100% life from concentrate
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Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life, you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.
written by don peck for the atlantic:
In 2003, thanks to Michael Lewis and his best seller Moneyball, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane, became a star. The previous year, Beane had turned his back on his scouts and had instead entrusted player-acquisition decisions to mathematical models developed by a young, Harvard-trained statistical wizard on his staff. What happened next has become baseball lore. The A’s, a small-market team with a paltry budget, ripped off the longest winning streak in American League history and rolled up 103 wins for the season. Only the mighty Yankees, who had spent three times as much on player salaries, won as many games. The team’s success, in turn, launched a revolution. In the years that followed, team after team began to use detailed predictive models to assess players’ potential and monetary value, and the early adopters, by and large, gained a measurable competitive edge over their more hidebound peers.
That’s the story as most of us know it. But it is incomplete. What would seem at first glance to be nothing but a memorable tale about baseball may turn out to be the opening chapter of a much larger story about jobs. Predictive statistical analysis, harnessed to big data, appears poised to alter the way millions of people are hired and assessed.
Yes, unavoidably, big data. As a piece of business jargon, and even more so as an invocation of coming disruption, the term has quickly grown tiresome. But there is no denying the vast increase in the range and depth of information that’s routinely captured about how we behave, and the new kinds of analysis that this enables. By one estimate, more than 98 percent of the world’s information is now stored digitally, and the volume of that data has quadrupled since 2007. Ordinary people at work and at home generate much of this data, by sending e-mails, browsing the Internet, using social media, working on crowd-sourced projects, and more—and in doing so they have unwittingly helped launch a grand new societal project. “We are in the midst of a great infrastructure project that in some ways rivals those of the past, from Roman aqueducts to the Enlightenment’s Encyclopédie,” write Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier in their recent book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. “The project is datafication. Like those other infrastructural advances, it will bring about fundamental changes to society.”
Some of the changes are well known, and already upon us. Algorithms that predict stock-price movements have transformed Wall Street. Algorithms that chomp through our Web histories have transformed marketing. Until quite recently, however, few people seemed to believe this data-driven approach might apply broadly to the labor market.
But it now does. According to John Hausknecht, a professor at Cornell’s school of industrial and labor relations, in recent years the economy has witnessed a “huge surge in demand for workforce-analytics roles.” Hausknecht’s own program is rapidly revising its curriculum to keep pace. You can now find dedicated analytics teams in the human-resources departments of not only huge corporations such as Google, HP, Intel, General Motors, and Procter & Gamble, to name just a few, but also companies like McKee Foods, the Tennessee-based maker of Little Debbie snack cakes. Even Billy Beane is getting into the game. Last year he appeared at a large conference for corporate HR executives in Austin, Texas, where he reportedly stole the show with a talk titled “The Moneyball Approach to Talent Management.” Ever since, that headline, with minor modifications, has been plastered all over the HR trade press.
The application of predictive analytics to people’s careers—an emerging field sometimes called “people analytics”—is enormously challenging, not to mention ethically fraught. And it can’t help but feel a little creepy. It requires the creation of a vastly larger box score of human performance than one would ever encounter in the sports pages, or that has ever been dreamed up before. To some degree, the endeavor touches on the deepest of human mysteries: how we grow, whether we flourish, what we become. Most companies are just beginning to explore the possibilities. But make no mistake: during the next five to 10 years, new models will be created, and new experiments run, on a very large scale. Will this be a good development or a bad one—for the economy, for the shapes of our careers, for our spirit and self-worth? Earlier this year, I decided to find out.
Writers who have day jobs outside the literature industry aren’t a new thing. Oscar Wilde wrote, “The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer.” Essays at The Millions, Ploughshares, and elsewhere feature stories of folks who have made the double life of writer and Joe or Jane Worker fruitful and rewarding. Short story writer Lorrie Moore wrote, “First, try to be something, anything, else,” in her essay “How to Be a Writer.”
Poet Amy Woolard, named one of the 50 Best News Poets of 2013 by Best New Poets editor Brenda Shaughnessy, has tried “something, anything, else”—including, most recently, working as a child-welfare lawyer. But she has also kept writing. I spoke with her about what it’s like to maintain a career in poetry while also maintaining a demanding, white-collar day job. A condensed, edited version of that email conversation follows.
When did you first consider yourself a “poet,” and what was your job at the time?
This is one of those moments that kids face in a spelling bee when they’re unfamiliar with a word, right, and they furrow their brows and ask, “Poet. Can you use it in a sentence?” It’s a title I’ve never really taken on or have been comfortable with, but it has been used on me in different contexts. For example, at Iowa, we were often called poets but only really to distinguish us from the fiction writers, viz.—“The poets are going to the Foxhead for drinks, and I think some of the fiction writers will be there, too.”
Shorter story—I don’t think I’ve every really considered myself a poet, just someone who writes poems, I suppose.
One moment that stands out, though, as a moment when I thought the writing of poems would certainly come to define me in some significant way: as an undergrad at the University of Virginia, when I’d applied, via portfolio submission, for Charles Wright’s Advanced Poetry Workshop. Charles is someone who came to mean a great deal to me and still does. I’ve often called him my “poetry dad” because of the way he took an interest in me and supported my work early on. But in this moment, the first day of that workshop, nearly 30 or 40 students filled the room—we did not yet know if we’d been accepted into the class. And Charles came in, welcomed everyone briefly, and then without another word began writing names on a chalkboard: the 12 or 15 students he’d admitted. And when he wrote out my name, mid-list or so, it was one of those rare occasions when you know something will stay with you forever. That class was also the true beginning of a writing community that I’ve been tied to ever since—other students in the class included Mary Szybist, Heather Derr-Smith, Rebecca Dunham, John Casteen, Jen Scappettone, and I think Sam Witt might’ve been in there too. It was a great crew, many of whom went on to join the crew I was lucky to be among at Iowa.
Tell me about some of the jobs you’ve held while writing poems between that time and today.
Oh, lord. Well, I’ve always considered Shakespeare’s Henry IV to be one of my favorite plays—most specifically Hal’s dilemma between life at the Tavern and the Court. My own years have played out similarly (sometimes quasi-literally), with an overindulgence of grad school thrown in. During and since my undergrad years, I’ve bartended and managed restaurants a lot—probably a total of seven or eight years’ worth of that time. I love that life, but it definitely takes a physical and mental toll that just became unsustainable. I’m definitely drawn back to that scene again and again, though. I do love a good bourbon.
In between and amongst those jobs, I went to grad school for advertising/copywriting, worked as a writer and editor for a San Francisco dot-com (during the boom and just before the bust), did a financial journalism gig, taught online English Composition courses, did some project-based freelance writing and editing for a few organizations (including a company in SF who gave me “naming gigs,” where I had to come up with names and URLs for new companies. There were all these rules to watch out for. You had to make sure a phrase-based URL didn’t end up unintentionally reading as unsavory—like, oh I don’t know, if you’re doing a site for a therapist named John Smith, you don’t want a URL that’s http://www.therapistJohnSmith.com, that kind of Arrested Development-type humor). This was years ago, however, when the internet was really starting to multiply, and quickly. People are much more savvy about those things now (I hope).
And of course, law school. I’ve been a lawyer/policy wonk for about five or six years now, and it seems like (especially given my financial investment in it) that this is the one that will stick.
Tell me about your current job.
Right now I’m a policy attorney for a statewide non-profit research and advocacy group called Voices for Virginia’s Children. I’ve been there for a few years, and before that was a legal aid attorney representing kids with education and school discipline issues. The subject areas I cover now include child welfare and foster care, juvenile justice, child homelessness and some general child poverty issues—most recently child hunger. Essentially, I write, research, analyze data, advocate, lobby, and attend a hell of a lot of meetings in order to bring to Virginia good laws/policies and fight bad laws/policies around children’s issues. I absolutely love it. It lets me tap into my journalism background to write articles and op-eds, use my legal background to actually write laws and regulations at times—and I totally thrive off of the lobbying part. A lot of people find lobbying for social justice issues, especially at the Virginia General Assembly, to be frustrating, annoying, and painful—which it is—but it’s an amazing study in human behavior and the power of persuasion—my favorite part of the job, by far.
How does your current work affect your writing?
I’d like to say that it doesn’t, but I think whenever you have to perform a couple of different identities within your life, each is affected by the other in some way. My job provides a nice counter-balance to the anything-goes world of poems—it’s still a persuasion-based job, but definitely in a rational, intellectual, responsible, real-world sort of way. This may sound terrible, but in my day job, I have to be a good person—and don’t get me wrong: I want to be and like being a good person, but poems give me a path to wrestle with the terrifying, difficult, absurd, imperfect, uncontrollable parts of the world in a much different but incredibly important way. As an attorney and a policy advocate, I can focus on actual change for the better. In poems, I can kind of tear a hole in that continuum and play around more with the scaffolding of it all. In policy, “good” is always the desired outcome. In poems, “good” rarely has anything to do with my goals—and sometimes it’s just desire itself that I want.
What do your co-workers think about your writing?
They don’t. I mean, for whatever reason, I just don’t tend to share much about that side of my life at work. The two versions of me–work self and writing self–seem like such different entities that it almost feels too vulnerable to share that part of my life in an environment where I need to have a kind of commanding presence, you know? Or else, it plays into my superstition that the more you talk about something, the less likely it will go the way you want it to. I know—it’s the least rational thing about me, but I think I’ve always been that way. I remember not even telling any family that I’d applied to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop until I knew I’d gotten in. Ditto with law school (control issues much?) And aside from that, I just think that there’s something a little too incongruous between law and poetry. In the legal world, it tends to make sense to others that someone would be a fiction writer, but no one really knows what to do with a poet (although that’s probably true everywhere outside the writing community/academia).
When do you do most of your writing?
I’ve persistently had a terrible writing schedule. By which I mean, for the most part, I have no schedule. I’ve never been a “write every day, even if it’s crap” kind of writer, and I’m a slow producer—ridiculously slow. Part of this, I think, is because I used to think about writing the way you’re supposed to think about credit card debt: Pick the highest interest rate card, and pay it down until it’s done. Then move on to the next. But in writing, that strategy was leading me to a kind of paralysis—getting hung up on the most challenging, wrenching piece was keeping me in a persistent stall mode. Finally finding a way to allow myself to move between projects was completely liberating—it was the best thing for my overall process to learn how to jump between work-writing, lighter poems, other essay ideas, and those heart-sucking poems that won’t ever leave you alone. Once I did that, it felt less excruciating to make time to sit down and write, and I stopped creating all the procrastination traps to keep me from the hard work of it.
I actually stopped writing altogether for about 10 years, for various reasons, beginning with the unexpected, sudden death of my closest friend, which led into the creative purgatory that is law school—a place that can kill both time and any adventure the mind might want to wander into. I’ve only picked it up again in the last two or three years—which, I think I knew I’d always come back to it, but needed to feel ready and able. Luckily, I think it’s been worth the wait—I feel much more confident in what I’m doing now than I ever have.
And now that I’m writing seriously again, with an eye toward a cohesive collection, I do some kind of writing work every day, whether it’s reading or dreaming or just chiseling away at a piece that’s in progress—I give myself more permission to see different kinds of work as writing. I usually write early in the morning, which is also kind of a revelation, because before my decade hiatus, I was mostly doing night shifts at restaurants, which meant I never really experienced mornings for the productive times they can be. I also write a lot on weekends, at all times of day, depending on my energy level and how close I am to finishing something.
Have you ever written at work? (I won’t tell anyone.)
Well, as long as it stays a secret just between us… Sure, I have, but only in the sense of jotting down a line or word or image I want to work on later. The paid job I do and the job of writing poems require me to be in two totally different brains, so it really only happens when my neurons slip a gear every now and then and something will stick with me enough that I just have to type it out so that I can get it out of my head for a while and get back to doing my job. And since I have an hour commute to work and back most days, sometimes I’ll turn on Siri on my iPhone and just talk some ideas out in the car as they happen. And sometimes it turns out Siri is a better writer than I am.
What would be your ideal job while writing poems?
I’m nearly there, I think—or else it doesn’t actually exist. Someone asked me this question recently, and I think my answer took the form of something like: having six months out of the year to just write, say April to September, with no other work obligations, and then the remaining six months to work on policy campaigns during the legislative session (which in Virginia runs from January through March). I’m not sure there’s a joint-advocacy/poetry foundation out there who would fund that, though. Is there? Call me.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about why I believe every able teenager in America should work as a server before entering the world of adulthood. It’s been wonderful to hear echoes of support and concurrence and to the seven of you who made positive comments, thank you! But since then, I’ve had this little inkling of guilt that perhaps I focused a bit too much on the Front of House. I have too many friends who cook professionally and too much respect to not give proper love to the kitchen as an amazing place to learn life skills. In my defense, it is much more difficult to get kitchen jobs because most of them require some form of training. That being said, if I had my druthers, everyone would know what it’s like to work in a commercial kitchen. Here are the top 10 invaluable skills they would learn:
1. PERSONAL APPEARANCE:
I’ve never met a chef whose hair wasn’t clean and off her face. I’ve never seen a chef with dirty nails or schmutz on his clothes (except food). Enough said.
Professional cooks learn day one that their jobs depend on a certain amount of respect. Respect goes beyond people. It extends to the kitchen, the equipment and the ingredients. Cooks learn early on to clean and store equipment properly and keep their heads down and their stations clean. Our chef at Haven’s Kitchen, David, carries on the Thomas Keller torch with the constant reminder that “ingredients don’t come from the walk in. They come from the farmer.” It’s not just a piece of meat or a potato; it’s someone’s hard work. Or in the case of the meat, a cow’s life.
Owing in part to that respect, professional cooks learned ages ago how to use the entire vegetable, or pig, or what have you. They’ve known forever how to manage waste by thoughtfully planning, storing and utilizing. On top of the fundamental understanding of what went into those ingredients, chefs know more than anyone how expensive those ingredients get. And restaurants need as close to zero waste to be close to economically viable.
4. APPRECIATION OF LEARNING:
Chefs know better than anyone that we learn by doing. But when there are paying customers out in the dining room, there can’t be any mistakes. So the kitchen is a veritable hotbed of education. Line cooks build on the technical skills they’ve learned in a real time environment. It’s what separates the cooks from the chefs. And while the chefs who work at Haven’s are actually teaching classes, all chefs learn from other chefs, and all chefs teach other chefs. Chef David phrased it this way “We’re all constantly learning and constantly teaching.” It’s a beautiful system and one that has remained mostly untouched.
5. APPRECIATION OF PROCESS:
Building on #4, no young cook eager for a career in the food world would dream of opening a restaurant before working her way up the ranks at other restaurants. In the chef world you start at A and maybe, with a ton of hard work, burns, cuts and blisters, maybe get to C. Or G. Or whatever. But if you’ve ever heard a 20-something question why he shouldn’t just be hired as a CEO, you may agree that the idea of working one’s way through the ranks seems like an anachronism to many of our young people. I see that as a problem and it’s virtually non-existent in the restaurant community.
6. BE PREPARED and CLEAN AS YOU GO:
This goes back to neatness and respect, but watching the pros work is like watching a beautiful ballet. It’s passionate and full of talent, but the technical piece is critical to a truly special end result. Chefs learn to make their mis en place, which literally means, “putting in place” before they turn on a burner. Everything is cleaned, measured, chopped, and then laid out on the prep station, making the process smoother and easier, not to mention less vulnerable to mistakes. For the most part, chefs are trained to clean their workspaces and tidy up after each step of the preparation. I’ve adopted both techniques in my home cooking and it’s made a world of difference (plus I feel cool).
7. MAKE THE BEST OF THINGS:
If you’ve ever been in a professional kitchen, it’s most definitely not smooth sailing all the time. Things get messed up. It just happens. And there’s no ordering take out if the main course burns. So chefs learn to improvise, use what they have and make it work. I wish we could all do that… instead of hitting a brick wall and breaking down crying, chefs say, “Huh. A brick wall. Let’s see how I can get over, under, around or through it.” Admirable.
While we see a lot of big egos on television food shows, the world of restaurant chefs is all about mutual respect, admiration and working together to make beautiful food. For every component on the plate at your next restaurant meal, there was probably at least one cook responsible for the dicing, slicing, par boiling, shocking, pickling… you get it. It takes a village to make a restaurant meal.
9. APPRECIATION of SCIENCE AND NATURE:
I’ve covered the appreciation and respect of ingredients, and this is a bit of an extension of all that. Jonathan Benno, who trained David at Per Se and was trained by Thomas Keller, has a famous quote in the chef world that is something along the lines of, “show me how to use NaCl and then I’ll show you the rest.” Molecular is great, foams are fabulous, but good cooking is already all about chemistry and alchemy. The fundamental understanding of natural laws and reactions is a part of a chef’s daily work. Wouldn’t it be amazing if that was how they taught high school science?
10. DO WHAT YOU LOVE, LOVE WHAT YOU DO:
The most wonderful part of working with professional cooks and chefs is the absolute love they have for feeding and nurturing people. Some are quieter than others. Most I know are somewhat introverted. But watching them work and transform their ingredients to create the food we eat is a privilege I enjoy every day. Even if its as simple as olive oil, salt and some acid, chefs touch their food with a certain magic, and as I watch, I’m struck by how lucky these people are to have figured out what gives them pleasure. And then they figured out how to make a living doing it. That’s a skill more of us need. I know perfectly well that not all cooks are in the kitchen out of love, but I bet if you asked the vast majority of them if it’s just a job, they would say no. It’s too challenging, too hot, too intense to be just a job. It’s a labor of love.
a 20-year-old jean-michel basquiat did what many people do at that age: made a resume. however given that he was more financially well-off/indifferent than most of his peers at the time, his CV was more of an artistic/recreational pursuit. highlights:
i wouldn’t imagine anybody getting a regular job with this on merit (though the references might do wonders). still, sotheby’s listed it for a solid working salary ($50,000). first spotted at black contemporary art.
as explained by its creator blake fall-conroy:
The minimum wage machine allows anybody to work for minimum wage. Turning the crank will yield one penny every 4.97 seconds, for $7.25 an hour (NY state minimum wage). If the participant stops turning the crank, they stop receiving money. The machine’s mechanism and electronics are powered by the hand crank, and pennies are stored in a plexiglass box.
this is a cool representation of how little the minimum wage really is. even though the money is easy to make, i’d imagine people would stop pretty fast since you’re not making enough to really make your time & effort worthwhile. on top of that, the work itself, which isn’t stimulating and doesn’t add anything to the world, isn’t worth your time and talents either.
does your current job remind you of this machine in any way? if so, will you just keep “turning the crank” or will you make a change?
related: how to create your reason | what will you create to make the world awesome? | top 5 career regrets | how to find work that you love| are you multi-talented but under-challenged? | how to live “meaningfully well”
Here’s a tiny question: what do you do when reach the edge of heartbreak? Consider the story of my good friend Priya. Let go from a successful career in finance, with no new opportunities on the horizon, Priya bravely decided to write a book about careers and meaning. One long year later, Priya’s blown through her savings, broken up with her partner, moved back to her parents’ place, and generally feels like her so-called future just went Vesuvius.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of…whatever. Ah, screw it: what’s the point, anyways? In that sentiment, Priya’s hardly alone. If you’re under the age of 35 and/or worth less than a few dozens of millions, you probably get the sinking feeling, by now, that you’re being written off by today’s leaders. Here’s the inconvenient truth…you are.
I don’t mean to get post-Bieber power ballad emo on you, but the great danger of this great hurricane of a never-ending crisis is that our will to live is quietly diminished. Not in the sense of jumping screaming off the nearest bridge — but in the less noticeable yet perhaps more lethal sense of resigning ourselves to mediocrity, triviality, lives we don’t want because they don’t feel they count. Hence: the great obligation you and I have right here, right now, then, children of the hurricane, isn’t merely to give up on life — but precisely the opposite: to redouble our furious pursuit of lives well lived.
I believe that each and every one us is here for a reason. Go ahead: get it out of your system. Roll your eyes, purse your lips, LOL, luxuriously wallow in cynicism for a moment — and then consider what tends to happen to those that have no great, abiding reason to be here. They sink, ineluctably, into depression; life seems to pass them by; they feel powerless, hopeless, fatalistic, and finally, come to see themselves as refugees from life; not creators of lives.
You and I know: homo economicus is about as good a role model as the love child of Freddy Krueger and Alien. Each and every one of us needs more than mere stuff and trinkets if we are to fully pursue happiness. We know: we need friends, security, stability, status, respect if we are to have a fighting chance at glimmers of contentment, delight, joy. Yet there is a truer need still: a reason to live fully, wholly, searingly; a reason that elevates us, at our best, past the mundane, and into the noble, good, and true. And unless this need is answered, our lives will always feel somehow reduced, lessened, blunted, a masterpiece seen through a veil of gauze, achingly incomplete. Each and every one of us is here for a reason; and it is that reason that anchors our stretching branches firmly in the soil of life.
So here’s the deal, broski. You and I don’t need a reason merely for romantic reasons; to add a celestial veneer of bogus miracle to the dreary predictability of our lives. Each and every one needs a reason for the most pragmatic of reasons: to evoke the best, noblest, and truest in us; and so to persevere in the pursuit of lives well lived. The tiny miracle of life is us — and whom we can choose to become.
So here are my five tiny rules for creating your reason.
Total surrender. Everyday for the last year, Priya’s gone to the café and…checked her Facebook. The self-help books and the mystical gurus will tell you: just imagine hard enough, and the life you so fervently desire will — poof!! — manifest. Let’s be honest: it’s a pleasant fairy tale for the nail-bitingly insecure. The simple truth is: If you want to live a life worth living, you have to do a lot (lot) more than merely wish for it: you have to work for it. And not merely in the brain-dead sense of “80 hours a week, at a job you hate, with people you hate, for a boss you want to stab, doing work that makes you want to projectile vomit, to benefit sociopathic shareholders that would rather see you miserable, fat, broke, and dead than fulfilled.” I mean work for it in a more profund sense: you must work to create a reason that demands from you nothing less than the furious, uncompromising pursuit of a life well lived; and if, like Priya, your so-called reason’s leading you to spin your wheels and go nowhere fast…it’s probably not one powerful enough to surrender to.
Absolute clarity. A reason is not a purpose. Priya’s real mistake is that she’s confused a purpose — writing books — with a reason: why the books must (not should, but absolutely, totally, must, or else your whole life will feel empty, wasted, pointless, over) be written. Imagine you were a master stonemason. Your purpose might be to build a great cathedral. But your reason might be to approach the divine, to leave a legacy, or simply to do great work. A purpose, then, is a set of accomplishments — but a reason is the animating force behind them; it is the “why” that gives sense to the “what”; and without it, all our “whats” may end up being empty, barren, senseless in the terms of a life that feels well lived. Priya, like many people I know, is a stonemason with a blueprint — but no incendiary, unstoppable, inescapable reason to begin building.
Real life. So if, like Priya, you can’t quite seem to put your finger on your reason, how do you begin? Here’s the trick. The reason isn’t found, or discovered. It is created. It is the great act of a life; the culminating act that joins our choices and decisions into a trajectory that resonates. A purpose is what you make: a book, a company, a bonus. A reason is what you live: knowledge, art, enlightenment, and more. What do you want your life to be? What is it that you want to live? When it comes not just to stuff, but to life, what is that you want to enact? You can’t answer this question like Priya’s been trying to: “books”. You must answer it in a more fundamental sense — “knowledge,” “art,” “education,” “enlightenment.” All these are better answers, in Priya’s case. They’re tiny steps beyond purpose, and towards the beginnings of a reason.
Radical simplicity. You can’t create your reason if your life is, pardon my French, full of bullshit. The answers above share one thing in common: they’re radically simple. Worthy, enduring, fulfilling reasons always are — because the timeless truths of life, which reasons exist to illuminate, are deceptively simple. So, forgive me, beancounters, but (as Priya still thinks) a reason is not a corporate mission statement (“To leverage my educational assets and optimize my career path!!”): it is the very opposite: a radically simple statement of why your life matters enough to you to fully, dangerously live it…past the edge.
Brutal honesty. You can’t create your reason if, pardon my French, you are full of shit. There are many reasons; but not all reasons are created equal. And you probably can’t create a worthy one if you’re not brutally honest with yourself about it. Raising a family and imbuing it with love; this is a grand and timeless reason; it elevates life. Vidal Sassoon’s reason: to bring art back to hairdressing? That’s a fantastic one. Pixar’s reason: creating heartwarming stories that bring people of all ages together? Works for me. Making minigames for advertisers to sell stuff to people they don’t really want to buy with money they don’t really have to live lives they don’t really feel? That’s a sucky reason, because it impoverishes life. Of course, the minigame maker might feel, in the moment, his work is rewarding — and it may be lucrative. But it isn’t likely to feel whole, for the simple reason that it’s reason is wanting in terms of meaningful human outcomes. The point here is not to create arbitrary divisions between which reasons are valid and which are lacking. The point is to start asking yourself, really: what is your reason? What would make it “good”? If you want to grab the top job at that megabank — why? If your reason is “to make a big pile of money,” you might want to think again. Why do you think, having made his billions, Bill Gates is trying to fix the world? He needs a bigger, better, truer reason.
Perhaps it’s true. Not all of us successfully create our reasons. But that is precisely why we must try. For it is in the reasonless that we see the power of life’s reason: the reason gives sense to life, and without sense, life feels like a maze, a trap, a game, an absurdity. We need a reason, because our reasons are what liberate us from lives that feel senseless.
Yet, Priya’s little parable tells us: reasons aren’t rational; they are larger than that: they are constructive. They aren’t tidy equations and models of life — yet nor are they mere wishes nor affirmations. They are the words in the language of life and death; words that come to compose the untidy, messy, often contradictory, thoroughly inconclusive stories we tell ourselves about what it means to have lived. And so they matter because they allow our lives, finally, to make startling glimmers of sense amidst the cruel senselessness and insensible beauty of the searing human experience. Only a reason has the magic to ignite, in the void, the spark; that comes to make a life feel that it has been more than accidents of fate colliding with chance.
And so it seems to me that you and I — the sons and daughters of the Lesser Depression, the orphans of modernity — we have three choices. We may retreat. We may revolt. Or we may rebel. We may retreat into digiphoria; the cold, joyless comfort of softly glowing screens. We may revolt, turning away in disgust, and become, in time, something like the leaders we scorn. Or we may rebel — and choose, here and now, even in the full fury of the storm, to answer the awesome challenge of lives well lived.
Reason is rebellion. It is through the creation of reasons to live fully that we rebel — and ignite lives worth living, instead of merely resigning ourselves to those that feel as if they aren’t. In reason, we rebel against immovable destiny, and gain a measure of freedom back from the stars.
Grace, then, is born in reason. And it is grace that gives us, finally, the power to love. To, through the heartbreak, the grief, and the joy, breathe life into possibility, and so breathe possibility into life. And that is what a life that feels burstingly whole, achingly full, timelessly true, is really all about: the power to love. And only a reason as solid and true as bedrock can give it to you.
So allow me to ask you again: what do you do when you reach the edge of heartbreak? Here’s my tiny answer: you create a reason to take you past the edge of heartbreak. And into big love, mighty grace, searing meaning, and limitless purpose. Hence, my question: what’s your reason?
When web designer Ben Blumenfeld was working for a major TV network, he was responsible for creating websites for mainstream shows. One day, he made a breakthrough that led to a significant uptake on a show, but the success struck Ben in a way he had not expected. His success meant more people would spend even more time watching TV, and he ultimately didn’t see that as a good thing.
The moment proved to be an inflection point for Ben. He decided to stop thinking of his career as something separate from himself, and the values, ideals and principles that were important to him. He believed in making a positive impact in his community, and realized his day-to-day work wasn’t aligned with that. He decided it was time to pursue a path that baked his mission into his career.
While still in that mindset, he received a phone call from Jeff Hammerbacher, the COO of a newfangled Silicon Valley startup with 8 million student users, who persuaded Ben to fly to California to meet the people working there. Later, when Ben mentioned his desire to make a positive impact in his community, the CEO assured Ben that the venture would impact the very way the human race communicated with each other, across cultures, political differences and national territories — literally bringing the world together. Ben concluded the CEO — Mark Zuckerberg — was either quite mad, or that he was a true visionary. Ben told me, “I knew Mark was going to build the company with or without me, and once I met the design team, I was just blown away. Every designer was insanely talented, both visually and technically.” And so, he decided to join in the effort.
In time, Ben would come to lead the communication design team at Facebook as they built the company from 8 million users to almost a billion. He found the scale of every initiative to be surreal. “It was strange to design experiments that were measured in millions of people,” he told me. But, he also knew that the ability to connect so many people offered a huge opportunity to stay true to his goal of melding his career and his intention to make a positive difference in the world. Ben had an idea to work with Stanford’s Peace Innovation initiative, in connection with Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, to start peace.facebook.com, which in turn sparked a conversation around the world about whether people believed we would reach peace in the next 50 years. (Incidentally, Americans are consistently far more pessimistic about this than other countries, such as Egypt, which is among the most optimistic). It was just one of the many ways that Ben decided to bake his mission into his career.
Most recently he left Facebook and joined with Enrique Allen to cofound The Designer Fund. Enrique is also part of the founding team at 500 Startups, an early stage seed fund and accelerator in Silicon Valley. The Designer Fund invests in designer-led startups that bake positive social impact into the mission of the institution. Instead of impact being an afterthought or separate project, like some company’s apologetic foundations sometimes appear to be. (Explore some of their inspiring investments here: Neighborland, Angaza Design, Solar Mosaic and Launchpad Toys).
I use the example of Ben to illustrate someone who’s approaching his career by design — not by default. It’s something that each and every one of us has the potential to do. When you get to a place in life where you’re questioning what the work you are doing — all the hours you’re spending — are ultimately adding up to, you need a process for evaluating what matters most to you. Here’s what I suggest:
Step 1: Sketch Your Career. It is so easy to get consumed by the stream of activities in our careers. We get so caught up in living our lives that we don’t stop to think sufficiently about our lives. We are reacting instead of being strategic. When I find this happening, I use this simple tool to get a broader perspective. You start on the left at the beginning of your career and end on the right hand side (today). You draw a single line up if you were enjoying the experience and down if it was unfulfilling for you. Write down where you were working, what you were working on, and any other factors that shaped your experience.
It ends up looking something like this:
Step 2: Connect the Dots. Use the sketch from Step 1 as a launch pad into being an anthropologist of your own life. Go somewhere quiet. You might think of it like a strategic offsite for your own life and career.
Ask: When was I truly happy and why? What activity or theme do I keep coming back to? What is my gravitational pull? When was work effortless for me? What isn’t working for me? When do I seem most like myself? When was it meaningless and why? When was work meaningful and why? Don’t rush the process. Pause long enough to listen. Write the answers down as they come so you can reflect on them later.
Step 3: Ask, “What Will I Create that Will Make the World Awesome?” That may sound like a bit of a wild question but an essential element of strategy is, to state the obvious, thinking about what we want to create in the future.
Ask: What would I do if I could do anything? What would I do if all jobs paid the same? If I could only achieve one thing in my career, what would it be? What do I really want? Again, these are big questions. But my experience is that people spend far more time worried about their job than in creating a vision for their career and how they can uniquely contribute to the world. (If you are looking for a pep talk, this three minute video from “Kid President” does a brilliant job challenging us to figure out what we can do to make the world awesome).
Many years ago I followed a process not at all unlike this one and, without exaggeration, it changed the course of my life. The insight I gained led me to quit law school, leave England and move to America to start down the path as a teacher and author. You’re reading this because of that choice. It remains the single most important — and strategic — career decision of my life.
It’s a simple process. But it can help us to break down some complex questions. Like the poet Mary Oliver’s beautifully haunting question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Standard questions. Prepared answers. If job interviews are all the same, how to find the right talent among 1734 applicants?
thinking about this problem, heineken decided to use a different approach to hire its next intern. in the video above called the candidate, the beer company put applicants through a series of tests not found in a normal interview. while some of these tests might seem weird for the setting (and maybe just weird in general), seeing how the potential employees handle unique situations could show more about their true character & abilities than a prescribed q&a would (not to mention, it might be more exciting/fun for both parties involved).
after watching the video, which interview style would you prefer? the typical q&a or something more creative like the candidate? answer in the poll below. also, share any of your interesting interview experiences in the comments.
written by hugo lindgren for nytimes:
Here’s a partial, redacted-for-the-sake-of-my-dignity list of stuff I once aspired to write but never did: a “Mamma Mia!”-esque rock opera called “Bastards of Young,” based on the songs of the Replacements. A sitcom set in Brooklyn that inverts “I Love Lucy,” so that the wife plays the stable, amiable breadwinner while her lovable loon of a husband hatches ridiculous schemes, often involving the production of artisanal goods. A thriller about the ultimate rogue trader who concocts a single, diabolical transaction to blow up the financial system. An HBO show, called “Upstate,” about a burned-out corporate raider who returns to his hometown outside Buffalo to save his father’s failing liquor store and ends up trying to rescue the whole town from the double scourge of unemployment and alcoholism. Too depressing? How about this: A reality show in which retired hockey greats like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier compete against each other coaching teams of — ready for the deal clincher? — inner-city kids who’ve never been on ice skates.
If you had the time, believe me, I could flesh out these ideas for you, explain their origins, describe in fine detail my vision of the characters and plots and how it would all coalesce into something awesome.
Or not. For at least 25 years, I’ve been serial daydreaming like this, recording hundreds of ideas in a sequence of little notebooks that I have carried around and then stacked in a shoe box in my closet, a personal encyclopedia of undone to-do’s. Sometimes, when I’m searching for something in my closet and I see the box, I have a flashback to my first-grade report card: “Hugo has the gift of a rich, active imagination, but needs to work on his follow-through skills.”
My situation, I know, is not unique. Who doesn’t have big plans they never get around to acting on? Everybody swaps ideas with his friends about the excellent TV show they’d make or the groundbreaking movie they’d write. And a couple of my grand schemes got an inch or two off the ground — an agent lunch, a pitch meeting, a trip to L.A., a flurry of e-mail filled with exclamation points — though never much higher than that. And along the way, I also became editor of the magazine you are now reading, so it’s not as if I became mired exclusively in a world of delusional ambition. It’s just that for way too long, I held on to the fantasy of a completely different professional life, and I can’t help wondering why certain creative endeavors just seemed impossible to make happen.
I know, writers have been complaining for eons about the weight of their burden, and it’s not attractive. But I’ve been around it long enough to know that writing anything good that’s longer than a paragraph isn’t easy for anybody, except for maybe J. J. Abrams. You can’t explain how people do it. Some of the most successful screenwriters, novelists, television producers and rock-opera librettists I know are about a hundred times lazier than I am. They take long afternoon naps, play lots of pickup basketball and appear to accomplish little or nothing for months at a time. And let me tell you, their ideas do not all crackle with scintillating originality.
So what am I missing? What is that elusive thing that turns some people’s daydreams into their next novel for F.S.G.?
Earlier in my professional life, as I began to do all right as an editor, I naïvely discounted it as something I never intended to stick with. A respectable occupation, I thought, while preparing myself for the Masterwork of Spectacular Brilliance that would eventually define me.
One of my pet theories about why I could never actually produce anything of brilliance was that I was cursed with a comfortable existence. What might have been my creative prime was spent in New York City in the 1990s, a flush time for the young and college-educated. Magazine-editor jobs paid O.K. and were relatively easy to get, especially compared with now. Maybe I would’ve been better off in the 1970s, when a young person with ambitions like mine had to take a hard job as a means to his artistic ends. Would such sacrifice, I wondered, have sharpened my desire to make it as a writer?
All you have to do is read Mark Jacobson’s classic New York magazine depiction of cabdrivers in the 1970s to know that’s a joke. The story is about nighttime cabbies who aspired to be actors or poets or playwrights. Jacobson was one of them. His original plan was to drive three nights a week, write three nights a week and party one night a week. But as he watched his fellow drivers get sucked in to the working life, he realized how the daily grind slowly robbed them of their dreams.
“The Big Fear,” Jacobson writes, “is that times will get so hard that you’ll have to drive five or six nights a week instead of three. The Big Fear is that your play, the one that’s only one draft away from a possible showcase, will stay in your drawer. The Big Fear is thinking about all the poor stiff civil servants who have been sorting letters at the post office ever since the last Depression and all the great plays they could have produced. The Big Fear is that, after 20 years of schooling, they’ll put you on the day shift. The Big Fear is you’re becoming a cabdriver.”
My big fear, of course, was that I was becoming an editor. I won’t lie. For a long time, I considered this an unacceptable outcome. I don’t know if anyone ever told me, “Those who can’t write, edit,” or if I made that up on my own, but that little aphorism haunted me. Meanwhile, my grandiose writing projects were all going nowhere for the same tedious reason. The minute I tried to commit them to paper, or otherwise turn them into something tangible, my imagination coughed and sputtered like the cheap Renault convertible my girlfriend drove in college. I’d write a bit of dialogue using that miraculous software that automatically formats it into a screenplay for you, and I’d be instantly paralyzed from the neck up. Here was incontrovertible evidence that I wasn’t half as good as I imagined myself to be. The voices I heard so clearly and powerfully in my head became inert and alien on the page. I was surprised by how mortally embarrassed you can be by writing something nobody else will ever read. Even looking back over those one- sentence descriptions of TV ideas in the first paragraph of this essay, I am humbled by how inadequately they convey the vividness they had as I conjured them. It’s like hearing a recording of my own voice. That can’t be how I sound. Oh, but it is.
I recently saw a Charlie Rose interview with John Lasseter, a founder of Pixar, about the creative process behind his movies. Pixar’s in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them. Even great ideas are wrecked on the road to fruition and then have to be painstakingly reconstructed. “Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another,” Lasseter said. “People don’t believe that, but it’s true. But we don’t give up on the films.”
Hugely successful people tend to say self-deprecating stuff like this when they go on “Charlie Rose.” But I heard something quite genuine in Lasseter’s remarks, an acknowledgment of just how deep into the muck of mediocrity a creative project can sink as it takes those first vulnerable steps from luxurious abstraction to unforgiving reality.
I could never forge through this. My confidence always collapsed under the weight of my withering self-criticism. I couldn’t bear the awfulness and keep going. Even as I’m writing this essay, I have to stop myself from scrolling back to previous parts and banging my forehead against the keyboard as I see how short I’ve fallen of my expectations. My mind goes uncontrollably to whether it might be better to scrap the whole thing and write a different Riff — like, I’ve got a few stray ideas in my notebook here about the glassy office tower they’re building next door to where I live and how it obliterates what’s left of the spirit of Greenwich Village. Or about this ’80s band called Talk Talk that started out making bland pop hits like Duran Duran but then rejected fame and made a couple of crazy, weird, beautiful records until mysteriously vanishing. That Riff will practically write itself, I just know it.
A promiscuous imagination like this is dangerous for writers. As an editor, I can see that clearly. I know that the next brilliant brainstorm is never going to be the one that will just write itself, any more than the last one did. Ideas, in a sense, are overrated. Of course, you need good ones, but at this point in our supersaturated culture, precious few are so novel that nobody else has ever thought of them before. It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution. The more I experienced this frustration firsthand, the more I came to appreciate how naturally suited I am to the job I used to think I never wanted to have when I grew up. Magazines give me a healthy, satisfying amount of creative license, as well as a very defined responsibility. Journalism keeps my imagination from flying off into the ether. At the core of everything is reporting, a real event. And editing allows me to collaborate with people whose talents make up for my weaknesses, especially writers who don’t seize up at the sight of a blinking cursor.
At the same time, the protracted period of realizing all this has been necessary. Struggling with my own creative process has helped me appreciate the difficulties that others go through, while fighting to subdue my own self-criticism has left me open to the possibilities of fledgling ideas that look wobbly out of the gate. Daydreams, weirdly enough, have made me a better editor.
Plus, if I’d understood this all perfectly when I started out, embraced editing right from the beginning, I’d be ready to move on to something else now. Like maybe I’d open a civilized sports bar that served only bourbon and sold vintage Pendleton shirts —
But now I must contend with my editor for this story, who just stopped by my office to see when I’ll stop beating my head against the keyboard so he can get this to the copy desk. There’s no chance of backing out now. He insisted it wasn’t as dreadful as I feared, gave me good advice on how to end it, and also remarked that my reality-show idea is not bad, but does it have to be about hockey? Well, no, I said, suddenly diverted into fantasy land, the conceit could be broader, maybe about how to coach amateurs more generally, so that the competition changed season to season — badminton, bobsledding, roller derby, square dancing. Rock operas!
We had a laugh and then got back to work.