Jeremy Côté

Bits, ink, particles, and words.


Austin Kleon writes about the “vampire test”: avoid people who suck your creative energy and leave you with nothing. We should often steer clear of these people, he says, or else we risk not having enough in the tank for our own work.

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Teleport With Intention

I’m on the phone with my grandfather, but I’m also in a battle against my own mind. My laptop screen is on my left and my smartphone is on my right, both appealing to check. I can feel my resolve crumbling. My fingers drum on the desk, and I have to physically turn away from the screens in front of me.

“Say that again, Grandpa?” I ask, having missed the last bit of the conversation.

This happens more often than I’d like to admit. Instead of giving him my full attention for twenty minutes, I fracture my focus: Part of it is on our conversation, while another part is on a screen.

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When you’re on a journey alone, everything is up to you. While this can give you great flexibility, it also comes with its own challenges. If you feel tired, you need to find the internal will to keep going. If you feel blocked, you need to figure out what to do next. If you feel unsure about which direction to go, you have nobody to consult.

Cohorts completely change the situation. Instead of having to only rely on your internal motivation, you gain energy and inspiration from your peers. Instead of languishing for days or weeks when you’re stuck, you can bounce ideas off your teammates. Instead of being stuck by analysis paralysis, those in your cohort can help you gain clarity.

Cohorts also just make work a lot more fun. Knowing that you have others to support you, discuss with you, and celebrate with you makes the journey so much more pleasant. I’ve had the privilege of being part of a few cohorts (such as PSI and the Carbon Almanac), and I can attest that it feels like you’re part of something special and significant.

The tricky part is finding a cohort. If you’re lucky enough to receive an invitation to one, seriously consider accepting it. But barring that, you can start one. The work then is in infusing it with the right energy and people that it becomes self-sustaining. This does take a lot of upfront work on your part, but if you find the right people, it will be a special group.

If you’re like I was and prefer being a lone wolf, consider joining a cohort. Yes, it requires investing time and energy into something which isn’t directly your work, but I’d wager that you will find the connection and community to be worth the trade. Momentum is so important in creative work of all kinds, and being part of a cohort provides exactly that.

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Under the Hood

It’s very, very easy for me to come up with narratives about other people. Some are based on evidence, some are based on fleeting impressions, and some (in my lesser moments) are based on conversations several degrees removed from the person in question. But if I think about it, I expect only a tiny fraction are true.

Each person has a complete internal story that I cannot see. This internal story affects the person’s actions and thoughts, but it’s not bijective: From an action, I cannot definitively go backwards to their internal state.

As I take on more roles that involve working with people, I try to remind myself of this truth. Just because a person looks bored doesn’t mean they are. Just because a person shows no signs of distress doesn’t imply anything about their internal state. Just because they are smiling, telling jokes, and bringing energy to an interaction doesn’t mean they are fine. Just because they don’t appear expressive doesn’t imply they lack a rich state of internal emotions.

When I coach or teach, I don’t get the luxury of knowing a person’s internal state. So I try to look for clues, while always remembering that I only see a sliver of a person each time I interact with them. I don’t get the whole story, and it’s not for me to fill in the blanks with assumptions that may not apply.

There’s always more going under the hood than I realize. Hypothesizing can be harmless in the best case but negative in the worse. So instead, I try to simply acknowledge that my job is to meet others where they are, not where I think they are. It’s a good less to remember.

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