Self-Improvement through Self-Awareness
29 June, 2014

I can be perhaps too willing to take a beating. I am also susceptible to worrying. So it comes as no surprise that I am anxious that I take damage unnecessarily.

Around my twelfth summer, I spent a few weeks with my cousins at their hot, dry place in the desert. One day the neighbor kids mounted a watery attack on us. We counterattacked, of course, but they had us outgunned. The neighbors’ crew-served weapon (garden hose) had us pinned down behind a car. Our supply of grenades (water balloons) was perilously low. While my cousins debated strategy, I did what I figured any good Marine would do: I charged the enemy. Alas, the ferocity of my attack did not carry the day.

During the debriefing (lunch) my older cousin inquired into what particular mental handicap made me think charging their fortifications was a good idea. As I saw it, we were pinned down with no way out. Someone had to do something and, if not me, then who? (My therapist says that it is common for survivors of trauma to think that way.) The enemy had an unlimited supply of ammo and someone needed to change the equation for us to have a chance. (Of course, it would have worked a lot better if I had thought to coordinate with my cousins for them to attack while I drew the fire…)

Now that a few fortnights have passed since I left a particularly unhealthy situation, I naturally turn in the spirit of hansei to assessing what went wrong. In particular, I worry that I contributed to my own mistreatment. Others familiar with the situation insist that I in no way contributed and I am willing to forgo blaming myself. But I do see how certain traits of who I am came into play throughout the duration.

I suppose I must admit that I am willing to take damage to accomplish a goal, to trade hard work for achievement, and to sacrifice myself to defend others. Whether those character traits are strengths or weaknesses depends on the situation. Only by maintaining an awareness of them can I hope to maneuver around the situations where they are weaknesses.

Working Hard or Hardly Working
21 July, 2013

One of my coworkers made a statement last week that disturbed me. They opined that there should be no personal talk whatsoever at work and any such should not count toward the eight-hour-per-day minimum. Said coworker further recommended, if someone at work asked about one’s weekend, always responding with “fine” to discourage any followup jibber-jabber. I quite disagree with all that.

Admittedly I was raised in a polite society and in a family of origin where any misstep was severely punished. I would not be surprised if I am more sensitive to interpersonal niceties than the average bloke. (I think there is evidence that I am more sensitive in general.) However, I still hazard that most people would consider someone whose only words to them were to request some service to be at least a cold fish if not something of a dick.

I believe that all good teams have a personal connection between their members. I have no titular authority so my ability to influence others is entirely dependent on the strength of our connection. Of course, doing nothing but prattling and gossiping all day serves neither the team nor the task at hand. My experience shows that, within the context of any given endeavor, the strategic goals are accomplished better and quicker with a good rapport built with the tactical application of personal interaction.

One of my basic tenets is that everyone is a person who deserves to be heard. Life is short and too often ends with little warning. I take professional pride in doing a good job. But I would rather be remembered for how much I cared than how much I worked.

Arrow Pincushion
27 October, 2007

Friday evening repeated a now-familiar but still-irritating interaction with my manager. He wanders into my office to inquire about a defect on which I’d been working. (For those not deeply geeky and to keep the technicalities from distracting, I’ve replaced the actual terms with placeholders.)

ME: The foozle impinges on the moof which in most cases fires the spryck.
HIM: The foozle?
ME: Yes.
HIM: Impinges on the moof?
ME: Yes.
HIM: Why does it impinge?
ME: I don’t know.
HIM: But that makes no sense.
ME: I know.
HIM: But why?
ME: I didn’t write the code: it’s from before I started working on this codebase.
HIM: Most times fires the spryck?
ME: Yes.
HIM: Why not all the time?
ME: I don’t know.
HIM: Are you sure the foozle impinges?
ME: Yes. Every time.
HIM: But why?
ME: I still don’t know.
HIM: We have to change the foozle to bypass the moof and fire the spryck every time.
ME: Good idea. But it may take some work.
HIM: Why? It should be simple.
ME: Because the chungong depends on the foozle and we need to make sure changing the foozle doesn’t break the chungong.
HIM: Why does the chungong depend on the foozle?
ME: Because it does.
HIM: But it shouldn’t need to.
ME: But it does.
Et cetera, et cetera, …

His instinct appears to be to challenge all data presented to him. Whilst I agree that data used to make a decision ought to be defensible, having one’s results consistently challenged feels like being a shot messenger. Messengers who get shot have a strong incentive to stop delivering the messages.

As I complained about this to my spouse, I got the eye-roll that said, “Look who’s talking, mister”. I make the distinction, perhaps a fine point, that I only challenge factoids that fail the laugh-out-loud test like, say, anything heard on Oprah. But I will concede that perhaps she might feel like it’s the same thing.

But it’s not. I’m skeptical of hearsay, even if it comes through my spouse. At work, though, it’s not hearsay. I’m quite literally a trained professional. Treating my results with skepticism puts my work in the same class as hearsay. ‘Tain’t no outrageous fortune, so keep your slings and arrows to yourself, eh?