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Madeleine cakes and memories

John's reflections Leave a comment

One of the master works of the 20th century, and one of my personal favorite novels, is À la recherche du temps perdu, a seven volume tour de force by French literary giant Marcel Proust (1871–1922). In English, it exists in two translations, each with a vastly different approach and end product: In Search of Lost Time and Remembrance of Things Past.  Early in the novel, the narrator states that he once had few memories of his early childhood weekends, which he spent at the home of his aunt Léonie in the village of Combray. In fact, the memories of Combray and his aunt had lain dormant for many years, until one day when the taste and scent of … Continue reading

Connecting the dots

John's reflections 1 Comment

Steve Jobs’ now famous 2005 Stanford commencement address consisted of three brief personal stories, one of which he called “connecting the dots”. In this tale, Jobs explains how his interest in calligraphy came to be, and how it influenced the design of the original Macintosh computer, and subsequently the entire industry.  While still a teenager, Jobs dropped out of Reed College in 1973, after only six months in residence. He explained that he enjoyed the school, but that he was frustrated by the required courses he was obliged to take, many of which did not interest him. After quitting the college, though, he remained on the Oregon campus for another 18 months, sleeping on … Continue reading

How to find meaning in seemingly meaningless work

John's reflections, Storytelling Leave a comment

Camus’ philosophical essay Le mythe de Sisyphe ends with these words: “La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un coeur d’homme. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.”  I quote it here in French because I have never liked this passage nearly as much in its English translation: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” In the English version, the concept is there, but the author’s eloquence somehow is lost, as is often the case with fine literature. That said, translation is a difficult exercise, and I have never been able to come up with a better version myself.  In any case, … Continue reading

How existential philosophy made me a better manual worker

John's reflections, Storytelling 1 Comment

Sometimes, when I remark that I have always enjoyed manual labor, friends and colleagues comment that it is relatively easy for someone like me to make that kind of statement. My experiences as a factory line worker, winery laborer, security guard, painter, delivery person, and such, were all temporary passages in life, rather than jobs I was stuck in for the long term.   Of course, this is true, and that is one of the reasons that I have the utmost respect for those who engage themselves fully in their work—day after day, year after year—even when the tasks they perform on a daily basis may resemble Sisyphus and The Absurd.  In … Continue reading

Reasons to Smile at Work

John's reflections, leadership Leave a comment

These days, several elements seem to be conspiring to encourage me to extend our “visit” to the winery of my student years. First, my own reprocessing of this period from my past continues to yield surprises, and that has indeed been fascinating for me. Second, I am finding the lessons from this time more interesting and important to my current thinking than I had previously realized. And third, coincidentally, what I picked up on the floor of the winery relates well to some of the issues I have been reading about lately in the press, particularly with respect to self-engagement.  Of course, I had no idea back then that I was learning so much that would influence … Continue reading

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