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MY NEXT BOOK Year 9 Chapter 11 The Cuts Make the Key The Power of Metaphors

October 8, 2013

MY NEXT BOOK – Year 9, Chapter 11…The Cuts Make the Key – The Power of Metaphors


The Aspen Ideas Festival is a tough audience. In seven years of hosting world leaders, scientists, scholars, newsmakers, and tycoons . . . I have personally seen only three standing ovations: Bill Clinton; John McCain; and Bishop T.D. Jakes from Dallas that The Atlantic Monthly called “the most powerful black man in America that most white people don't know about.”

Bob Schieffer, the face of “Face the Nation,” interviewed Jakes in the Ideas Festival's largest venue, the orchestra tent. When Schieffer opened the floor, a woman at a microphone said, “Mr. Jakes, you're a preacher. Why don't you preach to us?”

Still in his seat onstage, Jakes delivered something like this (and it deserves better than my memory): “When you're born, you're like a key with no cuts in it. As you go through life, each wound, failure, hurt . . . cuts into that strip of metal. And one day there is a clear click — your pain has formed the key that slips into the lock and opens your future.”

My last Museletter was entitled “Build a Parent,” and in it I told how Jim Collins, at age 25, realized that the intangibles a father gives a son he hadn't gotten, and he proceeded to build a “Board of Directors.” From among the quick and the dead, and putting character over success or fame, a young Jim Collins conscripted a set of board members-some he knew and some he'd never meet. (In several cases he used biographies.) And so he built a surrogate source to aggregate What Matters and How to do Life.

Later in the article I said that losing my father when I was in fifth grade created a void that I sought to fill with Peter Drucker and a few others.  And losing my son when he was 24 is no small reason why I still find myself counseling men around the age Ross would have been.

The cuts make the key.

That creative urge to somehow supplement the MIA (missing in action) parenting prompted several sincere reader responses, and I'd like to excerpt from two people.  I have known each of them for over twenty years.  I will give them assumed names (Linda suggested I use John and Jane) so that I can use their quotes just the way they sent them to me.  Keep your eyes open for three more powerful metaphors that match the “click” metaphor of Bishop Jakes.

“Though the details differ the essence is common,” John's email began. “Collins, Buford, and me-each of us built by God to require the insertion of the 'father key-card' to be fully released into our greatest human capability-lacking the effecting fathering relationship that would release the potential.”

By the time John was 10, he said, his father had no more to offer, and that's where a lot of men might have plateaued. “But I began the lifelong pursuit of older, wiser men who would be willing to invest themselves in my life,” John wrote, “a series of right-for-the-time mentors whose contribution . . . was measured not in raw hours but in invaluable insights.”

John calls the men now his “personal Mt. Rushmore”-his fathers, though the actual word never came up.

Jane, with three grown and gorgeous daughters and an enduring marriage, now devotes her life to counseling.

“Bob, my story matches yours and Jim's,” she wrote. “Instead of 'building a parent,' I thought of it as looking for a 'composite mother,' women who collectively could fill the empty spaces in my growing up. It started with my friends' mothers and continues into my adult life. It has been intentional since I was 13.”

Jane's spot-on term, “composite mother,” and her word pictures have a long battery life.  She wrote: “At 58, I am grateful to have older women who pour into my life, though, like you I am more often the one pouring out 40 years of what others . . . have poured into me. The image I have is of a waterwheel.  Each one of us is a cup on the wheel, dipping into rivers of living water and then pouring out of this living water on others.”

The Father Card, Composite Mothers, and Halftime

Something important to me that I rarely bring up here is the Halftime Institute-a two-day program for people serious about doing for others in the second half of their life.  Each new group of “Halftimers,” usually a dozen or so, leaves the Institute freshly aware of what Bishop Jakes referred to with the key, and what their life experiences now can unlock.

In 2013, interestingly, the Institute price more than doubled as we added two very human components: a year of continued contact with their group and of one-on-one with a trained Halftime coach.  Given that Halftime is a safe place to ask and explore hard questions, some Halftimers are removing masks for the first time in their lives; consequently, two days can only start the journey. The registration count increased as we gave participants a chance to “think their confusion out loud.”

And given the universal need for a personal board of directors, a father key, or a composite mother, we're determined to be the soil for long-term growth.

One closing story: For a while I was in close touch with Admiral Ed Allen, a jet pilot who advanced to captain of an aircraft carrier. One afternoon, describing Halftime, he looked me in the eye and, using yet another metaphor, said, “You're not the carrier, you're not the airplane, and you're not the pilot . . . you're the catapult.”  The catapult is utterly unique to the US Navy, he said. It's what makes the Navy work and most people never see it (see my Dec. 14, 2012 Museletter).

I'm grateful to be part of a catapult.  Bishop Jakes' key, Jim Collin's Board, Johnther key card, Jane's composite mother . . . and that thing we didn't get becomes the Gift that our life experiences have equipped us to pass along to others.

How have your deficits served others?  In other words, how was your key cut-and what doors does it open?
As always, I welcome your thoughts.  You can email me personally at, or converse with the entire community at

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