Homework. III.

A long time ago, more than a lifetime ago, when I had no real career and nothing but dreams in life, I wanted to be an artist.

I had joined art school at the age of around 19 in order to one thing– a very specific thing. I wanted to become a metal sculptor.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to make, exactly. I just knew that metal seemed like the material for me to use, and that I felt like it would be something amazing to do. So I joined art school.

I found the one art school that didn’t require a portfolio to get in. I visited the school, I applied, and I got in. I began to take drawing classes, art history, and everything else I needed to do. I also had to take a sculpture class that first semester, and so I did exactly what I was planning to do. I took metal sculpture.

It was this moment in my life, this time, at which the internet decided to intervene in my life.

I think it started in a simple way. I wanted a part time job. I happened to be able to type, so I took something at a local startup. This was around the time the dot-com bubble was starting to happen. Companies were building up around all kinds of ideas, large and small, whether there was a business model there wasn’t thought to be necessary. At the time, the name of the game was eyeballs.

Anyway, it quickly took over my life. I never finished art school. Now I do this whole other thing. I love it of course. But I never finished. And unless I start again, I’ll never know.

I’m going to bet you have someone in your life like this.


Your homework this week is to plant a seed of doubt in someone who needs it.

This job doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need to be able to talk to someone and remind them of their other life– the life they could have had, but that they don’t right now.

I did this the other week with a cashier at a coffee shop. I recognized her, and thought “she’s been working here a long time.” So I said so. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

This homework assignment isn’t complicated. But it is important. Remind someone of the life they wanted before they started making compromises. Be as direct, or indirect, as you like. Don’t push, but let it simmer.

Good luck with your assignment. Report back in the comments when you’re done.





29 responses to “Homework. III.”

  1. Matthew Allen Miller Avatar
    Matthew Allen Miller

    I see what you’re doing here. I suspect that many of us just need to look in the mirror for this one.

  2. Rohan Jayasekera Avatar

    Yes, it works. A onetime girlfriend of mine told me that she’d been working as a cashier in a cafeteria when a customer whom she’d chatted with occasionally pointed out that she seemed capable of doing more interesting things. She quit and went to France to work as an au pair, returned and went to teacher’s college. She’s been a schoolteacher since then.

  3. Kelly Avatar

    I do this a lot, and it’s scary what it can do to people. When people start thinking about their dreams again, they tend to get scared, often freaking out and rationalizing their current position. But if you let it simmer long enough, more often than you think, they take actions for their own lives and try to change it somehow – for the better.

  4. Stephanie Avatar

    Already done, someone I once knew very recently suggested I go back to
    School & get off disability, I’ll be starting in the fall. 🙂

  5. Raúl Colón Avatar

    This homework compared to the other ones is something I tend to do a lot! When you’re happy with everything that you’re doing even when you are struggling to make ends meet its difficult to get others to follow their dreams. The perception of progress and success for everyone is different. Some rather have money in their pockets than chase after a dream!

    I will make sure to at least reach someone and help him or her go after it! Creating a spark in someone is something we can all do. I think I will commit further and see how I can help them out!

  6. FJR Avatar

    You didn’t say whether you are starting to tinker with metal…

  7. Mary E. Ulrich Avatar

    Just got home from a workshop with some Indi authors. What struck me is how they decided to take charge of their own futures and are doing all sorts of amazing things with their books, their kids, their full time jobs and their lives.

    It’s very humbling. I spend a lot of time “wishing” and though I take small steps forward, can’t seem to make it happen fast enough. No excuses.

    Kind of like getting the metal hot enough to mold, it just takes patience and being able to stand the heat, eh?

  8. Gary White Avatar
    Gary White

    That’s ME!

    I’ve been procrastinating for far too long, letting my “life”(?) dictate what I do and what I’ve become. Thanks for the kick in the pants – I needed it!

  9. Jo-Anne Avatar

    A seed of doubt well I can do that or maybe not I am not one to put seeds anywhere I leave that to the men they have seeds………….lol

  10. Therese Avatar

    Ouch. Had a chat with an old friend recently. 20 odd years ago I got inspired listening to her constantly argue for why she couldn’t do what she wanted. Since then I’ve bought a section, built a house, lived overseas, got a degree, worked teaching adults, married, separated and am now living the most laid back life. So I thanked her. Oops that didn’t go well. She is still prone to spending hours telling people why she can’t do what she wants.

  11. jason Avatar

    I recently got out of a dead end retail job and started doing web design and I’m really happy. It was scary and I feel lucky, but I couldn’t help but encourage a few former coworkers to make some moves of their own. Its worth risking basically nothing for a chance to be happy.

    On a side note, I just found your blog today on a link from Lifehacker and I enjoy your perspective. I read quite a few articles you’ve written and I would really like to read more, but is there any chance you’ve thought about a tl;dr version? Something a little bit shorter you can maybe post on facebook or something and then link to the full articles? You’re quite prolific and, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I can’t say I’d really even like to be the kind of person that reads such lengthy articles on the internet. In the spirit of encouraging your readers to spend more time out in the world instead of at a computer, maybe a more Confucius-like, short and direct version is in order?

    TL;DR– Love the site. came over from lifehacker. any chance you can give us some cliff notes versions of your blog posts? FB, twitter, rss, etc? thx

  12. Jennifer Avatar

    I already had that seed, thanks. I just don’t know what to do instead.

  13. Jim Avatar

    Tonight, there was a boy outside the grocery store, selling miniature candy bars. I asked him if he had anything healthy. He looked them over and picked one out. I declined, but offered him a dollar in exchange for a smile.

    For a moment, his eyes shined as brightly as his smile.

  14. Minttu Avatar

    There is also the possibility that the cashier at the coffee shop has his / her dream job! 🙂

    There are people, who are not career oriented at all but who are still motivated and passionate about some other things in life.

    1. Ludovic Urbain Avatar

      I suspect that point of view is a lie. I couldn’t tell you who told you and who believed it.

      I think everyone enjoys spending their whole day “having fun” instead of “working”, and that amounts to having a job you really enjoy.

  15. Harold Coat Hanger Avatar
    Harold Coat Hanger

    There is an insight here which is being glossed over in favor of self-aggrandisement. I.E. ‘projection; you see your own problems more clearly in the behavior of others. As another poster noted, you don’t mention if you have started. Before we praise ourselves at having shone the light of truth upon others like some God should we not pause and ask: could our delusions have a useful purpose? Pretty much everyone I know has a skeletal dream in their closet. We have one life, we have to make choices at the expense of others it is sad but true.No one will thank me for reminding them of their sacrifices.Maybe this works on waitresses, what about people with families and commitments, mortgages etc?

  16. James Avatar

    So diggin’ this assignment. This is basically what I do everyday when I chat with people and through http://thelifesketch.com/ I used to be scared to do it, but now I feel like I’m changing lives. That spark people get when you get them moving on track again is priceless. It’s like you’re that pivotal moment in their life where everything changes.

    I feel like the movie inception when I’m chatting with people. If only I had that intense soundtrack playing around me….

  17. Harold Coat Hanger Avatar
    Harold Coat Hanger

    I wrote a song once called ‘Vain Bhuddist’ – I wasn’t sure what I meant at the time, I do now.

  18. Nic Avatar

    Hey- we’re not cashiers, we’re baristas! And most of us are happily pursuing passions on the side, grateful for a job that gives us the freedom and flexiblity to create, volunteer, and maybe even spend time with our family, instead of working all the time…

    I say this because I can pretty safely assume I know which cafe you are referring to 🙂

    You do bring up some valid points though, which is why I have been checking out your work.

  19. Tracie Avatar

    Sometimes following your dreams requires being in a holding pattern for a while, much like how taking your dream vacation may occasionally involve a delayed or cancelled flight; because some things are completely outside your control.

    The trick is recognizing when it’s YOUR hands on the controls and you’re circling the airport because you’re afraid to change course.

  20. Gloria Avatar

    H.W number III helped me take the initiative to tell my husband , who has been unemployed for a few months , to take a chance doing something that he loves.
    …….he is always watching and deeply enjoying ” house hunters”.

  21. Ronnie Avatar

    A friend of mine was telling me how he was telling his friend how he wanted to move the hell out of Texas, and how he’ll “eventually do it.” His friend said, “no, you won’t.”

    My friend considered what he said, and concluded that he was right. But that lit a fire under him, and drove him to move out of Texas. He told me this, because I really wanted to move 3,000 miles to Seattle from Virginia.

    I actually did it.

  22. Kanchax Avatar

    My father and his future company.

  23. Dianne Monnier Avatar

    I did this last week – with a colleague. I noticed this particular colleague has an amazing gift as an illustrator/cartoonist – he drew a picture on a staff card for me. I asked him if he ever thought about being a cartoonist – pursuing his drawing as a career. He lit up and said he’d been thinking about it for years. He even knew of a community college where he could study. I sent him some links to stuff and he said, ‘I didn’t know there was an Association, resources, etc’. He’s married with 2 young kids and just bought a new house. He’s studying something (work-related) that I know he’s not really into. He hasn’t said anything to me since … but I’ll never forget the way his usually tired demeanour became animated (no pun intended ;); energised and his face lit up. I’m working on making the transition from ‘day job’ to creative career … gotta walk the talk 😉

  24. kat Avatar

    I did this with a friend that often complains about her life, but she never appears to do anything to change it. I asked her what small thing she could start doing today to make a positive change.

  25. L.H. Avatar

    How about instead of making an assumption and making the barista feel bad about doing an honest day’s work, you talk to her instead? Ask her if she enjoys her job, compliment her on her work, and if you find out she did want to do something else, THEN plant the seed of doubt?

    Maybe she’s already taking night courses. Maybe she’s actually really proud of her latte art and she’s planning on someday owning a coffee shop. Maybe it’s a really terrible economy and she’s already got credit card debt from pursuing her dream and not making it and this is the most stable, steady job she can get that still gives her the freedom to line up interviews and hold client meetings for the digital media marketing firm she runs with a friend.

    I appreciate the idea behind this, but like the previous two homework assignments, but as a previous waitress and barista, I wince to think of how many people you’re inadvertently offending/making feel ashamed/literally taking money away from. (P.S. when you haggle for drinks, yes, the barista DOES have to pay for them out of her own pocket.)

  26. mary Avatar

    this kinda reminds me of fight club, except i’m not gonna point an empty gun into someone’s face.

  27. Dan Avatar

    All I had to do was send this post to my friend Melissa and the assignment was complete.

    Thanks, Julien.

  28. R. Avatar

    What a glorious way to be a thoughtless asshole with people you barely know.

    Plant your own seed of doubt, let others be. You won’t be changing the world either way, so no need to be a complete dick.

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