🌎 How to get sh*t done

Quinn Emmett
February 24, 2023
Audio version

🌎 How to get sh*t done

Quinn Emmett
February 24, 2023
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“We must all wear out or rust out, every one of us. My choice is to wear out.”
— Teddy Roosevelt, chatbot

Welcome back, Shit Givers.

I hope you’re safely enjoying this week’s bizarre weather, wherever you are. I’m off for a couple days to hang with a buddy, play some Mario Kart, and generally eat peanut butter out of the jar for three meals a day.

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Pulled in a million directions? Wondering what the hell you do with your days? Find your north stars (and become devastatingly effective) with one simple question.


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Hammer and nails

Do and Be Better…Better

Originally published July 20, 2020, updated February 2023

Who do you want to be? And more importantly, why?

Exactly one thousand years ago in 2008, a beloved cousin was diagnosed with cancer, and after a tough conversation with myself where I reminded myself I had no practical or even really discernible skills that could assist with her treatment, but still desperate to find a way to “help” — I signed up for a triathlon.

Why? Well, I was just three years out of being a two-sport college athlete, and I’d recently discovered Team in Training, the fundraising arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

So I trained, and 

I ran/biked/swam/tore a hamstring, and I raised over $20,000 for cancer research and treatment from a wide swath of friends and family. It was an incredible experience. I was/am still a moron, but I felt like I was doing…something. It was addicting.

Many close friends gave immediately upon hearing about my mission and the organization I was raising funds for. But quite a lot of the money came from friends of friends, and even from several degrees further. 

How? Facebook (I know).

Way back in 2008, when triceratops were still around, using Facebook to get the word out about a cause was fairly novel — and I was struck by how incredibly effective it was. Of course, it’s no longer novel today, in 2023, when millions of strangers on GoFundMe are covering half our nation’s medical and bail bills.

That ubiquity is a double-edged sword: it’s never been easier to donate time, money, and other resources on the web, but it can be daunting — if not paralyzing — to sort through the countless worthy causes: donate to these presidential candidates, and these Senate races, and these House races.

Oh, but, don’t forget down-ballot races, like we did for the last 10 years, so here’s another twenty make or break races between people you’ve never heard of but who can either guarantee or take away bodily autonomy, you’re welcome.

And then of course there are all of the worthy and reputable non-profits and mutual-aid across health, politics, science, food, water, civil rights, and more.

 Thankfully, there’s tools to help corral all of those, to make it easier to strategize and then give.

But it’s still easy — and completely understandable — to feel pulled in a million directions at once.

Here’s one simple solution. Take a big step back and ask, “Why?”

Consider the “hammer and nail” story/proverb/myth/whatever, which I’ll thoroughly mangle here for your benefit:

You go to a hardware store, because you need a nail. But “need” is the wrong word.

You want a nail.

But you don’t really want a nail, you want to be able to hang something on your wall. But you don’t really want to hang something, you want to hang art.

But you don’t really want to hang art, you want to hang the art of an up-and-coming Black artist. But you don’t really want to hang the art of an up-and-coming Black artist, you want to show yourself, and anyone who comes into your home, that you appreciate this art, and support young, Black artists.

Which is great.

But you don’t really want to just show them that you’re that person, you want to actually be that person. 

And buying a nail to hang this frame of artwork on your wall is the very first step to being that person.

Or you think it should be. Or someone told you it should be. It seems logical, easy, a toe in the water.

But step back a little bit further...and now even further...ok, stop:

Why do you want to be that person?

The why — at 30,000 feet — should always drive the how. In your life, your parenting, your work — everything.

This isn’t some new idea, btw. I’m certainly not the first to say it/support it/attempt to live it. But it applies to our world more than ever, and to you, our action-oriented readers.

So, as you stand there in the hardware store aisle, trying to figure out which nail will support your progressive, sexy new Framebridge piece without ripping out a chunk of your drywall five minutes later, start by asking yourself this: 

Have you always wanted to be the person that does these things? That holds these values? Or is there something or someone new in your life, or in the world, that’s encouraged you to become that person? To take the first step?

And further back — is this the right first step? Maybe!

For example, if you really want to support young Black artists, what’s the rest of your strategy to encourage more support for this artist, and for other young Black artists? 

Are there galleries you can visit, to which you can bring friends? Can you feature their art on your Instagram? Should you reach out to the artist to have a conversation about their intentions, and perspective? Are they open to that? Why or why not?

Can you sponsor an art installation at the local library? Can your company chip in? Are there non-profits you can contribute to that provide stipends for Black artists in your area? Is your local government interested or involved in supporting Black artists?

If not, do you need new voices in your local government, to draft legislation that will support the artists that live in your town now? Who might be best suited for that office?

And further, would having those new elected officials in place, writing progressive legislation that supports diverse art and makes the cost of living more affordable, knowing art doesn’t exactly always pay the rent — might all of that attract more artists to come and work and live in your town? How will those moves help put your town on the map, per se? 

Coming at a problem or opportunity from several, concerted directions at once can often be more effective — so what might be the limited portfolio of strategies you are best suited to simultaneously engage in, for this specific opportunity?

What makes you— your personality, your energy, your income, your time, your skills — most effective here? How can you personally affect the outcome?

Will you do all of this quietly, or do you seek approval from your spouse, or your children, or the artists themselves? Is there a middle ground that appeals to your ego, and is still effective?

What are the second order consequences of choosing to invest your time, money, or energy in this?

We can only do so much with the time we are given.

 Ask honest questions about yourself, and your intentions, and the life you want to live. For yourself, and others.

Build your whys. 

If you subscribe to this newsletter, you already know you care about the planet, about health, about others, and equity, and justice. You enjoy taking action — to fight the bad stuff, and bring up the good stuff.

You can drill that down a little further into caring about environmental justice, about clean water and air and public health, about healthy, affordable food, groundbreaking clean jobs, helping frontline communities adapt, about the zebrafish that drive pediatric cancer research.

Make your current and future day-to-day actions answerable to your three to four core values. 

Look at today’s (probably endless) to-do list and, like my children do, ask “Why?” for each action.

And then ask it again, and again, and again, going from ground-level, to 5000 feet, to 10,000 feet, to 30,000 and blue sky, until you’ve arrived at one of your core values...or you haven’t, in which case you might want to ask yourself if you should be spending your valuable time on something that doesn’t fit those core values.

Be relentless about this last part and you will live a purposeful, devastatingly effective life.

Find your whys that let you successfully answer the who— who do I want to be? — and then work your way down through the hows, all the way down to the practicalities of buying that nail. 

Because it turns out, you might need two. And that’s just the start.


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