004: Matt Ham, Redefining Life by Redefining Success, Redefining Values, and Redefining Rich

MattHam-RefefineRichEpisode 4 of The Confessions of a Terrible Husband podcast features, author, speaker, small business owner, father, and husband, Matt Ham. Matt’s new book, Redefine Rich and his podcast of the same name, talks about what it means to truly be rich.

Along with his blog, and public speaking, Matt challenges others to rethink our views on wealth and to reprioritize what’s really important in life.

Doing the Next Right Thing

Matt says he never started wanting to be an author, or speaker, or podcaster. But, he found himself wanting to help solve problems he had in his life. “As I began writing, and praying about that, seeking wisdom, and asking those around me, I just began doing the next right thing, taking one step at a time.”

Matt was born and raised in North Carolina, grew up playing sports – baseball, basketball and football in high school.

His senior year in high school, Matt became involved in a campus ministry called YoungLife. That group took a mission trip to Bimini in the Bahamas. “It was the first time I had stepped outside of my world, my bubble.” Matt says he thinks about that moment a great deal.

“In hindsight, it’s easy to see, but in the moment it’s not. In the moment, you’re living life, doing your life and what’s important to you. But, in hindsight, I was very much completely confined in my little world.”

That trip, working in an orphanage for a week was an eye-opening experience for 18-year-old Matt Ham.YoungLife

The life changing experience set Matt up to begin questioning things that weren’t easily evident beneath the surface. “These kids, the way they lived and the energy with which they embraced the day, king of their passion, they were living in what I would consider just destitute poverty.”

“It was like nothing I had ever seen before, they all smiled. They were still joyful, they were still happy.” Thinking how could they be so happy with no roof over their head, Matt says, “I didn’t really understand that.”

The following year, he went to college with that experience in his mind, knowing that he wanted to make some changes in the world.

“I wanted to influence people, and help people, and give back that mentality.”

To do these things, he says,

“I thought I would have to become wealthy, because, in our culture, that’s just the American Dream. We’re told that you can make it on your own, you can do anything you want, you can take it down, and if you make money, then you can use that and be philanthropic.”

Nick Pavlidis, host of the podcast “Confessions of a Terrible Husband,” says he recognizes that pressure to get rich.

“In my journey as a terrible husband, I was constantly chasing the money with this noble goal, because I thought it would trickle down and help my family… there’s got to be some point where you either realize you don’t need the money to be what you want to be, or, to do what you want to do, you just need to be creative.”

Nick also states that for him, his goals had to change. “For me, I just gotta be home more, be more committed.”

Matt says that as he and his wife were married right out of college, moving from North Carolina to Florida,

“I always thought that if I could reach this mark, I could help more people.” But, he says, while you’re in the chase, “the next thing you know, you’re leveraged with houses and rental property, and you got a commission-based income.”

From Bad to Worse

That’s where Matt was in 2007. “I had bills and no income. And that’s not a good spot to be in,” Matt says, honestly and soberly.

Matt says he never realized how bad it was, until it had actually happened. At that point, he and his wife moved back home, “with my tail tucked between my legs, kind of humbled by my circumstances.”

Those were the bad times, says Matt, “but then it really got a lot worse.”

Trying to start a family, the two were struggling financially, then, there was a two-and-a-half-year struggle with infertility.

“I think that infertility is something that not a lot of people in our culture talk bout, because it seems like anybody and everybody just gets pregnant. I know as a husband, it was particularly difficult because I couldn’t do anything about it.”

But, he says, it is a very real and devastating battle for many married couples. “I Know as a husband, it was particularly difficult because I couldn’t do anything about it.”

Matt says he felt like he was just a resource for his wife. He struggled. “I can’t solve this problem. I can’t make it happen. And as much as I wanted to try to fixt it, I couldn’t fix it.” The frustration led him to just shut off.

Saying he was tired of the emotional battle, he just quit fighting.

Matt says. He and his wife’s marriage had begun falling apart.

“I can’t tell you how important it is that I finally stood up and fought that battle… We loved each other, but were like roommates that loved each other.”

Eventually, he says, he and his wife finally came to the conclusion that this was not what they wanted for each other or themselves, and the two found themselves returning “to some of our core values, and our faith, and when though some marriage counseling.”

During that process, Matt explains, “I just saw how broken we were, and how oblivious we were to our own broken situation.”

Stand Up and Fight

Matt says he has learned in this experience,

“You have to begin seeing your situation and your circumstance with a different perspective. When you see yourself in the middle of things that are happening, a lot of times, you can pin yourself as the victim… I was very ungrateful for everything.”

Matt describes the vicious swirling eddy of emotions that was dragging him down the vortex of defeat.

“I was very ungrateful for everything. I was ungrateful for the way the infertility battles were going, which, in turn, made me ungrateful for how it was affecting our relationship. So, I came to a point where, if I don’t start changing something how, I’m going to risk losing the one thing that I care about the most.”

At that moment, Matt says he took a step back, and began to interact with more people, which brought him to a point of brokenness.

As he was coaching individuals and speaking publicly, he realized, “so many times i your own brokenness, you cannot recognize that reality. On the outside, it’s like you seeing a friend who’s fallen down in an accident or something and they’ve broken their leg. They keep trying to stand up on that broken leg, yet, you can’t help them out.”

Matt says, he was in a position that he was either going to be humbled by God’s presence or his circumstances.

“I think one of the two is going to happen… that humility is often found by taking a step back away from your emotions and really looking at a situation objectively,” he says of his situation at that time.

Admitting to Being a Terrible Husband

Admitting to being, at that time, a terrible husband to his wife, Matt Ham says he came to point in his life where he was broken, but ready to heal.

“I think when you begin to respond in a certain way, that is the catalyst for change,” says Matt.

Man's Search for MeaningReferring to the late Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl, imprisoned in German concentration camps, saw people dying all around him. As a psychiatrist, he observed that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“For me,” says Matt, “that was the beginning. The marker, the capstone. I said ‘I’m going to respond differently. Rather than sitting off and meeting buddies on the weekend, and letting my wife do her thing, I’m going to fight.” Deciding what that fight looked like, Matt says he began taking some practical steps in the direction of his wife, and embracing their struggle together.

It was at that time that the two of them returned to their faith. And they went through some marriage counseling in their church.

“From there, it began a personal journey back to my faith foundation, which leads me back to that story of Bimini and the Bahamas,” Matt says.

During that trip to the Bahamas in high school, Matt led a Vacation Bible School for the orphans.

“[That’s] where I really started to see something greater than myself that was a key catalyst for everything that was going on in my life.”

Matt says his book, Redefining Rich, helped him see all of the markers i his life.

“When you take a step back from your life and start to look at the key moments, put them on a timeline, you start to see themes… commonalities among those moments that are leading you, or pointing you , in a direction.”

Noticing those markers in his life helped bring him and his wife together.

“As the story goes,God is, in my experience at least, and the way I feel, I think God is incredibly redeeming. But, He also has a fantastic sense of humor.”

Matt and his wife now have three children — all born within 15 months.

The first born, a son, Matthew, which the doctors saw wasn’t going to happen. Then, eight months later, while on a company trip to Hawaii, the couple came back with a bit more than a sun tan from the trip.

15 months later, little Matthew’s identical twin brothers were born.

The Ham family had moved from a completely destitute, impoverished, infertile couple to a family of five in about a 17 month period,

“It was quite amazing to see how that transformation took place,” says Matt, “but the interesting this is that tin the middle of raising three kids, late nights, being up all night, and bottles and stomach bugs and hospital visits… there was a moment where as much as I had been a terrible husband before, I was a terrible dad.”

Recognize the Source of Your Thoughts

Matt says there was a moment, while the three boys were young that he recognized he hadn’t improved quite as much as he had thought he had.

One night, as his birthday was approaching, he had scheduled to take his wife to a Dave Matthews concert.

Two days before the concert, one of the boys got a stomach bug, forcing them to sell their tickets to the concert and cancel their date.

”I was like my two-year-old at the time. I was throwing a fit in the middle of the floor. ‘I worked so hard, I deserve to go see this concert,’” he says.

Then he recognized,

“I was like “oh my gosh, I was so ungrateful.’” He told h himself that this wasn’t who or what he wanted to be in his life. “This is not emotions you want to feel, what’s going on underneath the surface,” he asked himself.

The moment, he says, lead to the writing of his first book.

Saying there’s incredible power in taking in actually thinking your thoughts, Matt says it’s a practice that he is trying to improve — to understand where thoughts come from, how they align with his greater goals, and what motivates him.

Those things, Matt says, are at the root of C.S. Lewis’ commentary about pride being the greatest sin of all.

“At it’s core,” Matt says, “I think so often, my battle is pride. It’s like I deserve this and you want to elevate yourself over a situation.”

He warns,

“When you start to be proud… I think there’s a problem. That’s why we talk so much about humility. Kind of leading back to that is so key to being able to grab your thoughts and find out if your motive is rooted in pride.”

Redefining Rich

Matt began writing his book, Redefining Rich, after the Dave Matthews experience in his kitchen floor.

When Matt and his wife returned home from Florida, Matt has run an insurance agency in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Getting caught up in the sales competition, Matt says he always felt like he was trying to measure up to someone else’s metric.

HalfTime CoverEventually, he found a book, Half Time by Bob Buford.  Matt describes the book as being about Success versus Significance.

Recognizing that American men often find their significance in their success (or lack thereof), he says it’s important to define success on our own standards, and finding our significance elsewhere.

“For me, the interesting thing was I thought if I can outsell anybody and just grow this business, that will be what validates me.”

Saying it’s the motivation behind the goal that makes that a bad thing, he realized he needed to find his significant from another source.

Matt then began thinking about what it is he really loved. 

“When I came back from that mission trip when I was 18 years old, I was asked to speak at my church. And I gave my testimony and told the story about the kids and all the different stuff. After that I as met with so much encouragement from people who were there that day.”

They encouraged him to consider speaking publicly. Feeling that, as an 18-year-old, he didn’t have anything of value to say, he pushed it aside.

Later, in college, similar occasions would occur where others would recognize his ability to communicate and would encourage him. Again, he would push it aside.

Recognizing his desire to speak publicly, combined with everything else that was coming together in his life, he says he started to see that there could be a greater purpose in his desire to speak.

Matt then went to a good friend of his who was a public speaker with 30-years experience for advice. 10 years prior, Matt had talked to the same man about the same  thing. His advice then was “take good notes.”

A similar piece of advice came a decade after the first encounter. “Grab a pen,” the mentor said to Matt.

Matt had practiced journaling much of his life, so referring back to his notes, Matt began writing.

“I started looking back at those notes I had taken, and all the experiences and the pan, and the brokenness and the healing that had occurred, and all this stuff began flooding upon me. I’m writing in my journal, and I’m crying, I’m just emotional, and just losing it, and just saying ‘oh my gosh, all these things have happened for a reason and they’ve all led me to this place, and here I am right here, right now, and I’m here and all of these experiences have led me to this point, and what is the common theme that I see?”

Matt says the word “rich” jumped off the page.

Referring to an experience he had a number of years ago while his aunt was dying with cancer, Matt relates how a nurse told his aunt “you make my life rich.”

“I pieced that together within this big picture that was going on in my life, and all of these stories that were happening, and the brokenness and all the stuff we’ve talked about this far. I knew without a doubt that was what I was supposed to write about.”

Redefining Life

Matt confesses that the original title of his book was going to be “You Make My Life Rich.” Until he was diagnosed with cancer while writing the book. That instance, facing cancer, challenged him to live a life more richly.

Matt says he is constantly redefining what rich is to him and how he lives his life. That redefinition of life was all inspired by the catalyst of four words spoken by a nurse, named Melanie, to his aunt, “you make me rich.”

Matt says of those words,

“You can have a significant impact on the lives of people, not just here and now, but, for years to come. That nurse, Melanie, her story is what proves that to me. That’s where every single day I wake up and I’m seeing my words, and I’d say… your words can impact people in ways that you can’t even imagine. You have to be incredibly intentional, because it can do it the other way as well. That’s why we need to grab onto that richness and hold on to it. Otherwise, it’s just poverty.”

Keeping Focus on a Redefined Life

Saying he still has to focus on leading his family to live richly or his efforts have no value, Matt responds to Confessions of a Terrible Husband host, Nick Pavlidis question about how to keep that focus in the forefront.

“I have a wife who is flat-out awesome… part of it is what we have gone through. That we knew that brokenness at its core. And it’s something we just want to avoid at all costs. We know that there’s going to be adversity, there’s going to be struggle. We’re going to have deaths in the family, and all kinds of adversity that life throws at you. But we want to avoid that level of brokenness again. So, we have a relationship where she k nows me, and I know here. The direction we want to move as individuals and as a couple. So we keep each other honest, and are very intentional about making time for the other.”

Matt recognizes that commitment doesn’t just happen. it takes commitment, and creative ways to find time to accomplish your goals and keep the goals you’ve made for your relationships.

Matt cautions,

“You have to define the direction your life is going, or it will be defined for you.”

Podcast Show Notes and Transcription Services by The show notes Guy, Phillip Swindall, www.shownotesguy.com

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Michael Lettner

    Nick, that was a great conversation with Matt! I’m in the middle of reading Redefine Rich and am really enjoying it and hoping to read it over Christmas. Keep it up!

    • Thanks for listening, Michael! Nick has a great thing going here!

  • Matt, I enjoyed listening to your story, and learning about your philosophy on living a RICH life. Keep it up. Thank you.

    • Marcus – thank YOU for taking a listen. Nick’s on to something here. Stay in touch!