“I woke up to go to work on a Monday morning,” Modesto native Matthew Emerzian remembers, “and I thought I was having a heart attack. I was the ripe age of 32 years old. My heart was pounding! I couldn’t take a breath! I was sweating like crazy! Then I did something I would never recommend to someone having a heart attack. I drove myself to the doctor.”
The news was good, sort of, that day. The doctors told him he did not have a heart attack, but he was experiencing something else: his first extreme panic attack.
Emerzian tells his story often, including in a popular TEDX Talk and in his constant speaking engagements around the nation talking about his book “Every Monday Matters: 52 Ways to Make a Difference.” He has that panic attack to thank for saving his life.
Now what could this guy have to panic about? He was living the high life many an ambitious Valley boy daydreams about as he drives his first car south on Highway 99 toward hoped-for fame and fortune while the almond orchards are in full bloom.
After graduating from Beyer High School in Modesto in the late ’80s, Emerzian took that four-hour trip to Los Angeles, earning two degrees from UCLA, including an MBA that gave him a fine education, but failed to ignite what he would only later identify as a hidden passion for entrepreneurship.
Bobbing and weaving, he was trying everything from teaching kindergarten to sales to find the best fit. He found himself drawn to the irresistible beat of the L.A. music scene and its glitzy, no-rules lifestyle. He made good use of his mad management, marketing and public relations skills to help his musician friends get famous. While trying to land a friend’s rock band a contract, he got an appointment with Robert Kardashian, O.J. Simpson’s famous lawyer, who also had a major music marketing company.
Kardashian was impressed enough after meeting with Emerzian that he hired him to be a vice president of his music marketing company. Kardashian’s daughters – Kim, Khloe and Kourtney – were working in the front office.
Emerzian still managed some local L.A. bands, but a lot more came with his new job. He suddenly was in the big leagues, working on projects with U2, Coldplay, Tim McGraw, Avril Lavigne, Usher and the Black Eyed Peas.
Who wouldn’t smile every Monday about starting a week doing that?
Sure, at least in the beginning. His goal became to make as much money, to become as well-known and have as much fun as he could. That star-studded lifestyle had a lot of alluring side benefits: lavish partying, drinking, marijuana smoking and what Emerzian calls “objectifying of women.” He plunged into that heady stew, marinating in its narcissism and mind-blowing excess.
When everything changed
But then came that frightening Monday morning when he swapped his designer clothes for a hospital gown. The panic disorder would steadily worsen into chronic anxiety disorder that got so bad, he called his parents, Ron and Janice Emerzian in Modesto, to come and live with him for a month to help put his life back together. He was in such hopeless despair, he says he even had thoughts of suicide.
Part of his recovery included seeing a therapist who listened attentively to his story. Her strategy during one of their early sessions was to shove a book over to him and ask him to read the first line.
“It’s not about you.”
The line is from the best-seller “Purpose-Driven Life” by The Rev. Rick Warren. It may as well have been written in Swahili. Emerzian just didn’t get it. How did that possibly gel with the land of neon egos lifestyle he was living?
The therapist, whom he now refers to as his “expensive friend,” assigned him to do volunteer work that did not benefit him every Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
He argued and resisted. What possible good, what healing could come from him picking up fast-food trash beside an L.A. highway as the Maseratis zoomed past?
She wasn’t having it. You will never be happy, she told him, until you understand that it is not about you.
Desperate for healing, he acquiesced. “One Saturday I fed the homeless. Another Saturday, I painted over graffiti. Another Saturday I picked up trash.”
Fast forward a few months, and it was as if his ears finally popped on a long flight. Saturdays became his favorite day of the week. He got it. It was not about him; it was about using his talents in service to others; it was about making the world better. It was about letting others know how important they are.
Before long, he was refusing invitations to hang out with his buddies to smoke weed and watch sports. His mind wandered. What if everyone picked up one piece of trash on the same day? What if every Monday all smokers put their cigarette butts in the trash instead of flicking them onto the street medians?
Making a difference
He became an evangelist for community service.
With his friend, Kelly Bozza, Emerzian co-authored “Every Monday Matters: 52 Ways to Make a Difference.” He imagined it as a how-to book that would tell people they can change the world one Monday at a time.
Why Mondays? Because his meltdown happened on a Monday, and because Monday is the ugly duckling of the week and it’s a good way to start off the week on a positive note. Every Monday has a page or more of focused actions to take that can make a good change.
“I decided to walk away from my 10-year career in the music business to make Every Monday Matters a household word.” His first project was to collect and deliver thousands of gratitude letters to San Diego firefighters who were battling record-setting wildfires.
Fast forward again and Emerzian’s book is a success; he develops a website; he becomes an in-demand public speaker with his own TEDx Talk. McClatchy (owner of The Bee) syndicated his now-finished weekly column that at its height published in 400 newspapers. Oprah Winfrey’s company published his work for a year on her website and in her newsletter.
Corporations booked him to talk to their employees, and he was hired to help them create a culture of purpose and service. Educators clamored for curriculum for their students. A nonprofit foundation was created to provide schools with the resources and the curriculum is provided at no charge.
Emerzian says he was really rocked when a judge presiding over Stanislaus County’s drug court asked him to come to Modesto to speak to a group of convicted felons. They listened in prison jumpsuits, handcuffs and chains.
He told the men and women how much they inspire him. “I gave them all wristbands that said, ‘You Matter.’ Imagine the visual of the wristband next to the handcuffs.”
One of the men in the room said, “I want you to know that no one has ever told me I matter in my entire life. and that’s why I ended up where I am today.”
“And he broke and started crying on my shoulder,” Emerzian said.
That man in chains changed Every Monday Matters forever. Here’s how.
“From the beginning, ‘Every Monday Matters’ was about the numbers,” Emerzian says. More trees, fewer cigarette butts, more blood donations. He needed time to realize its real value.
“It’s not about that,” he said, “ it’s about getting people to understand how much they matter.”
Now he has gone from a passion to a movement. From CEOs to convicts to homeless people, it’s all the same. It’s knowing how much they matter.
Today he estimates there are 500,000 students in Every Monday Matters programs and it has spread to 45 states and six countries. In Fresno, Randy Mehrten of the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools office saw it as a perfect fit with his after-school programs. Now hundreds of young people are involved in it.
What’s next? Emerzian’s ideas are boundless. A second book is in the works that tells Emerzian’s story and the success stories of others who have changed their lives using his model. He envisions an internet show.
So do what Emerzian does: Today, ask five people today why they matter. Then go out and do one good thing for the world.
Gail Marshall is an associate editor for the Opinion pages: 559-441-6680
Fast facts: Matthew Emerzian
Parents: Ron and Janice Emerzian of Modesto. His father is a retired executive with E&J Gallo Winery in Modesto. His mother was raised in Fresno, graduating from Fresno High School and Fresno State. She taught at Lane Elementary School before she was married.
High school: Beyer High School in Modesto
The Fresno connections: Charles and Ann Matoian, founders of OK Produce in Fresno, are Emerzian’s maternal grandparents. Their children and grandchildren remain big supporters of Emerzian’s efforts. Another relative is John Matoian, a former Fresnan, who once ran Fox and HBO.
Residence: Los Angeles
Company motto: Every Monday Matters is a not-for-profit committed to inspiring a new normal, where individuals and organizations understand how much and why they matter to themselves, the community around them, and the world.
Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
How to sponsor Every Monday Matters
Donate: Companies and individuals can donate to EMM, a nonprofit. The program curriculum is free to school districts.
Among the partners: Invision Co, Genentech, H&R Block, The Ken Blanchard Companies, E&J Gallo Winery, Edwards, Providia, OK Produce, Pacific Southwest Container