With every ping pong ball that splashes into a red plastic cup

Traditional male bonding never really appealed to me.

Playing sports, social drinking, video games, fishing, hunting, camping, gambling, smoking cigars, insulting each other, working with tools, and of course, sexual conquesting, these activities do almost nothing for me.

I love my male friends, enjoy spending time with them, and value guy time as an important part of my growth.

But spending eleven hours sitting around a lake, drinking beer and turning every moment into another goddamn competition, it’s just not my thing.

Frankly, it disgusts me. Feels so tribal and juvenile. Like we’re setting our gender back another fifty years with every ping pong ball that splashes into a red plastic cup.

And I understand that the key sociological difference between men and women is that men bond around activities, whereas women bond around emotional connections. Fine.

But can’t we find something else to do? It just feels so isolating.

When you’re the only male in the group who’s sober and doesn’t care about sports, you feel like a leper. There’s this very primal fear that you’re going to be singled out for your weirdness and excommunicated from the tribe forever.

Wait, that one doesn’t have a beer in his hand and isn’t contributing to the conversation about the basketball draft. Get him!

There is one solution to this problem. Been working on a new invention for a couple of years now, and it has the potential to revolutionize the sociological gap felt by many men such as myself.

Because I’m not alone here. There are thousands of men out there who fear the judgment, ridicule and physical harm from preening, macho assholes. That’s why we created this new software.

Goodsport is a geolocation app that sends your phone push notifications of sports history facts, athletic rituals and team jokes of whatever city you’re in. You’ll make sure you don’t say the wrong thing in public and get beat up.

It’s clinically proven to preserve the illusion of modern masculinity.

Goodsport, never put your cleat in your mouth again.

The key for me to remember is, this isn’t a failure of my personhood, this is a failure of manhood.

Millions of years of evolution have decided that these are the officially sanctioned activities for our gender, and that’s fine. Good luck turning that ship.

And so, I’ll play along for a few hours, but once people’s words start to slur and various colored balls begin getting thrown and kicked around, it’s time for me to go.

Which sociological pattern of your gender are you most disgusted by?

Watching yourself become the villain of your own story

My least favorite superhero movie trope is the supportive but mortal spouse who continues to implore her workaholic, messianic husband to just stop all the madness.

Stop your blind drive to invent, create, build, kill all the bad guys, save the world, leave a legacy for the next generation, and for once in your goddamn life, just rest. Rest, you idiot. Respect your limitations. Surrender this childish god complex. Accept your human capacity for death so we can go have dinner together like normal people.

Of course, that message never gets through. The main character has long since convinced himself that he’s special and the world needs him, and that caring about one life as much as he cares about the millions is his true calling.

Cue the dramatic score.

Clearly, this narrative sells a lot of tickets at the box office, which is exactly why these movies will continue to be made, and I will probably continue to pay money to see them.

But can we please stop pretending for a moment that this story is relatable?

Halstead, a lovely humanistic pagan, writes that the fallacy of superhero films is that they’ve muddled our expectations of dying. In these movies, nobody ever dies because life is unfair or they made a stupid mistake. Death is always massively heroic, noble, worthy, painless, slow motion, climactic and beautiful. Many of these movies send the techno optimistic message that death is terrible and the only way to get over it is to use a glowing stone to rewind time so that nothing bad ever happened.

This message cannot be helping us. In a world where reality doesn’t care what we think, it just keeps rolling along, it’s time we finally got good at accepting our mortality.

Becker’s illuminating book on the denial of death argued for this point decades ago. He coined the term cosmic specialness, which stems from our hope and belief that the things man creates in society are of lasting worth and meaning, that they outlive or outshine death and decay, that man and his products count.

And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to create the most fulfilling life possible. But let’s not live in obscurity about our own condition, lest we watch ourselves become the villains of our own story.

Let’s not pretend that the world is waiting for us to save it, lest we walk with clay feet by setting ourselves up as gods.

Movies are one of the great joys of my life, but there they’re not an objective form of evidence, no matter how many bad guys die.

What if our real enemy wasn’t death, but attempts to avoid it?

Answering client emails from your couch at midnight

It’s easy to set boundaries when you’re only accountable to yourself.

But when you have a manager, direct reports, coworkers, clients, company founders, and so on, it gets a bit more complicated.

Here are several scenarios, some of which are in the person’s control, some of which are not. See if you can spot the difference.

You would love nothing more than to make the resolution to not accept projects that have deadlines of less than three days away. But if your agency’s brand differentiator is speed of service, then your boundaries will likely get superseded by incoming client requests.

You would feel liberated to outline all the behaviors that you no longer tolerate from people you work with and take a stand for yourself. But if you’re young and hungry and you believe that saying no to new work makes you look weak, then you will likely overestimate your own bandwidth in the name of being a team player.

You are tired of clients forgetting that you’re not their employee. But if your direct manager is inversely incentivized to honor your boundaries in the name of client retention, then scope creep will continue to happen as long as invoices are paid.

You wish disconnecting at night and on the weekends was easier. But if you have a history of taking calls and answering client emails from your couch at midnight, then it’s going to be very difficult to reverse that precedent going forward.

You need to relieve the pressure to always be checking in when you’re off the clock. But if you have already convinced yourself that that’s just how it is at your company, then your boundaries will give way to the social and cultural pressure you’ve chosen to accept.

You would like to attend fewer meetings and focus on executing actual work. But if you’re allergic to letting people down and afraid of the conflict that results from saying no to new projects, then people will continue to take advantage of your willingness to help.

You would like to hold brave conversations about your boundaries before they become urgent. But if the founder of your company is a workaholic and everyone else is marching to his drum, then setting any kind of limits will probably be an uphill battle from day one.

Ever been in one of those scenarios before? Could you discern which ones were under and not under your control?

It’s hard work. Setting, managing and reinforcing your boundaries is like an unpaid second job.

But if you don’t draw the line, other people will draw it for you. Then they will continue to step over it. And it will be your fault for not setting the right precedent.

If you’re someone who’s accountable to more people than just yourself, remember the acronym byob, bring your own boundaries.

Which people in your life don’t respect your time?

There’s no wrong way to grow

Support groups have been transformative for my adult life, both personally and professionally.

Monthly masterminds, weekly men’s groups, spiritual communities, quarterly networking clubs, these social networks have helped me grow and connect in powerful ways.

What’s more, they’ve helped me contribute to the growth of others. As the saying goes, sometimes you need the group, sometimes the group needs you.

But something I’ve noticed along the way is, not all support groups are created equally. Sometimes the group fails to support people and help them move forward. Sometimes the group is run by a controlling leader or dominated by a few members who love to hear themselves talk, but aren’t considerate of other people’s needs.

Kenny comes to mind, a guy who attended my men’s group every week for a year. He rarely spoke or showed emotion, never demonstrated any progress in his life, made zero effort to connect with other members, and often complained that he’d rather spend his only free night of the week going to a concert to get away from his wife and kid.

Dude, why are you even here? Never made sense to me.

Point being, as meaningful as something like support communities can be, it’s important to notice when it’s reached the point of diminishing returns.

Because many of our social endeavors outlive their usefulness. And that’s okay. Everything has a lifecycle.

The best litmus test is to gauge how you feel the moment you walk out the door, as compared to the goal of the meeting. Here a several scenarios to consider.

The goal is to walk away feeling less alone in your suffering, not feeling resentful that ten strangers wasted your time whining about how their life sucks and their wives don’t understand them.

The goal is to walk away feeling supported and seen, not like you failed people’s little authenticity tests because by not sharing properly.

The goal is to walk away feeling more connected to a community of people that you’re thankful to belong to, not annoyed and disgusted by idiots that you wouldn’t voluntarily choose to spend time with otherwise.

The goal is to walk away with insights from others who get it, not feel more drained, depressed and confused by untrustworthy, unhelpful and unsolicited feedback.

The goal is to walk away cleansed and lighter, not feeling pissed that you spent three hours of your night sitting in a hot room for what that feels like an unpaid second job.

The goal is to walk away with new perspective and coping skills about your situation, not overwhelmed by sadness and feeling worse than before the group started.

The good news is, there’s no royalties for your loyalties. As a grown adult, you can leave the group anytime you wish, without explanation or justification.

You can simply be thankful for the opportunity, and move on with your life.

You might even discover that progress and healing doesn’t happen for you in a group setting, and that’s okay too.

There’s no wrong way to grow.

What community has outlived its usefulness in your life?

If this takes more than fifteen minutes, you’re doing it wrong

During a leadership meeting years ago, our employee survey reported that our startup had two primary complaints.

The first was that our company had a work life balance problem.
And the second was that our company had a productivity problem.

My immediate reaction was confusion. How is that even possible?

Because the first problem would suggest that people are working too much, in which case, they would probably be more productive, not less, solely based on the volume of hours put in, right?

But somehow, it had the opposite effect.

Which led me to believe that there is no relationship between activity and output. Being busy all the time is not a sign that you are highly motivated and productive, it’s a sign that you are an inefficient worker.

My guess is, most people could finish all their tasks within a few hours if there were more focused and less interested in screwing around all day.

It’s simply a matter of priority. For example, if employees want to attend the company sponsored happy hour in the middle of the week, that’s awesome. But if that means dragging their ass into the office the next day at eleven and spending the rest of the afternoon hydrating, eating greasy food and whining about how stressed and hungover they are, then that’s on them.

This isn’t about me being anti fun, it’s about me being pro adult.

Doesn’t matter where you work or how old you are, just stop complaining, take responsibility for your own happiness, and if you’re not satisfied with your work conditions, find alternate means and get on with your life.

Companies should absolutely make their office environment as conducive to productivity as possible. But it’s not their job to help us do ours.

We’re grownups. Big boys and girls. If we can’t manage the ordinary misery of basic professional life, it’s not the company’s fault.

If our lives aren’t working the way we wish they would, instinctively blaming someone or something else is not going to help.

Reminds me of something my former boss used to say about tracking client hours at the end of each week.

If this takes more than fifteen minutes, you’re doing it wrong.

What internal need is trying to be met by all your busyness?

Until it is too late to avoid the jaws of disaster

Some people can’t make decisions without other people.

They’re overly dependent on others to give them reassurance, even for the most mundane things.

One of the designers from an old job used to be like this. She would second guess, edit, censor and doubt herself into a frenzy on an hourly basis. Even mundane things, like where to go for lunch. By the time she was finished ruminating, researching and polling the rest of the team to see who else was hungry, it was almost time for dinner.

It drove me crazy.

And I know that not everyone is like me, nor should they be. But it just seems to me that a big part of being an adult is learning how to made decisions effectively and efficiently. Regardless of our natural disposition, it’s still a muscle everyone ought to strengthen.

One mistake indecisive people often make is that they’re too open to new information for too long. And as a result, they miss making decisions when they are needed.

It’s like my boss used to say:

If you wait until you have an informed opinion, it will be too late.

There’s a classic coming of age high school movie that comes to mind. Kevin pledges to no longer be a virgin by his high school graduation, and all of his friends agreed to the same.

But halfway through the movie, he tries to motivate the gang:

You guys should be a little more enthusiastic. This is the night we’ve been waiting for. We’re in this together. You guys can’t back out.

Kevin’s friends looked at him and said:

Look man, you don’t need us to get laid. Are you afraid or something?

That’s the precisely the problem. People can’t decide because they are scared.

This is a perfectly understandable fear. Every choice is a small death. Deciding means dying. But part of thriving while we’re still alive is accepting the loss that comes with committing to something, and more importantly, trusting our ability to adapt to whatever arrives as a result.

Are you someone who can’t making simple or difficult decisions with swift, rational ease?

It’s not too late for you. Anyone can evolve into a person with the ability to get things done while everyone else is freaking out about the details. 

Do you need more information, or do you need to decide?

Writhing time burns on without our consent

Falling in love has been called a socially acceptable form of insanity.

It’s also been called the most prudent form of accident in our lives.

But that’s the beauty of it. The fact that you can’t make love happen by going out and looking for it is what makes it so special. It’s called falling in love because falling is an activity that you can’t do on purpose.

For example, have you ever watched a soccer game where a player was faking injury? It’s pure theater. The player stumbles to the ground, winces in pain, throws his hands up in the air and screams bloody murder, trying to get the crowd on his side, hoping the referee will throw a red or yellow card for the other team.

The acting is laughably bad. There are entire websites with video compilations dedicated to catching players in the act of pretending to fall. There’s even a study that reviewed the most recent world cup and reported more than two hours of something they called writing time, in only thirty games.

Out of the three hundred separate instances of players appearing to be very seriously hurt, two hundred and ninety of the players were back up and playing within seconds. Only nine players were actually injured.

Nice try, but pretending to fall doesn’t work.

Everyone from the referees to the crowd to the fans at home know that it’s all for show.

That’s essentially how love works. It’s not something that can be faked, forced or fabricated. Despite people’s best efforts to control and contain the fires in each other’s hearts, love burns on without our consent. And it hurts like hell.

One good kiss can scramble your brain for a week. One look from a person can make you question everything you thought you knew about yourself.

After my first coffee date with my wife, I went home and forgot to eat dinner. And I love dinner.

Therefore, the best thing for us to do when we fall in love, is to just feel the burn. To surrender to the fire and let it scorch us.

It’s writhing time, as the research study named it. Because if physics has taught us anything, it’s that heat expands matter. Things change their entire shape, area, and volume in response to heat. We should all be so lucky.

If you’ve ever been a relationship that was cold, you know that finding someone who makes you expand is far more preferable than someone who makes you contract.

So now that I think about it, love isn’t like soccer at all. Because in love, there is no game to play. There is no side to take. There are no opponents. And the scoreboard doesn’t exist.

It’s just two people who stumble into the arena and try to create a relationship where winning is no longer necessary.

Sound insane? You’re right.

But at least when you fall in love, somebody else is there to writhe on the ground with you.


Are you willing to surrender your heart to the fire?

At least there will be an underpinning of compassion

Normal is the most relative term in the dictionary.

Take childhood. If everyone beats you up in your house, you grow up thinking that’s how houses are. Your frame of reference simply doesn’t know any better.

It’s only when you go out into the world that you realize, holy shit, not everybody’s youth was chaotic like mine.

Similarly, if everyone loves and respects you as a kid, you might grow up thinking that’s normal for relationships. Because your heart doesn’t have anything to compare it to.

Until you start to become an adult and realize, oh wow, my childhood wasn’t typical, and what a rare and special gift I was privileged to observe and be a part of.

Maisel’s book on the future of mental health summarizes it clearly:

Normal and abnormal are opinion words with multiple meanings and countless usages that are typically regularly employed to persuade and manipulate.

Think about it. There are lifestyles that were once considered abnormal that have now gained acceptance. Hell, homosexuality and masturbation were both once considered sins, disorders and crimes. In some places they still are, sadly.

And so, who’s to say what normal even means anymore?

What might be more meaningful is the effort to compassionately understand and lovingly appreciate how our definition of normal differs from that of those we love.

Because it is the delta between those two realties that is the source of misunderstanding and conflict.

If your romantic partner is someone who isn’t used to their boo treasuring them like gold, then you might get some weird looks the first couple of times you send flowers or write love notes.

If your coworkers are cynical jerks who spent most of their careers working in soulless, cold offices where seldom was heard an encouraging word, then you might get some initial pushback for praising people’s gifts publicly.

It’s a strange reaction. And it’s not a question of right or wrong, it’s mostly a question of perspective.

But however people react to your behavior, here’s the way we should think about it:

How is it possible that this person could think or behave in this way, and under what circumstances would it make perfect sense to do so?

There’s almost always an answer to remind us that everyone is normal within the pantheon of their own experience.

It might still feel awkward, but at least there will be an underpinning of compassion.

Whose normal is completely opposite of yours?

Tingle ourselves with the joy of mere living

Not everyone will be able to relate to your happiness.

Certain people will treat your desires with disgust and rejection. Some might even resent the shit out of you because you have the nerve to actual enjoy things.

It’s the strangest reaction. Who knew that being fulfilled would be such an affront to people’s soul?

The key is not getting sucked into the vortex. Because there will definitely be a part of you tempted to summon up some negativity to harmonize with their reality. Make them feel less alone in their cynicism.

But you have to resist. You have to tell yourself that it’s okay to enjoy things, that it’s okay for people to see you outwardly enjoying them, and it’s okay if not everyone understands that.

Weiss’s book on life balance has been a touchstone for me in regards to this subject. He uses the term unique fulfillment. After all, life is short and our society offers us a variety of choices to fulfill our quest for learning, recreation, and growth. But once guilt is removed from that process, then the courage to stand alone and to enjoy ourselves is greatly facilitated.

Key word in his philosophy is guilt. That’s the emotion that takes over when we forget who we are. We’re temped to heed the voice of the ego and feel regret towards our own bliss.

As if we were committing some kind of sin for relishing life in a way that’s unique to us.

Quite the opposite. The real sin is being afraid to tingle ourselves with the joy of mere living. The real sin is feeling bashful about singing at the top of our lungs on the way to work because we’re afraid somebody in front of us might stop in their tracks and look behind them with the stink eye.

Let us learn how to roll our eyes at other people’s judgment. It has zero nutritional value for us. Let is march forward, staggering under the trance of delight, if only to be the carrier of joy.

Because in the real world, there is no comments section. Yes, people can say whatever they want about the things we love and the way we love them, but ultimately, those words wash away in the wind like ashes.

It’s not our job to make people understand our happiness.

It’s our job to feel our happiness, and infect others with it

How are you making people’s judgments less relevant to you?

See the frightened animal that just doesn’t know any better

What if everyone we met was just as human as we were?

What if we were all just wounded animals trying to heal ourselves as we sit alone in dark corners?

What if people deserved to be treated with dignity, regardless of their current circumstances?

What if every individual you engaged with was just a brokenhearted warrior striving to be a little bit better each day?

There’s no way prove any of these claims. It’s just something we have to take on faith. We have to be willing to awaken from our nightmare of separation, as if we were different from each other somehow.

Wearing a nametag everyday helps me in this regard. Every time somebody engages with me, even if only for a moment, it’s a small but powerful reminder that if we all wore nametags, it would be impossible to put each other into boxes. We’d no longer have to address each other by a label, job, condition, color, ethnicity or role. We’d simply say people’s names and honor the truth instead of degenerating into depersonalization.

We could finally unite through personhood, not position or preference.

After 22 years of this sticky insanity, there is no doubt in my mind that nametags enable greater comfort, connection and humanity in our relationships.

What’s your version of that? How do you force yourself to stop viewing certain people as a separate category?

How do remind everybody that we’re all members of the same family? Next time somebody acts in a way that flabbergasts you, remember this. It’s ridiculous not to attribute people’s behavior to something human going on behind the scenes.

If we can train ourselves to treat each other like human beings with everyday human reasons for their anger and resentment, then our species might actually stick around for a while.

Nametags or not.

How will you awaken from your deep sleep of separation?

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