Josh McKain
8 min readAug 27, 2020


In the last essay that I published, I said I like to take time when I write and I don’t publish everything I write. This piece is the perfect embodiment of that last one because I’ve finally gotten what you’re about to read to a place where I’m happy with it. I started working on this piece in 2018. Two-plus years later I revisited and revised it and feel good about it.

In everyone’s life, there are certain pitfalls that can derail their plan. In many cases, these pitfalls can completely ruin their life. For a professional boxer, slacking in training will ruin their career. For a business mogul or religious leader, a scandal of any kind can result in their being disgraced and barred from the business world. For a married man or woman, an affair can upend their life overnight. Pitfalls.

Classic Atari game “Pitfall”

Being aware of, but not obsessing over, the potential pitfalls in your life allows you to set up safeguards to avoid them. These safeguards help you protect yourself from falling into pitfalls without letting them control your life and your time. You can’t control for every pitfall; you can’t know what every pitfall is. But everyone has a least a few very obvious pitfalls that they can remain aware of and therefore hopefully avoid.

Some obvious pitfalls for me:

Quit learning and improving — My continual learning has helped me in every job I’ve had, especially my current one. If I stop learning and growing, I stop advancing.

Slack off in my marriage — In my commitment to fidelity, to communication, to acts of service, etc.

Ignore my kids — It’s easy to get tired and want a break. Ignoring my kids is the best way for me to lose the currently great relationship I have with them

Stop exercising — This is a linchpin activity for me. Doing it makes everything else easier. Aside from the obvious benefit of staying in shape, I enjoy it, it makes me feel good, it gives me energy, it helps me sleep better, it motivates me to eat better. I wake up early to exercise which means I get time alone to think, read, pray. To stop exercising would be to change the difficulty setting to hard on all other aspects of my life.

I’m sure you can think of some pitfalls that you need to avoid, and probably some pitfalls you’ve run into in the past.

Ignoring obvious pitfalls

On their wedding day, nearly 100% of couples say they’ll never get divorced. Not that they don’t plan to; they say that they’re certain they won’t. It’s not even a plausible option in the future in their eyes. They are so overwhelmed with the happiness of their wedding day, so in love, that there’s no way they could ever possibly divorce this person. Then, after the honeymoon, roughly 50% of these people go on to get divorced. What happened? How could 50% of newlyweds be so clearly wrong? Not asking why they got divorced, there are a million answers to that. I’m asking how they could have been so completely wrong in their confidence. I think it’s because they weren’t being honest about the risks and were ignoring very obvious pitfalls.

There are pitfalls surrounding every marriage that can lead to divorce. If you just bury your head in the sand and ignore these pitfalls, you’re more likely to wander into one by accident. Rather than being honest about the upcoming challenges and hurdles they’ll have to overcome, many newlyweds just pretend like these challenges don’t exist. They’re choosing to be unaware of the pitfalls rather than choosing to observe them and avoid them. I prefer to be aware of pitfalls. When these challenges that they chose to ignore arise, they aren’t prepared to handle them. They also haven’t been as intentional about building up the necessary relational capital to overcome these hurdles. If you believe that one day your marriage will get tough, it makes sense to build a strong foundation that you can fall back on in the tough times. I’m greatly oversimplifying a very complex and sensitive subject but I think the point still stands.

Being aware of pitfalls around us does two things:

It allows us to have realistic expectations, and

It allows us to defend against issues on our radar.

Take the marriage example further. On their wedding day, the couples mentioned above believe they’re invincible. We’re solid, baby. The 50% divorce rate is for everyone else, doesn’t apply to us. These couples become so sure they won’t get a divorce that they become ignorant of potential issues they may face. I, being highly sophisticated, take a different approach.

Amber and I have been married for 7+ years, and in that time I’ve never considered getting a divorce. Never wanted to, never thought we would, never thought we were headed that way. What I have considered, though, is the possibility of getting a divorce. I’ve thought many times that it’s possible we may get divorced sometime in the future. I’ve not contemplated whether or not we should get divorced, but I’ve contemplated whether or not we could get divorced. This is not something I like to fixate on, but being aware that this is a realistic possibility helps me to avoid it and make it less of a possibility.

I always look at this as if I caused the problems that led to our divorce because I can only prevent problems on my end. Infidelity is something I think of most often when considering the divorce possibility. I know that it’s technically possible I could one day cheat on Amber. It seems highly unlikely due to my extremely niche jokes, dental sleep appliance, and lack of recent dating experience. But anything is possible. Believe it or not, this would put a strain on our relationship. It could potentially result in divorce. Because I’m aware of this pitfall, I take extra care not to put myself in situations, relationships, or frames of mind that could result in my cheating.

Rather than just telling myself “I’ll never cheat so I won’t even think about preventing it,” I work to prevent it because I know that it’s possible. I’m a human, so it’s possible I will mess up. More than that, I’m a man, so it’s very possible that I’ll mess up sexually. And I don’t say that as a knock towards men as prehistoric beasts who can’t control their urges. I say that because men are created to want sex to propagate our species. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Unfortunately, sometimes it leads to problems. I’d like to keep those problems out of my marriage.

I also know that I can slip into a rut and stop doing the type of things that I did for Amber when we were dating. Especially now with two kids. I’m just tired, man. Kids take it out of you, and they’re a big distraction. A good distraction, but still a distraction from your marriage. Because I know that divorce is possible, I try to be aware of potential problems, like not dating or showing Amber I love her the way I should. This awareness keeps me bringing home flowers, putting her first, cooking dinner, rubbing her back, etc.

Pitfalls for a college student might be laziness and propensity to procrastinate. Rather than pretending these problems don’t exist, maybe being aware leads them to ask a friend to check in on their assignments. Maybe someone at work installs a plugin to keep them from visiting time-sucking websites. Maybe it’s a content filter on your web browser. Competitors in your business can represent a pitfall, so be aware of them. Stretching your finances too thin can be a pitfall (that can harm your spousal relationship, parental relationship, housing situation, career, friendships), so get on a budget. There could be pitfalls around your children, so teach them about safeguards and help them identify potential problems.

It’s important to have an awareness of these pitfalls, but it needs to be just that: an awareness. I’m aware that the sun is shining but I’m not staring at it. I’m aware that I need to wear pants to work but I don’t stress about it. A healthy awareness helps you to avoid potential problems, but you need to make sure it doesn’t become an obsession.

If you’re riding a motorcycle, you go where you look. The same is true of our lives; we often go where we look. If you’re constantly obsessing over possible issues that could spring up in your life, they’re always on your mind, you might find yourself becoming more and more attracted to them. You want to see these things out of the corner of your eye, take steps to avoid them, but then focus on what you want to achieve, not what you want to avoid. You should know where your pitfalls are, but you shouldn’t be so familiar with them that you know exactly what they look like.

Identify your pitfalls, identify actions to avoid them, and focus on those positive actions rather than the negative pitfalls.

Setting the goal of avoiding bad food has a negative psychological connotation that makes it hard to follow through. You spend all your time thinking about how you can’t eat the Pringles, can’t eat the brownie, can’t eat the fried chicken. If you’re thinking about how you can’t eat these things, that means you’re really just thinking about these delicious foods you can’t have. The opposite goal of consuming good food has a positive connotation that makes it easier to follow through. With this type of goal, you’re instead thinking about the health benefits of eating good, how much you enjoy a fruit smoothie, thinking about which healthy restaurant you’ll discover next. Framing it this way keeps you thinking about the good food rather than the bad.

Just like how I don’t focus on the food I can’t (choose not to) eat, I don’t focus on not cheating; I focus on being faithful to Amber. I don’t focus on not getting divorced, I don’t focus on not getting fat. I focus on keeping Amber (and myself) happy in our marriage and on finding forms of exercise I enjoy. But I do these things because I’m aware of their opposites. Not obsessed with them, not focused solely on them, but aware of them.

I am aware that it’s possible I could cheat, I’m a human who makes mistakes. I’m aware that we could get divorced. I’m aware that I could get fat. I’m aware that my relationship with my kids could deteriorate over time. I’m aware that I could get out of practice with my skills and abilities at work. But I don’t obsess over any of these things. I take steps to avoid them because I’m aware of them, but I don’t stress over them or even worry about them. I’m aware that other drivers pose a threat on the road, so I keep them in the corner of my eye and am ready to react to avoid them. But I don’t worry about the danger of driving each time I get in the car.

Identify the potential pitfalls in your life and you’re more likely to avoid them. Obsess over the potential pitfalls and you’re more likely to wind up in them.



Josh McKain

I just write about what’s interesting to me sometimes.