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Enough little things

We rarely have complete control over the big issues.

But the way we interact with each other, the small kindnesses, the extra effort–it adds up.

One after another, day by day.

It might be enough to change someone’s day. And then the ripple continues.

Acknowledgments 2020

Authors get to put a page in their book thanking people who have quietly and persistently and generously helped.

But the page is rarely read, and it comes out infrequently and it’s not so timely.

It’s worth taking a second to think about people who are doing more than expected, more than they have to do, more than we can imagine.

I’m filled with gratitude for the healthcare workers who have shown up to do the jobs that they never hoped to have to do, risking so much to help people. From docs like Jodi who are beginning their career in the middle of this, to retired nurses who are putting on their scrubs to help out again.

And thank you to the frontline workers and volunteers in my town and yours, from the food market to the fire department, from the gas station to the police. They’re showing up and doing it with grace.

Thanks to Zoom for dealing with a 20x increase in traffic and not missing a beat. Just like so many other tech companies that are quietly doing what they said they would do.

Thank you to the non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs and project managers who have figured out how to pivot on a dime, protecting the jobs of their teams and serving their customers in new and powerful ways.

Thanks to every parent who is at home with kids, balancing competing priorities and still being there for the ones who need them. And thanks to resilient and patient therapists, teachers and spiritual leaders who are figuring out how to be there, fully present, even if it’s on a video screen.

I’m grateful for the unseen but not anonymous people who are delivering packages, maintaining webservers, fixing the things that break and showing up every single day.

And I’m glad that so many people are ignoring the charlatans who are trying to profit from panic and untested remedies, preying on the fear that comes with a pandemic. And proud of anyone who stops clicking on a media channel that’s in the business of profiting from the attention that comes with amplifying that same fear.

I’m inspired by the team at Akimbo, working remotely from dozens of locations, shipping important work and connecting our extraordinary community of tens of thousands of people.

Thanks to my colleagues at Random Penguin and the rest of the book industry, for focusing on sharing insight and wisdom, simply because they know it’s important, not because it’s lucrative. And to my friends from all over, who are sheltering in place but sharing good vibes in so many ways.

And I’m grateful to you, loyal reader, for taking the long view, for leading, for spreading ideas that matter and showing up and doing work that you’re proud of. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you’re leading despite/because of what’s going on around us, thank you.

[This is such a tiny fraction of the people I was hoping to be able to acknowledge. If you’ve got a list to share, I hope you’ll post it somewhere.]

(and here’s a list from three years ago)

The semiotics of face masks

It’s difficult to get adults to wear bicycle helmets. (I wrote about this on the blog 16 years ago).

The reason has nothing to do with comfort or safety. It has to do with signals.

Semiotics is the science of flags, signals and other communications. It studies the very human act of judging something (or someone) based on limited information as we seek the message behind the signal, all in a quest for belonging and social standing.

Even more than helmets, face masks make a statement.

Ten years ago, if you wore a face mask at work, you were either a surgeon, a carpenter or a bank robber.

As they began to spread, mainly in parts of Asia, the mask was interpreted by some non-mask wearers as either a generous act (the wearer doesn’t want to infect others) or something slightly paranoid.

Then, when the pandemic first arrived in the US, masks became the focus of hoarding. Like toilet paper, it was a way to sacrifice time and money to get something scarce and reassuring. People weren’t reading scientific journals, they were grasping. The hoarding had the unfortunate side effect of keeping masks from front-line medical workers who needed them. It also created a sense of false security because many of the people who were using them had no clue how to use them properly, causing them to be worse off than if they hadn’t had them at all.

If you wore a mask on Main Street as you shopped in early March 2020, it was probably not increasing your social standing.

And then, as some newspapers shifted their stance and homemade masks began to appear, the story changes again–worth noting that even fast fashion has never changed this fast.

And so the storytelling continues. “Why is that person wearing a mask,” the non-mask wearer asks themselves. Is it to shame me? To let me know that they’re ill and I should steer far away? Perhaps it’s a way of identifying them as anti-social, because, after all, I’m not wearing one… Or maybe they’re smarter than me and I’m behind?

The narratives may also be shifting from, “how do I protect myself?” which is a self-directed desire, to, “how do I keep others protected?” This is generally a hard sell in the world of the Marlboro Man, bespoke disposable water bottles and the Hummer.

Notice that none of these internal monologues have much to do with epidemiology or public health. Face masks might help, it’s not certain, but the semiotics of social standing and cultural posture happen long before we actively consider the science.

Whether or not you choose to wear a mask, drive a Prius or even a pickup truck, it’s worth remembering that because we’re human, we start with two things: What’s the story I’m telling myself, and what’s the story I’m telling everyone else.

How would you like things to be?

We know how things are. How could we not?

And we see the emotional rut that so many have fallen into as well.

The question is: Will you embrace an emotional posture that models how you’d like it to feel instead? Today, this day, we only get it once. How do you want today to feel on an emotional level?

It takes effort.

But it’s a choice.

We can’t change how things are in any given moment, but we can change how we will approach today.

And yes, an attitude can spread. Begin with us.

Taking it very seriously

Today, April first, was the day for a particular greeting, the only one except New Year’s that’s simply based on the date. Happy.

It was a day that people on the internet understood that it’s possible to act as if and to do it with a smile. To pretend that we’re not on the brink of apocalypse of one of twenty flavors, that nerds are clever now and then, and that most of all, that it’s worth taking a moment before we believe what we just heard and decide to freak out about it.

Alas, we’ve been fooled too many times for that to work any more.

Fooling has become a business model, and so now, every day is April Fool’s day.

Act accordingly.

Portfolio school: Get better clients

There’s a tragedy unfolding all around us, unevenly distributed. It’s about health and it’s also about the economy. We are called upon to not panic, to try to focus, to figure out how to make it all work. And many of us are overwhelmed. From health care workers who are burning the candle at both ends to parents with too many demands on their time, it’s been crazy.

And if you’re a freelancer, it can be challenging because the steady gigs or the easy gigs might be on hold.

If you’re fortunate enough to have time on your hands, what to do with the downtime?

If you’re looking for a gig or if you’re hoping for a new client…

It’s easy to get stuck waiting. The alternative is not to wait.

More time spent fretting isn’t going to help.

The alternative is to dig in and build your portfolio.

A portfolio that includes three things:

ONE: What are you good at? You can dramatically increase your skillset (including your attitude about the work you do) in just a few days of focused effort.

TWO: What have you done? You can actually do work, real work, volunteer work, spec work, digital work and you can do it right now.

THREE: How have you expressed 1 and 2? When we look at your portfolio, what do we see?

You are not your resume. Your prospects are based on the work you’ve done and the way you do it.

When you do a good job on your skills, your work history and your expression, you’re more likely to get better clients.

Getting better clients is super simple and really difficult. The current environment makes it even harder, which means we need to be prepared for a longer, more difficult process ahead.

The benefit of better clients is pretty clear: They challenge you to do better work, they talk about you and your work, they pay on time, they want you to do work you’re proud of and they’re motivated to do more than most people expect.

The difficult part is becoming the sort of freelancer that better clients seek out.

Because while it’s true that better clients make you a better freelancer, the work is too important to simply wait for them to show up. Particularly during difficult and uncertain times. Maybe this is an opportunity to reset expectations and recommit to the practice.

If you’re seeking better clients, I hope you’ll check out The Freelancer’s Workshop. It launches today. You can save some money by clicking the purple circle, which is at maximum value today.

We considered canceling this scheduled session of our online workshop, but for many, this is a good moment to take a breath, settle in and level up. These are perilous times, and it’s easy to get pessimistic and stuck. Let’s learn together instead.

Here’s to health and peace of mind as we all slog forward together.

[At 11 am ET today, I’ll be taking your questions on working from home, freelancing and resilience. We’ll be on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, tech permitting–LinkedIn gets posted later.]

GenC

It doesn’t really pay to classify multitudes by their age–every generation is complex and intermingles with all the others.

But it might be a useful way to understand the issues we’ve faced and where we might be heading.

Generation C was inaugurated with the events created by Covid-19, and it is defined by a new form of connection.

There’s a juxtaposition of the physical connection that was lost as we shelter in place, and the digital connection that so many are finding online.

Not just a before and after for the economy, but for culture, for health, for expectations. School and jobs are different now, probably for the long term.

No idea or behavior shift has ever spread more quickly or completely in the history of the planet. In seven weeks, the life of every single person on Earth changed, and the unfolding tragedy and the long slog forward will drive expectations for years. Expectations about being part of a physical community, about the role of government and about what we hope for our future.

If previous cycles of media were about top-down broadcast (from radio, TV and cable), the last few years have been about the long tail, about giving a microphone to anyone who wanted one. But now, the peer to peer power of the internet is dominating. The Kardashians won’t be as important as 3,000 people with a thousand connections each. Never mind a million people with 100 each.

Companies are now competing to see how few employees they have instead of how many. The lattices of the connection economy are racing to replace the edifice complex of the previous one.

And if Covid-19 and Connection are the first two C’s, the third one is going to be Carbon.

Because we’re going to need to pay. All of us. To pay for the dislocations and to pay for the treatment and to pay for the recovery.

Worldwide cataclysms are different from local ones. As we shift gears and seek to revitalize our economy, put people to work and build a resilient future, it might be tempting to drill and burn, and to try to adopt an emergency footing that disregards any long-term future more than a few months ahead. But GenC may be too wise for that. And they may be connected enough to speak up and overrule the baby boomers.

A threat and an enemy will focus public attention. For a long time, that enemy was other people or other nations, and an us-vs-them mindset was a great way to get attention or get elected. But just as we came to understand that you can’t bully a virus, you can’t personalize carbon either.

The worldwide challenge of carbon is not a problem for someone else, it’s a problem for all of us. Using carbon consumption as a way to pay for rebuilding our community brings all three Cs together.

Emergencies are overrated as a response mechanism. Preparation and prevention are about to become a more popular alternative.

My generation was the dominant voice for sixty years. A voice that worried about the next 24 hours, not the next 24 years. That’s about to shift, regardless of what year you were born.

What can we do that matters instead?

“I’ll go with my principles tomorrow”

In the short run, it’s easy to abandon what we believe. Deep down, we assume that once things go back to normal, so will we.

Organizations end up with bullies, predators and bad actors for only one reason: In this moment, it’s easier to keep them. There’s some sort of urgency that makes asking them to leave too difficult right now, so we put it off for a little while. When we make a “just this once” exception, we’ve already made a decision about what’s truly important.

And the same goes for those moments when we’re inclined to be, just for a moment, a bully, a predator or a bad actor as well. Few people decide to be selfish for the long haul.

What makes it a principle is that we do it now, even though (especially though) it’s hard.

Communicating online (the big leaps)

It’s not just like the real world but with keyboards.

Leap 1: Attention is too easy to steal online, so don’t. Spam is a bad idea. Interrupting hundreds or millions of people doesn’t cost you much, but costs each person a lot. You wouldn’t stand up in the middle of a Broadway play and start selling insurance from the audience. Don’t do it with your keyboard. Permission is anticipated, personal and relevant.

Leap 2: There’s a difference between asynchronous and synchronous interaction. We know this intuitively in the real world (a letter is different from a phone call) but online, it’s profound. A discussion board isn’t the same as a Zoom call. It turns out that we can create rich and layered conversations with async communication, but we also have to be just a bit more patient.

Leap 3: More than one person can ‘talk’ at a time. In the real world, that’s impossible. At a table for six, we take turns talking. But in a chat room, we can all talk at the same time. Use it well and you can dramatically increase information exchange. But if you try to follow all the threads, or you miss what you need, then it’s actually less effective.

Leap 4: Sometimes we leave a trail. Most real-life conversations are inherently off the record because the words disappear right after we say them. But if you use a keyboard, or you’re attached to a server, assume you’re being recorded and act appropriately. And sometimes the people who are talking are anonymous (which never happens in the real world).

It’s possible, with effort, to transform business communications (and schooling) away from the top-down, synchronized, compliance-focused, off-the-record, hierarchical and slow status quo to something significantly more fluid and powerful. But we’ll need to do it on purpose.

 

PS the free co-working space we’re offering has become a successful community hub. Thanks to the Akimbo team for putting so much into creating it, and for the thousands of people who have found energy and solace by being part of it.

Generous isn’t always the same as free

People have been generous with you through the years. A doctor who took the time to understand your pain. A server who didn’t hesitate and brought you what you needed before you even knew you needed it. A boss who gave you a project at just the right time.

Gifts create connection and possibility, but not all gifts have monetary value. In fact, some of the most important gifts involve time, effort and care instead.

Money was invented long after humans arrived on the scene, and commerce can’t solve all problems.

In this moment when we’re so disconnected and afraid, the answer might not be a freebie. That might simply push us further apart. The answer might be showing up to do the difficult work of connection, of caring and of extending ourselves where it’s not expected.

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