A New Beginning (Again)


John F. Phillips

Back in December of last year, I made the professional decision to end my work as a political risk analyst. It was a very difficult decision because I have a deep love for foreign affairs and I had invested a considerable amount of time and effort in trying to make it work. Bottom line, the market spoke.

One of the things that successful people need to be able to do is exercise self awareness. Part of this effort is being able to realize when things are just not working out. Failure sucks, but the self aware person evaluates what went wrong, makes adjustments, pivots, and then moves in a new direction.

Failure does not have to mean defeat. It often means that something, whether a product, or an idea, just didn’t work out.

I have always believed that my education, my professional experience in politics, teaching, and finance, and the accumulated wisdom I have gained from being involved in politics for 50 plus years as a practitioner, teacher, and writer, is relevant and can be useful in terms of trying to understand what is going on in our country and in the world.

How best to do that?

As I have been trying to figure this out, I have done a considerable amount of reading and thinking. During this time, there were three books that helped me better understand myself and what I was trying to do.

The first was Burning the Boats: Toss Plan B Overboard and Unleash Your Full Potential by entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor Matt Higgins. This work gave me insight into what was holding me back and the courage to make the changes I needed to make in order to get out of the rut I was in and move forward.

One of the questions Higgins asks people to consider is, “When have I been the happiest and what would it take to feel that way again?” After thinking about it for some time and being honest with myself, I came to understand that the time when I was most happy is when I was in academia teaching, writing, and doing research.

While I was pragmatic enough to understand that, for a variety of reasons, a return to the academy was completely unrealistic, I began to understand that I could replicate that happiness and sense of fulfillment by using Politics From The Heartland as a platform for teaching, writing, and doing research.

Another exercise that Higgins has readers do is identify what business “domain”, Visionary, Catalyst, Executor, or Communicator, best suits your personality and skill set. I discovered that I am not a detail person, so being an Executor is not really in my wheelhouse. A Catalyst is someone who can take a broad vision and break it into smaller parts to make the vision doable. I can do that, but it really isn’t my forte. I found that the two best roles for me are as a Visionary who can see the broad scope and big picture, and as a Communicator who can articulate the vision and make the argument as to the “why” of the vision. (Read the book for a more detailed explanation of “domains.”)

Politics From The Heartland is the perfect platform for being the Visionary and Communicator by using it to teach, write, and do research as well as using it as an advocacy platform for things and issues that I care deeply about.

The other two books that have impacted my thinking are books that talk about the “how” and strategies for execution. They are Known: The Handbook For Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age and Cumulative Advantage: How to Build for Your Ideas, Business and Life Against All Odds by marketing expert, teacher, and business consultant Mark W. Schaefer. These works lay out the strategy to achieve what I want to achieve and Mark, like Matt Higgins, has had a profound influence on my life and the “why” and “how” of moving forward and finding purpose and fulfillment as I enter the next chapter of my professional life. I will be forever grateful.

So, the focus for Politics From The Heartland shifts from consulting to teaching, writing, and doing research. The content will focus on commentary and analysis as well as political and public policy advocacy, particularly in the area of social science education and support for public education. I will be addressing where I think we are in terms of our politics and offer a political and public policy vision that doesn’t conform to the prevailing “groupthink” and parochialism that drives much of contemporary political analysis, commentary, and political/policy advocacy.

I have a lot to say about what is going on in our politics. We are not doing our politics well and we are paying a price for that.

I am going to be “out there” and challenging thinkers, office holders and citizens, arguing that our politics doesn’t have to be the way that it is now and that we can, no must, do better or we are going to cross the Rubicon with no way to return.

I am also “putting my money where my mouth is” and running for city council in the town where I live. It’s easy to criticize, but harder to be part of the solution.

Buckle your chinstrap! It’s going to be fun!