I saw this quote on a friend’s wall as I was leaving their house. I found the original and decided to share it here.
I listen to a lot of electronic and trance music to keep a part of my mind occupied while I focus on my work. What I’ve noticed over the years is using a playlist or a service like Pandora doesn’t quite do it for me. I could never put my finger on it until it clicked one day. Having the ability to skip a song makes the experience of listening more in the foreground where I have yet another choice to occupy my mind. Do I like this song? Should I go to the next one?
I grew up listening to broadcast radio. The DJ was the one making all the choices for me. I merely had to pick a station, turn up the volume, and go about my day. I’d hear songs that were interesting, some terrible, others meh. Commercials were also a mindful break for me to step away. Taking away the decisions about what song to play next was freeing. It also felt like the DJ was in my room with me – you even developed weird relationships based solely on their voice and style of DJing. You knew others were listening to the same exact thing you were at that moment in time. It was a way of building a community.
That’s why to this day I will still subscribe to services like Digitally Imported and SiriusXM. It’s also why I love DJing music for other people. I like being part of that subconcious community enjoying that music at the same time, on the same planet.
It reminds me I’m not alone.
I have memories from my childhood but most of them are fragmented with how my ADHD brain works. There have been plenty of times talking with family about things that happened when I was young and I have no memory of it. I suppose my crappy attention & focus made it hard to store contiguous memories.
There are some things that are very clear in my head, though. One of those clear memories is of my dad and it lasted exactly 60 seconds.
Some days before I would get ready for school I would watch the kids’ game show called Double Dare. It was a 30 minute program that was a combination trivia and obstacle course. The unique thing about this show was the slime and gook used in the obstacle course – stuff that kids love to see people get covered in when they fall. The obstacle course lasted 60 seconds and was at the very end of the show.
One morning my dad was rushing to get ready for work. I remember him dressed in his work clothes and had his briefcase in hand. I was engrossed in the episode of Double Dare and my dad barely acknowledged me being there. I was excited to watch the obstacle course and I wanted my dad to watch too – I think because I wanted him to think it was super cool too. I told him to stay and watch – and then he said no.
I was persistent, though. “Dad, it’s only 60 seconds long! You can wait one more minute to leave!”
He looked at me and then the TV and he did something that was very atypical for him. He said okay and sat down to watch the obstacle course with me. I was so excited that he actually wanted to stay and watch!
It’s funny how 30+ years later I remember this small moment because it had a really big impact on my relationship with my dad. He’s often caught in his own head and doesn’t have a strong sense of empathy with how his actions affect other people. His universe orbits around him in a lot of ways but he doesn’t intentionally mean to isolate himself. He does care about the people around him but it doesn’t always show.
This one day I reached that bit of his mind that recognized the empathy I really needed. In that 60 seconds I connected with my dad in a meaningful way. I’ve reflected back on that moment so many times when I get frustrated with him especially now that he’s affected by Parkinson’s Disease. My dad’s disappearing little by little with what feels like dementia related to the Parkinson’s.
When you have that 60 second moment to have an impact on your kids, take it. You’ll never know how long it’ll stick with them.
The last few weeks have been hard for me getting over the loss of Burkley. Every day is a little bit easier. Things like this poem have been helpful. Grab a tissue, it’s a good one.
The Last Battle
If it should be that I grow frail and weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done,
For this — the last battle — can’t be won.
You will be sad I understand,
But don’t let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.
We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn’t want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please, let me go.
Take me to where to my needs they’ll tend,
Only, stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.
I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don’t grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We’ve been so close — we two — these years,
Don’t let your heart hold any tears.
accomplishing an aim or purpose
How do you define success or if you’re successful in life? To some success is defined by their monetary reward or compensation. To others success is defined by the number of children they’ve raised. Success could also be defined simply as living a life you enjoy.
Most likely once you’ve defined what success is, you’re in a state of non-success. Success is something you still want to achieve. The problem with labeling yourself as not yet successful has the connotation though that you are the opposite of success – which is failure. This boolean expression is a logical falsehood. Humans are always striving to be successful at life or individual tasks. If you don’t reach your definition of success I’d rather re-evaluate the definition than give up and declare failure.
So if success is arbitrary or loosely defined, why bother defining it? Going through life without a goal or something to aim at can be hard to handle. I’m not suggesting we all develop a 20-year plan but at least consider what big things you want to accomplish in the next few months. When you’re sitting around the house bored or aimless your goals can provide some clarity.
Who cares about goals if you’re accountable only to yourself, right? Well, there’s the rub. Make yourself accountable. Tell someone your goals. Feel an obligation to follow through by getting someone else energized about these goals. While they’re not going to beat you over the head to reach the goals it’ll provide a sense of urgency or priority. This is one reason I used to love being in college – accountability.
Start off small if you haven’t ever considered what success means to you or if you’ve never set a goal before. Maybe that goal is to walk a mile over lunch or to volunteer for a social function. Whatever it is make the first goal something you know you can achieve with a reasonable amount of effort and time. Once you get in the groove of goal-setting, start setting longer-term goals and wider definitions of success.
I’m attending an awesome conference this week and I’ve been seeing a trend that I want to address.
On more than one occasion I’ve noticed people bad-mouthing a particular technology they’ve deemed as being inferior. Specifically I’m addressing the number of speakers and panelists bad-mouthing WordPress. On more than one occasion WordPress has been called (and I’m paraphrasing) crap and useless.
As a full-time mobile developer I do not develop on the PHP side of WordPress. I barely know how to create a plugin even after working four years at Automattic. I personally do not have a drive to learn WP dev beyond what I need to accomplish my job. Just because I don’t use WP directly and only the APIs doesn’t mean I don’t have respect for it and the entire community of developers and volunteers behind it.
Marginalizing an entire development community, especially at a polyglot tech conference, is a shitty move. Given that I work for Automattic and WordPress pays the bills it really hurts hearing someone call what you’re working on useless and irrelevant. I guess 28% of the web on WordPress isn’t really great (/sarcasm).
The reality is you’re not perfect. Your code is crap, just like mine, and everything we did in the past is never as good as what we’re working on now. We live in an ecosystem of technologies – learn to love everything that is tech. You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the foundation of what’s considered legacy. Your perspective is ultimately skewed to what your personal experiences have been – understanding others have valid experiences as well makes our world more diverse and inclusive.
It’s been nearly four years since I started the journey of understanding how my attention & focus work. Along the way I’ve learned several things that have been key factors in developing tools to modify my behaviors to perform better.
Most importantly any tools/habits you use or create are ephemeral. The tool may or may not work for you. Maybe the tool works for you for a couple months but then it becomes a hinderance. Possibly even the tool feels like it has always worked but something lets you understand it never really did help. The key thing to realize is your toolbox will and should continually change with you over time. No matter what people say you’re a continually changing person – even old dogs learn new tricks. It’s okay to throw things out and to try new things.
Don’t try to change too much too quickly. This is probably just as important as the first key but it’s not very obvious until you start trying new things. If you try to change too many things or switch a habit drastically it’s much easier to abandon when you don’t feel immediate successes. Instead try to incrementally change towards something longer term.
I’ve always wanted to have a meditation practice and make it part of my daily regimen. I felt it was the one missing piece to my daily routine with exercise that could help curb some of the ADHD symptoms. The problem was I didn’t know where to get started and was really afraid of being a failure. I’ve always had a very open heart and mind when it comes to spirituality – if I couldn’t “get” meditation then that would make me question a lot of things. I realized that my biggest fear was based upon my perception of how meditation can work and look.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the many ways you can practice meditation. Specifically it focuses your mind on being present in the moment – to be aware of what you’re doing but not getting overwhelmed or misdirected by emotions, memories, and other inputs. My husband started meditating with the Calm iOS app to help with his challenges with anxiety. I learned that meditation doesn’t require hours of effort every day and having an app on my phone made the barrier to entry super low. It also helped that he broke the ice by starting the practice and the two of us support each other with motivation to try to get a session in every day.
Today marks the 122nd day that I’ve done a mindfulness meditation – either with the Calm app or on my own. I usually find streak analysis to be demotivating when life gets in the way and you miss a single day. I found after about 30 days of use of the app I started incorporating small moments of mindfulness meditation when I felt my attention slip. On the few days where I forgot to do a formal session with the app I logged a few minutes of time where I knew I was being mindful.
Mindfulness will slip into parts of your day where you don’t expect it. When giving one-on-one reviews with my team I frequently find myself popping into a moment of reflection before the video chat starts. Being mindful upfront brings the memories and feelings of that specific teammate into focus so our conversations are relevant and scoped to the purpose of a one-on-one. In the past those calls frequently were disconnected from the past because I got caught up in the actions of the operational nature of the call rather than the true nature of what they should accomplish.
It only takes a couple of minutes out of your day. Pick a time that is quiet and consistent throughout the week including the weekends. For me lately that’s been in the morning after the dogs get fed and before I have a cup of coffee. On average I’ll do a 10-minute session but try starting with a shorter amount. Calm uses a subscription model but they do offer a seven day cycle for free as well as several other options. There are plenty of other apps out there as well but I would suggest to start with one that provided some guidance narration.
Being mindful isn’t just about listening to yourself. Developing a mindfulness practice will help you realize when your own emotions and memories are preventing you from seeing things external. Think of it like wearing a pair of sunglasses that have been cloudy from smeared sunscreen for years. Laziness stopped you from cleaning the lenses and over time you stopped even noticing the reduced clarity. Mindfulness lets you recognize the cloudiness, without judgement, and lets you understand what you’re seeing differently because of the smudges. You can then choose to clean the lenses and see how the world looks with more clarity.
Leadership is a state of heightened awareness and fear.
~ Aaron Douglas, sometime this week
I’ve been a team lead for a couple years now at Automattic – a little over a year of that with the larger team (Go Slytherin!!). I’ve made several discoveries of what being a lead (team, project, technical) means. I’ve realized one thing I have to do is to put myself into a higher state of awareness and embrace fears.
Leads have to see the business landscape with different eyes. My main goal as a team and project lead is to unblock the pathways for my teammates to succeed. I’m required to involve myself in conversations that are out-of-band from what the team is connected to. These conversations get summarized in my head and become part of discussions with project leads and individual 1:1 meetings. I have to pick out the important things that relate to the team and bring that into conversations to establish insight amongst everyone.
This makes me sound like a guru. I’m not. The process isn’t glamorous nor difficult. It’s a super shallow task at times but it allows my team to focus on the work. Understanding more about our users, the rest of the company, and other big projects will only add depth to the things they are working on. Letting them go deep and work well on the things they’re doing is key to succeeding.
Fear can be healthy. Fear keeps us from doing bad things. Fear can also paralyze us so it’s important to understand how to interpret our fears. Team leads/managers have to learn to sense their own fears and translate those into actionable items or at least a watchlist. Typical fears for me include (and oddly most of them come in the form of questions):
- Did I forget to do something I said I would do?
- Are we on track with the project I’m leading?
- I hope our users are happy with our work.
- Is everyone happy with me and the work they do?
- What am I missing?
- Are our priorities right?
- Where are these voices coming from? (kidding, maybe)
I’m not saying leads are the only one with fears. We all have things like this we keep in our minds. Every one of these fears (except maybe the last one) can have some actionable item to keep the fear in check. Fear is a motivator. Use your fear to keep your team humming along.
What I’m not suggesting is using fear to intimidate your team into motivating them to work faster, harder, longer hours. You need to show your team empathy and compassion to turn their fears into motivation to do a great job. Make sure they know you have their backs and that a level of trust exists. When you get status updates make sure to restate that progress back at some point in some fashion so they know they heard you. You wouldn’t be a lead without them and they wouldn’t have a direction and focus without you. They have their own fears – don’t make one of them you.
I’ve been trying to brainstorm ideas on paper lately before committing to an approach on how to solve a problem. For some reason I wasn’t getting a ton of satisfaction switching back to pen & paper – it wasn’t helping my focus. Then I realized something from my days in school. I used to prefer pencil over pen because of the feel of the graphite on the paper and the non-permanence it implies.
The biggest obstacle I have to starting something is my brain trying to understand an entire solution before I’ve started it. Brainstorming like this should be helping me with incrementally breaking down a problem into pieces and finding out what I don’t know. For some reason the permanence of ink makes me feel like I need to put more thought into things before writing them down. That defeats the point of brainstorming!
So for me, I’m back to a pencil.
I’m nearly four years into my challenge of hacking my brain to be successful at working remote with Attention Deficit Disorder. I’ve struggled with trying to understand my behaviors and challenge myself to change incrementely over time. There’s one repeated concept that always comes up in my practice – my past experiences both help and hinder my progress. The key is being able to experience life as a beginner.
Beginners have a great platform to learn knew things. First off they realize they have a set of things they need and want to learn. There is motivation to better yourself and usually a fairly well defined place to gain the knowledge from. Beginners have (or will quickly) admit they don’t have all the answers. Those of us with experience trying to learn new things may think we understand things well enough. We’re not open to seeing things as a whole.
So my challenge to myself is to start seeing things as a beginner. Challenging assumptions I have will make me more open to learn new things and become more effective at working and living.
Here’s to starting off with a less full cup! 🙂