The Washed-Up Rock Star

Two months ago, I was reassigned from leading a large design project to instead focus on a subset of that same design project. I called it a demotion,  others just viewed it as a shift. For me it was painful. I let it get to me personally.

This is what I wrote to capture my state of mind:

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Sometimes the rock star doesn’t feel washed up.

He feels he has years of ground-breaking creativity left.

But the record company drops him in favor of new talent.

His band mates don’t understand what happened.

He certainly doesn’t understand what happened.

All he knows is he’s got this pent up energy to be creative…be productive…be valued…

…and he’s not being given the opportunity.

At best he’s been offered to play rhythm guitar in the new guy’s band

What does that rock star do?

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…and that’s where I ended it. I didn’t know what to do. I was in a fairly deep valley.

Then, I sought guidance from a former mentor. She provided three things that were extremely helpful:

Empathy, Support, and a Kick-in-the-butt

In one week, she offered:

  • Empathy that what I was feeling was real, and that it was not just a made-up circumstance.
  • Support in options, opportunities, and approaches to overcome
  • A kick-in-the-butt that I need to get over myself and start killing it again.

What a great combination. Turns out that at least for me I need to know that someone has my back…someone is supportive and cares about my well-being. At the same time, I also need a challenge.

Now, I think I have an answer to the washed-up rock star:

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…What does that rock star do?

He keeps rockin’ it.

He keeps being creative.

He stays curious. Always learning.

If the new guy was put in charge, it’s for a reason. Observe why…it’s most likely an area you can get better at.

Learn, improve, adapt.

He uses his strengths to compliment the new guy all the while adding new strengths.

Before long, the record label notices…or, a new record label notices with better residuals.

Before long, he’s valued, rockin’, and more creative than ever.

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Do I know how this is going to finish? Nope.

Am I taking the opportunity to improve, learn, stay curious?  Yep.

Above all, I’m taking the long view, that this is just one small piece of my adventure-filled life, and if I remember to learn from both failures and successes, I’ll have a greater, more rewarding, more fun journey that can take me to stadiums to rock out in that I haven’t even dreamed of before.

Here’s to 2015.

Lets Rock It.

Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Being Productive in Something You’re Good At

It seems I suck at living my dream. Jon Acuff would be so disappointed in me. Ever since I was 16 I dreamt of “making it big” as a musician, songwriter, and performer.

Now, if you look at the path I took you could point to moments where I chose to ‘pursue my dream’ and I toured for a year with Up With People. But there are other moments where I chose to ‘play it safe’, some would say betray my dream, and I got a degree in computer science.

In the end, I am not working full time in the music business and generally that’s made me sadder than when I watched the whole series of “Friday Night Lights” one winter. So I’ve been reading a lot on how to be happy…including a lot on how to rediscover your dream once it’s been lost.

But then I read this:

Don’t focus in striving to be happy. Rather strive to be productive in something you’re good at. Happiness will come.

This, along with some great perspective from Mike Rowe, is making me think hard about what it means to be working in the career I’m in. (I was just about to write “…the career I’ve chosen”, but I’m not sure I really chose this…it just sort of fell into place. I’m good at math and science, randomly checked “Institute of Technology” on my U of M admission, walked by the IBM booth at the job fair, mentioned I studied computer graphics, and voila, a career is born.)

As I look at what I do at IBM, I’ve been recognized enough to know that I’m good at it. I also know that when I’m in the middle of a design session, time flies by and I come home happy. That makes me think the quote above is true. I can strive to be productive EVERY DAY at something I’m good at…and happiness will come.

I certainly know that when I’m down about my career path I tend to be less productive and I come home sad.

By the way, that career I’m in also allows me to spend the time and money on a recording studio that I can use any evening I want. The fact that I don’t use it enough is not entirely my job’s problem, but how I let my job overtake my emotions. If I’m worn out from a day of non-productivity, then I rarely have the ambition to record. However, if I’ve had a great productive day, I feel energized to do more…and into the studio I go.

Which brings me to the inspiration of this blog title: “Life, Liberty, and pursuit of happiness”.

I’m thinking that “pursuit” sounds a lot like work, which sounds a lot like being productive in something you’re good at.

It doesn’t really roll off the tongue, but I wonder if this is what our founding fathers were really pointing to. If that’s what the American dream was meant to be, then I guess I don’t suck at ‘living the dream’. Maybe I just need to strive to be productive in something, anything, I’m good at. We can’t just expect happiness to fall into our laps. I would argue that if the ‘thing’ that makes us most happy falls into our laps without working for it (pursuing it), it wouldn’t make us happy anyway.

So that’s what my next period of work will experiment with: Strive to be productive, every single day, in something I’m good at. In early tests, this has proven quite fruitful. Even if what I’m productive with isn’t related to my designs or deadline (for example, writing a patent disclosure instead of working on a design), I end up feeling happier.

How about you? Do you feel happier after you’ve been productive in something you’re good at, even though it may not be your dream job?

 

Omni-Tasking: An Illuminating Experiment

This originally appeared in Power IT Pro blog

Like you, I work in a fast-paced, high-tech business where I am constantly being challenged to increase productivity. For years this has involved multi-tasking across a large set of tasks that seem to constantly need my attention. While I feel I am quite effective at juggling multiple tasks at once, there are times I feel that the results, while complete, are not as satisfying as they could be. However, since the nature of our business holds up multi-tasking as the source of excellence and experience, the pattern has been accepted, and many times, required.

Recently I had an experience that began to challenge the very notion that “multi-tasking == better”.

Here is how it happened…

I’m sitting down to watch the season finale of Glee with my wife…beautiful thing…Netflix ;-). I had timed it just right…kids were asleep, wife was on the couch, and my very yummy evening dessert was freshly dished (heated home-made berry crisp bar with some really great French vanilla ice cream).

But it wasn’t just the ‘together time’ with the wife, the dessert, and Glee. I had my iPhone next to me, and even my laptop. I WAS SET! I clicked play, and my multi-sensory, multi-tasking late night experience started perfectly as planned.

And then the wife got up. WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING!?! I shout with my eyes (I’m good at that…especially when she’s walking away from me). She just hears the clink of the spoon and the pause of the show.

Dang it! I was so frustrated!

The experience instantly changed from a synchronized multi-tastic media blitz, to a time-wasting “watch the dessert melt while waiting for the missus” disaster.

I stared at my dessert in despair.

It started melting. Sadness.

I stared closer…

…it continued to melt…Amazing! I had never noticed it before:

The top of the ice cream was changing in real-time from a jagged mountain-scape into a smooth, soft pillowy cloud-scape. The berry crisp was causing the ice cream bottom to melt faster and created tiny fjords … ending in a micro sea of sweet deliciousness. The first spoonful was exhilarating! The textures I saw translated into a complex symphony playing across my tongue…complete with instruments of cold, warm, smooth, hard, sweet, tart…all within the first taste. The remaining bites were just as exhilarating…but different. As the melting continued, the texture changed, blending of sweet and tart increased, and each spoonful turned into a seamless tastexture that no amount of preparation could have produced.

I began to feel grateful for what I now refer to as “wifus-interruptus”. All I saw, felt, tasted, heard, smelled, savored…was all because I focused 100% on this one singular event. A multi-tasked version would have resulted in the dessert disappearing without barely tasting it, while at the same time a less enjoyable show with all the interruptions of glancing down at the dessert!

Then a sudden realization shook my core beliefs: Could my constant push to increase efficiency, experience, exposure, and excellence through multi-tasking actually be decreasing those very goals?

What if, instead, I focused 100% on one single thing at a time?

What if I took the time to dedicate all senses, all brain power, every curious and analytical fibre to experience everything that surrounds me like I just did eating that dessert?

What else would I notice that usually zips by without a neuron of recognition?

What delightful details evaporate before I can partake in their beauty?

What insight, skill, or invention escapes me because I constantly swap to the next of 18 things I’m trying to accomplish all at once?

I started to focus 100% on other things…

Did you know that the froth on a newly shaken glass of iced coffee bubbles like it’s alive…only to settle into a delicate blanket of protection over the liquid…preserving it for the perfect first taste?

Did you know a glass filled with iced coffee contains 1000 micro waterfalls? At least that’s what it looks like when the glass spontaneously starts sweating in the 90-degree summer air.

It was like I was given a sixth sense…focus. I wondered: Is this experience of omni-tasking, this 100% immersive focus of all senses into a single task, the key to unlocking a deeper, fuller, more satisfying experience? In my home? In my work? In everything?

I continued…

How about the pond and crick burbling in our walkout? It’s usually a background artifact filling the silent gaps between task switching. What if it was the foreground? The primary focal point? What would I absorb?

Did you know a chickadee stares at the water like it was the first time he’d seen such wonderful thing? Every time! “WOW! Look at that amazing, thirst-quenching river of life!”…he looks around…not frantic…looking for a friend? Lonely…he looks back: “WOW! Look at that amazing…” Did you know that a yellow finch seems so afraid at being eaten that every time he takes a drink he quick looks all around assuming it’s his last?

It was like I discovered a super-human power…

Did you know that 100% focus on your oldest son at the end of the day enables him to talk in a continual stream of consciousness? That through that kind of focus you can ask deeper questions, absorb his passions, likes, dislikes, and in the end show your love for him by just listening, reacting, and laughing?

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Now I’m wondering: Could omni-tasking help in other areas?

What if I focused 100% on my girls gymnastics training? Could we have deeper discussions on what the ropes feel like as they climb, arms only, in a pike position? Could they convey the feel of chalk on their hands as they spin the bars? What do they see as they flip across the floor?

What if I listened to my youngest? 100% focus. What would I learn from his crazy-smart brain? What insight would a 7 year old not-yet-jaded-by-assumptions-and-rules child have on a 42 year old too-distracted-by-everything-all-at-once-to-appreciate-much-of-anything brain?

What if I omni-tasked while writing music? What hidden gem would I discover? What deeper emotion could I share? What funnier lyric could I write?

What if I scheduled dedicated time throughout the day to omni-task on one work activity at a time? Would I marvel at what I accomplished? Would I find greater insight? Solve harder problems? Provide better leadership?

Lets get specific: As I leave work the day before, what if I identify just ONE thing to practice omni-tasking…and dedicate 2 hours to it? Heck, even 1 hour of 100% focus. What kind of solution or idea would appear at the end of that session?

Would I discover that through the self-driven pressure to multi-task I’m cheating myself…and everyone around me…from a deeper, better, happier, appreciative, wonder-filled, higher skilled, more inventive, kinder, better playing, love-giving, attentive, listening man?

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Omni-tasking. I might just have to spend 30 days experimenting…

Anyone want to join me?

Welcome to HinterVision

Welcome to HinterVision.

What is HinterVision? It’s the unique lens though which I engage the technical world.

For me, I’m certain that my love for music, composing, and performing; along with my love for creating things, my faith, travel, family, heritage…all affects my everyday technical world…

…how I design

…how I invent

…how I approach this corporate culture

…how I performing across the world for an audience demonstrating the latest technology

My HinterVision is pretty unique.

And you know what? So is yours! I’m convinced the more we value and utilize HinterVision, the more essential we will become in our work.

I want to share everything I can about the successes and failures I’ve had (and will have) so we can all laugh, learn, discuss, and debate. For me, I care about user experience, inventing, speaking, technology, world travel, and working for a corporation while still having a personal life that is rich, joyful, and rewarding.

I also want to learn everything I can from you and your HinterVision…about what you care about, how you approach your craft, and what makes your HinterVision uniquely yours.

How about it. You game?

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