At a certain moment in Nietzsche's life, the idea came to him of what he called 'the love of your fate.' Whatever your fate is, whatever the heck happens, you say, "This is what I need." It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge.
If you bring love to that moment - not discouragement - you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow. Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true.
Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not.
Bob and the Lord stood together, watching a baseball game. The Lord's team was playing Satan's team. The Lord's team was at bat, the score was tied zero to zero, and it was the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs. Bob and the Lord continued to watch as the batter, Love, stepped up to the plate. Love swung at the first pitch and hit a single, because Love never fails. The next batter was named Faith, who also got a single because Faith works with Love. The next batter up was named Godly wisdom. Satan wound up and threw the first pitch; Godly Wisdom looked it over and let it pass, because Godly Wisdom does not swing at Satan's pitches. Ball one. Three more pitches and Godly Wisdom walked, because Godly wisdom never swings at Satan's throws. The bases were loaded.
The Lord then turned to Bob and told him He was now going to bring in His star player. Up to the plate stepped Grace. Bob made a face... Grace certainly didn't look like much to him! Apparently Satan's whole team agreed: they all relaxed and laughed a little when they saw Grace. Thinking he had won the game, Satan wound up and fired his first pitch. To all but one's amazement, Grace hit the ball harder than anyone had ever seen. But Satan was not worried; his center fielder, the Prince of the air, let very few get by. He went up for the ball, but it went right through his glove, hit him on the head and sent him crashing to the ground; then it continued over the fence for a home run! And so the Lord's team won.
The Lord then asked Bob if he knew why Love, Faith, and Godly Wisdom could get on base but could not win the game by themselves. Bob, looking a bit sheepish, admitted that he didn't know. The Lord explained, "If your love, faith and wisdom could win the game, you would think you could win it by yourself. Love, faith and wisdom will get you on base, but only My grace can get you home. My grace is the one thing Satan cannot stop."
It started out innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then to loosen up. Inevitably though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker.
I began to think alone - "to relax," I told myself - but I knew it wasn't true. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.
I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't stop myself.
I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Kafka.
I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here?"
Things weren't going so great at home either. One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She spent that night at her mother's.
I soon had a reputation as a heavy thinker. One day the boss called me in. He said, "Skippy, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't stop thinking on the job, you'll have to find another job." This gave me a lot to think about.
I came home early after my conversation with the boss. "Honey," I confessed, "I've been thinking..."
"I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!"
"But Honey, surely it's not that serious."
"It is serious," she said, lower lip aquiver. "You think as much as college professors, and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on thinking we won't have any money!"
"That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently, and she began to cry. I'd had enough. "I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door.
I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche, with NPR on the radio. I roared into the parking lot and ran up to the big glass doors... they didn't open. The library was closed.
To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night.
As I sank to the ground clawing at the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye. "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked. You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinker's Anonymous poster.
Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker. I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was "Porky's." Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.
I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home. Life just seemed... easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking.
I had one of those ‘pinch-me’ moments thanks to a friend who invited me to dinner with Neil Armstrong who passed away (this weekend) at the age of 82. For three hours I saw across from Armstrong as he regaled us with stories of the first moon landing. Remember, Armstrong was one of the most humble and private heroes our country has ever known. He rarely gave interviews or talked publicly about his experience. But with a few good friends, good wine, and good food, the reluctant hero opened up.
The year was 2003 and I was making the transition from broadcast journalism to entrepreneurship, thinking about starting my own practice. I was also writing about leadership and communications. My first book would be published two years later. I was absorbing every word.
In one funny moment—after several bottles of Barolo—one the members of our party asked the question we had all been thinking: “Mr. Armstrong, did you come up with the words, ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,’ or did someone write it for you?” For the record he did.
I loved the story, but Armstrong taught me a far more important lesson that night: Nothing great happens without an inspiring leader who articulates a vision that challenges the status quo and unleashes our collective imagination.
Armstrong was a humble man and refused to take credit for his achievement. I got the impression he was uncomfortable with his fame. During dinner Armstrong reminded us that it took 400,000 people to send him to the moon: thousands of the world’s best engineers, scientists, researchers, support staff, and even seamstresses who carefully stitched together the space suits required to withstand extreme temperatures. None of these people would have been galvanized to action if it hadn’t been for the vision first articulated by John F. Kennedy in 1961. His vision was bold, concise, and had a deadline attached to it: “By the end of the decade we will land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth.”
A vision sets forces in motion. In 1961, most scientists didn’t think it could be done. They thought Kennedy’s vision was absurd and unrealistic. The rocket technology to achieve a moon landing didn’t even exist! Kennedy’s vision, however, did spark ideas. Scientists began to ask themselves, “If we had to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade, how could we do it?” By attaching a deadline to the vision, Kennedy inspired a generation to challenge what they previously thought was impossible.
I’ve often said that passion is the fundamental building block of inspiring leadership. Passion, energy, and enthusiasm are contagious. But while passion fuels the rocket, vision directs to the rocket to its ultimate destination. The moon program proved that anything is possible when a team of smart, dedicated people commit themselves to a common goal for the benefit of others. One NASA engineer said the vision of going to the moon took such hold of his imagination that he never wanted to fall asleep. He couldn’t wait to return to work the next morning. Armstrong felt the same way. He had become a believer, an evangelist.
The American architect Daniel Burnham once said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Bold ideas that are effectively communicated inspire people to do more than they thought possible. I recently wrote a column about SanDisk co-founder Eli Harari who pioneered the flash memory fundamental to digital cameras, smartphones, and iPads. He once told me that when he entered Princeton in 1969, man had landed on the moon, inspiring him to pursue physics and space technology. He committed himself to ideas that would change the world. The moon landing had that effect on people.
We need more moon landings. Not literally, of course. But we need leaders in business and public life who challenge us do what we thought was impossible, who stir our souls, captivate our imaginations, and elicit the kind of bravery Armstrong showed when he took those first magnificent steps.
Shortly after my daughter Juli-Ann was born, I started a loving tradition that I know others (with whom I have subsequently shared this special plan) have also started. I tell you the idea here both to open your heart with the warmth of my story and also to encourage you to start this tradition within your own family.
Every year, on her birthday, I write an Annual Letter to my daughter. I fill it with funny anecdotes that happened to her that year, hardships or joys, issues that are important in my life or hers, world events, my predictions for the future, miscellaneous thoughts, etc. I add to the letter photographs, presents, report cards and many other types of mementos that would certainly have otherwise disappeared as the years passed.
I keep a folder in my desk drawer in which, all year long, I place things that I want to include in the envelope containing her next Annual Letter. Every week, I make short notes of what I can think of from the week's events that I will want to recall later in the year to write in her Annual Letter. When her birthday approaches, I take out that folder and find it overflowing with ideas, thoughts, poems, cards, treasures, stories, incidents and memories of all sorts - many of which I had already forgotten - and which I then eagerly transcribe into that year's Annual Letter.
Once the letter is written and all the treasures are inserted into the envelope, I seal it. It then becomes that year's Annual Letter. On the envelope I always write "Annual Letter to Juli-Ann from her Daddy on the occasion of her nth Birthday - to be opened when she is 21 years old." It is a time capsule of love from every different year of her life, to her as an adult. It is a gift of loving memories from one generation to the next. It is a permanent record of her life written as she was actually living it.
Our tradition is that I show her the sealed envelope, with the proclamation written on it that she may read it when she is 21. Then I take her to the bank, open the safe deposit box and tenderly place that year's Annual Letter on top of the growing pile of its predecessors. She sometimes takes them all out to look at them and feel them. She sometimes asks me about their contents and I always refuse to tell her what is inside.
In recent years, Juli-Ann has given me some of her special childhood treasures, which she is growing too old for but which she does not want to lose. And she asks me to include them in her Annual Letter so that she will always have them.
That tradition of writing her Annual Letters is now one of my most sacred duties as a dad. And, as Juli-Ann grows older, I can see that it is a growing and special part of her life, too. One day, we were sitting with friends musing about what we will be doing in the future. I cannot recall the exact words spoken, but it went something like this: I jokingly told Juli-Ann that on her 61st birthday, she will be playing with her grandchildren. Then I whimsically invented that on her 31st birthday she will be driving her own kids to hockey practice. Getting into the groove of this funny game and encouraged by Juli-Ann's evident enjoyment of my fantasies, I continued. "On your 21st birthday, you will be graduating from university." "No," she interjected. "I will be too busy reading!"
One of my deepest desires is to be alive and present to enjoy that wonderful time in the future when the time capsules are opened and the accumulated mountains of love come tumbling out of the past, back into my adult daughter's life.
I slipped through the revolving door of the office building I worked in and stepped onto the cracked sidewalk that lined Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey. A light drizzle and a depressing grey sky enhanced the depravity of the area. The buildings on both sides of the street were old and in need of repair or, in some instances, a wrecking ball.
A few seconds later, a woman wearing a coat four sizes too big for her - probably a throw away from the used clothing store down the street - stepped up to me, displayed a smile of many gaps and begged, "Mister, can you help a person out? I haven't eaten in almost two days."
I handed her a few quarters and watched her saunter off. She held her hand out as she walked and counted the change she'd collected on that dreary afternoon. I guessed food was the furthest thing from her mind - crack was more her line of nutrition.
That area and most of Newark were poverty stricken and ruled by drugs and crime. In the few short months I worked there, I'd witnessed a stolen car, pursued by police, turn a corner and hit another car head on. The thieves leapt from the wreckage and ran off with the police in hot pursuit. A month after that, a man's car was stolen from the parking lot behind our building while he negotiated the fee with the attendant. This was a place where you held your belongings tightly and didn't venture far after dark.
I walked to the corner, stopped by the door of the ATM machine, checked to be sure no one followed close and quickly slipped my bank card into the slot. There was a buzz and click as the door unlocked. I walked inside and made sure no one stepped in behind me.
I put my card into the machine and deposited my paycheck with a sigh of relief. As I turned to leave, I saw a wallet sitting on the counter. It sat next to a pen on a chain so thin a kitten could have snapped it. The wallet was brown, well used and contained three dollars, a driver's license, two credit cards, a bank card and a work permit from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The name on the license was one I would not attempt to pronounce, but whoever he was, he was going to be in a panic over a wallet with his identification on it being lost in this city.
I put it in my pocket, walked to Penn Station and took the train home to Jersey City. In my apartment, I checked the online phone book and found no one to match the name on the cards in the wallet. I wanted to help the guy. If it had been my wallet, I would have been sick to my stomach with worry. I picked up the bank card and had a thought. On the back was the number to his bank.
"Thank you for calling Wachovia Bank. My name is Cindy, how may I help you?" "Hi, Cindy. I found a man's wallet at one of your bank machines today and am trying to track down the owner to return it to him."
"That's very nice of you sir. Can you give me the number on the card please?" I gave her the number. "Sir, that card has been reported stolen."
"I'm sure it has, but what he did was leave it on the shelf in the room where the ATM is. Can you give me his phone number? I want to arrange to meet with him to return his wallet."
"I'm sorry, sir, but we cannot give out the personal information of our clients."
"I understand. Can I give you my contact information? You could call him and tell him who I am."
"I can certainly do that, Sir."
I gave her my information and hung up.
I'd done all I could.
Two days later, a very thankful gentleman appeared at our front desk and received his belongings. He never dreamed he would see his wallet again, not one left at a bank machine in Newark.
I smiled all day long. Doing good for others, does good for you.
Today, we mourn the passing of an old friend by the name of Common Sense.
Common Sense lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the Millennium. No one really knows how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He selflessly devoted his life to service in schools; hospitals, homes, factories and offices, helping folks get jobs done without fanfare and foolishness.
For decades, petty rules, silly laws and frivolous lawsuits held no power over Common Sense. He was credited with cultivating such valued lessons as to know when to come in from rain, the early bird gets the worm and life isn't always fair.
Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adults are in charge, not the kids), and it's okay to come in second.
A veteran of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and the Technological Revolution, Common Sense survived cultural and educational trends including feminism, body piercing, whole language and new math.
But his health declined when he became infected with the "if-it-only-helps-one-person-it's-worth-it" virus. In recent decades, his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal legislation.
He watched in pain as good people became ruled by self-seeking lawyers and enlightened auditors. His health rapidly deteriorated when schools endlessly implemented zero tolerance policies; when reports were heard of six year old boys charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; when a teen was suspended for taking a swig of mouthwash after lunch; when a teacher was fired for reprimanding an unruly student. It declined even further when schools had to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student but couldn't inform the parent when a female student is pregnant or wants an abortion.
Finally, Common Sense lost his will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, churches became businesses, criminals received better treatment than victims, and federal judges stuck their noses in everything from Boy Scouts to professional sports.
As the end neared, Common Sense drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments, regarding questionable regulations for asbestos, low-flow toilets, smart guns, the nurturing of Prohibition Laws and mandatory air bags.
Finally, when told that the homeowners association restricted exterior furniture only to that which enhanced property values, he breathed his last.
Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son Reason. His three stepbrothers survive him: Rights, Tolerance and Whiner.
Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.