Last week I encouraged readers to buy the End Malaria book. When 62 great thinkers line up behind a cause and offer to share their ideas with you for free, PLUS you get to make a donation to end malaria…to me that’s a no-brainer.
(one important clarifying point in answer to a question that came from a reader: the book itself is not about malaria, it a series of short essays on living a productive life.)
First, a reflection on my experience buying the book. To my surprise, it did actually feel, when I curled up with my Kindle, that I’d gotten the book for free and had also made a donation to Malaria No More. It didn’t feel at all like I’d paid $20 for a book (I hadn’t). Interesting to think about that buyer experience in terms of participating in something as opposed to just consuming it.
Second, I have both the Kindle edition and the physical copy, and for the first time in a while I think the print is better just because it is so beautiful. It will make a great gift.
Third, Tom asked for reflections from the book itself, so here goes:
Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine, wrote an essay in the book called What You Don’t Have to Do, which really has amplified my thinking on the same topic. Here are the stages of professional life, according to Kevin:
Stage 1: Don’t Screw Up. “When you start your first job, all your attention is focused on not screwing up.”
Stage 2: Learn New Things. “At this stage, working smart means doing more than is required.”
Stage 3: Exploration. “Working smart here means trying as many roles as you can in order to discover what you are best at.”
Stage 4: Doing the Right Task. “It takes some experience to realize that a lot of work is better left undone.”
Stage 5: Doing things well and with love. “At this stage, you can begin to do only the jobs that you are good at doing and that need to be done. And what a joy that is!”
Now here’s where things get interesting, because it doesn’t stop there. The meat of Kevin’s essay is about getting past this stage, which is asking a lot. Stage 5 sounds pretty great. But, Kevin tells us, through real dedication, hard work, and honest reflection, we can go a step further and discover the things that ONLY we can do. Counter-intuitively, this means taking all things that are worth doing and that you do really well (but that others can also do well) and letting go of them.
As a magazine editor, that meant Kevin giving away all his story ideas to other writers, except the ones that no one would take on. These felt like duds, but Kevin discovered that some of them would keep coming back to life AND that he couldn’t get others to write them. So he hung on to them, and eventually he wrote them. They became his best stories.
That’s the last stage, not just for Kevin but for all of us: finding those things to which you are uniquely suited, and doing only those things.
Think of the discipline that requires. Think of the faith it takes to let go of all sorts of things you’re good at and that are worth doing – and the fear that if you do that, you’ll be left with nothing (which of course you won’t). Think of the courage and conviction it takes to realize that when people are telling you something is a bad idea, they may just be indicating that this one, and only this one, is the one that YOU need to make happen.
Kevin’s essay is much better than this blog post, so I hope you have the chance to read it.