A couple days ago, Kathy Sierra put up a post at her blog Creating Passionate Users where she invited her readers to introduce themselves. Most of her questions were pretty standard, but she stuck one in the middle that made me think: “One thing you’re passionate about (qualifier: must be something you are always trying to improve on in some way–through learning, or practice, or trying new things, etc.)”.
I pondered this for a while and came up with a horrible answer – the thing which I am probably most passionate about is understanding myself. I mean, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m narcissistic – I write a blog! – but given all of the activities which I have pursued, from chorus to sports to various careers, that was what I came up with? At the same time, I can’t really say I was passionate about any of those other things – I did them, but I didn’t pursue them, I didn’t make the effort to get better and better. For instance, I never did the workouts on my own to get better at ultimate. Or rehearsed on my own for chorus. They were things I did for the social interaction more than for the mastery of the skill within myself.
So why do I say I’m passionate about understanding myself? For one, this blog – I use this space to examine my thought process and try to understand exactly what’s going on inside my head. And I do this in my limited free time, often staying up late or getting up early to do so.
Another is that I really like conversations where folks are taking ideas out and examining them, because it helps me understand my own mind and how I think about things – as the Socratic teaching method would suggest, I really only learn about myself through dialogue and through challenges from others.
Plus understanding myself permeates everything that I do – as the quip goes, the only common element in all of your relationships is you. Understanding myself better has helped me at work; while it was really fun and exhilarating to go off on a self-righteous rant, I learned it wasn’t very productive. Understanding myself also helps in the social arena; I’ve slowly started to figure out what kind of social interactions I’m most comfortable with, and to steer my social life to those types of interactions. I kept on thinking there was something wrong with me because I didn’t like going to loud, crowded bars or parties. And maybe there is. But finding spaces in which I am more comfortable has let me build up my social confidence such that I can now handle those loud, crowded spaces.
Understanding my strengths and weaknesses can only serve to benefit me. I can capitalize on my strengths, and work to improve my weaknesses. This move to New York is partially about addressing several weaknesses of mine. I’m uncomfortable meeting new people; moving to New York means I can’t rely on my old social circle so I’ll get out there and practice meeting people. I hate talking to people I don’t know on the phone; one of my jobs at work will be to answer tech support phone calls (I’ve taken a couple this week and will soon be taking many more) and eventually doing cold calls for sales. And I know that once I get over my initial misgivings, I’ll be fine. It’s just a matter of placing myself in situations where I’ll have to get past those misgivings and just do things.
The one product of my life that is solely my responsibility is myself. And this ties back into yesterday’s post. Since our time on earth is fleeting (as an aside, is there any other use for the word fleeting other than in association with time?) and irreplaceable, if I go through my days without thinking, without pushing myself, without improving, I am wasting my time – I am not being the best me that I could be. I felt like I had gotten in a rut in the Bay Area where I knew what I was doing, both professionally and socially, and I wasn’t taking any more chances, because I didn’t need to – I could just do my thing and live comfortably. Moving to New York is forcing me to re-evaluate what I find truly valuable – I’ll find out who I miss, whether I miss being a programmer (more than I would have guessed, actually, but that’s another post), whether I miss having nature around, how much the weather matters, etc. And I think that sort of self-knowledge is good for me – it lets me know where I should be focusing my energy and resources.
Or maybe this whole post is an absurd attempt at rationalizing the fact that I’m a narcissistic bastard who doesn’t care about anybody but himself. And on that note, it’s time for me to go to work.
P.S. I’ve got to figure out this whole waking up at 6am thing – it’s kind of insane. But convenient for doing a blog post in the morning.