By Zach Coulter
Sometimes being a smart kid can make for being a very stupid adult. When I was 26 I decided to become rich. I was very stupid.
Here’s the narrative that I tell every new therapist I’ve ever had in my imagination (I can’t afford therapy) – my childhood was just lovely in a skinned knees with tube socks sorta way. My memories come shoebox-packed, golden-hewed like a stack of aging Polaroids* and so on and so forth. Seriously though, it was good. Mom and Dad loved each other and they loved the kids and they eventually let us keep a stray cat who’s buried in the front garden now. Sure, at times there was a little more month than money, but what did I care as long as Mom could get me a new GI Joe guy every once in awhile?
I was a kid who did well in school and made friends easily. I scored in the 93rd percentile on the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Life was sweet.
SIDE NOTE: A paragraph ago, when I was trying to pull the term “Polaroid” from my temporal lobe it just kept spitting out “Instagram” over and over. There’s a lot of sadness buried in that statement. END SIDE NOTE
And then, when I was 20, my brain broke. Or something. This is where I would go on to tell my imagination therapist that in my sophomore year of college I became extremely depressed. I didn’t know why and I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t think it was appropriate to do anything because only weak people seek help for problems that EXIST ONLY IN THEIR BRAINS (emphasis mine).
So I started running. I was afraid and broken and I blamed college and ran away from it. Then I blamed a couple more colleges and I ran away from those too. Then I decided the whole concept of “college” was to blame and became a carpenter to do something “real.” Then I was a depressed carpenter for about 5 years.
Here’s where things get dicey. I usually don’t tell imagination therapists this part until our 5th or 6th meeting.
At some point you get better at functioning with a broken brain, right? I mean, I’m no mental health expert but I’m at least an advanced beginner at understanding my own neural bologna and I know that I got better at dealing with depression because I didn’t spend nearly as many days being a depressed carpenter in bed. Things got a little better.
So there I was, a 26 year old journeyman carpenter with depressive tendencies and a metric shit ton to prove. My friends were all going off to law school and starting to get married. I had to start winning blue ribbons again! If I didn’t accomplish something amazing in the next few months/weeks/days/hours I would risk being found out as someone who’d failed at everything, most notably happiness.
There should be some kind of a psych profile required to get a real estate license but there’s not. So I got one. This was the tail end of the last boom. Remember booms? They were these neat periods of time when everything increased in value forever until they stopped, reversed, spiralled back to earth and landed with a resounding thwap. Booms are super awesome. The end of booms super suck.
SIDE NOTE: It’s been said that we are in the midst of another comedy boom. Given that I have now cast my lot with the rest of the joke slingers we can be confident that said boom will come to an end sometime VERY soon (certainly before I make it to network television (actually, now that I think about it, the fact that I even want to be on network television is one of the surest signs of network television’s imminent demise)).
“Remember network television?”
“Huh?” END SIDE NOTE.
So I got my license and hung my shingle. My business plan went something like “Hey, I’m a charming fella who knows how to build a 3-season porch, why shouldn’t dozens (or better yet hundreds/thousands!) of people trust me with the biggest financial transaction they’ve ever been a party to? At least that’s how I wrote the business plan in my imagination, it never actually made it onto paper. I was gonna be rich for sure.
To supplement my 90 hours of realtor education I obsessively watched episodes of The Apprentice and learned to spray starch on my JCPenney shirt collars. I yearned to be one of them, one of the shiny, clean, handsome gladiators in Trump’s arena. I wanted to sell the MOST cupcakes to reluctant New Yorkers. I was so, so stupid.
I hung on for about 2 years. In that time I managed to sell a few cupcakes, but not nearly enough to keep pace with my rapidly expanding starch expenses. It started to became clear that I was in over my head. I was like a 90-pound weakling who decides it’s time to get buff, reads a book on weight lifting then struts his way over to the bench, loads 350 pounds on the bar and dies of a crushed windpipe.
It’s super hard to lead a first-time home buyer seminar with a crushed windpipe.
The way to think of market corrections is that they are like the forest fires that come through every once in a while to burn off the undergrowth so that the mighty oaks can sell more condos/cupcakes. Or something. I was undergrowth. When the bubble burst I got burned, and so did all of my income and savings. I went broke – and not the fun, romantic kind of broke. I was more, like, repossession and searching in the couch cushions for change to go buy generic pasta for dinner broke. I felt really, really stupid. It sucked.
Sometimes our brains tell us that it’s a great idea to do very stupid things, like sell real estate or perform standup comedy. Sometimes our brains are stupid and we need to find ways to outsmart them, but sometimes we don’t and knowing the difference is the secret to a happy life.
At least that’s what all my therapists have told me.
Zach Coulter is a standup comedian from Minneapolis. He is also one-half of the comedy hip-hop duo Valley Meadows. His mom has never seen him rap before and he hopes it stays that way.