In a word: Birthday’s!
I may be in the minority when it comes to getting older, but when it comes to celebrating my birthday, I couldn’t be more excited! It is the one day of the year where people are eager to show you that they are glad to know you and thankful that you are around. And it’s as easy as saying “Happy Birthday”.
I have to thank my mother for instilling these wonderful feeling I get every year when my special day comes around. For as long as I can remember, my mother would wake up before me each September 29th and place my birthday presents on the kitchen table. When I awoke, they were waiting for me to tear into before I could eat my breakfast. Even in my “I’m too cool for birthdays” stage as a teenager I know it would have broken my heart had the ritual not been observed. Today, as I turn a youthful 34, I am fortunate to have a darling wife observe the same ritual.
The gifts have changed. Lego are now Power Tools. CD’s are now Business books. Underwear is still underwear thankfully ;-). And regardless of the prizes that await me, the excitement remains the same.
Every “Happy Birthday” wish I receive is like a jolt of dopamine to my brain. I guess that makes Facebook my drug of choice. Facebook entirely negates the problems of time and space, allowing well-wishers from all over the world to sneak in their kind-hearted greetings with a modicum of effort. Some would say that the ease of communication cheapens the experience. I would say that it makes it more special because it is still easier to do nothing at all.
Topping off this birthday was a call I received telling me that I had won 2nd place in a contest. The prize… a $100 gift certificate to Amazon.com. What kind of contest might you ask?…. A coloring contest of course! In actuality, the picture would not have turned out nearly as well had it not been for the keen eye and artistic talent of my apprentice, Aaron Laferriere. I maintain that I’m the luckiest guy in the world, though I have to say that the majority of my luck comes from the people I surround myself with than any strategically placed horseshoe.
To everyone who wished me a happy birthday: “Thank you, you made my day”.
If you have been in the software game for any length of time, you know what it’s like to give a bad demo. You get in front of your audience and your chest puffs up as you are about to show off the killer app which you are convinced is about to trigger ear-piercing applause.
And then everything goes to shit!
As you sweat it out in front of the crowd to the deafening sound of boredom and irritation your thoughts switch to saving face as quickly as possible. You zone out everyone and do everything in your technical power to revive this spontaneously jaded bitch of an application. You lose track of time, and as your counterparts attention wanes, they start filing out of the room.
The room is nearly empty after half an hour of fruitless tinkering and you know you can’t save face at this point. Just before you slide from step 1 (Denial) to step 2 (Anger) of the grief process, you politely provide a bullshit excuse as to why the app won’t work at that moment and bring the “demo” to a close. As you pack up your laptop and projector, you try to force yourself through step 3 (Bargaining) and race right to step 4 (Depression). You dabble with the thought of drinking yourself into a coma but in the end, being a tech-head, you know you have to find out what the hell caused this. As you Skulk back to your office/cubicle/coffee-shop, you imagine all the possible causes and/or people that are likely to blame for your descension from grace.
It ends up being 1 line of code… it always ends up being 1 line of code. And not just any line of code either! It’s the line that if you were teaching a 5-year-old how to program, they would pick it out using the same logic they use when watching Sesame Street (one of these things is not like the other).
After a quick jaunt back to step 2 (Red-eyed-Anger), you can finally move onto step 5 (Acceptance). It’s not happy acceptance, but acceptance none the less.
As you can probably guess, I ran into this problem last night while trying to demo some software to a group of potential clients. Being a person who suffers from persistent mind-numbing self analysis, I have found the last 24+ hours to be an infinite loop of “How can I avoid this in the future?”. The predominant answer to many who encounter this, and live to tell the tale, is “test the hell out of your software before the demo”. The problem with that answer is it doesn’t always line up with the actuality of the world we live in as software developers… especially those of us trying to conform to Agile/Lean/Extreme/etc development practices.
Thankfully I’ve been reading the book Rework by Jason Fried lately and happened across the section entitled “Welcome obscurity” this evening. In it he states that when your company is at its smallest (as mine is currently), you can afford to make mistakes and take chances. The scapegoat in me loves this commentary simply because it means I can write-off looking like an A-hole in front of potential clients. The forward-looking developer and businessman in me likes it because it supports my desire to innovate and be creative.
Taking Jason’s comments to heart also means that I need to come to terms with the fact that I’ll likely put myself at risk of looking like a putz again in the future. Perhaps I can change those rules of engagement and focus on dealing with even smaller groups in these early days. Although that might fly in the face of my exhibitionist nature, it does come with the benefit of not having to lug around a projector.
Crisis + 28 hours and I’m feeling much better. I’ll live to do another demo another day, and thanks to Jason, my liver will too.
I am in Kelowna, BC, taxiing down the runway (don’t worry, I’ve turned off the wireless). I have been reading Tim Ferriss’s 2nd edition of ‘The Four hour work week’ for the umpteenth time and am currently reading the section on Pareto’s principal (80-20 rule). It seems apparent to me that more of our lives follow this rule than we realize. For instance, I have only been away from my family for a couple of days, and I find myself more homesick than I was as a boy staying at my friends place (whose mother was an extremely moody individual).
What does that have to do with the 80-20 rule? Well, I hypothesize that 80 percent of the time there is 20 percent of the things that make up our lives that we are drawn to. We could also say that 80 percent of our joy comes from 20 percent of our experiences. For me, that 20 percent of ‘the best’ consists of Family and creativity, also said as: 80 percent of my joy comes from 20 percent of all my activities, ie: those activities related to my family and creativity. Although my creativity is expressed through new and exciting business ideas, my family desires are easily described as my wife and 3 children.
After hitting the age of majority it took me a decade to recognize what really mattered to me. It took me a few more years to recognize that when a person finds the part of their lives that brings ultimate fulfillment they can further disect that area of their lives to achieve even greater results. For me, I doubt that disection of my life will ever cease. Breaking down those best pieces of my life into their most basic components allows me the opportunity to enhance those pieces within the 20 percent to bring me that much more joy. It is concievable that in 1, 5 or 10 years I could be completely(100 percent) focused on that 20 percent that I currently focus on. Even at that time, I’ll still have 20 percent of my life that brings me 80 percent of the joy.
I think of that ‘evolution of enjoyment’ as a great exercise to apply my focus to. I see the end result as living a life that continues to get better and better. That is exciting for me as I already feel very fortunate to enjoy my life as much as I do! And today… I get to see my gal and my boys! That will definitely be the highlight of my day!
The thought I can leave you with today is: What is your 80?
Have a great Day!
On April 2nd my family and I welcomed 9 pounds and 1 ounce of awesome into the world. His name is Zaron, and he is a much anticipated addition to our budding family.
36 hours later, My wife was feeling well enough to leave the hospital to come home. We were excited to get settled into a new family routine. Within an hour of being home I had taken position in the Lazy-boy and Zaron was nestled into my arms. One of my most looked-forward-to events of the pregnancy had come to fruition: an opportunity to snuggle up with my new baby and have a snooze. That moment in time was perfect. Little did I know that it would be a mental booster-shot for what I was to encounter only a couple of short hours later.
At 10pm on the 3rd I got a call from the fire department. Someone had set the shed behind my computer store on fire and the blaze was starting to do damage to the store itself.
When I arrived on scene I gave the fire marshall all the pertinent information and then stood back to look at the damage. I surprised myself when I noted that the destruction only aroused a mild curiosity in me. Fast forward to the next morning and I realize the damage to the outside powerbox had forced a power spike which did some damage to a few of our servers. Again my reaction was subdued when compared to what I suspect my reaction may have been only a week prior.
The only conclusion I can come up with is that having a baby to hold is a formidable pacifier! Take away the dirty diapers and the mild irritation when hungry and I think you have a device that could quell the most frantic of mobs.
Or maybe that’s just a proud papa speaking from the heart…
A few days ago my wife and I took our 2 year old to the hospital after he had spent 24 hours throwing up. He threw up more on me than I had on myself in all my years of college combined. My little guy was getting so dehydrated that they kept him hooked up to IV for 2 days before he could come home. The experience itself was unnerving (and uncomfortable when both my 9-month-pregnant, due any day, wife and I tried to both squeeze onto a foldout chair during the nights to sleep). What amazes me is the speed at which a 2 year old will bounce back… He nearly tore the IV out of his hand so he could get the hell out of there and get back to playing at home.
From death’s door to ‘Yay, let’s play’ in 2 days!
I have thought about this quick recovery for days now. More specifically, I have thought about how many of us allow ourselves to be hung up for days, weeks, even YEARS on the nontangible matters in our minds.
Is it possible that we can learn a lesson in ‘bouncing back’ from a 2 year old? Or are we so damaged from becoming a product of our past years that we take longer to heal?
You may have a certain advantage when you don’t have a point of reference to the things that sour you throughout a lifetime. Does that fact excuse the experienced? Personally, I don’t think it does.
There is a lot to learn from a 2 year old. High on that list is their complete lack of fear. As an adult, when we overcome a fear it is extremely liberating. I wonder what it would take to build a truly fearless life? I think I’ll be taking some notes from my little guy and see if I can’t find out!
Anne Frank said it best: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Today, like every other, we have an opportunity to change the world for the better.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do each day is to show those closest to us that we appreciate them. I have seen few actions that lend themselves so easily to be paid forward as those triggered by a deep appreciation of another. We know how easy it is to be caught up in the doldrums of life only to find, often times too late, that we have taken for granted those subtle things that enriched our lives every day.
I put it to those who will accomplish amazing things today: Add to your days feats an extension of gratitude to someone close, someone who has perhaps gone without for longer than you might have recognized otherwise.
I leave you with a poem which captures this sentiment quite eloquently:
“I shall pass through this world but once.
Any good, therefore, that I can show to any human being,
let me do it now.
Let me not defer nor neglect it,
for I shall not pass this way again.”
– Stephen Grellet
A couple of days ago I started reading “How to win friends & influence people” by Dale Carnegie.
In the first chapter there is a quotation from W. Livingston Larned that resonated with me deeply, despite it being written more than 70 years ago. I hope that reprinting it here provides you the same opportunity for reflection that it did me:
“Listen, son; I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
There are things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!”
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came Up the road, I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before you boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive – and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, form a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped.
You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding – this was my reward to your for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too muchof youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing buy a boy – a little boy!”
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.“
I find myself thrown into action once again as a result of another person’s tragedy.
This time, Rick, a man whom I once worked with is battling a formidable enemy in the form of advanced bowel cancer. I know him as a brash, high energy, individual and although we are mere acquaintance’s, his thoughtful blog posts detailing his thoughts and battle over the past month have instigated me to enjoy life in its entirety right here and right now!
But how long will this burning desire to capture the day last?
Taking life for granted appears to be part of the human condition. From what I have observed, we go through cyclical battles of understanding the meaning of life and then a type of apathy towards it. The cycles vary in time and intensity, often hidden in a shroud of numbness. When encountering other people’s tragedies, however, we muster an insurgent power to overwhelm the feeling of numbness so we can love more, laugh more, live more.
One can see this cyclical pattern in the drug addicts of our world… But don’t they seem to be constantly seeking the next high? It is easy to become consumed by the minutia of life and we often forget where the next “High” is going to come from until we stumble upon the misfortune of somebody else. Then, by design or comparison, we recognize just how lucky we are to be alive today and strike out to do all the amazing things there is to experience in our lives. We get hungry and consume as much of that special something as we can… and then we slowly migrate back to ‘reality’.
Perhaps the coined “Adrenaline Junkies” have it figured out? Those are the types that can never “leave well enough alone” and they keep pushing whatever boundaries they can find. My mental image of these types consist of a dirt-bike riding nut-case flying high above the crowds with no safety net and no worries.
How can I become an Adrenaline Junkie and implement the sky diving version of showing more love to my wife and children? How does one permanently disband the minutia of every day life in order to jump in the drivers seat of the formula 1 race-car sponsored by good will and fueled by a perpetual zest for life?
I worry the answer to these questions is that we are required to transition from a renter of tragedies to an owner of them. This is a worrisome thought if one assumes that ownership requires a similar point of reference to that of Rick’s. Good thing I was taught assumptions make asses out of u and me(or something like that)
Thanks to Rick, I feel as though a new opportunity has presented itself to me. The empathetic feelings I experienced and the tears I shed by reading his account of the last month has led me a great deal closer to something. I think that “something” is a better appreciation for what I have in my life, though to sum it up as “appreciation” might not quite do it justice.
Today I’m going to get my wife a cinnamon bun from her favorite coffee shop.
Today I’m going to hug my boys until they claw away from me in desperation to breathe.
Today I’ll call my Dad and make sure he knows I’m thinking of him.
Today I’ll do what it takes to let those closest to me know I care.
And for tomorrow?
I’ll just repeat Today.