More On Opinions

I originally drafted this post in October of 2013 – over two years ago – and never shared it. Funny how I’m still thinking about the same thing:

Lately I’ve felt overwhelmed by opinion. It costs you nothing to share – it costs me in attention and anger at having your thoughts forced upon me. Being overwhelmed meant that I withheld my opinions. I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone else.

Recently I realized sharing opinions is sharing yourself. When I share things that everyone agrees with, I’m not adding any of myself to the interaction – I’m hiding. When I share my opinions I open myself up. You know more about who I am than you did.

I don’t know how to keep from being annoyed by most people’s opinions. But I won’t know if I care about yours unless you share and I listen. Then I can decide if I want to listen more.

I’ve decided to share my opinions here and on Twitter and in the real world. I’ve decided to expose myself. I hope you will listen at least once.

Your Opinion Is Legitimate

Being relatively new to my career path I find myself hesitant to share my opinion with the broader community. I think that since I am new that my opinion doesn’t count. I feel like I should sit back and listen and learn from all the very smart people and keep my mouth shut.

I need to overcome that. I need to know that my opinion is always legitimate, especially when I come to it from a position of thoughtfulness and caring. That doesn’t mean that my opinion is right, but it is always worth sharing. I can learn only so much through listening alone – I also need to test my opinions by sharing them.

Unappreciated

Do you feel like no one appreciates your true value at work?

It could be that you greatly overestimate your contributions. But more likely, you’re delivering too much – giving too much of yourself and providing value that isn’t being asked for.

But that’s a good thing – a very good thing – although it can cause discomfort and heartache for you. You’ve outgrown your job and it is time to move on. If you don’t get going you will either lose your will to deliver to your standards or get so angry that you burn bridges.

If I’m right and you’re as good as you think you are, it’s that time. Figure out the next step.

Who Influences You

I think it’s good to take a few minutes every once in a while and figure out who you are allowing to shape your life. As highly social creatures, we readily pick up on thoughts and habits in our environment that we may not notice in our daily lives. Fortunately, many of us have control over that environment – we can choose who we are around (both digitally and in the physical world), what we read, and the television we watch.

I explicitly choose not to let cable news have an influence on me because I don’t want it shaping who I am. I do the same with people that seem to constantly complain on Twitter, “high drama” friends that always need attention, and reality TV.

Instead, I read and listen to Seth Godin, Merlin Mann (although he can be complain-y at times at which point I have to take some time away), Joel Spolsky, Steven Pressfield, Dan Benjamin, Shawn Blanc, and Horace Dediu. I spend time with my girlfriend, close friends that provide support and that I can support, and my daughter. I try to surround myself with as much positive energy as possible.

If you haven’t in a while, think about who and what is influencing you. Consider whether you need to do some pruning.

Pack Mentality

Through coincidence I’ve been watching two different things that show the way that animals behave in a pack. The first, Cesar Millan’s Leader of the Pack is about rehabilitating dogs and features Cesar’s pack as a large part of that rehabilitation. The second, Bully is a movie about the bullying problem in American public schools and features packs of adolescents tormenting individuals.

Each shows a different kind of pack, I’d describe the pack of dogs as highly functional and the pack of kids as highly dysfunctional. But are they the same thing?

At one point, Cesar introduces a dog to the pack that the entire pack shuns. The other dogs simply ignore her. Cesar attributes this behavior to the pack not liking that dog’s energy.

Is that the same thing that happens in bullying? Does the pack of kids not like that individual’s energy at some subconscious level? Is the bullying meant to bring that individual into line with the pack?

I don’t think so, but really I don’t know.

I was bullied growing up so I feel attached to this question. I still feel like an outsider to most groups despite being open-minded about many things. Am I too weak, strong, or different? Or have I always put myself in this role of outsider without realizing it?

A podcast I’ve listened to recently brought up something I think is related to this discussion. The guest on the podcast, Jonathan Haidt, was talking about how political debates in American politics are not about trying to convince the other person, or people belonging to the other party, but rather to reinforce the bonds with people within your own party. They are a way of showing how good of a member of the pack that you are.

And maybe that’s what this pack behavior in kids is all about – maybe it is just the way that bullies get other bullies to like them more. Obviously if this is true it does not make the behavior any more justified, but knowing why someone behaves a way is powerful on its own.

Gluten Free

My story is gross and embarrassing, in a gastronomical fashion. So beware that.

I’ve had stomach issues for a long time – so long that I can’t remember not having them. My issues were diarrhea shortly following each meal and some nights I would spend hours on the toilet. During my year in Iraq, my two biggest worries were getting hit by a mortar while sitting in the port-o-potty and shitting my pants while outside the base. Excursions outside the base were troubling because they got me out of my routine.

Routine is critical with a gastronomical issue. That makes traveling and adventure not so fun. Life becomes an obstacle course and you become an expert at logistics, always thinking about what restrooms are available. Public restrooms transform from disgusting places you don’t ever want to use into places of salvation.

It is hard to explain the mental state that accompanies this condition. It’s a combination of fear, a sense of brokenness and that your body is letting you down. And it’s a secret you can’t share with the world because it’s so embarrassing, especially when you have no idea why it happens. It hurts your most important relationships – my significant others have thought that I spent hours in the bathroom to escape them.

Eventually, it just becomes a sad fact of life.

I tried what I could think of to solve the problem, approaching it like a science experiment, rationally. I removed dairy from my diet, no change. Removed onions, nothing. Avoided spicy foods, nope. Went to doctors that had me shit in a cup for close examination. Ugh, that’s gotta be a tough job for them. Still no answers.

My science experiment had a fundamental problem – the human body is a very complex machine and I could never control all the variables. Maybe stress is a factor, things seemed to get worse when I was stressed out, like being in a combat zone or in the tail end of a failing marriage. But that wasn’t a direct correlation either, I still got sick when I felt stress free.

So yeah, complex machine. The complexity of this machine coupled with my general ignorance of anything more than basic anatomy and physiology meant that I wasn’t going to be able to rationally deduce a solution.

Many times I gave up. Figured it was just how I was plumbed, overly sensitive and fundamentally broken.

About two years ago I removed wheat flour from my diet, just to try it. That is a tough thing to do here in North Texas, and it made me feel somewhat un-American. But the results were undeniable. I cannot describe what a joy it is to have a solid bowel movement (and how difficult it is to refrain from sharing the good news with those close to me to avoid grossing them out). After the initial positive results I gave up pretty much anything with wheat in it, the hardest of which was beer. In addition to feeling un-American I felt un-manly, but damn it’s worth it. I experienced an amazing side effect that I never would have expected – years of constant head congestion just went away. Studies show links between food and outdoor allergies, so I assume that was the mechanism.

Fortunately, around the same time that I went gluten free it became a diet trend and it is getting easier and easier to avoid it. Still, eating food cooked by anyone else is risky, and life is riddled with land mines like broccoli cheese soup, soy sauce and barbecue sauces. I usually avoid all sauces because they are just too dangerous.

Hope I didn’t gross you out too much. And I really hope that someone else going through what I went through reads this and I can help save some suffering.

Once You Go Indie You Won’t Go Back

I know, it isn’t the catchiest title. And really what I’m writing about isn’t a very interesting subject, but please give me a couple of minutes to tell you about something.

That something is software. Software made by small groups of people or maybe even just one person. Us in the industry call it “indie” software.

Indie software is made by a human being just like you (although that human probably has worse posture from sitting at a computer all day) and not a faceless corporation. That human being deeply cares about what she creates. I know that because if she didn’t then she wouldn’t be able to make a living off of it. Or perhaps she doesn’t make a living off of it but instead spends her free time bringing something new into the world. That’s even better in my eyes.

Just like a small business on Main Street, indie software creators really want to make you happy. They value your feedback and will do what they can to either fix your problem or add a feature. Obviously they can’t build every feature, but they’ll care enough to take the time to talk to you about it.

There isn’t always an indie software solution to your problem – some problems are too big for one person or a small team. But I’d like to ask you to do one small thing going forward:

Pay attention to who created your software. Was it Adobe Systems, a multinational corporation with over 11,000 employees who makes Photoshop? Or Flying Meat, a two person company who makes similar software called Acorn?

How Can I Make This Better?

I’m planning to start doing a podcast. I’ve bought a mic and a stand and I’ve been learning about everything I need on the technical side.

But niggling in the back of my mind is the question “is the podcast you make going to be any good at all?” That question leads to thoughts of what to talk about and how to ensure I don’t say “uh, umm” constantly and why would anyone listen to me, endlessly going around in circles.

What I need to do is get it out of my head. I should already know this but for some reason it feels different when it is something brand new. Iterative design is what I do when I design web sites or make apps or do anything I’m good at. You have to get that first sketch on paper before you can realistically ask “how can I make this better?”

Before you can ask that question you have to have a “this”. And having that this makes all the difference. Then you can say “the proportions are off between the thin and the thick parts” or “we need more white space to separate these areas.” Before you have the this you cannot evaluate and you cannot improve.

Just make something, anything.

I’ll record that first podcast and listen back to it. And then I’ll know what can improve.

Delivering Bad News

I am awful at giving people bad news. If I were a doctor and had a patient with no legs I would tell her she would walk again.

I think being bad at bad news is natural. It’s probably the default for most people. But it gets in my way too much and I don’t want that anymore. I don’t want clients to distrust me or to work 36 straight hours because I won’t tell them that the project will take longer than we all estimated. I am an imperfect human and that’s ok.

So I’m going to admit that imperfection and face up to it and see what happens.

Natural Talent

I’m six and a half feet tall now and in the ninth grade I was six foot one. I got tired of people telling me I should play basketball so I tried out for the team. Before that I had played in my friend’s driveway a few nights a week but until I made the team I didn’t know just how awful I was at the sport.

It took me weeks to be able to make a layup. For people unfamiliar with basketball lingo, a layup is a move where you dribble the ball while running towards the basket and then jump off one foot while moving the ball towards the basket with the opposite hand and gently throwing the ball into the basket. It is the most fundamental basketball move and I could not do it. Every day in practice while the team was working together I would repeatedly try to make a layup.

Many other things seem to have come easily to me in life. When I was in the Army I was easily able to get physically fit and rank at the top of my class. And shooting a rifle in a straight line was simple as well, other than some small issues with the foxholes not being deep enough and my helmet pushing my glasses off my face.

Computers and technology have always been a strength as well. In two months I went from having never written a real program to having a fully functional app in the App Store.

It is so easy for me to look back at these things I’ve described and know I’m good at them and only remember that I’ve always been good at them. It is so easy to forget that initial struggle and to forget all the hard work – all the layups that I missed. It is so easy for anyone to say “I’m not good at this” and just quit.

I don’t remember everything I’ve ever started and failed, I remember the ones that I’ve stuck with. I remember the things that I’ve spent hours or years improving – so slowly that looking back it seems like it was always there. I got my first computer when I was 13 and became a programmer at 30. I missed a lot of layups.

Now I look forward to doing a lot of shitty writing and recording a lot of boring podcasts and then finding the next thing that makes me uncomfortable and amateur.