Moving Forward

Last week, my time at ReadMe came to an end. The final day was pretty emotional, with some heartfelt messages coming in from customers and teammates:

“That is sad news for ReadMe. You were the difference when it came to saving the project and the relationship. Best of luck going forward!!!”

“That makes me so sad! It’s been great working with you! I’m truly going to miss working with you. I think you’re a great CSM. Best of luck!”

“Thank you….We’ve implemented a lot of really great things together and you really moved us forward with how we work with the eng team.”

As folks who know me will attest, I’m immensely grateful for the experience and will always feel similar warm fuzzies toward ReadMe and team (and Owlbert). Since joining in February, I had nothing but an exceptional time. It was really, really special. I’m sad it wasn’t the right long-term career fit for me.

This past year and a half of customer-facing roles in tech startup land (working with companies of 3-300+ people) taught me a million things professionally and personally. Perhaps the biggest one propelling me forward is a deeper understanding of what it means to create value.

So what’s next? Indeed, that’s the question! I’m exploring, open to opportunities, and grinding on some personal projects. I’ll likely reflect further on the aforementioned learnings and experiences in more detailed posts.

For now, I’ll wrap up with some inspiring content that’s been keeping me company in recent weeks:

  • Steven Pressfield’s War of Art and Turning Pro. These concise texts beautifully illuminate key concepts about doing great work, often repeated and highly recommended by Seth Godin.
  • Paul Graham’s fantastic essays, such as the Bus Ticket Theory of Genius. PG is the man when it comes to thinking critically about value.
  • Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, a book that explores masculine and feminine archetypes with lots of resonant examples. It helped me understand myself a lot better, as well as how to be a more loving human. Improved my relationship with my sister! I’ve gifted at least a half dozen copies to various friends.
  • James Carse’s original Finite and Infinite Games (not Simon Sinek). This metaphorical meditation is really profound, outlining the structure and nature of human affairs through unique, clear, and sometimes surprising framings. Broadly applicable to almost anything. The PDF can be found easily via Google, and I’ll include a couple of my favorite chapters below.


Finite and Infinite Games

88

Inasmuch as gardens do not conclude with a harvest and are not played for a certain outcome, one never arrives anywhere with a garden.

A garden is a place where growth is found. It has its own source of change. One does not bring change to a garden, but comes to a garden prepared for change, and therefore prepared to change. It is possible to deal with growth only out of growth. True parents do not see to it that their children grow in a particular way, according to a preferred pattern or scripted stages, but they see to it that they grow with their children. The character of one’s parenting, if it is genuinely dramatic, must be constantly altered from within as the children change from within. So, too, with teaching, or working with, or loving each other.

It is in the garden that we discover what travel truly is. We do not journey to a garden but by way of it.

Genuine travel has no destination. Travelers do not go somewhere, but constantly discover they are somewhere else. Since gardening is a way not of subduing the indifference of nature but of raising one’s own spontaneity to respond to the disregarding vagaries and unpredictabilities of nature, we do not look on nature as a sequence of changing scenes but look on ourselves as persons in passage.

Nature does not change; it has no inside or outside. It is therefore not possible to travel through it. All travel is therefore change within the traveler, and it is for that reason that travelers are always somewhere else. To travel is to grow.

Genuine travelers travel not to overcome distance but to discover distance. It is not distance that makes travel necessary, but travel that makes distance possible. Distance is not determined by the measurable length between objects, but by the actual differences between them. The motels around the airports in Chicago and Atlanta are so little different from the motels around the airports of Tokyo and Frankfurt that all essential distances dissolve in likeness. What is truly separated is distinct; it is unlike. “The only true voyage would be not to travel through a hundred different lands with the same pair of eyes, but to see the same land through a hundred different pairs of eyes” (Proust).

A gardener, whose attention is ever on the spontaneities of nature, acquires the gift of seeing differences, looks always for the merest changes in plant growth, or in the composition of the soil, the emerging populations of insects and earthworms. So will gardeners, as parents, see changes of the smallest subtlety in their children, or as teachers see the signs of an increasing skill, and possibly wisdom, in their students. A garden, a family, a classroom-any place of human gathering whatsoever-will offer no end of variations to be observed, each an arrow pointing toward yet more changes. But these observed changes are not theatrically amusing to genuine gardeners; they dramatically open themselves to a renewed future.

So, too, with those who look everywhere for difference, who see the earth as source, who celebrate the genius in others, who are not prepared against but for surprise. “I have traveled far in Concord” (Thoreau).

94

Myth provokes explanation but accepts none of it. Where explanation absorbs the unspeakable into the speakable, myth reintroduces the silence that makes original discourse possible.

Explanations establish islands, even continents, of order and predictability. But these regions were first charted by adventurers whose lives are narratives of exploration and risk. They found them only by mythic journeys into the wayless open. When the less adventuresome settlers arrive later to work out the details and domesticate these spaces, they easily lose the sense that all this firm knowledge does not expunge myth, but floats in it.

Few discoveries were greater than Copernicus’, for they projected an order into the heavens that no one has successfully challenged. Many thought then, and some still think, that this great statement of truth dispelled clouds of myth that had kept humankind in retarding darkness. What Copernicus dispelled, however, were not myths but other explanations. Myths lie elsewhere. To see where, we do not look at the facts in Copernicus’ works; we look for the story in his stating them. Knowledge is what successful explanation has led to; the thinking that sent us forth, however, is pure story.

Copernicus was a traveler who went with a hundred pairs of eyes, daring to look again at all that is familiar in the hope of vision. What we hear in this account is the ancient saga of the solitary wanderer, the peregrinus, who risks anything for the sake of surprise. True, at a certain point he stopped to look and may have ended his journey as a Master Player setting down bounded fact. But what resounds most deeply in the life of Copernicus is the journey that made knowledge possible and not the knowledge that made the journey successful.

That myth does not accept the explanations it provokes we can see in the boldness with which thinkers in any territorial endeavor reexamine the familiar for a higher seeing. Indeed, the very liveliness of a culture is determined not by how frequently these thinkers discover new continents of knowledge but by how frequently they depart to seek them.

A culture can be no stronger than its strongest myths.

95

A story attains the status of myth when it is retold, and persistently retold, solely for its own sake.

If I tell a story as a way of bracing up an argument or amusing an audience, I am not telling it for its own sake. To tell a story for its own sake is to tell it for no other reason than that it is a story. Great stories have this feature: To listen to them and learn them is to become their narrators.

Our first response to hearing a story is the desire to tell it ourselves-the greater the story the greater the desire. We will go to considerable time and inconvenience to arrange a situation for its retelling. It is as though the story is itself seeking the occasion for its recurrence, making use of us as its agents. We do not go out searching for stories for ourselves; it is rather the stories that have found us for themselves.

Great stories cannot be observed, any more than an infinite game can have an audience. Once I hear the story I enter into its own dimensionality. I inhabit its space at its time. I do not therefore understand the story in terms of my experience, but my experience in terms of the story. Stories that have the enduring strength of myths reach through experience to touch the genius in each of us. But experience is the result of this generative touch, not its cause. So far is this the case that we can even say that if we cannot tell a story about what happened to us, nothing has happened to us.

It was not Freud’s theory of the unconscious that led him to Oedipus, but the myth of Oedipus that shaped the way he listened to his patients. “The theory of instincts,” he wrote, “is so to say our mythology.” So too, then, the theory of the unconscious that follows from it, and the superego, and the ego. This is a mythology of such poetic strength that it has altered not only the way we understand our experience, but our experience itself. Who of us has not known a crisis of ego, the disturbing presence of unwanted feelings, or the anxious recoil from a more polymorphously embodied sexuality? These experiences are not described by Freud the dispassionate scientist; they are made possible by Freud the mythic dreamer.

As myths make individual experience possible, they also make collective experience possible. Whole civilizations rise from stories-and can rise from nothing else. It is not the historical experience of Jews that makes the Torah meaningful. The Torah is no more a description of the creation of the earth and early Jewish life than the theory of instincts is a description of the psyches of a handful of bourgeois Viennese of the early twentieth century. The Torah is not the story of the Jews; it is what makes Judaism a story.

We tell myths for their own sake, because they are stories that insist on being stories-and insist on being told. We come to life at their touch.

However seriously we might regard them as so much inert poiema, and attach metaphysical meanings to them, they spring back out of their own vitality. When we look into a story to find its meaning, it is always a meaning we have brought with us to look at.

Myths are like magic trees in the garden of culture. They do not grow on but out of the silent earth of nature. The more we strip these trees of their fruit or prune them back to our favored design, the more imposing and fecund they become.

Myths, told for their own sake, are not stories that have meanings, but stories that give meanings.


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