Life: What I’m Up To

I’m currently sitting in a comfy overstuffed leather chair in the Rocking Frog in Portland, Oregon. It’s sunny and hot (like 90F) and it’s mid-April, and that’s not what you really expect from Portland in April, but I’ll take it. Seems like a good opportunity to update folks on where I’m at and what I’m up to.
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Sorry, I blinked

And just like that, it’s the end of August. The year has flown by (which is to say, I was aware of every excruciating minute of it, but once past the moment I’d say “Whoa, where’d the time go”). I’m currently writing from Squam Lake (as I’m fond of doing), where I’ve been for the past week, enjoying the peace and quiet and not-having-to-do-anything of it all. I get up when I want, go for a swim, and fiddle with what I want (rather than what I feel like I should).
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This is fine. (Happy 2015)

This is fine.

For whatever reason, this comic (by the illustrious KC Green) comes to mind when I think about the past year. Not trying to be a downer — life is, on the whole, pretty good. I think why it feels so emblematic of 2014 is that so much of the year was spent trying to maintain an even keel, some level of equilibrium, as if I somehow had my shit together after a major personal, professional, and emotional shift. Did I actually have my shit together? No. Do I have it together now? Hell no. But it was still the right decision to make those shifts.

Life Update

I’ve been playing a fair bit of Final Fantasy XIV (Hyperion server, come say hi), which has been a nice escape distraction pastime. I’ve got two characters (yes, even on a game where you can play every class on one character, I still make alts), and have thus played through the main storyline twice now. It tickles the right mix of nostalgia, new fun and lore, and “the pretty”. We’ll see how long it holds my interest!

My brother Uriah came down to visit the other week. It was excellent to see him, and I’m glad he had a chance to explore San Francisco a bit. (We also got to see our cousins who live in the area, which is always fun.) We went for a really nice drive down Skyline, into the hills between the Bay and Santa Cruz, down through Big Basin State Park, and then back up the coast. One of the nicest things about it (other than some good brother time) was the lack of cars for most of the trip — it wasn’t until we were almost into Santa Cruz that we really hit any traffic to speak of, and there were long stretches where we were the only car on the road, winding through tall redwoods and the random opening out onto valley vistas. It was a nice reminder that some space and nature isn’t that far away.

Working through some depression and remnant guilt/overdeveloped sense of responsibility, but that’s pretty normal and not really new. I feel like I’m managing alright for the moment, which is a good spot to be.

At some point I’ll go back to posting pithy/interesting videos and links and writing essays and reviews and other such stuff that would be interesting to more than just friends. Right now, I’m mostly just glad to have an outlet for saying “I’m still here.”

Next: 2015

It may be a month late to do new year’s resolutions, but time is sort of wibbly-wobbly anyway, and they’re not really resolutions so much as planting tiny little fires under my ass to try and live up to my own expectations and desires.

  • Travel to at least one place I’ve never been (preferably in another country).
  • Create more. Even if it’s chaotic and a mess and not what I was trying to do. Because it feels good, and because it’s how you get to a point where you DO make what you were trying to.
  • Take my career next steps. There are a few things I’d like to explore.
  • Start dating again. It’s been over a year. It’s time.
  • Save some money. It’s a good idea in general, and there are also some known expenses that will inevitably be coming (e.g. my car won’t last forever, and it’d be nice to not have to scramble to replace it when it dies).
  • Make some new sites/redesign this one. Gets back to that “create more” thing. Too many of my ideas are “needs regular use/updates” projects, but can’t hurt to make them anyway, or come up with some one-off pages/sites.

These are my own goals/expectations/resolutions/desires/whatever-you-want-to-call-them — I’m mostly posting them for myself. That said, feel free to come up and ask me what I’ve created lately, or help brainstorm places to visit.

Environment to Thrive

I mentioned briefly in Reunions and Goals that I’ve been spending some time thinking about what environments I thrive in. It can be a useful exercise — it helps you identify what is working and what isn’t, and hopefully find ways to improve your environment.

“Environment” can mean a number of things, so to be clear, I’m talking mostly about two factors: living environment (the weather and culture in which you live), and working environment (the culture where you work and what you do there).

Let’s dive into the living environment first: I’m an introvert who grew up in the woods of Vermont. I like having green space around me, and the ability to choose my own pace. I’ve lived in cities before, and the ones I’ve done best in were ones that were welcoming, radically inclusive, and not in quite so much of a rush all the time. I pick up on the tension and urgency of the people around me pretty easily, and it leaves me stressed out more than I’d like. I like my seasons to have punctuation: to be seasons and not just a slight variation in the same weather year-round. I’m pretty ambivalent about winter and summer, but spring and autumn are important to me — in particular Autumn. There’s something about the shift in the air, the leaves changing, the sense of culmination. It’s a period of creativity and productivity for me (spring is a period of reflection and renewal), and something I value a lot.

Culturally, I like the weird. Artists, musicians, counter-culture folks, Cacophanists, Burners. I like diners and dives, street art, and people who don’t take themselves too seriously. I like places where there’s camaraderie and community, where what you do or how much you make doesn’t define who you are. I like to be where there is activity and a sense of getting things done, but where watches aren’t wound too tight.

Then there’s the working environment: what makes me feel productive, how do I like to work? I’ve found that I feel most productive and most valuable when I’m in an autonomous role where I can contribute to a larger whole, and help the people, the project, and the organization shine. I like to fill niches and gaps in processes and workflows so others can achieve what they need with a minimum of drama or frustration. I like to help others feel supported and respected, and like to feel supported and respected in return. I don’t want the limelight — if I was suddenly given the option of becoming a CEO, or becoming a COO (or other C-level position that isn’t the public face of the company), I’d choose the latter. I’d rather have the recognition and respect of my peers than to be called out publicly. I like having enough personal space to get my work done and to breathe, but also enough social opportunities to feel connected with my co-workers.

What this breaks down into for a work environment is a place where there is a level of trust within the organization that everyone is doing their part and contributing as best they can, where the goal is to do good work and to do the right thing, and is less about the politics of ego. There should be room to take initiative, and not too much pigeon-holing into a specific role and job description. Intelligence and talent should be highly valued, but not at the cost of kindness. Every job will have days where you’re there because it’s your job and not because you are invested in the work, but the best environments are where that’s the exception, not the rule. The goal is a work place where you neither feel like an imposter, nor the smartest person in the room, where everyone is striving to do their best work and to be better than themselves.

Obviously, the working and living environments are intertwined: without one, the other will feel off or lackluster. Finding a good work-life balance is hard, and goes well beyond whether or not you’re there 30 hours a week or 70 hours a week. It matters more (to me, at least) whether there is enough separation that work does not overwhelm life (and vice versa), but still enough connection where each is complementary to the other.

I’m not there yet: I really enjoy where I’m working, and feel like the work environment is damn close to where I want it to be. I’m less thrilled with my living situation: the Bay is too crowded, too tense and full of people stressed and rushing about, too expensive, too driven by class and money. That’s not to say there aren’t some amazing people and communities in the area, and a lot of the things I look for — I am saying I’ve not been won over yet or found those connections. I really should invest some more energy into giving it a fair shot. The lack of seasons still bothers me, though, and I can’t imagine settling here for the long term. Maybe that’ll change. In the meantime, it’s at least a worthwhile experience, and an opportunity to identify what’s important to me.

Reunions and Goals

It’s always fun to have a little time to reset. I’ve spent the past week at Squam Lake, enjoying the swimming, the people, and the house. It’s been a family reunion of families directly related to the property, and so it’s been wonderful to see all of my cousins, many of whom I haven’t seen in years. It did mean I missed Hack Week back at work, but sometimes that’s just the way things happen. It sounds like they’ve been having an awesome time as well.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what’s important to me, and what sort of environment I tend to thrive in. I’ve got a pretty good handle on it overall, but it’s still nice to pause and reflect every so often to see if things have shifted. When I turned 30, I took some time to figure out a two year, five year, and ten year plan. I managed to hit my two year goal largely on time, and I’m feeling pretty good about hitting my five year goal as well. The ten year is still too far out to tell, but I do feel like it’s still obtainable, so that’s good.

My ten year goal is a hammock. More specifically, sipping iced tea or lemonade in a hammock, while reading a book, nestled in a rambling garden outside a house. A significant other is doing what they want to be doing (maybe reading, or playing a game, or gardening, or painting, or whatever they enjoy doing), while the children play.

It may seem weird to think of a specific vision as a goal, but consider it for a moment: to achieve that, I need to be financially stable enough to afford a house and have the time to enjoy it. I need to be in a romantically stable relationship with someone who is interested in similar goals and lifestyle. I need to be emotionally stable enough to enjoy all of these things.

So if that’s where I want to be when I’m 40, how do I get there? Well, my five year goal is my litmus: if I’m starting to have a good handle on the financial, emotional, and romantic areas at the halfway point, I’m likely in good shape to achieve what I’m hoping for (and if not, it’s also a good point to do any course corrections). So, the five year goal is to have had solid progression in my career (in responsibility, pay, and flexibility), to have my personal life together, and to be in a solid relationship that, if not married and having kids, is at least on that path.

My two year goal was to have progressed in my career, where I’d be working for a company I respect and value, with a steady improvement of pay and advancement, and where I could see myself working for another several years. I managed to hit that right around on target (give or take ~6 months).

So… yeah, goals. It’s weird. When I was younger, my goals were things like “become a published author”, “have a gallery show”, “write a graphic novel”, or “design and produce a game.” Those are all still things I want to accomplish, but they didn’t really click as a goal, because while the goals were concrete, the paths were tenuous. My goal now is just an idea, a vision, but the path is clear, and I may end up achieving some of my other aspirations along the way.