The 1 Thing That I Wanted Most

Kamala Harris won't be president. Conan O'Brien didn't work for David Letterman. Stephen Colbert didn't work for Conan. It all makes more sense in context. Plus, 7 other things worth a click.

Sen. Kamala Harris dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination for president Tuesday, calling it “one of the hardest decisions of my life.”

I come today neither to bury Harris nor to praise her.

Instead, it’s to use her timely example as a jumping off point: Sometimes, not getting what you want can be the best thing that ever happens to you.

We’ll see if she agrees with that someday. For now, let’s switch gears.

Driving home from New England after Thanksgiving, my daughter fell asleep, and my wife put on a podcast: Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend. His guest was Stephen Colbert.

(Yes, for the second time in a week, Colbert makes an appearance in Understandably.)

I’m Bill Murphy Jr. Welcome to Understandably, a daily email newsletter.

If you’re new, please sign up here and get it every day!

Share Understandably

I’m a monster

Colbert and Conan were hilarious, just what I needed while battling traffic and snow on the Merritt Parkway. (It feels weird to write “O’Brien,” so let’s stick with “Conan.”)

But they were also poignant. Relevant things they talked about:

  1. In 1985, Conan applied to be the head writer on Late Night With David Letterman. When he didn’t get the job, he said, "I thought my life -- really did think, my comedy life -- is over."

  2. But, this rejection freed Conan to take jobs on The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live. In turn, that meant he was available to replace Letterman on his NBC show in 1993. (“If the thing that I wanted most had happened ... I wouldn't be where I am,” Conan said.)

  3. His first few years on TV were kind of a disaster. Take Tom Shales’s bad review in The Washington Post, for example. He called Conan a "fidgety marionette," and "a living collage of annoying nervous habits," and "one of the whitest white men ever." ("There’s more, but it gets kind of mean," Conan later said in a 2000 speech at Harvard.)

  4. Things improved. Guess who applied to be a writer on Late Night With Conan O'Brien? Colbert.

  5. But, he didn’t get hired either. Colbert said he was crushed at the time, but if he had gotten the job, he wouldn’t have landed on The Daily Show, and then The Colbert Report, and now The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.

Full circle, man. I’ll let Conan and Colbert pick it up, as they’re funnier than I am anyway:

Conan: Not working for me is the greatest thing that ever happened to you.

Colbert: Yeah. I see that now. I always suspected it, but to hear it from the horse's mouth. Wow. What a bullet I dodged.

Conan: And also, I'm a monster. A genuine monster.

Full circle

You guys send me some truly amazing replies most days.

It seems criminal that I’m the only one who gets to read them. (More on that below.)

Yesterday’s edition, which was basically about the dignity of work (plus Gorbachev and Pizza Hut, etc) was no exception.

Here’s part of one good comment, which appeared on the new LinkedIn version of this newsletter. (I’m including it with the author’s permission.)

I needed to see this ... I just retired from the Marine Corps after 27 years. ... Yet I am still unemployed since my mandatory retirement date. ...

Your article help me process this as not a failure … that doing what I need to support my family has dignity regardless of what that is or how much it may pay. I am not giving up on my desired career goals, but I am now holding my head a little higher …

That’s William Collins, a retired U.S. Marine Corps judge advocate. (If you have any leads for him, look him up.)

Honestly, if I never wrote another word, but I knew this newsletter had that impact on one person, it would be something.

Still, talk about full circle.

His comment made me think back to law school. Because for a while, I was pretty high on the idea of becoming a U.S. Marine Corps judge advocate.

It didn’t pan out, in the end. There were medical reasons and bad timing.

The details crack me up now, and I could write an entire newsletter on that experience.

(It probably a better story over a beer, anyway.)

Of course, I’ve long since realized that it probably wasn’t a great fit.

Let's just say I'm not exactly the kind of person who thrives in bureaucracy, even an organization as worthy of respect as the Marine Corps.

Plus, while I can’t know where that path would have led, it’s hard to imagine how virtually every good thing in my life since then could have happened.

However, I was quite disappointed at the time.

So that’s what I’m thinking today. Maybe someday Harris will agree. I know Conan and Colbert do.

Thank God I didn’t get the thing I thought I wanted.

Looking for a few good men and women

How’s this for a segue? “A few good men.” That used to be the Marine Corps recruiting slogan right?

Anyway, I’m serious about starting an interactive component to this newsletter. I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent, and today’s email is long enough as it is.

But, I think I need about 20 or 25 volunteers to help me test something, mostly from a technical standpoint.

If you’re intrigued, and if you’re willing to volunteer based on that vague description, please shoot me an email at

7 other things worth reading today:

  1. Americans are giving less to charity. (Some think it’s because we’re also going to church a lot less. (Marketwatch)

  2. Sergey and Larry step down from Alphabet, and Sundar Pichai steps up. (Associated Press)

  3. Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Microsoft have been accused by a British organization of avoiding $100 billion in taxes. (CNBC)

  4. More people downloaded the Walmart app than the Amazon app on Black Friday. (TechCrunch)

  5. Worried about tough conversations over the holidays? If you work for Facebook, there's an app (technically, a chatbot) for that. (The New York Times)

  6. A soldier at Fort Bragg saved a pawn shop older who had been shot by a customer, after making a tourniquet out of a power tool cord. Sorry, this may be the most U.S. Army story ever. (Task & Purpose)

  7. A photo sharing app that went viral this summer is a Russian counterintelligence threat, according to the FBI. (Business Insider)

One-click, mostly anonymous feedback on what you thought of today’s email newsletter:

Thoughts on today’s email? Just click the link to vote 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 stars. That’s it.

No spam or anything. It’s just an idea I came up with so people can give quick feedback. Today’s email was…

Photo credit goes to my law school classmate and friend Daphne Lincoln, a longtime Conan O’Brien fan, pictured with Conan at an event last year.

Ideas and feedback actively solicited. Find me anytime on LinkedInFacebook, or Twitter or via email at Be excellent to each other.