1. Put your life in the hands of “How to” lists.
1. Put your life in the hands of “How to” lists.
I’m an advertiser turned-marketer who wants to become a writer. So, obviously, the logical thing to do was to course a Big Data program and take a class on cloud-computing; which I did last year. I can almost see myself receiving a Pulitzer or a Jabuti prize for my memoir-styled novel about how to become a marine biologist after living 10 years as a buddhist monk taking care of baby koalas who are learning how to program. In C++. On the cloud. You know… PaaS. I know my CS shit.
During these amusing classes on how to create multiple entities on a single server in order to guarantee availability, I made friends with a guy who had just graduated with a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering. When I asked him why he was taking a course on Big Data, he said, “I was laying around the house, doing nothing. So, this seemed like a good idea.”
We were both very enthusiastic about this course.
We always spent our class hours talking about all things non-related to cloud computing, including things such as what it’s like to live in Hungary (he was there for a year), what it was like to be 30 and unemployed (which I was all through 2016), what we did on our free time and how social networks were killing our intelligence and creativity.
We got to talking about when we started using social networks. I told him I started with mIRC. He didn’t know what mIRC was. I realized I was 9 years older than him.
I began with mIRC when I was 13. The year was 1998. I would wait until my parents were busy, lock myself in the basement, log into random chat rooms and talk to people, pretending I was a 23-year-old biology major at some fake university who liked poetry and listened to alternative rock. I wanted other fake adults to think I was a cool fake adult.
A few years later, MySpace was born and I created my account, obviously. I breezed through the ICQ era, until MSN started to get traction. When Orkut came along, one of the world’s first social networks (if not the first), I was already hooked on social networks.
I remember Hi5 and Friendster, but can’t recall if I used them. When blogging was the thing, I began blogging – and I’ve had over 10 different blogs since then. When YouTube came out, I started vlogging. In 2007, an American friend invited me to Facebook; my Brazilian friends started joining the following year. In 2009, I created a Twitter account and have been and on/off user for the past 8 years. And then came WhatsApp. Ka-boom!
Larissa. Social freak. Hardcore. Needy. Show-off. Addicted.
Recently, I realized that I was using Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp excessively; to the point where I was having mental fatigue. I had no more time for anything and I became obsessive with my phone, checking it every 5 minutes. I would spend hours scrolling through Facebook feeds of people I didn’t even like. It was a disease.
As days went by, I could see that my connections in social media were neither real nor meaningful. People who would like or comment on my pictures on Facebook or Instagram wouldn’t even say “Hi!” when passing by me in real life. You know that awkward moment when you see the person, they see you, and both of you turn away? Yeah…
One day, I counted how many Whatsapp groups I was in. Sixteen! These were the kind of groups where someone would say “Good morning!” at 6 a.m. and everybody would feel obligated to answer. I never answered. They were also the kind of groups where people would send pictures of angels and videos of cats doing idiot things every day. I never ever downloaded a single one.
Something was wrong. And I felt it the first time I logged onto mIRC, almost 20 years ago.
A friend prompted me to reflect on these things a few weeks ago when we were talking about friendship, connection, social media, and what was the purpose of participating in any of these networks. I thought a lot about that and a few days later, I left. I left Facebook and 12 of my 16 Whatsapp groups.
I realized that I hated all of it. Not only were these connections artificial and meaningless and annoying, but they were disturbing my life. I had to get away.
I went even a step farther and disabled all notifications for the remaining Whatsapp groups, all incoming SMSs, Instagram, YouTube, Gmail and Twitter. I made it so that my phone would only ring or vibrate when someone called me – which is almost never – or when someone talked directly to me on Whatsapp. Everything and everyone else is silenced.
And then, the most amazing things started happening: I stopped picking up my phone every 10 minutes, I was finally able to focus on the task at hand – whatever it was, I was more productive at work, and I found that I had time to do my writing and reading every day. I even had more time to play with my son.
A few days ago, all of my doubts about the artificiality and superficiality of social media were settled. April 25th was my son’s birthday and guess what happened? No one called to wish him happy birthday. Not my grandmothers, not my aunts or cousins, not his classmates – through their parents, not even anyone from his dad’s family. Not even his dad.
My mom told me that the family congratulated him on our familie’s groups (both of which I’m no longer a part of). But, Noah didn’t receive these messages. He’s 7. He’s not in any Whatsapp group. He’s not on Facebook. He doesn’t have a phone. If someone wanted to wish him happy hirthday, they had to call him on my number. And no one did.
And this is my fault. Our fault. All of us humans. We let it get to this point. It’s so much easier to write a shallow birthday message and post it on a group than to pick up the phone and actually talk to the human being on the other side. Talking with others is really, really hard. It has become a burden that most people don’t want to deal with. I was a part of this. I did the same thing for years. Now, people are more distant and I feel a little left out, alone. About 99% of the people in my life disappeared the day I left social media.
But, the important people in our lives participate, no matter what. They remember us even if we’re not posting pictures and comments every day. They remember our birthdays and call us or text us directly – either is acceptable to me. They ask us out for coffee or drinks. They send messages asking how we’re doing and what we’re up to. And even if that conversation only goes as far as “I’m fine, how are you?”, it shows that the person was thinking of us. To me, that counts.
I left social media and most people didn’t notice, but I’m OK. Every time someones asks me why I left, I’ll send them the link to this post with the caption: “This is why I left. Thank you for caring. Your number will never be silenced. You are important.”
The important people will notice, sooner or later.
Note: I realize that sometimes us writers can get emotional about a topic, especially if it’s related to something that happened recently and had a certain impact, whether negative or positive. When I wrote down the idea for this post, it was weeks before Noah’s birthday. So, as I’m writing this now, I’m more sensitive because of all that happened – which made me sad – and I know it shows up in the writing. I tried to be honest without being hurtful to anyone. After all, we are all victims of technology.
Note 2: I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I still have Instagram, though I don’t use it much. I have Twitter, which I use every once in a while when I have spare time. I use Pinterest on a need-only basis, which is so rare that I don’t even have it downloaded on my phone. And I have to be on Whatsapp, otherwise I would be a complete hermit. About Noah, he has an Instagram account, which is only followed by family members and a few of my friends, it’s invite only and I handle it for him. He also has a YouTube account, because his current dream is to be a famous YouTuber. Like I said before, if it’s up to me he can be whatever he wants to be.
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.
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?
If you were to ask me now who the governor of my home state is I would have to stop and think for a minute before answering. The truth is: I don’t know. I have no idea. I’m not even sure who I voted for last election, or even if I voted at all.
Why? Because I don’t care. I don’t care about politics, politicians, the economy or current events in general. I decided a long time ago to stop watching television, a practice (or lack thereof) which I have successfully maintained for the past 8 years. I don’t read newspapers, magazines or news websites. I have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on in the world. Ever.
And let me confess something to you. When it comes to following the news, I tried. I really, really tried. But it just didn’t stick. Not once. I tried different newspapers, different bloggers, radios, channels. Nothing worked and, eventually, I gave up.
How do I feel about this? Just fine, thank you.
In his essay, On The Shortness of Life, Seneca said that people tend to waste their lives doing things, saying things or learning things that aren’t really important. People try to remember historic events so as to have small talk with their peers, or they try to memorize useless things so as to show others how smart they are. But, ultimately, these things aren’t bringing any real value to their lives. On the contrary, they take up time, our most valuable resource.
It was once a foible confined to the Greeks to inquire into what number of rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, whether moreover they belong to the same author, and various other matters of this stamp, which, if you keep them to yourself, in no way pleasure your secret soul, and, if you publish them, make you seem more of a bore than a scholar. But now this vain passion for learning useless things has assailed the Romans also. — Seneca, the Younger
Recently, I was talking to my grandmother about this. She believes that I should dedicate some time every day to watching the news and learning about the world. I had just recently read the aforementioned essay by Seneca and his thoughts about how people waste time with unimportant things. She says to me: “See? Even back then people considered important to read about news so they could talk to others.” To which I replied: “Yes, so much so that they prioritized talking to others rather than producing something of value and ended up anonymous in history, whereas Seneca, who defended that time be spent on the truly important things in life, produced content that exists till this day.”
She later asked me where I had learned to think this way. I told I had learned it by reading books. Books by people I admire, people I trust, people I respect. I read to foment my mind with fuel so that I can create things that are valuable for others. If I only try to learn what people already know or what everyone else is learning, how will I be of service to them? Think about it: if it takes me about 8 hours to read a book and most people spend about two hours a day catching up on the news; over the course of one year, that’s 91 books that I could have read and didn’t because I was busy learning about something that happened today that won’t matter tomorrow.
But then you could ask me: “What do you do when you’re in a group and someone asks you for your opinion on something that has happened recently?” What you really want to know is how I react when people are talking about something that might seem relevant at a particular moment and of which I know nothing about. Yeah, that happens. The thing is, if I don’t know anything about it, that already means that I’m not interested. In this particular moment in my life, I lead with a lot of people and I have to communicate with them, so I’m always open to hearing their thoughts on mostly anything. And when you don’t really follow what’s going on, you get to play the naive pupil and let people fill you in and explain what’s going on. Sometimes that works very well.
Not having an opinion is often better than having too many. Not knowing is preferable than knowing. Not knowing gives you permission to learn, whereas knowing puts a break on it. You may think that not knowing puts you at a disadvantage during discussions, but you can look at it in another way. When you don’t know, you get the opportunity to exercise childlike curiosity and have people explain things to you in the most detailed manner. And they will explain with a care and a patience that they wouldn’t have if you already knew and were just stating your opinion.
On his excellent TED talk, Tim Urban, from the blog WaitButWhy, shows us a life calendar, where there is one box for every week in our 90-year life (supposing most of us get there, of course). It puts things in perspective. If you color the boxes you have already used up, even more so. So, when people give me a weird look because I hadn’t heard that Portela had been crowned Rio’s best Samba School for the first time in 33 years, I just smile and ask them to tell me all about it. It makes them happy and I don’t feel like I have to Google it later. End of story.
Another friend told me that those who don’t know or care about politics end up being governed by those who do. I have people I trust that are much better at understanding politics and following it than me. So, when I need to know something, I just go to them. It makes them feel good and doesn’t waste my time. Maybe the reason I don’t care for politics is because we are consistently being governed by people who don’t know or care about it either.
Life is too short to spend our time learning things that don’t have any relevance.
And as to my home state’s current Governor? I still don’t know. Maybe I’ll ask around; maybe I won’t. It’s not really that important.