Little by little...

Little by little...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Flat Tires Of Life

Let’s say you go for a bike ride. The conditions are perfect and you set off for a long trek that will take you most of the day. You start out full of energy and optimism. You savor the clear air and azure sky and make great time for the first hour.

As expected, your energy starts to wane and you stop for a break. You feel refreshed and hop back in the saddle, planning to stop every hour or so. You have no real schedule so you stop whenever you feel like it. Each break gives you time to regain energy and reflect on how far you have come.

On one break, you notice that your front tire seems low. No worries, you brought your pump. You fill it and carry on. As you ride, you are very aware of the front tire – you notice every wiggle and you feel every pebble you hit. You become so distracted that you stop for the next break sooner than planned.

You were right. The tire is a bit low again. There must be a slow leak somewhere. To play it safe, you re-route so you can head home. You are grateful that you have a pump, but frustrated at the thought of stopping frequently to re-fill. But you’ll be fine and you ride on.

By the time you are a few miles from home, you are cursing at every stop sign and car that pass you. You can’t wait to get off this piece of sh*t bike! You wish you would’ve bailed hours ago and just called a friend to pick you up. You wasted a lot of time that could’ve been done doing something enjoyable.

I realize this is a contrived story, but I love the metaphor. I have been operating with a flat tire for some time now. I pump it up by traveling to conferences, meeting new people, learning and teaching new ideas and reading books. I tell myself that if I can focus on the journey and not the setbacks, then I will enjoy the ride.

Many times, I want to give up and hurl this bike into the dumpster. Why can’t I accept that this tire will never, ever be fixed? It is exhausting to ride the highs and lows. In my fatigue, the only thing I can think of is a new tire!

Other times I convince myself that flat tires are good; they are opportunities to grow stronger. And there is truth in that. If my current situation were more gratifying, then maybe I would not have tried my hand at speaking, writing, traveling, etc. And I have certainly learned A LOT about what not to do. Just like real muscles, I needed the resistance to develop some professional “muscles.”

I’ve cut the number of hours that I’m “biking” lately. And the result? As expected, my frustration has decreased and my energy is up. I do more of the things that fill me up, and less of what drains me. Seems like a simple equation for happiness.

What are the flat tires in your life? The things that started off enjoyable, but now only bring you grief?  Are you going to keep filling the flat or do you have better things to do?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Losses and Living Again

Who would have thought forever would be severed by…
The sharp knife of a short life, oh well
I’ve had just enough time…
If I Die Young by The Band Perry

I was newly wed and newly graduated from college when I got the call. My best friend had suffered a brain aneurysm. She was alive, barely, and the doctors were trying to reduce the swelling on her skull.

She was in a hospital three hours away and we hurriedly made plans to get there. The details of that first week have blurred. The swelling went down, but the left side of her body was partially paralyzed. There was no damage to her cognitive functions, but while repairing the aneurysm, the doctors discovered brain cancer.

Fast-forward one year. Angie was home. She was re-learning how to walk with a leg and an arm that wouldn’t co-operate. She affectionately named her left arm, Edith, and her left leg, Linus. That way she could flip you off and claim she had nothing to do with it. It also gave her a way to yell at her body when it wouldn’t do what she wanted.

That was typical of Angie. She found ways to cope with the crap of life. Her family was more dysfunctional than normal so I guess she learned early. For example, among other things, her mom was a hoarder. When she came home from college for visits, she would load up trash bags under the guise that her sorority could use a few things. Then she would find the nearest dumpster and unload. It gave her some sense of control in a hopeless situation.

Skip ahead another year. The doctors said the cancer was terminal – an even more hopeless situation. What did Angie do? She endured chemo and radiation and signed up for experimental treatments. And oh yeah, she also enrolled in Baldwin Wallace’s graduate program for International Business.

She had no idea how much time she had left. (Reminder: none of us do.) So she studied French. She traveled to China (by herself!) and Greece. She kept learning and questioning and meeting people and impacting the world. She spent more time on the things that brought her joy and less time on the things that didn’t.

Jump ahead a few more years. I find out I’m pregnant! The first thing I want to do is call Angie. Then I remember that I can’t. It’s only been a month since she’s been gone and the comfort of habit overshadows reality. If we have a girl, we toy with the idea of naming her, “Angela.” She did not like her name so she would’ve hated that - it’s a good thing we have a boy. 

Angie inspired and influenced everyone she met. And not because she had a bubbly, Miss Sunshine disposition. She was authentic AND kind which is a special combination. It’s easy to be either, but it’s hard to be both. People were drawn to her honest observations about life and, mostly, about themselves. She could “read people,” as she put it.

When she got sick, I quit my first full-time job. I decided life was too short to be miserable. And I had no excuses. Even though she had to slow down at times, she never stopped striving for the life she wanted. How many of us are not even sick and yet we’ve already stopped living?

Then my son was born ten months after she was gone. Like a lot of people, I slipped into the ocean of being a new parent. What I wanted didn’t matter anymore (of course, I found out later that it did).  I stopped reading books, meeting friends for lunch, and polishing my resume.  I sank even deeper after my second son was born.

Without planning to, I put my personal & professional growth on hold. I stopped living an intentional life. She would have been so mad at me! Most importantly, she would have sat me down and pointed out that I could be a great mom while still developing my unique skills and talents. In fact, she would have told me that I could be a better mom by following my passions.

But without her truth, I lost my way. I settled. I stopped believing in myself, stopped seeing myself through her eyes. I am not blaming her for decisions that were absolutely mine. I just think it underlines the importance of friendship in keeping us afloat, not exclusively, but especially for women.

It took time for me to reach out again, to expose my vulnerabilities and accept my need for others. And I am blessed with some wonderful friends, both old and new, who speak their truth into my life. I still miss Angie terribly - grief is such a stubborn emotion. We all have loss and hurt that hang around and try to distract us from the present. But we can also know beauty and joy and endless opportunity if we open ourselves up to it.

So I acknowledge the pains in life – they develop us in so many ways. And then I savor the smell of my boys’ hair after they’ve played outside. I message a friend to tell her that I love her. I push myself to run farther as I train for my first 5K. I let a dark chocolate truffle linger on my tongue before I finish it. And then I update my resume.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What Did You Find In Your Room of Requirements?

Last week was Agile 2013. It was my second year attending and my first as a presenter. As I acclimate to reality, I am marveling at the week of happiness that I experienced. From compelling sessions to deep conversations to dancing late into the night, the week was filled with learning, laughter and joy.

What is most amazing to me is the complete lack of scheduling that I did beforehand. Other than learning which old friends would be there too, I didn’t plan sessions or schedule events. (If you know me, then you know how crazy this sounds.) This is one week a year that I embraced the “right place, right time” philosophy.

For example, when I arrived, a good friend messaged and wanted to grab some food. Perfect! I was tired and hungry. We met and fell into easy conversation. I arrived to the conference rather anxious since I was presenting solo for the first time. His kind, supportive words were exactly what I needed to calm my nerves.

As more people arrived onsite, our group grew to include some new faces. I enjoyed some harmless, verbal sparring with people who I would consider veterans in the industry. This opportunity to hold my own was very satisfying as I still suffer a bit from an inferiority complex.

As the night wound down, I had the chance to re-connect with one of my dearest friends. Nothing compares to gabbing into the wee hours with one of your besties. I needed to be reminded of something that can get lost in the thrill of making new connections: deep friendships are what carry you through the low times.

So that was just the first six hours. After several days of meeting the right people at the right time, I was reminded of the Room of Requirements at Hogwarts.

“It is a room that a person can only enter when they have a real need of it. Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker’s needs.”
- Dobby, explaining the Room of Requirements to Harry Potter [1]

Everyone who attended Agile 2013 arrived with different needs. We have diverse goals and aspirations, along with unique fears and insecurities. And I believe that this conference environment is a giant Room of Requirements. It is always equipped to meet our needs – if we allow it.

      ·      If you are seeking one-on-one conversations, there are quiet corners to chat and connect.
      ·      If you absorb knowledge like a sponge, there is an ocean of sessions from which to choose. (So hard to pick!)
      ·      If you are frustrated by a work situation, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who feels your pain and wants to help. (Tip: airlines won’t allow dead cats in your carryon.)
      ·      If you need to network and build your brand, there are people poised with business cards, waiting to find the common link between you. 
      ·      If you desire a little adventure, you don’t have to look far to find a group making mischief. (Who wants to break into the pool at 2am?)
      ·      If you want a big push out of your comfort zone, there are lightning talks and impromptu slide karaoke sessions. (I was not brave enough, but enjoyed watching. Maybe next year, Arlo!)
      ·      If you crave dancing and nightlife, there are groups heading to downtown clubs every night. (Flip-flops allowed.)
      ·      And if you need to laugh, as I did, then there are spontaneous emergent design sessions for re-purposing Planning Poker cards. (Best. Time. Ever.)
Beta-testing Promiscuous Poker. From left, clockwise: me, Ardita Karaj,
Matt Barcomb, Tim Ottinger, Bryan Beecham, Mike Bowler, Adrian Howard
These are just a few of the bigger needs that come to mind. I can’t begin to share the moment-by-moment highs and lows, the hugs at just the right time, the words of encouragement when self-doubt creeps in. The more I relaxed and really lived in the moment, the more my needs were met.

The important thing was to acknowledge the need and take a step through the door.

So if you show up to a conference with a detailed schedule and a list of things to accomplish, I think you might be missing out on the real value. But then maybe that’s because my need is to relax and laugh and re-connect with people who share the same values as me. If your need really is achieving some "thing," then the conference is certainly equipped for that, too. It will be what you need, if you let it.

If you had a chance to attend Agile 2013, or any other conference, what did you find in your Room of Requirements? What was the most memorable need that was met?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Grieving the End of This Chapter

Have you ever experienced the sadness of finishing a good book?

It’s usually a book that took me through ups and downs – one that could make me cry and laugh out loud in the same chapter. I get attached to books with gritty characters, imperfect yet likeable. And when I finish one of these books, I feel grief, I guess, because I don’t want to say goodbye.

This is another example of life imitating art.

I just finished a chapter of my life. And I’m sad because I had to say goodbye to a group of guys that I’ve worked with for over two years. They do some development work offsite for the company where I work. It’s a motley crew of developers with varied backgrounds and talents. I only “officially” worked with a few of the guys, but they all endeared themselves to me in one way or another.

Like that good book, our story line had some drama. I finally found a group of people who did not back down when I challenged an idea. Our disagreements and debates sharpened my thinking and broadened my perspective. They taught me so much! And they only made me cry a few times. J

We shared a lot of laughs too. Some of the funniest people I know are also the smartest. And these guys are some of the smartest. We discovered our comic commonalities early on, combining sarcasm, cynicism and snarkiness. When I’m around them, I laugh almost as much as I roll my eyes. They are the reason that I always wanted a brother.

Unlike finishing a book, this goodbye was not my choice. I am getting moved to a different team so my visits must come to an end. This imperfect yet highly likeable group of guys drew me into their lives and treated me like a sister. Which is why my long drive home today started with tears. I was feeling grief because this chapter of my life is closing.

But then I spent the rest of the ride home thinking about how lucky I am. I have met some of the sweetest, quirkiest, craziest people and I am a better person because of each one. And unlike a book, I won’t forget about these characters. Because thankfully, I don’t have to wait for a sequel to see them again.