Sidenote: Faith and family come before the three things below. That should go without saying, but figured I should say it regardless. You can read up the details on faith and family in this post over on my spiritual blog, if you’re into that sorta thing.
Our Time Is Short, So Have Fun
I’m not sure what got me thinking on this tangent. It could’ve been my daily analysis of life. It could’ve been me contemplating what to do professionally. Regardless, for some reason, I started to boil down what makes me happy as a person.
For those of you that have met me in person, and hopefully for those of you that just met me via this blog, it’s probably obvious that I’m a simple person with simple pleasures. While I often cloud my life with drama, stress and desires for false happiness (via some new gadget), there’s basically just 3 things that make me happy:
- Sharing a good meal
- Getting lost in the written word
- Learning to solve a new problem
I’m usually happy, so clearly I partake in all 3 of these items often. However, now and then one of these items will start to suffer. Along with it, my demeanor will also suffer and become foul. I’ll start to shut off the world around me and I’ll internalize my frustration with life. This frustration will often cause me to snap at those around me. It’s a flaw of mine I try to work on, but sadly will likely be with me ’til I die. I hope not and I do work on changing that (with some pointers from my faith). However, I’m human and thus I’m probably flawed for life.
While each of those items are deceptively simple, there’s “some ‘splaining to do” about them. Else, this would be a pretty short and boring blog post! LOL I’m also going to include something of a goal I’m going to strive for in each of the three categories.
Happy Item #1: Sharing a good meal – Family & friend time
I LOVE to eat. To put it more truthfully, I really enjoy tasting. If it’s crappy food, I can probably do without. My made up diet (which I need to get back on) was based around tasting and enjoying food versus shoveling it down your throat at breakneck speed.
My favorite food is probably French, in particular, their sauces. If you’ve never had a really good velouté or allemande sauce, you have not yet lived. (I’ve also written on how french cooking has made me a better programmer as well.) I also love BBQ, Indian, Mexican, Italian and Southeast Asian cooking. Yeah, I pretty much like every type of food.
The best part about eating, for me at least, is that most meals are not eaten alone. Some of my greatest memories revolve around food. In fact, I learned one of life’s greatest secrets in my grandmother’s kitchen. When I was very young, barely old enough to run around, I can recall my mom’s mom in the kitchen as we grandchildren infiltrated to snatch the just made flour tortillas. My young aunts would get mad and whine to their mom about us stealing the efforts of their labor. Every fresh tortilla we stole was more work for them to replace, because grandma wouldn’t let them stop making them until this giant container was full. This memory has probably had the greatest influence in my life and not because of my aunt’s whining or the taste of the tortillas (oh and they were ahh-mazing). No, instead it had to do with my grandma’s reaction. She just laughed and said in her sweet spanish voice, “Just let them be.”
This one incident instilled so many great things within me that people love to this day. Let me just list a few:
- Putting up with crappy, whiny coworkers (even upper management) – If you work with me, you realize that very rarely does work ever get me down. It doesn’t matter how much complaining, in fighting, etc. is going on in the office. As long as I have challenging work (more on this down below), I can laugh off the rest, just like my grandma laughed off my aunts.
- If simple things keep kids happy, let them be happy – I tend to forget this at times, but I do remember it more often than other parents around me. If the kids are content using a wooden spoon to bat a balloon around the living room, let them do it. If your kids are happy just sitting in your lap watching a cartoon, then stay there and enjoy the time. It doesn’t take much to make a kid happy, but they’ll treasure those happy moments forever.
- People will be endeared to you if you watch out for their happiness – I loved my grandma to this day for fighting for us. She died almost 20 years ago (wow…that long) and my love for her is just as strong today as it was when she let us keep snatching those tortillas almost 3 decades ago. I knew she wanted nothing more than for me to be happy and thus I wanted nothing more than to be in her presence.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Have you ever noticed how important things revolve around meals?
- You invite your boyfriend/girlfriend over for dinner to meet your folks
- One of those boyfriend/girlfriend later join you and more family for an engagement dinner
- There are “power lunches” in the workforce
- Brunch is a meal we made up just to celebrate the relaxness of the weekends
- Anniversaries are celebrated over a meal
- No birthday is complete without cake and ice cream
- Many a business are formed via a sketch or numbers written on a napkin in a bar/restaurant
- We “catch dinner” with our distant friends when we travel to their parts of the world
To me, it doesn’t matter if the meal comes from my kitchen, a friend’s kitchen or a restaurant’s kitchen. To me, the important thing is that people gather together in a place to talk and create memories. I used to hate eating alone, but now it’s not so bad. With social media, you can post details about your meal and some friend will likely pipe up. Still though, I prefer that all my meals happen with others. There’s one exception to the rule, but I’ll talk about it in a bit.
Goal:I’d like to someday have my own kitchen staff. I’ve read how both Hearst (of Hearst Castle fame) and Carnegie (of robber baron fame) both had huge homes that could house guests. The point of these grand palaces were probably twofold. First to exude their wealth, but secondly (and more important) it was to provide a place for friends to stay and partake in grand dinners. I can do without the first reason (flashing wealth), but I sure do love the idea of the second reason (grand dinners). Now too often, people say, “Oh no, I’ll never setup a guest room because then people will want to stay in it!” I hope to one day have a home where people can come eat like kings/queens and be treated like the royalty they deserve to be treated as.
Happy Item #2: Getting lost in the written word – Personal time
This speaks to the INFP in me, since the “I” stands for introverted. As I said before, as much as I love you people, I’d much rather be writing or reading a book. I can get lost in either aspect. It doesn’t matter the genre, type or style either. I love to read and write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, plays, etc. I’ve never really been into drugs. I dabbled in college, but nothing hardcore. However, I am willing to bet that the euphoria I feel when I write is probably as good if not better than the high from some narcotic.
To put it in perspective, one of the greatest memories of joy I have involves writing. I’m sitting in the first apartment that I shared with my wife and I was writing a short story. I was so lost in my made up world, that my eyes were closed shut, my head looking slightly up at the ceiling, with a huge smile on my face. Everything tingled and to this day, I love that story. You can read it here.
Writing blog posts, articles about technology or tutorials isn’t quite as euphoric. I think this has to do with the fact that when I write non-fiction stuff, I’m writing for others. I have to work hard to be clear, to get my points across and to be understood. Where with fiction, it’s all about transferring to paper that story that lives in my head. Literally, when I write fiction, I rewind the scenes in my head over and over to capture all the right details.
On the flip side, I take joy in other people’s written word just as strongly. I love to read so much that I’ve own several hundred books and 2 different Kindles (plus the Kindle app on my iPhone and iPad). I love to get lost in a good book. Time is often so short with work, family, church, etc that I rarely have the time to read. It is the *only* thing I miss about having a long commute. When I used to travel 60 to 90 minutes each way to work, I would read a lot. I’d read on the way up and read on the way back. It was a great primer for the day and a great relaxer after a day of work.
I realize that reading and writing are 100% selfish times for me. Sure, sure, you dear reader, may benefit from something noteworthy I may share, but rest assured. I didn’t really write it for you. Instead, I wrote it for me.
Goal: I’ve already written a lot of things, such as almost 600 poems for my wife, a ton of short stories (a few are here), a novel (it’s not good enough to share) and a handful of technical articles. However, I still want to write more. I have this vision of a 5 part fantasy novel series. I’ve been noodling it for years and years. I’d like to write that series before I die. Here’s the poem that will be on page 1 of the 1st book to introduce you to the world.
Happy Item #3: Learning to solve a problem – Work time
One of the joys that I am lucky enough to have is loving what I do. I’ve programmed for almost 20 years now (dang, I’m old) and I still love it to this day. The part of it I love is taking an idea someone has and building something from that idea that then helps them be successful. I take great joy in knowing that someone’s life is easier and more productive, because of something I’ve done.
Case in point was my stint at Bank of America in 1998. I was a contractor in the Business Tax Division. I won’t bore you with what they do, but they had an old DOS app and I needed to convert it into an Access application. (Come on, it was ’98! And they chose the tech, not me!) I looked at the existing app and said, “Okay, I can recreate this in Access. Do you want me to make it look exactly like the DOS one?” The manager paused and answered, “No, you can make it look different.” That was it. Her simple answer set my mind into motion. I began interviewing all the employees. I asked them what they did, asked them to show me how the did it with the DOS app and asked how I could make it easier. At first, many were threatened, thinking I wanted their job or wanted to replace their job. I convinced them all I wasn’t there to do either, but instead help them be better and thus work less but get more done. After 6 months, I completed the project (my first contracting gig) and moved on. Years later, I get a call from the Senior Vice President. He called to tell me that because of my going above and beyond in making their app, they all kept their jobs. I guess in the NationsBank merger, they were going to shut down the BofA Biz Tax Division and keep Nation’s. However, someone decided to compare the size to work completed ratio. When they did, they realized BofA’s was far more productive. They attributed this fact 100% to my app that I had written.
There I was, in my early twenties, and I had saved not just one person’s job, not two people’s jobs, but a whole freakin’ division of about 30 people. People that I not only worked with, but knew on a personal level due to my time I spent interviewing each one. When you learn early on in your career that you have the power to affect the lives of people in significant ways, it’s gonna lead you to love your job. I think this is probably why I don’t like full-time work as much as I like consultant work. When you’re full-time, you get trapped in the system and you have no power (usually) to have a great affect on anything. You’re just a cog, spinning along in the grand machine. When you’re a consultant though, you’re automatically granted this special power. You get paid big bucks to come in and do a highly specialized job. Management is more inclined to give you the power and authority to affect great change because they’re paying you so much money.
It’s this feeling of being handed a problem and being asked to fix it. The problem could be something existing that’s broken or it could be just an idea on paper that needs to be manifested into some working, usable piece of software. In either case, the endpoint is the same. At the end of the project, there needs to be something that works and makes people happy. It’s this blend of both tech and people in a programmer’s life that I live for. You give a lot of yourself to make sure others can be successful, whether they fully appreciate it at the time or not.
Goal: I think the best thing I could do is be a consultant from now on. I always flip-flop between full time employees and consulting, but rarely does the full time thing work out for me or my employer. A lot of my best qualities shine only when I’m consulting. I’ve made the shift from consultant to full time employee for a few different jobs, but after the transition both me and my employer were disappointed with my performance and attitude. I lose my edge and my “go get it” drive when I make the switch to full time. Now, there have been exceptions, a few full time jobs I have loved and rocked it, but they are few and far between.
Live Long and Prosper
Now, clearly these are the 3 things I live for. You probably (and should) have your own 3 things you live for. It’s what makes you…well, you. The key though is to uncover those 3 things. This way you can fill your life with as much of those things as you possibly can.
I think the best insight I can offer those who don’t know what 3 things they live for yet is this: Figure out what 3 things make you the happiest, then figure out the most effective way to keep your daily life filled with those 3 things. For those far away from all 3 things, all I can say is keep at it. It’s why we’re here. Like my business card says, “Do what you love and people will love you for it.” I believed that when I wrote it years ago and I believe it even more so today.