Personal

May’s Experiment & Ruminating Thoughts

I’ve been a reader of Raptitude for a bit over a year now. It’s a great site with some very keen insights on being human. One of the things David—the writer—often does is month-long experiments. I find it kind of voyeuristic to read about his emotions and physical reactions to his experiments. But it’s now time to start doing my own experiments.

One of the things the Stoics practice is forced discomfort. If we coddle ourselves, surround ourselves with pleasures and a more hedonistic lifestyle, nothing hard will seem bearable. And that’s not because the situation is necessarily difficult but rather we are ridiculously soft. This can be accomplished in small doses: drive home in sweltering heat with the AC off, walk to work without a jacket. There were quite a few times this winter where I drove to work without any heat in the car when the outside temperature was hovering just above 0. I’d get into work with rosy cheeks and a runny nose.

May’s Experiment

Last Friday, on the 1st of May, I began the first experiment: no alcohol or fast food for the entire month.

There is a McDonald’s on the way home from work that’s not too far from where I live. On the long days, when I’d be arriving home after 7, I’d often grab a Big Mac to satiate my rumbling belly and quiet my disgruntled mind. And then I’d pour myself a couple of glasses of bourbon, watch something on Hulu, and fall asleep slightly inebriated in a food coma. It was ridiculously easy to fall into this pattern.

Drinking every night and eating fast food almost every night was taking a toll on my body and my wallet. I also found I accomplished nothing worthwhile when I got home at night (and by worthwhile, I mean just sitting on my front porch reading a book as the sun set). I also started getting up much later, sometimes not even until 7am. Waking up that late sets the day off on the wrong footing, like a misplaced note in a song; you can still listen to the music but it’s tainted.

It’s only been a week since I started this little experiment and I don’t have anything really to report. I was tempted to drink when I went out with a friend but decided to stick with my iced tea. Making promises to one’s self are important to keep. If one little outing sways them, that’s not much of a conviction, is it?

And this is one of the side benefits I’ve noticed in doing things like these experiments: the mental fortitude to keep your commitment, to say “No” when others say “Yes,” to stand fast to your convictions. It’s not just the act but what is required of you during the inevitable ups and downs of the experiment.

David, at Raptitude, actually writes a log of his experiments. I’m not sure that’s something I’ll do. I go back and forth on quantifying all the things. At one end, it’s good to have the raw data but on the other end, one month of a life that will hopefully continue on well into my 90s is a sliver of time. I think I’m more interested in the holistic picture (although, one could make the argument that the two are not mutually exclusive). So far though, I haven’t noticed anything really worth reporting. So I’m not drinking. So I’m not eating fast food. So what?!

I do find it a bit narcissistic throwing all this up on my website because, really, who cares what I do with my life? I mean, what does it really matter? I wrestle with putting it on my website or just writing in my journal (because, you know, back before there were blogs, that’s what we all did). But, I want this space—my blog—to stop living in stagnancy and the only way I can do that is by writing  about things I normally wouldn’t write on the blog.

Next month’s experiment? I’m thinking I’m going to give up caffeine and watching videos (Hulu, YouTube, Amazon, etc.). I love the coffee ritual in the morning and have been known to binge watch episodes. I want to see what happens when I allow my body to experience the natural rhythms of the sleep/wake cycle without having caffeine wake it up and the lull of the blue light of moving pictures keep it from sleep.

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Personal

Death, Fear & Wanting to Matter

I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. It’s been creeping around in the back of my head for quite some time now, swirling around with the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of my mind. The thought—death—is like a splinter in my toe, niggling around in my skin. Death is this obscure concept, even for someone who has seen it, even caused it. Death is a specter that I just haven’t been able to pin down, to get a clear bead on. It remains as elusive as a child trying to catch a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day.

Death—the act of dying—scares me. It is the finality of it; the end of everything I know and everyone I love. I’ve gone through a crisis of belief and can no longer hold fast to the Catholic view that God is waiting for us to return to Heaven. Death is it. It is all there is. I wish…no, I crave beyond all else to have the faith I once believed in restored to me. To feel like I’ll be going home after I die and move on to see my family, my friends, my little pugger.

This is not my truth though. It is not what I believe any more. There is a certain sadness when I finally accepted this truth. We are just random, chaotic atoms banging into one another and one of those random, chaotic explosions created me. As Montaigne wrote on reading Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things”:

“Since the movements of the atoms are varied, it is not unbelievable that atoms once came together—or will come together again in the future—so that another Montaigne be born.”

That may have been a sliver of hope for Montaigne. However, the chance of me being recreated in these exact atoms is impossible in my belief. Time is only moving forward and part of what has made me the woman I am today is my journey along that continuum. For all intents and purposes, death is the period of the sentence of life. There is no comma. And there is no editing.

This is the real reason death has been on my mind lately. Since it is so final and since all these choices I make are inconsequential when viewed looking at it on a macro scale, then are they all that important? Many of the decisions I have made have been almost a default; the path of least resistance and all the clichés that go along with it. Was I ever really the architect of my own life? Or have I slid into the common definitions of what it means to be an average, mediocre, responsible human in this world?

I look back on my younger years—late teens to late twenties—and see someone not afraid of exploring, not afraid of pushing against the grain, not afraid of their own story. And yet, here I am beginning my late thirties and I am afraid of everything. I’m afraid of owning who I am. I’m afraid of the power inside of me. I’m afraid of my truth and the consequences of what that truth means. I’m afraid of being alone and penniless with no means to get back up. I’m afraid my closest relationship is with a four-legged animal that can’t speak back to me.

Again, back to death. It’s on my mind. Not in the sense that I am so unhappy that I feel I must take my life. That thought, while an almost ubiquitous companion in my late teens, is never a thought that clouds my mind now. Rather, death is on my mind because I don’t want to lay on my death-bed, at the ripe old age of 93, and feel like I squandered my life. I don’t want to feel a sense of loss when it comes to what I did with my life. I don’t want to feel like it wouldn’t have mattered if I lived or died. I think having children can help with this feeling of not mattering but I can’t have children (and, even if I could, I’m pretty sure it’s just not for me). How to make my death meaningful?

I’ve spoken with a friend about this. She tells me it’s not important to leave your mark on the world and that you only have to affect those closest to you. But you are forgotten soon. In David Eagleman‘s Sum, in his short story “Metamorphosis,” there are 3 deaths:

There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.

Perhaps I am shallow for wanting my life to mean something. I don’t know. But I do know that I want my third death to come far, far into the future.

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Personal

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Cool, overcast Sunday afternoons are perfect for making bread. An old friend sings through the stereo, the smell of yeasty, wheaty brown sugar in the air, cup of strong coffee, the pugger sleeping on the couch. Don’t know if I could add anything else to this day to make it better. Actually, another human being would make this day just a tad bit better.


And here’s the final product. Not bad for a few hours worth of work.

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Bread Making, Sunday

Aside
Personal

One True Thing

I’m about as spastic as a fish caught on a line, each morning a different idea or desire or thought pulling me full-tilt into the great abyss of excitement and unknown. A few hours later, when I’ve run whatever flash of brilliance through its full life cycle in my head, I discard it and feel a let down—a sense of loss. This stop-and-go, stop-an-go heartbeat of a life is tiring. There isn’t one true thing that I have set my focus on. I can’t point to a body of work and say, “THIS. This is my life’s work. This is who I am.”

Here’s a typical day: I wake early, excited about the day’s writing. I birth a painful few pages of fiction or write a delirious post for the blog (which I publish in its first draft form) and think, Alright Nikki, you got something done. You’re on your way to becoming a writer, then give myself the wholly undeserved pat on the back. At work, during that same day, I think how woefully unprepared I am when encountering a new problem and I just have to learn the language du jour or become a better SysAdmin, even though that’s not even close to what I do. When I get home, I spend the few remaining hours researching a new Linux course on Coursera, forgoing any thought of writing the next day because I need to become better at my job. And then, a few days later, the workday—even in all of its beautiful chaos—goes smoothly. I realize I should again focus on writing.

Last year, I was checking out at a convenience store and the clerk, a Pakistani man I had become friendly with, finally asked me about the Buddhist prayer beads I keep around my wrist. He asked me if that is what I believe. When I looked puzzled, he explained to me that, “You must believe in one thing, to set your course. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as it guides your way.” At the time, I completely agreed and thought that my one thing was following a more Buddhist path. Trust me, I am no Buddhist nor am I religious but I believe the actions, thoughts, and feelings you put out, come back in. I believe that meditation can soothe a chaotic mind. I believe in empathy (if there was one thing in this world that defined me, I would have to say empathy, to an almost debilitating degree[1]).

But maybe a one true thing is not a religion, or a set of guidelines. The one true thing is the thing that makes decisions for you; it tells you what’s important. Maybe our one true thing isn’t set for life. Maybe it is as fluid as a wheat field in the wind. Maybe one true thing turns into many true things as our lives change, so that we can look back on our years and see the stepping-stones that brought us across the tumultuous river of our life. I think one true thing is much simpler than I’ve made it out to be.

My one true thing, for the next year at least, is writing. I’ve taken a 2 month sabbatical from writing every morning. Instead, it’s been a spastic dance of sporadic writing like my 26 year-old, coked-up, gyrating fool flailing wildly on the dance floor, grabbing hold of any man I could find, the lights and sound and sweat and alcohol a blur. But that speed and type of life isn’t sustainable, not in the long game. It’s time to get back to the ritual, to the process, to just showing up, battered, bruised, tired, open, and exposed. To write my truth, to share my world view. To focus on the writing. To always choose the writing. “Should I learn a new programming language? No, WRITE.” 

A big fear I have is that no one will read what I write. Or, if they do, that’ll I’ll be found out as a sham; that my writing will be full of overused similes and metaphors. I fear that I won’t be strong enough to stand up to the criticisms. But, with writing as my one true thing, I can ask myself, “Should I quit writing? No, WRITE.” And, when I look back at my stepping-stones and to this period of my life, I can point to this body of work and say, “THIS. This is my life’s work. This is who I am.”


[1] My mother once told me that Mrs. Modi, my third grade teacher, told her that I was going to have a hard life during one of their parent-teacher conferences. I absolutely adored my third grade teacher and I’m pretty sure she liked me as well. I stood up once in class, after one of the bullies in the room started making fun of Mrs. Modi, and told him that it wasn’t right because it probably hurt Mrs. Modi’s feelings. “She just feels too much and is very kind,” Mrs. Modi told my mother. “The world can be cruel to people like that.”

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Personal

I’ve been listening to a lot of this singer/songwriter at work lately. Caitlin Canty has a haunting voice that’s supported by the twang of a slide guitar. It’s kind of wonderful to find this type of music, along with the likes of Lori McKenna, on the East coast (Canty’s originally from Vermont). Only problem is, they all move to Nashville.

Caitlin Canty’s “Get Up”

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home
Personal

Living Deliberately by Living Tiny

A month ago, I moved out of the city of Boston, from amongst the 3-story row houses and cramped, feces-littered streets to a veritable, sprawling semi-rural landscape of trees, a dirt driveway, and a tiny, 350 square foot cottage.

My love affair with living in small places probably began long before I knew there was a tiny house movement. Growing up, I would often go camping year round, pitching a tent in the middle of a small clearing, learning to live for a few days with a make-shift kitchen and watching the sun fall into the horizon from the simple comfort of a thick Therm-a-Rest pad. Everything I needed I could fit on my back; I found an immense pride in knowing that I was able to provide my basic necessities.

When I moved to Denver as a young adult, after having lived in a cookie-cutter, nondescript basement studio apartment where the hallway constantly smelled like fresh shampoo because some resident was always making a mess forcing the management to clean, I moved into a tiny studio that used to be a garage. Their was enough headroom upstairs to force a constant stoop while moving around — luckily, the bed and desk that I kept up there didn’t force me to stand too often. A small kitchen and slender living room were on the first floor. I remember spending my weekends curled up on the couch with my cats, the sun streaming in and the thin breeze floating from my front door to the upstairs window. It was my personal slice of heaven 10 blocks from downtown Denver.

A few years later, I moved to a tiny, 2-room cabin in the Rocky Mountains. Close enough to Denver to make the drive into the city if I needed to but far enough to feel like a mountain dweller. It sat on the side of a steep hill facing west and on clear, cold, dark nights, I could see the lights of Denver reflected onto the clouds behind the range to the east of me. I freelanced as a designer-slash-developer and went to work at the local liquor store where I met the locals and started to become one myself. The first Fall that I lived there, 4 feet of snow dumped on the region and I became snowbound for a week; I look fondly back on that week.

When I moved to Boston, I rented a huge — huge by my standards anyway — 2 bedroom apartment that had enough room for my partner, our dog, and eventually another dog. Where our friends could visit and they had their own room. The second bedroom became our office and the large living room slowly filled up with a sectional, a 40″ flat screen television, bookcases and books. I could feel myself starting to drown. Eventually, the marriage ended in divorce, I got a roommate, the company I was working for went belly-up, and I found myself wondering why I had allowed myself to get sucked into all the things that made me unhappy.

Four months ago, I started actively looking for a new place. Something that fit more into where I wanted my life to go. A small home, with a yard for the pugger to run around in and the space to sit outside amongst the trees and sun on a cool Spring evening. In January, I found this cottage. Upon visiting it, I screamed inside. It was perfect. It was extremely tiny — by far the smallest place I’ve ever lived and by far the most humble of homes in this city of wealthy and large abodes.

In February, I moved in. I’ve been slow to bring over my belongings from my old apartment; the lease on that place isn’t over until the end of June. It’s allowed me to sit in this new space, to feel how it breathes and moves and interacts with the sun and weather and wind. I slept on the floor with just my thin mattress for a week before I built my own bed. It’s been one of the most happiest months of my life since moving back to New England.

I’m still slowing paring down all of my belongings. Even things that I have moved from my old place to the new have found their way into the donation bin (I mean, really, who needs 10 sets of silverware when your place can’t even accommodate more than 3 guests at a time?!). I am making a go at a deliberately led life. I’m experimenting with reacting to the world in my more natural state of optimism and happiness.

What’s sad — to me, at least — about all of this is how unhappy I have been for the past 4 years and how I just didn’t realize it. I felt like the frog in the water on the stove never realizing how hot it was becoming (which, apparently, is not scientifically true but you get my metaphor, don’t you?). And while I believe in sitting with my discomfort for a span of time, 4 years is just too long, especially when it is pervasive.

I’m often quick to make declarative statements about change but this time, I haven’t made any. I’m just sitting with it all, allowing myself to become part of the space around me, and trying to be fully present in each situation. Living in a tiny space — a space that forces you to cull what no longer provides value to your every day life — actually expands your life. It creates the space for you to focus on experiences and relationships. These things — the experiences and relationships — I have let dwindle for far too long. Living tiny may not make experiences or relationships easier to come by but, when they come near, it’ll be easier to reach out and fully embrace each one.

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Coding

How I Set Up a Coding Project Using Vagrant

When I first began using Vagrant, I had a heck of a time trying to figure out how to structure my project. Sure, there were tutorials on how to set Vagrant up but I wanted something even more higher level and in-depth. The following is how I now set up my personal projects. This isn’t set in stone; I modify it each time I find something better that works for me.

I use Vagrant for all development work since I don’t have to mess with my own set-up on my laptop. It makes development easier and quicker, since I mimic whatever server I plan on deploying the project to. For those who don’t know, Vagrant is a way to create development environments. It allows you to share those environments with other developers. Let’s get started!

First, you’ll want to put on some music. Something nice, something soothing ’cause the computer gods always have it in for us little peons and this might just make you frustrated. Personally, I’ve been digging Gracie and Rachel. Then, once you’ve got your headphones on and the music up, download VirtualBox and Vagrant. I run a Mac so this article is going to be geared toward Mac users; however, it should be fairly translatable to any operating system. Once you’ve got VirtualBox and Vagrant downloaded, install them on your computer (if you need help with installation, you’ll need to take a look at their respective documenation).

Okay, you’ve got those installed now? Awesome possum. Now we get to the nitty-gritty. Fire up your terminal. We’re going to take care of a few housekeeping things first before we get to Vagrant. In your terminal, type the following:

$ sudo vi /etc/hosts

Inside of that file, add the following line:

192.168.33.10  vagrant-tut.local

Then, save the file and restart the webserver with:

$ sudo apachectl restart

I use the 192.168.33.XXX addy’s just as a personal convention; right now in my /etc/hosts/ file, I’ve got close to 20 different entries all starting with 192.168.33.

Next bit of housekeeping is we need to add the base virtual box from which we’re going to build our development environment. You can find different boxes at Vagrantbox.es but for the purposes of this article, go ahead and type (or copy/paste) this into your terminal:

$ vagrant box add --name centos64-x86_64-tut https://github.com/2creatives/vagrant-centos/releases/download/v6.4.2/centos64-x86_64-20140116.box

That should be it for housekeeping.

Folder Structure and Files

Next up is the folder structure. It doesn’t matter where you place this folder, which is part of the gloriousness of Vagrant. Now, instead of throwing my websites in the Sites folder and other projects elsewhere, I just keep a Projects directory with code as a subfolder and all of my different projects inside.

vagrant-tut/
    .git
    .gitignore
    Vagrantfile
    data/
        bootstrap.sh
        initialize.sql
        httpd.conf
        nginx.conf
    src/
        index.php

Okay, let’s break this down. The .git and .gitignore files are for Git, your source control. The Vagrantfile should be part of the repository so other people can get up to speed quickly. The 2 folders in the project directory are data, which hold the various files to get the environment set up correctly and src, which is the actually project you’re working on. Inside index.php is just a phpinfo(); line.

Inside the data folder, you’ll notice 4 files. The bootstrap.sh is a shell script that is executed once Vagrant has started the virtual box. The initialize.sql, nginx.conf, and httpd.conf files are used by the bootstrap file. We’ll go into more detail further down, m’kay?

Vagrantfile

The Vagrantfile is a hot mess of confusing crap; at least, that’s what it was to me when I first started using Vagrant. However, I’ve got a minimal Vagrant file that works for me. Let’s open it up and take a look.

# -*- mode: ruby -*-
# vi: set ft=ruby :

# Vagrantfile API/syntax version. Don't touch unless you know what you're doing!
VAGRANTFILE_API_VERSION = "2"

Vagrant.configure(VAGRANTFILE_API_VERSION) do |config|
  # Every Vagrant virtual environment requires a box to build off of.
  config.vm.box = "centos64-x86_64-tut"
  config.vm.provision :shell, :path => "./data/bootstrap.sh"
  config.vm.network :forwarded_port, host: 8080, guest: 80
  config.vm.network :forwarded_port, host: 8443, guest: 443
  config.vm.network "private_network", ip: "192.168.33.10"
  config.vm.synced_folder "./src", "/var/www/html", type: "nfs"
end

A few things to note with this file. The config.vim.box line is referencing the name we gave the virtual box when we ran the vagrant box add command. You can add as many base boxes as you like and then reference them in the Vagrantfile. I usually prefer a CentOS box for most of my development but when I’m working on gitTasks, I instead use an Ubuntu 12.0 LTS base box.

The next line, config.vm.provision, tells Vagrant to run the shell commands in bootstrap.sh. The following 2 are forwarded ports and the private_network line gives a static ip address, which we have already placed in our /etc/hosts file. Now, when we go to http://vagrant-tut.local, our virtual machine will show up in the browser. The last line allows us to sync a folder on our host computer to that of the guest computer. By default, Vagrant syncs the folder that the Vagrantfile is in with /vagrant on the guest computer. If you were to open that location on the guest computer, you’d see the exact same folder structure that’s in vagrant-tut folder. However, I want to sync the src folder with the guest’s /var/www/html folder.

The type: "nfs" tells Vagrant to use an NFS server to sync the folders. I’ve noticed a lack of performance, especially when dealing with external API calls or with Sass files, and using the NFS option seems to help. Again, you don’t need to use NFS; your mileage may vary.

Bootstrap.sh

The bootstrap.sh file is pretty straightforward. It’s just instructions on how to update the box and add the packages you want. Since I plan on using PHP on this box, as well as Apache and Nginx, I’m just going to write the commands that I would normally type into the terminal in my virtual box. Open up bootstrap.sh:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

# Update yum and install packages
sudo yum -y update

# Want to include Remi's repo
sudo rpm -ivh http://rpms.famillecollet.com/enterprise/remi-release-6.rpm

# Install necessary packages
sudo yum -y --enablerepo=remi,remi-php55 install wget nginx httpd php php-common php-cli php-mycrypt php-mbstring php-mysql php-pdo mysql-server mysql-client

# Set up configurations
sudo mv /etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf /etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf.bk
sudo cp /vagrant/data/nginx.conf /etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf
sudo mv /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf.bk
sudo cp /vagrant/data/httpd.conf /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf

# Update the timezone, which always throws an error if not set
sudo sed -i 's/;date.timezone =/date.timezone = EST/g' /etc/php.ini

# Start services
# sudo service mysqld start
sudo service httpd start
sudo service nginx start

# Not using MySQL yet but, if I was, here's how I set it up
# if [ ! -f /var/log/databasesetup ];
# then
    # /usr/bin/mysqladmin -u root password 'vagrant'
    # echo "CREATE DATABASE cms" | mysql -u root -pvagrant
    # echo "GRANT ALL ON cms* TO 'root'@'localhost'" | mysql -uroot -pvagrant
    # echo "flush privileges" | mysql -uroot -pvagrant

    # touch /var/log/databasesetup

    # if [ -f /vagrant/data/initialize.sql ];
    # then
        # mysql -u root -pvagrant cms < /vagrant/data/initialize.sql
    # fi
# fi

# Need to restart afterwards
# sudo service mysqld restart
# sudo service httpd start
# sudo service nginx start

Once Vagrant gets the box running, the next step is to run all of the above commands. You can pretty much put any commands in here. For more information, head on over to Vagrant’s documentation.

Let’s start the VM!

Now that everything’s in place, cd into the folder where Vagrantfile is located. In your terminal, run the following:

$ vagrant up

Vagrant will start the VM, run your bootstrap.sh file, and run through everything. It can take a while the first time you run it since the update and packages are installed for the first time. Barring any issues, you’ll get the terminal prompt back. Now you can head on over to your browser, load up http://vagrant-tut.local, and you should see the output of the PHP configuration page.

When you’re done developing and you want to shut down the VM, in your terminal:

$ vagrant halt

The halt command shutdowns the VM. When you are ready to start developing again, run the vagrant up command once more. The only difference now is that the VM doesn’t have any services running (i.e. mysqld, httpd, nginx) so you need to log into the VM and issue the following commands:

$ vagrant ssh
$ sudo service httpd start
$ sudo service nginx start

Everything’s up and running again! If you want to completely remove the VM, $ vagrant destroy will do that for you. Just remember, when running $ vagrant up again, it’ll load the bootstrap.sh file.

Phew! This was a long article. I’ve put all the files into a Github repo: Vagrant Bootstrap; please feel free to clone and take for a spin. If you have any improvements, please don’t hesitate to make a pull request.

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Personal, Workplace

The Danger of Not Belonging

In my world, in the world of software and tech and women and the beginning stages of middle age, I often feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m going to get caught for faking it. My heart beats rapidly and the hot, thick sheen of sweat gathers on my forehead and upper lip. Hands that feel disconnected tingle and shake; the fear a hard, knotted rock stuck in my throat. I’m waiting for them to ask me into another room and, when I finally sit in that chair, their barrage of disappointment, anger, confusion and vitriol will shatter me. My confidence is a house built upon the burnt posts and beams of experiences and failures. Rarely does a success prop up my house in any substantial way.

I was promoted a few weeks ago at work to a management position. We’ve got a new hire that I’ve been tasked with on boarding, bringing him up to speed with our codebase, our coding standards, helping him start to figure out our convoluted hackery that is the natural occurrence of 3+ years of going from idea to product. And each time I see him sitting at his desk when I walk into the office, I think to myself, “Man, what a disservice this dude is getting…having me for a boss. What the fuck do I know?” And I know he feels this, sitting there with his sweet smile, politely nodding when my inadequacies come tripping off my tongue and I see the flash of confusion come across his eyes, asking himself, “How in hell did she get promoted?!”

Indubitably, it’s all in my head. It’s my own silly, little mind praying on an already fragile ego. There’s been much written on Impostor Syndrome, where one is unable to internalize their accomplishments. This feeling rears up and kicks me in the gut most days I sit at my desk in the open floor planned office that I find myself in day in and day out. This feeling has intensified over the past few weeks since the promotion. I question my thoughts, my decisions, and if I’m passing on the correct information to the software engineers I manage. I read management books and subscribe to management newsletters. I vacillate between what I would do and what I think other managers would do. It’s a constant internal battle between “What the hell do I know?” and “Who the hell do I think I am?”

Then I remember what got me here. I remember the minor victories of my early days at the company. At running my own design shop. Of sticking to my values and ethics when they were tested at another company. I remember that my ideas are my ideas and I have valid reasons for doing things the way I’ve ended up doing them. I remember that I wouldn’t have been promoted to a management position if those above me didn’t have confidence in my ability to be a good manager. I remember that my brother is now a developer, which I had a hand in helping getting him there (his thankful notes to me has been a boon to my confidence lately).

My natural reaction is to always doubt myself first and look for external validation for what I’m doing. When I catch myself thinking less than of myself, I’ve been stopping the thoughts before they gather enough momentum to roll me over. And then I don’t ask. I don’t ask my boss if he thinks it’s a good idea. I don’t ask my coworkers how they feel about whatever I’m about to do. I’m trying to retrain my patterns to act first, ask after. It’s a way for me to start trusting my instincts. I won’t always get it right but I have faith that there will be more ticks in the Success column than the Failure column.

I’ve been a manager at many jobs in the past but this is the first time in a tech role. It’s the first time where there is no definitive rulebook to tell me when I’ve done something right. Tech, as much as it is a logical world, is very subjective to the whims and thoughts of each software engineer. And this wide open expanse of difference is both what causes me stress and what gets me excited. Excitement because it’s so limitless and stress because there are no clear boundaries. I’ve had to start creating my own boundaries. One example is that I’ve had to make a decision about coding standards. Taking the reigns, nudging the team into the direction I think we should go, has been eye opening.

Learning to belong has been a slow process. Even after 3 and a half years, there is still a large part of me that can’t believe the dumb luck that a team like Aereo actually wanted me to be one of them. I’m reeducating myself. I’m learning to push away the nagging insecurities. I’m starting to own my position, not just as a manager but as a coworker and employee.

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Every Day is a Good Day

A few months ago, I walked into Witch City Ink (Paul Martinez worked on me; highly recommend him) and had the phrase Every day is a good day inked on my left forearm. It’s actually a quote by Ummon, a Chinese Zen master born in 862 or 864 CE. It was something I came across while reading a book on Zen buddhism and had stuck around in my head for quite a while. For some reason, I felt the need to tattoo it on my arm.

I know, I know…a bold statement. And one I put permanently in a visible place. It is a reminder. A constant method of checking myself and the state of my thinking. When a project at work starts to get out of hand and I’m being run over by code, I feel my blood begin to rise. The first few moments of a mini-eruption inside the monkey mind begins to boil. My natural reaction to change and hardship makes itself known. And then, I look down at my arm, read Every day is a good day and take a breath. The eruption recedes away. The ink has done it’s job.

I think it’s easy to get caught up in the speed our negative emotions maintain. One thing cascades into another and, all of a sudden, it’s anger and frustration sitting in the pool of emotion. My dearest friend has told me that our thoughts take these neural pathways that are much like a stream through rock. The thoughts one thinks slowly grind away at the rock, burrowing deeper into the same path day after day, thought after thought. If all we think about are the negative aspects of any situation, those neural streams dig themselves deeper into our minds and the first reaction to a situation is our pessimistic, change-is-no-good attitude. But these neural pathways can be reconfigured. New streams and inlets can burrow into a more positive thinking pattern (or, at the least, a neutral pattern). Every day is a good day is a way to remap my mind, a way to slough off the past 3 1/2 years of Boston banality.

It’s been working. I read my arm and think just how amazingly wonderful my life is. Sure, sure…I’ve got things I want to improve. Sure, sure…I’ve made mistakes in my past. Sure, sure…I’m not where I want to be just yet. But damn, life is pretty sweet. I wake up each morning with a little, old pug who likes to spoon. I work at a job that I adore. The small amount of friends I do have are loyal, kind, and would go to the ends of the earth to help me (and vice versa). I have a close-knit family. And hey, I’m sitting here this morning, warm, comfortable and writing. How can life be so wonderful?

I do strive to improve my life. But I need to remember that right here, right now is perfect. This moment is perfect. To just be in this world as Nikki is such a random, chaotic act of nature; I can’t take it for granted.

Every day is a good day.

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Finger Vomit

Last night as I sat on the couch, a feeling of boredom and a sense of pathetic-ness washing over me, I became despondent. It’s a feeling of not knowing what’s going on with my life, of questioning my decisions, of realizing just how sad my life can be. This isn’t how I feel all the time; actually, it’s not how I feel most of the time. But last night, well that damned, little imp of self-doubt and confusion was creeping around messing with the wires in my head.

It’s usually the cause of being in a bad mood during the day. The endless questioning. A strong dislike of who I am cascading into my walking day. Relationships at work become strained as I fight internally over the ridiculousness of me and the wonderfulness of me (I know, lots of ness’s). It is hard to explain to coworkers why I stay quiet, why my brow burrows deeper in between my eyes, why my responses are short, succinct, directly to the point. If I were to speak more than a few words, tears would come running out of my eyes; a mass exodus of marathon running tears pushing their way past the start line when the starting gun fires. Days like yesterday are the days where I want to stay home, wrap myself in my comforter, and drink endless bottles of beer to alter my mood.

So, when I came home, after cleaning up after a sick dog and berating myself for not being a good mother, I made myself a decent meal and a strawberry-banana smoothie. I sat on the couch watching Burn Notice. My mood slightly changed but then I grabbed a beer and after the first half of the beer was gone, felt the swooning wash of slight inebriation envelope me (yes, I really am that much of a lightweight). I started flipping through YouTube videos on my Roku, something that is a rarity for me, and happened upon a movie trailer for a movie I just can’t remember the name of. The male protagonist of the story says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Loving you is like shouting into the void!”

And I thought, “Now, there’s something!”

Take off the love part, make the phrase present-tense, and you’ve got a shout into the void. What better way than to summarize what I’m doing here, on this blog, in my journal, trying to figure out my head than that simple little phrase? I write but no one reads, at least to my knowledge. And, if they do read, how are they to contact me to let me know? I’ve had this dualistic desire for many years: to give credence to my voice, to scream until I’m hoarse but not wanting to own my words, my feelings, afraid of the consequences being true to yourself can bring. It’s a definite selfish trait. As I write more and more, I’m learning to let that go. I’m learning to recognize my voice. I’m finding out that it’s okay to have an opinion and put it out there.

And, I’m learning that it’s okay to just start typing, having no real direction, and finger vomit all over this screen.

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