Life Outside My Cube

My life, a work in progress.

Category Archives: vision

Asking the Right Question

Most of us would admit to asking ourselves, at some point in our lives, questions about how to earn more money, how to become independently wealthy, how to retire at age 40 and so forth. And we get these rather smallish ideas about how we can do something to earn that money or independence, but really don’t get anywhere.

So it turns out I’ve been asking the wrong questions all this time. Justine Musk says,

Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. Ask yourself what you have the potential to offer that is so unique and compelling and helpful that no computer could replace you, no one could outsource you, no one could steal your product and make it better and then club you into oblivion (not literally). Then develop that potential. Choose one thing and become a master of it.  Choose a second thing and become a master of that.  When you become a master of two worlds (say, engineering and business), you can bring them together in a way that will a) introduce hot ideas to each other, so they can have idea sex and make idea babies that no one has seen before and b) create a competitive advantage because you can move between worlds, speak both languages, connect the tribes, mash the elements to spark fresh creative insight until you wake up with the epiphany that changes your life.

Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it? So the question changes from “how can I earn X” to “what am I deeply into”. This sounds somewhat like the old adage, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” In other words, find out what you like to do, and somehow you’ll be able to monetize it. Which is awful advice – few people ever get the opportunity to see that become a reality.

Justine, however, puts a twist on that, and says it’s the intersection of two passionate interests that create the spark leading to a successful idea. So I get that too, it’s one of the reasons why we cross-train and organize interdisciplinary groups. bringing both together creates synergy.

Of course, one needn’t insist that a single person master both worlds – this could as successfully accomplished by two or more people with disparate passions who agree to jointly cooperate to achieve something neither could do (or do as well) independently.

All in all, though, it’s an idea worth considering.

Writer: One Who Writes

What would you answer someone new if they asked “What do you do?” Would you, like the guy in that Silverado commercial, be stumped trying to narrow down everything you do in life to one thing? Or would you respond with what you do in your daily 8-5? For me, it would probably be “I”m a software programmer,” with a few more details about the work I do.

When you think of what you do, we typically associate that with our work, career choice or daily job. Some might even respond with their favorite hobby or activity or passion. I think it has always been the case, however, that few people are fortunate enough for those two to coincide.

For me, my heart is not in “what I do” in my daily work. Oh, I diligently get up and actively participate in the business that employs me, and I do it well. Given the opportunity, however, there are myriad other things that I would pursue that are more in tune with who I am.

I am a builder, a creator, a nurturer, a communicator, a planner, a thinker, a tinkerer, a listener.

One career on my bucket list is that of a writer. While the thought of that career greatly appeals to me, I’m certain the reality of an author’s life is far different than what I imagine, and far beyond my current reach. I can hardly imagine ever responding, “I’m a writer,” to the “What do you do” question.

What are the qualifications for being a writer? At it’s foundation, a writer… writes. We all write in one way or another, whether it’s an email to a friend, a letter, a school essay, a blog post. Technically, we’re all writers. Why is there a distinction between one who writes in the course of living life and the one who writes for financial gain?

For a century or so, the concept of the approved professional has dominated our perception of quality and acceptability. Only an M.D. can properly treat our colds, only an ASME-certified mechanic can fix our cars, only a published author can rightly be called a Writer. Colleges, certifications, diplomas, credentials all testify to the common man’s unworthiness to even shine his own shoes.

Without throwing out all the worthwhile training such professionals have endured, I reject much of the attitude of professionalism. I would rather be adequately skilled in a wide variety of skills than excellent in only one. I would rather be able to care for my sickness, fix my own car and communicate through words rather than achieve greatness in software development and nothing else.

If you’d get down to the root of it, my heart is really in a wide variety of things rather than just one, and I experience fulfillment in participating in many types of work. Am I an auto mechanic? No, but I enjoy working on my vehicles. Am I a construction worker? No, but I enjoy building. Am I an author? No, but I write.

I write.

I put figurative pen to paper and communicate ideas and stories to whoever will read them. I have no illusions that I’m a professional, but have no need to convince anyone that I am.

I write.

I am adequately skilled at it. I might get better with more hard work and training. A writing course might even help, but I’ll only take one if I want to, not because someone says I should.

I write.

I write, and I enjoy it.

I think… I’m a writer.

Yes.

Postscript, 4/21/2015 This article dispels – to me – the myth that becoming a clearly successful author can be accomplished by writing a scattered few hours here and there. Besides diligent writing – 4 hours a day! – this author is a very active salesman of his work.

The Slough of Despond

Five years ago I was at the tail end of  self-employment, and a year from accepting a position with my current employer. I was working for my father on and off – he did not have sufficient income to pay me fulltime – and some programming, web design and home-business gigs. Unfortunately, there was not enough sustainable income, and my family was getting deeper and deeper into debt, which would at one point top $50K. I was feeling helpless, frustrated and depressed.

I had left my previous job 6 years before, to take on some work with my dad. He (inexperienced in software development, but too persistent to let that get in his way) designed and coded a software program used in the long-term care dietary business, and needed help with, well, Help. It wasn’t writing code, but technical manuals was fine with me to start with. I shortly after began to assist with software development, support, sales and marketing. It wasn’t long, however, until financial difficulties began. There was not sufficient income from the company to support me fulltime, despite my dad’s hopes and dreams that things would get better. He paid when he could – or wanted to – but it wasn’t enough, and we soon began relying on credit.

The peculiar thing was, I didn’t feel I could just say “no” to him and move on. By the time things were bad, I was fully involved and he was – to a great extent – dependent on me. I felt that to bail out at that point would be not only end my hopes for a work-at-home job, but also crush his hopes and dreams. How could I do that to my own father? I was beset on all sides – my supremely patient wife continued to urge me to quit, my bank account begged me to find a paying job, and my dad continued to not care about my financial situation. I felt helpless to act at all.

Well, I did act a little, and purchased a reseller account from a web host, thinking that I could fill in the gaps with web programming and hosting. Weak in the sales/marketing area, I found myself undercharging (per my astute wife) for work, and giving away too much for free. Hardly the way to make a decent income, but when you’re working for your friends (how else do you get started in this business?) I felt like it was almost an insult to charge going rates. Plus, I wanted to “build up the portfolio.” Unfortunately, since I did next to nothing marketing-wise, the web business didn’t grow. I don’t believe I was equipped to be a successful entrepreneur – I was only a technician (according to The E-Myth) and missing the kind of skills needed to grow the business. Here I was full of programming skills, but I didn’t know how to effectively do anything about getting clients. That was frustrating.

So I was in a horrible financial situation, feeling helpless and frustrated. There was a terrible amount of pressure to change my situation, but I seemed to be paralyzed. One reason might be that I sincerely thought that working from home was the Ultimate. Oh, we’d escaped the traditional church and were meeting in homes, we’d rejected public schools and home educated our children. Bringing the work home seemed like the next logical step, and God-ordained. Yet here we were in a much worse financial situation than we’d ever been in! What was I doing wrong? Were we totally deceived? I began a long period of self-doubt and depression over our situation. I lost interest in work, in the business, in home life.

What do I wish I would have done differently? I don’t think leaving the previous job was wrong; I’d do that again in a moment (besides, a layoff there was imminent). Here are some things I, in perfect hindsight, would redo:

– Talk openly with my dad about my finances, and ask pointed questions about his. Finances were never an open subject with my folks, and I didn’t get started of with a good foundation. Hence I had no savings to draw on, and we weren’t accustomed to changing lifestyle to accommodate reduced income. Anyhow, if my dad and I could have talked about my financial needs on a regular basis, perhaps we both would have come to the conclusion that it wasn’t working out, and bail earlier with no hard feelings.

– Connect with other web developers in the area in order to work cooperatively. I was lacking some skills, but perhaps with others we could have presented a full complement of abilities to potential clients. In an office, I find myself wanting to connect with other independent types at coffee shops, open workplaces, and the like – I should have jumped at those opportunities, or created them. Alone in a home office is no way to network.

– Get out my shell. I’m an introvert, and find it extremely difficult to cold-call and meet new people. Less so now, but much more then. I should have sought for advice on how to overcome this inward tendency, and how to improve those skills needed for an entrepreneurial business to survive.

– Open up to people. When things are going badly, I have a tendency to withdraw. I should have talked more openly with my wife and family about what I was going through, and drawn comfort from their love. I felt like nobody knew what I was going through. I’m sure some did, but I didn’t open up about it, to my loss. It wasn’t all about me and my failures (what I thought at the time); it was about the journey God was bring me – and us – through. That should have been shared more openly.

– Do that which I think or know is right. I was full of fear at what people would think, or how people would take my actions if I stopped working for my dad and friend (I’d set up a little home-business with a close friend that supported his business) and found a “regular” job again. Walking in fear is not a good thing, I realize now. I wish I would have gotten that back then.

A bright spot in all of this is that our eyes were opened – through that friend – to the beauty of God’s undying love and the hopeful theology of the kingdom during this low period. Had I not gone through these difficult times and been brought so low, I don’t believe I would have been as open to receive these truths. Through the slough of despond, God has brought us out into a beautiful vision of life and purpose. That’s a topic for another post, I think.

* Questions 6

You Cannot Fail

Seen on a church sign: “What would you choose to do if you knew you could not fail?”

Naturally the “could not fail” part triggered a link to my postmil hope (read: expectational confidence) in a redeemed earth. If you approach life with the understanding that the Church will be triumphant in fulfilling her original commission to “fill the earth and subdue it”, would you place a different value on certain things that might well outlast you?

For example, if you knew that the Church would eventually be successful in reversing the cultural trend toward isolated living (even in neighborhoods), what foundational steps in your lifetime would you take to accomplish that – probably many-decade long – goal? How about passing along a vision for a well-integrated, supportive, interactive, love-demonstrating, close-knit neighborhood community to your children? And committing yourself – and them – to stay in one place for a number of generations, in order to see that neighborhood change?

What if you knew the Church would eventually be successful in re-establishing our antinomial political system on biblical foundations? Would you choose to begin attending city council meetings with your children, or volunteering to work on village committees? How about encouraging your children to become trustees, mayors, zoning board chairmen? How about your grandchildren becoming mayors, representatives, congressmen? A strong building needs a solid foundation, and a solid foundation can take a long time to build.

The Church in the recent century has taken on a near-fatal urgency in her work. By placing the end of all things “at hand”, she has focused on work that reaps immediate results (e.g. obsessive evangelism, exponential church growth, political lobbying, etc.) while ignoring so many of the basics (e.g. strong marriages, children keeping the faith, obedience in all areas of life, etc.). A long-term vision of success – that cannot fail – should keep us from hurried, misguided busy-ness.

Remember the “slow food” movement? Maybe it’s time for a “slow religion” movement.