Monthly Archives: August 2015

Newton’s Third Law

Summer 2008

“Janie, you know everyone hates you here, right?”

I looked up. The boy who said this to me was sitting in the middle of the recording studio. The room went silent. All my classmates immediately stopped talking and their heads swiveled around to look at me.

I gazed at the boy. I barely knew him. I only knew his name because he missed the first week of class because his lung collapsed and he was in the emergency room. I don’t think I’d exchanged one word with him in my entire life.

Everyone’s eyes darted back and forth between me and the boy. A few people cleared out of the middle of the room. There was going to be a fight.

Janie at 13

As long as I can remember, I identified myself as a feminist. If my teacher picked a group of people with more boys than girls, I would accuse them of being sexist. I wanted to be the first woman president. I was angry because I knew I was out of step with my peers and I knew they didn’t respect me. I wanted them to respect me.

Like the good 80’s child that I am, I decided I wanted to learn karate. I wanted to learn how to be physically powerful because I wanted to go through life without worrying about losing in a fight to anyone.

My small town in rural Wisconsin did not have a karate dojo. We had an Aikido dojo. Aikido, for those who don’t know, is purely self-defensive. We didn’t learn fancy punches and kicks. We didn’t learn to flip people over. Instead, we learned how to deflect physical attacks. We learned how to direct an opponent’s energy away from us.

I thought this was bullshit.

This was stupid to wait around for someone to punch you and then to just move their arm away. What was the point of that? If someone had the audacity to come after you, they deserved to be punished. They should have their ass kicked.

I stuck with Aikido for about a year until I started attending a Catholic school out of town and I didn’t have time to keep going. Honestly, I didn’t see the point. It takes forever to advance in the belt system and you don’t learn how to beat the crap out of people, so why bother?

Sensei

My sensei, Mark Uttech, passed away recently. He fought cancer for a year and lost his battle. He was a kind, good-hearted soul. He always had a mischievous energy about him. I can’t imagine what he was like as a young man because he had an old soul. He was peaceful and accepting of everyone. He encouraged not only non-violence, but non-combativeness.

I intended to go back to the dojo back in 2013. I attended one or two classes, but this was around the time my marriage was falling apart and I had dedicated myself to programming. I deeply regret not being able to learn from him during this time.

Janie at 26

At some point when I was 26 I just got sick of being angry. I had been fighting people my whole life and none of it made any difference. I was tired of battling everyone I knew. I was tired of being pissed off and carrying around my anger. Anger is heavy. Anger is expensive. It takes energy to hate. Everything I did was ineffective. The battles I fought with people left me scarred and did nothing to affect any kind of positive change.

I began to discover Zen Buddhism. I found that I had made a logical fallacy in regards to my interactions with others.

I thought that any time I saw what I perceived to be injustice, it was my duty to go and fight over it. Not every slight needs to be fought over. Not everything is a slippery slope on our way to the Nazis taking away the Socialists. If you make an issue over everything, then really egregious behavior loses its context.

Actions and Reactions

I thought if someone did something I thought was wrong or they challenged me, that it required me to fight them. It’s Newton’s Third Law: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you punch a wall with your fist, one of you must break. If you use enough force and commitment, the wall breaks. If you falter, your fist breaks. There is no other way.

Except there is.

Just because someone insults you doesn’t mean you have to fight them. I am saying this a person who has been privileged enough not to be doxxed online or forced to flee my home, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

Aikido is about redirecting violent energy in a way that renders it harmless. Rather than having a zero-sum game, where either the fist or the wall must break, you can take that energy and direct it in a way that hurts no one.

I know, you think if someone throws a punch at you, it’s your obligation to make sure they never hit you again. If you redirect their fist away from you and neither of you is harmed, they will just keep coming after you. Let them. Keep redirecting their energy and eventually they will stop. They tired themselves out and they don’t get the satisfaction of breaking your face. You don’t stoke their anger by provoking them back by causing them pain. They will grow tired of trying to hurt you and they will leave you alone.

I didn’t have the patience to understand this when I was younger. I was angry and I wanted to set the world on fire. I wanted to burn people. I thought that backing down from a fight made me weak or cowardly. I didn’t realize that it was braver to look an assailant in the face and to decide that you would not let them hurt you or themselves. There is more than one way to win. Winning means you walk away without harm, not that you beat your opponent.

Be the Change You Want To See In The World

I have been asked why I go to conferences. They are a lot of work and they are quite tiring. Why do I go?

I am trying to bring an energy to our community that I would like to see more of. I want everyone to love and accept one another. I want everyone to have an understanding and an empathy about where someone else is coming from.

I spent half of my life learning how to make people feel like shit. Then I spent the other half learning how to make people feel good. Making someone feel good about themselves feels better than destroying someone. It takes more care and effort to build someone up than it does to tear them down.

I want to show everyone that you can be successful without being an asshole. I have contributed a lot of negative energy to the world and I would like to show people that there is another way. There is forgiveness. There is self acceptance. There is understanding. There is peace.

Epilogue

Everyone watched us with baited breath. What would I do? Would I deny it? Would I cry? Would I appeal to them to prove that he was wrong? What would I do?

I smiled at him and said, “I know.”

He looked like I punched him in the face. He looked stunned. He shook his head and cocked it at me, thinking he must have misunderstood me. “You know?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And you don’t care?”

“No, not really.”

He stared at me. Of all the reactions he was expecting, this wasn’t one of them. He didn’t know what to do.

“Well, I just thought you should know that we all hate you.”

Everyone was disappointed. They were looking forward to a fight. They went back to what they were doing. I went back to reading my book. It’s like nothing happened.

As everyone went back about their business, I smiled to myself. I had won.

Why I am Not Moving

“Janie, why are you still in Madison?”

This is a question I was asked recently. I actually get asked this question a lot.

For the record, I don’t live in Madison. I live in Deerfield. Deerfield is a village with less than two thousand people, no grocery store, and no traffic lights.

I had a lot of frustrating conversations with people over the winter when I was freaking out about taking care of myself where I was told to order delivery or sublet my house to move closer to work. There is no delivery in a village of two thousand people, one restaurant, and six bars (this is Wisconsin, there is a five bar minimum per incorporated town).

There is no public transportation. I drive sixty miles round trip every day to go to my job. This can easily eat up two hours of my day. The closest actual grocery store is twenty minutes away, so it is rather difficult to run errands because just going to the store kills almost an hour of my increasingly limited free time.

Additionally, I have my pugs who spend way too much time alone in my house and it’s hard for me to go home, feed them, shovel food down my throat, then go back out again after working a ten hour day.

Part of me thinks it would be nice to be able to go out at 9:00 on a week night on the spur of the moment without having to drive a hundred miles round trip in one day. It would be nice to take advantage of my gym membership without feeling guilty thinking about my pugs being stuck in my house alone all day. It would be nice to join the maker space that inconveniently exists equally far away from both my job and my house.

So why don’t I move?

First off, I can’t afford it. Conservatively, it would quadruple the cost of my housing to move downtown, or even closer to my job. After my divorce I effectively have a blank slate. I don’t have any debt (besides my house and my car), but I don’t have anything saved either.

I would have to sell my house. Did I mention the whole living in the middle of nowhere, no public transportation thing? There are a half dozen houses around me that have been on the market for a while. My house is just about the right size for one person or maybe a couple, but not for a family. It’s within walking distance of the school, but in our era of helicopter parenting, that doesn’t mean what it used to.

I feel like I am in a really weird stage of my life right now. I never did the whole partying and dating thing in my twenties. I had some health and social issues and so I didn’t go out to bars and date. I married my ex-husband because we knew one another our whole lives and the dating scene terrified me because the only attention I got was from married creeps who wanted to have affairs (which isn’t that much different right now, to be honest).

Even though I didn’t have kids, I have a lot of the same issues that parents have. I have to go home to take care of my pugs. If I want to stay out after work, I have to make arrangements for someone to come take care of them. I find it incredibly selfish that people tell me that they only want to hang out with me if they can call me on a whim and ask to meet at the bar twenty miles away in ten minutes rather late on a week night. When I tell them I need to schedule something or meet earlier, they get pissy with me and tell me to move. This makes me less inclined to hang out with them because they want me to contort myself like a pretzel and they are unwilling to do one thing to accommodate me.

Last week I did an interview with the Ray Wenderlich podcast. One of the themes of the interview was them asking about all the projects I have been doing. I spoke at, I think, at least ten conferences last year. I coauthored a book. I work a full time job. I am the cohost of NSBrief. I have a lot of projects that I do. I never really thought about it because they slowly added incrementally and the deadlines for each one would come and go then another would take it’s place like Hydra.

I started to really think about what I am doing with my life and how things would be different if I lived in a city like a normal person.

If I lived downtown and I could order takeout and go out drinking at 9:00 on a week night, I would probably do it. I would develop a circle of friends who all do those things. I would probably be more social, have different hobbies and activities, and have something that resembles a normal life.

I don’t think I would find that fulfilling.

When I started programming a few years ago, I was driven by my fears of inadequacy. I was competing with people who had been programming since they were twelve. I was in my thirties and I hadn’t established a career yet. Just yesterday I was talking to a high school student who is on Ray’s tutorial team and I felt a deep sense of shame for squandering my twenties doing stupid crap.

I don’t remember where I read this, but there was a piece of writing Anthony Bourdain did where he talked about his chef career. He said that when he was a young chef, he had two options. He could either take some time really honing his skills by working for better chefs, or he could chase the money by being an okay head chef at a couple of different places. He had a heroin habit to feed, so he chose to chase the money. He talked about Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea. He was talented enough that he could have been a head chef right away, but he wanted to be a great chef, so he paid his dues for several years by being a sous chef for great chefs so that he could learn to be a great chef. His restaurant is the only consistent 3-star Michelin restaurant in Chicago and he is considered to be one of the greatest chefs of his generation.

I consider my current job to be more than a job. I feel like it’s my do-it-yourself graduate school. I am a much better programmer now than I was when I started here almost a year ago. I have the freedom to ask stupid, esoteric questions without worrying that I am going to be fired for not knowing what a bubble sort algorithm is. I am a sous chef working under a great chef to learn how to be a better programmer (mixed metaphors are pretty).

Right now I have two options for making up for lost time. I can either spend a lot more money to engage in a lifestyle that will be fun for a few years but will do little to enhance my career, or I can accept that living in the suburbs sucks, but that I can spend all of my time stuck at home doing things that will enhance my career and help me make up for lost time by fast tracking my programming skills.

I know most people after a divorce would throw themselves back out into the dating pool and get new hobbies and do a bunch of things to feel free and alive again. It’s a tempting thing. However, I made a lot of sacrifices over the last three years to get to the point I am at now. My fire is burning, but it will go out if I don’t keep tending it. I worked my ass off to get it going after having two previous attempts not get past the kindling stage. As cool as it would be to be a “normal” person and go enjoy my youth, I think that I have a chance to do something important right now and I want to see where I can take it.

Meaningful Relationships and the Art of Networking

Family

My father and I have had arguments about family for most of my life. My father keeps insisting that now that I am an adult I should make a pilgrimage twice a year to go to his family reunions. I don’t see the point in going to these because I had many of these events from my childhood where I felt kind of like we were the Anne of Cleeves juice glass in the collection of wives of Henry VIII. We needed to be there so that there would be a complete set of my father’s siblings and family, but once we were accounted for we were kind of ignored and forgotten.

I came to terms with this at some point in my early adulthood because, honestly, what do you say to people you only see twice a year? Most of my relatives were much older than I was. My cousins were in college and getting married when I was in Jr. High. We were at different points in our lives.

The advent of Facebook and the Internet has made it much easier to connect with my relatives and keep up with what they are doing. We’re also now all adults and it’s a little easier to connect with people when you’re at the same point in your life.

Yet still I fight with my father over the necessity to go there and see people in person. We would have incredibly heated arguments over this and I could never articulate why this bothered me so much until recently, and yes, it does has something to do with networking.

Meaningful Relationships

I guess the things that bothers me about going to various family reunions is that they are perfunctory and superficial. You go, you say hi to the host, you eat your sandwich, you go home.

I observed over many years that most people’s relationships with their families were much different than my own.

I grew up in a very small town where most people had a huge network of cousins and other relatives who were all around the same age. They were thick as thieves in school and continue to voluntarily spend time together as adults. People weren’t just cousins, they were friends as well.

My cousins were not my friends. I really think that they could have been.

I remember as a kid being hauled to the family Christmas brunch where I would usually find a nice corner to sit in and read my Babysitter’s Club books while I waited for presents to be opened so that we could go back to the hotel and go swimming. One thing that happened every year was that my cousins would all go out to a movie and I was always invited to go. My dad would tell them no, I wasn’t allowed to go with them.

After a few years they stopped asking and whatever relationship I had with them withered until I became an adult and reconnected with them on social media.

My mother’s family was closer in both age and geographically and I barely saw them either. I will now go on Facebook and see every cousin of my mother’s, except her, go on a week-long camping trip and other various adventures that we are never included in because we’re not really a member of the family.

I keep fighting with my dad because I think we have different ideas of what “family” is.

My dad thinks that family is people you are related to by blood who are obligated to take you in if you are in trouble. He sees them like Social Security. You show up once a year to let them know you are alive so that if you are at a point where you might not be you can show up with your hand out and expect to be taken care of.

To me, what I observed, is that family are your social circle and your safety net. Family is people you want to spend time with and who you want to help if they’re in trouble. My dad has no interest in a meaningful relationship with any member of his or my mother’s extended family and he assumes that the blood tie is enough to fulfill this goal.

So What Does this Have to do with Networking?

I’ve noticed that some people are taking the wrong approach to networking.

Many people think that having several hundred LinkedIn connections is a network. It isn’t.

Jeremy Sherman was talking at the mini-360iDev in Greenville last year about how he networked with a journalist he hoped would feature him in a piece for his magazine. The only reason this tactic worked was because Jeremy actually made friends with this person. They liked one another and it was a real, meaningful relationship. He made it clear it wasn’t a mercenary tactic, he just really wanted to befriend the guy and that it worked out because he treated the journalist as a human being and not an opportunity.

All of the opportunities I have had have come from having meaningful relationships with people in this community.

It means a lot to me that the Kleins, the Remsiks, and the Wilkers have given me the opportunity to speak at their conferences. I like all of them as people very much. If I didn’t get to speak at 360iDev in two weeks (buy your tickets!), I would still like the Wilkers very much and would have found a way to go (but I am glad I didn’t have to).

I made friends with Chris Adamson because I liked the work that he did. We hung out at Anime Central the last two years because we were friends and we both had a mutual enjoyment of anime.

If I had gone into my friendship with him with the agenda that I was going to get something out of him, our friendship would never have materialized. People can sense users a mile away. Don’t be a user.

I am at a point right now where if I lost my job this afternoon, I have a large number of people I would go to for help, not just to find another job, but just because they’re friends who I think can give me advice and comfort about what to do. I have a lot of people in this community that I consider to be close friends and confidants and it makes my life and career richer for having a meaningful relationship with them.

Networking is about building meaningful relationships with people. It’s about seeing them as people and spending time with them even if it doesn’t immediately get you anything. It’s about finding people you genuinely like and who genuinely like you. If you go to one conference and meet someone once and never follow up with them, then I am sorry, they are not a connection in your network.

If you’re going to go to the expense and time of attending a conference, make the most of it. Meet as many people as you can. Find people who like the same things you do and keep in touch with them. You can’t pick your family, but you can pick the people you choose to be connected to.