Archive for the ‘What is work?’ Category
…in the deeper, unspoken realms of the human psyche, work and life are not separate things, and therefore cannot be balanced against each other except to create further trouble.
–David Whyte, The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship (NY: Riverhead Books, 2009)
Image Credit: Kirk Livingston
Don’t stunt your growth by reaching for fame
It’s funny we gauge personal success by numbers of followers. It’s as if we’ve adopted the business transaction as a model for every area of our lives.
Business wants more eyeballs for more attention for more revenue for more profit. And that makes perfect sense for our business goals.
What’s problematic is when we confuse business with what humans need to move forward: Doing what attracts attention and gathers “Likes” is often very different from the stuff our souls need to grow.
One thing I’m learning from the artists and photographers I’ve been interacting with at Dumb Sketch Daily (currently at bad drawing #78) is that while today’s drawing is (clearly) imperfect, there is always tomorrow’s drawing. And I know what I’ll do different in that drawing. I know I’ll try this technique, or that view, or this topic. I’ll do it again and create yet another imperfect representation of the world.
And that’s OK.
Because the pursuit is about learning to see, learning how to draw, learning how to write. Learning how to tell the truth. Learning how to interact with each other. Learning how to be human. Perhaps even learning how to interact with God.
The goal is not fame, unless you really want to turn this pursuit into a business. But learning itself—whether crowds acknowledge you or whether you plod silently and alone—learning is its own reward.
But I still argue your growth is also a benefit to the humans around you.
And while I don’t think 78 bad sketches have changed my life, I can say with certainty that I see things differently than I did 78 days ago.
Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston
May You Have Interesting Colleagues
This is the time of year when people refer to that old Irish blessing (about the road rising up and so on). But here—stuck in the middle of the work week—I want to offer you a more contextual blessing: the people around you.
Well, maybe not everyone.
But often there is someone you come in contact with who is, well, delightful. Their sense of humor, the wacko things they say over the cubicle wall, the inappropriate things they do in department meetings. The fact that they will trim your hair in the back room when the director is out of the office or dump Vaseline in the bigshot’s duffle bag or instigate rebellion at the slightest provocation. [Am I sounding like a bad employee?]
In fact, it is typically the people around (the fun and interesting ones, anyway) who make work enjoyable.
Martin Buber made a point of differentiating between how we treat objects (“I-it”) versus the way we treat people (“I-thou”). One of his points was that we should never treat people as objects: ordering them about as if they had no will of their own. Instead we should engage with each other. That’s what humans do.
Of course that very object-treatment is one of the primary sins in many of our corporations, where people become known as “human capital.” Churches are not so different when they refer to congregants as “giving units.” Hey—we even take cues from our cultural bosses and call ourselves “consumers.” Our language makes no attempt to mask this object-laden perspective.
But no so with interesting colleagues, because of our connection with them. Because of conversations you’ve had with them (some even soul-baring), because you’ve talked shop and lamented death and rejoiced in birth together, you get to know each other as fully-human. Trust and connection fit in here. And the ability to say anything.
The ability to say anything and still be heard and respected, that is the fullness of connection with another Thou.
May the “Thous” rise up to meet you today and this week.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Cultivate a low-grade curiosity
Two years in the clink have taught me a thing or two.
I don’t have to be in a demonic hurry as I used to be.
I don’t have to plumb the depths of “modern man” as I used think I had to. Nor worry about “the human condition” and suchlike. My scale is smaller.
In prison I learned a certain detachment and cultivated a mild, low-grade curiosity. At one time I thought the world was going mad and that it was up to me to diagnose the madness and treat it. I became grandiose, even Faustian.
Prison does wonder for megalomania. Instead of striking pacts with the Devil to save the world—yes, I was nuts—I spent two years driving a tractor pulling a gang mower over sunny fairways and at night chatting with my fellow con men and watching reruns of Barnaby Jones.
Living a small life gave me leave to notice small things—like certain off-color spots in the St. Augustine grass which I correctly diagnosed as an early sign of chinch-bug infestation. Instead of saving the world, I saved the eighteen holes at Fort Pelham and felt surprisingly good about it.
Small disconnected facts, if you take note of them, have a way of becoming connected.
–Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome (NY: Picador, 1987) 67
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
We build every day with actions and words
Sometimes our work is purposeful.
Sometimes we joke that our habits and actions and speech patterns amount to nothing. But that is false: if nothing else, what we do and say affects us. And there is no telling the power of example and well-placed words in the circles we travel.
Don’t think for a second you are not building.
Image credits: Kirk Livingston
Who was living with three alloys of his own
Yesterday I met Quady* for coffee. I was impressed all over again by the executive function of his brain: how he seems to effortlessly order complicated systems and businesses and talented people and even his own life. Quady** told me how he was weaving consulting with business acumen with creativity. I could not help but be impressed with the forward motion the guy exuded.
In fact, it was about ten years ago I met Quady at (yet) another Dunn Brothers on another side of Minneapolis to talk about how he grew the business he was running at that time. He was president of a firm that placed creative people in creative positions and his firm was on fire (that is, busy). At the time he gave me some solid advice which I resisted for years until embracing it fully: make a daily/weekly habit of reaching out to make contact with varieties of people.
And listen to them.
These days Quady is weaving together a consulting life that draws on his outsized executive function and his creativity plus a desire to walk alongside people. He’s a kind of CEO-for-hire and he’s currently working some high-level gigs. It’s the melding of these three threads that seems to open doors for him: the organizing gene plus the creative gene plus the people-smarts gene. Because he understands the moving parts of business, he can give solid, real-world advice to people. He gives the kind of advice that encourages from some deep place: the sort of advice like,
“Look. You’ve got this. It’s a stretch, but you can do it.”
And who doesn’t want to hear that?
Dumb sketch: Kirkistan
*Not his real name.
**His real name was Markothy.
Mary Daly: Voice from the Fringe
Well, “fringe” for me.
I’ll confess: I’ve not been so conversant with feminist theology or philosophy. And this: it had not even occurred to me to think about it.
But then I read our daughter’s college paper on Kierkegaard and his potential exclusion of women. Our daughter’s reference to the self-described radical lesbian feminist Mary Daly and her Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973) was something like click-bait for me and I had to order the book. I’m glad I did. Mary Daly’s voice has been a playful, combative, eye-opening excursion into seeing things differently. I’m only a chapter in, but already she has named patriarchal theology and turned it on its ear. Ms. Daly has suggested all sorts of thought-exercises that would never occur to anyone living in the usual theological/philosophical grid system:
For example, women who sit in institutional committee meetings without surrendering to the purposes and goals set forth by the male-dominated structure, are literally working on our own time while perhaps appearing to be working “on company time.” The center of our activities is organic, in such a way that events are more significant than clocks. This boundary living is a way of being in and out of “the system.” (43)
You don’t have to be a theologian or philosopher (or even a radical lesbian feminist) to appreciate the different way of seeing things Ms. Daly offered. A quick glance through her Wikipedia entry suggests there was personal a cost to seeing things differently—especially in the male-dominated structures she worked within.
What I like about this particular quote is how it points beyond authority to the organic or self-directed work each of us knows as our own. Much has changed since Ms. Daly wrote this in 1973. We still have male-dominated structures and maybe those are changing, though too slowly for many.
But think about “structures” for a moment.
Reading the quote as a freelancer and entrepreneur, I cannot help but notice how exactly her description fits anyone with a growing sense of their own work or mission—especially where that work or mission differs from the work or mission handed down from authority.
Regardless of gender.
The point is not to agree with everything Ms. Daly said. The point is to begin to hear. And to begin to see—so then we can begin to name the framing system we live within. By noticing and naming, potential solutions may begin to appear.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston