How Writing Led Me To My Wife
I flew 2,000 miles from Boston to Denver to meet my wife for the first time. I was excited as hell. I was also nervous as hell for many reasons. First, I would be staying at her parents' house. Making a positive first impression is already hard enough. Just imagine the pressure of knowing I didn't have the money to get a hotel if I messed that up! Second, we didn't know what each other looked like. We met in 2008, which was many years before it was customary to Facebook-stalk someone to confirm they were not a hot mess or a mass murderer. So the only facts that she had to identify me were that I was tall, wearing a yellow jacket, and wearing a green backpack. That's it! Unfortunately, as Emily waited for me to come up the escalator, two other people exactly matched that description! I'm so glad she waited for me. It would have been an awkward and expensive cab ride to her parents' house (and I didn't have the mailing address). Fortunately, we already had strong feelings for each other, so it was unlikely that I'd get ditched at DIA.
I love telling people various renditions of our "how we met" story because it's opposite of how most people met at the time.
It all started with writing. I had gone to a week-long conference where an email list was distributed so all the attendees could stay in touch. Because I liked to share, I started sending out emails about things I thought would be of interest to this group. One day, someone wrote me back. She wanted to set me up on a blind date with a beautiful woman that she knew, who just so happened that to love geeky guys. Oddly enough, I found that more endearing than offensive (after all, I love geeking out about things). She then proceeded to tell me that she lived in Colorado. I was crushed. Who the hell starts a relationship 2,000 miles apart? It was a non-starter. However, the woman persisted. Three more nudges later, I promised I would give it a shot.
I wrote an email with a subject line "Gold Plated Bungee Cords" or something to that effect. I didn't stop there. There were no pickup lines, only obscure and absurd facts about me. Who leads off with things like "I have a 6'8" wingspan like a condor"? I could afford to be silly because I had nothing to lose. While I can fake a very uptight, professional demeanor, at my core, I'm a very creative and silly person.
Thankfully, the email worked!
- Soon we were on the phone 1-2 hours a day.
- Soon we were flying back and forth to see each other.
- Within a year of the email, she moved to Boston to live with me.
- Within a year of leaving Boston, we were married.
It's humbling to think how much writing that ONE email impacted the entire trajectory of my life. And it doesn't stop there.
How Writing Has Impacted The Rest of My Life
I love telling the story about how I met my wife, but can lightning strike twice? Absolutely!
One of the reasons why it's easy to downplay the impact of writing is because other factors may seem more important and directly connected to an outcome. However, when I'm honest, and I take the time to analyze what really made the difference, writing has been a significant influence in all areas of my life.
Here are some examples. If you already get the picture, feel free to skip to the punchline at the end.
In 2012 I wrote an email that ultimately led me to a new job and a 20% salary increase (and another 20% increase after another year). I attended a weekend conference in Denver, where I talked with a speaker after his presentation. In that conversation, he asked if I would like to volunteer to organize a larger upcoming conference. I agreed. He then asked if I could write all the website copy for the "Drupal Means Business" track. Once I did that, I was offered the opportunity to present. I presented on that topic, and someone watching it invited me over to their booth. I effectively got a job offer on the spot with a pay increase, a bump in my title, and an opportunity that changed the trajectory of my career forever. In summary: a combination of an email, a blog article, and a presentation netted me a better career and paycheck.
In the same open-source community (Drupal), I kept trying to find a place where I could contribute in a meaningful way. Then I noticed that the important topic of PCI compliance was still a dumpster fire in almost every web dev community. So in 2013, I wrote a blog article (which I called a "Minimum Viable Post") proposing a white paper. I knew the effort would take me 100+ hours, so I even asked for sponsorship. The support came in a massive wave. I ultimately raised about $5,000 and published a paper that, to this day, still gets hundreds of downloads a month. As a result, I got invited to join the Drupal Security Team. With the white paper and membership there, I was able to land new projects for my company. While I can't say for sure how much that information closed deals, I can easily attribute it to over 100K of revenue. More important than the money was the improved standing within the community by being more connected withy the movers and shakers. It gave me influence that I wouldn't have had otherwise.
The simple act of publishing my workout results is highly motivating. Before Strava, my workouts were very inconsistent. After all, without a record of what I did, it was impossible to recall how consistent I was 4+ weeks ago. But now I can see where an injury, illness, or some other factor caused me to drop off the wagon for a bit. This helps me level set my expectations of how in shape I "should" be, particularly after a decent junk of time off.
It's also made me WAY more accountable. Whenever I post my results where others can see, it motivates me to put in an honest effort and not quit early. It reminds me of when I completed in high school and college sports. There is something about being in front of others that can inspire us to dig deeper and work harder.
I've lost friendships due to neglect. It's sad, but true and sometimes and inevitable aspect of life. However, I've also had the exact opposite experience. Simple acts of thoughtfulness (a text, a letter in the mail, a thank you card, etc.) can be just enough of a nudge to pick things back up where I thought a relationship had ended for good.
Writing has also strengthened my relationships in the workplace. I used to write a weekly internal newsletter to all 60 people in my company. Compiling everyone's submissions and communicating to everyone always kept some level of connection to them. And this (generally) opened the door for them to feel comfortable enough to respond and start a dialogue if and when necessary.
There is much written on the benefits of journaling, and in my experience, much of it is true. It can help you process your feelings, discover things about yourself that you never knew before, and acknowledge and celebrate your victories. Best of all, I can search and go back to older memories that were starting to fade and experience them in vivid detail again. This is truly a gift! After all, if we spend so much time and money to have these experiences, why not record them so we can benefit from them for the rest of our lives?
Blogging has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only is it a way to share your experiences as a means of paying it forward, but it's a great way to attract a tribe of people who relate and have similar interests, challenges, goals, and ambitions. I've met and made so many friends on social media. However, some of the strongest bonds are with those that have reached out and started a conversation about something I've written. It's a fantastic ice breaker, and you may find relatable experiences that you would have never known about a person your words not touched them in a certain way.
I think most people have it backward when it comes to writing. Writing as a career tied to a paycheck sounds like the path of greatest impact, but few people can truly make a lot of money directly. As a result, it's easy to think that writing itself doesn't have a lot of value. My experience is exactly the opposite. Writing has IMMENSE value, but it's not always directly tied to a specific dollar amount of income. However, if you look carefully, you will find that writing can lead to significant gains and new opportunities in all aspects of life.
My advice is simple: make writing a daily habit and allow yourself to be flexible and experiment. Keep doing it regardless of whether you see a direct financial impact, and be on the lookout for when you see an unexpected benefit. The more you keep looking, the more you will start seeing it make a difference over time.
I never expected to find my wife by sending that one email. I never expected to get a blind date by merely sharing things I thought were interesting. I didn't apply for most of the jobs that found me. These are just a few of the many examples of how writing can make a massive impact on your life (if you let it).
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About Rick Manelius
Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.