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The Inner Circle - Issue #3

How to bounce back from adversity, and the only 5 drinks you need to know how to make.

Sean Johnson
Sean Johnson
6 min read

This newsletter is for my inner circle. The people whose opinions matter to me the most. It’s where I’ll be more open than normal. Where I’ll share what I’m excited about, what I’m processing. You’re on this list for a reason. Thank you for being in my life.

In This Issue:

  • So I got fired as a professor.
  • You only need to know how to make 5 drinks. These 5.

So I got fired as a professor.

I was hired 5 years ago by the entrepreneurship and innovation group. But the marketing department was where my class actually lived. They were the ones who decided whether my class exists or not. I didn’t realize that until it was too late. They had tenured professors who had created classes in digital marketing and felt mine was redundant.

A month later I got hired back.

I gave them an updated course description (I had never seen the original, and didn’t write it), they realized there was a need for my material after all. So now I’m back.

I walked away from the experience with several lessons.

Remember: you are not your work.

I’ve trained myself over the years to not associate myself too closely with my business - to not think of myself as a consultant or a VC.

But it turns out “professor at Kellogg” was something I absolutely attached to my identity.

I had a goal to someday become a professor, figuring I’d teach at a community college or something. To be able to teach students at a top 3 business school was incredibly validating. And having it taken away hurt more than I was prepared for.

Taking pride in your work is a great thing. Feeling like your hard work has paid off is a great thing. But be vigilant about protecting your identity and not associating it with something ephemeral.

You are not your business or your career. If it fails, that does not make you a failure. If it succeeds, that doesn’t make you a different person. Do the work of figuring out who you are.

Move forward

When I was in high school, my dad started a software business, partnering with Computer Associates to be a primary reseller to mid-market companies in the midwest.

It didn’t work out. And it was hard - he had personally guaranteed over a million dollars to get the business off the ground.

I’m sure he was terrified. But he didn’t show it.

The day after he closed the office he was making cold calls to drum up consulting work. The next week he was negotiating his debts down with his creditors.

He didn’t throw a pity party, lamenting all the ways things could have gone differently. He moved forward.

When I found out I lost the gig, I was upset for the rest of the day. But I remembered my dad. I moved forward.

I reached out to former students asking for recommendations, putting them together into a package. I set up meetings with the marketing department to understand what happened, and volunteered to run some workshops to stay top of mind. I reached out to Booth and started meeting with them. I started packaging my slides into a course I could put online if necessary.

In college I read a fantastic book with a stupid name called Who Moved My Cheese. There were two mice in a maze. And each day there was cheese in one spot. But one day the cheese moved.

One mouse sat there crying about it. He would return every day hoping it would be back but it wasn’t. He would complain and talk about how life wasn’t fair.

The other mouse moved forward. He started looking for other cheese almost immediately. Before long he found even better cheese.

It’s okay to feel disappointed. It’s okay to process those feelings with people you care about, or even with professional help. But in most cases the cheese isn’t coming back. The faster you move forward the better.

Your Network as a Defensive Strategy

I’ve written in detail about the power of networking before. But I’ve typically thought of it as an offensive strategy.

But it’s also a way to avoid losing things.

I had developed relationships with many people in the entrepreneurship and innovation program. But I didn’t think enough about how important the marketing department was.

Defensive networking is simply recognizing your weak spots and working to mitigate them. When you’re selling into a new client, you want to have as many advocates as possible. If a client gets fired (or promoted), you want to make sure you have good relationships with the folks still there.

I got lucky in getting the gig back. But I was stupid.

I’m taking the lesson and doubling down. I’m talking with professors who are well respected and learning how they create more engaging classes. I’m taking my slides and trying to make them more useful. I’m rethinking how I do homework.

And I’m working to develop my network more fully.

You’re going to fail and screw up. What matters is what you do with that failure.

You only need to know how to make 5 drinks. These 5.

“I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made.” - James Bond

We’re heading into the holidays. Holidays mean celebrating. And a good cocktail is a fantastic way to kick off the evening.

But many people don’t know how to make them. Which is a shame, because it’s incredibly easy.

There are thousands of cocktails. But I’m partial to the old ones.

There’s a reason they’ve stuck around so long. They make you feel like you’re a part of history. You don’t feel like you’re on Spring Break or at TGI Fridays. You feel like the people around you are more interesting. And they feel the same way about you.

Below are my 5 favorites. Turns out you only need a few ingredients to make all five:

  • Gin. Go for London dry gin - it’s light and crisp and doesn’t have too many botanicals overwhelming it.
  • Rye. Was the most popular liquor in America before prohibition. Big and bold.
  • Champagne. Because parties.
  • Lemon juice. Use fresh lemon juice instead of the bottled stuff. Will make the drinks much brighter and lively.
  • Vermouth. You want both red and white. I like Dolin.
  • Bitters. Get Angustora.
  • Sugar. Use superfine if you can get it. Dissolves more easily.

The Old Fashioned

The original. The first use of the word “cocktail” was in a newspaper in 1806 in reference this drink. Almost everyone makes it wrong.

Don’t muddle a bunch of fruit. Don’t drown it in club soda. Take a cocktail glass and add 1oz superfine sugar, 2-3 dashes of bitters and a couple drops of water. Add 2oz rye and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add ice and stir quickly to chill. Garnish with an orange twist.

P.S. If a drink has citrus or an egg white, you shake it. Otherwise, you stir.

The Martini

Classic, classy, strong. Perfect way to celebrate at a nice steakhouse. Stick with one and switch to wine. Lots of people drink them with vodka. Lots of people are wrong.

Pour 1oz dry vermouth into a mixing glass filled with ice - ideally cracked (cracking gives the ice more surface area, and cools your drink faster.) Stir and strain out. Fill the glass with 4oz gin. Stir for 20 seconds, strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an olive or lemon twist.

The Manhattan

Created in the 18th century. Perfect in the fall or winter. Bold but balanced. There are a million ways people make it, but the best way is with 2oz Rye Whiskey, 1oz red vermouth, and 2 dashes of bitters. Stir in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry or an orange twist.

The Negroni

My drink in the summer. Feels like you should be sitting outside a cafe in the French Riviera (I know it’s Italian.)

1oz gin, 1oz red vermouth, 1oz campari. Stir in a mixing glass full of ice for 30seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange.

When the weather turns, replace the gin with rye to make a Boulevardier.

The French 75

Supposedly named after the French field gun from WWI. It’s bright and bubbly, but it packs a punch. Perfect for brunch or New Years Eve.

Shake 1oz gin, 1tsp superfine sugar, and 1/2oz lemon juice in a chilled shaker. Strain into a coupe glass. Top with 2oz champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Thanks for reading!

If you have ideas for how to make this better, please let me know. Thanks for being in my life ❤.

-- Sean