Learn In Public

Share, Learn, Repeat

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Learn In Public | Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Six years ago, I shared my first piece of content online. It was a blog post, summarising ideas and notes from a software engineering conference in Montreal. It wasn't glamorous, but it was a contribution, shared on a space that I owned, in tribute to an idea: that we should just put ourselves out there, and see what happens.

I didn't think too much more about it at the time — the reasoning and understanding came later — but I knew it was something I would regret if I didn't do it.

My first blog post online.
First Post!

This past month I rebuilt my site for the fifth time, keeping what I liked from previous iterations. I felt that I had developed enough of an understanding of my "voice" through writing, sharing, and listening to feedback, that I could move on from previous efforts. I had learned about myself by sharing with others.

This is just one message shared in Austin Kleon's "Show Your Work!", a book I started in February of this year and couldn't put down. Kleon nailed every feeling, thought, and instinct I had in 2015, but couldn't articulate at the time.

Where Cal Newport focuses on being "So Good They Can't Ignore You" and building career capital, Austin Kleon points out that even if you're good, you still have to be findable, in order to be found.

Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your résumé because he already reads your blog. Imagine being a student and getting your first gig based on a school project you posted online. Imagine losing your job but having a social network of people familiar with your work and ready to help you find a new one. Imagine turning a side project or a hobby into your profession because you had a following that could support you.

In Kleon's mind, to be "findable" is to be an active and valuable participant in a community. To be part of a "scenius", or communal genius, and to lean into the truth of creativity: that it's a collaboration of minds, clashing ideas together in a beautiful mess.

How do we do this? Kleon encourages us to focus on the work. To pick up the scraps of our creative efforts, and share our progress and process. To focus on creating, and to channel David Carr's thoughts that "no one is going to give a damn about your résumé; they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers".

This doesn't just apply to writing, of course. Whatever craft you have, or enjoy, there's a scenius to be found, and content to share. I really enjoy photography, for example, and share my photos on unsplash, which forces me to improve. Recently, after quite a few community contributions, I was featured and it just took off.

This wouldn't have been possible without being part of a scene, iterating over time, and sharing openly.

Creating and sharing in the open also has an effect on those around you. As small successes compound and become larger successes, you change people's reference level and their expectations about what's possible. Importantly, you show them that they can do it, too.

If you're nervous about taking those first steps, take heart: Kleon says that "90% of everything is crap [and] the same is true of our own work". We all suck, most of the time. The trick is in understanding that people can dip in and out of your work as and when they like it, and that's totally fine.

What's important is that you never stop sharing.

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