The year is 1992.
I'm not quite 18 when I travel from Olney, Maryland to Tempe, Arizona to start my freshman year at Arizona State University. Based entirely on my SAT scores (my high school GPA was underwhelming), I am admitted to the Honors College.
In those days, the Honors College had small classrooms and a dormitory in the center of campus. I elected not to live there, as I was not interested in sharing a cramped suite with three other young men. But I had made friends there, and I spent a fair amount of time there that first semester. Evenings were filled with study and socialization, with activities ranging from impromptu political campaigning for the Presidential election (Ross Perot was a particular favorite) to the discovery of a brilliant new television series on MTV called "Beavis and Butt-Head."
It was during one of those evenings that I met an extroverted Asian fellow (well, half-Asian; his mother was Korean). I naturally assumed he was a student at the college (I mean, Asians are all honors students, right?)
"No. I'm just here with a few friends. My dad's not the Asian one, so I didn't have that kind of pressure."
I don't really recall how or why we started hanging out after that. At some point, it occurred to both of us that we wanted someone to work out with at the gym, so we just started going. Then we realized we both rode motorcycles, so that's what we did on the weekends - mostly cruising Mill Avenue picking up chicks.
His name was Jim Welch. He was my best friend for nine years.
Your late teens and early 20's are when you're supposed to come of age. When you're supposed to figure it out. I'd like to believe that I figured a few things out, but in hindsight, I see an awful lot of screwing up.
I didn't finish college. Neither did Jim. I met a girl while I was in college (so did Jim). It didn't last (neither did Jim's). I hustled my way out of poverty (so did Jim). By our mid-20's, things had settled down. We both had good jobs, new cars, and were doing about as well as you could expect for pair of clowns whose college highlights included getting arrested for illegal rollerblading on campus and collecting speeding tickets for drag racing through Sky Harbor Airport.
(Truth is, I was the only one arrested for the rollerblading - because Jim was too fast for them to catch. And I had more speeding tickets... because Jim usually just outran the police. That's kind of how it was; Jim was just a little bit better at everything.)
He had more friends than I could keep track of. He'd invite me to parties where he'd know everyone, and I'd know almost no one. It didn't seem to matter. He was the one I called when shit went sideways for me in Tucson and I needed to get back to Phoenix. And I was the one he called when he got kicked out of the house by his dad, who was divorcing his mother. He was the rare sort of friend who would help you get rid of a body, but wasn't quite stupid enough to get in that much trouble in the first place.
It was nice. Like having a brother your own age that didn't live 1,000 miles away. The kind of friendship where you figure someday your kids are going to end up being friends, because you're still going to be hanging out 15 years later.
That was, until one evening in 1999.
I don't remember the exact date. It was at an intramural softball game. Jim just collapsed in the middle of the field. As he told me later, he remembered waking up in the ambulance, getting defibrillated. Doctors at the E.R. asked him if he had a drug or drinking problem. He was otherwise fit, and they couldn't figure why a 25 year old would suddenly drop nearly dead from a heart attack. They started testing for congenital defects.
What they found was worse.
They told me it was called Primary Cardiac Angiosarcoma. It was like winning the lottery for rare and terrible cancers. What it meant was that he had a tumor the size of a baseball on the wall of his heart. They'd have to remove as much of it as they could surgically, then hit him with chemo and radiation, because it would almost certainly enjoy a healthy blood supply and grow and spread quickly.
So, they cracked his ribcage open and cut out as much as they could. Recovery was long and arduous, because healing from open heart surgery while you're getting poisoned and irradiated sucks. It was months.
I visited him every day after work, and every weekend. His mother was the only one to see him as frequently during that time. His dad never did; he'd run off to somewhere in the Pacific Northwest to be with another woman.
By early 2000, he was finally ready to leave the hospital. He wasn't quite done, but he'd earned a break. I remember the day vividly. My wife asked me before I left for work if I'd be going to see him again. "Yes, he's getting out this evening. Cody and I are taking him to dinner." Cody was another friend of ours from the ASU days.
While we were at dinner, she called me on my cell phone to ask if I was still out with him. I told her I was.
"Well, good. Don't come home for a while. I'm moving out."
Jim just laughed.
It was exactly the right response.
At the time, I was devastated. Angry. How could she? Was she mad I wasn't spending enough time with her because I was helping my friend get through cancer?
It wasn't really that. She had far bigger demons to deal with, and I was nowhere near equipped to help her with them. In my rage, I cursed her, and told people that her reckless and stupid behavior would end up leaving her dead by 40.
She died a few years ago at 41 and I felt pretty shitty about that.
Karma eventually settled that debt for me. It took me a while to come to terms with that, but it made the hell that was my second marriage a little easier to accept.
But that is another story, for a much later time.
It was a few months of "normal" before Jim had to go back for more surgery. He'd been referred to a specialist at Cedars Sinai who wanted one more open-heart operation to remove the last of the cancer and repair the damage to his heart. Another round of chemo after that, and he should be in remission.
We traveled to L.A. a few days ahead of the surgery to take in the sights before he went under the knife. I remember renting a convertible and driving all over with the top down. The Real Slim Shady was on every radio station. I nearly barfed on the Goliath rollercoaster at Six Flags. We had booze and cigars on the beach at sunset.
The surgery went well. Chemo was handled at the hospital back in Phoenix as soon as he was healthy enough to travel back. And then, remission. Life could move on.
The problem with a year long fight with cancer is that it's tough to go back to your old job. Jim was in sales, and all of his accounts had been passed along to other reps. He'd have to start all over, and if he was going to do that, he might as well see if he could find a better gig.
He did. It was in Denver. He moved, and started a new life there.
I remained in Phoenix. It was a dark time.
A few months later, Jim called.
The cancer was back. He was going to be in a hospital in Denver.
I couldn't be there for him on a daily basis this time - I had a job in Phoenix, and remote work wasn't a thing back in those days.
The thing is, I never even went to Denver.
I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
Like maybe if I didn't see my friend in the hospital again, I wouldn't have to deal with it. I was trying to restart my own life. I was in a long-distance relationship with a woman that I was sure was the one. I wanted to make that work. I didn't want to go through 1999 again.
I made lots of excuses.
I regret every one of them.
But not as much as the mistake I made on June 21.
Jim was coming back to Phoenix.
The cancer was bad. It was in his spine now. Nothing was working to slow it down. He was bloated and almost unrecognizable from the steroids they were pumping him with.
He called me the afternoon of June 21 to tell me he was on his way back. He was in pain. I can still hear it in his voice. I told him I would try to come out to his place tomorrow to see him - it was a Thursday. I was working late. I had to work early the next day. I'd head out as soon as I could leave the office.
He died early in the morning of June 22.
That was twenty years ago today.
I have not gotten over it.
I have not forgiven myself for it.
I never will.
I saw his mother later that day. She wailed and cried and asked why I hadn't come to see him.
I did not have an answer for her.
I'm not writing this out of some need to process it.
I have processed it entirely over the last two decades. It remains a defining moment that I spent years wallowing in. Once I'd wasted a decade or so doing that, I decided to spend the rest of my life fighting it, just to make sure it never happens again.
Regret is a motherfucker, especially once people are dead and gone. There's no repairing the damage done. You're forever branded by it.
I'm writing this because, maybe, someone will avoid this mistake upon reading this.
And I'm writing because James Welch deserves to be remembered. Even if it's just by his lousy best friend.
I dropped out of college in the dead of winter.
Fortunately, I was living in Tucson, Arizona at the time.
Less fortunately, my only transportation was a motorcycle, and I had a thirty minute commute to my first full-time job.
And my shift started at 3 a.m.
It was still pretty cold.
I won't get into the details around my truncated college experience here, because that's a series of screw-ups that are better left for another time. This story begins with me going to a job fair for America Online one afternoon and demonstrating enough technical aptitude during the initial screening for them to offer me a job on the spot. It paid eight bucks an hour.
The minimum wage at the time was $4.25, so I felt like some kind of genius. I accepted the offer without every considering that I'd be working a graveyard shift (they didn't mention that until I was through orientation; shifts were re-assigned every six months, and you got to select your preference based on seniority).
I had also been hired shortly after they'd stopped offering stock to their employees - another kick in the ass that I didn't quite grasp at the time
Call center jobs are generally pretty terrible. And working a call center doing technical support for people who can't get their America Online service working in the wee hours of the morning has got to be close to the bottom of the spectrum. If you don't remember life before broadband, I'll explain: The internet was a primordial soup of what can only be described as chaotic garbage, and you paid by the minute for the privilege of wading into it. You had to dedicate your phone line to this process, which was a real inconvenience, as nobody really had mobile phones.
If you were fancy, you had a second landline installed at home. If you were wealthy or stupidly committed to the effort, you got ISDN (look it up, I'm not explaining it here, but, yes, I had it once). If you were normal, you told everyone in the house when you were about to get online so that they wouldn't pick up the phone while you were connected, because that would immediately cut you off. If you had caller ID on your line, you had to remember to disable it in your modem string.
And that was where I lived for eight months. Modem strings. The arcane codes you sent to your modem right before dialing the number to your ISP to ensure you had the most stable possible connection. AOL's software would try to automatically guess the best possible string, but when it missed, and people had bad connections, or couldn't connect at all, they called me.
If you bought a shitty computer, or installed a shitty modem in your computer, you'd have problems. Back in those days, a lot of shady companies sold 9600 bps modems with compression and labeled them at 14.4k bps (which was near top speed at the time). You needed a string that would tell the modem to behave at its real speed, because AOL already had compression running and would barf on the modem's sad attempt to do the same. People would get mad that AOL wouldn't give them the full 14.4k speed that they paid for. I learned a lot of very polite ways to tell people not to be cheapskates.
(Dial up modems would eventually top out at 56k. ISDN got you 128k. Imagine paying a fortune for garbage bandwidth like that... we did, and we liked it.)
For eight months, my life was 3 a.m. modem strings and generally surly insomniac AOL addicts. I saw things, man. I heard things. I had a bell on the top of my monitor that I would ring every time I heard a caller flush a toilet. You learn to find humor in the little things. But I finally quit after getting passed over for a promotion that would have taken me off the call center floor. I couldn't do it anymore. I was drinking a gallon of coffee a day and reciting modem strings in my sleep, according to my girlfriend at the time.
But I learned a thing or two along the way.
AOL was my first job, and at the time I was proud of it. It was a company that everyone had heard of, in an industry that was about to explode. I wanted to be awesome at it.
So I paid close attention during orientation. It was two weeks of technical and customer service training, but they also had us read a book.
It was called Raving Fans, and, to be honest, it was the 1990's equivalent of the Gumroad e-book grift where you pay $47 for a twelve page PDF. It was 150 pages of complete filler that could have been illustrated in a three-slide PowerPoint deck. But the premise stuck with me: A successful business doesn't need lukewarm customers. It needs enthusiastic ones.
This was the mission, according to CEO Steve Case. I took it very seriously.
Most of the middle management did not. Call center employees were expected to process calls in three minutes or less. From hello to resolution to goodbye in 180 seconds.
I was utterly terrible at this part of the job.
The best reps figured out how to just get people off the phone with half a solution in a hurry. Yes, you could get dinged for a customer that has to call back, but that was rare, and if you were punching out 20 calls an hour, nobody really cared anyway. I learned all the slick ways to do this from the old-timers who would talk shop during their smoke breaks.
(Lesson One: Take smoke breaks. Even if you don't smoke. The smokers all collaborate out there together, and you'll learn a lot faster. I'd go out with a cup of coffee just for the fresh air and made friends with all of the guys and gals who had the same break times. They were collectively the best reps on the floor for a reason - they all talked to each other. The guys taking breaks at their desk never learned anything.)
It wasn't uncommon to mock the relative stupidity of the average AOL tech support client, but I generally tried to forgive all but the most egregious examples. After all, my dad would call me all the time with some of the same questions, and he has a few PhD's. Not knowing computers doesn't make you stupid any more than not knowing how to change a transmission, but I.T. folks are stereotypically bad at understanding this.
I was patient, and my call times were terrible, because I was out there trying to make raving fans. It didn't get me promoted, but I learned what I was good at, and I came away with a few good stories to tell.
The best one was the woman who couldn't install the software at all.
She worked a graveyard shift as a nurse, and called me on her day off. She was already frustrated when I answered, curtly rattling off her name and phone number as if she'd done this a dozen times already.
"That's the fifth disk you guys have sent out, and it still doesn't work," she said.
I pulled up her information. She had no account with AOL, but she was still in our problem tracking system. This was now the fifth time she'd called. The notes from the previous techs all said the same thing. The floppy drive keeps reading an unformatted diskette. Suspect bad drive, or some kind of weird bug in the operating system wiping the disk.
"I took the computer in to have it looked at, and the guy at the shop says it's fine. He was able to use the disk drive with no problems," she continued.
Whoever this computer tech was, I wanted to punch him. He couldn't have just installed the AOL client for her while he had the PC? It's not likely that he didn't have a copy of it lying around. You have to understand - in the mid 90's, AOL floppies were a damned plague. They were EVERYWHERE. Every computer magazine had one stuffed in it. Every retail outlet had a stack of them on the counter for you to take. If we had your address and you weren't a customer already, we were mailing you one. We'd give your friends free time on AOL if they'd refer you (and give us your address to flood you with diskettes with). I knew guys who would request them deliberately, just to wipe them and use them as free blank diskettes. AOL floppies (and later, CD's) probably accounted for 83% of the e-waste in the world at the time.
But there was nothing I could do about idiot PC mechanic guy. I was surprised that this woman was even still trying to give us her money. Most clients would quit after one or two calls. But she really wanted this to work. Her son had referred her, and she wanted to use e-mail to keep in touch, since her work hours made phone calls difficult.
So, I started walking her through the process. We tried the disk she had. Sure enough, it was blank. Not just blank, but totally unformatted. I had her format it, just to be sure the drive worked (I didn't trust idiot PC mechanic guy). It did. She could even save a file to the disk, remove it from the drive, and then re-insert and retrieve it.
How did she end up with five bad disks?
Something had to be killing them along the way.
"Ma'am, the mailing address we have on file, is that your home?" I asked.
"Yes" she said.
"And does the mail get delivered in a box out front or in a slot in the door?"
"A mailbox at the end of the driveway" she said.
"OK, what time of day do you usually pick your mail up?" Maybe the disk was sitting in the sun too long? I was reaching.
"I wake up in the afternoon and usually grab it before I head to work. But I don't read it right away unless it's something urgent," she said.
"OK, so, you grab your mail from the box... say it's' not urgent, like an AOL disk, where do you keep it until you have time to open it?"
"On the fridge."
"You mean like on top of your fridge?"
"No, on the side. I have a big magnet that holds it there."
I muted my phone. I let out something between a laugh and a yell of triumph.
But I also heard my manager laughing hysterically three cubicles down. He was listening to the call.
I went back to the client. "OK, ma'am, that's probably the issue. Floppy diskettes are sensitive to magnetism. The large magnet on your fridge is erasing it every time you put your mail there. Let me send you one more disk, and just keep this one away from the magnet until you can use it."
When I got off the call, my manager called me into his office.
("Office" is a generous term. He had a cubicle with a slightly higher wall than the rest of us.)
He was a good dude. Retired Marine. Generally pretty patient with me, despite the fact that I had the worst call time on the team.
He had started listening in on the call when he noticed I'd been on the phone with the same customer for more than five minutes.
"That was a hell of a call you just had," he said.
"Yeah, can you believe it? Giant refrigerator magnet." I replied.
"Great job. But that took you twenty-five minutes. They aren't going to like you staying on the phone that long."
'They' were his bosses. He was expected to coach me into a three-minute call time, but he didn't have the heart to do it. I think now it was because he knew I was just trying to solve every problem that came my way, and that was more important to me than getting the client off the phone in a hurry. I like to believe it was for my own good, even though it kept me from getting promoted. I was better off in the long run not turning into a three-minute call monkey.
Aside from the smoke break hack, I learned a few things that have served me well since.
First, it really is important to have fanatically happy customers. They don't ALL have to be this way, but if you have enough of them that are insanely devoted to your brand, you'll always be able to turn a profit. And, like the book told me, often all it takes is that extra 1% effort.
Second, I figured out what my first real talent stack was (although it would be years before I could articulate it). I was technically sharp. I loved solving problems. And I was really good at not only explaining technical concepts to laypeople, but also translating their needs into technical solutions. After a while, I realized the combination of those skills was more valuable together than any one of them apart.
Real advancement isn't just about getting better at the one or two things you're already good at; it's about constantly refining, supplementing, and recombinating a unique talent stack to add value to any given situation. As Robert Heinlein said, "Specialization is for insects."
The Google Photos app has a feature where it regularly shows you a photo from the current date, several years ago. Yesterday, it showed me this one:
A rusty old squat rack in a dirt driveway. With a chicken photobombing it.
I decided it was time to tell the story.
If you didn't know me seven years ago, you really have no idea. That's deliberate. Redemption stories are great, but I personally hate mine. I told it anyway, in a series of tweets. (You can read the original tweet that started it here):
I'm 40 and fat
My 30s are over, and I can recall achieving nothing of note for an entire decade of my life
A corporate gig with no growth potential
A dying marriage
A home in the middle of nowhere
I've known for years I need to do something about it
Inertia is a bitch
You get into the rut
You stay just comfortable enough
And you wake up 10 years later wondering what it's going to take to crawl out
Or are you just going to keep digging?
Nobody wants to shame you anymore for that kind of mediocrity
Everyone was mostly content
Money was tight, but not a real problem
The job was a dead end, but the benefits were ok
I had a roof over our heads, cars in the driveway, and food on the table
No shame in that
My son's role model was a reliably mediocre dad
My daughter would grow to expect the same of a husband
In a few generations, I'd be forgotten, and my descendants would be equally unremarkable
This was my legacy
No one shamed me for it
So I started shaming myself
I read an article about that time
About Jared Lorenzen
A world-class talent who fell far short of his potential because he couldn't control his weight
You can still read it here:
Inside Jared Lorenzen's lifelong weight battleEx-NFL QB Jared Lorenzen still loves football. But what do you do when your appetite for food competes with your appetite for the game?https://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/11382220/ex-nfl-qb-jared-lorenzen-lifelong-battle-weight
The interviewer (also overweight) says:
"We see our futures, and they're not long ones. I'm 50, and I might feel it more deeply than he does. Nobody who's 65 looks like we do."
(Lorenzen would end up dead 5 years later. He was 38)
At that point, I figured I'd have to do something drastic, or I'd be dead before ever seeing a grandkid
So I hopped on an exercise bike I had
I looked at the label
MAX WEIGHT 250
Hilarious, if you think about it
So I did the next thing that came to mind
I started running
(If you could call it that)
Couldn't make it a quarter mile at first
But I kept going
I had miles of open farm roads in the middle of the desert
(This is an actual photo I took back then)
(I used to drink a six pack a day)
That alone, along with all my stupid running, shaved 30 pounds off in that time
By November I was running 5k's
I'd also cleaned up the diet
Started counting calories
Annoyed the wife, who wanted nothing to do with it
As I said, the relationship was already dying
But this would end up killing it
By December I realize running sucks, and the easy weight is gone
So I decide I need to lift weights
Only gym I have is a small one at the office, and I live way too far from town to be a member anywhere
(I tried, it really doesn't work)
So I start looking for home equipment
Now, money's still a thing, so I'm stalking Craigslist for deals on used gear
By March of 2015, I get my first squat rack
This glorious bastard:
Yes, there's a free range chicken in the photo
My wife liked having a hobby farm full of pets
And a garage full of crap that looked like an episode of Hoarders
So I lifted weights in the sun
It was exactly what I needed
By 2017, I've moved out
The next year and a half basically sucks as I deal with the divorce, sale of the house, and a doozy of a custody battle
Zeroed out, financially
Took months to even get to a point where my kids would talk to me
And it was all worth it
But none of it should have been necessary
Truth is, I knew better all along
I was in fantastic shape in my 20's
Had a brilliant career trajectory
And I let a few bad breaks knock me off target
I didn't figure out anything "new" the last 7 years
I just returned to form
Whether this applies to you or not doesn't really matter
You already know damned well whether or not you're on target
And if you're not, you know why
And your scared
And you're lazy
Fitness. Relationships. Career. Whatever.
If you're not maxing out your potential
If you're not pursuing hyperambitious plans
What are you waiting for?
The next decade?
The next life?
This is it. You could be dead tomorrow.
Do that hard shit that you're scared of, because it's in the way of your path to greatness
I dropped that thread at 1:20 a.m. Arizona time, thinking nothing of it. It was more than what I wanted to say, but I said it anyway, and went to bed.
I woke up to over a thousand notifications.
Thankfully, most of them were not congratulatory. They were people sharing it so that others might get the message. Which is about as much as I'd want from it.
Do not fucking congratulate me for this.
It never should have been necessary, and it's a sad state of affairs when we go around patting each other on the back for merely not being terrible.
If you're a recovering addict, or reformed convict, or renewed degenerate in any way, good. That's better than your previous awful condition, but you do not get style points for screwing up in the first place, and then taking the reasonable corrective action.
That's why I haven't told the story.
I had no excuses. I was not a victim.
I had a few bad breaks in my late 20s, nothing worse than what anyone else deals with in life, and under those conditions I was not resilient. I made bad decisions. I spent years just living with them. And then I finally stopped.
That's the message.
That's the point.
It's far, far better to not screw up in the first place. Because you never get those years back
And if you are in a situation like that, stop.
Turn the corner.
Make the hard decisions and take the effortful actions to correct course.
It will suck. It will probably hurt people.
And everyone involved will be better for it in the long run.
Obviously this story resonated with a lot of you. If you want more like it, let me know. If you have questions, reach out. Join the newsletter and you'll have my e-mail address. I read all of it.
Online communities have become a hip new trend. Places to find like-minded people focused on common goals in a space that is not as threatened by censorship or moderation that will deplatform you for wrongthink.
(This is why I've re-emphasized work on my website and mailing list lately)
I have harbored tremendous skepticism towards such communities for a long time.
Why should I pay to join?
What do they really have to offer?
How is this any different from an open community on Twitter or Facebook?
I will be honest, even after joining FoE, I held these concerns. It took a while to see the value. Because there's a lot of men in there that are struggling, and you'll see that. And you'll wonder, especially if you're not struggling, why you're there.
What's in it for you?
I began to realize that there were a lot of successful, exceptional men there. Including many of those who were struggling with certain aspects of their lives. They weren't broken men. They were men who were smart enough to ask for help in the few areas they needed to improve.
And the network has paid HUGE dividends for me. Unquestionably so. I have been able to generate new business ideas, cultivate new job leads, and learn skills from experts that I otherwise would not have access to.
I want more of you to join me there. My reasons are entirely selfish. Partly because I'm about to drop an affiliate link, but mostly because the more experts I get there, the more talent I have access to.
Doors are open on a limited basis. This window closes on Thursday, March 18, 2021. I have no idea when it will be open again.
Our beloved President has referred to certain constituents as "Neanderthals" of late, and I, for one, appreciate the compliment.
Homo neanderthalensis was likely smarter and stronger than his cousin, Homo Sapiens.
His only real problem was he was kind of anti-social, and unpopular with the rest of the bipeds of the era.
If you're inclined, I've designed a few t-shirts and such. Shop at your leisure:
Winston Churchill habitually started each day with a glass of scotch before he even got out of bed. From his early 20's, his consumption was legendary, and in addition to the booze, he routinely smoked ten cigars a day. For those of you unfamiliar with the habit, a "Churchill" length cigar takes a good 45 minutes to burn, if you're really dragging on it, so it stands to reason that the man spent nearly every waking moment with a cigar in his mouth.
Churchill had a 62-year political career, and was easily the most illustrious and influential British statesman of the 20th century. He authored over a dozen books and countless articles for periodicals, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I don't think he attended a single Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Despite his seemingly unhealthy habits, he lived to the age of 90, and remains a legend.
Churchill didn't identify as an addict. He didn't use it as an excuse for any lack of achievement. He didn't bother trying to quit. In those days, the only men who did were the ones who couldn't hold their liquor.
Nobody cares if you're drunk or sober. Your output is all that matters. Make that your identity, and the rest will take care of itself.
Western Civilization is a society adrift.
We are completely untethered from our past, and we are sailing aimlessly toward an uncertain future.
It was not always this way.
On December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilber Wright completed the first controlled, sustained, and powered flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft.
On July 20, 1969, less than 66 years later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface of the moon.
Imagine, if you will, the generation born in or about 1895. These men and women, had they survived to the age of 75, would have witnessed the end of the Victorian Era, the rise of the automobile, two World Wars, and more rapid technological innovation than anyone else in history, before or since.
This is a lifespan that began with less than ten miles of paved roads, total, in all of America, and ended with daily intercontinental commercial air traffic and men in space.
Contrast the 66 years between the Wright Brothers and Armstrong’s one small step, and the 50 years or so since we last left low Earth orbit (think about that – when we last went to the moon was the last time a human being even went as far as leaving Earth’s gravity).
What have we done?
As a child born in the mid-1970s, I was still raised with the belief that a fantastic future lay ahead. I grew up thinking that by now, we’d have flying cars, robot butlers, and hoverboards. Disease wouldn’t exist. Teleporters would take us to cities on the moon, and maybe Mars. Lost and ailing limbs would be replaced with Six Million Dollar bionic improvements.
What’s better now than what we had in the 1980’s? We have the Internet. We have smartphones. These are incremental improvements over the mainframes and radios of 40 years ago. The concepts are the same. Dumb terminals connecting to a central computer. Useless if they’re disconnected. In a way, we’ve regressed from the personal computer since the turn of this century. You wouldn’t imagine using a device without an Internet connection today.
Certainly we’re not as advanced as we all assumed we would be by now. The 20th century catapulted us from candlelight and steam engines to lasers and nuclear power.
And then we just stopped inventing cool shit.
We reached the moon.
And then we quit.
Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were both born in 1930. They grew up in the Great Depression, witnessed World War 2, and fought in the Korean War. Before they were 40, they’d been to the moon and back. It was arguably their parent’s generation that had made that happen. The erstwhile “Greatest Generation.” The Einsteins. The Oppenheimers. The Turings. The Fermis. The Von Brauns. Even the Kings, and the Tolkiens.
Where have they gone? What did the Baby Boomers spend their lives doing following the toil of their parents?
I’m fact-checking this article as I write it using the Internet, from a wireless connection in a cigar lounge. One might call that progress, but I could just as easily do this with an electric typewriter and a set of encyclopedias.
Unfortunately, that’s not an option. Britannica stopped printing their signature Encyclopaedia in 2010. Millenials will have no written version of their history if the lights ever go out for good. And since the Y2K scare, there are more people who believe in that sort of dystopian future than an optimistic one where we have self-drying jackets and shoes that lace themselves.
We’re content with that now. We’re fine if the nanotechnology we dream of only exists in movies, and we’re not really sure we still want that robot butler, because he’s just as likely to turn out like the Terminator and try to plug us into the Matrix.
Inventing intelligent robots is a bad idea, because we’re resigned to them being better than we are. Exploring space is a bad idea because the aliens we might encounter are likely to enslave us and plunder our natural resources. Flying cars and lightsabers are a bad idea, because, honestly, how would we ever regulate those things and keep them out of the hands of the terrorists?
We’re scared. We’re timid. We’re complacent. We’re lazy.
And we’re content. Life is easy. Don’t try too hard. Because unlike that generation that suffered the Great Depression, none of us since have had to work much to stay fat and happy.
If there’s one thing we’ve mastered since the Space Age, it’s marketing and consumerism. The Western nations of the first world have raised generations of children weaned on mass media and all the subversive marketing that pays for it. We’re told what to eat and how to live, even if it is sedentary and toxic.
And this is what the rest of the world aspires to.
Third-world nations wish they had access to unlimited calories and smartphones and Amazon Prime. That’s how you know you’ve arrived; when you have a digital refrigerator that knows when you’re running low on high-fructose beverages and orders more for you.
Meanwhile, our educational system is more concerned with producing politically-correct standardized test-takers than it is in creating thinkers. So now we’re docile and compliant; dutiful slaves to a system designed to only advance at a safe, incremental pace, giving us convenience in exchange for our freedom and privacy.
Forty years ago, voluntarily wire-tapping yourself would have seemed an absurd notion. Now our “smart” devices that make life so easy are routinely recording terabytes of data on everything that we eat, watch, say, and do.
Your life is fully documented on the “cloud,” and you’re OK with this, because social media is a fun way to interact with people while not having to leave your house, and that Amazon Echo will gladly play music and movies for you if you ask it.
History is marginalized in our educational system. It is rarely included in any standardized testing, and as we know, testing is all public schools seem designed to teach. In fact, the subject of history doesn’t typically stand alone at all; it’s lumped under the heading of “social studies,” a title that diminishes historical emphasis and subversively suggests that the study of socialism is the true objective.
Schools aren’t alone in this attempt to erase the vital legacy of the West. Popular media spends more time apologizing for it than exalting it. The great progress of the Elizabethan and Victorian Eras is treated as a time of villainy rather than a time when science and technology and intellectual enlightenment took great surges forward.
Why the self-hatred?
Of all the world’s great empires, Britain’s was arguably the least brutal. We aren’t demanding apologies from the descendants of Mongolia, Persia, Japan, or the Aztecs. Western empires did more to advance mankind to a better future than all others, and yet the societies they’ve produced now treat them with scorn, and wish only to revise their histories negatively.
Perhaps it is part of a grand conspiracy. An ideological plot to wreck the West from the inside out.
Or perhaps it’s simpler than that.
We loathe the generations that came before us, because we know we’ve done nothing to measure up to their example. And rather than rise to the standard they established, we find it easier to tear them down.
This would help explain why we’ve given up on a better future.
Because we’re not even able to make a better now, compared to what came before us.
Part of the problem is that we’ve lost our sense of wonder and imagination. It was so easy in the days of Christopher Columbus, when there were unexplored edges on every map just begging to be discovered. Lewis and Clark had a wild and untamed continent to march across. Magellan knew the world was round, but nobody had managed to sail it all at once.
Of course, there’s plenty left to explore. There’s a whole lot at the bottom of the ocean. We’ve barely scratched the surface of our own planet – nobody really knows what’s more than a few miles below the bedrock. And space? Well, there’s a TON of space left to check out.
But is there anything to conquer? Is there any treasure to be found?
Perhaps that’s the problem. We lack incentive. We don’t see the value.
Space exploration is dangerous and expensive. So was naval travel 600 years ago, but there was at least the prospect of opening new trade routes or bringing home a precious cargo or establishing a profitable new colony for king and country.
America planted a flag on the moon, and brought back some rocks. But we haven’t returned. Because it’s a high-risk, high-cost venture, and there’s nothing else there for us. We didn’t find anything valuable up there, and we can’t colonize it (at least not yet).
James Cameron funded an exploration of the wreckage of the Titanic at the bottom of a small part of the ocean, but he got a good movie out of it. Nobody gets excited about exploring a place that you can’t live in or take any treasure from.
But what of the other challenges set before mankind?
Nanotechnology could make manufacturing obsolete.
Fusion could make the energy industry obsolete.
Robotics could make labor obsolete.
Bionics could make medicine obsolete.
And that’s the problem.
Great progress is disruptive, and the status quo is now represented by global multinational corporate cabals that influence every level of government, media, and the marketplace.
If you create something truly disruptive, you risk upsetting an establishment that can utterly destroy you in any number of ways.
It’s easier, and safer, for smart people to make a living within the system than it is for them to cultivate the ideas to upset it.
Dwight Eisenhower saw this coming. During his farewell address, he warned us of the dangers of the military industrial complex. It turns out the problem was much bigger than that, but he had the right idea. The established corporate machine had infected the government and the script was written.
It had become too influential to root out. Too big to fail. Gone were the days of Teddy Roosevelt the Trustbuster. Eisenhower’s own successor was the last President to try to contend with the establishment. He got a bullet in the head for his trouble.
There are still ways to disrupt the establishment, and keep your grey matter where it belongs. History shows us how.
But you have to be smart about it. Or you have to be lucky.
Martin Luther was disruptive. He kicked off the Reformation. He spent many years in hiding for his trouble, and he left most of the heavy lifting to others once he was done nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Socrates was disruptive. He was compelled to chug hemlock for his trouble.
Julius Caesar was disruptive. He conquered Gaul and overtook the Republic. But he didn’t choose his friends very carefully.
Galileo was disruptive. He spent a decade in prison for challenging the notion that the sun revolved around the Earth.
Alexander of Macedon conquered most of the known world by the time he was 30, but was dead at 32, likely poisoned by a rival.
So how do you disrupt the establishment and change the world and prosper at the same time?
Western Civilization, and its great capitalist economic model, have provided the safe space required for this to happen.
Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing a century ago. His descendants are still wealthy for it. The Rockefellers, Carnegies, and other “robber barons” did much the same.
Bill Gates revolutionized personal computing. He’s comfortably retired, and leverages his fortune to effect positive change worldwide via his philanthropic efforts.
Steve Jobs would still be creating wonderful technology had cancer not cut him short. Howard Hughes was also stricken with injury, disease, and madness.
Kennedy enabled NASA and men like Yeager and Armstrong to break everything from the sound barrier to extraplanetary travel.
It was the great republics and their embrace of the meritocracy we call capitalism that facilitated this.
And now it is fashionable to cry for more socialist government and economic structures. Even after so many died under the boot of communism in the 20th century.
The window of opportunity is still open. We still can engineer a lofty, magnificent future.
But first, you have to believe it is possible.
You have to reject the programming of your primary and secondary education. You have been raised to be a slave. A conformist. A cog in a machine that allows you no ambition beyond rampant consumerism.
You have to become a tireless autodidact. You have to teach yourself how to think. How to act. How to succeed. There are no methodologies written that will work specifically for you. None of the great disruptors in history had any training to prepare them to change the world. They figured it out on their own.
You need to figure it out on your own.
You need to come up with your own vision. You need to ignore everyone who says it is foolish, or reckless, or insane.
Make no mistake, everyone you know, and everyone you love, will doubt you. They’re programmed for mediocrity, just as you are. You will have to be the example. You will have to be the outlier.
You will have to be exceptional.
Engineering is not complicated. It is difficult. But it is not complicated.
You cultivate a vision. You see the endgame. You identify the problems and obstacles in the way.
Then you work backwards. Write down the steps it will take to get all the way to the end; to the point where you have changed the world.
It may be a decade from now. It may be five minutes. It doesn’t matter. Map it out.
Then create the process.
There’s a great deal of material published on processes and efficiencies. There’s an axiom that the process is more important than the goal.
This is false.
The goal is everything. The endgame is all that matters.
The process is important. But you control the process. You should design it. You should apply it. And you should change it when it needs to be changed.
Whatever you do, do not make a religion of the process.
Your mission is the goal. By any means necessary.
Have you identified your mission?
What future do you want for your children? Your grandchildren? Or just yourself?
What does the world you want to live in look like?
That should be your vision.
Take some time to consider this.
Meditate on this.
Then decide upon your mission.
Make it ambitious. Make it crazy. Make it seemingly impossible.
Don’t just let the future happen to you.
Previously I introduced the concept of the 7 Roles in my life. I believe these are the 7 Roles that builds your worth and makes you worthy. These 7 Roles are not necessarily fulfilled every day, although I do reflect on them often to keep them front and center. Before I brag on my epic Best Day let’s revisit what the roles are:
Corporate Leader: Role model for my women colleagues and driven to rise to top.
Entrepreneur: An active mind has many ideas, so turn them into income.
Matriarch: Build independent skills in my son and not to let Autism win.
Queen: Maintain a comfy home for us all to be proud of.
Athlete: Keep moving and the diet on point.
Angel: Feed my soul and be a good friend by active listening.
Goddess: Make him know I desire him in many ways.
The Best Day
7am: Isaac wakes up. How do I know? I hear Darth Vader through the baby monitor, because for safety reasons he is locked in his room. So that is my cue to get up, get dressed, and go hug my son good morning. I put on a workout outfit because I am determined to do some weights. (Athlete). As I walk out of the bedroom I close the door so my love can try to sleep in; I mean it is Saturday.
Good morning my Isaac, bound and determined to get to the pool as quickly as possible I force him into the bathroom to sit on the potty and then I brush his teeth (which he hates). Then it is straight to the backyard because that is where his girlfriend is or as others would call it, the pool. As soon as I have him settled with a drink and plain Cheerios I am off to get a kettlebell and weights to do walking lounges plus clean and presses. (Matriarch)
Once the workout is done I make some breakfast sausages for Isaac because I always try to start his day with protein. I throw in some laundry and start making lists for our errands the rest of the day. Also, we have a big change happening in our home where we need to have individual spaces for two more children. Though I do not want to give up my office space with a door and my Isaac can not share a room, a genius solution hits me. (Corporate Leader) I wait until breakfast with my love to present the idea and see what he thinks. He awakens, he is also hitting the weights and then looking forward to our morning Bulletproof coffee and sit down breakfast where we can plan the day out.
I start getting breakfast together and present my idea with some supporting statements and he jumps to the same conclusion - then follows with “darling, you are brilliant”. What a way to start the day. (Queen)
As we talk about the day we figure out that we need to hit Costco, on a Saturday, which we really try to avoid especially when we have Isaac. We quickly see it as an opportunity to practice walking in a store with him, which is much easier when you have two adults. Practicing walking is to break his habit of wanting to be in the cart the whole time. Before Costco we will visit Lowe's where, again, we can practice walking with Isaac. So we figure as soon as Isaac needs a break from the pool (because he is hot) we will take that opportunity to transition to the car and start our errands.
Lowe's was to get some basic home/yard maintenance items along with a new hummingbird feeder, because I love hummingbirds and they were boycotting one of my feeders. We had a thorough list in Google Keep, which we both have access to, then we divide and conquer. Quick, efficient and just enough time for Isaac to walk through the store and find the water feature area so he could play with his “side chick” water.
On to Costco, again with a thorough list in Google Keep, where we mostly stayed together and got through the store in record time on a Saturday. Isaac DID AMAZING! Even ran into an Autism mom friend! Isaac just blew me away. I need to continue to break old habits, push him, and prepare him to be an independent, confident man.
Back to the house.
Isaac again makes a beeline for the back door to get to his girlfriend and I start cleaning the house, finishing laundry, and start preparing for the next two stores we need to go to on the other side of town - which is perfect. Of course, I am still building some trust with Isaac around the pool so I grab some rosé and my pool floaty and try to get some sun and float in his general direction. He laughs, throws water at me and I am successful. As I catch up on Twitter I notice my love is killing it (seriously his intelligence is such a turn on). So I get out of the pool, dry off, walk over to his desk and give him a passionate kiss and tell him that his intelligent posts are sexy AF. (Goddess)
Just when Isaac needs a break we see our opportunity to take the drive across town to make some big purchases to see our epic solution from the morning come to fruition. At the furniture store everything is going well, we have picked everything out and now we just need to purchase and set a delivery date. Isaac is walking around being a champ then I see his shorts are wet - MAD DASH to the bathroom, a quick glance at my love who says “ I got this, just go” and by the time I get Isaac changed and cleaned up delivery is set for Monday. All I do is look at him and say “I love you, I love us and you are wonderful”. I love his confidence, his abilities to make and own decisions from the money to scheduling - the fact that I don’t have to be involved in every part of the process is new for me, but it shouldn’t be. Not only does he lead well, I can follow because of his confidence and proven track record of being outstanding in leading.
Next up Cabelas, this is where Isaac quickly found the escalator and then started to lose his patience. It all worked out well, we got in and out with what we needed.
Then it happens, fireworks on my FitBit! 10,000 steps! (Athlete)
Back at home, you guessed it Isaac is reunited with his girlfriend. I invite my love out for a cigar, we enjoy and start reflecting on the day and I start realizing it was an epic day - I may have exercised every role! Well, that’s an article I have to write. (Entrepreneur)
As it gets closer to bedtime I try to wind Isaac down while watching The Jesus Movie, it is not really working on him but I pass out. My love wakes me, “do you want to put Isaac down? Because you are falling asleep”.
I may had been exhausted but I was also stoked to do it again. I felt my worth from thinking about everything I had done along with the encouragement I got throughout the day from my love.
Be Worthy. Know Your Worth.
It has taken years to get a kitchen that has the structure to breed efficiency. Why is this so important? Some kitchen designers out there will talk about the triangle of work and how the stove, refrigerator and sink need proximity to each other.
This is not my focus.
I want organizational efficiency where every kitchen item has a home, making putting those items away quick and painless. I want a home that is clean and organized, but I don’t want to spend all my time cleaning and organizing. How did I get to this euphoric point of kitchen organization?
This is largely because I have moved a lot . Everytime I did, I had to look at each piece I was moving and I would ask myself two questions:
These questions would help me determine if they went in the donation pile. I have become very good at donating AND it feels SO good to declutter.
When you declutter your kitchen, or any space in your home, it sheds stress and frees your mind. This level of organization automates repeated processes and makes sporadic kitchen gatherings accomplished with little thought.
Mornings are hectic, and we drink bulletproof coffee on most. The mixture has multiple ingredients, yet because of the time I took to organize and put everything in its place, I have made the process effortless. This means I have more time to get lunches packed or check work email to get ahead of the day. And when I enjoy an occasional night time tea and macaron (with insightful conversation that led to the writing of this article). I was able to whip it all together in a manner of minutes thanks to the time I put into organizing.
Everything in my home has a place, but that doesn’t mean everyone else knows where it is.
I am ok with that.
When other people in my home help to put dishes or laundry or anything else away, it frees me up to do other things or just go to bed earlier. I am grateful for all the help I get, and if I find something out of place, I simply reorganize it with a HUGE smile on my face, because I am reminded that someone else took care of it.
If you can afford to hire someone and outsource your cleaning, DO IT! Do what you can to keep a clean and organized home without stressing out about it (I am working towards getting back in the I-have-a-Cleaning-Lady Club).
I hold myself to unrealistic expectations with all that I do, and I sometimes feel as if I’m falling short, but my man reminds me with compliments of how he is proud of our home. He also regularly offers to help (which I take him up on as MUCH as possible, and you should too).
I take my “Queen” role seriously and aim to have a home we are all happy to share with friends and family when they visit.
Women, be a role model and maintain a home to be proud of, and ask your man for help.
Men, if you don’t think you are contributing to the maintenance of the home, you are missing an opportunity to impress your woman as a builder and protector. Simply providing financial support is not enough. It’s so sexy to watch my man do home improvement projects and get after it.
“What more accurate standard or measure of good things do we have than the Sage?”
We love what we do not possess.
That is the conclusion proven by Socrates in Plato’s “Symposium.” Poor men love money more than rich men. Rich men love the things money cannot necessarily buy. Men love the feminine beauty of women. Women love the masculine strength of men. The young love the confidence and respect that their elders bear, and the old love the energy and potential of youth.
In many cases, that which we love the most is utterly unattainable. And yet, we seek it. Man will never be immortal, but we seek paths to immortality in nearly everything we do. We embrace spirituality. We bear children to carry on our bloodline. We create works of art and industry that we hope will last for generations. We perform acts of heroism and valor that might be recorded in the history books.
That is the nature of love. The passion that drives us to pursue something rare, elusive, and perhaps even impossible. It is a selfish urge that can make us do selfless things. A mother would give her life for her child out of love, knowing that her legacy would carry on. She becomes immortal through sacrifice. The same applies to the soldier who dies for his country, or the missionary who is martyred for his faith.
We will spend our lives to make them part of something greater than ourselves. That is the road to distinction. It is a reward that we will never see within the confines of our mortal existence.
And we pursue it nonetheless.
The love of wisdom is discussed ad nauseam in "Symposium." In that dialogue, it is concluded that when you have attained wisdom, you no longer have any reason to love it.
In most ancient schools of philosophy, those who have attained complete wisdom in a given subject were called Sages. The Sage was considered the virtuous ideal for that school of thought. In many cases, gods and Sages were equal; if you reached the point of total enlightenment, and had no further wisdom or mastery to seek, you were a Sage in that subject, and could arguably be considered on equal footing with whatever patron god represented it.
It was an unreachable standard.
On one end of the spectrum of learning were the fools, who had no realization of their lack of understanding. On the other end were the Sages, who were fully enlightened and had nothing left to pursue. In between were the philosophers, who were aware enough to seek the wisdom of the Sage.
This is where Plato’s point about love and passion comes back into play.
We love what we do not possess. In this case, we can never attain the full wisdom of the Sage.
We pursue it regardless. Passionately.
We live in an era of polymaths. Any fool with a smartphone can peruse the wisdom of giants in any number of subjects. You can become a student of a dozen disciplines. There is no barrier to becoming a Renaissance Man in this digital age.
Pick a field. Pick a dozen.
Then pursue mastery toward the most virtuous ideal possible. Envision the Sage; the epitome of what is valorous and good in your chosen brand of autodidacticism, and follow the path that will change you into that being.
There are a great many callings present in your life, if you have ears to hear them. Embrace the mindset that you are a divine creation, fully capable of carving out that eternal destiny.
Follow the Way of the Sage.
You’ll die along the way, and enjoy immortality as your reward.