Humility

Posted: April 22, 2006 at 10:07 pm in journal, people

I have been extraordinarily fortunate in my life to have things generally go as I hope they will. I got to go to the schools I wanted to, I got the jobs I wanted to, I’ve done the activities I wanted to. Things just seem to fall into place for me.

Part of it is that I am fortunate enough to be good at lots of things. Even when I’m starting a completely new activity, my native abilities allow me to do some things well enough to justify my place. For instance, I still remember one of the first pickup games of ultimate I played in Golden Gate Park. A throw went up high over a mob in the end zone, but I timed my jump perfectly and reached over everybody to make the catch. People afterwards said “Wow, I can’t believe you jumped over DK!” It gave me something to cling to, something to make me believe I could do this. And that’s true of almost all activities I have done; from sports, where I can use my height or my speed or my coordination from a lifetime of sports participation, to music, where I can take advantage of a lifetime of musical training, to school or jobs, where my combination of intelligence and education is a huge advantage. Even on my first day, I could do something that made me feel like I belonged.

But part of it is that I’ve avoided situations where I am likely to fail. I’ve already talked about how I tend to dabble rather than fully commit to an activity to avoid the situation of trying hard and failing. I’ve also been hesitant to start things where I don’t have a natural advantage. Similarly, I tend to avoid activities at which I feel inadequate, a fact that was pointed out to me recently by a friend with regard to a home repair task.

So why did I choose to move to New York? I was in a situation where I had a job and career that I was good at, activities that I enjoyed and had experience in, friends that I was comfortable with. Why would I throw all that away to go someplace where I didn’t know anybody, where I would be doing things I didn’t know how to do? Because I think it will be good for me. More on that later.

Part of the deal with the Software Management Training Program is doing a bunch of different things around the company, everything that is part of the Development Abstraction Layer. So I’m doing tech support, the first time I’ve had to do that for a program that I did not write myself, which means that I often didn’t know the answer. I’m starting to spend some time doing sysadmin stuff, which is something I’ve always avoided in the past, partially because I know many people who are far better at it than I. Later on, I’ll be doing some sales and marketing and having to do cold calls, which terrifies me. But it’s good for me to do these tasks, to work on things I’m not already good at. And it helps that Joel does all these sorts of things as well; when I had a busy day on the phones this week, he stepped in to set up the new computers that had arrived, as well as breaking down the boxes afterwards. It makes a big difference having the founder and CEO doing that sort of thing, making it clear that he doesn’t consider himself above such work.

I also started going to aikido classes this week. I picked a dojo close to me, observed a class on Tuesday, and went to classes on Wednesday and Friday. Aikido’s good for me because all of the things that normally work in my favor in sports work against me in aikido. My height means that I have farther to fall and hit harder when I do. My natural athleticism means I have been lax about training other parts of my body; in particular, my core muscles and abs are sorely inadequate for what they’re asked to do in aikido. Having to work off on the side of the mat practicing ultra-basic techniques while the rest of the class is practicing throws with each other has also been hard for me. But it is good for me to be bad at something, if that makes sense.

The other thing I’ve always been insecure about is dealing with other people. I failed pretty miserably the last time I had to create a new social network when I went to Stanford. I’m off to a much better start in New York. Of course, I am not trying to create a new social network this time around; I am happily leveraging the one I already have. I’m still not as good as I’d like to be; I went to a cocktail hour at Wonderland the other night and pretty much failed to talk to anybody I didn’t know. But considering I’ve been in New York a month and a half, I’m pretty pleased with how busy I’ve been keeping. Of course, I’ve been keeping so busy that I’ve failed to do any of the prototypical “New York” things I came here to do, like go to see plays or art galleries. I’ll have to work on that.

Why is it important to me to work on things that I’m not good at? This is actually a long-standing debate in some circles; given limited time and resources, is it better to work on developing one’s strengths, or on strengthening one’s weaknesses? The answer to this question actually ties into comments that Beemer made on my post about passion. If I were the type of person who were committing all of my resources to one area, then developing my strengths would be paramount, because my weaknesses would be manifold and irrelevant. However, because I pride myself on being a generalist, it seems more important for me to work on my weaknesses, to improve on my ability to try new things, to just generally get over myself. To learn humility, in short. We’ll see how that goes.

—–

fall into place for me: Admittedly, things fall into place because I got a tremendous head start from the foresight and hard work of my parents, who gave me all the tools necessary to get the best education possible. And I do work hard and get things done when they need to be. So it’s not just luck; I have been given great opportunities and have taken advantage of them for the most part. But it does amaze me sometimes how things just seem to work most of the time.

One Response to “Humility”

  1. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Searching for continuity || April || 2006 Says:

    [...] Humility [...]

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From @PsychToday: "Self-deception is a potent means of convincing the world to see things your way." psychologytoday.com/em/162092

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