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Becoming A Better Man: A Lesson From My Father

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As kids, we rarely appreciate the lessons and insights our parents give us. For the most part, we see their efforts as an obstacle to our daily goal of having candy for every meal and staying up as late as we want. It’s only after we grow into adults and learn much harsher lessons from the world around us that we truly appreciate our parents.

That has certainly been my case. I’m very fortunate and very grateful because I have the best parents I ever could’ve hoped for. My mother and father did everything a kid could ask for in a parent and then some. I try to thank them every chance I get and I’m not just saying that because I know they regularly read this site. I genuinely mean it.

Earlier this year, I shared a special personal story about me and my mother to help celebrate Mother’s Day. Rest assured, I have just as many special stories about my father. I’ve mentioned before how his parenting style is distinct from my mother’s. He’s a lot more direct in how he establishes how a good, honorable man should behave. It’s because of him that I have a healthy appreciation for noble masculinity.

There are so many stories I could tell that demonstrate why my dad is so special and how he helped me appreciate the importance of becoming a better man. On the eve of Father’s Day, I’d like to share one of those stories. It’s one I’m sure I remember more vividly than my dad because while it was a defining moment for me, he probably sees it as just another day of being a great father.

This particular story takes place when I was about nine years old. I was a kid, but a growing kid. It was an age where you start to understand what it means to mature. I bring that up because it ended up being a critical component of this particular story.

My family was visiting one of my many aunts and uncles. I don’t remember the occasion, but my family has never needed much excuse to get together and party. For me, I just loved going there to hang out with my cousins. Growing or not, though, I was a kid and kid get rowdy after a certain period of time and sugar intake. It might as well be a law of physics.

The most memorable part of the visit, however, came towards the end when it was getting late and my parents needed the kids to settle down. In a confined space full of kids no older than 10, they might as well ask gravity to reverse itself on top of that. It just wasn’t going to happen without some sort of parenting wizardry.

That’s where my father comes in. It’s right around nine o’clock and my parents, along with every other adult in that house, were low on patience. My siblings and cousins had crowded in a bedroom where I was sort of leading the rowdiness, listening to music and yelling at the TV. My father might as well have walked into an insane asylum and I was the one handing out the tainted meds.

The first thing he did was turn off the TV, which for a kid my age was like slap in the face coupled with a kick to the shin. He didn’t raise his voice or yell. He just walked in there, carrying himself like a Navy Seal, and let his presence do the talking. Most of the younger kids in the room listened, but I didn’t. I still insisted on being difficult.

I ended up making a scene, saying I didn’t want to go and I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t even cute about it either. I admit I was an outright brat. If my father’s reading this, I think he remembers this better than I do. He’d probably use much stronger words, but in my defense, I was an immature kid surrounded by other immature kids.

Despite that attitude, my father didn’t flinch for a nanosecond. He just stood there, looked down at me with a glare that could’ve melted steel, and just kept repeating my name in this stern, stoic mantra. Again, he didn’t yell. He didn’t demand my obedience. He didn’t lay a hand on me. He just stood there like a titan.

At first, it annoyed the hell out of me and that just made me more restless. I kept making a racket that I’m sure the other adults in the house heard. My dad was well within his right to grab me by the shirt and put the fear of God in me. He still didn’t do it. He just kept repeating my name, as if to wear me down.

On paper, it shouldn’t have worked. It shouldn’t have gotten an immature kid my age to shut up. I don’t even remember how long I kept it up. After repeating my name in that tough, but authoritative voice for who knows how long, I finally broke. I just fell silent. Every kid in the room fell silent as well. It was downright eerie, but it worked. My father had silenced a room full of kids without breaking a sweat.

If that doesn’t demonstrate how awesome my dad is, I don’t know what will. He still wasn’t done, though. After the room fell silent, he told me we were leaving in a half-hour. I just nodded. I then asked if we could play one more game before that. I didn’t ask in a whiny, childish tone, though. I asked in the same serious tone he’d used. My dad, being as loving as he was tough, just smiled and nodded.

As the years have gone by, that moment has gained greater and greater meaning. It was at that moment that I realized what it meant to be mature. Just whining and begging wasn’t going to get me what I wanted anymore. If I wanted something from someone, I had to show respect and humility when I asked.

My father didn’t spell that out for me. Instead, he demonstrated it in a way I would never forget. He didn’t try to explain, word for word, the merits of being mature around other adults and why I should do it. He showed me. He made it so that what I’d been doing before as a kid no longer worked. If I wanted to get my way, I had to do something different. I had to be more mature about it.

That kind of lesson is a lot to process for a nine-year-old. I don’t think I began to appreciate it until a few years later when I noticed other kids around me trying to avoid that kind of maturation. When they wanted something, they still whined and complained. I didn’t do that and I’m a better man because of that.

It made me better through the rest of my youth. Talk to any of my relatives who knew me during that time and they’ll probably say the same thing. I was a lot more mature than most kids my age. Some even said that talking to me was like talking to a young adult. That earned me more respect than most kids my age and that helped a great deal, especially as I struggled through my teenage years.

It ended up being one of the most important lessons I ever learned as a kid. It might have been the most valuable lesson that my father ever taught me. To get what you want and to get along with people, you can’t beg for it. You can’t force it, either. You have to show respect and respect begins by showing it to others. It doesn’t matter if your a kid or adult. There’s value in being mature, respectful, and kind.

There are so many great memories I have of me and my dad, from trips to the beach to just paying catch in the back yard. However, that fateful day when he taught me that important lesson in maturity still stands out, especially on the eve of Father’s Day. It’s a moment that I treasure to this day and one that has helped shaped me into the man I am today.

I hope that story resonates with fathers and their children. To my own dad, if you’re reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for being such an awesome father and for showing me how to be a better man.

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Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights, noble masculinity

Five Life Lessons I Learned During My First Visit To A Strip Club

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What can you learn at a strip club that can help you with life in general? That’s not a rhetorical question or something Glenn Quagmire said on an episode of “Family Guy.” That’s a legitimate question with real answers. I know that because I’ve been to strip clubs. I’ve contemplated those questions. I’ve also surmised my share of answers.

I won’t claim those answers are definitive. Everyone’s experience at strip clubs are different, be they of the male or female variety. However, during that fateful first visit to a strip club, I found myself learning a whole lot more than I expected. I went in just hoping to see beautiful women getting naked. It ended up being much more than that.

I’ve shared my love of Las Vegas before. I’ve shared experiences I had and even based one of my novels on both Las Vegas and strippers. The city is near and dear to my heart, is what I’m saying. It’s one big spectacle, one that goes out of its way to overtly sexy. There are sexy shows to see, sexy sites to visit, and plenty of sexy people in general just walking the strip.

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For a lover of romance and all things sexy, Las Vegas is a fantasy paradise. I learned that quickly during my first visit, which occurred shortly after I turned 21. It was a truly magical experience at a time in my life when I was just starting to come out of the shell I’d built around myself during high school.

One of those experiences, naturally, involved my first trip to a strip club. Needless to say, I was excited and anxious. This would be the first time I would be in an adult establishment where I could admire abundant nudity on something other than a computer screen. Like everything else in Las Vegas, it blurred the lines between fantasy and reality in the best possible way.

I won’t share all the details of that first strip club experience, but I will gladly share some of the critical life lessons I learned that night. Out of respect for the women I saw and any legal ramifications, I won’t say which strip club I went to. I’ll just say it was a fairly prominent one that most Las Vegas veterans have heard of.

Again, I won’t claim that these lessons are the definitive insights a man can glean from his first trip to a strip club. Everyone is going to learn different lessons from different experiences. These are just the five lessons I learned during that fateful first adventure into this sexy world.


Lesson #1: Admire, Don’t Stare (And Know The Difference)

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The first thing I noticed when I walked into that strip club for the first time was there was a lot to see. This was Las Vegas, after all. Las Vegas is to strippers what the Pro Bowl is to the NFL. You go into a Las Vegas strip club and you won’t see any rookies. You’ll only see seasoned pros who have the stats, talent, and game.

That said, just looking at all the beautiful women isn’t enough. Staring won’t cut it either. Most women, strippers or otherwise, don’t want to be looked at the same way most look at a golden toilet seat. They want to be admired. Give them that admiration and they’ll show their appreciation, sometimes very directly.

That involves doing more than just staring blankly at a topless woman. It involves smiling, moving a little to the music, and clapping when she does something amazing like hang upside down from one leg. Throw in a few tips and she’ll appreciate it. If she’s generous, she’ll even reward that admiration with some of her own.

During my first visit, I made it a point to single out certain women who was uniquely endowed for her job. By that, I mean she had breasts that were about as natural as the Hoover Dam. As I admired her every move, she responded by mashing my fast between her breasts after I tipped her. That, in many ways, showed me how much more valuable it was to admire a woman rather than just stare at her.

There is a difference. To know the difference, spend some time in front of a mirror. Take a moment to just stare blankly at yourself. Then, put a little effort into admiring yourself. The difference should be obvious. It’s just much more obvious for strippers.


Lesson #2: Personality Helps, But Energy Helps More

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I admit when I first entered the strip club, I was shy and overwhelmed. My social skills were way behind to curve, thanks to all the issues I had in high school. However, I was at a phase in my life when I was just starting to catch up. I wasn’t some moody, self-loathing teenager anymore. I was an adult man with an emerging persona.

That persona helped me stand out in a crowded strip club. I was young, eager, and full of excitement at all the sight of naked women. I admit it was a little immature because of my youth, but I made up for it by having a respectable, endearing personality. The women at the club really responded to it.

However, personality only went so far. That only informed them that I was a decent guy who wasn’t going to drool over them like a slob. To show I was worth getting to know, I had to put a little effort into the experience. I had to take some of that youthful energy I had and make it stand out.

That meant clapping more, cheering more, and smiling more. I showed genuine excitement for the women as they danced, giving compliments and even dancing a little in my seat. I definitely showed more energy than the older guys around me and the fact that the women gave me more attention showed there’s something to be said about channeling your energy.

Excitement is infectious. When someone near you is excited, you tend to get excited to. Human beings are a social species. Strippers are human too and they’re just as prone to getting excited. Sure, it’s part of their job, but a little excitement in your work helps make that work all the more rewarding.


Lesson #3: Half-Truths Are Better Than Outright Lies

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This is one of the tougher lessons I learned in my first visit to a strip club. Las Vegas is a fantasy town and people love fantasy, in general. There’s a time to be blunt and brutally honest about who you are or why you’re doing something. A strip club in Las Veags isn’t one of them.

That doesn’t mean lying, though. I came into that strip club with a roll of $20s. I even made sure that roll was thicker than it really was, which the Bouncer seemed to notice. That, in turn, got me a front-row seat and some extra attention from the bartender. I didn’t tell them that I wasn’t the son of a wealthy hedge fund manager. I did’t tell them I wasn’t, either. Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to let others assume.

When talking to the strippers, though, you can’t rely too much on assumptions. You also can’t blurt out every detail of your life story. I got a little overly chatty with a couple women early. At some point, I realized that throwing too much hard truth in a fantasy setting was really a turn-off. To the credit of the women working there, they didn’t make it more awkward than it needed to be.

I quickly learned that it works better to use half-truths or vague hints about why you’re there. If someone asks how much money you have, don’t give an exact dollar figure. When one woman asked me, I just responded with, “That depends.” That wasn’t entirely wrong or wholly true, but it sent the right message.

More than anything else, I learned that it helps to be a mystery to people to some extent. That’s not just a tactic to pretend you’re a high roller with a stripper. It’s a way of getting someone interested in you and actually wanting to learn more about you. Whether they’re just looking for a tip or seeking true love, leave them with something to find. They may end up finding more than they expect and you’ll be better for it.


Lesson #4: Know How To Negotiate Your Intentions And Desires

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There are a lot of official and unofficial rules in a strip club. Officially, these beautiful women are there to entertain you, entice you, and extract tips. That’s it. That’s the end of the arrangement. If you’re looking for them to be your girlfriend, your therapist, or your servant for a day, you’re undermining the rules.

In strip clubs, the dynamic is much more overt. In exchange for money and attention, the strippers give you a fantasy and some intimate affection. You want something from them. They want something from you. The key is negotiating the best way to get it. Neither of you will always get what you want, but understanding the rules and being able to negotiate will go a long way.

In many respects, my first trip to a strip club gave me a crash course in what it meant to convey my attentions and negotiate with someone on getting what I wanted out of the experience. It wasn’t just about saying, “Here’s some money. Let me touch your boobs.” It was more akin to, “I want an experience. How can I convince you to help me make it?”

Outside a strip club, we negotiate our desires all the time. Sometimes it’s with a lover, a co-worker, or a relative. Sometimes it’s with a total stranger. In any case, there’s are rules and expectations. If you try to subvert those rules or make unreasonable expectations, you’re bound to run into trouble. In a strip club, that can get you thrown out. In real life, that can have even worse consequences.

Like it or not, people in the real world usually want something from you. Whether it’s money or love, the key is navigating it responsibly. Going to a strip club gave me a chance to be more direct about it and it was a great experience. Being able to see beautiful women naked was a nice bonus as well.


Lesson #5: How You Present Yourself Matters As Much As What You Say

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This is where I kind of have to give credit to my mother. Yes, I know that’s an odd thing to say about experiences involving strip clubs, but I think this warrants an exception. Before I even left for Vegas, my mom insisted I get some fancy new clothes that were nicer, albeit less comfortable than I was used to. Even though I complained at first, I’m really glad she convinced me to spruce up my wardrobe.

When I ventured into the strip club, I wore a nice button-up shirt, a new set of jeans, and dress shoes that most guys wouldn’t wear outside a wedding. I definitely didn’t look like some college student just experiencing Vegas for the first time. I looked like a refined, well-dressed, well-groomed gentleman. That sends a powerful message to men and women alike.

It showed in the way the bouncer was extra nice to me. It also showed in the way the bartenders and strippers treated me. Compared to some of the other men in that club, who were primarily wearing T-shirts and flip-flops, I stood out for all the right reasons. I sent the message that I care enough about myself to look good. I also sent the message that I care about presenting a good image of myself to others.

That sort of approach doesn’t just attract a man to strippers. It attracts a man to everyone. I know it sounds obvious, but I don’t think some people appreciate the true impact that presentation has on others. I treated going into a strip club kind of like a job interview. I wanted to look my best and present myself as someone worthy of attention.

In addition to good clothes, presenting yourself with confidence and energy helps supplement your efforts. It says even more about the kind of person you are. It gives the impression that you’re excited about life and you want to share it. The inherent social nature of people in general will draw them to you. It’s simple biology.


That, my friends, concludes my list of critical lessons that I learned from a strip club. To the women working at that club and the fine folks who managed it, I sincerely thank you. You taught me more about life than just the inherent beauty of topless women. I hope others can draw from those lessons as well. When applied properly, they can help you in ways that go beyond having a great time at a strip club.

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Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights, sex in society, sexuality

Boredom Vs. A Lack Of Belonging: Which Drives Outrage Culture More?

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Here’s a quick non-rhetorical question. Which is worse, crippling boredom or social isolation? There’s no right answer, but every answer has distressing implications. More than anything else, those answers reinforce why solitary confinement is rightly considered torture.

I ask that question because I had an interesting conversation with someone on Reddit about what drives certain people to be constantly outraged about whatever happens to be controversial that day. I’ve talked a bit about outrage culture before and how professional trolls exploit them, but I haven’t really dug into the mechanisms behind it. Given how new controversies seem to trend every day, I think it’s worth scrutinizing.

In the discussion, I singled out boredom as a possibly underrated factor. Having highlighted the power of crippling boredom, I felt qualified to make the case that boredom may very well be an understated, under-appreciated cause. I still feel there’s a case to be made.

In the grand scheme of things, humanity is in uncharted territory when it comes to boredom. For most of human history, we had to live our lives under the constant threat of plague, famine, war, and natural disasters. Whether we were hunter/gatherers or subsistence farmers, life was chaotic and unpredictable.

Say what you will about those harsh, pre-modern eras, but they weren’t boring. They couldn’t be. There was always work to do. Given the lack of effective birth control, there were children to raise. Even if social media had existed 100 years ago, who would have the time or energy to even be outraged about a man wearing a sexist shirt.

Fast forward to the 21st century and things like war, famine, disease, and crippling poverty are all in decline. This is objectively good on so many ways, but for some people, especially in well-to-do middle class people, it leaves a large void that quickly becomes boring if not filled with something. Sometimes, it can get so bad that it can lead to outright murder.

When I made this argument, I think more than a few people took it seriously on Reddit. It was easy to see how someone whose life is so affluent and devoid of heart-pounding conflict that they will latch onto petty outrages just so they can feel something. Like someone stuck in solitary confinement, they’ll do anything for some sort of stimulation beyond counting the tiles on the floor.

Given how our brains can’t always discern the source of arousal, sometimes it’ll settle for whatever adrenaline rush we get from righteous outraged. Some go so far as to call the rush we get from outrage an addiction and it’s not a wholly inaccurate idea.

However, one person in that discussion pointed another element that also relies on that part of the brain that can’t always discern what gets it aroused. Instead of combating boredom, though, this issue deals with our inherent need to join a group and become part of a larger movement.

It’s very much an extension of tribalism and, like seeking stimulation when there is none, human beings are well-equipped by evolutionary biology to form groups. Whether we’re a small band of hunter/gatherers or a group of Taylor Swift fans, it doesn’t take much for us to form those groups and our brains reward us greatly.

Being part of a group feels good. Being part of something gives us a rush. It’s a major reason why peer pressure works and why tribalism often overrules reason. That solidarity we feel when we’re part of a group isn’t just intoxicating. It’s a fundamental component of any highly social species, which includes humans.

What this means for those constantly outrage isn’t that far off from the implications relating to boredom. Like boredom, our current society is pretty unprecedented in terms of how easy it is to form a close-nit group and share in that solidarity that has been driving our species since the hunter/gatherer days.

Thanks to social media and mass communication, it’s possible for people to do more than just share their opinions, no matter how outrageous they might be. It’s also possible to connect with those who either share in those opinions or despise them. In terms of forming a tribe, it’s a two-for-one-deal because it creates both a sense of “us” while revealing a “them” to rally against.

For anyone who has spent any amount of time on social media, it doesn’t take much to see the whole us versus them mentality to take shape. If any amount of disagreement goes on long enough, Godwin’s Law usually takes over and the battle lines are set.

On top of this, the social issues in 2018 aren’t quite nearly as clear-cut as they were in decades past. In the past, there were some pretty egregious injustices surrounding civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights that required major social movements to combat. By and large, society has done a lot to improve the state for these marginalized groups.

There’s no question that being part of such righteous movements is laudable. We, as a society, rightly praise civil rights leaders who stand for such righteous causes. Naturally, some people seek to emulate that. Whether by ego or altruism, it’s only natural that they want to experience that kind of accomplishment.

Thanks to the sheer breadth of human progress, though, there causes on the levels faced by Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. However, because that drive to be part of a movement is just that strong, those same people will settle for pettier movements that protest sexy women in video games or bemoan the lack of diversity in old TV shows like “Friends.”

Make no mistake. Those outrages are petty and asinine when compared to the real injustices that past social movements have fought, but the brains of the outraged can’t tell the difference. From their perspective, their movement is every bit as righteous as every other civil rights movement in history. The outrage they express and the solidarity they feel is every bit as fulfilling as something that alleviates boredom.

Even if these causes are petty and the outrage is shallow, it’s important to note the alternative here. If these same people who protest the lack of diversity in the tech industry didn’t have this sort of thing to drive them, then what would happen to the group they’d formed?

Absent that outrage and protest, the group has nothing to rally behind. The person has nothing provoking arousal, be it anger or excitement. Without this dynamic, they don’t belong to something bigger anymore. They’re not the ones marching alongside famous civil rights leaders of the past. They’re just alone, by themselves, contributing nothing of value.

For many people, that’s just untenable. I would go so far as to say it’s almost as untenable as crippling boredom. Even self-proclaimed introverts and ardent individualists, we seek an identity and a constant source of stimulation. When we lack one or both, we lack a core element of any social species. In the same way we’re driven to meet the rest of our basic needs, we’ll be driven to find that somewhere, no matter how misguided.

In the past, we might have found that sense of belonging and purpose through our small communities or organized religion. Today, the world is much bigger and more diverse, thanks to technology and civilization. Organized religion is also not effective anymore due to factors too numerous to list. People are still going to seek belonging.

It’s somewhat ironic that civilization has advanced to such a degree that there aren’t as many clear-cut, good versus evil movements to be part of anymore. However, there’s still this longing to be the hero of our own story and be part of something greater, even if it means actually going out of their way to feel outraged.

Getting back to the initial question I posed, I think the influence of boredom and belonging are inherently linked. We agonize over escaping boredom and over having a sense of belonging. We can’t get that same rush our ancestors felt when surviving bear attacks and hunger so we’ll settle for whining about protests during football games. It’s still annoyingly petty, but distressingly understandable.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, Reasons and Excuses, War on Boredom

Why EVERYONE Should Work A Lousy Service Job At Some Point In Their Lives

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Talk to any marginally successful adult, be they high-paid executive or a full-blown celebrity, and chances are they’ve worked at least one lousy job in their life. It’s also likely that said lousy job was a service job. Some may look at those days with a fond sense of humor. Some might still have nightmares about them to this day.

We all had to start somewhere in our professional lives. Some people who are my age may still be behind the curve, struggling to get ahead. To those people, I offer my sympathy and support. To those who worked their way up from the bottom, I have a feeling that what I’m about to say will resonate with you.

That’s because I have worked what most would classify as a menial, low-skill service job. In fact, that menial, low-skill service job happened to be my first job . It was not a fun or enjoyable job, to say the least. There were more bad days than good. However, it was the first time I earned my own money. It was the first time I felt like an adult, to some extent.

It used to be I would look back on that job and shudder. When the memories were still fresh in my mind, I could only focus on how miserable I felt working there. As I’ve gotten older, though, I look back on that job with a sense of pride because I feel it made me a better person in the long run.

It made me appreciate what it felt like to work at the very bottom of the totem pole. It also made me appreciate the people who worked those kinds of jobs for years on end, scraping away at roles that most of us take for granted. It also made me appreciate the people who had to work weekends, night shifts, or holidays. To this day, I go out of my way to thank those people because I’ve been in their position.

It’s because of that experience and the lessons I learned that I believe everyone should work a lousy service job at some point in their lives. Regardless of whether you were born into a rich family or grew up in a one-room shack with no functioning toilet, working a job like that doesn’t just establish someone in the real world where you work for your money. It really builds character, albeit not in everyone.

I know I sound less like an aspiring erotica/romance writer and more like everyone’s dad in saying that, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I certainly heard that from my family, but mine was one that practiced what they preached. Talk to any one of my relatives and you’ll find that all of them have worked a menial job like I did at one point.

I have siblings, parents, and relatives that have worked as low-paid waitresses, bartenders, cashiers, dish washers, and fry cooks. Think of any low-level job you’d see at a restaurant or a fast food place. Chances are, someone in my family has worked a job like that and it shows in the kind of people they become as adults.

I see that within my family and beyond. I see it not just in how they value their work. I see it in how they value the others who do work. When my family goes to a restaurant, we go out of our way to treat the waiter or chef nice if they do a good job. Chances are, if you do your job well with us, we’ll tip you nicely. That was a big deal in my family.

Now, as some of my family members have retired from their careers and settled into a less hectic lifestyle, I still see in them the values that working those jobs gave them. It taught them the value of work and the value of treating people with decency and respect. Look at the stories of how rich, entitled assholes with trust funds have treated people they consider beneath them. These values do matter.

For me, personally, there’s one particular memory that stands out among all others that helped solidify the importance of those values. To recount that memory, though, I have to warn some readers here that this is not a very pleasant memory. If you just ate or have a weak stomach, I would recommend not going any further.

If you’re still with me, then I commend you because this story may hit a little too close to home for some. It happened on one particularly dreary night at my job. This job, fittingly enough, happened to be at a fast food restaurant. Out of concern for legal ramifications, I won’t say which one it was. I’ll just say it’s a very popular chain.

On this dreary night, I was already in a bad mood. I was exhausted, restless, and still in high school. It was not a good set of circumstances. Then, around the early evening, this family came into the restaurant with a baby that couldn’t have been more than nine months old. He was a cute baby, but he was about to make my life feel even uglier.

After the family ordered their food, I was put on sweeping duty. That meant I had to be out there cleaning the tables and emptying the trash. For a job that was already pretty menial, this was as low as you could get. I didn’t think it could get any lower. That baby I mentioned proved me wrong.

Shortly after the family began eating, the baby threw up. No, I don’t mean a cute little spit-up that could be wiped away with a napkin. I’m saying this baby threw up his entire weight in baby vomit. I swear this kid broke the laws of physics with how much bile he spewed. I don’t want to get into too much detail, but I kind of have to in order to get the point across.

Having just cleaned that part of the floor, I was right there to see a big pile of chunky white globs that resembled partially-digested marshmallows. I wish I could tell you how it smelled. Just imagine what it would smell like if roadkill was dipped in expired milk. That should give you a faint idea.

With that disgusting imagery in mind, imagine how I must have felt being the one who had to clean that up. I had to get down on the floor, the baby and his family still sitting at their table, and mop up those chunks of baby vomit. I don’t care that I wore gloves. Touching it nearly made me throw up to.

In terms of low points in my life, that might have been the absolute lowest. I was a teenage kid on the floor of a fast food restaurant, making minimum wage and cleaning up baby vomit. When you’ve been that low in life, it leaves an impact. To this day, I see that moment as the one that motivated me to work to a point where cleaning baby vomit was not in my job description.

I imagine there are plenty of people out there who have similar horror stories about the kinds of jobs they worked. Some of them probably involve something as bad or worse than cleaning up baby vomit on the floor of a fast food restaurant. I would hope that such an experience was just as impactful on them as it was for me.

It’s only when you’re on the floor, cleaning up someone’s vomit for minimum wage that you really know what it’s like to be on the lowest rung of society’s hierarchy. From that state, looking up and seeing how far you have to climb may seem overwhelming. However, you now know just how low you can get and you know that’s not where you want to end up.

I wish I could say I quit after that night, but I didn’t. I ended up working that job until the end of my senior year of high school. I still remember the last day as one of the happiest days of my life to that point. From that point forward, I made it a point to gain experiences and skills that ensured I wouldn’t have to work a menial job like that again.

I’m happy to say I haven’t worked a job like that since, but I still go out of my way to appreciate those who do. Every time I go to a fast food restaurant or see someone working a long shift at a retail store, I feel compelled to thank them. They may not believe it now, but that kind of job will make them a better person in the long run.

That’s not to say you aren’t a good person if you’ve never worked a job like that before. If you haven’t known the feeling and stench of baby vomit, consider yourself lucky. My point is that working lousy jobs and enduring lousy shifts can help make you stronger in ways that you come to appreciate as you get older.

As much as I shudder at the memory/stench of that baby vomit, I’m glad I had that experience. It helped shape me into the kind of man I am today and I believe it reveals in others just how strong and/or resilient they can be. Given how much we rely on menial service jobs, I think we should all appreciate them and the people who work them.

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Second Chances, Learning From Past Mistakes, And The Return Of The XFL

America likes to claim that it’s the land of second chances. People, in general, are often willing to grant second chances to those who have made mistakes, failed, or were just the victim of bad luck. Some end up needing more than second chances, but we’re willing to give them to those who prove they have a vision.

We do it in our personal lives as well, giving second chances to those we love. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, the first step, and arguably the most important, is giving that chance to someone, even when you haven’t forgotten the extent of their mistake.

That brings me to the XFL. I’m sorry, but there’s just no way to effectively transition to this topic. I know the title alone sounded like a jumbled compilation of random thoughts from someone who talks about everything from sex robots to superhero movies. I promise I’m going somewhere with this. I also promise it’s both relevant and applicable.

To those who haven’t heard the big news, the XFL is back. A full 17 years after this eccentric, over-the-top league that inspired the likes of “He Hate Me” and glorified brutal hits is making a comeback. Vince McMahon, the colorful personality who turned wrestling into a billion-dollar entertainment juggernaut, is taking another shot at creating a new football league to compete with the towering Goliath that is the NFL.

As a self-professed football fan whose picks for this past season were dead wrong, I’m genuinely intrigued by this news. I won’t let myself get too excited about it just yet, given how badly the XFL failed the first time, but I am willing to give it my attention, as well as a second chance.

The story of the first incarnation of the XFL is an amazing story. The fact that it also involves exceedingly sexy cheerleaders doesn’t hurt it’s appeal either. Just last year, ESPN did a documentary on that story called “30 For 30: This Was The XFL.” If you want a comprehensive take on what happened to this over-the-top league, this I highly recommend you check this out.

By the end, you’ll appreciate why giving McMahon and the XFL a second chance is such a big deal. It may even give you a better appreciation of why second chances are so hard to give at times. In a sense, this second incarnation of the XFL may end up being a case study on the underlying merit of second chances or the lack thereof.

Whether it’s to a professional athlete, an ex-lover, or an employee, second chances are hard because our brains are wired to remember failures more vividly than successes. The whole notion of “once bitten, twice shy” has actual biology and evolutionary forces behind it. Failure in nature can sometimes mean failure to survive.

The last time the XFL failed, it cost both McMahon and NBC $35 million each. The greatly inflates the price of a second chance, to say the least. Why, in that context, should we still give it one?

Well, I can only speak for myself. I’m not a sports expert any more than I’m a brain surgeon. However, in the spirit of second chances and learning from past mistakes, there are a few I think are worth considering with both the XFL and life in general.


A Second Chance Can Prove You’ve Learned From Failure (And Are Able To Learn In General)

This is as valuable a skill in helping the new XFL succeed as it is for anyone who has ever screwed up in life, which covers pretty much everybody. This is probably the most important aspect of second chances. It gives an opportunity for someone to do more than just claim they’ve learned. Now, they can show it.

Say what you will about Vince McMahon and a lot has been said. He’s an entertainer and a businessman. He wants to make money and, if his net worth is any indication, he’s pretty damn good at it. You do not get that rich by never learning from your mistakes.

It’s hard to say for certain what McMahon will do differently at this point. However, if the content of his announcement is any indication, he’s very much aware of why the XFL failed the first time. He’s ready to take those hard, not to mention expensive, lessons and try again.

Given the breadth of McMahon’s success, he’s someone who can make more out of second chances than most. That’s why I’m going to give him this one, even if I find his persona annoying.


Second Chances Reveals Opportunities Otherwise Not Seen

It’s a common theme in business, romance, and everything in between. Both failure and success create opportunities. The failure of “Batman and Robin” paved the way for “Batman Begins.” The success of the iPhone paved the way for the booming smartphone business.

One failed relationship can also strengthen another. The many failures of other football leagues have only served to strengthen the dominance of the NFL. However, sometimes success can have pitfalls. The past few years have not been kind to the NFL, to say the least. Given the sheer size of this entertainment behemoth, it’s an easy target.

In that respect, the XFL’s timing couldn’t be better. It’s coming along at a time when fans are somewhat disillusioned with the NFL, but have little alternatives beyond the hopelessly corrupt NCAA. The XFL could finally give the NFL the kind of competition that is necessary for any product, service, or art to innovate.

Let’s face it. We humans are a competitive species. If someone is doing something better than us, be it football or underwater basket weaving, we want to match and exceed them. It drives us to be better. It helps make us better people.

Football needs that right now. The NFL needs that. The XFL has the perfect opportunity to achieve this. Combined with the lessons of their first failure, they have much more going for them now than they did in 2001.


Greater Risks Bring Greater Rewards (And Greater Lessons)

This is probably the most important aspect of second chances for both the XFL and for life, in general. Everything that’s worth doing, whether it’s creating a new football league or finding the love of your life, requires a certain degree of risk. Some aren’t willing to risk that much, but those who are have a chance to achieve much more.

I say this as someone who avoided taking major risks until much later in life. Looking back on how I carried myself in my youth, I regret not taking more risks. Hindsight has revealed that I missed out on some pretty big rewards, both material and personal. Sometimes, you really have to do what your brain says is insanely risky to get those kinds of rewards.

What Vince McMahon is doing qualifies as exceedingly risky. He’s putting up $100 million of his own money to make the second incarnation of the XFL happen. He’s also taking on an organization in the NFL with obscene levels of influence, both economically and culturally.

At the moment, most people probably think he’s crazy and bound to fail. Those people aren’t willing to take the risk, but none of them have a shot at the big reward that McMahon is seeking. Even if the chances of the XFL succeeding are less than one percent, it’s still greater than zero and that’s all the chance you need with a second chance.


A Second Chance Can Also Help Fix Broken Or Flawed Systems

This is the part of the new XFL that has me the most intrigued, as a football fan. That’s because, as it stands, the system for developing players for the NFL is basically a cartel wrapped in a monopoly. The NCAA is the cartel. The NFL is the monopoly. If you want to make a living playing football, these are the sole gatekeepers.

It’s a system with many flaws, which have been documented on more than one occasion. The problem is there’s no incentives to fix those flaws. Neither the NCAA nor the NFL have any pressure to do so. They wield total power over all things football and can be as unjust as they want.

The XFL can change that. They can shake up a system that does plenty to screw over college players and professionals if they fail to make it in the NFL. They can provide a new path, bring new ideas to the table, and take chances that a cartel and a monopoly don’t even think to take.

It wouldn’t be the first time a monopoly got broken up. In most peoples’ lives, they either avoid situations where someone has all the leverage or work to subvert it. We do that with the people we work with and the people we love. Again, it often requires that we take risks and chances. However, it only has to work once to affect change.


It’s still not clear just what the new XFL will bring to the table or if it will succeed. For now, it has many forces working against it. However, as both a football fan and someone who sees the merit of second chances, I’m willing to give it one.

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Quality Life Lessons From The Cleveland Browns And Their Fans

NFL: SEP 18 Ravens at Browns

Even though I often say that the world is getting better by most measures, I don’t deny that it’s not improving for a sizable part of the global population. There are parts of the world still racked with disease, poverty, and despair of all kind. The unfortunate people in these parts deserve our respect, sympathy, and support.

However, there’s one particular part of that suffering population I want to focus on. While 2017 might have been bad for quite a few people, there’s one group of people whose anguish is unique in terms of its breadth and context. That group is the Cleveland Browns and their long-suffering fans.

Being a football fan, who often finds himself defending the unflattering situations in which the NFL often finds itself, I follow most major news stories surrounding the NFL throughout the season. Few stories have been as disheartening as those involving the Cleveland Browns, who became only the second team to lose all 16 games in 2017.

In terms of a major sports team in a major American city with a rich sports history, you literally cannot get worse than the 2017 Cleveland Browns. Between their long-standing issues at quarterback, a terrible track record in the NFL Draft, and a high turnover of coaches in the past several years, the Cleveland Browns have set a solemn standard for ineptitude.

It doesn’t matter how disappointed you were with your favorite team this year. It doesn’t matter how upset you were when they got eliminated from the playoffs, lost to a hated rival, or made a bone-headed play that made you ashamed to be affiliated with them. Cleveland Browns fans had it worse. There’s just no way around it.

However you feel about the city of Cleveland, their sports teams, or LeBron James, you can’t help but feel bad for the fans of the Browns. They are a very passionate bunch, one whose history includes big names like Paul Brown, Jim Brown, and Bernie Kosar. Given the heartbreak they’ve endured over the years, this latest news is just salt in the wound.

I’m sure there are plenty of Browns fans out there who could talk for hours about how rough it is, being a Browns fan. Up until 2016, being a Cubs fans was the only fair comparison. Now, the Browns are very much alone in their solemn state. It’s a modern tragedy that seems downright masochistic to some.

That’s exactly why the decision by some fans to hold a parade to celebrate their ineptitude is so remarkable. It wasn’t a prank or an elaborate joke, either. This parade really did happen and it managed to draw over 2,000 people.

To some, it seems funny that a team that had such a historically bad season is worth celebrating. To others, it may seem like an elaborate form of therapy, holding a parade instead of just wallowing in the misery of being such a historically bad team. Personally, I see it as an important life lesson, of sorts, that we would all be wise to heed.

Losing in any capacity is hard, whether it’s a major sports team or just losing your keys. There’s actual psychology behind it that is wired into us, even as children. Losing, especially dealing with it, can be downright painful for some people. It’s like suffering a nasty wound and having that wound fester.

That’s why coping skills are so important. Most of us who aren’t billionaires or Tom Brady are going to endure our share of losing in life. Our ability to cope and learn from those losses help shape the kind of person we are. There’s a right way to cope and many wrong ways. Too many wrong ways risks breaking someone mentally or just making them an asshole.

When it comes to the coping skills of Cleveland Browns fans, throwing a parade and celebrating the absurdity of their team’s ineptitude is actually pretty damn healthy. Unlike the fans who riot when their team loses a championship game, this parade caused no real property damage.

It didn’t involve people angrily lashing out, which has been proven to be bad for you. It didn’t involve angry protests, which can be hit or miss in terms of effectiveness. It was a parade, one in which Browns fans overtly acknowledged their team’s failures and essentially accepted it. From a psychological and societal standpoint, that’s pretty damn healthy.

There’s even some real philosophy behind this concept, one that goes beyond sports and their fans. It’s called absurdism, the idea that in order to cope with the struggle to find meaning in a seemingly-meaningless world, we must embrace the absurd condition of life in general. We should even celebrate it.

Some philosophers cite the story of the myth of Sisyphus, the man doomed to endlessly push a boulder up a cliff for all eternity, only to fail every time. However, through the lens of absurdism, Sisyphus is actually the happiest guy in the world because he ascribes meaning to his meaningless act. He doesn’t see what he does as futile. He sees it as purpose and he celebrates it, as such.

The situation for the Cleveland Browns may not be as hopeless as Sisyphus, as many bad teams have gone from worst to first before, but the fact that fans are celebrating the struggle reflects strange comfort our minds find in absurdism. We know the situation is bad and it literally can’t get much worse, but we accept and embrace it. As such, it doesn’t’ destroy us. It actually makes our collective psyche stronger.

 

This is even more useful in sports because, even after such a historically bad season, things are pretty much guaranteed to get better for the Cleveland Browns. They literally cannot get worse. They enter the 2018 season with a new general manager, abundant cap space, and multiple high draft picks. They will get better. The history of bad NFL teams makes that a given.

Until that improvement comes, though, holding a parade to celebrate the rock bottom of such a proud franchise is both fitting and healthy. It’s an act from which we can all derive lessons. Sure, we all have bad days and some of them are worse than most. However, things do tend to improve when we know how to cope.

For the Cleveland Browns, such good coping skills will make future victories and championships feel that much sweeter. It may take a while. It may take a long while. As Red Sox fans and Cubs fans can attest, though, it’s worth the wait.

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What I WISH I’d Learned In School

Image result for high school sucks

I’ve said it multiple times and in multiple ways on this blog. Expect me to say it again in many other ways there is and even a few some thought impossible. High school sucks. I hated it with a passion. When I look back on my life, I’ll always see high school as one of the bleakest, most miserable experiences I had.

There are so many reasons I hated this point in my life, too much to list in a single blog post. Hell, I’d need a whole series of novels to adequately convey the misery I felt every day I had to endure that rancid swamp of standardized tests, cafeteria food, and adolescent hormones. The most I ever learned from high school was never wanting to be that miserable again.

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I like to think I learned that lesson well. My entire outlook on life changed for the better the day I graduated high school. Everything I did after high school, from going to college to getting my first book published, feels like a step up from where I was. Sure, it helped that I got into shape and fixed my horrible acne problem, but that shift in outlook still shaped a significant part of my adult life.

Even though I feel like I’ve done fairly well with that life, there are times when I look back at high school in ways that don’t give me night terrors. Other than not wanting to be so miserable, a lot of what I learned in high school hasn’t really helped my adult life.

I’m not just talking about quadratic equations or knowing what the hell T.S. Elliot was talking about either. A lot of the meaningful lessons I’ve learned came from experience, family support, and internet access. These are all things I could’ve learned without gym class, exams, and stale pizza. High school never really prepared me for adult life. It only ever prepared me to pass a goddamn test.

Image result for standardized testing

With that in mind, as well as the knowledge that many kids are eagerly awaiting the end of the school year, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on all the lessons I wish I’d learned in high school.

These are lessons that would’ve helped my adult life in so many ways. I worry that the kids preparing for summer won’t know just how important these lessons are until it’s too late. Some have to do with life skills. Some have to do with understanding how the world works. In any case, these are the lessons that I wish high school had taught me.


Lesson #1: How To Start A (Non-Awkward) Conversation With A Stranger

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This is something that should come naturally. Having a conversation is one of the most basic elements of non-sexual communication there is. Other than a handshake, it shouldn’t need to be taught, right?

Well, this is where high school, ironically enough, gives teenagers too much credit. It’s half-true that most people know how to start a conversation. The problem is that for most of our lives, to this point, all the conversations we’ve had are with family members, relatives, or childhood friends that we’ve known so long that we remember the brand of diapers we used.

Starting a conversation with a friend is easy. Starting one with a total stranger that isn’t awkward is much harder. It’s also an important skill when it comes to making new friends, working with others, and even finding a lover. The hardest part of any new connection is starting that conversation.

Some high schools do teach social skills, but still give a higher priority to reading Shakespeare and passing a math test. I’m not saying those things aren’t worth learning. I’m just saying that better social skills will help people make friends, improve teamwork, and get them laid. No math test can ever do that.


Lesson #2: How To Tell Someone That You’re Romantically Interested

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A big part of what makes high school suck is loneliness. Unless you’re an athlete or an exceedingly beautiful girl, you’re going to feel lonely. On top of that, puberty is rewiring your brain to make you want to kiss, hug, and hump others in ways you thought were gross as a kid.

Teenagers may be melodramatic and prone to emotional meltdowns over a lost shoe, but they still have genuine feelings. They still feel love for others. Having that love and not knowing how to express it makes for some pretty awkward situations, some of which can be downright traumatic.

I had more than my share of crushes in high school. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to actually talk to these girls to let them know. For this one girl, I actually wrote a note and put it in her locker. I never heard from her again. That’s a clear indication that there’s room for improvement.

Having someone to love and to share your emotions with is healthy, regardless of whether you’re a teenager or a grumpy old fart. Knowing how to explore and express that love with someone goes a long way towards tempering that loneliness. For those enduring the rigors high school, less loneliness can only help.


Lesson #3: How To Spot A Scam

Image result for Bernie Madoff

As teenagers, our understanding and assumptions of the real world is painfully limited. That’s unavoidable because teenagers haven’t been on this planet long enough to have any real idea of how it works. Most of what they know comes from media, their family, or ugly rumors circulating around the cafeteria. To say that’s an imperfect perspective is like saying Kanye West is slightly eccentric.

In the real world, there are a lot of liars and frauds that will exploit the hell out of anyone’s imperfect understanding. When I was in college, I noticed a lot of school email accounts got bombarded with those Nigerian Prince scams. Some actually fell for those scams and lost real money because of them.

Beyond the scams in spam email, there are other elaborate frauds like work-from-home gimmicks, fake lottery winnings, multi-level marketing, and online dating scams. Those with limited life experience are especially vulnerable to these schemes and falling victim to them could ruin your life. Just ask anyone who invested with Bernie Madoff.

It wouldn’t be too hard or take too much time for high school to teach us the basics of scams and how to spot them. Teenagers are already cynical, by nature. Learning how to spot cheats and hucksters won’t just help them save their money. It’ll help them avoid being conned out of their faith, their trust, and their panties.


Lesson #4: How To NOT Freak Out When You Watch The News

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This is something I’ve brought up before. It’s a lesson I learned in college, but one I really wish I’d learned sooner than that. In the age of the internet and smart phones, it’s easy to get bombarded by all sorts of weird news stories that scare people into thinking the CIA put fluoride in their water to control their minds. For hormonal teenagers with limited life experience, it’s even scarier.

The world the news presents us is not the same as the world around us. The news can only ever highlight tiny bits and pieces of a much bigger picture. Most people don’t realize that until they’re adults. If they’re unlucky, they learn the hard way and spend too much of their lives hiding in a bunker, hoping that the Illuminati doesn’t send assassins.

Perspective is an important thing and teenagers struggle with that. As I said before, their life experiences are limited. They just emerged from childhood and began making sense of the world. The least any public school can do is help them.

That means telling them that the news rarely tells a complete story. It also means reminding them that the reason why something is news in the first place. These horrible stories we see every night are news because they’re rare. The world and the people the news describes are only brief glimpses at best and click-bait at worst.


Lesson #5: How To Craft A Resume (And How To Pad It)

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A major part of learning, be it in high school or pre-school, involves acquiring skills that will help you find meaningful work later in life. It’s not just enough to know how to read, write, and do basic math. Most people can learn how to do that for free these days, thanks to online services like Khan Academy.

To give you a better chance at finding a job, it’s important to develop other skills. Unfortunately, the only skill high school ever really teaches you is how to pass a test. That may help you get a driver’s license, but it won’t help with much else.

Even if you have skills, putting them together in a resume is a skill most people have to wing. I’ve actually taken classes that help with crafting resumes and none of those classes were offered in high school. I had to find those in college and after I graduated.

It’s a simple fact of modern life. To find a job, you need skills and you need to sell your ability to make those skills useful to others. That’s what will help you get a job. That’s what will help you find a lover. That’s what will help you get laid. Some skills don’t require college. Others may require a master’s degree. Learning how to seek and market those skills is far more valuable than just filling out a test form.


Lesson #6: How To Invest In The Stock Market The Right Way

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This is a topic I don’t blame high schools for avoiding. When most people, including highly educated people, talk about the stock market or the economy, it usually flies over everyone’s head. I would go so far as to say only a small part of the population is even wired to understand investing and finance.

However, there are few skills in life more important than knowing how to manage and invest your money. Anyone can just go into a bank and open an again. Knowing how to actually manage that money so it grows over time and isn’t undercut by inflation is a skill that’s often overlooked.

A teenager’s limited perspective of the world makes the stock market too complicated to understand. However, most teenagers do understand the value of making money. Why else would they make such a big deal about getting an allowance or a part-time job? That understanding, though, will only take them so far.

Contrary to popular belief, investing in the stock market isn’t just fairly easy. It’s actually pretty effective at building future wealth. It doesn’t just beat inflation. It beats nearly every other investment out there.

I didn’t learn anything about stocks in high school or college. Everything I learned came from a small booklet that a relative gave me. That booklet only had one real tip. Unless you’re going into the financial services business, the only real investment you need to make is in index funds.

Despite what the Jim Cramers of the world may tell you, nobody can beat the stock market. Nobody knows what it’s going to do today, tomorrow, or a year from now. You can’t beat, but you can make it so you don’t lose to it either. In some parts of life, not losing is just as good as winning. With money, it’s one of those lessons you don’t want to learn the hard way.


Lesson #7: How To Find The Job That Best Fits You

Image result for a job you love

This might not be something that can fit into a typical high school class. While most high schools have guidance counselors and career counselors, a lot of what they do is just sell you on the idea of going to college. They’ll help you find an education path. They may even help you find a career path. Finding a job that fits you, however, is not exactly a priority.

It happens all the time. People will make it through high school, go to college, and get all the right degrees for a certain career path. Then, they find out that the job they thought they wanted didn’t fit them. They either end up miserable working a job they don’t like or overwhelmed at the prospect of starting over. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

That’s why I think it’s more important to help teenagers figure out the kind of work that fits them. Some like making things with their hands. Some are more creative. Some are analytical. Some have personality traits that make working in a cubical akin to a prison sentence at Alcatraz.

I’ve worked more than my share of jobs that I hated. A lot of people endure that, even famous celebrities. Finding a job that actually fits someone’s skills and makes them want to do that job is a lesson too valuable to overlook. High schools are in a perfect position to help teenagers do that. The fact they don’t only makes the situation more tragic.


I know it’s too late for me to salvage my high school experience. It was a long time ago and I’ve since learned a lot about life, namely how to not be miserable.

However, I still feel like I started way behind the curve and have only recently caught up. How far ahead would I be now if I’d learned these lessons in high school? It’s impossible to know. All I know now is that high school still sucks and it’ll always suck for me. I’m okay with that. Hopefully, future generations will not know such misery.

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