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Posts Tagged ‘work

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

Written by kirkistan

September 11, 2015 at 9:41 am

Praise an Adult: “You’re a good eater and sleeper.”

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And that’s saying something.

According to Mrs. Kirkistan, these are two of my (many?) positive traits:

You’re a good sleeper and a good eater.

She is right: I am. Both.

That’s the kind of stuff we say about an infant, in which case it is high praise indeed: getting that little human to sleep and eat bodes well for future growth. It’s some of the first stuff we can say with any authority about a newborn.

But we struggle to praise an adult.

If we look at those same qualities on the other end of the lifespan, “good sleeper” remains a positive. Older folks have a hard time sleeping (it turns out all sorts and ages of people have a hard time sleeping). What constitutes a “good eater” changes through the years as well. Moving from a voracious eater to a judicious eater seems an especially praiseworthy approach that can span the years.

Still, how can we offer praise to one another in a meaningful way? The trophy for “just showing up” is nearly worthless and most of us see through that. But acknowledging the contributions we each make goes a huge way toward helping each other find and lay hold of our better meaning-making activities.GreatBlur-05202015

Yesterday my client drew a red star next to a paragraph he liked. It’s a small thing, but in conversation I told him it was meaningful that he did that. Our best work, it seems, goes by mostly unremarked. That’s how we know it is good—no one says anything. This is in contrast to when we are kids and our parents praise us for picking up our toys or finishing our Brussel sprouts. Even in school we look for praise from teachers and professors to know that we are doing the right thing/on the right track. But most of life doesn’t work that way.

Giving feedback can help us close the circuit for each other. Even if barely acknowledged, a complement does a whole lotta good.

But it better be true. Otherwise it’s just pandering.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Let’s Talk: Will You Fly This Plane into a Mountain?

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Listening-Rhetoric and Public Conversations Gone Private

To the casual news-reader, it’s looking more like the German copilot purposely flew into the side of a mountain. Given that, it’s not hard to imagine last week’s conversations between airline human resource vice-presidents and corporate lawyers:

  • How do we screen for lethal depression?
  • Let’s get serious about that two-people-in-the-cockpit rule.
  • Is there an intention-detector we can employ before anyone—pilots included—steps into an airplane?

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Intentions frame how we talk and how we listen. Wayne Booth posited that sometimes we come into a conversation with the intent to win—to bash our conversation partner into submission with whatever way we can. Sometimes we come with the intent to bargain, and so we are ready with a list of conciliations. Sometimes we come to listen and learn. Booth called that “listening-rhetoric” and recommended it as an antidote for stupidity, partisanship and as a way to “pursue truth behind our differences.”

People will speculate for a long time on the pilot’s intentions and actions—which we will never fully know. But as lawyers and HR talk I hope they will also examine the role of relationship-building conversation as an antidote to isolated suffering. Suffering that may become lethal.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Can 78 bad sketches change your life?

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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.

Your business factory is not a solid model for personal growth

Your business factory is not a solid model for personal growth

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.

 

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

We’re Bigger Than This

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Helping Colleagues See the Larger Story

Bad manners and ill-treatment make headlines in personal conversations at most of the companies I’ve worked for. Just like in our newspaper or aggregated news sources online. People often say they wish the newspaper published good news, but they would not read it if it did. Good news—things going right for a change—few have time or interest for that.ThingsGoingWell-3-03062015

Naturally this is so: stories of the people around us always take top billing in our conversations. Family, colleagues, neighbors, we love hearing what each other did and we love to relate a story about someone else, especially if funny or it has some emotional content that will get a reaction. It is the emotional content, whether funny, sad or repugnant that we really want to get across to each other.

It is our way of connecting: we want to stir a reaction.

It takes a concerted effort not to talk about the people who are not there. Leaders see personal interactions as an opportunity to steer interest toward something larger. But that larger thing is not the mission statement produced by the top brass or Human Resource, which is typically a lifeless bit of plastic. The real stories, the ones that make leaders out of ordinary citizens, are those stories where something of the corporate or group mission has made its way into and through an ordinary life.

One boss related a conversation she had with a far-away department. The department director praised specific people on the team and told of specific details that helped their group move forward. When our boss told this to the team in casual conversation, people blossomed.

We need more connection with larger mission—even if it seems hoky at the time. And we need less stories about how bad/abnormal/demonic are the people not present.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

To Flee Corporate Dysfunction or Not?

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Where will you run?

My friend just quit her corporate job. She does not have another job.

“Too much dysfunction,” she said. “Why spend my days in a cube, following through on poor choices our leaders made under the guise of collaboration? There’s got to be a better way.”

“I hope you are honest in the exit interview,” several people said to her. Other top talent had quit as well and those remaining cherished a hope of productive work.

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Every company has these bouts of employee-flight. Maybe the department director is a megalomaniac. Maybe the boss simply doesn’t know what to do next and is not open to advice. Maybe the department trolls rule the roost. Every so often dysfunction catches up with a department or company and talented people throw up their hands and march to the exit. It is more common when the economy is on the rise, but even in a down economy, talented people choose flight over fight, even with no job on the horizon.

So it is with my friend.

She had had enough and hoped to parlay her high-end employee history into a freelance life. I often talk with people considering this move. What I liked about this conversation was that my friend could identify a few key skills and passions that she wanted to pursue. And she had already begun to push on these passions. She knew what she wanted to build next. So her “I quit!” was less about fleeing and more about “now is when I do this thing I love.”

Because, the truth is, you can never be entirely rid of dysfunction.

“Why is that?” you may ask. (I can hear you.)

It is because you bring it with you. Disagreeing and disagreeable. Seeing issues from your personal, rigid perspective. Combative. Megalomania. These seeds are planted in every one of us. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to cause them to flower. A good conversation harnesses different potentials in those seeds and helps us move forward. A dysfunctional environment feeds the bad seed and strife rises to the surface.

Such is the human condition.

But moving forward toward our passion, finding time to do those things we love—the things we are meant to do, even if no one else cares—that feeds the productive functional seeds in us.

Is there a way to do the things you were meant to do today—right now—even as you wade through the current dysfunction?

That is the question.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Hit Send & Live With The Results

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Because Isolation Won’t Cut It

There is a special frightening moment in many of my writing projects lately. I’ve had a few longish-form assignments, each with lots of moving parts. In each I’ve needed to collect first-hand information from people with diverse backgrounds and expertise, and then combine that with research from journal articles. Each interview—each assignment—was a mini-seminar where I was schooled (very quickly) on the intimate details of the situation.

Ship it, already.

Ship it, already.

Not so long ago I noted the benefits of sending work out to others and embracing deadlines. More recently I made the case for the aspirational lie, noting how one works toward telling the whole truth, mostly getting it wrong before getting it right. Both the sending out and the aspirational lie are at work in this visceral fear. There is this moment, after I’ve written my email with explanations about what my client will see, after I’ve written my caveats, after I’ve attached my rough draft, this moment where I pause.

Do I really want to send this?

Because, honestly, I could do more. It’s a visceral moment: I feel in my gut the holes in the draft. Do I really want my new client to see my argument in this shape? But budgets and timing dictate this project move forward. And the only way forward is through a reaction from someone else.

Just as I’ve noted how my dumb sketches are talking to the writing part of my life, now I see how the entrepreneurial “Just Ship It” mantra is playing into my creative side. Because there is much to be gained by getting a reaction.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

February 13, 2015 at 9:03 am

When Truth Sounds Like a Lie

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And the lie that turns out true

Let’s make up a new term: the “aspirational lie.”

The aspirational lie is that thing that falls from your mouth before you can stop it.

  • It is not quite true—that’s why you almost didn’t say it.
  • But it is not quite false—something about it is true. Which is why you did say it.

That happened to me when talking to a writing class of business students. My professor friend let me come in and chat about freelance copywriting. She wanted her MBA students to see some different shades to how work gets done. In the course of our discussion we talked about how one prepares to write and about how one does the work.

I told one truth that sounded like a lie.

And I told a lie that turned out to be true.

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The Truth That Sounded Like a Lie

The truth that sounded like a lie was that I make a bunch of stuff up for my clients. “How so?” wondered the class. It’s like this: the writer’s work is to think forward and then tell the story of how all the parts fit together. Whether writing a white paper, a journal article, an advertising campaign or refreshing a brand, writers do what writers have always done: make stuff up. They grab bits and pieces of facts and directions and fit them into a coherent whole. As they move forward, they gradually replace false with true and so learn as they go.

That is the creative process.

You fill up your head with facts and premonitions and assumptions. Many are true, some are false. But the process itself—and the subsequent reviews reveal what it is true. Writing is very much a process of trying things on for size and then using them or discarding them. And sometimes we used facts “for position only,” as a stand-in for the real, true fact on our way to building the honest, coherent whole.

 

The Aspirational Lie

We also talked about backgrounds and how one prepares to write. I explained how degrees in philosophy and theology are an asset to business writing. Yes: I was making that up on the spot. But not really, because I have believed that for some time, though had never quite put it in those words. Pulling from disparate backgrounds is a way out of the narrow ruts we find ourselves in. Those divergent backgrounds help to connect the dots in new and occasionally excellent ways. Which is also why we do ourselves a favor when we break from our homogeneous clubs from time to time.

Comedy writers do this all the time. I just finished Mike Sacks excellent Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers (NY: Penguin Books, 2014), and was amazed all over again at the widely different life experiences comedy writers bought to their work.

The more I’ve thought about the aspirational lie that philosophy and theology contribute to story-telling, the more convinced I am it is true. That’s because I find myself lining up facts and story bits and characters and timelines according the rhythms and disciplines I was steeped in during school. In philosophy it was the standing back and observing with a disinterested eye. In theology it was the finding and unraveling and rethreading of complicated arguments—plus a “this-is-part-of-a-much-larger-story” component.

Our studies, our reading, our life experience—all these help line up the ways we hear things and the ways we connect the dots. Our best stories are unified and coherent because of this.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

English: I still believe in you.

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Get in that job-machine, mister.

More dire news for university English departments: from the University of Maryland, English majors are bailing like mad. And faster and faster.

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The humanities have been getting a bad rap for, oh, half a dozen decades or so, because they don’t lead directly to a slot in a job machine. And, as the thinking goes, without the job machine you fail at life. Or at least paying for life’s good things (like a huge TV and plenty of Lean Cuisine) (Or rent and clothing).

We’ve certainly seen this coming. We’ve wondered: Why go into college debt just to be a philosophy-talking barista? We’ve lamented the pitiful conditions of adjuncts. Colleges in my area cut budgets and then cut more, from fat to bone. And now wholesale amputation to accommodate the demands of producing souls for job machines.

True: English departments that focus solely on esoterics need to undergo change. I’ll argue that any academic program (or any institution, frankly) that promotes the inward-gaze as the end-all, top-function of the human condition is currently being rudely awakened.

Smart English departments are tuning in to this—just like businesses have been realizing people don’t really care about their product all that much. Even churches are starting to realize there is a world of people living and working just outside their doors—people not interested in joining the club but crazy-interested in the meaning of life. Speaking of churches, we used to call it “evangelism” when we invited others in. Business evangelists understand all too well the benefit of going where people are and adapting their product to current conditions.

But reaching out to the rest of humanity—that’s where the action is.

It’s because we’ll always need to reach out, to communicate something to someone else, that I’m optimistic about English, if not exactly English departments. Rather than an either-or approach (deep-thinking/creative expression or assembly line training), we need both-and: deep-thinking and creative expression that leads to more conscious assembly line work. And perhaps that thinking will help us move beyond assembly lines entirely.

As I prepare my next set of writing classes for college English majors, I am beefing up the entrepreneurial end. Because the way out of a soulless slot in a job machine is to invent your own job machine.

That’s something we should train writers to do. And some of those writers will be English majors.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Explore

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 28, 2015 at 9:34 am

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