Giving Family Thanks

There’s a running joke in our culture about Thanksgiving, that it’s that time of year when all the members of the extended family come together — and drive each other crazy. It’s a great set-up for comedic vignettes and stand-up punch lines. And for sure, there’s truth to it, enough to make the joke work. But I think a deeper truth lies on the other side of the set-up. Relationships with family may not always be easy. In some cases, they can be downright difficult. But they are as much a part of us as the air we breathe. In many ways, they are the air we breathe. On anyone’s list of things to be grateful, that unique group of people known as family has to be on or near the top. In my family there were three brothers: big brother Adrian, little brother Tim, and me, the baloney in the brother sandwich. I was famous (among the other family members, that is) for being the one least likely to remember birthdays, most apt to forget anniversaries and other special dates. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. My brain just didn’t run that way. Thus it was a big surprise to everyone (me included) when, about twenty years ago, I decided that it was high time we organized a family reunion. Which we did. By this time the three brothers had been scattered far and wide for years, two of us were married with children, and we’d never had all the parties together under the same roof at the same time since … well, since ever. That summer, my...

Jousting the Dragon

Working on the very early stages of a new book — the stage where nothing is clear yet, and my brain feels like it’s trying to catch rays of light with a fishnet. This is extremely uncomfortable. From time to time (like every ten minutes) I have to get up from my chair, leave the computer, and walk around the room, just to let the mental ache back off. And then, of course, I have to go sit down again. And let the mental ache resume. (Like Giles Corey’s last words, in The Crucible, as his torturers try to wring a confession from him by slowly crushing him with heavy rocks: “More weight.”) Is it worth it? Absolutely. Does it ache? Positively. How many times have you heard it said that to accomplish great things, you have to “get out of your comfort zone”? This has never sounded right to me. As bits of advice go, I think it’s flawed in all sorts of ways. For one thing, I don’t think comfort is a zoned-off area you can zip yourself into, like a sleeping bag. In fact, I don’t think it exists, this waterproof air bubble, this germ-free decontamination chamber, this saferoom of the mind that keeps all discomfort and unease firmly locked outside its perimeter, and inside of which you can count on feeling cozy and comfy and unthreatened. There is no zone small enough, no chamber sealed tightly enough, to keep discomfort out. No matter how tight the seal, discomfort is an expert at seeping right in through the cracks. Or maybe it wasn’t “out there” at...

Course Correction

Last April I wrote about starting a book (a memoir of a Fortune 500 CEO), and described the process of coming up with what I thought might be the book’s opening sentences: “In English grammar, they have what they call first person and second person. First person is when I talk about me. Second person is when I talk about you. I think grammar may have it backwards. Anyone who has had any measure of genuine success knows that focusing on myself comes second. Focusing on you comes first. “So here’s the thing. I’m going to tell you my story. But the point is not to tell you my story—it’s to offer whatever experiences and perspectives I can in hopes it may help you work out what your story is, and muster the courage to live it.” “Right now,” I wrote in my blog, “I have no idea if these hundred words are good, or so-so, or awful. That’s not false modesty. I truly don’t know. I have no idea if they will end up being the way the book starts, or even whether or not they will appear in the book at all.” This week two different editors answered that question. The first said the sentences were great, brilliant, a terrific opening. The second said they were awful. “The first page and a half,” she wrote in her notes on the finished manuscript, “I would cut entirely.” Aha. Back to the drawing board. I thought I’d finished this book. I thought it was darn good. In fact, I thought it was excellent, sparkling, shiny, all ready to go. It wasn’t....

Failure Is the Only Option

Finishing up work on Among Heroes, my next book with my Navy SEAL sniper buddy Brandon Webb, getting it ready for its release this coming May. A scene late in the book gives us a chance to talk about what it means to fail. It takes place at a tournament for top high school basketball teams, where Brandon and another former Spec Ops guy have been invited to come give talks to the students. Brandon is about to go into a locker room to give his last talk of the day when he gets a text on his phone telling him that one of his good friends has just been killed. Devastated by the news, he slumps back against the wall and thinks, How can I possibly go in there and face these kids right now? Someone else has got to do this. Not me. But of course, he does: I took another breath, opened the door, and walked into the locker room. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I know I talked about teamwork and sacrifice, and the fact that no matter who you are or how good you are at what you do, you can’t accomplish anything truly worthwhile on your own. That any great achievement is always at its core a debt you owe to your teammates who hold you up and support you through the good times and bad. And I talked about winning. “We have a saying in the SEALs: ‘It pays to be a winner.’ I know you guys are all serious about being winners and being part of a winning team. So I’m not going to blow smoke about what that...