Five Questions with Bryan McCarthy

Its time again for five questions. Unlike a lot of blogs, our interview process isn't designed to bring more of the same kinda people to my site. These interviews are here to bring people together who otherwise may not know each other.

Its a built in referral system.

The American dream comes in many different forms. For me it is spending as much time with my family building memories and forging relationships. For Bryan McCarthy, It's a life long pursuit of learning.

enjoy.




1. Did your parents teach you about money as a kid? How so?

Absolutely. Our parents taught us about money more or less by throwing us into the deep end. That is, by forcing us to reckon with genuine expenses. Before I even learned what college is, I learned I’d be paying for it myself. And, of course, there came a point where I wanted sneakers that weren’t going to make me the butt of every joke in school. My dad made it very clear that such social posturing was to be done on my own back. I got a paper route and have been buying my own clothes ever since.

My mom took a more hands-on approach, encouraging me to divide my paper route earnings (and, later, my dishwasher earnings) according to the following schema: I had to give 10% to some church-related cause, I had to save 70% (again, my future college tuition was a constantly looming threat), and then I could do whatever I wanted with the other 20%.

2. What’s your biggest accomplishment and what did you learn from it?

Hands down, my biggest accomplishment is getting my D.Phil. I doubt I’ll ever know just how much it taught me, but some of the more obvious things I absorbed during those years are: expertise in a couple of related fields, how to write a publishable book, and how not to go completely crazy while walking a long and lonely road. But the real value was not in what I learned but in what I became. As I stood there in that elegant and colorful robe and said my Latin lines, I felt like a king and still do. Earning the doctoral prefix has put me together in a way that nothing else has or perhaps could. I will always appreciate it and what it has meant to me.

3. Favorite Book EVER and Why:

Books are my life so I’m going to name a handful.

First, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is amazing. I initially read it in college and was blown away by the realization of just how tempting it is for us to be like ‘everyone else’, except nobody is really ‘everyone else’.We just get talked into believing others are and then it feels easier to join in than to strive for something better.

When I read BNW again in grad school, it took on a whole other set of meanings: about loneliness, the trap of pleasure, and the seductiveness of not thinking. Neil Postman wrote a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death arguing that while we’ve all been paranoid that things will turn out like 1984 with Big Brother watching and controlling us, the truth is closer to Brave New World, where we’re all too entertained to care. I think that’s right. And profound.

 Another great book on the seductiveness of not thinking is Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, about the trial of a Nazi officer for his part in the Holocaust. Arendt covered the event for the New Yorker and was struck by how eager everyone was to reach a guilty verdict without even bothering to ask how, in a modern, civilized society, a normal guy just following orders could amount to participation in genocide. The Netflix movie about it, Hannah Arendt, is amazing too.

Another favorite of mine is King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. There’s a lot of bad rhetoric out there about ‘being a man’, but the question of what a man should be in the modern era is an important one, as feminists like Hannah Rosin and Camille Paglia have argued (two more great reads, by the way). Moore and Gillette’s book acknowledges this and draws an inspiring picture of what we’re actually shooting for, while showing how most of what gets called masculinity is just insecurity.

I also loved Benjamin Hoff ’s The Tao of Pooh. It’s playful yet wise and gives you the freedom to accept your limitations so that you can get on to being who you are in a subtle, quiet, and appreciative way. An absolutely classic passage:

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’” “What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?” “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

Last one: Right now, I’m reading George Vaillant’s Triumphs of Experience, which is about the 79-year-and-counting Harvard Study of Adult Development. The study’s directors have been following several hundred men around their whole lives to see which of them ended up happy and why so as to discern what we should all be prioritizing. It turns out that warm relationships, both in childhood and throughout life, are the most important contributor to lifelong emotional well-being, financial success, and a bunch of other things, more important even than high achievement or being born into a wealthy family. The book is full of really interesting science and wonderful storytelling. If it continues to be this good, I’m sure it’ll make the list of favorites for quite some time.

 Sorry, this is the last one. If you want to laugh and feel good about being alive while learning something about writing, you must read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

4. What’s one thing people don’t know about you that you’d like to share?

A while back, I competed in an amateur bodybuilding show. Sometimes when I tell people this, they laugh or stare at me in utter disbelief. Perhaps this is because I only weigh about 150 lbs. (my show weight was 126 lbs.) so my physique is not the first thing that jumps into people’s minds when they think ‘bodybuilder’. Of course, anyone who knows the sport knows there are weight classes like ‘featherweight’ for bodybuilders of the size I was.

What really mattered to me, though, wasn’t the compulsories round that has everyone flexing whatever muscles the judges call out so they can pick a winner based on size, symmetry, and so on. Rather, I was invested in the posing round, for which you put together a routine of poses that most impressively display your physique and set it to music. The best showings are those that work poses into a dance, ideally one that matches the music in some way. Mine involved flexing that morphed into Kung Fu simulations and vice versa and was meticulously timed to the Mortal Kombat film theme. Given how hard I worked on it, I was ecstatic to hear my name called as the winner of the round.

 It’s a strange sport, full of fake tans and weird dieting, but, for me, it perfectly epitomized the quintessential athletic contest: You stand alone, rising and falling on your own merit with nowhere to hide and no one to blame, and your ultimate opponent is yourself.

5. What do you do for exercise?

I like to do two to three days of free weights and one day of running per week. I also like to meditate every day and do yoga four or five times per week. It’s rare that all of this actually gets done, but I think it’s the right aspiration.

You, can reach Bryan at: bdm49@pitt.edu or here on Linkdin.

Thank you Bryan for taking the time to share with us your story. 

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