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Mark Llobrera

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Mandy Brown: “A unified theory of fucks”

Mandy Brown, writing about time, and care, and when—and more importantly, where—to give a fuck:

Why love your work? It won’t, of course, love you back. It can’t. Work isn’t a thing that can love. It isn’t alive, it isn’t and won’t ever be living. And my answer is: don’t. Don’t give a fuck about your work. Give all your fucks to the living. Give a fuck about the people you work with, and the people who receive your work—the people who use the tools and products and systems or, more often than not, are used by them.

Mandy’s essay made me remember a conversation I had with a former colleague—we were talking about projects and teamwork, and I said something about how these days I mostly saw projects as a vehicle for investing in people’s growth. (I mostly meant teammates, but I’ll include clients there too.) My teammate seemed a little dubious, and said they weren’t sure they agreed but didn’t elaborate further. I got the feeling that they felt like the work should come first—that making something intrinsically cool was the goal.

And I understand where they were coming from, because I too spent a lot of my career investing time, and burning out, thinking that the abstract notion of work had to come first.

What do you do when you’ve hit the end of the line, though? I loved Mandy’s recognition of community as a path to renewable fucks:

But if you give a fuck about the living, about all your living kin in all the kingdoms, they will give a fuck right back. Maybe not every one of them; maybe not every time. Some people’s bags have been empty for a long while, and they may feel the need to ration whatever they have; some people have been taught that to give a fuck is to lose something, not realizing that to withhold is what it means to lose. But I believe—I know from having given and received, from having lost and been renewed—that enough of them will come back that you can keep on giving, for a while at least, for as long as any of us has time to give.

That’s the weird thing about burnout, right? It’s not so much about being tired, so much as having spent your energy on things that do not give back. But the weird thing that sometimes happens is if you invest in other people—if you change the order and priority of the same variables—the work can also thrive as a result.