Life coaching as a career is so new that at just 27, Matthew Hussey is older than the history of his profession. In the past year he starred on Eva Longoria’s short-lived dating television show “Ready for Love,” wrote an advice book, "Get the Guy," that spent a week on the New York Times Bestseller List, and now appears as a regular guest on the "Today Show" for his own spot, called “The Other View.”
I wanted to know what life was like for a life coach. What does he think about when he’s not onstage? Why is helping other people his core preoccupation? Over a nearly three-hour lunch, Matthew and I talked about his daily life, the value of loneliness, his thoughts on “The Secret,” and why some people are just so damn stupid.
Below are excerpts from that conversation.
The demand in our culture for life coaches, relationship gurus and matchmakers is so high that I can’t help wonder whether the industry inspired our feelings of deficiency in order to fill it, or whether it’s a result of something less calculated, like over-permissive parenting.
People aren’t ashamed to ask for help the way they once were. Life coaching, matchmaking, online dating, these aren’t weird or ugly words anymore and that, I think, goes hand-in-hand with the kind of quick-fix culture that we have, which is: You got a problem? We'll fix it in a day. You want to be rich? We’ll do that in a month. You want a great body? Give me seven days and I’ll give you six-pack abs. We live in a culture populated by experts, leaders and gurus who claim to know the quickest route to getting you very compelling things. A lot of those people talk complete and utter BS. To a large extent, I’m not a fan of those things. I am in it, but I see myself as an outsider, strangely. I don't associate with it.
The whole "Secret" sensation really rubbed me the wrong way; I just don't believe in it. The grain of truth is that what you focus on you'll get more of, and that’s got to do with the reticular activating system in your brain, not "The Secret." Let’s say tomorrow you decide that you quite fancy buying a red car. Your research mission for the next month will be finding a good red car. Most likely you'll see red cars everywhere. That's not because the universe is bringing red cars into your existence. They were always there. You’re just more conscious of them. The people who buy into it are buying into the positive reinforcement. I drove here and got all green lights because I focused on green lights, or, I was parking and I focused on the space that I wanted and it was there! What are you talking about? That doesn't tell me anything. That tells me you found an available parking space.
Your brain is not sending out waves to the universe that are bringing you green lights and parking spaces. They’ve turned wishing for things into a science and I think, how have you done this? This isn't science. When did you decide that this was science? I think it’s damaging for people. I really believe it's damaging because everything that's come to me in my life has come because I worked fucking hard and tirelessly and I lost sleep and I lost out on girlfriends and I missed a big chunk of my twenties where I should have been being twenty-two and I wasn't, I was being forty-five, and I sacrificed a lot. It did not just come to me. Not to mention, most of those people never achieved what they're asking their clients to achieve.
The other danger is that the success of their brand is predicated on keeping the consumer helpless. By claiming to have the answers, they encourage a cycle of dependence from their supporters.
You know, it's not good for my career to talk negatively of "The Secret." There are plenty of powerful people close to it who could offer me a lot of opportunities, not to mention an enormous amount of people who do buy into it and will feel at odds with me philosophically because I don't, so it's not a popular thing to say, it's not a good financial move to say it, but I can't lie. I have strong views, and I can't imagine not ever being honest about those views. One of the people I most admired was Christopher Hitchens. He was extremely polarizing but extremely honest, to a fault sometimes, but I respected him for that, and I loved his debating style. I loved the way he came across in the media because he didn't fear anyone in that way and I intend to live out my time in the media, for as long as it lasts, in the same way.
It's curious that you admired someone who didn't care whether everyone, or anyone, loved what he had to say.
We just released a trailer for our new book on YouTube. In it, kids act like adults talking about their relationship problems, and we got so much positive feedback--but there was another group of people who, from our point of view, completely missed the point.
What was the point?
A lot of comments were like, “Kids are growing up too fast. They shouldn't be talking about things like this.” To which we said, it wasn't made for kids; it was a satire. We thought it’d be funny to have kids saying adult things. When was the last time you watched a horror film and said, it’s disgraceful they put a kid in that horror film, how dare they have a kid who's a demon? People don't do that, but they saw our trailer—where a kid says, "Sometimes I think it'd be easier if we were all lesbians”—and the 10% of crazies on YouTube said, “How dare you teach people about lesbians at that age!” And you just go, you are mental, you just are totally mental. And then there were other people who said, "This is so fake," and I thought to myself, you are too stupid to live. You shouldn't be allowed to function in normal society because that is the most stupid thing anyone has ever said.
Even when you have majority appeal, you can't always appeal to the majority.
I had a terrible moment in a seminar on public speaking, and by the way, for me, what I perceive myself as doing is strategy. You want to look more attractive to the opposite sex? There is a strategy for that. You want to be a better public speaker? There's a strategy for that. It's not self-help; it's not spiritual enlightenment. There are ways to be a better public speaker and I know those ways because I've done it myself. Of the many things I am not good at, one thing I am good at is public speaking, so I can teach people that. I got up and gave this seminar and I was swearing in the first five minutes and there was a group of religious women in the fourth row back and one of them shouted at me five minutes in and said, “Excuse me can you please stop swearing?” My immediate response was, You're in my event! You don't show up to a comedian's event and like, tell them what routine to do!
Uh yeah, you do. They’re called hecklers and they’re assholes.
Well, yeah, it's true. But you know it made me angry, and I did something that wasn't very tactful and I—I didn't even address this person—I just said, I want everyone to pull out your notebooks and I want you to write this down: "Matt Hussey doesn't give a fuck." Now suddenly a guy in that row wants to be a hero and says, "I don't appreciate you saying that," and I said, "Listen. You're at my event. I haven't insulted you or the person you’re with, but the truth is I don't give a fuck because I'm not here to please you. If you want to leave and get your money back on the way out, you are more than welcome to; there will be someone waiting with cash at the door to give you your money back. I will owe you nothing, but please don't ruin my event, and with that the whole fourth row got up and walked out, and this was an event on public speaking!!!
Look, as a rule, 10 percent of people will always hate you, at least. So if you can live with that, then you can keep doing your thing. But if you try and please the 10 percent of people who hate you, you'll end up being this horrible vanilla please-no-one person and I don't want to be that.
Do you find, despite the fact that you have mentors and supportive people in your life, that this territory comes with a certain type of loneliness?
And what is that experience like for you? When do you get lonely?
This last year brought a particular kind of loneliness. I moved to LA, and all my close friends are in London. All of a sudden I live in a hotel room and I know no one, no one. I was on location for my birthday, on this big Sony sound lot, and I didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday because I couldn’t bear to hear meaningless birthday wishes. I was in my dressing room thinking this is properly lonely right now. A few weeks before “Ready for Love,” I'd been given a publishing deal by Harper Collins, so I was writing this book and filming this show and running my business and I didn't have time for anything else. The show gave me kind of a pseudo-family because you're tied to producers the whole time and they don't let you out of their sight and you get this kind of weird Stockholm Syndrome where you sort of fall in love with these people, and get close to them, and then the show ends and it all goes away and everyone moves on. I had to move out of the hotel, I hadn't made any friends in LA, and everyone went on to work on different projects. That sucked. That was a real shitty little time. People back home would say, Life is so great for you! You have a book coming out in two continents, you have a show coming out, you're in LA, while we're stuck here in rainy London, and I remember thinking I should be happier right now, I should be more excited and I felt really ungrateful, but I didn't have anything meaningful at that moment.
That seems like a valuable lesson about success.
Massively. It has really adjusted my priorities for this year. I have to focus not just on my career but making real friendships, and that couldn't have come at a worse time. To try and make new friends in a new place, it's not the easiest thing in the world. I joked to an English journalist that everything in this book is now relevant to me and where I am. Everything that I am telling people to do, I currently have to do, because I am starting over and having to build a lifestyle and find places to go because right now I don’t go anywhere. I'm the woman who divorced at 45 and her whole life revolved around her husband, and now she's trying to figure out how the fuck she's going to build a social life that's fun and enjoyable. That’s me right now.
That's uncomfortable. Although, I believe we can all benefit from some level of discomfort. We're so afraid to live with our own uncertainty, but I think it'd be healthier for all of us to just...live the not knowing.
We live in a very mollycoddled society where the slightest bit of discomfort is seen as wrong, but that discomfort is there for a reason. It’s supposed to trigger some form of action, some form of change, a realization of a truth—something, and I think the self-help world has you believing that you should be happy all the time. One of my biggest pet hates is when I put a Twitter status up which is mildly more cynical or cutting than normal. When I put up something motivational everyone goes YAY, but every now and again I'll put up something different and the comments of the people who follow me who are relentlessly happy, happy, happy, happy, happy (or at least think they are, because usually they're the least happy) make me want to tear my hair out.
I'll give you an example. I wrote: "Book just came out. I tried to keep my ugly mug off the cover, but it's there anyway." The comments were like: Matt, even in jest you shouldn't talk about yourself that way, it doesn't show confidence and I'm like oh c'mon, just be human. Most of my followers aren't like that; they follow me because they're trying to get away from the other more happy-clappy stuff and I’m more down-to-earth, but there are always those few who think that I believe what they believe, and I don’t. There'll be people in my seminar who come up to me and say, It's so true Matt, it's law of attraction isn't it? And I'm like, no--it's not; you and me don't believe the same things! How did you read that from everything that I just said? It shouldn't be wrong to be unhappy. It should be wrong to suffer over the long term, because it suggests pain you're not attending to, but let people go through their process, Jesus. Like that annoys me. When people make other people feel bad for experiencing pain or unhappiness or discomfort, I find it really insulting.
It is, and annihilating.
If you paid to come and see me because you're unhappy and want to be happy that's different, let's fix it, but I also reserve the right--if you're a miserable fuck-- to not be around you. To sit there and tell someone that you're wrong for feeling what you feel, wrong for going through what you’re going through? It's the height of arrogance and so much self-help is the height of arrogance, it really is. I don't intend to ever look down on or patronize the people I work with.
Everyone has different experiences and are good at different things and it just so happens that in this little area I have something to offer people, but outside of that, I don't profess to---for example I wouldn't do a seminar right now on how to be a millionaire. Like, I'm not doing the seminar on how to make 20 million dollars. If I get there, I'll tell you, and if I think you can do it too, I'll tell you how, but I'm not gonna sit there—they make me laugh, those property seminars…run by some local franchise where the lecturer is some hired gun who is doing this speaking gig on how to become a millionaire because he needs money to pay his mortgage? I've sat in those seminars before and thought this is the most backward thing I've ever seen. I make more money than you do and you're telling me about making millions. They say it with such certainty: Here's how to make money from real estate. Here's how to get rich from real estate and you go YOU’RE NOT RICH! You’re not even close. If you were, you wouldn't be standing in this shitty hotel suite, working with us for no money. This is a joke.
Even when I started—at 17—I said, I'm not going to be a life coach, that's ridiculous, no one's going to take a 17-year-old seriously, but I can work on one specific area, one tiny niche and as I get better at certain things over time, I can incorporate them into my niche. I never stray into territory that I don’t know -- otherwise you're just that guy who tries to know everything.
What are you not good at?
Me neither. Who would you like to sound like?
Jamie Cullum. If I could do any other job in the world, that’d be it. If I could be anyone else in the world, I'd want to be Jamie Cullum. I've always wanted to play the piano. I always wanted to be able to sing, and the way he performs with such passion, the way he jumps around on stage--I'd be him if I could be anyone else.