Saturday, March 17, 2012

READING: Evil Plans: Having Fun on the Road to World Domination

This week's read:

A little backstory: About a year and a half ago, I borrowed Tim Ferriss's The Four-Hour Workweek from the library, read it cover to cover, and immediately went out and purchased a copy for myself. Ferriss provided concrete, actionable advice for streamlining your time management and starting your own business (or tailoring your current job to your ideal lifestyle). There was no nebulous, feel-good babble just to pad the word count. (That book also inspired last year's de-cluttering project, the Trashed365 blog.) Granted, for every 4HWW devotee, you'll find someone who hates the book, hates its lofty title, hates Ferriss's cultish following. But I'll admit to drinking the Kool-Aid. I chug the Kool-Aid. I love that book.

So when Ferriss excerpted Hugh MacLeod's Evil Plans on his blog, I added the book to my reading list. After all, Ferriss also recommended Tony Shieh's Delivering Happiness, which was an excellent read (especially for a Zappos addict like me).

But I was completely underwhelmed by Evil Plans. The excerpt I originally read turned out to be the meatiest example in the book -- and I actually liked it less once it was in context. I'll get to that in a minute.

The concept of Evil Plans is to identify "the Zone," a.k.a. the place where what you do and what you love unite. (Your "evil plan" is whatever you do to get there. And...that's about as specific as it gets.) MacLeod found his Zone when he quit his uninspiring day job to draw cartoons for a living. It's a great concept: "Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life," as the saying goes.

There were two problems that clouded the positive message for me. First, each essay reads like those philosophical Facebook status updates that typically follow a few glasses of wine. (Or, probably more accurately, it reads like the unedited posts of a blogger who feels obligated to churn out fresh content on the same topic every day.) But the overriding problem, for me, was MacLeod's self-righteous assumption that anyone working a 9-to-5 job is miserable, and that only entrepreneurs can do what they love.

Evil Plans is filled with condescending digs at corporate life. The office environment is filled with "drudgery and abuse," where you'll work with others who are "schlepping along" so you can afford "treadmill-type external markers of success." A little heavy-handed, no? And where 4HWW focused on the end goal (escaping the daily grind to travel more, spend more time with loved ones, or pursue new hobbies), Evil Plans seemed to be about escaping the daily grind because it's just such a pathetic place to be.

I disagree. And I say that as someone who's currently in "the Zone" -- I work for myself and do what I love. My hobbies are writing and photography, and people pay me to write stories and take pictures. I call it "funemployment." But before I became a freelancer, I worked in a cubicle for nine hours a day -- and it was fantabulous. My cubicle farm was filled with awesome coworkers, and we'd sit around watching advance copies of TV pilots and writing quizzes for 12-year-olds. Of course I had to contend with the shackles of, um, a regular salary and health insurance and a 401k -- but somehow I survived.

Okay, admittedly, that's an unusually fun job. But I know people who really love doing taxes, designing bathroom cabinets, and fixing people's computers. Self-employment really isn't the only road to happiness. And regular paychecks are nice.

Which brings me back to the excerpt that first piqued my interest. It was an anecdote about a woman who quit her crappy desk job, went back to an old waitressing gig ("the money [was] insanely great and she liked her job"), and started her own design company in the meantime. She took a risk and a paycut, but it paid off in the end. Great story when I read it the first time. But after reading the rest of this book, suddenly the last paragraph seemed a bit too self-satisfied:
Three months and she managed to bag half a dozen high-paying clients for her business. Last time I saw her, she was wearing very expensive shoes and had moved into this very hip apartment in Brooklyn. Like I said, I was so proud. And her colleagues back at the restaurant? They're still there. Choices were made.
Um, wait a second. Why, exactly, are we judging the people at the restaurant? How do we know they're not working on their own six-month or one-year "evil plan"? Or -- crazy idea -- how do we know they don't simply enjoy waiting tables? Maybe it's not MacLeod's dream job, but that doesn't mean her colleagues are all victims of bad choices. (Not to mention it seems a bit hypocritical to gauge her success by her expensive shoes and hip zip know, all those "treadmill-type external markers.")

There are other moments of arrogance. In describing "the moment," a term British Army officers use when they realize they have to stop being the buddy and start being the leader, he offers a long-winded story about letting a waitress off the hook for a $30 drink order she screwed up. (Wait, how does that make him a leader...?) He seems to think his college buddies were the only Deadheads who really cared about the band. He calls his cartoons "my daily gift to the world." And in a flawed supermarket analogy, he says:
Aisle after aisle of products that most people, frankly, don't really give two hoots about. Sure, there might be a perfectly good brand of paper towel or breakfast cereal, but at the end of the much do people care? Answer: Diddly-squat.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Tell that to anyone who's still in mourning over the disappearance of Waffle Crisp, or who counts the minutes until Reese's Eggs return. (Okay, those are both very personal examples.)

The one concept I found interesting was the idea of "expressive capital" -- that the most successful ideas in the near future will be those that allow us to express ourselves best. Hello Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, Flickr.....

But that was only a few pages. Overall, there was no game plan, no actionable advice, just bite-sized, stream-of-consciousness blurbs about how much work sucks, and how jealous everyone will be when you quit. I found it hard to get past the arrogance. That's right -- I'm a fan of Tim Ferriss and I still found it hard to get past the arrogance.

Then again, MacLeod says haters are a sure sign of success -- so it's all good, right?

No comments:

Post a Comment