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Archive for the ‘work and faith’ Category

Go Find Yourself

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Are you hiding in plain sight?

Are you already doing who you are?

That question barely makes sense.

Still, I like it because it combines process with self-identity and hints at motivation. To answer that question all you have to do is look at how you spend your day—and with whom—to begin to sort your priorities.

Matthew Crawford’s book The World Beyond Your Head: On becoming an individual in an age of distraction (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015) is not a quick read. But it is a satisfying text because he pulls back the draperies hiding some daily mysteries we live without thinking.

For instance, I found out I am an artist. Of sorts.

For instance, I found out I am an artist. Of sorts.

Like work.

Mr. Crawford, the philosopher/motorcycle mechanic dismantles the notion of work and rebuilds it around the cylinders of service and ability and passion. (Wait—only three cylinders? What sort of wimpy metaphor is that? Don’t blame Mr. Crawford—that’s just my take on it and I’m only ¾ of the way through the book.)

Mr. Crawford notes that we must submit to a discipline—this is important—to become useful and adept at that discipline. Sort of like knowing the rules well so that you can break them well:

  • Mechanics must know the fundamentals of engines to work on them.
  • Writers must know how to speel, and the must know a grammar, to right. Otherwise, misunderstood. Are they?

Mr. Crawford’s take on authority is powerfully counterintuitive: we submit to the authority of a discipline so we can work within the logic and expectations and outcomes of that discipline. Along the way, after practicing that discipline for a time, it turns out we come to understand life through the tools and foci that discipline affords.

This notion of authority is counterintuitive because we Americans like to speak ill of authority every chance we get. I may be chief among the ill-speakers. That needs to change (though, of course, speak truth to power, and so on).

Here’s the point: looking back over the disciplines we’ve come to use every day is a key to how we understand the world and how we process life. Some people understand life through their writing. Some people process life through their woodworking. Some through watercolor or costume design or clipping topiaries.

There is a link between who we are and what we do.

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

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Written by kirkistan

September 11, 2015 at 9:41 am

Some things float.

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Wasn’t the calcified certainty of religion the very thing Jesus objected to most? That certainty was both misplaced and used as authoritarian cudgel.

I’m with @ChicagoRabbi on this one: “Humility keeps it real.”

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

June 15, 2015 at 9:49 am

“You Should Care” Versus “Why You Should Care”

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Just Say No to this Toxic Assumption

This Sol Stein quote on high-powered facts failing to invite others in reminded me that we are at our best when we express our passion as an invitation. The best teachers are the ones excited about a topic. Their excitement is itself an invitation into the topic. The best salespeople are those humans who use the product and love it—which is why word-of-mouth remains the most sought-after form of advertising. The most persuasive evangelists are those whose lives have been altered by faith or by an Apple product (which is itself a kind of religion).

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Alternatively, the worst college classes, the worst business meetings, the worst seminars are those where the professor/supervisor/speaker assumes you care as much as she does. That assumption leads immediately down deep into depths of details without painting the larger picture. And many of us are desperate for the larger picture. We want to see how our work or faith makes a difference in the rest of life.

A basic truism of life as an insider is that we stop talking about why we are here (in this company or department or group or church) because we’ve heard other people’s stories and we don’t need to go over that ground again. Pretty soon we assume we are all on the same page with the meaning of our activities together. Every once in a while the boss of your boss may say something about why we are here and why its important. But day-to-day it is largely assumed.

The outsider knows nothing of this.

The outsider comes to a group not with a blank slate so much as a slate marked by other groups he has dealt with. The person on the fringe trying to understand the group wants to hear the big meaning statements, the “Why we are here” stuff. And this is precisely where corporate talk falls flat. Corporate talk about meaning and mission and purpose is often vapid precisely because there is no human behind it.

But when the outsider makes contact with the insider who is properly enthused about the meaning-making activities of the company or group, that is a very different story. Mission and purpose come alive when demonstrated by another life being altered.

So—two things:

  1. Don’t assume the people around you are insiders.
  2. Keep talking about why we are here doing these things together. These orienting, meaning-making discussions help everyone. It is too important to leave to the VP of mission.

 

More takes on “transformation” here.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Not Resolutions: New Year’s Experiments

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What will you try next?

Another way to approach the beginning of the year.

Science constantly tries to rid experiments of bias and prejudice. Medical researchers set up double-blind, randomized studies in an attempt to remove personal bias and to avoid the temptation to game the results according to how we want to see them. Bias always and forever creeps in—it is part and parcel of the human condition.

But what if, instead of looking for work-arounds for our basic subjectivity, we embraced our very human bias and used it to move forward? Not so much in science experiments and medical trials, but in our personal lives?

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A theologian tweeted the other day about the lack of research and experiments in theological studies. He was right, in theological research you do not see big multi-center clinical trials running across the country. Partly because pharmaceutical companies are not lining up to fund such studies. And when they do, we’ll have an entirely new class of worries about drug-induced faith.

But, in fact, we each experiment constantly. Each of us in our own way. We experiment with ways of living. We experiment with belief systems: trying this or that to solve those deep questions. We allow ourselves to be deeply affected by what our friends, family, colleagues and neighbors believe. These experiments are a simple fact of how the human condition works. We game the system all the time and it works.

Or not (and even then, we know something new).

Some of us make resolutions this time of year. Others of us try to set direction (versus resolutions) for the year in an attempt to avoid the dismal reality of resolutions quickly broken.

But how about running your own set of experiments this year?

My friend suffers acute anxiety. It’s not a clinical condition, just solid worry as a way of life. She would like to not be such a worrier. My suggestion was an experiment in trust. Pick up nearly any of the poems by the poet-king and simply do what he did. In plain, persistent, passionate language, exclaim and define with agonizing precision the current situation and ask for release. Or help. Or mercy. The poet-king talked frankly to God—which seems like a solid experimental idea for any of us.

Experimenting with our dissatisfactions is not that bad an idea. Last year I tried to write a novel in a month (National Novel Writing Month) and I tried to make a sketch a day. Both attempts were wildly unsuccessful. But as experiments they announced solid directions by the end: write more fiction and keep practicing drawing. Last year I also experimented with following the poet-king’s example. My subjective results were mixed and positive and pointed in a direction: more trust. And more gratitude.

What subjective experiments will you run this year on your guinea-pig self?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 2, 2015 at 10:45 am

What Freelance Knows that You Don’t

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For starters: Work is permanent while jobs come and go.

When I first considered life as a freelance copywriter, a friend said,

 

Welcome to the wonderful world of floating icebergs.

 

And it was so: projects fall off (the glacier of corporate planning) and float off to sea (so to speak, to the market) and you stand on them for a time, work on them, even as they melt under you. And then you step to the next iceberg. Or you tread water while another iceberg comes into view.

It’s a refreshing cycle—in a painful, polar-dip, take-this-horrid-medicine-it’s-good-for-you—kind of way.

Ice sheet, not iceberg. Don't step on it.

Ice sheet, not iceberg. Don’t step on it.

I like to tell my copywriting students that the freelancer goes into it knowing this is how the game works. Then I tell them this knowing is in sharp contrast to nine-to-fiver’s who instinctually trust their jobs will remain, and are too often deeply surprised to find themselves waiting for the bus one day at 11am holding a cardboard box containing their office posters and mug.

But students typically have no mortgage or kids to feed or insurance to buy. So I’m pretty sure the comment doesn’t register until five years later, when all those conditions are true.

Recognizing the impermanence of today’s job is a great benefit, because it means one must always—always—be thinking about what’s next. The freelancer understands this in her bones. The smart nine-to-fiver rehearses this bit of knowledge every time she crosses the corporate threshold and enters the air-locked doors.

One thing that happens while I tread water is I make contact with dozens of old colleagues. I am no longer surprised by how often people change jobs, get laid off, start their own business or agency. Not to sound like an old guy, but way back when, people expected to stay at a single company for an entire career. Today I could count on one hand the number friends who have done that.

Friends often ask about work. I typically say, I’m busy and I’m looking. Always looking. In fact, this way of working has two benefits I cherish:

  1. Vision is no esoteric word for me. It is a hard-edge guide to what’s next. And I can never not pursue it. If I neglect to think ahead, those icebergs will float by without me ever noticing.
  2. The work itself become the focus. I get to burrow down into communication and copy and the telling of stories. The craft itself is a never-ending wonderland that shape-shifts as it leaps between clients and industries. The work, and the process toward the work, become the marathoner’s stroke for swimming toward the next iceberg.

In fact, faith, hope, and love remain as essential ingredients to this way of working. There is no space for taking-for-granted.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Worthwhile work is hard: A visual meditation

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All day long.

It is difficult to unearth the material we need to move forward.

It is difficult to unearth the material we need to move forward.

 

Which is why we pray. And hope.

Which is why we pray. And hope.

 

 

“The work will teach you how to do it.”

–Estonian proverb

 

Images of Pipestone National Monument

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Image credits: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

December 5, 2014 at 9:54 am

Power Pose vs. Aggressive Emptying

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Sunday Story for Monday: the Counter-intuitive Ways of Sheep among Wolves

The self-made man with his mind-crane.

The self-made man with his mind-crane.

Can words spoken from a low power position influence others?

This older Harvard Business School article (Power Posing: Fake It Until You Make It) describes how simply snapping your body into a power pose can have a physiologic effect. Read about the small study (N=42) by Cuddy, Carney and Yap here. Striking a pose for two-minutes stimulated higher levels of testosterone (hormone linked to dominance) and lower levels of cortisol (so-called stress hormone) in the study group. People literally felt more powerful and less stressed after their pose.

Every human dreams of more power. More power translates to being respected. Maybe power looks like speaking and being heard as one with authority. And perhaps with more power we’ll become benevolent despots bestowing good unto others as we stride through our own personal kingdoms.

The promise of more power is intimately tied with many of our messages about leadership development. Industries and institutions will always buy more technique about leadership development because, well, who doesn’t want to be perceived as capable and full of power?

In stark contrast, there’s an old story about how Jesus saw the authorities of his day use their power for their own aggrandizement while offering little help to the harassed and helpless crowds. So he organized and commissioned his own set of spiritual paramedics to go to the harassed and helpless.

Just before these spiritual paramedics hit the streets to proclaim and heal and cast out demons and raise the dead, Jesus told them how little personal power they would have. They would not be received well. Despite their hopeful message they would be beaten and tortured, and hauled in front of councils, governors and kings.

And that’s how it played out: powerful messages in powerless packaging.

Was there something in the powerless packaging that actually helped people hear the message? Powerful words and actions delivered by powerless, peripheral people could not be enforced or made into law. There was little outside incentive to listen. And yet what they said and did endures today, these many centuries later.

Tell me again: why is it we all seek power so eagerly?

When Constantine turned Christianity into the law of the land, the message lost much saltiness. Does my lust for power come from wanting to help people or just wanting them to play my game by my rules? Are there any truths I have to deliver today that might be helped by “aggressively empty” versus a pose of power?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

June 17, 2013 at 7:56 am

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