09.22.21

missing the seasons

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:34 pm by Administrator

it’s been more than thirteen years now since i left the east coast. i miss it sometimes, in a very vague sense of missing something. when i explore that feeling, i realize that what i am missing is a time in my life, not something embedded in the place itself.

in any case, i watched a youtube last night of a random person driving through my old neighborhood. the video was from september 2017, which was just five months after my father passed, and a couple months after my mother sold the house and left town. it was strange to see the neighborhood in the immediate aftermath of our crisis, loss, and desertion.

in truth, i don’t miss the neighborhood itself. it was miles and miles of gated communities and mansions, with little to do outside of making use of the bike paths and going shopping at one of the two local grocery stores. the cultural attractions were all at least a half hour’s drive away, and even then we’re talking about places that weren’t particularly walkable at night. in most every respect, i prefer the neighborhood where i live now. perhaps the only thing i miss really is the seasons.

when i was growing up, i loved spring, because spring signaled the hope of summer vacation, and because the sudden fury of flowering cascaded into so many other sensations, romantic and otherwise. in early adulthood, i came to relish autumn and its lengthening shadows and pictures of senescence. nowadays, so far from the land where i was raised, i miss the winter. i miss the soft, weak sunlight caught up in the heavy clouds. i miss the bite of the wind and the faint smell of char, as a thin layer of fresh snow crunches under my boots. i miss that feeling of utter anonymity, as i walk silently in the darkness enshrouded in scarf, coat, and gloves, unbeknownst to everyone else tucked away in their homes. i am in a time of my life when i would love to be forgotten, to surrender responsibility, to wander into a vision quest and emerge a stranger, known only to myself. out here, the world pretends that life has no seasons, that life can continue as it always has. the winters of my childhood used to bring an end to these delusions; but this kind of winter carries no gravitas, and thus i cannot stop living as i once was, even though i have lost too much to possibly continue

09.17.21

my best life

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:46 pm by Administrator

sometimes i look at my daughter, and it brings me great joy to see how much happiness she experiences every day. whether it’s playing outside with her friends, or learning something interesting in school, or putting a cookie in her mouth, there is always something in her life that is giving her joy. there is no doubt in my mind that she’s living her best life.

my wife and my son as well do a good job of taking care of themselves, and while there is more responsibility in their lives, i do believe that it is a regular thing for them to experience pleasure and satisfaction. their wellness is a great comfort to me. and it highlights the contrasting experience of my own life. just the other day, my son asked me why i keep working this particular job i have, which is not much different from all the previous jobs i have had, and i was lost for an answer. only days later after a little bit of thought was i able to come up with an honest response: because i am trapped in a life that i do not love.

for the past nineteen years, i have been a working man. i have labored at various jobs that i have hated with varying degrees of intensity. none of these jobs were meaningless; they were all very meaningful, in fact. but all of these jobs have exacted a toll on me that i have been reluctant to pay. specifically, my work has forced me to carry the burdens of other people in a manner that i have consistently found onerous and exhausting. whether as a care provider or as a manager of staff, i’ve had to deal with people at their worst. devoting the vast majority of my time at work to people who are not physically or emotionally well is beyond taxing; it is utterly demoralizing. multiply that experience times fifty-two weeks and nineteen years, and what you get is me—the ambivalent, lost, and chronically unhappy man that i am.

my plight is no different from that of any primary medical provider, over ninety percent of whom express extreme dissatisfaction with their work according to some surveys. but at the same time, my plight is unique because i as an individual am unique. there were so many things i could have done with my life, but i wandered into this profession and for all the wrong reasons perhaps. i had a need to make a living. i thought i could leverage the work into a religious mission of some kind. i thought that this career would complement my philosophical and creative tendencies. nineteen years after embarking on this path, i find myself bereft of the religion that once motivated me to take this career path; in fact, i can honestly say that my professional work is one of the main reasons i abandoned my faith. neither has this work fueled my creative drive. it has actually sapped me of the time and energy that i would have otherwise devoted to exploration and creation.

it hasn’t all been for a loss. i could write tomes about everything that my work has taught me over the years, and of course i credit my long and difficult years journeying with poor, sick, and marginalized people for the personal growth i’ve experienced, now reflected in both my atheism and my mindfulness practices. but i can be honest now about the fact that i’m a misfit for the profession i chose. i cannot stand the structure, discipline, and constant emotional demands of this kind of work, and instead of mitigating my natural needs for spontaneity and creativity, this work has exacerbated my frustrated need for a different way of life. there are people who go through life insisting they have no regrets, and i believe that these people are liars. everyone has regrets. my biggest regret is that i became a doctor.

now, i’m not about to throw away my career on a whim simply because it was a poor choice for me. i have bills to pay. i have responsibilities to fulfill. all of this is part of the web of capitalism and industry that we are all collectively ensnared in. i protest this, but i’ll save those complaints for a more philosophical entry. the fact is that i have placed my personal pursuit of happiness second to responsibility for the past two decades of my life, and while i have paid a price for this, i have also been able to make good on my obligations to others in many ways. however, i’m approaching a period in my life when this will no longer be a justifiable excuse for my deferred happiness. must i continue laboring at this work that is so unnatural and displeasing to me, or should i put it behind me in the interests of salvaging what is left of the little time that remains?

it’s not a hard question to answer. i know for a fact that if i’m still doing this kind of work ten years from now, i will have yet another regret to add to my list of regrets: that i chose not to see what i could be outside of this profession.

i do fear what a less structured life might look like for me, sometimes. though the years of routines and predictable labor have turned me into a relentlessly dour creature of habit, they have also afforded me stability of a kind. what would become of me if i just stopped having a job? what if i took on a work that no one paid me for or held me accountable to? would i become bored? would i turn into a sloth? most of the time i recognize that i have these fears and anxieties because i was forced into a specific kind of work addiction, from a very young age. but sometimes i wonder if i will simply cease to exist if i stop identifying with a paycheck, a daily destination, a certain kind of responsibility to others.

most of the time though, i really wish that for a season of my life i could wake up every morning with no idea of what i had to do. the emptiness of things would pervade me. i might stop commodifying myself and others. i might stop experiencing such relentless unhappiness on a daily basis. i might just begin to tap into the gift that i have to give—the real gift that to this point has been totally unrevealed.

my best life is not about retirement. it is about putting things behind me that have no right to invade my life. it is about freeing myself of responsibilities and obligations that are conceptual and unnecessary. it is about acknowledging that my first priority must always be my own health and well-being, which i have sacrificed consistently and without a second thought for the majority of my adult life. i have pain, and sorrow, and much regret to work through, and i am not sure i have enough time left to work through it all. but a new beginning is the first step on that path, and for my sake, it is time for me to begin imagining exactly what that new beginning might look like

09.15.21

Eagles: great start

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:51 pm by Administrator

in my May 18th entry, i presented a revised projection of a 9-8 season and had this to say about the season opening game:

what’s our path to 9-8 and a wild card berth? i see us beating atlanta in the season opener, an important victory that will set the tone for the rest of the season. while our secondary is no match for their receiving group, the eagles will win this one with relentless pressure on matt ryan. the falcons tried to address their weaknesses on the o-line in this draft, but mayfield and dalman won’t be day one contributors. that’s just fine for kerrigan and company, who will punish ryan on third downs throughout the game. i see the eagles running the ball very effectively against a bad falcon d-line. this win will demonstrate philadelphia’s formula for 2021: running the ball consistently, and refusing to give up any big plays on defense.

this was before julio jones was traded and also before the eagles picked up steven nelson to shore up their secondary. regardless, the outcome was the same. the eagles picked up 173 yards on the ground, at 5.6 yards per carry, and it was big-time runs by sanders and gainwell in the 3rd quarter that put the game away. sirianni’s scheme kept hurts effective in the short passing game, and jalen did well to avoid big mistakes, but the running game and our defense—the pass rush in particular—are what gave us the W.

in the same entry i predicted that we would beat san francisco, and while that’s a tough call on paper, i’m going to stick by that prediction here in september. the niners have a tough front seven but have lost key guys to injury in the secondary, and i think that the eagles will unexpectedly open up this offense on sunday and challenge the niners downfield. i don’t expect the 49ers to be able to stop the eagles’ speedy downfield threats, and i’m counting on hurts connecting with smith, reagor, watkins, ertz, and goedert all afternoon. obviously this will hinge on the quality of our pass protection, and i’m betting on the eagles’ o-line. on the other side of the ball, i think that the eagles are well-designed to expose the weaknesses in the sf offensive scheme, and the pressure will get to jimmy g early and often. the niners are not a team built to come back from a deficit, and the eagles will take this win (an upset no less) handily.

let’s not get ahead of ourselves though and crown hurts and sirianni the kings of all kings. i’ve predicted losses to dallas, carolina, tampa bay, las vegas, denver, new orleans, new york (giants), and washington, and more than a few of these losses will be gruesome, marred by turnovers, and sloppy in execution, especially on offense. hurts will not be sharp every week, and i’ve predicted 17 interceptions for him this year. but he will define himself in the closing stretch, going 3-1 against division rivals and gutting out tough games to get us into the wild card round. and hurts, unlike wentz, will win us a playoff game.

jalen hurts may never be a top-5 quarterback in this league; but he’ll be good enough to make us a contender, and he’ll be likable enough to rally the fan base behind him. he may not ever produce at donovan mcnabb’s peak levels, but i do think he’s enough of a leader and a player to get us to the championship game. that’s as strong of an endorsement as you can get from me. the eagles have a super bowl window while hurts is on his rookie contract, provided that they maintain dominance on the offensive and defensive lines. that’s a tall order after 2022, so the eagles will have to draft well this year and next to stay in the hunt.

sunday’s game was a great start to the year. but keep your pants on eagle fans because it’s not going to be this pretty every week. let’s beat san francisco and keep brooks and johnson healthy.

GO EAGLES

09.12.21

on the twentieth anniversary

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:45 am by Administrator

i am sure that they imagined that even if they were able to get into the cockpit, and take control of the plane, and evade the fighter jets, and barrel into the tower, what they would leave behind would be a burning building, scarred forever for everyone to see, a testament to their cause. imagine even their awe at the magnitude of what they did, when the buildings not only caught fire but then collapsed. it was like everything holding up what is—all the girders and pipes and walls, all the concrete and metal that makes everything strong—suddenly capitulated.

there is nothing left. they could not have imagined that there would be nothing left. yes sure, there is a monument, and there are memories, but the building that was supposed to show the scars of war could not survive our cruelty and our rage. and thus there is no victory for either the perpetrator or the victim, even though we are both.

how weak we truly our at our foundations. it only shows when we destroy ourselves. it has been a long time since i ran my fingers along the fence and all the letters and photographs taped to its thin and buckling spines. i felt the softness and the ash of what was left behind. it was for me both revelation and sadness, and i was never the same.

09.08.21

macro thesis: signal and noise

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:33 pm by Administrator

i’ve recently laid out my base case scenario regarding covid. while the vaccine is mitigating disease severity and saving lives, it cannot guarantee us herd immunity. most concerningly, fully vaccinated persons are getting infected and shedding virus at levels equivalent to those seen in unvaccinated persons. this means that viral evolution is happening in vaccinated hosts, on a populational level. and that means that our current vaccines are certain to have diminishing efficacy against currently evolving variants. additionally, these variants will likely have higher replicative capacity, which means they are likely to cause more severe disease, especially in unvaccinated people.

my macro thesis for the global economy hinges on this view of viral evolution. we are not almost done with covid, as we in the united states were led to believe back in the spring. we are just at the beginning of a years-long struggle with a virus that will become endemic and remain a step ahead of vaccine development. if we are lucky, we will find a sustainable coexistence with this life form, and it will endeavor not to kill us, its valued hosts. but as a society we will emerge from this compromise both sicker and less productive than we were before.

the implications for the global economy have to be obvious. the reopening boom in financial assets has been predicated on an overwhelming belief in imminent herd immunity. like i’ve written previously, the current level of asset price inflation cannot be sustained by anything less than a 100% return to business. but endemic covid implies more like an 85% economy, with chronic workforce shortages due to illness, fear, and cultural change, and with an inevitable contraction of the economy as small and medium sized business begin to shrink or shut down due to these workforce issues. even the large cap industries will at some point have to alter strategy in response to employment data and growth projections. the recent non-farm payroll data was signal, not noise, and what it portends is economic contraction in the times ahead.

the recent taper of the S&P’s momentum reflects low volume and little volatility on the surface, but i strongly suspect it is the tip of the iceberg. those who are discerning the implications of the current delta surge are quietly exiting the market, and for sure a cohort of trend followers is likely to follow in the weeks ahead. we may not tip over into an obvious sell-off until q3 financial data is published, at which point employment data, consumer sentiment, and corporate forecasts could finally align to tell a unified story—that we are beginning our descent into a double dip recession.

so many financial analysts have recently questioned the hyper-inflation narrative, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that their skepticism is warranted. the fed has been reluctant to taper their asset purchasing programs for good reason: because the job market truly is that tenuous and contingent upon the vicissitudes of this mercurial, ever mutating coronavirus. this will be a time when good news is bad news; the good news of forestalled taper will only confirm the anxieties of many that we are devolving into a deflationary death spiral. biden’s plans for corporate and capital gains tax hikes, which will be fleshed out this Fall, will only compound the generally building pessimism around the prospects of this overheated economy. i think we are facing the specter of a wintertime crash in the stock market.

as enthusiastic as i have been about the societal implications of cryptocurrencies, i can’t see cryptos doing well in this environment of general pessimism. the prospects for cryptos, at least in the short term, depend highly on the appetite of large institutional investors. if and when they view bitcoin as a reasonable diversification play, all cryptos will surge to unprecedented levels. but i don’t see that happening in the turbulent times ahead. fear will push the institutional investors into safety plays—cash and bonds—and away from more speculative plays like a bitcoin etf. cryptos have the potential to crash worse than the mainstream financial markets in the season ahead, and for that reason i’m pretty guarded in my approach to crypto allocations. i still think bitcoin and ethereum are buy and hold assets for the long term, but investors with short time horizons might consider selling cryptos on the front end of a general market correction.

i hesitate to predict a solid asset class for the times ahead, because i think most everything will suffer. mega-cap tech stocks have nowhere to go but down from here. all “value” stocks will slide once it’s clear that a full reopening will not be possible this Fall. bonds are in what i’d call a secular crisis. developed and emerging markets can’t thrive in a deflationary global environment. commercial real estate looks like the worst bet of all, and the residential real estate market bubble cannot survive rising unemployment and declining consumer sentiment, regardless of artificially suppressed borrowing rates. gold might stand alone as the one asset that doesn’t suffer a precipitous drop, but it won’t replicate its previous pandemic bounce without another round of quantitative easing. i can’t imagine the Fed doubling down during this slower and less dramatic chapter of the global recession; but if it does, gold is the play for 2022—and beyond

09.05.21

a time of war

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:45 am by Administrator

even in the midst of all the terror and the bloodshed, i know that which causes my suffering. i am the cause of my suffering.

even when they attack me and undermine me at every turn, i am the cause of my suffering. the fear, the anxiety, the rage that overcomes me—these are the suffering. the hunger is the suffering.

regardless, there is the war. the war may not the battle of wills i might imagine. it is not the vendetta that rules me, nor is it the test of my ego that steels me. but in the cool of the eve, when the universe gifts me a solitary moment of illuminating consciousness, there is still the reality of the war that awaits me in the morning. there is the enemy, beyond my own self. there is the conduct of battle to be undertaken, with all its attendant rituals and burdens. and there is that simple understanding of life as survival—an acknowledgement of the threat to my existence, a commitment to outlast that which seeks my extinction. once, we were at war with the elements and with the beasts of the field. we have connived and we have overcome, and thus we now war with one another. one can deny the reality of war as one denies thought itself; but when the knife is at the throat, the truth of what we are comes quick and without deliberation.

like water poured over the blade, i meditate to cleanse myself of the suffering that adheres to my pain. separated from that suffering, i can understand the nature of the battle. these people who are my enemies have not made my death their personal mission. and i know as well that i hate them only inasmuch as the hatred is needed; i try not to add to the suffering. when i awaken to the battle, i will gird myself with that lust for blood, and i will clothe myself in its armor. by its cold weight and its soulless touch upon my flesh, i will know that even he who is mindful must kill, with all the heft of his humanity tempered and honed into a weapon of destruction.

and so the universe, in my deepest moment of meditation, beckons to me to be as sharp as the blade that i carry in my hands. do not be sad that this is your life, young warrior, as you contemplate this violence to come. be alive in this time of war

08.30.21

making sense of covid and the world

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:03 pm by Administrator

ten months ago, back on october 30, 2020, i had this to say about covid and the case reports of reinfection that i was studying:

i believe that the cases of reinfection suggest that viral evolution at key target sites is emerging fast enough that the population’s collective immune response cannot keep up. if you didn’t know already, this is the worst case scenario.

this doesn’t necessarily mean that we will see case fatality rates rise. it is true that some of the reinfections have been symptomatically much worse than the initial infection, raising concerns of a dengue-like “antibody-dependent enhancement”. but the patterns of morbidity across the globe don’t suggest that this phenomenon is widespread. what reinfection could mean though is that the populational prevalence of infection may no longer serve as a surrogate metric of herd immunity.

the implications for society and for the global economy could be significant. while many aspects of the service economy can be sustained to some degree under regulations of social distancing and masking, i believe that ongoing economic recovery actually depends on the ability of previously infected individuals to fully normalize their social interactions; and any inhibition of this will markedly reduce the capacity of key actors to network effectively. reinfection, in other words, puts the lid on any attempt to reopen society. and if reinfection proves to be widespread, a repeat and protracted lock-down won’t simply be a tool to slow the spread of infection; it will become our only realistic bridge to a vaccine.

on top of these anxieties about the implications of reinfection, i’ve recently become more pessimistic about a vaccine. if the virus really is evolving considerably enough to cause reinfection over a matter of weeks or months, then it seems unlikely that this coronavirus has a highly conserved target for vaccine-induced immunity. my prediction is that the initial vaccines under development may prove to be relatively safe but will not demonstrate a high level of efficacy; and what we will face in 2021 is the necessity of ongoing vaccine development, as we attempt to incrementally promote herd immunity through serial vaccines that target a variety of viral proteins across a multitude of circulating strains. that could be a painful process that drags across 24-36 months. and through all that time, human society will continue to evolve in tandem with the virus. we will not return to normalcy, as we understand it now.

we are coming to this realization: that we really do not understand this virus and what it is doing to us. we thought we knew how it would affect us and for how long—but we were wrong

fast forward 10 months, and we are facing a fourth surge of this infection. more than 30% of the infections in my region are in fully vaccinated people. yes, vaccinated individuals appear to be at much lower risk of hospitalization and death; but data suggest that once infected they are no less likely to transmit this virus to others. the vaccine is saving lives, but it is not guaranteeing herd immunity for the population. this is indeed the nightmare scenario; the novel coronavirus is continuing to evolve, and natural selection is promoting more transmissible variants faster than we can isolate and study them. we have no reason to believe that the delta variant is the last major hurdle of this pandemic. in all likelihood, it is just the beginning of a series of attacks and counterattacks we experience as the true magnitude of this war against an unconquerable virus becomes manifest.

perhaps one possible outcome of this is that we begin to face what looks like a year-round mild influenza, for which vaccinations are largely ineffective. in this scenario, host immunity is transient at best, while viral evolution across a large population with ongoing susceptibility remains rapid. covid becomes our “new normal”; it kills few but harasses many, and we learn to live with it, albeit it at a generally lower level of functionality and productivity.

the more ominous outcome might be serial shocks to societies around the world, as random variants demonstrate higher lethality. there’s good reason to believe that selected variants will be deadlier, given that transmissibility often correlates with higher rates of viral replication. if this is the case, then even without mandated lock-downs we will witness episodic and severe slow-downs in our economies and operations, as we experience ongoing and paralyzing workforce shortages related not only to the morbidity of a deadly variant but also to the fear of the disease.

it is depressing to consider that the end of this pandemic may not be within reach, and coming to this realization as a global society is very likely to force upon us a cultural shift as profound as any we have seen in the past century. however one might term it—the “90 percent economy”, the end of things past, the new and not-quite normal—it will force us to settle for less. less freedom. less travel. less certainty. less face-to-face relationship. after emergency relief funds dry up, there will be economic retrenchment. facing higher supply chain costs and declining consumer demand, companies will put less into capex. workers will face a job market with higher wages but also fewer guarantees and more strings attached. currency wars between nations will have higher stakes and dramatic political repercussions. in general, we’ll face a chapter in our lives when it appears that everyone is looking out for themselves. is this the crisis that will precipitate the “fourth turning”, as suggested by neil howe and william strauss? my base case is global stagflation. no one has ever accused me of being an optimist.

in the midst of all the crisis thinking we have recently engaged in as americans—embroiled as we have been in our vicious battles over masks and vaccines, on top of our underlying battles over police brutality, trumpism, immigration, and social justice—this darker and more introspective chapter of our story together is about to force a more probing inquiry into the fundamental issue that we have been trained to ignore, the issue that links all the dots we have failed to connect over these past years—our expanding inequalities in income, health, and wealth. covid, like the police and our wars overseas, has disproportionately killed BIPOC people in the united states, highlighting the fact that our systems, whether or not they reflect anyone’s individual intentions, are designed to persecute poor people of color.

there is a reckoning about this that is coming. it may not be a racial civil war; it may not be a revolt against our government. but i think that it will come in the form of a broken grid: bypasses to our usual forms of taxation, surveillance, and control, which will allow rank and file citizens to transact and create society in defiance of the institutions which preserve the privilege and wealth of our landed aristocracy. and in this context, the country will elect a populist leader who, unlike trump, will take up the cause of the poor and alienated underclass of this nation and attack the interests of those who have oppressed them. i see this in our imminent future. i see wealth taxes, desegregative policies beyond affirmative action, formal reparations, and anti-monopolistic interventions accelerating in the times ahead. it will not be communism—but it will be a true reckoning, as cathartic as it is overdue

08.23.21

afghanistan

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:03 pm by Administrator

i still remember arguing with a guy in my lab back in the winter of 2001 about going to war with afghanistan. he thought we should go to war because the taliban were responsible for state-sponsored terrorism. i pushed back and said that it would be overkill to invade a whole nation on account of a terrorist network that spanned the whole globe. moreover, i remember telling him that russia had already proven that a war against the afghanis was a fundamentally unwinnable war, and that the united states would not be able to successfully build and preserve a new regime in that part of the world. our conversation got heated, and it was one of the few times that i can recall myself actually yelling in anger at someone in public.

that was twenty years ago. i was opposed to the war in afghanistan, and later on i was opposed to our war in iraq, and after that i was opposed to our involvement in the syrian civil war. it’s not that i have been a universal pacificist. it’s just that i have opposed immoral and irrational warfare. for my part, i wanted us to get militarily involved in the mexican drug war as it rapidly escalated after 2007. that was an opportunity at intervention that could have saved tens of thousands of lives, stabilized a neighboring nation, and prevented an escalating refugee crisis that we are still unsuccessfully managing at our borders. instead we got involved in conflicts in asia and the middle east that had no achievable objectives and no chance of success.

seeing the footage coming out of afghanistan nowadays is thoroughly demoralizing and has weighed on my mood, as much as i try to focus on what is within my scope of control. the crisis that is unfolding now and the uncountable loss of life that will ensue over the next years of taliban rule is impossible to comprehend. it is deflating to consider that in twenty years of occupation, the united states succeeded only in identifying and propping up allies who will now be pursued and executed as collaborators. it is the capstone of a foreign policy failure just as profound as the vietnam war. and it is more evidence that the united states continues to operate within a cold war mindset that is already thoroughly defunct.

i absolutely supported president trump’s decision to withdraw from afghanistan, and i support president biden’s commitment to following through with this withdrawal. whether we withdraw tomorrow, next month, or next year, the outcome will be the same: persecution of our friends and allies in the country, as well as admission of our colossal defeat in afghanistan. the ones who truly deserve censure for this failed war are the bush administration, who began this illegal war as well as the debacle in iraq that followed. for all the gaffes and missteps that marked the trump presidency, there is no doubt in my mind that the eight years of george w. bush’s leadership were vastly more destructive to the United States and to the world at large. trump may have been tactless and indiscreet, but george w. bush was a warmonger who unnecessarily sacrificed the lives of american servicemen. i cannot think of any president in american history who more thoroughly discredited the country and harmed the nation

08.20.21

standing for something

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:24 pm by Administrator

we had a good meeting with our consultants today. for an hour, they provided incisive feedback on how we appear to our customers, how well we are equipping our staff, and how we can stand to improve. their recommendations were spot-on.

i began feeling a vague sense of chest pressure and a headache about halfway through the meeting, and by the end i felt some nausea as well. no, i wasn’t having a heart attack. i was just having my usual friday afternoon symptoms of stress and anxiety. here’s the hard fact: the work of continuous improvement is neverending. lean six black belts love that. but i kind of hate it.

here’s the thing i have learned through the years. people can talk the talk about leadership, and they can say that they’re committed to excellence, but unless they are consistently and thoroughly supported in that effort they will not be able to make good on that commitment. the neverending nature of continuous improvement requires deep perspective that is very difficult to maintain on an individual level. a highly effective team develops that perspective, and they allow it to reverberate and resonate. when one member loses the drive or the passion—which is inevitable—other members of the team sustain the journey and reengage that person who’s falling off the wagon. everyone falls off the wagon at some point.

the key to sustaining a path toward true excellence is the perspective on the journey. if all one focuses on is the next opportunity for improvement, there’s certainly opportunity for purposeful enthusiasm but perhaps little room for profound joy. the concept of a journey requires a constant memory of its beginnings, its many meanderings, and its discrete victories and triumphs. it also requires a real and palpable sense of destination. this is what a lot of improvement experts get wrong; they actually believe that the journey to excellence is neverending. improvement may be neverending; but the journey has a real destination. and it is the job of the team and specifically of the leaders on that team to turn what looks like a neverending process into a journey that has a real destination.

i’m burning out right now, and i’ve burned out in the past, and it’s always for the same reason. i lose sight of the journey that i am on. i don’t burn out because i’m working too hard; i’ve been overworked for most of my life, in my opinion. working very hard for an end that is pleasurable and discrete is what i call satisfaction. but doing any work at all in the service of a goal that is ambiguous, unachievable, or unrewarding robs the soul of satisfaction. work is rarely intrinsically pleasurable, unless it is part of a cadence or a rhythm that links to a destination that is unequivocally good. for work to be pleasurable, in other words, there must be a story about the work, and that narrative has to be compelling. when we stop telling the story to one another, and when we stop believing the story, the work that hangs on that story becomes meaningless. all of capitalism, society, and every team and organization at the foundation of society hinges on the telling of a story

08.17.21

gratefulness

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:40 pm by Administrator

i still remember the very first time i ran across m.s. merwin’s poem “just this”. i was a fellow in training at hopkins, and there in the waiting room of the attending’s office was a copy of the new yorker magazine. i leafed through the pages and found the poem, and i read it, and as i read it two, three, four times i fell apart inside. when i was sure that no one was looking, i tore the page out of the magazine and stuffed it in the pocket of my white coat, where i kept it for years. i hadn’t done something like that since my days as a horny teenager, when i tore a cindy crawford advertisement out of a vogue magazine at the public library.

every time i read that poem, it never fails to remind me of the very moment i am living which, in the context of the enormous breadth of this universe and the depth of its intricate history, simply cannot be grasped and therefore defies any real purpose or associated misery.

i remembered the poem this morning after reflecting on a recent conversation i had with old friends, who are suffering from chronic illnesses, severe pain, sleepless nights, and unrelenting deterioration. it was heartbreaking to imagine even for a moment what they have been experiencing, and yet what was even more striking to me was the gratitude that they feel despite these circumstances. they have lived full lives; they will not die young because they are old; they have beautiful children and uncountable happy memories. life has so touched them that they remain in wonder, despite the hardships and the very gruesome hours they must endure.

i have never experienced gratitude like this. the closest i come is when i appreciate the very paradox of my desperate mortal feelings, amidst the timeless and imperturbable patience of the universe that birthed me. when i am close to gratefulness, it is not on account of what i have seen and experienced but rather on account of the unknown and magical thing that lies before me: the moment about to be lived. the difference between the grateful version of me and the person that i am is a matter of belief. it is the very same thing that prevents me from being one who finds himself extraordinarily lucky in life. i am not thankful for the same reason that i do not feel lucky; i have little or no sense of how i ought to be or what i could have been, and thus i cannot look upon my circumstances as anything other than what is.

but there are moments like today when i really do wish i could be grateful. gratefulness can be overwhelming, and when it overwhelms the self it can extinguish pain. i have seen this with my own eyes, and it does seem wonderful

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