The one rule to learn to succeed in business or life.

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Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

I lost my job November 6th. Got laid off from the place, ESPN, with which I’d had a professional affiliation since my undergraduate days. It stung…but getting canned wasn’t surprising: When a sports network goes months without live sports and then when the games return but the fans don’t watch them, at least not at the volume they did before the pandemic, you assume that executives at a place like ESPN have hard choices ahead. I’d like to assume my boss’ choice to let me go was hard, but it doesn’t really matter. The choice was made. Better still, the choice is behind me. …

Here’s what we do with them next.

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Thomas Friedman wrote a great column yesterday, in the hours before the insurrection. He argued that the more than 100 Congressional Republicans who refused to certify the election — in effect refusing to honor nothing less than American democracy — “should carry the title ‘coup plotter’ forever.”

I agree. Wednesday was (thankfully) an unsuccessful coup d’etat. The rioters who sieged the Capitol were not organized enough or (again, thank God) smart enough to find a way to remain there through the night, syncing their forces with the president who instigated their insurrection, a president who could have then called on the military to defend his new authoritarian rule. That’s how coups happen. They also happen in what was attempted in Congress Wednesday, when those Congressional Republicans Friedman wanted to Scarlet Letter took to the House and Senate floors and said millions of legitimate votes should be discarded. Why? Because of baseless allegations President Trump has repeated for months, and which these Congressional Republicans have parroted for just as long, but to even more cynical ends. …

First: Refuse to write new year’s resolutions.

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Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

It’s not that they don’t work, new year’s resolutions: There’s a long and, frankly, accredited history that highlights the power of writing down your goals as the way to realize them. I’m not here to bag on setting goals. Setting goals is how I started my business. Setting goals is how I became an author.

The problem with setting goals, though, is the assumption that fulfilling them will bring you happiness.

They won’t. And there’s also a long and, frankly, accredited history that demonstrates how reaching a goal is not the same thing as finding happiness.

If it’s happiness you’re after, here’s what you should do. …

The best novel I read this year is:

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett: A tough choice because I loved and still think about, like on a daily basis, Richard Powers’ The Overstory. Patchett’s book wins out not necessarily because it’s a better novel but because I got more out of it as a writer — and think you might too. Patchett experiments with the sequence of her story, about two families whose lives intersect across multiple generations. Her approach is innovative, invigorating even, but never hard to follow. …

The surprising lesson I learned from a favorite scientific book

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Photo by Fabrizio Conti on Unsplash

One night last week my daughter couldn’t sleep and wanted to talk, of all things, about climate change. She’s 11. The more I listened to her the more the conversation drifted to what John McPhee called “deep time”: geological time, the impressive sweep of the planet’s history. To relay the point I wanted to make to her I found my copy of A Short History of Nearly Everything, and then my favorite passage, in which Bill Bryson imagines Earth’s 4.5-billion-year reign compressed into a single day.

I told my daughter that on this imagined day the first single-cell organism would appear at 4 am, and then nothing would happen until 8:30 pm — five-sixths of the day: gone! — before sea plants would push up through the ocean floor. At 9:04 pm the first sea animals would begin to swim. Just before 10 pm plants would pop up on the land. Minutes after 10, the first land creatures would begin to eat those plants. …

I read the most sinister short story last week: Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. So The London Review of Books started this feature, “Diverted Traffic,” at the outset of the pandemic. People who subscribe get a story delivered to their inbox that has nothing to do with the plague, or the depressing politics of 2020, or really anything that might appear in our social media feeds. Diverted Traffic is complete escapism. This week’s piece was an old review of Shirley Jackson’s short stories and novels, when the Library of Congress saw fit to corral them in one volume. …

It’s the best and perhaps lone lesson of history

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We’re only now emerging from the most divisive election of our lifetimes, which means what lies ahead is even harder than the election season: the reconstruction.

For months, in the background of my days and when I’ve had the time, I’ve listened to William Manchester’s biography of Douglas MacArthur, American Caesar. I don’t know if it was kismet or coincidence but last week I reached the point in the book where the Japanese surrendered, World War II ended, and MacArthur presided over a ruined and enfeebled Japan.

He and other American officers went to a Tokyo steakhouse to celebrate. They placed their orders, hoisted their drinks and toasted each other. The world was quite literally theirs. …

For starters: never revere any book

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The trick I learned about reading from the Nobel-winning writer Alice Munro. (Image source.)

Don’t be dutiful with the books you read.

Here’s why: At the moment, in the margins of my day and when I have the time, I’m reading William Manchester’s biography of Douglas MacArthur. It’s lonnnnnnngggg, 811 pages in hardback, over 30 hours on my Audible app. Am I listening intently to every word?

Pfft. No.

Books contain life-changing wisdom and often a lot of crap. Useless asides. Boring sub-plots. I say skip over that. Space out a bit.

I think too many people suffer through books because they’ve been taught they should. They’ve learned books are to be revered. So they faithfully read every word of some great but verbose classic and when they finish the thing, exhausted, they don’t want to pick up another. Why would they? …

Here’s an amazing story shaped from the most common of material: growing old together.

I’ve always loved stories that chronicle the passage of time because in their broad sweep is transcendence, a life lived and recorded, a chance to “give the mundane its beautiful due,” as Updike put it.

The mundane here sure is beautiful. Because of his father’s position in the military, Solomon’s parents lived exciting, continental lives — citizens of the world! — but that’s not really the point of Chris Solomon’s piece. …

And let it alllllll hang out.

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I was a Type A person with perfectionist tendencies and about to do the work my entire career had been in service of: the writing of my first book. …


Paul Kix

Best-selling author of The Saboteur. Learn the 7 rules Pulitzer winners and top-selling authors follow to make more money:

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