Red Pen

You see it happening more often than not. People in a situation that isn’t working as intended or isn’t yeilding the results they need or anticipated try repeating the same behavior of failure instead of doing something new. They attempt to capitalize on repetition rather than initiating change. Albert Einstein (reportedly) calls it the definition of insanity, and Gordon Ramsay has admonished more than one flagging resturaunteur to “change, or die.”

There are a plethora of reasons why people don’t change. Some are convinced that the failures are flukes and the forumla that’s produced the failures will yeild success sooner or later. I guess they’re right, but as they say a broken clock is right twice a day. Others grow complacent or even lazy, and when something they’re doing fails, they either scramble to restore the status quo or shrug their shoulders and let circumstances fall back into place whichever way the world around them dictates.

It’s an attitude I can no longer tolerate within myself.

I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s a result of Seth Godin’s excellent Poke the Box. Maybe I’ve seen too many friends succeed where I struggle to ignore the signals. And maybe I’ve been ignoring an essential truth about myself that’s gone unexplored for too long.

You see, I would never define myself as a programmer first and foremost.

It’s not that I consider myself bad at it. I’m not great, but I can get the job done while being easy to work with and puzzling my way through the problems that arise. The value I add to projects on which I work goes beyond my somewhat rarified knowledge of ActionScript and might have more to do with the way I work with people. The person down the row of cubes from you might be great at their job, but if they’re a pain in the ass to deal with you won’t take them work if you can help it. It’s the way we are.

However, it’s only ever been a job for me, never a career. Programming just pays the bills. It’s a rare morning when I wake up thinking of code and functions instead of distant worlds, fictional lives, even blog posts like this one. Excellent eloquence and deftness of syntax are things I’m far more passionate about than any of the programmatic challenges I’ve faced before or will face in the future. And bringing an attitude like that into a workplace where everybody around me does wrestle with code in their sleep, puts their passion on the table and made it their purpose cheapens things for them and makes me feel false, like an outsider looking in. It’s a world I understand, can relate to and appreciate, but it isn’t my world. And I need to face the fact it never has been.

We only have a few short years in this life, and I’ve spent too many going down a blind alley chasing a dead end.

I became convinced, by good people with good intensions, that writing would never pay enough. That I couldn’t make a career of it, that I needed to pursue something else. And I believed it. Instead of sticking to my guns, I hung up my spurs and took up a shovel. I’ve tried to get the spurs back on a few times, but every time I do at least one person with whom I work on a daily basis on this or that job looks at me funny. Why the hell would you wear spurs into a coal mine? It makes no sense, it’s silly is what it is, take them off or find yourself another mine.

And I did. Mine after mine, job after job, one after another for this reason or that circumstance. It isn’t working. When things are this cyclical, this consistently fraught with failure, one can react to it by struggling to maintain the status quo as quickly as possible, or examine the circumstances of the various failures and find a way to end them. If I’m to have any hope of accomplishing in my lifetime what I’ve wanted to accomplish since I was seven years old, when I wrote my first short story in my gifted education class (it was crap, but it was my first), I can no longer in good conscience treat my desire and acumen for the written word as just another hobby. I need to make more time for it, and that means being proactive in my pursuit.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared by the idea. My lizard brain would rather I fall back into old patterns, maintain the status quo, lower my expectations. For once, I’m disinclined to listen to it. It might be the safer, more responsible thing to do, and I acknowledge the possibility of yet another failure exists, but I can’t shake the feeling that it is long, long past time for me to try something different.

Being where I am now has everything to do with myself. As much as I’ve been given advice from others, it was me that listened, me that bought into certain ideas, me that interpreted signs and portents. I don’t blame my failures on anybody but myself. It’s because of me I went down those blind alleys, and it falls to me to get myself out again.

It isn’t enough simply to be. A reason to be is essential. It’s what changes mere existence to really living. I’ve taken hard roads to get where I am, and I’ve stumbled along the way. I’ve crashed and burned, broken promises, engendered disappointment and shattered hearts. Every mistake has taught me something and I’ve had to find ways to keep moving forward in the bloody aftermath. I’ve come too far to quit now, and I honestly feel I’m closer to being where I truly want to be now than I ever have been before. Listening to the lizard brain, giving into the fear of the unknown and the cold comfort of the status quo, feels more like a step backward. And if I step backward, I can’t move forward.

In other words, as Sun-Tzu put it, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

Yet another way:

Excellence isn’t about working extra hard to do what you’re told. It’s about taking the initiative to do work you decide is worth doing.

Smart guy, that Seth.