Today marks the one hundredth edition of my newsletter. For ninety-nine newsletters, I’ve written with the intent to help and inform you. But for the one hundredth edition, I’d like instead to share what you’ve all taught me.
I started my first blog in 2007. By 2011, writing and publishing online was my full-time job. By 2013, that writing was being read by over a million people each month. And while the exact number has fluctuated over the years, that still remains true.
Early on in my career, as you would expect, I was grateful and amazed at the fact that so many people were reading my thoughts. How fucking cool was that?
But as the years went on, I started to realize what was actually special about my situation: the unique ability to be exposed to so many other people’s thoughts and experiences.
Over the past 15 years, I’d estimate that I’ve received questions and learned about the lives of around 50,000 people. These people have been of all ages, from grade school up to people in their 90s. They’ve been from all over the world, from the US to Europe to India to Japan to Africa and back. They’ve been of all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The sheer variety of people that have shown up in my inbox looking for advice through the years is staggering. I’ve been truly blessed to be exposed to so many people from so many walks of life.
In fact, I truly believe that it’s the insane breadth of exposure that has had the greatest influence on my work. When you hear about life problems from Kenya, Serbia, India, Brazil, and New York, all in the same afternoon, you’re able to start zeroing in on what’s universal about the human condition and what is not.
And this has been my biggest lesson that I have learned from all of you, my readers. A lesson that is as liberating as it is shockingly obvious:
Sure, the contexts change and the cultures are varied and everyone’s life stories are inevitably different.
But at our core, whether we’re an insecure teenager from Quebec, an overworked woman from India, a worrisome grandmother from Texas, or a desperate immigrant living in Australia, we all seem to struggle with the same small grouping of stressors and anxieties:
“I’m unhappy in my relationship but don’t know if I should end it or keep trying.”
“I’m unsure of what to do for my future—I worry that I’ve been on the wrong path.”
“I struggle with anxiety/anger/depression and it’s fucking up many areas of my life.”
“I’m insecure about my money/status/appearance and wish I didn’t give a fuck.”
And here’s what’s more incredible. Most of these people I hear from feel like they’re weird for having the problem that they do. The woman in India feels as though she’s strange for feeling this way and is afraid to tell anyone—just as the grandmother in Texas fears that she is weird, just as the teenager in Quebec feels that he is weird.
It’s sometimes amusing to get an email from someone who describes their problem and proceeds to write in it, “I don’t think anyone could possibly understand how I feel.” Meanwhile, there are four other emails in my inbox from people with the exact same problem. Sometimes I want to just forward these people to each other so they can create anonymous little support groups.
Early in my career, I used to stress about each of these emails. I couldn’t yet see the commonalities, so I would obsess over the details. Surely, being a teenager in Quebec means he’s different from every other teenager in the world. In my mind, there were as many problems in the world as there were people.
But as time went on, I started to realize that not only were these totally normal struggles and anxieties of the human condition, but that the best I could do in most cases was simply assure these people that they were, in fact, not weird. That their problems are not unique or special. That they should talk to somebody about it.
Because, ultimately, I don’t know their life. I don’t know their relationships. In many cases, I don’t know their culture. But what I do know is something incredibly important that few people have ever seen first hand: that they are not alone.
This is why I structured my online courses the way I did: they are based on the same five or six problems that I hear from people over and over and over again: relationships, purpose, emotions, resilience, life planning, habits. Rinse. Repeat.
Because while our values, cultures, and life circumstances change—our core struggles as humans remain the same. Relationships are hard, but necessary. Trauma is inevitable, but healing is possible. Emotions cannot be conquered, but must be accepted and managed. A sense of purpose is not found, it must be created.
These struggles never cease being struggles. You may get your relationships figured out today, but something will happen down the road that will disrupt them and cause chaos and you will have to start again.
You might find some sense of purpose today, but in a decade, a dramatic shift in values will force you to pick it all up again.
You might feel like you have a handle on your emotions now, but some unexpected tragedy will one day throw you into life’s maw once again.
And when it happens, you must remind yourself that the uniqueness of your problem is an illusion, that the sense that you are somehow weird or abnormal is imagined. That as you continue through your life, pretending like nothing is wrong, everyone around you is merely doing the same.
This is why vulnerability is so important and so powerful. Not just for you to be able to express your pain and shame, but because expressing it means you are giving others, who have also remained silent, permission to express theirs. It’s healing not just for you, but for all those around you.
Or, you can just email me. And I’ll tell you what I tell everyone: “That’s totally normal. You’re going to be fine. You should actually talk to someone in your life about it. Tell them what you just told me.”