All posts filed under: Monday Musings

Thoughts to start off the work week.

On Becoming Who You Are

You’ve no doubt heard the motivational quote, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  Frankly, it has always struck me as excessively sentimental, or—to use my preferred description—sappy. But on my first day of unemployment since 1977—even though a planned move—I’ve certainly been thinking about who I am and what’s next. To help in that process, I turned to John Kaag’s recent book, Hiking With Nietzsche:  On Becoming Who You Are.  I’ll be honest: I know nothing about philosophy, but was simply taken by the book’s title and jacket blurbs.  We buy books for all different reasons, I suppose, and I’m glad I picked this one up a few weeks ago.  Kaag, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, writes about two journeys he took to Piz Corvatsch, the Swiss mountain so important to the writing and life of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The author’s first journey to Corvatsch was when he was a youthful nineteen-year-old.  The more recent one came at age 36, with wife …

I Hate to Say Goodbye, So I’ll Just Say So Long

NOTE: The following is adapted from a message I wrote to my staff at the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the Monday of my last week as the EVP and Chief Preservation Officer with the organization. In a typical three-point sermon from the Baptist church of my youth, the preachers would:  1) tell you what they were going to say (the introduction); 2) then say it (the sermon); then 3) tell you what they had just said (the conclusion).  To keep up the symmetry, the sermons themselves often had three points.  The last of my Monday morning emails will be my personal three-point sermon. The Introduction  I’m going to expand my audience beyond the Preservation Division and write to the full Trust staff along with a number of friends outside the organization.  In doing so, I’ll use the first part to explain a bit about these Monday emails.  Second, I want to say a few words about what the past twenty-two-plus-years at the National Trust have meant to me, both professionally and personally.  Finally, …

Change is the Only Constant

March is one of my favorite times of the year.  The longest month—February—is past. Winter is nearing an end here in DC. Baseball players have reported to spring training camps. Hope springs eternal. Speaking of baseball, I have my own spring training ritual every year. Up first is a viewing of Bull Durham—the best baseball movie ever—followed by reading a new baseball book.  Together the two get me in the mood for the season.  I can report checking off both of those training regimens this year well before Opening Day. I actually read two baseball books recently, although one may not count because it is entitled The Is Not Baseball Book.  You have to love a book which begins with a first chapter of “Sports Is Not a Metaphor.  It’s a Symbol.”  Afterwards it jumps into all matter of things, including pataphysical management systems leading to “self-learning” teams.  That’s for another time. It is the second book, Smart Baseball:  The Story Behind the Old Stats that are Ruining the Game, The New Ones that are …

Self-Sacrifice

When watching the In Memoriam segment of the Oscars last month, I learned that the French actress Stéphane Audran, who played the title role in the Danish film Babette’s Feast, passed away in 2018.  Babette’s Feast—and Audran’s performance as the chef who moves from Paris to the desolate, western coast of Jutland in 19th century Denmark—are among my all-time favorites.  (Babette’s Feast also ranks as Pope Francis’ favorite movie, but I’ll bet he hasn’t watched Bull Durham.*) Here is a short synopsis (spoiler alert:  you will find out all the basics, but none of the real nuance that makes this such a wonderful film): The movie begins in a small Protestant village that has been led for many years by a very rigid pastor. The beliefs of the congregation are extremely Puritan, making the village a drab, grey place where there is hardly any joy. After the pastor has died, his two elderly daughters are forced into leading the older, dwindling congregation. They had hoped to marry when they were young and beautiful, but their …

Humility Is the New Smart

Research shows that “more than 85 percent of a message we communicate to others is conveyed not in the words but in the tone and manner in which they are delivered.”  I saw this first hand in a recent meeting when one of the participants made it very clear—in body language, tone, and language—that she was going to be disagreeable.  Arms crossed, with no attempt to bring others into her point of view other than by sheer force and with every sentence beginning with a negative, she ensured that her point of view was going to be heard.  It was tiring and not very satisfying for others trying to participate in the conversation. This non-approach to communication was highlighted in a book I’ve been reading entitled Humility Is the New Smart:  Rethinking Human Excellence In the Smart Machine Age.  In an era when the best research indicates that 47 percent of U.S. jobs will be replaced by technology within the next ten to twenty years, authors Edward D. Hess and Katherine Ludwig make the case …

Failing Forward

We all fail.  Even those who go to great lengths to demonstrate that they are always right, never are. Rather than fear failure, what if we accepted failure’s inevitability yet used the outcomes to our advantage? Marcel Schwantes, Founder and Chief Human Officer at Leadership From the Core, wrote the following to encourage the “practice of failing forward”: “If you’re the type of person who gives up too soon after failing and you just can’t bounce back from a setback, you’re missing one of the greatest lessons of every successful person: Failing is part of the journey that will lead to success. Accept this fact early on so that when failure comes knocking and tries to scare you away, you stare it down with confidence and embrace it, learn from your mistakes, and try again a different way.” Schwantes’ comment struck me in two ways.  First, I believe he’s right about learning from setbacks.  It isn’t that we should try to fail, but rather that we should recognize—and build on—the inevitable.  More importantly, this is …

The Deep Rhythms of Life

If you are a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. I try and remember that old adage when I consider things I read or hear.  Given my career, training and perspective, I often see historical overtones, even—perhaps—when they don’t exist.  So with that grain of salt, I’ll note that over the course of a recent weekend, I took part in three conversations that all struck me as narratives somehow important and related. The first was not really a conversation. But it felt as if I was on the listening end of one as I went on a Friday night to hear Lucinda Williams and the Drive By Truckers in concert.  Both were great, but it was the music and between-songs patter of Lucinda Williams—her stories, if you will—that made me think about the way in which we can break out of our pasts and stand out from what is expected. Williams has been writing and performing emotionally devastating lyrics for four decades. But she also takes courageous stands against racism, sexism, and hate in …