Informational Gravity

As someone who worked in the world of “jobs” in one way or another for many years, something always bugged me. Why is the model always “companies post jobs, and then workers pitch themselves?”

See, I think there’s actually a lot of merit to the reverse, as a system. When I was a recruiter, I was very proactive – I sought people out to pitch roles to them. I generally posted job ads as a last resort. The result was definitely more work, but also much more success on my part. Better matches between worker and role, longer tenure in the resulting relationships, etc.

But I’ve realized why it was more work, and why most people don’t do it this way. Because, as a rule, people with less information seek connections in the direction of people with more information, not the reverse.

On average, before any connection has been made, a candidate knows a lot more about a company & role than the company knows about the candidate. Most people are ghosts, with zero ability to find out anything about them unless they volunteer that information to you. This means a company can’t really seek out candidates, because candidates aren’t advertising!

As a recruiter, my method of proactively seeking candidates had one major flaw – I could only ever hope to find candidates who were sending up smoke signals. People who, whether they were actively looking for work or not, were advertising their skill set in some way. People who were writing articles, giving talks, or being active in community spaces. Visible people.

The bad news for the world is that unless this becomes something virtually everyone does – put up more professional information about them than the average company puts up about the average role – then the system itself is unlikely to change. (And this is a shame because the average company puts almost no meaningful information out there about themselves or the roles they’re hiring for, but that’s still more than most candidates advertise about themselves, as a rule.)

The good news for you is that being the exception to that rule gives you incredible leverage. If you create more public information about you than the average employer creates about themselves, then the informational gravity starts pulling the other way.

Make yourself findable – I promise you, people are looking.

Magical Problems

How joyous it is, when our problems are weird and new!

I’m middle-aged, and still the world can throw me curveballs. Problems that I haven’t had to deal with before. You think you’ve seen it all? Ha! Life keeps on living, dragging you along.

And how fun! By and large, the world has 100 joys for every sorrow. So if the world can throw a new problem at me that I’ve never encountered, then how many more joys must be just around the corner? How much more life is there to live, even on days when you think all the fun is behind you?

Let each new rock you stub your toe on remind you that the rock fell from a brand new mountain to climb.

Learning the Context

When people first try to learn about a new topic, I think they often discourage themselves by trying to learn for mastery, instead of learning for “productive curiosity.”

Think of it like this: if you want to acquire a bunch of new objects, there’s something you need first: storage solutions. You need boxes for transportation, shelves for organization. You need somewhere to put all that stuff, and you need that place to meaningfully allow you to use that stuff effectively in the future.

Imagine you want to buy a whole new set of tools. If you walk to the hardware store and bring no means of transportation, it will be difficult to come back with tools! Even if they put the ones you want in bags for you, that’s a lot of stuff to carry in flimsy bags. And if you DO get all that back to your workshop, you don’t just want to dump every item you bought into one big pile on the floor – that wouldn’t make it very easy to use the tools in the future!

So, when you want to learn about something new, don’t focus on just memorizing as many facts as you can get your hands on. That’s like a big pile of unorganized tools. First, focus on a macro view – learn the specific jargon and language of the new topic. Go to where people go to ask questions about that topic and see the frequently asked ones. And see who answers! Dedicate some notebook space or specific files for the things you’ll learn, and to store links to things you want to learn later. It’s more important to identify the top five online sources of information about that topic than to find the first one and just start reading or watching everything in that one.

The point isn’t to try to memorize your way to mastery. It’s to give yourself the space to meaningfully absorb new information at a pace that keeps it useful to you. It’s to be able to engage intelligently with anything new you encounter. If you try the “rapid reading” technique, then you hit barriers where lots of information is dependent on other information you don’t have yet, so you keep running into brick walls unless you absorb everything in the exact correct order (and order which, of course, you don’t know). But if you first build the scaffolding, understand the context a little, then no matter what information you encounter you can learn a little from it and put it into the overall jigsaw puzzle, to be connected later as you fill in more and more gaps.

Pay attention to why different people want the information and how they use it. Know what kinds of filters are being applied – for instance, both a car salesman and a mechanic might know a lot about cars, but that information will come to you very differently depending on which source you ask a question. But if you don’t even know that there are such things as car salesmen and mechanics yet, then you aren’t prepared to intelligently get new information from either, even if they obviously have information to give you.

Context is key. Most of the time, it’s easy to get the rough shape of it if you take a little time to look. So if you’re headed for a new topic, take at least a little pause to climb up and get the lay of the land. Everything else from then on will be so much more effective.

Nobody’s (De)Fault

It’s amazing what can happen when you change around what you consider to be “default assumptions.”

Are things forbidden unless permitted, or permitted unless forbidden? If you invite multiple people to something, do you assume people are coming unless they say they aren’t, or that they aren’t coming unless they say they are?

It’s amazing how much can be miscommunicated simply because the default assumptions are different. They’re so big they’re invisible. They rule your life, but you don’t even realize it – and you really don’t realize it when you don’t share them with someone else.

They also affect the message you want to send. Telling a child that they aren’t allowed to touch anything unless it’s a designated “toy” that’s been assigned to them creates a very different environment than one where the only things they can’t touch are the things they’ve been told not to, like a knife or stove.

Your mileage may vary, of course. But examine your defaults, especially when they run into someone else’s and conflict occurs. That’s a great moment of enlightenment.

The Arc

Let me describe a particular kind of mental trap to you.

You imagine a long arc of events that leads to a specific goal. Then, you miss or fail at an early part of that arc, and so you forever believe you missed your chance at the end goal. You write it off because of the early misstep, never realizing that there may have been a million other ways to reach that goal besides the main arc.

For instance, you might dream of one day becoming a famous director. You imagine the whole journey – start with film school, then onto some prestigious apprenticeships with brilliant filmmakers. You gain credit and reputation in the industry by working on a few projects that win film festival awards and you network with the larger studios. Soon you’re leading your own small projects that are released to critical acclaim. The studios court you for larger projects and before you know it you’re the next Speilberg.

And then… your application to film school gets rejected, so you get a job at the video store in the mall and that’s that.

But if you actually go and look at every person who became a famous filmmaker, many of them didn’t follow that arc at all. And if you were to look at all the people who failed to become famous filmmakers, many of them did follow that arc. Particular paths may have stronger or weaker correlations with successfully getting to the end, but nothing is perfect, nothing is guaranteed. Plan, but plan loosely – and adapt if you have to.

Your dreams are more resilient than you think.

Three Years

Happy anniversary to me!

I don’t really ascribe much importance to annual anniversaries, but it’s nice to reflect on the fact that I’ve continued to grow this particular garden. It’s borne a lot of interesting fruit in the last year; I’ve been paid to write more and had a few other interesting opportunities come my way specifically as a result of the writing. I’ve had more people reach out to me in a positive way about something they read here, and even had some requests. It’s been an opportunity to connect.

Thank you very much for reading, for being a part of this. I write primarily for myself and for my children (who I hope will someday be glad that their father recorded his thoughts like this), but the positive externality is the connection I get to build with so many other people – near and far, known and unknown. Thank you for being one of them. I hope that connection always grows.

Until tomorrow, my friends.

Chained to the Past

If a tear in the fabric of spacetime appeared in front of you and deposited an 18-year-old version of you into your living room, would you immediately give that person complete control over your life? Would you let them make all decisions in your life?

I would probably be dead inside of a week if I did that. I’d certainly be broke, and probably also some sort of a social pariah. So no, I don’t want 18-year-old-Johnny in charge of my life.

A surprising number of people, however, allow themselves to be completely chained by decisions their 18-year-old self made.

When you were a teenager, you made some assumptions about the world and chose a political affiliation as a result. Ever since, you’ve held it without reexamining it. Maybe your teenage self chose to spend a few (hundred) thousand dollars on getting sorted into a particular career path. Teenage you agreed to go get shot and shoot back. Something.

Some of those things came with obligations you can’t undo. You have to pay back student loans, serve the term of your enlistment, and deal with the silly tattoo you got of a political slogan. But you don’t have to renew those obligations!

You don’t have to give those decisions a single ounce more weight than they already have. You don’t have to stay in the career just because you paid a high entrance fee. You don’t have to reenlist if you don’t want. You don’t have to keep voting the way a tattoo or a t-shirt you got as a teenager tells you to.

In other words, that teenager isn’t in charge of you. Don’t chain yourself to who you were when you didn’t know who you would someday be.

Failing Joyfully

A common phrase in our everyday parlance is “failing miserably.” People usually use that phrase to mean “failing very very badly,” but that doesn’t have to automatically equate to misery.

The person who comes in last in a race, but with both joy in their heart and a solid plan to learn and improve, did not “fail miserably.” The person who got the silver, missing gold by a fraction of a second, and is a mean-spirited spoilsport about it and blames the world for robbing them of a gold medal they surely “deserved” is the one who failed miserably.

Life has a natural, built-in catch-up mechanic: failures teach us more than successes. We just have to be willing to accept the lessons. That comes from joy, not misery – and it causes joy too, if we let it.

Generic Indignation

Sometimes I think you have to march right in and demand your rights, even if
you don’t know what your rights are, or who the person is you’re talking to.
Then, on the way out, slam the door
.” – Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts

First, I just absolutely love that quote. There’s a certain kind of humor that also has a sort of faux inspirational quality to it, and that style of humor tickles my funny bone enormously.

But it also represents what I feel is a helpful – and underutilized – emotional state. I call it “generic indignation,” and for me it’s often the motivating energy I need.

What’s this all about? Well, to begin with you have to understand that I’m very, very nice to people. I like people! And I think that most people are trying really hard and aren’t really the source of any accidental misery they deliver to you. The perfect example is when you see an irate customer screaming at some poor cashier because the price of butter went up by twenty cents or something. Look, even if that cashier somehow were solely responsible for the price of butter, they didn’t increase it just to mess with you, specifically. So screaming at them makes you an awful person, if you do it.

Most people, even the screamers, actually realize that most of the time. So why do they do it? Because the rage against slights, the righteous indignation, it feels good. It’s energizing. It’s exhilarating! It fills you with a clarity of purpose and the fuel for the fire of its birthing crucible. Its a wonderful feeling and actually quite helpful, except most people completely squander it by aiming it at some poor innocent soul and being a huge jerk about it, and then letting it burn out that way.

Here’s what I do instead:

First, I never let actual people bother me like that. Like I said earlier, they’re not your enemies. They’re not trying to disrupt you. No conspiracy exists just to make Johnny’s life challenging. So I’m never aiming any real ire at people who exist.

Instead, I invent a fictional “They.” A totally ludicrous and equally nebulous group of adversaries that do everything from throw sharp rocks under my bare feet at the beach to controlling the weather to ruin my camping weekends. “They” infect me with the flu specifically to hinder my project and “they” sabotaged my kitchen sink so it would leak.

But let me tell you something – I’ll show them! They think they can stop ME? Johnny Rocia? Not on your life, pal! I’ll get the last laugh, even if I have to fix a kitchen sink with the flu and go camping in the pouring rain to do it.

That’s right – just because there’s no one to actually absorb the ire doesn’t mean I can’t summon it up. I can put a determined scowl on my face and go work out just to spite “them,” even when nothing else in the world would motivate me.

It’s fun. All the enjoyment of sneering, spitting fury without any of the guilt associated with actually being a jerk to someone, nor any of the regret of foolishness for blaming someone blameless for your problems. The fact that the “them” I summon are so ludicrous means I never come close to accidentally blaming an actual person or group. I might as well be mad at leprechauns. But I get to be mad all the same!

Try it out. The next time some random life event gets in your way and you wish there were someone to blame – blame “them!” And then show them what you’re made of! Prove they can’t stop you! Give ’em hell!

And then, slam the door!