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:


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?


…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:


…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.


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?


Need Purpose In Your Designs? Create An Empathy Map

Maybe it’s the industry I’m in, or maybe it’s my age, but the past year I’ve really been searching for purpose in my work.

You see, my designs don’t help feed the poor or cure cancer (although we at IBM are trying!), so many times I stop and wonder what “Noble Purpose” my work has on my fellow humans around me.

…and then I participated in IBM Design Thinking.

…and found a way to have empathy for my users.

It’s really simple: Create an empathy map.

We identified who are user was, drew 4 quadrants on the wall and simply asked ourselves, “What is Satish saying, doing, thinking, and feeling?”

The doing and saying and even thinking was nothing new…but writing what he was feeling and adding it to a sticky on the wall…I could finally start seeing my purpose.

You see, Satish works really hard. But he feels trapped in his work because he’s always reacting to data center emergencies. Now he’s getting pressure to add new services and to be quite honest, he’s scared. He’s scared of failing, of getting it wrong, of not being valued by his boss, his team. If he only had software that could guide him, educate him, and help him deliver these solutions with ease and speed…without messing up, he would instead feel confident, valued, content, and even happy.


In one day I learned that the work I do does have purpose…I can change a person’s outlook on life…and in turn possibly how he reacts to his kids, his wife, his friends. My designs can save him time…time he can spend playing music, playing with his pup.

No, my designs might not cure cancer (yet), but my designs can help Satish have a better life.

…and that’s a pretty noble purpose.


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