Monthly Archives: April 2010

More Like It Was

Seth picks up the “future-of-(higher)-education” ball and runs with it in this post, which goes down nicely with this post.  I really think we’re approaching a big moment in the evolution of the American education system – and it’s more of a reversion than a progression of what’s already happening.

For my parents’ generation – as I’m reminded so often – degrees weren’t necessary for success in most fields.  Employers cared about whether you could do the job, not whether you went to the right school and studied the right major; if you seemed competent, you’d get a shot.  Then, as the industrial sector shrank and specialized office work grew, making the world more complicated and employee qualifications harder to suss out, employers started looking more to academic credentials as proxies for intelligence and competence.  And as a consequence, lots of Baby Boomers who never pursued higher education collided with the glass ceiling.

But it now seems like things are reverting, or at least becoming something that more closely resembles the old meritocracy than the credentialism that has dominated the last few decades.  Employers seem to finally be picking up on the disconnect between degrees and practical skills.  And just as there was a large portion of the Baby Boomer population that collided with the glass ceiling when employers shifted focus from merit to credentialing, so too will a large number of my peers when faced with employers more interested in what you can do than the name on your college education receipt (diploma).  Change always yields creative destruction in one form or another, and this will be no different.  I’m excited to see the creativity that will inevitably come of it.

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Filed under Education

So What

“My photos suck.”  “My blog posts are boring and obvious.”  “My short stories are trash.”  “I can’t dribble for love or money and my jump shot’s no better.”

So what.

If the rent check’s not riding on it, “I’m not good enough” is never an excuse for not doing something.  Do what you want anyway.  That you want to is reason enough.

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Filed under Do You, Goals

Critics

Two types of people are called critics.  Only one deserves the title.

The first type offers insult without substance.  She’s the faceless heckler up in the nosebleeds telling you how much you suck.  This person is not a critic, she’s a troll, and can and should be ignored.

The second type of person, a true critic, offers specific insights into where a creator came up short in either design or execution.  This is a valuable service, though not nearly as enjoyable to be on the receiving end of as a massage or a haircut.  A thoughtful, erudite critic can help a creator identify and shore up weaknesses and produce better work.  For this, creators and fans alike should thank the critic; like the law, he should be loved a little.

Dismissing trolls is vital.  Doing the same to all critics is hubris.

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Filed under Words Have Meanings

Excuses vs. Explanations

There’s a difference between excuses and explanations.  It’s a fine one, often ignored in anger or washed away in obfuscation, but it’s there.

An excuse involves something that could have been accounted for with commonsense prior proper planning.  It’s a post hoc rationalization for laziness or sloppiness.  Excuses tend to piss people off, and rightfully so.

Explanations, on the other hand, involve circumstances that no reasonable amount of foresight or planning could have helped.  Explanations are rooted in the unavoidable, in the reality that humans have great but still limited control over our environments and the workings of cause and effect around us.  No good can come from finding fault with a person offering a legitimate explanation.

A good leader therefore punishes excuses, accepts explanations, and knows the difference between the two.  A person who doesn’t see a distinction is a tyrant.

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The Holy Grail

Generalizing from me and people I know, the preeminent challenges in the lives of educated financially-stable folks are (1) finding sustainable true love, and (2) finding meaningful work.  Which of these predominates depends on the individual and what stage of life he or she is in.

As far as problems go, these are relatively “good” ones.  But they are problems nonetheless.  And solving them both – that is, finding meaningful work that allows one enough time to find, cultivate, and nurture a sustainable true love – is the First World Holy Grail.

I won’t sit here and say that I’m even close to having the path to the Holy Grail mapped out.  I don’t have the age or the track record to credibly make that claim.  But I do think I’ve figured out a few angles that make getting to the Grail more likely than if one were to just charge blindly into the hills after it.  Here are some of them:

  • Learn and accept yourself.  And then be willing to share that self.  This is ~50% of the battle.
  • Acknowledge and accept tradeoffsHaving it all is a crock.  Time and energy are finite resources, and devoting yourself to one thing means neglecting something else.  Figure out your values and priorities so that you can budget yourself accordingly.
  • Take calculated risks.  Sometimes to get where you want to go you have to jump over a cliff.  Do it.  Just make sure you do the math on the distance and wind resistance and how fast you need to go and all that stuff first.
  • Be process- rather than outcome-oriented.  If you enjoy and find value in the work itself, whether you achieve the desired result matters much less, which helps you keep going in the face of failure.  And speaking of failure…
  • Use it.  Figure out what you did wrong.  Figure out how to correct it for next time.  Then move on to next time.
  • Listen to Max.  He won’t steer you wrong.

Given the number of self-referential links in this post, I guess I’ve stumbled upon what this blog is about: the pursuit of the Holy Grail.

Or, to put it in more familiar, less-Dan Brownish terms, the Pursuit of Happiness.

Happiness as the Holy Grail.  Sounds about right to me.

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Filed under Life

Everything and Nothing

What you do in life means everything and nothing.

It means everything because as far as we know you only get one life.  That’s it, one bite at the apple and you’re done.  So if you waste it, and you don’t do what you want, you’ll never get a chance to do it again once your time is up.

But on the flip side, what you do in life means nothing because, to paraphrase Hugh’s landlord, one day you’ll be dead and none of this will matter.  That time you peed your pants in 5th grade, or you won the state championship, or you bombed a test, or you got that promotion, or your business failed, none of it will matter because you’ll be gone.  And eventually so will everyone else who remembers that stuff too.  And then you’ll really be gone.

So don’t let your personal myth delude you into inaction.  Don’t waste days and months and years capitulating to fear and doubt.  Very little damage done in life is irreparable, few paths are true dead ends, and nobody is that interested in what you’re doing.  Nobody will remember your big flop or your grand embarrassment in fewer years than you’d probably care to think about.  The only person your time here really matters to is you because we know for a fact that you will run out of it.  Don’t let that happen before you get what you want out of this place.

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Filed under Choices, Life

What Could Have Been But Never Will

In one of my all-time favorite essays, cartoonist Tim Kreider names and examines The Referendum: the “phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt.”

Drawing on personal experience, Kreider explores in precise, poignant prose the cross-cutting tensions (internal and otherwise) and melancholy that comes with trying to figure out if the grass on the other side really is greener, and if so how much.  A few money quotes:

“Friends who seemed pretty much indistinguishable from you in your 20s make different choices about family or career, and after a decade or two these initial differences yield such radically divergent trajectories that when you get together again you can only regard each other’s lives with bemused incomprehension.”

Quite a lot of what passes itself off as a dialogue about our society consists of people trying to justify their own choices as the only right or natural ones by denouncing others’ as selfish or pathological or wrong. So it’s easy to overlook that hidden beneath all this smug certainty is a poignant insecurity, and the naked 3 A.M. terror of regret.”

“Watching our peers’ lives is the closest we can come to a glimpse of the parallel universes in which we didn’t ruin that relationship years ago, or got that job we applied for, or got on that plane after all. It’s tempting to read other people’s lives as cautionary fables or repudiations of our own.”

It’s a fantastic piece and well-worth saving and coming back to periodically.  This is especially true for most of the people reading this blog, as I think that The Referendum tends to come well-before midlife among educated big-coastal-city types by dint of constant exposure to diverse lifestyles and opportunities.

Note that The Referendum is a direct manifestation of the Kundera Principle, and when properly sublimated becomes the basis for much great art.

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Filed under Choices, Life