You know what I am terrible at? Remembering what my “Groundhog Day Resolutions” are. You’d think after over 10 years of doing these things I would have it down, but sometimes these things take time. As an aside, there’s a great Malcolm Gladwell podcast on how long it takes for things to mature, a wonderful ramble through Elvis Costello’s worst album through the lens of Picasso vs Cezanne as artistic masters of quite different styles (link: Revisionist History S1E7 “Hallelujah”)
Anyway, back to how I’m terrible at remembering my Groundhog Day Resolutions. The only time I remember them is the day before they are due. I can feel sort of good about maintaining the RESPONSIBILITY of doing the review, but clearly the process can be better. I am therefore instituting weekly reviews of the goals, just so they are fresh in my head. I’ve looked at last month’s review to get a sense of where I was, and will devise some kind of plan to put into motion during the week.
RECAP of the LAST GHDR REPORT
The gist of the post was that I was feeling overextended and had decided to drop a bunch of things; the month leading to the review day had felt good in terms of progress on billable work at a sustainable pace. I had been pleased that I was able to refactor my GHDR goals into the idea of MISSION to build a place for people like me who aspire to be “curious, creative, self-empowered, conscientious, generous, competent, and kind”, rather than have the focus on GOODS & SERVICES as a more business-oriented goal. I am a creature of deeply-held personal values; business exists to support the expression of the values in my world. However, I also reminded myself that SHARING is the active component of building a strong community; without that, having the PLACE itself is merely a supporting shell.
I also noted two insights that I thought were perhaps relevant to maintaining motivation at the time:
- I rediscovered that making small things every day tended to drive away negative feelings, which tended to encourage more making.
- I remembered that I liked making “gift experiences”, using my considerable attention to personal details to craft memorable artifacts that paint a picture in the recipient’s mind.
While I believed that this refactoring of my GHDR goals was the best one yet, I still felt the need to define some tangible projects, which I have predictably not made any progress on. Hence, the introduction of these weekly reviews to try to kickstart some action.
PROJECTS AND SPARKS
Those tangible project goals haven’t budged an inch. They were making a video for my Patreon page, a chore that has lingered for over a year. I also wanted to release a web app based on my current work project, and for a mind-stretching exercise wanted to scheme-up ways to make a million dollars in five years. These are actually quite large projects, which is a big demotivating factor in itself, but I think what really is the problem is that they are projects, not gifts. I wrote down that insight because I thought the obvious excitement I feel about making elaborate gifts was energy that I could probably harness. But what is missing is the specificity of its application, or rather the specificity that comes from making a gift for a specific kind of delight.
The kinds of gifts I am thinking of are not your run-of-the-mill “hey, this seemed like something you would like” variety, but more like alternate reality games that are designed to pique curiosity. For example, one time I was participating in a “Secret Santa” gift exchange at the office. People often use this opportunity to have fun pranking their officemates, but I just wanted to make something a bit different. I bought a metal combination cash box, loaded it with candy from “Cracker Barrel”, and inserted two toys that made a cow-like “mooing” sound when you tilted them; this was to make the box MOO when the recipient invariably tried shaking it to guess what was inside. The first stage of the present, however, was not the presentation of the box. It was three numbered puzzles that required the recipient to solve; there were instructions on the bottom of them that said to solve them and leave them somewhere on the lunchroom table. These were puzzles that required some physical dexterity, and could be shared with other people. When the puzzles were solved, the locked cash box appeared on the table and sat there. The idea was that the recipient would notice that each of the puzzles had a certain number of marbles in them, and that the combination was actually revealed there, but the connection wasn’t made until a hint was issued. The box was then opened with great excitement, candy was had by all, and the entire office was there to witness its victorious opening (except for me, unfortunately, but the second-hand descriptions seemed to indicate it had been well received). Since there had been a $20 limit on the Secret Santa gift, the instructions inside the box said to just return it to a place in the office as it was not part of the gift.
I like doing things like this, which maybe isn’t surprising considering how I came into my current line of work by way of wanting to design and make computer games in the 80s. Experiencing interactive storytelling had been a proxy for real experience when I was a kid, and I had been amazed how simple text-only games from the makers of ZORK and PLANETFALL could wrest emotional responses from me. At the time I was also thinking of being an English major in college because I liked writing stories, but eventually I changed my mind and chose to pursue computers because I ostensibly already KNEW how to write; computers were mysterious boxes that I thought I needed to understand more completely to make even better video game experiences. In hindsight, some 30 years since I started that journey, I can see now that the common thread in all my interests from graphic design to music composition to user interface design and even to computer programming has centered around a certain kind of spark that I can ignite, and I am drawn to those experiences. I love the spark.
Great gifts ignite such sparks in people. They are touched when a gift speaks so completely to their sense of self, their aspirations, and their true needs. That someone even NOTICED these things and arranged for a gift with care to illuminate them is an even greater gift, for how often is it that someone sees you that clearly? It is magical. It is the kind of sorcery that I wish I was better at creating. But alas, I keep forgetting this. Or I am not brave enough to seek spark creation directly because WHO ELSE DOES THIS or even thinks of their work in these terms? These role models are hard to find, I have found. However, it occurs to me that the act of giving is universal and plentiful. Why not follow that? It’s much easier than trying to find a particular “Muse” of whatever I am trying to describe. And there is nothing stopping me from just being my OWN Muse.
REFRAMING PROJECTS AS GIFTS
For the action part of the review, I’m thinking of running an experiment: Rather than do a traditional project decomposition and breakdown, as one might do for an engineering project, let me try looking for the gift angle of the project instead.
The PATREON VIDEO project instead turns into a way to give people some interesting ideas that they might also want to share. Originally, I had thought this video would be about my work and why people might want to support me. This is what people do to gain patrons, and I have always found it incredibly difficult. The common wisdom to overcome that is to “just do it” and “everyone does it, why not you” and other such advice. There is some truth to just DOING IT to get used to it, but maybe the gift approach is a better way. It’s not unlike the way consultants grow their relationship networks, after all, by just anticipating the needs of the people in their field and proactively addressing them.
The WEBAPP project, on the other hand, was supposed to be a gift of sharing. The daunting part of it is that the project will take some time to complete before it is giftable. Another approach would be to split the gift into multiple experiences, and the easiest one is to WRITE about the components and thinking that is going into it. While objectively my code isn’t the most advanced or even popular in its approach to problem solving, I can totally explain why I am doing it the way I’m doing it, and that kind of detailed technical experience is difficult to find on the Internet. I think I can do a good job of it, and it is extremely motivating to try to do something like this well. As a bonus, the same writing will be of use to people I’m working with, as it sharpens our shared knowledge base without actually costing them anything. I becomes a better developer through practicing technical communication.
The MILLION DOLLARS IN FIVE YEARS project is…well, it’s not really a project. But like the WEBAPP project, it can be turned into giftable form by sharing the process through my writing. There are also a LOT of people who write credibly on this very subject, and perhaps it’s my turn to accept THEIR gifts and really see what they have to say. Perhaps the real value of this project is not in the million dollars, but in the establishing of relationships with people who also have the desire to have the resources to achieve their dreams. I might be STRETCHING here, but hey not every idea is going to be, uh, worth a million dollars :-)
KEY ACTION FOR THE WEEK
My KEY ACTION ITEM to think about gifting as I go about my normal week, and log any gift-type achievements into my Accrual Log, where I am practicing my “Gathering Mode Productivity” system. Truthfully I have forgotten to use it for a few months because I was hugely distracted by my recent Taiwan Trip and the scramble to catch-up with work afterwards. But this might be a good time to revisit it.
Secondly, I am going to write this key action item into the
#accountability chat room on my Virtual Coworking Discord, since I am there all the time and am more likely to see it. I’ll write something about Patreon in there, I think, and see how that goes.
Thirdly, I am going to update the Groundhog Day Resolutions 2018 page to note this new emphasis in the mission, along with a link to this post.