Our friends Ed and Cameron stayed with us this past weekend. We showed them some of the sights of Seattle: the Underground Tour, Pioneer Square, Uwajimaya, the Elliott Bay Book Co., the Museum of Flight, the Science Fiction Museum. We also hung around our apartment watching anime and reading graphic novels, because we are geeks and because visiting with friends is more fun when you’re not all bloody and exhausted from trying to see and do EVERYTHING.
Where was I going with this?
So I said to Ed, “I’ve recently acquired ambition.”
“Really! What’s it like?”
“It’s…different. Good. Sort of invigorating.” Pause. “Pity I couldn’t have gotten it when I was, say, 18.”
“You take what you can get.”
When I was 18, I wouldn’t have gotten anything out of Paul Arden’s book It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be, which I just finished reading. I wouldn’t have even understood it — it would have been like a memo from Saturn. One of the Amazon reviews says that the message is “simple and obvious”. True, but that often doesn’t matter. Take the section on making your company great:
Observe that an organization’s reputation is usually built on one or two key accounts.
Then pick the ground on which to make your assault.
Realize that companies’ reputations are also built on one or two people. Aim to be that person, or one of them.
Fairly simple and obvious. Except that 20 years ago, or even as little as five years ago, I wouldn’t have gotten this at all. You could have written that passage on the back of my hand with a Sharpie, or opened the book to that page and beaten me on the head with it 500 times while chanting those words over and over, and I still wouldn’t have gotten it. Starting with, “Why should I want to make my company great? As long as it’s making enough money that I get my paycheck, everything’s fine.”
In fact, the thought that I would someday be reading a book like this and trying to figure out ways to apply the author’s advice to my own career would have bewildered me and probably creeped me out a little. Hell, the idea of having a career at all creeped me out back then. I just wanted to have some money, lots of free time, and to be generally left alone.
Middle age does tend to shift one’s priorities. 20 years of having plenty of free time but no money has gotten really old. Working to make myself just good enough at whatever my job was that my supervisors would leave me alone got old, too. And boring. I want to be better at what I do than I am now; and when I do get better, I want to find ways to be better still. I want to stand out more, make a few waves. Be a superhero.
So, land sakes! The crazy books I’m reading now, like Getting Things Done, and The Art of Project Management.
I need skills. Girls only want guys who have skills!
Nunchuck skills…computer hacking skills…
…bow hunting skills…