Although I’ll frequently list articles worth reading on the blog –such as the changing dynamics of film financing or the automation of work— I rarely do “listicles” not only because they’re usually slick, quick pieces designed as clickbait, but also because they don’t give me too much upon which to reflect.
Perhaps it’s the timing, but this Forbes(!) listicle by Jessica Hagy made me reflect about what I know now that I don’t think I understood just 10 years ago. I read it a couple weeks ago and put it away in my backlog of “blog posts to do sometime”… and given the saga that unfolded in the comments section of this past weekend’s post, I figured now was the right time.
Even so, I hesitate to share these type of articles because they tend to share all their list items like Commandments and really, they don’t have any added weight of any aphorism. I have long been convinced that reality is one collective hunch — and while aphorisms can help as shorthand in making sense of it all, aphorisms are just as often deployed dishonestly in order to avoid addressing the real issues.
For example, one of my brothers and I both dislike the phrase “shit happens.” This isn’t to say that you have to deal with unexpected crap in your life from time to time (or during some periods in your life, a lot of crap), it’s rather that the people who most often use the phrase “shit happens” seem to want you to “just deal” with the lemons life may be handing you with a certainty that makes you suspect they may be a lemon salesman.
No, both in reality and idiomatically, shit happens because someone takes a shit. That’s how digestive systems work. Now, I admit that if that someone is a gibbon or baboon, there’s very little you can do about where and how they take a dump. In fact, you better watch out, ’cause that crap is about to get flung. However, for us Homo sapiens sapiens, we are able to control when and where we take a dump for most of our lives… and we certainly don’t need to take a dump on another person.
Guess which people most fervently uses the phrase “shit happens?” That’s right: people who want a free pass to shit on other people.
I mention this in order to make sure you feel comfortable taking the whole Forbes list with grains of salt to your personal taste. The list worked for me as I’ll detail below, but perhaps it won’t all work for you.
10. If you’re not being taken advantage of, you’re not making anyone any money.
Boy howdy could this notion be abused — and I’m sure it is by people who fancy themselves “masters of the universe.” However, this idea was the one that really made me stop and think about the whole list more deeply.
The clickbait portion is certainly the phrasing of “if you’re not being taken advantage of” which hits people right in the binary win/lose meter. But stepping back, I’m thinking of the statement in terms of value propositions. If you’re not offering clear and unambiguous value to someone, then they’re not benefiting from dealing with you. And as I’ve mentioned in some of the project management training I do, the real trick in project management is often dealing with us pesky humans (and all of us are pesky to someone else… see #5 later in the list).
Another way to think about it –something one boss of mine was and is fond of saying– is that you have to answer the other person’s omnipresent question, “What’s in it for me?”
Too many times in the indie/aspirational film realm, I’ve dealt with people who don’t work at answering that question. Now, granted, some people evidently want the value proposition to be insanely skewed to their advantage. And they’re not ashamed of the disparity at all. I imagine they’re training to be “masters of the universe,” but the main thing is you need to be giving someone else value for what you’re doing. Almost always, that’s going to mean they get more value than you get. As Hagy notes, “All services cost less to deliver than they do to undertake.” — at least if the services are to be sustainable.
What really drives this point home for me is how it can apply to someone who’s self-employed or a freelancer. When I was a freelance stage technician, the commercial gigs setting up lighting, etc. in hotels for conferences paid waaay better than the gigs at small non-profit theaters even though the hotel gigs were, by and large, way more boring (i.e., had less value to me personally).
Not only that, when you’re a freelancer, it’s tempting to take all the time you need for personal projects, but You the Creative needs to be “taken advantage of” by You the Small Businessperson if you want to pay bills. (As much as I’d like, playing Civilization all day pays no bills, no matter how much you build up your cities).
Finding that balance of getting personal value versus delivering value to someone else appears to be one of those lifelong pursuits. It took a long time for me to be at peace with that (and having a sucky job with one of those would-be masters of the universe will not help in that regard).
9. Your brain is constantly lying to you.
The really smart people I know are ones who know how much they don’t know — and I imagine a lot of them work to fight the cognitive biases inherent in the notion above.
I suppose you could be really depressed by this state of neurological affairs, but I’ve come to view as a reason to keep on learning… including learning how you can trick yourself. Two podcasts, Freakanomics and Hidden Brain, have been a fun way for me to explore this.
8. Your problems are not on most people’s radar.
Here’s something that hit me hard in my 20s (and then again when I became a parent, but that’s another story) — and I think it relates to #10 above. What you value may not be what others value. Likewise, your headaches may not be others’ headaches.
As with a lot of items on this list, this presents a choice: you can be depressed by the reality or you can figure out how this knowledge can inform your actions.
As a project manager, I’ve found it’s useful to try and understand other people’s headaches. An account executive I used to work with called this “finding out what keeps them up at night.” As a human being, it’s good for me to try and better empathize with people. In a way, it continues my stage management training of “mouth shut. eyes and ears open.” Better listening always helps.
7. If you quit your job, someone else will take it. If you quit your life’s work, nobody will swoop in to finish it for you.
Firmly rooted in the notion above –and something I need to remind myself to prevent my creative passion withering away– is the fact that no one will fight harder for your dreams than you will. Not your family, not your spouse: no one (hopefully those people will fight for you in general, but they, naturally, have dreams of their own, however similar they may sometimes be to yours).
So to be clear: many people can support you in pursuing your dreams… but in the end, they’re your dreams.
6. You’ll never get a day off from your responsibilities.
I still remember when I decided to get to the next level of adulting and bought a condo. The first time something broke, I paused for a second to try to remember the landlord’s number. Then I realized it was me.
Then there was becoming a parent, and responsibility went to a whole new exponential level.
In cases of both homeownership and parenting responsibilities, you have to laugh. In the case of the latter, there’s Fowl Language.
5. Somebody thinks you’re what’s wrong with the world today.
Yes, thinking of the aforementioned comments extravaganza and the nastygrams around Axanar made me think blogging about this listicle was pertinent today.
Before I became a doubleplusungood anonymous blogger in the estimation of certain fan film fanatics, I was a nemesis to a disturbingly large number of office dwellers. This is because a significant chunk of my professional career has been devoted to documenting and, where possible, improving business processes. Mind you, this almost never leads to people needing to be laid off, but it does entirely puncture some people’s M.O. of being indispensable because they are The Keeper of the Secret Knowledge.
I don’t have time for that. The entire trajectory of the modern workplace doesn’t have time for that. And most importantly: petty close-minded people who want to be Keepers of the Secret Knowledge tend to add to rather than reduce the number of overall Work-related Headaches.
It’s taken a while (see #2, below), but I’ve made peace with the fact that I may have enemies. But, more often than not, they’re insular, selfish enemies who feel other people deserve headaches. As long as I’m continuing to try and know a bit more about what I don’t know (see #9) and am not crapping on anyone, it’s okay. The Keepers of the Secret Knowledge can join the rest of us any time they want.
4. Things will change with or without your input.
As the writer notes, you might as well try and move the needle towards your desired future. I’d also note that scumbuckets will use this notion to try and dissuade you from trying to influence the needle at all, possibly because they think you’re what’s wrong with the world today. They can go play with the poo-flinging gibbons. You have stuff to do.
3. Nobody cares about that great work you did yesterday.
For the producer and project management jobs I do, I am gratified to know when I do a good job. But what does that get me? The chance to do a good job again. My satisfaction needs to come from doing the work, not resting on laurels.
It also tells me that trying to place all my life satisfaction in my work alone is a fool’s game.
2. You don’t fit in with every group, and you never will.
Who doesn’t want to be liked? How many situations to you want to “get along to go along?” But if you accept #5 above, you can more easily accept the fact that you don’t grok some people, some people don’t grok you… and some people are wondering what the heck the word “grok” is right about now.
The dangerous downside to this is to become too ensconced within your “tribe” that you cut yourself off from learning new things and generally listening.
1. You’re good, but not as good as you could be.
“Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight” – Tom Stoppard
I view this very much like #9 above. I can choose to be depressed about the reality of the situation, or, as Tom Stoppard points out, I can shift my weight. This also connects to #3 and not resting on one’s laurels.
I’ve actually been pretty comfortable with this for a while, in part because I’ve been blessed with being around people who taught me excellence isn’t always being the best, it’s about always working to do better by your own standards.
So I suppose this is where having honest people support you and your dreams helps, huh?
Okay, that’s enough for philosophical posts for now. I promise to do a wonky project management post soon.