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Just punch those keys…it’s advice I frequently read from bloggers who blog about blogging, especially Cristian Mihai from The Art of Blogging.

Like, punch the keys when? Before or after I have a solid idea? Do I punch them until I see the germ of a workable post? Is it like panning for gold?

I’m taking his advice and punching the keys now to see what comes out.

“Freestyling” like this, I have no idea where I am going – I’m simply punching the keys…

Is it possible to succeed at blogging without drilling down on a specialty – or can my specialty be blogging about the things and people I find interesting?

I love personal development-related content.

I have been sober for more than six years, and I have an endless supply of stories I can tell about this journey – before and after.

I was a single father for quite some time. I have adult twins. There’s a storehouse of gold “in them thar hills” also.

I am a man of a certain age. I used to toss aside mailers and periodicals aimed at those coming up on their “golden years,” but now the people in the photographs are starting to look more and more like me – and I finally realized not too long ago that my time on this planet is limited.

What happened to the immortality I took for granted as a youth? I could blog about that.

Seth Godin blogs constantly about finding one’s tribe, and Kevin Kelly’s “1000 True Fans” concept resonates with me.

Is fragmentation a problem?

Politics? I fear the first time I publish a political post, the bots, trolls and haters will bear down on me with a vengeance. Because this is a fear, perhaps I need to do that.

Feel the fear. Do it anyway…

Aren’t there already too many armchair pundits with way more political expertise than I possess? Yeah, right. What I really mean is that nobody is more of an expert than anybody else. Some are just louder than others…

Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, and yours stinks…

I have done a good deal of recording. Little did I know that there were so many echo chambers outside of a recording studio.

I share a podcast with my brother.

I have been a freelance journalist for many years, and enjoy working on personal profiles – getting to the heart of the folks I talk to. Everybody has a story – and I see no reason not to include them in this blog.

I have worked in the premium cigar industry for decades. Why have I not explored this at any length in my writing?

Should I podcast about podcasting? Blog about blogging? At this point, I’ll leave that to the folks who have been in the game much longer than I have.

I am also a working musician, but I thought I’d be a rock star with my brother by the time I was a young adult. I’m 57 now.

Let’s just say the consequences of the choices I made have come home to roost. Another rabbit hole to explore.

I have lived. I have learned. I have lost. I have won.

But I have also been profoundly lucky. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to be punching these keys.

When I first met Jeff Yalden, he was the GM of a business called Title Boxing Club here in Myrtle Beach, which had just opened. I was there to cover the business for a fitness slot in The Sun News.

Yalden greeted me with a firm handshake.  A big, tattooed guy –  6’1” and 320 pounds at that time [he has since lost more than 80 pounds] with 20-inch arms – my first thought was biker or weightlifter.  Little did I know then that I had just met North America’s number one youth motivational speaker.

Yalden Pic1

Photo Courtesy Jeff Yalden

Yalden has enjoyed an incredible 25-year career as a public speaker, addressing more than 4000 audiences in all 50 states, every province in Canada and 49 countries including Singapore and Vietnam.

During that first meeting with him, he showed me his website and talked about just having returned from a trip to Indiana, where teen suicides were running rampant – and I got the vibe that this was a man who cared deeply. I never forgot that meeting.

I was supposed to talk to Jeff again the following week, but when I got to the facility, I was told that he no longer worked there. I found that odd, but completed my fitness story without him.

Meanwhile, I had become friends with Yalden on Facebook – and I saw that his stint at Title Boxing came during a period when he was seriously considering giving up public speaking. In fact, he had been going through health issues, including a spinal cord fusion – and so much as announced that he was retiring from speaking.

But something changed, and I saw that Yalden was about to head to Vietnam to speak to 65 teenagers there as part of a youth team-building program. Intrigued, I looked him up again and found out that he had also appeared on MTV’s “Made,” appearing as a teen life coach.

Yalden’s retirement from speaking didn’t last long, and from where I’m sitting, that’s excellent. His message is too strong.

Jeff Doing His Thing in Texas

Since personal profiles are my specialty, I approached Jeff after his return from Vietnam about a Sun News feature, and he graciously accepted. That story ran last August, and I’m including it below.

The following is a testament to opportunities coming “out of the blue.” In late January, Jeff asked me if I would be willing to do some blogging for him. Remembering that initial meeting, the story that followed, and the fact that I am totally down with his message – of course I took the opportunity immediately.

In the ensuing months, I have been working with Jeff – blogging on both of his sites, www.jeffyalden.com and www.jeffyaldenblog.com. I enjoy the work – but not a post goes by where I haven’t learned something about life.

Something about the man struck a chord, and one of the standout things is that he served as a Marine. I think that anchor was awesome, because when we first spoke, my son had just enlisted and was at Parris Island, beginning his own journey as a Marine at the time.

Life can sometimes surprise a person by opening doors, and a quote attributed to Seneca sums this up best: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

I’m thrilled to be working with Jeff. More to come.

Here’s my Sun News Story about Jeff from last August:

Local Man Imparts Core Values, Life Skills to Youth Across the Globe

Jeff Yalden recently returned from Vietnam, traveling far afield from his home base in Myrtle Beach last month to participate in youth leadership training in Ho Chi Minh City.

It’s all in a day’s work for Yalden, 45, who has been a sought-after youth motivational and mental health speaker for more than two decades.  He has addressed more than 4000 teen audiences in all 50 states, every province in Canada and 49 countries including Singapore and now Vietnam.

Over the three-day engagement, he spoke to 65 teenagers.

“I was honored to go. My dad served in Vietnam, and suffers from the work that he had to do. I felt it was a good opportunity to go serve with a different purpose and in a different way,” he said.

While in Vietnam, Yalden worked closely with a translator.

“It was a challenge because you can’t really get into passion and emotion because you have to stop every couple of sentences so that it can be translated.”

Anyone who has ever seen Yalden speak can vouch for his passion. His style is hard-hitting and heartfelt – made more memorable by the fact that his message is emanating from a 6’1”, 320-pound tattooed frame with 20-inch arms and eliciting emotional responses running the gamut from laughter to tears.

He said he has been invited back for two more dates in Vietnam, and his father was invited as well to give him a better memory of the country.

“The kids were amazing. They are very disciplined and smart,” he said, adding that many of them are keeping in touch with him through Facebook.

Yalden Vietnam

Yalden in Vietnam – Courtesy Jeff Yalden

Yalden, who grew up on Long Island, NY, said his work is a good fit for him because his troubles started when he was 16.

“We moved to New Hampshire and I was a junior in high school. I never really opened my eyes to the possibilities of life after high school – and therefore I think my attitude needed to be adjusted.”

He had a learning disability, a facial tic and a stutter – and his self-esteem suffered tremendously.

He took the SATs twice, receiving very low scores – but he applied to 19 colleges and was accepted by three of them. Still, he was too afraid to attend because of a crushing sense of inadequacy. Instead, he joined the Marine Corps, which instilled in him core values like teamwork and self-reliance, as well as confidence and structure – just the tools he needed to start turning things around.

But he spiraled into depression after a relationship went bad and was hospitalized, displaying suicidal tendencies.

When he was honorably discharged from the Marines, Yalden had an epiphany of sorts, realizing once for all that he was solely responsible for his destiny – and he began to make transformative changes that ultimately led to his public speaking.

Yalden is still in therapy, having recently been diagnosed with major depression, bipolar II disorder and PTSD, but thankfully none of this impacts his speaking programs.

“I think I am most healthy when I am with my audience,” he said, adding that the reason he likes working with youth is because he is able to answer the commonly asked questions from high school students – and he still relates to them.

“I think I still go through it,” he said. “I often say that speakers speak about what they most need to learn.”

His work is often a journey of discovery on a very personal level, and Yalden puts it all out there, bringing a very definite authenticity to his messages – and he said he comes from a clinical approach when he is speaking.

Yalden - Merrimack Assembly

Assembly, Merrimack, NH – Courtesy Jeff Yalden

“It’s about not reacting, but responding – so you teach people that when something triggers an emotion, you want to give them the tools to be able to respond. Reacting can get them into trouble.”

And this helps him to deal with his bipolar II disorder as well, because he says certain triggers will want to set him off periodically.

“I have to work on that too, and I’m kind of like ‘OK, remember what you talked about. That’s what you’ve got to do.’”

This can be likened to a physician who benefits from his own medicine.

Yalden is also a certified suicide prevention trainer and has authored several books: Your Life Matters, They Call Me Coach, Keep It Simple, 20 Ways to Keep It Simple and Traits of a Leader.

Although he said he does not consider teen suicide to be an epidemic, he thinks it’s greater now than it has ever been and for a number of reasons including bullying and cyber-bullying. But sometimes parents tend to make things way too easy for their children. He calls them “lawnmower parents.”

“These parents want to go and cushion everything for the kids to make them feel like maybe they can live their lives over through their kids,” he said. “They don’t want the kids to suffer and they want to be able to give them what the parents never had – or do everything for them. I think these parents are telling their kids, ‘You can do anything in life. Life is not that hard and I will protect you.”

This perhaps sets up false expectations about adult life, which is loaded with challenges, adversity and many red herrings along the way.

“I also think the expectations are great and that teenage life is not what it is all cracked up to be. There is a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations – all of these test scores and trying to get acceptance and fit in – so it’s a combination of everything.”

Add the fact that kids are now “on” 24/7 – with a dizzying array of online options, apps and social media – keeping them under the scrutiny of their peers – and many young people have adopted an entitlement mentality.

“When something hard comes along, a lot of kids don’t have coping or problem-solving skills,” he said.

His advice to parents is to allow their children to struggle and find the courage within themselves to find their way through.

“It’s going to be OK, but this if life: Paying your rent, paying your mortgage. Losing a job, finding a job. Life is hard. When you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight.”

If there are mental health issues at play, Yalden encourages young people to open up.

“Never be afraid to ask for help,” he said.

Yalden appeared as a teen life coach on the MTV reality show, “Made,” in a season 12 episode called “The Comedian.”

“I spent six weeks in Minneapolis, Minnesota with an amazing young lady [Alyssa Williams] that we had to help graduate from high school and find purpose and direction in her life – and we are still friends today.”

Williams’ episode was about her attempts to break into comedy.

“MTV was probably the biggest impact on my career,” he said.

The fact that Yalden overcame a stutter and became a public speaker speaks volumes about his tenacity – and this should embolden other stutterers to take heart.

“In public speaking, I think you learn to annunciate your words better,” he said. “You are also telling a story – and sometimes when you are telling stories, you put yourself in another character – and I think that helps.”

Yalden is currently recovering from a CrossFit injury that required a spinal cord fusion.

“This year has been the hardest year of my life,” he said. “I am just getting back to feeling healthy again with my body – and I think I am a completely different person today than I have ever been. I am more present as a speaker, more present as a person – and I think I am operating less on ego and more on what my heart is really telling me I love to do.”

This is not lost on his clients, including John Trombetta, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week/Foundation for Free Enterprise Education.

“Jeff and I have known each other for approximately 10 years,” he said. “When another speaker of ours could not make a date he was scheduled for, Jeff very kindly altered his vacation route to Tennessee and stood in for him.”

He said Yalden was so impressed with the students and the week-long intensive summer program, which teaches young people about the American free enterprise system, that he has continues to speak there each summer, free of charge.

“He believes so much in our mission and, of course, has dedicated his life to young people,” said Trombetta, adding that his organization is blessed to have many speakers who connect extremely well with young people, but Yalden has a unique ability to forge a very special connection with his audience.

“Many youth motivational speakers use entertainment and humor to connect with their audiences and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Jeff himself uses an edgy humor occasionally but it is his ability to communicate how much he genuinely cares about each of their lives individually that I think gives him a unique ability to connect one-on-one with students in an audience of thousands. He is captivating rather than being simply entertaining.”

He added that Yalden’s heart is as big as the man himself.

“His devotion to youth is not just about collecting a fee, it is about changing lives and he lives it, not only when he is doing his professional gigs, but also in the quiet moments of his personal life. He is continually reflecting on how he can better serve young people. That is rare.”

Trombetta also cited the fact that Yalden is open about what he called his emotional scars and traumas.

“Rather than allow those to cripple him in any way, he has used and harnessed them to develop a message and style specifically to prevent young people from experiencing some of the things he has. His love for young people and caring about them individually is simply inspiring.”

He watches Yalden after every talk.

“He will sit for literally hours, spending as much time with each young person individually as necessary to hear their story and offer them his advice and often his shoulder. I’ve never seen any other speaker of the hundreds that I have known so willing to personally invest himself or herself in each and every life they encounter.”

Kevin Gentilcore, supervisor of Pupil Services at Bucks County Technical High School in Pennsylvania said that his school has invited Yalden to speak to its seniors for the past four or five years.

“He’s been outstanding,” he said. “Jeff combines straight talk, personal experience, a great sense of humor and excellent storytelling skills. He speaks to the kids in their own language and they really relate to him. In the students’ parlance, he ‘keeps it real.’”

Gentilcore said that what he likes best about Yalden is that he is an authentically caring human being.“We had a few tragedies at our school in the past few years and Jeff took it upon himself to reach out to the students involved through [social media], which he didn’t have to do. He has a good heart, and that comes across in his presentation.”

He added that he and his colleagues like to have Yalden speak to their seniors early in the year.

“He motivated them to give their all in the final year and to make good decisions asthey prepare for their future after high school.”

Surge Lebowski Cover

Today, the last-ever edition of the Myrtle Beach alt-weekly known as The Surge [formerly Weekly Surge] hit the stands – ten years almost to the day since it debuted.

I was a regular contributor to Surge for the duration.

The Surge, which is – rather was – under the umbrella of McClatchy Newspapers and The Sun News here in Myrtle Beach, was the go-to free paper for entertainment, pop culture, dining and lifestyle here on the Grand Strand, replete with relevant and sometimes racy columns and a dizzying array of cover features rivaling any other weekly anywhere – to say nothing about its top-notch stable of freelance writers.

My particular ongoing feature started as a weekly and later a biweekly installment called Working 4 a Living, where I profiled folks who live and work here – ultimately hundreds of them, and drilling down on what they did for a living – a peek at their daily and weekly lives, as well a look at their hopes and dreams – and what they did in their downtime. Professions of every stripe were included – in keeping with the “tinker, tailor, soldier sailor,” but not so much with the “beggar man, thief” tip.

And then there were my cover features: Everything from the arts to Uber and myriad festivals, to social media trends, Quidditch (it’s a thing in colleges), radio, television and Cuba – four of which were voted Cover Story of the Year by our readers.

Scott Man Surge

I want to thank Surge’s founding editor, Kent Kimes, for giving me that initial break and taking me on all of those years ago – for cajoling and admonishing me along the way – helping me at my rather late stage to become a better writer, a LINEAR writer. Kimes never allowed me to file “good enough” pieces. He extracted the best I could give him at various stages of the game.

I would be remiss indeed without a “good looking out” to creative director Abby Sink – who has been the one constant over the years and throughout the changes at Surge – a true professional who, despite the pressures of putting out a weekly product, always made herself available for guidance and occasional gripes. I will always remember her positivity, kindness and wicked awesome sense of humor.

Former Sun News features editor Caroline Evans took the helm as interim editor of Surge for a time, and was a pleasure to work with.

Sun News features editor Jay Rodriguez closes out Surge with today’s edition – and I look forward to working with him on upcoming Sun News stories, particularly for the Coasting Section.

Thanks for putting up with me.

Fellow writers Paul Grimshaw, Derrick Bracey, Colin Foote Burch, Jilly Garner, Becky Billingsley, Christina Knauss, Kimberly Zackowski, Jeff Thomas and Andrew Levy-Neal kept me on my toes – and there was a time when the paper employed its only staff writer, Timothy Charles Davis.

I thoroughly enjoyed battling with Bracey for votes during our Story of the Year skirmishes!

Surge Story of the Year Culinary

Diana Zipko, now an advertising analyst with McClatchy – the parent company for The Surge and The Sun News, was the glue that held everything together at Surge events. I fondly look back on the early days when Scott Smallin was staff photographer – and that very racy first issue cover that was deemed too racy for some spots.

And what about Charles Slate’s photo of two middle-aged twins with vapes in hand – ready for our big moment as Surge cover models.

Going Vape Surge

Ten years.

“Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.” – Gene Raskin