#1 Quick 2018 Reflections
2018 was the year I started to take this newsletter a bit more serious. Over the last year, I put out 32 issues of the newsletter, added 400 curious humans to the list, have built a 110+ person slack community and at a more foundational level seem to have framed several ideas in a way that deeply resonates with how mnay of you are feeling.
I also went from living in Boston to getting rid of most of my possessions and living nomadically in Asia. Many of you have mentioned you want to hear a bit more about nomadic living, working abroad and travel, so I'll try to explore those topics a bit more in 2019.
My plans for the next six months include a month in Canggu, Bali starting January 13th and then heading to Taipei in February until the end of May. One reader Dave Berens challenged me to share a bit more publicly about my goals. Here are some things I'm focusing on over the next few months:I'm planning on taking my Chinese to the next level by enrolling in an intensive course at NTU starting in MarchI plan to continue to write this newsletter on a weekly or semi-weekly basis (and I'm moving it to send on Saturday)I will launch my Solopreneur Shift digital course as a self-paced + live course in the next two months (e-mail me if you want to get involved)I want to continue to help people launch creative projects such as writing publicly, launching podcasts, taking their side gigs to the next level or other experiments that might help people learn.
Set up a call if you want to brainstorm with me
#2 Corporate BS - You Can't Make This Up
In 1982, a worker at AT&T made this reflection on the state of his work:
“Stress is high in my life right now...Principally because of the job. The problem is that I see myself standing alone … It’s damn near impossible to keep from going crazy …Sometimes I feel that this stress is self- induced, because of my conscientiousness …In this era of ambiguity, uncertainty and inordinate turf battles, the manager who really cares may well kill himself with anxiety and worry and what those emotions generate — stress.”
(From Cubed, a fascinating book about the "secret" history of work)
It's more than 35 years later and work has not gotten any more fun. This anecdote is a from a friend that shared his experience over the last six months:
"As an amazing example of big corporate bullshit, the new position I was going to accept was then re-orged into oblivion as part of an unrelated org change that wasn't coordinated with the first one - effectively laying me off for a second time in six weeks. From there, the guy who would have been my boss kept putting me in touch with internal people who had open positions, which I felt I might as well explore.
Half of those conversations were about mind-numbingly boring jobs or resulted in the hiring manager saying "I've heard great things about you, we had a great conversation and you seemed great to work with, but I need to hire someone with more specific experience here". Those reactions highlighted that whatever cachet I had as a high-potential general manager was evaporating before my eyes as part of this acquisition of my business unit. Whatever interest I had in staying evaporated along with that realization."
There are a number of things happening here. First off is that my friend is feeling like an absolute fool and no one can do anything about it. Modern organizations are inducing a state of helplessness even for the people that you might expect have some power. What I have found is that even if you go to the highest levels (VPs, Partners) - often these people feel powerless to ever do something to help people.
Second, it is of note that this friend has experience at a top consulting firm and has a "top ten" MBA. I talk to many people that tell me things like "If I had an MBA it would be easier." This is just not true anymore. Since the 1980's (as the AT&T quote shows) work has become less about giving people stable employment and more about bottom line firm performance.
I am not arguing against this. I'll let the economists tell you which is better for the world. However, our modern HR conversation is deeply counter-productive because it calls attention to the fact that people shouldn't have to lose their dignity at work. This is great, except no one is offering any solutions. Workshops won't solve it. Initiatives (especially top-down ones) are usually counter-productive and fail to question our default assumptions on work.
I don't have perfect solutions here others than to push people to ask deeper questions. Why do we place so much importance on being "employed" when it is such a precarious existence for so many, even high-wage earners? How can we re-shape our lives to remove some of the pain of work? How can we help others who are struggling around us in organizations instead of furthering our own careers?
#3 📚 My Top 175+ Reads From 2018 (including a whole section on work)
I run a second newsletter which many of you also subscribe to. I'd highly recommend this list of 175+ reads I found fascinating from the last year.
Please share if you find it worthwhile!
The work of modern organizations?
"The more one studies attempted solutions to problems in politics and economics, in art, philosophy, and religion, the more one has the impression of extremely gifted people wearing out their ingenuity at the impossible and futile task of trying to get the water of life into neat and permanent packages."
-Alan Watts, The Wisdom Of Insecurity
Three Powerful Quotes
Peter Attia offers three powerful quotes he continues to reflect on during a podcast with Sam Harris on the power of meditation:
“We suffer more in imagination than reality” Seneca
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking made it so” -Shakespeare
“Distraction is the only thing that consoles us from our miseries but it is itself the greatest of our miseries” Pascal
#5 Reads / Listens
1. Education, Work & Creativity: Great podcast from TED with Sir Ken Robinson. Here are some key quotes:
“One of the reasons why the arts, for example, tend to be pushed down the hierarchy...is because education is dominated by on one hand a conception of intelligence that is rooted in the university idea of academic work and secondly, our education systems are governed by some idea of utility about the subjects that will be most useful for getting a job.”
“Our lives are not linear. We don’t know how they’ll play out”
"The best evidence of human creativity is our own trajectory through life. We create our own lives. These powers of creativity manifested in all the ways human beings operate are I think at the very heart of what I think it is to be a human being. And we overlook them at our peril in our school systems. "
2. Work Beliefs: The Freakonomics podcasts asks "Is The Protestant Work Ethic Real?" - While the podcast focuses on some academic work, there is no doubt that the Protestant Work Ethic is a powerful idea that has shaped our beliefs on work. Highly recommend for the brief history of how it got started in the first place
3. Five #goodreads: Weekly Reads #100 (175+ things worth reading from 2018)
#6 Five Lessons On Carving A New Path
I have a rule that when three people challenge me to do something (with the exception being writing a book - too many people recommend this!) I do it. So here is a first video highlighting the five things I've found that people have in common when they take a leap to self-employment