Last time I talked about the question I often get of "what is it that you do all day?". And when I say I talked about it I mean I focussed entirely on the merits of the question, the insights it provided, and the effect the question has had on me. I didn't actually answer the question. This is actually pretty typical of me. Waxing philosophical is something I am wont to do. So to switch things up a bit, I figured I would take a stab at actually providing a real, concrete answer to the question. What are the things I do all day and why have I chosen to focus on these things in particular?
Being unemployed, one of questions I get asked a lot is "What do you do all day?". It gets asked in different ways. The words aren't always the same. The tone can be different. Expressed as anything from curiosity to confusion to disgust.2 But its the same idea. And, inevitably, everyone I talk to will ask. Each in their own way. At first, I wasn't sure what to do with this question. I would give some answer but it was often pretty shallow. I was more concerned about the optics of the answer, about having a good answer. I wasn't really giving the question much thought. But having had to face the question with such frequency, I grew more curious about it myself. What did I do all day? It's actually a really good question. And one I am very grateful for.
Kanye West is a genius1. At least when it comes to making music. And maybe shoes. Being good at one thing, however, does not mean you are good at all things. Kanye West is also an idiot2. But before he lost touch with reality, I used to follow him on Twitter. Like most things on Twitter, his tweets are largely nonsense sprinkled with the occasionally useful insight. There is one tweet3 in particular that has stuck with me for a while:
This week, I've been working on putting together a collection of photos that I've titled "Everyday Mind". Two things about the title. First, it feels strange giving some pictures a title for reasons I'll get into shortly. Second, the title may seem familiar as I've borrowed it directly from a Zen koan by the same name.1 Now, I don't claim to have any true understanding of the concept of "Everyday Mind" as it occurs to Nansen. I am not saying the two things are the same in any way.2 I chose the title here simply because of how the words have been resonating with me lately. Specifically, how they are reflected in the way that I've been going about photography.
I am not an art expert. I have, however, been lucky enough to visit a lot of places of art and see quite a few examples of art1. I've noticed that one thing there tends to be a lot of in museums is paintings. And one of the more popular subjects among paintings is that of the still life. Historically, I didn't pay these any special attention but have been thinking about them more lately. The genre undoubtedly has a lot of depth and facets my uncultured mind is unaware of2 and so I don't intend to (or even hope to) get into everything the subject has to offer. But in considering even just the practical aspects alone, I think there is a lot to be learned.
I studied computer science in college mostly by accident. I applied to the major because it was less impacted1 and increased my chances of getting in. During matriculation2, I enrolled in the intro classes to see what it was like. I ended up enjoying it enough that I spent the next 16 years working in the field3. It's turned out to be a lucky (in the lucrative sense) choice and one that I certainly do not regret. However, it's become increasingly clear recently that it's not really the thing I want to do with my life.
I joined Square in October of 2014. The company was still relatively small, as I was only the five-hundred-and-somethingest employee. Small enough that there was still a company all hands every Friday afternoon. Small enough still that the deck included a slide introducing each new employee1. Jack would ask each person to stand as he read aloud the profile they had created during on-boarding. He'd often ask follow ups or poke fun at something someone had written. Luckily, I hadn't known this was going to happen beforehand. I was agonizing over the words all week already, knowing they'd be read aloud to the entire company would have only made it worse. There were a lot of early drafts that included inane details about my life, hobbies, or past employment. Unable to find any satisfactory way to summarize myself, I eventually settled on "Ship it". That's all, "Ship it" was the whole profile. When Jack read it at the all hands he said something to the effect of it being the best profile he'd ever seen.2 Which is funny because it's not a profile at all.
"Ship it" has been a part of my vocabulary only as long as I've been working in a professional environment. Maybe the past decade or so. And even during this time has meant a lot of different things. At first it meant something like "I don't really know how to test things so this is probably good enough". Sometime later it became closer to "I have a lot of confidence due to previous successes and am feeling very productive". Later, as a manager, it became a fun, semi-ironic way to end meetings. Being unemployed3, I am in a different place now and, therefore, "ship it" has taken on new meaning once again.
January, being the Monday of the year, is a good time for planning. For a lot of people, this is some sort of "resolution". Which I think is really just a fancy word for "goal"4. I've had daily/weekly goals for a while5, in various forms. So for me, this is a good time to revisit, reflect on, and refine these goals. Because I am otherwise unemployed and have been listening to a lot of Akimbo, I've decided to make it a weekly goal to "Ship it". This time around, "Ship it" means "to complete a piece of work that can be shown to others". The "complete" part is important because it means I can't put it off to finish later or keep tweaking it and never calling it done. And the "shown to others" part is important because there is some accountability and it makes the work have to be something concrete. You may be wondering what "the work" is, or maybe what qualifies as work. But that's actually less important.
Part of the reason I am still unemployed6 is because I don't yet know what I want to do with my life. I've always admired writing and those who do it well. It's both an art and a useful tool and something I've always wanted to try and do more of. So shipping can mean (like this very post) a way to scratch that itch in a more tangible way. It can also mean practicing photography in the way that engages the entire process to produce real works, as opposed to just posting something casually on Instagram. Or, if I want to try consulting, to promote my services and find actual clients. I intend for this to be an exploration, as a way of iterating on my life. Getting better at something requires practice and so, this year, shipping will be my practice.
Other traditions at the time included flip cup and parting intern requests ↩
At least that's how I remember it ↩
Or self-employed, or retired, or... ↩
Ok maybe it's a "really big goal" + "motivation required to even commit to it". ↩
Whether or not I've actually consistently hit goals is a different topic ↩
Wow have I mentioned I'm unemployed? ↩