Is the Illusion Worth Keeping? One of the Questions I’ll Be Working On for Season 2…

So it’s a sham

More often than not–certainly in the last 18 months–this is the response my wife hears from me. Talking about her work or mine, our sons’ daycare, the decisions a local business or government makes, or countless other instances of daily life. You and I are no different. We are unique in our own ways but also exactly the same. We both want the best for our spouses, children, family, and friends. We both seek a better version of ourselves each day and wake up grateful (hopefully) that God gave us at least one more sunrise. We both, deep down, want to trust in the honesty and forthrightness of other humans and the systems they build.

What happens shortly thereafter, once we’ve stepped out beyond the safe confines of home, is that we confront what reality IS compared to the vision of what SHOULD or COULD BE. “It Is What It Is” remains among the most frustrating phrases in the military lexicon. It became so ubiquitous among my peers in 2010, our instructors made patches for our flight suits. They were “morale” patches only, so of course they weren’t “official” or “authorized.” The irony oozes from this story–for not only had the Air Force prohibited the expression of morale-boosting messages and artwork for years, but it also forced airmen to find morale-boosting qualities in the dumbest, most discouraging phrases and images possible. Like “It Is What It Is,” a phrase that reminds us all there’s nothing we can do about the reality in which we find ourselves. By implication, it also means Yes, of course this sucks. And it could be better. But we’ll never make it better. So forget about giving a shit.

Oh, that thing you spent two hours on the phone to confirm you could do? Turns out I had no idea and took a guess to get you off the phone. Looks like I was wrong. But oh well, my boss doesn’t care anyway.

To some extent, it is true that our reality is immovable. What we can control is our reaction, our response. This is a vital message for those who want to place the burden for their lives on everyone else but themselves. We are responsible for the life we live and the life we wish to live. It is also true that the systems around us have failed at times or more slowly over time. They failed because humans designed them from the start and (quickly in some cases) lost sight of the system’s original vision. If it had a vision at all. We face systems like this all of the time and never think twice. I’m not talking about a political system or government, though that might be a fair conclusion to reach.

I’m talking about the people we appoint to positions of responsibility. Or the school systems we’ve established ostensibly to promote engaged citizenship and diverse perspectives. Even for-profit and non-profit organizations that purport to accomplish one thing, yet as a result of the system they created then failed to maintain, stand in opposition to the original target. We are all connected and much of the information we absorb and apply is interconnected. Yet we discourage each other from integrating those inputs in ways that would benefit more people and help us solve this era’s most intractable problems. Benjamin Franklin was a polymath and is revered. You know the story–a young journalist who made a name through study of natural science, then at some point served as the United States’ first Ambassador to France. Find me someone today who has written for and published a city newspaper, conducted and published research in atmospheric sciences, and was appointed a senior Foreign Service Officer. Perhaps they’re out there. But I doubt it. And that worries me.

That’s why The Last Question is coming back. Close to its original form but with tweaks. Primary among them, I’m publishing the show I’ve always wanted to publish. I know I said that before, or at least may have, but I still held myself back. And I’m sure you could hear it. I’ve heard from a number of you who appreciated the show and/or liked a particular episode. Recently, as I met friends for drinks and dinner, one of them had barely sat down before telling me she was “behind” in listening but really liked the episode one episode in particular. The conversation felt authentic to her, “real,” and of course was relatable since my guest, my friend, and I are all military (and Air Force) veterans. To my friend out there, whose name I’ll protect for privacy reasons, thank you. Believe it or not, that feedback means the world and helps me see that I may yet have some value to offer others. And it suggests that perhaps I was fulfilling some component to my purpose by publishing the show, however small the audience or subscriber list was. I know these things take time. Perhaps I didn’t work on it long enough. But really, I wasn’t working on the project I wanted to work on. I wasn’t building what I wanted to build.

The Last Question, Season 2, releases in January 2022. Among the changes you should hear:

  • I’m recording several episodes prior to next year’s release, to better assure content that is presented and available consistently.
  • I’m doubling-down on conversations, focusing on talking with leaders of all stripes, and engaging your heart and mind in the broadest way imaginable.
  • Speaking of “leaders,” the show will still talk a lot about leadership. John Maxwell, like him or not, is right when he says that “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” EVERYTHING.
  • But leadership can be defined in so many ways, just tossing out more opinions on how to “manage” a team or communicate or present yourself won’t do much good. There’s a near-infinite supply of information available yet we continue to fail miserably at talking with and taking care of each other.
  • Humans leading humans is a critical endeavor and one that justifies constant study and discussion. But I’m learning there’s a distinction between developing leaders on the individual level and building systems that operate effectively in support of their original vision. Universities that produce high-caliber, critical thinkers as graduates. Municipal governments that personify people’s power in every day decision-making. Public and private sector supervisors who place their teammates ahead of personal ambition. It’s about doing what we’ve set out to do. What we said we would do. Making good on promises and coming clean when we don’t.
  • Pay attention to that last sentence. I’m not talking about perfection. Perfection is a false god we invent and chase when we don’t know how to lead and don’t know anything about the people who trust us. Perfection implies procedure–that if only we check off the right ‘boxes’ on a roadmap or checklist, we’ll achieve some last success. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Starting from scratch.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive toward perfection. We should always strive to build better and be better. We should always strive to serve in ways that positively impact more people. We will miss the mark plenty of times. We will fail a lot and fall flat on our faces. I’ve failed at work and home more times than I care to count and every one of those times hurts. You never get ‘better’ at failure but you can get used to it. And I mean that as an uplifting message. In some ways, despite my many misgivings about the Air Force’s weapons officer community, I have to credit the instructor course with conditioning me to failure. “Getting used to it” enables you to get past fears of it, albeit in a limited context. I still fear failure now, but in new pursuits and endeavors that are wholly foreign to me. When it came to the job and institution I knew–nuclear operations and the Air Force–I was confident as a leader. While I work to get back to that level of performance again, I want to understand why more people can’t build up their resilience that way…without the constant mental and emotional abuse from a staff of holier-than-thou teachers. (And yes, I was one of those teachers for almost two years. I’m just as guilty as the others.)

Can we demand better without hurting each other (and ourselves) in the process?

Systems are everything and exist everywhere you live, work, and play. If we don’t get a handle on how they work and how we can (and must) make them work better, all is lost. I really believe that. What else must we do but make the world and its systems better for the next generation who find them? Join me for Season 2 early next year and on this website for more in the near future. Feel free to subscribe to hear from me more, and never hesitate to email me with a question, comment, feedback, or new idea. After all, we’re all in this together.

If you’ve been with me along this journey from the start, you know it’s been an up-and-down ride. Thanks for reading all the way through and for allowing me the chance to indulge my own curiosities. Hopefully, in due course, I’ll help you indulge some of your own too.

Urgent Update to Ohio Citizens: Now Providing Isaac’s Shoes for Proper Display in the Morning

Photo/design courtesy of

If there’s one thing we’ve proven to the world as Americans in the last two centuries, it’s how difficult it is to construct and maintain democratic governance. Prime example, some of you probably read Churchill’s quote and my opening line and immediately thought, “That’s because we live in a republic you fool!” Right. We don’t even agree on what to call the experiment, let alone what our operating parameters should be.

Those who favor “republic” argue the term encompasses our political structure’s true nature, that of a representative democracy in which the broader “demos” delegates its authority to govern to a select body of people through election. That body of elected officials then do our bidding through a system of election and self-assigned powers. Someone who favors “democracy,” meanwhile, focuses on the origin point of sovereign power, the people, and that their will always should reign supreme when deciding matters of governance. I think this debate is actually one of our country’s most critical because it juxtaposes the logical conclusion of sovereign individualism with the paternalistic form of democracy we’ve largely chosen by default, though abysmally low political engagement and election turnout.

Given the system we’ve selected for ourselves, the “republic” vs. “democracy” debate is also moot. Still, as someone who does believe in everyone’s sovereign right to self-determine, I’m compelled this week to provide you the update I owe to the citizens of the State of Ohio, and in particular those who exercise their right to self-govern through Ohio’s Department for Job and Family Services and its Child Care Center E-Manual.

Isaac is our younger son. He’s 11 months old and started crawling about a month ago, yet is already pulling himself up on furniture and windowsills and knows how to move his legs to ‘walk’ with assistance. Up until this week, we’d taken him to daycare with a slew of food options, a recent addition of full water cup, and all the bibs you can ask for. Then we were reminded Monday that Ohioans require every child who is able to pull themselves up onto their own two feet to wear shoes. Not simply have access to shoes, for safety and protection from uneven or shoddy surfaces, but to wear those shoes since they are starting to walk. As a fellow Ohioan, I didn’t know we had chosen to disregard research (excerpted here by Sanford Health) that discourages the use of shoes on children until they are “really running around,” or reach age 2 (according to other citations of similar data). The reason for restricting shoe use is to enable “natural foot movement” and allow the child maximum feedback through bare feet (or socks if necessary) through which they are more likely to learn how to walk properly and safely. Wearing shoes, in fact, can stunt a child’s progression toward bipedalism–what has been a hallmark of humanity’s construction for…well…a really long time.

But I get it. You don’t know what kind of parent I am and I don’t know what kind of parent you are. But I also know I have no right to know what kind of parent you are, nor do I have the right to tell you how to parent your kids. Even if I vehemently disagree with everything you do. The best I can do as a father is to be the best father I can be for my two children; and I know, even saying that is subjective. So imagine my confusion when told we were required to provide shoes for Isaac so he could crawl around an indoor surface covered by foam play tiles. Not because his teachers and caregivers were concerned for his safety but because the regulator was performing an audit of the daycare the next day. Virtually. To be clear, an auditor responsible to “certify” a daycare’s safety and operability would be conducting his/her vital checks by asking one of the teachers to walk a laptop around the building so the auditor can see into each room through the webcam. I suppose I can appreciate how important children’s safety is to the State and to you each one of you and me, if our auditors won’t even visit in-person to see if the daycare is doing everything it’s been told to do.

Photographic evidence demonstrating our legally acceptable placement of non-marking, non-supporting shoes on our 11-month-old non-walking son.

In any case, I felt obliged to provide this update to everyone in Ohio who has asked for this mandate and wants to ensure all our children are properly protected and cared for. We have since become much better about putting Isaac’s shoes on before we leave the house for daycare. By the time I’ve parked the car and our older son is out of the car, I reach Isaac’s side to find at least one (if not both) shoe off and somewhere lazing in the backseat. My heart skips a beat or two but I remember, since he’s in a car seat made of styrofoam but rated for 360-degree collision protection, that his seatbelt harness likely will keep his feet safe until I’ve set him down on a hard surface. I drop the shoes into his bag and carry him into the infant play room, at which point one of the teachers takes him and I am quick to point out his shoes are at the ready in his bag, alongside his bottles (because he’s a baby) and other food items (carefully cut because he doesn’t have all of his baby teeth yet). I then thank God I have my own shoes on so I can walk out of the infant play room and off their foam floor with confidence. My older son heads into his room and I’m out the door and heading to the gym and work, still thinking about the scolding I received about something else your Child Care Manual mandates that I never knew about: how much fruit to provide in a toddler’s lunch.

I was excited to provide you this update but am sorry I don’t have more information for you on the fruit situation. Our oldest eats an average of one banana, one apple, 8oz of berries, and half a vineyard’s worth of grapes daily. I’ve yet to reconcile that with the fact that the turkey sandwich, avocado, and smoked gouda blocks we provided for lunch was deemed unhealthy and a violation. We will do better for you, Ohio.