Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble. (Quid’s recte factum quamvis humile praeclarum.) —Sir Henry Royce
Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie famously put it. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn.
But we are always so busy thinking about the future, we don’t take enough pride in the tasks we are given right now. Too often we phone it in, cash our check, and dream of some higher station in life. Or we think, This is just a job, it isn’t who I am, it doesn’t matter.
This is foolishness.
Everything we do matters—whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar—even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.
Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.
An artist is given many different canvases and commissions in their lifetime, and what matters is that they treat each one as a priority. Whether it’s the most glamorous or highest paying is irrelevant. Each project matters, and the only degrading part is giving less than one is capable of giving.
We will be and do many things in our lives. Some are prestigious, some are onerous, none are beneath us. To whatever we face, our job is to respond with:
- hard work
- helping others as best we can
We should never have to ask ourselves, But what am I supposed to do now? Because we know the answer: our job.
Duty is beautiful, and inspiring and empowering. Because all we need to do is those three little duties—to try hard, to be honest, and to help others and ourselves. That’s all that’s been asked of us. No more and no less. Sure, the goal is important. But never forget that each individual instance matters, too—each is a snapshot of the whole. The whole isn’t certain, only the instances.How you do anything is how you can do everything. We can always act right.
Seth Godin, in his book, Linchpin, talks about the safety zone and comfort zone. More often than not we tend to mistake the comfort zone for the safety zone. It used to true, however, that doesn’t mean it will always be true.
This makes a great case for why emotional labor is what we are being paid for in today’s workplace. Even though emotional labor makes us feel uncomfortable, it’s the safest way to still have a paid job and make a difference.
All creatures need a shortcut because we don’t have time to reevaluate the safety of everything. So, in order to succeed, particularly for human beings, we need to build a comfort zone that matches the safety zone.Now, things that we feel comfortable aren’t safe anymore as they are going to make us unemployed. Whereas the things that are going to make us feel uncomfortable are actually safe. So, the safest thing we can do is to take a risk or whatever that feels like a risk and the riskiest thing we can do is to play it safe.Now, we get paid for emotional labor. If what you did today wasn’t hard then you probably didn’t create enough value because you probably didn’t expose yourself to enough risk and fear. If you have a job where someone is telling you exactly what to do they can find someone cheaper than you to do it.If you are standing still and the world is moving, you are actually losing ground.
Just like how misery loves company, our prejudiced minds can also, find a company in an echo chamber of filtered information. With the way the internet filter bubbles are configured, we can always find arguments to support our existing beliefs, and premises about the world. There is no standard internet anymore, it’s personalized.
This can stunt our personal growth by inflating our ego and pride giving us what we want instead of what we need to magnify our spirits. As the effects of echo chamber are on the rise, what is steadily declining is allowing ourselves the uncomfortable luxury of changing our minds. This rare luxury is going to be another valuable skill that we might need to thrive going forward.
We must be humble enough to understand the fact that we might be drawing conclusions about topics, ideas, and people based on the minuscule of information we have accumulated. What we need is the ability to perceive things as they are.
The time has come for us to be more humble, generous, forgiving, brave, and empathetic to others since they are also, caught in the echo chamber trap.
All these while I have been religiously blogging regularly without even knowing the official terminology of the entire process. Only recently, I came to know that it’s called Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system.
A daily blog driven by your curiosity can do wonders in the connection economy. In a connected and social world, mere knowledge is not valuable. What is valuable is whether we can make sense of the knowledge. That’s what PKM enables.
Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a collection of processes that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in their daily activities (Grundspenkis 2007) and the way in which these processes support work activities (Wright 2005).
Instead of digesting any random information that comes our way, we deliberately seek out information and knowledge about things that are naturally driven by our curiosity through the process of gathering. Once we gather the necessary information, we make sense of it by curating and then, share it with others in the form of blogs, videos, podcasts, ebooks, and presentation slides. Using our inbuilt ‘crap detectors,’ we carefully eliminate information that we are not curious about.
What an opportunity the internet has provided us. We are all writers, authors, teachers, and artists in our right now. We didn’t have this luxury in the industrial era, though. Only a privileged few had access to information, and they carefully curated ‘just enough information to survive’ and fed us in the form of textbooks and syllabus in schools so that we can be obedient factory workers. They shunned our natural human curiosity and made us all into obedient trained assembly line workers. But, not anymore.
Now, we have the privilege to become thought leaders and influencers in the world we seek to serve. We can thrive the way we are meant to succeed in this world using the tools that are available to us. Let’s not use them to watch more cat videos.
1. Choose to play the infinite game where you outsmart yourself every single day.
2. There’s no difference between your personal and professional life. The reason your friends like you is the same reason your colleagues like you.
3. Be less, do more. Shed your ego.
4. Be totally present.
5. Seek out the difficult, unglamorous work that nobody wants to do. They are rare and hence, valuable and puts you in the infinite game automatically where there’s no competition. Finite games have time and player limits. Cal Newport also, emphasizes the same when he mentions people who have fulfilling careers have one thing in common – their work by nature is rare and valuable.
It begins at the primary school level math class. The chapter in our textbook that teaches us what are countable and noncountable things. We could count the number of apples using fingers but, we couldn’t calculate the amount of water using our fingers. Eventually, we get attracted to the ease of measuring concrete things just because it’s easy. That’s how it starts – our obsession with measuring things just because it’s convenient.
We carry forward this tendency to the rest of our adult life only to regret later, in our death beds that we were chasing the wrong things. Right from the moment we learn to count things using our fingers as a child to the moment we are terminally sick and are in nursing homes feeling lonely and scared waiting for death, we are obsessed about this dopamine-generated act of counting and keeping track of all the wrong things, only because it’s easy.
What you measure usually gets paid attention to, and what you pay attention to, usually gets better.
Numbers supercharge measurement, because numbers are easy to compare.
Numbers make it difficult to hide.
And hence the problem.
What does it mean to ‘win’? Is maximizing the convenient number actually going to produce the impact and the outcome you wanted?
Is the most important work always the most popular? Does widespread acceptance translate into significant impact? Or even significant sales? Is the bestseller list also the bestbook list?
Who are these reviews from? Are they based on expectations (a marketing function) or are they based on the change you were trying to make? It turns out that great books and great movies get more than their fair share of lousy reviews–because popular items attract more users, and those users might not be people you were seeking to please.
Or consider graduation rates. The easiest way to make them go up is to lower standards. Or to get troublesome students to transfer to other institutions or even to get them arrested. When we lose track of what’s important in our rush to keep track of what’s measurable, we fail.
When you measure the wrong thing, you get the wrong thing. Perhaps you can be precise in your measurement, but precision is not significance.”
How often do we keep track of the amount of kindness, care, love, generosity, humility, courage, and honesty we display? Not very often, I am sure. Because they are not countable. Because we haven’t developed a machine yet that enables us to measure these things with as much ease as we measure the amount of money we have in our bank accounts, the number of cars/houses we own, the number of keywords on our resume/CV, the number of followers we have, and the number of ‘likes’ we get on our pics.
The right numbers matter. When you are able to expose your work and your process to the right thing, to the metric that actually matters, good things happen.
We need to spend more time figuring out what to keep track of, and less time actually obsessing over the numbers that we are already measuring.
Such is the psychology of numbers. Quantification is an exciting process that convinces us to make that one last try at the slot machine, despite losing at all the previous attempts. The hormone, dopamine that is released as a result of seeing the numbers go higher is addictive and we will do anything to improve the numbers to maintain that feeling.
We must strive to keep track of the right experiences – the things that make us feel happy, loved, and confident. Since there’s no device available in the market to measure these, we must intentionally keep a track of it.
Price is the last refuge for the businessperson without the imagination, heart and soul to dig a bit deeper.
In one of the recent interviews of Seth Godin at Tim Ferris show, Seth addresses this question where he differentiates between quantity and quality in the age of constant hustle. This question can be rephrased as ‘what does success mean in the age of constant hustle? Can we win without being everywhere?’
Seth says, yes we can. He also, poses a counter-question, ‘can we win by being everywhere?’ The answer is obviously, no. If your answer is yes, then you have fallen into the trap where your time and energy is not focussed and is all over the place. It’s a losing battle, altogether.
None of us are everywhere. Most of the people on Earth have never heard of you or me, and most of the people online have never connected with either of us. It’s a trap, a giant trap designed to suck our attention and content away from us, and give us very little in return. Maybe a little heart shaped thing, or a button that points up, or a trend that makes us feel like we did a good job. This is all a trap. This isn’t what’s causing people to succeed.
Seth insists us to ask these questions, instead.
What’s the smallest possible footprint I can get away with?
What’s the smallest possible project that is worth my time?
What’s the smallest group of people who I can make a difference for or to?
Because smallest is achievable because smallest is risky. If you pick smallest and fail, you’ve really screwed up. We want to pick big because infinity is our friend. Infinity is safe, it gives us a place to hide.
Instead, look for the small. Be on one medium, in a place where people can find you. Have one sort of interaction with one tribe where this is what you do, this is what people need to look to you for.