Political Risk: Robert Oppenheimer and My Pivot Back To Political and Geopolitical Risk

How an MSNBC Documentary About Robert Oppenheimer Motivated Me to Recommit to Research, Writing, and Teaching About Political and Geopolitical Risk


John F. Phillips

Photo Credit: Aaditya Arora, Pixabay

Matt Higgins, in his book Burn the Boats, talks about executing on our “Plan A” and not having a “Plan B” backup plan, that ‘burning the boats”, those things that serve to hold us back from reaching our full potential, can be a source of liberation and can spur us on to achieving great things.

Burning the boats is a mindset.

Since the pandemic, I have been trying to find my way in the world of writing and consulting. Over the past three years, there have been many pivots and fits and starts. There has been frustration and lack of consistency. Being honest with myself, there hasn’t been the sense of urgency, discomfort, or yes, fear that is often times needed to move forward and do great things.

There have also been many personal “boats” that I have had to burn. Age, imposter syndrome, lack of confidence, past failures and shortcomings, and the inability to come to terms with what makes me happy in terms of my professional life have also served as obstacles as I try to figure out “what’s next.”

Out of many of the self evaluation questions that Higgins presents for consideration, one struck me like a thunderbolt.

“Where have I been the happiest and what would it take to feel that way again?”

My answer? The happiest I have ever been professionally was when I was teaching, writing, and doing research in international politics while at at university. When I left the military, the plan was to get my PhD and teach. I completed my BA and MA, and coursework toward the PhD, but, for many reasons, I made the decision not to write my dissertation. My retrospect, my subsequent professional life, including the past three years and my efforts to create something with this website, has been an uneven and less than successful quest for the happiness and sense of purpose that I found at university.

I had lost my “mojo.”

At this point, you are probably asking, “What does this have to do with Robert Oppenheimer?”

The MSNBC documentary on Oppenheimer made me once again realize that the world is still a very, very dangerous place. As we speak, there are over 12,500 nuclear warheads in the hands of various national actors. There is a major land war still being fought in eastern Europe and there is no end in sight. Russia is Russia. China is a threat. India and Pakistan, both possessing nuclear weapons, continue their adversarial relationship. The Middle East, Africa, even the South Pacific are all experiencing varying degrees of political instability. Even the United States, whether people don’t really realize it or don’t want to admit it, is politically very unstable.

I have been observing, studying, teaching, doing research, writing about and participating international and American politics in one capacity or another for over 50 years and one thing is clear to me. Whether we want admit it or not, what goes on in politics, how politics is done, and political events and outcomes, both internationally and domestically, impact every aspect of our lives. It impacts supply chains, the price of gas, the cost of groceries, our ability to go to that resort in Mexico, and our investment returns. It impacts our ability to buy a car, heat our home, have a job, sell our grain, educate our children, and purchase a computer or new phone. Politics impacts business, finance, education, and farming.

Political and geopolitical risk is real, it is a threat, and we ignore it at our peril. Because of the interconnectivity of global politics, economics, finance and markets, we cannot be isolationist and ignore the world in which we live.

All of that being said, I am returning to what makes me professionally happy, to the thing that gives me a sense of purpose.

I am going to do research, write, and teach about political and geopolitical risk, using this platform to help people better understand and function in the volatile global community in which we live.

My primary focus and effort will be working to do research, write, and teach about political and geopolitical risk and assist governments, businesses, and private clients as they try to navigate the political and geopolitical risk universe.

I believe that my education, experience and life wisdom has relevance and offer insights and contrarian points of view.

That doesn’t mean that I will stop working with the leaders of the small town that I live in as they work to improve life in the city. That doesn’t mean that I will stop being involved in electoral politics in some way. These are very important and its important that I try to be engaged and try to make a difference.

I am still working to “burn the boats” that have held me back and I appreciate your patience as I continue to do so. Life, if nothing else, is a daring adventure and my life has been exactly that.

I am passionate about helping people understand and deal with political and geopolitical risk. My future work will be dedicated to that effort.