Start over from the beginning
Not just sucking up to the boss. (He promises.) Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
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What I learned after reading 500+ emails…
Sometimes I can be a little “too close to the trees to see the forest,” when it comes to this newsletter, given the effort that it takes to produce it every day.
So, a little while back, when Tom started working with Kate and me, he came up with an idea: What if we asked him to go back to the very beginning and read everything through, start to finish?
When you add everything up, it’s now probably 400,000 words or more—basically War and Peace. But, Tom took it on.
I was curious what he’d learn about how we’ve evolved, and frankly what obvious next steps he saw, or even ways we could reuse some of the essays we’ve run and the topics we’ve discovered.
I thought we’d share the first of his reports on what he found.
Start with Murphy’s Law
When I pitched the idea to Bill to read all the past issues of Understandably I estimated it should take about two weeks. A month later I’m just about to finish.
It’s been fun and I’ve learned a lot, but when planning a big project like this, it’s always important to build extra time into the schedule in case the unexpected happens. For example:
I didn’t plan for Christmas, even though I knew it was coming.
I didn’t plan on catching COVID. (My case was fairly mild and I’m now fully recovered.)
I didn’t plan for my pipes to freeze two weekends in a row. (Maybe I should have; it’s winter and I live in Maine. But it’s never happened to me before.
Now that I’m nearly done reading, however, I’d like to share some of the interesting things I understand better after reading Understandably from the beginning.
You only fail if you give up
There’s a quote that has always stuck with me, by Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich, and that reminds me to look for the path to success in any setback:
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartbreak, carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater success.”
I found a lot of these types of stories in the Understandably archives: Every example of someone turning a supposed “failure” into a success really struck home with me.
Here are three of my favorite examples:
The story of David Casarez, who went from homeless to making $94,000 a year. He got a degree in programming and is now working for a startup 200 miles outside Silicon Valley
The story of Kevin Plank, who went from being kicked out of high school to playing Division I college football, and eventually becoming founder and CEO of Under Armor.
Finally, The Best Job in the World: in which Bill discusses (somewhat tongue in cheek) how it’s probably better to be the former CEO of a big company than it is to actually hold the job.
Oh, and remember, if your kid is rejected by a school that encouraged them to apply that might’ve been their plan all along. So try not to take it too personally.
History is about people
I was a history major in college until I realized just about everything that could be written about Napoleon Bonaparte already had been. (I changed my major to economics, mainly because it was the area I had the most credit hours in, and I wanted to make sure I got my degree on time.)
What I liked most about Understandably’s approach to history is the focus on history as told at a personal level—about individual people and the decisions they make. Examples:
The story of Col. Harry Shoup of NORAD, who played along one year and pretended he was Santa Claus, after a newspaper ran an ad telling children they could call his workshop at the North Pole, but included the NORAD phone number by mistake.
The story of Richard Nixon’s aides apparently being enthralled enough by the notion of Elvis Presley dropping by almost unannounced that they encouraged Nixon to take the meeting—and even to get him some kind of “Special Agent” badge so that he’d feel appreciated.
A much more somber story, about the theory that the U.S. military might actually have dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan in 1945 without presidential authorization, because Harry Truman’s briefers told him that the next bomb “of tested type” wouldn’t be ready for weeks, but didn’t also let him know that there were other untested versions.
I’m still trying to figure out an angle so I can write a post about Napoleon.
[EDIT from Bill: Sorry to interrupt; I’m terrible. For anyone who might go back and read old editions based on today’s newsletter, I have one to add: the story of how Mikhail Gorbachev was so broke after the fall of the Soviet Union that he starred in a Pizza Hut commercial.]
Gratitude matters most
This isn’t new to me; it’s something I’ve known for most of my life.
In your darkest moments, if you focus on what you’re grateful for, the exercise can pull you back from the brink of despair. I think my focus on gratitude throughout my life is why so many people I’ve met think I’m upbeat, optimistic, and inspirational.
Most of you know that I deal with cerebral palsy on a daily basis. There’s often yet another new thing to deal with. My latest: Working on getting a new seat cushion due to the start of a pressure sore on my—well, my seat.
The honest truth is I am grateful for my cerebral palsy. It filters out all of the intolerant people I don’t want to spend time with anyway.
I’m grateful for the pressure sore, which reminds me that I have to get up and move, even though I’ve been discharged from PT.
I am grateful for every injury, surgery, and recovery that I have been through during these 40 years.
I didn’t understand why I could say something like that until I read the Understandably post about talk show host Stephen Colbert’s views on gratitude. (You might know that Colbert has suffered some tragedy in his life, including the loss of his father and two of his brothers in a plane crash, when he was just 9 years old.)
As Colbert put it in an interview a while back:
It's a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. There's no escaping that.
[I]f you are grateful for your life … then you have to be grateful for all of it. You can't pick and choose what you're grateful for.
I’d never heard it articulated like that, but it’s true. Everything that happens to us is part of the story of our lives. And if we want to be grateful for the good parts, we have to be grateful for the less-than-good parts, because they all fit together somehow.
While we’re on the topic of gratitude, I’m grateful to Kate for introducing me to Bill, I’m grateful for Bill giving me the opportunity to work with him.
And I’m grateful to all of you who read and comment on these newsletters. Thank you all so much.
7 other things worth knowing today
Justice Stephen Breyer will step down from the Supreme Court at the end of the current term. There’s been no official announcement, but every media org is reporting this. President Biden should, in theory, be able to replace him, but there’s already speculation that the Democrats’ tiny, barely-there majority might mean Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell has just enough leverage to be able to stall any nomination. (NBC News, Time)
At least 5.4 million Americans became gun owners for the first time during 2021, according to an industry survey. About 47 percent of them asked about training, and 43 percent followed through, according to the same study. “We welcome these new gun owners to the greater community of law-abiding Americans who choose to own a firearm for lawful purposes,” said Joe Bartozzi, president and CEO of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. (Ammoland)
The longtime bane of US high school students’ lives, the SAT, will soon go fully digital. (Axios)
Spotify is taking down all of Neil Young’s music, after the musician said he didn’t want to be on a platform that allowed the spread of “disinformation” about Covid-19. (Rolling Stone)
McDonald’s is introducing a new official “menu hack,” which is three sandwiches together: a Big Mac, a McChicken, and a Filet-O-Fish as one big mega-sandwich. Together, it works out to 1,330 calories, 69 grams of total fat, 124 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of sugar, and 2,150 mg of salt. (Fox5 NY)
A lot of you all are my age or thereabouts, right? So maybe you remember Zoom, the PBS TV show? “Box 350, Boston, Mass. 02134?” The show just turned 50. To celebrate, the first 100 shows are now available online for the first time. Being on the Zoom in the 1970s was "exhilarating" and "the best thing ever,” says former child cast member Joseph Shrand, who is apparently now a psychiatrist and author. (NPR)
An Atlanta couple — an out-of-work software engineer and an artist — were behind on their mortgage payments and in danger of losing the house and small farm. Then they came up with the solution: creating a collection of 10,000 cartoon duck nonfungible tokens that they sold for an average of $12 each online, netting $120,000 in six hours. Thorne Melcher, 33: “We saved our farm by selling cartoon ducks. It was like a fever dream. … I couldn’t sleep until they were all gone.” (CNBC)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.