On Being Amateur

In his book Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield determines the clear line between the amateur and the pro. The amateur is not living to his full potential, put simply. The pro makes the choice every day to work on his calling, and he’s in it for the long haul. Probably the most striking feature of the book is how understanding Pressfield is of the amateur. He’s been there himself before becoming a bestselling author. In his twenties and thirties, he was a tractor-trailer driver and an apple picker. Pressfield has a very clever concept that rings very true called “the shadow life”. The shadow life is what we live instead of working on our calling. The shadow career is what we engage in when in denial of what we are truly capable of. My shadow career was private investigation.

I enjoyed it for a couple of years. It was a way to immerse myself in the lives of others, even to attempt to gauge my normalcy in comparison to them. I’ve always been hyper-aware of the ways in which I’m different from other people. I perceive the world in a tremendously different capacity, so I’m very careful when I speak with people. During my period of private investigation, I got a pleasurable, removed point of view of how other people were living. I did not personally know these people, but I knew something about them, including their medical conditions and their deposition statements.  I also knew where they ate lunch on a given day, who they met with, and where they got their nails done. Predicting their moves and their modes of expression was thrilling, especially when my predictions turned out right, which was more often than not. I learned about human behavior in an absurd way.

Pressfield says “Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career.” My shadow calling was something of actually creeping in the shadows. I crafted narratives about people, albeit regimented versions of their lives. Clinging to the job, I convinced myself that I was cut out for this work. Some realities shook hard but I stayed as detached as I could – deaths, drownings, and murder – were just content in a report. They had to be.

I tried to write when I got home from work, but I’d throw all of it away. It was junk. I was writing about things that didn’t matter because I was doing my absolute best to avoid the only things that did matter. I focused on the exterior and I focused on moving ahead through time but not moving ahead with my potential. I sought and attained distractions, one after the other. My biggest vice was my past. As Pressfield points out, “The payoff of living in the past or the future is you never have to do your work in the present.”

The past is a cloying parcel. Tug at the string, slip your finger under the wrapper, and you see the box. It’s merely a representation of what’s inside. Your mind teases around every corner and flat surface, but the contents remain inside. The memory cannot fathomably recall all of the innards. So resting outside and calling repeatedly on the representation – the sick feelings, repetitive phrases, faces – takes moments of the present away. Pressfield’s pro lives in the present, “He loses himself in the work and in the moment.” He sets the tempting box aside. He may glance over at it briefly before setting to work, but he smirks, reaching for the pen rather than the string. Tomorrow he’ll do the same.

Why I Don’t Watch TV

I don’t watch the news. I don’t even own a TV.  I don’t make it out to many movies. This offends people, so I don’t usually go around saying either of those first two sentences. I see news and TV as a complete distraction from other things I am trying to accomplish, like writing and reading. I don’t live in a cave, and I still know about things going on around me. But I won’t subject myself to the relentless stream of bombarding screens. There are even TVs at gas stations now, an intolerable play of color and noise while I’m trying to do something otherwise routine.

Timothy Ferriss says in his The 4-Hour Workweek, “I never watch the news and have bought one single newspaper in the last five years…” Further on, he suggests “that you develop an uncanny ability to be selectively ignorant.” And people will make you feel bad about this choice; I guarantee it. I’ve heard all about how awful and weird I am for not watching TV. Some people I’ve met really just did not believe me. When it’s said that most American watch 4 hours of TV per day, I really don’t think it’s a point of pride to rank in those numbers.

And what about those all of those horrible, atrocious events I don’t hear of because I don’t watch the news? Guess what, I do hear about them. They come to me through verbal interactions, and sometimes through research I do online. And here’s the thing, it seems a lot of people I’ve known pride themselves on knowing about something unpleasant happening. The precedence lies on accumulating the information merely as a social lubricant. They almost seem to enjoy that something bad happened that they can talk about. I’d rather keep myself out of it. And as for closing in on bad events, I do my part by going out and volunteering for organizations that I believe are making the world better.

I’ve seen news stir unnecessary, relentless, and boring conversations among groups convinced that those events have a much closer tie to them than they actually do. In the past when I’ve attempted to keep up with the news, being part of a discussion about it took an uncomfortable quality. Regardless of how much I knew, conversations about current events seemed to always go the way of the other person trying to prove they knew more. Seems like a strange relationship with news, doesn’t it? News and other media is a never-ending stream, and frankly, it’s overwhelming to keep up with.

Star Wars is boring. I really have only had the courage to say this out loud to one person. Why? An absolute storm of cutthroat words and deep-cutting criticisms would surely ensue. I used to really put myself out there as a Star Wars fan, aiming to make nice to fans. Those people are everywhere, it’s like a zombie apocalypse out there of the Star Wars T-shirt-clad. All I can say is I really tried to like it for other people. With cult media, you see again this relationship of exclusionary social stigma and shaming. Think, we live in a culture where people are ridiculed for the media they do not consume, they do not like, and they do not pay attention to. Why was I so afraid to say I don’t like Star Wars? Even now writing this, I feel the need to expand and craft a defense on an opinion. But the thing is, opinions as they come are alright.

TV is a normalizing sport. Yes, it’s a sport. It requires stamina, and it requires an articulated social vocabulary to be involved in a conversation about TV. For me I’ll stick with using my time for other things. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “There are many things of which a wise man might wise to be ignorant.” I reexamine what type of media I consume on a daily basis, and it’s driven a more thoughtful practice of accepting the pieces of information that I want to ingest.

On Gatekeepers and Questioning Them

Gatekeepers give us advice, instruction, protocols for how things should be done and in what order. They come in many forms, from the reinforcement that you’ll need years of experience to get promoted, to ideas that you need a college degree to get a meaningful job. These gatekeepers often come in absolute packaging, without wiggle room. Barriers to entry are also often arbitrary or outdated. I touch on this in On a Revised Division of Labor. Gatekeepers are those things (or people) telling you that you can’t do something until you’ve done something else. And the thing is – they’re always going to be something else. Barriers to enter don’t serve you, they serve the gatekeepers.

In his A Brief Guide to World Domination, Chris Guillebeau says that gatekeepers expect “a willingness to accept the rules of the system so that it can continue enriching [them].” The rules they’ve established, or that they are maintaining, give gatekeepers security. In fact, if we begin to even question their points of authority or the logic behind some rules, we are understood to be undermining the system in place. Just a gentle nudge in the direction of questioning, and we see them clasp even tighter to the regimentations that give them security.

Beach photo by Mink Mingle

“If you don’t follow the rules they set, gatekeepers get worried because they are threatened by change or any challenge to their authority.” – Chris Guillebeau

Our culture is saturated with rules that serve to limit our growth and our view of the world. The thing is, we don’t have to align our beliefs and goals with them. We are free to question the apparent barriers that have been so adamantly pushed onto us. We are free to question the rules, and the rewards we are told that we will gain from following them. If we get push back, it may well be because we’ve neglected to follow an outdated rule that serves to keep us where we are and keep gatekeepers where they are.

Even if we follow all of the rules of the gatekeepers, we are not guaranteed a spot in their ranks. It’s not an absolute path of least resistance, even if it’s made out to be that way. There are continuously new impositions that seek to shift people into convenient slots, propping up gatekeepers and diminishing the innovative ideas that could render them obsolete. But if we question their rules, we stand to gain a life that is far more flexible and far more inclined to growth.

Substantiation of Selfhood

Western selfhood thrives in normative extremes. We award it to celebrities, entrepreneurs, geniuses, moguls, and the other recognized outliers in our society. Selfhood flourishes under circumstantial and often external conditions; and it’s reigned in socially for non-outliers. It thrives in normative extremes because it demands some substantiation. One who possesses the ultimate prize of selfhood traditionally overcomes an obstacle – namely not being himself because of the pressures to conform, and further, being ridiculed for being himself. This may explain why many are so keen on identifying themselves as recipients of targeted personal attacks. Beyond seeking to receive some acknowledgement for a particular period of suffering, this person also positions himself as an outlier. There, he can reap the rewards of substantiation, or fail to meet the standards which would grant him a socially actualized role.

The outlier is in a peculiar social space; he positions himself closer to externally-actualized selfhood.

photo by Ken Wu

If he becomes substantiated by qualities such as wide audience-ship and quantitative success, he reaches the award of selfhood. He will gain definitions – genius, tour de force, revolutionary. If the outlier fails (or has yet) to be substantiated, he is assigned alternative, less sophisticated-sounding names for his individuality – nutcase, loser, weirdo. In a third scenario, the outlier gains substantiation, and hence normative selfhood, after his death. Take the clear example of Vincent Van Gogh, the man ridiculed during his life and idolized after his death. He gains selfhood, one assigned to him, and one which becomes normative by virtue of general acceptance.

The super-ego assigns normative selfhood, where the super-ego is social construct. Beyond it’s understood conceptualization as a system of internalized ideals, we recognize too that these ideals are unconsciously or consciously stamped onto our worldly perceptions. The super-ego reflected onto perception could take form of broad statements in which the sayer will assign his own purpose as the same purpose he see others wanting him to possess. Acknowledgment of this occurs widely once selfhood has been assigned. Examples exist from a large scope of individuals, from rappers, to artists, to actors, to investment bankers, to business owners. These statements sound like: “I told them I was going to make it big” and “I knew I was going to be someone”.

There are those driven to substantiate, “to be someone.” Someone is not a default; it’s something awarded.

Even take into consideration the following phrase: to be discovered. Some go to places to be discovered, like Los Angeles and New York. Though this the action of the individual serves in a limited capacity by the implications of the phrase. The individual seeking substantiation makes a physical move, and then poses, perhaps in all the capacity that he can muster, as a figure waiting for discovery. “To be discovered”, he supposes that the power of his selfhood, as representable to the public, rests in the hands of another individual that does the discovering.

photo by Aleks Dalhbeg

We work on the same principles of substantiation, though with widely different examples. Socialized extremes become normative not because they allow public usage of the properties of selfhood that an awarded member of society possesses. That is to say, the actions, mannerisms, and other definers of the person assigned selfhood are culturally okay for him to have. But the unsubstantiated outlier, or the common public, may not have the luxury of holding the same definers of that person. In a covertly regimented manner, the behaviors of the person with selfhood has been normalized. Why? The behaviors are segmented from the general population. It’s normalization through clear differentiation, through assignment, through allowed, normative extreme.

Selfhood works in extremes because the common assumption rests that the majority will not be substantiated outliers.

Outliers are the extreme examples of a culture’s population members. We know our outliers by name, sometimes by face, and many times, by their notable substantiations. Namely, their substantiations comprise their actions towards the population, and the culture’s reciprocal recognition of the outlier’s impact. Note that the award of selfhood is not used exclusively with positive rights of recognition, and often those with the most poignant characterizing attributes rest in infamy.

photo by Prayasi Panda

Normalizing selfhood through the process of substantiation culturally assigns defined behavior.

It simultaneously reserves the defined behaviors to the outlier. The general population is left to survey the outlier, through lenses of adoration, resentment, etc. Each outlier has his own brand of selfhood, but his substantiations come through largely similar means as the other outliers. He tells us, lest we overcome the pressures to confirm, lest we be ridiculed, we may not be in the ranks of outlier. For that is the most promising position – wedged in the general population, unsubstantiated – that we may fight for claim to selfhood. And should we win it, that we may encourage more of the masses to become outliers, and out of right and morally-justified action, live out our behaviors as we would have living among those who only loved us.

The Glamour of Being Busy

“I’m too busy.” It’s often heard with a tone of conflicted catharsis, even if it’s the umpteenth time the same person’s said it that day. The statement seems no longer used just as a way to excuse oneself, but simultaneously to induce guilt in the party it’s proclaimed to. It nearly says, “I’m so busy…busier than you.” And could even go as far as to suggest that one’s time is more valuable than another’s, by sheer virtue of declaration. Overused and often unsubstantiated, proclamations of busyness have come to impose themselves as a badge of social glory. Put simply, it’s glamorous to be busy – or at least to think oneself busy.

Where once we would have rivaled a claim at busyness with a suggestion of mismanagement of time, it’s now heralded as a trait of the truly dedicated.

It’s a blanket statement – in regards that it is very general, requiring no proof to be substantiated. And it oftentimes puts the recipient of such statement in a position not to question it’s validity. In a typical and contemporary business setting, and especially heard from a manager, we can do nothing more than proclaim sympathy, even if the sympathy is not genuine. The structure of our culture allows for these sort of communication loopholes. But where’s the glamour in being busy? The phrase is already somewhat compelling, easy to declare, and usable under a wide variety of situations.

photo by Cesar Loper Rivadeneira

Part of the glamour of busyness lies in its duality: at once the sayer is claiming an importance of his time by virtue of it being limited, and he is also moving blame off of himself for his limitations.

Scarcity or limited supply is often equated with the value of an object or concept. For example, physical items in limited supply tend to be more expensive. In this discourse, time has a definitive limitation, though the parameters of its limitations are unclear within yield of the maximum approximation. That is to say, we know the general lifespan of a human being, but cannot account for “premature”  death and other events that would terminate a lifespan before, or even after, the estimated lifespan. So within the parameters of limitation, to have one’s time mostly filled may be equitable with free time being more precious.

However, we often see outliers to this logical sequence. Either the time spent is not properly used during the available time for such activity (for example eight hours per work day), the time is mismanaged overall (when scheduling traverses multiple facets of an individual’s life, such as work and non-work times), or the individual is not being truthful about his level of busyness. Taking the three outliers, and noting that there could be more unaccounted for here, we see that in sequence, claiming a lack of time may offer the opportunity to offload or outright shirk responsibility.

photo by Jonatan Pie

Especially in workplaces, shrugging off the dusty layer of convoluted linguistic loopholes leaves room for clearer delineation of tasks and for understood lines of responsibility.

If we seek to continuously claim busyness, we do no better than closing our doors to fertile lines of communication. And if the busyness is valid, and we continue to claim it, we must acknowledge the conscious choice we are making in the usage of our time. Consequently, we should be compelled to realign those dependent on our help and results, so that they may fulfill their requests elsewhere or in a self-sufficient manner.

Claiming busyness must be understood as connected to the external. Conceptual and actual busyness, especially in a professional setting, is interwoven with too many other factors to be taken lightly. In some particularly unsettling effect, busyness is a falsehood fabricated for the sake of distracting oneself from guilt resulting from under-accomplishment. The glamour of busyness comes in part with the enticing coverall loophole effect it has. In many cases, it’s easier to claim busyness rather than truly access one’s usage of his limited time, or even more daunting to the unrealized individual, to truly access his self-excusing.

If we call ourselves too busy, we are charged with a potent confrontation. Are we really too busy? Are we allocating our time well or poorly? And what exactly do we gain in calling ourselves busy? Busyness is a construct of our times. It’s a cry of the high ranks, but the reality of it stands that busyness is a false glamour. This meaning, busyness appears glamorous but it comes with a load of implications and doesn’t serve to get to honest communication.

On the Cultural Fit

Hiring based on “cultural fit” can breed hostile, toxic environments that seek to either homogenize or alienate any employees who have difficulty conforming, or simply choose not to conform. Surely, the cultural fit method is meant to craft an environment of creative freedom and positive teamwork. This works on the basis that the cultural members are ethical and agree on a common work goal. Though in some cases, it has turned into clear violations of ethicality in the workplace. You may recognize the cultural fit method during interviewing processes such as through the following statements: “he’s not a cultural fit”, “he’s too old”, and “I don’t think she would be okay with the dirty humor.”

The method of cultural fit hiring may skew the process towards preference for those individuals who are perceived as either more similar or more malleable.

photo by Paul Morris

Similarity in moral codes of the workers means that toxicity may not be regarded as unhealthy, and malleability ensures that the individual hired can be manipulated into thinking that because the majority regards some behaviors as healthy, they are healthy. In the poor model of cultural fit hiring, good workers can easily be written off for reasons that may or may not be explicitly addressed. For example, rather than saying “I don’t like that her opinion about sports is different than mine, ” you could say “she’s not a cultural fit.” No further explanation is needed from an already complacent group.

“Instead of being a strategy for hiring and keeping talented people, culture fit is often seen as a convenient way of discriminating against otherwise qualified people.” – Christine del Castillo

Beyond sometimes being used as a mode of discrimination, the cultural fit model clearly segments those who belong and those who do not. Separation the workplace in this way can lead to destructive behaviors as the core group of individuals who belong, and the outliers, hash out their purpose and place in the work environment. What more, those who belong are not necessarily better workers, but are able to play to the advantage of the majority by replacing hard work with other forms of byproduct of work. These byproducts could be social connections, favors, and other beneficial acquirements.

photo by Jeremy Bishop

Some become so inculcated and pacified by their status within a workplace culture group that they completely forgo moral action.

Equally disheartening is coming into a new workplace, being shadowed by the sense of belongingness, and even participating in the immoral actions before recognizing outsider status. Not only is there personal implication in the issue, but there is also a sense of deep regret for not understanding sooner that “belonging” does not mean one is acting in ethical behaviors. These are some of the issues that we often deal with in high school, but they inevitably leak into our professional lives long after we exit school. Unlike high school, which often offers no real threat for non-conformity and sometimes even glamorizes it, professional non-conformity faces higher stakes. Those outliers may confront or be in contact with intimidation, rumors, and even a loss of job. Some of these may be indirect. For example, consistent intimidation and uncomfortable behavior can lead employees to believe that their only option is seeking alternative employment.

In some cases, we do not even recognize membership in a cultural group unless it has been specifically pointed out, or we have been clearly designated as an Other.

In sociology, the Other is the group which the power-seeker puts himself in relationship with, that he may claim his power over the Other. It works in this manner because social relations are all relative. In this, a very efficient way of creating a “culture” is by separating an “us” and a “them”. The “us” is constructed as the normal and normative entity. In historical examples, we see that the power-seeking “us” uses propaganda, common paradigmatic thinking, and even force, to demonstrate their place. As Sociologist Philomena Essed puts it, “Group power exists as long as the group stays together against the ‘others’.” Note that we oftentimes see the defining of the Other in larger-scale attempts of power, such as racism, but the term can also apply to smaller models.

photo by Mathew Waters

Cultural fit does more than create a group, it fosters an opportunistic environment in which bad behavior is reinforced and even encouraged.

The outliers may go to work simply seeking not to be noticed so that they do not become subject to reminders of their differences from a core cultural group. Does consuming the same media as your coworker mean you will work well together? Or do we use this form of designation to assign arbitrary meaning to relationships in the workplace? Certainly, homogeny has a lesser chance of forming high-quality forward-thinking work than does diversity. And if cultural fit means acceptance of any and all behaviors in the workplace performed by some select individuals, the best “cultural fit” is the one most willing to swallow his pride, or the one without regard for morality in the business setting at all. As the workplace progresses and as workers increasingly spend more energy at work, it may serve us well to question the linguistic and power functions that we adopt, which serve to bolster regressive work models.