Sunday, February 27, 2011

Keeping it in the Family

Don't ask me why this came to mind today, but as we were visiting friends down in Fresno this weekend, we were out walking and talking about things, and I lamented that I hadn't had time to do certain things anymore the way I used to. I joked that I didn't have time to play video games, watch TV or read books for the fun of it anymore. As we were talking about this, I made the comment that Al Pacino makes in The Godfather, Part III... "every time I try to get out, they pull me right back in!" (I'm paraphrasing that, btw. I'm probably saying it wrong :) ).

The point I was making, though was the fact that, about 18 months ago, I was basically just working a job. I was testing software, and i was doing OK at it. Nothing terrible, but nothing stellar either. I was doing what I needed to do, and at the end of the day, I went home and did just about anything else I wanted to do. I played video games with my kids. I read whatever book I wanted to read (usually non-technical). I often spent hours at my computer watching Anime or reading Manga. It was fun, and it was a diversion of sorts.

Looking back, I'm somewhat amazed that I had that much time on my hands, because I really didn't feel like I did. I always felt like I wasn't able to get "important" things done. What important things? I honestly didn't know, but they had to be out there somewhere; I'm sure they didn't involve watching marathon sessions of "DeathNote" (not that there's anything wrong with that ;) ).

An interesting thing started happening when I started writing this blog and making some commitments. I found that there were important things I could do. In fact, there were so many important things, I could drown in them. I won't rehash the steps that I went through or the commitments I decided to take on to help get me out of software testing as a job and to the point where I found myself becoming an evangelist for testing, but I will say that there is a price for evangelism!

One of the fundamental truths I learned is that time is a non-renewable commodity, and there's no way to change its course. It can't be slowed down or sped up; it's can't be stopped, it can't be banked, and contrary to a lot of literature out there, it can't be managed (really, it can't!). There's only one thing people can do with time, and that's use it. Period. If you choose to do something, you will have to choose not to do something else. It's that simple... and yet, when we commit to doing more and getting more involved, it does seem that opportunities come to make it seem like we can do so much more with our time than we ever imagined we could.

A friend of mine posted a cute Facebook status today... "There are three great motivations in life; we do things out of fear, we do things out of duty, and we do things out of love. Frankly, I want to focus my energy on the third!" I think she's on to something here.

Many of us do a lot of things out of fear. We don't want to be seen as flakes, we don't want to get into trouble, we don't want to incur technical debt. Fear is a strong motivator, to a point, but it's one of the areas where "The Resistance" can work against us. When we fear something, all we have to do is discover a greater fear, and The Resistance will help us retreat to a spot that is comfortable (for those not familiar with my frequent abuse of the terms "The Resistance" and "The Lizard Brain", read Seth Godin's book "Linchpin". All will be revealed :) ).

Duty is a more powerful motivator than fear. I will often do things out of duty and a feeling that I should be doing this. We often approach our jobs with that sense of duty, because it's what we were hired to do. We have an obligation to do our best work. we have a sense of commitment, a sense of purpose, and we want to live up to what we have been asked to do. Duty can be overcome, though; when we feel overwhelmed, when we get exhausted, we can decide that, meh, maybe it's not so important after all (our "Lizard Brain" decides that even duty isn't insurmountable if it wants to hide out and play it safe).

Love, however, can genuinely trump everything else. When we approach something because we love it, nothing gets in the way! I'll give my example of producing the TWiST podcasts. At first, fear was the motivator, or in this case, the flip side of fear, excitement. I was excited that I was going to do something that I hadn't done before, and really, I had no idea how I would do it! There was a rush of fear, but a rush of excitement, too. I could fail at this, but I wasn't so scared that I shied away from it. After several weeks of hit and miss discoveries, I realized that I was in a position where, if I decided I didn't want to do this any longer, the podcast would have serious problems getting posted on a weekly basis. Could I be replaced? Sure, but it might take awhile, and in that intervening time, those people involved would be affected. I felt responsible to them, and thus, I had a duty to make sure that these podcasts got completed on time. That lasted a few weeks, and then the love of the project took over. Now, getting an interview notice is a highlight of my week. I honestly can't wait to work on it sometimes, and I have to actually tell myself "OK, but hang on, there are other things that have to be done first". Oftentimes, I've had to stop myself from editing the podcast because I was using that time as an avoidance mechanism of something else I knew I should be doing.

My title is meant to be a little in jest, but it really does have a bearing on the things that I do. I am motivated to do things for people and causes that make me anxious. In this case, I do things with a sense of fear,  because I don't want something else to happen. It's not a great long term motivator, though. I'm definitely motivated to do things out of my duty for the job that I do. As a Tester, as a Scoutmaster, it's the role that provides the motivation. When we get to love, though, it's always the relationship with the people that's the driver. Not abstract love, but genuine people that we speak to and interact with in some meaningful way. Get to that level, and seriously, it's amazing how willing to move Heaven and Earth one becomes to meet a goal. Thus, if you have a goal you know you need to accomplish, but it scares you enough to really keep you from going for it, try to find a way to "keep it in the Family", to get it out of the realm of fear and duty, and into the realm of something you love to do.


Ajay Godbole said...

Very Nice and thought provoking post

Michael Larsen said...

@Ajay, thanks for the comment. It's been interesting to see the various things that I do and what the motivation is to accomplish certain things. Tricks and techniques will carry you a certain way, but to bastardize an old song quote "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one your with" (LOL!). I think the song authors had a different meaning in mind, but I think there's a value to that idea. If we can find some "love" in the things we do and develop some passwsion for them ,we will be motivated to do more and be more just because we've developed a passion for it.