(Note: A few minor edits have been made.)
January 31, 2013
My response – Linkedin: Would you rather be honest and lose or dishonest and win?
I’ve been in the truth-telling business for the past 23 years. The first truth that I ever told was when I admitted to myself and to others that I had a drinking problem and that I needed help. At 18, I attended my first AA meeting and went continuously for the next 22 years. More personal truths were soon revealed (including coming to terms with a learning disability) and slowly over the past two decades while facing life’s many problems and crisis. All of this has led to my emotional and spiritual development while building my character. My willingness to work through problems in a humble fashion often helped me to see the true character of others in the conflict and I don’t always like what I see. After graduating from college, my corporate career lasted a grand total of nine short years. In that time, I worked for seven different firms where I was fired four times.
At the time of my wedding, I was struggling with my career and my finances suffered, as a result. My former in-laws told me I wasn’t good enough to marry their daughter two years before our engagement. Her father went to Yale and to UVa’s School of Medicine as a result their family enjoyed the high life. My family didn’t. Their attitude and his words only added more pressure to my many existing pressures and stressors. In 2002, the wedding was overwhelming for me leading to a nervous breakdown and to my first hospitalization. I have been in jails and hospitals since always coming clean about my absence from society with friends and acquaintances following my release.
Out of my breakdown came an intellectual breakthrough, I began writing, at the age of 32, for the first time ever. I scored very high on an IQ test. I briefly took a leave of absence from my job to try my hand at writing before returning back to work, one month later. Following a separation and my divorce, in 2007, I made a second attempt at writing; I had no career, no job and no income. I’ve been writing ever since to a growing audience of 14,000 contacts. Compared to a newspaper or magazine’s circulation of 500,000 or one million, my audience sounds pretty tiny. You would have to know who’s in it to be impressed. For a kid who made C’s, D’s and a few F’s, repeated the fifth grade and had tutors all the way through school, you wouldn’t expect me to become a teacher, but that’s exactly what’s happened.
Some 10,000 of my contacts are MDs, PhDs and researchers teaching at forty world-class universities, in ten countries, on three continents. Among the schools are Harvard (over 2,000), Yale, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Columbia, Penn, Princeton, NYU, MIT, Tufts, Chicago, Northwestern…, Cambridge, Oxford, University College London, London Business School, LSE, INSEAD, ENS-Paris, EHESS, McGill, Toronto, ANU… I write to a dozen heads of state, their foreign ministers, their ambassadors to the US, CEOs (including billionaires), federal judges and lawmakers, media executives and personalities and Washington policy institutes. My audience retention rate exceeds 99.8%.
What telling the truth repeatedly, over a long period of time, gets you is a ticket to the top? I didn’t know that when I was 18 and I was trying to get sober, I just didn’t want to suffer anymore. I’ve found telling the truth to be necessary to solve life problems and not to simply run from them. Telling the truth after many trials by fire has become “a quest for the truth”. I want to understand how the world works; I want to understand how to best solve a new problem the quickest, cheapest and easiest way.
I have no background in communications or journalism; I had no contacts in the field when I got started with a dozen family and friends in my audience. With that as my reality, I bypassed print journalism and their gatekeepers for writing directly to my audience via email. The truth has given me clarity in seeing a situation while allowing me to follow my gut instincts and break a lot of rules. Given my work history you wouldn’t think that I would have much to say to the faculties at the Harvard Business School, Wharton, Kellogg, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago Booth, NYU Stern, UVa Darden…, but I put all of them in my audience. They all know me and my story. I have top government and public policy, international relations, law, medical and public health schools, as well.
Telling the truth is still a daily challenge in a world where nobody wants to hear it. It can cost you a lot of “friends”, love, money, your reputation and make you the subject of scorn. You may come off to others as a fool, but it definitely makes the journey of life interesting while moving forward. When you tell the truth you don’t have to remember the story you told. The truth is missing in our public discourse, in all our institutions including in academia, capitalism, government, media, military, politics and religion. As a nation, we’re suffering because of it. Does this sound like the truth?
Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved. “My response – Linkedin: Would you rather be honest and lose or dishonest and win?” by Ted Burnett.