Quick thoughts on aging, the workplace, and superpowers

I just sent more-or-less the following in an email to a friend and colleague:

On a personal note: I’m impressed that you’re letting yourself go gray (you look great, btw), and are bragging about having professional experience since 1992. For the past couple of years, I’ve internalized advice about distracting people from my age. I listed my experience on LinkedIn as “more than 15 years” and I was careful to avoid pop culture references that might date me. Then a month or two ago I decided I didn’t want to be that guy anymore. I even made a Phil Donahue reference at a company all-hands meeting.

It helps that I’ve gotten fit. If some 25-year-old ectomorph wants to make wisecracks about my age, I can trounce him. Or if he proves tougher than he looks, I can run away and not get all winded and stuff.

My college paper used manual typewriters, and on my first job out of college, I worked for a newspaper that used a minicomputer-based system with 8″ floppy disks and greenscreens. Now I’m a social media professional. That’s not a liability, it’s my superpower.

That’s the sound of the man working on the ebook chain gang

I spent a little time last night working on getting my short ebook, “The Biggest Man in Lilliput,” ready for the Smashwords bookstore.

“The Biggest Man in Lilliput” is a science fiction short story that I uploaded to Kindle and Nook just before Christmas. It’s my first published fiction, so I’m excited about it. (Buy it here for Kindle, Buy it here for Nook.)

The plan is, and always has been, to manually upload versions for the Amazon Kindle store and Barnes & Noble Nook store, then let Smashwords handle all the other formats and bookstores.

I want to do Kindle and Nook myself because I expect them to be the overwhelming majority of sales, and Smashwords takes a 15% cut, on top of the 30% that the bookstores themselves charge. That’s likely to be pennies on the rate that “Lilliput” is selling, but — who knows? — maybe “Lilliput” will be a runaway hit, and that 15% would become significant money.

I’m reminded of advice an old boss gave me: Plan for success.You can work so hard and do so much planning to get an enormously heavy boulder to the top of a steep hill that you might realize, when you get there, that you have no idea what to do next. And that you didn’t even expect to succeed. And what if the hilltop is higher and easier to reach than you anticipated? What will you do then?

Smashwords has an automated software engine for converting to ebook formats, with the delightful name, the “Meatgrinder.” The Meatgrinder is very fussy about the kinds of files it accepts, with a significant amount of mindless labor required to get there, changing fonts and changing to double-spacing and such. That’s fine, I’m not complaining. Yet.

There’s a style guide to get you through, but I find the style guide has two significant problems:

It’s written for an older version of Word on Windows XP. I’m using Word 2011 on Mac. So the illustrations don’t do me much good.

Also, It’s too verbose and explains to much. I found that helpful when I was reading the guide to familiarize myself with it. But now I just want to follow the guide mechanically.

What I’m looking for is a guide that’s written with illustrations for Word for Mac 2011 and as short as possible — no explanations, just do this, do that, do the other thing, as though an idiot was executing it. AND NO JOKES ABOUT HOW AN IDIOT IS EXECUTING IT!

I did about a half-hour of work on the manuscript last night, and I’ll keep working on it.

I’m simplifying

I’m taking a break from my writing group, the Penny Dreadfuls. Sunday’s meeting will be my last one for a few months at least. I’m burned out.

Also, I took a step to remove pressure on myself to keep this blog updated. As long as the blog was the home page of mitchwagner.com, I felt obliged to keep it updated a couple of times a week, which I have not been doing, which made me feel like I’d let myself down. So instead, I converted mitchwagner.com to a nameplate site. That’s a fancy way of saying I made the “About Mitch Wagner” page into the site home page, and moved the blog to a secondary page, at mitchwagner.com.

I now feel free to not update the blog for weeks at a time, because it’s not hanging out as the home page. I’ll update it when I have something significant to say. But I’m doing nearly all my personal blogging on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media nowadays.

I know that’s a controversial decision in some parts, to blog outside of one’s own personal domain. I understand the dangers of giving up control of my content like that. But, as I said, I’ll continue to cross-post significant posts like this one on mitchwagner.com. And for me it seems to be a choice between doing my personal blogging on social media, and not doing personal blogging at all.

Professionally of course I blog at The CMO Site, and do a decent volume of it too.

In another effort at simplification, I’ve been cutting back on checking social media. For a while I was limiting myself to two checks a day. I’ve been creeping back up in volume, but nowhere near checking at the rate I did before, when I often checked a dozen times a day.

Monday I felt relaxed, and yet worked hard and was very productive. It felt odd. I’m addicted to stress, and like anything you’re used to, it’s tough to change, even when change is for the better and you’re immediately rewarded.

What will I do with all that free time? I have ideas. One idea is I’d just like to relax. Sometimes I just like to sit and read, or watch TV for a few hours at a time. I hear people still do that.

Are you spending less time on social media this year?

A few weeks ago, I put myself on a social media diet. I decided I would check for updates twice a day, no more.

I still post updates throughout the day when it strikes me to do so, like this one. But I don’t check for replies, or check other people’s updates, at other than my scheduled times.

I’m amazed and thrilled by how much time that frees up for me. Although there is also a small voice that wonders how much time I’ve wasted over the past five years obsessively checking social media for updates. If you wondered why there’s still no cure for cancer, well, now you know.

This change wasn’t difficult at all. I didn’t miss it. I often find myself looking forward to checking social media, but in a good way, the way you look forward to doing something you enjoy.

My only big concern about the cutback on social media use is that I might miss out on a breaking news story. But I’ll figure something out for that, or live with the tradeoff.

When I say I’m checking social media twice a day, that’s a simplification. I started at twice a day, decided that was too infrequent, went up to four times a day, decided that was too much, and now I’m back to twice a day.

Also, I’ll check social media if I have a good reason to do it — but first I ask myself if it really is a good reason, and almost always the answer is no. But if I find out about a breaking news story of the magnitude of the bin Laden assassination, I’ll open up a Twitter or Google+ stream and leave it running in my second monitor.

How about you? Are you making any effort to cut back on social media?