Since I decided to become my own client, I’ve been thinking about the things I think of as work and the things I do out of my own volition. Work is shaped by other people’s goals, priorities, and directions. When it comes to the things I do for myself, I am responsible for figuring all of that out. I haven’t truly delved into entrepreneurship yet, small publishing experiments notwithstanding. I haven’t said, “This is something I believe is worth making and selling,” and I haven’t matched that to people who need it. I’ll learn how to do that someday. First, I want to learn how to direct myself.
In drawing these notes, I thought that this self-directed work – focused on my own needs and curiosity – might be more limited in effect, but also that it might benefit me more through compounding. When I choose my own work, I can build things up instead of getting pulled in different directions. (Or at least, if it seems like I’m scattering my attention over different topics of my own choosing, the logic might emerge later.) Everything I work on benefits both other people and me, but sometimes other people more than me, and sometimes me more than other people.
Or is that really what I’m balancing? In the margins, I poked at that assumption. Was it really a spectrum between other-focused work and self-focused work? What if other-focus and self-focus were actually orthogonal? What if you could do things that were very useful for yourself, but also pretty useful for other people? That sounded like a more interesting possibility. I’m probably not quite there yet, but if I get better at doing things that I find useful, I might also get better at making those things useful for other people.
I thought about whether I wanted to postpone that kind of self-exploration until after I wrap up my consulting engagement, but I decided that doing it in parallel was better. It is always tempting to postpone vague, self-directed work in favour of clearly-defined, other-directed paying work, but is it ever truly profitable to do so? I should use my uncommitted core hours for growing, even if it feels slow.
Something useful to myself AND to others… Blogging would probably be a good way to practise. I noticed that although the daily themes helped me make sure I didn’t overlook different topics, I sometimes found myself writing blog posts that were helpful for other people but didn’t make me learn as much. I hadn’t been challenging myself to learn something new either about the topic or about the way I could share. If I focus more on stretching my understanding, would my blog become less useful to others? What kinds of things could I write that might be useful for me now and later, and which might also be helpful for other people? Reflections, perhaps, if other people resonate with them and use them to think through their own lives. My notes on things I’m figuring out; solutions to technical problems; tips and other resources. Reviews, perhaps, as a summary of things I’ve shared and an update on things I’ve learned. I don’t know how helpful these things will be, although I’m encouraged by comments that seem to indicate they’re interesting to read.
I think other- versus self-focus might be the reason why I find myself much more interested in new questions than in the connective work of filling in the gaps of a book outline for a potential audience. I get different pay-offs from different types of sharing. When I answer other people’s questions (things I know implicitly but haven’t explained yet), I get the satisfaction of thanks and interaction. When I answer my own questions a small step at a time, I get a kick out of learning something. When I make a map of unknown territory and start learning about it, I enjoy the thrill of learning. When I’m writing tutorials and I’m not sure if they’re going to be useful or if other people are already fine with perfectly good resources out there, it’s a bit more of a struggle. I’d rather not duplicate information or write for the sake of leaving my fingerprints on it. Might as well write about something unknown that I’m figuring out, or at least help a specific person who has already tried other resources and can tell me what’s missing.
So what does that mean? I’ll probably focus on the right side of the quadrant above – the things that I don’t know. Possibly my blog may become more boring; on the other hand, it might become more interesting. But even if it does get a little more boring, I have to get through the boringness in order to figure out how to be more useful. =)
What can I do? I can share the questions that I’m asking, and maybe people will find themselves surprised by the insights they can share. I can show my work, and maybe people will consider reasons or approaches that wouldn’t have otherwise come to mind. I can connect the dots through links, because those will be handy later on.
I hope I learn to write with more depth of understanding, less fear of embarrassment; more clarity of thought, less attachment to fads and fancies; more initiative, less intellectual laziness. And then, eventually, to come full circle: to write with a focus on other people’s needs, but to be better at observing and celebrating the hidden fascinations of even familiar topics.