Careering as a job

I have been trying to find a way to distill some absolute truths of life based on my personal experience. What I mean is to find a set of core beliefs that have proven true again and again without any uncertainty or exceptions. This is not something common. Pretty much only math can offer such assurances and even that has no beginning or end. But I have found a few things that have made an impression on me and I want to capture the mood that accompanies this idea in this entry.

Everyone is doing the best they can

This is a really hard concept to believe and smear all over your own personal preferences and feelings. Think of this logic though: at any point, you do the best you can with the what you’ve got. What you’ve got means different things to different people.

I remember a friend once saying “Without exception, in every situation, there is one person that thinks they are the exception.” Maybe I’m mis-remembering the quote but if that is it it suits my needs quite well. Life is just a series of context shifts. One day you’ll be racing on your way to work honking at the jamoke in front of you determined to go five under. Trying to catch the light you nearly hit someone using the crosswalk. It shakes you up and you start driving the speed limit after that. Then on your way home someone annoyingly rides your tail the whole way blaring their horn. Our brains process things without us even knowing it. I know that it’s not uncommon for me to be thinking of some situation or decision and then start describing my thoughts out loud to someone when an epiphany will come to me mid-sentence and fill in any gaps I had in my logic. That’s one of the large parts for my incessant writing recently. The trouble with this core belief, though, is outlined in the next core belief.

I only know what I know

My understanding of the world is within the context of my full life. My education, my religious beliefs, the language I speak, my right-partedness. When I think about how or why other people do things, I can’t have a shred of hope of understanding. We are different people.

Language is a good abstraction for this idea. We are speaking (reading/writing is kinda speaking) English now. If this were your first time to see English text you would have no idea what you’re looking at. English speakers understand English. Their history has brought them to a point in their life where their very thoughts are anchored by the limitations and nuances inherent in the language. As an outsider, these thoughts and statements are just noise. Just because someone can’t understand the meaning doesn’t mean that there isn’t any meaning at all.

If I see 53106613 or “Everything you do is a” in the wild, it means something to me. I take it as a nod from the universe. Not in some special way but in the way that someone can get lost in watching the moon reflect on a lake. It’s something that I appreciate. It moves me and then I just plow ahead from there. So when thinking of other people, the only connection I know I have with them is the connection that we are both alive. Any other assumptions are not guaranteed.

Advice must be asked for, never volunteered

This one is pretty easy to remember but hard to put to practice. As humans, we can only compare others to ourselves. So when I can’t figure out why it’s a good idea to squeeze forty data inputs into one half of a screen in a concentrated effort to prevent scrolling in a web browser, I want to interject and prove this madness with pages of good practices and examples that demonstrate the benefits of harnessing the power of technology instead of always trying to change it. But the fact of the matter is advice only stands a chance if it’s requested, and that is still only a small chance at best. The hard part of my job as a UX developer is telling when advice is asked for and when it’s asked for. Technically my job is to build the user experience start to finish. Technically I should always be sharing concerns or improvements to make the product more intuitive. But to streamline the process I’ve learned to pick my battles.

I started playing ping pong regularly with a friend at my last job and he was teaching me something new every game. One of the most effective things for me personally was the challenge of waiting a little bit longer to hit the ball than normal. I’m sure this isn’t a universal suggestion that all players need to work on but advice tailored to my overzealousness at the table. To conscientiously hesitate and delay the hit was at first hard to control. It went against my reflexes but later I realized that I was making better calculated shots. I was returning far less of his crazy shots out of bounds. So it goes in conversations. Being slow to respond and really verifying that your input is requested and applicable is always the best thing do, regardless of what your reflexes want to do.

Live in the present at all costs

Have you ever seen Gattaca? Brothers Anton and Vincent play chicken a lot by seeing who can swim out the farthest before turning back. Anton always won when they were younger but then one time when they’re older Vincent beats him. Later, Vincent explains how he was finally able to swim farther and beat Anton. He says simply that he didn’t save anything for the swim back. I have found that not saving anything for the swim back can lead you to some pretty fun places. Think of it paralleling with living in the moment, not focusing on the past or the future at any time. Only recognize that they’re there and really make the most of the present.

Whenever you analyze your past you are making a comparison with a completely different person. No matter the distance of time. Your past self will always be another person to you and your feelings. Another impenetrable person. The only difference is that you have the context of the decisions made leading up to that point. The trick is to forget that that context exists and give your past self the benefit of the doubt. But if are just focused on the present you won’t have to feel analytical towards the past. And thinking only of the future can keep you locked in a planning analysis paralysis. Measure twice, cut once. Well it’s easy to keep measuring with a goal of high confidence so that it perpetually defers the cut. So living in the moment and balancing feeling with rationalization will yield a big payout.