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.
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Trapped in yet another Zoom call, I’m listening to a dozen colleagues as they discuss the virus, the economy, protests, elections and what-not and I had only one question:
Who are these people and what planet do they inhabit?
Then I realized they might be wondering the same thing about me.
Yes, I know I’m supposed to say we’re all in this together or some other claptrap, but the fact is that we’re all living in different worlds and we see only what’s in front of us in our personal version of reality. For instance, I know some people…
…who are making a killing as a result of the pandemic and others who probably will be out of business by the end of winter.
…who are raking in cash from Wall Street’s exuberance and others who are trying to scrape together lunch money on Main Street.
…whose careers will be mostly gone a few years from and others who are on an arc of long-term growth.
…who plan to be self-quarantined for many months to come and others who venture out without masks, getting up close and personal with anyone who crosses their paths.
The space between our daily lives and our fundamental perceptions can be huge, which makes it a major challenge to bridge the gap and understand each other. That assumes, of course, that we care enough to try, and that turns out to be a frequently flawed assumption.
Many people in my business/social circles have a tendency to reject the legitimacy of any ideas other than their own. When we do engage in a conversation, I’ve noticed that their goal is to convert, not to understand, so we are stuck at square one forever.
It’s our fatal flaw that we all praise innovation and American ingenuity, but we make almost no effort to be praiseworthy in our own lives. We marvel at tech upgrades and medical advances and new industries that overwhelm the traditional world, but we duck and hide when it’s our chance to become truly marvelous ourselves.
Reconsider our approaches? Challenge our conventions? Rethink our paths? No way, Mr. Feliciano. We’re fine with our thinking inside this box. New ideas are nice, in theory, but let’s not go crazy here.
We tend to think of change as something that the other guy needs to do, even though the only person we can change is ourselves. The funny thing is that we do change, multiple times, as events and our own evolution progress over time. Most of those changes, though, are unconscious, unintentional. When it comes to the type of changes that we can control the most, we suddenly become acutely aware and very, very resistant.
I’m not expecting much from the next Zoom call. We’ll all “walk in” with the same perceptions as the last time and it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll exit the session with our worldviews unaltered. From my screen, the new normal looks exactly like the old one.
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I know a couple who finally put away enough money to retire, so they sold their business and invested their sweat equity in the stock market.
It was 2008, just before the crash.
I ran into the wife earlier this year, still working part-time at the store she used to own and making plans to retire, again. She’d had a dozen years to adapt to her “new normal,” knowing that her old normal, the one that seemed absolutely certain in 2008, isn’t coming back.
I think about her and her husband whenever people tell me about their hopes for returning to normal after this pandemic subsides. Normal, the one we were counting on in January of this year, isn’t coming back.
On one level, we should recognize this as a fundamental truth. We tend to think of the current situation as the norm, or think back to a specific point in time as the benchmark for normalcy, but the only real normal is change. We, the world, are eternally in flux.
I have some friends who believe the pandemic is a hoax that is being promoted to affect the presidential election, so they also believe it will fade into the background on November 4. I have other friends who think access to a vaccine will enable us to reboot the economy to our bookmark date of January 1, 2020. I know more than a few guys who seem to think we can return to normal by reopening everything and getting to herd immunity as quickly as possible, because it’s worth the trade-off in lives lost.
Me? I think they are kidding themselves. Too many people, and organizations, have been changed by this for us to bounce back to the days of yore.
When/if there’s a vaccine, for example, an above-average percentage of the population won’t take it at first. I am included in that group. I get my flu shot every year, but the race for a vaccine has become so politicized that I can’t find my way to trusting whatever gets approved first, or second, or maybe even third.
All the political wrangling has achieved its goal of causing distrust, but that distrust translates into an extended crisis. I probably will wait six or eight or twelve months before taking any vaccine and that means I will wait six or eight or twelve months before I dine indoors or go to a casino or fly on a plane.
How many people will skip the vaccine? Certainly, the people who refuse to take any vaccines already will sit this one out, but millions more will wait a long time before they accept that the vaccine is safe. Whether it’s 5% or 10% or 0.8% of the population, this caution will slow our economic recovery and delay our return to “normal.” Herd immunity, if it could be achieved for this particular virus, might remain out of reach as the vaccinated cohort makes up too low a percentage of the population.
Meanwhile, dozens of industries and about a million companies will need years or decades to recover, if they manage to survive at all, because their profit models are based on cramming a large number of people into a small space for an extended period. That includes restaurants, bars, mass transit, airlines, casinos, hotels, health clubs, sports arenas, convention centers, churches, schools, office buildings, theaters, and probably a few dozen I haven’t thought about.
Well-capitalized companies, which tend to be larger, will tend to be the survivors, while mom-and-pop stores fail, accelerating the concentration of wealth and commerce that has been underway for decades. As small businesses fail, their owners might simply decide to retire, increasing the impacts for the Social Security system.
On the other end of the working years, millions will discover that their career paths have been washed away by social distancing, online commerce and working from home. Whether it’s the people who cleaned the now-empty offices or the chefs who have no restaurants, the disruptions will be significant for enough people that their social and financial progress might be delayed for an extended period.
Changes that are already under way, such as the rise of online shopping and communication, will accelerate during this period of reduced personal contact. Changes that might have taken another 5-10 years might be compressed into one or two, making any disruptions more rapid and severe.
However the world changes, and changes us, the ripples will be sustained, like a thousand butterfly effects competing for influence. It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact impact of each shift, which is a truth that applies to every change we encounter, but we know enough from prior upheavals to recognize that shifts will occur.
Every day is a new normal, a new life, and the only thing we can know for sure is that we’re never getting back to the way things were in the time before.
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Babies in sombreros, the hot new career for binging, and a new application of the death penalty, all rattling around in my brain this week...and now in yours. Read on.
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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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I might be off by a few years, but I think my generation has seen more substantial change than any generation that preceded it. People who lived through the Industrial Revolution might quibble with that assertion, but they’re all dead now, so hah hah on them.
Certainly, my grandchildren will be amazed at the stories I can tell them about the ancient and shrouded past when I…
Of course, I’ll also have to tell my grandkids about all the ways the world has let me down since I was a lad. I still don’t travel by jetpack, my phone calls aren’t holograms, and I am still waiting for a response to my job application at U.N.C.L.E. (I keep calling about it, but they won’t let me open Channel D.)
I’d add the Coronavirus to the list, but that’s an experience that my grandkids will share. How will that change them, change me, change our relationships? The ink isn’t dry yet, so we’ll have to wait on that one.
In the meantime, I think I’ll focus on the strange-but-true stories from the past. The present isn’t nearly as much fun.
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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.