Tag Archives: heart

The Jobhunting Mindset

Here It Is, The Big Secret

Last week I promised I’d give you the core secret from my upcoming book, The Job Replacement Guide. It absolutely cracked me up how many of you actuallybelieved me! Then I realized that the same number of you would absolutely lynch me if I didn’t make good, so I decided to go ahead and spill the beans.

I need to set this up a little bit, because it’s so simple you’re not going to believe me. After I wrote the previous post, I told four or five people what the secret was and not one of them “got it”. They either said “Huh” or they did that thing where you tilt your head and kind of scrunch your nose like you’re either squinting at something or you smell something bad. Giving a more detailed explanation didn’t help, but fortunately demonstrating the application of the idea did help several people.

So I’m gonna tell you the secret, and it’s going to sound dumb. But stay with me, okay? Because I’m going to demonstrate a completely unexpected application of it and it’s going to be awesome.

Ready? Okay. The big secret to my jobhunting success is this:

It’s not about you. It’s all about them.

Or, if you prefer,

Don’t make it about you. Make it all about them.

Pretty simple, right? And kind of stupid?

Yep. That Was Dumb.

I know, I know, but wait! Stick around. Let’s talk about this for a minute! This really will change the way you get leads and write resumes and conduct interviews.

See, the thing is, you’re thinking about persuasion, or communication, right? Or maybe you’ve had a little sales training, and you know that it is much more effective to appeal to another person’s self-interest than to their sympathy.

But you’ve got it all wrong. Well, actually you’re totally right, but you’re still missing my point. This is the “weird trick” that I figured out on accident, and have been able to jobhunt successfully ever since. It’s not about persuasion, or communication, or even another person’s self-interest. The specific application of this concept is, paradoxically, all about you.

It’s All About Being Unstoppable

It’s all about power. When you are interested in another person, you sort of become unstoppable. You can’t stop thinking about how things look from their perspective, or of reasons to talk to them, or things to do for them, or ways to help them. And they can’t stop you, either. You have all the power. When you make it about them, you control the beginning and the end of the interaction, and if you want another interaction, and another and another, as long as you are genuinely making it about them, they’ll not only let you, they’ll eagerly welcome you.

When you make it about you, they might give you some sympathy or try to find a way to help you, but either way, you have given them control over the interaction. In the absolute best case, they give you some great help–and now that they’ve helped you, they’re done. They end the interaction. It’s not intentionally harmful; in fact it’s often done with the most noble of intentions. But it’s still death to your jobsearch effort.

This really is one of the trickiest ideas I’ve tried to pull out of the warped recesses of my mind, so I hope I’m making sense here: when you make it all about them, they can’t stop you. If something doesn’t work, you find another avenue of approach. You never get shut down. You keep all the power.

Let’s talk through some examples just to make it clear. As we go through them, pay attention to who is in control of your energy and your efforts.

What A Powerless Jobsearch Looks Like

A powerless jobsearch follows all of the rules you were taught in Career Ed in high school: Dress neatly, go in and fill out an application, and hope you get picked. Format your resume to exactly two pages with an Objective, Education, and Experience section; mail off ten copies a day and hope you get picked. Arrive at the interview 5 minutes early, dressed one step nicer than the average employee; be eager–but not too eager–and make sure you follow up any negative answer with a positive statement so you don’t look bad. Then go home and hope you get picked.

I’m hammering it home with no subtlety at all here: the dominant theme of a typical jobsearch is hoping you get picked. By which I mean sitting quietly, waiting politely, for your turn. And maybe your job.

You call a friend and ask who’s hiring. He says he doesn’t know off the top of his head, but if he hears anything he’ll let you know. You walk up to the receptionist and inquire about employment, and she says they’re not hiring, but you can drop off your resume. You reach the end of the interview and the interviewer asks if you have any questions for her.

The last one is subtle, but all of these are bad situations. And you got into them because you made it all about you, and you let them have your power.

A powerless jobsearch is a numbers game. It looks like this: you do everything right, and you do it as hard as you can, and you hope you eventually get lucky. You send out 1,000 resumes and get 10 interviews. You go to 10 interviews and get 3 callbacks. You go to 3 callbacks and get 1 job offer.

I sure hope it was at the company you wanted to work at.

What An Empowered Jobsearch Looks Like

An empowered jobsearch feels very different. For one thing, it doesn’t really feel like a jobsearch. It feels more like… well, talking to people and listening to them. And then getting offered a job.

You call your friend, and instead of asking him who’s hiring, you ask him who’s working in Ruby. You ask him what companies are doing financial processing. You ask him who sponsors the local Ruby meetup. Your friend is more than happy to oblige, and disgorges a long list of companies. He even knows people at those companies that you could talk to, and he’d be happy to introduce you. “I’m not sure they’re hiring, though,” he warns. You smile. “That’s fine, I just want to find out what they’re doing.”

Your friend introduces you to a programmer doing health insurance work at InterestingCorp. You hit it off, and you joke and say “I bet you’re having fun with the new HIPPA stuff….” “I know!” he replies. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff they have us doing!” You invite him to lunch sometime to chat about financial processing. He says sure.

A week later you’re having lunch with the programmer. You ask him about what kinds of financial processing stuff, they do, and he happily launches into the cooler things they’re doing. He asks you what you’re up to, and you mention that you’re between jobs, but you used to do financial processing. You notice one of the cool things InterestingCorp does solves a very hard problem. “So how did you get around the problem with…” At the end of lunch, he says “You should apply at InterestingCorp. We just finished a round of hiring, but we could really use you.” “That sounds like fun, who should I talk to?”

Your friend gushes to the hiring manager, and then introduces you via email. You ask her some questions about team dynamics in a financial processing environment. You speak on the phone and ask some piercing questions about how the team works and the trickier bits of financial processing. She says “you know what, you should stop by and meet some of the other programmers. Do you have a resume you could email me?”

During this time you’ve met half a dozen other programmers and talked to them about their companies and their problems. None of their companies are hiring, but all of them are interested in talking to you more. And of course, InterestingCorp isn’t hiring either. But that’s just a decision some manager made, and decisions get unmade when the right reason comes along.

That’s you, by the way.

You meet with the team and hit it off. Afterwards, you have a private interview with the hiring manager. She tells you about the company benefits and the atmosphere and the dress code and why it’s awesome to work at InterestingCorp. There’s a manila envelope on her desk, and that’s when it hits you: she’s sellingyou on coming to work for them. And not only do you realize that the envelope contain your offer letter, but that the letter was on her desk before you came in to meet the team. Of course she’d have pretended it never existed if the team hadn’t liked you. But when they did… well, there’s no sense wasting time, is there?

Empowered Jobsearches Feel Totally Natural

Empowered jobsearches feel totally natural. In fact, I’d almost say they feel unconscious, or kind of accidental. You don’t really feel like you’re jobhunting. You’re just stumbling on great jobs. That’s why it took me so long to realize that I was actually doing something to cause it to happen: for years I thought I was just extraordinarily lucky. Here are some of the conditions under which I have landed jobs:

  • I called an ex-coworker and told him I was quitting my job, and he excitedly told me his brother-in-law had just called him to beg him to quit and come work for him, he didn’t want to go, but he’d be happy to introduce me.
  • I was using a piece of software, and it crashed. I called the company that made it. “I’m calling to report a bug, but I’d like to talk to the programmer because I actually know exactly which version of which compiler you’re using to write this software, and which setting you need to change to fix it.” One week later I was the other programmer working on the product.
  • I wrote a CMS for webcomics and managed the web hosting for Schlock Mercenary for several years. The cartoonist, Howard Tayler, was a manager at Novell. I asked him for leads (“who do you know that’s doing web programming work?”) and he introduced me to his friend, who told me about his brother, who was a huge fan of Howard’s comic and worked at a company that did websites. As the Executive Vice President. Getting an interview wasn’t a problem.
  • I turned the entire interview process into a foregone conclusion at one company by finding out that the CEO was an old friend of mine. I got a call from the hiring manager, who began the call by saying “So, um, the CEO of my company asked me to call you…” Mind you, I still had to make friends with the team, which included smoothing the feathers of the hiring manager that I had just pulled rank on. But once I showed them my sincerity and interest in their technical challenges, they realized I wasn’t the CEO’s crony and that they actually wanted me on board.

If I look at any one of those jobs, I could blame it on luck. I could almost say that I don’t really have a system at all… except for the fact that I know I’m going to get lucky every single time I go looking. Because I’ve learned to make it all about them, and yes, this helps me persuade them and yes, it appeals to their self-interest. But mostly it keeps me from ever letting anybody or anything stop me.

Except an offer letter, that is. When you make it all about them, they make sure you stick around.

I’m Writing A Book About This

If you want to keep your power in the jobhunting process, The Job Replacement Guide is a collection of techniques I’ve learned over the years to apply this mindset to every phase of the jobhunting process. From getting people to give you leads to calming your nerves in an interview to negotiating a better salary, knowing why–and exactly how–to apply the “make it all about them” principle is the secret to “accidentally getting lucky” every single time you jobhunt.

If you would like updates on the book’s progress, including advance content from the book and extra content that won’t be making the final cut, sign up for the mailing list. You’ll be the first to know when it’s published, and I’ll throw in a discount for those of you who were with me all the way from the beginning.

See? All about you.

jrg_cover_small

The Job Replacement Guide

Learn how to replace your job with a better one in record time. Whether you’re unemployed, hate your job, or just wonder what you could accomplish at work if you were utterly fearless, this guide will give you the confidence that comes from being “unemployment-proof”.

Coming Soon!
Click here to sign up for the mailing list to get updates, advance content, and a discount on launch day.

The Job Replacement Guide: Why I Have To Write This Book

I have to write a book. This is the story of why.

I’ve never told this story–the “before” part, anyway–except in parts here and there to my closest friends. If you don’t care about stories, but you are interested in a book with a completely unorthodox approach to jobhunting, sign up for the mailing list.

See, I’ve helped thousands of people jobhunt over the years. I tune resumes. I coach interviewees. I help people find out who’s hiring and how to get in touch with them. I’ve never charged or anything, it’s just something I do to help friends.

And I am really, really good at this.

I wasn’t born this way, though, and the way I am now is the happy, helpful, “after” part of the story.

I’ll tell you right now, the way I learned was not pleasant. Trigger words: divorce, chronic illness, depression. You’ve been warned.

For me, it’s all in the distant past, and I’m fine now. I like to fantasize that this is sort of my “Superhero Origin Story”, only with me ending up with a freakish personnel management skill instead of a superpower.

But yeah. This is a story I’ve never told all at once before, but now I need to–for the same reason I need to write this book: Some of you out there need it right now in the worst way, and most of us will need it in the next year or two. So… I guess this is for you. Here you go.

Act I: In Which The Hero Is Kind Of Whiny And Pitiful

In my early 20’s, I was… well, I was a mess. I had a positive attitude, a ton of self-entitlement, and absolutely no clue how the real world worked. I was newly married, freshly dropped out of college, and rocking a pretty severe case of undiagnosed ADHD. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to make ends meet, get back into school and graduate, or just keep things from falling apart generally. But I had unsinkable optimism and a can-do attitude, and I just knew that if I worked hard enough everything would be okay.

And then I got sick.

I got so sick I couldn’t work, and I lost my job. I went to the doctor, got a prescription, rested up, got feeling a little better, and went out and got myself a new job.

And then I got sick again.

I saw the doctor again, got another prescription, rested up, got feeling better, and went out and got a new job.

And then I got sick again. And again. And again. I had a chronic illness that wasn’t well-understood at the time.

I switched doctors. We tried antibiotics, then antivirals. I switched doctors again. We tried radical dietary changes: no artificial food colors, no additives, no gluten, no corn. The next doctor suggested it was in my head, and could I just try not being sick? When I tried just going to work and pushing through it, and became even sicker, he suggested I go the other way and take it easy. I took a month off to REALLY rest up and get better. To be fair, it helped: I lasted maybe an extra week at the next job. I tried chiropractic and megavitamins and massage therapy. I was desperate to find anything that worked. Nothing ever did. One doctor literally told me that the only thing left to try was divine intervention. He suggested that I talk to my church leader and get an ecclesiastical blessing.

I had already talked to him and gotten a blessing. Divine intervention seemed to be in agreement with medical science: No cures, no fixes. The only thing that could help me was lots and lots of rest, and then only for a little while.

It seems odd in retrospect, but the one thing that never occurred to me or my wife or any of my doctors this entire time was that I was, in fact, very sick. I secretly wondered if I was just lazy or somehow unfit to be a grownup. All we really knew was that I couldn’t hold down a job for more than 2 or 3 weeks at a time… and whenever I felt too physically ill to work, I was tormented by the guilt that I wasn’t supporting my wife like a husband should.

Over the next 18 months I worked at, and lost, 24 jobs.

My illness got worse. Our finances became unbearable. The combination of money, health problems and other stresses became too much for my wife. When she left me I was devastated. We had an amicable divorce because we couldn’t afford any other kind. There was nothing to split up but our debt.

I moved back in with my parents and spiraled into a deep, dark depression.

Act II: In Which The Hero Goes Off To A Monastery And Learns Kung-Fu

Technically this is true, if by “a monastery” you understand me to mean “my parents’ house”, and by “learns kung-fu” you understand me to mean “sits around moping and feeling sorry for himself, but at least has plenty of time on his hands to read and think and stuff”.

I did a lot of soul-searching, in every way I knew how. I read self-help books, I meditated, I saw a therapist, I took antidepressants, I sought spiritual counseling, I fasted and prayed to my God, and above all I spent a lot of time just thinking. I really felt like I was one of God’s “special screwups”, and that the only thing I was really good for was to serve as a bad example to other people. Any time I wished I could move back out on my own, I’d realize that I needed a job, and I’d remember that I’d lost more jobs than I was years old.

Transition: That Moment When The Hero Takes A Long Walk In The Rain Alone

One day I happened across a quote by Patrick Overton:

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”

Something about that quote resonated with me, which is why I still remember it. I felt like I had no light at all, and that any step in any direction was into the darkness. But I felt very strongly that if this quote was true then it should be true of any kind of the darkness; I should be able step in any direction and find solid ground–or a pair of wings.

I remember thinking about my job history, and laughing ruefully at myself, and saying aloud, “24 jobs in 18 months. That’s not solid ground. So how is that going to teach me how to fly?”

And that’s when it hit me:

In order to lose 24 jobs in 18 months, I had to search for, find, interview for, and get hired for 24 jobs! Even at the end, when I had to explain to interviewers why I had had dozens of jobs before them, I had no trouble convincing them to hire me. What on Earth was I doing to get these people to hire me? I had no clue. I didn’t know what I was doing; all I knew was that I could.

Act III: When The Hero Decides To Confront His Nemesis

I decided to move out of my parents’ house, and put my life back together. They say that when the student is ready the master will appear, that fortune favors the bold, and that the whole world steps aside for the man who knows where he’s going. There must be a good reason for these sayings to exist, because as soon as I started moving, miracles started happening.

Some friends from the city called me and said they felt inspired to ask if there was anything–anything–they could do to help me. I took them at their word: “Um, actually… yes. Can I come live in your basement for a year or two?” They didn’t even hesitate before saying “Yes.”

So I moved back to the city. With no rent, I was free to work when I could and not worry about eviction when I needed the rest. I got a job working the electronics counter at a big box store. I decided to take charge of my health proactively, and sought out a doctor while I was still healthy. I described my health history, and the doctor blinked in astonishment. He had just heard about my peculiar combination of symptoms. The treatment was simple and life-changing.

On the way to work one day I heard about some symptoms affecting millions of people called Attention Deficit Disorder. It described me to a T. Two weeks later I had an official diagnosis and a prescription that I still take today. I love to joke around about it, but honestly the best way to describe it is like my brain is now able to put on glasses when it needs to see more clearly. More importantly, I learned that I was not learning disabled, but rather had some specific constraints to my learning style. I stopped trying to get back into school and started buying textbooks to read on my own for fun. You know, as one does.

I began programming again in my spare time. Three months after I’d started working again, I heard about a company hiring not-quite-entry-level tech support people. Turns out that just dropping out of a top-ranked CS program was enough of a qualification to land the job.

I worked continuously for a straight year. I started dating again, and got engaged. The day the company announced they were closing their Utah offices in a month, I felt the strangest thing: absolutely nothing. My coworkers began scrambling frantically to find new jobs, but I didn’t. They thought I was crazy, and I thanked them for their concern, but I just shrugged and said I wanted to stay focused on my current job until they locked the doors. Later, my manager would give me a glowing review for my professional behavior in the last days of our team. On our last day I walked out into the bright afternoon sun.

I was getting married in three months. I had to find an apartment and pay first and last months’ rent. I had furniture to buy. I still had debt to pay off from my previous marriage. But above all, I had to show my fiancee (now my sweet wife of 17 years and counting) that I could support her financially without the slightest trace of worry.

I inhaled the warm summer air, and smiled. I had no job, no leads, and no idea where my next paycheck would come from.

And I knew exactly what to do.

Epilogue: In Which The Hero Realizes He Should Write This Stuff Down

It’s been eighteen years, now. I’ve always had work whenever I wanted it. I’ve been laid off, I’ve quit, I’ve been outright fired. Through it all, I’ve never missed a mortgage payment and I’ve never missed a meal. I’ve also never missed a wink of sleep wondering if I should quit my job.

All those years ago, back when I was a complete mess, I stumbled on an approach to jobhunting that makes the whole process simple, obvious, and easy. Maybe it’s the sort of thing I should save for the book, but I feel like I need to get it out there. I can’t explain it in one or two paragraphs, though, so you’ll have to wait for my next blog post on Monday.

There are three reasons I’m going to explain the whole thing on my blog. The first is that, even though it’s a simple idea, almost everyone looks right at it and doesn’t see it. (It took me several years to figure out what the actual idea itself was, even though I was acting it out unconsciously.) The second is that the reason people look right at it and don’t see it is because they’re afraid. And I can’t stand that anymore.

They’re afraid because they’ve just been fired or caught in a layoff. Or they’ve got a job but they’re afraid of losing it. Sometimes I even see people hate their jobs so much they wish they’d get fired, but they don’t quit… because they’re afraid.

Last year, a weird coincidence happened to me that made me sick to my very soul. I saw hundreds of people change jobs, no different than any other year, really. But just out of coincidence, four different people said the exact same sentence to me, and it’s a sentence that stabs my heart with ice:

“I just don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

I can’t stand leaving that question lying around unanswered, and I’m writing a whole book to answer it: Here’s what you’re gonna do. What I’m going to explain in the next post is the core principle, the why of what you’re gonna do. That’ll be here waiting for you on Monday.

The third reason I’m willing to explain the whole thing is that it’s taken me 18 years of applying that core principle to learn all the tricks I’m putting in the book. A few of them are original, but most of them are tips and tricks I’ve picked up from others along the way. Things that I’ve read or seen and thought, “Yes, that matches my core principle of how to do this.” But you don’t need the book if you’re willing to read my next post and then be me for twenty-odd years.

So… I’m writing all those tricks down. I love helping people with their careers, to take risks at work and learn and grow. But that’s hard to do if you are terrified of being let go.

That fear, that terror. That’s why I have to write this book. Not just the despair you feel when you’re out of work and laying awake worrying about feeding your family. I’m talking when you’re at work and that brief flutter in your stomach stops you from telling your boss that bad news she really needs to know about. Or that qualm that keeps you from speaking up in a meeting because the CEO might not like your suggestion. Or that seeping dread that makes you say, no matter how bad your boss is, you should be grateful to have work.

That fear. That terror. THAT is why I have to write this book. I hope you love it when it’s done and that you and a million friends all buy it. But even if it only sells one copy (thanks, Mom!), I can’t let this book live silently in my head any longer.

So, yeah. Coming Soon:

jrg_cover_small

The Job Replacement Guide

Learn how to replace your job with a better one in record time. Whether you’re unemployed, hate your job, or just wonder what you could accomplish at work if you were utterly fearless, this guide will give you the confidence that comes from being “unemployment-proof”.

Coming Soon!
Click here to sign up for the mailing list to get updates, advance content, and a discount on launch day.

New Candidate For Most Surreal Email I Have Ever Written

Before you read this, some necessary background.

First, This may come as a surprise to some of you who read my blog, especially those of you with particularly low reading comprehension, but I like to joke around, and tease people in a good-natured way and generally have a good time.

Second, lately I’ve been having a series of Very Serious conversations with a good friend, and one of the things that came up is that I use self-hypnosis to explore my subconscious and understand myself better. She replied that she had tried hypnosis but it just didn’t work for her; she felt like she was imagining everything instead of letting go and letting things happen.

Third, this is a perfectly normal place for many people to start with hypnosis, and all it takes to get through it is the ability to listen to your body’s physical sensations.

Fourth, because our conversations were Very Serious I have changed her real name. Let’s call her Jen instead.

Fifth, as I wrote this, I started to make a silly joke… and it sort of spiraled out of control. However, in comedy there is such a thing as commitment to the joke, so I stayed with it, all the way down into the ground. In flames. On an orphanage.

And Sixth, FOR THE RECORD, AGAIN FOR YOU FOLKS WITH POOR READING COMPREHENSION, Jen is a wonderful friend and I would never say anything to hurt her. This email was a joke, and she took it the right way, and she laughed.

Oh, and Seventh: Trigger Warning: This post contains ascii-art drawings of penises and making fun of quadriplegics. And ninjas. I mean it has ninjas in it, not that I’m making fun of them. Just the quadriplegics. They don’t fight back as much.

On 11/14/2013 05:23 PM, Jen wrote:
OK, we totally need to find some time to hang out so I can pick your
brain about how you discover these things.

This sounds really interesting.

Absolutely! You’ll be happy to hear that it all started where you’re at now: with me being unable to make hypnosis work, and when I did, it felt like I was just making everything up.

The bad news is that I’ve been working at it for over 20 years.

The good news is that I didn’t know how to really practice at things until this year, and I STILL don’t know how to practice at THIS.

The first time you do it, it will either shock you or completely underwhelm you, because there’s nothing to it–you’re already doing it, all the time. And I mean ALL the time. It’s like breathing, or nervously bouncing your foot. If you have a functioning Peripheral Nervous System, you can do this. It’s either happening to you right this second or you’ve had a sudden attack of quadriplegia.

JEN! IF YOU HAVE HAD A SUDDEN ATTACK OF QUADRIPLEGIA, TRY TO ROLL YOUR FACE OVER TO THE REPLY BUTTON! IT WILL SEND ME A BLANK EMAIL BUT I’LL KNOW YOU ARE SIGNALING ME TO oh what am I doing, you’re face down in the keyboard you can’t see the screen it’s not like typing at you in caps is going to help. I mean how stupid am I feeling right now, right? I’m all “TRY TO ROLL YOUR FACE” and you’re just lying there with one eyeball on the P key and your nose mashing the space bar. Geez I feel so dumb.

So… now what. Um.

Huh. This is suddenly kind of awkward.

Okay, so. I am wracking my brain right now trying to think what combination of pixels I could type up that would shine on the top of your head and help you with whatever is going on, but to be honest I don’t even really know what’s going on. I don’t know if you’re having a stroke, or an extremely rapid onset of Friedrich’s ataxia, if you’re just having the world’s calmest epileptic fit. I’m going to level with you, some of this is speculation, I don’t have a lot of information to work with here.

OOH! It could be ninjas! One shuto-uchi (“knife hand”) strike to the C2 vertebra and down you’d go, plus you’d never have seen it coming, because ninjas. This would also explain why you were just sitting there reading this email before it happened, instead of preparing for–I know, I know, “don’t blame the victim” and all that, but there’s a reason I try to teach people to maintain a minimum level of situational awareness. Oh man, I shouldn’t have said that, you’re probably already blaming yourself anyway. It’s probably hard for you to accept this right now, but, if it WAS ninjas, there’s nothing you could have done. I know you’re probably kicking yourself right now. Well, I mean you WOULD be if you could move your legs–aw geez that was probably insensitive of me. Wait, can I say “insensitive” or is that too close to “insensate”? GAH it’s like a spiderweb of tripwires with you and your political correctness! I don’t even know how to talk to you anymore, Jen–again presuming, falsely, that we’re talking and you’re not just lying there blowing snot bubbles into that little groove at the bottom of the space bar–it’s like you’re a complete stranger now, and ALL I AM TRYING TO DO HERE IS HELP YOU, WHY CAN’T YOU SEE THIS aside from the fact that you cannot, in fact, see any of this, as previously stated in an earlier interjective clause in this very sentence. I don’t even remember where I was going with this.

OH! Ninjas! That was it. Here’s the thing: it’s probably just ONE ninja. They don’t actually travel in packs or anything, except at like anime conventions, and even then they’re not actual real ninjas, they’re just dorky teenagers dressing up like, I don’t know, Scorpion or Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat and stuff. Actually, now that I think about it, the chances of your ninja being a REAL ninja are statistically pretty minimal–except wait, C2 vertebra fracture.

Crap.

Okay. Jen, I know you can’t see this, but try to be brave. I don’t want to alarm you any more than you already are, but… it’s probably a real ninja.

All right, look–crap, I did it again, sorry. You’re getting a big ol’ eyeful of that P key and I’m telling you to “look”. Geesh. I don’t–wait, don’t you wear contacts? Oh MAN that has gotta suck! I mean, you suddenly lose sensation to 95% of your entire body all at once and the part that can still feel has to start hurting? Ha! Sorry, sorry, I shouldn’t laugh. It’s just that I’ve never really been sure what the actual definition of irony was, and I was just thinking that this is probably pretty close, and–

Sorry, I’m sorry. Appropriate conversation, I get it. I’m pontificating about wordplay and you’re lying there, terrified, with a probably-real ninja assassin in your apartment and spit puddling around your cheek. It’s not like you’re wondering if AppleCare covers the damage if the trackpad shorts out from your saliva. It doesn’t, by the way. Cover the damage, I mean. Just in case you WERE wondering. Which would be pretty odd, actually. And not just a little hypocritical, given the whole “appropriateness” discussion, if you ask me. Which you didn’t, given the whole “keyboard face” thing–sorry to keep bringing that up but it’s really sort of the elephant in the room here–and anyway now I’m starting to wonder why I can’t seem to go more than two paragraphs without it feeling like we’re having an argument. Am I projecting? I feel like I could be projecting. It’s possible. I am going through some issues right now. Okay, tell you what: let’s assume that yes, I *AM* projecting. Let’s just go on that, from here, clean slate, start over. Okay? Okay. Starting over. I’ll go first.

I forgive you.

Well what else am I going to start with, it’s not like we can pretend that words haven’t been said here! I’m just trying to make you see–and YES I realize that was an inappropriate word, but that’s starting to become just a bit too convenient a deflection, young lady, we ALL KNOW that you’re face down in your laptop, we GET IT, the whole paralysis thing, it was big news when we first heard about it but at some point you are just going to have to pick yourself up, sorry, haul yourself up by your bootstraps, again sorry, though maybe you’ve got a friend who would go boot shopping for you and put them on your feet for you so you would have actual, literal bootstraps, and then I guess maybe your friend could sort of tug on them for you, because maybe you gave her a head-nod or an eye-blink or whatever, I don’t know how this stuff works, she’s your friend so I’m sure you could work out some kind of signal given time, but my point is that sooner or later you are going to have to stand on your own two feet. Sorry.

Look (sorry) these are just figures of speech, it’s not like I’m standing (sorry) around trying to think up inappropriate knee-slappers (sorry) to say to my suddenly-and-inexplicably quadriplegic friend to be hurtful! It’s not like I am TRYING to cut you down (sorry) or kick (sorry) you in the teeth (sorr–wait, that one would actually work), if you could just meet me halfway on this, I would try to do better, I really would, Jen, I would try so hard.

But nothing is ever good enough for you, is it? Is it? You don’t have to say anything. We both know I’m right. Well here’s something you DON’T know: I have HAD IT. I am DONE. I tried to give you my friendship and you sure took it, but you couldn’t give back, could you. You just had to go and make everything about you, you, YOU. Well HERE’S something that’s about me, me, ME: ALL MY FINGERS STILL WORK YOU AWFUL HARPY! I HOPE YOU ENJOY STARING AT YOUR KEYBOARD AND I HOPE YOUR TRACKPAD TASTES LIKE GROSS SWEATY PALMS! Look at me! My legs both work! I’m not the one drooling into my keyboard! I’m not the one who is going to be discovered by EMTs tomorrow morning with my laptop open, AND I’M NOT THE ONE WHO’S GOING TO HAVE TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHY I’M LOOKING AT AN EMAIL FULL OF ASCII-ART PENISES!!!

8=D
8=========D
8=========D
8===D
8==========D
8======D
8=========D
8======D
8==========D
8====D
8======D
8=======D
8==========D
8=========D
8=====D
8===D
8=====D
8====D
8=======D
8====D
8========D
8=D
8=======D
8=D
8====D
8==========D
8========D
8=D
8===D
8===D

HAH! ENJOY YOUR FEEDING TUBE YOU FOUL HARRIDAN

David

P.S. If you are not in fact paralyzed from the neck down please stop reading 17 paragraphs ago

P.P.S. The penises count as one paragraph

Final note for you blog readers: If you use Ruby, you can generate your own page full of ascii-art penises with the ‘dicks’ gem. Just type ‘gem install dicks’ and then ‘dicks -n 30’ and bam, your face will be full of cocks. As it were.

Loyalty and Daring

On November 7, 2013, user “Stromm sarnac” replied to Loyalty and Layoffs with a pretty strong comment about keeping my head down and my mouth shut. I started to reply, but it got so long that I’ve decided to post this as an open letter. Because I’m doing this, and because Stromm’s stance is pretty strong, I want to emphasize that I am grateful for his comment and I am not posting this as a reply troll, but rather I am replying with total transparency and sincerity. More importantly, since my message is that “no, I absolutely should not keep my mouth shut, and neither should you or anyone else”, I’m publishing it here for general consumption. Part of daring to open your mouth is owning the consequences, and sometimes that means owning “getting yelled at”. While we are certainly within our rights to retaliate if the scolding is harsh–and this is a very human thing to do–we may also have a brief window of engagement if the person doing the yelling is also coming from a place of sincerity.

I feel like I’m setting you up for a scathing swearfest here, but to be honest, Stromm’s reply isn’t really that harsh. If it had been, I’d just have deleted it and moved on. No need to engage when there’s no chance of connection. I found his reply pointed, but at the end of it I found myself realizing that he is exactly the kind of audience I am trying to reach right now. I’m adding all this preamble so that nobody reads this open letter and thinks I’m trying use my forum to publicly shame this user.

Stromm, if you’re still out there, this one’s for you.

“It didn’t really hit me for about a week that I’d just been screwed out of the best job I’d ever”

You weren’t screwed out of a job. You had no right to that job or any other, same as the rest of us.

You were let to because the numbers didn’t work. Same as almost all of us who have been let go like that.

Instead of burning bridges and showing future employers that they shouldn’t trust you either, you should have kept your mouth (fingers really) shut.

Thank you for this comment. I mean that sincerely. I found your post challenging at first–as I’m sure you intended–but then I found it interesting, so sure, I’ll take a moment to reply. First, let me say that this post was absolutely intended for you. You were–you are–my target audience. Secondly, yes, I wrote that post in anger, and though I don’t regret it I do recognize that I made a key error: I failed to clarify the difference between loyalty and trust, and this has led to a lot of reactions similar to yours. If I haven’t permanently lost you as a reader I hope you’ll take a moment to read Loyalty and Trust, but if you’re done with me and my last communication to you will be the email notification of this reply, let me say that I agree with you completely, and that we should show loyalty to our employers, but we should not trust them with our careers, because–as you say–nobody has a right to a job or any other.

I appreciate that you want to look out for me and my career, but you’ve missed some key points along the way. What you have taken away from my post tells me that you are conflating loyalty and trust, which is my fault. But your fear of burning bridges also tells me that you, sir, are not curating your own career properly. You think I should be afraid of something I have faced and whipped so many times that I almost don’t remember it even exists. And the reason you have this fear, and I don’t, all comes down to owning your own career.

But you wanted to make this about me. Maybe you’re a jerk–nothing personal; the internet’s full of them and I’m just saying it’s a possibility. But then again, maybe you deflected the issue back to me because it feels safer for you, and I’m fine with that–and again, I mean that. I’m not challenging you, and I’m not trolling you. I am trying to meet you with openness and sincerity here. We feel angry when somebody breaks a rule that we think should be in place, and many of our rules come from decisions we make about our fears. You missed the point I was trying to make, and that’s okay. The fact that you felt engaged by it enough to comment means maybe I still have a chance. You are rejecting your interpretation of my message, and I want you to hear my true message, or at least understand it enough to agree that it’s not for you. I’d rather you reject my actual point rather than your misunderstanding of it. So let’s talk about your reply for a minute.

Let me start by saying that you are right about every single thing you said, right up until the last sentence, where you tried to slip in a whole lot of implicit assumptions under the radar in order to arrive at the exact opposite conclusion that my logic–based on different assumptions–should have dictated. Let’s start with where you’re right.

Did anyone owe me a job? Certainly not. I agree with you. Life doesn’t owe me anything. Life is totally unfair. It has to be; otherwise winning wouldn’t be any fun.

You’re also right that I lost my job because the numbers didn’t work. You’re not wrong, but I want to point out a subtle nuance that you may have overlooked: the numbers didn’t work because somebody else was incompetent. I did everything right–better than right, really. And somebody else screwed up, and kept their job, and I lost mine. Is that fair? No! Did I have a right to that job? No! Do I have the right to feel betrayed about it? N–well, actually yes! My feelings are my own and I have the right to feel whatever the hell I want. You not only don’t have the right to vote on my feelings, you don’t even have the right to have an opinion out loud about them. Well, actually you do, because free country and stuff, but the point is I don’t have to listen or care. But since I also opened my blog for comments, I did give you a place to sound off about my feelings, so I’m not scolding you. Right now I choose to be transparent about my feeling process, but I wanted to point out that this is my whim, and not your right. Anyway, the process is this: I have a rule in my head that says my actions affect other people, and another rule that says I am responsible for my actions. Now I don’t have a rule that says I am responsible for other people, but I definitely do feel that I have a responsibility to other people. As it happened, some people very high up in that organization were consistently making bad choices, choices not based on reality or understanding of the market, but choices based on ego and shame and fear of looking bad to the board of investors. Rather than choose to examine their profits and losses and invest where costs were low and potential was high, they chose to sink vast sums of money into projects whose glory days had faded in the hopes of making the world somehow go back in time. In order to pay for that folly, staggering amounts of intellectual property was abandoned and projects with genuine promise were first bled dry and then discarded. In order to make the numbers work on those doomed projects, those men and women, who had responsibility for the company, and to me–because their actions had an effect on me–made choices that caused the numbers to not work where I was concerned.

They screwed up, but I had to pay for it. Did I feel wronged? You bet! Was I angry? Yep! Did I stay angry? Nah. It wasn’t really a useful emotion. I had no ability to take any action that would have any effect on them, and besides, I don’t know that I could have run the company any better. Even if I could have forced them to make a different decision, the company was spread too far at that time, and had to contract to stay alive. All I would have done differently is choose to unemploy the engineers on that big, fat, doomed project instead of mine. How is that any better?

But even still, at the end of all that, you are right: in order to arrive at that feeling of betrayal, I had to have some assumptions about my career that were out of whack. No employee should ever feel betrayed by an employer upon being let go. Especially when it’s an impersonal mass-layoff like I went through. You’re absolutely right.

But here’s the thing: I did feel betrayed, and I know countless other people who also have felt this sense of betrayal. I shouldn’t have, but the fact that I did isn’t going to stop being a true thing anytime soon.

Some people, like yourself, have observed this feeling and responded with a sort of self-oriented “tough love”. You tell yourselves “nobody owes you anything, sweetheart” when life gets crappy. That’s okay. I’m fine with that; it’s actually a rather useful attitude.

But there’s two ways to take this attitude: with hope, or with hopelessness.

Hope says “nobody else owes you anything, so if you want something you gotta haul yourself up by the bootstraps and go get it.”

Hopelessness says “nobody owes you anything… and there’s nothing you can do about it. So you’d better keep your head down and keep quiet, because if you complain you might never get anything again, or if you do have something they might hear you and come take it away.”

This is exactly the recipe for learned helplessness. It is a message you can send your brain and, if repeated often enough, will actually change your brain chemistry from healthy resilience to clinical depression. Ask me how I know. No wait, I’ll just tell you: I’ve been there, and I’ve done that. And then I learned a whole lot of stuff about it from some very smart doctors who happened to be experts in that particular field, and I learned to stop doing that, and that’s why I can say been there instead of am still there.

So that’s where you’re right.

I wrote that post because ten years ago, I felt betrayed, and even though it felt absolutely horrible, that turned out to be a useless attitude. So I decided to haul myself up by my bootstraps. I turned the betrayal into anger and the anger into action and the action into a resolution to never let it happen again. I learned that in order to do that, I had to learn to stick my head up. I had to learn to open my mouth. Sure, I’ve spent the last ten years getting smacked on the head and punched in the mouth (figuratively speaking). But I’ve also spent the past ten years watching other people try to get by by keeping their heads down and their mouths shut. And I’ve watched them toil away miserably, choose to stay in bad places because they fear losing their job, and then get laid off with no warning (which is, as you say, a fact of life) and no preparation (which is, as I say, inexcusable).

You and I are, in fact, in violent agreement. I said loyalty in that post, but as I clarified in my followup, what I really meant was trust: Trusting a corporation to take care of you is sick. Why? Because you have no right to your job. Forgoing improving yourself today, in order to help the company succeed today, because you believe the company will reward you for it–or even just be there at all–tomorrow, is foolish.

And the most interesting thing about that foolishness is this: if you forsake that foolishness, and build yourself, suddenly you realize that the job market is absolutely heaving with abundance. At least it is for people who build themselves and invest in themselves and stay at the top of their game. 14% unemployment is only terrifying if you’re at the 15th percentile. If you’re at the 90% percentile, the only way unemployment will catch you is by anonymous actions such as “the numbers didn’t work”. When unemployment is high, employers can afford to pick and choose the very best. And you know what that means? It means if you are on top of your game, you can switch jobs in the middle of a recession just by parking in a different lot.

I’m not trying to brag. I’m not the best developer in the world; some days I wonder if I’m even a good one. My head is full of outdated ideas that have worked in the past and never been reexamined. But I’ve learned how to get things done well enough that I feel confident in my skills, and I’ve learned I can back up my promises–if only because I know what promises I shouldn’t make. I have utterly no fear of unexpected employment. Not because I think it won’t happen to me, but because after I became a freelancer, I had to go through it so many times that I just don’t even think it’s special anymore.

Thank you again for this comment. I really do appreciate it and I hope that, if you don’t think I’m right, you at least think I care enough to reach out to you in good faith.

I’ll close with this thought: there are countless thousands of employers who want–who need–people who dare. People who speak up. People who not only poke their head up, but stick their neck out. Those are my peeps. I seek them out, and they’re everywhere. And they are desperate not just for me, but for hundreds more just like me. There are also countless employers out there who are afraid of people who dare. People who rock the boat. People who upset the balance. Those might be your peeps; I don’t know. There are people who are happy working at organizations like that. I still think they should still be curating their careers, in case someday the “numbers don’t work out”, but I certainly recognize that people can choose to be happy in those places.

I am not one of them.

Between me and that type of employer lies a vast chasm, spanned by a rickety wooden bridge, tinder dry, covered in pitch. Burning it will cut me off from many opportunities, it is true. But when that bridge goes up, it will send up a flare to all the other employers: startups, small companies, innovators–the ones looking for good people who understand and accept the risks and dangers and are willing to take a stand, even if it means cutting themselves off from some people.

I’m not burning a bridge. I’m advertising a self-selection process.

Tell me honestly: If you were me, would you really not light the match?

Loyalty and the Headsman

When I wrote Loyalty and Layoffs, I knew it was mostly a post about what loyalty shouldn’t be, and I wanted to follow it with a post about what loyalty should be at a company. But then Lucy over at silverlining13.com wrote this reply:

“I know certain management that had to tell me were quite sorry it had come to this, but I was one of over 120 others that had to be told that day. I actually felt for the managers who had the unpleasant task of telling everyone and I even said ‘I don’t envy you right now, it must be the worst part of your job’.”

— Lucy at silverlining13.com

And I realized that loyalty, and boundaries, and jobhunting, and all the other things I wanted to follow up with needed to take a back seat for a couple of posts. I ended my last post with the words “Get medicine. Start saving yourself.” My next post is about the medicine; right now I want to talk about the Headsman.

First I want to say that I’ve been in Lucy’s shoes. (They pinch; I’m not cut out for heels.) I have actually told two managers that I felt worse for them than I felt for myself.

I can’t advise Lucy on whether or not saying that was good or bad. I know the first time I said it, I was so invested in the company and the team that I really did feel like I was apologizing to the headsman for making him swing the axe on my own neck. It didn’t occur to me for years that this was not a healthy approach to my own self-interest.

The second time, though, was just a few years ago. I’d been freelancing for years by that time, and I’d accepted a full-time job working with an old friend. While I was there, I worked hard and became good friends with our manager, but I never stopped working on my safety net. I didn’t know where I would go if I got laid off, but I knew I had a hundred doors to knock on, so I was utterly unafraid of that prospect. When the day came that half our team got laid off, and I got included in the list, I gave my manager a sincere hug and said “It’s been a great run. I’m not happy to be going, but don’t worry about me. Today’s going to suck a lot more for you than for me. I’ll have another job before quitting time today. And tomorrow you have to start fishing everybody’s morale out of the gutter.”

So, Lucy, I don’t know if your loyalty was healthy or unhealthy, but the affection you had for your coworkers and managers is beautiful. That’s the right kind of loyalty. We love the people we work with, and losing them triggers real grief. I think that’s healthy and wonderful and utterly human.

I can’t bring myself to call that wrong.

Next week I’ll talk about the medicine.

Remember What’s Important

One day, in 1999, I was furious at my computer. On that day I received some of the best programming advice I’ve ever gotten, courtesy of my good friend SamWibatt: “Dude. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.” This advice has stuck with me through the years, tried and true. This week, however, I found a law that trumps it:

Remember What’s Important.

Last Tuesday I kissed my wife blearily awake at 6am as I prepared to start my day programming with my remote team, two time zones ahead and already starting their day at 8am. I asked her if she felt like getting me breakfast and she said sure. She pulled on a sweat top, left on her pajama bottoms, and headed into town to buy breakfast from a drive-through.

An hour later my phone rang. “Mister Brady? This is Officer Powell with the Lehi City Police Department. Your wife’s been in a serious accident. She’s okay but she may have hurt her arm. Her car is totaled and we’re going to have to tow it.”

I reacted about how you might think. “Is she okay?” “She’s conscious and alert, and seems okay except for her arm. Paramedics are looking at her right now. But we’re going to have to tow your car.”

“Oh, okay, so I need to come get her?”

“No, the paramedics are going to take her to the hospital, so–”

“Wait, so is she okay?”

Officer Powell had the wisdom to realize that I was going into shock and had started looping. He also knew just how to calm me down. “Here, let me put her on the phone.”

“Hi sweetie,” she said. “I think I broke my arm.”

I guess I *was* still in shock. “But… you’re okay?”

“Yeah. My arm hurts.”

I got back on with Officer Powell. “Do I need to come down there?” “Yes, I think we have your dog*.”

And that began the worst day I’ve had in 16 years of marriage to the finest woman I have ever met.

I’ll spare you the minute-by-minute details, but the short answer is that Liz was driving very sleepy. She was traveling on a highway at 50MPH, saw the light turn red, did not react in time, and barrelled into cross traffic at very nearly full speed. She was traveling westbound, and hit the engine compartment of a northbound vehicle. The airbag went off and saved her life. She knocked that car 45 degrees to the left and sent them sailing through oncoming traffic, miraculously reaching the far corner unscathed and coming to a stop at the street pole. The impact had spun her 90 degrees to the right, straight into oncoming traffic, and she collided head-on with a southbound vehicle entering the intersection. The now deflated airbag was of little use and she shattered her forearm against the steering wheel.

Liz Nightstick Fracture of Left Ulna Against Steering Wheel

All four other victims were uninjured. Our car was totaled and uninsured for collision damage (it was a 2002 Toyota Corolla, not worth covering) but we had full comprehensive insurance which meant Liz’s medical care would be covered. Our State Farm (they are awesome) insurance agent, Sarah Williams (who is even more awesome), notified the other parties that there would be no disputation of fault, that their medical and auto repair bills would be covered, and that they would help the other drivers with anything should their insurance not be cooperative. Because there was no disputation of fault, the case officer, Officer Bateman, did not write Liz a ticket since in his judgment everything was settled fault-wise and given his assessment of injuries, karma had done the justice system’s job. I had a chance to talk with him at length later in the process, and I have to say that he’s the kind of policeman that gives cops everywhere a good name.

The End of Liz's Silver Corolla

50MPH collision followed by a head-on? One broken arm and nobody else hurt? One lost junker car? We are nothing but grateful.

Crushed Frontend - Note headlight (and rest of engine block) Pushed Back a foot from the bumper it should have been aligned with

I took most of last week off work to be a full-time stay-at-home husband and nursemaid. Church members organized a relief party to bring us dinner each night to take at least that piece of stress off of us. Liz had surgery on Friday and now has a 6″ or 7″ titanium plate bolted to her ulna to hold it together while it heals. It’s a permanent plate; they won’t take it back out unless Liz has trouble with it causing pain years down the line.

It’s been a week. Anxiety is now my constant companion. But I can live with that Liz is fine and recovering quickly. I am nothing but grateful.

Sorry if this seems like a no-code kind of post, but it IS related. Remember what’s important. All this programming crap is just numbers and logic and blinky lights on a computer. Narrowly avoiding the loss of your soulmate sort of puts all those project deadlines and looming schedules and tricky technical debt problems so far onto the back burner that I actually heard them fall down behind the stove.

Which is where they belong.

* P.S. For you animal lovers, yes this is important too: Bella is fine. 🙂 She was super freaked-out and excited for a few days but she was laying on the back seat, so all she did was hit the backs of the front seats and then the floor. She was shaken up, but not even tender when examined.

Two Questions

Recently I was talking with a friend about coaching and specifically the act of helping younger developers improve themselves. I had a sort of microepiphany when I realized that I’ve been improving myself for over two decades with the same pair of questions, originally unconsciously and only recently in my active consciousness. The next time you do something you want to get better at, ask yourself these two questions:

What about this makes me feel good? This is a VERY specific question, and it is NOT “what do I like about this?”. It’s often hard to answer. You are not allowed to say “I don’t know”, and you are not allowed to settle for answering the much easier question “what about this do I like?”—although that can be a great guide into discovering what it is that makes you feel good. If you wrote an elegant passage of code, or did something clever, or shipped a really nasty hack but saved the company (thus buying them time to refactor your nasty hack) by shipping on time, that’s what you like. But go beyond this. What about that makes you feel good? Did it make you feel smart? Did it make you feel artistic? Did it make you feel like a hero? Did it make you feel like somehow, against all the odds, you might just be starting to “get it” as a programmer?

Take a moment and really just let yourself feel good about what you did. If you can find that and tap into it, you have just found a well inside yourself that you will return to again and again in the future. Congratulations, you’ve just found the reason you’re going to spend the rest of your life getting better at this.

If you can’t answer this question, don’t sweat it. But don’t be surprised if your life ends up going a different direction. Find something else that makes you feel good, and do that instead.

What about this could I do better? Most days, you’ll think of something right off. There was some duplication, or a lack of symmetry in the code, or your variable names were kind of awkward.

Other days it’s a bit harder. “Writing this bit felt a bit grindy, like I was pushing out lots of boilerplate. I don’t see how to fix it, but does it really have to hurt this much?”

The best days are the days when you try and try and just can’t answer it. Important: this doesn’t mean you did something perfect. Far from it, and far better: it means you’ve actually managed to see your blind spot. “This”, your brain is telling you, “this empty space, here… is where more knowledge will fit.” Those are the days that herald “getting it” on a whole new level.

So, them’s my questions for you. What made you feel good? What could do better?

Felt any good or done any better recently?