“There’s only one lesson to be learned from life, anyway,” interrupted Gloria, not in contradiction but in a sort of melancholy agreement.
“What’s that?” demanded Maury sharply.
“That there’s no lesson to be learned from life.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald,
Last month we discussed my experience as an economic development consultant specializing in the developing world. We talked about the Peace Corp and the rewards of doing good work, not for the money but for the satisfaction of making a small difference in the lives of people who suffer injustice and the fallout from corrupt leaders and well-meaning if not inadequate foreign aid programs.
This month, let’s look at introspection:
- the contemplation of your own thoughts and desires and conduct ⤻
syn: self-contemplation, self-examination
It all starts here, how we think about ourselves, how we think about others.
These are two very complicated modalities, the ability to accurately understand our own perceptions. Most of the time we’re wrong, we act in response to outside influences, the same influences that got us off track in the first place.
As Gloria in Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, TheBeautiful and Damned, tells us, there are no lessons to be learned from life, only emotions.
OK, why am I drifting off in a seemingly esoteric direction? As an urban sage once famously said: “where’s the beef?”
The beef, my friends, is where it should be; between our ears.
Everything and I mean everything, starts there. A brain conditioned since birth with a cultural environment, family influence and education is the same brain that starts wars, ignores human suffering, miscalculates injustice and yes, produces people like Microsoft President, Satya Nadella and former President John F Kennedy.
I heard Nadella interviewed by Charlie Rose, this time with Charlie’s clothes on, what a waste, he was one of our best. Rose had a sixth sense, asking the tough question without offending his guest and he was never intimidated by power or position.
But I digress, in that interview, Sayat won me over, he was obviously brilliant with a mindset nourished and conditioned by a culture different from our own. This is how a man like that thinks:
“The best advice I got from both Steve and Bill was to not try and somehow get into this mold of trying to fill their shoes. It’s impossible. I’d grown up in the company they built admiring what they’d done, but at the same time, they gave me enough confidence, quite frankly, to be my own person. I look at what is it that I want to achieve. I’ve been blessed to have this platform at Microsoft. But frankly, the first job I had at Microsoft I felt was the best job. The second job I had at Microsoft was the best job.
“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.:
Most leaders, good and bad, are consumed by their place in history, by their legacy, by the reputation they engender. This is what drives them, where they and we wind up is determined by introspection and the elements, cultural, educational, and experiential that create their mental foundation.
I sometimes, ok oftentimes, wonder why I haven’t made a bigger difference in this life? Why haven’t I been a Lincoln, a Churchill, a Kennedy, a Jobs, a Gates? Someone who changed our lives and made them better. Someone who influenced global events with the shear strength of character and the discipline of a true leader?
We all dream, fantasize, make-believe. As teenagers, we know no limits, we can do anything, it all seems so easy. When I was in my thirties my career and my life was on a rocket ship, I was convinced that all the words of caution and advice from the over-the-hill gang were just salve on aging egos that never quite made it. I was wrong, very very wrong.
My first real job, the kind you interview for, the kind you compete for, the kind you have to qualify for-not the “do a favor for my Dad” kind, was in mid-town Manhattan, NY in the late 60’s. It was a prominent textile company and I was in sales. Before I knew it my production was off the chart and I was promoted. It was so easy that I used to shake my head in wonderment, what in the hell was so hard about this, Christ, the world was full of cry-babies.
As the years went by and my life developed personally and professionally I slowly realized there was more to it, much more.
We’ll explore some of this in future blogs but for now let’s stay in the present, by remembering Antonio’s words in Shakespeare’s The Tempest Act-2, “what’s past is prologue.”
In the sixties, all proper businessmen still wore hats, in spite of JFK’s walk down Pennsylvania Ave on a cold inauguration day January 21, 1961.
He inspired me then and his words continue to do so as I approach this new year and the last chapter of an eclectic life, how I wish I could have spoken these words:
***the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans – “born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage” – and pledged to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Then he spoke the seventeen words –
And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.
How can any red-blooded American Patriot read those words and not be inspired?
HAPPY NEW YEAR my friends, encourage your sons and daughters, your grandsons and daughters to read these words, take them to heart and move this wonderful miracle, this dream called America in a better direction.