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I had a friend when I was in my early 20s named Dave. He wasn’t a great guy, but then, neither was I at the time. Among his other less-than-stellar qualities, Dave was constantly cheating on his girlfriend.
This had been going on as long as I’d known him. His girlfriend spent most nights at his place, but on those nights once or twice each week that she stayed at her place he invariably had one of a handful of women over instead. He rarely spent a night alone.
Dave also enjoyed antagonizing his neighbor. For some reason, he thought it was hilarious to park half in his own driveway and half on his neighbor’s lawn. Most of the hilarity was probably derived from the red-faced, apoplectic approach his neighbor had to informing Dave that he had “done it again.”
Ultimately, the two avenues of my friend’s dickishness collided: the neighbor let Dave’s girlfriend know of Dave’s extracurricular activities. Tammy came by for an unexpected visit one night, and after the requisite fireworks, it was over.
What I remember most, though, was being at the bar that weekend commiserating with everyone over Dave’s terrible fortune. Dave—for his part—was incensed; his nosy neighbor had no business interfering and his girlfriend was an asshole for breaking his trust and coming over unannounced on the say-so of his neighbor.
I found myself thinking about Dave quite a bit last week while I watched President Trump melt down on Twitter and even more while I read the coverage that followed.
What we know, at this point, is that Flynn did talk about the sanctions which may or may not have been illegal. Obviously Flynn found it shady enough to lie about, and that lie is where the trouble really begins, because that lie is what makes him susceptible to blackmail. While Flynn has resigned, it’s fair to guess we haven’t heard the last of this particular issue.
Like Dave, Trump is focused very intently on how he was wronged…about how someone is leaking to the press, how those complaining are sore losers, and how it’s all overblown anyway. The entire thing is “fake news” despite it being based on leaks that Trump confirms are accurate—a feat of mental gymnastics that should defy the imagination but somehow lands with an unsettling number of people.
Neither Dave nor Trump are especially good at taking responsibility, and as it turns out, their supporters seem reluctant to hold them responsible for their own actions in general. There is a reason for that.
Dave and I didn’t speak for a decent while because I had the temerity to, after listening to the same whines for the millionth time, blurt out some truth at him—to hold him responsible for his actions.
“Who cares about the neighbor, you were cheating on her you idiot!”
I hope someone in Trump’s circle is doing the same for him.
But I doubt it.
The lede of an interview in which I was recently featured ended up being the notion of not being precious with your ideas—as a result, that concept has been the topic of conversation quite a bit over the last few weeks. As often happens, the most common question to arise also happened to be the most obvious one:
How do you avoid being precious with your ideas?
I would like to apologize before you attempt to read this. I’m naturally pretty verbose, but this got out of hand even by my lofty standards. I’ve attempted to trim it back some, but, it remains quite the slog. I, personally, think it’s worth it. I’m also pretty biased.
I would like to begin with a few postulates—a few things that we can assume to be true for the sake of argument. I’m not trying to play any rhetorical games here, so I’ll attempt to show my work as I introduce each postulate (after a few up top that I hope to be relatively uncontested).
There’s no real post here, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that if I don’t organize my thoughts around Tuesday’s tragic turn of events, I’ll never get back to sleep. That’s all this will be, the text version of thinking aloud.
When this post goes live, provided nothing completely irrational has happened in the last week or so, I will have been clean and sober for 14 years.1 I have now been absent of drugs and alcohol for as long as I used them.2
This is traditionally where I pat myself on the back and reminisce about how difficult it was3, but instead I just want to say this: today my life is immeasurably better than it was when it was ruled entirely by my addiction. That isn’t to say that it immediately got better—initially my life became a complete shit-show as I took away my crutch—but as I became capable of making smarter decisions, acting more like a person of whom I could be proud, and learning to be an empathetic human being, things improved at a rate that was astonishing. It has been years since I’ve actively desired to use, and that freedom is a weight lifted from my shoulders that I didn’t even know was there.
Today, I find myself happier than I’ve ever been, enjoying a life that is not dictated by booze or drugs, and I rarely miss it even slightly. I assure you, when you get clean, it gets better.
1 Give or take two swallows of an iced tea that turned out to be sangria at an Olive Garden, serving to prove two incontrovertible things: no dinner at an Olive Garden shall go unpunished and the only fruit that should be found in an iced tea is a lemon.
2 Not to say that I used drugs and alcohol continuously at the same rate for 14 years; I doubt highly I would have survived it. At 12, however, the ebb and flow of use that characterized my addiction started its…flow…?
A few weekends ago, I looked through my stub posts to see which I could finish up to post; they were all a long way from done, and none were really grabbing me in any real way. Ultimately, I got distracted and, by the time Wednesday rolled around, nothing was ready to post, so I missed a week.
This week, as I look at the things available to post, I find myself in the same spot. I have a handful of drafts that are in no way ready to post and a handful of political rants of which I am so weary that I can’t imagine you don’t dread them. (Honestly, after my recent floods of them on Twitter, you can get your fill there.)
At the intersection of a chapter that I really want to get written, a review that I’m having difficulty coalescing into reality, and the flood of new-ness that I’m trying to absorb at work, I’m fairly intellectually exhausted.
So, I’m giving myself permission to take a break. Posts for the next month will potentially be sporadic or unsatisfying updates about life with the new gig. Or not. I don’t know, I’m not the boss of me.
I feel like there is scant discussion out there surrounding job searching mid-career. The Internet is full of helpful advice for early-career job seekers describing resume creation, job posting, searching job boards, and the like. What I don’t see very often is what to do when you’ve been in the field for a while; when you have built up a network of contacts, when you’re no longer looking for entry-level or near entry-level work, or when what you’re looking for is very narrow in terms of specificity or of job prospects.
This is probably not going to be that post either, but I would like to take some time to describe my job searching journey this summer.
Today the majority of my team and I were let go from work. Laid off. Reduced. RIFed. Whatever the right term for that is. This being the third round of layoffs it isn’t entirely surprising anymore, although the degree of commitment represented by the depth of the cuts does take one aback.
I have so much going on at the moment; several cool development projects to work on that I’m really excited about, numerous books on the queue, the weather is nice and the bikes and kayaks are calling, there are some recently released video games that I enjoy quite a bit, I have writing ideas that sound like fun, my foot pain seems to be improving…I’m surrounded by great shit and life is, by any real measure, great!
For years, I maintained two separate personas on the Internet. One in my own name and one not immediately able to be assigned back to me personally (although a miniscule amount of digging would link us up quite easily). Continue reading Ending My Split Personality
I’ll begin with a spoiler: it would appear the last several weeks of pain in my right footular region was the result of acute gout. This means, ostensibly, I am too fat and wealthy for my body. Only half of that assessment is accurate; alas, it’s the former rather than the latter. In all, this is an unexciting end to a typically quirky story.
My pain began several weeks ago when I got up in the middle of the night and brutalized my ankle in the most moderate way one can be said to have brutalized anything: I stepped on one of the dogs’ rawhide bone ends in a hallway and slightly rolled my right ankle.
The stuff of legends. Continue reading My Right Foot
In April of 2006, I was fairly well devoted to bachelor-hood. I had already done, at that point, the entire marriage thing with all of its pain and expense and failure, and dating had never been a significantly better experience for me. By 06, having just ended another rough relationship, I was determined to stop getting serious with women since I clearly chose them very poorly. Love was a load of bullshit that everyone opted to pretend was real.
Then I met a woman entirely unlike those with whom I typically found myself: self-possessed, smart, well-read, intellectual, strangely knowledgeable about dairy. In my mind she was a relatively safe friend because, while I was crazy attracted to her, she lived hours away from me and–a decade my junior–was far too young for me. We ultimately exchanged email addresses and proceeded to spend a couple of months falling in love by text and by voice.
I knew by the time we planned our first in-person date (which we couldn’t wait for, so we had an impromptu test-date shortly before) that my single status was not going to be a permanent thing: even were things with this new woman not to work out, I now knew that I was capable of falling in love and that a relationship could be a great experience.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to test that theory…in March of 2008, Geralyn agreed to marry me, and in May of 2009 became my wife. In the near-decade since we met, Ger and I have shared adventures as partners, as friends, and as a single unit against the rest of the world. She’s perfect for me, and I’m awfully glad to have her this Valentine’s Day…despite it being a stupid holiday in which I absolutely do not believe!
Two thousand fifteen was a hell of a year! Continue reading 2015: A Year in Review
This and next week I will be performing a series of trainings for groups within our organization to describe how we’re using Scrum (initially, at least). This is easily my favorite part of my job.
Not the “performing training” part; while I enjoy that considerably, it is also utterly exhausting. No, my favorite part of the job is helping others understand things. Anybody can tell someone the answer. Some of those people can even tell someone the right answer. It is immeasurably more satisfying to walk someone through the though process by which the right answer was derived so that in the future you can watch them solve the next problem correctly. Continue reading Training Days
I can only assume that the general atmosphere around this time of year is to blame, but I’ve been thinking quite a bit for the last several weeks about how great I have things. I have life pretty easy, in all.
I was born into a country that affords me a tremendous amount of freedom and a ludicrous amount of invisible benefits that I usually take for granted. I can bitch about my government and its representatives with impunity, I can protest without significant fear of reprisal. I am allowed to cast a vote for the person that I best think will fulfill my wishes (or least piss all over my wishes) as they go to work for me as my representative to the government. Continue reading Gratitude
I upgraded to Windows 10 this weekend on the only Windows system I use, my gaming system. I had it on good authority that the games that I’ve been playing occasionally were well supported (pretty much Guild Wars II) and that it was an improvement over Windows 8 (which, unfortunately, came on my system and I was too lazy to downgrade it).
Overall, I’m pretty happy with it. They got rid of the fullscreen start menu replacement in favor of a much more user friendly option that is a natural extension of what they had right in Windows 7. There are, however, some pretty significant privacy concerns, so right off the bat I did the following (most of which I document here in case it’s not exhaustive and for later reference):
- Privacy Settings
- General: Turned all off
- Location: Limited to only those apps that I want to see my location
- Camera: Limited to only those apps that I want to have camera access
- Speech, etc: Turn off “Getting to Know You”
- Contacts: Turn off “App connector”
- Calendar: Turn off “App connector”
- Feedback: Set to “Always” and “Basic”
- Background Apps: Turn off all but apps I actively use and want running in the background (Twitter, Dropbox, etc)
- Wifi Sense: Turn off “Suggested” and “Contact” connection
- Turn off Cortana
- Turn off search suggestions
- Turn off popular news
- Save passwords: off
- Save form entries: off
- Do Not Track request: on
- Search suggestions: off
- Block all cookies
- Media licenses: off
- Page prediction: off
- Set Chrome or Firefox as default browser then never open Edge again
Something like 20 years ago, I found myself in the position of standing in a wide open parking lot with my then-girlfriend attempting to hit me with her pickup truck. (Why I found myself in this position is not especially germane to the story. Suffice to say that I was not then a particularly good decision maker, and even by those standards that this was not a particularly good decision—but I digress.) So there I was, standing in a parking lot, faced with the certainty that I’m going to be hit by a pickup truck driven by somebody who is interested in doing me a tremendous amount of harm.
I did what I felt at the time was the only thing I could do. I charged toward the truck, rather than away from it. Immediately before getting hit, I leapt back in the direction the truck was traveling, I curled my body into a ball, and I tried to aim mostly non-soft and non-squishy bits toward the oncoming vehicle.
The net result was that I was bounced clear of the vehicle—very sore, pretty scraped up, and with a fairly badly injured right arm and shoulder—and took an opportunity to run to safety while she tried to turn the truck around.
Sometimes, you can’t avoid something terrible that’s going to happen; in fact, I think it’s fair to say that a LOT of the time you can’t avoid something terrible that is going to happen. What you CAN do is turn into it, take it head on, and meet it on your terms. Getting hit in the back by an oncoming truck driven by a lunatic could have been a pretty tragic moment for me. By setting at least some of the terms of the engagement, I turned tragedy into a pretty uncomfortable bone bruise and some scrapes and bruising.
I tell a great many stories about being a drug addict and an alcoholic—it’s easy to do with benefit of more than a decade free from actively pursuing those particular hobbies. What I talk about far less is the period immediately after I got clean—the years between my 9th month clean and my third year, during which I was no longer struggling with the compulsion to get high and found myself struggling with the fact that my own personal narrative was badly, badly flawed.
You see, one of the major benefits an addict derives from their drug abuse is deniability. “I’m not an asshole, I’m drunk”, became my battle cry, if a battle cry is something you shouted as you wandered away from the scene of your destruction. Months without drinking or drug abuse revealed to me that my battle cry should have been “I’m an asshole who happens to be drunk!” That’s a tough pill to swallow; finding out that you are actually a devastatingly toxic shithead who brings ruin to those close to him with or without drugs badly disrupted my view of self, and I became very erratic and depressed.
It was during this narrow window of my life that I found myself sitting in the bedroom that I rented from a friend holding the shotgun he kept beneath his bed and crying. It was a place I found myself in a lot around that time. Several times each week—sometimes several times in a single day—I would find myself sitting with that gun simply trying to work up the courage to use it. For weeks I kept returning to that familiar position, wanting so much to no longer be alive and being trapped in life by a fear of literally and figuratively pulling the trigger.
On this occasion, though, I was committed. So much so that I had written my note, had dressed in the clothes that I wanted to be found in, and had gone and sat in the bathtub with the shower curtain pulled closed—I certainly didn’t want to make my exit more of an imposition on anybody else than it needed to be, they’d already put up with so much.
I was saved by a friend who, possibly because of his own struggles with depression, recognized the dangerous place I’d gotten to emotionally and took it on himself to help. He literally banged on the bathroom window with a child’s toy rake until I agreed to drive him to get some lunch. “Lunch” turned into an extended coffee break, lots of driving around, talking and, ultimately, a considerable amount of therapy. Ironically, this friend died a few years ago (far too young), a victim of his self-medicating to avoid dealing with his issues. I’ll never be able to express to him my gratitude for saving my life.
This stuff I don’t talk about so much. The “fun” stories of my active addiction are borderline socially acceptable, especially when spoken about using the past tense. There is nothing socially acceptable about mental illness—people with depression are treated as liars, or whiners, or melodramatic; depression is perceived as a weakness of character and that perception is LITERALLY KILLING PEOPLE. I very nearly died because I felt too much shame about my mental state to seek help—I was willing to die rather than face the judgement and shame that is hurled at people that are mentally ill.
I don’t suffer from recurring depression, but I know many people that do. People I know and care about suffer from varying forms of depression-related mental illnesses. I cannot fathom what that must be like. For a thankfully brief period of my life I was legitimately depressed—not just down, not bummed out, but deep in a hole that robbed me of my energy, of my fight, and of any hope that things even COULD get better. I can only imagine the horror if I had to deal with that on a regular basis.
So when I see people talk about how “selfish” suicide is, or offer vague “help” that amounts to “just stop feeling so depressed”, it makes me extraordinarily angry. It’s a trite comparison now, but it is the equivalent asking a cancer patient struggling through chemotherapy if they’ve tried aspirin for their brain tumors because it once helped your headache. Stop treating depression, or any mental illness, like a personal failing—like it’s something that people just aren’t trying hard enough to avoid. Stop killing people.
If you are a recovering addict or alcoholic, especially if you are early in your recovery, know that depression and addiction often go hand in hand. It is a good idea to find a therapist you can talk to, even if only for a little while. There are numerous resources available to those recovering from addiction—and no matter what program of recovery you are following, there’s always room for therapy.
If you are suffering from depression, you have to know that you’re not alone. I realize that where you are feels tremendously hopeless and like there is no light at the end of the tunnel—but that is a lie that your ill mind is telling you. There is hope, there are better days, and it really does get better; you just have to make it there. Talk to somebody and get some help. Please.
A world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle
This month marks 11 continuous years without drugs or alcohol. For the vast majority of you, this probably doesn’t seem to be an exceptionally huge feat—most people can take or leave drinking, and I’d wager that a sizable percentage of adults in this country have gone years and years without partaking in drug use. For me, however, this 11 years constitutes the longest period of sustained change I have ever managed. At this point, the length of time during which I haven’t been pissing-all-over-myself drunk or hitting-on-the-mother-of-my-date high is rapidly approaching as long as the length of time during which such events were regular occurrences. It’s a pretty heady feeling, this knowing that I am profoundly unlikely to wake up in a puddle of my own vomit next to someone I don’t especially know in a state of undress that inadequately conveys the full extent of the previous day’s adventures.
For obvious reasons, each year the approach of my anniversary comes with ponderous thoughts about the merits, features, and nature of change. Among drug addicts I first heard the phrase “nothing changes until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing” and never in my life has something sounded so ludicrous and so obvious at the same time. Of course we wait to change until staying the same is worse…but why would we be so short-sighted and stupid so much of the time?! Madness. Drug addicts are not known for their ability to plan for the future.
As it turns out, the same is true in most organizations—in fact, I could probably write a fairly lengthy article wherein I compare organizational behavior to that of a multi-year junkie (note to self, that sounds like a fun article)—most organizations act just as irrationally when faced with the formidable task of instituting change. Allow me to paint you a picture from my own life experience:
I was young—early twenties roughly—and had recently moved to a new town with my wife and young children. I immediately found the people who party and started spending my evenings at bars and house parties around town rather than with my newly displaced family.
Needless to say, that didn’t last long before my beleaguered wife, who undoubtedly hoped that this change in venue would result in a change in my behavior, finally had to put her foot down and threaten Very Bad Things if my behavior were to continue.
To my credit, I immediately put an utter and complete halt to my misbehavior. I quit drinking, I stopped hanging out with people after work, and I spent my nights and weekends with my family at home.
For about two weeks.
I quickly found my new life boring, and over the course of the third week, I had backslid almost completely. In fact, in many ways it was worse, because I had convinced myself that I had to lie and sneak time with friends and I would often drink a great deal at work and then drive home very, very drunk so that I could hang out with my family without hearing about my drinking.
This sort of whiplash-inducing overcorrection is something I’ve observed myriad times in countless organizations. A Thing That We Do™ is just not working—and a grand, sweeping plan is devised and put into place. It seems to largely alleviate some of the problems (in the best case scenario) or doesn’t seem to be having sufficient impact (in the more common scenarios), but in either case the strain of maintaining persistent change of such enormity—of such utter completeness—for any length of time proves too great and the members of the organization collapse back into old behaviors and patterns.
Why is this? Are they lazy? Stupid? Lacking in ambition?
Change—that is to say lasting, significant change—is methodical and slow. It’s glacially paced. It is the turtle winning the race slowly and steadily while the rabbit wears itself out with too much too fast. I’ve achieved over a decade free from actively pursuing addiction because I didn’t try to change everything at once. I triaged my life and changed the most pressing thing, and I have continued to do so iteratively for nearly 11 years now.
I do the same when helping an organization to change. Often the first thing I have to do is devote time and energy to reigning in the change enthusiasts who find themselves in a cycle of changing everything, then changing everything differently until everyone is so confused and disheartened that even modest change sounds horrifying and impossible. Only once that destructive cycle is quelled can the job of triaging and planning begin.
When you feel like change is failing you, stop for a moment and look around you. If you cannot list on one hand the individual changes that are being enacted and fingers left over, your glacier has run away and needs to be halted and adjusted.
Remember, several inches of snowfall can cover my town overnight and it is a thing of beauty; that same quantity of snow in one fell swoop would be a natural disaster. Stop making natural disasters.