Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Freelance Life: The Life of the Subcontractor

As a freelance voice talent, I most often work in the capacity of subcontractor. That is, though I do some work directly with end clients (phone answering systems, audiobooks, the occasional web video), most of my work comes either through an agency or production company.

This actually works well for me. As I have a background in video production as well, I find this helps me in my client relations. We speak the same language, as it were. I understand their needs from a production standpoint, and they know what they want -- and what's possible -- from me. Very often, they are also small businesses or freelancers themselves, so we understand one another when it comes to time spent on a project and, generally, payment.

The limitations of a subcontractor, however, are worth taking note of. For one, my client is generally not the end user. This can sometimes mean waiting for feedback longer than you normally would working one-on-one with the end user. Occasionally, this can also mean waiting to get paid until the project is finalized -- which means holding my breath until whatever back and forth takes place between the initial contractor and the client.

Being a subcontractor brings with it an element of uncertainty. I only rarely get direct feedback from the end user. I rarely know whether they're truly happy with my work, or even what the end product will look like when it's all said and done (sometimes, if I ask nicely, I can get a link or a copy of the finished product for self-evaluation and portfolio purposes -- but not always).

So, these are things you get used to. That said, if you're new to subcontracting, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind.

1. The initial contractor is your client. 
Your only concern is in doing the job the contractor asked you to do. You don't need to concern yourself with their relationship with their client, with the scope of their work, or with any part of the project outside those pieces for which you are responsible.

2. The initial contractor is your client.
Unless the end user decides he or she needs to open communication with you, your job communication begins and ends with the initial contractor. The end client probably doesn't know who you are, and honestly probably doesn't care. His or her connection to the project is with the person they contracted to get the work done.

3. The initial contractor is your client
Whatever happens to the project after you've done your part and have been paid is not really your concern. As long as your client is happy with the work you've provided for them, you've done your job.

4. The initial contractor is your client
The end client may or may not decide to use the work you did in the final project. This is entirely up to them. I had one contractor for whom I did a job, and then the end client decided they wanted to go with a stand-up presenter rather than a voice over. It happens. MY client, to their credit, paid me anyway.

Which brings up the final point:

5. The initial contractor is your client
You are hired by the contractor to do a job. Your completion of your end means you get paid, regardless of what happens on their end. If you do your job to your client's specifications, they owe you for that work. If the end client doesn't like the finished product, doesn't pay, or goes belly up, these things are not your problem. You bill the contractor; the contractor bills the client. You are hired to perform a service for their project, not to guarantee success of that project.

Obviously, your mileage may vary. For example, if in the case of points 4 and 5 the client for whatever reason decides not to pay the contractor for whom you worked, you may well decide -- entirely at your discretion -- to cut them a break. Making small sacrifices in order to save a solid and lucrative working relationship may well be something you're comfortable with. Particularly if they, like you, are a small operation. Sometimes, freelancers decide to help one another out, and a little bit of goodwill goes a long way.

But do not write such concessions into your contract, and do not agree to them if the contractor puts them in.

I did a job once, after which, for whatever reason, the client decided to use a different voice talent for the final product. Presumably, they wanted a younger-sounding, higher-pitched voice, since that's who they ended up getting. It's not a big deal, and it doesn't reflect on your work -- it just happens. But again -- and I can't stress this enough -- you did the work. If the contractor's client decided to go in a different direction, that really isn't your problem. Your contract was with the contractor, and you completed the work assigned.

Fortunately, I have yet to run into a situation where I've needed to enforce this rule -- again, since most of my clients are small businesses themselves, they understand how it works, and mostly likely have the same rules when they are subcontracted.

The most important thing is to understand where your clients are coming from. In fact, let's make that point #6.

6. The initial contractor is your client.
If they are doing contracted work, be willing to have some patience where communication and timing are concerned. If their demands start to seem unreasonable (for example, if, after approving your work, they suddenly need a revision, and need it an hour ago), keep in mind that they are probably dealing with a similar situation on their end. If they could have given you notice, probably, they would have. After all, they have just as much a vested interest in getting the project finished and getting paid as you do. Shrug it off, do the job, and commiserate with the contractor over beers later on.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Freelance Life: Time to Take Stock and Look Forward

I lost my job just over seven months ago. It was a blow, and a hard one. Not only did I lose the job I felt I was meant for, a job I loved, but it also meant my family would have to make do without the $35,000 I was bringing in annually.

I've mentioned before that, throughout all of this -- the depression, the transition, everything -- my wife has been my rock and anchor. She was the one who encouraged me, and made the suggestion that now was the time to strike out on my own, to do my own thing. To find my passion and move forward. And I did. With her blessing, I bought the equipment I'd need, bought a domain name and built a website, and signed up on the necessary freelance and job sites I'd need to start working as a fulltime freelance voice talent.

When I began, I had a simple goal: make a thousand bucks a month. It wasn't much, but I was supplementing with unemployment and part-time work with another radio station. It would be something to build on. Once I got there.

It took three months to make my first thousand. Not per month. Total. In three months, I'd managed to bring in a thousand bucks freelancing. It was a start. Month four was almost a bust. There was depression. Apprehension. Wondering if it would work. If I really could make it. I started sending resumes out with a little more desperation than I had before. But I kept at it. I altered my goal. Year one: $2000/month. Find an agent. Keep moving forward.

It's been seven months since I lost my job. Just under seven months since I started freelancing. I did the math today, and realized that this month, for the first time, I would not just hit my goal, but I would actually earn what I would have earned in my old job.

Now, I'm not an idiot. Certain things came together this month. A couple big contracts came in that, put simply, I can't count on next month or the month after. But what it does tell me is that it can be done. That I can actually do this, and make a living. That I can actually contribute to my family in a meaningful way financially.

So, in other words, what this gives me is momentum. Now that I've seen it can be done, the goal now is to keep doing it.

So, I have fleshed out new goals for 2017. I'm writing them here, publicly, to provide for myself some accountability. Because goals you keep inside aren't really goals, I've discovered, but some nice thoughts.

So, here they are. And I hope you'll be praying for me and keeping me to them as I go.

2017 Year End Goals:
By December 31, 2017 I will...
-Build on the reputation I have gained (and continue to gain) for quick, quality work and professional service.
-Update my website regularly with new work, demos, and blogs.
-Make contact with at least three potential clients (outside the freelancer websites) per week.
-Contact at least three active or recurrent clients per week.
-Actively audition for at least 30 jobs per month.
-Be in front of my microphone working at least once a day, 5 days a week.
-Invoice at least $3k/month on a regular basis, providing for my family the income lost with my old job.

These goals, particularly the last, are lofty, hefty, difficult... and achievable. This month has shown me it can be done. Now it's time to focus and prove it can be done regularly.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Freelancing And The Not-So-Lone Wolf

Now that I'm freelancing fulltime (which I love, by the way), I find that I still have days in which I'm sluggish and unmotivated. Depressed, even. While I easily chalk some of these feelings up to residual regret over losing my job, I have recently made a discovery that, I hope, will help me -- and perhaps others like me -- to push through and become as productive as I want to be.

It came to me as I continued to apply for job after job in the Christian radio market, even all the while knowing that moving was, at best, a remote possibility. With my kids in a great school system and my wife working an outstanding job in a career in which she excels, the practicality of relocating to serve at another station was, and is, simply well outside the realm of probability.

And in truth, I don't fully want to go back. I like working for myself. I like setting my own hours, pushing against deadlines, and knowing that I will rise and fall based on my ability to deliver quality. I love the freelance life!

So why was I pushing so hard to find another fulltime job, even knowing it would take me away from this new career path I enjoy so much?

One word: Loneliness.

See, when I worked for the Christian radio station, I had an office full of friends: people who would poke their heads in while I worked just to say hello or decompress from the day-to-day stress. And who I, likewise, could distract momentarily to work out my own daily restlessness. People I could talk to and pray with.

I enjoyed those times, and my coworkers, but the thought that I was fulfilling a personal need never really occurred to me. After all, Myers-Briggs swears I'm an Introvert. I hate parties. I enjoy time to myself -- a LOT of time to myself. Crowds of people exhaust me. Classic Introversion.

It turns out, I am what is known as an "outgoing Introvert." It's one of those personality types not really covered by good ol' Briggs and Myers. Extroverts think we're snobs, and Introverts find us either useful or exhausting, depending on their needs at the time.

Actually, being an outgoing Introvert is, I'm starting to believe, probably among the best personality types for what I do: I have no problem networking and putting myself out there to find work and contacts, and I'm perfectly happy working on my own.

BUT, the problem for us outgoing Introverts is that, though too much interaction is bothersome and exhausting, we do need to spend some time, occasionally, with other human beings.

Turns out, being locked up in your house with only your cats and Social Media during the entire work week, every week, month after month, isn't all it's cracked up to be.

So, I took the first step, and one that I recommend to anyone feeling the strain of day-to-day self-sufficiency: own it. Learn to understand what you need mentally and spiritually, and then start to do something about it.

My second step was trying to figure out what to do about it. In my case, I looked for organizations for people like me in the area: freelancers and entrepreneurs. They exist, mostly if you're willing to pay dues, and mostly with the stated purpose of networking and learning about business.

Personally, I don't want to pay dues. So, I got to steps three and four. If the group I needed didn't exist, I'd create one. I called a friend who is also a sole-proprietor and told him my idea, and he agreed it sounded like a good one.

So that's where I am now. In my spare time, I'm looking to communicate with others in the area facing the same daily challenges as I am to create a group. The purpose of this group -- the only purpose for now -- is simply to come together in solidarity, be there for one another, have the occasional cup of coffee, and hold each other accountable for our workday goals. No dues. No lectures. Just time spent with other people.

This works for me, because I'm in an area where I simply don't have a lot of friends outside my former job, whom I can call on when I need an ear. For you, maybe you have a friend or two who wants to just hang out. But whatever the case, if you're feeling lonely, if depression is setting in and hurting your productivity, I truly believe the cure is simply Hanging Out. Schedule something monthly that you can look forward to, or maybe a weekly cup of coffee during the less productive part of your day. Anything that gets you out of the home office and interacting with another human being who isn't a client.

And, hey, if you happen to be in NE Wisconsin, drop me a line! I'm always up for a cup of coffee. You know. If I'm not working.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Job Loss: The Adventure of Finding Purpose

It's been about five months since I felt as though my world was crashing down around my ears. When you work in ministry -- really, when you work in any sort of job you love and believe in -- it's so easy to wrap your life's meaning around the work you're doing.

When I accepted the role of morning host at The Family, I thought, this is where I'm meant to be; this is what I'm meant to be doing. I believed I had, finally, found my purpose in life.

The only thing wrong with that was, I already had a purpose in life. More than one. I have a God who loves me. An amazing wife. Four beautiful children. And as much as I gave this idea lip-service, I lived my life as though it was my job that gave me my purpose.

I have finally come to an understanding, and today I was able to put it into words: I am not my job. You are not your job. We weren't put here for a purpose, but for many.

But it took losing my job for me to understand it.

When you lose a job, it can feel as though you've lost your purpose. This is where depression comes from, I think. That hopeless feeling. That now-what-ness. But the truth, the reality, is that this is the beginning of a grand adventure: seeking new purpose -- and learning to recognize the roles you're already filling.

This was never a self-help blog, and Heaven help me if I ever turn it into one. If you're dealing with a major life change, such as job loss, I'm not going to tell you what to do. What I can do is tell you what I'm doing, and if it works for me, hey, maybe you can glean a little something for your own life.

So, for me, step one was recognizing that, indeed, I am on a journey. Step one was to recognize who God has placed in my life, and to ask the big question: why? Could it be that one of my purposes is to be the friend, husband, and father that each of them needs?

Now that I'm at home most of the day, I'm able to help my wife get the kids around for school. This reduces her stress in the morning and helps her get to work in a better state of mind. That's something right there -- and it's not a small thing! I'm able to get stuff done around the house, attempting to create a more pleasant environment for everyone (when I actually, you know, do stuff). I'm able to be here for my kids when they're out of school, and not be the exhausted zombie they used to come home to. I can ask them about their day and truly be able to listen to their answers.

This is Big Stuff. This isn't "passing the time while I wait for the next job" stuff, but truly important, life altering work.

Step Two: I can explore my passions. As a mediaphile, my job did afford me the equipment I needed to work on some of the projects I wanted to... but in order to do so, I had to take more time away from my family. When I lost my job, I discovered I'd gained something (actually my wife pointed it out on day one) that I didn't have before: time. Time is precious, and no matter how much money you have, you can't buy more of it. Equipment is another matter. Equipment was something I could buy.

So now, thanks to an encouraging and understanding spouse, I have both the time and equipment to explore those passions of mine. And I am, and as I do so, I discover more and more ways to use those passion to create purpose. Or, perhaps, to find it.

For a season -- four years, to be exact -- one of my purposes in life was to be an encouraging voice on the radio; to be the person who maybe said just the thing somebody needed to hear at the right time; to offer an ear to my callers and words of prayer when necessary.

That was my purpose -- or one of my purposes -- in life. And now, it isn't. Now, my purpose is to explore all the things God already had for me to do (like being the person my family needs), and to find out what's next.

It's an exciting journey, fraught with surprise and even a little risk. It's not a journey to take lightly, or to take for granted, but even though I haven't -- and may never -- reach a final destination, I can already tell you it's a journey well worth taking.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Murdered, She Was: Fondly Remembering Sunday Before Netflix Killed It

Netflix finds new ways to irritate me every single month by pulling away more programming and trading it out for new, less entertaining fare. Whether it's losing the BBC contract for Doctor Who or, in its latest showcase of brilliant negotiation, losing all programming from Food Network, DIY, HGTV, and The Travel Channel, they continue, by and large, to utterly fail in the promises they made when they first changed their business model to "encourage" all customers to move away from DVDs and to the streaming service.

Anyway, this is starting to get away from me. Though the exit of the Food Network is a big loss for us (my wife, kids, and I all truly enjoyed the programming), one of the most personal losses for my wife and myself is that of Murder, She Wrote.

For us, M,SW had become something of an unofficial Sunday afternoon tradition. We would send the kids upstairs for "Quiet Time" (getting our 9- and 12-year olds to agree to naps is a hill not worth dying upon), start the water boiling for tea, and turn on the next episode to see what Jessica Fletcher and all her friends in Cabot Cove have gotten themselves into.

And for the record, yes, I said "tea." Though my wife and I are resolute coffee drinkers, some things are simply right. When you play Halo, you drink Mt. Dew. When you watch football, you drink beer -- or the commercial swill that passes for beer. And when you watch Jessica Fletcher solve another murder, you drink tea.

For us, Jess, Doc Hazlitt, the Sheriffs, even McGraw and Hagarty, were old friends we invited into our homes every Sunday. We watched and laughed and sat, fingers to chins, trying to solve the murder along with our favorite mystery writer. We chuckled knowingly as she calmly fixed tea for her guest right before just as calmly accusing them of murder (my favorite part: she really was a gutsy old broad).

Eventually, if we wish to continue our tradition, I suppose I'll have to buy the series. Or hope Neflix eventually pulls their collective heads out. Probably, I'll have better luck with the DVD thing.

In the meantime, do you have a favorite mystery program or Sunday afternoon goody? Share it in the comments, and help the wife and me fill the deep hole left by Netflix's sucking.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Adventures in Unemployment: Forgiveness

For my beautiful, amazing daughter, who has more to offer the world than she realizes... 

We're all pretty familiar with those well-worn "stages of grief." You know the ones: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and, finally, Acceptance. If you've followed along with this blog, you've most likely seen me going through most of these steps since my loss of employment.

But the problem is, it doesn't really end with acceptance. Because when you're dealing with grief, you're dealing with people. In a situation like this one, you're dealing with other people. There's a sixth stage, one that, while it isn't as automatic as the other Five, is just as -- probably more -- important.

See, I ultimately did come accept my firing. To realize that, maybe, even if it wasn't ideal, I can make this work and possibly even turn it into something better.

What that handy 5-stage list doesn't tell you, though, is that even when acceptance happens, the anger is still there. It may be suppressed, but it exists. I talked about some of the anger back in October. I didn't go into everything then. Partially because, while I had by then started to work out my forgiveness of the organization over the firing itself, I still hadn't dealt with the human aspects of the situation.

The person who fired me was someone I considered a friend. My direct supervisor, who wasn't there when they let me go, was a friend. I had a lot of friends there. People I could talk to, and who could talk to me. People whose company I legitimately enjoyed.

When I was let go, some of my former co-workers reached out to me. I appreciated this more than I can say. Through calls, messages, letters, and even just popping by, these individuals let me know I meant something to them, that I was more than a coworker, and that I'd be missed. They still check in, and I'm grateful.

A few never reached out. Didn't respond when I did. That hurt. Possibly more than the firing, the silence of my friends stung.

Forgiveness took some time. But ultimately, I had to. Because, forgiveness isn't about the other person. It's about me. It's about you. Not the person who needs forgiveness, but the one who was hurt.

A pastor once explained it to me this way: refusing to forgive is drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. My grudge didn't hurt my former co-workers -- they didn't even know anything about it. But it did hurt me. It affected my ability to find closure. It damaged my ability to move on. It stuck in my mind like a thorn and infected my spirit.

But I am learning how to forgive. I don't know why I was fired. I don't know why my friends never reached out and contacted me. I may never know those things -- but it doesn't matter. Because it's about me. Not them. No, they didn't respond to my firing the way I would have if situations were reversed -- the way, in fact, I have responded under such circumstances. But they aren't me. The truth is, they were put in a hard (and awkward) situation. I don't know exactly what they thought or are thinking. But I'm choosing to forgive.

Maybe I'll be able to tell them so one day, and maybe not. It doesn't matter, because it's not about them. They had reasons for exiting my life, and it's up to them to decide whether they'd like to be a part of it again. But I've done what I can. Should the time come that they decide they want to reach out, I'm here, and I'm ready to accept them back into my life. And if not, I mourn the loss of those friendships.

It's easy to say. As a Christian, forgiveness is not only marginally easier, but is a requirement of faith. I am forgiven and so I forgive. It doesn't always come naturally, but it must come.

And if you're in my situation, the best advice I can give is that it must come for you, too. Because it's not about your former employer. They may or may not care whether you forgive them for firing you (and let's face it: they probably don't). It's about you.

And because it's about you, there's one more thing you need to do. One more thing I needed to do as well. And it has to happen before that whole "acceptance" thing can really happen: you have to forgive yourself, too. Even -- maybe especially -- if you don't know why.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Hypothetical Dating For Beginners: Why My Descent Into Lonely Depression Was The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me

I'm going to tell you about one of the worst emotional periods of my life, and why I thank God every day that it happened.

The loneliest time in my entire life was my Sophomore year in college. Some time in the middle of my Freshman year, I'd fallen for a girl. We were good friends -- best friends, even. Had many of the same interests. Loved spending time together. She was as quirky and uncertain as I was. We went to concerts. We walked the streets of Ann Arbor with no goals in mind other than enjoying one another's company.

For her birthday, she said she wanted me to write her something, so I wrote her a letter: a deep and moving piece of sophomoric prose detailing everything about her that was amazing. She called me that night to say she'd been moved to tears.

But always, always, there were other guys in the picture. She'd end it with one boyfriend just to pick up with another. She'd call me crying and asking why she couldn't just find one good guy.

Early in my Sophomore year, after another night of lamenting to a close friend that we she and I never seemed to click on a romantic level, this friend, a photographer, got her to agree to a photo shoot. During the shoot, he asked her straight out: what, exactly, are you looking for in a boyfriend? I can't remember everything she said, but my friend responded, when she was finished, "you DO know who that pretty much exactly sounds like, right?"

Her: "Don't say Randy."

He told me this, I believe, in order to give me hope. It was his way of telling me she really did have deeper feelings for me, but didn't know it yet.

What I heard was, she wanted everything I was... but not me.

What followed was months of soul-crushing loneliness. I shouldn't have been lonely. I had friends -- good ones! I was constantly busy between the college radio station, classes, the student newspaper, and my job in Dining Services. But I couldn't shake it. I was depressed. I was so lonely, I could actually feel it, like an ice-cold, iron hand wrapped around my heart. I wanted nothing more than for the loneliness to stop. I even considered quitting school. It was... awful. I remember at one particularly low point even reaching out to an ex-girlfriend. I just wanted to talk to somebody who'd loved me once.

I did try dating during that time. Once. She was a Freshman Art student. We had mutual friends, and she seemed interesting enough during our limited interactions. Again, my photographer friend took point in true Wing Man style, setting up a photo shoot in which she and I just happened to be the perfect subjects. We had a great time, laughing and enjoying ourselves and at the end, when I asked her out for a cup of coffee, she said yes.

As broke artsy college student dates go, it wasn't bad. We enjoyed the coffee and the company. We talked and laughed and found ourselves completely and overwhelmingly... uninterested in one another. I asked her to tell me about herself, but my mind wandered a bit as she revealed her disdain for the '60s and '70s (I grew up with that music and was -- am -- a die-hard, unapologetic Dylan fan), and I barely heard her say, "and I really hate guys who say 'dig' instead of 'get' or 'like.'

I nodded. "I can dig it," I said.

After that night, we hardly saw each other again, and greeted each other on our small campus with a friendly nod as we passed. It wasn't that we decided we hated one another. She just wasn't looking for another friend, and neither was I.

In the Spring of that year, my friend Melanie returned from a trip overseas. We knew each other, mostly through work and a class or two (I was a Business Major in my Freshman year), and had developed a friendship during my Freshman year. She knew I was someone she could talk to, and I'd always enjoyed her company.

 After she got back, we spent the work days joking around with another friend, the three of us surviving the hot drudgery of the Dining Commons with humor and sarcasm. She and I got to know each other better and, after she became the student lead for banquets and catering, I found myself volunteering for these events as often as possible. Sure, as a poor college boy, the extra money was an enticement, but really, I just found I enjoyed working with her.

I think I had developed something of a crush at that point. I didn't think much of it at the time, but my loneliness had departed as we spent time together. The depression was gone. I was, in point of fact, happy.

Eventually, we began spending off-work hours together as well. I'd stop by even when I wasn't working in the kitchen, just to say hi. She'd pop in to the college radio station while I was working to keep me from being bored during my shifts. Or call randomly to request a song I hated just because it made us both laugh.

That Summer, we both stayed on campus. We worked together and actually enjoyed it. When we both had time, we'd find ways to spend time together, walking around the tiny municipality of Spring Arbor, hitting the coffee shop or ice cream place. Her brother told her we were dating, and we laughed it off.

But by then, I was already smitten. The more we'd talked, the more I'd gotten to know her, the more my little crush deepened and turned, becoming something much more serious. How could it not? She was beautiful -- former head cheerleader beautiful. She was smart. Competent. Funny. Way, way, way out of my league. She still is.

By the time she was preparing to head home for a few weeks' vacation, I was in love with her. Completely. I didn't know it yet, until she mentioned someone from home had written and that she was considering seeing him during her stay. It was at that point the lessons I'd learned started coming back to me. I realized I couldn't lose any more time. I couldn't risk her going home to New York and seeing this guy, whoever he was, and coming back to school with a new boyfriend. (I didn't know it at the time, but that scenario had never crossed her mind. I'm glad I didn't know.)

I asked her if, "hypothetically," I were to ask her out, what would she say? She said she'd want to know where we were going, and I said dinner and a movie. "You know. Date stuff."

After we failed to talk about it again, I realized I had to grow a pair and let her know I really wasn't speaking hypothetically at all, but actually wanted to ask her out. On a real date. She had to think about it. We were such good friends. It was sounding awfully familiar.

During one of our many non-date excursions, conversation became stilted. Awkward in ways it never had been before. Indeed, our comfort talking to one another was one of the things we'd enjoyed most. It was getting weird. So, because she's intelligent and outspoken, she asked me. "Do we need to talk about something... or is there nothing to talk about?"

We talked. We talked for a long, long time. We talked so long, we ended up going to breakfast at Denny's and then going back to her apartment to talk more. There were no resolutions when we were done talking. She knew where I stood. I knew she had feelings for me, too... but that she was afraid of losing another friendship. It's a valid fear, and she knew where she was coming from in this case. It's not as though it hadn't happened before.

But I'd come from the other side. I'd already sacrificed my heart once on the altar of friendship, and that friendship had died along with it. When it was time for me to go, I stood at the door, my hand hovering over the knob.

"Something wrong?" she asked, a hint of amusement lighting her eyes.

There was. I never fully told her what was running through my mind in those moments, but it was the lessons I'd learned with my former friend. It was the realization that I couldn't just let it go without trying. It was knowing the way I felt about her was far beyond anything I'd ever felt for anyone, ever, It was a truth that, just maybe, hadn't been true in the previous situation: that we -- our lives, our futures, and our happiness -- were worth the risk.

So awkwardly -- as anything done by a shy, nerdy college student must be -- I told her I wasn't sure why, exactly, but I really needed to kiss her.

She responded with the single best piece of relationship advice I'd ever gotten: "Don't analyze it."

We were engaged a few months later; married a year after that. It's been 17 years, we have four kids, and every day I thank God I had my heart broken by a friend. Because, without it, I not only wouldn't have found something even better with Melanie, but I wouldn't have been scared enough of a repeat to do something about it.