If I've learned anything over the past 10 years, it's that the old saying, "It’s far more rewarding to give than it is to receive" is very powerful.
I was recently invited to mentor a group of emerging social entrepreneurs, all of whom are focused on business models geared towards improving the lives of others, at an intimate conference called Praxis. While I was going there to help and guide others, I left with the gift of being inspired, challenged, and full of hope.
Everyone I met had a compelling purpose for their business and a number of them really stood apart from the crowd. But Matt Emerzian's brilliant story and the business he’s starting to build caught my attention. I was taken by his story, his openness, and vulnerability, and I've shared it with anyone who will listen. He's taken a day of the week and made it matter. I hope his story makes you think differently about Mondays and how you spend them as much as it has for me.
After completing grad school with an MBA from UCLA, Matt Emerzian was in the music business. He started in artist management working with local artists, but was later hired by Robert Kardashian. While most people know Kardashian as an attorney in the O.J. Simpson case, he was actually in the music business for 35 years and owned a music marketing and promotion company. Matt was hired as his senior vice president.
Now Matt worked with nearly every major and indie label, more specifically on projects for artists such as U2, Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Keane, Avril Lavigne, Black Eyed Peas, Tim McGraw, and more. Matt worked in the office during the day and often found himself out at night living what I now call an “Entourage” lifestyle--drinking, smoking weed, objectifying women, and trying to be cool in the “City of Angels.” It was a slow process, but a slippery slope, and soon the narcissism and egos of the music industry had rubbed off on him and he thought he was the center of the universe.
When he would go home to Modesto, where he grew up, everyone wanted to hear Matt’s stories because they were always the best. Imagine being from a small town and the next thing you know you’re drinking champagne and smoking a joint while driving to a U2 concert in a celebrity’s limo. Then you're greeted at the arena by Paul McGinnis, U2’s manager, and you watch the concert with Bono’s wife and 3-year-old son. Or you find yourself in the middle of Times Square with Avril Lavigne and her team, an event you are in charge of that created such a scene that it shut down all road traffic, much to the massive displeasure of the NYPD. How does that happen? How does one process that? I guess you don’t. You just live it up and think that’s what life is all about.
Matt thought he was doing pretty well until he went to bed on a Sunday night and woke up the next morning thinking he was having a heart attack. His heart was racing, he was sweating like he was in a Monty Python movie, and he was freaking out. He jumped in his car and drove himself to the doctor’s office. Not the best idea to drive a car when you think you are having a heart attack, of course, but he needed help.
After examining him, the doctor concluded that he wasn’t having a heart attack, rather he was having a severe panic attack. The doc told him to just go home and rest, and he should feel better in the morning. Well, that didn’t work, and it didn’t work the next day, week, or month. His life began to shut down. His parents had to move in with him. He couldn’t function, drive a car, eat, or sleep. At night, he couldn’t look out the windows because he thought the sky was falling. His “dream” life was literally crashing down. And, he had no idea what happened or how to fix it.
Fortunately, he was introduced to a therapist who changed his life. During one of his first visits she handed him Rick Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Life, and told him to read the first sentence, which says, “It’s not about you.” The sentence didn’t make any sense to Matt. Again, narcissism won the day. Then she told him that he would never feel better until he understood that concept. That got his attention because it was like a final life raft, something to grab onto, something to help. Just four simple words were all he needed to read. They echoed in his head every minute of the day, partially from a place of gratitude and partially because he was unsure and confused. But, he was determined to put in the work and find the meaning.
She then prescribed a heavy dose of volunteering. Every Saturday morning at 9 a.m., Matt would go out and pick up litter, paint over graffiti, feed the homeless, etc. At first, he didn’t understand it, but one day it clicked. Saturday mornings were his favorite time of the week. They provided an opportunity to go out and serve others and it was “not about him.” It was the best he felt every week.
Matt was still working in the music industry and wasn’t sure how this new concept was going to work in his life. Then one day he was walking back to his office with a coworker when he bent down to pick up a piece of litter on the sidewalk. Suddenly it all made sense. His coworker asked Matt why he would pick up someone else’s trash and the conversation ended in an argument.
Pissed off, Matt went up to his office and called his friend Kelly Bozza, and told her that he wanted to write a book. She responded, “Matt, you don’t even read books. How are you going to write one?” Matt explained to her that he wanted to write a book that could explain that every single one of us matters and together, we can change the world. They wrote the book together.
His thought was if it took him one second to pick up one piece of litter, what if all 300+ million people in our country picked up just one? It would still be a collective one second, but 300+ million pieces of litter would be gone. What if we each picked up five or 10? Or, what if we got our schools, companies, churches, friends, and family involved? It is just a numbers game.
What if we all smiled more, planted a tree, donated blood, wrote a note of gratitude, or took better care of our health? It just became a “what if” game. They picked 52 of these scenarios and wrote the book, Every Monday Matters – 52 Ways to Make a Difference .
The book came out four years ago and has sold very well. What was more important to Matt was that it started an organization and the beginning of a movement. A month after the book came out, he received an email from a woman who saved someone from committing suicide, all because of the book. He never imagined his book would literally save somebody’s life. That was the sign Matt needed to walk away from the music industry and try to make Every Monday Matters  (EMM) a household name.
From the start, thousands of people wanted to be a part of what Matt was doing. Letter-writing campaigns, a weekly newspaper column syndicated in over 400 newspapers nationwide, and a K-12 school curriculum that teaches youth that they matter through self- and social-responsibility projects followed.
Today, EMM is in over 1,200 schools in 43 states, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of youths. An Employee Engagement/Corporate Social Responsibility program in major corporations across the country works to create a work culture where all employees feel as though they matter within their company and their community. Oprah.com hosted EMM every Monday for a year. PBS just shot a documentary on EMM that will air in May 2012.
The organization is committed to getting as many people as possible to make their Mondays matter and to understand how much they do. Every Monday Matters is about being able to imagine a day when millions of people all over the country or world are doing the same thing on the same day to make a difference in their life and the lives of others. Matt believes that together, we can officially change Mondays--and the world.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Matt to find out his thoughts behind Every Monday Matters and the true issues they are trying to solve. There are bigger issues than just making your Mondays better.
SHAWN PARR: Why does every Monday matter?
MATT EMERZIAN: It represents a day for all of us to do better, to be better. First, we need to stop dreading Mondays. If you really think about it, we have created a monster out of a day of the week, and the monster is so powerful that it even overpowers our Sundays. So, basically two of our seven days a week are ruined because of Mondays. Not only is that ridiculous to think about, but it’s also pretty sad.
Mondays can be a day of inspiration, a day to celebrate the start of a new week. It gives us an opportunity to make a choice. To make the simple, yet paramount choice of how we want to live our life. What if everyone started his or her week with the mindset of “It is time to be awesome. I am going to make a difference today. I am going to be a better friend, a better husband, a better coworker, a better citizen.” What if every Monday was seen as a day to be better than we were the week before? That’s powerful. That concept matters.
Why does Monday matter to you?
Monday is the day I broke down, and it is the day that changed my life forever. I certainly don’t want to sound overdramatic, but it was, and it sucked. For the first time, Monday actually became Monday for me, and it was now a “something” in my life.
Why did you start Every Monday Matters?
Every Monday Matters, the company, started whether I wanted it to or not. Once the book came out, I guess it was game on, and people wanted more. So, it really started with the book.
What problem are you trying to solve?
I know it seems like we are trying to do a “Monday Makeover,” but it is obviously deeper than that. At the core of Every Monday Matters is a burning desire to help everyone understand that they matter. I think that every single person on the face of the earth has questioned his or her purpose. Why am I here? Why does it matter? Am I significant? This is life’s greatest challenge, and our biggest question. People are powerful--much more powerful than they think they are and their actions matter.
A close friend once told me that it is just as powerful to be a person who focuses on making the world a better place as it is to be an asshole. So poignant and so true. Either way, what we say and do matter, and the ripple effects we create in the world matter. So, we have a choice. What do we want to ripple? Because whether or not we know it, we do. So, again, we have a choice to make, and why not have it happen every Monday?
What's the bigger issue that sits above this?
I am not sure if this is the bigger issue or part of the same issue, but there is also this idea of focus and self-perception. I didn’t spend my life being an asshole, but I also didn’t spend my life focused on making the world a better place. I just focused on ME. Things that brought fun to my life, things that I thought mattered, like fame and fortune, and all arrows pointed inward. But, it was the Saturday-morning volunteering--giving back--that changed everything for me. It changed the direction of the arrows, and they now pointed outward. And in those moments, I realized that I am at my best when I am not making life about me, and when my life started to change, it started to make sense. I realized that I had significance and purpose in those moments. I realized that I could impact the world in a positive way, and in turn, I would feel more complete as a person. I guess that’s the irony of it all. If you want to feel better about yourself and your life, stop focusing on yourself. It is so simple, but so hard for us to understand.
Give me an example of the most transformational program you've implemented.
Last year, we launched our EMM Corporate Program. We believe that Employee Engagement and Corporate Social Responsibility are vital investments in a company’s future for business success. It is about serving your employees and the people in your community that will ultimately result in serving your company. We also believe that great companies are built from the inside out. Our program is all about creating a culture where employees know how much they matter--to one another, to the company, and to their community.
One of our largest corporate clients has a goal of landing on Fortune magazine’s “Top 100 Companies to Work For” list. When we started working with them, they had just completed the Morehead Employee Engagement Survey and received a score of 76%, meaning they were in the top quartile of companies surveyed when it comes to Employee Engagement. They just completed the survey process again (one year later) and received a score of 93%, meaning they are now in the top 10% of companies surveyed. That is a massive jump and success for them, and a great accomplishment toward reaching their goal.
Give me an example of one life changed as a result.
Between the book, our school curriculum, and our corporate program, the number and magnitude of the stories is beyond humbling. From homeless high school students who learned how much they matter and went on to graduate, to convicted felons who never had someone in their life that told them that they mattered, to a single mother that stopped a stranger from committing suicide, to the thousands of pounds that have been lost because people found a new sense of significance and pride in themselves, to a man that had 400 people at his mother’s funeral each write a letter as to why his mother mattered them and then gave the 400 letters to his father, and to the wife that thanked us for now having a better husband. We don’t even know all of the stories that are out there, but it is interesting how the tables turn. We are supposed to be the ones that inspire, but often feel like the ones being inspired.
What's been the hardest part of starting Every Monday Matters?
Patience. When you realize you have something that the world wants and needs, you just want it to get better, bigger, stronger, quicker. As we all know, starting a business takes time--that’s not revolutionary wisdom by any means. But, it doesn’t mean it is easy to accept. I always have to be reminded that we are kicking butt and are right where we are supposed to be. That’s where a bit of faith never hurts as well.
What's been the most rewarding part of Every Monday Matters?
Without a doubt, the stories--they are what drive us to want to reach more people with our message.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a new business?
For me it is all about passion. I have a passion that burns inside of me so bright that it has allowed me to get through things I never thought I could do. Even with all of my education, my MBA, and my work experience, it seems like nothing really prepared me for the ride I have been on. The learning curve has been steep at every corner, and it is only through my passion, and the passion of an amazing team of people, that has allowed us to do it. So, if you don’t have passion for your idea, don’t even start it--just walk away.
Where do you see Every Monday Matters in five years?
I believe that five years from now, EMM will be a household name. We will have more books; we will be a massive social movement; we will have a radio show, a television show, an Internet show; we will become a program that cities adopt--schools, companies, churches, governments, all working together to make their Mondays matter. I believe that Mondays will have officially changed forever.
What do you love about Mondays?
I get to come to work every Monday to try to make the world a better place, and that is truly a gift.
Shawn Parr is the Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond , an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie's Homegrown, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND .
[Image: Flickr user Aftab Uzzaman ]