Monthly Archives: May 2009

Bland Ambition?

I’ve always possessed a driving sense that I am destined for great things, and this has pushed me to do better, be better, do more, be more. Of course at times, that means I’ve slacked off and let myself down, beating myself up in the process. This cycle of build-up and tear-down is often counterproductive, and it’s hard to feel content with what you do accomplish.

Recently, a couple of friends of mine posted some (private, or else I would link) reflections on ambition. My one friend D ruminated on coming to terms with his own limitations and not pushing himself to be a superman all the time or wringing himself out to dry for every misstep or foible. Another friend, A, posted a response in kind, focusing more on the specific notion of ambition and how our society judges success based on acquisition, ascendance and attractiveness. Not wanting that to be the measure of our success, A says, is not an admission of failure or inadequacy. It’s just means we’re using a different yardstick.

I used to not understand people with what I perceived to be low ambition. How could someone be happy in a job they are not passionate about, but merely content with or tolerable of? How could someone have no career trajectory, have never answered the question of what they want to be when they grow up, or even seem to want to try? Don’t we all want to be the best that we can be?

Then I realized that, well, maybe that’s not low ambition. It’s just a different ambition. Ambition is often only understood in the context of a career. But what about, well, life? Liberty? Pursuit of happiness? Maybe the Founding Fathers had it right — after all, they didn’t say “pursuit of middle management,” “pursuit of four weeks’ vacation” or even “pursuit of high Google pagerank.” Some people are content to make enough to get by comfortably, to subsidize a life of friends, family, travel, experience, entertainment and perhaps modest philanthropy, in addition to making a home and meeting basic needs. And that’s their ambition, really — just living life. Being the best at that is relative only to your own happiness.

In the past year, mainly for work but also out of personal interest, I’ve started reading a lot more blogs on social media and marketing. And I always marvel when I read about the lives of some of these young entrepreneurs making their names in the nascent field of social media marketing. I came across this article, “How I Cut 6 Hours From My Workday with These Seven Tips,” and was stunned. I cannot imagine micromanaging my productivity to the level of reclaiming 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there, and then reinvesting that found time back into my work to the tune of 70+ hours a week. I also follow self-described “social media ninja” Justin Levy on Twitter, and he regularly talks about how he only gets 3 or so hours of sleep a night. He works from dawn ’til midnight, it seems, travels regularly, has his hands in a bunch of active initiatives — and is getting married in a few weeks? But he’s not complaining. At least online, he comes off as one of the most positive, balanced, good-natured folks I’ve ever encountered.

I am entrepreneurial only in the respect that I love starting new projects, but I tend to have six-month syndrome — after about that period of time, my interest wanes, or I get distracted, or I start a whole new project. I have trouble with disciplining myself to see these ideas through. As I started this blog as a way to practice non-fiction writing in preparation for The Project, it has been helpful to feel accountable to people other than myself, which helps push myself to keep it up.

But as I write this blog entry, and in the back of my mind am planning for my headfirst dive into The Project, I can’t help but think about these two sides of ambition. It’s funny that, increasingly, it feels like the minimum standard to be deemed successful is to go full throttle, and anything less is failure, or at best mediocrity. And for some people, the go-go-go life is the way to be. There are people who can’t help but throw themselves into their passion, whether it’s launching a social media marketing firm, being a stay-at-home mom/dad, or becoming an associate in a law firm. That is the path for them. But why should that be considered success to the exclusion of a path that may be simpler, in one sense, but is no less valid? Ultimately, we should all be spending our time doing what makes us happy, whether it’s working 70+ hour weeks to launch an innovative business idea or putting in 35-40 at an okay job that allows time for hosting dinner parties and learning the guitar. And no one can judge one as a more worthy pursuit than the other. We need both types of people in this world.

For me, work-life balance is a huge thing.  A while back, I came to terms with certain things I needed in my life. One was sleep. The other was time with friends and family. If I don’t get enough of either, even if I am spending time doing other things I enjoy, I suffer. I’ve fallen victim to sacrificing these core needs to the project of the moment, whether it was my former life as a freelance web designer or diving headfirst into a big freelance writing assignment. And in the end, I always suffer, and I always return to the fact that I am just a type of person who needs balance. I need a little of a lot of things.

It’s easy to see that as weakness when you’re surrounded by high-acheivers who make it look so easy, and you are not living up to your own (unreasonably?) high expectations. But it’s good to stop and look at where I am once in a while and say, hey, this is pretty OK. And that doesn’t mean I give up my dreams or stop working hard on my projects (and try to overcome my six-month syndrome. But what it does mean is that, even if I keep on working and I don’t become the Best (and who’s to say what that is, anyways), that’s OK; I just need to be happy, and for me, I’ve proven to myself time and again, happiness is balance. When it comes to ambition, what more could I possibly want?

A Day Off the Grid

It’s been a nutty couple of weeks in the life of Georgy, including working the Commencement ceremony for my university of employ on Sunday. So I decided to take Tuesday (which I had originally picked as my comp day for Sunday to spend time with a friend, before that friend had to work) as a reboot day, as I mentioned here. Except for a quick voicemail and e-mail check after lunch, my cellphone was off and stowed away the whole time. The day couldn’t have worked out better.

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The World Is Not Your Fault

A former college friend of mine had a habit of getting paralyzed by self-pity. We could just be eating dinner, figuring out where to go for the evening or picking classes for the next semester, and the self-doubt would come and disrupt the entire affair, like a short circuit. I remember one evening, we were wandering around Boston and about to go to Newbury Comics. Something happened, or some realization came crashing down, and suddenly we were milling about on the streetcorner, waiting for the storm to pass.

Rather than idle around or try to coddle or assuage her, which were my usual two tactics, I instead simply turned to her and said, “Repeat after me: ‘The world is not my fault. Let’s go to Newbury Comics.'”

She looked at me somewhat perplexed. She protested, “I know the world isn’t my fault, but this thing…etc.” But after a time, she did, in fact, repeat after me. A few times, like a mantra. “The world is not my fault. Let’s go to Newbury Comics.” And then we did. 

We’re not friends anymore, as it turns out. After several years of idling, coddling and assuaging, I got tired and giving and never getting anything back. But one thing I took away was that mantra. Because at times, we’re all paralyzed by self-pity. We’re all held back by our own self-doubt, our beliefs — however erroneous — that we are not valued, that we can’t do anything right. But if you stay there, if you let the needle catch on that groove (like, arguably, my ex-friend did), you’ll never get anywhere. 

So, try it. When you’re caught in that loop, just say it: “The world is not my fault. Let’s go to Newbury Comics.” Or maybe it’s “let’s go get ice cream” or “let’s go for a run.” Either way, move forward, plow ahead. The goal or the destination needn’t be huge. Just a record shop, or a chocolate cone. Sometimes, it’s all you need.

Today, I am going off the grid. I am rebooting. I am going to adventure around a part of Boston I am entirely unfamiliar with, and I couldn’t be more excited. I am going to take circuitous bus routes and walk for miles and take tons of pictures. I am going to eat lunch at a new cafe. And I am, in fact, going to go to Newbury Comics.

Quick Hits on deafness, Dowd and Donald

It’s been a crazy past few days in the world of Georgy, with events that I am still processing. In the meantime, here is some commentary on items that crossed my desk (or my RSS) in the past couple of days.

  • iPods can cause hearing damage! Now, as the commenters on this article argue, you can either say that this article gets written every 10 years for a different generation and is repetitive, or that it gets written every 10 years for a different generation and is a valuable reminder. But that doesn’t change the fact that the lead and headline are incorrect. iPods do not cause hearing damage; loud volume causes hearing damage. I know that iPods are becoming like Kleenex in that the brand is synonymous with the product (and, in some cases, just as disposable), but I don’t think we’re at that point of brand establishment yet with the iPod where an article like this doesn’t come off as confusing at best, misleading at worst. In addition, I’ll side with the commenters who feel that articles like this are not all that helpful.
  • Maureen Dowd caught plagiarizing! So, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who has been the subject of some disdain from many corners over the years, was caught lifting a paragraph in her May 17 column nearly wholesale from a blog post by Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. Her explanation came swiftly, but also clunkily: it was a thought expressed by a friend of hers, and she wanted to weave it into her column. As Dan Kennedy tweets, “If MoDo is telling the truth, that’s the strangest goddamn way to write a column I’ve ever heard of.” He also raises the good point that at this moment, a decentralized mob of bloggers is laying the hammer down on her body of work, scouring it for duped passages and stolen phrases.

    The interesting thing here is the target. Josh Marshall is a blogger, yes, but he runs one of the most journalistically inclined blogs and news web sites out there. He’s also really, really popular, and TPM has not only become a mini media empire unto itself, but has some nice, MSM-approved hardware to show for that. Sure, there is some criticism of how he runs his operation, but the fact can’t be denied that in this age of evolving media, his model is something of a success story and is worthy of study, emulation and refinement. 

    That hardware? The George Polk Award? Was the first awarded to an online news organization. But in a sense, it was also awarded to his readership. Marshall and his staff of a half-dozen, give or take, are talented and hard-working, but it is really the loyal, tireless efforts of his readership — in scouring through public posted documents for incriminating bits, calling congressmen to get answers, sending in articesl from local coverage to fill in the blanks on a national story — that helped them win that award. It’s quite a machine, and it’s been put to good employ in a new model of journalism. The double-edged sword of this is that, with a prominent NY Times columnist accused of lifting a passage from Marshall and offering only a flimsy, if prompt, excuse as defense, that machine can now be put to the task of feeding Dowd’s entire career product through the wringer. Maybe they won’t find anything, maybe Dowd was lazy just this once and the rest of her columns, while of questionable quality, are original product. But maybe they will. If so, it will be undeniable that Dowd picked the wrong target.

    Some people say, why freak out over a paragraph? I won’t belabor the point, but in summary: the only thing journalism — online or off — has holding it up is its integrity, and if so much as a crack in that wall is left unattended, the consequences could be significant. We must be vigilant. It doesn’t mean ruining someone’s career or publicly vilifying them, but it means holding them accountable.

  • Donald Rumsfeld was fucking insane! Well, duh.

Planeteers at Work

The other night, I saw this flyer tacked up on a lightpole near my house:

It looks like some kids started a recycling awareness campaign. I found the typo very cute.

This morning, I saw some more flyers stapled to the trees leading the way to Broadway. This one had a geographically perplexing rendering of our fair planet:

Unfortunately, it looks like the campaign needs some of its own advice.

On Togetherness

Once, at my old job, I told a female co-worker I was going to New York for the weekend to visit a friend. This friend happened to be a single male, but he was also one of my best friends from college. I forget if Rick and I were just engaged or married at this point, but either way, the co-worker was aghast when she learned Rick was not going. “Rick doesn’t mind??” she asked incredulously. I was genuinely baffled. Um, no, why would he?

Even in high school, when Rick and I were dating, I got grief for this. Upon making an arrangement with my friend Sid to see, of all things, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” my grandmother sniffed around the situation and saw fit to interject, “Does Rick know about this?” I am not sure if I apprised him of my every move in his absence, but I didn’t see it as a problem either way then, either. Of all people — Sid, my human teddy bear during high school — and of all movies, I had no clue why this was a potential problem.

But for some people, it is. I think of the exchanges from “When Harry Met Sally” about the inherent challenge in men and women being friends.

Some people see a real concern with people in relationships hanging out with friends who are of their preferred gender and are either single or in another relationship. For some people, this is a recipe for disaster, a crucible for jealousy and suspicion. Such a setup, they fear, not only seems and feels inappropriate, but could actually result in something inappropriate happening! 

Recently, there was an article in the Globe about how some couples see no need for friendships outside of their marriage, and how some self-appointed arbiters (like the Oprah-approved “Shalom in the Home” rabbi Shmuley Boteach — what, is marital advice the new kashrut?) impose complex rules around how married persons’ friendships should be conducted (no late-night dinners, long drives or flights, and no lunches with alcohol).

You cannot place yourself in any situation where romance can grow. “Romance grows when people are alone; romance grows when people tell secrets,” Rabbi Shmuley says.

I’m sorry, “Rabbi Shmuley,” but you know where extra-marital romance grows? From intra-marital discord. From a lack of trust. From a lack of faith. If I begin having an affair, it’s not because I had lunch with John from the office and, oh no, he ordered wine and here we are at the motel. It would be because there are problems at home, problem with my marriage. And if those problems exist and are severe enough, it doesn’t matter if it’s lunch with a co-worker or dinner with a friend or any other scenario in the world, really — the shit is going to hit the fan one way or another. The problem isn’t having friends, or spending time with them in the non-Shmuley endorsed context; it’s having a weak marriage.

I am lucky enough to have a husband who understands that, if I do have lunch with John from the office and even if a glass of wine is consumed, it means absolutely nothing. I regularly get together for dinner with my friend David — a couple of weeks ago, we went out for Peruvian then got drinks and dessert at a nearby upscale bar — and I love those outings for the good company and quality conversation. Luckily, his wife and my husband are reasonable enough to understand that we are getting together as just friends and there is nothing more to it and nothing to worry about. The mere thought, to me, is preposterous

I’ve always had guys as friends, and granted, in middle and high school, those feelings of friendship often evolved into more romantic feelings. But isn’t the whole point of marriage that you’ve entered a binding partnership built on trust? If I don’t trust my husband to have dinner with a female friend — something that should be a relatively minor blip on the radar of potential marital concerns — aren’t there bigger problems? As the writer of the Globe article says, recent generations have been increasingly brought up in mixed-gender contexts: girls on the Little League team, mixed-gender classrooms. Is this not the era of the film “Made of Honor”? The author makes a good point about commitment — by entering into marriage, you have made a commitment. If that commitment begins to falter, it starts with an internal weakness, not an external temptation: the latter would be a symptom of the former.

My husband and I have always led fairly independent lives, perhaps owing to the fact that we’ve been together since  we were 16 and have had time to work out the whole separation anxiety thing — or maybe it’s just our nature. By this point, the distinctions are too muddied to draw a distinction. But either way, I think it works out great for us. Of course, the time we spend together going out and about, playing a game at home, watching a movie or whatnot is awesome and precious. But he can also go to conventions and take other trips I would have no interest in, and vice versa. We can take evenings to pursue our own interests without feeling like we have to drag the other person along disinterestedly. Even some of our together time is spent independently, sitting  side-by-side pursuing separate activities (usually him on the DS  or with some manga, and me with a book or the laptop) while a baseball game or the retro music channel plays in the background. 

But what I find is always one of the best parts of doing that is being able to come back home at the end of the day to him and share where I’ve been, what I’ve done, to listen to him talk excitedly about doing the things he loves. Just because we aren’t sharing every minute of each other’s lives doesn’t mean we aren’t sharing our lives with each other. And that, Shmuley, is what builds trust and keeps couples together.

Why Boston is cool, reason #67832

Go Cs!

Originally uploaded by radiofreegeorgy

ATA Cycle on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge was projecting the critical Game 5 between the Celtics and the Orlando Magic in its front window. The store was closed, no one else was around, but my friend Liz and I were walking home after dinner at the Border Cafe and paused for a few minutes to watch. What a swell treat. I particularly love the MST3K-style silhouettes of wheels on the screen. :-)