If No One Falls Over, We’re Having a Great Class!

One of my recent newsletters discussed a misguided essay (and now, regrettably, book) by a prominent philosophy professor on his notion of "constructive procrastination. I'm happy now to refer you to this essay, I'm With Stupid, by a writer who is not, to my knowledge, a prominent professor, but who nevertheless has figured out a lot of the whole procrastination/perfectionism thing. Robin Marantz Henig started taking tap dancing lessons in her forties and reports: "Amazingly, considering how ambitious I was in the rest of my life, I didn’t really care about getting any better at tap. As long as I didn’t mess up or fall over, I considered that afternoon’s class a success. That’s what was so great about learning tap as an adult. For kids, every new skill might be the one they really shine in, the one that defines them, which makes piano lessons, ski instruction or tap-dance classes especially fraught. For adults, there’s not that kind of pressure. I was in my 40s. I already knew dancing wasn’t going to be my … [Read more...]

All Your Work Should Be Sand Castles

The wonderful and much-missed writer and writing teacher John Gardner wrote in On Becoming A Novelist: “If children can build sand castles without getting sand-castle block, and if ministers can pray over the sick without getting holiness block, the writer who enjoys his work and takes measured pride in it should never be troubled by writer’s block. But alas, nothing’s simple. The very qualities that make one a writer in the first place contribute to block: hypersensitivity, stubbornness, insatiability, and so on.” However, if you work on your perfectionism and other barriers to productivity, all your work CAN be sand castles! Those other barriers, as outlined in my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific, include: resource deficiencies, unmanaged time, ineffective work processes, ambivalence, unhealed traumatic rejections, and an exploitative/unliberated career path. Yes, your work might be intellectually or emotionally challenging— but the act of sitting down to do it should be little harder than sitting … [Read more...]

Why You’re Afraid to Quit

Interesting article by Daniel Gulati in Harvard Business Review on why people have trouble quitting even jobs and businesses they hate. Everything he writes would apply to activist campaigns, too, and probably relationships and other areas of life. The author neglects to mention, though, that timing a quit is hard. It's not always obvious when to quit, and you also (of course) have no way to predict how better or worse things get in the future. Most people, though, take too long to quit--and many take way too long. One question to ask yourself: while you ponder or ruminate about the quit, are you inventing reasons for staying put, or reasons for leaving. If you're expending a lot of energy trying to convince yourself to stay, that's probably a sign you should go. Excerpted from Gulati's article: You've been conditioned. Scientists know that the best way to train someone to perform a behavior is to reward them for doing so at random intervals....If you look closely enough, you'll find that the … [Read more...]

Interview with Richard Stallman

My friend Richard Stallman is the founder of the free software movement . His ideas have spawned not only the GNU/Linux operating system , but Wikipedia , Creative Commons the anti-DRM Defective by Design campaign, and other important social movements. He is a MacArthur "genius," and arguably the world's most successful activist, and I was honored to have the opportunity to interview him. Q: What is free software? A: Free software means that the user has the four essential freedoms: 0. The freedom to run the program as you wish. 1. The freedom to study the program's source code, and then change it so that the program does what you wish. 2. The freedom to distribute exact copies of the program to others. (This is also known as the freedom to help your neighbor.) 3. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions. (This is also known as the freedom to contribute to your community.) Q: You have been working on the free software cause for more than 20 years. How do you keep your momentum going … [Read more...]