My kingdom for a stapler

Adjuncts and offices, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and 7 other things worth your time.

A year ago today, an adjunct professor named Philip Eil wrote one of the saddest articles I’ve ever read.

The headline and subhed alone will drive it home:

Being an Office Worker Is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.

(For an adjunct professor, having a stapler is living the dream.)

Aw man, I cringe just re-reading that. Here's a quick intro, to drive it home:

On the first day I got the key to my office, I nearly cried.

I am an adjunct professor of English and journalism, and after more than seven years of working in academia, this is my first office.

But it was the office supplies that really got me. When I opened the door, I found that someone (a predecessor? a kind-hearted administrative staffer?) had left a small array of fresh legal pads, Post-it notes, and pens waiting for me on the desk — my first desk.

Someone had thought of me, and the newness of that feeling hit me hard.

It goes on. It's very self-aware. I think there's some metaphor in there, but it's also very literal.

Like, eight years of teaching and THIS is the prize?

It reminds me of a quote that apparently has its roots in academia: “The fight is so fierce because the stakes are so small.”

Quick personal aside. I don't really have any big regrets in life, mostly because whatever mistakes I’ve made led me to this moment: married to an amazing woman, dad to a wonderful daughter, roof over my head, get to write for a living, etc., etc., etc.

That said, there have times, for sure, when I've fought some fierce fights over very low stakes. Things I’d do differently, in other words.

All of which makes me feel like I have moral standing to breathe in that “stakes are so small” quote, remember the article from a year ago today, and be a little judgmental about things that are happening right now.

For instance, I look at the likes of Shake Shack, and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and Yale, and all the other giant entities that raced to jump through hoops to grab $10 million in stimulus money -- and say: '“Guys, what were you thinking?!!!”

Yes, it was $10 million. Free money, just sitting there.

And, $10 million would change my family's life. Heck, just a few hundred grand would do it too, because it would be enough for me to build Understandably.com into one of the world's most trusted digital brands.

(More on that later, maybe.)

But for these large companies, many of them publicly traded, with revenues in the tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars, how can you not see that sticking your nose in the trough and pushing the little guys out of the way would come back to bite you?

Ruth's Chris had $468 million in revenue in 2019, so the $20 million they got amounts to a relative pittance. (They double dipped by having two corporate structures.)

It would be like many of us gambling our reputations and goodwill for a few hundred dollars. Maybe a few thousand at most.

And then, they had to give it back!

I was talking with a very successful and interesting entrepreneur and writer yesterday. I'm still digging though our whole conversation because I know there are some great prompts in there, and I'll be riffing off it all next week.

But for now, one big takeaway.

All this stuff that's going on right now (imagine me gesturing wildly) is super-challenging—but it also presents a natural opportunity to stop and think about what we're all chasing after in life, and what parts of it are really worth the fight.

No time for subtlety here: Don't be greedy. Don't chase the wrong things.

And, metaphorically speaking or not, don't get too excited over a stapler and a stack of Post-It notes.

7 other things worth your time

  • American Airlines picked now—now?!—to raise its baggage fees. Maybe it’s smart, since nobody is flying. (Business I3nsider)

  • Here’s how Amazon reportedly takes data from companies that sell on its site to launch competing products. (Wall Street Journal, $)

  • Up to 2.7 million New Yorkers may have been infected with Covid-19 already. If true, this would completely throw off the mortality stats (in a good way). (NBC New York)

  • U.S. unemployment is now higher than any time since the Great Depression. (You probably assumed this, but the numbers are now backing it up). (Associated Press)

  • In Congress, Republicans are angering Democrats by refusing to wear masks, because literally everything apparently has to be political now. (New York Post)

  • The NFL Draft went off pretty well, despite being 100 percent remote/virtual. Quarterback Joe Burrow, who won the Heisman trophy and a national championship with LSU, went first overall. (ESPN)

  • Walmart and Nextdoor launched a feature to let neighbors pick up groceries and other essential products for the elderly and at-risk people in their community. (TechCrunch)


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