Success and failure in every life stage
4 min read

Success and failure in every life stage

Success and failure in every life stage
Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash
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Leaning into life's limitations - even when they really, really suck sometimes. Inspiration from a legendary nerd story.

The laundry baskets never go away.  And it drives me crazy.  Cheese and crackers!!! I work from home!  How do I still use so much clothing?  Thoughts that have crossed my mind -

  • donating 90% of my clothing
  • what can I get away with not folding?
  • outsourcing is a possibility, but feels very weird
  • and then there's all the kids clothes

At that point, I remember that I am a 42 year-old man who somehow made it this far in life with more help and support than I could ever have imagined I'd have.  Time to move on, Rey.

It's energy leaks like this that open the door to the feeling of daily despair that seem to always hang out right outside.  Waiting to get in to crash my party.  Luckily, I've got my systems in place to deal with those visits so they don't hang out all day.

Thinking back at the major stages of my life so far - I've been really good at finding the reasons not to move.  I could say that right now feels difficult for specific reasons - sick kids, sleep deprivation, working from home while sick, everything that the pandemic has shifted.  Yet, I've lived enough and remember enough to realize that...

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I've always had a convincing set of reasons and disadvantages for where I am in life to retreat to a safe, comfortable place.

I drafted a couple of slides (my artistic medium of choice) diagraming in a matrix - for every stage of life, the set of excuses (e.g. kids, man!) employed, and the distinct advantages of pursuing goals at each stage.  I filled it out with the excuses I've used and those I've heard from clients and the advantages that others have used in each stage as well.  Creating that made clear a point to me: there's always a reason to start and a reason not to start.  Just get on with it already.

Fatherhood is important to me.  My family is the greatest blessing I can imagine having and there's no material possessions in the world that could bring me the kind of joy I get to experience through them.  Aaand yet, I do think back sometimes - how did I waste so much time when I had NO kids?!  If I had that kind of time NOW, I'd be crazy productive.  Or would I?

Queue the lesson learned from an awesome nerd war story.  As a programmer and [wishfully imaging that I still am a] gamer, I remember playing the classic Prince of Persia game on my family's first 386 computer.  Back when computers had processors in double-digit megahertz clock speeds and memory in kilobytes.  On a recent night of interrupted sleep, I had a chance to watch a short documentary video about How Prince of Persia Defeated Apple II's Memory Limitations.  The kind of thing I really dig.

The  creator of Prince of Persia, Jordan Mechner, described his vision for the game and the tricks and techniques he used to create something so ambitious.  A pattern emerged in the story - the game would be better if only [insert reason here], but there isn't enough memory in the system!  Repeat for several reasons.  Commence banging head against keyboard.

And my own pattern reflected back to me.

The thing is - Jordan still created an amazing game.  I really appreciate a clever trick he shared with using a logic operator (XOR) to invert stored images to create an antagonist rather than having to store another set of character animations in memory that the system didn't have.  Trading a few processing cycles for memory.  If that makes no sense to you, just trust me that it's clever, clean and awesome.  

His ultimate lesson was absolute gold and so very relatable:

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The limitations of the system forced him to focus on what made the game - this experience - special.

Even as Jordan went on to create Prince of Persia for more powerful systems, that lesson still kept the game as awesome as the original.  He could have added endless features with more powerful hardware, but he kept focus on what made the game special.  Much was left on the cutting room floor as a result and the end product was better for it.

In about 5 to 10 years, I could have more time on my hands, but also whatever new limitations are there to greet me.  Let's just get on with it already.

Today, there are programmers, consultants, coaches who all have mountains more certifications, achievements, and credentials than me.  And yet, for all the good they are doing, it hasn't been fast enough or broad enough to reach the parts of life that I still tread in - the companies and organizations still suffering, doing their best, but overwhelmed.  The leaders who are and don't care to change, the leaders that never were but could have been.  

I've got a weird little light to carry and I'll do it proudly and persistently to find all the dark places where my people need me.  And if a brighter light renders mine obsolete at some point, I'll celebrate that and move on to build something different.  But for now, I'm building this one day at a time.

Until next time!

-- Rey