A Mea Culpa
I have personally been very unproductive for the better part of a year, maybe two, with sporadic fits of effective productivity here and there. There are a lot of causes that can be pointed to and a lot of opportunities for 'woe is me' self-told tales of difficulty from exhaustion to migraines and from burnout to a relationship with my wife damaged by my own immersion and self-seclusion.
But the simple fact of the matter is that none of these challenges are unique, and I have far less impacting challenges than many. I have not, for instance, been diagnosed with cancer as some others have. I have not lost a child nor had to endure divorce.
The fact of the matter remains that I am still a healthy man. And while I may not have been as productive on the National Security front as years prior, my relationship with my nearly effectively-estranged wife has never been better. Ever. My girls are healthy and happy and even my dog still likes to play. We are, in fact, leaving for a week of fun together at the beach.
Life, in short, is good.
With all of this at the forefront of my mind, combined with a recent trip back to my rural Illinois hometown and friends for the first time in 25 years, I have resolved to begin again with a renewed focus. No matter what I thought my personal excuses were, real or imagined, the need for straight, effective and accessible communication on national security and related international events has not diminished, but rather increased.
My return home woke me to the unchanged fact that while I say I communicate in plain language and even have a show introduction that says "Thinking the wonkish language of peers, but not speaking it," the hard truth is that I have at times absentmindedly strayed from that. This occurred to me unmistakably when asked so many times over a few days exactly what it is that I do nowadays. I'm just not so sure I've remained true consistently to doing as I say I do. It's time to change this, correct this.
And so, considering the above mea culpa, August 2010 will see a new beginning and a renewed focus on communication and teaching for those who want to understand, who need to understand, but who simply can't find what they're looking.
Special guest DC wonks on news programs often spend more time talking a language made for each other rather than a much broader public. And so they consequently find themselves reduced to the sound of Charlie Brown's elementary school teacher by the viewer or being traded for a few minutes of Wheel of Fortune. Not sure how this promotes a better public understanding of national security issues beyond a nearly closed circle of friends, really.
I have two passions: Communication and National Security. It is time to return to my roots and start again from the very basics. That's a pretty rare combo, in my experience. Usually one takes strong precedence over the other. National Security guys find themselves communicating on the inside, while the Communications guys find themselves in a constant quest for face time and NatSec interviews. I've pursued neither at the expense of the other.
But I have pursued them both at the expense of my family, and I am learning to do this without neglecting my girls. My priorities for at least eight years, frankly, have been out of whack. "Steve is so dedicated," one would hear. Yeah? Perhaps they weren't asking my wife. No amount of dedication matters - nor the achievements - if you begin to lose your family.
But with this renewed approach and renewed focus, there is a job to be done, and it's back to the basics and from Square 1. I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, but this begins with writing (or re-writing the folly from the White House) a National Security Strategy document. It must define why we bother and what's important - and obsession with 'climate change' is not an acceptable strategic cause. The bigger difference beyond topic and focus, however, will be in the language employed and the format in which it is released - a series of focused and digestible chunks, not one massive 50-page document no plumber or dentist will ever bother to digest.
For the next week, however, there is much sand, saltwater, ice cream and boardwalks ahead for my girls and I. Life is good. You should look around once in a while. You might miss it.