Oct 4, 2011
“There, thought Arren, lay the very heart of wizardry: to hint at mighty meanings while saying nothing at all, and to make doing nothing at all seem the very crown of wisdom.” – from Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Farthest Shore
I recently returned to a corporate blog I launched a few years back and discovered, much to my surprise, that a post I wrote in 2008—“What Do You Want to Do with Your Life?”—is still listed in the sidebar as a “popular post.”
I say “to my surprise” because the post, which described a dispute I had with my father while I was temping back in 1988, elicited an intensely negative response from at least one commenter. To wit:
This blog post doesn’t help anything. It’s a filibuster, and if this is what [your company] pays you to write about, I really wonder about [your company]. Correct me if I’m wrong, but your blog is called “The [your company] Talent Blog: Career Advice and Insights for Marketing Professionals”. Are you advising me to respond to straightforward questions with quotes from Heidegger? Is that good advice? What’s the insight here? “Many cultural traditions support doing nothing”? I’ll make sure to bring that up the next time my boss and I have a performance review.
While some friends of mine offered comments of their own in my defense, I actually agree with this person. In my attempt to “keep it real” and make our blog “human,” I totally lost sight of the types of stories, lessons, or advice that would be most useful to our readers (or intended readers). The image of someone brandishing my rhetorical flourishes—or a copy of Heidegger for that matter—as self-justification during a performance review shone an appropriately laughable light on my pretensions.
So, do I still believe that our culture puts undo emphasis on productivity, achievement, and doing for the sake of doing? Yes. Myriad political, ecological and personal problems find their root here.
Am I still fond of the Buddhist retort to this productivity imperative, “Don’t just do something; sit there”? Quite.
Have I learned, however, that when you are billing what you do as “career advice,” people will want concrete, practical suggestions on how best to advance their careers and not philosophical conundrums that make all activity seem futile, vain or worthless? Definitely.
In fact, this last bit of insight is something that I’ve learned over and over. In most cases, when people are looking to learn something from you, they don’t want context, history, or meta-level musings; they really prefer that you just tell them what to do.