We’re all responsible for the awesome

I recently read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist. Among other things, it offers a manifesto and advice for creative types. The big message is get off your ass and make stuff.

You Will Need checklist from Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist

I liked this list, because I think it applies equally well to starting a new job. Which I am. A few weeks ago I joined Blackbaud, in a new role on the Products Ops team — Innovation Catalyst. As one of my friends put it, “so you make awesome?”

After laughing, I corrected her: no, I will help other people make awesome :) When you think about it, that is really the job we should all have, to help make awesome. Awesome products and experiences for customers, awesome places to work with each other, with an awesome sense of purpose that helps us get out of bed in the morning.

A few weeks after I started my last job (back in September 2005) I wrote a post that for years was a top Google result for smartass people, and as of this writing, is still the first hit for anyone looking for smartass people at work. (It isn’t what it sounds like, except of course saying that kinda means it is.) I am surprised that old post still shows up so highly, it isn’t as if there is a shortage of smartass bloggers, even in this new school twitter/facebook/pinterest no one blogs anymore age.

I like the idea that now I’ll come up when people search for “responsible for the awesome” because seven years later I’m less snarky, and possibly a bit less of a smartass.

I have mail, maybe

should I check email?
I took it as a good sign when a friend said to me the big change she noticed when I left my job was I that it took me longer to respond to email. 

This new behavior wasn’t automatic on my part: I was checking for email on my phone when I realized my behavior was absurd. I mean, I didn’t have a forcing function (such as a job) so why was I bothering with any frequency to check my email? 

Habit. There is power in routine. Having set defaults to get to bed on time, or drink enough water, or sit and meditate help me to accomplish these things on a daily basis. The rote email checking, just like my tendency to always say yes to dessert, is a bad habit. 

So I should probably change my default. I suppose this is where mindfulness comes in, improving my ability to make the distinction between useful and necessary activity and vague feelings of responsibility to be doing something. Too often, I think checking email offers the illusion of paying attention in a meaningful way.

Starting a new job is a good time to reset defaults. I would love to claim credit for this idea all on my own, but the truth is I got locked out of my new work email account. Which should not bother me in the slightest over the weekend. That’s absurd.

“We do not deal with one another as soul to soul”

From Marilynne Robinson’s Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred:

Simultaneously, and in a time of supposed religious revival, and among those especially inclined to feel religiously revived, we have a society increasingly defined by economics, and an economics increasingly reminiscent of my experience with that rat, so-called rational-choice economics, which assumes that we will all find the shortest way to the reward, and that this is basically what we should ask of ourselves and — this is at the center of it all — of one another. After all these years of rational choice, brother rat might like to take a look at the packaging just to see if there might be a little melamine in the inducements he was being offered, hoping, of course, that the vendor considered it rational to provide that kind of information. We do not deal with one another as soul to soul, and the churches are as answerable for this as anyone.

Two questions I can’t really answer about fiction are (1) where it comes from, and (2) why we need it. But that we do create it and also crave it is beyond dispute. There is a tendency, considered highly rational, to reason from a narrow set of interests, say survival and procreation, which are supposed to govern our lives, and then to treat everything that does not fit this model as anomalous clutter, extraneous to what we are and probably best done without. But all we really know about what we are is what we do. There is a tendency to fit a tight and awkward carapace of definition over humankind, and to try to trim the living creature to fit the dead shell.

Apparently this is an excerpt from her newest book, When I Was a Child I Read Books, which I’ll admit I’d be interested in just from the title, and am now interested in for so much more.

“real life is only one kind of life”

Are my stories true, you ask? No, they are imaginary tales, containing fantastic characters and events. In real life, a family doesn’t have a child who looks like a mouse; in real life, a spider doesn’t spin words in her web. In real life, a swan doesn’t blow a trumpet. But real life is only one kind of life — there is also the life of the imagination. And although my stories are imaginary, I like to think that there is some truth in them, too — truth about the way people and animals feel and think and act.

— E.B. White, in a letter to his young readers
[via Heading East]