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.
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.