This is not a reflection piece, at least not in the sense that I have been reflecting on life and career in the five monthly posts preceding this one. I didn’t start musing on what I would write back toward the middle of June. I don’t have a list of tangible accomplishments that are immediately coming to mind.
This is a piece about doing the work.
It is also a piece about meditation, because meditation helped me understand the work. In meditation, I learned how to become aware of what my mind was doing. In its average state, the mind is not merely aware of what’s going on; the mind is actively judging and evaluating its surroundings. Rather than focusing all cognitive cycles on doing the task at hand, it spends some of its time thinking about doing the task at hand.
This has its benefits and detriments. Our caveman ancestors would never have created the axe if they hadn’t occasionally stopped to evaluate which stones were better for breaking wood apart for the fire. But if they spent all of their time optimizing the stone, they would have perished in the cold when their firewood ran out. We alternate back and forth between execution and evaluation. Too much evaluation and we never move forward, too much execution and we never improve our pace.
Toward the beginning of the year, I actively evaluated everything. The evidence is in my writing from that time. I experimented with new workout routines, new diets, new activity trackers, and new technologies. I considered their utility as I was using them, like a product reviewer. It felt good. I was constantly thinking of myself as someone who was “highly productive,” not because I was actually producing anything at the time, but because I was thinking about producing things a lot.
Then the pressure picked up as I went through interviews and moved houses, and I struggled to maintain my pace of evaluation. I didn’t have time or mental energy to read as much as I had been or explore new apps and technologies. I felt bad about this. My perceived productivity was rooted in producing things about productivity. If I was no longer producing those things, what was I producing? My May blog post felt like a slog. I didn’t want to post it, but I felt embarrassed about not doing that. Then I felt embarrassed when it was late.
Through no intention of my own, I didn’t have time for any of that in June. I didn’t have time to continuously evaluate my productivity and intentionally experiment with new ideas and technologies. I just worked. I started building the plane during take-off, learning strategies and technologies as I went. I didn’t just focus on writing code, either: there were organizational differences to adapt to and new domains to learn about.
I admittedly haven’t had time to evaluate if the dead sprint I’m currently in is the right place to be. This blog post is a small reflection point to that effect. Perhaps I’m simply adapting to an increase in velocity. There’s a parallel to that in Newtonian physics: though it requires a lot of force to accelerate up to a higher velocity, the laws of momentum dictate that you can stay at that velocity indefinitely if nothing else is acting on you. If this is the new normal, eventually I’ll get used to it without needing a lot of effort.
So what did have I accomplished in the weeks prior?
- Read two books
- The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson
- The Road to Character by David Brooks
- Went on a bold diet that resulted in me shaving a few percentage points of bodyfat in a month while not diminishing my quality of life
- Trained almost exclusively with steel clubs and steel maces
- Completed my first course in Apache Spark
This month has me doing multiple travel runs (I’m currently typing this from Wormhole Coffee in Chicago after trips through the Bay Area and Dallas), learning more Spark, picking up my CPA materials again, and just overall enjoying the summer. I hope you’re all doing the same!