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January 25, 2024

The Biggest Life Lesson I Learned from Going Bald.

I started going bald when I was about 33.

My father had a receding hairline, and mine soon followed suit. Then one day I was in an elevator with a huge mirror on the ceiling, and I gulped as I realized I was also losing hair on the top of my head—a fate which never befell him.

But I just pretended it all simply wasn’t that bad and hoped no one would really notice.

Meaning, I stuck my balding head in the sand and tried to ignore it.

One day it happened. I was 37 and living in LA and a few of my bald-and-proud friends cornered me at a beach party. “Mark, come have a beer with us over here,” one said.

It felt like an intervention.

Then one of them leaned in.

“Dude, it’s time,” he said, pointing at my balding dome. “We’re taking you to a barber. Soon as this party’s over.”

“C’mon,” I protested. “It’s not that bad…”

They all looked at each other. Finally one said, “We can all see it, man. You can’t, because it’s on your head. But once your hair gets too far gone, you gotta just lean into it, man.”

“Otherwise it just looks kinda desperate,” another said, before adding, “You might actually like how it looks.”

After a deep breath, I said, “Fine, I’ll try it.”

Later that night, I grabbed my beard trimmer, took 10 minutes over the sink, and it was all gone. Just a thin millimeter of hair left, like a day of growth after a clean shave.

First thing I noticed was: Damn, this is cold. (Turns out hair is quite an insulator!)

Then the moment of truth. I looked in the mirror. I sorta didn’t recognize myself. But I sorta liked it.

I felt brave. Audacious even. Like it was something only crazy people do. (This wasn’t long after Britney Spears shaved her head on a lark one night.)

The next morning, the barista at my coffee shop was a lot more flirty than before.

Maybe it was my new look, maybe it was my emboldened energy, but something about it was working.

It’s a look I’ve stuck with ever since.

Now when I see other balding men out in the wild, I see what my friends saw in me—a refusal to just admit what’s really going on and take the full leap into unabashed baldness.

Each guy telling themselves, “I’m not really ‘bald’; I’ve still got plenty of hair left!”

But no; no, they don’t. And everyone knows it but them.

And hey, it’s fine to wear your hair and look however you want. But the irony with these guys (and me) is: They’re keeping what little they have left in order to look younger, but the clear lack of it just makes them look older.

So the ultimate lesson I learned from embracing my baldness was this:

Don’t keep clinging to something you no longer have.

And this, my friends, goes way beyond men simply losing their hair.

There are countless ways we all try to hold on to things when they’re already out the door.

But clinging to what’s already gone only holds us back.

Sometimes it’s a marriage or relationship that’s way beyond repair (or doomed from the start), and any extra effort spent on it is wasted time.

Sometimes it’s staying in a job that hasn’t been really fulfilling us for years. (Hell, sometimes it’s a whole career we should have left behind, before it stole our soul.)

Sometimes it’s a friendship that hasn’t been giving us back nearly as much as we’ve been putting into it.

Sometimes it’s even a hobby that we feel some kind of obligation to keep doing but hasn’t been sparking joy for quite a while.

But it’s all energy that’s better channeled in a different direction.

The point is, just because there was something we once attached our identity to doesn’t mean it’s something we should stay attached to forever.

Because letting go of what once worked could be the thing that truly frees us to open newer, much more fulfilling doors.

I had to re-learn this lesson a few years during my first stint as a “creative director” in the advertising world. Despite my initial enthusiasm for overseeing creative at a lifelong dream company in the music world, I soon found myself in a toxic environment, battling a manipulative CMO who sought to undermine me at every turn. After realizing the futility of changing this situation, I asked myself: What am I fighting for? Trying to win over a malicious egomaniac who’s incapable of sharing the spotlight?

I gave my notice, took my body of work with me, and got a raise at my next job and was soon doing the breakthrough campaign that I still look at today as the best of my career.

My favorite band, The Eagles, summed it up like this:

“So oftentimes it happens,

That we live our lives in chains

And we never even know we have the keys.”

So if there’s something you’re working really hard to “hold on to” in your life, and it’s taking a whole lot of effort, ask yourself this:

Is it even really yours anymore? Or has it been drifting away from you for quite a while now?

What else might be waiting to take its place if you simply let it go?

Ironically, the quickest way to fly is by cutting away what’s holding us back.

Here’s to us all getting out the metaphorical trimmer once in a while.

~

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