Selfish writing

A good few posts here on the site reference learning as one of the key reasons for commencing this blog and indeed carrying on to this point — some four years later. A noble goal — or at the very least — a reasonable basis for applying a little effort towards producing content.

Over that time period, I’ve been through various phases and feelings about writing here. Beginners nerves (which merely evolve into more experienced nerves upon hitting “publish”); gaining some, then wanting more readers; realising more posts gain more readers and writing them; burning out a little, and realising 20% less monthly readers affords 80% (if not more) better balance. Blogging as a hobby really should not be a chore.

Now? I’m quite content with how things are. Thanks for asking.

Accompanying the passage of time has been a realisation the knowledge I gain through researching, reading, and organising my thoughts on various topics and posts is indeed quite valuable to me. It is however, secondary to something far more important. Something I perhaps didn’t anticipate, understand, nor fully appreciate until now. Something inherently more selfish, which far outweighs the learning — and indeed sharing — of knowledge by a significant order of magnitude. It is probably also time to own up to that truth.

When all is said and done, I’m really just writing here for my own sanity. Plain and simple.

The longer I do this, the more I realise the predominant, though unintended (yet most welcome) benefit of all this is the process of writing, and the switch-off it affords from most other goings-on while I’m doing it. Even better? The option at any time to not do it for a while — whether by choice or circumstance — and return when I choose.

Should this really come as much of a surprise? Probably not, and is simply a classic case of forest for the trees if ever there was one, however I am glad to be a little more aware of such a welcome reality.

Undoubtedly this is probably not a surprise to anyone who writes in a similar way, unencumbered by deadlines, contracts or commitments. Then again, who am I to assume — perhaps those who write for a living feel the same way, although I suspect there is at least some additional burden on the minds of those who do.

Maybe arriving at this point was inevitable, and I was simply unaware of it when starting out. After all, those sayings don’t lie do they. You know them: the process not the outcome; the journey, not the destination; the writing, not the readers.

I’ve taken some liberty in including that last one, and to explain further, you — the reader — are extremely important to me of course. I simply realise doing my best to provide readable content which may (hopefully) be helpful or provide value in some small way is part of the process, may be an outcome, however is not stoking the fire as it once was. Or at least as I thought it was.

So, have I been lying to you all this time?

I’d say no, however perhaps no more so to you, the reader, than to myself. Let’s think of it merely an oversight rather than outright deception. What next then? Well, I guess there is nothing to do but continue, and do so in the knowledge at the heart of these pages lies an intrinsic motivation which will likely keep me writing far longer than any extrinsic reward.

For that, I am extremely grateful — as I am to you, for reading.

Those you belittle are always bigger than you

By accident, without thought, or exquisitely crafted. It matters not, and is just as disappointing whichever form it takes. When directed at me it is meaningless. When overheard in conversation towards my friends and those I care about, another matter.

I’m talking about the over developed sense of self-importance of some, who so easily project this over others without so much as a second thought – or so it seems anyway. Whilst the purpose of this blog is certainly far from ranting about aspects of the human condition I find equally saddening and maddening, occasionally you will come across a post on such a topic (there are many written and unpublished which in all likelihood will stay that way).

Of course I am not about to delve into specifics, suffice to say, people performing roles or in occupations judged as “inferior” by some, are more than likely working just as hard, if not harder than those that judge them – again whether the judgement occurs on purpose or without thought. In my experience, something repeatedly done by accident or without thinking, is generally a purposeful action. Or at the very least, indicative of a certain kind of person.

Success can itself be judged internally, by those inching closer to mastering their craft, even if mastery is always a little out of reach. There is something extremely satisfying in working towards a long-term goal. Taking each step with the seriousness and precision required. The sweat and focus which will provide that extra few percent of improvement. The kind of effort (and in some cases risk) that shames a dusty university degree hanging on a wall somewhere as a shrine of achievement, which perhaps peaked when the frame was hung. Yet, we are somehow meant to revere that item on the wall, as though it should somehow afford the holder some right of superiority.

Sorry, actions speak louder than words, and infinitely louder than words written on heavy paper stock, framed and hung on a wall. Congratulations on your achievement, and I mean that sincerely, however that gives you nothing more than the right to work in certain occupations, belong to certain associations, and perhaps add some letters on your business card. Beyond that, nothing. Your treatment of others, and ill-perceived superiority more quickly relegates you to inferiority than you might imagine, as there are certain things in this world that really matter (respect, integrity, empathy and understanding for starters – none of which you need a university degree to exhibit), whereas the bastions you hold on to are the things that really don’t.

So go ahead, belittle those you see as inferior, however as far as I and many others are concerned, they will always be bigger than you.

Dept4 – Yesterday and Tomorrow

Over the past few weeks I have been looking back on posts I’ve written on since commencing dept4 in May 2013, and more specifically, thinking about what I plan to spend my time writing about moving forward.


For the most part, I have written about coffee, my favourite technology, and miscellaneous pieces about various things on my mind at any given time. A couple of posts hint at a slight obsession with pens, and this is an area certainly in need of more attention. I had initially planned to write more on productivity, workflows and self-improvement – however the productivity and workflow topics remind me a little too much of my office job. Perhaps that makes me well qualified to write on such matters, however to be honest, they are topics I feel least like writing about in my spare time. Self improvement? Perhaps that lies somewhere in between.

Granted, many of my posts touching on technology do indeed have some crossover into the productivity and workflows realm, however most of these have a personal productivity bent, rather than a specific office based one.

Future Plans

IMG_1922As I mentioned above, an area that has only seen a couple of posts to date, though is an area of intense interest for me relates to pens and paper (well actually, think anything in a stationery cupboard). This has been further compounded by embarking recently onInCoWriMo, or International Correspondence Writing Month, to the tune of sending a letter a day for the entire month of February. I have written more about my InCoWriMo experience here.

In this age of Twitter and Instagram, what would possess me to hand-write a letter a day until number 28 is posted? Pen and paper, plain and simple. My decision to participate in InCoWriMo is a point reached along a journey that has come a little way, though has many more miles left to run. A journey to be punctuated (quite literally) by many combinations of fountain pens, inks, rollerballs and even ballpoints, on a varied terrain of notebooks, pads and whatever paper I can reasonably lay my hands on – this I am sure of.

I have always been interested in pens. I distinctly remember the few basic Parker Jotter and Sheaffer pens from high school. My foray into Artline 200 fineliners, and the decision as to whether the 0.4 or 0.2mm version better suited my writing style (neither by the way, we are talking teenage boy penmanship here!). Then, onto the decision of whether I preferred blue or black ink. Throughout my university days the experimentation continued, though at a slower pace, until I received my first fountain pen in 1997 as a wedding gift from my wife. Seemingly that was pretty much it, the be all and end all of pens for me – until about 18 months ago. Don’t get me wrong, there was still much experimentation going on in the sub $10 office supply store pen category, simply not much beyond that.

I’m not exactly sure what piqued my interest again, however I began doing a few internet searches one day and stumbled across some sites recommending Rhodia and Moleskine notebooks (I think through researching the GTD method of productivity, and discovering a few Moleskine pocket notebook “hacks” for analogue versions of this system). One thing led to another and I soon found Brad Dowdy’s The Pen Addict, both blog and podcast, and from there it was all over. A similar fate has befallen many who stumble across Brad and his now infamous “penabler” influence to many followers around the world.

Through listening to the podcast and a little self experimentation, I have since purchased a few pens and notebooks, and am currently researching my next mid priced fountain pen to add to my collection. My Montblanc Meisterstuck will always remain my most valuable pen, both sentimentally, and likely monetary, however I am planning on starting again from the bottom and building a more varied collection. My own “beyond the office supply store” stationery cupboard if you will.

So, what does this mean for this blog moving forward? I would say a continuation of what you have already seen on the coffee and technology fronts, and an increasing amount of pen and paper related articles as my journey continues down this road. Where will these all fit in my current post categories of Thoughts, Improvement, Coffee and Tools? That I am not sure, though some of the categories could become a little more specific, and I will be giving this some more thought as things progress.

Let’s get to it then

Although I have broken and continue to break the cardinal rule of blogging, by writing about a variety of topics rather than focusing on one, I plan to continue, simply because I do not see dept4 as solely a Coffee, Pen or Tech blog, nor do I have any immediate plans to make it such. I have a keen interest in, however am not an expert in any of these topics.

Although there will be common themes running through those areas of interest, I do enjoy the freedom of writing on pretty much anything if the mood strikes me. Who knows, perhaps these topics may become more defined and specialised, spinning off into their own blogs in the future. Whilst I am loathe to rule out anything completely, I have no plans to undertake this in the near future.

As I write this, post number 84, I am pretty happy with most of what I have published over the past 10 months or so, and believe things have come a long way from my initial plans for the site. If being a “jack of all trades and master of none” limits my readership, (which has grown beyond what I could have ever imagined anyway, for which I am eternally grateful), then you may as well start calling me Jack.

One More M&M

One of the first posts written on this site discussed the constant need for validation many of us have in our lives, to the point of constantly seeking and extracting compliments from those around us.

The point being that those accomplishments worthwhile of validation, recognition, and perhaps even reward, are lost in the frenzy of attention seeking nonsense. Part of that post questioned our incessant need for recognition on matters mostly of trivial consumerism, and our perception this acknowledgement in some way increased our value in society:

Do we really need some external validation for every single (mostly consumer driven) decision we make? The answer to that question increasingly seems to be yes. If not for some kind of validation, then it becomes somehow linked to inching up our social standing – I am better or cool because I have this, am doing or reading this, or “like” this.

The sentiment contained in that earlier post is well summarised in the above excerpt.

Upon re-reading the post I should emphasise, I certainly believe there is a very important need for all forms of acknowledgement, recognition and feedback (both positive and negative), none more evident in my day-time role as a manager of people. This is also something all too easy to overlook, particularly (and somewhat ironically) in a talented, hard working team.

However the irony was not lost on the writer as I found my inner voice saying “see I was right”’ and feeling dare I say, ‘validated’ when reading Welcome to Validation Nation by Daniel P. Forrester, a recent Editors Pick on Medium. Though infinitely more elegant in word than myself, Daniel expresses a similar sentiment:

Without a common definition of validation, the concept has been decentralized in a frenzied, subjective set of silos. We have flown past the basics of “see me, hear me, thank me,” to “you must see me, celebrate me, and everything that is great about me.” In getting to this shallow state, we have lost: inhibition, pause, humility, empathy and the critical skill of self-editing.

In my thinking on this subject, the most telling point made above is how we have lost the critical skill of self editing. Time and again it appears we are no longer able to filter our need for recognition from “everything”, or indeed “every little thing”, to areas that do indeed really matter. Furthermore, simple recognition or acknowledgement is no longer enough, we continue on, seeking a king tide of support and full blown celebration. If this is your desire, fine, however please remember the more you ask, the less real value you receive in return.

The article does suggest there is still hope:

There’s also some hope in all of this as the human need for recognition gets redefined. My belief is that the generation after the Millennials, will recoil from all this hyped nonsense. Let us hope for a flight to quality where recognition of real human achievement will be amplified by a few trusted, authoritative and transparent sources; a time when validation for accomplishments becomes tightly re-coupled with excellence.

Perhaps this will be true, however I do not believe this is simply a Millennial generation issue. It is far more widespread and no doubt further fuelled by, but certainly not limited to, today’s social media and the methods we use to seek out this recognition.

There are many more compelling points contained therein, and I would recommend reading Daniel’s insightful article in full.

1000 M&Ms Don’t Make a Meal

Does a compliment forcefully extracted from the giver ultimately devalue the message?

I believe it does.

Time and time again we are constantly asked whether we “like” this; whether this looks good on me; or, what do you think of my new (insert clothing item, gadget)? Perhaps even the expectation that the item you have needlessly taken from your bag and left on your desk, despite its irrelevance to your workplace, somehow adds to your social standing, intellect or, for want of a better word, “coolness”.

When asked these questions in an office or social situation, what answer would I give other than my default, and that which is also expected by the asker, “of course, looks great / your doing great / yes so cool”.

Compliment extracted, “like” button pushed, ticket validated. Here, have an M&M.

Whilst I am not saying there should be no recognition of achievement or personal development, nor even of effort in failed attempt, however I assure you I will, and do notice. That is, I will notice meaningful achievement (a category in which I do not put your latest purchase). As a result, I am far more likely to give thoughtful, honest, constructive, and heartfelt feedback or encouragement than simply throwing the fourth M&M of the day your way because we are already up to question (compliment extraction) number four – and it’s not even lunch.

The positivity, or even honesty in my response is inversely proportional to the number of times you ask, because eventually I just don’t want to hear about you anymore.

Surely a full, sit down meal would be much more rewarding than extracting, accumulating and consuming one thousand M&Ms. Apart from being far more satisfying, it will give you much greater energy and drive to achieve the aims you have set for yourself, rather than wasting energy chasing the next M&M.

Do we really need some external validation for every single (mostly consumer driven) decision we make? The answer to that question increasingly seems to be yes. If not for some kind of validation, then it becomes somehow linked to inching up our social standing – I am better or cool because I have this, am doing or reading this, or “like” this.

We often read how publicly set goals will assist us to be more accountable. That may be true, however I do not believe the premise behind this is for you to achieve (what you think) is ascendancy over your friends or colleagues by a constant barrage of everything you have bought, are buying, or doing (and since when is buying an actual achievement?). Set significant goals for yourselves on the inside people, and let those who do just that, every single day, go about achieving theirs without having to validate every single step of yours.

Where you aim, set a path to, and achieve the desired result you have set for yourself, is, I believe, where you will find a true sense of self worth, satisfaction, confidence, and most importantly the desire to repeat the process. The real key is that this occurs in the context of, but independent to, what influences or opinions there are around you.

I think that regardless of how many people you ask, you know (or should know), the real answer, and whether this meets the standards you have set for yourself, reflects the person you want to be, or is even the right question to ask in the first place.

That is for you alone to ask, answer, and continue along your way.