“Job” is not a bad word

Sometimes I feel like “job” has become a bad word. We are afraid of saying it, as if by saying it we are going against the new common sense. As if we are parting away from the “tribe” that everybody now wants to be a part of. You know that tribe, right? The “I don’t want to have to work for them for the rest of my life” tribe. We are afraid of admitting that we do – in fact – have a job. To have a job has become a bad thing.

There is a movement going on that is based on the premisse that people should no longer have jobs. Everybody should work for themselves, be their own bosses and choose what they want to do and when they want to do it. This movement states that jobs constrain us and limit us of achieving all the glories that we were meant to achieve. Author James Altucher calls it the “Choose Yourself” era.

For some, entrepreneurship is the new job and the startup is the new workplace. Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur. Everybody now has an “idea” they are sure will make them millionaires. The fact is, most people never actually execute their ideas. A shitty idea with perfect execution may earn you ten thousand dollars. MAYBE. But the world’s best idea with NO execution will make you zero dollars. FACT.

There are also the excuses people give about why they haven’t acted on their idea: no money, no angel investor (I don’t even know what that is), no venture capital (don’t know what that is either), no time, no team, no technical knowledge. Or maybe the world hasn’t conspired to make their idea become a real product, service or company. Eventually, the idea will die, reality will check in and they will realize that maybe they shouldn’t have quit their job just yet.

So maybe entrepreneurship isn’t the answer. How about offering one-on-one services, like a freelancer or a liberal professional? Even the world’s best business consultant may find that it’s difficult to enter the market or even find new markets. Not everybody is an expert in spotting trends, finding their ideal customer or validating ideas. Ramit Sethi argues that he can teach anyone how to be rich. Through his products and services, he teaches how to become an awesome consultant or freelancer. He even helps people to find their dream jobs. I have no idea. It may work for some people, but it certainly doesn’t work for everybody. 

There are millions of possibilities for making money and satisfying career. They are all great, but all of them don’t work for all of us. Or maybe they even do, but at a different moment in a our lives. Sometimes we have to go through the “job” phase before we can move on to doing our own thing. But, we tend to want to quit our jobs the minute we feel dissatisfied, or feel that our potential is not being tapped into, or when we believe we earn too little or even when we believe that we’re better than our current rank.

Like everything else, sometimes work sucks. We feel pressured, we feel insecure, we feel unmotivated. It happens to everybody and it doesn’t mean we should quit our jobs on the spot (although I’m guilty of having done that, twice). Jobs are important.

I believe that some people are meant to have jobs for their entire lives. Some love it. Some don’t love it, but are fine with it. Some people look at their jobs as being secondary in their lives. That “thing” that they have to do 9 hours a day before they can go do the important things. They’re fine with that. Most people I know fall into that category and they’re happy, as far as I can tell.

All jobs are necessary and we need people for them. Look at the most basic of jobs. What if all the street-sweepers and garbage collectors in the world decided to quit and open their own businesses? These are fundamental jobs and they are important and the people who work at them are superheroes. What if there were no doctors, nurses or attendants at hospitals? What if there were no waiters at restaurants? What if hotels had no staff? What if there were no pilots or flight attendants on planes? If everybody was an entrepreneur of a freelancer, who would drive public buses or teach at schools and universities or help us at stores and supermarkets? Who would we call when – God help us – our internet crashed? Who would create, produce, market and sell every single product that we own – from cookies to the iPad?

Jobs are necessary. They serve a purpose. Many countries in the world are going through deep financial crises; including Brazil, with a 13% unemployment rate. So, to even have a job nowadays is a matter of pride and a reason for feeling grateful. It doesn’t matter whether you love it or not. We all have mouths that need to be feed, roofs to cover our heads and pillows to sleep on.

Job is not a bad word. Not for everyone. Not all the time. And for some of us, not forever.

Some people are meant to be employees, some are not. We have to figure out in which category we belong to. And take our time.

Until then, we should all just keep our jobs.

Note 1: We should all take a moment and think about government-related jobs. We should definitely cut all of those.

Note 2: I put the links up for angel investor and venture capital, but didn’t really go through the trouble of reading the wiki pages, so I still don’t know what they are.

How I failed to teach my team how to learn – and got fired because of it

I worked at a company for one and a half years as a team coordinator. I had 11 collaborators, from interns to senior analysts. Despite the names of our ranks, we were all new to our craft. We had come together from different backgrounds into this newly formed team to help the company thrive in a time of economic disaster throughout the country.

I had no idea what to do.

How do you teach your team when you are a novice yourself?

My first action was to assembled the team in my office and let them know that we were on the same boat. We were all apprentices. We had to learn together and we had to learn fast. We had to deliver.

Learning to create reports on Excel and memorizing formulas was pretty easy and we all learned fast. But, analyzing all the information and turning in the reports with due analyses was a bit harder. We had to learn what to tell the sales team so they could meet and ultimately over-deliver on their goals. We had to make the company grow.

And learning technicalities is also easy. We excelled in that as well. We were a good team.

But, there was more that we had to learn. We had to learn to work together, to respect each other’s differences, to help bring up to speed those who were a little behind. We had to learn our weaknesses and strengths and work on them. We all had to learn to be leaders.

Quite a task.

What to do?

I had to start somewhere, so I asked my team to do two things. First, only read and respond to e-mails twice a day and for no longer than two hours. This would keep them from wasting too much time on unimportant things and it would keep annoying, needy people away. It would also improve productivity. If something was urgent, people would call or come looking for us at our office.

Nothing was ever urgent, so now we bought some time.

Second, I asked them to take one hour a day to read, watch, listen, and learn. Whether it was magazines, newspapers, TED videos, online courses, anything! They should spend one hour each day learning something new. Then, they should share with everybody else something interesting that they found, so that the whole team could benefit from each one’s individual learning.

I didn’t want us to learn only about our technical jobs, but also about business, entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership, culture, human behaviors. I wanted all of us to become better humans and better problem solvers. I wanted us to learn to have millions of ideas every day, execute them well, and learn how to deal with all kinds of people at all kinds of situations. I wanted us to start growing immediately.

I thought this was the greatest idea I had ever had.

…and then things took a turn for the worse.

Boy, was I wrong.

It turns out that the culture instilled in employees inside an industry/sales business was that of “busyness”. We didn’t have to be busy 24/7, but we had to appear that we were. If we weren’t busy with something, we weren’t looking in the right places.

I always thought busyness was overrated and harmful. I believed that real productivity was to meet your deadlines (and over-deliver with quality) within your daily working hours, and grow professionally in the process. .

But, culture is a difficult thing to change. It took me three months to convince my team to get up from their chairs and leave at 4:48 p.m. (the end of their shift), because they were used to working extra hours every single day. When I looked at them during the day, it always seemed as if they were working on the most important project there ever was. But, I knew that this didn’t happen that often. Not everything that landed on our plates were extremely important or urgent. But, they thought that they had to work hard all the time, every day; even if there wasn’t much hard work to do. But, working hard isn’t just about making 10 Excel reports per hour. Learning is also work.

Nurturing the intellect is key to thriving in our careers.

After I set the task of learning everyday, I found out that they felt embarrassed to be seen with videos and articles on their computers. They were afraid that people would pass by them, look at their screen and infer that they were wasting company money and time with leisure-related activities.

No matter how much I told them not to worry and that I would take responsibility if ever we were confronted about this, they wouldn’t do it. They felt their careers would be damaged – even though I was their boss. Plus, they always had something important an urgent to do.

I persisted for 2 months, and then something happened.

During lunchtime, I ate at my desk so I could read. At the time, I was reading Tim Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Work Week, which was terribly translated to “Work for only four hours a week” (Trabalhe 4 horas por semana). This book is where I learned about the dangers of e-mail compulsive disorder and decided to change my approach to online letter exchange, as well as many other ideas to help improve my productivity. The “living a rich life” part of the book I’m saving for the not-so-distant future.

One day, a friend came to me and said, “Listen, I have to talk to you. Some guys from your team have been gossiping about you. They talked about that book you’re reading and said that you’re trying to dump all the work on them so you can work for only 4 hours a week. They think the whole ‘learn something every day’ thing is an excuse for you to work even less. Now, I know none of this is true and that you’re trying to create different ways to improve your team. But that’s not how you’re being perceived.”

Well, that certainly wasn’t what I expected.

If I ever felt like a failure in my lifetime, it was in that moment. The moment I realized that sometimes even our most respectable intentions can be misinterpreted. not everybody is susceptible to changes, to improvement. Some people conform to the norms and they’re very happy with it. It gives them security and peace of mind.

It wasn’t that they were afraid to learn something new and change the way they worked. They were afraid of how they would be perceived by their colleagues by doing things differently. They were afraid that their careers could be harmed if it turned out that I was wrong.

Conventionality was safe.

Innovation was risky.

I decided to change my approach to my team. I adapted to their standards and lead them in a way that they could follow and grow in their own terms. I also learned very much from them. I learned that following rules was guaranteed to keep you safe. That depending on the company you work at, keeping your opinions to yourself preserved you. That challenging status quo could get you fired.

I refused to be ordinary. And so I was fired.

(My team wasn’t, thankfully)

I wasn’t fired because I was incompetent. I was fired because I didn’t fit in at the company. We had different ideas for the future and for our employees. They needed someone who could sell; I was someone who could teach.

I started searching for another job two months before I was fired. When they finally kicked me out, I wasn’t surprised; I was delighted. We definitely weren’t a match.

I hope that my former team will continue to develop themselves and learn to grow and learn always and often. I hope they will understand the value of self-improvement and problem-solving. I hope they will benefit from it and grow because of it. If not, I hope they will be happy with the lives that they chose. We are all different, anyways. Happiness and success means different things to all of us.

Meanwhile, I’m getting in trouble at my new job with my weird, unconventional ideas.

I’ll take the risk.

I prefer to grow and stumble along the way, than to stay put and remain ordinary. (Remember, I am not a tree)

Who said change was easy?

The singing dancing soccer player

This week I showed up at my son’s school to drop off his afternoon snack. I arrived as his Physical Education class was going on. He and his classmates were playing soccer at the court.

Noah neither likes soccer, nor knows how to play it. But, everybody had to take part. This was the required P.E. activity for all the boys – though not for the girls, I noticed.

As I observed, the ball was kicked from one side of the court to the other and all the kids would race towards it like their lives depended on it. Pushing and shoving each other to get to the ball. Noah was nowhere to be seen. When I finally found him, he was way in the back, strolling and spinning his way towards the ball, way behind everybody else, in his own pace and looking as if he was in another dimension.

Everybody talks about being in flow state. That’s what Noah looked like… Like he was in his own flow state.

The game went on and on and Noah seemed to follow the boys wherever they went. But, he moved very slow, not caring much about what was going on. He was doing his own thing – dancing, spinning, skipping. His teacher kept calling out his name, urging him to run for the ball and take part.

But, no. He just wanted to do his strolling and dancing through the court. The ball was definitely not his priority at that moment.

At some point, I realized that he was doing some kind of performance in his head. Right there, in the middle of soccer practice. He was singing, dancing and performing in the middle of the soccer court during P.E. class.

That’s Noah. The boy who sings and dances all the time, everywhere, in front of everybody and isn’t the least worried about it.

He will sing songs by Ariana Grande and Beyoncé and imitate their choreographies. Other times, he’ll put on Master of Puppets, by Metallica, and listen to it two or three times in a row, while doing his own version of rock dancing. He listens to The Beatles while in the shower and pretends he’s George Harrison playing guitar. He watched La La Land recently and has been singing and dancing to it’s music for the past month – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

He’s not afraid of expressing himself, no matter the situation or location. He’s not afraid that people will be looking or judging. He doesn’t care if he looks weird. He’s not worried if he’s on beat or in tune.

Some people will say that little 6-year-old boys shouldn’t be dancing to music by Ariana Grande and Katy Perry. I’ve heard some say that it might affect his “masculinity” – whatever the hell that means. Boys should play soccer, watch sports on TV, play video-games and wear blue, obviously.

Noah isn’t playing the “boy” part very well, according to people. But, he’s not playing the “girl” part either. So what does that make of him?

To me, it makes him unique.

I know that if I start trimming the parts of Noah that society believes must be trimmed, I will be raising him to be an average society-approved person.

But I don’t raise Noah according to society norms; I raise him by my own standards.

I give him freedom.

Noah will dance and sing. He will study music and paint.

He will shake his booty, if that’s what he wants.

And he’ll grow up to be… Noah.

………………………

And if by any chance you speak Portuguese, you may want to watch my son’s recommendation of La La Land on YouTube. It’s super sweet. Though you cannot view it on phones and tablets, because it contains music from the movie.

We are not raising children; we are breeding adults

Noah started reading when he was 3. When he was almost 4, he could write his own name. Between ages 4 and 5, he learned the basics of reading and writing and started to put small sentences together. By age 5, he could read simple children’s books. At the current age of 6, he was able to follow the captions to the movie Lalaland, which we watched together last week. Last year at school he learned how to add and subtract and at home I taught him how to multiply and divide.

Noah is a fast learner and I think it’s kind of cool.

But, is this really important at this point? Would there had been any consequences if he had started to learn to read and write at age 6 or 8 rather than age 3? Does he have to know how to add and subtract at 6?

Noah has been sitting at a desk, staring at a whiteboard and doing homework since he was 3. 

I had no other choice but to put him in school. Compared to other possibilities, school was cheaper.  But, I pay a price.

At the age of 6 (and the preceding years), I believe that kids should play. They should create and build and search and discover and pretend and imagine and be curious and PLAY. They should run and climb trees and fall and play ball and swim and be active. They should make friends and interact and socialize. They should sing and dance and paint and draw and act. They should even get bored – something kids don’t have the luxury of doing nowadays.

But we aren’t nurturing creativity and curiosity, we are killing them. (see Do schools kill creativity? by Ken Robinson)

Instead of coming home with drawings, paintings and new games to play from school, Noah brings two textbooks and 6 or 7 pages of homework to do every single day.

Again, he’s 6.

I want him to read. I want him to learn through books. As far as I know, that’s where real knowledge is and that’s one of the ways we cultivate imagination.

As part of homework, Noah now has to watch videos on my phone. Augmented reality is now a school subject and smartphones are the new books.

Noah loves to sing and dance and paint and act. But, school hasn’t supported or encouraged him in these activities. Originality and uniqueness are not praised; they are contained. Everyone has to wear the same clothes, sing the same songs and on recitals, they all play the same part.

It’s all backwards.

Schools are not striving to nurture creative human beings. They want to create disciplined students who are great at memorizing historic dates and who’ll get into the best universities when they’re 18. Which will be hard, since none of them will excel in anything, for they will have always learned to stay at the same level as the others. We’re settling for average.

So it seems that we are not raising children; we are breeding adults. And not very good ones, mind you.

We’re not raising thinkers; we’re breeding memory champions. We’re not teaching curiosity; we’re celebrating obedience. We’re not nurturing talents; we are striving for average. We are not cultivating their art – in whatever form that may be; we are demanding an A+ on math.

School may not prioritize art, creativity and movement in Noah’s daily life. And I no longer expect them to.

But, as long as he’s with me, we will live as curious adventurous artists every day. I’ll make sure of it.

To hell with school.


This afternoon (Saturday), Noah and I came home from lunch and we stayed downstairs for a while. Our building has coconut trees and there were a few of coconuts on the grass, at the bottom of this little hill. We picked up about 10 of them and started throwing them from the top to see which ones rolled faster down the hill. It was a coconut race. He won every time. Then, we came up to the apartment and laid down on the sofa with our books and read together for about 40 minutes. While I’m writing, he is still on the couch, reading.

We are making our own art.

PS: For my own sake, I hope he doesn’t decide to become a doctor or an engineer.

On being humbled by the lack of knowledge

On my first job, during one of my first days, my boss was giving me lessons on how to deal with complicated clients. She told be about a tactic that she used that could help me get out of tough spots every once in a while. She said, “When you’re losing an argument with a client, just say ‘You’re absolutely right!’.”

This was around 2004. I was an intern at an advertising agency and my boss was the senior account executive. She was in charge of all the big clients and I was in charge of following her to meetings and takings notes for her briefings. She had been doing her job for over 15 years. She knew what she was talking about. I had just arrived.

Week three of the job came and my boss decided that I was ready to prospect my own clients. It was three in the afternoon, I was half asleep writing a briefing on the computer when I hear this thunderous BANG! right beside me and nearly fall of the chair. She had just dropped a huge 2 kilo phone directory on my table. She looked at me and said, “This is our current market. I need you to call all of the companies in this book and offer them our advertising services. You can just open it randomly, pick one, call and keep tab of who you’re calling. Aim for the big ones.” 

I thought she was kidding, so I laughed. 

She wasn’t kidding.

I felt that this approach was so absurd – and I was only 19 at this point – that I had to say something. So I said, “Is this really the best way to prospect clients? It doesn’t seem efficient.” She answered, “You’re the intern; I’m the expert. Do the work.” To which I readily replied, “You’re absolutely right. I’m on it.”

I still had to do the daily random calling every day for a few months, but we got along much better after this. With time, patience and a bit of reverse psychology, I got her to come around and start using some more efficient and effective strategies for prospecting clients. I remembered an old Ogilvy story I had read and used it as compass.

Ogilvy’s initial foray into direct mail came when he was an office boy at a London advertising agency. A man came in wanting to advertise a country house he was converting into a hotel. He had just $500 to spend on an ad campaign, and the agency head quickly turned the assignment over to one of his lowliest employees.

The clever young man – Ogilvy – invested the small budget into penny postcards (covered, no doubt, in his own glowing copy) and mailed them to wealthy people who lived in the area. Six weeks later, when the hotel opened, it had a full house.

The Advertising Solution by Craig Simpson

I have used “You’re absolutely right” a thousand times since then. It works. 

The years passed, and I realized that the “You’re right” really actually implies that “I don’t know”. In other words, by confirming that the other person was right, I was admitting my own ignorance. When I thought I was just practicing detachment from my own pride, I was actually internalizing that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t always actually right. Sometimes, it turned out that I really didn’t know.

Although this concept may seem simple, we live in a world where we all are expected to be experts. The world demands that we know. We have to know. If we don’t know, we don’t get ahead. If we don’t have an MBA, we won’t get the best jobs. If we don’t know the big people or don’t have the best network, then we won’t be known or won’t get promoted. If we don’t know how to pitch, sell, market, growth hack, life hack, love hack, motivate, build business, practice mindfulness, meditate, weight-lift or speak 3 languages, we won’t be successful. We won’t live a happy and rich life.

This so-called abstract pseudo-meritocratic information era is putting a strain on every human being to be a living-breathing-walking big data platform that spends 24 hours a day taking data inputs and calculating exact effective outcomes. To not know is not an option.

But it could be. 

Not knowing and having the humility to admit it allows you to make mistakes without failing. I don’t believe that failure is when you try and fail. Failure is when you try, fail and give up. If you try and fail and learn and start over again (construct, measure, learn? See The Lean Startup by Erick Ries), then it’s not failure. It’s experience.

Early 2016 I applied for a Master’s Degree in Science, Technology and Innovation at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte. This course wants to look at the process of creating a product, service, process or business from the perspective of the scientific method (watch this video of Richard Feynman giving the ULTIMATE lesson on scientific method). I had to prepare a project for a product, service or process that was innovative and submit it to the faculty. My brilliant idea – which I didn’t even think to validate before submitting – got a fantastically well-deserved 3 out of 10.

On the second semester, the same program opened again with only 10 spots and over 100 applicants. I went to the university, knocked on the door of the course’s director and said, “I really want to earn a Master’s Degree in your course. But, I really need some help with my project.” He said, “Ok, sure! What’s your idea?” I said, “I don’t know.” So, we sat down, talked, and throughout the following 4 weeks he advised me on the creation of my second project. When results came out, I got a 10 out of 10 and got my spot. He later called me and offered to be my adviser throughout the next 2 years and we are now an official team.

“I don’t know” gets you places. It opens up doors. It welcomes change and value and connection. It inspires growth and evolution. It induces introspection and investigation. It pokes at our childlike curiosity and creativity. It humbles us.

My son, Noah, was once talking to me and said, “Mommy, you’re the most intelligent person in the world; you know everything.” I replied, “No, Noah. I don’t know everything, but every day I learn something from you.” He said, “Well, then maybe I’M the most intelligent person in the world!”

If there’s someone in this world who actually knows something, it’s Noah. Who knows?

Special note:

  1. According to the very well updated Nobel Prize website, Richard Feynman’s biography tell us that he is currently “a Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology.” And here I thought he was dead.