Archive for March, 2014

Impostor Syndrome and the Trap We Set for Ourselves

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”- Eleanor Roosevelt

“Evaluate yourself by your own standards, not someone else’s” – Life’s Little Instruction Book (but just a paraphrase of Galatians 6:4)

“Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses” – Everyone

Something was going on in the Tech World last week, in an industry that is perpetually ignoring the past (and even the present) and is continually looking for the next best thing; I seemed to notice an unprecedented level of self-reflection(or perhaps I was just tuned to that frequency myself).  Jeff Atwood published the thoughtful “Beware the trap we set for ourselves” in which he ponders “the opinions of other people matter, but they are the traps we set for ourselves” and Julie Bort published a very good piece on Impostor’s Syndrome – which also had a link to a very good blog post with a female developer’s point of view (excellent illustration from this post reused below). These were all great posts – they are things for which I never had a name for or identified the root cause of, but boy did I notice the symptoms everywhere.

Insecurity can be a good thing – it can inspire you to work and try harder, to question and improve things that truly need questioning and improving.  And the advice is everywhere, even if we exclude the voices in our own heads: “Work Harder” “Don’t let your team/company down” “Only the paranoid survive” “Anyone can do it” But like any good trait, it can be pushed too far until it gets twisted into a bad one. Being hard working is a good trait, being a workaholic is not.  Being thrifty is a good trait, being cheap is not. And so on – and so it goes with insecurity.

Much like there is a special-purpose part of the brain that allows you to remember, in explicit detail, every embarrassing moment experienced in your life, there is also a special part of the brain that seems to encourage and reinforce feelings of insecurity. Most people who care about improving themselves seem to also be pre-programmed to think that they are never good enough.  This is just human nature, you need to acknowledge that these feelings exists, plan for them, know when they are helpful and more importantly know when to ignore them, and move on.

Technology changes, jobs change, but the lessons we’ve already learned don’t. Work hard and honestly 8-5, do the best job you are able, be able to handle constructive criticism, but in the end don’t worry excessively what you or others think, and don’t allow self-doubt to cloud your opinion of yourself. You need to be a person that you respect and admire. Don’t get trapped into judging yourself by unrealistic or someone else’s standards.


What I Think I Know - What I Actually Know

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome –


GJ Top of the Lake Quotes

Oh, Internet you disappoint me, all I wanted (and surprisingly couldn’t find, which is pretty rare in the information superhighway smog) was a simple catalog/list of the quotes from the TV miniseries Top of the Lake’s most enigmatic and entertaining (some might argue pointless) character: GJ (played by the lovely and talented Holly Hunter). Slate’s Dan Kois and Michelle Dean sum up her character best: “GJ is like Hunter S. Thompson mixed with Sappho. She’s an earth mother guru with a really hard edge.”

As strange as the character GJ is, her group’s backstory and subplot is just as inscrutable. GJ leads a group of troubled women would just put their finger on a random map point and move there (across the world) in search of truth and healing; their search could have been a story in and of itself. At the beginning, someone shooting a self-styled documentary says: “There’s a lot of women here in a lot of pain. They come from abused marriages; broken hearts, sex addicts….” There is some reflected isolation, many of the same repeated mistakes, just in a different setting, and finally it unclear if they have really learned anything. And then the story ends with GJ leaving for another antipode (from New Zealand to Iceland). If nothing else it certainly represents a tale of abandoning your past and moving in a completely orthogonal direction – but it seems wherever these characters go, they are still themselves at the core and still trapped with their same demons. Anyway, here is a list of the GJ’s biting, cryptic, and philosophical quotes captured for none other than my own amusement:

(Why did you come here?) It’s the name: Paradise.

What happens here (Paradise)? Nothing

Love that is not reciprocated just turns to apathy or hate.

(Tui: What happened to you?) a Calamity, like being struck by lightning, every cell in my body changed.

That (Tui’s unborn baby) is a ticking time bomb – boom!

No freeloading. Fifty bucks a week. You’ve gotta work. No one will pay you for closing your eyes.

All the b–ches here are searching for love, and when they don’t find that, enlightenment, they don’t find anything, not a one of them.

(To Detective Robin Griffin) How are your knees? You will go down hard – bang – the search will bring you low, to the ground on your two knees, that’s right – no one likes it – face in the dirt.

Why are these people (meditators) closing their eyes? Wake up!

(Mike: Is there such a thing as the human mind – what is the nature of the human mind?) Plotting and scheming. Planning and calculating. That is the nature of mind…Constant thought.

(Mike: When you get to the end of the universe what is there?) Dunno we’re not going there any time soon (what do you see?) My guess you’re not going to like it? A lost little girl, your girl with a secret growing inside.

(Advice to Robin’s dying mother) Get some heroin.

The universe knows no death, it is just atoms rearranging themselves.

Follow the body, it’ll know what to do. It has tremendous intelligence.

You picked the wrong way to help someone, that one, she wants to help Africa! Like the airplane put on your own mask first!

Stop! Stop Thinking!

We’re up in a place called Paradise, but is everything okay? Of course not.

How’s gold doing? (while checking girl’s iPad).

So, you are on your knees? Good. Now die to yourself. To your idea of yourself. Everything you think you are, you are not. What’s left? Find out.

(How do I help myself?) Why should I tell you when you don’t listen? (I’m listening) No! All you hear are your own crazy thoughts Like a river of sh-t, on and on. See your thoughts for what they are. Stop your helping. Stop your planning. Give up! There’s no way out. Not for others, not for you. We are living out here at the end of the road, the end of the earth in a place called Paradise How is it going? Perfect? No. You are madder than ever. You are tired? So lie down right here. Be like a cat. Heal yourself. There is no match for the tremendous intelligence of the body. Rest.

Just get me away from these crazy b–ches. When is the next flight to Reykjavik?


Drug Policies So Bad They Make Me Defend Potheads

Lord knows that the world doesn’t need any more drunks or potheads, and I support neither. But it doesn’t need a justice system that is highly incentivized to target and prosecute these folks either-that only seems to compound these woes. I have never written a letter to the editor before but I was mildly annoyed that as the legislature of my state of Maryland debates the first real proposed changes to marijuana prohibition in decades, all of the articles in my local paper were from quite respected members of local law enforcement who were highly critical of even the smallest changes/experiments. What none of those articles mentioned is how completely dependent police budgets are on the current drug-war status quo, and how this “drug dependency” (if you will) might distort the lens of their viewpoint. Anyway here is the article I angrily emailed off to the editor one morning after reading a front page of the local paper filled with such articles… 

It Is Time to Identify the Real Drug Addict

Like an addict worried where he will get his next fix or a pusher worried about losing his best customer, Maryland police organizations are absolutely apoplectic at the prospect of any real experiments with marijuana decimalization. Much like the police, I’m concerned with substance abuse and the prospect that an abuser might drive. But then again, all of the secondary concerns brought up by police, such as impaired driving and child neglect, are already crimes and will remain so even after marijuana decimalization. I am likewise concerned that youth with try any harmful substance including alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana, but it is simply being realistic to acknowledge that most will try these are some point in their youth. However, what concerns me far more are the waste, damage, and discrimination done by current prohibition policies: young lives ruined by criminal convictions, African-Americans prosecuted at much higher rates, high-level drug dealers who are further empowered and enriched, and many similar unintended yet worse consequences of the marijuana war. Much the same as we learned with Alcohol Prohibition, current marijuana laws have done little but waste police resources, hurt the potential of our youth, and benefit dealers. After 40 or more years with the current, misguided policies, common sense tells us that it is time to experiment with change.  Don’t let police continue to use our youth as easy targets and a revenue stream. Let’s break law enforcement’s addiction to marijuana convictions.

Cool Guy Greg on Taxes

Productive Citizen Cool Guy Greg on Taxes

Breaking the Conference Enthusiasm-Cynicism Cycle

Conferences are a great place to reignite/rekindle the passion for one’s job.  Not only are the speakers passionate, inspirational, and engaging, but they also often have straightforward and concrete ideas for how to get real work done better and easier.  There is a positive knowledge and attitude transference that takes place and true feelings that “those are really good ideas,” “they did it and so can we,” and “let’s go home and implement that.”

But just as easy as it is to get fired up and excited to try new ideas, it can be just as easy to fall back into old patterns of behavior.  Those positive feelings diffuse, dissipate, and attenuate.  What is quickly learned can be just as quickly and easily forgotten when not put into active practice.

But is there some way to break this Enthusiasm-Cynicism cycle? Is there some way to move from learning toward changing? It is the classic problem of how do you go from learning anything toward really changing behavior.

Here is just one idea/suggestion where conferences are concerned. That real change as a result of attending a conference is possible, but it takes more effort than simply attending a conference. The people who were sent to the conference must be prepared to put in some effort when they get back. To repay their organizations that sent them, the attendees should be compelled to give their own presentations when they get back. In these they should provide a quick abstract of the most important things they learned (i.e. not just a raw dump of everything, but a few, most useful things to them). Then they should suggest at least three (3) things that their organizations should change as a result.  From this can flow a group consensus, a plan for change, concrete tasks, and some agreed-upon vision for getting the typical organization inertia moving and transforming.

Then maybe the next time that conference comes along next year, you’ll remember some of the positive changes and concrete by-products that resulted from last time and feel even better about the investment.


The Top 3 Most Influential Software Blogs

It truly amazes me that many of the sites that I use every day (I am thinking of sites like Stack Overflow and Github here) were inspired/influenced/created by a very surprisingly small number of people (and I suspect that this is also true of most other industries). 37 Signals taught the core concepts of the software business & project management (that entrepreneurs are really “starters,” that businesses need to be paid for/sustainable, and many other simple, common sense, yet truly inspiring concepts that they captured in their books ReWork and Remote), Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky taught the importance of software writing and of creating a community. There are probably many other inspirers to choose from, but these are probably the best inspirational/informational blogs to read if you were forced to pick a true top 3. Even though they may not always be actively maintained today (mainly because of the success of their founders) – if you have never read, then reading their “greatest hits” will still be truly illuminating, inspiring, & educational:

Rethinking College

I really like it when people actually stop to think about and question long-held assumptions. Certainly one of these assumptions is that “you should go to college / going to college is always good for you.”

To my knowledge, there are only 2 people in my memory who have challenged this widely-held belief. One was Woody Allen in the movie Annie Hall when he quips “Everything our parents said was good for you is bad: sun, milk, red meat…college.”

The second was Google’s head of “People Operations” Laszlo Bock who was profiled in a recent Thomas Friedman opinion article in the New York Times and several others that built upon this article. My favorite Bock quote was that too many colleges “don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don’t learn the most useful things for your life. It’s [just] an extended adolescence.”

We’ve long suspected that the inputs to college in terms of time, money, effort, and brain cells don’t often meet the outputs we seek in terms of knowledge, work ethic, creativity, and many other important character attributes. Now, companies seem to be realizing this as well.  As Friedman points out that Google “has so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics” but I suspect that Google is not the only company to come to this realization about college.

People who truly seek to develop themselves might do better to look somewhere else – the military or volunteer opportunities being just 2 examples. We need to change the goal and assumption that merely “going to college” is enough or even that it is always beneficial. Instead we need to restate and remember that the true objective and real end goal is to “become as smart, educated, and industrious as you can be.” Unfortunately college, as it is currently conceived and executed, is probably not where this is going to happen.

Guiding Principles and Questions You Should be Able to Answer

I really love brief lists of principles/questions that are able to succinctly capture the myriad life lessons of some really complex settings and scenarios. I have included 3 of my favorites below. They demonstrate some really important core principles as well as some questions you should be able to answer if what you are doing is at all worthwhile. They also show that there is no one-size-fits-all list. Senator Mikulski’s list is great for dealing with the pace and inefficiency of the Senate, 37Signal’s list is great for working on short term projects, and the “5 Questions” list is great for addressing some more abstract life goals.

“BAM(US Senator Barbara Ann Mikulski)’s Principles” 

1. We cannot always guarantee an outcome, but we can guarantee an effort.

2. Always be clear about: “What is the objective we seek?”

3. Goals should be specific, immediate, and realizable.

4. Just move it.

37Signals Rework (“Reasons to Quit” Chapter):

1. Why are you doing this?

What is it for? Who benefits? What is the motivation behind it?

2. What problem are you solving?

Was something not possible before that should be possible now?

3. Is this actually useful?

Are you making something useful or just making something?

4. Is there any easier way?

Well defined problems are usually pretty simple, don’t assume they require hard solutions.

5. Are you adding value?

Can someone get more out of this than they could before?

6. Will this change behavior?

Is what you are working on really going to change anything?

7. Is what you are doing really worth it?

Is the time, effort, cost, etc. worth what you hope to gain? Don’t go throwing good time after bad work.

5 Questions That Will Change Your Life (Life Coach Tim Brownson):

1. What Else Can This Mean?

2. Who Can Help Me?

3. What Am I Grateful For?

4. What’s My End Game (Goal)?

5. What Can I Learn From This?


And of course no “Life’s Lists” list is complete without H. Jackson Brown Jr. Life’s Little Instruction Book. Some of my favorites from this:

Life’s Little Instruction Book


93 : Choose your life’s mate carefully. From this one decision will come 90% of your happiness or misery.

213 : Don’t waste time grieving past mistakes, learn from them and move on.

328 : Seek opportunity, not security – a boat in a harbor is always safe, but its bottom will eventually rust out.

355 : Evaluate yourself by your own standards, not someone else’s


140 : When starting out, don’t worry about not having enough money. This is a blessing and not a curse, nothing else encourages creative thinking quite like this.

156 : Strive for excellence, not perfection.

168 : Resist telling people *how* to do something. Instead tell them *what* needs done. They will often surprise you with the solutions.

271 : When faced with a difficult task, act as if it is impossible to fail

274 : Leave everything a little better than you found it

324 : Don’t delay acting on a good idea, success comes to the one who acts first.

334 : Instead of the word problem, try substituting the word opportunity

379 : Forget committees. New, noble, world-changing ideas always come from one person working alone.

399 : Focus on making things better, not bigger

401 : Don’t ever watch hotdogs or sausage being made.

404 : When attending meetings(or conferences), sit in front.

428 : Do More than is expected

463 : Be open to new ideas

466 : Set Short Term and Long Term goals

481 : Watch for big problems, they disguise big opportunities

504 : Commit yourself to quality


March 2014
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