I've continued my graduate studies in journalism, and I'm currently planning to graduate next year with a master's degree focused on reporting and storytelling. My classes thus far have included:
Studies in Journalism and Communication Theory
Social and Cross-Media Storytelling
Diversity & Media
Coming up this fall I'm diving into "Intro to Statistical Methods" and "Media Audiences and Content Strategy."
Overall the program at Ball State University has been good for me. I'm learning a lot and the material is interesting and relevant. It's pretty focused on building a skillset in research, news reporting and media production, and given that I've done a lot of those kinds of things professionally and for personal projects, there have been times where my impatience to apply my skills and knowledge has made me wonder if I needed to finish the degree program at all. But most of the time I just appreciate that I'm getting to take my interests and knowledge to a new level in a new context, and that I'm honing in on what I might (and might not) be able to contribute to the world of journalism.
Growing my SaaS application
About a year ago I launched a software-as-a-service tool called WP Lookout, aimed at helping WordPress professionals keep track of things happening with the themes and plugins they depend on in their work. I've continued to add new features and get a few paying subscribers, and it was fun to have it featured in some industry press coverage (WP Tavern, Post Status). This summer I've been working with a contractor on marketing and strategy for increasing user signups.
Overall this project continues to be one that mostly scratches some personal itches (solving a technical problem I had for myself, learning the Laravel framework, getting practice launching a modern SaaS offering), and the fact that it might be useful to other people is a bonus on top of that. There are plenty of other features I'd like to add to it, but I'm also trying to make sure my time invested is proportionate to the value it brings me and other people, especially since there are other (unrelated) SaaS tools I'm working toward building and launching, along with various open source software projects I contribute to.
Like many other kids, early in life I was confronted with questions about what I would be when I grew up. What one single area of study, profession and career would I build my life around? I gave the question all the weight it seemed to deserve because I didn't really know another option.
When it was time to pick a focus in college, I considered a lot of different paths; minister, writer, diplomat, teacher, political activist and computer scientist were among them. But I thought I needed to pick one. Technology was the area where I had most consistently thrived in what I did, so I made my choice.
For the almost twenty years that followed I thought I had my thing I would be when I grew up. I was a tech guy running a tech business. I did a lot of different things as a part of that role, but there was a strong overarching theme I could easily explain in answer to, "what do you do?"
When I started working for someone else, I was sheepish about it at times. I liked the work itself but I was slow to adjust to the public identity of "tech employee," worrying that it was a step backward from "tech entrepreneur." And because employees are ultimately carrying out someone else's vision (no matter how much they share in it), I wondered if I had lost access to my own driving, anchoring passion for what I was doing with my life.
It didn't help that the popular narrative about how to be GREAT is to pick one thing and devote your life to it. One day when I was feeling particularly disoriented about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I encountered something along the lines of this tweet, presumably written in response to the question "how can I be amazing?"
You pick something you want to get good at and you devote every day of your life to it. That’s it. No secrets.
Oh dear. I had many things in life to be thankful for and happy about, but did I have the one thing I wanted to devote every day of my life to, professionally speaking?
It was neat that I'd run for political office, performed as a magician, taught college classes, organized conferences, hosted a podcast, learned to fly an airplane and run a company, but was enough enough? Was it time to stop messing around with side projects, passing interests and skill-building that was tangential to my "one thing," whatever it was?
And thank goodness I did! As I read Emilie's words, I came to identify strongly as the type of person she calls a "multipotentialite," sometimes also referred to as a polymath, renaissance person, jack-of-all-trades, generalist, scanner, or a puttylike person.
I highlighted so many passages while reading How to Be Everything, but here are a few worth excerpting (page numbers from the HarperCollins Kindle Edition):
that the key to thriving in an uncertain economy is having “a mind-set that embraces instability, that tolerates—and even enjoys—recalibrating careers, business models and assumptions.” In the postrecession era, adaptability is not merely an asset; it’s a necessity. (pp. 26-27)
[On studying the components of a happy multipotentialite:] They had all designed lives that provided them with three common elements: money, meaning, and variety—in the amounts that were right for them. (pp. 34-35)
For multipotentialites, productivity is about more than just getting things done. We need to make sure that we’re working on the right things, that our schedule is conducive to getting things done, and that we understand when it is time to abandon a project and move on to the next. (p. 147).
The principle goes like this: the majority of our activities can be divided into three categories: creating, connecting, and consuming. Creating involves bringing something new into existence. Connecting involves reaching out to others and can include activities such as responding to e-mails or posting on social media. Consuming is any activity that involves research or learning. It can consist of reading books or articles, watching movies, listening to podcasts, and so on. All three categories of activities are important. But to get the most out of them, you should respect the combining rule: Connecting and Consuming activities can be combined, but should never be combined with Creating. (pp. 171-172).
One of the most common concerns for multipotentialites is that we won’t measure up to specialists who have been working in a field for decades...Being effective matters more than being the best...Your work should be about delivering, not about reaching the top of your field. (pp. 185-186).
What does it mean to lead with your multipotentiality? It isn’t just about accepting and embracing your inner wiring. That’s only the beginning. To lead with your multipotentiality is to build a sustainable life around your plurality. It means figuring out, in practical terms, how to get the money, meaning, and variety you require so that you can flourish. (pp. 201-202).
These were just some of the passages that had me nodding along vigorously, feeling understood and spoken to in ways that rarely happen when reading a "professional development" book. I am a multipotentialite! And I'm really happy about it.
In the struggles I mentioned above, I had been trying to find my new "one thing." The book helped me see both that my past approach to life and work was not as single-minded and focused as I thought it was, and that what I actually want professionally and personally is the freedom to explore a wide variety of interests, practices and experiences.
When I was running my website development business, I wasn't just a tech guy running a tech business. I was a software developer, graphic designer, project manager, accountant, lawyer, sales person, marketing person, manager, personal coach, and so much more. I also managed to find time to be a community volunteer, non-profit board member, and even candidate for elected office.
As Wapnick says, "The easiest way to work for a boss who lets you wear many hats at work is to be your own boss. There are few careers more multifaceted than entrepreneurship." This was so true for me; co-founding and running my own business was one of the best things I could have done for embracing my multipotentialite nature.
Fortunately, my current job also allows me a lot of potential to live out my best multipotentialite self. Working for a distributed company that values "what you deliver" over many other things, and in a field that's at an intersection of so many of my current interests (software engineering, journalism, writing, the open web, democratizing publishing) is amazing. I don't have to hide my long lists of things I'd like to try. I can pursue my passions so much more easily than if I were commuting every day to a single location with a narrowly defined role whose success was measured by how many hours I appeared to spend on it at my desk.
Wapnick calls this the Einstein approach, "having one full-time job or business that fully supports you, while leaving you with enough time and energy to pursue your other passions on the side." It's one of four different models for living a multipotentialite life that she describes, the others being Group Hug ("having one multifaceted job or business that allows you to wear many hats and shift between several domains at work."), Slash ("having two or more part-time jobs and/or businesses that you flit between on a regular basis."), and Phoenix ("working in a single industry for several months or years and then shifting gears and starting a new career in a new industry").
The book did a great job of laying out some strategies and tactics for thriving within each of these models. I am always in danger of distraction, feeling bad that I don't have enough time for all my interests, or wrestling with what to say when people ask what I'm up to these days. Having advice on how to manage all of that while making sure I give the things that are important to me my best energy was really great. (The related article on 9 Ways to Explain Your Multipotentiality to Non-Mulitpotentialites was also really helpful - it's what resulted in the "Deep Generalist" label I'm now using for myself on social media and elsewhere.)
If any of what I've said about being a multipotentialite resonates with you, even a little bit, I can't recommend How To Be Everything enough. I'm planning on reading it again soon, if only to work through some of the exercises and questions that accompany each chapter in a little more depth. And if you're REALLY interested, Wapnick also started The Puttytribe, a community of multipotentialites looking for conversation and support.
I'm grateful to have found a framework that gives new meaning and structure to my past and present pursuits, and that makes me even more excited to think about the future.
One of the fun projects I've been involved with in my work at Automattic is bringing Joel Spolsky's esteemed writings at JoelOnSoftware.com to a WordPress-powered site. That site went live earlier this week just in time for a big announcement from Joel's company Fog Creek Software.
I've created RichmondMatters.com, a new site dedicated to commentary about life in Richmond, Indiana.
As I've occasionally done here in the past, I'll be sharing my thoughts about Richmond news, politics, leadership, community life and more. It's a simple site. The name is kind of boring. I've no ambition for it beyond having a place to write with a more narrow focus on a topic that's important to me.
Sometimes I'll cross-post those essays here or tweet out links to them, but usually I won't. I'll continue to post here about all the other random stuff I enjoy writing about, but the posts about local stuff will go in this new site.
So, if you'd like to follow along with my posts about Richmond, I hope you'll use the email or RSS subscription options on Richmond Matters. I'd enjoy having your feedback and comments along the way.
As a fun project a few weekends ago, I created the website 47374.info. It automatically pulls together news and headlines from a variety of different news sources in the Richmond/Wayne County Indiana area.
The site has a simple display of those headlines that's automatically updated as they're made available throughout the day, and you can click on them to go read the original content on the source site - that's about it. There's a mobile-friendly version at http://m.47374.info/ and you can also easily see some recent local tweets from Twitter. The site's still officially in beta but I've gotten some great feedback from test users so far.
I created 47374.info because I was tired of looking in a lot of different places to see what's making news in my community, or wondering if I'd missed something that was only announced on the very transient Twitter. Some news sources have lots of content but make getting to it hard or leave certain key things out. Other sources have a few juicy nuggets of relevant content once in a while but don't make updates available via RSS feeds, so you never quite know how often to check back.
So with the magic of WordPress plus some custom Perl scripts, I've restored some sanity to my news-reading time. For the first time in a long time, I've set a website (instead of a blank page) as the default "Home" page that opens when I launch my browser. Over the last few weeks, it's meant I'm more aware of community news, and I spend less time per day getting there.
Thanks to all of the local news/headline/event publishers that work to keep our community informed!
If you try out 47374.info and have feedback, drop me a line.
Most of my blog posts are a main course dish with one primary taste. This one is more of a salad with a bunch of different tastes thrown together.
I did eat a salad for lunch today (nice transition) - radish, green onion, and goat cheese on spring mix greens, with poppy seed dressing. Everything but the dressing was grown/made at Abundant Acres Farm, the provider of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share that I bought this season. Friends Kent and Dori have again done a great job making fresh, local, chemical-free food available, and I'm grateful for it. I don't have a garden on my own land right now, but having a bag of garden-fresh stuff delivered to me every week is hard to beat. There's still quite a gap between my ideals about where my food comes from and my actual diet.
Last fall while I was at a conference on our planet's energy crisis and how local communities can be more self-sustaining, I had a conversation with a gentleman from the TimeBanks USA organization. Time Banking is a revolutionary (I think) concept in community building that helps us value the unique skills and experiences that each person has to bring, and helps bridge the gaps in our society created by economic and social disparity. Put simply, it's a system of "give support, get support" that doesn't depend on conventional notions of wealth. I made a note at the end of that conversation that some day I would help bring a Time Bank to Richmond.
As a part of my participation in this year's Institute for Creative Leadership workshop, a group of Wayne County citizens are now creating the Wayne County Time Bank, and I'm so excited about it. If you're interested in learning more about this new tool for social change, I hope you'll come to our next information session on May 16th at 5:30 PM, at the Uptown Innovation Center. And whether or not you can attend, check out WayneCountyTimeBank.org to sign up for our mailing list; we'll let you know when the project is ready for public participation!