Reflections on the Past Year
The end of the year has been a time for rest, reflection, and reading for me. In this week’s post, I will be sharing a summary of the key themes and highlights from my writing and reading in 2022.
Last year I wrote 38 blog posts. My writing covered multiple topics but generally focused on one of the five following themes: choice, responsibility, action, paradox, and leading in uncertainty.
A central theme of my work and writing is that we are always in choice about how we experience our lives. One of my favorite posts was the first one of the year, “We Are All Makers,” in which I reflect on Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. I write: “In many ways, A Christmas Carol is a simple tale of redemption. Yet there was a line in this particular adaptation that revealed the story's psychological depth: ‘We are all made, and we are all makers.’ The story points to a simple, yet powerful, truth. Each of us is a product of our past. In this sense, we are made, just as we see how Scrooge's parsimony was the product of a childhood of poverty and debt. At the same time, each of us has the capacity to free ourselves from the chains of the past and to choose a future of our own making.”
I covered the power of choice in two other posts -- “The Story of Ferdinand,” about the wonderful children’s book that “reminds us that we each get to choose whether we join the fray or remain outside of it,” and “Perspective and Choice,” about the movie Life Is Beautiful and the father’s powerful choice to create an environment of joy for his young son during their imprisonment in a concentration camp.
If we can choose our own experience, it follows that we must be responsible for our own lives. This important truth is woven throughout my writing. In another of my favorite posts, “No More War,” written just a week after Putin’s unjust invasion of Ukraine, I ask, “How can a world expect peace when each of us has yet to lay down the weapons inside our own minds and hearts?” The core argument is that we cannot ask for someone to do something we are not willing to do ourselves. This theme of responsibility also appears in “Important Truths,” in which I answer Peter Thiel’s famous interview question: What important truth do very few people agree with you on? My answer: I am 100% responsible for how I experience the world.
One of my favorite quotes is from Georges Doriot: “Without action, the world would still be an idea.” Not surprisingly, action was a common theme in my writing last year. In perhaps my most personal essay of the year, I write about my struggle to act in the aftermath of the Uvalde, Texas school shooting in “Reflections on Action.” I conclude that post with the only thing that felt true and continues to feel true to me: “I realized, yet again, that there is only really one truth. And that is love. I will act with love. Period.”
In “The Source of Action,” I offer the story of Roger Bannister to demonstrate the fundamental truth about action: “It is the rare person who lives a life of action. What is it then that lies beneath the almost universal aversion to action? In one word, it is belief.” In “The Impact of 1,000 True Fans,” I adapt Kevin Kelly’s famous essay to argue for the importance of a single, modest action: “If you are thinking about impacting the world, you would do well to start with one action in your family or your community. Mother Theresa’s advice is right. But you might then consider what it would look like if you could impact one thousand lives. You just might change the world.”
The idea that wisdom can be found by integrating two seemingly opposite truths is a core part of my philosophy for living and leading. Paradox or polarity thinking thus found its way into several of my posts, in some cases explicitly, in others more subtly. I ended the year writing “The Ultimate War Time CEO,” a piece on Ukrainian President Zelensky, who, along with the spirit of the Ukrainian people, had just been named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year. I write: “The best wartime CEOs are those who extract the most valuable virtues from the designation – low tolerance for distraction, an aversion to consensus, and a willingness to be directive – while retaining the time-tested traits of stability, maturity, courage, and respect. Indeed, the very best leaders are able to be simultaneously tough and kind in the most trying of times.” Zelensky, I argue, is the ultimate wartime CEO, leading with “both a clenched fist and open heart.”
In “Growth and Stability,” I reflect on Queen Elizabeth’s extraordinary reign and write: “Growth without rest, without stability, leads to the very malaise from which the world was so desperately trying to lift itself seventy years ago.” A tweet by Roger Federer celebrating his rival Rafael Nadal inspired me to write, “Love and Performance: The Steve Jobs Counterfactual.” In it, I offer an alternative path for leaders – the ability to simultaneously focus on character (or love) and performance.
Leading in Uncertainty
It seems that complexity and change increase with the passing of each year. 2022 was no exception. My writing thus focused on how to effectively lead in an environment of increasing uncertainty. In “The Oak and the Reed,” I use the Aesop fable to offer the following advice on leading in challenging times: “It is the rare leader who is capable of sustaining the strength and conviction of the oak while, at the same time, summoning the ability to be adaptive and resilient like the reed. But it is the mastery of this paradox that lies at the heart of effective leadership, particularly in stormy times.”
One of my most important leadership lessons comes from randori, a martial arts test where the student stands in the center of the mat and is forced to contend with multiple attackers simultaneously. I offer this as a metaphor for leading in uncertainty in “Get on the Mat.” Later in the year, I wrote a three-part series, “What Story Are You Telling,” “Why I Lead” and “On Endurance”, in which I offer several perspectives on leading during the current economic downturn.
At the conclusion of my posts, I typically offer something interesting that I have read, listened to, or watched. Here are my top twenty from last year (in the order in which I shared them):
You may have noticed my use of the word “parts” in the concluding paragraph of this weekly email. It was intentional. Understanding that we are made up of parts is one of the most profound contributions to the field of psychology. And there is no one better at explaining this than Richard Schwartz, the founder of an approach to understanding the mind called Internal Family Systems. I highly recommend his most recent book No Bad Parts.
Finally, I finished reading a gem of a new book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. It is a much-needed, effective challenge to the current paradigm that suggests we must use time more efficiently to be more productive. It suggests a much more radical, and I believe sane, reorientation to time. It will undoubtedly influence how I let time use me, as Burkeman puts it, in the year ahead.
This animated presentation of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ filmmaking process is remarkable. It is a fascinating window into the making of Encanto.
Not surprisingly, David Brooks nails it in his recent piece, “The Week that Awoke the World."
I loved this article in The Atlantic by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is a letter to the Russian people exposing the misinformation they have been subjected to. It is also an example of good writing, particularly the author’s care to not bury the lede — he states the central thesis of the letter in the first paragraph.
Here is the abridged video of Senator Cory Booker’s powerful exchange with Judge Jackson.
This Wired article is a must-read, “Of Course We’re Living in a Simulation."
If you haven’t yet seen Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr’s press conference, you must watch it. It is a master class in leadership.
At a time when I needed to be reminded of beauty, I stumbled upon this brilliant article in The Ringer, an account of the acclaimed first ten minutes of Pixar’s movie Up. Don’t forget to click on the 4 ½ minute video clip from the movie embedded in the article.
This is simply a great article on the intersection of the hard problem of consciousness and quantum physics. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a physicist or philosopher to read it.
Mitt Romney’s recent article, “America Is in Denial,” in The Atlantic is excellent.
A new song I’m listening to and loving. Disclaimer: the artist is a dear family friend.
Ezra Klein writes one of the best op-ed columns in a while – "I Don’t Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message."
William MacAskill, a professor of philosophy at Oxford, makes a very convincing case in this essay for adopting longtermism: “the idea that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time.” After reading it, I’m eager to read his upcoming book What We Owe the Future, and I am reminded of Kim Stanley Robinson’s excellent 2020 novel The Ministry for the Future.
“The Perils of Audience Capture,” is one of the most interesting blogs I’ve read in a long time.
This New York Times review (along with photographs and video footage) of the impending opening of Michael Heizer’s mile-and-a-half-by-half-mile astonishing mega sculpture in the middle of the Nevada desert, “City,” after 50 years in the making is a must read (and view).
Last week, I watched a terrific movie – Sound of Metal. I highly recommend it.
A song I’ve been listening to repeatedly this week: “Alive” by Rufus du Sol. When the song was released last year, I dedicated it as an anthem to my dear friend Peter Fortenbaugh who, at the time, was entering the final stage of his multi-year battle with cancer. Peter passed a little over a week ago. He leaves behind his beautiful wife and three children, and a community and thousands of children indebted to his two decades of selfless service as the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula. Over the past year, I have had the privilege of watching Peter’s heart open completely as he learned and taught how to love and be loved fully. He left the world a significantly better place.
I finally watched 38 At The Garden on HBO, the short documentary of the rise of Jeremy Lin and his extraordinary first NBA season with the New York Knicks in 2012. It’s amazing.
One of my favorite conservative writers, David French, has written a great article, “Why I Changed My Mind about Law and Marriage, Again.” If you don’t have access to The Dispatch, it’s simple and free to sign up.
I had a lot of time to read over the past couple of weeks. Here are my favorites.
I read the 131-page Executive Summary of the Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol. It is an exhaustive, evidence-based account of the weeks leading up to the January 6 storming of the Capitol. It is a damning and convincing indictment of President Trump and those who participated in the storming of the Capitol.
One of the best essay series I read all year is this 6-part one, “Handfuls of Dust and Splinters of Bone,” from Charles Eisenstein.
This 23-minute documentary by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Edward Robles is a moving and exquisite account of the redemption and transformation of his once-violent father.