Leo Notenboom has been in the tech industry for nearly 30 years. After retiring from an 18 year career as a Microsoft software engineer Leo went on to create Ask Leo!, a free web site where he answers real questions from ordinary computer users. In addition to answering tech questions Leo also maintains a number of web sites for a very limited clientèle.
Tears were running down my cheeks. Serious, vision-blurring tears. Which was probably a bad thing, since I was driving at the time, and my path included at least one school zone.
It was probably around 2001 or 2002, and I was on my way from my home to that of my parents. My mom had just called with some situation that my dad, who had alzheimer’s, had likely gotten himself into. It was a crisis of some sort — small or large — but the severity of each had been increasing over time.
I’d be in tears again on the return trip home. It’s hard to drive that same road today and not remember.
Dealing with my parents as they aged, being the designated on-call crisis manager, was incredibly stressful. But it was also incredibly educational.
I learned a lot about myself, and life, in those tumultuous days.
At some point on our path the question changes from “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Same question, different words.
I could never answer either of them. Oh, I’d come up with something — “astronaut”, “lead engineer”, that kind of thing — but it was never a reflection of my true desires or goals. I had no idea what those were.
I’ve never really had life goals, and it’s worked out just fine.
Once you reach a certain age it’s natural to want to share experience, lessons learned, and advice with those younger than yourself. I’m no exception.
I also realize how frustrating it is to have someone older tell you what you should be doing, thinking, or valuing. Experience based lessons or not, it’s just annoying, and presumptuous if you’ve not asked for the advice.
Several years ago I installed both the Headspace and Insight Timer apps on my phone. They’ve been my go-to tools for meditation ever since; Headspace for Andy Puddicomb’s gently guided meditations, and Insight Timer for those times when I’m just looking for a “do it myself” approach. Both are great, though it’s Headspace I’ve purchased for others as gifts.
What I realized, through, is that when it comes to guided meditation — the phase I happen to be in currently — I kinda suck.
I’m naturally pretty good with spacial things — I can imagine how physical things are in relationship to each other, how things go together, that kind of thing.
That eventually served me well at my first job, as as a bag-boy at a local grocery store. Putting things in bags was one thing; anyone could do that. Putting them in efficiently, maximizing how much goes in, keeping cold things together, putting fragile items on top, making sure the bag wouldn’t weigh too much –leveraging my spacial reasoning, these were things that came naturally to me. They still do.
To me it was as much art as it was work.
Which is how work really ought to be; certainly the best work.
When we moved into our current home, over twenty years ago, we elected to enlist a service to mow our lawn and do some other basic maintenance on the large yard. We went through several services before finding one we would stick with for many years.
The most common cause of failure was actually very disappointing. While we expected the quality of the work to be the determining factor, it was something else entirely that had us more often than not looking for a new provider.
We ended up making our evaluation on what seemed the simplest of things: did they even show up regularly, as promised, to do the job?
One of the currently popular so-called productivity hacks is to get up an hour or two earlier to get your best work done first thing.
It’s a scam. In fact, it’s the exact same scam as Daylight Saving Time. While it might feel like you’ve created this new magical time that was just waiting there for you to take advantage of with its additional productivity, it comes with a cost that no one talk about. Either you must actually sleep an hour or two less, or you need to compensate by going to bed an hour or two earlier.
I’m reading Chip Conley’s book “Wisdom at Work” about reintroducing the wisdom of older, more experienced individuals into today’s fast moving and high-tech workforce. He coins the term “modern elder” for those with wisdom and knowledge to share with (typically) younger generations.
It’s great if you can have an individual to act as your mentor, which is exactly what part of this whole “modern elder” thing really is. It’s also cool if you find yourself in a position where you can act as a mentor by virtue of having experience that you’re willing and able to share in ways that are useful to others. I know I still, specifically, want both: even at 61 I’m looking for individuals from whom I can model and learn, and I’m looking for opportunities to share what I’ve learned with others.
One of the comments made in Celeste Headlee’s book “We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter” (or perhaps one of her videos) is that we may have been better conversationalists before the printing press was invented. Put another way, the rise of mass literacy may have caused us to become poorer listeners.
Placing sometimes artificial constraints on an activity is a fascinating creativity technique. The canonical example might be that Dr. Suess’ book Green Eggs and Ham was written on a bet — a bet that an entertaining children’s story could not be written using only 50 different words. That constraint led to one of the best selling children’s books of all times.
Constraints breed creativity. Create some limits, and see what you can accomplish within them.
The very act of writing is, itself, a constraint. What can you accomplish within the limits of language?