Thursday, November 24, 2016

Freedom is Wasted on the Free

“Youth is wasted on the young.”

I am constantly amazed that every four years in America, we have a “Get Out the Vote” campaign. We give ourselves a good pep rally reminding ourselves that “Freedom isn’t free” and “if you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain.” We have to convince ourselves to exercise our freedoms, to get off the couch and say something with our one precious vote.

And time and again we see that one vote actually matters.

Well, voting isn’t the only freedom we tend to overlook. The First Amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want, without the fear of persecution. Rather than exercising this freedom by adding to the discourse, we follow the lead of “them.” We bicker on Facebook and Twitter and the news comment feeds. Safe places where we don’t really stand out from the noise, we do what’s expected, and we enjoy a big dose of digital courage.

Its easy to be a critic: you don’t risk anything. Its much harder to stand up and make something new. Making something new puts your skin in the game. Now you are risking the response of critics. 

Your freedom comes with the something so much more precious than the right to critique: you have the chance to add something new. Not just another armchair quarterback. You can create, and share. We have the tools to reach anyone in the world with our ideas, and yet we choose to limit them to arguments with people we “like” on social media. 

It costs us nothing. Anyone can create a public space to share his or her ideas for free, in 15 minutes or less. And everyone should.

Your voice counts. If a kid saying the word “blood” can catch the attention of millions, why can’t your one precious perspective? Consider writing. You can write something and share it with the rest of the world. 

“Conventional Wisdom” is really just a collection of things that we, as a people, repeat often enough that we remember them. You can add to this collected work. But it requires saying something, risking something, rather than just critiquing the thoughts of others.

We need your ideas! Create a blog. Say something new.

Monday, November 21, 2016


Today is an odd day for me. I am withdrawing from two “opportunities." One is a paper for a conference, the other is a job application.

The paper represents the typical academic currency, keeps the “publish or perish” ledger in the black. The job represents my last offer to enter into the industrial research machine, and make the unremarkable changes that come from a place of absolute safety.

Both represent opportunity to move up a rung in the safe, professional ladder I have been climbing. There is a “typical” or “traditional” track to follow which is the expected and (seemingly safe) trajectory for my career, the natural continuation of the path that led me to this point. This path leads directly into the machine, and offers the opportunity to become a cog. 

Cog (n) /kawg/ A crucial, but easily replaced part of a machine. Only noticed when it doesn’t work.

I can’t help but notice that if I don’t send the paper, the conference will go on. No one will miss it so much that they decide not to attend. The job opening that was “created just for me” came with so little communication and urgency that I have to wonder if this is just a sales pitch, a way to make me feel like a winner as I settle. Someone else will take the job. The factory owner wins when highly talented people join the “cog list” as employees. It is the highly talented new employee who suffers. This person must hand over the keys to his dreams in exchange for a “safe” career, with well-defined promotion tracks based on years of service rather than impact.

In either place, it is easy to test just how cog-like the opportunities are: If I walk away, will the long-term outcome change? 10 years from now, will it matter that someone else published their paper, or someone else took that job? Inverting the question: if I don’t do the work that I plan to do instead of these two “opportunities,” will the world miss that? I think so.

Today is especially strange for me because these two “opportunities” represent my last open lines to that safe track to cubeville. Letting go may actually burn the bridges, leaving me fully committed to the uncertain life of following MY purpose. Not someone else’s purposes. Not the expected path that has been trodden countless times. I’ll have no one to boss me, no one to blame for my success or failure.

But I’ll have a chance to matter.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

There's Someone In My Head

I couldn’t resist. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Pink Floyd inspired post...

For effect, feel free to play Brain Damage as you read the rest of this.

I’ve got voices in my head. They speak to me all the time. They think they are keeping me safe, but in reality they are not my friends. They are not capable of speaking in my best interest. It’s not their fault. They aren’t evil. Just stupid.

We listen to the voices in our heads because of instinct. They started out smart, telling us to stay out of traffic, away from high ledges. They learn from pain, or from witnessing of pain. I burned my hand in fire, so the voices in my head tell me not to put my hand in fire. I am afraid to put my hand in fire. I saw someone fall from a high place and hurt themselves. The voices in my head tell me not to go to high places. I am afraid of high places.

But then we get hurt emotionally. Maybe an idea we have is criticized. Maybe someone tells us we aren’t good at something. The voices learn from this pain, too. And so they start to tell us not to put our ideas out there. Or they tell us not to try something. We become afraid to put our ideas out there, afraid to try something.

Theres a problem with this: physical pain is governed by physical laws. Every time I stick my hand in the fire, I will get burned. The voices are right every time that I think about sticking my hand in the fire and they tell me not to.

Emotional pain is more complex. Maybe you truly had a bad idea. Does that mean that every idea you have is bad? Of course not, but the voices aren’t smart enough to keep up. They are saying, “don’t get burned again.”

Maybe your idea wasn’t even bad. Maybe the person who criticized you had the problem. They’ve got voices too. Maybe you threatened their sense of self-worth, or expertise. What was the criticism, really? Would everyone think it was a bad idea, or was the person you spoke with narrow-minded?

See, every human interaction has an infinite number of possible outcomes and nuances. They won’t always reject your idea. They won’t always criticize you. Which means the voices in your head won’t always be right.

The only way to find the people who want your ideas is to keep putting them out there. And this requires you to be smarter than the voices in your head. This requires you to tell the voices to SHUT UP!

Well, I’ve asked thousands of people over the years, "What do your voices tell you?” and I’ve learned something: no one has a positive internal voice.
START, Chapter 3
Jon Acuff

There’s someone in my head, but its not me.