My daughters and me

10 Things About Me That Might Surprise You

I was tagged recently by two of my buddies, Maarten van Doorn and Michael Thompson, to participate in a “10 things about me” challenge.

And because most of my writing is fairly impersonal, I thought: Sure, what the hell, I’ll pull back the curtain a bit :)

In no particular order, here are 10 things about me that might surprise you.

1. I Was a Buffalo Rancher Once.

A view of the ranch I worked on in northern Colorado

Well, sort of…

One summer during college I worked as a ranch hand on a buffalo ranch in northern Colorado. It was both more and less romantic than you might imagine.

Most days, the work was pretty boring: fixing broken fences, chopping or chainsawing wood, shoveling huge amounts of cow sh*t, etc. But occasionally I spent all day roaming the hills on horseback looking for lost cattle after a big move. Or learning how to rope and brand. You know, romantic cowboy stuff :)

All that seems pretty far off now. It’s been 10+ years since working on the ranch, I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico with a wife, two kids, and a budding career as a psychologist.

But one of the things I’m most grateful for in my life is how relatively varied and diverse my experiences have been up to this point. I’ve been a flower delivery boy, worked for an investment bank, sold fruit at farmer’s markets, studied Ecstasy (MDMA) in a research lab, started a business as wedding photographer, taught middle school, and now I’m a psychologist (an aspiring writer).

Huge credit to my parents for being so supportive and encouraging of me following my nose and not pressuring me in one direction or the other :)

Here’s to the circuitous path 👨‍🔬👨‍🌾👨‍🏫🤠

2. I’m Not Certain of Many Things, but Here’s One: The Best Decision I’ve Ever Made in Life Was to Marry My Wife.

So much confetti…

There are very few things in life that matter more than the people around us.

When we’re very young, it’s our family and especially our parents that have the largest impact on us. As children and young adults, our friends and peers often take the top place for most influential. And as we move into adulthood, it’s often our primary romantic partners and spouses that influence us most.

In my work as a therapist, I see every day how much pain and suffering and stress results ultimately from unhealthy relationships. I’m grateful every single day that the person I chose to spend the rest of my life with — to be my partner — is kind, intelligent, thoughtful, passionate, honest, selfless, and always open to learning and changing and growing together.

😘

3. I Had a Blood Clot in My Arm and Had a Rib Removed as a Result 🤒

Me in the hospital

One afternoon, just a few weeks after getting married, at the ripe old age of 29, my arm started puffing up and turning purple.

At the time, I was in grad school working in a hospital so I walked over to the ER and said, “um… my arm’s turning blue and really hurts.”

They admitted me immediately and quickly told me I had a blood clot in my left arm, which they discovered eventually was the result of a rare condition called Paget- Schrotter Syndrome.

They had no idea why this happened when it did. Their best guess was that the clot was caused by excessive friction between one of my blood vessels and my “abnormally large” first rib. They did surgery to take out the my left first rib (which apparently you don’t really need anyway).

Everything cleared up eventually, and other than a few follow up infections, a couple more visits to the hospital, and 6 months on blood thinners, and I have zero lingering effects for which I’m really grateful.

But scary things happen. Often scary things that don’t have a reason. And sometimes scary things that can kill us. Life is fragile.

Thank God for healthcare and awesome doctors 👩‍⚕️

4. The Best Concert I Ever Attended Was a Poetry Reading.

Mary Oliver. Penguin Press.

That’s right, Nerd Alert 🚨🤓🚨

My favorite experience in an auditorium was going solo to a packed poetry reading by one of my favorite poets, the incredible Mary Oliver.

She sat on a tall barstool in the middle of the stage — surrounded by thousands of lesbian couples and one tall, awkward guy — and spent two hours reading through a pile of her own books of poetry, often pausing in the middle of a sentence to let out some witty, self-deprecating joke.

It was one of the most unique, memorable experiences of my life. Incredibly quirky and funny to think back on. And while I can’t articulate very well why, surprisingly meaningful.

BTW… My favorite musical concerts were Josh Ritter at The Granada in Dallas and Edward Sharp and The Magnetic Zeros at The Greek Theatre in Berkeley.

5. I Self-Published a Book.

My book

As a psychologist, the question I get asked the most is: How do I find a good therapist or counselor for my niece/son/spouse/etc.?

Eventually, I got kind of tired of re-hashing the same long, comprehensive set of tips and suggestions for understanding the therapy process and how to find a good therapist.

And while I kept looking for a good resource or guide I could just send people a link to, I never found one (not one that was any good, anyway).

So I decided to write one myself:

Find Your Therapy: A Practical Guide to Finding Quality Therapy

6. I’m Launching a Quirky New Podcast About… Bedtime Stories!🎙

Maps are cool

My college buddy, old roommate, and fellow English major Ben and I are starting a new project and podcast about the stories behind bedtime stories.

Here’s the description from our website:

Blending amateur literary criticism, semi-pop psychology, and painful personal experience, this is a podcast about two new dad’s trying to tackle the big questions in children’s literature:

  • Is the Very Hungry Caterpillar an anti-hero?
  • Did Dr. Seuss rip off Dr. Freud?
  • What do you say when your wife catches you hiding Pat the Bunny under the couch for fear of having to read it for the 5th time in a row?

Season 1 will air next month.

If you’re interested, join our little newsletter here and get notified when the first episodes air.

7. I Wish I’d Skipped School (a bit) More as a Kid 👨‍🎓

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. —Ferris Bueller

I was pretty straight-laced as a kid. And I probably would have had more fun if I had played hooky every once in a while.

I have a goal as a parent to pull my kids out of school occasionally and play hooky — go to a baseball game, picnic in the park, see a couple movies, whatever. (The best thing about getting a PhD is getting to write your own doctor (of philosophy) notes 🤪)

I never liked the idea that you should live your life without regrets. We all have regrets. And I suspect that if we can embrace and accept them rather than avoiding them because we’re apparently not supposed to have regrets, they might actually be useful.

I regret not loosening up a little more as a kid and that’s allowed me to be more conscious about the importance of balance for my kids.

8. I Think Intellectual Playfulness is Profoundly Underrated.

David, The Death of Socrates + a few mods by me

One of my earliest and most influential experiences intellectually was reading and discussing Plato’s socratic dialogues.

Socrates’ ability to be simultaneously serious and playful with big ideas really resonated with me. I loved how he could get people to question incredibly strong convictions and beliefs by asking simple, thoughtful questions.

But the ability to play with a new idea — consider it from multiple perspectives, poke it a little here, and prod it a bit there, bounce it off other people, see how it connects with other ideas — requires being able to separate our identity from the ideas we encounter. It requires considering a new idea on its own terms, without immediately imbedding it in our pre-existing beliefs and intellectual frameworks.

I think we’d all be able to have much more interesting, meaningful conversations if we practiced being less serious and more playful with our ideas.

9. Studying Literature was a Better Preparation for My Work as a Therapist than a PhD in Psychology.

Don Quixote

Good literature teaches us how to see people. Not how to think about them in abstract categories or types, but to really see and hear and experience the particulars of who they are, what they want, what they’re afraid of.

As a psychologist armed with reems of research and interventions and diagnostic categories, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing people as mere types or categories — she’s a worrier, he’s passive-aggressive, they’re so repressed, etc.

But when we study and immerse ourself in good literature, it trains us to see the real details of the people around us. At the risk of sounding grandiose, it trains us to see each other’s humanity.

Here’s one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite novels illustrating just that point:

“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is noble, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”

“What giants?” Asked Sancho Panza.

“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”

“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”

“Obviously,” replied Don Quixote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”

10. I Like to Bake 🥧

My daughter adding blackberries to our peach pie.

I’m the kind of person who always has at least a few hobbies going at any given time. One of my favorite recent ones is baking.

I don’t especially enjoy cooking, but I love baking. Maybe because it is both literally and metaphorically a treat.

I’ve also noticed over time that I tend to be drawn to activities that involve a combination of analytical problem-solving and interpersonal connection. Therapy, for example, is a great mixture of these two things. And in a weird way, so is baking.

Baking a batch of (good) scones is surprisingly technical and creative. But you also get to share those scones with other people. And increasingly, I’m getting to share the process of baking with my daughter who, despite being only three, is surprisingly adept at cracking eggs (and spilling flour).

She also seems to have a knack for flavor combinations. The other week we were making a peach pie and she told me, “We should probly put some blackberries in too…” So we did, and it was excellent 🤤

That’s About It. Keep in Touch 🙋‍♂️

Batter up…

In keeping with tradition, I’ll nominate a few others who I would love to see do this 10 Things About Me Challenge: Rafael Sarandeses, Liz Huber, N.A. Turner, Zat Rana, and Deb Knobelman, PhD.

Psychologist and blogger. I help people use psychology for meaningful personal growth: https://nickwignall.com

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