Forever a Student

My 42nd birthday is approaching quickly. That’s 4+ decades of behaviors, instincts, ways of dealing with things that come up. For some things it takes four decades, for other things you learn real quick. For me, wisdom is one of those long journeys of understanding.

Wisdom doesn’t show up one day in the mail, easily openable and ready to use. Wisdom often comes to us through the things that interfere with our comfort – be it an untamed, untethered idea, the person who drives us bananas, or a sunset begging us to stop our productive rush, rush and just watch it.

Another way I like to approach it is in the moment I’m about to dismiss someone or something, I instead think: So you are my teacher today. What am I being asked to learn from you?

From ‘THE WISDOM OF THE THINGS WE DISMISS‘ by Caitie Whelan

My four year old MacBook Air was acting up recently. I got that spinning beachball while I was in the middle of some important work (so important I can’t remember what it was). I caught myself wanting to launch into the response that I’ve seemingly been programmed with since I was a young boy, even before we had personal computers.

A feeling of hopelessness, “why me?” This computer problem, in this split second, was bullshit. The worst thing ever. Not fair.

That happened in a second, and in the next second I flipped the script. I made myself laugh. I celebrated like I just scored my dream job, or a unexpected check showed up in the mail. I raised my arms, smiled, dug deep and laughed in the face of my “world ending” computer problems.

Yeah, weeks later my laptop is fine, the work got done, and no one died.

That day the spinning beach ball wasn’t my enemy, ruthlessly mocking me. It was my teacher, and I was the student.

Valuable to Whom?

Erin Bartram’s post, ‘The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind‘ hit me square between my vision orbs.

“But your work is so valuable,” people say.  “It would be a shame not to find a way to publish it.”

Valuable to whom? To whom would the value of my labor accrue? And not to be too petty, but if it were so valuable, then why wouldn’t anyone pay me a stable living wage to do it?”

If it’s so valuable (or, “if I’m so smart”) then why can’t I pay rent with the knowledge/ wisdom/experience? If I had a week’s salary every time I asked this question after failing to land yet another job, well, I’d be pretty well off.

For each automated rejection email in my inbox, or every time I don’t even get an interview, or I’m told “oh, we’re not hiring for that position anymore” (after being told the company wants to fly me to their office for a few days), well… I just double down on my personal projects (like Skull Toaster) and go for a run.

Reclaiming My Time From Twitter

At some point, I pulled out my phone and checked Twitter whenever there was a down moment. Standing in line, in a waiting room, while shopping, during dinner, on and on.

NOTE: Yes, post title a nod to Representative Maxine Waters

Then the need for checking social media was several times an hour, no matter what. It wasn’t just about boredom, it was about “keeping up.” Keep up with the news, with conversations from an hour ago, keeping up with… everything!

But what happens when you stop? As Seth Clifford wrote in 2016 (which seems like a decade ago):

“Simply put, I took the time I was spending on mindlessly scrolling through floods of information that was unrelated to most of what I wanted to know about and applied it elsewhere. I’ve been reading a ton, chewing through books. Life’s been pretty busy, and I’ve been working a lot. And getting back to things like making the time to play guitar even just for a few minutes a day to relax and stay sharp, which I’d really been neglecting.”

Imagine the combined hours in a week we spend on social media, and if we used that time to read an actual book? Or practice an instrument? Or call a friend?

That’s not to say that social media is evil. It’s not black and white, on or off. Learning about a social injustice is great, but then following that injustice until 3 am, watching every clip, reading every post, and arguing with “people” with five followers is not a good use of time.

Reading books, calling representatives, donating to a cause – those are good things.

Again, it’s not either / or, but a healthy mix of both.

Already Doing the Work

No one hired Fred Armisen or Carrie Brownstein to do ‘Portlandia,’ but the momentum of what they were doing led to eight seasons. Watch this video: http://new.livestream.com/92Y/Portlandia

Fred and Carrie became friends in 2003 and started doing a video series called ‘Thunder Ant’ in 2005. Yes, they had some connections between the two of them, but ‘Portlandia’ didn’t air on TV until 2011.

(Also of note: neither had those connections from just sitting on their asses.)

Fred and Carrie didn’t wait for someone to pick them to make a funny show. They picked themselves.

Fred and Carrie did this for four years before the idea was even brought to IFC. By that time they had an audience, they had characters; they were already doing the work.

Already doing the work.

As Frank Chimero is quoted in this blog post (in 2011):”Daft Punk got to record the Tron soundtrack because they’d already recorded the Tron soundtrack.” How true is that?

My friend Tom Mullen started Washed Up Emo in 2007, writing about his love for bands like Jimmy Eat World, Cap’n Jazz, Mineral and more. In 2011 he started a podcast (over 100 episodes since). And a DJ night. And he wrote a book called ‘Anthology of Emo‘ and it’s amazing.

What work are you doing, without a creative director, a producer, a boss, or a client?

What projects have you started? What are you teaching yourself on your own? What audience are you already leading by just doing what you do every day?