Death of a Habit

I smoked for twenty-eight years. Since I was a solid pack-a-day guy for more or less that entire time, this translates into ten thousand, two hundred twenty-seven packs (including leap years). You’d think by that time I would have had enough. Which was exactly what I thought: Enough. It had reached the point where I felt pretty sure that if this kept going, it would kill me. (After all, it had killed my mom.) And so, one day in July, 1999, I decided to quit. Here was the situation: I was in the midst of a difficult divorce. Our two young boys were going back and forth between her place (ten-thousand-square-foot house on a twenty-one mountaintop acres overlooking the city) and mine (tiny apartment in the outskirts of said city). This was the day the boys were coming to stay with me. It was also my first day in a brand new job as editor in chief of a major national newsstand magazine, and because the first draft of our cover story had been a disaster, I now had one day to redo it myself. Today. The day my kids were coming. The day I was quitting smoking, after twenty-eight years. So, yeah: stress. As the Lloyd Bridges character says in that great Zucker brothers comedy Airplane!, “I guess I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue.” Except here’s the thing: there is no “wrong day” to let go of a destructive habit or pernicious addiction (two phrases that mean the same thing). There is no hard day. There is no ideal day. There are only three things:  the addictive habit  the fleeting moment...

Pindar in the Classroom

Meet Dave Fuehrer. Dave’s father, Craig, was a brilliant guy, a lifelong innovator for the Du Pont company, a winner in every way (and a Purple Heart from Vietnam to prove it) until he lost a battle with cancer, and the world—and Dave—lost him. Dave inherited his dad’s passion for innovation. He has helped launch new products around the globe, managing innovations for such companies as Dow, GE, Ingersoll Rand, and Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, and taught the essence of what he does at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Also like his father, Dave had his own battle with cancer—twice, in fact. He emerged not only a healthy man but a wiser and more purposeful one. (No wonder his business is called Emerging Space.) “Learning from my pain to help others,” says Dave, “gives my life purpose.” This fall, when Dave stepped into the classroom at RIT to teach his course on Digital Entrepreneurship, he brought a little red book with him. Dave is one of a whole parade of educators who have pioneered a movement I think of as “Pindar in the Classroom” (after Pindar, the mentor figure in The Go-Giver). Here are just a few others: In 2009 the book was picked up by Randy Stelter, a high school English teacher and athletic director in northwest Indiana (go Hoosiers!). Randy started teaching it to his students, saying it would help give them perspective on “what it’s going to take to be successful in the real world.” He has taken his school’s senior class through the book every year since since. Tim Peterson, a college dean and professor of management at...

The Gorgeous Moment

I just finished writing a book. Actually the writing finished two weeks ago, but I’m just now thinking back over the experience. It’s another parable (like The Go-Giver), which means there was a story to make up, which means that over the past three or four months, there were many days when I launched myself into the void. This is the hardest part of writing: the part where you sit with a blank page, wondering what’s going to happen, and simply not knowing. The thing about a story is that you don’t actually “make it up.” You can’t. It doesn’t work that way. What you do is, you give yourself permission to sit there with your brain as blank as the page, and wait to see what happens. Oddly enough, I spend very little of my writing time doing this. Most of the time, maybe 99 percent of it, is more like carpentry: filling in missing spaces, sawing off pieces that don’t fit, moving big things around, banging together big chunks of semi-finished prose with verbal nails and pegs and screws. Taking huge logs of raw transcript (if, say, I’m writing someone’s memoir) and planing them down into usable lumber. In the process of all that carpentry, of course there are moments when I have to snatch something out of thin air, pull some idea out of the void and give it words. Taking little sips of the unknown here and there, in between the more substantial work of biting off and chewing already-existing sentences and paragraphs. That first step, though, the part where there are no sentences and...