Ten accomplishments I’m really proud of

  1. Earning my Professional Scrum Trainer license.
  2. Learning to be resilient in the face of emotional turmoil.
  3. Finishing the first draft of my current novel.
  4. Swapping out the engine on a ’68 VW Beetle for a new one.
  5. I haven’t carried a balance on my credit cards for over five years.
  6. I once needed 68 points to win a game of 501. On the first dart, I hit a double 17. On the second throw, aiming for another double 17, I stuck that dart in the flight of the first one, Robin Hood style.
  7. Earning a Masters Degree in English.
  8. Being a speaker at Agile 2018.
  9. Making my pool ready for this summer after it had gotten grotesquely green over the winter.
  10. The book I wrote for Steve Jackson Games.

Freak

I have suffered from depression for most of my life. After my ex-wife and I divorced, it was so profound that I began taking an anti-depressant medication. I stayed on it for about three years. I still have episodes, but they are rarer and I’ve learned how to handle them. Cognitive therapy techniques keep them short and moderate. Recently, I wondered when depression started for me.

I often say that “puberty did a number on me,” but I remember experiencing profound depression in grade school. On the other hand, I remember being very happy as a pre-schooler. When depression began to dominate me?

My earliest memory is of my mother telling me she and Dad had bought a house in a town called Hazlet. Our new neighbors’ last name was Kruger. I laughed and said, “That name cracks me up.” When I asked my father about it, he said we moved to that house soon after my sister was born, so I would have been three years old.

I remember a lot about the next five years. Friends, parties, trick-or-treating, my first day at kindergarten, digging snow tunnels. Almost every memory is happy. (The exception: I remember my sister breaking one of my toys on purpose when I was about six.)

We moved to Florida the month after I turned eight. I had good memories of that time, too, right up until I started second grade. The teacher gave us a test to determine our reading level.

I aced the sixth grade level. Later, another test revealed that I was actually reading at an eighth-grade level. The first test hadn’t had material that advanced. That was when my mood began to shift. I was in the most advanced reading group and I was still years ahead of the others. They were reading chapter books that bored me. I was reading history, science, and literature appropriate for junior high school kids. I felt out of place.

I was proud of my knowledge but also embarrassed at being so different from everyone else. It got worse the next year, because I had advanced even farther. I remember crying often, which didn’t make me very popular. By junior high school, I felt like a freak, and I was depressed most of the time.

Advice for me in ‘83

Today’s journal prompt asks, “What career advice would you give your 16-year-old self?”

I imagine that younger me has been selected for an experiment where he can talk to an older version of himself, but the topic is limited to career advice. Otherwise, sixteen-year-old me would want to know winning lottery numbers.

Sixteen-year-old me wanted to be a best-selling science fiction author, and he would be disappointed to know that I don’t have a single novel published yet. “Why not?” he would ask.

“Mostly, because I let self-doubt stop me,” I would say. “You might want to do something about that.”

Solvable

I have a deck of journal prompts my wife bought me. The card I drew today asked, “Think of a situation that’s currently got you stumped. How would one of your heroes resolve it?” And I thought, I’m not stumped by anything right now. It’s not that I know how to resolve every problem in my life; I don’t. But I believe that all my problems are solvable even if I can’t see the solution right now.

This outlook grows out of my career as a Scrum Master and an agile coach. The purpose of Scrum is to solve complex problems. The solution to a complex problem is unknowable in advance. You have to experiment your way to success, and success is not guaranteed, easy, or obvious. You fail a lot. You learn from the failures.

I’ve been using Scrum for my own life goals for over a year now. Every week is a Sprint, and every Sprint is an experiment. I experiment with writing techniques. I experiment with improving my health, both physical and mental. I experiment with different ways to improve my performance at work. I’ve come to believe that there are few personal problems that can’t be solved, if you refuse to stop looking for a solution.

When do you feel happiest?

Given my history of depression and anxiety, it would be understandable for the pandemic and the economic crash overwhelm me. But they haven’t. I’ve established a welcome sense of equilibrium in the face of catastrophe. I am understandably concerned for my health and the health of those I love, especially my parents and in-laws. But I’m doing what I can to be healthy. I recognize that thinking about what might happen is wasteful, pointless. Somehow, I can let those fears go when they arise. Likewise, I don’t linger on financial concerns beyond keeping an eye on what I can do to make sure I stay employed and spend my money wisely.

I told a colleague recently that I could write my ideal job description in three words: think, create, teach. I’m at my happiest when I have time to think and learn, headspace and time to write, and an outlet to teach others what I know. I am fortunate that my life does revolve around those three things. I spend a good portion of every day in a state of flow, where time doesn’t matter and I’m challenged to the edge of my abilities. I’m satisfied and happy as a result.

What about you? When do you feel happiest?

Breathe

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Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash
Last Thursday, I had a very stress-filled morning. I had more than twice as much work as I could do in the two hours I had before I left for the airport to fly home. I knew I couldn’t get it all done, but the size of my task list still overwhelmed me.
 
I have become pretty good at recognizing that paralyzing feeling and I know how to cope with it. I closed my eyes and did a couple of rounds of 4-7-8 breathing. Calmer, I took up the most important task on my list. After finishing it, I used the breathing technique again to maintain my balance. I repeated the cycle until it was time to go. On the way to the airport, I tweeted about it:

The technique is very simple. In case the embedded tweet isn’t visible, here are the steps:

  • Inhale deeply for four seconds
  • Hold your breath for seven seconds
  • Exhale for eight seconds.

Repeat as necessary.

On Friday, I had another stress-filled morning, and I even put a note at the top of my to-do list: “Breathe” is all it says. Every time I finished a task and looked for the next thing I need to do, I saw the reminder to take nineteen seconds for my mental health.
 
I don’t know why this technique works, but it does. It lowers blood pressure and helps manage stress. Try it when you feel stress. It makes a big difference.

 

 

Air Cruelty

I am writing this on my flight home from a business trip. The man who boarded ahead of me has a thick, hacking cough. He insisted, “I don’t have what everyone thinks I have. It’s just a cold.” I didn’t ask how he could be certain.

I sat in an exit row seat—the one with extra legroom. He sat a row ahead of me on the other side of the aisle. No one sat in his row, nor did anyone else sit in mine. No one needed to—it’s a Southwest flight, and it is only 2/3 full, so there is plenty of space.

As people filed by, many gave him dirty looks. Others mocked him, some criticized him. One man complained to the flight attendant, “Now my exit row seat is ruined.” I heard someone mutter, “Irresponsible.”

Maybe it is. I know I’ve flown while sick before. “I have to get home,” I thought, and considered it a necessity. I never really thought about whether that was a responsible thing to do. If I were sick right now, would I have declined to fly, or would I have decided that my need to be home outweighed the risk to others? I have to admit that I likely would have done the latter.

I do think it was irresponsible of him to take an exit row seat, no matter how willing he may be to assist in an emergency. But his choice doesn’t justify the way people treated him. Fear is understandable. Cruelty is indefensible.