Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
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Category archive: Career counselling
I think that this piece by Megan McArdle, entitled Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators is good.
Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A’s in English class. (There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.) At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talents kept them at the head of the class.
This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English classes. Your stuff may not - indeed, probably won’t - be the best anymore.
If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.
That last pararaph certainly rings bells for me. Which is why I find that the cure for blogger’s block is the opposite of self-esteem. Self-esteem, as McArdle says, gets in the way. Self-abasement can get you going again. I’m a crap writer, so anything I do manage to put now won’t make me any worse. And hey, it may even cheer me up by making me better!
As for that thing about having it too easy in school, I recall Geoff Boycott saying the exact same thing about cricketers. The ones who were effortlessly good as kids, and who therefore didn’t have to scrap, later often came second best to others who did scrap when they were kids.
Of course, sportsmen don’t procrastinate, because they have a set timetable when they have to perform. Instead they just do badly.
And I also recall Malcolm Gladwell throwing older brothers into the mix, in one of his books. Ace basketballer Michael Jordan had an elder brother, who he had to scrap against when young. I think it was Jordan.
I wrote this just before going to bed, even though I have had the whole day to do something better.
I have just discovered this report by James Hamilton of a conference on the subject of the self help movement) and I like it a lot. Or rather, I think I had seen it before, but then something else came up before I had properly read it, and I never got back to it. Until today, when I read it right through.
It is one of the classic “insults of class” – having to win for yourself the right to believe that you are entitled to form and follow your own ambitions. At the summit, Robert Kelsey attributed to self help his recognition that his sense of failure in life was in fact a fear of failure. That’s a hugely important point and he made it well. It’s also a middle class one. It’s easier to have a fear of failure when you know how and where to start, indeed, when you know you are allowed to start at all.
The need to change, to be different succeed is a familiar idea to anyone from a working class background. That, to put it bluntly, is because it’s true. It’s an easy thing for middle class journalists and writers to mock, who already have security, who already own the idea that you can achieve what you set out to do, who started life already halfway into the world most people must hustle and scramble to reach. It’s easy to mock when you’ve grown up knowing lawyers, poets, artists, bankers and academics and so assume that those fine careers are options for you. (I am lower middle class in origin and made it to 18 without having known personally any adults in any of those fields – I saw only computing, and not much of that. What about families where no one works at all?)
I’ve a friend, the child of a famous man, who has never read any self help, but knows it’s all crap. The family are wealthy: the chosen career is in a field with formidable entry costs. But I know this about my friend too: they’ve always had written goals. They’ve always used social “tricks” like mirroring and pacing in order to get on. They have a deliberate strategy to overcome failure when it occurs. They have another strategy for networking. They visualize their ideal outcomes.
So much of what they do is pure Tony Robbins. But they don’t know that, because actually, it’s just what people at their level in society do. Not overtly, or even knowingly: there’s no need. They’ll never be as self-conscious about it as people like me who have had to get it all out of a book (if not that one) because there was nowhere else for it to come from.
And I wonder if my friend, or anyone who has ever pitched an article for the hell of it, or just thought they might just – what the heck! – put in for that (interesting) job, or been called on to consult or whatever – I wonder if they have quite realized how unusual they are in British life. That their luck and fortune might lie – not in the results of their decisions, but in their assumption that they can make their decisions at all.
I came from a quite posh family, but I got rather less of this sort of advice from my parents than you might expect from such people. So I too had to find out about it by reading books. And then I developed a hobby as a career councillor, basically passing on what I had read. And Hamilton is right. There are indeed people who do not have it in their bones that they can decide things. Such people can be greatly cheered up by being told that indeed they can. Sometimes this is the only extra thing they need to learn (by which I mean merely think about for a bit because it’s obviously true once you actually say it) in order to take off like a rocket.
Susan Hill writes, in connection with celebrity authors, or to more exact in connection with the opposite kind, this:
… in the last few years it has become very common for good novels to sell under 100 copies.
If I ever try to write a novel, (a) shoot me, and (b) I’ll just give it away on the www, probably as a series of blog postings, probably here. And if a hundred people read it, I’d probably rate that a success.
If you want thousands to read your novel, then surely getting a few hundred to like it to start with, who are in a position to recommend it to others without those others having to pay anything, to the point where people who like to read their books in book form (assuming there remain any such people after you’ve written your novel) hear about your novel, from quite a lot of people who liked it, would seem like an obvious first step. In short, try to become a mini-celebrity novelist.
If you want to make money as a novel-writer, then here is my career advice: get a job, and write in your spare time, following the above plan (i.e. buying the above quite cheap literary lottery ticket). That way, you will make money as a novelist, although I agree not in the way you may have meant. Make that: make money and be a novelist. (When I career counsel, I often suggest that. It makes a change from “find a job doing what you love”, which is often disastrous, not least because there is no rule that says you will be any good or any use to anyone else doing what you love. Worse, you may just end up hating what you used to love. Often “keep your work and what you love separate” proves to be the catalytic suggestion which sorts everything out a treat.)
Or, instead of writing a “good novel”, you could try writing the kind of story people in their thousands like to read, like a crime story with plausibly virtuous policemen and implausibly villainous villains.
One of the things that complicates blogging is the way you accumulate lots of links and quotes from other pieces, intending one day to comment on each one separately, at quite some length and with extreme wisdom, but which you eventually forget about. A way around this is to just gather up all such bits and bobs into one post. So here goes with some random quotes, in pretty much random order, that I have come across over the last few days and been amused by.
I start with a quote from Theodore Dalrymple, the truth of which I think explains quite a lot:
When one is indignant, one does not wonder what life is for or about, the immensity of the universe does not trouble one, and the profound and unanswerable questions of the metaphysics of morals are held temporarily in abeyance.
We must reap the benefits of our pathologies ...
Indeed. Don’t try and fail to change your personality, unless your personality is downright evil. Find somewhere and something where your personality fits in just fine, and is just what they need. If, say, you are obsessed with doing absolutely everything that you do exactly right, don’t waste you time and your life trying and failing to lighten up. Get a job in, e.g., a nuclear power station.
Now for a couple of sports quotes, the first one being a headline:
And Stuart Broad too, apparently. It’s those two slightly funny-in-themselves words that I like, jammed right next to each other. Buttock. Niggle. Well, I laughed. And oh look, they agree, because they’ve changed it to something more decorous. It definitely did say “buttock niggle”, rather than “buttock strain”.
The second sport-quote is a snatch of monologue from Chris Rock, being interviewed on the telly, in connection with the Polanski ruckus, saying what he thinks of the “but he made some good movies” defence:
CarsonCochran didn’t have the nerve to say: “Well did you see OJ play against New England?”
Speaking of words and the way words sound, here’s Alfred Brendel explaining how, after a working lifetime spent playing classical piano, he has more recently turned to poetry:
How does he account for this sudden spurt of poetic creativity in his mid-sixties? “I cannot tell you,” he says. “But I’ve read a great deal in my life, and especially a huge amount of poetry when I was young. So perhaps this accumulated mass of words started to work by itself inside my head, and somehow sorted itself out. Many writers will tell you that the hypnagogic state [the transition between sleep and consciousness] is an important well of their creativity. That’s true for me. Sometimes between waking and sleeping a poem will form, and sometimes I wake up in the night and it goes on. Then I look at it in the morning and it seems to work. It’s the state between dreaming and waking that’s so interesting. You are both here and there.”
As an atheist, I not only find myself disagreeing with the claims made by religion, but also trying to explain religion. If it’s wrong, how come it’s still out there, in such strength? Perhaps a part of why religion persists is that people fail to get how vast is their own subconscious, confusing their conscious with all their mental processes. So, when an idea pops into their mind, and it must have come from somewhere, they believe it must have come from outside of themselves, like a radio signal. Like, that is, the voice of God. Well, just a thought.
There are still lots more quotes and links hanging about in my computer, but I will end this with just two more, both comments, one on this, about chasing wicked Acorn people, Acorn being a wicked organisation in America ... :
… if you actually do have witches, witch hunts are the right course of action ...
... and the other, about the travails of trying to keep newspapers alive:
Papers began dying when it became illegal to serve Fish & Chips on newsprint.
I think the problem of newspapers is not that they didn’t get that the www was coming to get them; their problem was that the economics of running newspapers was/is so totally different to the economics of getting something going on the web. Even a merely ticking-over newspaper is awash with money, which means that there is a fatal tendency for web-operations started by newspapers to be either on a huge (too huge) scale, from the start, or sensible, but on a scale that strikes them as humiliatingly tiny. As soon as it looks like their new www dot thing is doing okay, they flood it with money, while taking it for granted that they already know what doing okay means and how to spend all the money. Then a year later, they accuse it of losing money, shut it down and try something else. Repeat until all that newspaper money runs out. (Recently I had an interesting conversation with an English journo friend with a slightly different tale to tell. More of which anon. (Maybe. I promise nothing.))
Lots of categories for this posting.
When Gordon Brown is finally removed from Number Ten, either by his despairing underlings or by us despairing voters, attempts will then be made by the regular journos to downplay the role played in this saga by the great Guido Fawkes. In fact, I already sense a process of bigging Guido up, so that he can later be knocked down. But as Guido himself pointed out, last Friday:
Examine the front page media agenda last month: Smeargate, Snouts in the Trough, MPs’ expenses and of course the developing “Gordon is bonkers” meme, all topped off nicely with a round of mea culpas on the inside comment pages from the shamed copy takers in the Lobby.
Exactly so. And let’s add Guido’s taxodus obsession to that list. That’s going to get very big in the weeks and months to come, especially if Brown manages to stay walking while ever more dead. The dead tree dog pack is now in full cry and closing in on its helpless prey, but Guido was always the Master of the Hounds.
To switch metaphors from fox-hunting to king- or Caesar-murdering, all the deadliest daggers in this drama have been being sharpened, week after week, month after month, by Guido. It wasn’t just McBride, Draper, Balls and co. It was everything, including the reason why Guido himself was for months the main story-teller telling all the other stories. Guido is undoubtedly the First Murderer in this drama, no matter what all the other murderers who are now piling in will try to say.
One basic reason for this is that First Murderer was always the ultimate role to which Guido aspired, at any rate in this particular drama. First Murderers never become kings themselves, but Guido has never - unlike all the still-vacillating politicians who are now, Brutus-like, working themselves up into the necessary mood of murderousness, or not as the case may be - wanted any political office beyond the office he has already contrived for himself. For him, Guido Fawkes is title enough.
But, when he gets bored with British politics, what will Guido Fawkes do then, I wonder? Do you think he might cross the Atlantic and take a crack at Obama?
Better yet, how about going global, and taking aim at the UN and related scams? The very Global Elite itself, amongst whom mere heads of state are, well, mere heads of state? That would be a worthy next foe for the great man.
As I mentioned in this earlier posting, Guido used to run something called the Global Development Institute, or some such forgettable thing. It’s now fizzled out, or is dormant. No matter. What this shows is that Guido already has the inclination to think globally. So how’s this for a slogan?: Guido (or whatever else he chooses to call himself for these different and bigger purposes) for part time ruler (see top left of this blog) of The World.
But before having a go at that, he should take a well-earned break.
And after writing all of the above, what do I find at Guido’s? American news.
UPDATE: Welcome to Iain Dale readers, with deep thanks to your Lord and Master.
Further relevant thing noticed: Guido is getting a lot of international media coverage all of a sudden. How do we all know that? Because Guido himself is linking to it.
Even Paul Staines is the wrath of his opinion, through and through corrupt political class driven Britain. But it was probably primarily the fun at the provocation that inspired him, his political blog - slightly - to name Guido Fawkes. Finally, write him friends and opponents of an exuberant lust for mischief and practical joke too.
Plus: The global option might be preferable to the American option, because going global wouldn’t oblige Guido to move from London. Going American would pretty much have to mean a base in America (from which to go out drinking).
I just read this piece about procrastination (linked to yesterday by Instapundit), right through, with no shilly-shallying, and now I am blogging about it, seconds later. Although, only time will tell whether this gets put up on my blog with equal promptitude. I am sure I am not the only blogger now writing facetiously self-referential silliness on this topic.
Procrastination, I surmise, is a big deal for many bloggers, certainly for me. For me, it’s a big deal because blogging is my response to my self-image as a procrastinator. I constantly postpone big or biggish projects. My big constantly postponed thing at the moment, which I keep meaning to just sit down and bloody well do, is writing a review for Samizdata of this excellent but rather complicated book (the complications being because the story itself is so controversial in its factual details) about a man who got on with stuff so energetically and promptly that he became, for a short while, the ruler of England, no less. Or, maybe he didn’t quite do that. Historians don’t seem quite to agree.
Instead of doing such big pieces, I do small ones instead, like this stupid little piece, which never occurred to me to be writing about until about fifteen minutes ago. My ego thus massaged, the big project only gets postponed all the more. Writing something becomes a defence against the guilt caused by failing to write what I really want to write, by which I mean “really want to have written”. And further postpones the big stuff.
Much of my career counselling is passing on tricks for dealing with the vice of procrastination. One of my regular questions to my victims is, for instance: When your time is entirely your own, what do you do? Not: What do you wish you did? What do you actually do? What, in other words, can you do without will power? What activities do you not procrastinate at? Avoid being a procrastinator by “deciding” to do those things you don’t naturally postpone, the things that come naturally to you, so naturally that it requires willpower for you to interrupt them, to do such things as eat, sleep, maintain your marriage, etc. Do the things where you love not only the outcomes, but also the process.
The story of my life, when I think about it, is that when I first saw word processing, in the electronics department of Essex University in the early nineteen seventies, I fell in love with it. Not with what I could do with it. With the simple fact of it. It has been a lifelong romance. I still love the simple fact of being able to type this stuff, and immediately see it up there in front of me straight away, with mistakes being instantly correctable. Wow! Such is my romantic loyalty to word processing that I always word procress blog postings first, and only when they are done do I shovel them into my blogging software. For many, I surmise, blogging is a release from the drudgery of word processing. For me, blogging is merely an add-on, the cherry on the cake. There is further tweaking when it’s in the blog machines (I’m tweaking now), but my basic tool remains word processing. End of diversion. Go back to end of previous paragraph, and then proceed forward to the next paragraph. (A downside of word processing.)
So as I was saying, another trick to battle procrastination, also highly relevant to bloggers, is to accomplish large things by slicing them up into small things, and then doing them a small slice at a time. Thus, a blogger can write a big piece by writing it a bit at a time, and then link back to it when it is all finished. Or maybe copy and past all the bits and polish it up, as the final slice of work. Often it is the size of a task that daunts. Reducing its size makes it startable. I read another book a while ago, where the best tip I got from it was to ask, of any project: What is the first small thing that I need to do to get that started? Never mind finishing it. What would s
I seem to recall posting something here, once upon a time, about the foolishness of trying to look like a goody goody on the internet. Yes. Well Ryan Healy (guesting at the Brazen Careerist) seems to agree:
The more young people enter the workforce the less risk there is that someone will Google them to look for bad behavior. Human resources leaders don’t have the time to sleuth. But also, there just aren’t enough perfect little angels in the world to go around.
Plus, are wise employers actually looking for perfect little angels anyway, even if there was a glut of them? For most purposes, wouldn’t human beings be preferable?
Now that “private” lives are starting to become as public as working lives, the pretence of “private” hundred-per-cent decorum is going to have to be abandoned.
I am an occasional career counsellor. I specialise in helping my punters find out what sort of career they would like to have. If you don’t know what you want out of your career, but need to know (especially if you need to know in rather a hurry), sign up for one of my sessions (it only takes one) and there’s a very decent chance we’ll get it eighty percent sorted within a couple of hours.
Once you know what career you want, good luck finding it, and more good luck doing it. I can’t help you so much with that. I have some ideas, but nothing that special. My main suggestion is: don’t be scared to ask other and better people than me about it. Few will object. Many will relish the chance to show off. The worst that can happen is that they say no.
To find out what sort of career people want, I have a clutch of questions I ask them. What things (work or anything else) have you done that you are most proud of? What - given all the money, time, talent, breaks (i.e. regardless of whether you’d actually be able to get it or do it) – would be your perfect job or perfect life? When your time is your own, what do you do? If you had only one day left to live, what would you do? Things like that.
Well, here’s something that might turn into another question of that kind. During that shit job you had, did you learn anything, and if so what?
I realize now that the reason I picked up so much information about negotiating and marketing from these less-than-challenging jobs is because those are areas that interest me. I’m good at them and I like watching how other people do it. You will notice in your early, random jobs that you gravitate toward certain lessons. What you like learning about is probably what you like to do. Learn from yourself by watching how you learn from others.
That’s from page 9 of The Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk, and is one of the rather few things she says (at any rate in that early chapter) about how to work out what you want. But of course, I picked it out, because of what I am most interested in.
I’ve now reached the bit about the grind of getting that first half decent job, which is now what seems to have replaced the grind of doing that first half decent job, which is what our parents and grandparents did. I am looking forward to doing the job, so to speak. I think I will enjoy that more. Reading about it, that is.
One of the more damaging assumptions you can make is to assume that everyone is like you, with the same values, ambitions, preoccupations and interests as you have.
In my career counselling I constantly come up against this assumption, and with careers it can be very damaging.
For instance, suppose you want to be a brain surgeon. Fine. No problem about that. If that’s what you want, that’s what you want. But suppose you assume, without even thinking about it, that everyone else in the world also wants to be a brain surgeon, merely because you cannot imagine anyone not wanting to be a brain surgeon. President Bush? Failed brain surgeon. Mick Jagger? Only joined the Stones when Brain Surgery School threw him out. Madonna? She’s so weird because she really wanted to be a brain surgeon but they wouldn’t let her. That shopkeeper with the idiot grin on his face all day long, who does he think he’s kidding? He really wants to be a brain surgeon, but he’s not! What a loser! Your dad? A failure. Having failed to make it in brain surgery, he had to make do with becoming the assistant head of Microsoft.
You can see how that kind of thinking would give you a rather distorted view of other people, other people’s states of mind, and of the world generally.
And when it comes to your own career, the assumption that everyone else is just like you and wants just what you want leads inexorably to the following conclusion: You have virtually no chance of becoming what you really want to be, because you are competing with the entire rest of the world.
But you aren’t. Most people do not want what you want. Or what I want.
These thoughts were triggered by my only posting here on Wednesday, which was a link to this. I got that link from Iain Dale, who is a British political blogger of tremendous grandeur with far more readers than me. I thought: Is this posting adding anything? I thought: Does anyone in the world read me, and not read Iain Dale? But of course, there are quite a few such people. I am interested in everything that Iain Dale writes just now, and I am always fascinated to read whatever emerges from my own keyboard. But not everyone is like me. Many like Iain Dale, and shun me. But, by the same token, others ignore Iain Dale, but read me, if only because he goes on and on about British Conservative politics, and I don’t.
One such person linked to that posting of mine. He didn’t credit Iain Dale for drawing his attention to that mobile map of Middle Eastern history. He credited me. For which much thanks, of course. (He also linked to this posting, ditto.)
And the blogging moral is that no matter how popular you think one of your favourite blogs might be, there is a universe of people out there who have no interest in it, but a few of whom are nevertheless fond of your little blog. So if Mr MegaInstaAlistPundit writes something, or links to something, that you think is really cool, and you say that on your tiny little blog which oscillates wildly and unpredictability between kittens (or your own preferred alternative to kittens) and your favourite variety of politics or anti-politics, some people – not necessarily very many people, but some people - will be hearing about that particular item of coolness for the first time. And some of those some people may actually agree with you that it is indeed cool.
I keep meaning to follow advice like this:
It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t organize information well enough to take it in. And it doesn’t matter how skilled you are if procrastination keeps you from getting your work done.
But something always seems to get in the way.
The title, for the benefit of all you newcomers to this blog, flooding in here for no reason at all because of nothing, is that the rule here is: something every day however silly or pointless. I have this rule because one of the big killer causes of procrastination is that as time goes by, the percentage increase per day in how long you have delayed doing the thing in question diminishes, constantly, day in day out. Therefore, the longer you leave it the less, each further day, you suffer.
While doing this posting, I listened to a Handel Chandos Anthem, on Radio 3. I was, as they say, multi-tasking. The Brazen Careerist’s advice about multi-tasking is: don’t.
I love to do career counselling, but not many people ask me to do it because my own “career” is such a non-event, and because I haven’t myself made a career out of doing career counselling. But a friend did request a dose of it last week, and I heard myself saying something to them which I thought at the time and still think was really pretty good. So I will now pass it on to you people. (If you want classier career stuff, I recommend this lady.)
My friend’s problem was the one I am best at helping with, which is not how to get further ahead in the job or pursuit you already have or are pursuing, but how to set about picking your next job or pursuit in the first place.
First, a preliminary rumination on how to have ideas. All the authorities I’ve read and listened to seem to agree that idea-having is a three stage process.
First, immerse yourself in the facts of the matter. Don’t worry what you are going to think about them or do about them. Just immerse. Immerse in the obvious agenda, immerse in unobvious stuff. Sweat at the problem. And play around with it.
Second, relax. Take a walk. Sleep. Think about something else, like listening to music or doing something else important.
Three, the idea comes to you. When it does, you’ll know that the idea is a good one. Eureka!
Career ideas are like that. If you have the time, and my friend did have the time, then you don’t want to force it.
First immerse yourself in the relevant data. Here I can be a real help, because I have a whole stack of tried-and-tested questions and methods of analysis that enable the facts to stack up quickly.
Like: When your time is your own, what do you do? (Not what do you wish you did, but what, in fact, do you do?)
Like: What do you daydream about doing?
Like: What are you proud of having already done? Make a list of everything that you’ve ever done that you are glad about, from big like a long and big and hard job, to small like a little thing you did for someone that only lasted a few seconds. (Maybe you rescued a major company, turning it around from imminent bankruptcy to glory. Maybe you did some smart baby sitting for a seriously harassed relative or friend. Maybe you put out a hand and stopped a stranger going under a lorry. He thanked you, rushed off to do whatever it was that was making him so impatient and careless, and that was it.) Look at the list. Maybe there’s a pattern there.
Like: Okay you think you know what you want to do, but do you really want to do that, or do you merely like the idea of having done it? Collecting Oscars is all very nice and happy-making. But what do film stars actually do all day long? Would you really enjoy that life?
Like (and talking of film stars): What kind of work do you believe in doing so much that you would rather fail at it than succeed at doing almost anything else.
Like: If you do whatever you’re thinking about doing, what’s the best that can happen? And: what’s the worst that can happen? Great stuff and not a lot is obviously the combination you are looking for there.
Like: Now you have a pile of stuff to think about. Write it all down! (I know, not a question, but an important point.)
Another important point, about all these questions: You don’t have to tell me the answers, or show me the answers, or read out the answers to me. If you want to you’ll be very welcome because I always enjoy this stuff. But, my enjoyment aside, the important thing here is to ask yourself things like this, and to ponder your answers yourself, in your own time.
In your own time. After maybe having used me to speed up the immersing-yourself-in-the-facts stage, don’t then rush things. Like I said, go to sleep, do something else. Don’t aggress on the decision. Don’t make the decision. Let the decision make itself, and then present itself to you, in its own sweet time.
The big exception to that rule is when there is time pressure. And here, if you are stressing under time pressure, I’d throw in another question, which is: Is the decision reversible? That can save a lot of grief, because often a decision that seems very portentous and heavy is actually not, because if it goes wrong – you get miserable or bored, whatever - you can easily back out of it. If you can’t you can’t, but often you can. And maybe if you originally think you can’t, you can actually rearrange the decision in such a way that you can back out of it. ("Okay, I’ll give it all I’ve got, but if it doesn’t work out, I’ll stop. Okay? And don’t start paying me properly until I commit.” In other words, turn the decision back into a prolongation of the fact-finding process.)
Maximise the chances of the decision making itself.
Now, here comes the bit that I said that really impressed me. As it popped out of my mouth, I thought, I haven’t said that to anyone before. That’s good stuff. (Although, I’m sure not original. Almost certainly the product of lots of fact-immersing in facts supplied by and provoked by others.)
The point about decisions of this sort - the ones where the decision steps in front of you with a flourish of trumpets and you say: Yessss!!!! - is not so much that the decisions you make will be better decisions. Often, Yessss!!!! decisions are just as dopey as the coldly logical but boring ones.
But, they do have one big advantage, which is that they often bring out the best in you. You rip into what ever it is with a new purpose and a new momentum. You charge madly off, not necessarily in an especially good direction, but least in a direction. And this momentum can take you to lots of good places, which you might otherwise never have reached. Life has flavour and zip to it. You make what you think is a huge career decision, which turns out to be fairly expensive crap, crap in itself and further crap because not that easily reversed. But, on the good side, you plunge into a whole new swimming pool (sewer maybe) full of facts, about you and about the universe, and from those facts, something truly good may emerge and present itself to you. Almost anything is better than just sitting in your cave and doing nothing. That is (a) a lousy career decision, and worse (b) it gives you no new facts to help make a better career decision. Iif you do nothing, you learn nothing.
That’s basically it. Stop now, if all you wanted from reading this was my most important point.
But, if you will allow me one more plug for my career counselling services, let me now add that one of the most valuable things I am often able to do for my career-counsellees is the simple thing of making them feel happy again. Just that. Often they came to me because they not only do not feel happy now, but have begun to suspect that, what with them now being twenty seven or some such disaster, they are constitutionally incapable of ever being happy again. So, if I manage to provoke a few flavoursome and zippy career insights from them, and manage to stir up inside them the notion that maybe they might just find something really fun and satisfying to do, and maybe even soon, and that they are not doomed to greyness for ever . . . that feeling can itself often be enough for them to turn the corner. After all, if they got all excited, even if they got all excited about something they later realise is delusional nonsense, at least they got all excited! At least they are still capable of that kind of excitement! And if that feeling can come once, it can come again, and - who knows? - maybe some time soon it will come because of a potential decision that actually makes a bit of sense.
Well I’ve not been getting much done lately, but at least I have been actually reading Getting Things Done, and I am really enjoying it. It’s a very cunningly written book, based, I presume, on David Allen’s cunningly perpetuated consultancy business, which helps people to get things done. The point being that if people didn’t enjoy the process of being guided by Allen and his minions, they wouldn’t recommend his services to their friends, which is always how these things get started, and then grow.
I always distrust any big and life-changing system which demands to be introduced in its entirety before you can expect any good to come of it. Remember when those idiot Communists used to say that you couldn’t expect Communism to do any good until everyone was doing it. In the whole world. Imagine what that would have been like.
Allen’s book, and his practical face to face guidance, to judge by what he says about it in the book, is the opposite of that. He recommends a “bottom up” approach to grappling with life’s complications. Start with little things and get them sorted and buzzing along properly, and then, with your morale boosted, you can move on to bigger stuff.
I’m dipping in among this book, rather than reading it all in the proper order. I find the stuff in the middle, where you start seriously solving your problems, too depressing and demanding. I like the stuff at the start when he says what he is going to say, and towards the end, where he says why it is all so good, and what great results it can have. But I am steeling myself to read the stuff in the middle, where things will be expected of me. But I am optimistic that eventually I will start doing that.
His can-you-do-it-in-two-minutes?-if-so-do-it rule is good, and I have already starting to apply that. Rather more than I did before, I mean. I think the most deceptively profound notion is, as I have already said, is the one about attaching a Next Single Step to every project. And then of course, you can ask: can I do that next step in two minutes? - and probably get a yes, and do it.
A final thing is that - and I didn’t know that he would say anything like this when I first said something similar myself in connection with his book - he agrees with me that clever people can be the most stupid. He reckons that clever people are more receptive to new ideas, and more able to imagine new projects, and before they know it, they are overwhelmed by a tsunami of “stuff”, and they drown in it. Stupid people are not so stupid, because they think of fewer things, and don’t get drowned.
There’s lots of other good stuff as well, which I haven’t yet understood so well, but what I have understood makes me trust that studying the rest will be well worth it.
I further believe that if I just keep reading and re-reading this book, I will start doing it, without having to try too hard. And I may even enjoy doing it.
By the way, in connection with Doing Stuff and all that, I’ve just added this rather interesting looking blog to my blogroll. Can’t remember how I got to it. Perhaps via Jackie D, which is a favourite of mine just now.
At the end of last week I had a fascinating conversation with my very good friend Adriana the Media Influencer about a book that she has recently come by.
Adriana’s problem, among others, is that she gets stressed. She is now Media Influencing away on about seven different fronts, on some of them earning quite big fees which she is anxious not to alienate, and her brain gets too full, and she starts to sleep badly, and her coat starts to lose its shine and to fall out in tufts, etcetera etcetera and so on and so forth. A collaborator who met up with her recently noted the symptoms and sent her a copy of Getting Things Done by David Allen, and she was enthusing about it.
Getting Things Done. That’s an appropriate message to stick up here, near to the beginning of my new Blog Year.
This posting by me, here, is basically me reminding myself to take a look at this book - which is, I see, a Penguin, so presumably widely available here. It is also me practising what, to judge by what Adriana was saying, is one of the techniques that Allen recommends, which is to write something down in a form that will always be readable by me in the future, thereby enabling me to stop worrying about remembering it in the meantime. (In my career counselling, I also recommend written lists, in great matters and in small matters. Lists make it less likely that you will completely forget something big when trying to arrive at a big decision.)
However, my problem with lists, and with written notes to myself of any kind, is that they immediately get lost. I have never been able to file such attempts at memoranda in any form other than as a thinly disguised rubbish tip. (Which meant that my academic career, such as it was, was a permanent shambles.) Until . . . blogging! My various blogs have been my first filing system(s) that has(ve) ever worked! As I will never tire of saying here, my most important reader here is me.
Personal blogs, of the most despisedly personal kind, are a superb way of relieving this kind of brain overload anxiety. If you have a personal blog, use it to remind yourself about things you don’t want to forget, and maybe even have a special category for such stuff. Have you a half-baked thought in your head, but no time in the meantime to continue with the baking? Blog it. (Maybe others can get baking.)
Do you despise self help books like this one by David Allen? Despise away. Are you enraged by the utter unpredictability of the postings here, occasionally so good you have to keep coming just in case, but usually stupid, guaranteed only to amuse or assist me? Rage on. If I have a thought that I want to park without losing it, in a way and in a place that doesn’t mean me having to keep it in my head in the meantime, here is where I am liable to park it. It’s my thought, and it’s my blog.
Unlike with real parking, you can attach written messages to a blog posting without doing any lasting damage.
I feel better already.
This is depressing. I found it in a set of rules for blogging.
Whenever you post anything to the Internet—whether on a weblog, in a discussion group, or even in an email—think about how it will look to a hiring manager in ten years. Once stuff’s out, it’s archived, cached, and indexed in many services that you might never be aware of.
Years from now, someone might consider hiring you for a plum job and take the precaution of ‘nooping you first. (Just taking a stab at what’s next after Google. Rest assured: there will be some super-snooper service that’ll dredge up anything about you that’s ever been bitified.) What will they find in terms of naïvely puerile “analysis” or offendingly nasty flames published under your name?
But here’s another thought. Your future employer will be looking to see if you have a bit of go about you, a bit of spirit, or that at least you once did, once upon a time. Have you any youthful indiscretions to talk about, and if not why not? He wants, above all, to avoid hiring one of those completely risk-averse, bloodless semi-humans who organised his entire adolescence around not looking bad twenty years later. He wants someone who has tried stuff, done stuff, and made mistakes. He does not want William bloody Hague, who only became human after he had made a total cods of being Leader of the Conservative Party.
David Cameron looks just like another of these bloodless, calculating, boy-machines. If he becomes the next Leader of the Conservatives, it will be because he has now, suddenly, acquired a bit of a past, with human blood flowing through it, possibly, allegedly, maybe, no concrete evidence.
If you never do anything or even say anything that you regret, then the chances are that you will have something far bigger to regret later, which is never having done anything at all.