Mysteries surround so much in the workplace. One of these is why certain people get promoted and others don’t. Why are certain people chosen for certain projects while others are not? I have some insight about this. There’s this thing that I call “the meeting after the meeting.” If you weren’t there, you’d have no way to know about it.
There’s also always a “meeting before the meeting,” and you only know about that if you’re on the setup crew.
The meeting before the meeting, and the meeting after the meeting, may or may not have some overlap.
The first and most important factor for both of these meta-meetings is that the people involved are available at the key time. This may be because it’s their main priority, it may be because they’re merely interested enough, or it may be because of total coincidence.
Any person who is cross-scheduled or too busy to come early/stay late is going to miss out, most likely through no fault of their own.
I started to become aware of these meta-meetings when I was a young office assistant. As the person tasked with setting up tables and chairs, laying out handouts, making coffee, bringing in trays of breakfast pastries, and setting up catered lunches, I saw a lot.
I saw that some people come to meetings early to stake out a favorite seat, review their notes, hide out, take calls, or set up presentations.
I saw that other people hung around after the meeting because they couldn’t stop talking about a project or because it was their only chance to compare notes during a busy day.
I had a broad awareness of who worked on which projects, because almost everyone on staff relied on me to help at various stages. I copy-edited and rewrote sections of technical documents. I collated giant stacks of binders. I ran packages up and downstairs, working to beat the clock before FedEx and UPS stopped by each afternoon. I took notes, interrupted meetings with phone message slips, and summoned people from their cubicles. I was everywhere.
In many ways, I was also the resident bartender. People of every rank from every department would lay out their burdens of resentment, frustration, and wishes on my non-threatening underling shoulders.
When you routinely bail people out on tight deadlines and do their scutwork, they either mistreat you or adore you. It takes about ten seconds to figure out who is in which group. The mean people never understand why the kind people get extra attention, or why their projects somehow wind up farther up the queue. (This also works at coffee shops, by the way).
Years have gone by, and now I see side meetings from a different perspective.
Inside groups are created because the people who always meet before the meeting have accumulated many extra hours together. They have more time to get to know each other. They have a longer track record of working together on mutually desirable goals. They have deeper trust and they feel more collegial. They share values along the lines of punctuality, organization, preparedness, and other qualities related to work ethic.
The rest of us probably share values related to other, competing projects; obedience to a taskmaster; or anything else unrelated to what the people who meet before the meeting are doing.
There is another inside group of people who meet after the meeting. Sometimes this group is created in reaction to the group that meets before the meeting. It can be like a rebel alliance. The post-meeting group lines up due to enthusiasm, but sometimes also to pushback against a new program. What are we going to do about this??
Sometimes the meeting after the meeting comes from ideation. Someone comes up with an appealing idea, someone else is on the same wavelength, and they can’t stop themselves from chattering about it. Others are drawn in by curiosity.
If there’s anything that should be encouraged and supported in any organization, it’s the spontaneous ideation meeting.
Unfortunately, the majority of people in the corporate world are not strong in ideation, and these are the people who tend to move into management. They regard spontaneous ideation meetings with suspicion, even disgust. Knock it off, you slackers. It’s been forty-five seconds and you should be back at your desks, grinding on predictable tasks in isolation.
There’s also something here about nominal authority versus earned authority. The true leader of a group, the thought leader, is probably a natural change agent. This is why this unrecognized and uncrowned leader is so threatening to the established order. This is also why this person draws the instinctual loyalty of anyone who cares about the organization and major projects.
What people want at work is to feel like their contribution matters in some way. They like hearing what happened as a result of their paper-pushing and grinding away at their task lists. They want to know that if they answered someone’s call or email, that response helped the other person to get something important accomplished. They want to know that the right things are getting done.
Weirdly, people are often out of the loop on this cost-free, simple and easy type of communication.
Tell people why they’re doing what they’re doing. It got made, it got pitched, it got bought, the company made money, the test worked, the prototype is up and running. Thanks, everyone, great job. Is that so hard?
A lot of what happens at the meeting after the meeting is communication that should properly have come from official channels. A lot of it is planning for projects that also deserves respect and recognition from higher-ups. Meeting after the meeting is a sign of a need for time, resources, and even an available conference room. If people are standing in the hallway or the parking lot, chattering away about company business, it’s either a very good sign, or it’s not.
What are people talking about in the meeting after the meeting? Stick around and you might find out.
Make Anything Happen. Isn’t that the best name for a book? Carrie Lindsey has made the perfect introduction to vision boards. It’s so approachable and attractive that it’s inspiring even to people like me who are not visual artists.
Vision boards are more than just a fun craft. First comes the vision, and that includes goal-setting. One of the strengths of Make Anything Happen is the clarity it brings to choosing goals, planning, and scheduling. My own annual goal-setting process takes a month and results in something like a six-page document. Carrie Lindsey’s approach is so simple, yet exuberant in comparison!
This is as much of a lifestyle book as it is an art book. It’s very personal and approachable, and gives the sense of how Lindsey fits her home-based business into her buzzing family life. She has advice for everything from how to deal with distraction and feeling stuck, to how to work around kids and their chaos. Note: don’t fold your kids’ socks for them when you could be making art!
Make Anything Happen includes some well-designed planner pages, like Goal Trackers and Vision Board templates. It teaches how to make art journals with multiple vision boards. There are plenty of examples for inspiration. I’ve already made my first vision board. Let’s imagine lots more!
“Whenever I don’t know where to start, I start with cleaning my desk.”
“...there’s nothing magic about hard work.”
This is not a drill. I finally figured out how to speed-read OverDrive e-books! February 16, 2019 will remain one of the greatest days of my life, the day I got my heart’s desire. I’ve been trying to learn to read faster since I was seven years old, and now I can, and I’ll never ask for anything else as long as I live. Well, except for more pants with pockets.
Oh, and one other thing: an e-reader that continuously auto-scrolls like the old app I had on my Palm 3 PDA.
This is my position. I support DRM to the extent that people shouldn’t rip off copyrighted material. Artists deserve to get paid. I’ll never understand why people are willing to take material from their favorite musicians or authors, refusing them just compensation. On the other hand, if I’m reading a book for my own personal use, I should be able to read it in whatever format I like.
Purple type on a fuchsia background, or vice versa
Whatever I like! If I want to buy a paperback and read it upside-down, nobody will stop me. Why would they? If I want to design an app that allows me to read upside-down, and I have to strip the DRM to do it because none of the apps on the market have this feature, then I’m a criminal?
Anyway. I’ve figured out this secret and I’m going to use it until someone stops me.
I’ve loved Outread for years now, and I got a second gift when I figured out how to speed-read books. I suddenly realized that the top speed in Outread has increased to 1500 words per minute! It was 1000 when I first downloaded it. I was able to build my speed from about 700 to the full 1000, and all this time I thought I had maxed it out. Will I ever be able to read faster with full comprehension? No idea, but it’s nice to know the option is available.
Next question: Is there a way to do this on anything other than an iPhone or iPad?
Answer: I don’t know, but you’re welcome to research this on whatever device you have.
Next question: Does this technique work with e-books in other apps?
Answer: It could, with considerably more effort. I tried with both iBooks and Kindle, and while I was able to highlight and drag to copy text, I wasn’t able to Select All for a whole chapter. If I were hellbent on doing this sort of thing with a Kindle book, I would play an audiobook while mindlessly highlighting and copying a bunch of chapters into Outread. I suspect it would take at least an hour per book.
Next, next question: Would this work with scanned pages, like from Google Books?
Answer: Not sure. I haven’t yet found an app that will do OCR and then turn it into text that I can copy and paste. Curiosity is compelling me to poke around, though, and I’ll certainly try.
People are justifiably skeptical about speed-reading. It’s basically a party trick, like memorizing long strings of numbers or playing cards in a series. Neat, but why would you want to?
I speed-read for personal use, because I want to and it’s a free country. Possibly I’m a mutant. I also listen to audiobooks on 2x, sometimes higher if I feel like the narrator is slow enough to make it worth digging out my old laptop. People do weirder things in private, at least I suspect they do. I also talk to myself and laugh at my own jokes, so heckle away.
There are limits to speed-reading, though. I speed-read news if it’s entirely text, but it doesn’t work if the story is based around charts, graphs, or strings of numbers. I have to pause if there is a lot of specialized terminology, like engineering jargon or Latinate scientific names. I might skim an article on something that’s only of tangential interest to me (coffee or parenting or dating, for instance), but I’ll speed-read something if I really want to read the whole thing. I do read at normal speed if I’m there for the authorial voice.
This is how I will probably break it down:
Normal speed for horror, high speed for suspense
Normal speed for literary fiction, high speed for pop fiction
Normal speed for self-help, high speed for business books
Normal speed for memoir, high speed for how-to manuals
Readers tend to be traditionalists. Book sniffers, the lot of you! Oh, I’ll never let go of my... I’ll never use an e-book... Audiobooks don’t count... *shrug* whatevs. You do it your way, I’ll do it mine. I do sometimes savor a book the slow way. I don’t feel that every book performs at that level, though, and probably 90% don’t. That doesn’t mean I’m going to read fewer books!
Sometimes I feel that the audio recording is richer and more nuanced than the text, especially if the author is narrating, and that the print readers are missing a layer of intent. Likewise, sometimes the e-book is better designed, making it easier to refer to footnotes or references in other chapters. About speed-reading, it’s possible that some authors would be delighted by this, especially for thrillers and suspense. Ultimately I think they all prefer that their books are read and enjoyed.
Is speed-reading somehow worse than buying stacks of books off the remainder table and stuffing them into a bookcase, displayed but unread? I think not.
All right, now I’ve shared my secret. I’m off to speed-read my next book.
I had a bad night. There are always at least three things going on during heavy training: the physical battle, the mental battle, and the emotional battle. Sometimes there’s also some social conflict thrown in just for fun. On this night, I had a mix of all of these.
It goes something like this. You want to train, but you’re out of condition and training makes you sore, tired, sweaty, and uncomfortable. That’s the physical battle. You aren’t convinced that this activity is a good use of your time, money, or resources. That’s the mental battle. You feel like other people are judging you, that your body is your enemy, and that you’ll never get the results of those awesome people over there. That’s the emotional battle. Then maybe you have a naysayer who keeps trying to get you to quit, and that’s the social battle.
That’s not me, by the way. Well, the physical part is, but that’s honestly part of why I train in the first place. I don’t do anything at all unless I’m convinced that it’s a good use of my time. I couldn’t possibly care less if other people are judging my physical appearance, and I’m not particularly competitive. Naysayers just make me double down on my commitment, because their presence means I’m onto something. I recognize the mainstream battles around fitness. That helps me to shrug them off.
No, I have to go out and dig up my own special fitness issues.
I’m studying Krav Maga, a non-joke sport that is officially not for sissies. Mentally I am convinced that Krav is the best and most effective martial art and that I’m training at the best school in the region. I believe that the combination of bodyweight, impact, and HIIT exercises is the optimum and that it is more time-efficient than other workouts. I also have all the grit and persistence in the world.
Keep telling myself that.
My mental block is that I am usually the weak link in class - slowest on the uptake, slowest in speed, physically weakest, lowest stamina - and that it holds others back. I keep coming back to the idea that I should put my membership on hold for a few months and come back after I put on a few more pounds of muscle. It’s when my head isn’t completely in the game that I start having more emotional issues. When I’m 100% convinced of something, then nothing but nothing can stop me.
Finally, tonight, after a couple of hours of processing, I realized that this mindset problem is emotionally driven, and it’s compounded by my overall physicality.
Everyone has the occasional difficult moment. They come in flavors. Some people default to anger and “why do these idiots always.” Others default to depressive “this is pointless, why bother.” For some it’s the self-hating “ugly stupid.” Mine runs to helplessness, specifically feeling physically powerless.
My demons: night terrors, being susceptible to the common cold, this fainting issue I had in my mid-twenties, fear of Alzheimer’s disease, and, apparently, being pinned to the floor.
Objectively, plenty of people have far worse issues. I feel dumb even thinking about mine.
Thinking about it, it’s weird that I have no problems with certain things when I do with others. For instance, I’m not afraid of snakes, the IRS, public speaking, or being seen naked. In fact, I wouldn’t even be all that bothered by speaking nude at the IRS in front of some snakes.
What I’ve learned from martial arts is that I’m not particularly troubled by wrestling or being thrown to the ground. I’m relatively unphased by choke holds, being lifted off my feet, or being attacked with my eyes closed. I can shake off being hit in the mouth, nose, or eye and keep going. I’ve been throat-tagged and continued on without a pause. I’ve had small cuts that bled and had to get a bandage (DON’T BLEED ON THE MAT) and gotten right back to it. Hands taped together? Yay, cool. Pinned under a blanket? Okay, got it. Bag over the head? Not my favorite but hey, I’m here to train. Gun disarms, knife fighting? Bring it on!
I have two problems.
Okay, now how dumb is that? Ooh, yelling, help me officer. Out of all the dumb things to set someone off... At least the other one is more obvious and realistic.
It was processing my issues with being pinned that helped me finally understand why this is a demon-level emotional block in my world. It’s that “physically helpless” feeling. Like any emotional block, it’s a package deal. Another person’s self-loathing might lead to a variety of self-sabotaging behaviors, while someone else’s contempt and rage might lead to an entirely different type of self-limiting issues. Mine is this emotional trigger that I am somehow powerless.
It’s worth looking at where else I do and don’t feel powerless, or rather, where I do feel powerful and how I can bring that into the mat room. Powerful: bureaucratic red tape, foreign languages and writing systems, wilderness survival, panel interviews. Powerless: navigation, math.
I’m good at lots of things! I’m good at learning! I’m good at talking myself back into commitments!
Keep telling myself that.
Now that I’ve found my demons and given them names, I can deal with them. I can come up with some strategies to take their power away. It’s my life and my body and I can make choices that make me stronger.
Quitting, what would that do? Because certainly I have felt like quitting. The thought has crossed my mind so many times: “you don’t belong here, nobody wants to be your partner, nobody will judge you if you switch to CrossFit.” Those are emotion-driven and temporary distractions, irrelevant to my aims. 1. Be a quitter for life. 2. Lose all the many benefits of this training. 3. What, sit in a chair? Just start quitting things and become boring?
I have another emotional demon hidden in there, the “nobody wants you here anyway, nobody likes you” demon that is a remnant of childhood bullying. When I’m pinned and I can’t get out and the instructor starts shouting advice at me, this puny feeling starts up this story. “Nobody is coming, nobody will help you, nobody is on your side, nobody is looking out for you, friendless and alone.” Really that’s pretty solid evidence that studying Krav Maga is a terrific and practical plan!
Another person would ball up all that energy of being picked on, tricked, set up, and bullied and use that to fuel an intense and sacred flame of righteous fury. I mean, that’s one way. Some natural and biologically based reactions to being pinned would be aggression, an adrenalin surge, tenacity, and territorial instinct. GET OFF ME. My feeling of helplessness is contrary to survival; it’s not innate, it was learned - and that means it can be unlearned.
I know exactly what I need to do, and the insight came as I was lathering my poor bruised shoulders with gardenia-scented soap, proof that I am fine and I do have control over my world. I need to build upper-body strength. I need to keep training. I need to visualize the specific circumstance of being pinned every time I go to my gym, and use it to fuel a strong sense of AW HAIL NO.
I also need to tell the instructor that yelling triggers me, so she’ll yell at me more.
The whole point of this training is, like everything, to enter the arena and fight the fight. Life is an endless rain of trouble and strife that will never stop. Quitting won’t make it stop. Nothing will make it stop. Might as well figure out a way to carry on, or maybe even prevail. If there are demons to be wrassled, at least I’m going to hit one with a chair before I tap out.
If you call it a to-do list, you might be doing it wrong.
Might be working on the wrong stuff
For the wrong reasons
At the wrong times
For the wrong people.
This is something I’ve been wrestling with lately. My task list has grown lately to the point that I’m exploding out of a textbook-sized day planner with pages for twenty distinct projects. Unlike my pants, it even has pockets.
These are the problems of the multipotentialite. Everything sounds good and everything seems possible. It IS, it is, just maybe not all at the exact same minute.
Darn you anyway, Time Dimension.
I’m working on a particular project, something big. It’s the kind of thing that takes six months to plan. I’m doing it because it fits into a larger plan that is really important to me. I’m doing it because the skills involved are directly relevant to my interests. I’m doing it because it gives me the chance to work with a good friend. I’m doing it because that friend really needs my help and I want to be reliable for her.
Other than that, everything about it is driving me up the wall. The WHY is perfectly in place, the HOW is a continual stream of hassles and frustrations.
Meanwhile, I have another set of potentially extremely interesting projects that I really want to do instead.
Just like the frustrating project, these interesting projects involve a lot of steps that are the kind of task I don’t like.
Focusing on only one thing at a time!
Reading complicated instructions in fine print!
Filling out applications!
Putting dates in a calendar!
Choosing photographs of myself! *ugh*
Why can’t there be a super-interesting, super high-value project that involves me sleeping late, reading in the bathtub, and eating cookies?
What I’ve found out so far about GETTING WHAT I WANT is that it almost always involves my three least-favorite things:
Travel. Foot races. Trainings. Workshops. Hikes. Even a panel interview I did recently - yep, Saturday.
Why isn’t there more worthwhile stuff to do late in the afternoon??
Poor me, highly ambitious person, born into the body of a night owl. (Note: owls do not usually wear shoes) (Also note, not one minute after I wrote this, a child walked into my cafe wearing an OWL HAT and RAIN BOOTS)
I’m doing what I can to cope with all of this. Not the owl hat, the burgeoning project list. Try to stay focused.
The first thing is to always subvert the project in some way. That means I look at the desired results and ask, is what I’m being asked to do really the smartest way to achieve these results?
Surprisingly often, it isn’t! Perhaps more surprising, my ideas for ways that I’d prefer to do these things, my ways are often accepted or regarded as an upgrade. The trick to getting this across is first to explain that you want the same thing as everyone else, the highly valued end result. Also compliment specific things that are going well and thank everyone for hearing you out.
Each instance in which you save other people time, money, or resources is an opportunity to build a reputation as a solver of problems and an idea-generating machine. (Problem: then they bring you more of their problems to solve).
The second thing is that if you can’t subvert the project in tangible ways, you can still do it privately.
There might be a requirement to do certain things or take certain steps toward your desired end result, things that you have no interest in doing. There is not, however, a requirement that you refer to them as ‘tasks’ or ‘chores’ or ‘to-do’s’ or ‘honey-do’s’ or what-have-you. You can call them whatever you want.
You can also abandon ship and abdicate on the project, if you really hate it that much.
As an example, I simply would not do something if it “required” me to wear high heels, cancel my travel plans for my wedding anniversary, work in a room with cigar smoke, or probably a bunch of other things. Nope nope, that’s a big nope.
What I’ve been doing lately is to shift more and more of my focus to the desired end results, while I try to forget that I am often doing annoying things early in the morning when I’d rather be sleeping.
This is why I call my “to-do list”:
JUICY PROJECT OPTIONS!
There’s something that I do that most people don’t, and that is to remind myself that I have control over how I spend my time. It’s my choice whether to work on something or not. I didn’t feel that way when I worked at a convenience store, but I did start to feel that way as a young office temp. I was broke as could be, I didn’t have two nickels until I was thirty, but I always felt that I had the power to walk away from a truly cruddy job or a bad boss.
I often did!
I figured, if I was going to be broke one way or another, at least I could choose the job with the least-bad boss and the least-worst commute. So I did.
It’s my sense of power, control, and high agency that has brought me forward, onward and upward.
One of the saddest things in the world is untapped human potential. It’s deeply sad when someone with massive gifts feels trapped, forced into a power struggle with a bad boss for low pay. Sometimes, of course, that is literally true - modern slavery is one of the all-time biggest targets for people with great gifts to tackle, should anyone be looking for a worthy project. Mostly, though, we are dragged down by the power struggle, to the point that we utterly forget about our ability to imagine something better into being.
This is why it is so vital that we reimagine what we are doing. This is why we need more... JUICY PROJECT OPTIONS.
Our electric bill was $292.77. I don’t mean that was our bill for a month, a cold and rainy winter month. I mean that was our cumulative electric bill over twelve months. It averages out to $24.40 per month. I’ve included the amounts at the bottom of the post for reference.
Why is our power bill so low?
Some of it depends, no doubt, on our region and the fact that we signed up for an alternative energy provider. We live at the beach in Southern California, where the temperature is the same most of the year.
Mostly, though, it’s because we live in a tiny home and we don’t do much that draws power.
We live in a 612-square-foot studio apartment. It has one external door and a standard sliding glass door in the same wall.
This apartment isn’t great in terms of energy efficiency. If you stand next to the slider on cold nights, you can feel the temperature drop close to the glass.
On the other hand, we have only five light fixtures: two in the kitchen, two in the bathroom, and one in the closet. Usually only two of them are turned on.
We have one refrigerator and no chest freezer.
We do not have a washer or dryer. We have to take our clothes to the laundry room in another building.
We almost never watch TV. If we do, it’s generally a single episode of a 30- or 60-minute show.
We also rarely have a desktop computer turned on.
Our main power draws are charging our phones and my tablet, using the microwave and a countertop dishwasher, running an air filter, and charging the Roomba. I also use a flat iron and sometimes a hair dryer. I play the radio for my parrot during the day if we’re not home.
For most people, their biggest power draw is heating and air conditioning. We don’t have an air conditioner, or anywhere to install one. It’s fair to say that our power bill would be higher if we lived in a different climate, and it’s also fair to say that we moved here on purpose. We were willing to drastically downsize and we now live in a quarter of the space that we had when we first got married. A QUARTER!
Our entire studio apartment is approximately the size of the master bedroom in our old place. Or the garage. In fact I think it’s a little smaller than our first, double car garage.
We’re able to live in a space this small because we got rid of almost everything we owned. I’m sure it’s more than 80%.
A workbench, power tools, the lawnmower, the ladder, virtually everything that we used to store in the garage - gone.
Almost all our appliances, a couch and chairs and two dining tables - gone.
Almost all our books and three bookshelves - gone.
Look, we don’t miss it. A lot of that stuff was inexpensive, worn out, or carried over from our respective first marriages. When we eventually move back into a slightly larger place, we can afford to upgrade with all the money we’ve saved.
We spent some time visualizing and crunching numbers, and we downsized gradually over five moves, but we did it with strong intention. It’s no accident that our power bill is so low. In fact, it’s part of an overall plan and a concerted effort.
We saved 48% of our net income in 2018.
We did it by living in a tiny space, not owning a car, and prioritizing retirement savings over everything else.
While saving that much of our income, we also went on vacation three times. That’s part of WHY we live so cheaply, because we’d rather spend money splurging on vacation than by dribbling it away on things like a higher monthly electric bill, cable television, or snack foods.
Here are some ways we keep our electric bill low, other than simply living in a tiny little apartment:
We use lap blankets when it’s cold. Feels snuggly rather than the futile effort to turn up the heat in the room.
We use a heated mattress pad. Also feels very cozy and is more effective than heating the air in the room.
We wear socks inside, and I go so far as to wear a sweater, sometimes two. I’m one of those people who never feels warm enough, and I’d rather bundle up than, again, blast the heater.
We strategically open and close the sliding glass door in summer, planning when to let in cooler air or shut out hotter air. We’re also strategic about where to put the fan. (Helps to have an engineer around sometimes!).
A few weeks a year, it feels either intolerably hot or annoyingly cold here. We remind ourselves that it’s temporary and it’s worth it to be a little sweaty or grab an extra blanket. The alternative would be to move to a place that actually has air conditioning or more than a one-foot-square wall heater. We could do that, but right now we’d rather save money.
Save money and lots of it!
Other couples fight about money. We sit around talking smugly about our high savings rate. During times when we’re taking the bus rather than driving, or wrapping ourselves in blankets because our apartment is cold, we’re bonding through shared adversity. It’s easier for us to make strategic decisions about our cash flow because we’ve shown that we’re both willing to make sacrifices for our mutual benefit.
It’s even easier when we use the money we would have spent on heating a standard suburban ranch house to go on vacation instead.
If you’re curious about our electricity provider, here’s a referral link: https://www.arcadiapower.com/jessica9228
And yes, if you use this referral link, I personally benefit from it.
January 22, 2019 $33.44
December 24, 2018 $30.60
November 20, 2018 $15.72
October 17, 2018 $5.00
September 18, 2018 $23.48
August 20, 2018 $24.76
July 23, 2018 $25.08
June 20, 2018 $25.51
May 21, 2018 $17.51
April 24, 2018 $5.00
March 26, 2018 $41.01
$6.71 (split billing because we moved to another unit in the same complex)
February 20, 2018 $38.95
An Audience of One is a very intriguing book about the artistic process. Srinivas Rao clearly dwells in the other realms. There are plenty of inspirational books in the world on creativity. This one speaks with assurance on the untapped wellspring.
For those of us who do a lot of public-facing work, there can be a tendency to develop a sense of obligation and turn our output into a chore. Rao says this focus on external outcomes (such as profit) can make the work boring. We return to our involvement in the process when we let go of attempting to control the outcome. One way of doing this is to make something purely for ourselves, to remember why we first fell in love with this particular form.
A focus of An Audience of One is on people who do something creative only for themselves. No readers, no viewers, no customers, no followers or commenters, imagine! These examples of devoted creatives have a way of elevating more activities to the level of “art.” Maybe a home cook is more talented than a professional chef; how would anyone know?
On the one hand, this perspective should give courage to novices. Art is good for you! What you do matters! It’s fine to do it for yourself and nobody else! Rao cites something a lot of readers will want to know more about, which is Mindfulness Based Art Therapy. Apparently making art has measurable, positive health effects on everything from heart rate and blood pressure to cortisol levels and bodily pain.
On the other hand, the perspective that we should make our own art for ourselves alone, that’s a potent idea. What if we took it all the way? What if we really made every single last thing that’s been swimming in our fountains? What if we never held back, what if it all came out and kept coming out? What if we? Swam out full fathom?
These are the parts of An Audience of One that compelled me the most. Rituals, power questions, activation energy. Identifying and eliminating your tolerations. Dream work. Setting intentions before sleep. Wow! Some of these chapters maybe could be full-length books in their own right.
I loved An Audience of One. It pushed my barriers and made me feel that I can and should be doing more with my work. It reminded me that there is more potential in my craft and my process. Rao mentions having three books that you refer to at least once a month, and this may become one of mine.
When we focus on end results, we essentially defeat one of the main benefits of creative work: to derive joy from the work itself.
The work itself defeats resistance.
It’s rare for anybody to proudly state that they did “nothing.”
He used to tease me. “You should marry a rich guy like me; that would solve all your problems.”
“Marriage CAUSED all my problems,” I retorted. I meant it, too.
(I also knew he wasn’t rich. That was part of the joke).
Why would I ever want to get married again? I was free! Free to sleep in the middle of the bed! Free from listening to someone else snore all night! Free to sleep in knee socks or a stocking cap or pink footie pajamas.
I was free! Free to see whatever movie I wanted, sit anywhere in the theater, even my favorite seat in the very front row. I was free to wear whatever color or whatever perfume I wanted, cut my hair however I fancied, choose whatever I wanted for dinner.
I was free! I didn’t have to ride herd on anyone, try to convince anyone else to go to the dentist, wear proper trousers to their boss’s wedding, or not quit their job to work for a startup in their friend’s basement.
Free bird, free from criticism or nagging or badgering. Free from expectations. Free from the double bind of either tolerating a bad roommate’s bad habits or cleaning up after them myself.
Free from the liabilities, the debts, the nasty secrets and surprises that come out when one person’s dark side meets another’s.
Why on Earth would I ever want to get married again?
Contrarians attract. He went on making the same joke from time to time.
“You should go out... blah blah blah... guy like me blah blah blah.”
“You should BE so lucky,” I scoffed.
“You should be so lucky, to have a girlfriend like me.”
I meant it, too. I knew how great it was to live alone. I also knew what a great girlfriend I was on general principle. Almost everyone I ever dated dropped hints about marrying me at some point. I was thirty and I knew full well how much I brought to the table.
Objectively I was a catch. No kids, no cats, great credit, I made my own money, planned my own retirement, followed a budget, and kept a clean house.
More to the point, I was at home with myself. I liked my life. I had my own goals and plans and I didn’t need anyone else to come along and mess them up.
It had nothing to do with what I had to offer as a girlfriend, or a wife for that matter. It had everything to do with whether I wanted or needed a partner.
Boyfriends are trouble in a lot of ways. Sometimes they want to come over when you want to sleep. Sometimes they want to talk when you want to read. Sometimes they want to call you when you want to go to a movie, or the bookstore, or knitting group, or your book club. They think they have a say in your male friendships or your travel plans or, sometimes, what you wear even when they’re not there.
Who needs it?
I had boyfriends. I had boyfriends who wanted to keep dating other people. I had boyfriends who wanted me to clean their apartment, do their mending, cook their meals, give them back rubs, pick them up at the airport, make their travel plans, and pick out their clothes. Dude, I’m not your mom. Or your secretary.
Not that I wouldn’t do those things! I did all of them at one time or another. Over time I became more protective of my energy and my time, understanding that almost anyone would take advantage of my kindness and my giving nature. Not everyone deserves it.
You should be so lucky. You should be so lucky, to have a girlfriend like me.
Eventually he talked me into it. He thought there could be more, and he convinced me that it would be worth finding out.
“I’ve seen your nice side,” he said. “No you haven’t!” I said, shocked that he would think that. All he got was my generic nice, not my personal nice.
He wooed me. He knew just what to do. He cleaned his entire house until the floor gleamed and everything smelled like lemon. He even washed the windows. He cooked me a meal from scratch, including mashed potatoes and biscuits and pie. He bought me a wrench. He made friends with my parrot.
He had something to prove. I didn’t.
He brought me around to his way of thinking. Maybe there could be more between us?
There was, there was. He let me sleep until noon and made me waffles. He did my taxes while I was on vacation. (He still does the taxes). In so many ways, he sought out ways to make my life easier.
That helped. More importantly, it showed he was paying attention. He got me. He got what I was about and he understood how I made decisions. He knew what would be important enough to me to matter.
I’ve made it worth his while, of course. I take loyalty to my mate extremely seriously. I’m his sounding board and chief cheerleader. I make his daily life easier in a thousand small ways, many of which he may not even realize, just as he does mine.
There probably isn’t anyone else I would have married. Anyone else anywhere in the world. I might not even have dated again; honestly, I probably set too high a bar. He cleared it, though. He rose to my expectations - and beyond - because he appreciated the challenge.
I could have done it differently.
I could have pined after some unattainable, aloof and emotionally unavailable character who would have broken my heart without noticing.
I could have gone for volatility, breaking up and getting back together with someone over and over until everyone lost count.
I could have whipped through dozens of dates, looking for something that wasn’t there.
None of that attracted me, though, because I knew who I was. I was a great girlfriend. Or, I would be for the right person, if it was worth my while. Mostly I was just fine by myself.
You should be so lucky.
“I’m going to thump you in the noggin.” That’s an example of the type of comment she just made to me, only not as funny. A threat, not a veiled threat. I laughed and brushed it off, and she doubled down.
What’s going on here?
This is a basic business transaction, and this woman just implied that she wants to use physical violence on me! Twice!
“Well,” I grinned, “I’m a kickboxer, so let’s do this!”
The weirdly rude woman frowned and said nothing.
Hey, you started it, lady.
The truth was, in that moment, I was ready. If for some bizarre reason this person insisted on fighting with me, if I had made her angry or if she just couldn’t stand the sight of me... okay, fine. Let’s do this.
If she needs to get it out of her system, I’ve been shoved, kicked, punched in the stomach, thrown on the ground, and hit in the eye, nose, and mouth. Lots of times! I don’t mind, not really. If she thinks she can lay a few strikes on me, all right.
It’s a serious offer. You wanna box me? Let’s do this!
Alternatively, I’d get her on the ground and pin her until she apologized and promised to quit being rude to people for no reason. She would remember the whole thing as me being the villain. Result: even more rude to more people, because it’s so unfair that she never gets her way. Bullies are like that.
In the normal world, there are two things that have made me tough (besides living past the age of forty). One, improv comedy. I’ll “yes and” anything with anyone at any time. Two, my midlife sports background of martial arts, endurance running, and adventure races. If you want to attack me with mud, insults, cold water, heckling, shoving, kicking, or strikes to the torso, well, it’s not my first rodeo.
How have I offended, milady?
I’m the kind of person who goes to the store and constantly gets stopped by random people who think I work there. It’s a family joke that every time we go on vacation, someone will ask me to take their picture. Customer service face. I’m nice and approachable, probably too much so. It’s unusual for me to have an unpleasant interaction with anyone, whether in person, on the phone, or through email.
Nobody who sees me in business casual is going to guess that I do Krav Maga, put it that way. That’s how it should be. Secret weapon.
There’s a threshold that you cross when you cast off conventional anxieties. In the mundane world, I’m unstoppable because I know myself to be a person of high agency. Kindness and patience will get you virtually everything you could ever want, and detached amusement will probably get you the rest.
A little bit of leadership training, a little bit of comedy, a little bit of stress inoculation, a little bit of physical conditioning. Unstoppable.
In the mat room, on the other hand, I’m weak and slow.
I put myself in that situation on purpose. I strive to always be the most clueless student in class. If I’m the smartest or best, then I’m in the wrong room. I need to be pushing myself, partly so I’ll learn, mostly so I’ll stay humble, and also because I get bored easily.
If you’re willing to feel completely awkward, embarrass yourself, and do things you find crushingly difficult, and you can get through the first few months, you’ll be well on your way to developing superpowers. The areas where you struggle are the areas where you can grow the most.
The first year I spent training in martial arts, my stated goal was to work on humility and self-discipline. Find out you can’t do a pushup or a sit-up, and the humility takes care of itself. Stay committed until you can do fifty and you’re on your way to the self-discipline. The most important thing I learned that year is that I’m not afraid to take a punch.
I also learned I was afraid to land a punch. I didn’t like hitting people, I didn’t like it at all.
This got to be a problem. My partners would sometimes complain that they needed me to be more forceful. They would shout and encourage me to kick harder, shove harder, strike harder. I talked it out with several other women, and they all told me the same thing. I needed to give as good as I got. As much as I wanted to learn to take a punch, to be unafraid in hand-to-hand combat, they needed the same from me. It wasn’t fair for me to have a double standard.
I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by being “too nice.”
My training partners want their money’s worth. They want the full value of every hour they spend training. That means, when they partner up with me, I need to show my fangs. I need to go past my little bubble of niceness, at least during that hour, and I need to be scary and mean.
I scare myself sometimes.
All I’m doing is exploring something new in a controlled environment. It’s a classroom. Everyone agrees that while we’re in the mat room, we’re trying to accomplish something very specific. It’s a thing with a certain amount of physical risk, and also eerie noises and unlovely facial expressions.
This is where we cross the threshold. This is where we pass back and forth between the ordinary world and the world of controlled violence. This is why it isn’t funny to make “jokes” about fighting: because there are those of us who are prepared to engage if necessary.
Also, don’t you know any real jokes? Funny ones?
In some ways, martial arts training has made me funnier than I was before. There’s something about the confidence that comes from trusting your body and knowing you are prepared for mayhem. Garden-variety insults and threats are comical. What, you think you’re going to wound me with words? What you just said, that’s supposed to make some kind of impact?
I’m having to learn how to throw a punch, not just take a punch. It means I have to learn how hard to hit. I have to learn to strike with appropriate force. Learning to throw a punch has shown me that it’s almost never necessary. Smile and carry on.
Power is neutral. Just like any other tool, it can be used for good, it can be used for ill, it can be used in neutral or unimportant ways, and it can be set aside, not used at all. Procrastination is one such power.
There are certain things that can only be procrastinated for a short time. Breathing comes to mind! After that, peeing. You might think you’re too busy or you might not want to do it right now, but one way or another, it’s going to happen. Not just biological needs that arise from the tyranny of the body, but also inevitable factors of living in a society and an economy with other humans.
Life is easier when we acknowledge that certain things must be done, and that we might as well try to minimize their impact.
This is part of what makes me a contrarian. I willingly do certain things as quickly as possible, because I resent having to do them at all. I refuse to let them eat any more of my mental bandwidth than is absolutely necessary.
Taxes, paying bills, tossing junk mail, housework, blocking spam callers, going to the dentist, getting my hair cut, walking the dog. Eighty percent of life consists of maintenance, and I’d like to reclaim as much of that time as possible.
Certainly I’m not going to let it pollute the remaining twenty percent that is mine, all mine.
Procrastination gives us the power to resist doing the inevitable, for a little while. To what point, though? Why would I delay making my bed when it takes only 15 seconds? Why would I delay making a business call when, if I wait too long and they close for the day, I’ll have to think about it another entire day of my life?
Procrastination is power for another reason. It means we have more control over the situation than we think we do.
They’re onto us, by the way. People who don’t procrastinate think that we wait to do things because we’re trying to prove some kind of point. We’re trying to say YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. We show up late because we don’t want to be there in the first place, and we’re doing our best to defy authority. We’re resisting on purpose.
I don’t think that’s true, at least not all the time. That’s because I work with a lot of chronically disorganized people who, let’s be honest, couldn’t pull off that kind of coup if they tried. Too many details.
It’s funny. If we really do have the power to resist other people’s claims to our time and attention, to disobey orders and refuse to do tasks, then doesn’t that mean that we have the power to...
Wait for it...
The power to go elsewhere and do other things for other people instead?
If we have it within ourselves to do these dumb things (show up at specific minutes of the hour, fill out specific forms, make specific phone calls, clean certain things, do other objectionable tasks), then couldn’t we just do them toward a purpose that mattered to us more?
I mean, if you don’t like working for one person, is there someone else for whom you would gladly do the same tasks?
If you don’t like this particular type of task, isn’t there something else you would rather do instead? Do you know what it is?
I have a friend who used to have an interesting job. She was a parking lot attendant on the night shift. She loved it because almost nobody ever showed up for their cars. She got paid to sit in the booth and wait. She got a lot of reading done.
Personally, I wouldn’t want that job, even though I’m a night owl and I love to read. Otherwise I would have applied there at the time. 1. It got really cold at night most of the year. 2. Uniform. 3. Bottom dollar.
In many ways, my friend worked my “dream job.” Get paid to read for seven hours and forty-five minutes a shift! In other ways, I learned that I preferred to make more money, not have a dress code, work during the daytime, and actually do something during my shift. I needed my job to be interesting.
Perhaps it’s this, the negative image of the thing we don’t want even though we know we could have it. Perhaps it’s this that keeps us moving.
(I know I don’t want to be unemployed again because it’s boring. I know I want to wear Real Clothes during the day because wearing pajamas makes me feel like an invalid. I know I don’t want to write at night anymore because I can never get any sleep during the day).
I’m incredibly stubborn and opinionated. I can’t stand being told what to do. I also have this little chip on my shoulder about working under people who “aren’t as smart as me.” Two things finally occurred to me. 1. If that person isn’t as smart as me, then why am I making less money, which is the part I care about? 2. I don’t have to have a boss.
It turns out that working for yourself and being your own boss is a lot more work than having someone else tell you what to do. It has to be worth it. Also, there’s always some rule or some “boss” at some level: submission deadlines, editors, minimum balances, minimum orders, style guidelines, something. Then there are customers and reviewers! If there’s a way to make a solid living with zero demands or feedback from other humans, I haven’t found it yet.
Ultimately, it’s the difference between I DO WHAT I WANT and I GET WHAT I WANT.
Doing what you want all the time doesn’t usually lead to getting anything else. It’s also unsustainable if you are relying on others to pay your way or clean up around you. They start making all kinds of extra rules on you.
Getting what you want tends to mean doing a lot of things that weren’t necessarily your first idea. Going places at a time you don’t want to leave the house, making calls you didn’t want to make, focusing for extended periods, managing minor details that are annoying and boring. Ah, but then, you get what you want.
There are a lot of hidden powers in procrastination. The power of identifying rank and status, therefore knowing whom to defy. The power of picking and choosing how you spend your time and where you focus. The power of finding more interesting things to do with your day, with their secret signals as to what you’d rather be doing. The power of physically surviving in spite of not doing the things you think you should be doing. The power of the inner dream to be doing something better.
Procrastination is avoiding the thing that you personally have decided is the most important thing you should be doing, the best use of your time. It’s inherently irrational - or is it?
Procrastination is power. Now, what are you going to do with that power?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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