Friday, September 21, 2012

Existential Time

In two days I will turn 40. Half my life ago I was insecure, yet confident in my ability to overcome it. As long as I got my work done then I would achieve. I've contributed - but don't felt like I've led. My skills continue to be limited only to the point where I have been able to teach myself. No conference in the past 17 years of work has taught me skills of actually writing development codes or to design. I've missed out on a technical collaborative process by externalities of lack of resources both in money and time. I've used many a work around to accommodate those limitations.

But what have I achieved professionally?

Awards from the previous decade? Affected change in the way people think about their built environment? Educated someone on the value of long-range planning?

Does this matter in an environment where your personal wealth is the measuring stick?

I'm not wealthy. I can't point to something physical on the ground and say - I built that. My heart lies in the need to be a maker and a doer - but my limited skills allow me to write and cobble together other's ideas into somewhat coherent thought.

The problem is that any confidence I exhibit professionally usually get the placating response of "Stephen's just passionate."

I am passionate. I want to contribute and be part of the group. I think I lead well.

I just have problems seeing the positive results. My boredom leads my mind to wander to examining my deficiencies. It's my fault that I'm bored. It's my fault that I'm not seen as an innovator - just a troublemaker who, if we just tolerate his spouting language enough - we can get him to do his work. He's a pushover. He doesn't take risks.

The worst I've ever felt about this kind of thing happened when I was working at a major airline at DFW Airport. I had left France early from the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Normandy Remembrance so I could keep my job instead of taking the summer to travel around. It was 1994 and that summer Woodstock '94 was occurring. We saw a lot of people my age travelling to New York state and back for the festival.  A young attractive woman came off of the plane and asked me where her connecting flight was located. Her t-shirt proclaimed her recent visit to Woodstock. I asked her how the festival was.

"It was fantastic. You should have been there."

She said this with the disdain in her voice that said to me - 'I can see you have sold out to have a job in a white button down shirt and a polyester tie.'

To this day, I'm not sure if I have sold out. I've sacrificed a lot of free time and potential experiences to chalking them up to being "too expensive, too time consuming. I have responsibilities." No risks involved. The most massive risk I've taken was to quit a job without another one lined up. Providence with with me on that one.

We're constantly bombarded with notions from religion and self-help books, that we need to be happy with our blessings, our lot in life. Yet, we are looked at through the lens of our accomplishments, our productivity, our usefulness get others what they want.  I have my own ambitions and my own doubts. The hypocrisy in my own self and recognizing it in others is almost unbearable. I want to rage against it, but I don't because I'll be told to "suck it up." That's just how the world works.

It shouldn't though.