Spring 2017: The necessity of my 5 Year Outlook

This week marks three months since I moved to DC and started working at Applied Predictive Technologies (APT). At the risk of sounding cliche, these months have been, at times, wonderful and terrifying.

Ooh la la, embedded tables.

What’s surprised me most so far was not the number of protests or the minimum payment on my student loans. What’s surprised me most was how easy it was to fall into a routine.

Every Monday through Friday, I get up in the morning (at a consistent time!) and make my 3-block commute to work.

Which is pretty awesome because, very quickly, you are able to spend less time figuring out your routine and more time capitalizing on it. Reminds me of Tinder’s SmartPhoto algorithm.

Monday: Cardio/Legs/Abs
Tuesday: Chest/Tris
Wednesday: Back/Bis
Thursday: Cardio/Abs
Friday: Free
Saturday: Long cardio
Sunday: Free

You’ve got a good 4–5 hour window after work to do with as you please. No homework. No tests. Over time, you can see how effective utilization of this allotment could pay off in a big way.

Monday: Gym 0.75hr, Shower 0.5hr, Dinner 0.5hr, DreamProject 2.5hr, Bedtime
Tuesday: Gym 1hr, Shower 0.5hr, Dinner w/ friends 1.5hr, DreamProject 1hr, Bedtime
Wednesday: …

But the problem with routines is that, by themselves, they have a tendency to lose their meaning. They can begin to diverge from the goal you originally created them to reach and, in time, you start to wonder why you ever did them at all.

Month 1: 5 workouts x 20 sets => 100 sets
Month 2: 5 workouts x 15 sets => 75 sets —”Hm, why don’t I just do 4?”
Month 3: 4 workouts x 20 sets => 80 sets
Month 4: 4 workouts x 15 sets => 60 sets — “Hm, why don’t I just do 3?”
Month 5: …

When I’m home, I always joke with (at?) my parents about how much TV they watch. A typical night at the Greene household goes something like this:

1830: Home
1900: Dinner
2000: TV + knit (beware mother’s needles)
2100: TV + knit— Brother’s bedtime
2200: TV + tablet (only time dad gets it away from mom + brother)- Mom’s bedtime
2300: Dad’s bedtime

And I’d say stuff like this:

“Isn’t it boring to watch TV every night?”

“Y’all should go out more.”

“You know cable TV is like 30% ads, right?”. I bought them an Amazon Fire Stick. They paid me back.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that I’d started watching more TV. I was playing more video games, watching more Netflix, and spending more time in my underwear. At the same time, I was working out, going out, and pushing out a lot less. I began trading the gym for chicken nuggets (no dinosaurs), friends for Heroes, and the city for my king-sized bed.

In short, my nights were beginning to look a lot like my parents’. I was completely content and that’s absolutely terrifying.

That’s not to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with going home to play video games/watch TV and/or spend the weekend in your room. We all have our own values, wants, and needs.

One person’s perfect night may involve a couch, TV, a skein of yarn, knitting needles, and a glass of Old Smokey apple cider. Another’s may be to jam out to Champagne Drip in a dark room full of strangers. Neither vision is any less real, neither thought any less “right”.

What terrified me about this pattern was not that I’d become a recluse, swapped my good habits for (arguably) worse ones, or even that I was becoming more and more like my parents. People change and everyone needs time to themselves, be it an afternoon or a few cycles of the suns. It is known.

What terrified me was that I was completely content, despite being dismally unfulfilled. I’d happily spend the entire night escorting the payload then wake up in the morning, disappointed that I had nothing to show for it. My chores piled up, my projects remained untouched, and (sometimes) my rank went down.

I can deal with changing habits. It’s natural. It is known. But I can’t deal with a lack of fulfillment. To me, that indicates a misallocation of time and effort. I can’t reliably change the years in my life, so I must do my best to optimize for the life in my years.

So why did this lack of fulfillment exist? What caused it to manifest in the first place? I mean, I’m kind of living the dream right now. I got into my dream school, graduated with honors, joined a great company, and get paid to do what I love. It’s non-obvious where Dream-Eater would even be effective.

The truth is that I’m still not exactly sure what caused this. I know, super anticlimactic.

But, I do have a working theory and, so far, the evidence I’ve collected seems to indicate its viability. Or at least its habitation within the same ballpark.

My theory is this:

I have no long-term goals.

Please buckle your seatbelts and keep your arms, legs, and tentacles inside the vehicle as I try to explain.

For the past 16 years (give or take a few), I’ve always had a long-term (scaled to level of smartness, of course) goal, even if it was largely institutionally driven. Some epic mission that I was slowly marching for, an omniscient progress bar tallying my feats.

I don’t remember this far back, but I imagine it started small:

Make it through this class -> get recess

Then got bigger:

Make it through the day (and aftercare) -> play video games

And bigger:

Go to school for the week -> Kids’ Night Out (lookin’ at you TAS folks)

And bigger still:

Make it to the summer -> go to camp

Yet bigger:

Finish middle school -> high school (with all the big kids!)

Until the biggest (yet):

Graduate from high school {
- Get good grades
- Participate in extra curriculars
- Figure out what you want to do
} -> go to college

Graduate from college {
- Get good grades
- Participate in extra curriculars
- Figure out what you want to do
- Search for a job
} -> Get a Job

Get a Job -> Be an adult

Be an adult ->

Quite abruptly, the trail runs cold. The script ends. NullPtr Exception at LifePlan.Next(). For the first time in my life (that I can remember), I am working towards absolutely nothing.

When working towards nothing, every ounce of effort gets you exactly no closer to that goal. When work gets you nothing, why work at all?

Thus, I came to the conclusion that the solution to my ailments was to simply decide what I wanted to do next.

You can unbuckle your seatbelts now.

My 5 Year Outlook

So, here I am, sitting on the top of my mountain of experience, trying to decide what’s next. And it’s terrifying. Terrifying because the options are, seemingly, endless, terrifying because almost every path is immediately actionable, and terrifying because this decision is entirely my own.

But I’m a big boy now — an adult even — and I’ve learned over the years that making no decision is a decision itself. So, without further ado, here’s my stab at a 5 year outlook and an effort to ensure that tomorrow me remains Day 1 me.

  • Achieve ‘Principal’ level of Software Engineering proficiency. Like many industries, there’s not really a uniform set of guidelines that companies follow when determining what the different levels of a particular role actually means, so the term Principal isn’t super useful. A Principal is not a full-fledged wizard crossing planes willy-nilly, but is a solid guild mage you’d trust to lead daring expeditions with a conjuring skill hovering around 60.
    If that wasn’t particularly helpful, I want to be proficient at:
    - Leading teams and projects
    - Building large, quality systems (esp. wrt construction, design, maintenance, performance, reliability, scale)
    - Problem solving (esp. wrt breadth of technologies/languages, cost-benefit analyses, pure performance, simplicity vs. performance)
    - Communicating achievements, opportunities, and initiatives
    - Identifying and pursuing growth opportunities
  • Productionalize art interests. I’ve been a big fan of many different kinds of art over the years. But now I want to be more than an observer, I want to be a contributor.
    I want to:
    - Produce impactful pieces
    - Collaborate with other producers
    - Explore different media/experiences/perspectives
    - Share it with the world
    - Systematize discovery, production, and distribution
  • Take a deep dive into CS. I like making shit. Alot. But I want to make sure I explore some of the Enumerable<World> I have yet to visit and take the opportunity to explore farther into those I have. GT’s OMSCS program has been a growing blip on my radar, but there are, increasingly, many ways to explore these realms so I’m going to do my best to make my decision based on practicality and value over all else.
    The goal is to have a working understanding and appreciation for at least:
    - AI
    - Algorithms
    - Architectures + Patterns (especially performant and at scale)
    - Blockchains
    - Computational Media
    - Data Science
    - Networking
  • Actively contribute to the betterment of open source, software, and the world. Sometimes you just want to do something good, ya know?
  • Be fit -> Escape the APT 10! Physical health is a key component to mental health. If I’m trying to be the best me, then keeping up with my body is going to play a large role in it. 
    I want to:
    - Retain some semblance of a 6-pack
    - Easily body a 5k
    - Don’t be the scrub at the gym

That’s all I’ve got for now. See you in 5 years!

Just kidding, I’ll probably see you at my next reflection.