Saturday, August 16, 2008

Advice to an Honest Man Whose Life is a Mess

Someone emailed me today saying his life is a mess, but rather than blaming it on others, he was wonderfully honest in acknowledging his weaknesses.

I reproduce his letter here and my response to him. I hope that you'll find both to be interesting.

Hi Marty:
I am a 40 year old guy. I have a high school education. I did not do well in high school. I work at a low paying job. I do not have good people skills. I don't have many friends and people don't seem to reach out to get to know me. I have not had a girlfriend in years. I have always had trouble dating. I am probably of average intelligence. I suffer from depression. I was diagnosed with a learning disability. I am probably above average in looks. I have never been promoted in a job. I have been fired a few times. I have to take anti-depressant medications..Wellbutrin. People tell me that I talk to much at work.. Sometimes I steal small items at work. Candy Bars. I am suspicious that my boss may know, but chooses not to say anything. I don't steal anything over 4-5 dollars at most. There is a good community college near where I live. What should I do to pull my live together? What books can I read to improve myself? I tend to act out at times and try to influence people..maybe overstepping my boundaries. I grew up with a mentally ill mother. I have always had trouble dating. I tend to have a high voice and even though I am not gay some women tell me I sound ike a woman. People tell me that I talk to fast.
That is all.
Dear Scott,

How fantastically introspective you are!!!!!! Great. That's the most important step to improvement. I'd recommend that you:

1. You make friends mainly by putting yourself in places where you're likely to meet good friends (perhaps at a college, church, or where you volunteer) by asking people about themselves, listening carefully, sharing some things about yourself, and, in general, being kind.

2. Constantly remind yourself to speak in the lowest part of your vocal range and slowly: Imagine that you were playing the part of a highly respected CEO, or Barack Obama.

3. Never talk for more than 30 to 60 seconds without shutting up or asking a question. In any conversation, be sure to talk only 30 to 50% of the time--the other person will fill in. Let there be silence in the conversation rather than you jabbering on.

4. Never steal again, literally or figuratively. Make absolute integrity your mantra. You cheapen yourself with every candy bar. In the end, you'll feel better about yourself AND it may well help your career and personal life.

5. Your desire to influence people comes from one or two instincts: the desire to prove your worthiness in the world and to help others. Both are worthy impulses. But especially if you're a person of just average intelligence and one who talks too fast (and thus probably comes to judgments too quickly,) your advice will often be wrong and/or unwanted. Most people--unless exceptionally secure--will not tolerate advice unless it is asked for.

6. Remembering the advice in #1 through 4, build a network of influential people by volunteering for organizations in which the other volunteers are well-connected people, whom if they like you, can hire you or recommend you be hired for a better position than you currently hold.

7. With regard to meeting a woman, since you do better in writing than verbally, I suggest you use online dating services such as Write your profile candidly and humanly. Post one or two current pictures of you that ARE representative of what you really look like--remember the honesty rule? When you respond to women's emails, do so with humanity and curiosity.

8. Read many articles on my website. They're all free and offer important guidance on career, personal growth, and living the well-led life.

How's that sound?

Marty Nemko


Greg Loebel said...

It sounds like this person is suffering from a long-term generalized anxiety disorder that is going untreated in lieu of the depression label. He steals and sometimes attempts to manipulate others as a way to deal with his anxiety response.

Any amount of book reading isn't going to help because it's just going to heighten the anxiety response, as it'll add more things to his plate of stuff he feels like he's not capable of accomplishing.

Killing two birds with one stone would be for him to see if the community college that he mentions in his email has counseling/therapuetic resources available to enrolled students at low or no cost. He could get enrolled for 3-6 credits in a course or two that would help with some of his short term goals (interpersonal communications, psychology of personal effectiveness, etc).

As an enrolled student this person could access therapeutic services to get treatment for his anxiety and depression, get some career counseling help, and also get some live instruction in his goal areas - all of which would be more effective in his particular case than simply reading books.

Marty Nemko said...

Greg may be right, but I've seen lots of people's situation made WORSE through therapy. I'd rather he try my approaches first. I believe the risk of his doing so is far lower than of jumping into therapy.

In addition, I believe, Greg has waaaaay too little information about this guy to contradict the diagnosis he reported that he's being professionally treated for.

Dave said...

Patients often develop a dependency with their therapists that can be difficult to reverse. It can actually prevent them from functioning independently. I think therapy should only be used for serious cases.

Grace said...

I agree with Mr. Nemko. This man has lost momentum and confidence. He needs to act now. Mr. Nemko has given him some low-risk suggestions that could really change things for him.

Volunteering for a worthy cause is an excellent suggestion. Besides meeting new people, it gives you a good feeling because you have helped someone else, and it can make you more grateful for what you already have.

Every problem that Scott mentioned can be overcome if Scott is willing to walk with integrity. Focusing on the problems isn't the answer. Act differently to produce different perspectives and results.

rich said...


Do you have data to back up your claim that psychotherapy often makes people worse? There is a significant amount of data from several countries showing a combination of cognitive therapy and anti-depressants are quite effective in relieving anxiety and depression. Yes, there are unethical therapists who encourage dependancy from their clients, but there are many more who greatly improve the lives of those who seek their assistance.

Marty Nemko said...

You are correct that ON AVERAGE, cognitive therapy combined with medication has ameliorative effects, but there are a significant percentage of people whose conditions are made worse, sometimes by a codependent relationship, but more often as the result of the constant focusing on the anxiety, rather than doing the things that can often distract so much and lead to real-world successes that the client largely forgets about his anxiety.

As I wrote, I am not against therapy, especially cognitive therapy, but especially given that he has already received a diagnosis of depression from a professional and the recommended treatment in his case was anti-depression medication, I thought that Greg's recommendation to countervail that diagnosis and presume him to have a generalized anxiety disorder in which he steals candy bars to deal with his anxiety was inappropriate.

Far wiser to, as I wrote, try the low risk behavioral steps I recommend, and yes, if those don't work sufficiently, perhaps to seek counseling.

Joe said...

I'm 23, and I was surprised to see a post like this on your blog. I am in kind of a similar situation to the man who emailed you, but my life isn't as messy. I have worked as a temporary employee for a health insurance company since February, and I seem to be doing alright. I have trouble connecting to my co-workers, many of whom are far older than I, and on my first day my supervisor joked with me as we ate lunch together about me getting married. I haven't had a date in years, I have a learning disability as well as clinical depression. I function as best as I can. I don't see a therapist regularly, but I do go to somebody for meds (which honestly, don't seem to affect me at all). I tried college *three times* and it hasn't worked out for me. Most people don't even get three chances, and I sometimes feel guilty that I could not succeed. I once believed that a four-year degree was the only way to have a happy life, and that was a destructive thought. I was never happy in school. (Have you read Other Ways to Win? I'm trying to find a copy at a local library, because I want to know what the truth is about the bachelor's degree.) But so far I've found that working for this company is working for me, and I am placing my bets on them hiring me full-time. I am interested in educating myself in ways that work for me, and I have read your articles on your site. I don't agree with everything, but a lot of what you say makes sense to me. Thank you.

Marty Nemko said...


Develop relationships with mentors, in which you get guidance as to how to improve your skills with co-workers, acquire skills that will make you a valuable full-time employee, and learn the art of entrepreneurship, by reading articles and books, and via mentorship with good entre/intrapreneurs. That skill, even within an organization, is the best guarantor of success without college.

Wellbutrin Prescription Infomation said...

My name is Todd Thomas and i would like to show you my personal experience with Wellbutrin.

I am 29 years old. Have been on Wellbutrin for 2 weeks now. The positives do not outweigh the negatives in any way.I strongly recommend trying natural dopamine supplements that are out there including Gaba.Look into it.All that I was getting with anti-depressants was frustration which led to helplessness which led to hopelessnes and suicidal feelings.Its really sad to know that drugs whether legal or not,can become a dependency factor,and when they fail to live up to the standards,and after all the $$$ has been handed over,we all end up right back where we started.I am always interested in talking to people about this subject..

I have experienced some of these side effects -
Insomnia,extreme energy surges and stomach aches.I also had appetite decrease.

I hope this information will be useful to others,
Todd Thomas