Unlike a lot of people who work for a living, I’m freely admit that I’m a whore. It’s very simple, really: I trade my time for someone else’s money. I’ll do anything, anytime, anywhere, and although I am easy, I’m not cheap. I absolutely don’t believe in giving my time away for nothing. Not for God. Not for Country. Not for the satisfaction of seeing a job well done. I work for one reason: You pay me. Next time you ask me to do a job in an afternoon that would usually takes a couple of people a couple of days, let’s keep in mind that the clock is running. I’m lucky to enjoy the work and I’ll give you as much time as you want. Just remember that it’s going to cost you.
Authors note: This is not directed at any individual, living or dead. It is based on a series of observations over the last week. The use of the word “you” does not refer necessarily to “you” the reader, but more general “you” directed at the general public.
I’ve had two separate people tell me over the course of the last week some variation of the phrase, “you can’t always lead with your head.” I call bullshit. I call bullshit on the people who stumble blindly through life from one thing to the next because they’re “following their heart.” I call bullshit on people who turn left instead of right because “they have a feeling.” I call bullshit on a society that values luck over skill and mediocrity over greatness.
People, listen up, because your Uncle Jeff is only gonna go over this material one time. And yes, before someone asks, it will be on the test. Look in the mirror. Do you see that great big melon-looking rock sitting atop your neck? That’s your head. It’s where your brain lives. Your brain is useful for completing all sorts of tasks like addition, breathing, and general problem solving. Your brain, unlike that of say, a swallow, is well developed and provides you with the ability, when used correctly, to apply reason and intellect to even the most difficult of situations. The human brain has developed over millions of years to protect the rest of the body from writing checks that are too expensive to cash.
The ability to apply reason is what separates us from our primate cousins. It’s why we have built civilizations while they pick fleas off one another. I’m not saying that the heart or the spleen or the liver can’t be the point of inspiration, but it’s up to the brain to take that inspiration and flesh it out. It’s through reason that we come to understand the inspiration and impulses for what they are. It’s our intellect and our ability to make the hard decisions without getting waylaid that fundamentally makes us human.
Use your heart, or your intuition, or your ESP for all I care. But at the end of the day, try running things through your brain first before you declare the decision making process to be at an end. Try leading with your head for a change. You might be surprised.
In 1969 Dean Acheson published a memoir of his career at the State Department that covered his entry as an assistant secretary and ending with his elevation to Secretary during the second Truman administration. Serving from 1941-53, he saw the dawn of the modern political age. Empires that spanned three centuries and all corners of the globe crumbled in the wake of a war that left Europe unable to even feed itself, let alone meet its manufacturing and financial needs. Into this breach stepped the United States in the form of the Marshall Plan to rebuild a continent, become the guarantor of high seas commerce, and hold the line against the Soviet Union. For his part, Dean was in on the creation of the modern world.
I don’t claim the high credentials of Mr. Acheson nor am I quite vain enough to think that anything I have done will have those kind of sweeping consequences on the international order. Having a good deal of free time lately to really consider where I am and what I have been doing for the last two years, I can make the general assessment that I am inordinately pleased. In my own way, I’ve been a part of something that will cast its shadow long after I depart from the scene. These few years have been the most intense, most disappointing, most gratifying, most frustrating, and most intellectually challenging experience of my life. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most gifted minds I have ever known. I’ve met more than my share of colleagues who embody the Peter Principle and who have far exceeded their level of incompetence. Through the pitched battle to carry one vision from concept to reality, it has been a great honor and privilege to work shoulder to shoulder with a small group of people who have earned my unquestioned friendship and respect.
We’re off the ground now and our creation is beginning to take on a life of its own. New faces and new ideas are being brought into play. Those of us who were present at the creation are moving off into our own orbits now; managing our finances, planning for the worst case scenario, and chasing an elusive dream that lives somewhere out there on the sunny east coast. We’ve been a part of something special; that most people will never experience anything close. I just can’t say enough good things about you guys.
I don’t mind being tired when I have a good reason. Things haven’t been unusually busy at the office, the house has pretty well come together, there isn’t anything just sitting out there screaming to be done right now, today. Everything is utterly and completely “normal” and I wonder sometimes if that isn’t when I get tired. It’s like I need something causing a degree of chaos to keep a stable level of adrenalin in the system. When things aren’t running a thousand miles an hour, all I want to do is crawl into bed and take a nap. Actually, that sounds like a fantastic idea. If anyone needs me, I’ll be sleeping like a stone.
It’s taken thrice weekly watering, half a dozen applications of fertilizer since early March, weekly trimmings from the lawn service, and going nearly bankrupt to pay for water bills, but my lawn is finally greener than the neighbors. That’s not to say it’s green, however. The 13 inch rain deficit in Memphis has helped assure that it probably won’t reach that milestone any time soon. But it is a better shade of dark yellow than the next guy, so I’m formally declaring victory.
One of the really problematic parts of what I do, is that it requires spending a fair amount of your life thinking about all the worst things that can happen… famine, pestilence, earthquake, plague; basically the worst parts of the Bible. After a while you start looking at everything around you and playing a giant game of “what if.” From a purely academic point of view, it’s great fun to match wits against the worst that God and nature can throw against us. From an individual point of view, it’s the kind of thing that leads to ulcers. Finding that delicate balance between academic interest and outright obsession has never been one of my talents. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to Costco and stock up on bottled water and beef jerky.