What I do with my time matters much less to my family than it once did because our children are grown. This new-ish status of theirs is something to be celebrated (“Every adult is a miracle” – my mother-in-law), but it is also a downgrade in the importance of my previously central roles in life, provider and father. My grandchildren are far more of a pleasure to me than a responsibility – their parents quite properly bear those weights. My Beloved Spouse is in great shape, thank you very much, and not in need – or, if I am honest with myself, in want – of my constant ministrations.

So who will I be other than the guy who was who I have been?

In my own mind, and I trust in fact, I am too young and healthy to be retired in the traditional sense, resting from my labors and savoring the days; After all, if I’m lucky, I might have 10,000 more of them – far, far too many to spend focused primarily on my own comfort. I’m a guy who believes that the most important part of being is doing – and that the biggest number in the sum of our lives is the effect we have on others, positive or negative.

I don’t want my main participation in the world going forward to be as a consumer.


When we sold the company I helped build, I dreamed of running for governor of Connecticut. That state – which I love and in which we own a home – was in terrible shape, as it still is, and I figured that I could help straighten it out. I have always had a lot of interest in public policy (hence: Civil Horizon) and now I had the time and the resources to give it a shot.

The Beloved Spouse had other ideas.

When making my tentative plans, I hadn’t understood the depths of her revulsion at the idea that we might give up our privacy so that I could enter the maelstrom of elective politics. So I had to decide whether I was willing to make her terribly unhappy as a means of satisfying my urge to seek an important public role.

I was not. As I explained to my former business partner when telling him that I would not be running for office, which he knew I had long planned to do – the point of a partnership is that if your partner gives you a firm “no”, you have to listen.

And I did, which left me without a plan.


Since realizing that I will not be crossing the political Rubicon, I have involved myself in numerous part-time interests – some (charitable matters) expensive, some (private investments), I hope, profitable. I have also done some consulting for my former business partner, another friend and a private equity group that I have known for decades. These have all been worthwhile (well, on the private investments, only time will tell), but none has given me the sense of mission that I crave.


When I was working, I had a beautiful long case (“grandfather’s”) clock in my office. When visitors were startled by its chimes, I would tell them that it had been hand-made in 1815, and what were they – or what was I – making that would still be beautiful and perfectly functional in 200 years?

Similarly, I have thought that to write one great song or poem or novel, or to paint one great painting, or whatever, would be worth more to others than my lifetime of labors as a businessman, because truly great art endures, giving pleasure to millions for centuries, whereas the products and companies we build are gone in a flash. All of them.

Ars longa, vita brevis est, after all. Unfortunately, though, as regards the theoretical possibility that I could create great art of any kind, I am all-too-sure that I cannot.

There are other ways to serve. And, as I think about it, there can be no scale that accurately weighs the relative values of Art, Commerce, Good Public Policy or Charity. Mankind needs them all.


I have concluded that my own highest and best use to the world at large is in Commerce. That is, after all, the field in which I spent most of my time over the course of three and a half decades.

Many people, it is true, do not see business as a particularly noble enterprise. To them I say that business produces almost everything that we consume, wear, live in, communicate with, travel on, etc., and it does so in almost every instance on a mutually voluntary, and thereby presumably mutually beneficial basis. You don’t have to buy my product and you don’t have to work for my company – you’ll only do these things if, in your judgement, they are good for you. Same on my side – the bargains have to be good for me, or I won’t offer them.

Way back when, I took on my business roles as a means of meeting my own needs and, later, fulfilling my responsibilities to my family, but eventually those same roles affected many others. My partner and I created good jobs – lots of them – and we sold products that the market wanted. When I made, or helped make, good decisions, many benefitted, when I made poor ones, the opposite. My behavior mattered.


I am thinking of going back. Not to the business or the industries I once served – they have moved on, as have I – but back into business. In a serious way – not as a part-time or passive investor as in the projects I’ve done over the last couple of years, but as an entrepreneur with a big dream.

I know what this decision would entail. On both occasions in which I have been involved in from-nothing startups, I have seen that entrepreneurship is total immersion. You don’t own a new business, it owns you. And you make mistakes every single day. Then you correct them as best you can, and keep going.

I am not nearly as young as I was when I was last involved in an entrepreneurial startup. I am not as strong, either – I know that. Endurance is a vital trait for an entrepreneur because every time you get knocked down, you have to get up.

My hope, if I go forward, is that what I have lost in strength will be made up for by an increase in wisdom. It’s no sure bet.


Peering down, I see deep water in a place where I have never swum. I am thinking of jumping.

What would I be risking? Money, to begin with. Precious time – time when I could be seeing children and grandchildren, traveling with the Beloved Spouse, doing things with friends. Energy. Pride. I might even have to move – leaving a community where we have lived for decades … where we know people, and some of them like us.

What would I gain if I jump? A chance to build something, employ people, offer better products – products that I think are Important. Maybe, a lot more money – but that possibility is a long, long way off, and wildly uncertain. A new role.

I’ve been telling myself I want all of that, one more time. But do I?

I have to be looking at the right opportunity, of course, for the question ripen. It looks to me like I might be. I’ll know in a few months. If so, I’ll have to choose; I’ll get to choose.

Who will I be?


M.H. Johnston

4 comments to Roles

  • Jeff  says:

    Good luck!

  • Vivian Wadlin  says:

    I placed a comment on an earlier blog post of yours: Inner city youth crisis. Maybe your new endeavor could be to fight the culturally embedded problems perpetuating this mess. There must be a market-based solution that has never been attempted.

    • M Johnston  says:

      You’re right that much needs to be done there… but what I have in sight is a particular opportunity – big, complicated and interesting – in another field. If it happens, I’ll let you know.

  • Aaron  says:

    Best of luck, amigo. Hope your new venture prospers and that you keep up your interest in public policy.

    By the way, Michael Walsh must have read your post on busting up D.C. and moving the pieces to other parts of the country:

    Some quibbles. First, I wouldn’t bother moving the Departments of Education, HHS, Homeland Security, HUD, and Labor at all. I’d shut them down. Second, change the Department of Defense back to the War Department, as an anti-euphemism measure. Kind of hard to move the Pentagon and we probably couldn’t build it as well or as quickly as we did back in 1941, so it can stay where it is. Third, Hawaii’s too nice for State. Put it next to the ICBM silos in North Dakota, pour encourager les diplos. Can’t argue with moving Transportation to someplace near I-95 in New England, though. The stretch outside Bridgeport, CT is especially colorful. The I-84/I-91 interchange at Hartford would be a close runner-up.

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