What Gets Me Out of Bed in the Morning?

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(obligatory cat picture)

Late last fall in a meeting with our CEO, she asked me what should have been a very simple question: “What gets you out of bed and into work in the morning?” Now, at the time I had been sick for several days (maybe weeks, I can’t remember) and my mind really wasn’t in a great place, and I didn’t have a good answer for her.

I didn’t really even have a bad answer.

Over Christmas, I became even more ill. By the new year, a major tragedy hit my family, something far worse than I ever imagined having to face. I then ended up needing surgery. All this to say, I was not feeling much better about how to answer this question.

Now, I am sure we have all been there at various times in our careers, times where we just weren’t quite sure why we work so hard. I have hit that point several times. Sometimes it is a signal that it is time to change (like when I left physics to work in the “real world”). Other times, it just means you have to remember the deeper purpose behind what you do.

As I often do when life threatens to become too much for me, I fall back on meditation as a way to cope. And as usually happens, through meditation I begin to see connections and patterns in my life.

Over the last month or so, I have been giving this question of purpose and motivation a lot of thought. In my career I have had the opportunity to work on a lot of interesting and just plain cool things, from astrophysics, to satellite operations and astrodynamics, to major military projects, to enterprise software start-ups. I am now at a point in my career, however, where working on things that matter is very important to me, more so than what is cool or just interesting.

So why does what I am doing now matter?

In conjunction with all of this introspection, at work the executive team (including me) was just finishing up on an extensive exercise to define (or at least articulate) the Vision, Mission, and Values of The Learning Bar. Very much the same “why are we here?” question I have been trying to answer personally.

As you will see if you follow the above link, our vision, mission, and values are all about helping children, specifically “giving all children the opportunity to thrive”. We do this through our values of inclusion, innovation, trustworthiness, social engagement, and leadership. We as an executive team worked very hard (and occasionally argued passionately!) to agree on these words, as these words represent who we are and why we are here.

As I meditated on life in general, it became more and more clear to me why I do what I do. It is so easy to get lost in the day-to-day details of your job, and lose site of the why. And whether you are an individual or an organization, it all has to start with why (yes, I know that is someone else’s phrase). When things are difficult, it becomes even more important to remember why.

In addition to being on the executive team and contributing in some small way to TLB’s strategy, as CTO I am of course very involved in the company’s technology (hence the title!). The problem with being on the technology side of a company like ours, is that it is easy feel somewhat removed from our end users, and even more so from the children those end users are helping. But it is important to remember the connection between what we do, and the children who are helped.

And this led me to my answer to the original question: “What gets you out of bed and in to work in the morning?” It was not until late last week (actually, driving home from Fredericton on Friday) that I was able to clearly articulate the answer in my mind, though I think it had been sort of congealing for some time. And here it is:

Any day where I do even one thing, whether it is strategy, execution, technological decision, or a casual conversation with a co-worker, that helps even one child improve their education and their life, it was worth getting out of bed that morning. And I am pretty sure that is true almost every day.

Of course, this is just for work, I have other reasons to get out of bed – first and foremost my family, but also just the fun of learning new things. But this is what gets me to the office.

So, what gets you out of bed and into work everyday?

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Conservative Fundamentalists Scare the Heck Out of Me!

Conservative fundamentalists (of any religion) scare me. Actually, any fundamentalists/extremests scare me. Check out this piece of mindless drivel: A Waste of Taxpayer Money by Rob Hood

By this logic, all scientific research should stop, because our 4 year olds already know the answers.

Where did life come from? God spoke it into existence.

What are the basic laws of science, chemistry, mathematics, etc? Who cares, God makes it work.

Why do people die of cancer, AIDS and other diseases? Because God wants them to (for one reason or another).

How will we survive global warming? No problem, God will fix it.

Maybe this guy is, on his own, proof that evolution is false – natural selection should have emptied his end of the gene pool long ago.

BTW – don’t get the idea that I am anti-religion, because I am not. I am against mindless application of dogma (religious or scientific).

That’s why you play the game!

I just finished watching the Giants beat the Patriots in the Superbowl. I had not actually intended to watch the game, because I really had little interest in who won. Then I figured, no matter who won, a certain amount of sports history would be made.

Going into this game, no one (myself included) gave the Giants much chance of winning. Up until a few weeks ago, no one would have guessed that they would even be playing. That brings me to the point of this post – the fact that stats really are irrelevant. On any given day, any team can win. That is why they play the game.

This carries over into the “real” world. Whenever you are starting something new – whether it is a business, or a new innovation, or anything else you can think of – there will always be lots of people telling you not to play in certain games because there is no chance of winning. The fact is, there is almost always some chance. It may be slim – but what it comes down is whether you execute better than the other players on game day (only in the real world, everyday is game day).

So do not always run away from the game because there are players out there with better records and better stats. All you have to do is go out and play better.

Easy, right?

Random Thought

I was watching a rerun of Boston Legal the other night, and this quote caught my attention – not all of you will understand why, but some might… 

“It’s sad, how you go from intimacy to nothing, cold turkey. I mean, how many people along the way have true meaning in your life, and to suddenly have no contact, and….it’s sad.” – Denny Crane (Boston Legal)

Business life lesson – Don’t let anyone steal your dream : Atlantic Canada’s Small Business Blog – IQI Strategic Management Inc.

 

Business life lesson – Don’t let anyone steal your dream : Atlantic Canada’s Small Business Blog – IQI Strategic Management Inc.

This is an interesting post, and fits in well with other things which have been on my mind lately, and with things about which I have posted.

It occurs to me that over the years, I really have let the world steal my dreams. I think we all do this – we get so wrapped up in the day-to-day “operations” of life that we lose track of the grand visions. We also tend to be told that we need to think realistically, and be reasonable, and play it safe. We spend much of our lives being taught what is possible, and even worse, what is impossible. I think that is why so much advancement in science, arts, and other fields comes from the young, because they have not yet learned that what they are trying to do is “impossible”. 

One of the nice things about a grand vision is that you spend much less time worrying about whether it is possible of not, and more time just working towards it.

Getting excited about the future

I have been through a complex time mentally over the last few months, with the changes here at Whitehill (now Skywire), and with my own transition within (and ultimately out of) the organization.

It is now time to face fully forward, and I am doing so right now with more excitement than I have had in a long time.

For the past number of months, I have been looking at a lot of options as to what to do next (as described in a previous post), and while there have been many ideas floating around, I have had a hard time getting truly fired up by any of them. Part of it was just inertia and fear of change. But a big part of it has been my own thinking. I have become extremely conservative (in some ways – not politically) as I have gotten older. So, much of my planning has centred around conservative ideas, or at most conservative approaches to more exciting ideas.

It is, unfortunately, very difficult to get fired up or inspired about playing it safe. That does not mean I am going to go off and do things without due consideration, or take unnecessary or ill-conceived risks. What it does mean is that I am going to follow a path which has been successful for me at previous times in my life – follow the big dream. In addition, have fun doing it. The dream itself is not the main goal, it is the act of chasing the dream and enjoying the path.

I have been searching for great words to express what I want to do next, and have finally found them in a cartoon of all places:

Pinky: “Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?”
The Brain: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky—Try to take over the world.”

So, that is what’s next for me – try to take over the world, or at least some interesting piece of it.

Stay tuned – this is going to be fun!

 

PS – here are the immortal words of Pinky and the Brain in their original form:

Ok, so now what?

I will let you know, right up front, that this is going to be a largely self-indulgent post. I am basically just thinking out loud, and doing it in public. Kind of like standing on a street corner talking to myself, I guess.

You see, I am on the verge of a life changing moment. Or maybe I am in the middle of it – it is a long moment. It started when I received notice on October 11 that my services were no longer required. Maybe it started even earlier, when the acquisition of Whitehill by Skywire was announced, and I was pretty sure that my time here was coming to an end. No matter, since I do know when the moment ends – December 15.

This transition period has been very complex, emotionally. I have, after all, spent close to 9 years at Whitehill – a considerable portion of my working life. I have invested a great deal of emotion and energy into it. And of course there is the people side of things – I have worked closely with a group of people for many years now.

On the other hand, I have been feeling for some time now that it was time for me to move on from Whitehill, and do something new. For the past year or so I have been semi-actively working on other ideas, plans, schemes, etc. I have been held back, however, by inertia, fear, complacency – all the usual things. So, in a way, being laid of could be viewed as a good thing – forcing me past these issues which I may never have overcome on my own.

So, I am now presented with an opportunity to do something new. I can do something a little bit new, like finding a similar role in a different company. Or, I can go all the way and completely reinvent myself again (I have done this twice before in my working life). I am taking this situation as an opportunity to re-evaluate what I do, how I do it, and most importantly why I do it.

As is typical for me, this evaluation has involved a great deal of reading. Even before the transition at Whitehill became concrete, I had been reading a number of books on starting my own MicroISV, including Eric Sink on the Business of Software and Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality, both of which were extremely useful. Recently I have been reading Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, which is a very interesting read and has some cool ideas, though not all of them I see as being good ideas.

In addition, there are the various blogs I follow, such as Escape from Cubicle Nation (which has had a couple of interesting, relevant posts recently – Excellent reading for those paralyzed by fear of leaving their job and Tips on cutting the ties and saying goodbye from Psychology Today) which in turn led me to 10 Remedies For “I’m Starting My Own Business And I’m Paralyzed With Fear!”, which of course has a 10 links to some other interesting posts.

I must admit that even now, when I know I am leaving, i still feel paralyzed with fear a lot. I swing from be optimistic about the future, to wildly ecstatic about the possibilities, to absolutely terrified that life will collapse in six months. Part of this, I know, is because I am moving outside of my comfort zone. This will be the first time in 20+ years that I will not be employed by someone, for even one day. That is a bit creepy!

So, getting to the title of this post, what now? I really do not know at this point. I have opportunities out there already, and I have no shortage of my own ideas. I have been asked by various people what I want to do. About the only thing I can say for sure right now, is that I want to do something “new and interesting” – I just have not decided what yet.

I have decided that as of December 15, I am going to take a few weeks to “decompress”, and to unclog my brain from all the Whitehill clutter that has built up. The last thing I want to do is to jump into something instantly. I know with certainty that once I am away from here for a few weeks, my thinking will change dramatically.

All in all, it promises to be a very interesting new year!