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

Comments 47

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

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

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

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

My walk turned into a run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I totally deserved it, too.

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_xwnb3cymc]

I turn 37 tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

A Letter to Myself on my 17th Birthday


Dear Matt,

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Are No Shortcuts

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

You Have Something Called ADHD

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

You Value Money Too Much

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

College (Fresh out of High School) is Overrated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write Down 10 Ideas Every Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word is: Empathy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Two people. Same situation. Two RADICALLY different experiences.


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

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

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

That’s it, kid.

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

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

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

Happy birthday.

47 thoughts on “I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now When I Was Younger”

  1. I’m currently going through a very messy divorce, and feel depressed. I’m on an antidepressant now, which helps, but I completely relate to you saying that everyone else seems to be happy while I’m mot, laughing, joking, going out on the weekend. I have almost broke down in tears too, at work. One thing I lack from my coworkers is empathy. They don’t understand what I’ve been through, and most of them don’t seem to care. A little compassion and empathy would mean a lot. I love your style of writing. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    1. Hi Amanda.

      When I first started writing this blog, THAT is what drove me. I didn’t want to talk to anyone who had never been married, nor anyone who was still married unless they were someone who knew me from childhood, BEFORE I was a member of a couple.

      When you’re an adult, all your social network knows you as half of a couple. It’s really tricky navigating all that after divorce. And I live somewhere where pretty much everyone I know only knew me as one half of my marriage.

      When you’re dealing with the emotional fallout, you crave A. People who understand; I mean, REALLY get it because they’ve been through it, B. People from your past who really know you, or C. People who are going through it at the same time.

      The early stages of this blog were about finding all those people going through the same stuff. I can’t begin to explain how therapeutic and important all of that was for me to get from that place to right now.

      I’m really sorry you’re going through all of this now. One thing you’ll find here is a group of people who understand the devastation of divorce, the internal torment that follows you around no matter what you’re doing, and others who’ve moved on to really beautiful next chapters which inspire a lot of hope when you’re trying to figure out whether you’ll ever feel good again. (Spoiler alert: You will.)

      It’s hard to watch people happy while you’re in pain, even though you know it doesn’t make sense to feel that way.

      Tomorrow gets here. The day you breathe easier. The day you authentically and involuntarily laugh because something funny happens. The day you’re sitting next to someone else from seemingly another universe because you always assumed you’d just be married forever; and it doesn’t feel completely bizarre or wrong or uncomfortable.

      It sounds a little bit flippant, and a little bit bullshit. But I swear on all that is good and beautiful in the world that it’s true:

      Everything is going to be okay.

      Thank you very much for reading and commenting. Best wishes for you and your family.

  2. This is great. I laughed so hard at the line “You’re actually a moron straight through your twenties.” (Or something like that.)
    Also how was 1997 twenty years ago? WTF!?!

    1. So I’m writing this post yesterday, and doing all the math, and wondering where the time went, and realizing I’ll be nearly 60 God-willing I live so long, the next time that same length of time passes, and then I quasi-freaked-out.

      So precious, these ticking seconds.

      I’m so glad I spend most of it sitting in this cubicle. *tommyleejonesface*

      1. If 30 is the new 20 then 60 is the new 40… that’s not so bad right?
        Or maybe I made that up. Additional level of freakout: I read this post and realized my oldest son will be 17 this summer. Yikes!

  3. Happy Birthday Matt! My birthday is on Friday and I will be 41. Your blog has played a significant role in healing my 11.5 year marriage by way of helping us understand each other’s thought processes. So on behalf of myself, my children and future generations of our family, thank you. We are glad you were born. The world is a better place because of your birth. Please keep doing what you are doing. It is crucial work. Amy

    1. I’ll be hard-pressed to read something more meaningful today than this. Thank you.

      I don’t sit around feeling like any of this stuff is actually moving the needle for anyone, but I occasionally get notes like this, and I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you that outside of things related to my son, nothing makes me feel better than this kind of story.

      Deeply meaningful to me. So, it’s a great gift to read. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to write it.

      Here’s to tomorrow. Happy birthday, Amy. I hope you have a great day and weekend.

  4. Happy Birthday Matt!!

    All is forgiven, come home to me prodigal son and we will listen to my music together at the celebration feast!



    1. I happened to catch this one sitting at a stoplight yesterday and snorted.

      Too funny. Yeah, I’m totally planning a huge Reba party later.

      We’ll stand around eating lots of things with cabbage, and then rhubarb pie for dessert, and then we’ll drink something crappy like Bud Dry (can you still get Bud Dry?), and hate our lives.


      1. You heard Reba is single too now? Maybe a little redhead cougar action is just what a city boy like you needs right about now. 🙂

  5. Happy Birthday! Tomorrow is my son’s birthday too!

    You’ve learned a LOT in the last few years, you should be proud of yourself! Imagine how mature you’ll be 20 years from now.

    1. Happy birthday in advance, Matt! I remember seeing someone eat an avocado differently than I grew up eating avocados. Even a non-significant teeny-tiny difference like that kind of blew my mind.

      Lisa, I just wrote you a comment that may or may not be useful to you on the “Husbands are negligent criminals..” post. Maybe you’ve thought of everything I wrote, but then again, maybe not. 🙂 As of now, it’s the last comment.

      (Sorry if I appear to be stalking you, lol.)

  6. Very good stuff. Just as true at 53 as it is at 37 or 17. Someday you will look back and miss the emotional rawness that you went through, when a song on the radio, a relationship on TV, or a stray thought would bring waves of pain and fear. Maybe you will be writing about that in a few years.

  7. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit

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

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

    This is exactly why I had to leave my husband. Even being with family was not acceptable in his eyes, safe for events like Thanksgiving and Christmas. (And that was even difficult at times) I didn’t have my “priorities straight”. I had to say “enough was enough”. Family and Friends ARE important to ME. What’s the point of life without interaction or connection? Nothing! You slowly die… And that’s what it felt like to me. A slow agonizing death. Making every day even harder to want to live.

    There’s that saying – “It’s better to be lonely alone that to be lonely with someone”.

    I am still lonely most of the time, but it’s a “better” lonely I think. And I am working on changing this. Making new meaningful relationships and keeping the ones I hold dear. Gaining perspective of the “unconditional” relationships.

    I like that you used the word “chagrin”… it’s often used in French vocab, but I had no idea it was used in English. 🙂

    Early Happy Birthday Wishes To You Matt! 🙂

  8. What an exquisite read this was on my wedding anniversary, an anniversary that, a few short months ago, I had every reason to believe would be a pipe dream. This was a pretty amazing summation of everything you’ve built Must Be This Tall to Ride to confess and address. I wish you the very happiest of birthdays, my friend, and I hope you get some awesome gifts. None of them, however, could be as great as the gift you give each of us here with your regular contributions to this blog.

  9. We all wish we knew better Matt but we didn’t and probably still don’t. Happy Birthday and I’m sending you a little gift – Midnight in Manaus everyone should have at least one night on the Amazon and in Manaus as well.

  10. So very well said. I’ll be honest, when I see a post this long, I rarely read it, but that was thoughtful and lovely. I didn’t know you have ADHD. An author named Edward M. Hallowell has written a couple of great books (Driven to Distraction is one) about ADHD in adults and children. He has ADHD . You May Enjoy Him

  11. Happy birthday, bl-iend. (Blog friend, of course. Fr-og seemed tacky.) I like this looking back to who you were; I have so much advice to former me that I give it unbidden to every 20-something blue-eyed blonde I know. Seriously. But I hesitate to give it to former me (or for you to give it to former you) because as Doc will tell you, you never want to mess with then. You might somehow miss out on the rich tapestry that is you (and your dear son) now. We somehow require those obnoxious dents and scratches to acquire the lovely patina that is now. Just saying. No regrets. Just better and better things for the future. Cheers to you, Matt! Eat a cupcake.

  12. I love this! My favorite line is, ” …… I know 37 sounds totally old to you. But it doesn’t feel old when you’re in the moment. ” That is so true!! My mom is 71, and says she often looks in the mirror and says, “Who the hell are you?” Lol! Our bodies age but we are still the same person.

  13. You, sir, are wonderful. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your life with the world. Thank you thank you. I can only hope that my husband is reading the posts I share with him.
    Oh, and I got that book you referenced- “How to Improve your Marriage…” Looking forward to reading and learning and hopefully saving my marriage.
    Thank you again.
    Oh, and happy birthday. I turned 40 this month and agree that everything still feels the same. I’m just fatter and more haggard looking. LOL

  14. Happy birthday, Matt! I remember 37, I thought I knew everything. I also thought it was the end of the world because women aren’t supposed to like getting older. I was so, so wrong. I’m telling you, life begins when you hit 40 and it just gets better and better. You stop caring about what people think about you. I can’t explain it fully, but I think I’m actually aging backwards. Today somebody thought I was hubby’s daughter. Ha, what fun!

    All that wisdom, words of advice we want to give our kids, arrgg, that can be maddening. We finally get old and wise enough to know what we’re doing and then kids decide we don’t know what we’re talking about. We have so much to teach them….but they won’t listen. Well, not really, but tell them anyway. If nothing else they’ll come to understand their parents more and that’s always a good thing.

  15. Ah, 37. When I still believed “forever” was guaranteed (and I could still play above the rim in basketball).

    Unfortunately at that age I was also still at the stage where I took a lot of things for granted, and didn’t appreciate a lot of the things around me each and every day.

    The last few years have been challenging, and in some ways I wish I could hit rewind or send that version of me a letter like your post.

    At the same time though, I had to go through that to have the perspective I have today.

    The way I look at it, it doesn’t matter how old we are. We should always be open to growth, and learning, and being a better person tomorrow than we are today.

    Happy birthday Matt.

  16. Yes, if only we could go back to then with the wisdom we have now to avoid the pain we have caused ourselves and others. But I have to say that the only reason I have any empathy or humility today is because of those very experiences that shattered my heart. Every ounce of compassion I posses has been drained directly from the wounds of my own brokenness.

    Maybe that’s true for everyone. Maybe we would all be kinder, gentler people if we could look at the people who are causing us pain today with that perspective, with the compassion we have for ourselves in hindsight. I often find myself thinking of the people I’ve hurt in the past and saying “I’m so sorry! Honestly, I didn’t know any better! I was an idiot back then and I didn’t even know it! Please forgive me! I’m so sorry your life had to intersect with mine at that stage of my immaturity!” We are all works in progress.

    Maybe the person causing me so much grief and frustration right now is someone like I was then, or someone like you were ten years ago, Matt—someone who really is a good person, who will get it eventually and go on to help many people because of what he’s been through.

    (By the way, Happy Birthday, Matt! I echo the sentiment of the other comments that we are all really glad you were born and so thankful that you are willing to share what you have learned and are learning with us! You really do make the world a better place!)

    And my final thought is that accepting my own past mistakes of immaturity as essential building blocks of who I am today is hard enough. What is even harder is watching my children make mistakes and hurt, realizing that I can’t shield them from all the hard knocks of life (and probably shouldn’t). Still, I think being honest with them about my own failures will at least give them a leg up and maybe they won’t have to make the SAME mistakes that I did. Maybe they can learn some of their empathy from my honesty rather than from their own experience with pain.

    1. Hi Taylor,

      I had a discussion with a co-worker recently about raising kids, and how today a lot of kids are staying home with mom and dad until later ages then they used to, and how mom and dad are usually fine with it because they see how hard it is to get a start, and don’t want their kids to have to struggle. So now kids stay at home, go through school, start careers, and often don’t move out until they are in their late 20’s to mid 30’s.

      When you say “the only reason I have any empathy or humility today is because of those very experiences that shattered my heart”, I completely understand that.

      I often say we are the sum of our experiences, and it’s actually those struggles and hardships that we go through which make us who we are, and allow us to develop appreciation and empathy.

      I moved out at an early age, and man did I struggle. Truly though, I think that struggle was so important for making me who I am today. And I like me, and think I’ve turned out pretty well. There’s always room for improvement, and hopefully I continue to learn and grow. But I needed those struggles to get to where I am.

      1. Thanks, zombiedrew2. I guess the important thing is to make sure we learn and grow from our painful experiences into better (wiser, kinder, humbler and more compassionate) people instead of allowing them to harden us and make us bitter. I guess that’s something we can model for our kids, too–how to learn and grow from our failures. That’s probably a lot more useful and realistic than being a perfect example of never struggling or failing.

        Interesting thought about kids leaving home later. Hopefully that will provide more maturity and perspective that will serve them well when they do leave, rather than allow them to wallow in childish dependence longer and come to expect other people to make their lives work for them. I guess that depends on the individual and the family. I can see how it could be a very positive thing.

        1. My guess would be that it’s a negative thing, as it allows them to live in a world where mommy and daddy still “take care of them”, which I think would stunt their emotional maturity.

          I like the line “we fall so we can learn how to pick ourselves up again”. If someone is always there to pick us up, we never need to learn to do it ourselves. And until we *need* to do something, we often don’t.

          I could be wrong though, and hopefully I am.

      2. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit

        Hi Drew,

        I too moved out at a very early age (just shy of 16). It was not easy!

        The growing process was very slow as I put myself in “dangerous” situations that literally had life altering impacts. Many of which took years to overcome. Each, forcing me to grow into a better “smarter” person.

        Nevertheless, those impacts moulded me into what I can honestly say I’m proud to say today, that I am a “giving” or “empathetic” person because of the hardships I experienced. Taking time to notice others. To lend a hand whenever I am able. Or even as simple as sharing a smile with some stranger who looks like he/she is having a bad day. And sharing experiences with others who have the ability to do the same.

        I still struggle with the “no”, which brings me back to comments of Matt’s last couple of posts. I find it hard to differentiate sometimes that “giving” to others is very different from “allowing” to be taken advantage of. Misjudgment of character I suppose, but in the end, I prefer to think that people in general don’t mean to be unkind. Nor do most husbands mean to be “shitty”.

        Even though it may hurt at times, eventually I will have “organically filtered out” the negative relationships and will thrive with the honest ones that truly want to be surrounded by me for who I am, and I will be better equipped to recognize them.

        After all, life is a continuous learning experience! And can be a beautiful one!


  17. Another great post! Just one thing to add, which I advise because I’m currently going through it. If you love someone – or like them, appreciate them – let them know! Because one day, they’re not going to be there anymore. You’ll get that phone call that just *can’t* come, it *can’t* be real .. or you’ll read it in the OBITUARIES in the newspaper. And you’ll wish you’d let them know. You can plan a big birthday surprise, but they may not be there anymore…..

    1. I hear what you’re saying and feel your pain. I lost the guy I was dating suddenly and rarely does a day go by that I don’t either regret not telling him things I’d kept to myself or want to kick myself fit the things I did say in the limited time I had with him. I wish I could make you feel better but the truth is it sucks. There’s no way around it. I hope you have faith that this life isn’t all there is and that one day you’ll get to finish what was started. My heart breaks for you but you will get through this.

      1. Thank you, Dee! I’m so sorry for your loss as well – we have to remember too that we have to take this wisdom forward. It may sound very strange, but I’ve seen “signs” that there is more to just this life … (I hope you have too!)

  18. Happy birthday, Matt! I am 22 and have been married for a little over a year and a half and since I read your dishes by the sink blog I have been subscribing and am absolutely hooked. I’m be going on vacation for spring break in a week and my husband said while I was away he would read your posts from the dishes on. I have really related to your posts and I am very grateful for them. More importantly, I hope my marriage will be even better because of them.

    My husband is amazing. He just simply doesn’t understand why I get so upset when he doesn’t do what I ask him to do (and most of the time that’s the dishes haha.) Reading your posts have given me a lot of good language to use when trying to explain that to him. I am a child of divorce and addiction and dysfunction and abuse and all I want is to end the cycle. I’ll do whatever I can to make that happen.

    I genuinely stated this email with the simple and pure intention of telling you happy birthday…so sorry for the mini snapshot of my life and marriage but I really think you should hear a thank you every now and then and to know you’re helping/making a difference with your blogs.

    Anyway, I’m a preschool teacher (i read your posts when I’m rubbing the kids backs for nap time on my iPad haha) and its time to wake them up!

    So bye, and I hope you have a wonderful birthday!


    On Wednesday, March 23, 2016, Must Be This Tall To Ride wrote:

    > Matt posted: ” I heard a car alarm going off while exiting the mall. I’d > have ignored it like I do most car alarms, but I was still on high alert > from a previous car break-in in the not-too-distant past. I had left a > large shoebox with about 70 compact discs in p” >

  19. I know most of your readers and commenters are older than me and more experienced, but I just wanted to tell you that I find all of your blog posts very insightful! I’m a single, 28 year old woman trying to navigate the dating world. Both my parents have had bad marriages and multiple divorces, so I’ve never really seen what marriage is supposed to look like. What you are describing is what I grew up with every day! It always hurt me and I could never figure out why until I became an adult.

    I think for a long time, because of this, I made bad decisions in choosing my romantic partners. As I’ve gotten older and smarter I’ve made better decisions, but your writing and experiences have really helped me in my search for someone who has lots of empathy, and someone who I can love more than myself (haven’t found him yet, but I’ll keep looking).

    Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for sharing your experiences with everyone. I really want to avoid divorce if at all possible, and making sure I date and marry the right person has always been really scary for me. Thanks for dismantling some of it, so I can be better prepared, and hopefully, a great spouse one day. 🙂 The more I can understand about how a husband might work, the better the relationship can be, I hope.

  20. Happy Birthday Matt! I enjoy your blog and generally think your insights are on point. But I can’t quite reconcile your view on post secondary education. I agree that college fresh out of high school is overrated but I think it is necessary at some point to have a professional (good paying) career. I flunked out of college before I turned twenty and have spent the next twenty plus years in low paying jobs. I’m smart and hardworking but couldn’t get in the door without a degree. Do you think there is a difference for men and women trying to get a job without a degree? Is there a difference depending on where you live? Or maybe there are opportunities and approaches that I’m not aware of. I’m a female who has lived in smallish southern cities my whole life. This is one of many issues that my husband and I disagreed on in relation to child rearing. We are now separated and our 19 year old dropped out of college her 1st month. I will hopefully graduate in May with a degree in Education. Even though that won’t qualify me for a high paying job, starting pay will be at least double my prior jobs.

    1. I think it is VERY important to be professional, and educated, and spend your days working on something about which you are passionate (which hopefully earns money).

      I’m NOT against education. I’m against going $150,000 into debt (at the age of 20) for an unimportant piece of paper that will statistically earn you a $35,000-ish per year job. The math doesn’t make sense.

      My favorite example is this:

      Take 10 Harvard students who graduate at 22 with $350,000 in debt. And then go off to start their careers.

      And take 10 young people who were accepted to Harvard, but chose not to go. Instead, they are to spend those four years working every day to start businesses, learn life skills, read books focused on the areas in which they want to develop expertise.

      This works today because of the Internet. This wouldn’t have been feasible in 1995, to the extent it is now.

      Anyway, I submit (and this isn’t original thought; I read it somewhere and agreed with it), the 10 kids accepted to Harvard, but instead avoided the $350K debt and spent four years earning critical life and entrepreneurial life experiences, and not sitting in general studies classes or whatever (meaning a future accountant wasn’t in History of Jazz or the Physics of Light and Color; and a future music composer wasn’t in Chemistry II or Anthropology classes)–focused attention and experience optimized for career development–I think those 10 kids who go try to build something valuable and learn all they can about the subjects that ACTUALLY interest them and apply to their careers will outperform (both financially AND overall life happiness) than the 10 kids who go into major debt and delay the start of their careers four or five years.

      If we want young people to go “discover” themselves (and I’m fully onboard with that), let’s not have them rack up $25K+ per year in debt to do so, only to get some degree they never actually use.

      There is NOTHING they can teach you in a non-specialty class/lab (specialized being medicine, law, engineering, etc.) that you can’t learn on the Internet and/or public library.

      Everyone believes the lie that you need the college degree to get the job. That might be true for some corporations with rigid and ignorant hiring policies (I wouldn’t want to work there anyway), but I think in 2016, the ability to demonstrate mastery will earn you a job in whatever field you want (that doesn’t require special certification–pilots, surgeons, nurses, educators, etc.)

      Just my 47,000 cents.

      This guy has really changed my tune on this, because I believed the bachelor degree lie, too:


      Thank you for reading. And congratulations on going back. You are NOT who I’m talking to when I say that. I’m really just talking about myself and my son. I think, depending on his preferred field of study, I might actively discourage him from going to college at 18, and instead pursue education and life experience in ways I believe to be more impactful and cost-effective than sitting in lecture halls.

      1. bygeorgeithinkyou'vegotit

        I totally agree with James Altucher’s theory as well.

        And you are right… the math doesn’t make sense. And only a tiny percentage actually “find” jobs in their field of study.

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

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

    Yes x 1000. I like to say something along the lines of “two intelligent people, presented with the same facts, often come to entirely different conclusions.” We can learn from the differences more than we can from those who agree with us….

    Second – I agree on college, although corporate America hasn’t caught up with the concept quite yet. Many applicant software systems weed out the non-degreed, yet experienced, professional. Short-sighted, IMO.

  22. Hi Matt,

    I just recently joined the WordPress community. I intentionally searched for your blog since I remembered accidentally coming across it few months back. Anyway, I enjoyed reading you latest, valuable post because I find your insights simple yet meaningful. I am a newly married woman and during the past 23 years of my life, I did not realize that one day I would come at a point in which stuff like choosing to love your partner despite everything is something that MATTERED, and that money is never the key to real happiness.

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