Everybody has at least 603 thoughts or memories or reflections or random thoughts or nonsensical ramblings in them that they can write about. It’s a fact. You may think you don’t, like I did once. But you are wrong. Trust me. I know. From first hand experience.
About 2 years and 8 months ago, my friend Jonathan Miller asked me to write a biweekly column for his new blog (one column every two weeks). I agreed and wrote the first column for the blog’s launch in March of 2011. It was well received and now it was time to write my next column but I lacked the time or discipline to put together another 1000 word piece.
Jonathan was eager to get that second column and I told him I was working on it…even though I really wasn’t. I was trying to think about something to write about…which is sort of like working on it but not really.
Jonathan reminded me he had offered me no pay for this venture. Just the satisfaction of getting to write (even if no one ever reads it other Jonathan, me and my mom) and I was cheating myself of this personal satisfaction. I naturally felt bad about all the personal satisfaction I was missing out on but mostly felt guilty because I couldn’t think of a second substantive column for Jonathan’s new blog. Jonathan gave me an extension until mid-April and I took full advantage of it using the Derby (which was still 3 weeks away as the reason for not being able to write a second column). I convinced Jonathan that after Derby had passed my mind would clear and a second column would be forthcoming ASAP, even though I don’t even bet on horses.
By June, a month after Derby had come and gone, I told Jonathan …..something. I don’t even remember what. But I told him I was still working on my second column and just needed a little more time. In July I pointed out it was summer vacation. Not for me but for my kids. And that it would may be August before the second piece would be fully ready.
With school starting in September, I had to ask for another extension for my second column. It had now been 6 months and I was 12 columns behind. Jonathan’s wonderful and very wise wife, Lisa, reminded Jonathan that “John is just like this sometimes and for some reason we still like him, more or less, and have for many years.” That seemed to help and bought me a little more time—at least through the end of October, for my big second post. Thanks, Lisa!
With the holiday season approaching it only made sense that I may need a little extra time to put the finishing touches on what I had apparently been working on for nearly 8 months now. And Jonathan patiently agreed.
I have a phrase I like to use in situations like this. And use it often. It goes like this. “If you’ll just give me one more chance, I swear I won’t let you down again. Really. I mean it this time.” And I used it on Jonathan….and bought myself another two weeks.
It was about this time that Jonathan had a brilliant idea. He noted that we were Facebook friends and I had recently posted several silly things just for fun. Jonathan said, “Look, John. I can’t wait another 8 months for you to get me a second column but I have an idea. How about you continue to write these posts on Facebook about whatever you want whenever you want. They can be serious or silly; random or timely; about what you are eating or what you are thinking. It doesn’t matter. Just write. Whatever you feel like writing about. Take a few minutes each day and post it. At the end of each week, I’ll collect a few of them and run them the following week as John Y’s Musings from the Middle on the Recovering Politician blog. What do you think?”
That was around Dec 1st. I asked for two weeks to think about it and finally said, “I can’t think of any more excuses, Jonathan. OK? You got me. But what if I don’t have much more in me to say?”
I don’t remember what Jonathan said. I’m not even sure I asked this question. But I sure did worry about it. Anyway, as it turns out I have already come up with 603. In fact, this is 604. Like most the others, it has my trademark rambling confidently toward no particular destination. At least not a very important one. I thought I would run out of silly random things to say at about 20 posts. Maybe 30….45 at the outside. But I was wrong! And you may be too if you don’t feel you have much to say.
Dig deep. There is a lot of deep thoughts, absurd thoughts, pointless nonsense and seemingly sensible things you have to write that may or may not be important. But write them anyway. Who knows. Maybe a lot more will come pouring out. And it’s not a matter of the more you write the more you’ll teach others. Not at all. But the more you write the more you’ll learn about yourself.
And if you are reading this and asking yourself, “What is the point of all this, John?” If you were expecting a point, I really can’t help you much with that. But don’t feel like reading this entire post was a total waste. Think of it this way. If you read this far you now have something in common with my mother and Jonathan and me. I doubt anyone else read this far. Sorry. But we now have this common bond that the four of us have having read this post. And I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.
But let me ask you this, Would you rather read 602 more of my posts or start coming up with 603 of your own rambling thoughts, ideas, musings, insights or attempts at humor? So…..Go for it! And know the hardest part isn’t writing the 603rd post or 457th post or 123rd post or the 19th post or even the very 1st one. It’s that dang 2nd one. It is a bear! Trust me. And may take up to 8 months to finish it. But if you can get past that second one, you are one your way. And even though, like me, you probably won’t be getting paid anything for it, as Jonathan Miller reminded me, it’s the personal satisfaction that you’ll get. I’m glad I did it And glad Jonathan kept prodding me. Thank you, Jonathan! And Lisa! And I hope you don’t cheat yourself out of the personal satisfaction of your own writing either.
Let ‘er rip!
Just Write It!
Sometimes you just have to be tough and put your foot down.
About 25 years ago I became a regular and admiring reader of Business First magazine. I have read it loyally ever since, which is another 25 years.
One of my favorite sections is the “In Person” section that tells about a person in the Louisville community and humanizes him or her with personal details while also explaining their professional arc and future plans. And there is a box off to the side where you get the “personal stats” about the person. Their family, favorite books, favorite movies, what music they have on their iPod, who inspired them, hobbies, favorite TV shows and so on. It’s a lot of stuff, trust me.
Well, here’s the thing. I don’t like admitting this because it sounds kind of vain and probably is. It is vain. But each week for 25 years I read this section and wonder if Business First might do one of those In Person pieces about me sometime soon and I run through each of those questions and answer them myself. And it takes more than just a minute or two.
Well…take 52 weeks (issues) a year and multiply it by 25 years and you have 1300 consecutive weeks of rejection— where not only did I feel slighted by not getting asked to do the In Person section but I wasted several minutes each week imagining how I’d answer those personal stat questions.
Not all of the answers were true, of course. I’d have to balance out the answers so people would be impressed with TV shows I watched, music I listened to and books I was reading –even if I wasn’t reading anything at all. I certainly wasn’t going to say “Nothing” when asked “What books are you reading.” I at least would put down a couple of best sellers and maybe a fiction book or two and probably one classic, like, I don’t know–the Odyssey or something fancy from a long time ago so people will read it and say, “Wow. That John Brown guy is pretty learned compared to the books other profiled people pretend that they are reading.” Everybody knows they are exaggerating about some of it.
If people were completely honest they’d sound like someone who doesn’t deserve to be profiled in In Person because they wouldn’t be any more interesting sounding than you are me. Maybe worse. Think about it. What if they answered it honestly and said,
“Books: “None so far this year but skim the newspaper from time to time. I may read something next year or listen to it on tape. Nah. Probably not. I do enjoy browsing bookstores and read the covers so I don’t waste money buying books I won’t ever read;
Favorite TV: Weather Channel and Girls on HBO;
You get the idea.
In my case I was going to pretend I understood opera if they asked me and say something like, “Yes, I enjoy opera a great deal. Especially the signing. Much of it is sung in Italian, in case your readers didn’t know. I’m reading the Odyssey right now, too.”
I would have had to lie about what music I listen to as well. I probably would have said classical and country (It is Louisville, KY). I couldn’t say “Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Steely Dan , US3 and Mos Def. And, oh, I like to sing out loud sometimes when I’m in the car by myself. But only sound good when I’m singing to James Taylor. I just don’t have a voice like Eddie Vedder or Anthony Kedeis.”
If I answered like that people would think I was nuts because 50 year olds aren’t supposed to act like that. Even though they do. They are getting older (we are, not “they”) and want to hold on to a few youthful things. Just because it makes us feel better and, well, old dogs struggle with learning new tricks. And that applies to people too. At least those over about 45 years old.
Anyway, after waiting 1300 weeks and thinking through all my real favorite things and pretend favorite things (to impress others), I am giving up this game. I am tired of waiting and feeling rejected
Dang it! I’m just done with the whole thing. It’s over. I have decided tonight I am not going to prepare for the In Person profile piece in Business First any more.
And if Business First ever calls and asks me to do the In Person profile, which they won’t, I’m going to tell them they had their chance–1300 times and I didn’t make the cut and now they can’t have me even if they want me. That I am going to do a In Person profile piece with another magazine and say I am not at liberty to give them the name. (That would be a lie, of course, but give them a taste of their own medicine.) If they asked me later I’ll tell them the big national magazine went under the week they were doing my long and big profile.
Well, it feels good! I feel free. Liberated!
And kinda feel like celebrating by watching an episode of the Real Housewives of New Jersey. Or an episode of Girls on HBO. I really like both those shows. And don’t have any hobbies anyway.
The Recovering Politician is proud to publish an EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT from an exciting and educational book written by Friend of RP Robert D. Hudson and his daughter Lauren Hudson, ”Our Best Tomorrow: Students Teaching Capitalism to America.” Enjoy!
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“Well, I was thinking that maybe we could make our software faster and more efficient by re-engineering…” Oh! Finally, you’re here. My name is Jacob but people call me Jake. “Okay guys, staff meeting dismissed. Go back to your daily business of coming up with the best ideas in the world!’’ I’m delighted you could at last come and enjoy the wonders my company has created for computers, gaming systems and smart phones.
How much money do I make? Well now, that is a difficult question to answer. Considering I designed the first software for my company, Kinetic Software, I usually do make a bit more than my workers here, but mainly, it depends on how many copies of the software we sell. Some years we do well and some years we don’t. If we don’t do well, I might not make anything!
How did I create this groundbreaking software? Well, when I was growing up, I was always interested in the way things worked. One of my earliest memories was sitting on the kitchen floor with an old phone and attempting to take it apart while my mother cooked me lunch.
My father would come home from his work as a dentist and watch me bang the phone on the floor and study it carefully. Pretty soon I figured out how to take it apart and put it back together. I can remember how excited I had been. I ran around screaming about my accomplishment.
“I got it! I got it, Mommy! I got it, Daddy! I got it, Sissy!’’ I yelled. My father walked over to me from the other room, scooped me up in his arms and swung me around. He had the broadest smile on his face, as if I had just won Olympic gold.
As I got older, I became interested in science fiction and how the world would work someday. I imagined computers and cell phones and space travel to other planets. I recall my sister, Annabeth, who was about 13, watching TV one day, when I came in, turned the TV off, and told her my latest idea. She called me a twerp, but I didn’t care.
“Go bother something else! Don’t touch the TV anymore, Jake!’’ she said in exasperation. With my head hanging low, I walked into my dad’s study. He had one of Apple’s first computers. When I saw that computer sitting on the dark mahogany desk, I knew what my next project would be. Little did I know that the project of trying to learn how this computer worked would lead to the some of the biggest accomplishments of my life.
It was only a matter of time before I had moved on to developing software to do my part to help change the world! You see, I love what I do, and I live in a country which gives me the freedom to do it. Yes, I work hard, but can you believe I get to make money doing something I love? All you need is passion and freedom – mix a little talent and hard work in there and you’ll have something special!
Capitalism Pointer – America’s Jobs Come From Capitalism
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EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: Lauren Hudson & Robert D. Hudson, “Our Best Tomorrow”
Favorite first sentences of novels….
The easy ones are “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” from Tale of Two Cities.
Or perhaps “Call me Ishmael” from Moby Dick.
But for my money, it’s hard to beat this opening line from Life, The Universe and Everything from Douglas Adams.
“The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was.”
There was every reason to think that Jeff Greenfield’s alternative history of John F. Kennedy surviving Dallas would be one of the most compelling of the hundred or so commemoratives about the late president’s legacy during this 50th anniversary of his death. Greenfield’s last venture into political counter-factual, his 2011 Then Everything Changed (three novellas that sketch a Cuban Missile Crisis that turned into a short war, a Robert Kennedy victory in 1968 and a 1980 election that made Gary Hart President), is just a few shades away from brilliant and never ceases to be briskly entertaining. There is also a finely tuned precision in each scenario that captures just how much of history hinges on narrow moments, and how one altered tide rearranges careers and social structures alike.
Somehow, all of the gifts on display in Greenfield’s prior effort fail to strike gold a second time. His If Kennedy Lived seems oddly un-ambitious: the surprises are too unimaginative, the turns too predictable, and there is the unmistakable feel of a 2000 word magazine piece that was stretched into the more lucrative territory of a book. The earlier work seemed more inventive and poignant; the sequel appears burdened by the low expectation politics of the dismal three years since the original.
For example, Then Everything Changed is typically credited for its navigation between two points of historical determinism—one emphasizing the nuances of personalities and tactics, the other favoring elements like the country’s social and ideological mood. Therefore, war or peace in Cuba are linked to the finer points of Lyndon Johnson’s insecurities while two hundred pages later, a plausible path is sketched for how a certain kind of political tide could have carried a vessel as imperfect as Gary Hart to the presidency. There is cleverness in letting the reader see the extremes of both perspectives and inviting internal argument over which seems more predictive.
If Kennedy Lived seems to wage the same debate over historical causality but to lean much more heavily toward the version that regards even the most talented figures as relatively incidental characters. The result is eight years of Kennedy that mimic the imperfections of his less glamorous succesors. In Greenfield’s account, we get the following ambivalent outcomes: a secret bargain that trades a Civil Rights Act for southern congressional hawks blessing a negotiated end to the Vietnam War, the misuse of regulatory power to smash a newspaper that was digging into Kennedy’s dirty sexual laundry, and a profile of domestic achievement that is respectable but not breathtaking. There is a sustained but uneven economic prosperity; a vague, short on substance campaign for more civic responsibility; a Voting Rights Act but a tepid assault on poverty; no urban riots but a rising sense of cultural polarization.
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Artur Davis: A JFK Fantasy that Doesn’t Inspire
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Two of my favorite books are The Bible and Musings from the Middle.
You are probably saying to yourself, “John, I know you wrote one of those books, right?”
Well, yes. I sure did. And thanks for remembering. (It was the latter book, of course.)
Now, I am not saying that the two books have anything even remotely in common. They don’t.
Is Musings from the Middle a great book? No. An important book? No. Not at all. A well written book? Not really. A good book? Not if you are sober while reading it. Is it even an insignificant book (as opposed to a book completely devoid of any substance)? Arguably but it is a very weak argument and, frankly, more of a frivolous musing.
But here’s the thing. The Bible has, I believe, 66 Books. And at times can get a little heavy trodding reading it. Wouldn’t it have helped to have had an extra book –just one–called “Musings?” If for no other reason just to break things up a little?
Maybe “Musings from Mathusula.” He lived a long time and would have had lots to muse about.
Imagine kids learning the books of the Bible. “Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Musings, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth.” It just flows, doesn’t it? OK, maybe not the first time you read it but conceivably it could grow on you over time.
Granted it is impossible to compete with Genesis and Exodus but most Biblical scholars would surely agree we could all use a mental break and a few laughs after Leviticus and before plowing into Numbers.
The Book of Musings wouldn’t teach anything. Just serve as a kind of a palette cleanser.
Well, an extra book of the Bible titled Musings is not going to happen. But you can still get the book Musings from the Middle, albeit completely separate from the Bible. And that is unfortunately probably the only way it will ever be sold.
And even though it wasn’t written by Mathusela people tell me I have Mathusula’s sense of humor.
Not really. I just made that up. But it is already a shameless sales pitch, so why not throw that in. Mostly I am just trying to get my sales rank on Amazon.com higher than 2000 times Mathusela’s age and figured since the Bible is selling so well…..
Does it pay to be an author?
Of course it does.
Sometimes it pays a whole lot.
Other times not so much and you just have to hope to aim higher and hit the next time around.
And at still other times, depending on what sort of math calculations you choose to use, writing can actually cause you to lose money and make you wonder, “Is merely having a book listed on Amazon.com worth the money you are in debt to make this book?”
I can say that of the three categories I am probably most familiar with the third category.
Above is a copy of my first check for profit on my book Musings from the Middle. I chose not to try to make money off it and charge only about a dollar profit a book just to cover costs.
As you can see my first check (which I have been advised is going to be by far my biggest) is $119.12. Now that’s nothing to sneeze at, of course, and is clearly in the “three figure range.” At least until you realize that has to cover a family of four including two teenagers with one in college and one just a few years away. When looked at that way, $119.12 doesn’t sound like as much as it did at first blush.
Given today’s college tuition prices, $119.12 will only cover about 33 minutes of one class your freshman year at a state university.
When you factor in the help I got putting the book together, organizing it, designing a cover, etc, well….all that cost about $400. So when you add the $119.12 to that figure you get something like….well, about — $280.
So let’s assume that over the next year (or five years), I get other checks totaling this amount? I am trying to be realistic. My book is currently ranked on Amazon.com at #1,972,197. Again, nothing to sneeze at. Until you realize that means that 1,972,196 books are ranked ahead of you.
So if I do get a total profit on the book of $240 that means I am only in the hole a mere $160.
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Which now leads to the big question. Would I pay $160 to be able to say I have a book on Amazon.com?
The answer is, I apparently already have.
Had I not yet done it, I would be willing to pay…..hmmm…..maybe $150. And could see myself caving in if pushed on $160. So, I guess, all in all it is a good deal. And 33 minutes in a class at a state university is nothing to sneeze at–with today’s college tuition prices.
Especially if you are an author.
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Dan Pink always makes me think. Each of his books elicits an “AHA” moment with staying power. Free Agent Nation changed the way I think about work and relate to institutions forever. A Whole New Mind rescued the right side of my brain from its inferiority complex and ignited a long-term love affair with design thinking. Dan’s book, Drive, is no different. It has crystallized my life-long instinct that our thinking about motivation and incentives is out of synch with the possibilities of the 21stcentury. Time to reboot motivation.
The 20th century was all about management. The North Star was how to get more people to go through the motions efficiently. Seeking personal meaning in work was a distraction. The best workers follow the rules, work hard, and smile. Work boiled down to an algorithm rendering out any creativity or autonomy. Fulfillment and empowerment were HR buzzwords and the “soft stuff” relegated to off-site retreats that don’t get in the way of real work. Incentives in the industrial era were all about carrots and sticks. Motivation was based solely on external factors including compensation, title, office, and promotion opportunities.
Early in my consulting career I worked for a boutique firm that specialized in sales force incentive compensation programs. I was consistently amazed by the gaping disconnect between the home office that inevitably over-engineered its goal setting and compensation practices and the actual behavior out in the sales territory. Sales representatives made quick work of these elegant plans figuring out how to game the system to optimize earnings. They cherry-picked the incentive plans based on experience, likelihood of earning a payout, and implications for the following year. The annual dance was de-motivating and rarely resulted in self-directed effort to maximize either the short or long-term value of customer relationships within a sales territory.
I have observed legions of managers attempting to manipulate the dials of industrial era tools to optimize the output of employees. While it was clear to me that this approach sucked the meaning, autonomy, and motivation out of work for most employees it had the unfortunate advantage of delivering short-term business results, until it didn’t. The game changed when computers began to replace people doing repeatable work tasks. Technology also enabled repeatable work that still requires human involvement to move to lower cost locations. If it can be reduced to an algorithm it can either be virtualized or moved. This work is dehumanizing and uninteresting. Industrial era work has left the U.S. and it is not coming back. The work remaining to do requires both a new set of 21st century skills and a new approach to incentives and performance management.
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Saul Kaplan: Reboot Motivation
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RP John Y. Brown, III appeared on “Louisville AM Radio,” with local media titan Rick Redding, to discuss his new book “Musings from the Middle.”
Click here for the podcast.