Paul Millerd shares eleven timeless insights on the value of life and work options.
#1 Valuation & Options On The Pathless Path
When I listen to my own podcasts, I am often surprised at how I don’t fully remember everything from the conversation. This can be embarrassing until you realize that this happens in many conversations. We remember how we feel during rather than the words being spoken.
I recorded an episode about a month ago with a friend, Kris Abdelmessih. After finishing the conversation I remember being excited about what we talked about but it wasn’t until listening again this week that I realized how many great ideas I took from the conversation.
Some of you may read his newsletter, Moontower Meta. If you don’t, you should – it’s a great reflection on life and decision making through the lens of finance and trading, his former profession.
He’s recently left that world behind and embraced the pathless path. Some of his reflections were incredibly helpful for helping me re-frame the conception of my own journey. I’ve included some of these reflections below.
#1 I used to believe in Creativity, Inc.™
Early in my career I never thought of myself as creative. Creative people had titles like “creative director,” or sold paintings, or did crafts with their friends.
Now I realize that turning information into stories that resonate with people is also a certain kind of creativity. One that I can use in many different ways and that I can improve at over time.
Another kind of creativity is being able to navigate modernity. Landing interviews, figuring out how to complete bureaucratic tasks, and getting accepted into grad school all require a certain kind of creativity. I don’t like being creative in this way but can I do it? If needed.
Key points include:
- Expanding the boundaries of creativity
- Dealing with dissatisfaction
- Undervaluing space
Access the article and podcast, Valuing Life & Work Options, on Boundless.com.
Paul Millerd shares an article that identifies the roads freelancers would be advised to avoid.
Starting your own business is a secret dream of many and with the emergence of more clear paths to make money online, many knowledge workers are deciding to test the waters of self-employment and entrepreneurship. In making such a leap many people hope to increase the amount of freedom and fulfilment they have with their work. However, because of how little we think about the way we work, many find themselves caught in one of many hustle traps.
A hustle trap is something that we fall into without asking “why?” Many of the traps exist because of outdated work beliefs or behaviors we have carried forward from full-time employment. Many people only realize they have fallen into a trap when they find themselves burned out and noticing that they have created another job for themselves.
Wasn’t the point of becoming self-employed to avoid such a fate?
Let’s dive into ten of the most common traps I’ve seen in my conversations with people on the self-employment journey from around the world.
Hustle Trap (noun): A mental model built on legacy ideas of how one should work and live that leads to burnout, anxiety or the sense of being trapped. Often obvious in retrospect.
#1 The dopamine bomb of internet fame
Creating content on the web is still a relatively new thing and because of this, If you are able to consistently create content, explore topics you are genuinely interested in and develop some way to improve as you go, you will inevitably get some version of 15 minutes of fame. This could come from a famous person promoting your content, getting published in a mainstream publication, economic success or or some piece of content going semi-viral for a few days.
To the self-employed creator that dances in daily uncertainty and self-doubt, this can unleash a satisfying dopamine bomb of approval. It can be so exciting that it can reshape everything you claim to care about. This effect is so powerful that even some of the most successful media organizations have gone the way of chasing clicks rather than focusing on the content they claim to care about.
Key points include:
- The productivity trap
Read the full article, Hustle Traps: Ten Guaranteed Paths To Burnout For The Self-Employed Creator, on Think-Boundless.com.
Paul Millerd offers a new view on Maslow’s Pyramid and offers a different and more interesting lens on life.
‘The biggest losers, we suggest, have been management students’
This was the takeaway of three researchers who dug into the history of the invention of Maslow’s pyramid. We’ll get to that story but first let’s take a look at what has become one of the most sacred ideas in the management world, Maslow’s pyramid:
The conventional way of thinking about the pyramid is a series of steps that you progress through with the goal of eventually spending more time focusing on self-actualizing. It is often used when thinking about what motivates people at work and thinking about how to improve a culture to drive more productive employees.
The problem? The pyramid is an interpretation of Maslow’s research from the 1940’s which he spent the next thirty years second guessing and adding more nuance. By the end of his life, his investigations were well beyond any sort of neat and tidy pyramid that I had trouble trying to even describe and understand what Maslow thought about human motivation at all.
Let’s dive in.
A hierarchy, but not a pyramid
Maslow’s early research, presented in A Theory of Human Motivation (1943) presents something that feels familiar to someone who has seen the pyramid:
The ‘physiological’ needs: The bodily drives for homeostasis included warmth, coolness and hunger
Safety Needs: Protection from danger and harm such as crime, violence, wars, etc… Some experience this as a lack of money as well.
Love Needs: People have the desire to belong and be part of something
Esteem Needs: The desire to be respected by others and by yourself
Self-Actualization Needs: People that have satisfied their other needs and can spend time on fulfilling their “potential”
In writing about self-actualization, this is where he says that being self-actualization is about meeting the other basic needs first but then goes on to share that he doesn’t really know much about how this is done:
The clear emergence of these needs rests upon prior satisfaction of the physiological, safety, love and esteem needs. We shall call people who are satisfied in these needs, basically satisfied people, and it is from these that we may expect the fullest (and healthiest) creativeness. Since, in our society, basically satisfied people are the exception, we do not know much about self-actualization, either experimentally or clinically. It remains a challenging problem for research.
This is the question that would shape his future research.
Key points include:
- D-Psychology & B-Psychology
- Where the pyramid came from
- Later Research: D-Needs and The B-Realm
Read the full article, Maslow’s Imaginary Pyramid: Who really invented the pyramid?, on Boundless.com.
Paul Millerd shares an evergreen post on the challenges and benefits of following a self-employed path.
Over the past two and half years I’ve been navigating unknown territory, grappling with the deep philosophical questions of how to live life and wondering how my parents’ generation, the boomers, lived life as if they had a map.
For most of my life, I pretended I had a map. It seemed that was what you were supposed to do as an adult. In job interviews I lied about my career path and intentions to stay at that company. In my grad school interview I outlined a very specific plan that also happened to align with the goals of the program. The scary things is that I had almost started to believe my map was right.
Before I left my full-time job in 2017, I had the sense that things were going to be okay. That there was a plan. That life made sense.
Self-Employment Opened My Eyes & Made Me Curious
The truth was I had no idea and it took taking the leap to self-employment to open my eyes. Here is what I wrote a year into it:
A career is an artificial path which you must always manage, have a story for and be networking so that you can take the next step. The next step being up, of course.
Being self-employed, there are no promotions or paths to judge yourself against. Other people’s confusion with this fact comes out when people invariably ask “what’s your plan?” or “how’s business doing?”
While this question has no answer, I respond with what I know to be true: “I am following my creative energy and seeing where it takes me.” This tends to drive a lot of people who are deep into career thinking a bit mad.
As I’ve spoken to hundreds of people that have been carving their own paths and researched how people navigate life and stay sane along the way, a new kind of map has emerged. Not one that gives a perfect sense of certainty or comfort, but one that helps give language to feelings that are hard to name.
Key points include:
- Taking the leap
- A map for navigating the pathless path
- Embracing a “new train of thought”
Read the full article, Life Without A Map: Navigating The Pathless Path of Self-Employment, on Boundless.com.
Paul Millerd shares an article that explores how the mindset towards work changed and moved towards the concept of careerism.
Modern work critics blame Frederick Taylor for the hyper-optimization of the modern workplace. The accepted narrative is that Taylor kicked off a movement that looked at work as something that could be optimized and managed and that his efforts kick-started a 100+ year movement of steadily increasing optimization.
Sounds good but it’s not true. Today’s hyper-optimized workplace would not exist except for the emergence of a new kind of worker: the career-driven knowledge worker.
Taylor was mostly concerned with the manufacturing world and he believed that an embrace of his principles would help not only managers, but production workers:
‘The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.Frederick Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management, 1911
He wrote in a time in which the kind of service and knowledge work that is common today barely existed. While his techniques did gain popularity in manufacturing, it would take another 30 to 40 years for analytical and measurement techniques to gain widespread adoption.
It took the emergence of a new kind of work.
The Career Path & The Need To Perform
After world-war II as the US repurposed its military workforce there was a boom in employment in the business world and for the first time. the goal of working for a big corporation became a common goal.
William Whyte famously called them “Organization Men” and wrote more than 400 pages making sense of this new type of worker that started to identify with a company above any other affiliation in their life:
The ones I am talking about belong to it as well. They are the ones of our middle class who have left home, spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions. William Whyte, The Organization Man, 1956
This was a dramatic shift from the age-old conflict between labor and the owners of capital. Once that had existed from the earliest days of capitalism.
Key points include:
- Continuous improvement and the “Theatre Of Work”
- A new kind of worker
- Changes in our mindsets
Read the full article, The Knowledge Worker Mind & The Birth Of Careerism, on Boundless.com.
Paul Millerd shares his understanding of hamsternomics: printing money, the future of work, and what we want or need in life.
Right now, as citizens of the United States we may become that hamster. Near term, we don’t really have a choice. Long term, we might have a choice.
A lot of people have asked us what printing money means. Like, what actually happens and why should we care? That simple question turned into a long investigation.
The result is this piece, which aims to give you a better understanding of the whole economy using hamsters. Hamsters are fun. They’re playful. We understand their need to run faster and faster on wheels.
But, my friends, the joke is on us. WE are the hamsters right now.
We’ll explain WHY we, U.S. Citizens participating in the global economy, are just like that hamster and explore WHETHER we want to remain on the hamster wheel.
It’s an ambitious agenda, requiring us to do a first principles explanation of a bunch of economic concepts, including:
What money really is
How it powers the economy and as a result, our hamster wheels
Why fast is never fast enough on the hamster wheel (hint: it’s greed!)
What happens when hamsters lose interest in the hamster wheel?
What does the future look like? Wheel or no wheel?
Key points include:
- Unleashing trillions of dollars into the economy
- The Hamster Prize
- The Hamster government
Read the full article, Hamsternomics: Printing Money, The Economy & Work Beliefs, on Boundless.com.
Paul Millerd shares an article that comments on a capitalist system that has revived Calvinist attitudes towards those who may be less financially fortunate.
One thing I absorbed from the culture I grew up in was that someone who didn’t make a lot of money or that spent their time at something deemed a “low-skill” job was of questionable character. There were always carve outs for people you might become acquainted with, but generally people that had more money were better people.
If you only could understand one thing about American culture it’s that money is the most important thing. We say all sorts of other things about what matters but when it comes down to it the fastest way to get respect and admiration is to be rich. Our reaction to an infectious disease was to deliver four rounds of financial stimulus to the economy. Our biggest celebrities are now billionaires getting divorces rather than movie stars getting divorces.
People have a lot of feelings about money and I’ve written about how money is often just a placeholder for deeper anxieties about life. It seems people will amass millions of dollars before they try to stare the feelings that make them stressed in the face. Many people seem to get the money but never satisfy the worry. A successful real estate investor still worries about being poor1:
‘If somebody tries to screw me over, I think back to all the people who screwed my father out of money, and I react very viscerally to it because I am afraid of being poor still.’
Key points include:
- The hidden force of work: shame
- Guilt vs. Shame
- Who has the wheel?
Read the full newsletter, Money, Guilt, Shame & What Matters, on Boundless.com.
In this post from his popular Boundless newsletter, Paul Millerd asks, “Do we design life around learning? Or do we hardly fit it in? Do we really need to learn that much to live a decent life?” He shares thoughts and experiences on learning Chinese, and the U.S. Healthcare crisis.
#1 On Learning Chinese
I’ve been busy the past two weeks going to Chinese class for three hours and then studying another two or three hours every day at home. I was a bit stressed before the class started but have been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed the classes.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. I’ve been transported back to campus and now remember how much I loved being in school. I still claim to love learning but if I am honest I don’t do much of it. I imagine I’m like most people. I learn a lot of new things by solving problems. This is one reason I like self-employment. It forces you to learn many different things. But these are all small things. Like learning SEO. Or learning basic CSS and HTML. You can get to a good understanding of those topics in less than a week.
I haven’t spent much time in the deep, focused state that brings me back to studying engineering in school. The state in which you are slightly beyond your current capabilities and that if you trust the system you will eventually arrive at the answer. I loved that.
I’ve gotten better at writing but I also have a suspicion that I might have improved faster if I gave it more focused attention. The kind of environments that can enable deep learning are magical and we probably don’t give them enough credit in the non-stop criticism of higher education. Higher education has lots of problems but in most schools there are those magical programs and professors that can help enable this kind of learning.
Key points include:
- The learning design
- The healthcare system
Read the full post, Lessons from Learning Chinese, on boundless.com.
Are you failing to attract the talent you want at your company? Paul Millerd takes some time to analyze what does and doesn’t work on a company career page with examples taken from a review of 100 sites.
Why Stripe has the only good career page on the internet (okay maybe Costco too)
January 30th, 2021: Greetings from Taipei. It’s day 9 of our quarantine here in Taiwan. We were lucky enough to stay in Angie’s parents apartment so we’ve been able to walk in and out of different rooms to keep us occupied. Thank you to Arvind and Peter for becoming paid supporters of the newsletter and greetings to the 75 new subscribers, hitting the 3,500 subscriber mark.
This week’s picture features Angie’s rock painting creations, a hobby she picked up only a few months ago. Crazy!
#1 Stripe seems to be the only company that has put effort into their career page
This week I went through more than 100 career pages. It started because I have been writing about how our expectations of work have changed dramatically since I graduated in 2007. When I graduated careers pages were simply a listing of jobs available.
However, somewhere in the last 15 years things started to change. Companies started to market working at their companies and use language like “find your calling” or “do the most important work of your life.” AirBnB’s page tells people that they can “life their best life” at AirBnB.
This is a big shift and has led to a vicious cycle of increasing expectations and bolder language around what the company claims to offer. This is great except I’m not sure that most companies can guarantee that people will live their best life or do the most meaningful work of their careers. Most jobs, well, just aren’t all that exciting.
Someone suggested I walk through the Stripe site and explain why there site is so good. Here are five things they do:
Key points include:
- User experience
- Effective communication
Read the full article, The Career Page Crisis | #126, on Boundless.com.
Paul Millerd shares insights from multiple sources on the future of work in these five conversations.
The future of work can mean anything. I’ve had many conversations and discussions around the idea of “future of work” where people talk past each other, often focused on different fundamental issues. In an effort to make sense of this complexity and create some common ground for the many people having these conversations, I propose differentiating between five future of work conversations:
Conversation #1: Macro Trends (consultancies, journalists, politicians)
This conversation is typified by looking at trends and then working backward to see what the implications are for people. Terms like “fourth industrial revolution,” “the end of work,” “post-work,” “artificial intelligence,” and “robots” are used prolifically. McKinsey writes in a report on the future of work:
‘Automation, digital platforms, and other innovations are changing the fundamental nature of work.’
‘Automation, advanced manufacturing, AI, and the shift to e-commerce are dramatically changing the number and nature of work.’
…and finally, The Brookings Institute:
‘Robots, artificial intelligence, and driverless cars are no longer things of the distant future.’
Key points include:
- One of the top three skills workers will need
- The Gig Economy
- Evolving Organizational Ecosystems
Read the full article, The Future Of Work Is Five Different Conversations, on LinkedIn.
Paul Millerd shares the latest edition from his blog that explores the connections between the revolutionary and evolutionary writers in history with today’s dissemination of information on social media. He also shares a resource of links to today’s influential inter-intellect sites.
The meta-scenius and the future
Would Thoreau have convinced more people to move to Walden pond if he had Twitter?
That was the question I was thinking about as I read American Bloomsbury, a book about a “scenius” in the mid nineteenth century in Concord, Massachusetts.
“Scenius” was the term invented by Brian Eno that I became aware of because of Packy McCormick’s essay earlier this year. Packy was trying to understand what elements led to the emergence of famous “scenes” from history such as Scotland in the 1700s, Motown, and Silicon Valley.
As I read American Bloomsbury I was struck with how many now-famous authors happened to be living within a couple of blocks of each other.. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau and many others spent their days talking about their writing, carrying on about topics of the day and getting involved in a growing abolitionist movement.
However, most of the book highlights their shared turmoil and failure. Thoreau battled tuberculosis and died before 50. Emerson was kicked out of Harvard and the Church. Margaret Fuller died in a boat crash on Fire Island. Louis Marie Alcott had to start working to support her family because her fathers’ failed utopian communities.
Key points include:
- The digital Meta-scene
- Thoreau on Twitter
- Making the jump from online to offline
Access the links and read the full newsletter, #120: The Emergence Of The Digital Meta-Scene, Very Online People (VOP), Strangely Earnest Twitter, Digital Ambitions and Bold Offline Adventures, on the Boundless website.
Paul Millerd helps make sense of things in crazy times with newsletters that deliver sage advice for the self-employed. This week, he discusses building a journey you want to be on, the traps of uncertainty, and the productivity trap.
My conception of the self-employment ‘game’ has evolved to be defined as creating a life that I want to keep living. This means that work is downstream from life decisions. Compared to how I was living until I left my job in 2017, this has been a dramatic shift and one that comes without a map.
The biggest challenge is not making money, though that is certainly hard. It is learning to be comfortable with uncertainty and knowing how to exist in a state of not knowing.
This is incredibly hard because at almost every step of the journey, there are tempting actions to take that will enable you to escape the weight of that uncertainty.
Let’s talk about six of these “traps.”
#1 The dopamine bomb of internet fame
I think it’s still early for creating on the web. If you are able to consistently create content, explore topics you are genuinely interested in and develop some way to improve as you go, you will inevitably get some version of 15 minutes of internet fame. This could come from a famous person promoting your stuff, getting published in a mainstream publication, economic success or or some piece of content going semi-viral for a few days.
To the self-employed creator that dances in daily uncertainty and self-doubt, this can unleash a satisfying dopamine bomb of approval. This can be so blinding and exciting that you might try to chase that same feeling over and over again, even if its not the work you actually want to go deeper on.
I got a dose of this when I posted a Twitter thread exploring the ‘40% of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency bill’ myth. If you read the report and the data, you’d be doing some serious mental gymnastics to land on such a takeaway. However, I was looking at it from the perspective of a former consultant who is skeptical of how data is represented and didn’t realize I was walking into a political talking point. This exploration earned me the applause of right wing trolls and a twitter follow from Ann Coulter.
Topics of interest in this article include:
- The metrics of success
- The identity trap
- Squad culture
- Worker reclassification
Read the full article, Avoiding Hustle Traps, Squads, From Politics to Seminary & More, and access links on the Boundless website.