Reading Into It: Linchpin

by Rachel on March 12, 2010

Well, I was going to review a diet book today, but after I shared my stories of rejection, I received a lot of feedback from so many of you who seem to be struggling in your professional lives. So I thought I’d share a book that’s more along those lines. After all, you know I always say you have to work on your head before you can work on your ass! So today, we’re going to go with that!

So, Linchpin. Linchpin is a book written by Seth Godin. I first found out about Seth Godin when my friend Tracy — she of the awesome vision board who started her own interior design business at the age of 22 — told me about him. He’s a marketing expert, but he covers so much more than that. He’s really about ideas and innovation. Tracy told me about his book Tribes. I took her advice, checked it out from the library the next day, read it in a couple hours, and was hooked. I’ve talked a lot about reigniting my inner flame in the past year; Tribes was one thing that really stoked the fire. It’s really just about leadership, and reading it was a serious tipping for me and for this blog.

book, seth godin

Linchpin is Godin’s latest book and it is about work. Linchpins are the people in organizations or work settings who are indispensable — they come up with new ideas, lead their co-workers, connect people, generate ideas, make things happen, and solve problems no one else could solve. We’ve all experienced linchpins in action; it might be your boss, but it might be your cubicle buddy, or your intern. You know one when you see one. It’s that powerhouse person who just seems unstoppable.

Godin is arguing that we are all linchpins. It doesn’t take a magical talent; it takes a strong belief that there is a new, better way of doing things, and you are going to be the one to do it. But the problem is that the old American dream model conditioned us to do otherwise: go to school, follow instructions, work hard, graduate, get a job, do what you’re told, don’t do extra, get promoted, settle there, retire comfortably. Except…then the economy fell apart and that model ended. There’s no more stability in following the rules. You can be top of your class, graduate with honors, and get a job that you have always wanted — and then you can get laid off during your first year. Or you can get that job and hate it, which is quite often the case.

But if you can become a linchpin, you can be indispensable and people will have to hire you and fight to keep you there. Oh, and you’ll be happy. Perfect right? Soo…how to be a linchpin?

Well, linchpins are artists. And artists are people who put themselves into their work, who take risks, and who use emotional labor to create something difficult. Art is not just typical creative things like writing or painting or dancing; Godin defines art as a personal gift that changes the recipient. And the artist is the person who creates the gift, this thing that causes a connection and causes the recipient to change his mind. Art is selling something you love, getting people to adopt a dog, managing an angry customer. Or it’s designing iPods or creating g-mail. Companies like Apple and Google hire linchpins and treat them a accordingly, and it’s no surprise then that these companies create really great things.

We all have talents. When we share them with others, we are giving a gift. And we can bring our art to any job, even jobs we’re trapped in until something better comes along. We can find a way to be creative and to do our job in a way that our bosses can’t really tell us to do, in a way that it hasn’t been done before.

But this isn’t easy. In the next section of the book, Godin talks about resistance. This is fear. This is wanting to not “fail.” It’s wanting to be comfortable, chasing “security.” It’s hoping someone else will be in charge so they’ll just tell you what to do. It’s what keeps artists from doing art and giving gifts, and it’s what keeps people in shitty jobs doing mindless work.

This is a very condensed version of what the book is about, and I can’t encourage you enough to read it for yourself and read the expansion on all these ideas, with real examples from great companies and great linchpins. Godin’s books are all easy reads, sort of like reading a really great magazine article. I’ve recommended it to every one of my friends who says, “I hate my job.” (And it’s sad how many friends I have who say that.)

I wish I could have read this book a year and a half ago when I was in New York, essentially behaving like a factory worker to make a magazine come together. There was an assembly line quality to it all. I had to show up and do what I was told and avoid getting yelled at and then I’d get paid. There was no art in my work — and that was partially my fault. But I couldn’t put art in my work because there was just so much fear.

And as a writer, yes, I have art to give. But the act of writing is not creating art. In Journalism school, my short-sighted professors did not like when I created art. The State News didn’t hire me because they wanted writers, not artists. When I first started this blog, there were a lot of other health blogs out there that were more popular. (And there still are.) So I followed their model. I wrote about oatmeal. I wrote about my workouts. I hesitated before admitting to loving booze or talking about sex because I didn’t want to get called out. I felt like so many health blogs were just very…chaste. And that’s fine, if that’s the true voice of the blogger. But I was bored.

So I stopped writing and I started creating art. And that was the tipping point for me and for this blog. And Godin talks about fear; I know everyone thinks I’m fearless but that’s not exactly true. When I started doing Shed Theater, there was fear. (There sometimes still is!) But the artist in me knows there are dozens of health blogs out there and I need to give you a really good reason to continue to read mine.

And a lot of people say, “I don’t want to create art or have an opinion that I publicly share because I don’t want potential employers to not hire me.” Yeah, yeah, we all got that lecture in college. But here’s the thing: pictures of you doing keg stands on Facebook and examples of you creating art are not the same thing. Create your art and take pride in it and accept the consequences. I’m at the point now where I’d rather be broke and live at home than stop doing Shed Theater just so a potential employer thinks I’m someone I’m not.

The biggest thing I took away from this book and can share with you, if you feel lost and trapped and scared and alone, is to latch onto your passion. Maybe you can’t do it full-out just yet. Maybe the market means your dream job is still a few years off. But whatever you’re great at, whatever you lose yourself in, whatever you do that makes you take a step back upon completion think, “Yes, I crushed that. I’m awesome”…you have to find a way to bring that into your life. It might take sacrifices, and it might take time, but it is possible.

If you aren’t willing to do this, your life is going to be really hard. And you won’t find it easy to get to the gym or to eat healthy. Your goals will feel impossible to meet. Your life will feel very dark. I’m not trying to be all, “Oh, I’m awesome,” but I didn’t get where I am until I made a choice to create art and share it. So make the choice to share your brilliant gifts. Please and thank you.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Melissa March 12, 2010 at 8:51 am

Hi! I’m a relatively new reader and just want to say I LOVE your blog – so keep doing what you’re doing. This was such a great post and exactly what I needed to hear right now. You’re a refreshing break in my google reader full of oatmeal blogs (which I still do love)…but I definitely always look forward to your posts!

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2 Diane March 12, 2010 at 9:52 am

Yes! Thank you so much for saying this! I’m tired of people watering down their personalities and stifling their creativity because they think they have to act like some corporate drone to get a job. If a company doesn’t like that I blog about my middle school diary, that I’m a bleeding heart liberal who loves gays and the environment, or that I once published erotica for a short story collection, then probably don’t want to work for them anyway! Let’s all strive to seek jobs who appreciate us for who we are, who understand and respect the talents and innovation we can bring.
.-= Diane´s last blog ..February 26, 2001: Dial-Up =-.

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3 Triz March 12, 2010 at 11:08 am

I don’t know Rachel … you seem to me to be astonishingly disciplined and self-driven, at least compared to me. On a non-work day, I’ll still be lounging about reading, then when I exert myself enough to check email and your blog, I discover that you’ve taught a class and cooked a meal and edited a chapter AND wrote a blog (or two!). Don’t you EVER feel lazy or procrastinate?

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4 Rachel March 12, 2010 at 11:18 am

Triz–

I agree that I am pretty disciplined, but I think it goes back to discovering your passion and latching onto that. When it comes to doing things like, say, doing a writing assignment I’m not excited about, yup, I get on blogs and waste time and avoid doing it. But when it comes to doing things I’m passionate about — this blog, my book, exercise — then I don’t generally have to really fight a desire to procrastinate.

HOWEVER, there’s a whole section in Linchpin about the concept of shipping, which means getting the job done. To create art, he says, you have to ship. There are a lot of things that stand in the way of shipping, no matter how passionate you are, and fear comes into play here again! Sometimes if I can’t get myself to ship on the things I’m passionate about, it’s because I’m scared. Right now my vision board just says “SHIP SHIP SHIP” to remind me to stay focused on editing and not get scared that, holy shit, if I do well with this, in a very short amount of time, every guy I dated in college is going to know how I really felt about him. And my GRANDMA is going to know, well, EVERYTHING. But the book has advice on dealing with that fear and getting you to ship.

Sooo…I think procrastination comes from more than one place! I guess it’s all about figuring out what’s stopping you?

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5 Triz March 12, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I’ve now ordered the book so maybe I will find out! :)

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6 Lesley March 12, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Wow! Thank you so much for this post! It came at a time where I really needed to hear some of those words. I love your blog for the exact reasons you mention–you are different and aren’t afraid to expand on topics that are talked about on most ‘healthy living’ blogs. And you know what? I like it!!!

I’m definitely going to check out that book :)

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7 Kat March 14, 2010 at 5:57 pm

This is sitting on my bedside table and I need to crack that bitch oooopennnn.
.-= Kat´s last blog ..I have a crush =-.

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8 steve cunningham March 17, 2010 at 9:06 am

So true – we are all remarkable and we can all be linchpins. And doing what you are doing (holding on to your passions) is a huge part of what makes us one.

Thanks for the thoughts!

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9 Allison @ Happy Tales February 16, 2011 at 12:17 am

So I know you wrote this post almost an entire year ago… but holy cow, it sure does apply to me right now! I am seriously loving your blog. You have such wonderful, real and appropriate advice… I don’t know how I came across your blog, but I always find myself coming back to read more. You are seriously one of my favorite blogs I have EVER come across. Thanks for being so open and real!

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10 Annabelle September 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I realize this post is waaaaay old, but I’m commenting anyway just to say it was exactly what I needed to read right now. As a college grad out in the real world for the first time, I’ve struggled a LOT with a lot of fear about failure and lack of security and stability, and i know it’s frequently lead me to second-guess myself and hold myself back. I love art and creating things more than anything, but it’s so terrifying sometimes to even try to put myself out there and try and do something with my passion. Why even try to make something out of making things/art/whatever when no one may even notice, it may not go anywhere, it won’t be profitable and I’ll just be wasting my time, etc.? Why not just invest more in my full-time job that’s much more secure, even if I feel rather so-so about it?

Reading this post was the nice little kick in the pants I needed to realize that I should just do shit for me because I want to, dammit! I’m young, I have plenty of time to take risks and make mistakes and just go out and live. So why the hell not?

Long story short: thank you for this post and I think I’ll be picking up this book sometime soon. :]

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