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Link: Life Lessons from a Lifestyle Business

Over at IndieVC, A Lifestyle Business Can Kill You Life Lessons from a Lifestyle Business: A really honest, worthwhile interview with Matt Haughey, the creator of MetaFilter.

I crave simplicity and I don’t want complications. I’ve counseled my friends many times to just make things that make a little bit of money and make you happy. Why isn’t that good enough?

Matt Haughey

It should be good enough. You don’t have to build an empire to make people’s lives better and to do things you love. I’d even go so far that digital empires are in direct opposition to making people’s lives better. But that’s a rant for another time.

Update: So, the title felt kind of incongruous, and doesn’t really have a lot to do with the post. Apparently Matt felt the same, so it’s been changed:

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Elizabeth Bear on Committing

Here is thing I learned when I was 29, which I now give away for free:

If you want to do a thing, do it now, or as soon as feasible. Because there might not be a later.

[…]

But to succeed at a thing–a job, a relationship–in the long term, the thing is: You Must Commit, even though commitment is scary. And commitment is scary because once you’re in you’re in. It’s not bobbing around close to the shore, paddling with your feet. It’s both feet and swimming as hard as you can out where the rip currents and the sharks are, where the water turns blue.
Elizabeth Bear, everybody’s scared of things that they don’t understand and all the living they don’t do.

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Being Who You Are

And sometimes that’s hugely painful or difficult, especially when we’ve been socialized to believe that who we are, deep down, is somehow immoral and incorrect. Because the first thing you have to figure out is who you are. And what you want. And that it’s all right for you to want and be those things, even if somebody else told you it was wrong. Even if it’s risky. Even if your family might not understand. (Of course, it’s also risky because it might involve important relationships changing drastically, giving up things that are precious to you, and re-assessing your investments or renegotiating your life path.)

That can be a tremendously painful process, this letting go of what you thought you ought to be, what you were invested in being–and just being what you are. Feeling your feelings, Writing your words. Making your art, which involves telling your truths.

Elizabeth Bear

Read the rest of the post (and really, a lot of her posts lately). Worth it.

Thoughts on XOXO

XOXO Festival LogoIt’s been a few months since the XOXO Festival happened, and it’s been written about to great effect in a number of places. The recordings of the talks are now up and available to the public, even. All of this means that it’s probably time I sit down and share my own thoughts about it, as well.

A little background: the XOXO Festival was a conference conceived of and planned by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan, funded through a Kickstarter drive, targeting creators and makers. The goal wasn’t technical discussions of How to create, so much as exploring Why we create, the process we take to make it work in our lives and our culture. It was held at the YU Contemporary in Portland, Oregon, in mid-September, 2012 (a great time to be in Portland). The event was a rousing success, and there are a number of factors why:

Crowdfunding

By funding the event through Kickstarter, they were able to keep the focus of the event where they wanted it, rather than needing to kowtow to corporate sponsors. That’s not to say there weren’t corporate sponsors — there were three — but there was never a point where it turned into shilling a product or service (they were thanked on the website, in the program, and at the opening and closing. That’s about it). It felt refreshing, and allowed the focus of the event to stay where it belonged.

Establishing the Social Contract

In the opening talk, Andy Baio made a point of calling out that everyone there was a peer, and that all should feel welcome to come talk to anyone else. By doing so, he established a social contract among the attendees and staff. It explicitly demolished the social inhibition of joining what appears to be an established group or discussion, and it felt like the attendees took it to heart — there were no cliques that I could see, and the amount of commingling and interaction was fantastic. I’ve been to a fair number of conferences, un-conferences, conventions, meetings, and other events, and I cannot think of any other occasion that was so committed to openness and communication. It felt great. I’m not alone on feeling like this — it was a recurring observation while chatting with people during the after-party.

Including Portland

A lot of events could basically be held anywhere. XOXO, however, had a distinctly “Portland” flavor, and attendees were encouraged to get out and enjoy their time in the city. The opening party was Thursday night, but the talks didn’t get started until Saturday — Friday was used to host social events for the attendees around town. Panic graciously opened their offices for an ice cream social, while Wieden+Kennedy held a rooftop cocktail party, and Ground Kontrol opened their doors for an attendee-only “free play” afternoon. As the day rolled into the evening, this was all followed by the “Fringe” portion of the festival, with music and an indie arcade set up within walking distance of each other. To top it off, half a dozen food carts were invited to set up directly outside the event, providing a wide range of incredibly delicious food. They even brought in Stumptown Coffee to provide fresh coffee (as a volunteer, I particularly appreciated that the baristas decided to hook staff up with coffee for free).

Also? The talks didn’t start until 10-10:30am. People had time to go have a good breakfast, or sleep in a little, so no one felt rushed or harried. It’s amazing how much giving people a bit of morning time can help set the pace and mood of an event.

Keeping it Focused

It’s easy to try and ratchet on a bunch of extra topics and themes to an event like this. Instead, the talks were targeted to creatives (and more specifically, creatives who were involving in Doing something, the folks who took something they were passionate about and made it work), and the surrounding events were likewise very specific. It even applied to the schedule itself — there was only one track, so speakers didn’t have to feel like they were competing with others for attendance, and attendees didn’t have to weigh which talk to go to next.

The whole event was like this. The vendor area was curated — it wasn’t just anyone who wanted a table, it was groups that the organizers felt made something genuinely interesting and crafted with care and intent. The food carts outside were all explicitly invited and carefully chosen as some of the best Portland had to offer. The Fringe portion of the festival highlighted specific independent games and musical artists — again, curated with an eye towards craftsmanship and the quality of the experience.

When there is that sort of clear attention to quality and aesthetic taste applied, people pick up on it. They are more likely to try something new, because they feel they can trust the taste of the curators. That all leads to an event where everyone is interested in trying everything, and makes for an amazing participatory experience.

I’m really glad I was able to participate in the XOXO Festival, and I sincerely hope I’m in a position to participate again whenever the next event happens. It’s had a pretty lasting effect on me, causing me to seriously pause and consider what I’m doing with my life, and what direction I want to go now.

Other Links:

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Ira Glass: Creative Work

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. Ira Glass

On Childlike Innocence

It is remarkable how delightful it is to watch small children explore the world. Their perspective is fresh, and there’s a marvel in their eyes that is infectious. It is simple behavior, the nuances of discovery that makes an everyday action an adventure: opening a cabinet and discovering the treasures within becomes a noble quest.

When do we lose that sense of marvel and wonder? When does the world become mundane, a cage instead of a playground? To remain an inquisitive soul is a lofty aspiration, and one that most sadly fall short of. Once fallen, can that sense of wonder ever be truly regained? Is it fate to become inured and jaded?

Perhaps we’re not asking the right question. It is, perhaps, unreasonable to assume that a youthful blank slate is the desired state. Instead, can we hope to evolve into one who is perhaps acquainted with the trappings of reality, yet still able to appreciate the beauty of it? I suspect this is closer to the right path, the balance of awareness and innocence that leads towards enlightenment.

A lot of it comes down to seeing the cage of reality, and choosing which side of the bars you perceive yourself on. Are you trapped within reality, or are you an observer of it?