Tuesday, July 13, 2010

lean into life

I know that I sound like a broken record, constantly referring to Sarah Wilson's blog, but her column of a few weeks ago has made such an impact upon me that I just have to write about it.

Sarah interviewed Seth Godin, a marketing expert:

...Seth argues the workforce has changed radically and that it’s not enough to be a lemming employee any more. Lemmings are dispensable, as evidenced by the mass sackings of finance types across America in the past few years. Now, the only way to truly succeed and be remarkable is to create art. Not (necessarily) the pastels and parchment variety. Art, says Seth, is simply a gift that changes the recipient. It’s a generous act that sees you “lean into life”, like an aerial skier leans to travel further.

It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Art is when a waiter gives great service. Because she cares. Art is not following the manual. It’s Susan Boyle ignoring the cynics and fronting up and singing. It’s smiling at the courier. It’s writing a book when there’s no guarantee of it being published.

A true gift is given without expectation of a reward. Although, they invariably become their own reward. Which is hard to fathom, so let me explain it with an anecdote. Last Saturday night, Seth attended the opening of Shepard Fairey’s art exhibition in Manhattan. Fairey created the now-iconic Obama Hope poster. He gave away 500,000 of the posters – at his own expense – during the US election campaign. He had no idea how it would be received. He just gave anyway. But as a result he’s become one of the most influential artists in America. Seth tells me a 4000-strong crowd attended the show and his work sells for $US30,000 a pop.

Fairey’s generosity made him remarkable. And, thus, indispensable. Any artist could’ve created that poster. The difference is Fairey fronted up, he gave, he leaned into life and took a risk. As Steve Jobs famously said, “Real Artists Ship”. That is, they deliver.

So how do we start giving gifts? How do we become remarkable? “The aim is to elevate connecting and sharing to the same level as breathing or eating lunch every day,” he says. By which he means, we start giving and then give some more and eventually it becomes a way of life.

And Sarah, on spending a day giving unconditional gifts:

It felt free, and expansive. Leaning in, letting go and not caring about being reciprocated felt natural and in tune with the creative process. It also felt more than a little bit daring.

This is something that I need to embrace, especially at my part-time job. I'll be frank: I am not an excellent salesperson, and never will be. (Too "nice", apparently.) It gives me anxiety because I want to be good at everything, both in my own eyes and in the eyes of those around me. So what I need to do is to bring something else, to make up for my lack of natural talent. Something human, and indispensable. It's easy to feel like a mouse running in a wheel, always trying to win praise and appreciation from superiors but never getting anywhere. It's demoralising. It makes us tired, and we wonder why we bother putting in all the effort. I guess what is really important is to set our own standards and live by them, instead of trying to reach the heights that other people pressure us to aspire to. It's the only way to truly live in the moment and be happy with ourselves. For me, I feel accomplished by making somebody feel prettier or giving them valuable advice. I try not to let whether or not they spend hundreds of dollars phase me too much. And, the thing is, it doesn't usually phase my bosses too much either. My "niceness"* outweighs their disgruntlement, apparently. Yes, that very niceness hindering my selling prowess is also my greatest asset which, I guess, is the point I'm trying to make.

As for the other facets of my life, "leaning" into it is the perfect way to describe the best way of approaching it... and by "life" I mean love (human connection), excitement and joy. Embracing things that are enriching, rejecting those that are inhibiting, going above and beyond what is expected and offering more of myself with no expectation of reward or even recognition. Being self-aware and self-confident is something vital to this movement but something that I constantly need to work on, because it doesn't come naturally for me. The key, I think, is to embrace the things about us that make us special and unique, and exploiting them so that we are irreplaceable - not only in the eyes of others but, first and foremost, ourselves.

"No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. That's all."
Haruki Murakami (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories)

* I say "niceness" in quotation marks because I don't think I'm all that nice. I could be a much nicer person... I'm working on it.


Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this post Laura, and how fantastic is Sarah Wilson's blog! :-)

Laura Valerie said...

Thank you so much! Love your blog. xx

Laura Valerie said...

Oh and yes, I adore Sarah's blog too... I'm watching her on The Morning Show as we speak :)