Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash
I found this vignette in one of my notebooks. I have no memory of writing it and I certainly have no idea where I was going with it, but it’s cute, so I thought I’d share it.
Sylvie’s desk was in the back of the classroom. Wood top, plastic seat, metal legs. The desktop bore the scars of many years of service. Scratches, gouges, and names carved into it surface. When Sylvie spilled water on it one day, a lot of it soaked right in before she could get a wad of paper towels to clean it up.
The next day when she came in, a branch had sprouted from the spot where she’d spilled the water. It stuck up and blocked her vision of her teacher. She wanted to move but the class was full and there was no place to sit but on the floor. Instead, she bent the branch down out of her way so she could see. Every time the leaves rustled, the teacher scowled at her.
The day after that, Sylvie came prepared. She had stolen a pair of her mother’s pruning shears so she could cut the branch off. But the branch had grown into a shrub. She tried to trim away enough twigs and leaves to look through. With every soft snip of her shears, her classmates gave her dirty looks. And it was no use. New branches grew in as fast as she could clip them. And every twig that fell to the floor sprouted its own growth. By the end of the day, a forest surrounded Sylvie that was so thick that she wasn’t even sure she was still in school.
I have been remiss in blogging for several weeks, in spite of my best intentions. I had a good run for seventeen days. I accidentally broke the streak when I wrote a post but forgot to publish it before bed. That set the stage for skipping a day, then two, and then two weeks went by in the beat of a hummingbird’s wings.
In spite of what this lapse suggests, blogging is important to me. That’s why I keep coming back to it.
I write at least one entry in my journal every morning. That exercise limbers up my mind. Often, those entries are not good writing, but the discipline of doing it prepares me for other forms of writing. Sometimes an entry helps me work through a scene I’m struggling with in my fiction. Sometimes I write about work problems and find a solution that way, or at least come to understand the problem better so that I can solve it later. Rarely, I can revise an entry for a blog post. (That’s how “Letters” began.) That’s never the intention, though. When I sit down at my keyboard with a cup of coffee at hand each morning, I am writing for an audience of one, and that one is myself.
I like the idea of blogging because I crave a different type of discipline. In the journal, I allow my thoughts to wander wherever they will. With blogging, I want to channel my thought into a specific topic and construct a coherent narrative or argument. Publishing that effort forces me to be accountable to an external audience.
Why do I struggle to do it, if it’s so important and I want to do it?
Fatigue plays a large role. I haven’t been sleeping well for the past few weeks, which means I start each day with limited energy reserves. I reserve mornings for writing fiction. I spend my workdays engaged in cognitive labor. By the time evening rolls around, I don’t have a lot of mental energy left to spend.
I don’t know how to solve my sleep problem. If I did, I would have solved it already. But I’ll keep experimenting until I find the solution. Until then, I’ll blog as often as I can muster the energy.
For years, the tag line for my web site was, “Coach, Writer, Speaker.” I felt that those nouns best described who I am and what I wanted to be. I coached product development teams and organizations for a living. I write crime fiction as a hobby and aspire to publish novels. I had dabbled in public speaking and thought I would like to do it professionally.
Today, I’ve changed the tag line to “Think. Create. Teach.” Those three verbs better describe the activities that feed my soul.
They come from a conversation with a colleague not long ago when I said I could write my ideal job description in three words. I was being flippant, but as soon as I said, I realized it was true.
I love to think. I love to do research, to read, to learn, and then synthesize and evaluate what I’ve learned.
I love to write, but writing is only one way I create. I draw. I play music. I invent games. I build things.
For a while, I pursed speaking engagements at agile conferences. I enjoyed engagements I had. But when circumstances forced me to set that activity aside, I didn’t miss it all that much. The part of speaking that appealed to me most was the teaching aspect.
I’m fortunate that I can make a living doing the things that feed my soul. As a Professional Scrum Trainer, I can engage my desire to think, create, and teach on a regular basis. That’s why I’ve changed the tag line on this blog. I plan to focus more of my writing here on those areas.
Today’s journal prompt: If all jobs paid the same, what would you choose to do?
Setting aside the question of what the economics of that would look like (that’s difficult because my wife and I have been watching the Paul Krugman Masterclass and so economics is very much on my mind), how I answer that question is what we mean by “job.”
What springs to mind when I see that word is “work for hire.” To “have a job” means to work for someone at a wage or salary. And if that’s the meaning behind this question, then I suppose I’d do more or less what I do now. I enjoy being a trainer and I enjoy coaching product development teams. It’s rewarding apart from the salary.
Another sense of the word “job” is a piece of work, a task. A brake job, for example. If all pieces of work paid the same, what would I do? I’d write fiction, almost exclusively. (Granted that, as a dude, I like to explain things, so I’d probably write advice, how-to, or opinion articles as well.) I like to tell stories even more than I enjoy my day job.
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.”
Seven years ago, I bought a new 2012 Taylor 114CE Grand Acoustic/Electric guitar, with every intention of playing it a lot. My other guitar at the time was Aria acoustic that I’d bought from a friend in 1987. I had a notion that I might like to start playing in public again, as I had done in my twenties, so I wanted something with an electric pickup. I wasn’t willing to modify the Aria for fear of changing its beautiful tone. My boss at the time was a guitarist, and he helped me pick out the Taylor. For a couple of years, I used it off and on. I still preferred the sound of the Aria, and I never got around to playing in public again.
After I was laid off in 2015 and went to work in Tampa, I had less free time. Over the next couple of years, I gradually stopped playing. I haven’t opened the case of either guitar since before I took my current job. That was two years ago this month. When I thought about it, I realized that I don’t miss it. Playing guitar is something I used to do, and that’s OK.
The Aria is still precious to me. I have so many pleasant memories associated with it. I’m not ready to give it up, even though I’m unlikely to play it again.
The Taylor, on the other hand, is for sale. It’s in nearly perfect condition and sounds great. So if you or someone you know lives in the Tampa Bay area and is in the market for a very nice guitar, check out the ad on Craigslist.
The Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast is now available! On the first episode, host Dan Neumann and I talk about why you should focus on doing Scrum well before scaling.
Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Stitcher.