Dan Schuck Explains
Why the Glass is Half Full
By Carin Chea
On February 7, 2018, Dan Schuck's life changed forever when his partner and love of his life, Jill Messick, committed suicide.
Mr. Schuck had been planning on surprising Jill on Valentine's Day with, "A Glass Half Empty?...or Half Full?...A Children's Book for Grown-Ups," a narrative inspired by the frequent conversations held between the two.
Jill (diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 1) had found a constant and dedicated friend and life partner in Dan, who lovingly guided her through her thought processes and mindsets during her moments of immense struggle.
Through the indescribable sadness and devastating aftermath of Jill's death, Dan did not lose hope. Rather, he channeled the life and vibrancy that was Jill into a children's book for grown-ups that would raise awareness of mental illness.
Dan's tireless journey toward erasing the stigma associated with mental disorders is just beginning, and we are blessed to have this maven in our presence.
You have an extensive background in financial services technology. How did that path lead you into a professional writing career?
In a roundabout way, I started way before that, which is something you don't see on my Facebook or LinkedIn pages. I was a musician and songwriter. I came out of college and had computer job during the daytime, but I was playing in coffee houses at night. I was a 22-year-old trying to make it. But, you don't make much money from that.
So, I put away childish things and, lo and behold, I joined a company that blew up. It grew into one of the largest brokerage dealers in the country. But see, the reason I did well in that job was because I'm a communication guy. I could translate between the executives and the programmers. My job became CIO Chief of Staff. All the dialogue about "what are our goals" and "where can we make improvements" was my job.
So, this deal about talking about perspective, it really stems from my time with that company. The challenge is looking at things from various perspectives. We're conditioned as a species to think there are mainly 2 ways to think of things, and not various ways.
Years later, when I met Jill and found out about her condition, I used the Glass Half Full perspective to dialogue with her.
Your first published book A Glass Half Empty? ...or Half Full?... A Children's Book for Grown-Ups, has received very positive reviews and feedback. How did this book come about?
I have this willingness to admit that maybe we're not as certain about things as we think we are. It's about perspective and relativity. Maybe it's not about the way I'm seeing it right now. We're really a bipolar society, aren't we? We're really divided and there's little room for compromise.
When I gave talks, I would actually hold a glass of water and ask, "What do you see?" and all the things I discuss in the book. The reality is, it's never half full or empty. We're constantly pouring things in and out of our glasses. The complexities are never-ending. My book isn't a story. It's really more of a perspective shift.
I use many different fonts, images, and viewpoints to talk about the same thing. I use humor to make certain things lighter. It was something I brought to Jill and her condition. She was diagnosed with Bipolar I, the one where hospitalization is not uncommon. She was extremely successful.
The point is - she was an accomplished woman. She was one of the executive producers on Mean Girls. She used her condition in many ways. She had an ability to be super manic and super-successful. But, her ability to gage herself got harder and harder to do over time.
When I first met her, she just got out of a bad manic episode stemming from her divorce. I thought, "How do I help a woman whom I'm quickly falling in love with?" Very quickly, the "glass half full" metaphor was a great shorthand for us to talk about this.
What would you like your readers to take away from this book?
I think each person will find different things that are applicable to them. I hope people can use it to look at their day (not even their life, but just today) and think, "What's going on now, and how can I think about this differently?"
I hope they can use the concepts discussed in my book as a coping tool. Once that happens, my hope is that people will share the knowledge.
That's why this is a good gift book, too. It's meant to be shared. It's a simple read, much like a Dr. Seuss book. It covers a lot of ground quickly. You can go through it quickly, and over and over again.
Prior to Jill's passing, what was your vision for A Glass Half Empty? Was it set to be published?
I was scrambling to get this book done. I was heartbroken that I didn't get it done in time for Jill. I planned to give it to her on Valentine's Day, and she died the week before. At first, I thought I could at least print it out and give it to her friends and family. After that, I found a photobook company that could print this out. That naturally led to it being self-published. And now I'm moving it toward a publisher that can help me take it to more bookstores.
I understand that donations from the proceeds of this book will be made to a Glass Half Question fundraising campaign for the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. Can you tell us more about this?
The BBR [Brain and Behavior Research] Foundation writes grants for research. Because mental illness is so stigmatized, the only real research that's going on are in pharmaceuticals. I do wonder about the rise in mental illness, and the rise in medication, and yet the problem doesn't seem to be getting better.
Mental illness is a real brain chemistry issue. My grandmother had Bipolar Disorder, and in the 1930s and 1940s, the primary ways to deal with it was shock treatment and living in a sanatorium. We've definitely made a lot of progress, but the stigma is a problem.
When someone in the family has it, we use funny words to talk about and around it. We've got to get some focus on this and get over the squeamishness surrounding it. Like suicide, for example. We don't say "suicide". We call it the "accident" or whatever comes to mind.
The BBR Foundation is about providing grants to scientists who are trying to find the cause of mental illness and other types of brain issues. There are some great studies that have come from the brain research they've funded.
We all have mental health. That means we all could be doing exercises to help. My book discusses exercises to help our mental health.
It's wonderful that your twin boys were editors on your book. How was that process like?
I put the book together using Adobe Photoshop and all those tools, and printed proof copies. While I was working on it, I was keeping it a big secret. I was on a mad march to get it done. The only people I told about it were my boys. They went through it all and found all the words that were misspelled. They were really into it and my biggest supporters.
On your website, you mentioned that this is a story you've been telling yourself as a young man, and have been "refining" it since. What does that mean, and how has that journey looked like?
I use this analogy [Glass Half Full or Half Empty] a lot. Even when I was little kid, I thought it was weird that, depending on how you saw the glass, that labeled you either a pessimist or an optimist.
With Jill, we talked about risks and opportunities. It's riskier to have a full glass as opposed to a half glass. We're more likely to spill something when we have a full glass. And we realize: "It's not bad to have a half full glass."
One of the things I really like is the idea of thinking of the empty space in the glass: What is the value of that empty space? It's a risk buffer, but it's also opportunity. It's space in your glass that you have space to put other things in. If your glass is so full that you don't have space, then you simply don't have space to fill with opportunity.
Other than "glass half full or empty?," what other narratives have you carried with you throughout your life? Which narrative do you hold closest to your heart at this moment?
If people stop thinking about it as a black and white litmus test, it would be great. People have been saying this for ages, and some version of this is in every culture across the planet. I think it's primordial. It's in our very being. It'd be great if people could expand their thinking of it. I'm concerned how, in our world, things are so polarized.
I've come to realize that emptiness is very valuable. You have to create it. Most of us have to simplify our lives to create space for opportunity.
What other projects of yours can we look forward to?
I've got two. I'm in the process of writing Be Bumblebee, which is Daoist in nature and looks at the art of being and who you are.
The other one is around the theme of The Chicken or The Egg, and it's a time traveler's guide. In this book, I talk about how we use our memories to think about history, and our imaginations to think about the future. Those things get mixed up a lot.
We use the past to think about our future, and our imagination to think about the past, and that's neither good or bad. I really just want to work with others on changing our perspectives about things.
If someone were to write a narrative based on your life journey, what would that narrative be?
Well what I do know is: It sure isn't over. I don't know how it'll end. It certainly has a tragic third act with Jill dying. That will be a big piece of me.
As for the story of me getting to that? I left home when I was 15; I was an exchange student in Europe. It has been a lot of Forrest Gump-like adventures for me. There was a lot of serendipity, but a lot of learning people as well. I was a wallflower growing up.
Then I became a musician and I had to learn people. I had to figure out how to be in front of a crowd. Those two things intersected - the shyness and the ability to talk in front of large groups. My journey has been about knowing people and communication.
You can follow Dan's journey and project updates on www.GlassHalfQuestion.com.
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