When I was in my 40s, I asked my 84-year-old uncle what was the most important piece of wisdom he had learned from his long experience.
He thought for a while, and then he said, "take responsibility." That could mean ownership of your thoughts and actions, but I think he meant something else. I think he meant go beyond your comfort zone. seek challenges, take charge. That's something he did very little of and I think his words came from regret.
What responsibilities I have taken on have been modest -- the formation with others of a financial firm, the presidency of the Henry Street Settlement, heading our family foundation, the writing and production of six off Broadway plays, the partnership with mimi and the raising of three children, the partnership now with Iris.
Very modest compared to my friend, Larry Sosnow, who started two successful companies from scratch. Or to David Garza, who, as executive director of Henry Street, manages five hundred employees and a budget of thirty five million. Or to Sandy Gottesman, who started First Manhattan Co. with me, but quickly passed me in effort and command so that he soon had the reins while I was just one of the horses.
I am in awe of these guys but I have no misgivings. I didn't duck what came my way. I have observed some who do duck, who withdraw from challenges, who stay in their comfort zones. They avoid anxiety but they are not happy campers.
Well, like most things, it's a little more complicated. For some choose to live beneath the radar and have quiet pleasant lives.
So I contradict myself. Walt Whitman said, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."
If he can contain multitudes, I can contain a few.