Today, I am 18,000 days old.
I don’t remember exactly what caused me to calculate this. I vaguely remember a “How To Survive 2020” article from early in the summer and its encouragement to shorten the timeframe you were focused on.
The pandemic has shown how foolish we are in thinking we know what will happen next, how strong the illusion that all our plans will unfold and all our goals will be achieved. Our plans never survive first contact with reality, but the needed adjustments are often minor. We forget all the tinkering and how easily the direction of our lives is nudged towards another unknown destination.
I don’t know anyone who is not noticing the adjustments now, all that change that feels like has been forced on us. There is an enormous amount of denial about that change. We seem unable to accept. We cling to being certain, mostly certain that reality is something different that it really is. In times like these, “I don’t know” is a good antidote. Not knowing can be a good place to sit. The tension between ‘what we want’ and ‘what is’ is relieved.
The actuary tables say I have almost exactly 11,000 days left. I turn fifty this year and that is coming with some denial. There is also nostalgia. I want to hold onto things that aren’t true anymore. There are not more days ahead of me than behind me. Maintaining my weight is no longer automatic. My three amazing teenagers will not be here forever.
Right now, I am focusing on today and finishing writing this newsletter. That feels like a good place to sit.
Best of 2020
Last year, I wrote a piece for Medium about the best business books of 2019. I looked at all of the important lists—Financial Times/McKinsey competition, Amazon, Inc. Magazine, Porchlight Books, Strategy + Business Magazine, and Bookpal—to see how much agreement there was between them. Last year, there were three books chosen by five of those six sources. That was some incredible consistency across such a wide range of perspectives. Range, Nine Lies About Work and Loonshots are all great titles if you haven’t read them.
Medium invited me back again this year and I am working on the essay for 2020 now. It will be published next week but I thought I could give you a little sneak peak 🙂 There wasn’t the level of consistency that there was last year. One book appeared on four of the six lists and that was No Rules Rules by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and INSEAD professor Erin Meyer. I like this book alot. The book explains the media company’s culture that has propelled them forward as they disrupted their own business multiple times. The teachings are also intriguing because I am not sure they can be easily applied in other places. Hastings and Meyer talk about the convincing upsides and downsides that they knowingly accept.
Four other books were selected by three outlets: No Filter by Sarah Frier, If Then by Jill Lepore, Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire by Rebecca Henderson, and Uncharted by Margaret Heffernan. I’ll have more to say about those in the article.
The Season of Celebration
December is a month full of celebrations. There are almost too many to list: Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day in UK, Omisoka in Japan. You could certainly add the various forms of Thanksgiving and Diwali. I’d like to add one more to your list.
In Buddhist tradition, this week is the most venerated time in the yearly calendar. In Zen, this week is called Rohastu, which literally translates as ‘the 8th day of the 12th month.’ December 8th, which was yesterday, commemorates the Buddha’s enlightenment. The story goes that Siddharta sat under the Bodhi Tree for 49 days without moving. On the final night, he finally found the answers he had been searching for most of his life. His insights became the core teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. In temples all over the world, even this year, people are sitting seven day sesshin, in respect to the Buddha’s and their own enlightenment.
In 2017, I visited India and made a trip to Bodhgaya, where the Bodhi Tree is located. I was immediately taken by the place. There were practitioners making their way through 100,000 full prostrations in front of the temple with their kneeling boards and digital counters. Monks were circumambulating the temple, most walking, some one prostration at a time. For most of the week there were several thousand Tibetan monks on the grounds each day chanting.
Before all those ceremonies started, I spent a day sitting under the tree. I didn’t bring Siddharta’s commitment to finding the path. My intention was to just be there and be curious. I watched people chase the precious leaves that fell from the tree. I sat with my teacher for a while. I looked for images to capture with my camera, trying to hold onto the indescribable feeling of devotion and peace that this place held. As I got up to leave, someone walked over to me, smiled, and handed me a leaf.
The secret to happiness, of course, is not getting what you want; it’s wanting what you get.”—Alex Trebek