6 min read

Hey Jeff: Edition 3

Hey Jeff: Edition 3

Hey Jeff,

I'm not really sure exactly what I'm going to say. I'm not a great writer, and trying to collect the way I'm feeling in my head seems like an impossible task. Word vomit is a good way to describe how I write, so I figure I'll just jump in.

I feel like a loser most days.

I feel like I've done a really shitty job in trying to provide the life my family deserves. I've got vices I have a hard time keeping in check. I spend too much time on my phone.

My daughter turns 3 soon and I feel sad at how much time I've wasted not spending more time with her. My wife is due in about  3 weeks and I'm afraid I'll make the same mistakes with our new baby.

I think the biggest source of my shame comes from not having any sort of career or direction. My wife is the main breadwinner, which I'm totally fine with, I just wish she had an option to stay home with our kids. I work part-time in the mornings and then I'm on dad duty. And I don't hate it at all, but I feel like I need to be doing more. I just have no idea how or what to do in finding a path toward a better career.

I always have that voice in the back of my head that says they'd be better without me. Logically I know it's not true, but shit, sometimes it makes a lot of sense. I'm not going to do anything. I just wish I could break free from that thought forever.

Any advice on how to break out of these real negative thought patterns?

Hey man,

First and foremost, they aren't better off without you. That's crazy talk. You might think you're spending too much time on your phone - and maybe you are, but we'll talk about that later - but you're still there and present. You're that little girl's world, man. So get that crazy talk out of your brain. It just isn't true. Your brain is lying to you,  something  brains have been known to do.

But let's get into some of the other stuff here. To reiterate my credentials, I don't have any. I'm just a human the same way that you are. I live my life the same way you do. I'm not a doctor or a psychologist of any kind. I'm just a human like you, so take any advice I might give with that thought in my mind.

In 1935, biologist Hugh M. Smith was floating down a river in Southeast Asia. Darkness came and he had no lights with him. He was nervous that a predator would find him and end his life, when suddenly, one of the trees on one side of the river was struck by lightning and lit up. Smith could see a little further.

Shortly after, another tree was struck by lightning. And then another. And then another. It was as if the lightning was lighting his path.

Upon closer inspection, Smith realized that it wasn't lightning that was causing the tree to light, but rather, it was lightning bugs that were all glowing at the same time. The mangrove lightning bugs shined so bright that Smith was able to get home.

He was astonished by what he had seen so he went back to the United States and published a paper detailing what he had discovered.

The reaction?

Well, he lost his job. Scientists argued that lightning bugs only light in an effort to reproduce, and that it wouldn't make mathematical sense for all of the lightning bugs to light up at the same that. In their minds (and in their formulas) that would result in greater competition and less reproduction.

For 80 years, Smith was ostracized and his discoveries were ignored. But in 2015, that changed when two MIT students started digging into the research.

These two researchers spent time in the mangrove trees and studied the insects. When a lightning bug lit up individually, its success rate for reproducing that night was 3%. But, when the bugs all lit up together in a synchronous way, their success rate for reproduction increased all the way to 82%.


And every bug had those 82% odds. It  wasn’t like one bug just had the night of its  life as some kind of insect Casanova. When the bugs lit up as a community, every bug got better.

Your story reminds me of something that so many people struggle with - and it reminds me of those bugs.

We have a a culture that looks at individual success. We have to be the best dad. The best employee. The best provider. Have the best house for our individual family. And be the best person that we can be. Everything is measured by our individual contribution.

But what if we worked together as an interconnected community? What if we judged our success as a collective whole, not as an individual slice of humanity? What if we worked like lightning bugs in the mangrove trees?

Your wife has a successful career and you play a role in that.

Your daughter is a happy three-year old who has a future that is bright enough that you feel guilt for not doing more to support her. You play a huge role in the little girl she has become.

You are about to welcome in another child to your family. Clearly, you have a big role in that process as well.

Your community is shining bright, man. You might not see an individual accomplishment in the success of your family, but if we change the scoreboard a little bit, you're actually kind of killing it.

Finding your community and measuring your success as a collective and not an individual can feel really challenging because that's not how anything in our society is designed. But, that doesn't mean that society is right.

Math said there is no way lightning bugs would work together and shine in order to help their bug-buddy next to them get lucky that night.

Science ignored the discoveries of a scientist for 80 years because it seemed so improbable that bugs would work with that kind of synchrony.

Math and science were wrong. Society is wrong too.

I hear you talk about your family and I see a successful family with a dad who is doing everything he can to make his family happy. Could dad be doing more? Sure, every dad can. But that doesn't mean dad is failing. How can a family be so successful if one of the key family members isn't pulling their way?

Quite simply, I don't think they can.

Nobody ever wants to talk about the right guard on a football team. It isn't a glamorous position. They'll never score a touchdown or command any highlight plays. They will just show up every week, do their job, and hope that their team wins.

The individual accolades don't matter for a right guard. What matters is that the quarterback is protected from danger, that the running back has the ability to find success on the field, and that the right guard themself is doing his job on every single play.

When a right guard fails, the quarterback gets sacked. When a right guard takes the play off, the running back gets stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

When a dad who works part-time and enables his wife to have an amazing career, the family scores a touchdown.

But if a dad gets caught up in individual accolades and misses his assignment, the family as a whole fails.

So my advice to you? Start looking at the right scoreboard. Sure, your stats might be sexy in the box score, but you are quietly playing a key role that is helping your team win every game. That should be very gratifying for you because you are achieving a level of success that not every person is able to achieve. You are so fortunate to be winning like you are.

When I have been at my lowest, it has always been my community that lifts me up. Sometimes I'm asked to lift someone else. Most of the time, I need to be the one who is lifted. But my community is always there to lift. My wife, my kids, my close friends or other family members are all there to help me lift. And collectively, my community has a lot of success.

I think yours does too. Talk to them. Celebrate their wins with them. Ask them to celebrate your wins with you. If you have a good day with less screen time? Talk about it with your community. Point out the success and pat yourself on the back. Your community will support that.

If your wife closes a big deal or lands a new promotion, celebrate with her knowing that her success is your success and your success is her's just the same.

Society doesn't want you to win with a team, and they teach you that the only way you can succeed is if someone else doesn't because you beat them. But that just isn't the way that it is. And the sooner you tell society to go pound sand, the sooner you will see the scores that really matter and you'll start to feel more proud of what you do every day.

Because brother, you're killing it, and your family proves that 100%.