At the recent INBOUND conference, I gave a “Bold Talk,” a short, TED-like speech meant to challenge and inspire people and get us out of our comfort zones.
I gave a talk unlike any I have ever given and it is a talk I do not plan to give again. But I did have a purpose in doing this.
My message was deeply personal. One person who attended the event said afterward, “It all makes sense now. I understand you and your writing better now.”
This is what I had hoped for. My goal was to expose a dark side of my life to you (yes, you!) because there is this research about social media that haunts me: “Jealousy is the overwhelming feeling of 30% of the people who view their Facebook news feed.”
The reason is obvious. We only show our shiny best selves in public. If all you see is a steady stream of perfectly beautiful children, exotic vacations, and romantic walks on the beach, how can you not feel a little jealous?
But nobody lives ONLY a shiny happy life, including me. We are all equal in our human condition.
And this is why I gave this talk. I wanted you to see a different side of me, a non-shiny side of me, at least one time. I’m just a guy with a blog. A blog that saved my life.
Here is a transcript of the talk.
Hello everyone. The topic of my talk today is how blogging saved my life. Not in a figurative way, but in a literal way.
I am going to talk about three different ways that the act of creating content really saved my life. Who knows, maybe you will find something that can help you along the way as well.
To understand how blogging saved my life, you have to understand the context of my life in the time frame of 2006-2007. This was the darkest time of my life. It was a very, very difficult time. In a period of about 18 months, I successfully satisfied all the requirements to become a blues singer, basically.
Every part of my life had been lost in some way, beginning with my career. I had a successful career with a Fortune 100 company. Like so many of us at certain times in our lives, I came up against this immovable object. I had this boss who was unethical, some may even say evil. His nickname in our department was Beelzebub … that would give you some idea of what this guy was like.
I had to make a difficult choice. Do I continue to operate in this environment? Or do I find some way to get out? After six months of deliberation and looking at different options, I had to move on, and I decided to start my own company and teach at a university, which had always been a dream of mine.
That has worked out well, but at the beginning, I was upending an important part of my life and going through this period of radical transition. A great part of my identity had been associated with this role in this company … a core part of my support system had been associated with this company, too.
About the same time, I went through a horrible divorce. My alcoholic, drug-addict wife, who I had supported for many years, decided to run off with her drinking buddy. When she did that, she also took her children with her. They were her children, my step-children, who I had raised as my own for eight years. They called me Daddy. When she left, I never saw them again. Step-fathers have no rights, I learned.
At this same time, I had a very serious injury. I had a spinal cord injury. When the neurosurgeon looked at the MRI, he saw this fluid seeping out of my spinal cord. He wondered aloud how I could walk, how I could be walking, and I was sitting right there.
He demanded that I walk across the room. He said, “I want you to show me that you can walk.” That was unnerving. Then he said, “Are you having any problems with your cognitive abilities?” And that was … terrifying.
With all this change and with all this upset comes a lot of financial problems. I was starting this new job, I was starting a new company. I had to give half of everything I owned to this awful person. If you take one lesson from today, it would be this: Never get divorced in your peak earning years!
I had medical bills of my own because of the injury and I had to go through an operation. And if you can believe this, I still had to pay off her bills from rehab, after I was divorced. So I had some pretty big financial issues as well.
This was a very, very dark time. I felt that I had suddenly lost so much. Some days I felt like I had lost everything that mattered to me. I felt despair. At times I felt hopeless.
The stress I was feeling was so severe that it raised my blood pressure to a very unhealthy level. My doctor said, “You need to measure your blood pressure every hour. Because we are afraid it might get too high and some very bad things would happen.”
When I started measuring my blood pressure every hour of the day, I discovered something amazing. One time a day — the same time every day — my blood pressure was below normal.
This is the time each day that I was blogging.
The act of writing, the act of creating content, put me in this zone. It put me in this zen-like state, where I was focused … and I was concentrating … and all this bad stuff went away. The act of creating content literally was healing my body.
The second thing that happened was something really miraculous, I think. People started reading this thing; they started reading my blog. Some of those people are in this room today, I know. This was a new community of friends who didn’t care about these problems that I had. They didn’t know about the problems, and I didn’t want them to know.
I was sick of my life. I was tired of this pain. I just wanted to find people who would see me for who I was … Who could see me for my ideas, for the content I was creating, for my abilities, not the situation I was in. Maybe they could even see me as the person I was becoming.
I really needed this connection. This new community helped heal my mind and my spirit. I was being rewarded, and maybe even loved, for my ideas and my content, not because they felt sorry for me.
The third thing that happened — and I didn’t realize it at the time — but as I was going through this pain, I was being given a gift. It was a gift of new super powers. That might sound strange; let me explain what I mean.
During this time, I felt emotions I had never felt before. I had felt these very deep, dark emotions. For the first time in my life I experienced hopelessness. I felt utter despair. I felt uncontrollable rage.
I wanted to kill somebody. I wanted to hurt somebody. Not in a metaphoric way. I really wanted to hurt somebody. Luckily I didn’t act on this. Well, not much anyway!
What I realized later — I couldn’t have seen it at the time — But as I was exploring these edges of human emotions, these horrible, dark feelings … it made me a larger emotional being. It pushed me and stretched me into new places. In some ways, like I said, it gave me these new super powers. I was transforming into a different, larger emotional being.
This experience has helped me become a better person, I think. It has helped me become a better friend. A more empathetic listener. A stronger leader. A better content creator. It helped me become a person who can manage an online community in more skillful ways.
Today, when I sense that someone is suffering, when they just can’t take any more, I can honestly say, “You know, I think I know how you feel.” That’s important, isn’t it?
My new super powers have helped me make new and authentic connection with my readers, my community, my family, and my friends. In times of difficulty, I can have a level of understanding that could have never been there before.
There is this book that I love, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It is barely a book. It is almost like a pamphlet, which you know if you are familiar with the book.
In the book Frankl says, “To be human is to suffer.”
This is the human condition. We will suffer.
Maybe there are some of you here even today, who are going through some of these dark, dark fears, some of these very deep and disturbing emotions. Maybe your time of suffering is yet ahead of you.
What I would like for you to take away from today is this hope for the future. To know that suffering can lead to something positive.
When you are in the middle of it — as the horrible pain is happening — you can’t possibly know what is ahead. You’re just trying to get through each day.
But just keep in mind that down the road you will realize that this darkness and pain will become a gift. You can emerge as a new person, you can become something new, something stronger, because you are being awarded a powerful new cape of super powers of your own.
Thank you very much.
So that was my speech. Here is the funny and ironic part. I couldn’t help but edit a few verbal blunders out of the talk. See … even when I am trying to be honest and human I am still trying to be bright and shiny!
Nonetheless, I hope this post connects with you and encourages you. I felt queasy publishing it but I have learned that when you get that feeling, pushing “publish” is exactly the right thing to do.
Facebook and the other social media glitz can make life seem like it is out of reach.
It’s not. We all suffer, we all fail, we all have bad days. We just don’t show it.
Here’s to new super powers.