The happy secret to better work

Let me begin with a video. Take 12 minutes and 21 seconds and watch it. I’ll be here when you are done.

I love TED talks. I’ve posted a number of them before. This one, however, struck a chord with me because it touches on ideas that I have had for myself for years.

Be happy now, not later.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a short post about my philosophy on work. Whether you saw it at the time, the central premise behind it is that you should be happy with the job you have while you have it, even if you don’t like it and are looking for something else. Being happy with your job, even if it is just being happy with doing your job well although the job itself sucks, is the beginning of a ripple that will affect everything else in your life and everyone around you. You might hate your job, but face it, if the boss pulls you aside to tell you how awesome you are at the job, you feel great. And if your job is managing people, remember that telling people about the good things they do can actually have an impact on places they need to improve. Lead with bad news, then close with a few comments about the good stuff they do. You’ll actually bolster their spirit and that alone may be enough for them to improve in those problem areas. If all you do is yell at an employee, perhaps you should do both of you a favor and let them go, because your constant berating and never telling them anything positive is, for most people, actually going to make them perform worse, not better.

There is an old saying about crying over spilt milk and how you shouldn’t do it that no one these days really understands because who would ever cry over spilt milk? But the point of the saying is another thing I’ve talked about for years. The point is, once the milk is spilt, just clean it up. You gain nothing from being distraught or upset over the loss of the milk. It’s trivial. It’s not like a parent died or anything. Too many people spend too much time worrying about and being upset at things that have already happened and can’t be changed. They wind themselves up in knots, making themselves unhappy over past failures when they should be accepting them, learning from them, and moving forward.

Now, that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t care about stuff that happened, but it does mean that you shouldn’t let it cripple you. And you aren’t going to just wipe it off and move on like nothing happened. No, the point is that you understand what happened, resolve to do better, and integrate the experience into who you are to make you better. Why did you spill the milk? Could it have been avoided? In the future, let’s try not to spill milk.

But how do we get better and being better?

The sticking point for most people is that everything they’ve been taught in their lives has led them to the road described in the video: that happiness comes after success.

I suggest taking to heart the list at the end of the video. You need to actively work at changing the way you approach life. Make sure you take the time to acknowledge and dwell on the positive good things in your life and not spend all your time focusing on problems and the stress of working toward future success and future happiness.

If you need a little push, you might consider giving SuperBetter a try. Jane McGonigal has been pushing “gamification” for a long time, and she’s finally unveiled her new project. This website isn’t going to fix your life, but if you work it you might find that using your old/current mindset of chasing achievements can be redirected into things that may help you be happier now and not later.

I haven’t spent much time at that site, so I can’t speak on its effectiveness. But if you know me, or can sleuth out my email from the site, feel free to hit me up as an ally.

Worth Doing Well

Any job worth doing is worth doing well.

Any job with acceptable compensation (be it monetary, spiritual, emotional or other) is worth doing.

Any job I take on will have acceptable compensation. (I don’t intentionally commit myself to things that I know I will hate doing and gain no form of reward from.)

So, by the transitive property, any job I take on is worth doing well.

If you live your life by these simple rules, it is possible that you might have a job that sucks, but you should never suck at your job. If you find yourself being terrible at your job, you either need to find a way to be better at it or find a job that is a better fit. By knowingly, willingly being terrible at your job, you are choosing to make your own life worse and having a negative impact on everyone you interact with. Conversely, by doing your job well, you will have a positive impact on the people you interact with, and that, in turn, has a chance of making you feel that your job doesn’t suck.

Your Greatest Weakness

If you have ever spent any significant amount of time interviewing for jobs, you’ve probably had someone ask you, “What do you think is your greatest weakness?” Most people don’t spend any effort on seriously considering that question, and often it’s just a wankfest of trying to come up with something that also sounds like a strength. “I work too hard.” “I do too much unpaid overtime.” “I sacrifice my social life for work.” Personally, I’ve never liked that, and whenever I’ve been a part of the interview process from the other side and heard a prospect give one of those answers, I’ll either write them off as being useless or if they’ve shown real promise before that get them to answer again, with a little truth this time. If I’ve bothered to ask you that question, it’s because I want to know that you are capable of not seeing yourself as perfect and understanding that you can improve. I certainly don’t want to hear how even your flaws are assets, because if it is an asset, a strength, it’s not a weakness.

For me, my answer has often been that I’m better at fixing or finishing than I am at starting. When asked to explain, I do so by telling them about issues I have with narrowing decisions. For example, I am told to build a webpage. In what language? The choice of language will dictate, down the road, what you can do. Some languages are great at some things and weak at others, and so at the beginning stages of a project I will often spent an incredibly large amount of time trying to think of and map out every possible feature we could want in the site in an attempt to make sure I’m choosing the best language, the best approach. If instead of being told “build a webpage” I was told “build a webpage in PHP” we can eliminate a lot of time and effort. I end by saying that while it is my greatest weakness, it can be greatly tempered with information and direction, and lessens over time as I become more comfortable with my working environment.

I’ve gotten better at that over the years, both through knowledge and speed of research, and by gaining confidence in my decision-making by having decisions I’ve made work out well. And so now my answer has changed.

My greatest weakness these days is that I expect other people to do their jobs. My job is software development with a little support thrown in (small company, everyone does lots of jobs). When I’m asked to write software or if I’m handed a support call, I do it. And when doing my job requires me asking someone to do their job, I ask them and expect it to be done. Too many times, it isn’t done quickly, which holds up my ability to do work. The delays lengthen and eventually I’m missing deadlines.

In my opinion, I shouldn’t have to yell at people to do the job they are being paid to do. They should just do it, as I do in my own job. Instead, I often find that part of my job becomes checking up on other people at other companies to make sure stuff gets done.

I call in and report a problem. I’m not asking for new service, I’m reporting that my existing service is broken. When people call me for things like that, I drop what I’m doing and work on the problem, because a customer who cannot use my service now is infinitely more important than that feature I’m working on that no one is using yet. So, I’ve reported the problem and am told someone will be calling me shortly. Two hours later, I haven’t heard from anyone. I call in to get a status update and find that no one has been assigned the call yet. I am assured the call will be assigned and someone will call me within a couple of minutes. Thirty minutes later I’m calling back in again because no one has called me. They transfer me to the guy who was assigned the call, he tells me he needs to read the problem. He does, we talk, he says it needs to go to another department, and they’ll call me back. This keeps repeating, over and over.

In the end, it takes three days to fix a problem that should have taken a couple of hours at most. Probably because they are dealing with the same stuff I am when they have to call someone about part of my issue. And I know, because I used to have their job.

My weakness boils down to this: I don’t like to yell at people because I shouldn’t have to yell at people.

I know this blog isn’t read by many people, but perhaps just putting thoughts out into the universe can make them heard. Do your job, as well and as fast as you can, because if people are waiting on you, just imagine how you feel when you are waiting on other people. Unfortunately this is one of those “Pay It Forward” types of things where you may never benefit directly, only if it loops around and the people you have to wait on decide not to make you wait. But it’s worth doing, at the very least you can be completely justified in your ire at having to wait on other people since you don’t make people wait.

Be Prepared

Not only is “Be Prepared” the Scout Motto, but it’s also a really good idea.  Or to quote Nathan Muir from Spy Game:

When did Noah build the Ark?  Before the flood.

When disaster strikes, it is too late to begin planning for disaster.  So, obviously, the answer is to be prepared.

Zombie Banner from the CDC

The CDC agrees, and last week they published Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse, which I have now permanently added as a link over the right hand side.  They aren’t the first to utilize an undead plague to illustrate proper planning.  A group called the Zombie Squad has been doing it for some time.  The main idea being, if you are prepared for zombies, you are prepared for anything.

While the CDC article and the materials provided by the Zombie Squad are good, the key element to disaster preparedness to understand is that you are not a priority for anyone else, and that includes the government.  In the event of any disaster you should be able to survive on your own for at least 72 hours.  That’s three days.

Let’s just say, for example, a hurricane comes tearing through your area.  The first job of the government is not to rush in and rescue survivors.  What would it do with them?  No, the first job is to set up hospitals and aid stations so that survivors who can come to them can be taken care of.  They will work on re-establishing communications and power, and only once they’ve gotten themselves firmly dug in will they begin ranging out to find stranded survivors.  If they ran out and got people first they’d simply be dumping them all into an unprepared cluster without power, communications or medical treatment.  Not to mention that if they rush in they could be putting themselves in great danger.  They are “slow” for a reason, and that is because when they get to you, you will be saved, not just temporarily reprieved.

Even more than that, however, is that by being able to help yourself, you free up resources for people who cannot help themselves.  If you have food, water and shelter for three or more days, then the rescuers can leave you alone and spend their time finding people who have been injured or are trapped or who didn’t plan ahead and have no food or water.  By being prepared, not only are you helping yourself but you are indirectly helping others.

The best thing about being prepared is that it doesn’t cost very much.  A few dollars and a little time will put you leagues ahead of those who don’t.  You probably have many of the things you’ll need in your house already, and if you don’t a quick trip to Wal-Mart will solve that.  Then you just need to pick rally points.  Your home, just outside your home, miles away, states away.  Make sure everyone knows where to go and how to reach each other.  Just like that, you are better off than you were before.

It’s so easy that there is no excuse to not be prepared.  If you aren’t, do it now.  Do it within the next week.  Pick a day and get it done.  Because after the zombies come, it’ll be too late to prepare.

Too Many Secrets

One of the great things about the Internet is how easy it has become to post and find job listings.

One of the horrible things about the Internet is that once you put your resume on one of these sites you can never ever truly get yourself removed.  Take it off one site, you’ll find it on another.  Get it off all the sites, you’ll discover that many placement companies have already saved a copy of your resume and contact information.

The only way to really be safe is, each time you start hunting for a job create a new email address (there are dozens of free email companies) and when you are done, abandon that address.  And get a throw-away phone.

Anyway, I’ve never done that, and in fact I’ve always used an address on a domain I own (this one) and I use it for everything.  So, despite having a job and not being on the market, I get emails, probably a dozen a week, about positions I might be interested in.  The one thing all of these emails have in common is that they lack details.  What’s even worse is that even if I were to respond and talk to them about the job, details would still be missing until I actually walk in the door for the interview.

What details?  Simple stuff, like the name of the company.

See, if I get an email that says “.NET Developer position, 6 month contract, may go perm” I’m not really interested.  I have a job, not a contract, and that just doesn’t make me want to consider jumping ship.  If it said, for instance, “.NET Developer position for, 6 month contract, may go perm” I might want to go to that interview anyway, because, you know, working at Amazon might be awesome.  Even if it isn’t something as awesome as Amazon, a company name means I can look them up and see if it’s something I want to be involved in.  “.NET Developer” for a technology company, I’m intrigued.  “.NET Developer” for Joe’s Country Plumbing and Septic Tank Repair… not so much.  Sure, hiding the name might help get applicants for the latter, but it is also going to lead to disappointment for most.  Better to be honest and actually talk to people who want to work for the smaller company.

Once upon a time, I got an email about a programming job.  The details I got were that it was “a small company” and the position was for a “.NET Developer” and required experience with “data warehouses”.  I went around and around with the recruiter trying to get more details, but she never gave any and so when I finally agreed to interview it was more out of exhaustion than excitement.  I walk in the door and discover, oh by the way, the company is Hi-Rez Studios.  Um, what?  If the recruiter had lead with that piece of information, I’d have been chomping at the bit and probably brought in samples of my work and been a lot more prepared.  Instead, everything I’d gotten lead me to believe it was going to be another endless stuff dull job like the one I was leaving, and I walked into the interview cold and shocked, dumbfounded and stuttering.  I did manage to get a second interview, but damn, a little warning next time would be nice.

Another bad part is often a recruiter won’t tell you the name of the company until after they’ve submitted your resume.  Problem is, many companies, when dealing with recruiters who get paid a commission for placement, have rules about excluding double submissions.  So you might actually have the most awesome job listing in the world ready to submit me for, but if a competing recruiter has already submitted me then all you are going to do is get me excluded.  Sure, you asked me where I’ve been submitted to try and avoid this, but your competitors use the same tactics so I don’t know where I’ve been submitted.  And no, I’m not going to use just one recruiter when looking for work.  Why should I limit myself just because you want to keep secrets?

And you know what?  Stop putting things like “solid company” and “great work environment” in your email because it’s in EVERY email.  You cheapen the meaning by using them for every company, especially when it’s marketing and not necessarily true.  Of course they all say that.  No company is ever going to say, “Tell them we are a large unwieldy mass of middle managers who micromanage with lots of unpaid overtime.”  Not gonna happen.

Is a little openness and honesty too much too ask?

Hello 2010!

I am excited for this new year.  The job is going well, life is good, and everything is swinging upward.  Awesome.

The best part however is that my birthday, being October 10th, will fall this year on 10/10/10.  I don’t want to jinx it, but that is going to be a perfect day.

So, what sort of resolutions shall I make for the new year?

First, losing twenty pounds over the last year has been great, and I want to keep going.  That said, the new year is going to bring an examining of my diet and a look at shaking up my exercise a little.  I also want to run the Peachtree Road Race in July, so I have a goal.  Lack of a goal is usually the hard part.  I lost my last twenty because I wanted to be under 200 pounds, and since then I haven’t had much in the way of a solid goal.

Second, writing… One of the issues I have with writing is that it is almost impossible to do on my desktop PC.  The location of my desktop is not inspiring, and the PC has too many distracting things installed on it.  Luckily, I may have an opportunity to obtain a netbook, one of those little mini laptops, and that should help, allowing me to take my writing with me anywhere.  We shall see… in any event, I want to spend a little more time writing, and to help with that I have vowed not to start watching any new TV shows.  I refuse to get sucked in to shows that get canceled or wind up being mediocre.  Instead, I will only watch shows I am already invested in and new shows I’ll see on DVD or streaming courtesy of Netflix.

Third, programming… I am still, occasionally, working on my little games and my one business idea (see progress meters on the right).  I hope to be able to finish something in 2010.  I think I will try to work on finishing one of the smaller games and get it posted just to see if I can.  It is going to be lame, and for that I apologize in advance, but finishing something is an important step I need to take.

Fourth, the house… yeah, um, I might clean up the yard or something when the weather gets warmer, and there are a few trees I need to take down.  But let’s not get our hopes up…

Not a resolution, but this year will also be my first participating as staff for the MMO Track at Dragon*Con.  I’ve reached a point with the con that most of the panels are retreads of panels I’ve already seen.  This isn’t a bad thing, as newcomers will find those panels to be as exciting as I did when I was a newcomer.  But it means that the last couple of years I’ve been bored in some of them and more willing to skip them altogether when given the chance.  In fact, I pretty much only go to the MMO and Writing tracks with the occasional special event.  So I decided since I was spending so much time down in the MMO rooms, why not volunteer and help out?  I did, and I am.  Should be a lot of work and a lot of fun.

Anyway… welcome to 2010…

Movie Round-Up: October 30th, 2009

This is going to be the “Small Film Edition” of the Movie Round-Up, mainly because I don’t want to make a post just about the only wide opening this weekend:

Michael Jackson’s This Is It:

Never has there been a film so ominously appropriately titled.  Personally, I’m a big fan of the old MJ.  The Jackson 5, his solo work up to about half of the Dangerous album.  And there is no denying that he was the King of Pop… but he was also the King of Odd.  While it is possible that I might one day see this film if it becomes available for streaming on Netflix, I absolutely won’t be rushing out to the theater to see it.

Now, on to the smaller films opening this week…

Gentleman Broncos:

This one is from the director of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, both are films I found funny but not really worthy of the devotion and cult following they have received.  Gentleman Broncos looks to be cut from a similar cloth and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it when I get a chance to see it.

The House of the Devil:

The only horror film opening on Halloween weekend, sadly its only in three theaters.  But that’s okay, you can see it through Xbox Live and a few other On Demand services.  My main draw to the film, besides it being a horror movie, is that one of the stars is A.J. Bowen, who I know.  I’ve enjoyed his work in The Signal and even Creepshow III, so I’ll probably find the time to watch this one at home if its still available on Xbox.

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day:

In 2001, I took a three month contract dig working overnights as a server engineer.  My job was to periodically check the servers and make sure they were doing their job, and if they weren’t I had to fix it.  To the credit of the people who built the servers and software, they rarely weren’t.  This meant I had approximately six to seven hours each night, just me and one other engineer doing nothing.  I spent a lot of time browsing the net and listening to music, we even installed games until they took away our 3D graphics cards.  Since every PC had a DVD-ROM drive, we also watched movies.  Mostly I watched my own movies from home, but one night the other engineer slipped me a burned DVD, written across the white label was “Boondock Saints”.  And thus I was introduced to the original film.  I absolutely adore the film, it is not perfect, nor even in my top ten, but I’ve seen it a couple dozen times and I still enjoy it as much as I did the first time.  It is just so well crafted and the characters are so interesting…  When I heard a sequel was being made, my first reaction was “Yes!” but then I thought about all the sequels that suck and I was worried.  However, I’ve heard enough good news about this one to get me excited again.  It is opening on 65 screens, none of which are in Atlanta.  Hopefully it will go wider… if not, I’ll catch it on DVD where it can join the first film in my movie library.

Movie Round-Up: August 21st, 2009

Inglourious Basterds:

I’m on the fence about this film.  As such, I probably won’t pay $10 to see it.  It just looks like it might be a tad too over the top. *shrug* I’ll wait for DVD.

Post Grad:

I got to see a screening of this, and I’m glad, because now I don’t have to pay to see it.  I’m not saying the movie is bad, it is just not great.  It is about a girl who goes to college and dreams of being a book editor, only she doesn’t get the job she was after, followed by not getting any job in her field, and now she’s at home again trying to figure out what her next move is.  Alexis Bledel does a fine job as this girl, but she just doesn’t stand out.  And the plot really isn’t a mystery… from the very beginning you, the audience, know what she’s supposed to do and the journey to her finding out isn’t all that exciting.  Overall, I thought it would be funnier.


I really had no idea what to expect with this film.  I knew it was a kid’s movie, and I knew it was a Robert Rodriguez film (a director who keeps jumping back and forth from very adult to very kid movies), and I knew it was about a wishing rock.  I probably spent a good 70% of the movie laughing.  The movie has everything little boys could possibly want in a 90 minute story.  Some parents might object to the fart noises, the boogers, and the boys being boys, but it really is a safe family friendly movie.  Thumbs up!

The Walking Dead comes to AMC?

Its not a done deal yet, apparently, but it is close.  And considering the bang up job that AMC is doing with Mad Men (it being one of the best shows on television), hearing that they, with Frank Darabont at the helm, will be bringing The Walking Dead to the small screen is just awesome.

The full article from Variety is here.

From the moment I first read The Walking Dead I always felt it would make for good TV, that making a movie of it would actually hurt the overall impact of the story and make it “just another zombie movie”.  But TV would allow it to tell longer, more complex stories, and yet able to have each episode tackle a complete story of its own as the people try to make their way.

I’m very excited.


With my last post being on February 26th, meaning that it has been over two weeks since my last post, I guess you can say that I went dark, or underground.  Of course, prolonged absences are not unusual for me and my weblog.  I’ve done months before.  But sometimes things happen…

So what happened?

Well, I got a job.  Nice place, good work.  I’m back at a small company again, and let me say that after four years working at BellSouth/AT&T I don’t think I ever want to go back to a giant corporation again.  Too much politics and middle management.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved my work, and the immediate team of people I worked with, and at the end of every segment of the project when the people who had been giving us hell and ulcers for months finally broke down and said they liked the work and looked forward to using it and copious rounds of attaboys for all it was sweet… but the bureaucracy of meetings and playing the blame game and jockeying around all the folks who want to make sure they get all of the credit with none of the responsibility… well… to be blunt, fuck that.  There are only so many times you can have someone hand you a problem they spent no time looking into and after you spend a few hours or days digging through it you discover that not only is it not your responsibility but that the only person with the ability and authority to fix it is the guy who passed it to you before you want to strangle someone.  But I’m out of that now, and I hope never to go back.  Getting a new job, though, does mean a bit of a learning curve as I feel out the new folks and the new company, get up to speed on the products and projects, so the first couple or three weeks are always a bit of a cram-fest.  After nearly four months of being unemployed, working feels good, especially in this economy.

On a non-work related note, a place where I normally hang out has become a place I don’t want to hang out anymore.  Have you ever had a group of people that you liked to be around, except for one guy?  Its always that one guy, the one who seems to want to be a part of the group, but doesn’t seem to know how to do it.  He joins in every conversation and drives everyone away, or into fits of anger, as he insists that he knows more or better than everyone else, despite repeated showings that he clearly does not.  Well, one of my favorite places to go has one of those guys, and in the past I have had varying levels of success in just ignoring him or putting up with his crap, but recently he just pushed a few too many of my buttons a few too many times, and as much as I love the rest of the people I just can’t handle the anger and frustration that I feel in having to deal with this monumental douchebag on a daily basis.  So, my choices are to continue to go there and feel pissed off all the time, or stop going.  It is depressing.  Perhaps I’ll return there after a nice long stay away.

All in all, however, life is good.  And I’ll be back to posting more soon enough.  I’m even going to bring back movie reviews since my idea for doing a movie review site didn’t really pan out like I hoped.  You’d think being unemployed would equate to having more free time… but looking for a job in a shitty economy is hard work and more thoroughly exhausting than actually having a job.