What is Your Definition of Success in Life?

successful |səkˈsesfəl|
adjective
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.

Stop being a butthole about what tech you hate

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.

Being Mindful for 122 Days

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, Awareness, and Fear

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.

Awareness

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

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.

Focus & The Non-Permanence of Pencils

fullsizerender
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.

Experience Life as a Beginner

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! 🙂

It’s Funny What Kids Will Remember

Back in the mid 1980s there was a kids’ TV Game Show called “Double Dare” on the Nickelodeon channel. We didn’t have cable TV but at some point it started to air on regular television. Our local TV station even aired an episode early in the morning before school at 6:30am.

doubledare-logo

The show format was fairly simple. One part were standard panel-type questions with answers gaining you points. Sometimes your team would have to perform “physical challenges” which usually involved something messy – like digging through a small pool of pizza sauce looking for a flag. The team with the most points at the end got to go through an obstacle course for sixty seconds. Collecting flags throughout the course got you more money and prizes to take home.

Everyone who watched the show did it for that sixty glorious seconds of slime, goo, and gunk.

There’s one specific morning I remember watching Double Dare. My dad would usually leave work right around when the episode would finish up. He was always hurried, barely time to say goodbye before his most times lengthy commute to a job site for his systems technician job with Honeywell. I knew the challenge was only a minute long and I really loved the show. I asked my dad that morning to sit and watch the obstacle course since it was so much fun and it would be a good start for him. He initially said no and I remember being incredibly disappointed.

Being the smart kid I was I reinforced my plea with the fact it was only sixty seconds and it would be worth it. Something clicked in his head and he agreed and sat down to watch. I was so excited to share this awesome experience with him. I don’t remember his reaction to the show but I do clearly remember him taking the time to sit down and watch it. It meant a lot to me even if, at the time, it wasn’t something he really wanted to do.

Actions, especially with kids, have a lasting impression and who knows what the triggers are for those actions to stick in their heads. Moments like this have happened for me well beyond childhood. So this is just a reminder to myself to look for those small moments that could have a big impact on someone’s life.

And now here’s one of the show’s ending obstacle courses. It takes less than sixty seconds to watch. 🙂

Stop Looking at the Past in One Year Chunks

looking-back

We all do it – look back at the previous year somewhere around January 1st. We total up what we’ve accomplished in that one year and determine if it was a success or it sucked. Variables like births, deaths, accidents, career changes, friendships, personal health, and travel all seem to be popular indicators of success or suck. The reality is you should really stop looking at your past as increments of one year advances.

When you end up looking back at the previous year you tend to forget the things that lead you to where you are now. The reality is the older you get the less important one year of time becomes. When you’re 12 years old one year is one twelfth of your life (shocking math, right?). When you’re 30+ it’s now 1/30th of your life. It’s the reason why we tend to always say that “you can’t believe how fast this year went.” Perception is reality.

Looking at one year of time is short-sighted. When I look at how much I’ve accomplished throughout my life I can’t help but feel success. I’ve had plenty of ups and downs but I’ve managed to keep moving on and up in my mind. Life is a constant stream of change, conflict, and resolution. The perception of what’s gone right is easier when you only remember what’s happened recently. Take the time to step back and look at more than just the year and you’ll see a bigger perception of your life.

 

 

The Cross-Posting Effect

A lot of my friends on Instagram are also my friends on Facebook. They, like myself, tend to cross-post photos from Instagram onto Facebook and Twitter. I noticed a funny effect from that cross-posting – you end up missing a lot of posts from your friends.

Mindless scrolling. We all do it. Facebook was made for it as well as Instagram. Your brain is bored so you grab your phone and start scrolling through posts. I think we’re sort of zombies when this mode clicks in. I usually end up snapping out of that zombie scrolling mode when I see posts I’ve already remember seeing. Semi-conciously I feel I’ve reached the end of any content that I may want to read or view.

Cross-posting images from Instagram to Facebook sort of breaks this zombie mechanism of knowing when you’ve reached “the end” of new content. I’ve found myself scrolling through Facebook and seeing a photo I recognize and stopping. Chances are I didn’t actually see that photo on Facebook first, but rather on Instagram. The reverse applies as well. My brain stops me when content starts repeating but in essence that’s new content in that specific app.

I’ve also noticed this effect happen with publicizing new blog posts onto Twitter and Facebook but not to the same effect. I use the WordPress.com Reader to track blogs I like reading. Sometimes I do see friends’ posts on Facebook that I’ve already seen in the WordPress.com Reader. The content looks different enough that it doesn’t trigger the same effect all the time.

The thing I wonder about is if the effect causes some sort of mental fatigue in your followers causing them to potentially classifying your posts as noise rather than signal. I know how my brain tends to work and I can see that happening already with some accounts I follow in multiple apps/sites.

Bicycler’s Quiet

Bicycling is my meditation. I use it as part of my toolset to calm my brain and to train my mind to take in a lot of input and focus on important things. I recently realized that there’s a moment that doesn’t happen very often when biking. It sometimes takes an entire summer for me to have it occur. I call it the Bicycler’s Quiet.

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Bicycler’s Quiet is the sudden loss of wind noise in your ears when you’re cycling with the wind. It doesn’t happen very often because you need to be cycling at roughly the same speed and direction of the wind. Biking on days with very little to no wind doesn’t do it because your movement creates wind across your ears.

I love when it happens. Everything specific to the bike becomes quiet and you hear the world around you like it’s the first time. Super surreal and it’s a moment I live for. 🙃