(Photo: Erich Chen)

Two moments now stand out at me in my life. Driving home, by myself, after my high school graduation, thinking: I am finally free. And now, driving with my father, on the way to my wedding.

Such different feelings toward two similar life events, almost exactly a decade between them. One, excited to get away—anywhere, anything. Now, excited to be here—to be at peace, like heading home. The experiences feel so different, it is as if they are happening to two different people.

Of course, it’s because so much has happened between these two versions of myself. Not just in my relationship with my parents, which 10 years ago I would have doubted would be this way. But more importantly, I met a girl. Or rather, I met the girl.

It’s funny for me to think that my now wife and I met not long after that first moment. At a party, as sophomores in college, eight years ago. I was much closer to the first me. Young, ambitious, impatient. Driven by an almost manic intensity to do things, to prove certain points, to make a mark. Things are different now, if only by degree.

For all the productivity and success advice I’ve read, shaped and marketed for dozens of authors in the last decade, I’ve never really seen someone come out and say: Find yourself a spouse who complements and supports you and makes you better. Instead, we’re supposed to believe that relationships tie people down, that they are the death knell for creativity and ambition. When Cyril Connolly said that there was “no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall,” he was voicing, in appalling clarity, the selfishness and self-absorption that draws many people away from love and happiness.

Maybe I worried about it when I was young and ignorant, but today, I don’t feel any shame in saying that I would have spun off the planet a long time ago if it wasn’t for her. We don’t have kids, but relationships take their own time and toll. Yet, I’ve been in one nearly the entirety of my working life and it’s accelerated everything I ever hoped to do.

It’s as if we don’t want to admit that we can’t do this alone, or that success may require dealing with the soft parts of ourselves, the uncomfortable, sticky parts we’d rather pretend weren’t there. We have trouble seeing the ramifications of our personal lives on our professional lives and that the best way to navigate the public world is to master and find contentment in the private one.

The myth is of the lone creative entrepreneur battling the world without an ally in sight. A defiant combination of Atlas and Sisyphus and David, wrestling a Goliath-sized mass of doubters and demons. In reality, I’ve found that nearly every person I admire—every person I’ve met who strikes me as being someone who I would like to one day be like—lives a quiet life at home with a person who they’ve teamed up with…for life. The reason this one person strikes us as special, I find, is because they’re really two people.

Why it took me so long to grasp the freeing truth of this, I do not know. Samantha and I met when we were 19 years old. We’ve lived in five cities together, published three books, traveled the world, started (and dissolved) companies, quit jobs, broke several bones and, of course, on the eve of our engagement, had most of what we owned stolenincluding the ring. In that time we’ve faced and experienced things far beyond what most people so young should or could experience (mostly good rather than bad things—I’m not trying to be melodramatic), and yet it was the two of us that helped each other through it.

In my part of the vows, I said that marriage was essentially one of the few regrets I have in my short life—in that I wish I’d done it sooner. Because it feels like we have always been married—partners in it together. It’s been this way almost since we met, but without the legal status, the ceremony and of course, the acknowledgment or understanding of other people. I think we always knew we would get married, but there was some slight resistance or immaturity that held it back from being made real. With time that fell away, until what was left felt natural and necessary, this step and commitment.

Anyway, that’s what I said in my vows. In hers, she promised to continue to allow goats in the house despite my repeated objections. This is, after all, what makes her special and attracts me to her, that she is so inexplicably different. That she defies and baffles the order, logic and seriousness with which I tend to treat the world. At the end of her vows, she stated she would continue to manipulate me as long as she could, into whatever other ridiculous schemes and larks she’s decided upon. That she would be both my biggest supporter and even bigger distraction. Not that I don’t love it anyway, but if this is my fate, cleaning it up and dealing with the insanity of it all, will be a plenty fair penance to pay.

Penance? One of the most difficult things about starting a relationship as kids and getting married as adults is this: “stupid kid mistakes” didn’t happen to someone else, some unfortunate ex. It happened together, or to one of you. You grew up together, instead of coming together as more fully formed people.

Biologically, women mature earlier than men, which means one thing for young but sustained relationships: I’ve usually done the ridiculous things, held on to stuff and made issues where there shouldn’t have been any. And did this to her. A man nearing his thirties can only look back on his twenties—however successful they may have been—and think: Goddamn, I was an idiot. Or more likely, an asshole. I suppose the reverse is true for her too, that I put up with her growing phases, but that’s not really the case. Or at least it doesn’t feel like it.

There’s a line from Kurt Vonnegut where he says that at the root of every couple’s fight is this claim, which neither understands or can admit: You are not enough people. I need more people. In retrospect, I see how true this was over the years and only now, have we started to fully become enough for each other. It took trial and error to begin building the support structures necessary to allow these two different people to live and fully be together.

But in this moment, heading to the wedding, all is far from my mind. Seeing her come down the aisle with a baby bunny in a basket instead of flowers, it was her moment to be the center of attention, which she not only richly deserved but relished. There were ponies and baby animals. There were friends, some wealthy and well known, some old acquaintances from life phases nearly forgotten, and there was a cake shaped like an armadillo. And there was, thankfully, only a little bit of dancing.

This post appeared originally on the New York Observer.



Every year, I try to narrow down the hundred plus books I have recommended or read down to just the three or four best. I know that people are busy, and most of you don’t have time to read as much as you’d like. There’s absolutely no shame in that–what matters is that you make the time you can and that you pick the right books when you do. In 2015, I read a lot—though not as much as I have in years past. I was more disciplined this year and I’d like to think I tackled books that were more challenging, personally and intellectually. When I was 19 or 20, Tyler Cowen talked to me about the concept of “quake books”—books that shake you to your core. But he said something at the time that I didn’t quite understand. He said that as you get older, you experience that feeling less and less. I wasn’t sure I believed him then, but he was right.

Below are some books I absolutely loved and loved above the others. Did they turn my world upside down? No—but that’s a good thing. Because the books I read in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and long before that have set up a sturdy foundation.

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

In 2014, I read The Education of a Coach, a book about Bill Belichick which influenced me immensely (coincidentally, the Patriots have also read my book and were influenced by it). Anyway, I have been chasing that high ever since. Bill Walsh’s book certainly met that high standard. Out of all the books I read this year, I marked this one up the most. Even if you’ve never watched a down of football, you’ll get something out of this book. Walsh took the 49ers from the worst team in football to the Super Bowl in less than 3 years. How? Not with a grand vision or pure ambition, but with what he called the Standard of Performance. That is: How to practice. How to dress. How to hold the ball. Where to be on a play down the very inch. Which skills mattered for each position. How much effort to give. By upholding these standards—whatever they happen to be for your chosen craft—success will take care of itself. A few other excellent coaching and leadership books I read this year: The Winner Within by Pat Riley and The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership by John Wooden (thanks to the friend who recommended all these). Also related to this, another inspiring coach recommended the book The Way To Love to me. It has nothing to do with sports, but was a highlight of my reading year.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

There’s no question this was the year’s best book about media and culture–maybe even the best of the decade. Not only is it provocative and insightful, but the idea—interviewing and focusing on people who have screwed up and found themselves in the midst of massive online controversies—is one I am genuinely jealous of. Ronson proceeds to write about it with such sensitivity, empathy, humor and insight that I was blown away. If you’ve at all appreciated any of my media criticism over the years, please read this book. It looks at all that’s wrong with the rage and glee with which we tear people down–often people who were never public figures to begin with. He is just a helluva writer. If you get a chance, watch Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk which is also surprisingly good and pairs well with the ideas in the book.

Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele

For me, this year was filled with what one might called “cautionary biographies”—bios of people you don’t want to end up like—and Hughes is at the top of the list. The authors clearly respect what was great about Howard—his daring, his talent for flying, his sense for people and love of negotiation—but they also see clearly his many, crippling flaws. They are able to tell his story in a way that gives one real insight into the life of a tragic and tortured figure. I very much related to the stories in the book given my more recent experiences at American Apparel and I imagine anyone else who has dealt with powerful personalities and eccentric figures will too. Related and with equal weight, I want to recommend George B. McClellan: The Young Napoleon by Stephen W. Sears (a biography of the talented but utterly delusional General George McClellan), Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne (a biography of the brilliant but manic Stonewall Jackson) and Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (an equally brilliant, more accomplished but equally tragic founding father). All these books made me angry, sad, and confused. But they also made me look inward and taught me quite a bit.

Misc

This year I want to make my Misc section (which usually exists because I can’t stick to just a few books) and dedicate it exclusively to fiction. I read a lot of it this year and got so much from the books I read. First, James Salter’s The Hunters: A Novel was a magnificent book which focuses on the burning fire of ambition—in this case, that of a young fighter pilot—and what it does to us. I read The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe which looks at a different burning fire—that of young love—and how crazy it makes us. A beautifully written book that every person should read. Dr. Drew recommended Voltaire’s Candide, which I read on my wedding day, and found to be fantastic and educational. Equally allegorical, I read The Little Prince for the first time which for some reason I’d never been exposed to before. If you’re in the same boat, read it. It’s short but great. Finally, I’m not sure what compelled me to pick Fahrenheit 451 back up but I’m so glad I did because I was able to see the book in a very different context. Bradbury’s message (made explicit in his 50th Anniversary Afterword) is much less a warning against government control and much more about a road to hell paved by people attempting to rid the world of offensive speech and conflicting ideas. In a world of microaggressions and outrage porn, this is an important idea to see in such a timeless work of fiction.

Also, great news: my book Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing & Advertising is discounted to $1.99 as an ebook this week. It’s just in time to give as a gift or if you’re looking to read something over the break. What started as a short 10,000 word experiment is now an expanded edition that’s sold more than 40,000 copies and is translation in close to a dozen language. Hope you like it.

Enjoy and looking forward to reading with you in 2016!



(Photo: BK/Flickr)

The media narrative about millennials is well worn right now. You’ll read they’re lazy, narcissistic, soft, and entitled. It’s a great way to get pageviews—it either gratifies the older reader, or it pisses of the younger one. The result is a lot of comments and angry Facebook shares.

Of course, this doesn’t accomplish anything. The reality is that the economic situation for millennials is not a good one. Thirty-six percent of our generation still lives with their parents. Unemployment for millennials is twice the national average. Half of all Millennials have taken a job they didn’t want just to pay the bills and only 30 percent consider their current job a career. According to one 2011 study by the University of Michigan, many graduates aren’t even bothering to learn how to drive. The road is blocked, they are saying, so why get a license I won’t be able to use? Despite student loan debt rising above $1 trillion, surpassing credit card debt, we go back to school.

And a lot of young people are stuck because of it. We are paralyzed by the obstacles which lay before us. Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Anger. Depression. These are understandable emotions in the face of what seems like insurmountable obstacles everywhere we look.

Of course, this has always been the case for young people. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1841:

“If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life.”

If that was printed in The New Yorker tomorrow under a different name, no one would bat an eye. That’s because our situation is not unique. We’re all, at varying points in our lives, subject to random and often incomprehensible events. It just so happens that when we are young we don’t have the framework to deal with these problems. We have no idea how to turn them around.

But we are in great luck, because we can find examples in the icons of history who used this formula to persevere and turn their obstacles into advantage. They took what should have held them back—paralyzed with the same emotions we are feeling—and used it to achieve great success. Just like them we have the ability to see our obstacles for what they are and attack them to achieve what we want in life. Like them, we can use the following framework to stand out amongst those who remain mired in this rut.

Control Your Perceptions
John D. Rockefeller took his first job in 1855 at the age of 16 making 50 cents a day. Less than two years later the Panic of 1857 struck. It was at the time the greatest market depression in US history and it had hit him just as he was starting his career. Instead of getting angry or growing despondent, he looked at the panic as an opportunity to learn, a baptism in the market. Within 20 years of that first crisis, Rockefeller would alone control 90 percent of the oil market. We can try to see disaster rationally. Or rather, like Rockefeller, we can see opportunity in every disaster, and transform that negative situation into an education, a skill set, or a fortune.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the classic series Little House, faced some of the toughest and unwelcoming elements on the planet: harsh and unyielding soil, Indian territory, and the humid backwoods of Florida. But Wilder wasn’t afraid or jaded, she saw all these unforgiving environments as adventures. As she put it: “There is good in everything, if only we look for it.”

For us, we face things that are not nearly as intimidating, and then promptly decide we’re screwed. Just because other people say that something is hopeless or crazy or broken to pieces doesn’t mean it is. We decide what story to tell ourselves. Or whether we will tell one at all. That is the power of perception.

Direct Your Actions
When former President James Garfield couldn’t afford his tuition at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in 1851, he paid his way through by persuading the school to let him be the janitor in exchange for tuition. Within just one year of starting at the school he was a professor—teaching a full course load in addition to his studies. By his 26th birthday he was the dean.

In the 1920s Amelia Earhart couldn’t make a living as a female pilot, so she took a job as a social worker. Then one day the phone rang. On the other end of the line was a pretty offensive offer: She could be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, but she wouldn’t actually fly the plane and she wouldn’t get paid anything. Guess what she said to the offer? She said yes. Less than five years later she was the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic and became, rightly, one of the most famous and respected people in the world.

Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie famously put it. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn.

Strengthen Your Will
Theodore Roosevelt spent almost everyday during the first 12 years of his life struggling with horrible asthma. The attacks were an almost nightly near-death experience. But as a fragile child born into great wealth and status, he could have remained weak and would have been taken care of throughout his life.

Instead, he one day looked at his father and said with determination: “I’ll make my body.” He proceeded to work out feverishly every day for the next five years. By his early twenties his battle against asthma was essentially over. Roosevelt had worked it out of his body. Like Roosevelt, we can choose to not accept the hand we’re dealt with, a hand we don’t control. Instead of sitting back and enjoying the modern cushy life, we can prepare for the adversity that is all but guaranteed to come our way and react accordingly.

Abraham Lincoln’s life was defined by enduring and transcending great difficulty. He grew up in poverty, lost his mother while he was still a child, and suffered through intense bouts of depression. Because of the difficulties he endured in both his personal life and as President, he was able to embody the Stoic maxim: sustine et abstine. Bear and forbear. Acknowledge the pain but trod onward in your task. With all our modern technology has come the conceited delusion that we control the world around us, which is of course not true. We can follow Lincoln’s example andadjust to a world that is inherently unpredictable by remaining confident, calm, and ready to work regardless of the conditions.

Our generation needs to always remember that over a hundred years before us, people stood right where we were and felt very similar things, struggling with the same issues. People have always had to dig themselves out of messes they had nothing to do with creating.

This is a recession, not the Great Depression. Those that came before us dealt with much worse problems and had fewer safety nets and tools at their disposal. They dealt with the same obstacles we have today, plus those that they worked so hard and sacrificed their lives to eliminate for us.

We’d be so much better following the lead of Emerson’s counterexample, as someone who “tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet.”

This is perseverance. And with it, Emerson said, “with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear.”

The post appeared originally on the New York Observer