Ignoring the Drama and Getting Back to Work

In the age of Trump, how do we focus on other things?

At any given time, I have a few dozen drafts of articles and essays lying around waiting to be finished. Most are random ideas and half-formed thoughts waiting for an epiphany, feedback or polish. They’re mostly about my work: startups, investing, finance and company-building. Lately though, posts about company culture, board management, and finding product/market fit seemed oddly unimportant. After November 8th of last year, I’ve only published pieces about politics and the ongoing drama in Washington DC. I’m not a political pundit by any stretch, but like so many others, my attention has been diverted from my areas of expertise to the unfolding events of the Trump administration.

Starting in November, politics cast a pall over pretty much everything else. Since then, my “normal” work has seemed so… small in comparison. A large part of my headspace has gone to thinking about how the world has changed rather than continuing to operate within it. I don’t like that. In spite of the ongoing events in Washington, I really want to get back to work, to re-focus on my own mission and what I’m good at. I desperately want to get back to building companies and creating good in the world, without constantly checking in on the slow-motion trainwreck happening in DC. The consequences of that trainwreck are so large that it makes everything else seem trivial, but I’m conflicted in how much mental space it should occupy.

On one hand, the ability to focus on other things indicates that progress cannot be held hostage by politics. To some degree, we should trust that our system of government is sound, even in the face of an unprecedented character like our current President. We’ve seen our system of checks and balances work successfully in the past few weeks. As long as that continues, our government is working as expected.

On the other hand, the events of the last few months have sparked an enormous amount of positive activism from those typically disengaged from our political system — myself included. Isn’t that a good thing, and shouldn’t it continue? Could it be that we’re just getting back to “normal” levels of involvement in the government that we value so deeply? It feels right to have degree of involvement beyond simply voting, even if it isn’t our area of expertise.

Even more than that, what if Washington is really where our attention belongs right now? The “this is not normal” crowd argues that we have a critical situation in our government, and it deserves all the attention we can give it in this moment. Democrats are largely leaderless and Republicans have deep fractures, campaign promises have been deemed illegal, and the administration is under investigation by the FBI and both chambers of Congress for ties to a foreign power. No, this is clearly not normal.

But it’s equally clear that my time is poorly spent jumping from headline to political headline, breathlessly waiting for the next development. That kind of involvement isn’t productive. I’ll stay informed, but that doesn’t mean Trump should consume *every* article and cocktail conversation. We shouldn’t forget that there are all kinds of ways to create good in the world, and I cannot allow the presence of a new President to sideline everything else. There is a lot of work to be done and good to be created. At some point, we have to get back to work.

To me, it feels like the right balance is to settle on one or two concrete ways to be active in the current environment, then turn off the talking heads and continue to push forward. I believe each citizen should find a way to contribute that is both useful in the current environment and personally authentic. I’ve found my project — I can talk more about it more when it’s a bit more developed. From there, we can stay informed without being consumed by the news cycle. It’s always important for any member of the governed to maintain a healthy watch on their government, but that doesn’t necessarily mean getting hourly updates on the latest developing story.

We can’t go back to “business as usual”, but we must get back to business. Whatever work we return to, we must recognize that “progress” over the past decade has not felt positive to a large number of people. We also cannot return to the relative apathy that ensconced us before Trump sent shock through the system. But while the drama in DC is significant, the amount of headspace and airtime that it has consumed for the past few months is neither sustainable nor productive. Even when it feels like the new administration has sucked all the oxygen out of the room, we can’t keep holding our breath.

Thanks to Dan Pedersen for publishing earlier stories.