Know thyself

03/31/2015 | Follow me on Twitterhere

Self-awareness pays dividends.

No one can take it from you, and it acts as a baked in force-multiplier for your projects since after a while, you develop an understanding around how certain types of work affects you. You can then make better decisions about how (and whether) to spend your time (on certain projects).

Trouble is, honest self-reflection and self-inquiry require an extraordinary amount of courage.

And therein lies the rub.

Maybe I was wrong

03/30/2015 | Follow me on Twitterhere

It’s easy to dismiss Generation Z as…doomed. Any time I see news bubbling up about them or foolishly reinstall Vine on my phone, I grow less and less hopeful about the future.

But recently, I’ve been inspired by a generation of brave leaders like the young men I met last week.

Today, I had the pleasure of publishing something on Abernathy from one of the young men I met that day. From his email to me over the weekend:

So in the spirit of taking a leap of faith, I briefly spoke with you after the period ended and told you about my passions in writing. Also I very much mirror your frustrations as it regards to the pejorative portrayal of African American males in media, and I think that it is pertinent to also include different experiences and perspectives of different African American males.

So I have written poems, stories, and college essays about the struggles of being an African American male, being a black gay male, being a black male in poverty, and how these three identities often conflict with each other. So if those are some of the things you might be interested in, I would gladly email them to you. If you can respond back to this email I would greatly appreciate it.

James Fisher, age 17, gives me hope for the future.

My heart is swelling with pride today.

Less terrible, quickly

03/29/2015 | Follow me on Twitterhere

I’m learning the acoustic guitar, and it’s amazing how much of a difference I can see in my day-over-day progress just by strumming (poorly) a couple times a day.

Today was a bit of a breakthrough in that I felt connected to the instrument and actually expressing rather than just worrying about hand placement and messing up. There was music coming out of the guitar!

You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Anyway, time to start practicing my wealth manifestation activities twice a day…

Exposure

03/27/2015 | Follow me on Twitterhere

When I was in high school (and even in college, if I’m honest), I didn’t have any idea about what my life would look like 10 years later. I had a very limited view of the world, and didn’t know how to rapidly expand my perspective while staying on top of my studies.

And by “staying on top of my studies” I of course meant networking with the female student body, but that’s another post for another day. Go ‘Noles.

The point is, my perspective started expanding once I met people working full-time in the “real world.” I had many useful instructors, but there’s only so much you’ll be able to apply from career academics when it’s time to interview for a job.

Fortunately, I received a lot of professional development preparation and mentoring through the INROADS program and a number of wonderful humans along the way.

This morning, Shana and I spent some time at the Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx. The program is solving some tough problems, and we had a chance to speak with the principal about their mission and what they’re trying to do.

The mission of The Eagle Academy for Young Men is to develop young men committed to the pursuit of academic excellence, strong character, and responsible leadership.

What they should actually say is that there’s a full-blown crisis with black and brown youth in this country. The problems are complex, and education is where a lot of progress must be made in order to prevent at risk youth from being funneled into the prison-industrial complex.

We spent about 40 minutes in candid discussion with a bunch of curious, ambitious young men who asked a lot of questions. Shana shared some of the setbacks she’s experienced in chasing her dreams and growing her blog, and I shared a bit about my journey and why I launched Abernathy.

Shana, Willie, and two scholars

Not a bad morning.

Worst case

03/26/2015 | Follow me on Twitterhere

The fear of everything going wrong prevents a lot of great ideas from seeing the light of day. What I wish more people realized is that the worst-case scenario 1) isn’t so bad and 2) might also be the best thing for your idea.

Why you should do stuff

03/25/2015 | Follow me on Twitterhere

The thing no one will tell you about the benefit of shipping projects is that you learn the things that no one can teach you. The point of shipping isn’t just whatever the goal of the project is, it’s also:

  1. getting out of your own way
  2. being able to view yourself as the kind of person who does things
  3. learning how known and unknown people interact with your idea
  4. lots of other stuff

Once you shift your posture and mindset to that of the kind of person who does interesting things, you’ll have an invaluable lens that adds a new dimension to your view of what’s possible.

Maybe your idea is bad

03/24/2015 | Follow me on Twitterhere

It’s really easy to fool yourself into thinking that you have a creativity overload problem (“how do I decide which project?!”) rather than an issue with fear. The truth is that your ideas might all be terrible, and you might need to go back to the drawing board.

Even worse: you might decide to move on a project and people might hate it. You might be ashamed and humiliated. These are completely valid fears.

But if you’re fooling yourself about the nature of the issue, it’s possible to incubate bad ideas for far longer than you should. Get it out there already.

Your idea might be terrible, but that doesn’t mean you’re terrible.

It just means you need another idea.

What are you doing?

03/23/2015 | Follow me on Twitterhere

If there’s one lesson I’ve internalized this year that’s benefited everything I’ve touched, it’s that getting clear about what you’re doing before you begin a project is paramount.

Instead of your (unclear) vision coming into (an obscured) view as you build it, it’s worth taking the time to figure out what you’re building before going to the toolshed.

This might sound like common sense, but the discipline required to transfer an idea from the ether to a blank sheet of paper staring back at you is not trivial. And once you’ve committed the idea to paper, you’re on the hook (even if it’s just to yourself) for creating what you said you were building.

Not only does this force you to deal with the inclination to leave several options on the table at the outset, your commitment to the ever-clarifying vision of what you committed to building in the first place becomes the resolve needed to weather the inevitable storms to come.

RTFM

02/24/2015 | Follow me on Twitterhere

I’ve been head down for a few years with work and it wasn’t until recently that I took a look at the technologies that have matured and that have been adopted by the DevOps community.

Much has changed.

Things that used to take hours can now be completed in minutes, and these same tasks can be fully automated. This was already happening, but the tools to facilitate this are robust and well-supported.

Based on the communities around these projects, it’s easy to get up and running after reviewing a few tutorials. But since I’m building something important (and I won’t have time to firefight once things are up and running), I decided to buy a few books and take the plunge.

I’m glad I did.

Something that hasn’t changed much in the time that I’ve been doing system administration and server management work is the nature of the posts that are typically published about new technologies.

They’re typically written by:

  1. someone who hacked together an inadvisable workaround;
  2. someone writing an article for money, often at the expense of important security considerations; or
  3. someone with a unique setup (making the post useless for most people)

One huge advantage of reading documentation and official books is that the author of the book is often the creator of the technology.

This is helpful not only because the author benefits from being as clear as possible (a poorly written book is unlikely to get good reviews and be recommended), but they’re incentivized to think through how people will interact with said technologies.

When strength eludes

02/03/2015 | Follow me on Twitterhere

By Anne Lamott, via Pam Slim.

Nearly twenty years ago, I arrived at a fancy writer’s conference, in what were some of America’s most majestic mountains, where I was looking forward to meeting a great (and sexy) American director, who’d given a lecture the day before. But he had already left.

There was, however, a letter from him, to me: to not-all-that-well-known me. It began well enough, with praise for Bird by Bird, and gratitude for how many times it had inspired him when he got stuck while writing screenplays. He singled out my insistence on trying to seek and tell the truth, whether in memoir or fiction, and my belief that experiencing grief and fear were the way home. The way to an awakening. That God is the Really Real, as the ancient Greeks believed. And God is Love. That tears were not to be suppressed, but would, if expressed, heal us, cleanse up, baptize us, help us water the seeds of new life that were in the ground at our feet.

Coming from a world famous director, it felt like the New York Glitterati was stamping it’s FDA seal of approval on me, and my work.

Unfortunately, the letter continued.

He wrote that while he had looked forward to meeting me, he’d gathered from reading my work that many of my closest friends and family members seemed to have met with traumatic life situations, and sometimes early deaths. So basically, he was getting out of Dodge before I got my tragedy juju all over him, too.

I felt mortified, exposed. He made it seem like I was a sorrow-mongerer, that instead of being present for family and friends who had cancer or sick kids or great losses, I was chasing them down.

And I flushed in that full body Niacin-flush way of toxic shame, at being put down by a man of power, that had been both the earliest, and now most recent, experiences of soul-death throughout my life.

My clingy child was drawing beside me, What did I do? You can’t use your child as a fix, like a junkie. That’s abuse; plus it won’t work.

Well, duh–I fell apart, on the inside, like a two dollar watch.

I had stopped drinking nearly 15 years before, stopped the bulimia 14 years earlier, and so did not have many reliable ways to stuff feelings back down. Also, horribly, my young child, two thousand miles from home, upon noticing my pain, clung even more tightly. I wanted to shout at him, “Don’t you have any other friends?”

What I did was the only thing that has ever worked. After finding a safe and stable person to draw with my son, I called someone and told her all my terrible fears and feelings and projections and secrets.

It was my mentor, Horrible Bonnie.

She listens.

She believes that we are here to become profoundly real, and therefore, free. But horribly–hence her name–she insists that if we want to be free, we have to let every body be free. I hate and resent this so much. It means we have to let the people in our families and galaxies be free to be asshats, if that is how they choose to live.

This however, does not mean we have to have lunch with them. Or go on vacation with them again. But we do have to let them be free.

She also knows, and said that day, that Real can be a nightmare in this world that is so false. The pain and exhaustion of becoming real can land you in the an abyss. And abysses are definitely abysmal; dark nights of the soul; the bottom an addict hits.

And this, she said, was just a new bottom, around people-pleasing, and the craving for powerful fancy people to approve of me. It was a bottom around my psycho doing-ness, my achieving-ness.

She said that because I felt traumatized, and that there had been so much trauma in my childhood, and so many losses in the ensuing years, that the future looked like trauma to me.

But it wasn’t the truth!

There was a long silence. (Again: she listens.)

Finally, I said in this tiny child’s voice, “It isn’t?”

Oh, no, she said. The future, as with every bottom I have landed at, and been walked through, would bring great spiritual increase.

She said I had as much joy and laughter and presence as anyone she knew and some of this had to do with the bottoms I’d experienced, the dark nights of the soul that god and my pit crew had accompanied me through. The alcoholism, scary men, etc.

She said that what I thought the director had revealed was that I am kind of pathetic, but actually what I was getting to see, with her, and later, when I picked up my luscious clingy child, in the most gorgeous mountains on earth, was that I was a ral person of huge heart, laughter, feelings and truth. And his was the greatest gift of all.

The blessing was that again and again, over the years, we got to completely change the script. Thank God. We got to re-invent ourselves, again.

But where do we even start with such terrible days and revelations? She said I’d started when I picked up the 300-pound phone, told someone the truth, felt my terrible feelings. Now, time for radical self care. A shower, some food, the blouse I felt prettiest in. Then I could go get my boy and we could explore the mountain streams.

Wow. We think when we finally get our ducks in a row, we’ve arrived. Now we’ll be happy! That’s what they taught us, and what we’ve sought. But the ducks are bad ducks, and do not agree to stay in a row, and they waddle off quacking, and one keels over, two males get in a fight, and babies are born. Where does that leave your nice row?

I got about five books out of the insights I gleaned from our talk. I still have a sort-of heart shaped rock my son fished out of a stream later. Sadly, this director’s movies have not done well in the last twenty years. Not a one. And all of his hair has since fallen out. Now, as a Christian, my first response to this is, “Hah hah hah.”

But Horrible Bonnie would say, Now you get to tell it, because then it will become medicine. Tell it, girl– that we evolve; that life is stunning, wild, gorgeous, weird, brutal, hilarious and full of grace. That our parents were a bit insane, and that healing from this is taking a little bit longer than we had hoped. Tell it. Well…okay. Yes.