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Author, Works Well With Others: Crucial Skills in Business No One Ever Teaches You // writing weekly about creativity, work, and human behavior, in a useful way

For your next big thing—whatever that thing may be—consider going at it alone

Illustration © Ross McCammon

Because I’m writing this story alone, I don’t need to discuss with anyone how to start it off. So it will start with a story (an efficient story, I promise) about how for years I fundamentally misunderstood my mother’s experience raising me. It will end with a call to action, but this is how it’s going to start.

My parents split up when I was only a few months old. As I grew older and began to understand what raising a child actually entails, I built a narrative of struggle around my mother’s life. The image was: My mom was…


A native Texan’s endorsement (and rediscovery) of the greatest pronoun in the English language

Illustration © Ross McCammon

Me and “y’all” go way back. I grew up in Dallas hearing a rich Texas vocabulary made even richer by thick Texas accents. My mom would order a “wat wan” with dinner, for example. As a kid I pronounced “cement” as “SEE-mint” and “umbrella” as “UM-brella.” (Sometimes I still do, involuntarily.) My linguistic heroes were people who added an extra syllable to one-syllable profanities, as in “DAY-um” and “SHEE-ut.” My grandfather said grace every Sunday like Boomhauer on King of the Hill.

Lord, [wordswordswordswordswords]

Amen!

And we put a little extra emphasis on the “y’all” any time a second-person plural…


May I suggest a professional theme song?

Illustration © Ross McCammon

I have this record player next to my desk that has had the same record — side 5 of a live-concert box set — on its turntable since well before the pandemic. And every day when I sit down to work, I reach over my shoulder and press the turntable’s chunky “Start” button. With a certain mechanical reticence, the tonearm rises, moves the cartridge over and onto the disc. The music begins to play, then the audience applauds, and then I check Slack.

I didn’t plan on having walk-up music. The morning I started my professional WFH journey in March…


When all hope is lost: hope grenade

Illustration © Ross McCammon

The hour-long meeting was becoming a slog. Forty-five minutes of doubt and negative thinking. FUD City. Population 7.

And then something magical happened. Someone who’d been silent the entire meeting said, if memory serves, “Maybe no one wants to hear this, and I’m being an annoying optimist, but I love this work. I believe in it. I think it can be great.”

Boom.

It instantly transformed the energy of the meeting. And judging from the smiles and suddenly relaxed shoulders of the other participants, it transformed the individual psyches of everyone involved.

It was a course correction. …


A simple note-taking strategy, featuring the greatest pen in the world

Illustration © Ross McCammon

I’ve stumbled upon an approach to taking handwritten meeting notes that has surpisingly transformed my work life over the last couple months.

First, the strategy. Then the idea.

The strategy is basically this:

  1. Acquire a sturdy full-size notebook (may I recommend the iScholar brand) and a Bic 4-Color Ballpoint Pen (which is, incidentally, the most useful writing implement ever invented).
  2. Select black or blue ink for your main run of notes.
  3. When you note an “action item,” switch to green ink.
  4. When you note something that is VERY IMPORTANT, a principle or a rule or a new way of thinking…


A simple thought exercise for when you’re experiencing boredom or burnout

Photo: RunPhoto/Getty Images

Over the weekend, I walked into my living room to see my kids bored to the point of physical incapacitation. They were strung out across the sofa, apparently crushed by the weight of, I don’t know, having all of their basic needs met. Their sighs were deafening.

For kids their ages, five and nine, boredom is an existential crisis. So I proposed an existential solution.

“Pretend this is the first time you’ve ever been to this house,” I told them. “This is an AirBnb now, and you just walked in the door. …


A less-masked future is near, and our facial expressions will matter more than ever

Illustration © Ross McCammon

As vaccination rates increase, we’re getting closer to a future where masks are less of a presence in our lives, and our smiles (and non-smiles) will once again be visible to friends, co-workers, and the strangers we pass on the sidewalk and in the grocery store.

If that sentence didn’t make you smile, please keep reading.

Until I looked into smiling while researching my book Works Well With Others, I didn’t realize how powerful a force it is. The simple act of smiling can change you and everyone around you, and that’s true now more than ever. A smile —…


A mental framework for making it through a difficult time

Photo: Seven Shooter via Unsplash

I like “shopping” for books in my own home by walking over to my bookshelf and pretending I’m in a used bookstore where every book costs zero dollars. It helps that I have terrible book memory, which means that every book feels new to me. (“Which one was Moby Dick again? The whale or the guy?”)

The other night, I went shopping with a purpose: I was looking specifically for books about writing. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of “writing through” the time we’re in, and I’ve been writing a lot more. I grabbed Bird by…


Writing

Always remember — they won’t miss what isn’t there

Illustration by the author

When I can’t quite figure out how to start a piece of writing—from a Medium post to a feature story to an important email to a set of presentation notes— I write my way into it. Somewhere around paragraph two or three or four, I’ll usually find the path, the pacing, the way forward.

Then, I read over the draft, and I almost always delete that first 50 or 200 or 300 or 500 words. I consider that section the sacrificial intro.

As an editor, I often ask writers to cut their first few paragraphs, because they frequently seem, well…


A fashion maxim that works for the rest of life, too

Image: Kurt Brodbeck/EyeEm/Getty

It would probably surprise a lot of my current colleagues to learn, but I once worked “in fashion.”

I loved this part of my magazine job precisely because I’ve never been all that interested in how to dress. As a story editor, I could look at the subject unburdened by, well, a refined sense of style — a beneficial quality because my job was to take the fashion department’s ideas and present them in a way that made sense to any reader, regardless of their sartorial predilections.

When you come at fashion that way, you’re able to see it for…

Ross McCammon

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