Career Observations

Please accept my apologies for not getting the daily blog out lately. I have just returned from an intense conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I am back now, though! So back to it. In the future, if I’m about to head out for a conference, I’ll give a heads up. I had no idea my networking activity would be so demanding.

A consistent theme I saw while networking was competition. The entire time I was there I witnessed it – competition between schools for ranking, between journals for prestige, between students for job placement, and between colleagues for publication. (I’m preparing to go into academics.) The takeaway: I’m about to set forth into an incredibly competitive climate.  But I have a secret weapon; that is, the awareness between the difference between hierarchy and territory.

In Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art it’s said that “In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways – by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hunting ground, a turf).”

To sum up Pressfield’s argument, most of us define ourselves hierarchically, and it’s likely that we don’t even know it. This is because school, advertising, all of the materialist culture tells us that we need to define ourselves by others’ opinions.

He says that this definition of our identity, which you will notice breaks down in places with a ton of people like Manhattan, is detrimental to our creativity. You will witness the development of the following characteristics:

  1. You become caught in a vicious cycle of trying to elevate your position in the hierarchy and defending against those beneath you.
  2. You come to define your happiness by your rank in the hierarchy, feeling satisfied at another’s defeat.
  3. You treat people differently based on their rank rather than other, more important, factors.
  4. You act, dress, speak, and think for others.

So we must live territorially.

What’s a territory?

  1. It’s the place that gives us sustenance, the core element of our soul’s nourishment.
  2. We love our territory alone. We don’t need anyone else to claim it. The work itself satisfies.
  3. It is something that takes work to be claimed. It doesn’t give, it gives back.

I’m going to leave his line of reasoning here. There’s more to it, but for the rest, I suggest you read the book.

In close, don’t get caught up in the competition. Just do the work you’re passionate about. Try not to think about the competition. Just have fun. Don’t care how praised someone is or where they stand in whatever fabricated pecking order exists. Just search for two things. First, who has interests that overlap with you? And second, are they a good person?

 

 

 

Yesterday I may have gotten some things wrong. Bloggers often speak about topics they may not have the qualifications to speak about. But I think that’s okay.

It’s okay, at least in this instance, because I admittedly don’t have the answers. I have my best guess, but that’s all I can offer. I can provide you with my best educated shot at what’s going on in the world. It’s likely not much yet, but I’m really, really striving to make it something. And that should count for, well, something.

I made a lot of assertions. I realize some of them might be controversial. They might even damage some career prospects. But I think that’s okay, too. Because there needs to be more people willing to give a thoughtful perspective. There needs to be more of a meaningful dialogue about important issues of our time.

A lot of folks keep their head down. That’s all right. I worry, though, that it might stop them from reaching their full potential. I fear it might cause a life of mediocrity.

I really care that people are judgemental and that their behavior is antithetical to a more connected, inclusive society. And I really care about global inequity. History is riddled with exploitative practices, and we aren’t given the personal toolkit to have a considerate conversation about the real implications or normative principles undergirding them. To not share that perspective would be a disservice to humanity.

I want to be clear that I’m not opposed to different perspectives. In fact, I sincerely welcome – even crave – them. The day I allow myself to live in an echo chamber is the day I’ve died intellectually and philosophically. It’s the day I’ve let myself down for comfort.

I think a part of living rightly is being willing to take a stand on some issues, particularly ones with such far reaching externalities like corporate greed. If everyone stood idly in fear that they wouldn’t get hired, the bad guys (and girls) would triumph unopposed.

I hope that we can foster a culture where professionals can be more than replaceable cogs in bureaucratic machines. I hope we can create a culture where they’re considered well-versed facilitators of cogent values. Not necessarily champions of a cause but moderaters who offer thoughtful lenses or ethical paradigms with a keen eye toward the disenfranchised.

We must consider the human. And professionalism needs empathy.

 

The early 20th century brought with it monumental shifts in culture. Those living in this period of time experienced the emergence of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hermann Hesse, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Winnie-the-Pooh, Aldous Huxley, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Margaret Mead, Franz Kafka, Kahlil Gibran, and the whole surrealist movement, to name a few. It was indeed an explosion of immensely influential art. But equally important at that time was the emergence of a distinct kind of institutionalism.

Max Weber, Frederick Taylor,  Frank Goodnow, and Woodrow Wilson are four people I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know a whole lot about. You should though. Here’s why: these gentlemen were massive forces when it comes to defining 21st century Western institutionalism. By institutionalism, I mean the rules and policies that define how we run organizations as a society.

Weber and Taylor helped define modern conceptions of bureaucracy. Weber was focused on how specialization leads to efficiency and Taylor was about managing scientifically through measurements and tracking workforce processes. Goodnow and Wilson, on the other hand, we’re about reforming how we conduct democracy. They said that there needs to be a distinction between the folks who say what policies should be and those who actually put policies in place.

So why does this matter? Because over time our conceptions of what a properly functioning organization looks like have evolved to be necessarily handled by specialists and professionals. These are called technocrats. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this has led to an abandonment of the collective governing of our communities, resulting in less community ownership and less recognition of the benefits of democracy and understanding of the value of democratic norms.

To put it differently, it’s entirely possible that we’ve given up on democracy by handing over authority to “experts” who might not do what’s in our best interest. Moreover, we can’t know if they’re doing something that’s in our best interest because the wide array of topics that go into modern governing makes it difficult to navigate institutions to make a difference.

We are then faced with a question: do we want a well functioning, boring government that we don’t understand or do we want a messier government that we can more easily influence?

I’m confident that my conceptions about this issue will evolve over time. I’m not yet an expert on the evolution of Western institutionalism, bureaucratic governance, and the relationship between organizational innovation and democratic reform, but I will be eventually.

As I’m writing this, I can sense that there’s more to the story. To some degree, the specialization is necessary, and it is possible to make a difference if you know how. You don’t necessarily have to know all the institutional aspects. If you have enough people show up and express that they care about some issue, then it’s likely you can be heard, especially in a smaller city.

But it’s tough. The world does seem to have become increasingly complex, and it’s hard even for a highly educated governing pro to make a rational decision.

The central question, I suppose, is how do we better prepare our citizens to handle the responsibility of self-governance despite accelerating societal complexities?

Most people don’t have access to the kind of power that money brings or great connections. So, in these typical circumstances how do you gain influence?

According to Tom Peters in his book The Pursuit of Wow and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, perhaps unexpectedly, the answer seems to be to just act with genuine care, generosity, forgiveness, and empathy

By doing things like demonstrating you care through thank-you notes, voicing appreciation, sharing credit abundantly, and being sincerely interested in others, people who interact with us will experience a psychological affinity. We gravitate toward the good, and we want to follow people who seem to sincerely be seeking our best interests.

If you dreamed of being a great documentary filmmaker, but you ended up developing trailers for movies, you’ve sold out.

But what if you develop movies on the side?

Are you discounting the dream?

If you dreamed of being a great writer, but you’ve taken a job as a local journalist, or worse, a manager at a local bank, are you truly living or are you getting by?

The distinction between commercial and authentic art isn’t easy to determine.

In the end, create what brings you joy.

Will is a force that can be used to construct if one is not guided by blind desire.

Thoughts lead to words. Words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character. These are powerful statements from Margaret Thatcher, which are further carried by James Allen in As a Man Thinketh.

Men and women, he writes, are makers of themselves – “by virtue of the thoughts which they choose and encourage; that mind is the master-weaver, both of the inner garment of character and the outer garment of circumstance, and that, as they may have hitherto woven in ignorance and pain they may now weave in enlightenment and happiness.”

Figuring out how to be and behaving as a good person is hard. You can try to follow the dictates of your conscience, to make the decisions you wish to, and to be confident about them. But it’s still a struggle.

You can try to treat strangers with friendliness; verbally thank those who conduct thankless jobs; be honest with yourself and others; convey empathy and thoughtfulness about another’s perspective or feelings; cultivate mutual respect and understanding; recycle when you can; count your blessings; and take time for people who you care about, the few folks who really care about you, the rare to find, genuine carers.

Notably, it’s difficult in part to be good because these are the rare ones. A community establishes cultural norms, and if there were more it would set a new standard. They shouldn’t be rare. It is an injustice.

One morally useful religious quote is Ecclesiastes 1:18: For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief. 

There are so many major problems facing the world, and people mostly seem to be concerned with themselves, how they compare or how well-liked they are; or sports; or some movie or show; or their own small problems.

There needs to be so much more urgency. Its lacking might be caused by the spirit of capitalism, poor education, a lack of community, or something else – people seem so content with vanity and insincerity. The world needs to offer greater acknowledgment of the struggle billions face. People say this a lot, but it still isn’t said enough. It must be stated daily. Goodness must be championed.

Over a billion human beings don’t have clean drinking water. People are living on cents a day. Minorities in America face intense discrimination. Rich people are hoarding their money and strive for it greedily to maintain their power and status. Women and people in poverty are directly and indirectly denied educations. We are experiencing a massive extinction of species. People are refusing to try to listen to different perspectives.

There are no teams. There is only us, getting together to try to figure things out, and we’re doing a really bad job at it.

Yes, it’s hard to be a good person. It’s uncomfortable to place expectations on yourself and to admit when you might need to change your actions or your ideas. The proverb, it is stated in Plato’s Republic, “holds that hard is the good.”

You must try. We are failing the next generation.

It isn’t that people are apathetic, that they don’t care about what’s going on at city hall and just want to live their lives with the government operating in the background.

It’s that the government’s communication strategy is terrible.

We live in a hectic world where we’re constantly interrupted, and they are publishing 150-page documents filled with jargon and without any sense of context or narrative to their websites then just posting it in the newspaper because they’re legally obligated.

People tend to only show up to complain or be negative because they’ve only just been explained how policy impacts their daily lives.

The government needs to be dedicating more resources to tell their stories – in media besides the newspaper. No one reads newspapers.

Invest in good video communications, relatable tweets, and creative engagement.

Show up to churches and schools and let students know how your policy will impact their lives.

They’ll care if you explain it right.

Get past busy by creating better content, showing up, and adapting the medium.

If we evolve our mediums, we can start healing our broken communities.