A few years ago, I read The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. It has been described as the best book ever written by a US President. While I’ve not read every book by every president, it remains one of the best biographies I’ve ever read. Written as he was dying of cancer, Grant intended the book to provide for his family after his death. 
As I read them, I was struck by how little Grant wrote about his civilian life. Most of the book details Grant’s military career, first as a young West Point graduate in the Mexican-American War, then as a general in the US Civil War. Grant covers the seven years between the end of his first military commission and the start of the Civil War in just a couple of pages. Largely, I’m sure, it was a business decision: Grant and Twain knew that the reading public would be far more interested in Grant’s remarkable military career than in his unremarkable life outside the army or his disastrous presidency.
The contrast, though, between Grant’s descriptions of his Civil War campaigns and his civilian is so great that I wonder if there’s something more going on here. Continue reading What Will You Remember about This Chapter of Your Life?
It was my first business trip as Associate Director for InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network, and it was going great. I had visited a couple of my oldest friends, who soon became my first financial supporters. At their church, they had introduced me to a PhD candidate who immediately understood and appreciated the idea behind ESN. This job is going to be easy, I thought. Then the PhD candidate said, “There’s someone you’ve got to meet. She’s the associate dean for the largest university in the state, and she’s sitting right over there in the first pew.” Excellent! Another convert to the cause of ESN.
“Hi, my name is Mike, and I work with InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network”
“Really?” Her eyebrow went up. “What do you do?”
“I help students who are trying to get their PhDs and become professors.”
“Oh? And do you have a PhD?”
I didn’t like where this was going. “No, I don’t.”
“Then how could you possibly help?”
The conversation went downhill from there. At one point, she even said, “I don’t see the point in trying to ‘help’ students trying to become professors. If they can’t make it on their own, they don’t deserve to make it at all.”
Here was the exact kind of person that I thought would support my work wholeheartedly, and instead she dismissed it as a complete waste of time. Continue reading When Others Dismiss Your Work
The other day, as I was meeting with a colleague, he expressed surprise at how I was taking notes. “You keep all your business notes in a Moleskine?” It must have seemed a bit unusual – most people around here take notes on letter-size notepads, scratch paper, or, in a few cases, business planners. I’m the only one using a “fancy” journal.
It seemed strange to me, too, for a while. These notes aren’t anything really important, certainly nothing personal, so shouldn’t I just use regular old paper? I tried that for a couple of months and ran into a few problems. Sure, most of my notes weren’t that important and I would never look at them again, but what about those that were important? Where would I keep those? Further, I wound up with stacks of project and meeting notes that I needed to save for reference, but once I tore them out of the pad, they would curl up, rip, and become very annoying to file away.
I tried all sorts of things to keep these notes under control – copying the important ones into OneNote, taking pictures and importing them to Evernote, using Outlook to store important information – but I could never find a solution that met all my needs. It had to be:
- Mindless: I wouldn’t have to think about where I was going to record something.
- Mobile: It needed to be with me all or most of the time.
- Reliable: It had to be there when I needed to record something AND when I needed to retrieve something.
Then I realized that I already had a great solution: my journal. I’ve used journals off-and-on since college, starting with ring-bound sketchbooks and trying several other varieties and sizes before settling on black, 5″x8″ soft-covers. I’m currently using a Moleskine, but my preferred brand is ecosystem. (Thanks, Michael Hyatt!)
Daily Work Matters
Using a journal at my current job, though, required a subtle mental shift for me. Continue reading Keeping Track of What Matters: Why I Use a Journal at Work