Matthew Emerzian

August 03, 2012

Matthew Emerzian (’97) Makes Every Monday Matter

Mobilizes the power of individuals to make a difference

When a friend asked Matthew Emerzian ('97) to manage his band, he thought he had finally found his niche.  "Seemed like the logical thing to do with my MBA," jokes Emerzian. Having been a candy salesman, kindergarten teacher, swimming instructor and emergency medical technician before earning his MBA at UCLA Anderson, Emerzian was ready to apply his management and marketing skills. He thrived in the music business and was quickly hired as a Senior Vice President for a music marketing firm run by prominent attorney Robert Kardashian. There, Emerzian managed promotional projects for some of the largest artists in the world. 

"I'm from Modesto, California," he says, "and it was stunning to suddenly work on projects for bands like U2, Coldplay, Usher, Avril Lavigne, Tim McGraw and the Black Eyed Peas. All of a sudden, I was in a different world." But the excitement of the job came with a price. "To be honest, it was a great run," he says, "but it also became an unhealthy run for me. Working hard during the day and then going out partying at night ... Your priorities get so skewed regarding what really matters in your life and it all becomes a very slippery slope."

Then, Emerzian got his wake-up call. One Monday while getting ready for work, he felt like he was having a heart attack. Driving to the doctor, he learned it was a severe panic attack. "The doctor said, 'Go home and rest and you should get better by the morning,'" Emerzian recalls. "Unfortunately, that didn't happen. It actually got worse to the point where my anxiety was so strong I couldn't drive, eat or sleep. I even became afraid of the dark."

Emerzian was referred to a therapist whose approach surprised him. "She told me that the theme of my recovery was going to be, 'It's not about you.' I didn't understand that concept at the time," he says. "I had become accustomed to the music business which is such a narcissistic industry that everything becomes about you. But she said that, until I understood this concept, I would never feel better."

So, while Emerzian continued working in the music business, the therapist assigned projects for him to do on Saturdays. The first Saturday, he was sent to feed homeless people. Then he was told to pick up litter. Then, paint over graffiti. Each Saturday brought a new project.

"Over time," he says, "Saturday mornings became my favorite time of the week because I got to go out and make it not about me. I got to serve others ... what a concept. I couldn't get enough of it."

Then, one day as he walked back to the office after lunch with a co-worker, Emerzian bent down to pick up a piece of litter and was challenged by his friend. "He asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was just going to throw it away, what's the big deal? But it ended up in an argument and with him saying, 'Dude, you're weird.'"

The argument was a life-changing event for Emerzian. Angered by the encounter, he called his friend Kelly Bozza and spontaneously expressed an idea that continues to grow and evolve after more than five years.

"I said, 'Listen Kelly, I want to write a book.' And she said, 'What are you talking about?' And I said, 'I want to write a book that shows that ordinary people can change the world through the little things we do.' My first thought was that if it took me one second to pick up a piece of litter and there are 300 million people in our country, what if we all pick up just one? It would just be one collective second but 300 million pieces of trash would be picked up. Or what if we all donated blood on a regular basis or what if we all planted a tree or what if we all smiled more? If we can get enough people to do these simple things, we can change the world. And in doing so, we would change people's lives because they would begin to understand that they matter and there is a greater purpose for them."

So Emerzian and Bozza wrote a book called, Every Monday Matters - 52 Ways to Make a Difference in which they emphasize the importance of individual actions and propose activities for each Monday over the course of 52 weeks. The book was published in 2008 by Thomas Nelson.

"About a month after it came out," Emerzian recalls, "I received an email from a single mother who had been driving when she saw a parked car with a woman hanging out of the window. Having just read Every Monday Matters, she decided to pull over and see if the woman needed help. When she got to the car, she learned the woman had planned to commit suicide but, by stopping, she saved the woman's life. At the end of the email, she said that if it weren't for the book, she never would have stopped. That's when I realized the power of this idea."

So Emerzian quit the music business and started developing the Every Monday Matters concept full time. "Once I figured out my idea," he says, "I had the tools to make it happen because of my Anderson experience and years in the music business." He shot a video and put it online. He was asked to write a newspaper column, which was soon syndicated to over 400 papers. Then he got a call from Oprah Winfrey's production staff and entered into a partnership that put the concept on every Monday as well as in her weekly Spirit newsletter.

Soon after the book was published, Emerzian was contacted by teachers who were looking for some sort of curriculum or lesson plan based on the book. "We ended up writing a school curriculum for K-12," he says. "It's called the You Matter Curriculum. It teaches students that they matter through self and social responsibility projects." After two and a half years, the curriculum is used in 1,400 schools in 42 states.

Companies wanting to apply his concept in their employee development programs also contacted Emerzian. "We started doing teambuilding events that we called Teambuilding Through Making a Difference," he says. "We take executives and employees out into the community to complete projects that we set up with non-profit partners. These are really powerful events. To preserve this energy we generate through our events, we continue to communicate with employees every Monday through our annual corporate social responsibility and employee engagement program. This reminds employees that they matter to each other, they matter to their company and they matter to the community. We have seen significant improvement in employee satisfaction surveys."

Emerzian also learned that prisons were using the book to show inmates that they matter and that they can have a positive impact on the world. "All of the sudden, I found myself speaking to people in ankle chains and handcuffs and telling them they matter," he says. "They told me they've never heard that they matter before and that's why they ended up in jail. It is heartbreaking." Emerzian had some 80 speaking engagements around the country last year.

These activities have enabled Emerzian to grow his company to seven people and move the operation out of his home. But now he finds himself at a crossroads. Last year, he received a fellowship that provided mentoring and workshops designed to develop his idea. "I took time to assess what we were doing," he says, "and I found that we have built a type of company that I didn't want to build. We became a sales organization and every day when we came to the office, it was about selling more schools or companies and that's not what I wanted to create. I realized we lost the grassroots nature of what this was becoming because we were focusing on sales and revenue."

So Emerzian is in the process of converting his firm to a not-for-profit. "We are going to get back to focusing on making Every Monday Matters a community where people can participate through our website, apps and social media. People matter. All people, not just our customers. We will invite individuals to be part of this community that commits itself to take on something different every Monday. So one Monday we might plant a tree and the next Monday it will be something else. When there is a natural disaster, we will mobilize the community toward that. But basically it's an overarching commitment to saying, 'Hey, I'm a difference-maker. I matter, and I want to be a part of this community.'"

Emerzian feels that this change in direction will massively increase Every Monday Matters' impact. "Our goal is to make a difference, change lives and transform communities. That's what we need to stay true to. But this is a new world for me because now I am talking to potential donors and partners. So it's challenging but it's exciting at the same time. It will be a movement that impacts millions and millions of lives and provides a space for individuals, companies, non-profits, foundations, schools and other organizations to connect, unify and make a difference each and every Monday. That concept matters to me."

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