The insignificance of titles

On February 2nd, 2016, I was fired for the first time in my life.

BAM!

Just like that.

As I sat in my car, parked on the street corner in front of the company, with all my shit from my office scattered on the passenger seat, I thought, “I’m no longer Larissa: Senior Coordinator of Business Intelligence at Coca-Cola; I’m just Larissa, unemployed.”

I got home and put my things away, lay down on my bed and thought about how it felt to be fired. And the only thing that went through my head was my title: Coordinator of Business Intelligence. I had lost it.

Titleless, I would no longer sound important when people asked me what I did. It was no longer the highlight of my Linkedin profile. No longer my e-mail signature.

Sem título

My new Linkedin title is much cooler now

That’s what I had become. Someone who was attached to a silly title.

 

Throughout the following (consistently unemployed) year, this matter of having a title kept coming back to me. Why did it matter so much? Titles don’t define you. They’re not who you are. They’re temporary. As soon as you leave the job, company, post or whatever, you cease to have that title.

Not only do titles give the distorted impression of you as being important; they make you sound like an authority, an expert, a leader and master of sorts without needing to have any actual credentials.

I certainly didn’t feel like an expert in business intelligence; I was still learning. I was a beginner; far from being an expert. Come to think about it, I have always been an apprentice. Every job I ever had was completely different from the one before. So, every time I started a new one, I had to learn the ABCs of whatever the hell it was that I had to do. Throughout these jobs, my titles should all have been the same: Larissa, Senior Apprentice of All Things Related to Current Job Status.

Calling myself “Senior Coordinator of Business Intelligence” was a bit of a lie. I realized that the title wasn’t actually earned. It was just handed to me for some period of time. It was a loan. When the time came, it was taken away from me and given to somebody else.

Temporary.

So I decided that I wouldn’t let titles define me anymore.  I wouldn’t let the have any effect on how I perceived myself. To hell with titles.

Throughout the following months, after analyzing my life even a bit further, I realized that I actually had quite a few titles. But these were earned, given for life. They represent who I am and what I really stand for. They tell others much more about myself than a silly temporary job description. They show my personality, my attitudes, my accomplishments, and my goals.

I’m Larissa, badass mom.
Larissa, struggling artist.
Larissa, eternal student and learner.
Larissa, novice writer and poet.
Larissa, advertiser (not so proud of this one, but nevertheless).
Larissa, trusting friend.
Larissa, awesome granddaughter, daughter and sister.
Larissa, patient listener.
Larissa, amateur musician.
Larissa, avid reader.
Larissa, compulsive thinker.

No one can take those titles away from me.

I’m senior master badass of my own life.

Take that, Mr. Middle Manager.

Some tragedies are bigger than others

A tragedy happened recently in Brazil where dozens of people were killed in an airplane crash. Among them were the players of the Brazilian soccer team, Chapecoense

The entire country was devastated.

On Facebook, people changed their avatar to art designs that showed support to the victims and their families. For weeks others were posting about the magnitude of their pain and their sorrow and how this tragic event brought the country together. It was a collective sadness.

Companies and organizations held memorials and made all sorts of contributions to the team and the families of the players. Friendly soccer games were held to honor them, where the teams playing wore the jerseys of the Chapecó team. The country was united in the willingness to grieve and remember these victims.

It was a great tragedy.

For some reason, however, I wasn’t so struck by this tragedy like most of the country was. I wasn’t grieving, changing my avatar or posting about my sadness. I didn’t go out and buy the team’s jersey to show my support and the accident wasn’t a topic of any conversations that I held with anyone during that time.

To people around me, I seemed apathetic and cold; halfhearted. To them, it seemed that I didn’t care. I wasn’t a true Brazilian, perhaps. I had no empathy. No heart.

It’s funny how distorted people’s perception of us can be.

I cared. Of course I cared. It was a tragedy and it made me sad.

But, I just can’t understand why this particular tragedy seemed so much more important than all the others that happen every day, in every street corner, to so many families.

Families lose their children or parents or loved ones every day. They lose them to murderers and rapists and violent husbands or unexpected strangers. They lose them to drunk drivers and traffic accidents. They lose them to floods and earthquakes. They lose them to tirany and war. They lose them to cancer and AIDS and alcoholism and drugs and depression.

Families are torn apart, love is lost, lives are stained, happiness is a blur, suffering is inevitable and mourning becomes breathing.

Most of these tragedies are never known to us, for only the ones who can captivate an audience really make it to the news. Advertising is grateful.

And every time I watch something like this on TV, I cry.

Every. Single. Time.

So, to avoid crying, I don’t watch TV.

I’m not cold.

I actually care too much.

So when a national tragedy like the Chapecó accident happens, I suffer just the same. Just like everybody else.
But I think it is unfair and disrespectful to all the other people in the world who are suffering their own tragedies when one single event is so overexposed and deemed so much more important than everything else.

To me, everyone deserves the same amount of empathy and kindness. Every death deserves to be grieved.

But, to the world, it just seems that some tragedies are bigger than others.

You are not a tree

You are not a tree.

Who you are right now is not who you will always be. You are the decisions you made all the years before and the ones still to come. You are the condensed confusion of all your past mistakes and endeavors. Every thing you did brought you to this moment. And tomorrow you will be a completely different person. Maybe you’ll be better, maybe worse, maybe close to who you are now. But, you will be different.

When someone feels stuck, they tend to say that they’re going in circles. But, life does not move in a circular motion. It can move in all types of motions and directions, except circular. Circular motion means that when you’re done travelling the entire way, you will be back at the exact point where you started.

That is impossible.

Life is a spiral.

spiral-04

When you finish your round trip, you will never be back at the same point. You will always be a little off, a little different, a little changed, a little ahead. It may be that you are happier or maybe sadder. You may become more confident or more insecure. Maybe you will come back with a plan and a goal. Maybe you’ll find out that you have nowhere to go or no idea how to climb from the hole in which you fell.

It doesn’t matter how you turn out when you complete the turn around your life spiral. Whatever happens, you will always be at least a few millimeters ahead from the line where you started. You will always be ahead. You will always move forward.

And that little white space between the line where you are now and the line from which you left? That’s called experience.

So, no matter how or where you are now, you are more prepared to change your situation than you were before, because now you have experience. The more turns you take, the more white spaces you accumulate, and the more opportunities you create for yourself.

Embrace that.

Move forward and outward.

Remember, you are not a tree.

 


Notes:

  1. I read the expression “you are not a tree” in a book called Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley. I believe it was first coined by Jim Rohn. The full excerpt is: “If you don’t like how things are, change them! You’re not a tree.”
  2. My apologies to trees. This is really unfair to them since the changes that trees undergo throughout their existence – whether through surviving cold winters, dry summers, hard winds and lack of nutrition from the grounds – only adds to their magnificence.

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.

Year Long Prayer

Jeff Buckley is an artist that admire for many reasons, some being his incredible capacity to turn poetry into music, his voice, his guitar-playing skills, his passion. He was complete. He once wrote a beautiful poem, which I have replicated at the end of this post. Inspired by his poem, I wrote the following:

Year long prayer

I pray that you will smile always at the silliest things, like the uncommon brightness of the sun, the colorfully-stained mess your child made on your wall, the crunchiness of that butter-filled toast on Sunday mornings

I pray that you will kiss your lover whole, inch by inch, skin by skin, until everything is permanently stained and scarred and tainted and branded

I pray for everlasting temporary relationships for which you will cry endless tears of sorrow and happiness

I pray for true love at least once in your lifetime, even if it doesn’t last

I pray that you will enjoy full glasses of cheap red wine of the most terrible taste with your closest friends on a boring Saturday night while laughing at nothing in particular

I pray that you will wake up the next day and swear, in the midst of a catastrophic hangover, that you will never drink again (until next Saturday, of course)

I pray that you will cry with every highly uninspired holiday commercial (tears are for the courageous)

I pray for kaleidoscopic frenzies, blinding flashing lights and hypnotic music loudly playing, forcing your body to move in its rhythm, losing yourself in an abstract dream of powerful ecstasy

I pray that you will dance in each and every opportunity

I pray that you dream and in your dreams discover the beauty of your soul

I pray that you discover the magical power of forgiveness

I pray that you understand that knowledge is the most powerful weapon you will ever handle

I pray that you will accomplish all these little things that you probably won’t remember in a little while, for we have a tendency to forget everything that matters

I pray that you become free

I pray that you see

I pray for you and me

I pray

Larissa Fernandes – 2006


Jeff Buckley’s New Year’s Eve Prayer:

You my love are allowed to forget about the Christmas you just spent stressed out in your parents house

You my love are allowed to shed the weight of all the years before like bad disco clothes, save them for a night of dancing, stoned with you lover

You my love are allowed to let yourself drown every night in bottomless wild and naked symbolic dreams

You my love in sleep can unlock your youth and your most terrifying magic and dreaming is for the courageous

You my love are allowed to grab my guitar and sing me idiot love songs if you’ve lost your ability to speak, keep it down to two minutes

You my love are allowed to rot and to die and to live again more alive and incandescent than before

You my love are allowed to beat the shit out of your television, choke it’s thoughts and corrupt it’s mind kill kill kill kill the motherfucker before the song of zombiefied pain and panic and malaise and it’s narrow right winged vision and it’s cheap commercial gang rate becomes the white noise of the world (turn about is fair play)

You my love are allowed to forgive and love your television

You my love are allowed to speak in kisses to those around you and those up in heaven

You my love are allowed to show your babies how to dance full bodied, starry eyed, audacious, supernatural and glorified

You my love are allowed to suck in every single endeavor

You my love are allowed to be soaked like a lovers blanket in the New York summertime with the wonder of your own special gift

You my love are allowed to receive praise

You my love are allowed to have time

You my love are allowed to understand

You my love are allowed to love

Woman disobey

Little man believe

You my love are a rebellion

If you’re not making great content, you’re not doing great marketing

This happened in 2011, the year I founded my former online marketing business, EuComunico. I decided that I needed to be creative if I wanted to start something new with no clients and no portfolio. I had the knowledge, but didn’t have anything to show for it. So, I decided to send an e-mail to no one else other than the guy I considered to be the BEST of the best: David Meerman Scott.

To my surprise, not only did he answer my e-mail readily, but he also agreed on lending me 15 minutes of his time for a Skype interview. Below is the original post that I published back in 2011 on my company’s now-extinguished website.

Without further ado, my first professional interview:

2961469474354.original

At the beginning of this month I had the opportunity to speak through Skype with David Meerman Scott, marketing strategist, keynote speaker and author of 7 books – including the bestseller “The New Rules of Marketing and PR“. David’s blog – WebInkNow – is considered one of the best marketing blogs in the world, according to AdAge Power 150. David has presented speeches to companies like Cisco, HP,Microsoft, Ford Motor Company, U.S. Air Force e Dow Jones, among so many others.

And for this reason, I didn’t believe when he agreed to give me 15 minutes of his time to talk about Content Marketing. It was just enough time.

At the end of our conversation, David asked, with the politeness that’s characteristic of Americans that, in case I wrote or published something about him, that I used his full name – David Meerman Scott. Here you can see why: https://youtu.be/W0HgzS0QEY8

LARISSA FERNANDES – You are a great supporter of content as an effective way to engage clients, correct?

DAVID MEERMAN SCOTT – Yes, I’m a really big fan of content marketing, because it allows anybody: individual people or companies or non-profit organizations or governments, anybody, to reach the people that they want to reach through the search engines and through social networks when they create valuable content.

LF – When, in your opinion, did this phenomenon around content begin? I understand that the notion of content has been around for decades, but when did companies and agencies realize that content was so important in the age of the internet?

DMS – You’re right that content marketing has been around for a very long time. If you think about the Michelin Guide, that’s a print publication. That’s a form of content marketing, because it is a guide for restaurants and hotels created by a tire company. Very good example of content marketing.

In terms of the web, for the first 10 years of the internet, and I’m talking from 1995 – when the public web first exploded – into around 2005, people weren’t thinking too much about content. They were thinking about creating things like banner ads, newsletters. But content itself wasn’t very big.

I identified content marketing – although I didn’t use that term back then – as a big thing back in 2004. I wrote a book that came out in 2005 which is called “Cashing In With Content“. It’s a dated book now, it’s not appropriate so much now because so much has changed. But I was one of the first people to talk about content marketing way back in 2005. So that’s what, about 7 years ago? And at that time, people were very very skeptical, because there weren’t that many people connected to the internet yet. And it didn’t seem like something that companies should invest in.

Its only been in the last one or two years that content marketing has really taken of, and the main reason for that is because people now understand that term, “content marketing”. I’ve been talking about content marketing since 2005, but everything I was telling people to do since 2005, and I have written 7 books since then and given about 500 speeches, is that it’s all about content marketing. It’s about creating great content for your website, it’s about creating YouTube videos. Now that we’ve got social media it’s about Twitter feeds and getting a Facebook page and all of that.

There’s been people like me who have been talking about it that have helped. Some companies that naturally gravitated to it that have helped a lot. And its only been in the last year that it’s taken off as a name “content marketing”, that people in the marketplace recognize it. But they’ve been doing it for longer than they actually believe.

LF – Do you think that the fact that content marketing has had a boom in the past year has something to do with social media becoming actual means of communication between clients and companies?

DMS – I think they’re related. And the main reason why I think they’re related is because if you want to use social media as a form of marketing, one of the things that you have to have is valuable content to share using social media. So if all you’re doing is participating on Facebook and Twitter but you don’t have anything interesting that you’re creating, it’s very hard to build a following, it’s very hard to get people to engage with you.

But if you’re creating interesting videos, if you’re creating blog posts, and you’re creating photographs, charts or other types of information, and then you’re using social networks like Facebook or Twitter or other networks to share that content, then that becomes particularly valuable. And therefore I think that the rise of social networks and the rise of content marketing are kind of interrelated.

LF – On that topic, many new and usually small companies are using social media and content to get their businesses out there and to attract new clients. For people who don’t have a lot of knowledge or experience in this specific area, what traps or strategies should they avoid so they don’t scare away consumers or so that they don’t look phony?

DMS – The biggest thing, the most important thing, is that you should not create content about your company’s products and services. The reason I say that is because you actually need to think about who are the people that you’re trying to reach. Who are the people that you want to contact. And then you need to understand what problems those people have that you can help to solve. And you need to understand how they think. Then you need to create the content with them in mind.

So it’s very much like journalism. I actually call it brand journalism because when you’re creating content marketing you’re actually thinking like a journalist and creating content like a journalist. And it needs to be valuable for the readers. But most marketing people are very bad at that. What marketing people are skilled at is creating content about their products and about their services. But again, that’s not what people are looking for and that’s not going to be successful – if you’re only creating content about your products and services.

LF – There are many tools and platforms that help professionals organize and schedule content for social networks, blogs and websites, such as Hootsuite. Something that I have noticed here in Brazil is that professionals tend to schedule most of the content. Sometimes a week in advance, two weeks in advance, a month. Do you think this is a proper way to work? And do people notice when there are many programmed posts and tweets? Can they pick it up, that the content wasn’t created at that specific moment?

DMS – I think people do pick it up. If you send a scheduled tweet you have to be willing to react if somebody comments back to you. I think it’s OK sometimes to use a scheduled piece of content. I sometimes do a scheduled blog post, if I want to release a blog post at a particular time. I might do it myself. But it’s a good idea to make sure that if you do that, that you’re prepared if somebody comments that you can comment back, if they tweet back to you that you tweet back to them.

However, I think what’s really important is that every day, every hour, every minute there is something happening in social networks that you can comment on. So if your only strategy is to think two weeks ahead of time, you’re not living in the moment, you’re not living in “right now”. It’s right now when things are happening. So I think that companies who are only focused on long-term planning are much less successful than the companies that create content and use social networks to create information that’s going to be valuable right now.

LF – In that perspective, what kind of professionals do you think should be doing social media and content. Should the companies do it themselves? Should they hire someone specifically for that job? Should they hire a web company, an agency? It’s so new that people don’t know yet how to organize that part of their strategy.

DMS – I think that the most valuable person you can hire for your company is a journalist. I think that companies should all have journalists on staff. I actually think having a journalist is more important than having a marketer. So what I recommend to companies is that they hire either a former newspaper reporter or a former magazine reporter or even a former broadcaster or somebody who does television.That should be the person who creates the content. I’m not saying that should be the person who is active in social media. Maybe you could have somebody else active in social media. But a journalist is the one who should be creating your blog posts. A journalist is the one who should be creating your research reports.

Again, like I mentioned earlier, the most important thing in content marketing is you need to create content that is valuable for your audience. You need to be a storyteller. And a journalist is a professional storyteller. So I think companies should have journalists on staff. Either full time, if you’re a larger organization, or you if you’re a really big organization you can have many journalists. If you’re a smaller company, you can have a part-time journalist that you pay on an hourly basis or once a week. But that’s the right person to create content.

LF – Something that I notice here in Brazil is that people tend to focus on social media as the solution. In the past year and a half we have had social media courses, specialization courses and MBAs in Social Media. We have social media professionals and social media agencies. It seems like the use of social media is more important than the content that is created. Brazilian companies hire what we call coolhunters or trendhunters more often than journalists, writers and copywriters. Have you observed this in other countries? Is it because both things: content and social media, are so new?

DMS – Yes. I think it happens because it’s so new. And I think that companies that really dig into it realize that hiring people who aren’t skilled at creating content is not going to work effectively. By the way, you mentioned copywriters. Copywriters are the worst people to be creating content. Because they are people who are good at talking about products and services. And products and services are not the right thing you should be talking about when you’re creating content marketing. So the right people to hire are journalists.

You do need to have somebody to help create your social media strategy and execute with social media. But like I said earlier, there’s a combination of creating great original content and then sharing it through social media and that’s incredibly effective. Much more effective than just social media by itself without the content creation.

LF – In a perfect world all companies will try to communicate with their clients the best way possible through the internet. How do you think companies and public figures can stand out, when you’re competitors are already doing a great job at communicating with their clients?

DMS – I don’t think every company is going to do this. Just like every company doesn’t do television advertisement, every company doesn’t do other forms of marketing. I think that for a very long period of time going forward, everybody who creates great content will be rewarded because there are so many different marketplaces out there.

Anyone of us is in a niche market. We create some particular product, and we may have some competitors, but  when people are looking for our type of product the goal should be to just be the best content marketers to create the best information in our particular marketplace. You don’t have to create the best information in Brazil, you just need to create the best information about automobile tires – if you’re in that business – and that’s a lot easier than trying to compete with everybody. I think there’s room for great content, just like there’s room for many newspapers and television stations. I think there’s room for many companies to create great content.

The perks of dreams

What do I want?

Some people dream of building a balloon. They want to travel the world or maybe just next door. Some want to cure cancer or AIDS and some just want to get rid of myopia. There are a few who dream of playing at the World Cup and others wish they can be healthy enough to play ball with their friends next Saturday. Some people dream of dancing like Michael Jackson and others just wish they could loosen up at a party. Some people want to pilot planes or run for Formula 1, others just want to be able to pay for this year’s family vacation or trade their old noisy car for a newer one.

Some people dream of having 5 kids, some are happy and fulfilled with a few nephews. Some people want to be rich, others just want enough. Some people want to swim at the Olympics, others wish they could see the sea for the first time. There are some who want to live to be 100, others wish their loved ones could live forever. Some people dream of having a million friends, others prefer as many as they can call every week. Some people don’t want anything and there’s all kind of people out there.

Some people wish to be loved, others are afraid to be touched. Some people dream of hearing their first I love you, some wish they hadn’t waited so long to say it. Some people dream of having the wedding of the century, others are happy living their entire lives just having that one person to talk to every day. Some people want to be big, some dream small. Some people want to grow up, some wish it hadn’t happened.

What do you want?

What I want, I will.

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.

The art of not knowing what the hell is going on

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.

You in Weeks

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.