2015 marks the 10th anniversary of moving out of my parents’ house. I was 22 years old, and still had a year of college left. Rather than go home for the summer, I got a theater internship in New York and moved into my first apartment (a summer sublet in Inwood, just off the 200th Street A Train). To get by, I worked nights and weekends as a Starbucks barista. I once served a latte and talked movies with Manohla Dargis, now the chief film critic at The New York Times.
I was still a year away from discovering The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater; I dreamed about becoming the next Eric Bogosian, and in turn: I wrote a one-man show about that summer.
I had no idea what lay ahead for me. So, naturally: I wondered what advice I would tell myself from 10 years in the future…
1. Break-up when you know it’s time to break-up.
The first time I fell in love was in college. I was 22, and I had been dating my then-girlfriend for 3 or 4 months. Being so young and dealing with a complex emotion is like eating a pizza before it kills you. You’re high, and insane, and at that age – life is just a series of absolutes. A few months later: I realized I didn’t want to be tied down. But I was scared to break-up with her. I was scared to be alone. I was scared to trust my instincts. There was also a part of my personality that craved order, which being in a relationship provided. But (I’ve since found) that order comes out of routine, values; learning who you are and what are healthy choices for yourself. As we stayed together for 2 years, our relationship grew toxic – scarily toxic for 2 college kids. Looking back, I should’ve broken up with her when I knew. Maybe today we’d still be friends. I don’t regret that she’s gone; I regret all the screaming matches and drama that it took to get us there.
2. Jealousy never helped anybody.
In one way or another, I’ve ended up knowing a few famous people. I grew up with them. I’ve shared a beer with them. I have a good acquaintance with them. I’m also extremely jealous of them. I want their lives. Living in Los Angeles makes coping with that jealousy very hard. But you have a choice with jealousy: you can let it motivate you, or you can let it cripple you. Jealous, crippled people are very draining people to be around. They are quick to criticize everything, and have nothing to show for themselves. Concomitantly: I’ve seen some famous friends get absolutely crushed by the show business industry. It’s not pretty to wake up one day, and have everything taken away from you. Suddenly all of that jealousy is useless, and you want to tell your friend “It’ll be okay.” For that reason: I don’t root against people anymore – even the terrible ones. And I try to use every bit of jealousy I have to create work, not enemies.
3. Wherever you’re from, leave. Leave, and don’t return for a decade.
Of the few smart things I did in my early 20s, I’m glad I left Philadelphia and never looked back. It’s not that Philadelphia or South Jersey are awful places. But – at the time – I wanted to be a famous actor or a famous writer, and neither of those two places offered much for me. Also: three generations of men in my family had barely lived anywhere else. At the time, I felt a Skywalker-esqe calling to be different. As a result, I’ve continually put myself in a situation where I had to “figure it out on my own”. I like that about myself.
4. No matter how hard you try, someone is always going to hate you.
This ties in with the “Jealous, Crippled people” point. One of the few things I’ve learned is how little control people have over their lives. Outside of saving money, being kind, and staying healthy, everything else is a roll of the dice. I do my best to live a compassionate life. If I don’t like someone, I aim to give them due respect through civility. 9 people out of 10 see that, and appreciate the effort. But then that 10th person always thinks I owe them everything. I’ve lost friendships and dealt with depression over a lot of 10th people. In the end, you can’t change the 10ths. They are on a different journey, festooned with issues and insecurities that they need to deal with. They become sad icons when you realize they’re not just angry at you, they’re angry at the world. All you can do is smile, say “Hi.”, and keep walking.
5. Take time off (even when everybody else isn’t).
Let yourself have a couple of trainwreck years, especially before you turn 30. Obviously – don’t get addicted to heroin, or something like that. But do live your life, for a while, and try to figure out who you are and what you want. If you’re going to be successful in the Western World, you have to work at least a 50-hour week, at a below means salary, with student loan debt. Before you sign up for that, know that you’re willing to do it.
6. Always wear a condom.
“Humbling” – being the only mid-twentysomething adult waiting with a group of teenagers to get tested at a Planned Parenthood because you don’t have health insurance.
Proudly testing negative since 2002. Always wear a condom.
7. Lying is harder than truth.
In order to figure yourself out, you have to actually try stuff. Some things, you’ll know after one try (making out with another dude; not really my thing); most things will require more than one try (my attempts at stand-up comedy; also not really my thing). Everyone walks around with an idea of who they are in their head. Make as much effort as possible to make sure that idea and who you actually are sync up.
8. The world keeps turning through your fuck-ups.
My most notable failure was my talk show, The Matt Fried Hour, which I produced back in New York from 2008-2010 (you can find many awkwardly disjointed clips on YouTube!). The show started out with a ton of promise, and by the end was held together by duct tape and a wagon wheel.
The show regularly struggled to sell tickets. It hemorrhaged money left and right. It put many friendships to the test, and ended a few others. It was always a fun trainwreck, I guess. But in the end: it failed. It failed because of my inabilities (at the time) as a producer and a host. And when your show fails – and 50% of its title is also your name – it’s hard not to take it personally.
I took a long break (2 years) from performing after the show ended; thinking it would be too hard to come back from something so humiliating. And it was hard to come back. But it wasn’t impossible.
The thing about failure is that people will only remember it if you never let them forget it. If failure is what you end on, then people will see you as a failure. If everything you do after is just as bad, or worse, people will see you as a failure. But if you can pick yourself, re-invent yourself, and move forward, then everything will be fine. My play A Charlie Brown Apocalypse taught me that.
9. Success requires some level of solitude.
I honestly believe that all successful people are lonely, in one respect or another. That’s not say that they’re unmarried, sullen, and think Ted Cruz would make a great President. Quite the opposite. But I do believe that success – however you define it – requires focus; whether it’s stand-up comedy, or writing a novel, or getting your MBA. Personal attachments and material possessions don’t help you achieve much of anything. Taking time to study, hone, sharpen, toil, and blow it all up does. In order to do any of that, you have to isolate yourself, and – in effect – create your own approach for achieving whatever you want in this life.
Only you – alone – can dictate the direction of your life, and only you – alone – can answer for the results.
10. Eat. Drink. Smoke. Fuck, Responsibly.
I’ll keep this one brief: life is too goddamn short to be comfortable, laidback, or easy. If you spend it living by someone else’s expectations, you will have wasted it.
Be selfish, but don’t be a dick. Don’t try to hurt people, and don’t try to hurt yourself. And above all else: get laid whenever the consensual opportunity arises.