Embracing the Beautiful Awful

I just listened to a podcast. A heartbreaking one about loss. The speaker, an artist whose mother was battling cancer, described the experience as “The Beautiful Awful.” What an amazing phrase.

It was about being in the moment — and not being concerned about keeping up appearances. It was about embracing the unfinished and taking value in what simply is. Because life isn’t perfect. And it may never will be.

So embrace the ugly. Find beauty in the moment even if it’s not the moment you want it to be. Embrace it for what is and what might be. For the lasting impression it will leave on you and for the better person you’re about to become.

And don’t be afraid to publish your first draft.

 

You Guys, This Whole “Getting Better” Thing is Working.

There have been a few unexpected surprises with the whole “getting better” thing.

The big one being, I  really am becoming better at stuff. (“Stuff” being a very technical term )

I’m having more fun with who I am. I’m meeting people I admire and they’re helping me with projects. And I’m working on more tasks that I care about. Most importantly, I feel better about myself and the way I’m handling things.

My temperament with my kids is SO much better since I committed to the change. I can’t begin to express how much I owe to these lessons.  So many hugs. So very little yelling. It’s been a miracle maker for me. I can count on 1 hand the number of times I’ve raised my voice this month. Before I took action, I couldn’t even make it Tuesday without moving to my second thumb.

This has been so much fun! Just look at that kid. This is right after he won the game ball last week.

baseball

Unexpectedly, I’ve even been eating better, too. (Do I really need that Ding Dong? Nah, I can do better.)

And I’ve been having a great time writing for this site. At first I was worried about building an audience, but now I truly don’t care. (No offense, reader, I’m thrilled that you’re here and hope this might help you, too.)  I’m happy with what I’m producing–and I’m not a fan of self promotion in the way that generates numbers. Even if nobody ever reads this, the people I’m writing for are seeing the change in me. 

So, how has his overlapped into my professional life? I’ve started tinkering at work. I drop personality into daily emails with co-workers and it lead to me being asked to manage a new project that they felt was lacking tone. And I started putting little flourishes of my favorite writers into things. (Stay tuned for elaboration on that next week).

I’ve been writing and reading more with my kids—which has always been something I’ve loved to do. More on that, and why my 6-year-old is a terrible editor, coming soon

Right now though, I’m super happy to be connecting on a deeper, healthier level. I found my smile. And I’ve hit publish way more than I’ve ever done before.

Yeah, better is definitely better.

 

 

Resurrecting the Lost Art of the Mixtape — And How to Make Playlists Better

(Originally written January 2009. Updated October 2016)

Somewhere in a drawer, I still have my tapes. Little 90-minute nuggets of emotions with “Maxell” stickers slapped on top. Happy-Fun-Time mixes, Breakup mixes, Road Trip mixes, Alt/Grunge mixes, Classic Rock mixes (esoterically named The Gen 13 Series), Girlfriend mixes (both from and for), 80’s and Oldies mixes… They are all there. Some made by me, dozens made by others. Each one has a story and a personality of its own. More importantly, it has the personality of its creator.

Tapes had 90-minutes to tell a story. Not even 90. Two 45-minute, strictly-regimented interludes. And there was a lot to fit in. It took planning—and as Nick Hornby wrote, there were rules.

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again […] A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick it off with a corker, to hold the attention […], and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, […] and . . . oh, there are loads of rules.

— Nick Hornby, High Fidelity (1995), pp. 88-89

Some may argue that MP3 playlists are the same thing. But it’s just not true.

ITunes changed the game. Now it’s all drag & drop. Sure it’s faster. Sure you can crank out one right after the other — and you can find any song ever recorded ever. But there isn’t any romance. You don’t listen to each song as it is being placed, giving you that one last chance to make sure that this is the perfect song to tell your story. You don’t get to think about the memory it invokes or the specific reason the listener will love that song. Gone is the emotional investment. Songs have been replaced with files.

It’s all so very mechanical.

When was the last time you listened to a tape? Don’t worry; I had to think about this one, too. The answer is probably sometime just before you traded in your last car with a tape deck.

With the advent of MP3’s, your playlist can be infinite. It’s literally a never ending story. This has cheapened the craft. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. Who wants to listen to something forever? No—two 45-minute sides were perfect. It may seem like a good thing, but infinity is overrated.

Just ask Nick and Norah.

tumblr_mxnoeaqa5j1r8311io1_500

I remember hunting for songs. Calling friends and digging through my sister’s music collection. Or waiting by the radio with my hand on the Record button, hoping the DJ would read my mind and give me just enough break between songs to not get any banter at the end. It was awful and so very wonderful at the exact same time.

And playlists make it too easy to skip. How many times did someone make you a tape with a song you didn’t really like? Or with a band you didn’t know? And how many times did you grow to love that song? That’s the point! You learned new music. You created an emotional attachment with the lyrics, with the singer and with the person that gave you the tape. Because if you wanted to skip, you had to hit Fast Forward. Then you’d go too far. Then you’d hit Rewind. Then you’d Fast Forward again until you found the next song. It was a process. No, it was just easier to listen to it. Later you’d find that you didn’t even want to pass that song anymore. In fact, maybe you’d want to Fast Forward to that song.

Now you just skip.

My friends made great tapes. All for different reasons. Some came up with fantastic names for their mixes. The Mourning of The Death of Chivalry, The Great Philosophes and Ed McMahon comes to mind. Another friend never made labels or covers for his tapes—he could just tell which it was by holding it up to the sky. He had a connection to them. They spoke to him. They spoke to him because he spent 90 minutes creating each and every one.

You just can’t do that with a playlist.

I’m not saying we go back. I’m not telling you to step away from your computer and dig out your old boombox. The Mix-Tape is dead—and it has been for a while. It’s a thing of the past. But I still miss it.

So maybe I start editing more. Maybe I give myself a limit. And maybe, moving forward, I cut my lists to 90 minutes. I bet they’ll be stronger. Because with limits, you have to think–and you have to craft. You have to pay attention and you have to make choices. And ultimately, isn’t that better?

Got any perfect playlists? I’d love to hear ‘em. You tell me your favorite mixtape memory below and I’ll tell you mine.

*play*

Is Being Impressive Really Worth All that Effort? (and how the Game of Life is really more like Chutes & Ladders)

Did you ever meet someone who impresses you right away? The way they carry themselves, their presentation, their job. And you think, “Man, I want to be like that when I grow up.”

Then you find out you’re the same age?

That happened to me twice last month. Once, of all people, by the guy who was Best Man at my wedding. And it made me wonder what the hell I’m doing wrong.

So I did what any normal adult does when they have a question. I asked my dad.

And like every great dad, he had the perfect answer.

(Side note—dads are awesome.)

tumblr_n3e1xokt9l1rxi745o1_500

Now, before I unveil his wisdom unto you, let me back up and give you a quick recap of my career. Don’t worry. CliffsNotes version.

I studied sports marketing in college and landed my first big job at a PR agency in New York. Didn’t like it, but it did lead to a game night gig with the Rangers — so I checked that off my bucket list. From there I went to a sports agency, which led to a rather notable run in field marketing. I tried my hand at sales for a while, but I missed marketing. So I doubled down on the content train and have been riding high ever since.

Howzat for concise?  (#humblebrag)

Now, dear reader, I have a question for you. What was your favorite job? Not your most important job, but your favorite job. Go back to the beginning. We’re talking all time.

Me? I worked at a movie theater during high school. Free popcorn for days. Previewed every new release. Snuck my friends through the back door. And had great after-work parties.

Looking back, I didn’t learn anything from that job. But it was my favorite. Now, I love what I do today and I’m super happy doing it. But man, that was fun.

And that brings me back to my very impressive friend and the sage advice from my father.

El Padre pointed out that my buddy never had those fun jobs. He was taking prep classes while I was slinging popcorn. He was on the executive track when I was bucket listing the Rangers. And he was putting in 60+ hours at the office while I was putting in 12 at a luxury suite.

Remember the board game, Life? Well, I think Life should have been more like Chutes & Ladders. Here’s why.

My friend is now a CFO for a Fortune 500 company. He spun nothing but 6’s and climbed straight up that corporate ladder. I hit a few chutes along the way and my ladders weren’t always connected. But I worked my way around the board. And while neither of us has reached that 100th square yet, I’m catching up fast.

He and I are both exactly where we want to be. Successful, happy, fun lovin’ guys with great lives & solid resumes. He may have the better title, but my ladder was more fun to climb.

Writing this reminded me of something my favorite professor told me. “Don’t worry about what you want to do with your life. Just decide what you want to do next.”

That professor now runs a very prominent marketing agency. Prior to teaching, he was a prison guard.

Pretty impressive.