Don’t be afraid to share. No one knows everything, so anything you share might be helpful. I think most of us would be surprised how valuable sharing our experiences with one another can be.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott “Scotty” Alpaugh.
Scott “Scotty” Alpaugh is an executive at one of the world’s largest wealth management companies and has worked in the financial industry for over 11 years. He is a United States Military Academy graduate and served in the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division for three years before he was hurt while on a combat tour in Baghdad, Iraq. Scott completed his MBA at Fordham University and is a cancer survivor. He lives with his wife and three children in central New Jersey. His first book, Have no fear, there’s always f*cking next year: (a COVID-19 tale) was Scott’s first foray into writing, but not the first time he has used humor to get him through challenging times.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
For many years, I have demonstrated an uncanny ability to find the silver linings in things. I can find joy and gratitude in almost anything. Even as a kid I was always laughing and enjoying odd things, but I really sharpened my skills while on a little overseas stay in Baghdad with the 3rd Infantry division in 2005. It was during that time I realized how precious life is and how little control over it we sometimes have. I attended the United State Military Academy and was recruited to play lacrosse. The world was at peace and Army officers were getting out of the service after 3 years, so going to school seemed free. I was halfway through school when two planes tore into the World Trade Center and changed our world forever. I was eventually deployed to Baghdad and lived every day knowing full well it could be my last. It was there that I learned to cherish every moment and that focusing on the chaos, political noise, and things out of my control was a total waste of time. This is a philosophy that has carried over into every aspect of my life. And every time that philosophy gets pushed to the background, something happens in my life that reminds me to live every minute to the fullest. I went through a divorce with a small daughter and a few years later I was diagnosed with cancer and while these, too, were incredibly difficult to wrap my head around, they ultimately served as yet another reminder of how precious life is. The pandemic was no different. Certainly 2020 brought with it tragedy, hardship and loss of life that was unfathomable to most of us. Throughout that time, I spent most of my efforts on things I could control and I took the time to slow down, take a breath, supporting those who were suffering, reconnecting with friends on facetime and spending more time with my family than ever before. And through the trials and tribulations of spending EVERY SINGLE DAY at home with my wife and kids, the idea for my book was born. Like all things in my life, I used this opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade and to share joy and humor with as many people as possible during this very difficult time.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
By far, the most interesting thing that happened after I wrote my book was making it to the top of the new release list in literature for a few days on Amazon. Anyone who knows me especially my former English teachers would consider this a miracle. I have to say, I giggle every time I think about dethroning Danielle Steele, James Rollins, Ken Follett and F. Scott Fitzgerald, even if only for a few days.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the earliest drafts of the book contained a few pages of political humor. My goal was to honor the moment; to acknowledge the political strife and seemingly endless divide between political parties. I planned to poke fun at both candidates equally which to me seemed inoffensive. The illustrator came back to me with the proposed drawings for those pages. One of the candidates was depicted as a caricature. A cartoon. A total clown. The drawing meant to represent the other candidate was a depiction of the White House in all its majestic glory. My even-tempered attempt at trying to make a joke about the current political environment was now lopsided. What transpired was an eye-opening and thoughtful conversation for which I will be forever grateful. I was new to the book industry, but my illustrator had been around the block. He reminded me that even an innocent attempt at humor could not only be misconstrued, but could follow me and define me as an author. He reminded me to focus on the point of the book-bringing laughter and levity to an otherwise challenging, and in many ways, devastating time. While I stand by the fact that the pages were hysterical, I didn’t want to create something that could have lasting negative effects.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
I wrote a kids’ book for adults filled with profanity and amazing illustrations, simply hoping it would make people laugh and feel like they weren’t alone in their COVID world. I wrote a book that my mom thought was clever and funny, but which she mostly described as crass (she may be the only human left in this world who uses that word). But just last week I was asked to be a motivational speaker on mental health for a group of executives because the organization loved the book and the fact that I have really figured out how to turn lemons into lemonade. Important to note, it’s also OK to leave the lemons on the table and walk away and drink something else especially a cocktail. Cliches aside, there is an important message in all of this. It’s OK to acknowledge that the universe has given us a really crappy year. But there is a silver lining there and it is that we are all, quite literally, in this together. The virus does not discriminate and we can’t buy ourselves out of a pandemic. But we can find strength in each other and for each other. We can lift each other up, breathe together, and slow down. My hope is that I can continue to spread that message in my lighthearted and positive way. It sounds so simple but people struggle with this every day and I hope to make that struggle a little easier for as many people as I can.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
A few months ago, on the heels of my book being published, my college roommate asked me to be a guest on his podcast to speak about silver linings and it was a huge success! I have had a bunch of people reach out to me telling me that my book has inspired them to write something themselves or that the podcast has inspired them to focus on the positives in their own lives. Even more importantly, I learned that my college roommate has always been inspired by me to find laughter in his own life during hard times and to refocus his energy when faced with adversity. What a compliment, right?! Not so fast…he also reminded me that I am the worst English student he ever met in his entire life and if I can write a readable book, anything is possible. I should probably mention here that my wife is an attorney and English major who quit her job in February of 2020 to spend more time with our kids (yes, joke’s on her), and who wanted nothing more than to edit my drafts when virtual school finally ended 47 hours after her day started. See? Silver linings.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
COVID has forced us to be shackled to our homes and socially distanced from each other. This, among other things, has caused many of us to become spectators instead of players in our own lives. Sadly, this was a problem long before Covid. We watch social media videos, practice tiktocks, and try to ascertain the truth in the news, all the while, watching our lives pass us by. First, in order to address this, I would love to see politicians refocus their efforts to regulate social media platforms and to ensure news stations actually report the news in a bipartisan fashion. Second, I think people need to be more accepting. There is so much tension in our society right now. Families and friends are breaking up over political social media posts, things are getting cancelled faster than they are getting created, and everyone seems to be in a constant state of being offended. If we chose instead to accept other people’s differences of opinions a bit more and didn’t focus on absolutes, the world would be a better place.
And finally, I think we should talk more. I have shared my life stories with tons of people and I’m nothing special, but sharing can be enlightening and lets people know that they are not alone. I have received so much joy by asking people questions about themselves; about their struggles, successes, challenges, low points, high points, what restaurants they go to, what they enjoy, and the list goes on. If we all talked more, and really listened. I know we would find more joy in our everyday lives.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. When you publish something in a book or on social media, it’s forever. If I provide an example, it proves I didn’t learn the lesson.
2. Don’t be afraid to share. No one knows everything, so anything you share might be helpful. I think most of us would be surprised how valuable sharing our experiences with one another can be.
3. Don’t work with people who are exactly like you because groupthink is a dangerous thing. Please refer to the story about my political comments. Knowing how someone else felt about my comments gave me pause and saved me from putting something out there that wouldn’t have been received well by everyone.
4. Always prepare but don’t worry about not knowing all the answers. Fear is a huge driver of why people don’t put themselves out there, but it never should be. I’m a great example as I don’t know much at all.
5. I wish I had a better understanding of how to maximize my exposure on social media. I am fairly confident that if I was between the ages of 13–22, my book would have stayed above Danielle Steele and Ken Follett for much longer which would really have been entertaining.
6. I know you didn’t ask for this but I can’t help mentioning it: everything your parents tell you comes true. You don’t figure it out until you are in your late 30s and it’s very upsetting.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would inspire a movement encouraging people to unplug completely once a week. I get it-phones, tablets, watches, google goggles, whatever…they are awesome. You can buy vitamins, book a trip, get a rental car, order food, have booze delivered, have 15 conversations with friends, and write a work email before you get from your house to your mailbox. It’s incredible! But now more than ever I see people giving their kids a tablet at the first sound of an annoyed child, or I see a table full of people all on their phones. No eye contact, no conversation, nothing. We’ve all been there and sometimes it’s necessary. This is not the year to guilt parents into taking their kids offline. But when we return to some kind of “normal,” I think it would be kind of awesome if we went back to the early days of the pandemic when we were reminding each other to cherish each moment, to enjoy the time at home, to breathe and to look up. Here’s my point… BE MORE PRESENT. Kids without devices use their imagination, a table full of people without their phones talk, share, and enjoy each other’s company, and a couple without their phones is more connected to each other. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that every moment is precious. So put down your device, don’t order your coffee to go, and just sit down and enjoy each other’s company.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You know what the happiest animal in the world is? It’s a goldfish. It’s got a 10 second memory. Be a goldfish!”
This is a quote from the honorable Ted Lasso, one of my pandemic saviors. Don’t take yourself too seriously, be in the moment, and don’t focus on the things that aren’t relevant. Trading the time spent frustrated over a political post, steaming over a text (that may have been misinterpreted anyways), or scrolling through the self-perpetuated newsfeed in your social media accounts for teaching my son to ride a bike, having coffee with my wife every single morning, and learning tiktocks with my pre-teen daughter was amazing. I think it’s so important that we do not dwell on the irrelevant. or things we cannot control. Rather, we need to stay present and in the moment and we need to practice showing grace and forgiveness to not only others, but ourselves as well.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
I think I would get along famously with Ryan Reynolds. I figure we have that same fun, yet unapologetically honest rapport, and would likely have a laugh at his expense because there is no way I would pay for that lunch. Also, I would be honored when he thanked me for stepping aside and allowing him to take the spotlight in movies, starting a Gin company, etc. I mean somebody’s got to serve our country.
All that said, I would also give pretty much anything to spend time with any member of the cast of the original Karate Kid Movies. I mean really… The story, the soundtrack, and now Cobra Kai!?! What else do you want from a series?
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Anyone boring enough to find my book, story and life interesting can follow me on Instagram @happilyeverlpaw or happilyeverlpaw.com. I will also be launching a podcast in April called Mr. Silverlinings .
I have also already started to write another book with a father in one of my son’s classes. It’s all about diversity and how two very different boys found out they weren’t so different after all. A kids book for kids, so no profanity this time. Be on the lookout for this.