career

What do you do for a living?

I went to a local coffee shop and a talkative man behind the counter asked what I do for work. I told him I’m currently writing three books on computer programming, one young adult novel, and a mindfulness app for iOS and Android, in addition to running this website. When you say it out loud it sounds a little crazy, but in the midst of it it’s not a problem, I like bouncing between the projects.

People go through tremendous personal stress when life doesn’t jive with their mental model (ego)

Thought of the evening: People go through tremendous personal stress (distress!) when the way their life is turning out doesn’t jive with the mental model of who they think they are (i.e., the “little ego”).

As just one example, my father always talked about opening up a hot dog restaurant. “Hot dog joints” were a big thing in northern Illinois, and they still are. He was a social person who ran projects, and I thought that was a great idea for him.

But he had a mental model that he was an engineer, so even after he was laid off from an engineering job he didn’t like, he kept trying to pursue engineering jobs rather than his dream. He never could break through that, “I was trained as an engineer so I’m supposed to be an engineer” mental model. As a result he became angry, and his life didn’t end well as a result.

In my own case, for many years all I wanted was to be a professional baseball player, and it took several injuries and many years before I finally had to accept that it wasn’t going to happen. Sadly, those were lost years in many ways, and all because I couldn’t let go of the old mental model I had of who I thought I was supposed to be. And because I couldn’t let go of the old model, I couldn’t see the new opportunities that were staring me in the face.

But finally I reached a breaking point. Everything literally came to a head and I said, “F*** this. This is not how I want to spend my life.” To this day I remember that moment.

Some time later I would look back and think, “OMG, why did I waste all those years?” But I understand, even when everyone around you can clearly see what needs to happen, when it’s happening to you — when you’re in the middle of it — it’s a big, ugly, emotional mess. Something is trying to crack your cosmic egg, and when anything tries to destroy the little ego you’ve spent all your life building up ... well, it’s insanely stressful. You’ve spent XX years building up this mental model of who you are, and now something is trying to destroy that model. (A model which I should add exists only in your brain.)

All I can say is that in my case I found a new way to live, and indeed, many of the happiest years of my life.

Use what you got

Thought of the last day or two: "Don't let what you don't have keep you from using what you do have." (Lou Holtz) Or in my case, "Don't let what you can't do stop you from doing what you can do."

Which reminds me of the song, Use What I Got, by Jason Aldean.

This is a page from my book, “A Survival Guide for New Consultants”

“Excuse me, you’re in the way”

“A man of knowledge lives by acting,
not by thinking about acting.”

Carlos Castaneda

By now you know that I think a lot about attitude, and if there are any major secrets to my success, one of them is that at some point I learned that I was smart enough, and aggressive enough, to know when I was right about something. Once I gained confidence in myself, if I was clearly right about something and someone didn’t agree with me, I didn’t hesitate to say, or at least think, “Excuse me, you’re in my way.”

Port covers

Just a few months out of college, I was assigned to a missile project that had to do with something known as “port covers.” In short, port covers are like little doors on the sides of air-breathing rockets. If you’ve seen a little model rocket, or perhaps a firework that shoots up into the sky, you know that a rocket is basically a tube, like the cardboard tube that’s inside a roll of toilet paper. A normal solid rocket motor like this is filled with solid rocket fuel, which is something like a solid version of gasoline.

The frustration of working with people who aren’t “A” Players (or don’t care)

Let me start by saying that I don’t know if I’m an “A” Player. In part, that definition depends (a) on what work I’m doing, and (b) who you compare me to. For instance, if you compare me to Linus Tourvalds as a Linux C programmer, I’m very clearly not an A Player. Shoot, I’m not even a player.

But if you were to judge me on other skills, I’d like to say that I’m at least a B Player in the things I care about. As I wrote in my book, A Survival Guide for New Consultants, my superpower as a programmer/analyst is empathy; I care about my work, and about my success and my client’s success. If you pay me $100,000 to do some work, I want you to make at least 2X or 10X or more from my work. I want my clients and sponsors to succeed.

Beyond that care, since I began paying attention to Apple and Jonathan Ive starting back around 2005, I’ve become more interested than ever in quality. When I work on something, I imagine that I’m either working with Mr. Ive, or that I’m going to have him review my work, and I want it to be impeccable.

Steve Jobs: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon”

In terms of being a nice person, Steve Jobs may have been the worst Buddhist in the history of the world, but he captures the Zen/Buddhist essence in this quote:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Photo from forbes.com, words from Steve Jobs.