Being a personal newsletter without any particular theme (apart from the slightly narcissistic idea of self) finding a topic for each edition is often down to luck or a sudden bout of inspiration triggered by something I've read.
On this occasion I come back to something I've had rolling around in my head for a number of weeks: what now, what next? It's the culmination of a number of strands that have become knotted and tangled, strands that I need to unravel to move forward.
It's no secret that I have been struggling with work, feeling trapped in a role that I no longer enjoy with no obvious (or sensible) way out. I'm certainly not the first person to be in this position and am well aware that I am privileged to be where I am, but that doesn't stop the want, the need, to do something different.
a dilettante is a person who does activities they find delectable — because these activities bring them joy
The problem with careerism is that it constantly punts ‘delight’ ahead to some future date or accomplishment
How many times have we heard the advice "do what you love" but is it really that easy? As James goes on to say "what do we do about the practical problems of putting groceries on the table, paying the electricity bill" - we get jobs rather than build careers.
I'm not a careerist, I don't wish to climb the corporate ladder or define myself by what I do - it isn't what I am. I am in a job, however, that lends itself to being a career but with no obvious career path ahead, or even a path which I would like to take were one to exist.
Other advice we see often is "do the work in front of you" or "do today's work" - don't worry about the future, just get on with what you've got to do and once that's done move on to the next thing. And that's where being micro-ambitious comes in. As explained by the Australian comedian Tim Minchin:
Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.
All well and good but it's hard to switch to that mode of operation once you are already firmly embedded in, for all intents and purposes, a career. James wrote of the irresponsibility and impossibility of leaving after having invested so much of your time, of your life. I dont have a problem with leaving, I'm not invested in an emotional sense, but the financial impact of doing so is what triggers the irresponsibility and impossibility.
When you've been in one field for so long it is hard to envisage yourself elsewhere, becoming niched blinds you to "transferable skills" and limits "relevant experience". I have been through a career change in the past but that was when I was young and hadn't progressed enough to make it hard to switch.
Irrespective of where I am or how long I've been there the questions still remain: what now, what next?
Julian Summerhayes could have almost been talking directly to me recently when asking "What do you want to do":
"One thing I do know is that work (and I've said this before) is the last thing I want to be doing. Oh sure, it pays the bills and keeps a roof over our heads, but I remain convinced, still, that answering the above question offers many more life opportunities than being strung out by a life of doing and, frankly, as long as I remain open in a heartfelt way to what life truly has to offer, the more likely it is that when I leap things will emerge, as they always have."
I think this is all why I like blogging so much, it appeals to the dilettante in me, it's doing what I love even if there is no financial incentive. They way I have everything set up now I literally am "doing today's work" - one day at a time.
A number of people recently linked to Tanmay Vora's post celebrating 14 years of blogging:
"I still find that joy in hitting publish button and see my half-cooked thoughts and tentative scribbles go out into the world."
That's still exactly how I feel after 17 years - including breaks - it's just the joy of writing and sharing no matter how big or small, no matter how good or poor the words are. As Vora says "When the journey itself is exciting, the destinations don’t matter much." It would, however, be nice to have something else behind all this, a goal or target, something longer term.
It was mentioned recently that the blog had gotten a bit meta - a lot of writing about writing but no real substance, nothing about me, so I think I've tried to double-down on that over the past couple of weeks and get back in the groove. Persisting with that may eventually help me see a destination on the horizon even if it doesn't get me there.
And then who knows...
Page 48 of Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday starts:
"We have to get better at thinking, deliberately and intentionally, about the big questions. On the complicated things. On understanding what's really going on with a person, or a situation, or with life itself."
It's still early days and the book has, so far, only concentrated on examples of people using stillness as opposed to any practical guidance so I hope that will come later otherwise it will be a bit empty.
The above quote ties in nicely to another book I got recently: How to Think by Alan Jacobs. This came well recommended by some of the folks on micro.blog so I look forward to diving in.
And I wonder, in these times of convenience and technology, how much our capacity to think and explore has actually been affected.
My eldest daughter bought me a fun little book for Father's Day: Be More Vader by Christian Blauvelt. It's a fun look at climbing the corporate ladder using examples from the likes of Lord Vader himself, Supreme Leader Snoke and Emperor Palpatine. It's full of gems such as this:
"Sometimes, if you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself. Even the best TIE fighter pilot in the fleet could learn a manoeuvre or two from flying in attack formation with you. When you inevitably blast those rebel scum from the sky, remember to take all the credit for yourself. And if, in a one-in-a-million chance they slip away from you, then it's vital to have other people nearby to blame. Win-win."
Recommended for a chuckle if you're a Star Wars fan
And that's it...
I sometimes worry about the self-indulgence of things like this but remind myself that it's okay, it's a personal periodical after all with no pretences otherwise.
I appreciate you accompanying me on the journey.
Stay safe, it's still a crazy world out there.