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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#21)

The later in life bloom: I feel like I’m just getting started now, and am about to reach 40. This week I came across The Art of Blooming Late and it definitely struck a chord. First, the set-up:

Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine and author of Late Bloomers, argues that our culture’s obsession with early achievement dissuades us from pursuing our passions. Instead of having varied interests, studying widely, and taking our time—essentials for self-discovery—we’re encouraged to ace tests, become specialists right away, and pursue safe, stable, and lucrative careers. As a result, most of us end up choosing professional excellence over personal fulfillment, and often we lose ourselves in the process.

Then, my favorite part:

The authors of Dark Horse, Todd Rose and Ogi Ogas of Harvard’s School of Education, noticed the negative effects of early specialization in a study of people who came out of nowhere to achieve great success. “Despite feeling bored or frustrated, underutilized or overwhelmed,” the two write, “most dark horses reluctantly plodded along for years before finally coming to the realization that they were not living a fulfilling life.” Then, after a period of restless, quiet ambition, these seemingly average people—administrative assistants, engineers, IT managers—were able to transform their “cravings, predilections, and fascinations” into successful careers as master sommeliers, lifestyle entrepreneurs, and celebrated craftsmen.

I was also reminded this week that the legendary management author Peter Drucker wrote 35 books in his life, two-thirds of them after the age of 65

An interesting perspective on meditation as its popularity grows: The Problem with Mindfulness gives some perspective that mindfulness is a big term and certain aspects of practices put under this umbrella aren’t for everyone.

In a 2014 study, for example, Tim Lomas, a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London, and colleagues, found that a quarter of the 30 male meditators they interviewed had troubling episodes—some encountered hard-to-manage thoughts and feelings; some exacerbated their depression and anxiety; and some became psychotic. One guy, a beginner, tried out an advanced method of deconstructing the self. “I crashed, lying on the floor sobbing,” he said. “I had a really strong sense of impermanence without the context, without the positivity. The crushing experience of despair was very strong…You just feel like you don’t exist, you’re nothing. It’s nihilistic, pretty terrifying.” Some negative experiences were less intense. “Doing mindfulness, you don’t like yourself sometimes,” another man said. “You just become aware, ‘Actually, I’m a bit of a shit.’” Lomas and his colleagues concluded, “Our paper raises important issues around safeguarding those who practice meditation, both within therapeutic settings and in the community.”

I love music AND podcasts, but: Are podcasts killing music or just wasting our time? While many of my commutes these days are done with a podcast playing, I still often opt for music and sometimes even 10 mins of silence.

Quote that resonated with me last week: “Music is the space between the notes” – Claude Debussy

New music I’m listening to: Chemical Brothers – No Geography. Great album for doing work or a weekend afternoon with the kids.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#20)

Quote I’ve been pondering: “It’s not how well you play the game. It’s deciding what game you want to play.” – Kwame Appiah

Favorite book excerpt of the week: From Gabor Mate’s  section in Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss: “don’t confuse being driven with being authentically animated by an inner calling. One state leaves you depleted and unfulfilled; the other fuels your soul and makes your heart sing.”

A simple way to win customers and make a fair wage: We spent our Saturday morning out with the kids at Seattle Center, and grandma got the kids balloon animals after being lured by a particularly funny and gregarious vendor in one of the main public spaces. When she went to pay and asked how much, he said there is no set price, you can pay us what you feel like.

Shocked, she ended up paying 10 dollars for 3 minutes of this guy’s time, a pretty good hourly rate. I bet he gets more than that more often than he gets less. This made me think of other areas where I would pay more than the set price because the product is so enjoyable (just like the 3 minutes spent with this vendor). I would do this with more music and art if it was convenient (I guess this is what Patreon is for).

Umpires in baseball are wrong (a lot): This is a long-read but as a fan of baseball I found it super interesting. The video near the beginning showing the worst calls is golden

New music for focus time at work: Etudes for Piano Vol 1. No. 1 – 10 by Philip Glass has been great for focus time at work or writing. I’m going to check out more of his stuff. (Hat tip to Scott)

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Moving to Scotland Work

Being a beginner again and always

A lot of people are asking about what I’m going to do when I get over to Scotland. Where am I going to work? Am I going to continue with Microsoft? Are there opportunities with other gaming companies? 

I don’t have anything lined up yet, I say. This is followed by some knowing nods and smiles. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding something is a common response. I don’t disagree, but I also don’t want to agree so easily. I feel comfortable with where I’m at professionally, and that’s my issue. The expectation of most is that I will go for the equivalent of a “lateral” move, or even better, get a “higher level” role for my next job. What if I did the opposite? What if I started over?

Menu sketch
Me writing out the code and design for an accordion menu I would implement on my university’s homepage using Actionscript in Flash back in 2000.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved art and design, and grew up learning about it through the lens of games. My interest in technology was born of game consoles, PC games, and remote control cars. How interfaces and images appeared and were arranged on a screen, and how input devices manipulated those images, was inextricably linked with how I created and what I wanted to create. I was also (and am still) a meticulously organized person, and I’ve always held tension between those often opposing forces: the creative who dives in not knowing where something will go on one side and the cartographer charting a detailed plan on the other.

The intersection of this making and organizing is where my career in tech began. Around the end of 1999, I started to notice how much visual creativity and storytelling were happening online, and I wanted to be a part of it. A friend of mine was making websites, so I joined him and suddenly I was building and (over) designing websites for academic departments at my university. I also set-up my own site (philnick.com), hosting it with a company called MediaTemple.net (solely because other web design artists were also using them). I was hooked by the combination of design and technology and freedom I had publishing on the web. Information taxonomy mixed with art! These were the days of figuring out how to bend table-based layouts to one’s will using single pixel spacers and CSS wizardry. The days of using FTP clients to publish a new version of WordPress and it’s MySQL back end. The days where Macromedia made Flash and the coolest sites had their menus and hero sections of homepages rendered with it. It was maddeningly hard to learn how to do it all and there was nothing else I wanted to do.

Scanned drawings for PhilNick.com
Some layout sketches for my original blog. I wanted a unique style so I hand drew the UI and then scanned them in and cut them into table layouts using Macromedia Fireworks.

I’ve previously written about this time as good hard work, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s the time in my life where I felt most creative, where I had full agency to learn, create and do. I knew there was no barrier other than time to making it happen. I was solving problems though experimentation, banging my head on the wall more often than not, and I was teaching and learning with others at the university technology department, and with like minded friends. My career at Microsoft owes itself to the momentum I gained during this time.

Early academic department website screenshots
Screenshots of some early departmental website designs I did. Bad by today’s standards but back then the web wasn’t as pretty as it is today.

I’ve never lost that love of creating and publishing work, and helping and supporting others use technology to create themselves. However, I’ve gotten further away from it as my career has progressed. Up until recently, It had been a long time since I was last making, designing and creating things with technology. My recent role (with Minecraft) has gotten me into making again, and non-coincidentally I’ve also jumped back into sharing my writing and illustrating online as a committed side-gig. It’s been amazing how it’s fueled all other aspects of my life and made me a better dad and a husband. The energy is flowing in the right direction, and I want it to stay that way.

“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”

Albert Einstein

So what do I want to do for work next? I’m not sure but I know what I don’t want to do. Instead of looking for a job that’s lateral or “higher level”, I’m looking for something that will allow me learn something new. I’d like to go back to the beginning, to actually being a beginner again and having to figure something out from scratch. I’d like to learn how to design and implement new user interfaces, bring stories to life using narrative, illustration, music and some code, or create a new way for creative collaboration and sharing. I’d like to do it both for income as well as incorporate it in projects with my kids and their education. I’d like to do it with others, in a way that’s not crazy.

I’m not sure that this will lead to in terms of my next role, salary, etc. It could certainly lead to less money. It will almost certainly lead to some raised eyebrows. I know it will lead to a lot of new learning, new connections and great experience.

Beginning again might not make sense to most, but it makes sense to me. I can only hope it’s one of many more.

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#19)

Drawing kids is hard: We were traveling all last week and I tried making some time to draw the kids at the breakfast table (in ink as is my norm right now). It was a (fun) disaster.

A book excerpt that made me think: In Draft No 4 by John McPhee lies the following quote from Cary Grant: “A thousand details add up to one impression.” The implication is that the small things really are the big things. Focus on doing the next thing the best you can, and the next, and the next. Create as many of these chains as you can. That is the definition of quality.

All about the robocall crisis: I get a few of these calls every week and my wife gets way more than I do. This gave me some backstory (and lots of interesting reading) on the cat-and-mouse game of robcalls: The robocall crisis will never be totally fixed.

A new coffee preparation: Found on the board of a coffee shop in Tofino, a cortado is a coffee preparation originating from Spain, consisting of half espresso, half milk. It’s similar to a flat white, but without the “textured” milk that is typical of Italian preparations. I still prefer my coffee black, but when I’m in the mood for something different, this is my new go-to.

My new goes-in-anything sauce: I’m super late to this party but Franks hot sauce is going in my pantry. It’s not really hot, and it’s got a acidic bite that can help balance any dish. When I was at a cooking class not long ago, they added it to anything that needed more acid (French cooking, Italian cooking, you name it).

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Moving to Scotland What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#18)

  • A book excerpt I appreciated: “While mankind is very intelligent in relation to other species, we have the intelligence of moss growing on a rock compared to nature as a whole.” – from Ray Dalio’s Principles.
  • I want to (re)learn how to code (at least enough to make a few utilities): I have some ideas on little things I’d like to build to make my journaling/note taking/writing easier and I want to do some things on my blog. I used to do light coding as a web designer (JavaScript, Flash/Actionscript, and some ASP.NET). This post, Ten Lessons I Learned While Teaching Myself to Code, and my current reading of Draft No. 4 by John McPhee, is pushing me to dive back in.
  • Some ideas on where to travel: I want to do a year travel with the kids, or perhaps living in a few different places, and reading this list gave me some ideas on how to think about it. France is definitely on the list.
  • A cool app for animating your own art: I’m grateful to have been turned on to the PuppetMaster app last week, and just like that we have a project for spring break this week: drawing the animated story of… (to be continued)
  • A great purchase that I rediscovered: I write a lot and am a fan of fountain pens (one of many rabbit holes I like to follow). I’ve collected a few pens over the past couple years, and I recently picked up my TWISBI Vac700 and remembered why it’s king: filling is easy, the extra-fine nib is superb and it’s got a heft to it that just feels right.