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Your life is written by the choices you make: Thoughts provoked by Hamilton the Musical

Recently my daughter and I went to see Hamilton musical. When it first came out and took the nation by storm, I read the biography that reportedly inspired the production and I loved it. I was struck by a lot of things that struck me as relevant to our day and age.

Screen Shot 2020-02-13 at 10.21.56 AMSo many parallels between politics back then and politics today.  But something struck me in the production that I've been chewing over since I heard it.

Warning: If somehow you don't know the story there is a spoiler about to follow.

Aaron Burr is played by Jared Dixon (who in the opinions of my daughter and myself stole the show). At the end of the show Burr laments that despite whatever else he had done or would do in his life, he would be remembered for the killing of Hamilton. He sings something to the effect of, "Now, I'll just be the bad guy in your history books."

I've been chewing on that line. Because I think it can be true. There are things that we do that will forever color whatever legacy we leave to those who come behind.


I believe that no matter what has happened change is possible. I believe that you can overcome your past.

Is it just me or do those statements seem contradictory to you? At first blush, they do to me.

But, I think one of the keys to a healthy emotionally life is the ability to hold two thoughts in tension.  And these two thoughts may be held in the highest tension.

Because, some readers of this will either already have made or will make in the future an epic screw-up. They'll do something that will shadow whatever else they do.

Except to the people that know them, really know them after the screw-up. For those people, the legacy will change. The mistake will become a footnote.

Because change is possible. Mistakes can be forgiven and made right.

My daughter asked me what I thought about the musical and I told her that I loved it because I believe there are only two stories ever told; stories of brokenness and stories of redemption. Sometimes, both brokenness and redemption are weaved throughout the story.

To me, that is what makes Hamilton so profound. It tells the story of brokenness and redemption. It shows the messiness that is life.

So to you, my friend and reader I want to offer some encouragement. Your life may be messy. It may be full of regrets. It may be marred by a mistake on a grand scale.

But those things are not the totality of your story. They are not the whole of you. You can leave a legacy of whatever you want to leave.

That legacy will be determined by the decisions you make moving forward from today.

Your story will be told by the decisions you make. Maybe your story will be one of overcoming self-inflicted brokenness or maybe your story will be one of overcoming the pain inflicted by others.

Whatever the situation, you can write your way out by the life you choose to live moving forward.

Your Marriage is Mortal, It can die. You Can Keep It Alive

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine. I told him that all marriages are mortal. He immediately became offended and said, "No way! My marriage is not mortal!"

I laughed at him and said not only was his marriage mortal but that if he didn't recognize that fact and act accordingly it would increase the chances that his marriage could become sick or die. Of course, this was met with more angst. We ended up having a great conversation. He may or may not comment on this post, I don't know. 

Whether we want to admit it or not, our marriages are mortal. Everyone's marriage is mortal. It does not matter how much you want to say that you will never get divorced or that your marriage will never die. It could and we have less control over than we'd like to admit.

I commented to my wife the other day that it seems every time I turn around I’m learning about someone new getting divorced. Some have been married for just a few years and some have been married for many years. 

There is a hard reality about marriages. For every 100 couples that gets married this weekend better than 50 of them will end up in divorce. Every one of them thinks that it will be someone else.

I think that many people think that as long as they refuse to acknowledge the D word everything will work out. I admit I used to think this way. There is at least two problems with this type of thinking.

First of all, a marriage requires two people to work on it. A person I know once said that marriage is something you possess and do. The trick is you don't possess it or do it alone. You do it with someone else. Sadly, that person can decide to walk away and there may be nothing you can do about it.

A second problem with this line of thinking is that it does not allow you to look realistically at your marriage. To say that our marriages cannot die is a lot like saying that our bodies cannot break down. It just isn't based in reality.

When we say our marriages are not mortal, we can delude ourselves into thinking everything is OK when it is not. Worse, we can become too scared to admit that we have problems in our marriage. This fear may prohibit us from seeking professional help in counseling for our marriage.

The truth is your marriage, my friend's marriage and my marriage is mortal. They can all die, which is why we must be vigilant in protecting ouimage from scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.netr marriages. We must cultivate them.

When things are going ravishingly well, we must work at it. When dry and difficult times come we must work at it.

Admitting that our bodies are mortal does not mean that we want to die prematurely. The same is true for marriages. When I was married I made a promise to stay that way until death separated us and I meant it.

Denying that my marriage is mortal doesn't make that promise any stronger. It does not make my marriage stronger, in fact I think it makes it more vulnerable.

By admitting that it is fragile, and extremely valuable I am admitting that it is something I have to work on every day. 

We are hardwired to connection from birth.

Researchers have found that "all scientific research now shows that from a time a baby is born, a baby's brain is biologically already formed to connect in relationships." 

Key take-a-ways

  • In large measure, what is causing this crisis of American childhood is a lack of connectedness. We mean two kinds of connectedness—close connections to other people, and deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.
  • Much of this report is a presentation of scientific evidence—largely from the field of neuro-science, which concerns our basic biology and how our brains develop—showing that the human child is hardwired to connect. We are hardwired for other people and for moral meaning and openness to the transcendent. Meeting these basic needs for connection is essential to health and to human flourishing
  • For the first time, a diverse group of scientists and other experts on children's health is publicly recommending that our society pay considerably more attention to young people's moral, spiritual and religious needs."

~Tim Clifton and Joshua Straub

Business lessons learned from counseling

**This is a guest post from my wife, Erica. She has her bachelor's degree in business administration and marketing. I am happy to say that her expertise is part of the  Joe Martino Counseling business and we would be happy to meet with you to discuss how we might be able to help your business succeed.**

I have been an entrepreneur for 17 years now and have successfully started 11 businesses. I love helping people who have a dream for their life be successful! After 17 years of business I have decided to pursue a masters in counseling. I am not giving up what I do best only enhancing it!

My husband often asks people he is counseling 3 questions

    What do you want?

    What are you willing to pay?

    What are you willing to risk?

I ask people who want to start their own businesses the same 3 questions

What do you want to accomplish?

Short term thinking when starting or operating your own business never works. In order to be successful you must ask yourself

Where do I want to be in 5 years?

How much do I want to make?

Who will I be reaching?

These three questions should drive everything you do in the short –term in order to be successful.

What are you willing to give up to accomplish it?

In order to accomplish success you have to give something up. There is 3 well known A’s to marketing and they are: Accessibility, Availability and Affordability. 

When thinking of these three things what do you need to give up to be successful?

Is it family time?

Gym membership?

Alone time?

Unnecessary bills?

Commitments that involve your time that does not help you reach your goal?

What are you willing to risk?

My favorite saying, which is not original with me, is “You have to spend money to make money”. This is a scary thought for many of us because we have very little money to risk but I promise you that if you are not spending time and money on daily/monthly basis to help your business then you will not make it. Time and money are both commodities necessary to make your business grow.

My challenge:

Create a plan and get rid of everything in your life keeping you from reaching that goal and do not be afraid to risk because I believe you can do great things!

How your expectations shape everything

I have a new post up at the Creative Solutions Counseling webpage regarding our expectations and how they impact our life.

Many times, bad expectations lead to bad experiences. Often because our expectations are just impossible. Here's an excerpt from the post:

I so firmly believe that one of the most important questions we can ask is what do we expect from life?
If I expect life to be easy, it will be immeasurably more difficult.

If I expect life to always go my way, the numerous times that it does not will be so much bigger and more painful.

What do you expect?

Four simple words and yet, four words with so much potential.

You can read the whole post here.


Life Lessons we all need to know

These lessons were first shared with me by my friend Lance Fry, when we were both teaching and coaching together in Virginia. Since that time, I have taught the first four to everyone that I can possibly can. I believe that when applied they can be life changing. I have added the fifth one because I think it is somehow being missed today.

Lesson 1: Life is not fair, get over it.

Lesson 2: Life is tough, be tougher.

Lesson 3: Life changes, adjust.

Lesson 4: Life is short, make it count.

Lesson 5: Life is hard, expect that and overcome.

Do something that matters: Thoughts on unhappy lives

A common occurrence that happens all over the country in counseling offices every day is people wanting to be "happier." Almost every counselor asks the client, "How will you know when our time is done? What are your goals for counseling? A very common answer is that the client wants to be happier. Many of the couples sessions that end in divorce are because the client(s) wanted to be happier. Families get in trouble because "no one's happy."

But what does this mean? Where does happiness come from? Is happiness dependent upon outward events or inward choices? I think the answer is probably complicated but I strongly lean toward the side of inward choices. I'll discuss and debate that another day.

Today I want to discuss what I believe is one of the biggest single contributors to unhappiness. People are unhappy because they are wasting their lives. I don't mean this metaphorically. I mean this as literally as I can possibly be.

People are literally spending their life on things that not only don't matter but that have no meaning. Don't believe me? Consider that fantasy football is a two billion dollar a year industry. TWO BILLION DOLLARS!!! The average person spends 9 hours a week at work on his/her fantasy football team. But that's almost too easy.

The truth is we have made an idol of ourselves. Most of my clients who are “unhappy” with their lives are unhappy because they have pursuing their own happiness to the exclusion of almost everything else. Many of them have achieved what they set out to do and it turns out it wasn’t all that satisfying. They buy themselves whatever they want. They spend hours playing video games and fantasy sports. It’s as if we’ve lost the ability to pursue things that matter and that require sacrifice. What amazes me is all of the things we’ll sacrifice for sports or video games, or hobbies.

This really isn’t about the hobbies though. I like video games. I like hunting. I like sports. I like reading. This is about what is ultimately fulfilling. What actually makes a life worth living? I think that most of the time people struggle with life because they’ve spent their life on things that just don’t matter. Think about things that you value in your life. They cost you or someone something. Maybe not money, but time; they cost someone something. Too often we pursue easy. We chase comfortable. The problem is when we get it, we find it doesn’t satisfy.

Which brings up the really good question of what does satisfy? What brings meaning to life? The short version that I would argue for is that we find meaning in life by doing for others.

Value comes from pursuing things that will outlive us. What do you think? What is it that brings meaning to life?

6 rules of communication. Beginning thoughts on conflict.

Conflict is something we all have in life. No matter how good the relationship, people disagree. Typically, we do everything we can to avoid conflict. Some people use aggression to blow the conflict up while others use passiveness and run away. Probably most of us fit somewhere in the middle of those two positions. But how do we navigate conflict in a manner that really is constructive?

Can two people disagree about politics and still truly be friends?

Can two people be really angry with each other and still engage in a way that doesn’t destroy people? I believe the answer is yes. I want to start a series (that will not be regular) on conflict and conflict resolution. Below you will find what we call the 6 Rules of Communication. I believe if you use them, you will find that they can change almost every relationship in your life. I will list them here and come back and pick them up at a later time to break each one down.

  1. 1.Facts Only—Be Honest
  2. 2.Today’s News—Deal with the current issue
  3. 3.Issues Only—Talk about the problem not the person
  4. 4.Be Intentional (don’t react)—Find a way to build your spouse up even while disagreeing.
  5. 5.ALWAYS avoid always and NEVER say never
  6. 6.Does “IT” have to be a problem?

What does it meant to be heard? One of life's core questions

What does it meant to be heard?

I believe that one of life’s core questions is “Am I being heard?” The obvious question is what does that mean? Here is a short post from my book that I’m working on seeking to begin to answer this question.

We all seek to be heard beyond simply the words that we are speaking. We want to know that the other person is hearing our heart. We want to feel that there is someone who is so interested in us that they want to know the thoughts, feelings and emotions that are behind the words we are speaking. We want to know that we are loved so much that someone wants to understand what we are trying to say not simply what is coming out.

Sometimes there are no words. This is a simple truth that happens all the time. The human psyche is complex. Our emotions can override our ability to actually say the words we want to be saying. We don’t know how to comunicate all the time and we all want to know that there is someone who knows us so well that they will be able to put words to our feelings when we cannot.

We don’t need them to fix us. We often don’t even need them to fix problem. We just absolutely need to know that they hear us. We need to be secure in the fact that there is at least one person who can know us so well that they can hear the lyrics of our soul. Think about couples that are intuitive to each other. They can finish each other’s sentences. A simple nod can communicate volumes from one to the other. A stolen glance. These non verbal communication begin with verbal communications. They begin with spending copious amounts of time together listening to each other.

When people tell me that they have “fallen out of love” with their spouse and “fallen in love” with their new whoever, I always ask which person is getting more of their time. Invariably, I hear that the person they have fallen in love with is getting the lion’s share of the time. Hearing a person tells them that they are important (which answers the valued question as well). More importantly, it tells them that we are seeking to understand them.

How many times in your life have you felt misunderstood or just not understood?

Have you ever met someone who not only listened to you but really tried to understand you? How did you feel about the person? Have you ever met someone who could have cared less about understanding you? How did you feel about that person?