On Focus

Focus is hard for me.

I don’t mean focusing on one thing at a time in the moment. Rather, I’m bad at focusing on one project at a time. I’ve stretched myself too thin for as long as I can remember by happily starting new projects in a moment of excitement, only to find those projects become a mental burden. I’m an excellent starter, and a terrible finisher.

One data point to illustrate: This website has 38 partially drafted blog posts saved, dating back to  2012.

Another: At this moment I have five different personal projects in progress where I’ve actively invested time in the past six months, none of them near completion.

Never let me volunteer to videotape your wedding. I’m ashamed to admit that over a decade ago I shot two weddings for friends who are still waiting for me to finish in post production. That’s ridiculous! I’m a monster!

For most of Rocket Lift’s history, I’ve let my lack of focus affect the company as well. It’s been a major problem.

Websites? Yes, that’s “what we do”.

You need video production? Hey, we do that too!

Reinventing shared hosting? We have pages and pages of documentation on our thoughts and plans for how to build a better system than exists, because obviously we were the best people to tackle that.

Sustainable food startup ventures? That’s my enduring passion in life so we spun our wheels in that direction a lot, too.

You need someone to turn around your startup’s website that’s going south? How can we help!

Naturally we sucked at all of it. I mean, we were decent at some of it, but we hadn’t set ourselves up for greatness, nor doing even the basically good work we were capable of.

We had high switching costs, jumping from one service to another. There were too many skills to keep up to date with and we did worse at that than we admitted to ourselves. We were never able to benefit from systematizing sales processes (or any processes), because it was different for each service. For too long, we lived with the mediocrity that came from my compulsion to try doing everything at once.

Way back in 2012, we had a team meeting where we debated the merits of everything we did, asking what we could cut in order to go deeper into whatever remained. I don’t recall exactly how many things we considered, but it must have been at least a dozen or more. It was far from a natural process for me — it was painful — but we were able to whittle it down significantly to around 3 or 4 I think, and I recall feeling a lot of self-congratulation over that. Ha!

It was desperation that brought us to that point. There was always too much stress, never enough money. It was awkward whenever someone asked what we did and it took us five minutes to answer.

I also grew tired of being in an industry where plenty of our peers were doing amazing things, serving enviable clients, living quite comfortably, and preaching an abundance mentality — while we struggled.

At that point, I was fed up with the consequences of my own denial, and admitting that we had a problem was easy. Yes, we had a problem.

And actually it was me. I had the problem.

I have the problem.

Rationally, I know that trying to do everything simultaneously is impossible. Obviously. But my tendency to take everything on has been a lifelong character flaw — my Achilles heel.  It’s like a kind of insanity I’ve been unable to shake.

Looking back over the years, I recognize several moments where I thought I was focusing, but really I was just ratcheting in my expectations for what was a reasonable number of foci. (‘Foci’ is a plural of focus. Or course I know this.)

That meeting in 2012 was one of many. Each time, it was painful to let go of things, so we only let go of one or two, instead of letting go of all but one as we should have. It would have been easier in the long run to rip the bandaid off all at once, and truly focus on One Thing. But I didn’t.

Where does this come from?

Well, there’s fear of commitment. This was justified to some extent. New business has rarely come easily for Rocket Lift, so I wanted to keep our options open, to do whatever sort of work came along. But I didn’t see this for what it was, a self-reinforcing cycle: Lack of opportunity, led to lack of focus, led to lack of quality, led to lack of opportunity. I didn’t trust to the magic of abundance mentality.

Also, being overwhelmed has (bizarrely) been my comfort zone, and being focused is outside of that zone. Being overwhelmed is what I know, and so there’s something scary to me about feeling I have a sustainable work load.

But, focus is a discipline I didn’t have. No discipline is joyful. Focusing is painful. That’s actually a paraphrase of Hebrews 12:11, a passage I have so cherished that I’ve internalized it over the last 15 years, and had to look up to remind myself where it came from. Here’s the thing, though: I completely missed the point of it until recently. I used to think that my experience with focus being painful was something I experienced especially, like that was a particular part of my own personality. I imagined that focus was easier for other people, that somehow its difficulty for me meant that I could be excused from it and from the truth that I have only one life to live, with scarce time and resources to use. It excused me from the discipline of focus.

That leads me to conclude that the root of this problem has simply been a lack of maturity, which I struggle with even today. I’ve lived in denial of the basic fact of adult life that you can only do so much as one person, or even as one group of people. That’s true for you, and that’s true for me.

So note to self: Knock it off.

 

So 2014 Happened

Although I published Goals for 2013, I didn’t bother reflecting on them at the end of the year, nor writing a Goals for 2014 post. What might I have said?

I would have reflected that setting goals is easy, and meeting them is hard. I missed achieving most of the ones I set, and was too embarrassed to call attention to it with a review — I figured it was clear enough to anyone paying attention. I wanted to get better at doing more, and figured I could stand to say less.

In retrospect, I’m glad I had that perspective. It didn’t hurt to be humbled, a bit. I worked harder to prove — to myself — that my word mattered for something. And I lived well in the following year, like I hadn’t in a very long time.

Portland

This time last year, I was excited that Catherine and I had just moved out of our parents’ places and in together in Southeast Portland. It was three days after Christmas! We were insane! But we were tremendously excited.

Here’s what I remember fondly from our time at the place on SE Tibbetts:

Hosting the Rocket Lift team for our annual meeting with Scott and Teresa mere days after moving in. Our office with its poor view of the parking lot, standing desk, reclining chair, and cat tower. The day I was distracted by a three story high geyser in the street that went for fifteen minutes before a Portland Water crew made it worse before making it better. Many productive conversations with colleagues Mike, Amanda, Shenoa, and Bridget, and our clients Jed and Ronda. Cigars, whiskey, and my self for company on our scrap of a back porch to decompress after long weeks.

Snowpocalypse 2014 in early February, when we were all shut in, comfortable, and content. Walks in the snow to coffee. Walks in the snow at night. The glowing gray dark, the silence, the love.

My hilariously small bedroom “man closet” and Catherine’s generously large one. Our queen bed. (God, we miss it.) Candles and books. Being woken nightly by the asshole Harley neighbor on his way to the graveyard shift. The night we were woken by running and clattering out our window, followed by screaming sirens way too close, at which we jumped up on the bed to look out from our second story to see two fugitives dive with their clattering backpacks into our bushes right below to evade another patrol car screaming by, and I called 911, heart pounding, only to learn moments later from one of the many cops now on foot with flashlights that they were wanted for graffiti tagging. It was their rattle cans we heard clattering. We went to bed laughing and silently cheering the fugitives, wishing we’d kept out of it, still amazed at the excitement.

Our couldn’t-be-unhappier out-of-work neighbor on one one side, with the “Warning! Scary Atheists Inside!” sign on the door, who was fun to talk with in spite of himself. Our couldn’t-be-friendlier stoner tribe on the other side, with their dogs Apollo and Fox (small, red, cat-like), who occasionally knocked on the door to borrow cooking supplies and always thanked us in baked goods. Our manager Diane with her blessedly lackadaisical approach and awkward sense of humor, who made us feel we’d be missed when we left.

Catherine’s massage work at three different places, and her evolving relationship to the work. Her back pain. Our happiness working together at Rocket Lift and on our side projects.

Many happy meals we cooked together. Trips to Winco and TJ’s. Wanting every spice from Penzey’s. Gluten free cup cakes and the bulk section at People’s Food Co-op, one block over. Brining a turkey that was too salty, then procrastinating on wrapping up the second brining attempt so I had to throw the whole bird out. Learning to make game hens and steaks the Mark Bittman way, coconut creme cups, buffalo wings, my own Pok Pok wings (sadly lacking, I’m afraid). Crock pot meals. Homemade sushi for Valentine’s.

Deepening our community with Jayne and Dave, learning a great deal from them and relying on them for all kinds of support. Many lovely evenings with Molly and Zach. Really meaning to spend time with Trisha, Aaron, and Aurora, but missing out. Reunions with Ben, Jennifer and Jacob, Andy and Jess. Enjoying cable for the World Cup with Erik, Peter, and Mont Chris. Soaking up business and travel stories from neighbors Kenn and Sarai while enjoying a few of their damn fine cocktails, and taking turns cat sitting. Reconnecting with Mike, who remains as soulful as he is witty, and is one lucky bastard tricking Susan into marrying him. Their wedding at the Crystal.

Outings to favorite places: ¿Por Qué No?, The Matador, Le Bistro Montage, Fire on the Mountain, Ahi Sushi (which I’m quite sorry to learn is closed), Sok Sab Bai, Jade Tea House, Circa 33, Ford Food and Drink, and Clinton Street Coffee. Haircuts with whiskey at Modern Man. Discovering the wonder of Guardian Games too late to enjoy much, which was good for my pocket.

Watching Timbers games at 4-4-2, which was too crowded, before finding Blitz Sports Bar, with their lovely couches, waitresses, and table-sized nachos. Their tachos — which are tater tot nachos and yes that’s as delicious and regretful later as you imagine.

Flea-bombing our place while working in a tent on the back porch with the cats.

Carrie and Fred on location at People’s for a Portlandia shoot. Watching from across the street, noticing how young, skinny, and hip was their crew.

My brother helping us move in (along with Ben, parents, Russ, David, and others — thank you!) and my brother helping us move out again (along with Jayne and parents) — even painting. Downsizing when we moved in, and more when we moved out. Acquiring a piano and then finding a new home for it.

We were as happy in that place as we could’ve been, given the weather. There’s plenty to miss, most especially our friends.

Denver

I would’ve declared a goal of becoming a traveler at the beginning of the year, but we didn’t have much of a plan for it. That was the exact situation as the year before, and my travel goals didn’t pan out. I’d learned to wait to declare goals publicly until having at least some idea of how it could happen.

But it happened! We’d been gathering digital nomadism knowhow for a year and a half. Suddenly we also had the means, thanks to a generous family gift. Our lease was month to month. We could take our jobs with us. “Why not now!” we said, and took our modest first step in Denver. This was the Great Success of 2014.

I need to write more reflections on Denver, and I will. For now, a few highlights must suffice, which included: Lots of time with Brother Dan, and his domestic partner Matt, and Matt’s “girlfriend Vera”, who turned out to be nonfictional in the end. Reconnecting with Haley and Joe, meeting the most beautiful, delightful child (their Oliver), and befriending their wonderful community. A double date in Boulder with Keith and Alisha that came much too late — we would’ve spent a lot more time if we’d realized how much fun we’d have together. Our wonderful Airbnb place with our wonderful landlady Molly. Camping in Poudre Canyon and at Railroad Bridge. Salsa dancing, with our sizzling instructors Mercy and Julie, the regulars and our waitress Erika at ¿Qué Bueno?, and new friends Emily and Aaron. The Central Denver Public Library with its amazing 5th floor reading room. Friendsgiving. Lunch with philosopher-author Peter, and WordPress business veteran Alex — two people I greatly respect. The blessed sunshine, which was everything we Portlanders needed it to be.

Those two and a half months in Denver were I think the happiest I’ve had in my whole life. Catherine feels the same. We will be back in Denver, and for a longer time. It’s just a question of when.

Portland (and Southern California) for the Holidays

Since Thanksgiving, we’ve been back in Portland (well, Oregon City), staying with Catherine’s dad and stepmother Art and Elaine. This is still too current to look back on, so I’ll keep this brief. Four things stand out: First, the difficulty of Portland’s winter gloom is a very present and poignant fact of life for us here. Second, we escaped for a wonderful 10 days to Southern California for Catherine’s family Christmas, a cousin’s beautiful wedding, and visits with good friends. Third, we really love Christmas. Finally, of course it’s been really great to see our many friends and family.

Four Fictions

There was one goal I set for 2014, privately: to re-read four of my life-long favorite fictions. We had these four series’ displayed on a special shelf of honor in our Southeast Portland living room. I figured if they deserved that, they deserved my attention again. I would re-evaluate them with a 30-something’s perspective. I split this project into quarters of the year:

January through March was Harry Potter, which Lina and I had (can I say adorably?) read aloud to each other seven years ago, and I had loved. I totaled the sum of all seven books’ pages, divided by 90 days, and kept track with a bookmark each day of where I needed to be to stay on track — a habit I continued for the other series throughout the year. This worked: I finished a bit early. And I loved the books all over again. I don’t need to re-read HP for a while, but I expect to enjoy them again when I do, perhaps in another seven years.

April through June was for The Chronicles of Narnia, which I proudly read as a second grader (“above my reading level!”). I could barely recall them, and was curious to see how I would find the overt Christian allegory. I found it, well, beautiful. The culmination is unexpectedly artistic and mystical (far from dogmatic), and is now my favorite depiction of heaven and the Kingdom of God. C.S. Lewis is my kind of Christian. I highly recommend Narnia to anyone with an interest in Christianity.

July through September was for His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman. I devoured this trilogy in a fever in my twenties, and credited it with blowing open my notion of the possible conceptions of our relationship to God. I thought this would be an hilarious follow-up to C.S. Lewis (I still think it was). I knew I’d love re-reading them, but I was beginning to forget the details of the story, and was ready to remember. The biggest detail I forgot: How heartbreaking the ending for Will and for Lyra! This series is understandably controversial in some religious communities, but I can’t recommend it more highly, most especially to people who enjoy entertaining dangerous, empowering thoughts.

I saved The Lord of the Rings for last, because thanks to Peter Jackson’s film release schedule, I now associate them with the holidays. I was scheduled to begin The Fellowship of the Ring in October, and see Frodo off to the Grey Havens before January first. But I got ahead of my schedule with Narnia and Dark Materials, so I began this series in September, and finished before November. And, wow! These are so great. When I read them in high school, I was impressed, but often found them tedious. I credit the films for instilling in me a deep love for this story, and for preparing me to love the books. This time, I was blown away by the detail and intricacy. These may be my new favorite books, period.

I finished this goal two plus months ahead of schedule, demonstrating perhaps that the fun goals are the easy ones to hit. Left with extra time, I challenged myself to sneak in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy by the end of the year. Not a favorite per se, but I had started in high school, enjoyed them, and never finished. On January 1st I had finished all but 200 of their two thousand and some odd pages.

Other Highlights

The bad:

  • Robin Williams’ suicide.
  • 2014 felt like a particularly difficult year for my culture at large, with #NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen, #GamerGate (hashtags and their sudden cultural relevance are annoying), trolling as sport, the tech industry’s struggle with sexism, Trayvon Martin, and Ferguson. This was a year of becoming aware of things being worse than they had seemed.

Neutral:

  • I wrapped up my involvement at church with The Saturday Service Service after we didn’t get much traction. It was good to put all the time and effort in over the previous year, and good to step away again after being so involved. It was a spiritual growth experience, all in all.
  • While we were in Denver, my grandmother transitioned into an adult foster home. I wish I could’ve around available to help, and support her and the family more. I’m glad Grandma seems so happy where she is now.

The good:

  • Rocket Lift, now going on 4 years old, broke even this year.
  • I became a WordPress core contributor, with credit for the 4.0 release cycle.
  • BeachPress 2.0 was awesome.
  • WordCamp Seattle
  • I started learning Spanish with DuoLingo.
  • I started writing (almost) daily.
  • Sharing DMB at the Gorge with not just brother, but with my parents and Catherine as well.

Looking Ahead

Most of what happened for me personally was good, and most of it didn’t seem possible a year ago. So, I’ve learned to set fewer goals, but to dream just as big and put more effort into making actual plans. One foot in front of the other. I’m thinking of my goals for 2015, which I’ll post in a few days, as seeds to plant rather than achievements to check off.

This post is part of the thread: Annual Goals and Review – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

Books in demand, January 2014

I recently combined households, and schlepped several boxes of books to Powell’s to sell, which provided some interesting insights into what’s popular.

Not in demand, according to Powell’s: Lord of the Rings. Twilight. Most lit from the ’30s through the ’00s. Most four year old programming texts (covering iOS, Cocoa, Objective-C, .Net, and JavaScript).

In demand, according to Powell’s: The Silmarillion. Harry Potter. Hemingway. WordPress programming texts (even four year old ones!).

Originally published in less than 320 characters on Twitter:

On Becoming a Knight

“If I were to be made a knight,” said the Wart*, staring dreamily into the fire, “I should insist on doing my vigil by myself, as Hob does with his hawks, and I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it.”

“That would be extremely presumptuous of you,” said Merlyn, “and you would be conquered, and you would suffer for it.”

“I shouldn’t mind.”

“Wouldn’t you? Wait till it happens and see.”

“Why do people not think, when they are grown up, as I do when I am young?”

“Oh dear,” said Merlyn**. “You are making me feel confused. Suppose you wait till you are grown up and know the reason?”

“I don’t think that is an answer at all,” replied the Wart, justly.

Merlyn wrung his hands.

“Well anyway,” he said, “suppose they did not let you stand against all the evil in the world?”

“I could ask,” said the Wart.

“You could ask,” repeated Merlyn.

He thrust the end of his beard into his mouth, stared tragically at the fire, and began to munch it fiercly.

From T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. One of my very favorites.

* Arthur, before pulling the sword from the stone and becoming King

** who ages backward through time, and is often confused about the sequence of events in others’ lives.

High Profile Doctor Speaks Truth

Dr. Sanjay Gupta:

I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”

They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works.

Yes.

Full article here.

The arrow that springs from the bow

“All my life, I have had doubts about who I am, where I belong. Now I’m like the arrow that springs from the bow. No hesitation, no doubts. The path is clear.”

— Jeffrey Sinclair, Babylon 5

(Migrated away from rocketlift.com because exciting things are about to happen there but this just didn’t belong.)