Monthly Archives: May 2014

The thing about dots.

When he died, lots of quotes, stories and links started flying around about Steve Jobs. People clung to them as if they were the last vestige of innovation as we knew it. I won’t lie–I got a little caught up in it. I get that uber-fans are evangelical about the brand, but I thought the flowers and wreaths piling up outside my local Apple store was a bit much.

One thing that had a deep and lasting–yes, I’d say life-changing–effect on me, was linking through to Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford in June of 2005. If you missed it (were you under a rock?), it’s worth watching it on YouTube or reading through the transcript. The bit that struck a chord with me was this:

“Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

I couldn’t stop (and haven’t stopped) thinking about it. You see, I’m a bona fide generalist. This can be defined as a person who has knowledge, aptitude, or skill in a variety of areas–the dictionary specifically contrasts it with a specialist. Being a generalist can be a bit disorienting and scary. If you’re a specialist and looking for a job, it’s easy to narrow down the category you need to look in. If you’re a generalist looking for a job, it’s difficult to find the right category to look in, let alone find the right job. I’ve been face to face with recruiters who tell me I seem ‘perfect’ for a job, only to then tell me my CV is not specific enough and the ‘client won’t go for it’. (Don’t get me started on recruiters…) Worryingly, it seemed that being competent at too many things was a hindrance rather than a help. Ought I have spent more time concentrating on one thing so I could become a specialist?

Steve Jobs’ advice on collecting dots was like a salve to my anxious mind. All of a sudden, I had a way to view the ‘dots’ I had been collecting as beneficial rather than limiting. It became plausible to believe that at some point in the future they’d form some sensical, coherent picture. That I hadn’t been wasting my time familiarising myself with a number of different industries and professions. That there was hope for me yet!

But sometimes my dots can be troublesome little beasties. Don’t make the same mistake I did this week when I looked at two dots up close, linked them together, and thought I had a picture. What I had, metaphorically speaking, was a line. I became fixated on the line and forgot to take the other dots into account. When the line between the dots disintegrated, I became disoriented and agitated. These dots correlate perfectly. Don’t they? But why has the line disappeared? But then I zoomed out again and remembered the other dots. Focus on the big picture.

The thing about dots is that they only make sense from a distance, as a collection. I’m still waiting to join all my dots and for the complete picture to come in to view. In fact, I think I may still be collecting dots. From now on I’ll try to remember to zoom out, not in.


AO-rated Chapel Street Bazaar.

Photo from

Melbournians will be familiar with Chapel Street Bazaar–it’s an institution. It’s a rabbit warren of a shop, filled to the brim with retro gems and glorious vintageness. I’ve happily whiled away many an hour searching for goodness-knows-what and come out with some completely unexpected, left-of-centre purchase (vintage thimbles, anyone?).

It had been a while since I had explored its delights. I was meeting up with my sister for breakfast one recent sunny morning and we ducked in for a wander. It’s a difficult place to visit quickly, but we didn’t have much time so we did a brisk walk around the whole place rather than try to be thorough in one of the sections. We walked past gorgeous retro lamps, delicate bits of lace, well-worn Star Wars toys, board games stacked up high, smokers paraphernalia and no end of random bits and bobs. It was a sumptuous visual smorgasbord.

In a couple of the glass cases, one particular type of artefact caught my eye–a few sets of vintage nudie, or “booby”, playing cards, probably from about the 1950s. (From an anthropological point of view, rather than a pervy point of view.) Without going through the humiliation of asking the attendant to open the glass cases, I could only see the photo that was displayed on the top of each set, but there were two things that struck me about each of them.

Thing the first: they weren’t posing in any sort of sexy, come-hither way. There was no pouting, licking of lips or over-lashed eyes. Their expressions were innocent and fairly demure. They looked like they might’ve been posing for a family portrait or the PTA annual photograph, except that they were nude.

Thing the second: the boobs looked so, well, ordinary. They weren’t enormous, plumped up, tanned jobbies, with nipple rings and/or other attached paraphernalia. Before silicone and botox and other nasty stuff got involved, it seems every set of boobs looked different (gasp!). They looked like ordinary sort of boobs that you might see in the changing rooms at the local swimming pool–some big, some small, some longish, some roundish, nipples all different.

I couldn’t purport to be any sort of expert on the matter, but based on what I’ve seen almost out of view on the top shelf at the newsagency, boobs on display these days look remarkably homogenous (big, tanned), as do “attractive” women (tall, slim). It was a strange shock–and relief–to remember that all bodies are different, and that different doesn’t mean weird, bad or unattractive, and that different definitely can mean sexy and desirable. I’m sure just as many men were lusting after those longish boobs with the uneven nipples back then as there are now after the enormous tanned ones. Makes me wonder what the nudie playing cards/magazines will look like in another 40 years’ time.