Our wood boxes we call “home”

When your mind is clear you see that houses are just protective boxes of wood that we hang stuff in that we feel resonates with some element of ourselves or because we feel like we have to.

These wood boxes represent something fundamental to the human experience. That is, our attachment of ideas to materials, which corresponds to a propensity to overcomplicate out of a desire for there to be meaning in life.

We’ve been creating meaning out of nothing since we developed the ability to communicate.

So, when the world feels complex and overwhelming, remember, it’s all just imagined.

Life is, truly, what you make it.

Professionals, family relationships, and the challenge of a successful career

I know multiple people whose lives are strained by their professional desires. They and their partners:

  1. Live in different states because that’s where their careers took them;
  2. Have divorced because one was too focused on their career and neglected their family life; or
  3. Are forced to compromise because one person got offered their dream job.

Institutionalized professionalism is an outgrowth of capitalism that undermines the well-being of families and personal livelihood.

“If it were easy everyone would do it.”

If it were easy, graduate students wouldn’t have higher rates of mental illness. If it were easy, they could see their families, friends, and loved ones more often. If it were easy, we’d have more of a skilled workforce because people wouldn’t drop out of school because it was too much pressure or never enroll because they thought they couldn’t cut it.

In some careers, it gets easier after school. In many, it doesn’t. It can become consuming. You might work 60 or more hours a week or take on the profession as a lifestyle – allowing it to define you.

Scouting ants and the artist’s role

To survive, ant colonies require some members to act as scouts. These are the rare few who venture beyond the paths that have proven to lead to a food source. Many of these ants never return. They risk their own lives for the benefit of the colony.

The artist is a scout. They seek to venture beyond accepted wisdom and norms of the culture and discover new paths. It is in these paths that genius is born. Instead of death, however, their risk is isolation and misunderstanding. No one ever succeeded in a remarkable fashion that was unwilling to risk breaching conformity.

 

Non-committal and unreliable youth

“80% of success is showing up.” – Woody Allen

This is increasingly relevant and revealing itself to be true in my life. It seems that it is surprisingly difficult to find young people who you can get to commit to things (or work hard). And if you do get them to commit, there’s a strong possibility that they’ll flake.

It’s strange really. It could be that they’re just handed too much. They don’t need to persist. They don’t need to worry about integrity. It’s difficult for me to imagine that luxury. I guess they settle for average and don’t want the discomfort of asking more of themselves.

I hope eventually I’ll have more insights into what drives their motivations. Sure, they’re busy, but that’s no excuse for just blowing things off or, additionally, the increasingly popular and remarkably undecent “ghosting” in which they just start completely ignoring a potential romantic interest if they decide they’re no longer a serious contender.

Character speaks (loudly) for itself,  and, in time, they’ll reap what they’ve sown.

Books vs. podcasts

Podcasts certainly have their worth. There are many, many remarkable shows like 99% Invisible, Akimbo, This American Life, Revisionist History, and Longform. What podcasts offer uniquely that books can’t is wide exposure and a deep sense of humanity that comes from sometimes intimate conversation. Podcasts, in other words, offer a breadth and diversity that most books simply can’t compete with.

Books, on the other hand, offer depth that blows podcasts out of the water. If you’re trying to be a better writer, you’ll be much better off reading a highly recommended book on it than listening to a podcast episode about it.

If you’re looking for exposure, listen to great podcasts. If you’re looking for a deep dive into particular topics, check out books.

How groups form

Some psychologists argue that groups undergo definable stages that can be crafted into a model to predict behavior. I use one such model regularly in my personal and professional life, that is, Tuckman’s stages of group development.

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman argued that groups go through four stages of development:

  • Forming: This is also referred to as the orientation stage because prospective members are orienting themselves to the group.
  • Storming: As groups develop, there is a tension that tends to arise naturally from conflicts of values or beliefs.
  • Norming: Conflict necessitates compromise, which cultivates a culture of shared understanding. This forms an environment of mutual understanding and expectation.
  • Performing: After norming a group can mature and arrive at a place where members are working very successfully toward common goals. It is said by scholars that most groups never get to this stage.

I add to this a fifth stage, Transforming. In accordance with Heraclitus of Ephesus’s quote that “The only thing that is constant is change,” following norming or performing there will likely be evolution that takes in the group as individuals change and context is shifted.

Kurt Vonnegut on the stories we tell

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Kurt Vonnegut is a masterful storyteller. He’s the type of author you might see quoted on social media with a lake at dawn resting calmly in the background – a “post-it note author” who continually calls on us to live a life of thoughtfulness.

Today, I’m offering his lecture on the types of stories we tell. Stories are certain to be a recurring topic in this blog. This is because stories are immensely powerful. From religious texts to the MacBook you bought to the entirety of your self-perception, the human experience is a complex amalgamation of stories, both true and false.

You can find a link to a video of it here. You can also get the gist of it from this infographic:

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The power of appreciation and being a good person

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.

Denis Diderot, the Diderot Effect, and consumerist dissonance

Imagine this: the bottom of your shoes starts to come off and a hole begins along the side where your arch is, so you decide you should get a new pair. You go to the store and after looking for some time decide on a nice new pair of, say, Nikes.

After wearing these new Nikes for a few days, you start to feel they don’t match your worn jacket, which makes you feel the need to replace the old jacket with something that will create a better look with the Nikes, something you can feel more fresh in.

You get the jacket. Then, inevitably, you get new jeans with the jacket to complete the look, maybe even a new wristwatch.

This, my friends, is the Diderot Effect. It has two formal definitions. First, it means goods purchased by consumers will be cohesive to their sense of identity, and as a result, will be complementary to one another. And second, the introduction of a new possession that is deviant from the consumer’s current complementary goods can result in a process of spiraling consumption.

This phenomenon was first coined in the essay “Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown, or
A warning to those who have more taste than fortune.”

It’s classic consumerism and important to be aware of the next time you’re feeling like something you once loved could use a bit of an update.

Commercial and authentic art

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.