Everyone Wins

Taking a moment to breathe at the crossroads

Everyone Wins
bleeding hearts

"I just want everyone to win."

I'm not sure when I heard Matthew Ryan say those words — or hell, even whether he actually said them to me; maybe I read them in an interview he did with someone else — but I would be willing to bet $5 from Kurt Torster's wallet* that it happened during this episode of the Matt 'N' Jeff Radio Hour. If you visit that link, you'll notice that the episode in question was recorded in 2011, which was kind of a long time ago — which I point out as a way of illustrating just how long Matthew's comment has stayed with me.

Maybe you don't think those words are as moving or profound as I do, which I can certainly understand. I mean, there are definitely people I actively would not like to see win, because their stated goals are shitty and they themselves are shitbags and also most of them have enough power and leverage to get their way a lot of the time. But for the most part? For the most part, I agree with Matthew to my core. I think it's a beautiful sentiment, one that might distill our reason for being. It certainly serves as an effective mission statement for the Matthew Ryan discography, which spools out tale after tale of people who have their backs to the wall, who've had their hearts broken and dreams deferred, but who stubbornly manage to keep going anyway.

I've long found something endearingly pugnacious about that spirit, and have written more than once about the bruised but unbowed posture I've seen and admired in his songs. But in focusing on that aspect of Matthew's music, I think I may have missed the point a little — it isn't the fight to survive that his songs glorify, it's the beauty in living. It's just that you can't celebrate perseverance if there's nothing to persevere against; you can't triumph without adversity. Hopefully, most of us never have to face it to the degree that it's experienced by the characters in some of Matthew Ryan's songs, but we're all going to face it to some extent. He just wants us to win.

Maybe that means winning the lottery; maybe it just means a quiet drive home with no red lights after a good conversation with a friend. Maybe it's the right text at the right moment from a loved one. Maybe it's pushing harder than you thought you could for longer than you thought you were able, and knowing you're capable of more than you realized. Maybe it's just taking a minute to appreciate where you are and who you're with.

I've been spending some time with Matthew's music lately — specifically his 2008 album Matthew Ryan vs. the Silver State — while I process the end of a professional era and try to sort out the elusive answer to the question of what I want to do with the rest of my working years. As I shared here, the recent end of my extremely long-term job has left me feeling like this is a really remarkable opportunity for a meaningful reset, one that I'd like to come out of with a job that's more about effecting meaningful positive change than it is about making a few extra bucks for myself and a lot more profit for some jackass in a Patagonia vest.

I just want everyone to win, in other words. And I'm trying to figure out what that looks like as a career — ideally the one that takes me up to whatever the hell retirement will look like if everything doesn't fully implode first. I'm sorting this out while I give myself room to feel everything I'm meant to feel during this period, and not all of those feelings are positive. That's okay, though; ultimately, the sour end of this experience is helpful reinforcement of lessons I repeatedly stressed to everyone who ever reported to me. Specifically: One, the company is never your friend. Two, whatever you're doing for money is almost certainly not what you were put on this earth to do.

I said those things more times than I can count, and yet, for a certain period of time, I also allowed myself to get wrapped up in the gig on a deeply personal level. When things started to go sour, I was shocked by how personally I took it; the year and change leading up to my position being vaporized was largely spent trying to untangle myself emotionally, to view the job as just a job again, and to try and figure out how to leverage all that experience in the marketplace.

I think I mostly tackled the first thing. I still haven't figured out the answer to that last question, though, but maybe that's okay — maybe the answer is that the experience in question is meant to end and be filed away, and the next chapter should take the best parts and use them as fuel for a new and completely different journey. One that leaves a real legacy behind instead of just a personnel file. Maybe that's winning... especially if it involves helping other people win too.

Of course, as I said before, there are exceptions. There are people who deserve to lose, and as I write this bleeding-heart post, I'm cheered by the very public and decisive loss that's just been handed down to a lifelong racist, misogynist swindler who just so happens to be running a presidential campaign fueled by hollow grievances and ignorant rage. Yes, yes, I know we have no idea what the consequences will be; yes, yes, I know this defective colostomy bag of a person has managed to skate on virtually every awful thing he's ever done. Still, in this era of — to put it politely — minimal accountability for the rich and powerful, the simple fact that an unrepentant fucker has been found guilty of breaking the law by a jury of his peers feels pretty goddamn great. I made a playlist to celebrate! Let's meet back here tomorrow for New Music Friday.