A hand-curated newsletter devoted to exploring how we choose to spend the 90,000 hours that will make up our careers.
▪︎ 9 minutes read time
What is Good Work?
As the team has worked to build Holloway over the last two years—traversing the nooks and crannies of the idea maze of how to get knowledge in the hands of the people who need it—we’ve had a lot of conversations about quality. Hell, most of the team recently read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (link is to our favorite paperback edition), a 418-page philosophical exploration of what it means for something to have Quality with a capital Q. Just as Zen’s author, Robert M. Pirsig, was obsessed with what made something Quality, we’re captivated by what makes work good.
What is Good Work? Neither goodness nor work are the kind of thing you can look up in Webster’s, stick in your pocket, and arrive at dinner ready to impress. But we know good work when we see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or feel it. Most importantly, we know Good Work is indisputably real because we have all known its absence.
I’m fascinated by Tim Urban’s “Your Life in Weeks.” The post is a largely graphical sucker punch of a point maker. When you visually represent all the weeks of your life as blocks, the section assigned to “career” is like this imposing death star. It’s, well, basically your whole life. If you want to get fancy with math, it’s about eighty-nine thousand four hundred and forty hours if you work forty-hour weeks from twenty-two to sixty-five. If you’re just starting out in work, you’re staring down about 90,000 hours on the clock.
Each of us has our own relationship with work. To some of us, work is a job. It’s a place we go to get a paycheck, pay the bills, and keep our heads above water. To others, work is a creative extension of the self. We even have this beautiful phrase I think is so neglected, your life’s work. And then there’s how the work of everyone around us works for us, or harms us, or changes us. It is because of people’s work that we have traffic and pollution, and it’s equally true that a smile from behind the counter can make my day just as much as the smog can quietly poison it.
Our choices about work—who we work for, what we work on, how we approach our work—some of these are choices we make, and some of them are choices others make for us. All of them have consequences.
Good Work is not a definition and it’s not an answer. There are many aspects of what makes Good Work, and we hope to discuss our evolving ideas on all this in this newsletter each week. But one way to think about Good Work we want to share now: it’s a reminder to consider how what you do with your 90,000 hours affects those around you, in ever increasing circles, from those you share a home or a desk with to everyone you’ll never meet.
The Good Work newsletter will be an earnest effort to examine the briar patch of modern work. Each week we’ll open with a short letter from me (or a guest curator!), and then we’ll share a set of links to perspectives that we think are worth pondering. We’ll get into global economic systems like capitalism and how our solutions are only ever our latest best effort in a long-chain of attempts to build something that’s a bit better. We’ll dive into our individual relationships with work and our social ones, like how much work is enough work—20 hours? 40 hours? 80 hours? We’ll share perspectives that get us thinking, talking, and arguing. Finally, we’re looking forward to sharing ideas of how we—all of us—can do Good Work that works for all of us.
“Screens & Time” by Sachin Monga. Monga, previously of Facebook, now offers one of the more thoughtful perspectives I’ve seen on the “collective malaise we feel around screens and social media.” Includes actionable ideas for how technologists can use screen time for good.
audio My old friend Nick Seguin sent me this podcast a few weeks ago. Matthew Walker, Ph.D (author of Why We Sleep) was on The Kevin Rose Show. The pair cover way too much to fit into a short summary, but the thing that punched me in the gut was what scientists have learned about the strong connection between too little sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. Do yourself a favor and listen to this podcast.
In this newsletter, we’ll be sharing different perspectives and interesting discussions on capitalism as an economic theory and political structure.
Evan Osnos of The New Yorker shares a warning to Davos from billionaire Seth Klarman (the “Oracle of Boston,” you know… like Warren Buffet is the “Oracle of Omaha”) in a piece with an unnecessarily long title. Osnos points out that Klarman, once the biggest GOP donor in New England, donated heavily to Democrats in the midterms. Our favorite Klarman take from Davos? “It’s a choice to leverage up your company to the hilt, to pile on non-recourse debt to pay special dividends to the owners, and then walk away if the business falters and the debt comes due. Just because you can do something definitely doesn’t mean that you should.”
Steve LeVine of Axios wrote that the world’s elites just might be coming around to the fact that capitalism ain’t perfect in “At Davos, a reckoning for capitalism as practiced.” While we take no issue with cheap shots at capitalism, we do believe fixing its flaws will take a whole hell of a lot of people committing themselves to understanding those flaws and signing up for career-long fights to build a better system—including the people who have already benefitted from our current system. We’re deeply thankful to Steve for the hat tip to Adam Smith’s “Other Book,” The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
audioJason Fried of Basecamp is on Recode Decode with Kara Swisher. Until listening to this podcast, I’d only read a blog post here and there from Fried and his business partner, David Heinemeier Hansson (commonly known by his Twitter handle, “DHH”). After listening, I can’t recommend this podcast more. Jason talks about how “It doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work” (the title of their new book) and how venture capital kills more businesses than it gives life to.
“The trick of startup culture is that the lack of imposed discipline doesn’t mean liberation,” writes Shuja Haider of Popula in “How to Suck at Business Without Really Trying.” Patently obvious in this piece is the poor behavior of those in leadership positions who fail to see their job as creating value for the world-at-large, instead opting to make a host of unethical decisions befitting a caricature low-level corporate villain in a comic book.
That’s Good Work for this week. See you next week.