Just the title of this book conjures up a lot of imagery. I mean, Show Your Work? It sounds like math class. I hated math class.
Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work is not Math class.
But it is, a veritable school of how to get ahead in the 21st century. I wish I had read this book in high school. Or even in college. It is obvious to me that the skills outlined in this book, namely the ability to craft your own life events into a compelling narrative, are sacred in today’s fast paced job market. Or even in any market. Seriously. I’m very much under the opinion that ‘showing your work’ can be incorporated into most every aspect of your life.
Most of us are already ‘showing our work’ in the realm of our social activities. We post pictures of our Halloween costumes or our wine festival attendance. Some are spending the time to place their photos or tweets with a bit of a narrative behind them. Hell, Snapchat has ‘Stories’ which essentially prompts us to add narrative to our posts without really thinking about it (or sometimes thinking about it way too much!)
We’re already getting the word out about our social life, the twist in Kleon’s work is doing the same thing for your job, or your art, or your art which you’d like to be a job. In my mind, showing your work is important for two reasons: A) It builds and expertise in your field. I feel like I’m always talking about personal branding. This is how you do it. B) It invites people with similar interests to discuss, participate (collaborate) and even improve your ideas.
And it appears to be working. Just one example I found is Erik Reagan. He works for a company called Focus Lab. He began building skills in Content Management System called ExpressionEngine. As he was doing so, he talked about it. Figured some things out on his own, but learned a lot from others. Eventually, he was the “ExpressionEngine guy” and people were coming to him and asking him to work. And they were willing to pay for that work as well. He’s making millions now. You can read the full story here.
All kinds of people are already doing this. Bloggers, musicians, Cosplayers. Somebody in your field is showing their work. And it’s super easy to do the same thing. Start a newsletter, write a blog, be creative and then get the word out.
Finally, main point aside, another reason Kleon’s book is good is because of the wealth of wisdom he draws on. Pretty much every assertion he makes is backed up by a quote from somebody famous and successful. He pulled this one from John Coltrane which I love:
“I have to feel that I’m after something. If I make money, fine. But I’d rather be striving. It’s the striving, man, it’s that I want.” -John Coltrane.
The book is packed with quotes like that. Also, it’s clear that Kleon has done his research on telling stories. The writer part of me really enjoyed the diagrams and graphs depicting some basic (and a few not so basic) story arcs. Finally, as with each of his books, he gives a reading list at the end so you can see where he got all these ideas from. I’ll be plugging through that list for sure.