Weighing Maybes

I’m in the process of figuring out “formats” for some experimentation I’m doing in the video world.

In publishing or production, your format is a bit like a template you use for whatever it is you’re making.

So the format for my One Sentence News email is three news items, each briefly summarized and contextualized, followed by some kind of image and a number (each also concisely explained), with a “trust click” link to something interesting at the bottom. The podcast format for OSN is an audio version of just those topmost three news items.

Formats are great because they help you organize your thoughts and ship something consistent and (hopefully) valuable to your audience, but they can also be limiting.

I regularly mess around with the formats on my newer projects (I’m doing that with my Aspiring Generalist and Climate Happenings projects right now, recalibrating toward essays and focusing less on curation for the next few weeks, to see how I feel about it) and somewhat less-frequently tweak my more entrenched projects as well.

Formats can also be limiting because you don’t necessarily know what will work for any given collection of thoughts or information ahead of time, or what you’re missing out on (not doing) by building what amounts to a nice box for your output.

So when you cobble together your initial format, it’s often predicated on guesses and hope, and those early decisions can go on to shape your work for a long time into the future.

I’m in the process of figuring out what kinds of video content might be useful/valuable (for viewers) and fun/interesting (for me), and though I’ve got a lot of theories, I don’t have a great sense of how it should all fit together, where it should go, or how snappy my turnaround should be (which in turn informs my publishing cadence: how often new videos go live on various platforms).

I’m keen to investigate this medium in part because it would be a challenge, and in part because the work I’m doing currently—though it still requires I learn a lot and push myself—is a familiar sort of struggle.

And over time, we tend to get pretty good at coping with familiar struggles: compartmentalizing, optimizing, discovering efficiencies and cheat codes, and generally working these valuable (but less and less psychologically cumbersome) efforts into the background of our routines.

These efforts become the default, then, and that in turn tweaks our expectations so that we no longer experience previously exciting and worrying struggles—they’re alchemized into work-a-day grinds.

I’m aware as I write this that some people might be thinking, “Colin, I think you’re spending a lot of time and energy attempting to counteract a good and positive thing. You’re talking about healthily incorporating frictions into one’s expectations and sense of normalcy as if it’s a barrier to be overcome, rather than a rational means of reducing stress and strain while still doing valuable work.”

This is a fair criticism, and I think elbowing (even valuable) stressors and strains into a more manageable and predictable arrangement can reduce the prickliness associated with such work, while also allowing us to settle into a sort of marathon stance: establishing and maintaining an endurable rhythm.

I’ve personally found, though, that I require a taste of some kind of frontier—something to be confounded by—if I want to feel fulfilled while maintaining an ambitious-but-sustainable pace.

Sometimes an adjustment to my lifestyle serves this role (traveling, adjusting my workout routine, investigating some new hobby or other sort of experimentation) but sometimes I like to goose my stable, steady work formula to see what happens; and this sometimes leads to nothing, but it periodically plants a seed that grows into a root system that supports my next steps.

Either way, though, I find that giving myself permission to upset my comfortable norms by introducing, exploring, and weighing these sorts of maybes helps me adjust my formula over time, question ossified habits and formats, and splice-in new and interesting ideas, mediums, and approaches.

If you found value in this essay, consider buying me a coffee :)

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