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.