Seth Godin's new book, Linchpin, has arrived. I read it on the farmer's sofa.
The farmer is going through a midlife crisis. It's not really a midlife crisis, though. As an expert on the process of coming of age in one's twenties, I'd have to say that the farmer is actually going through a quarterlife crisis.
Typically, one's twenties, a period now called emerging adulthood, looks something like this:
Learning to separate from parents.
Figuring out where one fits in the world of work.
Getting ready to be married and have kids.
The farmer is doing those things in compressed time: the two years since I have known him. Many people think it was totally crazy that he sent an email to me, out of the blue. But in hindsight it's clear that he knew he needed something to kick-start his quarterlife crisis. And when you are already forty and have not had one, you need something as cataclysmic as a girl from New York coming to the farm and shaking things up.
The farmer is on the sofa. I had to convince him to let me come here because there is a snowstorm coming. The snow is a big deal if you have a thousand animals out in freezing weather and can't get food to them. I am not going to go into all the details of the stresses of winter farming. Mostly because I don't know them. But I do know that every time there is a lot of snow, something freezes and it always seems to be life threatening: Like water for the pigs.
As a reward to the farmer for trying to cope with the snow and me at the same time, I brought him a snowstorm's supply of lox and bagels. (Note: You can't say he's not a fast learner. He told me the other day he saw someone eating lox and bagels like a sandwich instead of on two bagels side-by-side and he knew it was not the right way to eat it.)
And I brought pie. The farmer used to be haughty about food. Haughty, like, wondering why everyone can't eat grass-fed beef and homegrown vegetables at every meal and have 10% body fat and be able to leap fences one after another. Now that he has to manage reading on the sofa with me at the same time as thinking about the cows trudging through snow to get to the silage (I don't even know what silage really means, but I know I'm using it correctly), there is a higher stress level in his life. Now he has to think about if he left enough time between fixing fences and eating dinner to play Sorry! with the kids (A digressive tip: Cheat so that the game goes faster. The farmer never cheats. Which creates even more stress, from boredom.)
So I bring him pie, and I love eating pie because, as the mother of two boys who is almost always on the edge of an anxiety breakdown, I eat lots of carbs. I used to feel bad but then the farmer, who always seems to come across new research about the age-old problem of how to eat less pie, found this book, How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. It's a great book, and I don't think Lehrer would mind me calling him an almost-Malcolm Gladwell. Lehrer can put all the research together in fun ways, but he can't synthesize it into a fascinating, overarching thesis like Gladwell often does.
So the farmer is reading Lehrer’s book, and he tells me about a study where researchers gave people either long or short numbers to remember, and then they sent the person down the hall and gave them a choice of a piece of fruit or chocolate cake. The people who had the long, difficult numbers to remember picked the cake at a much higher rate.
So that's where we are, at the farm, on the sofa. I am asking the farmer to do long numbers. It's not just that he has to go through a quarterlife crisis in order to get married. But he also has to accept that he used to have the life of someone asked to remember only short numbers: the farm is stable, steady, paid for, and he's been doing it so long he could do it in his sleep. So with no stress, he was always able to pick fruit instead of cake.
Now, with me and the kids in the mix, he has to do things like come home from thawing the pig water to hear me tell him that the flies in the house are not normal, even for a farm, and there is something going on in the walls and I can't live in a house that is fly-infested.
Me bringing the pie is like saying, you can't get out of fixing the flies, but at least you can have your favorite carbohydrate delivery system to make up for the stress I'm causing you.
He is still not convinced, by the way. Forget that I already told the world that we're getting married. We are not. Who knows what we're doing–I also told the world that we are broken up. We are not that either. The only thing we are definitely doing is reading Linchpin on the sofa on the farm in the quietest time of year.
He hears me turn a page and asks me to tell him what I'm learning. Here's what I'm learning: If you are a really hard worker and you have perseverance and people are completely charmed by you, then you are indispensible in your work. I am that. I would not say I'm completely charming, but I am charming enough so that I do not get fired when I am difficult.
The farmer is not indispensible. I am not allowed to write about why this is. But he has agreed that I can write that he is clearly not a linchpin on the farm, the way it is set up now.
So we talk about how Seth Godin says that people should strive to be linchpins. And Seth spends 300 pages telling us what it means to be a Linchpin and why it's important. The farmer's head is on one end of the sofa and my head is on the other, and our legs are intertwined in the middle, and I have to shift my knee when I want to see if the farmer is insulted when I suggest that I'm a Linchpin and he's not.
He is not insulted. We agree that if he would commit to being married, then he'd be a Linchpin to me and my sons. But he is still deciding.
And here comes my review of Seth's book: He is right. Of course. Seth is always right. The problem with all of Seth's books is that he sets the bar so high with every one of them. For example, The Dip is probably the book that I depended on most to get me through the point when my company, Brazen Careerist, ran out of money. I thought I was going to die. And chapters in The Dip would remind me that if we’d keep going, we'd get through it.
So Seth was right, but I am not sure I could get through it again. It was scary. It was gut wrenching, and it was terrible for my kids. Not very many people can get through a dip, for real.
The same is true with Seth’s book, Tribes. It's a great life goal—to have big ideas that people want to follow, and you are a leader by giving people strength in numbers to instigate change through ideas. That's great, if you have the ideas and you can get a following. As a blogger who is asked all the time about how to get more followers, I have this advice to give you: Cancel your whole life if you want to attract a tribe, because it is absolutely a full-time job, and you have to give your whole heart and soul to that tribe in order to receive, in return, a following.
So that's two things that Seth's right about that are extremely hard to get yourself to decide to actually do. I think Linchpin is another. It's totally obvious to me (and the farmer) that it's more important for him to have a job where he is the Linchpin—keeping a family together—than it is for him to just keep coasting along in the job he has. Which means he has to figure out what he likes in his current situation and what he wants to change.
But change is hard. And usually small change (remembering a longer number sequence) begets bigger change (eating chocolate cake even if you don't usually do that) so that you always get scared that you don' t know when change will stop.
The farmer says, “Let's go to bed.” I used to think he goes to bed really early because he's a farmer. But I've seen him stay up late for a movie, and he's just fine. So really, “Let's go to bed,” means, “If I have to hear you talk about complicated stuff for one more minute I'm going to need another piece of pie.”
Of all his books, I am hoping that this is the one where all Seth's readers will, en masse, finally decide they must rise to the standard that Seth's preaching. Of course, I hope at least the farmer will read the book and decide he must be a Linchpin and then, I move to the farm with my kids.
So when he gets off the sofa, I leave Linchpin there in the center, so he can't miss it, but upside down, so he doesn't think I'm preaching.