04.28.14

On middle-age

Posted in personal at 12:35 am by wingerz

Today is my birthday and I am well into my adulthood. The past few years I’ve noticed my attitude towards things shift, especially as more and more overlap between dealings in personal and professional contexts overlap. A few things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Don’t take anything that’s important to you for granted. I feel extremely fortunate to be constantly surrounded by loved ones. Every day I am delighted to spend time with Jen and our kids. Thanks to Jen for being the foundation for everything good in my life.
  • Identify the right tradeoffs. In the past I think I’ve always been looking for a way to do it all, and I have gone into situations thinking that there would be some absolute best outcome. Over the past few years I’ve come to realize that it’s not so much about looking for the absolute best thing, it’s much more about identifying the important factors and trading those off against things that aren’t essential. It’s also about making a good decision with the (sometimes limited) information available. If you don’t know what you’re trading off by pursuing a path, then you probably aren’t aware of the entire situation. This applies in all sorts of contexts – obviously at work in engineering complex systems, but also at home. There aren’t people in the world who ‘have it all’ so much as people who know what makes them happy and seek it out above other things.
  • Build people and culture. Over the past few years I’ve read a lot of parenting books and management books. The ones that resonate the most are generally about putting people in good situations, trusting them, giving them autonomy (including the freedom to make mistakes), and supporting them wholeheartedly. Channel the best parts of human nature – love, generosity, curiosity, and creativity. Creating a strong culture and value system makes that possible, especially when you can’t oversee every decision (because who wants to do that?).
  • Luck and execution both matter to success. Somehow, despite highly valuing both of these things I’ve underestimated both of their impacts. Every success story requires ‘being in the right place at the right time,’ no individual has the power to manipulate the environment to the extent required to set up these situations. But that’s not enough, once someone’s in that situation it’s up to her to execute, which can only be done reliably well with discipline and mastery of craft.
  • Confidence is elusive. Impostor syndrome has been getting a lot of buzz lately; engineers may be predisposed to it, and engineering managers even more so. I think it’s only been in the last year or two that I’ve felt fully confident in my ability to lead a team, despite having done it for nearly half of my career. I’m not sure what would have gotten me there sooner, maybe fewer people telling me that I was smart when I was growing up.

Other random tidbits:

  • Take care of yourself. Sleep, eat well, exercise.
  • Wake up at the same time every day.
  • Take care of your personal finances.
  • Don’t skimp on spending when it comes to the things you use frequently.
  • Travel before you have kids.
  • Life’s best and most basic pleasure: good food with friends and family.