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Required Reading: On Showing Up, Changing Your Life & Limited Goals

Why 80% of success is showing up, how to keep creating when the going gets tough, and the collected wisdom of legendary designer Milton Glaser.

Every month we share upwards of 150 thought-provoking articles with you via our Twitter feed @99U. For this Required Reading column, I distill those tweets down to the top 5 pieces that made us stop in our tracks, think about something a little differently, and maybe even change the way we work. I’ve excerpted my favorite moments below, but all of these articles are worth a read in full, so get your Instapaper ready.

1. Ten Things I Have Learned (from Milton Glaser)

Legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser – the mastermind behind the “I ♥ NY” design – shares ten life lessons in this blog post recapping an AIGA talk he gave back in 2001. Get ready for great insights without the candy-coating. Here’s one of my favorites, a counter-intuitive perspective on the value of professionalism:

Early in my career I wanted to be professional, that was my complete aspiration in my early life because professionals seemed to know everything – not to mention they got paid for it. Later I discovered after working for a while that professionalism itself was a limitation. After all, what professionalism means in most cases is diminishing risks. So if you want to get your car fixed you go to a mechanic who knows how to deal with transmission problems in the same way each time. I suppose if you needed brain surgery you wouldn’t want the doctor to fool around and invent a new way of connecting your nerve endings. Please do it in the way that has worked in the past.

Unfortunately in our field, in the so-called creative – I hate that word because it is misused so often. I also hate the fact that it is used as a noun. Can you imagine calling someone a creative? Anyhow, when you are doing something in a recurring way to diminish risk or doing it in the same way as you have done it before, it is clear why professionalism is not enough. After all, what is required in our field, more than anything else, is the continuous transgression.

Professionalism does not allow for that because transgression has to encompass the possibility of failure and if you are professional your instinct is not to fail, it is to repeat success. So professionalism as a lifetime aspiration is a limited goal.

2. Step One Is Showing Up

Occasional 99U contributor Scott Young recently posted a great, no-nonsense piece on the importance of showing up. Reading it is sort of like getting a talking-to from your favorite high school sports coach. In short, it’s just the sort of ass-kicking you may need to get your creative project in gear. Here’s an excerpt:

My roommate was trying to get in shape. He talked about the goal often, so I offered to help him stay motivated. However, on the day that we were going to exercise, he was procrastinating.

Finally, as it got later and later, I told him out of frustration that he said he wanted my advice, and, “Step one was to get to the gym before it closes!”

He laughed at my exasperation and we did go to the gym before it closed. Since then saying, “Step one!” has been an inside joke for whenever someone fails to put in the basic effort for a goal they supposedly care about.

…How often do you forget step one? Wanting to be a successful blogger, but failing to write regularly. Wanting to get in shape, but not showing up at the gym. Wanting to learn a language, but never having conversations with people who speak it.Step one is interesting because it only requires effort. Writing a bestselling novel requires some luck and skill. Writing a novel requires only that you show up to write every morning.

Because step one isn’t dependent on any external factor, it is also a good measure of how committed you are to a goal. If I professed a desire to be a great writer, but I never wrote anything, I’m simply not committed to that goal. There’s no excuse for failing step one.

3. Great AntiHacks to Fundamentally Change your Life

Our thinking out how we work shouldn’t just be limited to small-bore questions like “How can I get through more email?” or “What can I do to manage meetings better?” From time to time, we need to step back and take stock of the long view. Or, as Clay Collins writes in this fantastic post, “sometimes our lives don’t need optimization, they need to be fundamentally reconfigured.” Here’s Collins on finding perspective:

We desperately lack perspective because we are a society of workaholics, and workaholism is like kryptonite to perspective. (It’s often said that highly intelligent people lack common sense; but I believe they really lack is perspective as a result of handing an unhealthy amount of their brainpower to their bosses).And the thing about perspective is that you just can’t “hack” it.

There are no perspective hacks. None. You just have to suck it up, live a little, and wallow in the mud of life. You have to get your hands dirty with this beautiful business of living. You have to question, meditate, and fail often. You simply have to make space for perspective and hope that it will come eventually. You have to spend time in a manner that would seem self-indulgent to most.

4. The Blind Man Who Taught Himself To See

An incredible tale of perseverance and innovation, this Men’s Journal piece profiles Daniel Kish, a blind man who has learned to use echolocation to navigate the world with such precision that he can even engage in challenging sports like mountain biking. Thanks to Kottke for pointing us to this stunning story:

I accompanied Kish on several occasions as he cruised the busy streets of Long Beach. The outside world is an absolute cacophony. Every car, person, dog, stroller, and bicycle makes a sound. So do gusts of wind, bits of blowing garbage, and rustling leaves. Doors open and close. Change jangles. People talk. Then there are the silent obstacles – what Kish calls urban furniture: benches, traffic signs, telephone poles, postal boxes, fire hydrants, light posts, parked vehicles. Kish hears the sonic reflections from his click even in a place teeming with ambient noise. ”

It’s like recognizing a familiar voice in a crowd,” he says. The load upon his mind is undoubtedly immense. Yet he casually processes everything, constructing and memorizing a mental map of his route, all while maintaining an intricate conversation with me. It’s so extraordinary that it seems to border on the magical.

5. Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors

On the cusp of tackling his first book, writer Steve Silberman collected sundry bits of wisdom from writers of all stripes, including Jonah Lehrer, David Shenk, Sylvia Boorstein, David Crosby, and many more. But you don’t have to be a writer to take something away from this piece. Here’s author and Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow on writing and the creative process:

1. Write every day. Anything you do every day gets easier. If you’re insanely busy, make the amount that you write every day small (100 words? 250 words?) but do it every day.2. Write even when the mood isn’t right. You can’t tell if what you’re writing is good or bad while you’re writing it.

3. Write when the book sucks and it isn’t going anywhere. Just keep writing. It doesn’t suck. Your conscious is having a panic attack because it doesn’t believe your subconscious knows what it’s doing.

4. Stop in the middle of a sentence, leaving a rough edge for you to start from the next day — that way, you can write three or five words without being “creative” and before you know it, you’re writing.

5. Write even when the world is chaotic. You don’t need a cigarette, silence, music, a comfortable chair, or inner peace to write. You just need ten minutes and a writing implement.

To get the best reads on the regular, follow us on Twitter @99U. You can check out our previous Required Reading roundup here.

Image Credits: Creative Director: Silas H. Rhodes, Designer: Milton Glaser, Photographer: Matthew Klein, Visual Arts ©2007.

More Posts by Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

Comments (12)
  • Pete R.

    I can’t believe I just read all the posts you referenced. It seems so long at first but very easy to dive into. A must-read indeed. 🙂

  • Sudhir Khanger

    Please setup a Google+ Page.

  • Evgenia Grinblo

    Yes! Please do.

  • Evgenia Grinblo

    All these are great and inspiring and definitely a must-read. Thank you!

  • Eric Johnson MBA

    Love this!! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m forwarding this to clients who are writing books from now on!!   Thank you! Eric Johnson, CEO of Finish Your Project

  • research paper

    Amazing article. Thanks for the post. This is very straight forword and helps to improve your skil set.

  • AlexSchleber

    “There are no perspective hacks. None.”

    I disagree 100%. There are dozens of them, maybe hundreds. Here is my most recent short list:

    1) “One theory always stuck with me. It’s fairly straightforward: it says
    we stigmatise the things we’re most afraid of in order to create
    distance between ourselves and the stigmatised trait.”

    2) From ZenHabits: “Your life’s an experiment: Everything
    you do, everything you try, everything that does or doesn’t work
    out, whether you like it or not, it’s all an experiment. It’s up
    to you to decide to learn from it. That’s the ultimate daily

    3) From me: “If it’s true that digital content/utterances are all going to $0, then that means that you must create things that cannot be digitally copied, or are so comprehensive in terms of being an entire system, that even if it spreads freely far and wide, the threads always lead back to you. WordPress would be an example of this. No one doubts whether Matt Mullenweg created it…
    The truth is, talk is cheap, and writing opinions of any sort on the Internet, or quoting of those opinions, is just about as cheap. If not to say worthless… the point was driven home to me once again last week by this brilliant “Cult of Done Manifesto”:”9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right. …12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.”

  • Preet Arjun Singh

    STEP ONE ! So easy and simple….and i always forget it!

    Thanks! 🙂

  • neben

    ”If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.”
    This one is from Seth Godin

  • CowboyUpMedia

    Really liked Milton Glaser’s points.

    Pursuing ‘professionalism’ – as our goalposts – chains us to convention.  The absence of risk.

    No doubt I want my doctor and dentist to work conventionally – but that doesn’t mean they need to be without personality.

    However, in the world of creativity, being another ‘suit’ will by default keep our ideas cornered amongst the herd.

    No thank you!

  • Stellapetrides

    Isolate Minimize Eliminate the Global Political-Financial ZIO-G-iant Monopole of National Markets with their polio brain head hunters and mercenary private army and able us stand on our feet earn out of our creative work than be used as free mind health laboratory experimental slaves!
    WWF protect animals and ZIONISM MASON GLOBALIZATION KILL HUMANS RULED BY ANTHROPOIDS DESTROYING THE NATURE OF HUMANITY. Has a polio brained Globalization pones-cannibals seance of knowledge and wisdom rule, manage, direct a Society? Not even his house can keep clean tight but live as an aristocratic wealthy rich money-sex-crime-powerful-pig… Many examples in History like them destroyed Nations and Empires, WHO IS THE OUR CENTURY`S NEXT????+***^***+

  • kaleob edward elkins

    i need to work in “step one” some more .

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