A woman I mentored a while ago caught me up on her life recently and she offered an insight that everyone should gain at some point along the journey.
Smart woman, hard-working, energetic, and, as is the case with many entrepreneurs, she was pursuing a business model that wouldn’t work. It happens quite a bit, because not every great idea can be a great business. In her case, the product’s price and the profit margin were too low to cover all the overhead costs, which is a fatal flaw shared by many start-ups and about 99% of the internet companies I invested in during the 1990s.
After switching gears and changing direction, she described the new path she's on and sent me an upbeat update, including this priceless insight: “Currently unlearning everything I was taught to believe equals success and happiness, and learning that none of the things I thought would bring success and happiness are necessary for either of those things.”
I’m very happy for her, because that’s a bit of wisdom that many of us miss as we keep pursuing the wrong goals on the basis of flawed advice.
None of us gets through childhood without some adult telling us, “If you want to be X when you grow up, you have to Y.” And they’re adults, the big people in the room, the people who never ask us for advice and only give it, so they must know something. They tell us how to eat and how to behave and how to put on clean underwear before we get to the emergency room (or something like that) and how to build the financial security that we realize, in hindsight, they never achieved for themselves.
Some of the advice is useful, like looking both ways before crossing the street, but much of it is terribly flawed. Without question, though, the worst advice we ever get concerns one or both of our most important goals: success and happiness.
When we’re still young, we have no idea about this stuff. Even worse, some of the people who advise us have no idea, either, but they either don't realize it or they can't handle the truth. Looking back, we realize that the key to success we learned about at ten wasn’t based on the experience of the speaker, but rather on their own misconceptions about other people’s achievements.
Even worse, none of the pearls they cast before us applied to us and our lives. It was impossible, of course, because we hadn’t lived enough of our lives to have a clue. It takes at least a few decades, sometimes more, for us to gain enough experience and scars and perspective to understand the whole thing, and our progress is slowed along the way by bad advice from people who really didn’t know.
When we’re kids, we think adults have all the answers, mostly because they are bigger and stronger and older, but mostly because they keep telling us they have all the answers. When we become adults ourselves, we realize how little we know and how much we have to fake it on the path to making it. And that’s the point when all of us should be pausing like we’re in a sitcom and saying, “Wait a minute……….
"I’m older and more experienced than the person who told me how to live my life six decades ago and I still don't have a clue, so why do I think they knew anything at all? Maybe I should get off the path they prescribed when I was, what, ten?"
I'm very happy for my onetime colleague, needing less time than I did to take a fresh look at her own values and move forward with a plan of her own. “…none of the things I thought would bring success and happiness are necessary for either of those things.”
We gain knowledge by learning new things. We gain wisdom by learning which ones to forget.
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I donate to dozens of charities every year, mentor young people, pay my taxes, hold the door open for strangers and, on a good day, I might even let someone merge into my lane of traffic. And every morning I wake up with the certain knowledge that 8,000 people would be happy to kill me.
I don’t know any of them, I hope, and I hope they don’t know me, but it makes no difference. I am a Jew and there is nothing I can do in life to annul their decree. I live in a state of grace, not the grace of a benevolent God but of a murderous horde.
If only a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of the world’s population would do the deed…and that’s not tough to imagine after watching all the pro-Hamas protestors flooding the streets over the past six weeks, my would-be assassins are legion.
What if I’m exaggerating, though? What if it’s only a tenth of a tenth of that number or a tenth of a tenth of a tenth? What is the right number of people who should be willing to kill you?
Reality is different for the Chosen People. We’re the smallest of minorities, but responsible for all the world’s ills. We’re capitalists and communists, rich and vermin, white supremacists who really aren’t white at all. We provide a rare source of agreement for both far left and far right, following very different paths to only one conclusion. We are the shmoo of bogeymen, used by the powerful to shift blame from themselves for more than 2,000 years.
Humans are tribal, defining our identities both in terms of shared traits and shared enemies. And when it comes to enemies, Jews are the perfect foil. We live everywhere, except for a number of Muslim countries where infidels are prohibited, and we are always a small minority. We’re only in the majority in Israel and—what a coincidence!!—millions of people demand not merely that Israel change its policies, but that it cease to exist.
(This is where I have to respond to the whatabouts I’m certain to receive. I am very concerned about Gaza civilians who had nothing to do with the attacks, even though I am aware that many of them would like Israel eradicated. That’s because it is morally consistent to value all human life, even the lives of people who disagree with you. This should not require saying, but...)
I know people who say they are anti-Zionist, not anti-Israel, but that façade drops off after about 15 seconds of conversation. Like the folks who start sentences with, “I’m not a racist, but…” the reality leaps out pretty quickly. We believe all women, unless they were raped by Hamas. We demand freedom for political prisoners, except those kidnapped by Hamas. We support gay rights, except when trampled by Hamas. We never blame the victim, unless they're victimized by Hamas. You get the idea. All over Chicago’s progressive neighborhoods, people have lawn signs that say, “Hate Has No Home Here,” but they need an asterisk: *Unless you're a Jew.
Antisemitism is part of the background noise for all Jews, sometimes a hum so quiet that it doesn’t even disturb the silence. More recently, it’s grown from static to signal and the message has been received. The aftermath of October 7, much more than the terrorism itself, is driving a new assessment of our roles and relationships.
What happens next? In terms of world opinion, nothing willl change. Whether the IDF provides guided tours of Hamas tunnels or all the hostages are returned or Israel vacates the premises again, almost everyone will believe what they believed on October 6.
In terms of world progress, though, the outlook has deteriorated. Jews have been consistent catalysts for minority rights, tolerance, and education, joining in and supporting the battles of non-Jews in a religiously and culturally driven mission to heal the universe. We’ve known what it means to be The Other and we’ve tended to support other Others in struggles that aren’t ours.
That support has included public statements, political coalitions, personal engagement and funding, and all of it is certain to decline as we absorb the antagonism of our supposed friends. We won’t be marching against anyone or calling for wanton slaughter, but the change is occurring already.
The arc bends toward justice, but it’s going to be bending more slowly now.
I’m really beginning to dislike Betty, well on my way to hating her. To be fair, though, I might just be jealous.
I never knew Betty existed until a couple of weeks ago, but then I started getting emails addressed to her on AOL. (Yes, I admit to still having an AOL account and I am lame, but let’s move on from that embarrassment to the real crime.) It looks like someone mixed up her email address and mine and they sent me some incredible offers that are much better than the ones that I’ve been getting.
Yes, my email feed is chockablock with all kinds of special deals, from time-shares in North Korea to 5% off on furnace filters when I buy 12 cases. I get offers of incredible savings on everything I bought just two days earlier and invitations to learn the secrets of real estate investing from a guy who’s living out of a dumpster. And, if I send in just $5,000 to prove my creditworthiness, I’ll gain access to the personal bank account of Prince Akeem of Zamunda.
As wonderful as all those deals are, Betty’s are even better, or maybe she is simply more worthy. One company is offering her $50,000 to fund her business, even if she has bad credit, and another is so confident in her that they’re ready to hand her $5,000 for whatever she wants. Clearly, everyone knows Betty is going places and they want to get in on the ground floor.
She’s also a genius, it appears, because pretty much every college I’ve never heard of wants her on their campus, or their screen for the remote-learning joints. They’re tossing all kinds of scholarships and financial aid at her, because they are deeply concerned about her needs and her goals, and the colleges in Florida won’t make her study anything that makes her uncomfortable.
Okay, they didn’t say that explicitly, but I can read between the lines. Betty is a hot prospect and the deans will bend over backwards to make sure she only learns about the things she wants to know and only with the slants she wants to slant. Betty has Her Truth, an unshakeable belief in the rightness of her beliefs, and there ain’t nobody gonna mess with that. She’s guaranteed to get straight As, because she already has all the answers. All she needs is a diploma.
I’m really tempted to take advantage of these incredible opportunities, especially the free money with no strings attached. A casino opened down the street a few months ago and I just learned a foolproof way to beat the house at blackjack. Maybe I can present my system as an alternative investment vehicle that's even safer than cryptocurrency exchanges, which would qualify me for the full $50,000. I could be on Easy Street within a few hours.
So far, though, I haven’t been able to figure out Betty’s last name or what grade school she attended or her mom’s maiden name or the last four of her Social. Without that critical information, I’m stuck on the outside, looking in longingly as savvy businesses and colleges shower her with their largesse.
Life is so very unfair, unless you’re Betty. I really hope she appreciates how lucky she is.
If you know Betty, please have her contact me to teach me the secrets of her success. Also, tell her to click here to subscribe.
The most dangerous thing in the world is an anecdote, a story that encapsulates a viewpoint so well that it stands as the archetype for the entire world. It’s a perverse power for a word that comes from the Greek for “not to be published,” but maybe that says it all about the way we support our views these days.
In a country of 330 million people, you can find an example of anything, but it seems some people keep using the same example over and over again. After a while, I get the feeling that some of my friends think these events happened to them, not to some friend of a friend of a guy I saw on the bus. It’s a bit like Munchausen Syndrome, with a dash of politics, and it’s all based on a true story.
Well, sometimes it’s based on a true story, and sometimes it’s based on a story that could conceivably be true, or not. Anecdotes don’t need to be true to be effective, and it seems the fake stories are the best at proving whatever point someone wanted to make in the first place. If it fits the narrative, almost true is good enough, especially when it’s MY truth.
In Chicago, nobody goes out of business because they have a bad product or bad marketing or bad management. It’s always crime and taxes, which don’t seem to affect the other businesses that continue to thrive in my home town. Some businesses do suffer from crime and there’s no question our taxes in Illinois are pretty stupid, but a million things combine to bring a company down and no company announces they are closing because, “We sucked at running a business.”
Whoever puts out the press release controls the narrative, at least at first, and the story is a Rorschach test for whoever passes it along.
Property insurance rates are rising? Clearly, it’s global warming, unless it’s the Fed’s interest rate increases, or profiteering, or rising losses on claims. What a beautiful anecdote, offering so many options for anyone who wants to use it to prove whatever point they want to make.
Did you hear about the guy who died within three days of getting his Covid shot? Did you hear about the politician who voted to outlaw abortions and paid for one for his mistress? Did you read that story about the liberal think tank that created a toxic environment for its minority workers? Of course, you did, and many of us will be using these stories to paint a picture broader than the horizon.
The best thing we can say about anecdotes is that they boost productivity. Imagine how many work hours we’d lose, how many school programs parents would miss, how many cable shows would fail, if we actually had to search for new examples of the things we hate, or support, or hate others for supporting. Even better, the same anecdote can be used by the legendary “both sides” of an issue, with only the blame changed to fit the narrative.
That’s what makes anecdotes so powerful, so appealing, and so lethal. In fact, I knew a guy who knew a guy who had a friend who was starting to tell an anecdote, but then he died right in the middle of the story. Clearly, these things are even more dangerous than fentanyl and drag shows combined.
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The saddest thing about all the indictments of Donald Trump et al is that they don’t make any difference whatsoever.
The people who support him are somehow vindicated by every accusation, each bit of proof that he is being targeted by his political opponents as part of the weaponization of the DOJ. The Passion Play that unfolds for their Savior is a validation of their covenant, an assurance that He is suffering for them. When He says “they” are coming for his supporters, but He is in the way, they know He is speaking the Truth, and they are grateful.
The people who oppose TFG are somehow certain that the next indictment, the next leaked document, the next accusation will somehow convince Trump supporters that they have followed the wrong path, and that they will repent their scurrilous faith. Like people who speak more loudly in English so they can be understood in a foreign nation, these benighted souls are certain that truth, justice, and the American Way will triumph if only the Trump cult would heed their latest tweet.
Yes, this is the tweet, the meme, the post, the ultimate proof that will enlighten the MAGA world and inspire them to forsake their false idol.
Not gonna happen.
Seriously, exactly who is out there whose mind has not been fixed by now? Who is the lone holdout waiting for one more bit of evidence, one more explanation, the absolutely critical keystone that will hold it all together and allow them to draw a conclusion? And, if we found that person, how much would we trust their judgment on anything?
Speaking of judgment, how many partisans, pundits and prevaricators will they weed out before they find Twelve Good Men and True for any juries? What voter can stand before the judge and attorneys and swear they are not already biased, that they still have an open mind, and that they will be swayed wholly by the evidence presented in the trial?
Fast forward to the next six months and the odds of a runaway jury, or jurors, are at least equally overwhelming. Nobody will need to tamper with a jury that will undoubtedly be happy to tamper with itself. Will there be more secret MAGAs or more hidden Antifas on the panel? We don’t know, yet, but it’s pretty much a certainty there will be at least a few.
Even if they do find a dozen people who can provide impartial justice, it will make no difference in the end. Whether the trials yield guilty verdicts or acquittals, everyone will interpret the results according to the views they held today, and the day before, and the day before that. How many people will read the verdicts and say, “Gee, I guess I was wrong?” How many people will change their vote after the judgment is rendered?
The answer, of course, is zero. Twitter overflows with sound and fury, but the people have spoken. They don’t agree, and many of them are idiots, but they’ve spoken anyway. Those who think Trump is guilty see each new charge as another nail in the coffin. The people who see him as a Christ figure view each charge as one more thorn in the crown.
And yet, we have no choice to go through with the trials, because that’s what the law requires. Different courts, different jurisdictions, different rules, different co-defendants, a veritable pantheon of legalities, all carrying enormous weight and minimal impact. It’s going to be a long ride and it’s not going to get any smoother.
We’ll be talking about other stuff from now on, so it’s safe to click here to subscribe without fear of being offended, or reassured, by our thoughts.
You know what the problem is with advice columns?
The first two issues are obvious, of course: People write in about some urgent issue and the advice arrives months later when it's too late to do any good. Worse, it's pretty clear the the people asking the questions are too dense to benefit from the advice.
Dear Aunt Esmerelda: My neighbor is upset that my dog is leaving gifts in his flower bed when he should really be grateful for the fertilizer. How do I get him to be happier when Poopsie visits?
Dear Aunt Esmerelda: My son is a Navy Seal who is often away on secret missions. How can I get the Navy to schedule him to be home for my birthday?
Dear Aunt Esmerelda: My niece has a peanut allergy, so I put some peanut butter in her turkey sandwich to help her develop some tolerance. Now she’s in a coma and my brother is making a big deal about it. How do I get him to drop the restraining order?
Yes, the questions are entertaining, but the answers are the archetypes for missed opportunities. Instead of starting the replies with, “Dearest Idiot,” the advice columnists almost always express sympathy and try to comfort the people who are too far gone to be reached on this planet.
“Perhaps your neighbor doesn’t appreciate the close relationship you have with your dog.
I agree that the Navy and America’s enemies should both be more considerate when it comes to family.
Give your brother time to recognize your good intentions, and maybe for his daughter to come out of her coma…”
And there we have it, the biggest flaw in advice columns: too much respect. Contrary to the popular myth spread by consultants everywhere, there are stupid questions and there are bad ideas. It would be a truly healthy development if advice columnists called out their correspondents for both transgressions.
Clearly, it’s time for the Dad Writes help desk, where we suffer only wise people and set the fools on the true path to enlightenment. We’re drawing our inspiration from Bob Newhart, who set the standard for all psychology, psychiatry, and consulting today. We’ll build on his groundbreaking technique, but we will never stray far from the words of the master.
Your wedding is in three days and you’re sending me a question now? Too late for that, but here are some ideas for divorce court. You poisoned your niece and you’re not in jail? This would be a good time to move to another country. If you're gonna let your dog roam around without a leash, let your neighbor poop on your lawn to even things out.
See how easy that is? Advice columns would be much more entertaining and educational if we avoid all the “respect” and “courtesy,” especially when those considerations are 100% undeserved. Our new column is going to be so refreshing for readers, and very therapeutic for me. I can’t wait to hear from the first doofus with a question.
Now that Dad Writes is new and improved with free advice, you’ll definitely want to click here to subscribe for our amazing wisdom.
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.