2014 Resolutions Review 07: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Continuing from last month’s Groundhog’s Day Resolutions Review, I had hoped for another kick-ass month. Parts of it were good, on the work front, though there was more frustration with the progress on my personal projects. I attribute the good parts to new working methodology for the big programming project, and the good parts because I had to stop themed work weeks and figure out a new balance. BONUS INSIGHT: I don’t really have a lot of fun, still.

Last Month’s Goal Setting Progress

Last month’s review was pretty enthusiastic. I felt I got a lot done while retaining a stress-free existence. I attributed this at the time to the idea of themed work weeks, which allowed me to focus on a single major project during the week instead of trying to juggle three of them. More moments of closure resulting, which produced a greater feeling of accomplishment. That’s what I want! Alas, it was not to be due to a number of issues:

  • My big project kicked-off for YEAR 2, which required multiple meetings.
  • Because of this, I dropped “themed work weeks” because the weekly meetings for this project screwed up that rhythm, at least for now.
  • We have some aggressive deadlines, so I am feeling the weight of trying to work quickly and accurately.

The net result has been the return of a persistent unsettled feeling regarding the project state. There are a lot of unknowns that have to be resolved for some hard dates, and I have to remind myself that it’s OK if I can’t see what “perfection” might be 4 weeks from now. Still, it bothers me. I am just wired this way, perhaps. I don’t like the feeling, but I also want to be a responsible team player and do my part to make the project awesome.

A side effect of this constant pressure is the immediate loss of fun time. Since I am feeling self-imposed pressure to deliver something great without knowing exactly what that is, this has me constantly thinking about the project to the point that I start to suppress my own projects. That’s not a good thing. The feeling is like living under the constant threat of something that could be bad or disappointing, but you don’t know what it is so you work through it. This, I find, is VERY TAXING, so I have been trying to train myself out of that kind of thinking. What does that entail? It means actually accepting less than perfection and promoting experimentation. There is a time for perfection, and that is when the experimentation phase has produced something that CAN be polished to a high level of finish. We’re in experimentation phase, because this is a research project. It’s hard to not want to polish early, but that’s not a good idea.

Of more concern is my lack of fun. I’ve been experiencing very low levels of motivation even when I have been granting myself the time to have it. It occurred to me just today that the reason for this is due to a miscategorization of work as fun. When I think of “fun” things to do, I tend to think of things like this:

  • Make the website work or look better
  • Start organizing the content into more easily-findable chunks, and recategorize them
  • Clean up the basement so I can move stuff into it from upstairs and start the Living Room Cafe project.
  • Take photos of stuff I’m working on and make a nice spread for the website.
  • Design a neat magazine spread for local photographer and see what happens.
  • Design a new notebook product

All of these projects were tagged as “FUN” in my mind, because they’re related to future goals that I think will make me happy, or at least provide the basis for making money that I can then SPEND on having fun. So when I have a chunk of time, or even an entire weekend, I have the expectation that I should be working on these “fun projects”, and yet I find the whole prospect irritating and not fun at all. And you know why that is? IT IS NOT FUN. These tasks are actually WORK. I don’t particularly enjoy goofing with websites to make them function better, recategorizing thousands of posts, or cleaning up the basement. Putting together spreads of photos and designs are not particularly fun either, at least when I’m working in a vacuum. All these activities are, in fact, forms of work that will move me more toward a kind of independence, financially or creatively. It is not fun, though.

So what is fun? I have no idea. I have been battling for personal creative independence for so long I have forgotten what fun is. Learning is fun? Not really, at least the way I’ve been doing it. I’m quite serious about learning new things, and go nuts on it. For example, I have been attending a friend’s “Piano Karaoke” night every month, and have decided to experiment with learning how to sing. I’m keeping notes and creating patterns from my observations, and I just ordered an SM58 microphone with a small outboard microphone monitoring deck so I can experiment with amplified vocal control techniques. It’s not so much “fun” as it is “obsessive”, though I guess I do enjoy the hunt.

I also had an epiphany last week about daring to pursue goals of mastery. I’ve shuffled around these goals for quite a while:

  • a complete video game designed and programmed by myself
  • the illustration of a lovely book that I’ve written myself
  • the composition of a orchestral score
  • the design and bringing to market of a useful mechanical device
  • an integrated suite of paper and digital productivity tools to help me think
  • the building a self-sustaining creative organization that creates at least one full-time job

The first one goes back to when I was 14 or so, and while I’ve actually done everything to get to the point of making it, including studying computer graphics and working in the video game industry professional, I have not cracked it. Likewise for illustration, which I love but find really difficult. Writing is a little less difficult but it still requires discipline, as I discovered when doing Nanowrimo a few years ago. And so on.

Why am I holding back? What am I waiting for? Possibly it is because these are not “fun” either. They represent ACHIEVEMENT instead. Maybe I’m just incapable of having pure stupid fun. Instead, I smolder with unrequited desire to have achieved something wonderful.

It occurs to me that maybe the activity itself isn’t fun, but it’s the approach and the attitude that makes something fun. This seems to touch on the “experimental vs perfectionist” mindset I alluded to earlier. Perhaps that should be the goal for the month.

Other Notable Details of the Month

Those epiphanies aside, I can see that last month was pretty sociable. I caught up with a bunch of people, bought some cool toys that I’ve been meaning to write about, compared a bunch of sushi places with each other, visited my first Maker’s Faire in Dover, NH, and ate a LOT of fresh corn. That was the good part. A lot of food-related stuff, really. Food is fun.

On the less fun side of things was a security breach I discovered on my website, which lead to a week of server updates and service hardening. This is exactly the kind of thing that I dislike doing, but am actually fairly adept with now. I lost almost three whole days to this, but came away more knowledgeable about the state of my web server. I actually know quite a bit about them for a layperson, and thoughts of writing a server configuration guide bubbled up. Who knows, I still might do that.

On the more fun side of things was the discovery that I enjoy pair programming a lot, and this made me VERY productive producing code of an interesting and somewhat arcane nature. I was rather pleased to note that my understanding of Javascript has increased to the point where I can say I’m an “intermediate expert” in it, and am starting to write code that takes advantage of its unique qualities rather than force it to be more like a more mature development language. So learning…yay! I could also probably write a useful intermediate primer on Javascript programming, though the real test would be creating a complete web app of my own design. Still a ways to go there!

The Month Ahead

From the experiences of this month, I’ve gleaned a few more guiding principles:

  • Pair programming really seems to work for me; I need to try this with other fields of endeavor. I think what I really am craving is connection with people who understand what it is that I’m doing, and ideally are practitioners themselves.

  • Experimental over Perfectionist is another important lesson to apply. Rather than worry about perfection in the face of constant uncertainty, having an experimental mindset is less like to induce depression. Experimenting is about finding new things and adapting as one learns. Perfecting is about falling short until you make it. There’s actually no difference in the PROCESS of making something new and cool, but the MINDSET one has makes a huge difference. I must remember that.

  • On a related note, having the experimental mindset also means that I can maybe make those “work” projects more fun with a light-hearted attitude. At the same time, I need to also recognize that some of those “fun” projects are actually “work to support future fun”. Even when I am hating working on my server security, at least I know that (1) it’s work and (2) I can feel satisfied that I spent time improving something related to my future prosperity. I have a tendency to strategize over implement when it comes to the big hairy projects.

  • My mastery goals have be dormant long enough. I need to build and make mistakes and get these projects moving along in some way.

  • Along the lines of connection, I think that’s what I am really craving these days. I’d love to meet another programmer/designer in the area that’s starting up their own business, or learning something about a new programming environment, or is designing something cool. It’s up to me to make that connection and establish a cultural basecamp. Or, I should find something like that nearby or on the Internet and participate.

  • I also would like to get in the habit of writing less about these processes, and show more pictures of my experiments. Ultimately, THAT is what is interesting to me, and yet I have not been sharing any of it for years. I used to! I think part of the issue is my fixation on “fun supporting work”, rather than “fun” itself. The kind of connection I’m talking about above is THROUGH fun and inspired sharing. One thing that’s held me back is a dissatisfaction with the current website’s presentation, but it is still an improvement and I should just start using it rather than wait for perfection to be achieved.

Specific Goals

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p>Next month, I hope to report on progress on those master projects. There’s a balance between the work, the projects, the client work, and my own enjoyment of life that is starting to come into sharper focus. Hopefully, we’ll see it sooner than later!


Groundhog Day Resolution Posts for 2014

Here are other posts about Groundhog Day Resolutions for the 2014 season.

  • The original post about Groundhog Day Resolutions
  • 02/02 Kickoff - Setting Goals!
  • 03/03 Review - So Far, So Good!
  • 04/04 Review - Setting Realistic Expectations
  • 05/05 Review - ADD and Incremental Progress
  • 06/06 Review - Trudging through the Blahs
  • 07/07 Review - Limited Progress
  • 08/08 Review - Unusually Productive
  • 09/09 Review - Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
  • 10/10 Review - Shifting Goals
  • 11/11 Review - Chugging Away
  • 12/12 Review - End of Year

1 Comment

  1. Carsten 3 years ago

    I love reading your blog. Your reflections on your life and your work are great inspirations.

    regarding “a complete video game designed and programmed by myself” I would recommend Unity (http://unity3d.com/)

    Their own tutorials are great, but I found a little youtube tutorial, where you learn the basic flow of things in Unity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQXdREL4GGg (it’s about creating a Pong game, and even though it’s a pretty simple game it does cover allot of basics)

    You can make both 2d and 3d game in Unity.

    The scripting can be both javascript and C#.

    Kind regards, Carsten

A message from Dave:

I believe we all benefit when we respectfully share our perspectives on common experiences. My house rules are "please be respectful of divergent views" and "enjoy the flow of ideas!"

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