Still and Chill

It’s been a busy summer, and most of it has been self-inflicted. I’m writing six cases for my HBS class when I probably should have attempted one or two. But I’ve learned this about myself: I am happiest when I’m very busy. I think the curveball was a family funeral that was surprisingly uplifting. But it was gutting at the same time. Mrs. T.’s father died. He was the best father-in-law anyone could have hoped for.

Moreover, on Friday night Mrs. T. and I saw the new movie Roadrunner. It’s about Anthony Bourdain’s life and how it ended. I’m a huge fan of his. I still remember his New Yorker article that made him famous. The witty and cool prose. I loved Kitchen Confidential. I’ve seen all of his TV shows, most likely a few times apiece.

If you’re a Bourdain fan, the movie is not to be missed. But it isn’t satisfying. There’s no happy ending, no denouement that ties it all together. Instead it’s two hours filled with unknown answers to basic questions. Even his closest friends are still confused and bitter about why he killed himself.

Bourdain was sober on “that night,” the autopsy showed. He lived a peripatetic life, traveling 250 days a year and, in my opinion, chose to end his first marriage and then his second by being away.

His friends in the movie said that Bourdain didn’t think he was worth the fame. He he didn’t feel that he deserved to be loved. He was always seeking, they said, and there was a gnawing pain in him that no meal, no exotic destination, and no tryst could ever alleviate. He seemed to me as a man always searching for a balm, going to the ends of the earth, only to find after a long journey that the analgesic was at best temporary and episodic. All this seemed to leave him even more pensive. Perhaps, his mind relayed, there really is no cure.

We are all Anthony Bourdain in our own moments. In the dark times, in the sad times, in the uneven times. Writer Anne Lamott talks about this eloquently on a recent Tim Ferris podcast. A former drug addict and alcoholic, she realizes now that she was always trying to outrun a very sad and volatile childhood. Now sober and a person of faith, she talks about the need to be “spiritually fit.”

Honestly, work has always been my drug of choice. When my mother was sick for a long time, my sister and I lived in a quiet and sad household. I somehow had the gift for jokes, and I liked how they cheered up my mother. And, she loved it when I got good grades. I know, deep down, all that is interconnected for me. I choose to work hard, I love to work hard. You could say that I love to perform. In a way, all this has served me well during my schooling years and now in my business and teaching careers.

But this also is clear: I think many of us as adults are still working through the ramifications of our childhoods. You can through me in with that lot.

I was feeling pretty low on Friday night after the movie. And the rivers had been flooded, precluding me from fishing. It therefore was a miracle at 4:30 am on Saturday, when I saw one of them dip low enough to be fishable temporarily. I sprinted out of the house and was blessed with a Top 10 Day. Few anglers were out, and the fish were very active.

I saw some real beauties!

When today, Sunday, rolled around, I was ready for a quiet day. I don’t check email on Sundays nor do any work. It’s a day of rest. When I was a student at HBS, I was fortunate to have Clay Christensen as a professor. Back then, he wasn’t famous. He was new to teaching and found it challenging, but we students always knew that his heart was in it. He was a generous man, full of care and love.

On the last day of class, he gave us Life Advice. One bit was that he encouraged us to take a day off each week to recharge. Inspired, I started to do that. At Bain Capital that summer, at Bain & Co. thereafter, at my first venture job, and now at Kepha and HBS, it’s what I do. Sunday is a time to be still and to chill out.

It’s been a great weekend. After a long outing on the water yesterday, the local pub beckoned. Today, after Mass, pho was the right call for lunch on a rainy day. Now, I’m making a cowboy ribeye steak and some scalloped potatoes for family dinner.

Periodically, I still think of Anthony Bourdain and Clay Christensen. I think of Bourdain sometimes when I write and when I attempt to cook something ambitious. I remember Clay sometimes when I write my cases, draft my teaching plans, and take a few deep breaths before I start to teach.

In the stillness, in the quiet, when all you hear is the rain falling outside, it is a wonderful time to recalibrate. We are all taut engines that rev up and go, chasing our goals and dreams, while running away from our fears. We need a break now and again.

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of vacation. Unless I am fishing or doing something very active, I get bored after a few days and want to return to my work. The mere mention of sitting on a beach all days sounds torturous. So, Sundays for me are the way to pause.

I wish I had more answers about Bourdain. I wish I could tell you that in your own dark moments that it will all be all right. Most likely, it will be. But do remember Clay’s advice: we all deserve and need a time for convalescence. If we don’t create those opportunities, no one else will do it for us….

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