Tag: work

Are You Wasting Your Free Time?

“The reason why people can actually do so little with their free time is that the truncation of their imagination deprives them of the faculty which made the state of freedom pleasurable in the first place. People have been refused freedom, and its value belittled, for such a long time that now people no longer like it. They need the shallow entertainment, by means of which cultural conservatism patronizes and humiliates them, in order to summon up the strength for work, which is required of them under the arrangement of society which cultural conservatism defends. This is one good reason why people have remained chained to their work, and to a system which trains them for work, long after that system has ceased to require their labour.”

Theodore Adorno

Quotes on the Universal Struggle to Write

A few quotes on, as Robert D. Richardson put it, “the daily struggle for adequate expression”.

“Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before. And although you are physically by yourself, the haunting Demon never leaves you, that Demon being the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right. No matter how diamond-bright your ideas are dancing in your brain, on paper they are earthbound.”

William Goldman

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things that people do.”

William Zinsser

“The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when all your arrows are spent.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cutting Stone

“When I started both of my books, at first I fell into the same mindset trap of thinking too far ahead — “OMG, 100,000 words to go, why did I get myself into this?!?” Now I keep the phrase “cutting stone” on a little white board on my desk, a reminder just to take each single, barely perceptible axe-chop at the stone at a time, and eventually it will be ground to dust.”

Dave Epstein, ‘Start Where You Are

“People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so prolific’…God, it doesn’t feel like it—nothing like it. But, you know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart.”

John McPhee quoted in Cal Newport’s ‘Slow Productivity‘ post.

Do The Work To Find Out

“One question a teacher of writing is often asked, in one form or another is: “Do I have it?” Or, you know, “Do I have it?” That is: “If I keep working at this, will it, in the end, be worth it? Am I a real writer? Will I be able to publish? Can you guarantee, based on what you’ve seen of my writing (of me, my life, my disposition), that this will all work out?””

Speaking from the heart: I have never been able to tell, at all.  Honestly.  Even among our very gifted students at Syracuse, I would never hazard a guess.  There are too many variables and too many unknowns.

… for her, the writer, the game is not: “First, satisfy myself that, if I do the work and put in the time, all will be well, and then, well-pleased, go ahead and do the work” but, rather: “Do the work in order to find out.””

George Saunders, Story Club, Issue ‘Joy, not Fear’

If you haven’t already I’d recommend subscribing to George Saunders’ Story Club newsletter. He’s a superb writing teacher.

Clear Thinking

“Control language and you control thought; control thought and you control action; control action and you control the world.”

Peter Kreeft

William Zinsser wrote in On Writing Well that clear writing reflects clear thinking. Not everybody considers themselves writers (and not everybody needs to) but I notice bad writing is rife in workplaces where there either isn’t time for clear thinking (because the work is fast-paced) or thinking is more or less discouraged because the workplace has its own language with jargon and many abbreviations and the efficiency of the workplace depends on that established language, however unclear it may be.

Sometimes it’s an act of rebellion to simplify language.

Out of Work? These Mental Models Might Help

Picture a black box with two open ends. A CV goes in one end and out the other, after some time, comes a rejection or an interview invite. If it’s a rejection you have no clue why it was rejected because the box doesn’t supply feedback so you assume, since this is probably your twentieth rejection in a row, that you’re unemployable and maybe you should just give up if only you weren’t slowly going broke. The box, if you hadn’t already guessed, is the employment system.

Thanks to a once in a century pandemic many businesses worldwide have gone bust and unemployment has soared as a natural, although distressing, consequence. In one chapter of Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann’s book Super Thinking they write about natural selection and how the model applies to society:

“Beyond biological evolution, natural selection also drives societal evolution, the process by which society changes over time. In any part of society, you can trace the path of how ideas, practices, and products have adapted to ever-changing tastes, norms, and technology.

You will live through many more societal shifts: economic cycles, waves of innovation, evolving norms and standards. With more people than ever and everyone more connected through the internet and globalization, these shifts are happening faster than in the past. You must adapt to these changing environmental pressures to be successful.”

(Weinberg, Gabriel; McCann, Lauren. Super Thinking (p. 100). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.)

Right now we are living through one hell of a societal shift. It can seem inappropriate to talk about natural selection during a pandemic as the phrase is often synonymous with survival of the fittest but, in its intended context, what the model emphasises is that we always need to adapt to the circumstances we find ourselves in if we wish to survive and thrive. How we actually go about doing that is the tricky part because even in normal times adapting to a changing economy is not as simple or easy as it seems.

Another mental model that can shed some light inside the black box that is the employment system is first principles thinking. With first principles we question and deconstruct our assumptions until we are left with irreducible truths or facts about, in this case, earning a living in a post-pandemic world. If, for example, we question the assumption that employers should give specific feedback to us as a courtesy otherwise we remain trapped in the purgatory of unemployment we realise that they can’t. There’s just too many people applying for jobs for employers to offer specific feedback.

With assumptions like that questioned and disproven we can eventually resume our job hunt from a better, and hopefully more successful, starting point.