This wasn’t supposed to be part of the story.
I honestly didn’t plan on writing this, but I woke up today at 5:30 AM with permission from myself to put it on paper… So here we go. Here’s the reason why now, six years since the final post, I almost never talk about The Headline Project.
The real reason?
It was the beginning of the end of my marriage.
Look… there aren’t going to be any writing takeaways here and I’m not gonna turn my divorce into a sales pitch. So, if you’re here for copy and voice info, this is your warning. But after I shared this with a few people in private, they told me I should talk about it. They said it’s important, and… if they felt that way, maybe you will too.
(pause for dramatic effect)
Six years ago, I wrote 100 headlines every day for 100 days. The grand total was 10,211 headlines and the catalyst to my career.
Each day, I’d spend one-to-three hours picking topics and drafting headlines. Some days, they’d flow like magic. Other days, it took herculean effort to push any idea past my brain holes, down my shoulders, through my arms, and out my fingertips.
I felt every word scratch through my body like when you eat a potato chip sideways.
Still though… I did it.
Then I recapped and posted about it (tack another hour to the task) and did it again and again for 100 days.
All while working a full time job, commuting two hours each day, taking weekend client work, playing husband, and raising two kids under seven.
The visibility was great .
The destruction was catastrophic.
Because I stopped being a dad and husband.
To clarify… I’m not saying The Headline Project was the reason for my divorce… I don’t think we were gonna make it either way and my ex agrees… but it definitely marks the downfall.
I sacrificed time with my family to build my business and I did it under the false pretense that I was doing it for them. When really, I did it for me. For notoriety. For podcasts. For guest posts. For interviews. For credibility. For validation. I wanted to be seen by you… and by thousands of people like you.
And it worked. But it was a mistake.
I was playing with headlines when I should have been playing with my kids.
And the drift between my wife and me grew irreparable.
It took a few years, but we split.
In 2021, we filed for divorce.
It was peaceful, amicable, and non-contentious. It was polite. There was no fighting. There were no arguments. There was no battle.
But there was regret.
And I didn’t talk about this stuff publicly, because the fact is, almost no men do.
I’ve seen a few women talk about divorce, but the men usually keep quiet.
Especially Gen X’ers.
And because of that, I struggled to find a support system I could relate to. As a Gen X dude, my options were extremely limited. I wanted to talk to someone my age. Not a Boomer, not a female, and not a younger therapist who couldn’t understand what it’s like to suddenly be single after 18 years… when the only idea of who he was on his own was based on who he was in twenties.
And 44-year-old Justin was not the same as 26-year-old Justin.
My identity isn’t based on my bookshelf and CD collection. Old Justin’s was. Granted, I still wear the same t-shirts but my values have shifted significantly.
And I can’t even tell you the last time I grabbed a CD.
So I struggled.
Therapy helped peacefully end the marriage but it was harder to find support on my own.
There were some tough times, but I had good people in my life who helped me through. And I also found some new people along the way.
These days, my relationship with my kids is great. Better than it’s ever been. And I see or talk to them every day.
I’m putting in the effort now that I should have done during The Headline Project.
I’m glad I did the challenge. I’m glad I succeeded. I’m glad for who it connected me with, glad for where it brought me, and glad for what it did for my career.
But I regret the way I prioritized it.
I regret that I put it over the people who matter.
I put it over the people who I thought I was doing it for… when ultimately they were the ones I was doing it to.
Over the last six years, I’ve had dozens of people ask me if they should do a similar challenge… and my answer is always the same.
“Think real hard before you do — and take the weekends off .”
Challenges are selfish — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be great. You should challenge yourself. But ya gotta think about what you’re giving up to achieve it.
Sometimes being impressive isn’t worth the effort.
Most men don’t talk about this enough. Especially Gen X men.
We keep our head down, do the work, and act like we’ve done it before.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t hurt. And most of us aren’t equipped to know if and how we’re hurting those around us.
It took five years to learn that lesson from The Headline Project. And six to finally share it.
I hope your lessons take far less. In fact, I hope this is a lesson you don’t have to learn at all.
The Headline Project was never who I was. It was just something I did. And internally, it was something I did to someone. To my ex wife. To my daughter. And to my son.
I’ll never not be sorry for that.
But I’ve also forgiven myself.
And I know that if I hadn’t done it, you likely wouldn’t know who I am.
It’s a complicated relationship… which is why I don’t really talk about it much.
Yet I thought it was important you knew the full story.
Thanks for being here. Ultimately, I’m glad I am too.
Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason