career

Perpetual Self-Controntation

"We live in perpetual self-confrontation between the external success and the internal value. And the tricky thing, I'd say, about these two sides of our nature is they work by different logics."

~ David Brooks

Keep Yanking

Excerpt from How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams:

The success of Dilbert is mostly a story of luck. But I did make it easier for luck to find me, and I was thoroughly prepared when it did. Luck won't give you a strategy or a system—you have to do that part yourself.

I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn't ask you to put money in. All it asks is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over. A normal slot machine that requires money will bankrupt any player in the long run. But the machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and asks for no money up front, is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes to keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99 percent of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.

Not Pretending

The Vintage Life by Mikela Prevost

The Mother of the Poet
by Matt Cook, from The Unreasonable Slug

The other of the poet is probably tired
Of explaining to people that her son is a poet.
Her son probably should have made more of an effort
To be involved in something that was simple to brag about.
The mother of the heating contractor does not
Have the same problem as the mother of the poet.
When the mother of the heating contractor talks about her son
It's usually understood, from the beginning, that her son, 
The heating contractor, is not pretending to be a heating contractor. 
When the mother of the poet talks, the listener will
Begin with the assumption that her son is pretending to be a poet.
The mother of the poet spends a good deal of energy justifying her son.
The poet, of course, did not mean
To put his mother in this difficult position.
Or did he?  

Follow Matt Cook on Twitter: @mattcookpoet

Polishing Someone Else's Gold

Guante - "The Family Business" from Justin Schell | 612 to 651 on Vimeo.

The Family Business
by Guante

Jackie’s been here for twenty-five years and he tells me you get used to it. He says your nose learns to seal itself when you dive headfirst into an ocean of dust; your eyes develop nictitating membranes to keep the chemical sprays out; and your hands… they will grow their own gloves, invisible and tough and permanent. I’ve been a janitor for three weeks and I thought I was made of stronger materials.

We play chess in the break room. Jackie asks me what my favorite piece is. I say the pawn because, you know, he’s the underdog; the odds are against him. Jackie identifies with the pawns too, but he finds nobility in their sacrifice, he sees beauty in their simplicity, in the fact that they’re always moving forward.

Jackie shambles from room to room, moving half as fast as me but somehow getting twice as much done. The night shift will mess with your head like that. Jackie smiles, the saddest face I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I look at that face and feel like we are the servants entombed alive with the pharaoh, polishing someone else’s gold while our oxygen runs out, dutifully preparing a grand feast for a god who will never be hungry.

But Jackie tells me that there is honor in this. A good day’s work. An honest living. There is poetry in this.

But what kind of poetry lives in a can of orange naturalizer, the liquid breath of dragons? The mist dissolves every word creeping up my throat, overwhelms every idea. They got me wiping my reflection from the glass, scrubbing the shadows off the walls. They got me so scared of my alarm clock that I can’t fall asleep, even when my muscles drain out from underneath my fingernails and my thoughts stream out of my ears, and I am left with nothing but two eyes that refuse to close for fear of what they might see. 

Is there really honor in this? Or is that abstract notion the carrot they dangle in front of us pawns to move us across the board? 

But Jackie says you can’t think about it like that. He says that without us, the people who live and work in this building couldn’t function, that we keep the gears turning and that it might not be glamorous but it’s necessary. And maybe he’s right. Maybe I am just a working class kid who somehow hustled my way into college and got delusions of grandeur. Maybe now I’m “too good” to go into the family business: a hundred generations of janitors and farmers and infantry and factory workers and pawns.

So I suck it up… and last for two more months. And on my final day before an uncertain future, I make a point to shake Jackie’s hand, and I say:

"I’ve been thinking man. I think the reason pawns can’t move backwards is because if they could, they’d kill their own kings in a heartbeat. 

"Instead, we are forced to keep moving, believing we can get to the other side and become royalty ourselves, but most likely dying on the way there, sacrificed for a cause we don’t even understand. I wish you… I wish you the best, man. I wish you horses and castles."

Jackie smiles, the saddest face I’ve ever seen, and disappears into his work.

Make Good Art

Excellent advice. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Neil Gaiman's commencement address to the University of the Arts (2012):

Work-Life

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work. 

Payoffs

I don't know that it's an issue for anybody but me, but it's true that nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it. Except as bitter experience. Usually I didn't wind up getting the money either. 

No Regrets

The things I did because I was excited and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down and I never regretted the time I spent on any of them. 

The Diminishing Returns of Being a Perfect Freelancer

You get work however you get work, but people keep working in a freelance world—)and more and more of today's world is freelance—)because the work is good, and because they're easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don't even need all three. Two out of three is fine. 

People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it's good and they like you. And you don't have to be as good as everyone else if you're on time and it's always a pleasure to hear from you.

No Better

Excerpt from Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoffrey Colvin:

Extensive research in a wide range of fields shows that many people not only fail to become outstandingly good at what they do, no matter how many years they spend doing it, they frequently don’t even get any better than they were when they started.

Auditors with years of experience were no better at detecting corporate fraud—a fairly important skill for an auditor—than were freshly trained rookies. When it comes to judging personality disorders, which is one of the things we count on clinical psychologists to do, length of clinical experience told nothing about skill—“the correlations,” concluded some of the leading researchers, “are roughly zero.”

Surgeons were no better at predicting hospital stays after surgery than residents were. In field after field, when it came to centrally important skills—stockbrokers recommending stocks, parole officers predicting recidivism, college admissions officials judging applicants—people with lots of experience were no better at their jobs than those with very little experience.

[Thanks, Barking Up The Wrong Tree!]

Avoiding Interesting Jobs

Inn at Honey Run, March 30, 2011 (Pat Schmitt) p schmidtt

"I consider myself kind of a reporter — one who uses words that are more like music and that have a choreography. I never think of myself as a poet; I just get up and write. For most of my life, I haven't had the structure of an actual job. When I was very young and decided I wanted to try to write as well as I could, I made a great list of all the things I would never have, because I thought poets never made any money. A house, a good car, I couldn't go out and buy fancy clothes or go to good restaurants. I had the necessities. Not that I didn't take some teaching jobs over the years — I just never took any interesting ones, because I didn't want to get interested. That's when I began to get up so early in the morning — you know I'm a 5 A.M. riser — so I could write for a couple of hours and then give my employer my very best second-rate energy...

You have to be in the world to understand what the spiritual is about, and you have to be spiritual in order to truly be able to accept what the world is about...I think about the spiritual a great deal. I like to think of myself as a praise poet....If I have any lasting worth, it will be because I have tried to make people remember what the Earth is meant to look like."

~ Mary Oliver, from "Maria Shriver Interviews the Famously Private Poet Mary Oliver," O Magazine, March 9, 2011

Unsarcastic Advice

From Steve Hannah,  C.E.O. of The Onion, from “If Plan B Fails, Go Through The Alphabet,” an interview with Adam Bryant, New York Times (May 14, 2010):

Steve Hannah, photo by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times “…never, ever do anything to deprive a human being of their dignity in work, in life. Always praise in public and criticize in private. You might be tempted, for example, when you’re letting someone go, to say something that would diminish the value of their work. Don’t ever do that.

…when you’re faced with something that’s really difficult and you think you’re at the end of your tether, there’s always one more thing you can do to influence the outcome of this situation. And then after that there’s one more thing. The number or possible options is only limited by your imagination…

Find what you really love to do and then go after it — relentlessly. And don’t fret about the money. Because what you love to do is quite likely what you’re good at. And what you’re good at will likely bring you financial reward eventually.

I’ve seen too many people who have plotted a career, and often what’s at the heart of all that plotting is nothing other than a stack of dollar bills. You need to be happy in order to be good, and you need to be good in order to succeed. And when you succeed, there’s a good chance you’ll get paid.

And while you’re at it, read. A lot. Start with Plato. He was a very practical man.”

Read the rest of this interview…

Immaterial Wealth

Life Is What You Make It: Find Your Own Path to Fulfillment “The support, the privilege, really comes from having two parents that said and believed that I could do anything. That support didn't come in the form of a check. That support came in the form of love and nurturing and respect for us finding our way, falling down, figuring out how to get up ourselves…I learned more in those [difficult] times about myself and my resiliency than I ever would have if I'd had a pile of money and I could have glided through life. I honestly feel that it is an act of love to say, 'I believe in you as my child, and you don't need my help.' "

~ Peter Buffett, discussing his book, Life is What You Make It, on Morning Edition, NPR (May 6, 2010)

Preparing for Things that Matter Most

“Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions. Most governments release a ton of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most. They have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones…Governments keep initiating policies they think will produce prosperity, only to get sacked, time and again, from their spiritual blind side.”

~ David Brooks, from “The Sandra Bullock Trade,” New York Times (March 29, 2010)

Food Pleasure in Overdrive

Born Round “What my grandmother and my mother imbued in me was a love of food. And a sense of the joy of food, a firm conviction that food mattered, and that food was a vehicle for pleasure. In my case, I sometimes drove that vehicle at about a hundred and thirty miles an hour. And sometimes ended up in a ditch on the side of the road. Though I believe that food is a vehicle of pleasure, and a glorious vehicle at that, I felt like every time someone who’s a recognized food writer wrote a memoir, it was madly romantic, gauzy. And the truth of the matter is, one’s love of food can get out of hand. My story is not only about the joy of food, but also about the danger of food. I wanted to write about disordered food behavior, about food demons, but to not demonize food.”

~ Frank Bruni, discussing his memoir Born Round: The Secrect History of a Full-Time Eater on The Book Bench: The New Yorker (August 19, 2009)

No One But You

Shrink Rap Radio "The most important thing is to cut out the noise of your life and be quiet with yourself for a while. The thing that helped me [was to ask myself] How do I feel? What do I miss? What do I yearn for? What am I going to do with my one and only precious life that I know of? How do I want to spend it? Do I like the people I'm with now? How do I want to feel when I get up in the morning?

Most of the time we're all so busy completing tasks that we don't have any space to think about those things. And many, many people in history have sat down and done that -- whether you're van Gogh or just a regular guy -- and gone, You know, I don't want to live this life anymore, I want to live that life.

And it is, I think, important for everyone to take seriously. If you have a yearning, to take a pilgrimage away from the life you're living now to one that you think will be more fulfilling. You owe your life to no one but you."

~ Dennis Palumbo, discussing changing careers with Dr. Dave on Shrink Rap Radio (Episode #159 - Therapist to The Hollywood Stars). Explore Mr. Palumbo’s writing.

Introducing Samantha Crain

“I always wanted to be a performer. I was in college studying English literature but I probably would have joined the circus after graduation if I wasn’t doing music...being in a touring band [really] is...like being in the circus.”

~ Samantha Crain, from Paste Magazine (7.20.08)