Play ‘Til the Ninth Inning

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Be a closer.  Image courtesy of
Be a closer.
Image courtesy of

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.

49 thoughts on “Play ‘Til the Ninth Inning”

  1. I think I needed to read this today, because honestly, I’m faltering. I feel like I’m in the third inning and want to ask the coach to bench me. Or resort to pointing out that an old injury is flaring up in order to get out. But I won’t. The injury is real and flares up this time each year, but I’m limping through it and doing my best to play through the old pain. It’s really tough and would be so easy to slide into a pity party and not keep trying. I can justify the it as a little respite, a little time-out. What I have learned is the little time-out now turns into another, longer time-out sometime in the future, and before too long I can barely make one half of one inning before giving in to the urge to give up.

    This is the first post I read in your blog. I appreciate your insight and encouragement.

    1. Well. You’re good with metaphors. So, I feel confident we can be friends.

      Thank you so much for reading.

      I certainly don’t know what you’re going through, but I do know that trying really hard even when the shit piles up is the thing that leaves us as the best-possible versions of ourselves.

      Thank you for saying hi, Janelle. I wish you well on your journey.

      1. You’re super kind, Matt, and definitely no vampire qualities I need to fear. I had started a post describing my March malaise and taking a break from it when I found your post. It was just the kick in the ass I needed to finish it.

        1. 🙂

          So glad I could help.

          Favor request: Please post the link here when you’re finished so we can check it out.

          Thank you, Janelle.

    1. Thank you very much.

      I hope I didn’t water down the part I think is REALLY important.

      And that’s the part where people struggling in their relationships dig a little deeper.

      Because within themselves is the capacity to choose love and make it work.

      I hope people will choose that.

      Really appreciate your kind note. 🙂

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

    In your blogs, there are always sentences that vibrate extra loud for me. This is probably the one that struck me most today. I always think about the verb “fall” as in fall in love or fall asleep. As if it’s so easy you could just trip over your own feet and tada…. You’re home free! Sleep is ever more difficult for me these days, a real struggle and I must make it an intention – and I have finally come to understand that love is the same conscious choice as you so eloquently point out. As always–gratitude for your writing. Any more book progress thoughts??
    Ps…. I was thinking a nice title would be “No Stranger To the Guest Room”

    1. That is a nice title suggestion, Stephanie. 🙂 Thank you. I’ve assembled about 20 posts that include ideas I believe have a place inside a book and I’ve written a couple thousand new words for it as well.

      Still super-preliminary. But at least something is kind, sort of taking shape. Thank you for asking.

      Appreciate you stopping in and saying hello. 🙂

  3. Just out of curiosity, did your ex-wife ever turn back at all? Did she ever express even a whisper of hesitation or doubt about leaving?
    I have my reasons for wanting to know this but… yeah. I’d really like to know if she did at all.
    Or maybe if she did, she didn’t voice them to you?

  4. Hey Matt , got hooked up to your blog thru another blog here in Syracuse , NY . Although i do a LOT of reading at 62 and retired , blogs are rarely part of it .
    Half the reason i read yours is that i have a son about the same age as you (also a Matt) with 2 sons going thru an acrimonious divorce from his well educated but bipolar wife . Being bipolar isn’t as much the problem as is her being the only one that doesn’t know it . Lots of trials and tribulations as parents / grandparents .
    The other half of the reason that i read your blog is that i think what you write about , ups and downs , is flat-out interesting and “real” life ! :>)
    Keep up the (talented) writing , and just as i constantly tell my son , hang in there .

    1. This is an incredibly flattering and kind note. I can’t begin to thank you enough for taking time to write it.

      I’m so sorry you’re watching your son and grandchildren go through this.

      I think it’s incredibly sad just how much damage divorce causes. We haven’t spent much here discussing the grandparent-grandchild relationship at all. Yet it’s huge.

      And even though your daughter-in-law isn’t the peach everybody might have thought or hoped she was, I bet it’s still tough for both you and her to lose what was once a meaningful relationship.

      It’s not just a couple that’s affected in divorced. It’s so many people.

      Wishing you, your son, and your grandsons, my very best wishes through this process.

      Thank you for the honor of your time. Really appreciate you leaving this note.

      1. Well , in full disclosure , as someone who has been down this road twice , that you and my son are traveling on , I can certainly relate from personal experience .
        I get along quite well with my 2nd ex-wife and my 1st lives quite far away and haven’t seen her in many years . I can confidently say that I doubt either one has much , if anything negative to say about me .
        Some things (relationships) just maybe were not quite meant to work out for some people and I’m very content to ride this out solo . :>)

  5. Oh so inspirational, Matt.

    The marriage aspect applies less to me – well I’m remarried, so it’s actually a useful reminder in the now. My ex turned out to be a criminal, a con man who conned my whole family and himself as well I think. It’s an ugly story.

    But the work aspect really hits home. I’ve been off on stress leave for 8 months. I can’t quite face going back but I think it’s because there is something else I should be doing. Your post gave me the kick I needed to get back to finding out what that something is. I have no idea. But I shouldn’t just give up just because it’s easier to.

    Again, thanks!

    1. 🙂

      Thank you. So nice to read someone use the word “inspirational” about something you thought or felt or wrote.

      My very best wishes as you look ahead to the next chapter.

  6. As a woman who spent 20 years of a 25 year marriage playing till the ninth, I know now that I should have called the game for inclement weather in the fourth. It would have saved my son ( I say MY son and emphasize the ownership because the sperm donor ex-husband did nothing but cause him pain and then had the nerve to tell someone that he gave up on my son a long time ago. The anger that raises in me warrants a padded cell and strong lock.) many many years of verbal abuse which resulted in self-destructive behavior and choices which affect his life still.

    There are relationships which deserve the extra inning to break the tie. Others should have have been called forfeit before there was collateral damage. I so appreciate your self-assessment and determination to grow within such a devastating circumstance. You could have chosen the victim stance, in which case the comments here would be very different, no doubt.

    People grow apart, and this is especially true of people who are too immature to know what they want from life or from themselves. Since I do not know your wife there cannot be any real assessment of who in your relationship that may be. It may be both of you, or only one of you, but my money is on this being the real cause of your relationship break up.

    Either way, I can see you are learning to live outside of the marriage and in spite of the break up. What doesn’t kill you…

  7. Well said, Matt. You do the right things because they’re right, and hopefully everything turns out. Your professional life seems to be bearing that out. Hopefully the personal stuff will start turning around soon, too.

      1. One offer that I declined. I’m holding out since I don’t really need to sell. We’re at three weeks on the market, so it’s not time to worry yet. Thanks for asking.

  8. Your words hit a chord in my heart. I can apply this to so many aspects of my life. The only one I’m going to share deals with my own parents. Coming from the daughter of a man who played ’til the ninth inning… thank you. Thank you for showing up strong at the end. It’s okay if you had some bad innings at the beginning.. but you finished strong with your head high. Unfortunately, my mother wasn’t willing to show up… not that I think it would’ve worked out. When my dad and I moved in with his parents.. I’ll never forget the only time I ever saw my dad cry. He waited up for me late one night.. I just arrived home from spending some time with my boyfriend at the time.. and he called me to the basement.. right outside of his childhood bedroom. He looked me in the eye and broke down asking me if I felt that he was a shitty dad. I wish that at that moment, I would’ve been able to tell him that he showed up through it all.. and that I was always his biggest fan.

    Thank you very much, Matt.

    1. The game may be over for your father and mother. And that’s a sad story. And I wish I knew what to say.

      But the game doesn’t have to be over between you and your mom.

      This may just be one of those shitty innings for her.

      I like this father-daughter story–at least the happy parts.

      Thank you for sharing. I’m glad the message resonated with you, Caroline. Please have a good day, lady.

      1. Thanks. I have to remember that it doesn’t have to be over between me and my mom… but I can’t stop hoping that it is. I’m in the midst of writing a post that kind of goes into the whole daughter-mother journey.

        Thank you for your kind words.

  9. Honestly, I don’t know if I gave up too soon or too late. All I know was that I didn’t have the answers, and when I didn’t, he moved out. The next conversation he initiated was about the new woman he was dating. I think his attorney must have told him that since my daughter already knew, he should probably tell me.
    Everyone’s experience is different. I appreciate your sense of personal responsibility in your losses, and I believe everyone has a role to play…even your dead father in law influenced this situation in some way, I bet. I had a tremendous role in the end of my marriage. If I take all the responsibility though, then I am repeating a dysfunctional pattern for myself…I think. Blessings Matt.

    1. There is no one-size-fits-all in this life.

      No situation will ever be exactly like another.

      Millions of marriages end a million different ways. I believe in most of those ways, there’s another option.

      The answers usually live in the place where the hard questions are asked. Most of us are too afraid to ask them.

      Sometimes, I’m too afraid to ask them.

      I don’t think very many people celebrate the end of the marriage. I’m sure you felt bad while doing something you felt must be done.

      In the end, doing the hard thing that you feel must be done, is a pretty noble thing to do.

      I appreciate you. I’m sorry that you had to go through that. And now I just hope everyone in this same new chapter of their lives can find a way to make better choices this time around.

      Better choices in a partner. And better choices on the personal responsibility side.

      If we make good choices, good things will happen.

      I really do appreciate you sharing yourself with us. Here’s to today being a good one. 🙂

  10. Matt,
    Your perspective is so interesting to me because while I was working so hard to figure out if my marriage was right for me, my almost ex husband was not. I desperately wanted him to work as hard as I was working, so that we could come to a place to work together. But he wouldn’t. Our marriage counselor at the time said to him that I was “very deep” and he was “very surface” and in order to meet in the middle he had to dig deep. And he wouldn’t. I had grown and changed and become a fuller person, and he was still an angry adolescent – not the best version of himself as I had always hoped he would become over the 20 years we were married.
    All I know, is that I played till the ninth inning and I’m proud of that. You should be too.

    Thanks for your musings!

    1. Thank you. 🙂

      I don’t like giving the impression that I was a martyr. She tried harder than me for most of the relationship. Before my eyes were opened. Before it all clicked.

      We never both tried hard at the same time.

      And that’s something of a tragedy.

      If you play til the ninth, you give the other person the maximum amount of time to get it right.

      And I think our vows require that of us.

      Not every situation is the same. I realize the other party is sometimes a lost cause.

      It will always take two.

  11. I’ve always loved your posts but this one has me parked in my car with tears running down my face. Because I’ve played until the ninth but it takes two players willing to do so to win the game. And when the other player isn’t willing or able? to step up to the plate, what do you do?

    Thank you for this and maybe next time preface your post with a warning so that I remove my eye makeup first? 🙂

    1. 🙁

      I’m so sorry. I know what you mean. What you feel.

      It hurts when love is not reciprocated. Hurts more than anything I’ve ever known. And I would not wish that feeling on anyone, ever.

      Thank you for liking the things you read here. And thank you for feeling. For being a person. It’s messy. But it’s so good, too.

      *hugs* as you try to navigate all this.

      Thoughts and prayers for your heart and marriage.

    2. When the other player isn’t willing or able to step up, you can only go into the game willing to try everything you can in order to win. Sometimes it inspires the other person to play, sometimes it doesn’t. But you can only do what you can do. You can’t put on the other person’s cleats and run the bases for them; only they can do that. Go into the ninth inning eyes, heart, and mitt wide open and willing to catch whatever comes at you. That way you’ll know you did your damnedest to win. It’s the only way I could sleep at night – hopefully it will work for you too. Good luck – you are not alone – some of us have played that game before.

      1. It did!

        I don’t always sleep well. But it’s not the regret that keeps me up at night.

        Which is a really good thing.

        Thank you so much for writing.

  12. Matt, this was beautiful. I had tears in my eyes at the end. Thank you for writing so sincerely. I have those tough moments when it just feels so difficult and then something, like this post or other little words of wisdom and love, remind me why it’s so important to stick with it and how much value there is in that. Have a wonderful day!

    1. 🙂

      Thank you for taking a moment to write me this note, Yvonne. It really means a lot to me that you feel something, and that you care.

      The hard times are so hard.

      But there’s an awful lot of beauty, too. Thanks for fighting for it.

      1. You’re words are so honest and authentic. I sincerely hope each day for the best for you. It’s wonderful to see the progression of such beautiful changes in you, and I look forward to learning more!

        1. This is really nice of you. Thank you. The changes are subtle. Gradual.

          But through the prism of hindsight, you can really notice them. I’m so grateful to not feel miserable every day anymore.

          1. One thing that always amazes me is when I take a moment to look back at where I was a year from this moment and it’s nice when you notice improvement or growth. Just taking not of how far you’ve come. I’m so happy to that you’re at a better place. Those must have been some dark and hard times. It’s an ongoing journey for us all 🙂

  13. I am a sympathetic griever when it comes to unemployment. I despise this job market because so many good, talented and hardworking people are feeling this specific form of rejection. It’s just awful! You’re writing is a little too good here.

    “The man she left was the best version of himself she ever knew.” = Money! (It’s so good, I may have to coin a new phrase “Matt Money” It has a nice ring to it. lol yes. expect more of that in future comments).

    I understand this to its deepest depths. The woman he left was the best version of me he AND I ever knew. I may have to steal this for one of my own upcoming posts .

    The problem with playing to the ninth inning is that I feel like I don’t know where I am in the game without the benefit of hindsight. (sigh) Something I think about a lot these days.

    I feel like I have to stuff to “keep playing” but I can’t tell if everyone’s already packed up and gone home. (groan)

    great post.

  14. You have a new job? YAAYYY! I’m so happy for you, Matt. I hope it goes well. 🙂

    Hubby and I have been repeatedly hit in the last decade with him getting lay-offs. The last one was just before Christmas, for the 2nd year in a row. He’s working again now and we very much hope this is a long-term position this time.

    Economically speaking, it’s crushing, but even worse is what it’s done to his sense of self worth. But, like you, he keeps picking himself up and goes back out there. And reputation wise, it has paid-off. Though I would love to win the lottery, just enough that that he could give up such back breaking work. (Auto-motive technician.)

    If you can, try to keep your hand in the freelance world. Better safe than sorry, as they say.

    Odd as it may sound, I’m so very proud of you! Here’s a congrats hug. 🙂

    1. I must have written that really badly.

      If I’d lost my job during the same year she left? I would have just eaten the Glock and called it a day.

      I was laid off on Jan. 1, 2010. I got the job I have now in the summer of 2011.

      I assumed that period would be the hardest thing I ever did. But then that wasn’t true either.

      I’ve been at my job almost three years. And while I crave so much more than being a guy in a cubicle, it is a very good job that I am immensely grateful to have.

      On the topic of fortitude, it’s just one of the stories that came to mind.

      I apologize if it came off misleading. Or, apparently, confusing.

      But thank you so much for saying nice things.

  15. “But the footsteps echoing into the guest room below are my own.”
    ….So Marshall Mathers

    1. I’m a totally poor, uncool version of Em who swears slightly less often and doesn’t hate his parents.

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