarded based on merit, I had no chance.

The Free Press had a four-person team covering the automotive industry. And I was down to the final two vying for the fourth spot.

An opportunity to learn day in and day out from a group of amazing reporters. Two men and one woman. Writers with law degrees and in PhD programs.

Writing stories that would be read all over the globe. By my heroes at The Wall Street Journal. And by the people I hoped to one day work for at The Plain Dealer.

A Close Call

In the end, the Free Press went with the long-time Detroit journalist. He was the better choice if salaries weren’t a factor (I would have been a lot cheaper).

And a year later, I ended up in Ohio where I wanted to be.

Less than five years later, I was laid off from my reporting job—my newspaper career ending unceremoniously and embarrassingly.

And now I work in internet marketing. It’s a good job. I write there, too.

But really? I write here. And this is the writing I really want to be doing.

Exploring the things in this life that really matter.

I don’t want to track down union officials and auto parts manufacturers to ask them questions they’re unlikely to answer honestly anyway.

I want to talk to you about real life. About what really motivates us. About what’s really important on the inside of us. About why we’re really here.

Who knows what would have happened had I gotten that job in Detroit? Maybe I’d still be a journalist. Maybe I’d be a good one.

Maybe I’d still be married. Maybe not. Probably not.

I can never know what opportunities would have existed for me on that path.

Just as I can’t know what opportunities lie ahead.

But I love the blank slate in a lot of ways. While a little scary, I also see it as an unwritten book waiting to be written—both metaphorically and literally.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

What next week, next month, next year will bring.

But I know that I’m here.

That you’re here.

And that we can be whatever we want to be.

We only need to be brave enough to choose it.

Your dreams of yesterday are likely not your dreams of today.

And there’s no way to know what we’ll dream up tomorrow.

The storybook journalism career?

Close, but no cigar.

And that’s okay.

Because I don’t smoke cigars.

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