Clarity First Newsletter,
January 14, 2022

“The function of freedom is to free someone else.” – Toni Morrison

Love & Work

A notebook about how we work, learn, love and live.

Toni Morrison’s observation about freedom reminds me of something I’ve learned: our job is to discover our own strengths, and to share them generously. Then we need to help others to do the same.

Happy Friday.


Personal Development

“Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster…”

“This strange moment in history, when time feels so unmoored, might in fact provide the ideal opportunity to reconsider our relationship with it. Older thinkers have faced these challenges before us, and when their wisdom is applied to the present day, certain truths grow more clearly apparent. Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster. Nobody in the history of humanity has ever achieved “work-life balance,” whatever that might be, and you certainly won’t get there by copying the “six things successful people do before 7:00 a.m.” The day will never arrive when you finally have everything under control — when the flood of emails has been contained; when your to-do lists have stopped getting longer; when you’re meeting all your obligations at work and in your home life; when nobody’s angry with you for missing a deadline or dropping the ball; and when the fully optimized person you’ve become can turn, at long last, to the things life is really supposed to be about.” – Oliver Burkeman

This is a great essay by Maria Popova in which she riffs and builds on Burkeman’s primary theme.

Book Review: Escaping the Trap of Efficiency: The Counterintuitive Antidote to the Time-Anxiety That Haunts and Hampers Our Search for Meaning

Personal Development

Follow the Daoist way – reclaim your life and happiness by letting go of the need to produce, strive or serve a purpose.

“We don’t always need to be useful; it’s good to simply enjoy yourself. In our society, as in Zhuangzi’s, (the ancient Daoist masterpiece attributed to Zhuang Zhou, c369-286 BCE) usefulness is often presented as the measuring rod, the bottom line against which we should gauge all policies and life decisions. Zhuangzi shows that this mindset traps us in a calculus in which we end up seeing ourselves and people around us as a means to an end. This prevents us from enjoying our own lives, and the things around us, on their own terms.”  – Helen De Cruz & Pauline Lee

Article: How to be Useless

Circular Economy

How to turn fashion waste into healthy ecosystems

“Beauty, function and non-toxic decomposition coexist in this simple flax flower. We challenge the fashion and textile industries to match that performance.”

“We are breaking the law.

“Welcome to planet Earth. During your stay, please note that the laws of physics apply here, and all things eventually scatter. The laws have worked for millions of years and helped grow the lush place you see today. They still work—but now we humans disperse stuff unusable to any other living creature. Complex systems follow simple rules. We can scale systems change in fashion if we rebuild in a way that follows these laws.

“The Biomimicry Institute is leading a two-year, multi-million dollar project to demonstrate scalable new pathways for ~92 million tonnes of fashion waste discarded annually by embracing true decomposition—the way leaves break down into soil—that builds healthy ecosystems.”

Webpage: This Initiative Includes Several Pathways That Help Fashion Industries Embrace Decomposition


Transitioning businesses to employee ownership has the potential to significantly reduce the overall wealth gap as well as the racial equity gap.

“For many years now, conventional solutions to income and wealth inequality—minimum wage, unions, progressive taxation, or guaranteed income—have failed to gain enough momentum to reverse the trend of greater and greater accumulation among the already well-off. What if we added a new approach, focusing on a primary source of wealth, business ownership, and how to transfer that wealth directly to the workers struggling today? A promising vanguard of institutional investors are doing just that, using their resources to support business transitions to employee ownership. If this nascent movement were to grow, it has the potential to significantly reduce the wealth gap overall as well as the racial equity gap.” –  Marjorie Kelly & Karen Kahn

Article: The Case for Investing in Employee Ownership


Improvisation is the essence of environmental learning, sparking the imagination, stimulating creativity, and helping us reinvigorate how we think about our residency on Earth.

“John Ayto’s ‘Dictionary of Word Origins’ suggests that ‘etymologically, if you improvise something, it is because it has not been provided for in advance.’ The word improvisation emerges from the French improviser, descended from the Italian extempore, and then further descended from the Latin improvisus, meaning ‘unforeseen.’ Amazingly, Ayto reports that the first recorded use of the verb in English is in a Benjamin Disraeli novel from 1826.

“In terms of environmental learning, I think of improvisation as the ability to spontaneously respond to dynamic changes in the environment. When observing nature, this could mean looking at the ever-changing patterns, such as clouds floating across the sky, leaves rustling in the wind, water flowing down a stream, ocean waves crashing against the shore, migrating birds moving through the trees — biosphere phenomena that emerge from structural relationships, but are always different, an infinite variety of possibilities and pathways, changing according to the prevailing conditions. This is the essence of environmental change. I am less patient with the painstaking but equally important observational skills of identification and order. Yet this is a crucial aspect of environmental learning, and without it we would be floating in a world of dynamic change with no ballast or anchor. Environmental learning is a balance, then, between structure and improvisation.” – Mitchell Thomashow

Book Excerpt: An Environmentalist’s Lessons for an Improvisational Life

Learning, Adaptation

In order to grow food and make wine, 200 years ago people built an elaborate drywall complex to keep the elements from washing away what was left of precious soil.

“Also known as Bavljenac, the tiny island located in the Šibenik archipelago belongs to the Republic of Croatia. The fascinating part is how this small island has earned the moniker “fingerprint island.” Hardly spanning half a square mile, the entire landmass is covered by a series of dry-stone walls that give it the shape of a human fingerprint. Real Croatia explains the reason behind this exciting aspect, ‘In order to grow food and make wine, local people built elaborate drywall complex to keep the elements from washing away what was left of precious soil. On a mere 14 acres, there are almost 24 kilometers of drywall built by hand 200 years ago.” –  Neha Tandon Sharma

Article: This Enigmatic Walled Island Off the Coast of Croatia Looks Like a Giant Fingerprint in the Sea and it is Attracting Tourists Like Never Before.

Graphic Design, Just for Fun

Talking Heads lyrics turned into retro ad

I’m a longtime fan of Talking Heads, and Naive Melody is one my favorite Heads’ songs. So designer Todd Alcott had me at hello with this art print that he’s selling on Etsy. He’s got one that recycles the lyrics for Take Me To the River in the style of a mid-century outdoor magazine, too, and one that makes Burning Down the House into a horror pulp novel cover. They’re all fun.

Art Print: Talking Heads “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” 1950s Housing Development Advertisement Mashup


Article: This Reddit Thread About The Unspoken Rules Of Social Etiquette Will Make You Feel Like ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Is A Documentary

Article: Four Tips on Leading Distributed (or Semi-Distributed) Teams


esperanza spalding performs at the 2011 Montreux Jazz festival. Photo Illustration: A163/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images and Angela Hsieh/NPR

NPR has called esperanza spalding “the 21st century’s jazz genius”. In 2011 she won the GRAMMY for Best New Artist, an award that most assumed would be won by Justin Bieber. She graduated from the Berklee College of Music in just three years, and when she was 20 she served as the youngest instructor in the school’s history. Since 2017 she has been a professor of the Practice of Music at Harvard University. In 2020 her seventh studio album, 12 Little Spells, won the GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Article: esperanza spalding Is The 21st Century’s Jazz Genius

Last year she released, Songwrights Apothecary Lab, on Concord, her eighth studio album. The album is the first release of songs developed in the lab of the same name.

Songwrights Apothecary Lab (a.k.a. S.A.L.) seeks to respectfully dip into the healing seas of music/musicianship/song, and distill a few grains of piquancy which carry the life-renewing flavor of the unfathomable ocean of human resiliency, then work those grains into new musical formwelas, to enhance the healing flavors and intentions innate in all works of devoted creatorship.

“In this ongoing lab, we experiment with sprinkling the many distillations of S.A.L. into our song wrighting, and invite you to taste/hear these enhanced essences and flavors.

“(S.A.L. is also a lab esperanza curates at Harvard.) 

“Half songwrighting workshop, and half guided-research practice, the Songwrights’ Apothecary Lab (S.A.L.), seeks to develop a structure for the collaborative development of new compositions designed to offer enhanced salutary benefit to listeners.”

Last week she brought a band and singers to the Tiny Desk studios to perform four of the “formwelas” that she and her cohorts have developed in the lab. Wow. Have I mentioned before how smart and inspiring humans can be?

Article/Video: esperanza spalding: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert


Image of the Week

The image of the week is Stiftsbibliothek Sankt Gallen, in St. Gallen, Switzerland Copyright by Massimo Listri. It’s from a new book by TASCHEN titled The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries.

“Libraries have long been more than simple repositories of knowledge. They are living centers of intellectual exchange, research, teaching and learning whose doors are firmly open to the world at large. They are places of education and of cultural and scientific transfer within their domain and at the same time open portals to global information. Libraries stand for communication with the past, present and future. Furthermore, libraries were and remain statements of prestige as well as aesthetic and architectural sophistication. These houses of knowledge and its appropriation have inspired secular and spiritual authorities since the Early Modern Era to devote particular attention to their design and décor—as abundantly witnessed by these impressive photographs.”

Article: A Glimpse Inside the World’s Most Beautiful Libraries


What’s Love & Work?

Love & Work is the weekly newsletter by me, Mitch Anthony. I help people use their brand – their purpose, values, and stories – as a pedagogy and toolbox for transformation. For five years, 360 issues, I called this letter Clarity First. But as of this anniversary – August 20, 20121 –  I renamed this labor of love as Love & Work. It will still be a “notebook about how we work, learn, love and live”, but the new name, inspired by a statement by Freud, reflects this mission more accurately. Learn more.

If you get value from Love & Work, please pass it on.

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