Why smart people should build things

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Please allow me the liberty to go off-topic for a moment. There are a lot of really smart people that read this little blog. Some are my personal friends, but many have found this site on their own and some have taken the time to contact me with feedback (for which I am forever grateful).

My smart friend Sam (who's currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Chicago) texted me to get this book last night. After reading the first chapter on the L, it was enough to convince me to consider changing the direction of my life.

Why aren't smart people building things?

In short, this book makes the case that smart people are taking 'easy' (structured) career paths rather than pursuing entrepreneurial ventures that solve problems, create jobs and build the economy. (Here's an excerpt.) It spoke to my soul, articulating what's always in the back of my mind: despite the challenges and growth I've experienced in my career, there's something missing and I've been trying to fill the void through my moonlight creative ventures.

One reader from London named Jenny left a very sweet comment a few months ago mentioning that it must be difficult to maintain a side passion while working in a really serious industry full-time that might find said side passion stupid or unintelligent. Jenny was right that we're often discouraged from putting ourselves out there and fear taking risks that might make us look like fools to our serious counterparts. My Twitter profile is private for this very reason, lest a client Google me and discover that - gasp! - I have a style blog (...and a design blog).

What do we do about it? 

If you're reading this, there's a good chance you're smart with a structured career path like me but also have side passions. There are probably millions of us, working in corporate jobs while harboring (and hiding) these brilliant creative sides. Those corporate jobs are important, and not everyone can run out and build an empire. But more of us need to try, even if it is just making an example of ourselves by continuing to honor our creative sides and putting ourselves out there to support others trying to find the courage to do the same.

For me personally, that means thinking long and hard about how to channel my creative endeavors in a way that meets a need, or solves a problem. After starting my (selfishly driven) no new things challenge earlier this year, another reader (Hi, Ivanka!) connected some dots for me by linking my small mission to live with less to a huge, global problem with the fashion industry: Ivanka recommended a documentary called 'The True Cost' which exposes how our endless appetite for new clothes is causing a global crisis that's polluting the environment and killing women. I can't get it off my mind, and am going to spend my year of living with less also figuring out how to contribute to the solution in a more impactful way.

Anyway, will get off my soapbox now. I highly encourage you to read this book and let me know your thoughts! And special shout out to Echo who has been leaving so many thoughtful comments on these posts and, along with Jenny, Ivanka and many others, is helping me overcome my fears about honoring my creative endeavor!
4 comments on "Why smart people should build things"
  1. Hi Colleen,

    Thank you for this thoughtful post and for the shout out.

    I believe that at any time in our lives we all can learn something new - if we are open to the information that is put in front of us.

    When I discovered your blog I had just watched the documentary and that experience alone stirred a serious need to make meaningful changes in my life. After watching the movie I knew I no longer wanted to keep contributing to the deploring conditions people elsewhere in the world had to live in because of my appetite for more and more stuff. How many $5 t-shirts would be enough to satiate my hunger for clothes? My initial idea was that I would start supporting companies that are treating their workers humanely while caring about this planet. Then, I thought the solution was to buy smaller quantities of quality classic clothing, shoes, and accessories that would last a long time, thus lessening my personal impact on the environment and the garment workers. Both are solid adjustments that I'm planning to implement for the long run, but I was still looking for more immediate change that would make a true impact. And then you threw a curve ball at me with the idea of no new purchases for a year - and what a scary idea that was! - but after processing it for a few days I realized that that's IT! That's the right solution for me right now! I need to give this thing a try. What was I so afraid of? Failure, of course. If I fail I'll feel really bad.

    But just imagine how I'll feel if I don't. :)

    1. Ivanka, thank you so much for this comment. We share the same fear of failing at this no new things challenge! However, I totally agree that it's a necessary step in the right direction. After watching The True Cost at your recommendation, it explained why I'd had this sense of emptiness and guilt about all of the unnecessary things I was adding to my closet by showing who was really paying the price. It's also helping me to clarify the purpose behind why I even write this blog: I've realized that a big part of it is being open and finding like-minded people with new ideas and fresh perspectives that can help educate me, challenge me, and steer my direction! It means a lot to me that you're reading this blog, supporting (and joining!) on this no new things challenge, and inspiring me to find ways to make a bigger impact beyond my 'selfish' aspirations!

  2. Thank you Colleen, for your thoughtfulness, your creativity, kindness, and you are my constant inspiration.
    I have thought about so much ever since I read about your "no shopping for new clothes for a year" blog, and I admit, I can not do it just yet, but I am reminding myself a lot what I can do , and every time I think about you, I feel more encouraged and inspired. I am doing pretty good so far I am happy to report.
    I will definitely check the book you discuss here. You really spoke my mind. I have a good job but do I love it and feel passionate about it? of course not, to me, it's just a job, a mean of making money so that I can do other things I really love, such as traveling. But as you said, most of us can not just quit and go chase our dreams, we have bills to pay, we live in a real world. But instead feeling hopeless and trapped, we can do little things that channel our inner thoughts and passion, do small things that challenge us, make us happy and give us more outlet to use our creativity and intelligence. We don't have to quit job and go be a "hero", and we don't have to feel bad about it, we try in our own ways.
    sorry for all this rambling I just feel really grateful to you and very open to you.
    Thank you! Have a good weekend my dear friend!

    1. Echo, thank you so much for this comment - it means so much to me that you have been reading and leaving such insightful comments. It encourages me to keep writing! (And they are never rambling, I love reading them - always great food for thought!) You are so right that we can each find our own unique ways to use our creative talents in positive, productive ways. My cousin and I were just talking today about how what you put out into the world has ripple effects, and often you aren't even aware of the impact of your words or actions might have on someone else. For me, just trying to be conscious of that as I interact with others (or write things to put out in the universe) is helpful, and you've reminded me that I can do more of that in the workplace. (Especially knowing there are many who may be feeling hopeless or trapped and might be inspired by a kind, creative colleague to think differently.) Have a good rest of the weekend to you as well! Thank you again for your time and thoughts :)