This is one of the coolest emails I've ever received. Reprinted with permission -
I have recently begun reading your work. I really enjoyed reading and considering "Becoming a Person Who Helps People". I work in an industry that is at the least, very harsh. I am a merchant mariner, female, working with some pretty harsh guys. I'm one of 4 women who work for this company, and the only one under 30 and on a boat. I hold a position of some authority so I gain a bit of "respect" from the title. However, its not enough. The hierarchy on vessels is clear, but gaining the support and trust of your fellow crew members is paramount in a dangerous work environment. My personality clashes often with the harshness of the culture here. There is no room for weakness, real or perceived. However, I am empathetic and nurturing by nature. Helping people is just something I gain great pleasure from, despite the criticism others have for it in my line of work.
Helping people is a great way to create happiness for yourself, and I do so often in small ways. Many people out here can't read or write, or use a computer. Those simple skills I take for granted each day, are unobtainable to some. Men don't want to ask for help, especially from the tiny 100lb girl who outranks them, or works under them. Either way! I make it a point to connect with these people, in small ways like assisting them in writing an email, or typing out a sign they want to post for "Wet Paint", or even asking them how they think a supply locker should be organized when they are the primary users. I read aloud during safety meetings, instead of asking people to read for themselves. I try to consider what others might need, so they don't have to ask. Most others in my position think that I am coddling them, letting them slacking off, or say they need to learn a lesson and read or speak english- any number of negative thoughts surround my simple actions (if they are even noticed that is). Often people accuse me of sleeping with these guys. But at the end of the day, I have a loyal backing of 10 men who would do any work I ask, and give me their best efforts at all times. I ask them to get a job done, I get results. And thats the key for me, I ASK. I never direct, or demand. I say thank you every day, and make a point of commenting on exceptional work or efforts. I bake cookies or make special dinners on long days of work (we all live on the boat for months at a time), because when you're out here you become family whether you like it or not. These guys make me look good, I'm held accountable for their work and I can trust them to perform it. When the other guys in my position demand work be done, its usually half-assed or bullshitted entirely. They yell more, complain more, its a bad cycle. My leadership style, if you can call it that, doesn't work everywhere for sure. But it works for me here, and its infinitely more rewarding to be myself and be kind than to pretend otherwise.
I wish I had the writing/thinking skills you posses because I feel that even writing what I've put down thus far falls short of what I am trying to express.
When you asked the question, $5,000 for $0, or $10,000 for $2,000. I'd pick the 10/2 any day, because I enjoy that relationship every day. I certainly don't expect a return for assisting someone with a "Wet Paint" sign, such a simple task is insignificant when considered singularly. But to a man who speaks only Spanish and is embarrassed to ask anyone else, it means a lot. I never ridicule or mock or even question. You need a sign, I've got it. You need an email or a translation, done. Its amazing to see the natural progression a friendship/professional relationship takes when you offer respect and assistance to people. I've also recently begun practicing my Spanish speaking, I was fluent in high school but let it go in College. Now, I can communicate with more people, and to be honest, I am putting it on my resume. I can't wait to apply for my next job and be able to write "Fluent in Spanish". So for me, offering assistance to these men in the form of minute tasks is giving me an infinitely more valuable return. Looking at it from their point of view, it is reversed-speaking Spanish is so natural to them, that its meaningless compared to the assistance I give to them.
Thank you again for your great work, and putting so much into words that others (myself!) struggle with!! I look forward to reading more of your past posts, and of course those in the future.
Sebastian: That was awesome, thanks for sharing that. Lots of very cool insights there. I've encouraged the author to get a blog! She's incredibly well-written, and I'd like to read more of her insights if she gets time to post them. Cheer thanks for such a great email!
Two days ago I wrote the Genius and Tragedy post. It was extremely controversial - very popular on one hand, but got some very strong visceral negative reactions. I'd like to share with you what I've learned about writing, so I can step my game up and improve. Also, I got some downright hateful comments made about me, some really bad and terrible stuff. If this has never happened to you, maybe you don't know what it feels like, and I've got some advice on how to deal with it. I also did some detailed reading and analysis of the kinds of comments I got, and there was some fascinating results that I'll share.
So, first and foremost, I made a mistake - If you're writing to help someone, it can be pretty presumptuous to do it without touching base and clearing it with them first. I made that error for a few reasons - first, two of my best posts have come from the same format, and both achieved their desired objective. ("How do I write so much, you ask?" and "I think greatness is something you do, not something you are" both publicly called people I like out - and both times it worked) - so that's the first thing, I'd had a good track record with this, however those were people I'd been touching base with already.
Second, as a general principal I believe in working really quickly. I analogize it to "fighting out of formation" - quick, lightly edited writing is always worse than well-edited best practices. But, the more you do of it, the better you get at it. And by producing anything really quickly, you get better faster. If someone produces 10 times as much content, how long until their lightly edited work is superior to the other person's highly polished work? This isn't a rhetorical question - check out "Quantity Always Trumps Quality" on codinghorror.com sometime. If you produce quickly and of lower quality at first, you can iterate and improve, and eventually your quick production work is better than the obsessively refined person's work who isn't getting as much done (and thus not learning the lessons). Pablo Picasso talked about this quite a bit, if you're particularly interested on the topic.
The downside, of course, is that you make mistakes. And I did - I should've touched base before writing that post, or had it vetted, or at least, spent more time editing it to be clear, concise, and unambiguous, and even more polite. Mea culpa - my mistake! It's okay for me to work quickly and bring errors upon myself because of it, but I need to be more careful when involving others.
Then, why is that post still up? This is what I wrote as the episode was winding down, it was well-received by the community -
I've been lagging behind in my blogging lately, and a lot of other things. I think it's because I've been too easy on myself.
I've noticed that my productivity and happiness are inversely correlated with the number of physical comforts I allow myself. It's ironic, but the more comforts I allow, the less happy I am in the long-run.
When I get in doldrums like this it always starts slowly. First I decide that it'll be okay to have fast food just this one time. Next I decide that I'll be just fine skipping my daily Spanish tapes just this once.
Eventually I've tumbled way off course and I find I spend my evenings watching TV and my work-days slacking.
I think at least for me the only way to live completely productively and happy is to never let up on myself. I am a powerful human being and I deserve to act like one.