Continuing on our theme from two weeks ago, personal culture: What is the most important part of the artist’s or entrepreneur’s working day?
Rubbing noses and wagging tails
To me it’s the minutes right after the day is over. Why? Because that’s the time when it’s absolutely essential that you and I acknowledge our day’s efforts and give ourselves some props.
Nobody else is gonna do it for us. We have no boss; he’s not gonna come in and give us a high five. Our spouses have got their own problems. Our kids couldn’t care less. We have no coach, no teacher, no mommy or daddy. It’s just you and me busting our asses in a room all by ourselves.
When the whistle blows and we shut down for the day, it’s oh so easy to head home thinking, “Well, that was a waste of time … I accomplished zilch today, etc.”
In other words: Resistance. The voice of self-sabotage and self-diminishment that inevitably rears its head at closing time. If you don’t believe me, make a note to watch yourself today when you finish work. Resistance knows we’re vulnerable then. It knows it can land a few body shots.
This is the moment when you and I must take deliberate and forceful counter-action.
I will literally stop and speak out loud to myself.
I’ll call myself by name and I’ll give myself some credit. If there’s a mirror nearby I’ll speak directly into it. I acknowledge my effort. I give myself a stamp of approval.
Have you been watching the World Series? I love the scene in the dugout when a batter returns from advancing a runner or scoring a run. Every single guy high-fives him. Players are pounding his back, swatting him on the head, congratulating him in every way possible.
That has to be you and me too. Even if we’re alone in our coldwater studio on Divisadero Street or writing our novel in the front seat of the taxi we’re driving. We have to stop, take a moment, and mentally enact that scene in the dugout.
It sounds crazy, I know, and even a little embarrassing, but we must acknowledge to ourselves and for ourselves the fact that, for this day, we have done our duty and served the gods. Nor does it matter that we’ve had a good day. Bad days count too. The point is, we put in the sweat. We tried. For good or ill, we got in there and rolled the pea.
Now: how is this connected to Personal Culture?
Remember that our job every day, above and beyond whatever artistic or entrepreneurial labor we may be performing, is to build and reinforce our personal culture—meaning our professional mindset, our private inner world of self-expectation and self-aspiration, of virtues we’re seeking to inculcate and vices we’re working to eradicate. In last week’s post I wrote about “thinking like a studio,” by which I meant that you and I as artists and entrepreneurs are competing against corporations and big-time organizations, and we have to think and act as professionally as they do.
Same thing with personal culture. Each of us as an individual has to create, reinforce, and maintain an interior culture that is as focused and as sustaining as the institutional cultures at Apple, at SpaceX, and at the New York Yankees.
Acknowledging our work each day to ourselves is the most important part of this. I’ve said this before in this space: I have a Sierra Club-type monthly calendar beside my desk and every day when I finish work I make a little notation in the box for that date. I write down the project(s) I worked on and I put a little check-mark in the corner. Sounds dumb, I know. But at the end of the month, when I turn the calendar page and I can count back and see 24, 26, 28 checkmarks, I feel damn proud of myself.
I am deliberately reinforcing the personal culture I’m seeking to produce and to maintain.
An axiom of that culture is this:
“I am a disciplined professional. No matter what else is going on in my life, I am the kind of person who does his work. I am not a dabbler or an amateur or a weekend warrior. I am the real deal and these check-marks are one proof of it.”
Do you ever watch Animal Planet? One scene you see over and over is the hunting band returning after a successful kill. Lions, wolves, whatever. Without fail the pack members nuzzle each other, roughhouse, rub noses. Just like the Giants and the Kansas City Royals, they are reinforcing successful pack culture. “Hey, Simba, I loved the way you cut off that springbok tonight. You turned on the jets, bro!”
If lions are doing it in the Serengeti and Madison Bumgarner is doing it on the mound with the Giants, there must be something to it.
So, girlfriend, when today’s work is over, give yourself a high-five or even a pat on the butt. You’ve earned it.