Archive | June, 2011

by the tick tock

29 Jun

No one leaves at 5:00pm. You just don’t do that; leaving at 5 on the dot is like yelling “I didn’t do it!” to a cop as she approaches you. It reeks of fishiness.


So what do we do? We leave a minute or two after (“Smith isn’t hounding the watch. Marvelous!”) or much later (“Smith! what a worker!”). But what if things were more sincere in this world? Work would be work, no matter what time we quit it.


Some companies already do this, opting for a schedule-less work environment (ROWE), unlimited paid sick leave, unlimited vacations, and making all meetings optional. Best Buy, Netflix, and SEMCO, among others, are finally realizing that putting a clock around someone’s neck does not make that person a good worker. Instead, these companies let people manage themselves, independent of any timekeeping cage. What matters at the end of each day, quarter, and fiscal year is the work that gets done. Timesheets are a waste of time and autonomy.


Expecting someone to be something worth emulating because of how much time they put into their work would pretty much destroy our whole notion of efficiency. Yep, that ham sandwich took me 2 hours to make. I can teach you how, if you like. It worries me that leaving early is very often a sign of laziness and staying late is almost always praised and hurrahed.


This country is hard on people, as Cormac McCarthy once said, and the kicker is that we pride ourselves in that. We are not masochists, per se, but we love to sing about how much sleep we lost over XYZ project, or how stressful it is to work at OMG Co. Our pain is our badge of honor. Judging work by how much of our lives we give to it might just be another way of indulging the urge to prove we have battle scars.


Some work takes longer to finish than other. A 12-hour shift may not only be expected, but necessary. But when we use papa time to assess ourselves as workers, it takes away from the results themselves. The clock is only good for cooking and keeping appointments, not giving out grades at the end of the day. Work’s value is independent of when you log off Facebook.



turning cream into butter

23 Jun

Frank Abagnale Sr:Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse. (Catch Me If You Can)

The NY Public Library was set to be that first mouse. I mean, what’s more antiquated than a library!? They store physical matter made out of paper for people to borrow in person. Do you see how many confounding notions of today’s reality are bound up in that sentence? (Answer key: Store. Physical matter. Paper. Borrow. In person). It should become extinct, just like newspapers and CDs…right?


This great article points out how the NYPL is becoming that second mouse (apps, games, e-library and crouwdsourcing projects), churning cream into butter and the internet into an opportunity. Something is in the air in NYC, with all these supposed dinosaur mediums and institutions thriving in our digitized age.



the white tuxedo

21 Jun

A small beach town in northern Mexico is a dream vacation for many: sun, tacos, and chill. I was there, but as a native. My first encounters with the much storied young American male were over various Spring Breaks, and many-a beer bottles they hurdled into traffic. It was my life for nearly 18 years. Then, one day, I decided to ditch it for a lovely town 50 miles west of Chicago. Rosarito for Rockford. What a deal.


I got up one morning, surrounded by my family, friends, and authentic food, and woke up a few days later surrounded by a Hilander and a cineplex. In Rosarito life was just today; tomorrow would sorta make sense, maybe, not really. My friends there were great but also a bunch of downers. Their dreams mainly revolved around following their father’s footsteps into butchery, or striving for community college before ever even considering a 4-year just a few miles north. Rosarito was great…for them.


At 17 years old I decided to make it on my own: I got my own place, worked for the man, and paved my way through high school and then college. When people ask me the Whys of that move, I kinda don’t know anymore. All I know is that shying away from this would’ve haunted me forever.


Conan O’Brien may be many things (hilarious/incisive/somewhat obsessed with vulgar animals), but one thing he most definitely is not is a complainer. Not once have I heard him nag or whine over the middle finger NBC gave him. Not once have I heard him nag or whine over the unorthodox and rough path he took to get where he is now.  Some choice quotes:


“You parents must be patient because it is indeed a grim job market out there. And one of the reasons that it’s so tough finding work is that aging baby boomers refuse to leave their jobs…Trust me on this.”


“Nietzsche famously said ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”’ But what he failed to stress is that it almost kills you. Disappointment stings and, for driven, successful people like yourselves it is disorienting.”


“[L]ife and the choices I made have changed me in a thousand ways. None of it would have happened if I had rigidly kept my eyes on the prize and decided with great determination to follow my dream, because I didn’t have the slightest idea what my dream was when I was 18. It had to find me.”


My favorite might be his “white tuxedo” metaphor:


“[S]uccess is a lot like a bright, white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you’re desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it in any way. I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of The Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet, every failure was freeing, and today I’m as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good.”


(Plenty more of these here.)


My white tuxedo was comfort disguised as success. Staying in Rosarito, sipping margaritas on the beach, and working as the junior manager at the local licoreria could definitely be someone’s version of success. Not mine. I didn’t know what to expect when moving away from things I knew and loved, but I knew what to expect if I stayed. I would’ve had a great tuxedo, but stashed somewhere deep in the closet, away from the real world and its messiness. It would’ve been a waste of damn good cloth. Thankfully, I reminded myself dirt can come off, and tears can be repaired.



there's no wrong answer

9 Jun

What’s the point: the point of it, the point of this, the point of everything, the point of tomorrow…


This is a rabbit-hole question, and possibly one the heaviest ones. It takes a Herculean feat to solve it. It’s suffocating to have it hover over you as you live your days. When it shows up, it doesn’t leave for days, constantly reminding you of its pestering presence. Kinda like Urkel.


Do I ignore it, hoping it will find itself the door? Do I try to figure it out, knowing very well that I’ll soon grow tired of its pretentious “complexity,” like a hipster who drops “Kafka considered” much too often in a conversation.


Whatever I should do, I can’t completely dismiss it. It’s there for a reason. Anytime a What’s The Point comes up for me, it means something. However I answer it, even if it’s not much of an answer at all, says a lot about me as a thinking, sentient living being. I’d even venture on to say that the answer itself is pointless; what truly matters is the thought process.


Am I trying my best to answer the question, OR am I avoiding it and focusing on superficial pleasures instead?


Am I trying to decide which great thing I am meant to do, OR am I hoping for luck to strike me someday?


Do I include others in my purpose, OR do I think about making myself happier right now?


When it comes to framing our lives, psychologists put us in two buckets: fixed and growth.  The fixed mindset is when we think of our talents and capacities as fixed,  and obstacles in life as tests meant to measure them. The growth mindset is when we see intelligence, of all kind, as malleable, and each challenge we face as a chance to develop ourselves further. Our realities, past, present and future, are the same, but our framework can change them completely.


Nothing is worth anything until it meets our thinking.


Same goes with purpose. For a long time I was obsessed with figuring out my purpose with painstaking certainty, and sticking to it through my present work. Every choice of some significance had this grand question looming over it: I had a gameshow host waiting to punch the buzzer and escort me out. It was a hell sandwich and a half.


I eventually decided that this was for the birds. Whatever I chose to do, for however long I did it, could, if I let it, become its own purposeful and meaningful venture. If I saw things through a healthy lens, feeling confident that putting in the work would result in something great (letting something truly be anything), my journey would become more manageable–even kinda enjoyable. Focus on the present challenge and turn a lifelong trek into a string of sprints, skips, and jogs. And that’s where I am at now, thankfully.


I will go out on a limb and say that anybody mulling over this question (the question) is driven, self-aware, and intensely curious about life. Doing anything with that mindset guarantees its own riches. The kicker is being OK with letting go of the expectations you set for yourself based on incomplete information, and waiting and seeing what goodness you’ll eventually bump into. Here’s to a lifetime of good work.







now hear here

6 Jun

I just said something, therefore I matter. Even if it was the stupidest, most laughable string of words ever uttered, it doesn’t matter. I must be heard.


This is not a narcissistic thought at all–as a part-time (working on FTE) narcissist, I know. But being that one feller who articulates his thoughts (ugh! am I right?) can lead to friction in groups and at work. Anybody who has ever worked for anyone know the cardinal rule of being outspoken: you’re not only speaking, but gauging how comfortable the people around you are with potential conflict. (Awesome groups love conflict.  Stuffy groups hate it, and shut it down because it will lower morale/add work/lead us astray/other half-baked excuses.)


But the “I must be heard” thinking exists. Everyone has it. Everyone. Your mother, your father, your cousin, your janitor, even the dog wants to be heard. That’s why it barks. Even if you’re more of a listener than a talker, you only say things you want to be noticed. You picked the words and time to speak for a reason. Otherwise, you would’ve never tapped into your inner pundit. Any group that ignores this essential human need is fostering the worst kind of conflict: festering.


At a product company I worked for, the staff got to test the product for one week, and completely immerse ourselves in the role of the user. It was enlightening. We found weaknesses, greatness, epiphanies, and so many ways to take our product from good to amazing. Our debrief meeting was taken over by the enthusiasm of pushing our product to the highest! Cue Kenny Loggins!


And then we were shut down.


We spoke, but we weren’t heard. The decision-makers never said we weren’t heard, but we knew our words had been left floating in space, and they had decided to leave them there to die of exhaustion. They could’ve pretty much patted us on the head and said “Well, that’s nice.” Our next meeting was much solemn…and boring.


Not everyone needs to be a decision-maker. Not everyone wants to lead an army to battle, or design the newest nanogadget. Which is fine, because a room full of field marshals is an imminent disaster. Everyone, however, needs and wants to be heard and recognized.


I have an opinion and perspective that were created using my thousands of life experiences, my common sense, and my notion of right & wrong. I don’t need you to say “yes” to everything I say, but as a reasonable person, all I need is a nod. A genuine one, dammit.


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