Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Rock Star Euphoria" and "Roadie Reality"

On Thursday night, I had a great experience. I had a chance to sit down to dinner with Jon Bach, Michael Bolton, Jeff Fry, Doug Hoffman, and David Liebreich. This was a fantastic collection of  "rock star" level test nerds, and we had a great dinner and a great conversation. I was on cloud nine, but through the night as I was talking about some of the things I was excited about, Michael looked at me with a wry smile and said something that was an epiphany to me. I'm paraphrasing this, so I don't want to go into all of the details, but he basically commented on the fact that there was a time when he had no idea who I was and then suddenly, I was everywhere. He said that it was fun to get a chance to be known and have a little notoriety, but that sometimes that notoriety is a double edged sword. It's great to have goals and a platform and even a desire to be in the mix, but we run the risk of losing our focus or being too focused on the wrong things.

This week, I came to a conclusion... I'm a hypocrite. I talk a mean game about being prepared, doing important work, and focusing on the things that really matter, yet I'm guilty of veering off course and not focusing on what really matters. Instead, I've been chasing the things that are fun and that I am passionate about. Here's the thing, it's pretty easy to do the stuff that's, well, easy, or the stuff that makes us feel like we've got it all covered. We take on more and more of those so called challenges while they are fun, and we get that heady sense of "rock star euphoria". When I was a musician, I often looked forward to performing. It was the whole point of slogging in the studio, practicing my scales and plinking out chords and melodies on a guitar or bass to write songs. Most of us did this because we looked forward to that hour on stage when we were on top of the world. That's what I mean by rock star euphoria. Problem is, we can't always be on stage. I can't sing my lungs out every night, it's just not possible. If I did, I would lose my voice regularly and I'd need to rest the voice. We can perform a lot, but ultimately, we'll stop giving really good performances if we do it too much.

I enjoy writing. I enjoy podcasting. I enjoy facilitating Weekend Testing. I enjoy being a teacher with AST. I enjoy getting ready to be a conference presenter (my newest goal and endeavor). These are great "performance" aspects, but they take time, and they take practice and slugging away well behind the scenes. The rock star euphoria I get when I push something new gives me a rush, but there's only so much voice in me (to extend the analogy). Even really enjoyable stuff, when we over commit, tends to leach and sap energy from the things we care about, and let's face it, it takes away from the things that are less enjoyable, but just as necessary. I'm starting to lose my voice. It's sapping me, and it's sapping my focus on home, on work, on scouting and on my own ability to focus and learn.

If I can focus on a problem and give it a name, I can actually do something about it. What's my problem? Like the days of old, I'm spending too much time on the "Live Show" and not enough time in the studio. I'm focusing on the things that are easy and enjoyable for me, things that have a big bang and bring a huge smile to my face, but aren't letting me stretch and grow in the ways that my team needs me to. My passion about testing is not in question; everybody knows I'm passionate about testing. How do I feel about technical development, about really embracing and understanding the underpinings of the operation, and being able to fit myself into what is needed? In short, talking a mean game about testing is one thing, growing into the core player that I need to be, especially when I need to focus on stuff that's not so "rock star", that's another thing entirely.

What can I do when I need to focus on the stuff that's not so "rock star" and is a lot more "roadie"? Here's what I'm doing. I'm making an effort to be more vocal about challenging goals, not just the ones that make me look good. I'm setting public goals around things that are actionable and show real progress over time. For me right now, this is spending time focusing on programming, which is a genuine slog for me. I'm doing what I can to broaden my tool-set, not just in the testing approach, but in understanding business development, the technical underpinnings of our products, and more than anything else, I'm making myself more project oriented and really getting a handle on the time it takes to do certain things, and how much of my attention is really needed to make them work.

Ultimately, we can't be rock stars everyday. We don't have the energy or the time, and to remain a rock star, we have to do the work necessary that will help us maintain that level. So I'm swallowing some of my own hypocrisy and stepping back, looking at the balance of "rock star" dreams, and the "roadie" tasks that are needed to help me get where I need to be. It's my hope that, if I can be more mindful of the time and energy it takes to do the stuff that really matters, I'll actually be able to sustain the energy needed to enjoy and savor those rock star moments.


Rikard Edgren said...

How testers find out what's really important is not totally solved yet.
So if you discover this in your process, you will at least have a hit single.

Michael Larsen said...

Rikard, thanks for the comment. Yeah, it's a challenge at times, and often I have to remind myself that while I think I'm doing great things, I have to balance that with doing great things for the people that I'm working with day to day as well. It takes a whole band to put on a show, so to speak, and it gets annoying when another musician works to upstage the others. It has to be about the whole, not just about me, so sometimes taking a step back and really focusing on being the team player is critical. Often nowhere near as outwardly rewarding, but still extremely important and rewarding in a longer term fashion.