I took my first business trip when I was 18.
It was a quick little thing, where I need to fill in for someone at a government procurement in Albuquerque. It was fairly basic stuff, shake hands, represents the company, always be selling our engineering firm. I had done stuff like it before, having a parent work in sales had more or less taught me the gist of what I should be doing.
In this case, it was a little different, however. In case you’ve never been to a government procurement, allow me to break it down for you:
Imagine you are back in your least favorite class in high school, listening to the most boring, arbitrary and arduous teacher you had ever had. Now imagine you have several dozen of his lectures in succession, each one wholly irrelevant to your goals, aspirations, and intents.
It was draining, to say the least.
However, despite the monotony of the lectures, one did stick out to me… simply for all of the wrong reasons. It was easily the worst presentation I had ever heard in my entire life, and easily the presentation that deserved the care and explanation.
I remember watching a thick-accented Polish professor of the local university come up to the stand, immediately clicking on a powerpoint slide to a photo of applied mathematics that would have made Einstein’s head spin.
No one had any idea what was being said, what they were looking at, and the only hint of relevance was a constant allusion to something about “light”.
We all watched in a sort of confused limbo as the professor attempted to explain mathematics that perhaps less than 1% of the national population was familiar with. It was an indigestible mass of numerical values and abstract concepts until he arrived at the very last slide.
I audibly gasped.
In the thick of the confusion for what he was trying to explain, I suddenly understood, though looking around me I was one of the few and not the many.
The professor, who had been speaking a form of jargon which would have made Judith Butler stupefied and Webster reinvent the dictionary, had invented wires that used light as opposed to electricity.
The wires, as the professor discovered, could transfer data approximately 400x faster than conventional kinds. Only one statistic got through to the “class” of people who were not ready to receive a lesson. In a basic calculation describing the speed of these wires, wiring based on his models were capable of downloading the entire library of congress in under ten seconds.
It was in that moment that I decided that I not only wanted but needed, to become a storyteller. Here was an invention that could radically change the world, overlooked because no one could explain it. A horrible feeling wallowed over me, as I wondered how many more academics, inventors, scientists, or businesses fell into this trap.
I imagined for a moment, what it would be like if someone came up with the cure for AIDS or Cancer, and then tried telling the world about it in Ancient Greek or Old Norse.
It wasn’t so long after that trip that I wrote a blog on why storytelling matters. I saw that the world needs better explanations, better narratives, and better stories if it would ever hope to illustrate the value of big ideas the world. After seeing how badly miscommunicated many ideas were, I knew I wanted to take up the mantle and make the change for the better. I hope this story proves that.
When I was 16 I left high school to learn something real. I realized I had been running in an arbitrary circle that wasn’t my own decision, and I knew something had to change. I was headed to a place I did not want to go, and that I knew wouldn’t make me happy.
When all of this culminated, and I saw how unhappy I was, I dropped out of school. I got a job at a coffee shop, and I started working to pay a tuition at an entrepreneurial incubator. I left everything behind. Friends, grades, the traditional path, all for the unknown.
When I woke up the first morning of my first day at my first real job, I was one part exhausted, and 99 parts exhilarated. It was 3 am. I had to be in before 4 am to get the kitchens started for the early risers, and begin prepping the house for open. I used to go to bed at 3 am. I should have been more tired than ever before.
I had never felt so awake.
I want you to imagine you have an itch that you just can’t scratch. Maybe it’s in that one spot on your back you just can’t reach. Maybe you just can’t move your jacket enough to reach it. Maybe it’s all in your head. Maybe you’re getting itchy right now.
If you are feeling an itch, or you know the itch I’m talking about, that day, waking up at 3 am for a job I never worked before, starting to do something insane which everyone said was wrong, gave me that itch.
Each moment was not a form of endurance, like the schools I had been to. Each moment was not something I had to bear with misery and stagnation. Every moment, in the middle of the night, sweating over the heat of the stove, preparing thing as fast as I could, was a moment of life.
I would like to say that that day was closer to my birthday than December 10th. It was like waking up from a great sleep and wanting to take on the day. It was some of the hardest work I could fathom, early mornings to late afternoons, yet I basked in it.
For once, the work that I was doing, the work I had done, was mine and mine alone. It was my decision to take on the responsibility, difficulty, the fatigue and the exhaustion of that work. I had not been told nor did I tell anyone else that they must. The decision, which was pure madness to my family and my friends, was the one time, the first time, that my life was my own. That my work was for my own purposes and my own benefits. It was the feeling that I could lead a life into the vast unknown of the world and call the path I took my own, and there would be no man or woman, no administrator nor magistrate, no father nor mother no preacher nor gospel to tell me that my life was defined as and given unto them.
I felt that under the excruciating hours of the work, that no matter how long I would put my effort in I could only feel some form of hysteria. Hysteria not in the sense of panic, but hysteria in the sense of joy, and the entire principle of my effort was some joke, not in the sense that I took a moment of it as trivial but that I took every moment of it as the participation of a living, active, human world.
That itch still sticks with me.
I can’t watch movies anymore, nor can I sit still too much. People used to say I have ADHD. If I do, I chose to. If I do and they are right I don’t call it a disorder. If I do, then I have ADHD in the sense of Actively Determining my Human Destiny. It’s the itch and it’s wonderful. It’s the itch and I love it. It’s the itch and I couldn’t help but feel some longing the moment I stopped working for that coffee shop, and the moment I stopped working in an internet marketing firm, and the moment I stopped working with engineers, and the moment I stopped writing my last article, and the moment I will stop writing this.
I have an itch, and I just can’t scratch it. I have an itch to be not an effect but and effector. I have a thirst and hunger, an itch and a desire, a want and a yearning, that I just want more from myself and more from the world, more from my work and more from my actions, more from my effects in the human world, more from my being and more from all the things that can be done to build something beautiful in this world.
I have an itch and I just can’t scratch it.
God forbid I ever do.
Limberness is not something usually brought up as a skill for the workplace. It’s more commonly associated with something needed for dancers or acrobats, not techies and marketers. However, I’m talking about limberness in the mind, though frequently it’s present in the body when present in the mind.
I have been fortunate enough to meet a number of teachers in my life, and one particular one totally changed my mind on this. I used to see no value in being flexible and adaptable, and I thought in order to make any change I had to force myself on the world.
The man, who spoke like a guru (and looked like one, too), continually emphasized something that has stuck with me. “Flexibility is life, rigidity is death” he’d say. I didn’t listen at first, I’m not usually the type to buy into guru virtues. However, over time I began to think about it, and slowly warm up to the idea.
He indicated that when flesh dies, it undergoes rigor mortis, and rapidly hardens. Flexible bark begins to petrify, grass becomes tough and harsh, and muscles lock a cadaver in place.
I began to take this in, partially by osmosis, and partially by observation. I stopped fighting people for no reason. I’d still hold my ground and defend what I believed, but if I realized that I was wrong and they were right, I let it go. I moved to be a less intense, hard and tough person.
His message has stuck with me for a long time, and I do firmly (ironically) believe it. There is a difference between being hard, and standing your ground. Likewise, there is a difference between being adaptable, and being a pushover.
Today, I am a limber person, always changing shape and form to the situation’s needs. I practice flexibility with my coworkers, teammates, and peers. In situations I lead, I encourage people to test and identify solutions for themselves, and I maintain the flexibility to allow others to run their own systems. When things are moving faster at the office or in a job, and new responsibilities need to be taken on, I don’t “lock myself” into one understanding of my position.
I choose to be limber ever since hearing that halfway guru. I won’t stay stuck in a form of my own making. Limberness, adaptability, flexibility, whatever you call it, is a necessary trait for navigating a changing life and a changing work landscape. I choose limberness because I choose life, and I’m not ready for rigor mortis quite yet.