Now What?

Yesterday I posted the mother-lode. It was a long list of many (not all) of the things life has taught me. I didn’t hold much back. What more is there to say?

There is only one story that remains to be told I suppose. But I’m not ready to tell it. Perhaps I never will be. Only time will tell.

I considered signing off. And maybe I will. But for now I’ve decided not to decide. Instead, I’ll allow each day to decide for me.

Not that it matters. To anyone but me, that is.

In recent years, I’ve tried to be less concerned about what I should or ought to do and simply do what I feel like doing at the time. Sometimes, I think I take it too far. Sometimes, I think I don’t take it far enough. More often than not, I tire of the constant debates in my mind.

The weather is supposed to be glorious today. I think I’ll ride my bike.

What Do I Understand Now That I Wish I’d Understood Then?

What do I understand (or at least think I understand) now that I wish I had understood when I had began my journey through adulthood? It’s of no consequence to me, of course: it’s impossible to turn back the clock. But it might be of some help to you, Vera.

In looking back I’m struck by how naïve I was when I came out of high school and, four years later, college. I had little appreciation for what the world was really like. Growing up in a working-class family in homogenous rural south-central Pennsylvania hadn’t exposed me to much. My world was very small.

More than four decades of career experiences in law, business (CEO), government (special agent for DOD and, later, cabinet secretary), and higher ed (college president) changed that. To a degree. There is still much about life I don’t understand or, perhaps more accurately, refuse to accept. I’m still learning and always will be. Nonetheless, life has imparted a few lessons along the way.

Some of the lessons were easy to learn; some were hard. Some were moments of euphoria and left fond memories; some were painful and left scars. Others were learned merely by reading or observing. (It’s always preferable to learn from other people’s wisdom or mistakes.) I decided to compose a list of what I consider to have been some of the most important lessons.

What the list isn’t, however, is a list of rules to live by. I’m not fond of rules and would never suggest life is so easily mastered. Moreover, as I’ve mentioned before, I have absolutely no desire to tell you how to live your life, Vera. Rather, I’m simply sharing some of the things I wish I had better understood when I was young, starting out.

Some of the lessons are practical; some are of the existential variety. The list is neither complete nor final. After all, I’m still learning.

Please don’t infer an order of priority, for none is intended. “You” and “your,” below, refer to me; it is as if life is speaking to me. Occasional personal comments follow parenthetically. Continue reading

If You Don’t Pay, You’re a Nobody

As reported by the New York Times this week:

Mick Mulvaney, the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told banking industry executives on Tuesday that they should press lawmakers hard to pursue their agenda, and revealed that, as a congressman, he would meet only with lobbyists if they had contributed to his campaign.

“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mr. Mulvaney, a former Republican lawmaker from South Carolina, told 1,300 bankers and lending industry officials at an American Bankers Association conference in Washington. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Continue reading

Why I Will Never Live With My Children

There was an article in Tuesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal about “helicopter” children: children who are overly worried about their aging parents, who hover, and who take control of their parents’ affairs (to varying degrees). Or, as I see it, children who treat their parents like adolescents or perhaps even grade-school kids.

I’ve seen it in action. And I hate it. That said, I understand intervention is sometimes necessary and appropriate. Sometimes the mind is too far gone. Or the body has given out. But a child’s response to such situations isn’t helicoptering; it’s necessity.

Helicoptering isn’t a necessity; it’s a choice. Usually if not always, it’s the product of sincere concern about a parent’s physical welfare. “You might fall.” “You might leave the stove on.” Etc. Etc. Implicit in many of the comments is this question: What might happen if you’re left to your own devices? Continue reading

What Is It About Kids?

It’s not uncommon for people in the area to ask me why we moved to Carmel (Indianapolis). Especially when they learn we had lived in Colorado. Most people think Colorado is a great place to live. And it is. It’s then I tell them we moved here because of you, Vera. I add that I never thought we’d be trailing grandparents but that, despite your small statute (you’re only 2-3/4 years old), it turned out you had tremendous power. Enough power to cause me to move 1,100 miles.

Your parents came to pick you up at our house Sunday upon their return from a European vacation. You had been staying with us for nine days. It was wonderful having you here. It was so wonderful that when it came time to leave, I could have cried. (I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that. It’s kind of sappy I suppose.)

Children have that effect on some of us. I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it’s because you’re a free comedy show. You make me laugh. When I mentioned to you that you were funny, you replied, “Yes, I’m funny.” But I doubt you understand. Really. I doubt you appreciate just how precious it is having someone in your life who makes you laugh. Who brings a smile to your face just by being. Who makes your heart dance.

Of course, it’s more than that. It has to be. It’s the love, too. The unconditionality of it. The purity.

You actually don’t know much about me. What I’ve done in my life. How much stuff or money I have. You can’t judge me on any basis other than whether I treat you well. Whether I love you. Whether you want to be with me.

And the same goes for me. You’re not old enough to have done anything other than to play and live. You’ve earned no degrees or medals. Landed no prestigious job. Earned nothing. You just are.

And so we play. You test us, and we provide some parameters (lovingly, of course). Self-discipline is part of living well. It’s fun to watch you grow up and learn how to live well.

Curiosity is key, too. It’s fun to watch yours in action and to nurture it. It’s gratifying to help you discover new things. To experience new things. It’s exhilarating to witness your enthusiasm. The wonder.

You remind me that curiosity, discovery, and wonder are not the sole province of small children. You make me want to spend more of my time following my curiosity and discovering new things.

That’s the beauty of relationships with small children: it’s mutual. Each can learn from the other.

I’m glad you stayed with us while your parents were away. It gave us the chance to become even closer. The hugs are firmer. The kisses more frequent. The smiles more revealing.

I look forward to helping you discover new things in the world. And to being reminded by you to do the same in my life.

Everything is new and exciting in your life. Thanks for sharing your excitement and innocence. Thank you for being you.

Certain Lessons Are Hard to Learn

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a story about retirees of General Electric who have lost a sizable chunk of their retirement savings. Over the past 12 months GE has lost $140 billion in market value. It was a blue chip stock that most people thought was safe. They were wrong.

It’s happened before — major losses incurred by employees and retirees stemming from their decision to hold all or most of their personal savings in their company’s stock. Enron, Valiant, GM, Lehman, and Bear Stearns were mentioned in the WSJ article. But the list is much longer than that.

On the one hand, it’s easy to see how it happens. Confidence in one’s company builds up over a career. Loyalty. You become part of the family. It’s hard to be objective about the risks you’re taking. Why sell the stock that has treated you so well over the years?

On the other hand, there is the matter of history. And history tells us why we should sell. It highlights the risks of concentrated stock portfolios. And the benefits of diversification. Yet history is often ignored.

And so it’s happened again. As a result, some retirees with depleted retirement savings are returning to the workforce. Lives are being turned upside down.

You hate to see it happen. But it’s not that the risks were kept secret. To the contrary, they were in plain sight.

It makes me wonder what risks I might be taking that are in plain sight. What lessons from history am I ignoring?

There’s probably something.

Wanting to Believe in Heartfelt and Authentic

Last week an engine on a Southwest Airlines’ flight threw off a blade, resulting in serious damage to the engine casing and fuselage of the plan. A window was blown out, and one of the passengers lost her life, while seven others sustained injuries. For the next 20 minutes, until the plane was able to land safety in Philadelphia, over 100 passengers lived in fear that the plane would either fall from the sky or crash on the runway. Fortunately, the pilot pulled off a safe landing.

Passengers reported that, within a short time, Southwest had sent them a $1,000 voucher for future travel and a $5,000 check. My initial reaction was that Southwest was smart: treat people well and they’re less likely to sue you. But when Southwest was approached by the media to confirm the story about the payments that passengers had relayed, here is what the airlines said:

Ours is a company and culture built on relationships. Many of the Customers on that flight have flown with us before. We can confirm the communication and gesture are authentic and heartfelt.

So was it? Was it authentic and heartfelt? Continue reading

The Protestations of a Man Who Seems to be Concerned His Lawyer Will Turn on Him

Mr. Twitterfingers is busy this morning.

The thing about our president is that you can always tell what he’s thinking. And today’s he’s laying the groundwork to contend Mr. Cohen is lying if and when Cohen ever implicates Mr. Trump in wrongdoing.

I have no idea if Mr. Trump committed any crimes. That said, I’ve never seen anyone make himself look so guilty.

I sure hope your generation has more sense than mine, Vera. And is never tempted to elect a man such as this to the highest office in the land.

(P.S. Here’s the NYT’s story that seems to have set the pres off this morning.)