philosophology

I keep running into people who lead more interesting lives than I do. I realize that this is just an elaborate illusion concocted by my mind in an effort to create a useful mental model of another human being who is way to complex too comprehend, but it still gets me down sometimes.

I'm a naturally optimistic person, and there's gears that start spinning whenever I repeatedly run into a source of emotional drainage. Experience has indicated that there's truth to be uncovered in most pain, and that once the truth is found, the pain dissipates to reveal some kind of rich experience.

So, a while back I started thinking about what kind of rich experience envy would leave behind if one found it's real source. I started digging, and found that I could trace envy to very particular things. At different times I've envied genius programmers, beautiful artists, and eloquent speakers. Identifying these qualities is EXTREMELY valuable, because it generates a list of stuff you want to be. I've sat down many a time and tried to make this kind of list off the top of my head, and it's really hard to do. I've also drawn the conclusion that this is a common problem because I know a number of people who are not very satisfied with their current life, but if you ask them what they want instead they can't tell you.

So, experiencing envy gives you some serious clues as to what you might want. The next step is weeding out the parts that only sound good if you don't think about them too much. Consider rock stardom. Sure, all the middle school girls love you, but would you enjoy travelling 8 months out of the year, sacrificing your relationships, practicing hours every day, and playing the same songs over and over to audiences who hate all your new stuff? Knocking down these fuzzy, badly articulated dreams minimizes a lot of the pain associated with envy. What's left is a list of qualities that you genuinely desire.

So, say by doing this sorting we've reduced the pain of envy by about 50%. Dealing with the last 50% requires a little meditation and one very useful piece of information.

Some of the items on your list (like rock stardom for most people) are relatively easy to dismiss. The remaining items require careful weighing of the positives and negatives. The more clear these become, the more you realize how many options you have. We all have lots of options open to us, but most of the time none of it sounds doable or attractive enough to stop what we're doing and switch gears. But if you give it a little thought, they become more tangible. Vacations or camping trips are great for this kind of meditation, I've found.

The bit of information one needs to fully appreciate the qualities one envies in others, and to understand their cost, is the law of 10,000 hours to mastery. Research has shown that for someone to become a master at something, they almost always have to spend 10,000 hours (3 hours a day for 10 years) practicing it. This law holds for Bill Gates and the Beetles. The example that stuck in my mind was that the Beetles performed over a thousand times before that really got the recognition we remember. That's more performances than most bands have in their entire careers. So, when you see a quality in someone else that you want, think about the time it took to obtain that quality. Then, consider what qualities or skills you've been cultivating over the years. Invariably you will have something valuable that the person you envy does not. For me, this completes the deflation of envy. Instead of thinking about the qualities I don't have, I've instead fostered a sense of respect for the work that someone else has dedicated to develop their qualities, as well as recognized what unique qualities I have, and - very important - what qualities I wish to acquire.

I think you can ride this wave of clarity a little further. Now that you know what you want, and you don't have negative feelings associated with your own qualities or the qualities you seek, it's a perfect time to make some decisions about what to do next. Developing skills and qualities takes time, so what do you want to work on? Coming to a decision on this then helps you take advantage of opportunities to develop these.

In my own case, this lead me to leave my job and seek work in a very particular area. I'm now willing to turn down lucrative opportunities for ones that will help me develop the skills and qualities I desire. Being so purposeful means that every time an opportunity presents itself, I have to reflect on how the opportunity might or might not aid in the fulfillment of my goals, which further articulates and evolves them.

This perhaps complex train of thought begins with simple envy. Envy is useful because it's an instinctual - and thus reliable - reaction. I'd encourage anyone who experiences bouts of it to try riding it for a bit and turn it into something positive. And let me know if it works for you too!



Below are my slides from my presentation at DrupalCamp Colorado (had an awesome time, blog post of praise to come later). I think the presentation went well, but would appreciate any feedback from the folks that came. Was the info pertinent? Confusing? Was the presentation too basic or contrived?

Next time, I will remember to post the slides before the session so I can get feedback right away. Also, thanks to the fellow in the back for recommending Slideshare!



When we imagine how something will go, it is often vastly different than the way it turns out. I like being prepared for new situations, and this disparity between the imagined state and the reality cramps my ability to prepare. I discovered that the feeling I get in certain situations is very similar to the one I get when waking up really early in the morning. I've just been ripped from one environment where I was totally comfortable and thrust into the real world, where it's cold, dark, and disorienting. I didn't have time before waking up to prepare myself, so I just have to stick it out until thinks start to feel normal again. Eventually it does, and that's usually one thing I can remember in this state, that it will get better and that I will adjust. That probably keeps me from panicking.

I'm in the process of preparing for some in-depth research interviews, and I'm thinking how I can best prepare myself for the unexpected. The interviews will likely be in differing environments, with people I either don't know or could know much better. I know from experience the the calmer I am the the more I'm enjoying myself, the better the process of human interaction goes. As soon as you panic, people kind of cut you loose. So, in particular I'm trying to figure out what kind of techniques I can use to prepare myself. How can I most accurately anticipate the slew of variables I have no control over?

My working theory is that I can pull l up that feeling I get in the early morning. Totally discombobulated, unprepared, uncomfortable. And then project that feeling on the visualization of how the interview will go. Now, I can set up some emotional structures to prepare for that discomfort, and not let them surprise me into a bad mood.

If I still remember this theory by the time of the interviews, I'll post back in regards to how well it actually works.



I find that while a lot of my actions are initialized through selfish motivations, it's much more satisfying to explore the range of possible alternate motivations and discover something that's more world-serving. I was just thinking through the process of designing my new business card (more like not-business card) and happened upon a possible alternative thought process that opened things up in my mind a little this morning.

My immediate desire was to have something that was nice to look at, and after playing with a few ideas in Illustrator and Photoshop, my limitations as an artist frustrated me into doing some stock art searching. I eventually found a really nice piece of retro-style vector art and paid the reasonable licensing fee to use it.

I had to think through this a little, because I wasn't sure how I felt about using art that wasn't mine on the card. Through the years, I've kind of gotten used to doing everything myself for almost any type of project. Getting involved with the Drupal project was the first step in admitting that I had reached the edges of what I could accomplish as an individual, and since then various other aspects of my world have shifted to be more trusting and reliant on others. In this shift, I also learned more of the value of allowing others to be reliant on you. There's a real human need to find a place to fit in your world, and I think we find it by discovering what we have to offer to others.

I realized that in using this particular piece of art, I'm may be ultimately serving the purpose of the artist by adding to the overall beauty in the world (as opposed to using my own art and adding to the overall cruft). As a creator of sorts myself, I recognize that in creating something with quality part of me wants the attribution for the work, but if I think about it a little I can also muster the higher motive of just improving the overall experience of people in my world, regardless of its source. So, even though his name isn't on my card, the artist's work will still get out there just a little more because of it.

So, Kudos to Aleksandar Velasevic for creating a really nice piece of art, and thanks for letting me use it for a very reasonable licensing fee.



Just wanted to jot a few thoughts about this while it's on the mind.

I've worked with clients in the past who are content with a product that is okay, but not fantastic, because a lower cost = lower customer expectations = little or no backlash for bugs. I've tried this myself with designing several throw-away apps in an effort to generate a little buzz. What happened was kind of unexpected. Some people actually used the apps, and some people really liked them.

I realize these folks are transitional. They finally figured out how to articulate the problem of what they need, and are leapfrogging applications until they find one that works for them. As soon as they find one that works, they'll really dial back the effort, but might spend a little time trying to find something better when they experience bugs or garden walls. I followed the same process this morning to find a little countdown timer app. I found something that worked, and now have better things to do for a while before I go trying to find something better.

There's actually a market there. The equation is to spend less time and money on a product, charge less and your users will expect less, and will likely move on to something better eventually without bugging you much in the process.

Is this ethical? You're putting a sub-par product out there knowingly and expect people to use it little if at all. Doesn't this just add noise to the cacophony of options out there for just about anything you want to do? Add to the equation a huge marketing push, and you've got a lame duck you're nearly *pushing* on unsuspecting users. Phrased that way, it seems morally ambiguous at best. And once people have their band-aid, they will be less likely to find the better solution (and pay for it, supporting the producers of a fine product).

But, I can also see an argument from the other side. By providing a solution (any solution) to a problem, you're fulfilling your part of the bargain. It is, after all, a solution. Maybe people only use it in transition, but perhaps it's better to have at least some solution in the interim period. Maybe there's a role there, and an important one.

Jury's out on this one for me. I'd likely favor one of either side in different situations.



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