Really...it's all just bullshit.

Some days you have one of those massive realizations or epiphanies that make you stop dead in your tracks and realize that really, it's all bullshit. Our lives, our online personas, our jobs, the expensive things around us...all just bullshit. Today was one of those days for me.

This afternoon, I decided to finally rectify a check tire pressure light in my Fiat 500 Abarth. (Notice how I had to set the stage with the type of car I drive? Bullshit.) I stopped at a convenience store near my home in Denver hopped out and found that it had an air compressor tire filling machine that was operated with a credit card vs. coins. Score! (But bullshit...why isn't air free?) I whipped out my debit car, inserted it into the card/chip reader, watched it authorize, turned to unscrew the little cap covering my tire nozzle thingy, heard the machine start, grabbed the hose, and started filling my tire. Just as I was wrapping up I noticed a truck pull up behind me. I finished, screwed back on the little nozzle cap, replaced the hose and jumped in my car to clear the space for the truck behind me. I was craving a Diet Coke so I did a little U turn into the parking lot section of the convenience store and ran in. As I was heading to the counter a young man walked up to me and said, "Hi, I think this might belong to you." In his hand was my debit card, which I had mistakenly left in the chip reader at the tire filling machine. I thanked him profusely and he smiled and returned to the tire filling machine. I took the card, the same one I'd left outside, paid for my Diet Cokes, and pressed the "$20 Cash Back" button on the credit card machine at checkout. I told the cashier what had happened and she seemed a little startled by the kind gesture.

"Colorado, man. I frickin' love this place."

Her cash drawer popped open and she asked how I wanted my cash. I asked her for a $20 bill, grabbed it from her and told her I'd be right back to grab my sodas. I folded it up in my hand, darted outside, walked over to the young man who was kneeled down airing his tires.

"Lunch is on me. I appreciate you."

He looked up and I shook his hand exchanging the cash in it. He looked in his hand and realized it was a 20.

"Wow! Thanks, man!"

I could tell by his reaction that he wasn't expecting anything in return and, certainly, not 20 bucks. But the exchange of appreciation among two complete strangers was something that's hard to express in words. What he didn't know was that today, for some reason, I had listened to a song that stirred up some pretty gnarly emotions from 2016 when my ex had called off our dream engagement, something I've still not truly reconciled in my heart, though rarely let on. ("Let You Love Me" by Rita Ora from her latest album "Phoenix" in case you're curious.) That experience scarred me pretty badly emotionally to the point where I don't really trust love anymore or my ability to experience it in that way with another human being. Today's kind gesture quickly reeled me back from an all-too-familiar ledge overlooking a potential nasty plunge into one of many depressions I've dealt with since 2016.

For a bit of context, that painful experience in 2016 led to one of the most tumultuous, but lucrative years of my life. I ended up channeling all of that anger, devastation, and pain into my work which included 4 incredibly short job stints that year increasing my compensation ask $10-25K each time. I wasn't whole as a person. Damaged, in fact. And in that state I chose several, recurring, terrible job situations with the wrong bosses and purposely punished each subsequent boss with a higher price tag to score me as their EA. And they paid it and got someone who was broken, but still high functioning and who worked his ass off to ensure their success.

I recently taught one of my classes and had a lovely young woman attend again from the year previous She showed such promise in that class a year ago and I've always felt such a kinship and low-key paternity with her and wanting her to grow and never feel confined to the box that she often painted herself into. I noticed that she was having a hard time hearing me and others during this recent class and she eventually shared that she had just been diagnosed with congenital hearing loss. She's still young in her career as an Executive Assistant and isn't making the kind of money many of us are so cavalier about. Her company is small and doesn't pay for her medical insurance so she pays for a basic health care plan out-of-pocket obviously eating well into her monthly salary. The hearing aids she needs aren't covered by her medical plan so she's had to accept letting her hearing get worse over time with hopes that she would be able to eventually afford the hearing equipment sometime soon. Hearing this admission in a room full of Executive Assistants immediately sent us into action. I went back to my hotel room and created a GoFundMe on her behalf and in less than a month we've raised over $3,000 of the $4,500 she needs for her hearing aids, most of it donations from complete strangers who were selfless and empathetic enough to want to do something to help a young woman with such a bright future continue to succeed in life and hear everything this world throws at her. Something we all take for granted.

Ironically, in that same class, I ended up having a situation with a breach of confidence that has now made me have to require Non-Disclosure Agreements for all of my attendees, ban several people from future classes, one possibly losing their job, and me possibly having a subpoena with my name on it in the future. Because someone broke the cardinal rule as an EA, allowed rational thinking to get replaced by emotion, leaving several lives completely screwed by hearsay. Such bullshit. Especially after 2 years of perfect compliance with the tenets of the class and the role. I've got a young woman fighting to be able to hear and not get her career and life derailed by something that's not even her fault. Yet we use our time and energy to screw one another over...because we can. #smh

Today felt like one epiphany right after another. And in my hours of self-reflection I've realized that it's all such bullshit when compared to the things that truly matter in this life. Honor. Integrity. Empathy. Caring. Giving. That's what really matters. That's what really makes us human. And better, individually and en masse.

Business is a strange, bullshitty little beast. It requires so much of us that's antithetical to how we were raised, how we innately behave, or what we truly care about. I teach Executive Assistants, some of the most entitled yet self-deprecating and inter-competitive people on the planet, how to advocate for themselves, learn the language and plays of their superiors, treat one another with respect/urgency/empathy, and master the system (read: game) that still makes it, somehow, universally acceptable to treat them as unintelligent, lazy, unfocused, second-class citizens and more of a convenience than anything else. I know that many CEOs read my articles and write me off as "one who escaped" and see me as a threat to the good thing they've got going. I know I've made many enemies of my peers in EA advocacy because I'm not shy calling out the obvious lack of integrity and exploitation that so many feel and complain to me about in the shadows but would never attach their names to their grievances. (You're welcome.) I've witnessed business and winning become such an obsession for a number of executives I've supported that their families and children have been blithely deprioritized and handed off to nannies and personal assistants to raise and keep on the rails. And I've watched many young, bright eyed Millennials walk through the front door on their first day with a huge smile and a brand new outfit purchased by a fat sign-on bonus to go along with their insanely sweet, new 6-figure salary only to burn out and quit a year later realizing that they were much happier rocking those jeans with the hole in the crotch, grabbing $5 Taco-Tuesday-happy-hour beers-and-tacos with their friends everyTuesday, commuting by skateboard, sharing a flat with 4 roommates because that's what they could afford living check-to-check and still on their parents' health insurance, without being excoriated for just being themselves and doing their best to fit into an environment run by a bunch of old, unhappy, has-beens weaponizing what modicum of power they might possess.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Be not deluded into thinking that money, fame, access, and superiority of any sort matter more than truly caring about your fellow man, being selfless by default, and doing the right thing at every possible opportunity. We've become so self-involved and defining our worth by the money/status/likes/stuff we possess that we've allowed ourselves to feel more strongly about those things than we do about our fellow man. Sure, business is necessary. And, yes, titles help us to define our status within the construct of business. But that should still never define WHO we are as individual human beings. A runaway bus doesn't care whether you're the CEO or the janitor. A (real) national emergency doesn't discriminate based on skin color, status, or wealth. It's about saving a life in the moment. Cancer doesn't give a fuck whether you've got the money to try and beat it or you don't. It's still cancer.

Sorry (not sorry) to ruin your perfectly delusional, business day with a little slap of reality to the face. This is all just bullshit in the grand scheme of life. The things that matter and that make us whole are really what life is all about. Our aging parents matter. Our psycho, bratty-ass, under disciplined kids who NEED US (and our undivided attention) matter. Complete strangers who are going through shit we're not even privy to, who forget to pull their debit cards out of the tire air machine, matter. Executive Assistants who show up every day with the innate need and desire to simply help in any way they can yet get treated like "the help" matter. And CEOs who are burdened with the immense weight of responsibility for the livelihoods of every single employee who chose to join their company, but can barely keep their own families together, their own health intact, and are forced to hide their tears and fears from view while the rest of us get to share them freely...NEED US, TOO.

I'm no Marianne Willamson or Deepak Chopra. I'm just Phoenix Normand. A guy who still believes that people are good at their core. Who will help anyone in need who reaches out to me. Who still opens doors and pulls out chairs for women. Who still pays the parking meter for the complete stranger next to me whose meter is blinking red. Who donates way too much in the shadows to organizations everyone conveniently forgets about. Who gives cash to homeless people with hopes that it at least gets them whatever need to get to the next day or to some level of high that makes it all less "real" and hopeless feeling. Who wants, more than anything, for us all to actually use our vacation days and those 6-figure salaries to purchase plane trips to other countries and experience our lives and other cultures so that we can stop making assumptions based on what the media tells us and think, rationalize and behave with real context. And who wants us all to at least strive to understand one another and respect each other's unique journey in this life.

I know it's not Facebook. Spare me the comment. I know people have different motivations like money, fame, and status. Good for them. But please know that you can't take any of those things with you when you die. And you will. So, maybe as a challenge, leave work a little early tomorrow and take your spouse on an impromptu date. (Have your EA plan it for you. We love that shit.) Grab your kids, make them leave their iPhones at home, and take them for their favorite NON VEGAN ice cream...with all the cream and all the sugary goodness they can handle. Call the few friends you have left and ask them to meet you at a local pub because you have something really, REALLY important to tell them and they MUST show up. Then buy the first two rounds of drinks and just BE TOGETHER to shoot the shit for a couple of hours admitting that you simply miss them and you're sorry for neglecting them for so long. Send a bunch of "love grenades" to some old friends or past teachers or mentors who have truly impacted your life in some way and tell them in a very public post what they've meant to you and how your life is better because of them.

Let's get back to prioritizing humanity, human connection, and empathy over all of the bullshit we perceive as "worth the sacrifice." It's not. I assure you. WE matter. To each other. Not what we have, achieve, or aggrandize.

Stop. Press rewind. Take a deep breath. And let's ALL try this again. With feeling. No BS.

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If you want to #helprosiehear please donate directly to her GoFundMe https://bit.ly/2EAaC4m About $1,400 of the goal to go to get Rosie her hearing aids! Do something good today. And THANK YOU.

Phoenix Normand