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Author Jacqueline Woodson once isolated the very act of “speaking in tangents” as a shared East Coast experience. It could be related to the festering rawness that pours out of a city that, indeed, never sleeps. Or it could be just my need to monopolize thoughts and then, conversations.
I’ve been speaking in tangents for my entire life, half-heartedly hoping it was because my mind accelerated quicker than everyone else’s and I only had so many revolutions available. It’s more likely that I had too much to share and thought I was doing the world a favor by arranging for a public demonstration.
Because isn’t spilling your brain’s contents all at once on the dinner table like a child with their first set of crayons foundational for conversation?
I am not an engineer, and I no longer identify as much of an artist. I’m almost a data scientist, on my best day. But I have a unique set of skills that ebb and flow from time to time, and so, I feel pretty much qualified for everything, and so, I do mostly everything. This is the fullest way I could ever demonstrate that your unique gifts will help you win if you embrace them and do the work.
Two months ago, with feet rooted firmly in every space and no space, I experienced Facebook’s Menlo Park campus and the world of technology in the most vulnerable way one can… With zero expectations.
Visiting Facebook was a unique moment because I was able to exist without performing; I was present without having to validate. It appealed to my artistic self because there were bodies in the room that knew me from my previously creative endeavors. It spoke to my techie side because I stood toe-to-toe with geniuses and engineers who worked on products that made people’s lives better, which stimulated their pleasure centers and in turn, delivered them thumbs up-shaped bundles of joy. Listening to those individuals speak about their work made me feel as though those kinds of wins were achievable for me too.
The entire day filled me with childlike wonder, after all, I was able to board a steel can with wings and cut through clouds like an orange rind in a pool of bourbon. Want to understand the crucial intersection of technology and design and why they’re both important? You do not have to travel to Facebook to do this, but: the technology allows you to answer emails at 36,000 feet, the design is when the seatbelt sign shuts off at your destination and it turns into Jurassic Park.
Facebook is a unicorn: a mythical billion-dollar creature of epic size and scale that we can never hope to contain. In fact, let’s just say it already—Facebook is not ours. Of course, they keep our photos, of course, they keep our stuff. We’ll be in the dirt and those key milestones and datasets will be encrusted in a vintage-looking locket dangling from the necks of Zuck’s future children.
But seriously, this company is archiving US and using US to curate it. It’s a brilliant model. How do you capture experience? Where should that live? A 0:59-second video doesn’t do it, so what comes after? When we start to really isolate the value of moments, is it the context that holds the value or the memory itself? Who prices that? How do you distribute it? All of which to say, Facebook is selling us back our own lives.
The trick is, it’s only worth the transaction if you live.
On a rainy day in Long Island many years ago, I sat in a luxurious Facebook-blue hued captain’s chair, wearing a military green Polo sweater, busted up Levi’s and camouflaged Vans slip-ons. The table was our shop’s “Last Supper” table, and it was equal parts majestic and imposing. My small Shiba Inu Brady was curled up against my back, filling the space between. It was interview day, and in my lifetime, I’ve probably interviewed over 1,000 people, so this process was not particularly daunting.
I am not an emotional hiring manager. I don’t care for bad breaks. “Do you work hard? Will you show up on time? What kind of computer do you use? What’s the last thing you made?” It all rattles out with the speed of a fully automatic M-16 with an extended clip.
It’s effective, but I am always secretly searching for a surprise.
Through our doors, a small, square-shaped figure with slumped shoulders and old jeans appeared. He was a self-taught developer who barely graduated high school and could not reach an audible volume above Milton, from Office Space. In hindsight, it was all as ridiculous a scene as one could imagine. Here I am, a rambunctious, semi-talented writer who had a penchant for getting into trouble with magazines, publicists and corporations, who drank too much and had a chip on her shoulder, but somehow still convinced a millionaire to rent me office space and other hundred-thousandaires to invest in me and my first venture.
Looking back, it all makes sense: I was an early social media adopter and newly minted entrepreneur who had legitimately no idea how to turn a profit. All I knew was I couldn’t scale doing it alone.
And he walked in.
Distressed ball cap pulled down low, smelling like a mix of Camels and motor oil, wearing either 1. the only collared shirt he owned or 2. the cleanest collared shirt he could find in time, he slunk into our newly leased fancy chairs and talked about how he built lots of stuff, how he was a failed entrepreneur who dabbled in coding and found a community online. He lamented that he hadn’t discovered computers and graphic arts sooner. He talked about how his Type 1 Diabetes had kept him frail, in and out of the hospital, and how he was so overworked at his last job that it nearly killed him. At 22. And for all that work, he wasn’t even getting health insurance.
People have a way of revealing a lot when they feel like you’re listening. And I was, intently, peering behind his uncertainty, sure I would be able to find the commonalities between us. We made things, for better or worse, and did not wait for permission. We showed up where we weren’t invited, joined communities we probably had no business in and fought for seats at tables where we should have been wait staff.
He eventually got a job as a gear head at his buddy’s garage. He stressed that while he was self-taught, he worked hard and he just wanted a chance to put his name on something… To be a part of something.
He raced cars, smoked like a chimney, and was painfully awkward.
He could not sit with clients without getting flustered.
He had no college or accelerated degrees.
He truly and madly embodied all of the “IT guy troupes.”
And I couldn’t wait to hire him.
So I did. He was the first person to teach me to use “Inspect Element” as a foundation for finding a source code. He taught me how to sit for hours looking for broken tags. He taught me how to resize an image without losing quality. He taught me about project management tools. He taught me that anything and everything can be possible on the web.
To be a voice at the table, not on the menu, at Facebook is a powerful thing that I do not know I’ll ever be able to fully actualize. Especially when pressed against the sharp contrast of how little I knew, and how truly little I deserved to know, given my shit attitude and penchant for only talking about myself, many years ago.
So as I ponder life and the tremendous fortune I have now, I cannot help but remember when a not yet fully formed man found his way to my office. And how that chance encounter set me on a path that would forever change me.
It’s can be a long way home.
Today, the world should rejoice. Friend of the site and all around awesome guy, Chris Guillebeau, released his newest book today: The Happiness of Pursuit. If you haven’t bought it, walk to the local book joint (one of my personal faves is Strand in NYC), and tell ’em “I’m tryin’ to cop that new Guillebeau joint, b.” Not only will they not understand you, every single time I’ve ever tried to pick up a book there on the first day, they’ve never had it, so you’re probably double-screwed.
Anyway, I’m reposting the first time Chris and I chatted below. It is hard to believe I knew that guy back when he was publishing his FIRST book. Time flies.
Enjoy. And congrats, Chris! (If you can, head to Brooklyn tonight and celebrate the book’s release with him.)
Enjoy my conversation with the creator of one of my favorite blogs EVER, The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau. Chris is a fantastic blogger and story-teller, and if you have not read his blog, you’re really denying yourself one of the best reads you’re going to have provided by the Internet. On September 7th, he will be publishing his first book (based on the same name) and he will begin his book tour in New York City, which is something I’m incredibly stoked about.
Kristina Villarini (KV): You’ve written guides online that are well-loved and incredibly insightful. What was the motivator to publish a title?
Chris Guillebeau (CG): One of my first motivations with AONC [Art of Non-Conformity] was to write a book. Over time, I realized that I greatly enjoy blogging and other means of quicker communication— but I still think there’s something special about a “real” book. I can’t think of a lot of blog posts that have changed my life, but I can think of plenty of books that did.
KV: When you began AONC, did you believe that it would be something that resonated with so many?
CG: Not at all! I started by writing about my travels. I’m a slow learner, but eventually I figured out that I’m not a great travel writer, and not everyone cares about travel. Once I started focusing more on motivations and how to change the world while doing what you want, the readership became a lot more engaged.
KV: The story of your blog began with a simple goal: to visit every country on Earth before you reach age 35. How much of your daily routine is driven by goals?
CG: Good question. I’d say that maybe 75% of my daily routine is goal-driven. I pretty much know what I want to do and what it will take to accomplish it at most times. But it’s important to say that I’ve chosen the goals—it’s not like I’ve been pushed into something I don’t want to do just for the sake of an arbitrary goal.
KV: Was there ever a time, whether during your many layovers or stays at terrible hotels, that you ever felt overwhelmed or an incredible resistance to the work you were doing? How do you keep from breaking down?
CG: Continually. I think most of us struggle with fear and insecurity to a certain degree, but we’re encouraged to put on a brave face and pretend to be fearless. I’m definitely not fearless, and often think about giving up. The difference is that I’ve learned to not make decisions out of fear, fatigue, or resistance. I’m doing something that is personally meaningful to me, and nothing worth doing is ever easy.
KV: You anticipate meeting your original goal of seeing every country, with the exception of any difficult trips (Belarus?). What is the next step in your life after you reach, what will most certainly be a milestone?
CG: It will be a milestone, certainly, but I don’t plan to stop traveling after I’ve visited every country. I appreciate travel for the sake of travel itself. After I achieve that goal, I expect I’ll keep going places, meeting people, writing and hopefully encouraging those who care enough to follow the journey.
This should be pretty obvious, right? I lose my job, need cash to live, and launch a freelance writing career that presents me with increasingly high-profile opportunities and the sizable audience I want.
Originally Published on PaidtoExist.com, Jonathan Mead’s killer site. This is one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve ever done. I’ve revisited a lot of these concepts again recently, and heard a lot of them at BrandCampU and CreativeMornings with Seth Godin at The New School in New York City. I think this self-discovery is far more important than anything hanging out with celebrities taught me. Read More