Hipsters, Luddites, and Hypocrites
by Alex Shippee in Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wherever there's a potential for hype or misunderstanding, a few different kind of people are always nearby - Hipsters, Luddites, and Hypocrites. It's the wide-spread attention that attracts and repels them in unique ways:

Hipsters - they shirk anything widely popular and congregate around the niche.

Luddites - they distrust advancements (particularly in technology) and downplay their capabilities.

Hypocrites - they celebrate the genuine benefits of something new while failing to execute it in their actions.

All three lifestyles feed on the momentum created by something new and exciting. It causes them to react in ways that have very real effects on how they impact (or don't impact) the world around them.

With Hipsters, it's easy to take everything they say with a grain of salt. Shying excessively away from the mainstream can lead them to the strange and impractical.

Luddites, in a similar way, aren't the most trustworthy either, but they can be a source of much needed skepticism. After all, in an increasingly technical culture, it can be easy to forget that it's ultimately people that facilitate change.

Hypocrites are above and beyond the worst. They have all the dressings of upright and competent people and will, appropriately, speak against the stupid ideas of charlatans and frauds. But when your back is turned, or they are in a room with only themselves, they will run immediately to the techniques of the people they claim to deplore. They're harder to spot, but their ugliness can be much farther reaching. Their flowery words and speeches disguise their inability to accomplish anything. It'll seep into your head and leave you in the same place as them - with nothing valuable except for baseless words.

by Alex Shippee in Labels: , ,

It's absurd how important empathy is to communication. Without it, you might as well just be talking to yourself and trying to kill time. That's not anything new though. We've all been told by our parents, or teachers, that we should always listen to others and try to put ourselves in their shoes. Beyond that, it's part of being a sane person -  considering others' reactions to what we do and say.

In fact, that's how I would describe leadership: not only acknowledging that other people rely on you, but making the effort to give credibility to that relationship. The best leaders already do this; the worst see this transfer of power as a free pass. They can do whatever they want as long as those higher up on the totem pole - mentors, bosses, clients, etc. - are pleased.

But that's not leadership. If anything, it's the opposite - it's being a good courtier to someone who has authority over you. It's a one way street.

All of us are in this predicament because we're neither absolutely powerful nor absolutely powerless.
We depend on others to play their part, and we are expected to play our own; we are both led, and lead; give, and take.

That is how collaboration functions. If it breaks down, then the poor leader will either fail or have to resort to force; the poorly led will either respond well (become better courtiers) or poorly (fail to adapt, or leave).

That's how you begin to form a culture - for better or for worse. The responsibility ultimately falls to us to control the environment we're a part of and to make it one that's worthwhile. To quote Chuck Palahniuk,

"The first step — especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money — the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in."

Controlling your culture is a two way street - being led and leading.

Writing and Design Need to Work Together
by Alex Shippee in Labels: , , , ,

Writing and design need to work together. It can be easy to choose a single side in the verbal vs. visual debate, but they both serve a crucial role on the web.
Blogs are a publishing tool. So is Twitter. That's why it’s called a “micro-blogging" platform. They are both ways to transmit written content from a writer to a potential audience. There are some great picture and video blogs out there, but originally and primarily they are for writers.
Some of the best blogs in the world have perfectly acceptable designs (you can even say quirky and inspiring) but not a distracting amount. It has to be professional and meaningful in order to keep the visitor's attention in those first crucial moments. Lazy design will turn visitors off immediately and nobody will take your content seriously.
But it cannot do the work of growing an audience or delivering value the way written content can.
You can't rush through a book. You have to take the time to engage with the ideas, consider them internally, and actively try to learn something from them. An audience takes that bit of effort very seriously and, in an increasingly impatient culture, it can be harder and harder to hold their attention.
We need to appreciate the length of time readers, instead of viewers, will need to invest.
But we can't turn to dolled up banners when the challenge of growing an audience seems impossible, just because it’s easier than turning that attention inward and learning to write better. That honesty doesn’t come easy and pictures and colors are simpler to work with. They reflect something back at you with a satisfying directness: that’s a McDonald's, that’s a cat, and that’s a stick.
And what’s the writing? Is it a hard earned reflection on your life and personality? Or is it a well branded series of paragraphs that makes no bold statement and flirts only occasionally with empathy?
The thing is, the saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover" goes both ways: good visuals can't disguise sloppy writing, and poor design will diminish even the strongest blog post or book.
In the best scenario, they're crafted alongside each other to create a single, harmonious experience. They work together to engage both those vital needs for the visitor.
And they both appreciate our time.

Seriously. You can graduate college on Monday and continue excessive partying and shirking adult responsibilities on Tuesday. And years after that. Until the tiny little pressures of the "real world" push you where they want you to go.
You can get a job somewhere, anywhere - waiting tables or in the professional world - and never have to confront the anxiety and fear that crops up when you think about some far away dream.
It could be anything: travel, living in a particular place, starting a family, writing that novel...literally anything. The thing about dreams is that they are limitless and resist compromise. They belong wholly to yourself and don't depend on others.
But that type of freedom can be terrifying at first. That's why I think I gravitate towards rules and guidelines; they help me focus and stay on track. I can safely avoid the discomfort of scary thoughts and risky choices.
I'll have graduated from college a year ago next month. It made me stop and think: how have I changed? Was it for the better? Have I made the choices to go in a certain direction, or did I only respond to the pressure?
I'm not sure, but I'm starting to hear the gentle undertones of something more being spoken under gilded words and stern reprobations. I'm learning what needs to be said in the right situations and what to avoid. It's getting easier to play the game.
And I don't know if that's what maturing feels like, or if it's just dishonesty.

Get Involved
by Alex Shippee in Labels: ,

Maybe not that involved.

We're all involved in a lot of things. We have friends, family, a job, and hobbies that all need some time and energy to sustain. People need attention and small gestures before they develop trust; an employer looks for hard work and results before they see loyalty; and hobbies need your passion and drive to grow into something, even when nobody is forcing it.
We put a little of ourselves into all these things, every time we get involved.
Hopefully, though, that process gives back as well. What once took discipline and self-motivation to build will come to inspire us. Unfortunately, that's not always what happens. A lot of times, friends and family can let us down, or we'll be disappointed at work. Hobbies can trickle down into nothing. This is the easiest moment, at least for me, to think about walking away.
There is another thing we can do instead. It takes a lot of unglamorous maturity and patience, but we can do it. We can recognize that, with time, we'll rebuild whatever seems like it came crashing down. Chances are, we'll also realize not that much was lost anyway.
Getting involved is crucial, but especially when it comes to things that become freckled with your own identity. Both the good and bad will color us in ways we could never predict. It's like one of my favorite philosophers said:
"What's thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed, consumed by it - and makes it burn still higher."

Falsifying Words
by Alex Shippee in Labels: , , , ,

If you thumb through Twitter profiles long enough, you'd be amazed how many people identify themselves as, "Internet Marketing Gurus," "Best Selling Authors," and "Social Media Experts." I don't doubt that most of these are true from a certain perspective, but as Ryan Holiday wrote, "There are hundreds of these hollow shells whose meaning has fallen away while the demand for their association has risen dramatically. We need them badly."

One of my favorite books is Dante's "Inferno", for a lot of reasons. After Dante-the-Character treks all the way past the greedy, the thieves, the angry, and the tyrants, he reaches the single most corrupting thing you can do short of actively betraying someone: falsifying words. Diluting the truth. Lying. How can that possibly be worse than stealing or being violent?

Because the communities we all live in depend on bonds of credibility and trust. When somebody gets angry and shouts at you, you react to the aggressive disturbance immediately. You know what hit you and you can identify it, respond to it, and then move on.

But when somebody puts on a charming front, ensnaring your trust, it can take a lot of stress and heartache before you see reality. Lifeless weeks can drag on while you wonder where the time has gone.

I don't know why it bothers me so much. Maybe it's because I've been struggling to meet my own standards for so long. Friends of mine - who are better writers than I am - tell me about things they've submitted to various publications. Sometimes they've been accepted, sometimes not. All I know is is that I don't have anything that's up to their level yet. And that's fine. I'm in no rush to become a "published writer" because I know the mere act of publishing something doesn't make you a professional at it.

By the same token, anointing yourself as an "Internet Marketing Guru" doesn't make it so. It falsely broadcasts a level of expertise you don't have. If people don't see you as a fraud yet, they will when they realize you can't deliver results.

Why Do You Write?
by Alex Shippee in Labels: ,

Everybody writes a little bit. We compose emails and business documents, papers for class and blog posts. When we have an assignment, it’s easy to say why we write: “My boss/teacher told to and I need to make the deadline.” But what about those people who are not being told when and what to write? Why do they do it?

If we’re talking about sustainability, the surest motivation is a personal need to express yourself. You write because, if you didn’t, your brain would fill with frantic, nebulous stars. You’ll walk around all day, but your mind is on a different planet. Your creative impulses overflow and your imagination runs wild. You crave what, in “Inception,” Ellen Page calls just...pure creation.

For me, ignoring writing isn’t something I can afford to do – although I may fear doing it – so I keep a journal. Or start a blog. Or write stories. Or gravitate, perhaps without thinking, to a career or major that rewards strong writing. And at the end of the day, when I close my eyes, it’s a welcome and comfortable sleep.

So that’s why I write. And it's starting to get easier to just keep going.