inaction every time.
– Harry Truman
A couple months ago an incident may have or may not have happened while I was romantically working at a coffee shop. Let us assume: this story is true, coffee shops are UNromantic.
I am working at cash, like I have been for a while. Person after person comes by, I take their order, ask them if they would like white, whole wheat or multi-grain. Ask them if they would like a small medium or large. I answer their questions about the soup of the day and about our gluten free bread. I review their order with them and ask them if they would like anything else? This happens over and over again, many days, weeks in a row.
It is a Sunday morning and a young, normal-looking (un-good-looking) couple comes in to order healthy, post-workout breakfast. I go through everything, I review their order and I ask them, “Would you like anything else?” The boyfriend says to me, “Anything she wants.”
I took a step back (mentally), and smiled at the camera observing my life. In that moment, I shocked. I imagined a different place and time and that I was in a comic strip. And then I said nothing, and imagined an art project I would make of it.
I am reading Seth Godin‘s book Linchpin, that I originally heard about through a NY Creative Interns recommendation. Right now I’m really into learning and reading as much about entering the business world as possible (… as much as I find not-boring), and Seth Godin falls right in there. If you’ve never heard of Seth Godin, he’s an author and speaker who focuses on marketing, with a penchant for supporting the creative industry. He also runs one of the most popular marketing blogs in the world. (Check it out. Its, um, pretty good.) Anyway, the book talks a lot about, not necessarily needing to change your job, but being indispensable in the workplace.
It got me thinking about stuff.
To me, the guts of the book emphasize: whenever you are working anywhere, it essential to input your identity and creativity into your work, because that is what makes you indispensable. Its essential to do this, not just because it feels good, or creates a better experience for you, or makes you happier with your job, but because it is better for the company and makes you necessary.
Making yourself ‘indispensable’ means that if you left, they could not replace you as you. I’m not saying they couldn’t get another nurse, junior graphic designer, store salesman. I’m saying that they could not have another person that could add to their company in the same way you could – with your unique perspective and background and identity and creativity. (Because I don’t care who you are, EVERYONE can be creative. And if you think you aren’t, then you are just either boxing in what you think ‘creative’ means, or being lazy.) Your ‘replacement’ could even be someone very good, but they could not replace you in the company. And that makes you ESSENTIAL to the company’s identity.
If you are a waiter, and you realize that its better to have all the wait-staff learn how to use the dishwasher incase the dishwashing worker goes to the bathroom and slows down the line, that’s creativity. If you work at a mill and realize that it’d be faster to work in relay than to carry materials back and forth, that is inputing your identity and creativity into your work.
What are some of your qualitites that make you indispensible? I think one of my best qualities is that I crave pushing the envelope, even when its easy to think realistically. (I try to never be ‘realistic’, coming from a too-much-feasibility, engineering background.) Tell me about some of your awesome traits and creativity in the workplace. :)
“I always thought about, in early life, our objective, certainly people in the design profession, is to look professional, and to feel professional…. and you wanted to have that veneer and that sense of authority… and it was all we really wanted to do – you come out of school and you want your work to look like these marvellously slick, professional things that were in the world…”
“And then at a certain point, you reach professional level, and your work looks like that, and you realize its not enough. That merely, getting to a point where your work looks good enough to be called professional is just the starting point.”
“…as a metaphor… when you start to learn how to draw… you are so overwhelmed with the difficulty with making things look like what they are… and you almost die trying to control your nerve endings so that the object looks like its supposed to, and you spend years doing that. And then finally you get to the point when you finally draw something that looks like what they are.”
“And then you discover, that’s not the point. That being able to draw something that looks like something, is nothing. That that is only the starting point. Now you have to ask yourself, how do I make a good drawing, or an expressive drawing, or a drawing that means something. Because the ability to only make it accurate, is actually a low-level ability. Even though its taken you years to get to that point, its not very relevant. But there’s no other way to get there.
“The same thing is true of your work. You sort of strive to make it look good, and make it look as good as your peers, and make it looks as good as the other stuff in the “Art Directors Annual”, and so on. And then at a certain point if you continue and persevere, you realize that’s not good enough. You have to go beyond that level, in order to engage that other thing, which is true expressive content, true meaning.”
-Milton Glaser, Design Matters
A metaphor that, I think, applies to all aspects of work, and anyone who wants to be truly great at what they do.
“Education gives us awareness.”
This week I watched and listened to this video of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech for the graduating class at Kenyon College. The speech was later published as a book, entitled “This is Water”, and a videos of the speech went viral days after its initial posting. In the speech Wallace focuses on real life after college and what education really means to him: the freedom to be able to choose what has meaning and what doesn’t. It is really worth a watch. Its stuck in my head, and I can’t get it out, and its uncomfortable there for some reason, but I don’t want to get it out.
The original animation that I watched of this was recently deleted, but here’s a recording of the original audio:
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“‘Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from that experience.”
“If you really learn how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred. On fire with the same force that lit the stars.”
“The only thing that’s capital-t True, is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it. This, I submit, is the freedom of real education. Of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.”
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in a myriad of petty, unsexy ways every day.
The alternative is unconscious.”
Also, while on the subject, here’s an article about David Wallace, a great American writer, on my favorite brainpickings.
If you didn’t already know, side projects are IMPORTANT.
In whatever industry you are daring to work in. Even the ‘irrelevant’ projects. If you didn’t already know this, you are super late to the party. I have heard so many great professionals, artists, and entrepreneurs speak about the importance of side projects, so listen closely.
In my opinion, and again, from what I’ve read from great people, side projects are arguably more important for your personal sanity and career of choice than school in a chosen field, or even employment experience in a chosen field. This is because it shows:
2) potential (no client!! no limits!),
3) dependability and dedication, and
4) SAMPLE WORK
These four things are so essential for any hard working individual who inspires. Initiative and hustle are very important with everything being so fast and available these days (-> laziness runs rampant). You have to be the one to grab it! Also, when you work on a side project on your own time and money, it can literally be anything you want it to be, and thus holds so much potential. It can be long-lasting and over the top and epic and beautiful, but also, if you fail, no big deal. Just start again tomorrow.
Dependability and dedication are a given with side projects. There are no real deadlines, you are not getting paid to do this and maybe no one will even see it. Its almost more the opposite – often friends don’t get it, tell you its not as important as hanging out with them, and you run into at least two snags during the process (its becoming not what you were planning, you run out of materials, you are off schedule, your dog pooped on part of it). But from this, you become self-motivated AND you become dependable.
It’s also a great way to build a portfolio, and continue to let your creative self naturally evolve. Even if you are really great at writing fiction revolving around 9/11, sometimes you just have to move onto the next phase of your creative life and write romances taking place in the turn of the century. You are no longer that person who wrote your first novel – you’ve grown, you’re happier/more depressed, you’ve explored it. A side project is a great way to do that without pressure, or your editor saying that they’re not really interested in this new kind of novel from you at the moment. It is really one of the best ways to get the kind of clients you want and to focus your work in the area you want.
One fabulous example of a side project is starting a blog….. but there are SO many people doing all sorts of different side projects out there.
Here are some amazing examples:
– Jessica Hische. Jessica works as a letterer and illustrator, and with her early web presence started posting many different side projects on the internet. Some of those include Daily Drop Cap (where she created a new letter of the alphabet every day. So far she has gone through 12 alphabets, but has since stopped the project). She also made Mom, This Is How Twitter Works, Don’t Fear The Internet, Inker Linker, Should I Work For Free?, a doodle blog, etc. etc… All while working and maintaining her own personal blog…. She makes me feel so lazy. Check out way more of her side projects right here (since she is the Queen of Side Projects, for reals).
-Tina Roth Eisenberg, aka SwissMiss. In addition to starting her design blog as a side project, which has since become one of the most popular design blogs of all time, Tina has also created Creative Mornings a free, creative, conference-like lecture series that has since spread to major cities across the globe, Tattly, a design-y temporary tattoo company, and the design-y to-do app, Teux Deux.
–Kate Bigaman-Burt. Drew copies of her receipts until they were paid off, and then drew everything she bought in a day, everyday. She’s been drawing daily since February 2006. Crazy.
I could go on and on, but alas, I must go floss. Go start a side project! Tell me about it in the comments! (Also, if you need some tips or encouragement, re-read this post or check out this link or this one.)