Express Yourself

Get over your fear of other people if you really want creative success

A woman in a corner leaning her head against a wall, as seen from behind.
A woman in a corner leaning her head against a wall, as seen from behind.
Photo: Francesco Carta fotografo/Moment/Getty Images

I’ve lost track of how many people have told me that they’d never show the draft of their book to anyone. This admission is often accompanied by the qualifier that they’ll show it to someone “when it’s ready.” Another hindrance to creative work that I saw in my time as a history lecturer was from students who would tell me that they struggled to get work in on time because they thought of themselves as “perfectionists.”

Both of these varieties of perfectionism are about other people, not you or your work. …

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I mashed this up on my desktop in Paint. Please don’t sue me.

It wasn’t until I started reading up on the ‘Sharing Economy’ that I finally figured out what bothered me about dating apps.

I’ve realised something important about dating apps. They’re sharing economy platforms. It’s a big claim, I know — but stick with me here.

According to Tom Slee in What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy, there are basically four things that define something as a Sharing Economy platform:

  1. they are peer-to-peer platforms that do not provide a service to end users beyond connecting them,
  2. they have in-built rating systems that provide algorithmic regulation,
  3. they turn individuals into micro-entrepreneurs, and
  4. they take a non-market phenomenon powered by human relationships and turn them into a market exchange.

Tinder — and all its copycat apps, including Bumble, Hinge, Happn, OKCupid, and more, meet all four of these criteria. This isn’t a good thing — the sharing economy is basically a repeat of the 1990s dot com bubble, with slick young techrepreneurs and venture capitalists conspiring to overvalue unsustainable technology companies to sell on the open market for unimaginable profits. On the way there, they exploit people, disrupt lives, and change the face of cities for the worse. …

Both ‘work’ and ‘job’ are key words today. Neither had its prominence three hundred years ago. Both are still untranslatable from European languages into many others. Most languages never have one single word to designate all activities that are considered useful. Some languages happen to have a word for activities demanding pay. This word usually connotes graft, bribery, tax or extortion of interest payments. None of these words would comprehend what we call ‘work’.

– Ivan Illich, Shadow Work

The idea of ‘work’ or ‘a job’ is a relatively new concept. Unlike pre-modern labour, which was carried out as diverse and unrelated tasks in support of both monetary remuneration and subsistence, a modern job is a coherent package of day-to-day tasks for a wage that is central to our daily lives. In a way, where labour used to support our lives, literally ‘making a living’, now our lives support us to work. Amidst political slogans like ‘jobs and growth’, assertions of the ‘dignity of work’ and the notion that ‘the best form of welfare is a job’, contemporary work is characterised as an individual engagement with the economy. To be a modern worker is to live inside the economy and work for its betterment, hopefully alongside your own. …

Gender and power at work

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image: “An IBM 704 Computer at NACA in 1957”, NASA via Wikimedia Commons, here.

A close friend of mine recently went through a restructure at work. It was a harrowing and anxiety-inducing experience for her. The restructure seemed to be aimed at removing one particularly difficult employee, who constantly needled his female manager, and argued behind her back that he ought to be the one in charge. He did his job slowly, but delivered his work late and full of errors. He had a completely inflated sense of his own worth to the company, but still seemed to be on a career-spanning go-slow.

Another female friend told me how they had started to use Customer Relationship Management software at work. It sounded like there could have been more training given to employees, but what struck me was how it was exclusively men who grumpily refused, like overgrown toddlers, to adopt the new practise, inventing all sorts of reasons not to do the marginal extra work required to update the database. …

Choosing a historical methodology to write about work, and why it matters

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“Painting depicting the activities of the National Youth Administration,” Alden Krider, Kansas National Youth Administration, 1936, Oil on canvas. Held by FDR Library, Source.

When I used to teach history, the thing I’d struggle with was getting my students to realise that history was an interpretational practice. I’d ask them to consider the contested nature of current affairs, and then compare it to the sources they were reading about the 1950s, or the 1860s. Invariably they would see that people in the past were just as argumentative as people are today. I’d then ask them why they thought that there was one historical 'truth' that could somehow be uncovered, or why they yearned to settle the narrative about the past. I was fascinated by their belief in a magical point where the debate of people solidified into “truth” about the past. …

Discipline and Governance in the Neoliberal Workplace

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Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

My boss recently told me that in order to do my job I’d need to take work home with me. I work in sales, and what he was trying to tell me was that to generate leads I needed to look in unlikely places. For this reason, I ought to remain open to opportunities I encountered outside of work. In this case it not only meant probing my social network — my friends and family — for the possibility of a sale, but also restructuring my social time so that I would always be on the lookout for opportunities relating to work. It’s good advice — if all you want to do is sell things. …

A Historian’s thoughts on the 50th Anniversary

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Image credit: NASA (source)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first crewed landing on the moon. In between all the commemorative activities — documentaries, parades, events, speeches — that also means we’re undoubtedly going to see a reappraisal of what Apollo means. This happens at all big anniversaries, and it’s usually controversial. The 50th anniversary of the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was particularly fraught, but closer to home, every ANZAC day is marked by reinterpretation as part of remembrance. What’s interesting is the way spaceflight — and Apollo in particular — has shown up in my research on work. Asking the question ‘What does spaceflight mean?’ …

A story about Fireworks and Sex Workers

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Image credit: Alice Davies

The red light of the brothel in Waterloo Lane cuts through the visual noise of the city even more keenly than the floodlights that illuminate the door next to it. I can see it every time I step out onto my balcony, regardless of the time of day. One of my favourite activities when working from home is to take a spell leaning on the balustrade and watch the perfectly normal errands of daily urban life interact with this door.

Sex work is so taboo that it had never really occurred to me that sex workers and their management need postmen and couriers (why would they get mail and parcels?). Yesterday I watched a man in high-vis eat his lunch from a tuckerbox, sitting on the corrugated iron roof between the airconditioning units he was there to repair. The banality of it all jars so completely with the furtiveness of the men who scurry to the door through the glare of the lamps. The safety of the pool of light serves only to highlight the implicit presence of the dark and urgent attentions of men whose lust has broken the bounds of the contract. …

I was only a few pages into Max Weber’s influential 1930 work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, when I came across this sentence:

The modern rational organisation of the capitalistic enterprise would not have been possible without two other important factors in its development: the separation of business from the household, which completely dominates modern economic life, and closely connected with it, rational book-keeping.

Anyone who’s been following along with my blog for the last month will have noticed that I’ve been becoming more and more interested in the notion of the medieval or early modern household, and its implication in the shift to wage labour under capitalism. Komlosy relies on it. Illich insists it’s the birth of the gendered division of labour. Arendt argues that it was at the heart of Plato and Aristotle’s worldview. …

The March Towards Households of One

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Image: George Tooker, “The Subway” (1950), Wihitney Museum of American Art, (source). Used without permission.

My alarm used to wake me up. For some reason of late I haven’t needed it. Every morning I am drawn from slumber well ahead of when I’d like to be by the fact that I need to be at work. Every morning, although I don’t work for two days out of seven.

I haul myself from bed, shave, shower, and dress myself. I choose pants that I bought because they are comfortable while professional. They cost three times what I’d pay for a good pair of jeans. I select from a number of business shirts, shirts I’d wear nowhere else. It took time to locate and try on these clothes, and money to buy them. It takes time to choose them every morning, to wash them, iron them, and hang them up. I do up the collar, and the cuffs. …


Nick Irving

PhD in Modern History now making his way in the corporate world. Historian of peace and protest. Interested in theory, popular culture, and anxieties about work

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