Archive for the ‘Work’ Tag

Legacy of Hard Work

I had the technical nightmare from hell ALL LAST WEEK.  Not a few hours, not a couple days, the entire week.  Apparently my satellite company doesn’t believe in overnight delivery.  And about four days into the computer outrage, our phones gave out as well.  Now, I live in a rural area, and when there’s neither phone nor internet, helplessness is magnified.  My reaction is rage, since vulnerability isn’t in my vocabulary, but I actually did a decent job of it keeping cool if I do say so myself. 


Mostly, I wanted to know why me?  Why now?  What’s this about?  Understand, I make my living by being available digitally, and when my machine closes down, so must my work to all intents and purposes.  I was particularly geared up to get a heap o’ jobs accomplished, especially after the lazy 4th of July daze, and here my partner, my buddy, my mainstay, my web connection decided to take a holiday.  It was inscrutable to me, and the stars said nothing.  I contemplated, and drew cards.  I stared at the wall, and thought of the practical list someone gave me, with tasks to accomplish when business is slow.  Perhaps one of these would be productive use of this oh-so-excruciatingly-unproductive time.  I considered working in the garden, writing articles, practicing Adobe or php. 


What I ended up doing was far removed.  A few days ago, four boxes arrived for me.  They contained the daily journals of my grandfather, which he kept for many years during the first half of the 1900s.  I have only read one random notebook so far, but I know this reading is as complete a reason as I could ask for my technological breakdown.  If not forced, I’d never have opened those boxes anytime soon.  It had been my intention to read them when less pre-occupied with making a living, some years hence.


But the experience of living vicariously with this man – of whom I have no memories, though in fact I was about four years old when my grandfather died – through his diary, has already opened up huge doorways of possibility in my little old mind.  It is moving, and awesome, and just plain significant that he lived those eighty years ago in such a different way from anything we know now; that I am descended from such a man as he.  If this sounds egotistical, I assure you I mean this in a universal sense.  Others my age who are informed about the intimate lives of their grandparents surely know this realization: how fragile our dreams, how limiting our perceptions.


For now, let me mention just one aspect of his life.  The man worked like the devil.  He farmed and shepherded in a steep Vermont valley, laboring through months of sub-zero temperatures and then other months of nothing-but-haying, with a bottomless list of chores and repairs and innovations in between.  Work was slightly relaxed, but not abandoned on Sundays, and otherwise constant.


Now here’s the thing:  his writings tell me these facts of his life, but they do not in any way mention what it was like to work, and to work so hard all the time.  The journal is not without emotion, and careful thought is given to several subjects, but he did not consider his attitude towards work to be worth noting.  He cut wood, he did the haying, that’s all.  A simple report.


Maybe such a cavalier attitude towards the way one spends the majority of time is common to masculinity everywhere.  Nonetheless, what a contrast it is to me and all first world civilizations, who seek the best expression of self through work.  We expect, eventually, to achieve a satisfying, well-fitting occupation that allows us to achieve personal goals without undue drudgery.


Was my grandfather deficient in the intelligence necessary to escape such hard work?  Not a bit of it: he was well educated and many of his notes are about the books he’s reading.  He worked hard because it was natural to him, like gathering nuts is natural for squirrels.  Most of our ancestors – save, perhaps, those of the ruling classes – worked much harder than we do. 


The fact that my grandfather worked so diligently inspires thought about how that impulse is translated to me, and that’s why I’m telling this story.  Gramp was a farmer, and I’m in business, but in general terms, the two are both about work.


In your business, the straightforward work of it often causes stress or depression, because we have a self perception these days that demands we take care of our dreams.  We know that ignoring mental anguish is unhealthy.  We no longer respect mindless rote labor.


But we also know that our level of satisfaction in work depends chiefly on our attitude towards it.  If our ancestors worked without questioning the labor, we can too, if we are confident it will advance our goals. Much more, we can love the work; we can respect the health it gives us, we can use the time productively in one way or another.


A deluge of orders, or meetings, or petty crises, or whatever else demands going the extra nine miles for your business can be an opportunity, if you take it.  For the human frame and condition, work of any sort is a legacy and also a blessing.  We may have learned how to manipulate it more finely, but the ability to untiringly set to and accomplish work is always ready and waiting.


And then there are those of us who feel best when working, who enjoy our work to the point of obsession.  Had I been complaining about drudgery in my work?  Not at all.  To the contrary, work thrills me every day; I happily spend long hours at it.  Yet the technical failures around me last week, and the subsequent reading in my grandfather’s journal brought home the acute dependency on the internet I seem to have developed.  Work is an urge with me.  When my primary tool is broken, what can I work on?  What good am I unless I’m hard at it? 


So, for me, to be forced to lounge on the chaise and flip those old pages from 1933 was surrender to cosmic dictate, for once ignoring my tearing urge to be productive and Johnny-on-the-spot with clients and all that jazz.  This time, letting go of that ancient compulsion to work was the techno-storm message.

Sick days

Ooooohkay, there’s no denying it.  Sometimes Life intervenes.

Sometimes, despite your sublime motivations, keen attention, and faithful executions the heavy hand of Nature holds you down.  I woke way too early yesterday, stumbled off to give a major presentation in a total daze, and then returned to my couch to crash for the rest of the day with a bilious stomach and other unmentionable disorders of the intestinal variety.   Yuk.  No matter what your conviction and intentions, the only thing to do in such instances is surrender.

It’s a reminder of several important things to me:

All my thought and effort, no matter how enlightened, is always in progress and never achieves ultimate truth.

Surrender is the essence of human progress.  Mostly we command, control, and otherwise manipulate the life that surrounds us, but it’s only in surrender that we encounter ultimate power and meaningfully move forward.

My friend blogs about the continual balance we must maintain between body and spirit.  Not only is care for your physical being imperative, but physicality is a force demanding proper worship, love, and tenderness.  Getting in shape doesn’t mean you can forget the constraints of the body; rather, it means letting your corporal self have a say, and respecting its dictates.

Going in to your job when you’re sick, pushing yourself to perform when the body only wants to rest, or even spending your sick time angry that you’re so incapacitated are all worthless pursuits.  The mysteries of physical being are best placated by quiet attention, by abdicating control.  Doctors and bosses attempt to persuade us that illness can be managed, but don’t let them fool you.  Illness is a powerful teacher that drops in to give you a lesson superceding the dictates of jobs and other practical authorities.  Listen quietly, be patient, practice allowing.  The sickness is not an interruption, it is an opportunity.


Balancing act

So, despite all tangents, I’m considering the concepts and practices of branding, in these writings over the past couple weeks.  It seems to me that when you align your brand perfectly with your passion you have achieved success. 


When the way you are perceived is the same as the way you think of yourself, you are a happy person.


Until you find that sweet equilibrium between your natural urges and the outside world, you are constantly in turmoil.  You know you’re special, but your image is average.  You have a passion for painting, but you spend all your time at work.  You are an expert bicyclist, but everyone knows you as the insurance guy.  It can configure in the other direction, as well:  you’re well respected and powerful, but you harbor an inner self hatred; you have a great job that brings valuable benefits, but an insistent whisper suggests you hit the road.


Most of us live most our lives walking this tightrope.  Few actually figure out the balance.  But all of us could work harder at it.  We know that the happier we are, the happier others are around us.  It’s the compassionate thing to work at finding your particular balance in life.


Young people and older workers who have given up ambition don’t pay much attention to branding; it’s us middle-agers, struggling to get past Seth Godin’s infamous Dip who concern ourselves with such ultimate challenges.  It’s desperation tactics by a generation that has tried everything else.  It’s the best way we can invent to find our place on this globe.


But I’d surely love to convince a few young people or hopeless workers to start considering what their brand might be.  By getting an early start, greater balance may perhaps be achieved; and, on the other hand, it is certainly better late than never.  If everyone is working on developing their brand, I believe we can build a stronger society, a culture characterized by self-knowledge and sharing. 

Blogging and branding

One thing that bloggers often write about is blogging.  Whether or not their site is generally dedicated to the theme, sooner or later most authors will address the existential meaning of what they’re doing by posting on a regular basis.  A good many of them are hoping for income, and continue blogging as long as the site performs for them monetarily.  But the angst associated with faithfully posting while you know very few people actually read your words is often discussed.  The solution is always to find ways to increase your readership, and the blogger’s next logical step is to produce a list of methods to do this.

I’ve been talking about branding here, with the focus lately on worker branding.  So much is written about business branding, but little guidance is offered for the employee.  And what is a brand, anyway?  I think of it as reputation, the way other people think of you.  You reference your friend Joe when talking with someone, and you describe him as “My friend Joe, the accountant” or “Joe, my buddy from school” or “Joe, the corporate guy.”  Very often, your job steals your brand. 

In the theater, we used to say that an artistically built character is one we don’t notice until we see the person out-of-character.  This is related to the church signboards that advertise, “Your true character emerges in difficult times.”  Who you are down deep may not bear any relation at all to your brand, and this is a situation that will cause discomfort until you correct it.

I want to talk more about worker branding, but for now, let me tie this matter to my opening paragraph here.  Blogging, for me, is a way of exploring in depth my personal brand.  It’s my current attempt at synthesizing my native character with my reputation.  It’s also writing from my own resources daily, which is a demanding and hopefully skill-improving practice. 

My point is that while I have a teensy-weensy readership, I still buttheadedly continue to blog because, guess what?  It’s all about me and my brand.  Because I know that even if your true brand doesn’t bring you riches, it will bring you peace.

Worker branding

The idea of business branding is pervasive these days, perhaps mostly because of the blanketing of society by a few big corporate names.  The worldwide familiarity of Coke and McDonald’s have become our standards of business success.  Of course, duplicating the renown of these giants is not easy; and most corporations will admit that they work very hard on establishing consistency of character throughout their organization.

What does this mean for the individual?  Your employer requests conformity to the corporate character, and that’s fine if your personal goals are indeed aligned with those of those boss.  But given the stresses of life in a capitalist system, and the fact that you work because you need to pull your own weight economically, it’s very often the case that as a worker, you do not necessarily share your employer’s ambitions.  You have an entirely separate set of dreams; your personal brand has much more to do with raising your children or playing golf or Friday night salsa or whatever else feeds your soul if not your pocketbook.

The big time capitalist emphasis on branding could eventually turn around to bite the moguls in the eye.  Because if corporate branding is so important, and if the personal branding of leaders is even more important, then the lowly workers as well begin to see that by developing strength of character and reputation similar to that of their bosses, they can fulfill their highest dreams.  And if everyone is intent on establishing such personal power, corporate structures which depend on obedience will crumble.

Despite the risk of initiating such a mega-change, every individual in the free world has the resources to build personal branding; and every worker would do well to learn as much as possible about his/her natural gifts and how to express them usefully.  Every individual can benefit from the self-knowledge and compassionate thought that is required in order to project a recognizable brand. 

We’re so far down the dusty industrialist road that many workers are far removed from their core individual natures, and have no idea how to research and express an authentic personal brand.  Which is great for the bosses, but truly not supportable as we progress deeper into the century.  The challenges of our global society cannot be dealt with by automatons.

If you’re a worker, one of those heroic millions in service to a corporate brand, please keep checking this blog, and let’s together explore the riches we were born with and the ways we can grow them creatively.

Work and personal branding

Back when I used to teach acting, I would advise my students never to think about developing a ‘personal style’ as an artist, because style surfaces of its own accord as you continue to practice.  As much as we are all individuals, each with our share of inborn gifts, we can’t help but manifest native styling in all aspects of our lives.  As we progress, we may become more aware of the details of our own personal style, and at that point take steps to modify it according to the dictates of superego. 

This collection of salient characteristics, this automatic communication of personality, might be called our personal brand.  Everybody has one.  Being familiar and comfortable with your brand can help a great deal in locating the work and living situations that will be nurturing for you.

As introspection is a little-admired quality in America, a huge portion of our workforce has never turned their attention to their personal branding.  For most of us, attention is focused on the brands of others, while we remain witless consumers.  For decades, I ignored my personal brand while working for ‘the man,’ or the organization or business, which bore all the responsibility for branding.  I even subliminally assumed my personal brand was defined by the business.

While young, you may not wish to make any self-definitions; brands are developed with maturity, it’s true.  Still, even a small amount of focus on the image you project to others can go a long way towards avoiding situations where you don’t fit, and attracting those situations that nurture your growth.

Having been one, my undying loyalty is much more for the workers of America than for the bosses. The incredible act of heroism involved in simply arising each morning to go and fulfill the wishes of another cannot be denied.  The dreadful lack of decent leadership in business makes this courage even more astounding.  Tomorrow, I’ll look at ways the worker’s branding interacts with that of the employer.

Tree observations

Consider trees.  Here are a few observations.

1.  Some trees become very large and dominate the landscape.  They are strong and beautiful, but we must not forget that the smaller trees around them are kept in subjugation by the big tree’s glory.  And a big tree that stands alone is lovely but lonely.

2.  Trees branch and fractile, just as we are required to do in life.  Our global world encourages nothing if not spreading the word – about you, your business, your attitudes.  But you’ll notice that the twigs and flowers gracing the tips of branches are not possible without a strong and well-established trunk.

3.  Trees are naturally gorgeous, inviting, interesting, protecting, and endearing.  But all the parts of a tree that we appreciate most are mere decoration, and the vital, true life of the tree exists underground.  Hidden from sight, buried in darkness, the roots are the ultimate truth of the tree.  All the above-ground showy stuff can disappear, but the tree will live on if the roots remain strong.

What do trees tell you about your life? 

Doodle mania continues

One of the obvious and most exciting uses of creativity is in problem solving.  Artists are problem solvers and, if scrutinized even more finely, they are problem creators as well, but that’s another post.

When confronted with a problem – be it simple or profound – the human species uses native creativity to work through the barriers.  That is, when facing any issue, we call in our abilities to listen openly and synthesize spontaneously.

You can use your doodling to become intimate with this natural capability which you possess but seldom trust.  Keep a small bit of paper and pen next to you during work and let your hand dance with these instruments at moments throughout your day.   (Doodling in meetings can be a great way to keep proper perspective through the discussions.)   It’s best to use a pen rather than pencil, so you get past the concept of ‘making mistakes.’ 

As you look over your doodles, what problems do you see?  I do not mean problems with the ‘artistic quality;’ I mean, what parts of your doodles seem to want changing, modifying, extending, completing?  Go back and play just as instinctively with your ‘fixes’ as you did with the original mark-making.  Your pen just moves of its own accord.  If and when it stops moving, go on to a different doodle and return later to the first. 

It’s very important not to approach your doodles with anything remotely resembling a plan.  Both your fresh marks and your subsequent ‘problem-solving’ doodling must be entirely free form before they will reveal any new information to you.

And this information is not the only benefit of doodling, but it is key.  As you review your doodles, what insights do you have?  What does your very individual line say about who and where you are right now?  What new possibilities do your ‘problem solving’ marks suggest?  What kind of energy, courage, confidence, appreciation, etc. do your doodles manifest?  Save all these drawings as records of your life, your challenges, and the naturally brilliant ways you have of problem-solving.


My grandmother was a sophisticated lady who never walked anywhere; she always did a little run from place to place, up on the toes of her feminine pumps, hurrying, hurrying.  I wonder why.  It never got her anywhere.

So much of our culture emphasises hurrying, or multi-tasking, or saving time.  Business and technology are always obsessed with speed; millions are made with time-saving devices; multi-taskers are the respected workers.  It’s a bit suspect, don’t you think, that we’ve been introducing time-savers ever since Eisenhower, but no one feels any more ‘caught up’ today than we did in the 50s; rather less so. 

I’m a multi-tasker, I confess, but more by nature than intention.  I’m continuously seeking variety, not always to the benefit of the task at hand.  It’s really more important to me to learn how to focus with a single eye — and I’d venture to suggest that this would be a more rewarding practice for most people.  There are far too many distractions, and we Americans are collectively not noted for our thoroughness. 

Anyway, our technological advances since mid-last-century have drastically cut our work time on any given task.  Compare the time it took to produce one letter on a typewriter with carbon copies as compared to the few seconds it takes to shoot off an email.  If we were aiming, 60 years ago, to free up our time, we have certainly achieved that.  So why are we feeling far more pressed for it than ever?  I claim it’s a leftover ethic that we can now leave behind. 

If you’re continuously hassled by a need to multi-task, if you’re always in a hurry, consider that these feelings might stem from an outdated imperative.  Perhaps you would benefit by very methodically doing only one thing at a time, with total focus, finishing it before moving on to the next item on your list.  Can you get as much done, and are you any more proud of your work?  Most importantly, if you shun multi-tasking and hurrying, do you sleep more peacefully and love more generously?


“Habit,” says Vladimir in Samual Beckett’s immortal Waiting For Godot, “is the great deadener.” 

We think of habits usually as either good or bad.  We respect good habits, and are ashamed of bad ones.  But almost everything we do either follows or departs from habit.  Your daily routine, for example.  What does it take to get you going in the morning?  Is it not a series of rituals you’ve adopted?  When you arrive at work, is there not an habitual set of motions through which you go as you settle in to the day’s challenges?  When you go home at the end of the day, so you not savor a certain set of habitual actions as you wind down?  All parts of our days are guided by habit.

If you drop the need to label your habits either good or bad, and simply see them all as rote activities, you may be able to manipulate them to your benefit.  Departing from any habit is a huge refresher, a way to open your eyes and appreciate new possibilities.  It’s extremely healthy to ignore a habit or two on a regular basis; you can always go back to it.  Eat ice cream for breakfast, take a new route to work, vary your job routine however you can, lunch alone or not at all, spend the evening with a book instead of the tv.  Providing variety in your personal path will energize other parts of your life and responsibilities as well.

Cultivating helpful habits (like oatmeal, not ice cream for breakfast) is a major part of maturing into wisdom.  Let us not mitigate this truth.  But the higher reality is that any habit in the end is a ‘deadener,’ and at least varying our habits so that we’re not attached inextricably to any one of them is a basic of the creative life.