Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Aaron McHugh

Every Picture Has a Story

The way I put it to my friends

There are two versions of every story. The one you tell on Facebook or at a cocktail party, and the one you only tell your closest friends.  For sake of invitation and encouragement, I’m going to risk telling you both versions of three stories. I’m trusting that the invitation will invite you to do the same.

Actor Rob Lowe chose this as the title of one of his books, Stories I Only Tell My Friends.  His title peaked my desire to be on the inside to hear the intimate stories that only his buddies hear while sharing beers over a late night poker game.

These are the stories I would tell you if we were friends.

I hold back a lot.

Living out loud for the world to see, hear, and read isn’t as simple as you might imagine.

The problem with holding back is that sometimes I censor to the point of excluding myself from the stories.

When writing my eBook: Don’t Quit Your Job. Fire Your Boss, my good friends and editors Tim & Laurie  Thornton challenged me on my censorship.

YOU are missing from Your stories. You are nowhere to be found. It’s ok, but it’s not as good as it could be if You put YOU back into the story.”

They were spot-on.

I purposely extracted most of the first-person intimate details from my career liberation, and as a result, it wasn’t that great.

I took their advice. I went home and wrote down everything I would write if only I was going to read it.

It worked!

I was able to silence my censorship filter and stop worrying about who would read it, what they would think, if they would be offended, love it, or hate it. My story, my intimate experiences, were unlocked and re-infused back into the narrative of How I Fired My Boss.

Before you share the intimate version of your stories,

here is some advice…

  • Keep your judgment
  • Retain censorship rights according to the group you’re talking with
  • Risk being known so others can love you more completely
  • It won’t always work
  • Sometimes people won’t listen, act like they care, or know what to do with your level of transparency
  • Start with a trusted few, then venture out to those outside of your inner circle
Photography by Gabe Sullivan
Photography by Gabe Sullivan

Two-Week Vacation

This past summer I took two weeks off work, rented a beach house in California five hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean, and didn’t check email for two weeks (I’ll write later about why we American’s don’t ever take two-week vacations). Skateboards, surfboards, runs, bikes, sunburns, friends, sand, sun, friends, and imperfection. We hired a Surfer Magazine photographer for a photojournalism shoot on the kelp-riddled marine preserve of Laguna Beach.

Stories I only tell my friends

Three days after high school graduation, my eighteen-year-old son left for a recovery program in the steamy hot countryside of Nashville, TN.  He bravely elected to commit to a six-week residential therapy program. We weren’t sure if he would be joining us for the pre-paid vacation we had planned for eight months.

The weekend before our two-week hiatus was scheduled to commence, my wife and I flew to The Ranch to meet him in a small 10 x 15 foot therapist’s office. We listened closely to her assessment of his encouraging progress as the white-noise machine broadcasted fuzz aimed at disguising conversations of the neighboring therapist.

The beach pictures show joy, but they don’t reveal the prelude of pain and heartache.


The Channel Islands National Park, California
The Channel Islands National Park, California

Men’s Town Road Trips:

Every Spring Break for the past nine years, my son and I head west on a dirt-bagging road trip (I will write more later on the art of dirt-bagging) to visit a different National Park. No girls allowed.  We’ve only missed one year when my daughter Hadley, his sister, moved to Heaven.  We’ve camped the Oregon Coast, backpacked the Grand Canyon, and gone under ground at Carlsbad Caverns. The most recent was our sea kayaking trip to the Channel Islands National Park, twenty-five miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA.

Stories I only tell my friends

When he was in sixth grade, I decided to give him the sex-ed talk. It was terrible. I had to pull over so he could throw up. I thought I was doing a great job as a father, not waiting until his friends at school educated him about how he and his sisters got here. He can still recite every horrible adolescent analogy used by the CD’s narrator. He also has stories of death marches in desert heat with heavy backpacks, running out of water, and getting lost in the Great Sequoias. Each of the Men’s Town trips were imperfect, yet I wouldn’t trade one minute of any of them.


Me 2nd on the left-Ceremony of the Bell
Me 2nd on the left-Ceremony of the Bell

Ringing the Bell of the London Stock Exchange

Two years ago, I resigned from my job without my next gig lined up.  I left because I believed there was something better waiting for me. One year after my vagabond departure, I found myself at the London Stock Exchange ringing the opening day trading bell as part of our company Kalibrate going public on the AIM Exchange. That is a story I could have never imagined.

Stories I only tell my friends

When I was twenty-five I read every issue of Fast Company magazine.  In those articles it appeared that when your company went public everyone got rich.  I remember all those pencil-neck little geeks cashing in their options and buying Ferrari’s. It turns out that a lot of those guys appeared wealthy until the bank repossessed their Italian sports car for missing their loan payments.

Here is the truth: I’ve seen too much. I’m not financially wealthy, but I’ve done well. After twenty years in the business world, I’ve met a lot of guys along the way who cashed in all of life’s chips in an attempt to become rich.  I’ve seen guys with fortunes loose them. I’ve seen startups fail and stock options be worth less than the piece of paper they are printed on. Ringing the bell was an epic moment in my career, but not worth throwing away the rest of my life in an attempt to obtain such a career crescendo.

Stories you should consider telling your friends

Now it’s your turn. What are the stories that your Facebook pictures don’t tell?

Who in your world today would hold the realities of your stories well?

What stories would you tell if no one ever read them?

Keep going, friends.

6 thoughts on “Stories I Only Tell My Friends

  1. Great read, Aaron, and challenging advice! I’ve mucked up the “living out loud” thing pretty substantially or so I’ve been told. Hearing “you over share and that’s a problem” by those I thought would, should, and had the credentials to care was painful and paralyzing. There was some truth in that when breaking it down to motive. Your advice is very encouraging. Keep judgement. Retain censorship. It won’t always work. I like it! The one thing I’ve added to this for myself is, “What’s my motive in sharing?” If it’s for myself in search of validation, I leave that to the trusted few. If it’s for others, I share and that’s where your advice is so helpful. Thanks!

    1. Joseph-i’ve mucked up living out loud plenty as well. Agree Motive is a significant question to evaluate. honestly I used to be “vulnerable” when I was younger for the attention it gave. What a crappy reason and people could smell it on me. Good thing we get 80+ years to work out the kinks in our character. Keep it up bro.

  2. Thanks for sharing Aaron. Being vulnerable and taking emotional risks is brave. Your behind the scene life stories help me understand that we all have our challenges to address and to open up and be vulnerable with others brings about freedom and love. Thank you and may peace be with you. – John H

    1. John-i once heard someone say “everyone has a story to tell if you listen long enough”. nobody gets a free pass in life. everybody’s got stuff. thanks for the encouragement

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