Be the worst

I feel this is more likely to apply to you than it is to me but the crux of this is that if you are the best person in a group, get out. Finance writer Emma Lincoln:

In fact, you should always try to the be the worst one in the room. If you’re the best one in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

That’s why I read other personal finance blogs, and why I’m helping organize a personal finance retreat this summer. Because when I spend time around people who (metaphorically and physically) kick my finance-ass, I’m inspired to work that much harder to hone my money-saving skills.

And when I meet couples who have done incredible things together, built homes together, traveled the world together, saved a million dollars together, I’m inspired to go deeper with A, to seek out the goals that are the most challenging to set.

Are You the Worst? – Emma Lincoln (29 December 2014)

Read the full piece. Also, hat tip to Lifehacker for spotting this.

How to find your passion in life and work

I knew my passion was drama and writing and while I went the wrong way for a time, I still think I was lucky to have these obsessions that I could eventually do something with. I don’t often like to use the word lucky to do with writing because it isn’t luck or chance, I wanted what I do now and I worked for it and I got it. But I started from the advantage of know what I wanted to do, even as I didn’t think I could do it. It’s much more common to not have a single clue.

It’s much more common still to then feel that the answer is to find this thing you’re passionate about, then you could do it, then you could be as happily workaholic as I am. And by extension, if you can’t find it, you can’t. Writer Oliver Emberton has a smart piece about this:

Too many of us believe in a magical being called ‘passion’. “If only I could find my passion”, we cry. “Finding my passion would make me happy”.

Well, passion is real, and very powerful. But almost everything people believe about finding it is wrong.

Childhood is where passion goes to die

In theory childhood provides a great opportunity to try a bit of everything, find your talents, and with them, your passions.

But think for a moment how badly the system is stacked against you. Say school lets you try 20 subjects, ranking you against thousands of other children. Those aren’t good odds. Most kids are, by definition, around average. And it doesn’t matter how much we improve education, because people need to feel exceptional to feel passionate, and improving education simply moves up the average.

Say you’re one of the lucky ones, and you’re top of your junior math class. The education system will keep rising your difficulty until you find a level – like college – where you’re not exceptional anymore. Even if you actually are objectively pretty great, once you feel merely average, you’ll find your passion slipping.

And that’s if you’re lucky. What if your passion was for art? From an early age that passion is compromised by its social consequences. “It’s hard to make a living from painting” say your parents. “Your cousin is doing so well from engineering. Why can’t you be more like him?” And so you put your passions to one side, and let them wither.

In a population of billions, it’s obvious that not everyone can be unusually great at a handful of academic subjects. What if your true skills are in speechwriting, or creative dance, or making YouTube commentaries of videogames? None of those things are even on the syllabus.

And so most people grow up without much passion for anything.

How to find your passion – Oliver Emberton, personal blog (undated but probably 10 November 2014)

Makes me think of UK Education Minister Nicky Morgan’s asinine comments about arts subjects. Which then makes me think of poet Jo Bell’s calmly smart and classy rebuttal.

But back to the passion point. Emberton presents that as one of several rules to getting beyond the passion issue. Read the full piece for the rest of the rules plus some apposite illustrations.

Watch a Community writing lesson

In case you don’t know and haven’t heard me rave about it like the late-comer evangelist I am, Community is a US comedy set in an adult education college. It is very funny but it is also so deeply imaginative that I spent the whole second season simply agog.

Now, I do believe that reading the scripts and watching the episodes is an education in writing. I believe that about most scripts: I once read all seven years of Star Trek: The Next Generation scripts in order to see how a successful show finds its feet, matures and ends. That’s 178 one-hour scripts and my conclusion, if you’re interested and have far less time than you imagine this will take, is that most of them were boring puzzles rather than stories.

Whereas I then read all 176 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in script and enjoyed it immensely.

Only a few Community episodes are online but there are some at Lee Thomson’s fabulous site TV Writing here. Unfortunately, none of them are for the episodes I want to talk to you about.

More than talk: there is a Making Of documentary about two of them that is on YouTube now. Before I show you that, though, let me say that the episodes are sequels to the show’s first big hit. That was a season one story about a paintball game gone wrong – honestly, it is one of my favourite television episodes ever and I long to have been the one to write it – and that’s the lesson I want us to focus on.

Not why you should make a sequel to a hit since that’s obvious financially if in no other way. But actually why you shouldn’t. Why the show was told it could never top that original and how it did. Watch the episodes, would you? In fact, just watch the show. Part of the fun of seeing the episode A Fistful of Paintballs and its second part, For a Few Paintballs More, was the anticipation. And the part of the fun of watching was to see how it used the season leading up to it, how it was a true finale instead of a stunt episode.

You can get Community season one on DVD at Amazon UK here and at Amazon USA there.

Now, YouTube. The Making of the Paintball episodes: