When L and I meet up after our respective workdays, we like to ask each other what we’ve learned.
Yesterday, I told him that bread was just an edible dust bunny.
A few days before that, I told him that work changes reality.
“Wow,” L said, after he had thought it through. “You’re right.”
I started thinking about the relationship of work to reality after attending a handful of Volunteer Meetings for a Specific Cause in which — as is often the case with these kinds of meetings — the Cause was never directly addressed.
The problems on the table at the beginning of the meeting were still on the table at the end of the meeting; in fact, these problems had yet to be defined or specified in any way that would allow us volunteers to begin solving them.
It made me realize that there had to be another meeting, somewhere else, at which the people who were actually responsible for defining, deciding, and doing were actually getting things done.
They were taking the actions that would create the results that would make the desired outcome possible.
They were changing reality, and they were doing so through specific, applied work.
Those of us who attended the Volunteer Meeting had simply been asked to move reality around for a while; to have our voices heard, perhaps, or to create a sense of group loyalty or identity or something like that. (In some cases, these types of meetings are put together to get people excited and then ask them for money.)
I left those meetings with a sense that my time had been wasted.
I continued thinking about the relationship of work to reality after publishing last week’s blog post “What I think about, when I think about my (draft) Alice essay.”
I sent that same document to my editor, in an attempt to demonstrate how I was progressing on the piece (and, if I’m going to be honest about it, to demonstrate my own cleverness).
He said, in the kindest way possible, that he didn’t need to see that kind of thing.
“I am so embarrassed,” I told L, once I understood what I had done. “He was expecting work and I sent him work-like.”
The difference between the “what I think about” document and an actual revision pass is, of course, the fact that the latter changes reality and the former does not. My “what I think about” document did not change a single word of the original draft, and therefore it does not count as work.
“Wait wait wait wait wait Nicole,” you might say, “but aren’t you still changing reality by writing that blog post? There was a previous reality in which that post did not exist, and a subsequent reality in which it did.”
Sure. Point given, and point missed.
The reality I wanted to change was take essay from draft to final.
The work I needed to do was something along the lines of:
Define WIN CONDITION.
Ask yourself what you need to do to achieve WIN CONDITION.
Take those actions.
Measure the results against WIN CONDITION.
If WIN, then STOP. Otherwise, return to Step 2.
(If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll notice that this process looks awfully familiar…)
In the case of my Alice essay, the process had failed at Step #1: Define WIN CONDITION. In fact, I would argue that FAILING TO DEFINE WIN is the biggest reason why we do work-like stuff instead of actual work, but that’s another argument for another day.
For today’s argument, I will simply tell you that I had not yet done the work of determining what a successful Knight Letter essay should include, nor what it should look like, nor how it should be structured. I had not asked myself what specific audience I was addressing, what background information they would have before reading my submission, how my submission could improve the overall Carrollian knowledge base, etc. etc. etc.
This is the kind of basic stuff I ask all of my freelancing students to do before they ever reach out to a publication. Why didn’t I do it myself? Because I was so excited to get to write about Alice. It was like me saying “I want to be a travel writer!” without thinking about why anyone would want to read my travel writing.
Once I received my first Knight Letter in the mail, I had the information I needed to evaluate what an actual WIN CONDITION might look like — and what actions I needed to take next to achieve that WIN.
I was ready to change reality.
To do the work.
Here’s where it gets really interesting.
Once I began working on the right thing, I didn’t need to “think about it” anymore. There was no disintegration between ego and process; no confusion about which actions would lead to which results. I had gone from guessing to knowing.
My chess game is starting to feel the same way.
So is my music.
More on that tomorrow. ❤️