The Unfashionable Close of Year Post.

Future is the PastIt’s the end of the Julian Calendar year 2017, and the beginning of the Julian Calendar year 2018 is about to begin. Fashionable posts about the good and bad of 2017 will mire the Internet, and there will be a lot of positive things written about 2018.

This is an unfashionable post. It even says so in the title.

Culturally, we adhere to a calendar that was started in 46 BC by Julius Caesar, a throwback to a long dead Roman Empire that was once great but is decidedly now as great as the number of people who speak Latin natively. Yet we still use that calendar which we have hacked for leap years.

People promise themselves that they will magically transform themselves into people that they will be happier with – maybe quitting something, maybe losing weight, maybe sticking their thumbs in their belt and saying, “This year will be different!” There is a value to that, but that value can be found in any arbitrary date. That this is true is easy to see in how people find their own small and large successes throughout the Julian calendar.

In dealing with agriculture, I can tell you that no plants celebrate these holidays. In fact, no other species celebrates these holidays. I suppose, paraphrasing Twain, no other species needs  to. I’m not sure why we need to. Since I became of legal age to do anything I couldn’t legally do underage, I haven’t really seen the point. Drink on a birthday? I can do that any day. Eat cake? Any day.

So whatever it is that you think you’re going to do in the New Year that is going to be so awesome – you could have started yesterday, a month ago, a year ago – and you can probably still do in any month in the future, on any day.

You can be a better person any day. Why do you need a New Year to do it?

What Dost Thou Do; What Hast Thy Done?

Attempts at Self Portrait (6)Invariably, people who have reconnected or just connected with me have gone through the Q&A with me that I used to find painful.

Whether I’m married (no), how many children I have (looks around), what I’ve been doing with myself (where do I even start?), what I’m doing…

These questions have never made sense to me, particularly the last two. Whether I’m married or not is no gauge of completeness or even content – I have empirical evidence on both ends of the spectrum. Whether I have children assumes that I would want to try to explain the mess of humanity to a little human without having to apologize all the time – and nevermind the biological requirement of said little human having a mother who I would have to put up with, and more importantly, she would have to put up with me… I’m sure I don’t know. Absolutely sure.

The last two, though. Now, all of these questions are related to how people view the world, their lives, and what a life is. In that, the last two are bothersome.

So here’s how I’ve come up with my new answers.

What have I been doing with myself?

How many times have I thought to say, “that’s a rather personal question… what have you been doing with yourself?”, but opted not to?

I’ve been living. I’ve been growing.

No, really, I’ve been living. I’ve been growing.

See, as a kid, when everyone was being asked what they wanted to do, and the answers ranged from policeman to fireman to doctor to lawyer… I wanted to be an oceanographer. And then life happened.

I ended up working with electrical motors, then offset printing, then computer programming, then software engineering (there is a difference, kids)… In college, I started as a EET, then went to CIS, then dropped out. then I joined the Navy as a Sonar Technician, switched over to Naval Nuclear Propulsion, then switched again to Hospital Corpsman.

Then life happened again; I worked at a blood bank where I trained phlebotomists and made custom furniture for mobile blood drives – then went to Honeywell, where I got to play with Inertial Navigation and GPS stuff, then went to…. well, I did a lot of things. And then somewhere along the way, someone started paying me to write, and I picked up photography and people paid me for that, too. Then I inherited some land, and I applied a lot of what I know about learning to learn more about agriculture, land management, and generally, how to get results without confrontation.

Just a few days ago, a lawyer sat across from me and said, “You don’t need me, you do all of this stuff by yourself.” No, no, of course I need her. I just think her talents are wasted on the mundane things I can solve myself by simply not being a jerk and working with people. It’s a novel concept that most religions were centered around at some point – we see how that went. But I digress.

And all this time I’ve been reading, thinking, exploring the world as much as I can in all ways that I can – not just physically. So what have I been doing?

The answer is looking for something. It’s looking for some sort of answer to gauge where I am in society. Am I someone who wields influence? No, not really, I wouldn’t like to think so. Am I rich? No, my bank account is something that I have a detached relationship with. What sort of car do I drive? How big is my house? How much tax do I pay?

So yeah, I’ve been living and growing. I might as well tell people I’m a nomad.

“I’ve been nomadic.” Leave that right there. Give them the hand wave with it and look at them as if they should know what that means. It should be fun.

And…

What am I doing?

Well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure what I’m doing. No one wants to hear that. The truth is that no one knows what they are doing. We’re all winging it. Some are on the beaten paths, though, so that’s what’s really being asked: “Which beaten path are you on?”

Well, I’m not. Truth be told, I never really have been – a few times I tried them, but they just didn’t suit me. They smell wrong, they make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and the authoritarianism within them fills me with dread. Beaten paths are boring, too.

Meanwhile, I’m the sort of person who just pops up out of the brush now and then to see where everyone is.

Clearly I need a better answer than that. Clearly people want me to impress them somehow, tell them how awesome what I’m doing is, but they won’t see the value in not knowing and figuring it out as I go along.

One of my initial thoughts to answer this question was, “Avoiding answering this question”, but that just seems a bit too… jerkish.

I don’t have an answer to this other than moving stones, and I think that’s the answer I’ll go with.

The Constant Redefinition.

Kayak fishing at sunrise: NSBIt’s been a busy month.

The Problem

Looking for work is an odd thing for me; so many of the jobs related to software engineering require specializations whereas I’m a generalist with many specialties. Sure, I could fit in at a lot of jobs, but the HR departments may not think so. And whether or not they think so, it may simply not be a good fit for me. So I’ve been doing some introspection, looking around, poking around.

In this article, Liz Ryan makes some valid points:

Five Signs You’re Unemployable, For All The Right Reasons

1. You cannot keep your mouth shut when you feel strongly that your boss or client is about to make a mistake that will hurt them.

2. You have little or no tolerance for the viewpoint “This is the way we’ve always done it.”

3. You hate to be boxed in by routine policies and procedures, by unnecessary measurements and/or by strict rules (like the rule that says you’ll be written up and put on probation the third time you walk into work five minutes late).

4. You have a big idea that’s dying to come out (and that won’t very likely pop out when you’re performing a structured job).

5. You feel that your contribution to this planet could be much greater than what it’s been so far.

With some margin for error, that fits.

So, really, I’m a person with a lot of experience, who has a diverse technical background in a period where HR departments don’t advertise for that diversity, etc. And, to make things more interesting, I want to feel like I have more of a purpose than a cog in a machine.

Granted, we are all cogs in a machine no matter what we do, but I’d like to feel like the machine is going the right way. Oddly enough, someone wrote something great about wanting purpose from work – and I’m not alone. Here’s a link to a PDF on Purpose at Work.

The Solution

The first part of the solution was identifying the problems, and that took a little time. It’s amazing how noisy the world can be, how demanding it can be, and how stuck in patterns a person can become as we grow. It’s amazing how little we can be in touch with ourselves and the people around us if only because we’re stuck in our own little caverns of habit built on expectations that may not even exist anymore.

So I had to identify the changes in myself since I was 16 – I got my first paid programming job when I was 17 (family doesn’t pay). At 16 (in 1987), all I ever wanted to do was become a computer programmer. Since then, quite a bit has happened, but for the most part, I’ve been told by people to tell computers what to do. Since then, I’ve grown. I’ve:

  • Written well enough to be published, and perhaps enough to be read.
  • Spoken at public events, and have gotten involved in things I never would have expected.
  • Gotten to understand myself at a very deep level, which allows me to understand others very well. I can be the diplomat, and more often than not I have been for the good of a project.
  • Seen a lot of software projects, some succeed, some fail.
  • Learned the art of observation, through people-watching and through my photographyAnd the photography has become good enough that I’ve been paid for some.
  • Almost always ended up being the person who researched and wrote things down.

That’s a pretty short list, and it’s purposefully not complete.

So, what am I going to do? First, I’ve already incorporated, which allows me to pursue interests in a more business-like fashion.

That’s about as specific as I can be right now as this evolution begins. I simply needed to write it, if only as a landmark along the way to wherever I end up being.