En Garde!

I am in a rather introspective mood. This past month has blessed me with a number of perspective-changing events. Some of them are related to work, as I revisit old working relationships to build future projects. Some events have triggered thoughts relating to the dynamic nature of friendship and cameraderie, and how there are entire rich worlds of social activity occuring all around me. There are a lot of positive things going on right now, the pressure to compete is on, and I am enjoying it.

So why do I feel on guard?

In a recent conversation, one of those mean-but-funny expressions came up: “In all of your failures, the only common factor is You.” Funny because it’s true, and still funny because we know it really isn’t. It’s an implied form of causal fallacy I believe, but the thought of my being the “common factor” in all my experiences, and what those experiences have been, gave rise to the following train of insights:

  • I am accustomed to thinking about my friends, my work, and my responsibilities in terms of many one-to-one relationships: it’s me and someone else that I am establishing a connection with. Many of my principles are based on this, and it’s probably one of the oldest parts of my personality.

  • I have never really thought about myself in relationship with groups of people or other social networks (a “one-to-group” relationship). The past year or so I’ve been working to expand social contact, first through online social networks and now through direct contact. My initial expectation was that meeting new people was like casting a net to find the kinds of people I need to pursue my work, with persistence and patience. Where do I fit? Where can I contribute? What kind of B.S. am I willing to put up with?

  • I discovered, with some surprise, that for all the technical / creative / intellectual effort that I’ve made, that it’s actually people that motivate me. I used to think it was pure creative drive: to create an awesome video game, write an amazing book, draw a wonderful illustration, score that moving cinematic theme. So I spent 2003-2004 in a little hermitage of my own making, working on projects remotely and figuring I would start to build the tools to start doing these things. And you know what? Not a lot happened along these lines. While I did write some interesting code, start blogging, and relaxed a whole lot…I have not made much movement my larger goals. And so it is with a big “duh” that what I did gain from my sabbatical is that I really need to have people in my life, if I am to get anything done. Not from a production / manpower perspective, but for the sense of shared purpose and friendship.

  • Prior to the above insight, I used to perceive this need for people on my part to create as some kind of creative defect in my character. Surely, the master artist just creates, puts his head down and selflessly grinds away at his oevre until that which must be seen is revealed? For the past couple of weeks I’ve been readjusting this perspective, getting comfortable with the idea that the ability to organize and motivate people without necessarily doing the work myself is actually a good thing. And now that I’ve accepted this, I see it in the good things my friends are doing with their lives and businesses.

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p>Anyway, the short version is that there are a lot of good things happening in my life and a lot of challenging things to do. I was feeling pretty good, thinking I had mastered yet another facet of myself and was ready to wrestle with the world again. I feel good, but there was something in the back of my mind that kept tickling, very lightly. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Then I saw Star Wars, Episode 3, and watched the fall of Anakin Skywalker. I followed this up by rewatching the original trilogy, my perspective altered by the Episode 3 experience. And I was humbled–not by the amazing production values as I have in the past–but of how Personal Character can be so, so fragile. The Star Wars saga is, under all the glitz, a story of passion, bad decisions, regret, and redemption. If only the acting and dialog lived up to the grand premise…but if you can just accept the characters as archetypes in our modern mythology and pretend they aren’t really talking, then maybe you can see past it. I was unexpectedly deeply moved by the story, of an annoying-but-good kid full of promise ascending to the top, then crashing into a Hell of his own making, taking the hopes and dreams of not only the Galaxy with him, but of the people who were his closest friends and allies.

A note to myself: When momentously good things are happening in your life, it’s more important than ever to maintain what you stand for, not what you hope to achieve or acquire. For me, that’s maintaining the best possible relationships I can with the people in my life, to be a partner in achieving and sustaining that very value. It’s easier to remember this when things are going bad; it’s perhaps more difficult to act on it, but at least you know what you’d rather do. When things are going well, it is harder to see the line between self-empowerment and hubris.