In the last two weeks, I've started and deleted three different blog posts about various things that I'm having a difficult time with. They're some combination of being sick, struggling to be a parent and work wearing on me a bit relative to the rest of life. The delete button came as soon as I started to proofread a paragraph or two. I said to myself, "Dude, this is not suffering. There are 800k people not getting a paycheck right now. What right do I have to complain about anything?"
There are really two things at play here. The first is that we filter ourselves online. I try not to do this, because I'm so not interested in using the Internet as a platform to establish a persona. I write in part to create a record of life, the good and the bad. But I realize to an extent that there's an analog precedent for this as well. In broader social circles, you don't typically complain about life or express discontent because no one wants to be around that. That's not to say that you don't confide with close friends, but you don't sit down for lunch and explain the depths of your challenges with six people.
The second thing we do is invalidate our feelings because of the idea that we can't feel something because, relative to some standard or other people, it's "not that bad." For me I conflate the standards with the things I have. I have the unreasonable feeling that since I have an amazing wife and a lovely house, I can't feel stress or or pressure. But the presence of positives does not cancel out the hard things. Life is still hard even if it's harder for others or there are things that might mitigate the pain.
So I've had a tough couple of weeks. It's not my problem if you think I'm not entitled to that. (Smile emoji or whatever.)
We had a scare today with Emma, our oldest cat ("Princess Bitchy Pants"), when she was suddenly howling in pain and not able to walk easily. It turns out she had some huge abscess near/in her butt that burst while at the vet, so she's on pain meds and has to wear the cone of shame when we're not watching her so it can heal. They'll reevaluate it in a week, and it could end up just being a random infection or something more serious that caused it. Either way, she's 16, and we know she won't live forever. We kind of make jokes about her time coming, because we're realistic, but it will certainly be sad. We lost Gideon last spring, and that was hard because he was a big lover, and a lot younger.
We told Simon that Gideon was very sick at the time, and that he would live with the vet until he died. Technically this was not a lie, it's just that he only lived there for an hour at most. We encouraged him to say goodbye to him, and frankly there wasn't a ton of attachment there because Gideon was scared of Simon pretty much from the day he started moving around on his own. The grabbing hands were not fun for the big fella. A few days later, Gideon's photo came up on a screensaver and Simon asked how he was, and I guess we never explicitly followed up, so we told Simon that the cat had passed. There were some tears, but he seemed to get over it pretty quickly.
Here's the thing, I don't think I can explain euthanasia and its moral and ethical implications to Simon. He struggles with a lot of basic social contracts as it is (because ASD), so I don't see any universe where I can successfully explain killing your pet intentionally to him. I can barely rationalize it myself, and I've been through it three times in the last decade. We talk about it in humane terms but don't apply the same standards to humans. It's completely irrational to me that we play God to our pets, even though I know it's the right thing when they're suffering.
I guess where we are now is that we'll tell Simon that when it's time to take her to the vet for the last time, she won't be coming home, but I don't think he's ready for the intentionality of it. I really look forward to the easier conversations like sex and drugs.
I've had a strange combination of conversations across different parts of life recently about what happiness is, and my resolution that happiness is a choice is surprisingly controversial to some, and even perceived as outright wrong by others. Let me explain myself a bit.
People encounter bad and negative things. There is no doubt that people can not control a great many things, whether it be depression, a death in the family, divorce, financial hardship... there's no limit to the list. You can't simply choose to not feel negative emotions over these kinds of things, and I'm not suggesting that you can, or that you should. We as human beings need to process yucky things.
There are also a lot of things that we simply don't want to do that add up, in all aspects of our lives, including work, home life and everything in between. They include things like grocery shopping, paying bills, commuting and writing TPS reports. There's a whole category of things that just come with being an adult that we would probably not do if we could get away with it.
So there is no universe where we can be happy at all times by way of external factors. Like everyone else, I'm going to encounter my share of shit and have to do stuff I would rather not do. But life in aggregate is of course a journey, and it is one that ends in death for every single one of us. This reality forces us to make some decisions about how we choose to view life, while it lasts.
I don't know if my strategy will work for everyone, and I would preface this by saying that it is not infallible, and like everyone, some days will be harder than others. While it's hard to choose a feeling, it is possible to choose to think about the things that contribute to making happy feelings. I try to shift from thoughts of my parental struggles to the love that my child can exhibit toward me. At work I try not to linger in struggle when I can celebrate wins and progress. In all cases, I don't rely on external factors to make my happiness. It's not up to my family or my job to make me happy.
There are certainly situations that you have to change when external factors weigh too heavily on your life. Steve Jobs was famous for saying, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something." I've made changes to relationships, jobs and other scenarios in those cases, and eventually come out in better shape.
None of us are entitled to happiness. Heck, even the Declaration of Independence refers to the pursuit of happiness as a right, not the happiness itself. (Mind you, the founding fathers didn't think it applied to everyone, but that's a topic for another day.) There's something freeing about accepting the accountability of your own happiness. You must focus on the things that you can control, and yes, they may be hard to change. Life can be hard, but it doesn't mean it has to be unhappy.
I've spent a fair amount of time lately thinking about work and how it relates to fun, happiness, enjoyment and other endeavors as they relate to puppies and rainbows. This is not a post about that. But I will take you back to the years immediately following college, when I thought life was all about being a big radio star.
I was fortunate enough to start working in commercial radio a little more than a year before I graduated, and with that headstart I was able to go full-time shortly after graduation, and in the market where I already lived, no less. By this time it was already obvious that the thing I enjoyed so much in college, and even part-time for money, was not very fun when I had to make a living at it. I went to government TV after that, which was fun for awhile, but I saw no clear future until I shifted into software. The lesson here is that sometimes, doing what's fun when it's your job can be less fun. To bring it full circle, I have a friend that is an attorney by day, and has a syndicated public radio show by day, and he loves it.
When I first started writing code as an adult, it was largely because I wanted to do interesting stuff with the Internet, and you had to do a little programming to make that work. It turns out that I really enjoyed it, and I was able to build a career out of it. All of that hobbyist effort trailed off over time, however. I recall by the time I was at Insurance.com in 2006, coding at a senior level and at a fairly high volume, I spent less time doing it for fun, on the side. After that job, it was up and down based on the position. The more "lead" and "manager" gigs I had, the less I would code in the job, but the more I would in my spare time. The last six years has been a season of coding between zero and 50% of the time, meaning my energy for the fun stuff has been higher. I've been at a consistent 0% now for eight months, and so the interest has increased.
Let me be clear that coding for fun and for money are not binary opposites. You can do both at the same time, but as with anything in life, it's not all fun, all of the time. I mean, even on vacation, you have to do stuff you would rather not (like buy sunscreen, wait in airports and deal with cab drivers), but it doesn't mean you can't enjoy the good parts. I do think that coding in a thoughtful and always-learning way has limitations, for everyone. I've seen the best get burned out and junior and mid-level people turn out crap in volume. My own experience is that I've only got so much bandwidth to give the craft.
Now that I've got more of that bandwidth, back in the all-manager realm again, probably to stay, this time, I want to devote more time to my open source project and modernize it. I think I'd even like to give hosted forums a try (because cloud), if only to make a few hundred bucks a month. Heck, I have a bunch of domain names that I could build into useful things, I just have to make some choices and stick to them.
Last year's contribution tracking on GitHub wasn't bad. You could see where I was between jobs, and then in December I made a ton of commits just around the effort of updating the forum app to the newer Bootstrap version. Lots of busy work, but if I get some of that out of the way I can do more interesting things. When I'm active, I actually see some pull requests happen. I'd like to make next year's graph greener.