Keeping Your Edge
Maddie Grant tossed out a bit of a weekend blog-grenade on Saturday with a meme targeted at Generation X titled "Have We Sold Out?" Her challenge to me and others she tagged:
So go on, tell me my fellow Xers – Have YOU sold out? Have YOU gone mainstream? Or are we still the guerilla army, changing the world (only without telling anyone)?
This question implies that if what we are doing is "mainstream," then we can no longer be changing the world. While I obviously understand that to a certain extent, I don't think it becomes clear unless you include the original challenge that Jeff Hurt gave to Maddie at the bar in Phoenix: that she had lost her edge.
Going mainstream is not the issue for me–losing your edge is. Keeping your edge means pushing people–yourself, the community, etc. I am not sure if this is the origin of the phrase "lose your edge," but I experienced it in skiing. In order to go the direction you want, you have to keep the edge of your skis in the snow (which requires significant effort). Gravity is very intent on you simply sliding down the hill, but you dig your edges in and go where you want. When you "lose your edge," you end up sliding in the wrong direction.
So whether or not you are in the mainstream, you need your edge. Sometimes being in the mainstream (being really popular or even successful in business) can make it hard for you to keep your edge. The gravity becomes powerful. It's easy to just slide down the mountain. On the other hand, sometimes you point your edges in the direction of gravity. Sometimes that's where you need to go.
So the question is, what is your "edge?" I think the answer to that is more personal than generational. It's a why are you here question. Or as Hugh MacLeod puts it, it's a who were you born to be question. What is the gift that the world needs delivered through you?
And as hard as it is to figure that stuff out, once you do, it's not like a clear path into the future is suddenly revealed to you. Even when you know why you're here, the "path" is only clear when you look backwards. Moving forward, it is still just one step at a time. In fact, you're probably very rarely on the path itself. You are constantly a little bit off, and you need to change your direction in order to stay on it. The founder of Aikido was once complimented by a student for being able to stay centered and balanced all the time, but the master rejected the compliment, pointing out that he was off center nearly all the time–but he was skilled in quickly getting back to center.
All of that is a long-winded preface to my answer to Maddie's question: have I lost my edge?
No. I know why I am here, and I am getting better at recognizing when gravity is starting to take me in a direction that is not good for me (or the world). I work hard at sharpening my edge. Heck, that's a lot of what this blog is about–continuously pushing the ideas and their application. Continuously fine tuning how I can best change the world, one client or one community at a time.
Would I have predicted that I would be sitting here "dealing with the minutiae of association management in the 'burbs" as Maddie pointed out? No way. Can the gravity of that (and believe me, there's a lot of gravity there) pull me off my line sometimes? Sure. And when it does, I dig my edges in and get back to my path. I love that I end up in places I wouldn't have predicted, because I know the strength of my edge will keep me where I'm going. In fact, I find that if I try to hard to predict where I'm supposed to be, I end up much farther off the path.
But I will also point out that "my" edge is not exclusively an individual thing. Perhaps I am going counter to my independent and individualistic Xer heritage, but I have found that my edge cannot be maintained by me alone. It's a bit of a paradox, because it is hugely personal. It's MY gift, and MY edge. It's unique. But it is meaningless without the world to which I apply it. And the wisdom of when to dig in my edge to stay on my path rarely comes as a lightning bolt of individual insight. It comes from my community. It comes from my friends.
Who is your "Jeff Hurt" (or for me, Maddie Grant) who will get in your face (in a loving way) to ask you if you've lost your edge? To whom do you listen for data about when to apply your edge, or if it is working? With whom do you share your edge? How else would they know to help shape it? Getting back to mainstream, how mainstream is your community? That will impact what kind of feedback you get about your edge. (That, by the way, is one of the more personal reasons to care about the issue of diversity.)
I am happy to report I have not lost my edge. I am well aware that the application of my edge is not being done at "Aikido Master" level yet, and I'm okay with that. I continue to practice and develop my skill. I am deeply grateful to my friends and my communities who help me along the way. Maybe, as an Xer, I'll never get any credit for all this. Or maybe I'll end up in the mainstream. Either way I am keeping my edge.