What’s Gaining on You? ⋆

I had a couple of songs that became my sort of soundtrack during my entrepreneurial journey, and they sum up how I was feeling during those years and what was driving me internally.
The songs were “Unsatisfied” (1984) by the Replacements and “Can’t Relax” (2011) by the Dead Milkmen.

These two songs resonated with me during a time when no business metric, no achievement, award, accolade, or paycheck was enough.

There is a scene in the original “Death Wish” (1974) movie starring Charles Bronson as a one-man vigilante squad named Paul Kersey that I always liked.

This all ties together. I promise.

At one point, one of Paul Kersey’s colleagues commented, “Somebody once said, I forget who… that he never looked back because something might be gaining on him. What’s gaining on you, Paul?”

So ultimately, what was gaining on me was chasing approval from my father, who passed away a year before Affiliate Summit was founded.

He worked for the federal government and as I worked for various start-ups in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he would give me crap for being a workaholic. It didn’t make sense to him that I felt a compulsion to work evenings and weekends, and that I was anxious for Monday to come to get back at it.

The irony was that I wanted him to see me succeed, but working so much didn’t look like success to him. When he was alive, I was starting to build a name for myself writing a marketing column, speaking at conferences, and getting consistent raises and better jobs.

In the spring of 2001, I was really proud to have my first book (“Successful Affiliate Marketing for Merchants”) published by Que, a division of Macmillan at the time. It was 352 pages of affiliate marketing information that sold well in the blossoming industry.

I gave him a copy and he never cracked it open. It sat on his coffee table. It hurt me that he didn’t have an interest in what was a huge achievement to me. A year later, he was gone.

He was in a medically induced coma for weeks. In his last days, a nurse asked me what he did for work and I was petty and angry that he never read my book, and I said he wrote boring stat reports for the government.

I regretted that for a long time and hoped he didn’t hear me. I was impressed by the work he did and the reverence he received for it.

When we cremated him, my brother and I included some things that had meaning to us to be with him from then on:

  • Sheet music for the piano for “See You Later, Alligator”
  • Autographed baseball from David Wells
  • Yankees World Series 1998 baseball cap
  • 2002 Yankees media guide (he wanted it for Father’s Day and he was gone before I could give it to him)
  • A copy of my book

He was going to be stuck with my book for eternity. We sprinkled his ashes in places that were special to him: Yankee Stadium, the beaches of Wildwood, NJ, and the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.

My chance to impress him and show him I could be a success had ended. I felt like I was a failure in my dad’s eyes.

It didn’t help many years later when his sister told me he was very worried about me after I graduated college because I was sort of rudderless for a while. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and spent some time as a front desk guy at a hotel and as an assistant manager at a Blockbuster in my hometown.

It was no coincidence that Affiliate Summit began in 2003 – less than a year after he left us. I went about working on that, as well as my full-time job in NYC, and a bunch of consulting, projects, and websites on the side.

Affiliate Summit West 2005

As my star continued to rise, I continued to work hard. It was my identity and my pride, but it was never enough. At some point, I remembered the song “Unsatisfied” by the Replacements. I had it on vinyl from my high school days from their album, “Let It Be.”

I found myself playing it over and over on an old record player I’d gathered from my dad’s house. It was just how I felt and it wasn’t something I felt comfortable sharing with anybody…

Look me in the eye, then tell me that I’m satisfied
Was you satisfied?
Look me in the eye, then tell me that I’m satisfied
Hey, are you satisfied?

I wasn’t satisfied. Not by a longshot. By 2008, when I’d stopped working my corporate job and closed out my consulting work, I was focusing solely on Affiliate Summit.

I worked more than when I had multiple jobs. I knew I could never make such a fluid thing perfect, but that didn’t stop me from always trying to perfect it.

In 2010, I moved to Austin and found a life/work balance that I hadn’t bothered to pursue before. It felt better. I was more settled, but not relaxed. I’d see people just chill all of the time and I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t do that, because there was always more to do.

The Dead Milkmen came out with an album called “The King in Yellow” in 2011, and deep into the tracks (15 out of 17) was a song called “Can’t Relax.” It was silly and it was my truth.

Four letter words can have two meanings,
Love, Bleep, and Bleep to name a few,
Sometimes it’s something that you’re feeling,
Other times, it’s something that you do.

Sometimes life is like a puzzle,
With all the pieces on the floor,
And they don’t seem to fit together,
But then the pieces become a door.

I can’t relax, so don’t tell me to relax,
I can’t sit still, so don’t tell me to sit still,
I can’t relax if you tell me to relax,
I can’t relax.

It all comes down to electrons,
Conveying meaning with a spark,
The yin and yang, the ones and zeros,
The push the pull, the light and dark.

In the World of Rod McKuen,
Heat is sound and love is food,
Take life slowly and with feeling,
To gain a winning attitude.

In 2017, we sold Affiliate Summit, and with that, I felt satisfied. I discovered how to relax.

Celebrating the end of our Affiliate Summit days

Nothing was gaining on me anymore. I am sure if my dad was still alive that my first book would still be unread by him, as well as the books that came after. And the reality is that they are pretty boring subject matter for anybody not living and breathing it.

But he would have been proud to tell my story to anybody who listened.

Sorry about the book thing, dad.

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