You might not know this about me, but I’m generally conservative about what I say and do. You might call this a character flaw.
I don’t like driving cars because the per-mile cost in sheer dollars seems too high to me. I don’t care to travel because eating out so often seems needlessly expensive. I don’t design aggressive and flashy websites for clients because it doesn’t seem helpful or necessary. I’m averse to paying for the most expensive dishes at a restaurant because I know I’ll be hungry again tomorrow. I don’t value those things.
It also informs how I feel about myself, and the value-less nature I take to my self.
I try to form opinions slowly. I tell people all the time I’m a “slow thinker” about a lot of things related to my life and work. Often I’m waiting for something to “feel right”, but I’ve never “felt right” about hardly anything. Some people say they have a “gut feeling” about things and I can’t remember a time I’ve ever felt a gut feeling about anything.
This is probably why I have a hard time getting along with people who move wildly from one trend or phase to another in hopes of increasing sales, getting more out of something, or chasing some improvement. My interest in history shaped my long-tail view that most things are fads or likely to be nothing burgers and everything requires more work and time than you think. “Settle down, no one cares about that right now” is repeated in my head half a dozen times a week.
This post is rambling, but my purpose here is to clarify thoughts about what it is I value.
I’m tired of my work. I don’t enjoy being on the Internet as much as I used to. I’ve tried to increase the distance between myself and Facebook, Reddit, or Twitter comments. I often post something here and think, “I’m sure a bunch of people will fall all over themselves to tap away some comment, but I’ll never bother to come back and read it.” If you’ve ever wondered why I don’t reply to something, it’s because I don’t have the energy to fuss over it.
But I increasingly don’t have the energy for a lot of things. I’m exhausted by constant conversations in my work about whatever the hell “Make it pop more” means. “It needs to be fresh and simple,” followed by a laundry list of features and what-if scenarios is another oft-repeated refrain in my inbox. There are four emails in my inbox right now about passwords people have forgotten they could just reset themselves. How this ended up how my day goes is beyond me.
When I think about what I ever wanted out of work and life is what anyone wants: the recognition that comes from excellent, world-leading work that is respected, successful, and functional. You might separate your work from your life, but I don’t. What you do is who you are, and you spend a lot of time doing your work.
Increasingly, the thing I’ve avoided for fear of being a “business failure” is the ability to quietly sit for long periods and think deeply about a client’s problem among a small team or by myself. Then produce a solution that is a home-run. It’s a struggle to do that when my phone dings constantly and emails pile in. Or when others don’t share the same gumption. I get up at 4:30 to get a head start on the day before everyone else, but increasingly people are just working around the clock in ways I can’t keep up. That stresses me out. I feel over-extended and unsupported.
I’ve privately and sometimes publicly alluded to my greatest fear: that I’ll be dead in the next five or ten years. My mom was 38 when her life was basically ended by a brain tumor. She died at 40. And from that stems my fear I’ll die with no significant work to prove my worth. I’ve even been reconsidering my wish to be cremated because the lack of a gravestone seems unsettling to me. I want to be remembered because once the last person with a memory of me dies, there’s no coming back from that. At least the gravestone marks my name.
I can’t get to a point where I can produce amazing, long-lasting work if every day is punctuated with people who need short term problems fixed like a printer making a funny noise or some customer on a five-year-old phone walked into an elevator and called to complain the website they were looking at didn’t finish loading (that legitimately happened). I don’t have time to care because I’ll be dead soon. I need to be more like Don Draper in Mad Men and treat these small problems like I do Twitter replies: “I don’t think about you at all.”