There’s a very important sticky note over my desk, reminding me to focus on a very, very, important project that I absolutely must, must, must complete…in 2018.
This project is so important to me that I placed the note in a very prominent place, announcing my commitment every time I turn on the computer. I want to be sure I don’t forget how urgent it is that I get around to achieving my incredibly critical goal.
After more than two years of ignoring my reminder, though, it’s time to face facts. That project isn’t really important to me; otherwise, I would have done it by now. The same is true for several other notes around my office that cry out for my focus and my diligence. They’re all on my to-do list, but essentially none of them will ever get done.
I was going to learn to speak Polish, and Mandarin, along with Italian and Spanish. I had plans—and I put them in writing!!!—to read an encyclopedia from cover to cover, to develop the world’s most popular app, to digitize all my photos and change all my passwords from password1 to password123. I made a note, several notes, to pay for my retirement by selling my copies of Spiderman and Mad Magazine for $billions on EBay. And if those didn’t generate enough cash for retirement, I could also organize my dad’s stamp collection, and his coin collection, to raise a few $million in pocket change. Also, just in case anyone wants to make a bid, I am planning to cash in on my Beanie Babies and Pogs very, very soon.
Alas, all is for naught. My to-do lists are overloaded with TO and devoid of DO. They mock me for my failure and my foolish hopes for achievement. Late at night, as I pass my office door, I can hear their muffled snickering.
Clearly, to-do lists are the devil’s spawn, a morass of futile hopes and unrealizable dreams that torment us with endless reminders of our laziness, our incompetence and our mortality. Some of us are addicted to them, which makes us even more pitiable as we’re visited by the ghosts of aspirations past.
In my lucid moments, I realize I’m never going to learn Mandarin or read the encyclopedia or fulfill any of those other pipe dreams that I added to my to-do lists over the years. If I was really all that interested, I would have done it. If I haven’t done it, it wasn’t really that important to me in the first place.
That explains why I have become truly adept at Words with Friends, Free Cell, shouting the wrong answers at the screen during Jeopardy, and arguing with the thousands of total strangers that Facebook assures me are really my friends. It turns out these are my true priorities in life, and I prove it by spending so much of my time with them.
Now that I think about it, to-do lists are also one of my highest priorities in life. If we’re going to grade my commitments according to hours of effort, these exercises in futility would certainly rank in the top five. In fact, according to Malcolm Gladwell, I qualify as a true expert.
Wait. That changes everything. Suddenly, I realize that I should never implement any of the plans on any of my to-do lists. If I complete the projects, I destroy the to-do basis of my lists, and no true artist (other than Banksy) would intentionally destroy his masterpiece.
I am not a failure at implementing my plans. No, not at all. I am a creative genius who paints beautiful portraits of admirable intentions. I have no need to actually do anything on my lists, because creating the list is the entire achievement.
In fact, these to-do lists of mine are so incredibly valuable, I could probably make my fortune selling them at Sotheby’s. I must remember to add this to my next to-do list, if only for the irony.
To-do lists are where dreams go to die, but that needn’t be the case for your hopes of snagging a subscription to Dad Writes. Just click here to subscribe now and please, please, please don’t add it to your to-do list.
What would you think if I told you I was an internationally recognized philanthropist? Or, maybe, an award-winning author? What if I described myself as a private investor or a business mentor?
And what would you think if I simply said I’m retired and I left it at that?
It’s pretty easy to put people into boxes, reacting to the first descriptors used to define their place in the world. Snap judgments are hard-wired into our survival instincts, which is a great benefit when a lion walks into the kitchen, but not quite as valuable when we’re trading factoids at a cocktail party. (Cocktail parties! Remember those? Sigh.)
Most of us add new descriptions to our social resume as we progress through life, engage with family, navigate a career and become whoever it is we plan to be when we grow up. All these new identities and new milestones provide depth and texture to us, to our personalities, and to our social capital. They make us more interesting and more complete, if we take the time to learn anything on our journeys.
And then, just as we become our most multifaceted and fully developed selves, we give up. We start talking about ourselves in the past tense, as if we’re drafting our obituaries.
I’m a former accountant.
I used to be a sales rep.
I was once a teacher.
I find it just a bit depressing. Everyone has an interesting story or two about their well-earned scars, and everyone is doing something today, yesterday, tomorrow, that forms the nucleus of a new adventure. Despite that rich tapestry, so many people I meet will announce that they’ve given up on being interesting, that all they have to offer of relevance is a job they held. Once. A long time ago.
It’s as if there’s nothing we have to offer the world other than our labor and some form of industry expertise. We are our jobs and, when we leave our jobs, we are nothing. Our only claim to relevance is an expired key card from the law firm and, maybe, a part-time gig as a “consultant.”
Perhaps it’s my own fault. I still ask people what they do and that generates a default response about how they make, or made, money. I need to get more creative about my introductory conversations. Maybe things will get more interesting if I ask…
What was your favorite trip ever?
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen face to face?
What’s the strangest answer you’ve ever received when you asked someone what they do for a living?
One of the positives with questions like these is that I’m unlikely to hear about work. That’s good, because I really don’t want to know about their jobs, or their former jobs, or why they think of themselves as has-beens. “What do you do?” turns out to be a conversation stopper, not a starter, especially when it turns into what someone doesn’t do anymore.
Asking people what they do is pretty pointless and likely to make them feel bad about their former glory. If I want better answers, I had better come up with some better questions.
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Never forget how lucky you are to be right here, right now.
That seems like an odd sentiment for the year we're sharing, or even for this particular week, but your thinking shifts just a bit when there's a gun to your head.
Yom Kippur begins at sundown tonight, bringing to a close the Ten Days of Awe that began with Rosh Hashanah. Among the many traditions surrounding the Jewish High Holidays, we are instructed to consider ourselves as being written in the Book of Life for the coming year. Or not.
In the Jewish liturgy, our period of introspection and atonement ends at sundown on Monday, with our fates sealed for the coming year. When Rosh Hashanah begins, we know that we made the cut a year ago, but when the sun sets at the close of Yom Kippur, the information’s unavailable to the mortal man.
I’m not quite sure I believe in a divine Book of Life, but I know absolutely that turning inward is a remarkably powerful process. Isolated within a congregation or, this year, alone in front of a live stream, the mundane becomes less and less relevant and my perspective changes dramatically.
Never forget how lucky you are to be right here, right now.
In the midst of a pandemic, a recession, and quite possibly the first sparks of a civil war, right here and right now looks pretty dreary. The western United States is burning, we've had so many tropical storms that they've run out of letters to name them, and cold weather will only increase our isolation.
On the surface, in the daily slog, none of this feels lucky. In the context of a lifetime, though, the picture looks quite different. Like so many millions of people, I’ve come close to the end at one time or another, either through illness or error. I’ve had financial reversals and physical challenges and more than a few disappointments on the relationship front. Each setback has been painful, but somehow I have been sustained to reach this day.
And I am grateful for it. I feel very fortunate to be facing today’s challenges, because it means I survived the disasters of last year and the year before and the year before that. It means I ended up in the right column in the Book of Life, at least so far. I’m hoping for another reprieve this year, another opportunity to share in the journey with friends and family and to help a few strangers along the way.
I know I'm not alone in this. Each of us deals with the daily heartaches of life and each of us can lose track of the sparks that redeem our sense of wonder, or should. Each of us has the incentive to reclaim our gratitude, even we're not facing a potentially literal deadline when the sun departs.
Never forget how lucky you are to be right here, right now.
We hope you’ll join us on our fortunate journey by clicking here to subscribe to Dad Writes.
Way back when Bill Cosby was funny, he did a routine called Chicken Heart, which revolved around a radio horror show that terrorized him as a child.
In his retelling, he became increasingly panicked one night as the radio announcer declared that a monstrous, living chicken heart was coming to his apartment to devour him. He responded by spreading Jello on the floor (long before he was paid to do so) and setting the sofa on fire. When his father came home, he restored order by insisting that his son TURN OFF THE RADIO.
I’m reminded of that routine almost daily as I check in at Facebook. So many of my friends are posting and reposting the same memes, panicked by the steady onslaught of calamities that have turned our nation into a hellish inferno. And all I can think is: TURN IT OFF.
I get it, I really do. After I’ve spent a night streaming a bunch of cop shows, I walk out of the house the next morning on alert for car chases, exploding buses and mob hits. I’m glancing skyward in case there are bodies falling from office windows and every guy coming toward me looks like a perp. I need a ton of anxiety meds to step out of the apartment in the morning, but after a few hours without incident, I return to DEFCON 5 and enjoy the day.
Online, though, I can get just a trifle nervous as I read posts from dozens of “friends” who have found the secret websites with the TRUE FACTS and SECRET CONSPIRACIES that the EVIL CABALS are hiding from us.
For the purveyors of panic, the job is relatively simple. In a nation of almost 330 million people, we can all find at least one, maybe two or three or ten examples of pretty much anything. And if we cannot find a real-world example that’s scary enough, there are also a ton of old photos to add for dramatic effect.
All of these posts are true, of course, in much the same way that Frozen is a documentary.
I’m fond of replying to my friends about the badly doctored photos, the anachronisms, the outlandishly fraudulent “statistics,” etc. But it is increasingly clear that my friends do not care if these memes are true or not, if they are inflammatory or not, or if they blow right past the boundaries of human decency.
And I cannot stop wondering why. Why would we want to view so much of the world through the darkest of lenses? Why would we limit our reading list to sources that serve only to magnify our fears? Why do we choose to be terrorized by our horseman of choice? Were we always this way? If not, exactly how did it become normal?
In the real world, I can drink the water and talk to strangers and let the pizza delivery guy come up to the apartment door. In the digital universe, though, I can’t walk down the street without being attacked by (insert bogeyman here) and there’s a giant chicken heart on its way to swallow me whole.
There is a clear solution, though. Before it’s time to smear Jello on the floor and set fire to the couch, just TURN IT OFF.
Of course, you should never turn off Dad Writes, since we are the only people keeping the world from collapsing into insanity. Help us fight the good fight by clicking here to subscribe.
I was waxing philosophical the other day, explaining how I would solve all of the world’s problems with my superior intellect and unrivaled wisdom, when it occurred to me that I don’t know what’s what.
A friend and I were discussing the cost of government and the added cost of working with labor unions and, suddenly, I realized I was arguing on the basis of 30-year-old data. Maybe it was 40 years old, or worse. Didn’t matter. I was applying outdated insights to a current situation and I was probably wrong in my assertions.
What, for example, are the current stats on labor unions? I know many, many people who believe unions are the reason for pretty much every malady in the economy. Government bloat? It’s the unions’ fault. Foreign company cost advantages? It’s the unions’ fault. Underperforming schools? No question, it’s the teachers’ unions. But was any of that ever true, and is any of it true today?
The world is a complicated place, much more complicated than memes and bots would lead us to believe. There’s almost never a single cause of any major trend; rather, the trends flow from multiple sources acting over time.
We can find an anecdote to “prove” any point we want to make, of course, but I started to realize that I do not have a fact-based grasp of some seriously critical issues. I knew, overall, that the percentage of Americans in labor unions has declined along with manufacturing jobs and that public employee unions are a larger part of the total unionized work force than was the case when I was a kid. Beyond that, my grasp of the facts was pitiful. Has education improved in right-to-work states? Have manufacturing jobs increased as union wages and benefits diminished? I knew the slogans, but I realized that I don’t know the facts.
The same awareness hit me when we were talking about welfare programs, immigration, pollution levels, and other issues that I am uniquely qualified to resolve as soon as I am Michael the First, emperor of the United States. I read newspapers and news sites regularly, but I’m reading characterizations, mostly. I’ll read a fact that is inserted into an op-ed to make a point, but I won’t know if that fact is a true indicator of the overall trend or status quo.
Is there still a “marriage penalty” in the tax code? Do Medicare recipients still deal with “The Doughnut?”
It’s relatively simple to check out the data, even though it means spending more time looking at my phone when I should be engaging with other people. Fortunately, everyone else is staring at their phones all day, so I will fit right in with the cool kids.
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I am confused by many things, but I’m too busy watching television to answer my own questions. Desperately seeking clarity this week about...
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.