Overcoming (Software) Prejudice

I recently bought a new computer and I needed to setup my web development tools. One of the pitfalls of modern web design is that there are so many open source tools installed through so many different terminal commands. I couldn’t remember which tools were gems, npm, gulp, grunt, git, sass, compass, breakpoint, minify. I’m sure other developers don’t have this problem.

While bemoaning my frustrations to anyone who would listen (mainly myself), I noticed the Dw icon sitting in my dock. “I wonder what the latest Dreamweaver does?” asked a befuddled self, obviously looking for an easy solution. After a spending a few moments reading specs for Dreamweaver 2017, I thought I’d spin it up and take it for a drive.

Several hours later, I had a basic site built using Dreamweaver to transpile my Sass files to CSS and even tried Bourbon and Bourbon Neat (pretty cool grid framework). The Developer tools in Dreamweaver were comparable to what I was using before and I felt that it was time well spent.

The moral of the story

For years I avoided Dreamweaver. In fact, I despised it. I was prejudiced against the software. Somewhere along my web development journey, I labeled the software as inadequate (probably because of the popularity of WYSIWYG tools in the late 1990s and early 2000s). But Adobe kept refining and building up the program into the competitive package of tools it is today.

In rediscovering Dreamweaver and overcoming my software prejudice, I not only have a robust development tool for the websites I build, but also a software package that I know my students can use to design and develop their websites. A win-win situation.

Taking The Time, Doing It Right

When asking questions and seeking answers, I often find myself wanting to rush to the end so that I can move on to what’s next. I’ve done this in every stage of my life; every milestone in some way was rushed. The results weren’t always bad, but the habit was formed.

I know when I am rushing through life. I’m not spending time with friends. I’m not building the dreams I have. I’m toiling in the grind of rushing from moment to moment. It’s exhausting and nothing reveals the point of balance my life rests upon more than when things go wrong. The facade of success I have built crumbles. My mask shifts revealing who I am: a scared man that’s making it up as I go along.

As I reflect upon my desire to rush through life, I remind myself what it is I want. But instead of staying in that place of self reflection, I must weigh it against the needs of my family and community. I must do the things I don’t want to do, because I am able to do them. I may not like them, I may despise them, but I am able. There may be a time when I no longer have to do those things, but today is not that day. I try to rush through them, but the faster I go, the more impatient I get.

When I hit pause, reflect, and allow myself time to breathe—in both the good and in the bad—I realize that I have been shortchanging myself for a long time. My impatience has got the best of me.

It’s time to do it right. To go deeper, in both skills and relationships.

But that takes time. It takes commitment.

It cannot be rush.

What am I going to miss?

As 2016 draws to a close, the hot topic seems to be about social networks and their impact on the world. Recently, I have been toying with leaving Facebook. Not for political reasons or because of a lack of privacy, but because I don’t like how I feel after spending time on the social network. I feel that I have wasted time. I feel that I have seen a side of my acquaintances I didn’t really want to see. I feel further away from my friends.

As I thought about leaving Facebook, I worried about what I was going to miss out on. I worried that people wouldn’t be able to find out about the work I was doing. I worried that the videos I created wouldn’t be sharable anymore. I worried that my friends and I wouldn’t connect anymore.

Then I hit the button. All of those feelings were replaced with logical responses.

What am I going to miss out on? Friends and family will have to connect in new ways through text, phone, or face-to-face. I’ll have to actually go to family events or parties, instead of living vicariously through Facebook, if I want to participate.

How will people found out about my work? Facebook is not the only place to learn about me. I haven’t left social, I have a newsletter, and I have a public email address. Yes, I won’t be found on Facebook, but 99.9% of my work the past 10 years was not discovered there. Only a handful of videos really found an audience on Facebook. But those videos are in multiple places, not just Facebook. I’m okay with that.

Will my friends and I connect anymore? We never really connected on Facebook. Sure we had small conversations, but we didn’t go deep. And that is something that is valuable to me. My friends and I will need to connect in person or on the phone when it’s time.

It’s weird how addicted to Facebook I got. It was hard to say no, to turn it off, to think I was going to miss out on something. Ultimately, I became a junkie, looking for my next fix. Perhaps it is time for me to go to Social Media Anonymous?

 

Who Is Your Competition?

As part of this year’s Design Week Portland, I dropped by several design agencies and film/animation studios in SE Portland. The level of professionalism and quality of work was off the charts. In one building alone, I visited over five studios that all looked and felt different. They all had their own identity. It seemed from the outsider’s perspective they had it all figured out.

It is easy when in these spaces to start comparing yourself to what you are seeing and experiencing and immediately discount yourself as anything but a hack.

But after I calmed down, I came to the realization: they aren’t my competition. The competition is in my head. I am competing against an ideal construct in my mind of what success looks and feels like.

What is the answer to this problem?

Work.

Every business book essentially boils down to the same wisdom. If you want to compete, you need to differentiate yourself from your competition. But this can be a trap and distract you from actually working.

As artists and creative professionals, they only way to compete is to create. The only way to differentiate is to work.

Who are you competing with? Yourself and the mental barriers erected to prevent you from doing the one thing that will set you apart: your work.

Higher Standards

As an educator and life-long learner, I found these words in my introductory email so refreshing: “…as a member you are called to a higher standard.”

What does it mean to be called to a higher standard?

I must rise up to the challenge of learning and applying the knowledge presented.

The responsibility is on me to go beyond what I know to grow into what I can be.

Growing in the knowledge presented reflects upon the instructor as much as the student.

The standard is not the end, it only reveals what is next.

The Spirituality of Marketing and Cinema

“I think cinema resonates with a piece of our brain that is way, way in the back. Because the way you watch a movie is not the way we watch life. When you go to a mall, yes, you’re absorbing, subliminally, Drink Coke, and Buy this, and Buy that. But cinema is different because when you go to a theater, it’s like you are going to church. You sit in a pew, and you look at an altar, and the reception is completely different.” — Guillermo Del Toro, Cabinet of Curiosities

I’ve always been to some extent intrigued by spirituality. From religious icons and stories to the manipulation of senses in order to subvert the pulls of modern life.

As I read Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, I found the quote above that compared the spiritual and mythical nature of cinema to the realities of life and marketing and it got me thinking about the spirituality of marketing and how culturally our faith in the market and Capitalism has replaced our trust in the divine.

For some, marketing and advertising is their church. The temple in which they weave stories of redemption and sin. Instead of martyrs, saints, and sinners, we have products, services, and competition. “You have sinned,” if you use this brand. “Your life will change forever,” if you use this other brand. We have labeled the promise of eternal salvation as impossible and those who believe as childish. And yet, we label the smooth words of advertising as truth.

As marketing continues to take on the appearance of cinema in order to become more entertaining and to subvert the radar people have for an ad, will our brain in the “way, way back,” as del Toro writes, be rewired and repurposed for the greater good of selling vacuum cleaners and insurance? Will the worth of our individual lives be measured by how much we buy?

Marketing and the Death of Surprises

Why do movie trailers reveal everything?

Why did Fringe reveal that Leonard Nimoy was in the episode, so that you are expecting him at the pivotal moment at the end?

Why do TV showrunners let people know what’s going to happen to characters in advance?

Do we need to be told what is going to happen so that we watch?

Why can’t there be more mystery and surprise with modern media?

Some examples of shows and movies doing it right: The Leftovers on HBO. I have no idea where that show is going. It weekly surprises me and keeps me coming back, hoping for answers. Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens announced an enormous cast and has left many out of the trailers including Luke Skywalker (supposedly, there are a lot of wild fan theories).

Think about your own marketing. Are you creating room for surprise and mystery or are you just telling people what to expect?

The Value of Compounding Time

It is easy for me to measure the value of spending several hours at a time working on a project. These marathon sessions usually result in finished products. They are heroic in my eyes; epic and often necessary because I neglected the value of compounding time.

Let’s assume that a project takes 10 hours. There are two ways to approach this project: 1) Sit down and tackle the project all in a day; or 2) Work on the project for 2 hours a day for 5 days.

The procrastinator in me is used to tackling a project in a day. The end result is good. But it could be great if I valued the concept of compounding time.

Allowing myself the freedom of spending time to think about the project means that it will not be a by-product of a single gut reaction. Each day, something more will be revealed as I use my daily mental power to think through and solve problems.

Multiply this effect across multiple projects and the result is sustainability. Imagine finishing 5 projects in a week as opposed to burning out after two because the marathon sessions took a lot out of you?

This concept applies to not only time, but money and exercise. Is it better to save $10 a week without any problems? Or dramatically save $100/month, maybe, when the circumstances are right? Is it better to exercise every day for 10 minutes as opposed to waiting for the day when you can devote 30 minutes or even an hour?

Do the little things consistently and you’ll outperform the dramatically inconsistent over time. The tortoise and the hare.

Your Path Through Education

As an instructor at a community college teaching a variety of courses ranging from video production and multimedia to web design and development, I am often asked by students if the program they are studying will land them a job upon graduation. This is one of the most difficult questions for me to answer because on the surface the answer negates the work that I do as an instructor: your college degree does not guarantee a job and in some professions, such as those in the arts including web design and development, a college degree is given less weight than talent and ability.

Does this mean there is no value to college? There is still value in college and I’m not just saying that because I get paid to teach. The value is found in expanding your interests, fueling your passion, and being challenged by other students and instructors.

Expand Your Interests

The Internet has made it easier than ever to discover everything about anything. But with infinite options come the Sisyphean task of choosing the right interests and the associated fear those interests will not lead to a job or monetary gain. The result? People don’t choose and instead consume what is fed to them through the entertainment distribution channels of the Internet.

The benefit of college is to introduce students to topics they might not have discovered on their own. The best instructors connect information from multiple sources to the central theme of the course they teach. They provide an opportunity for students to discover the new in the old and to see the value in areas of study that are not directly related to their chosen profession.

The role of the instructor is to provide an environment where students can identify and connect to their passion and drive buried deep within.

Fuel Your Passion

There is a lot to be said about passion in both positive and negative terms. But the short- and long-term success of students is connected to their ability to identify and connect with their source of passion.

Passion helps you to look at college not with the lens of entitlement, but with the lens of opportunity. Homework becomes an opportunity to try something new instead of being yet another irrelevant set of tasks that prevent you from doing what you really want to do (which is the equivalent of my dog ate my homework).

By identifying your passion, you can go beyond the surface level of learning often provided by a curriculum and go deeper into the areas you really want to learn about.

An Opportunity to Be Challenged By Others

In the “real world” we often don’t get challenged to improve or take risks because of the fear of negative consequences. College should be a place to get challenged by others through direct feedback and observation. Being open and vulnerable to ask your fellow classmate or your instructor is key: How am I doing? How can I improve? Without this challenge, accountability vanishes and entitlement sneaks in. The A is demanded for effort, not results, and the reputation of collegiate study is diminished.

What if the true value of education is found in the statement, “I think you can do better”?

Can’t you do all this without college?

Yes. You can. If you are disciplined enough and have the humility to figure it out for yourself by asking a lot of questions of others. But most people, myself included, lack discipline and commitment.

I needed college to illuminate what I didn’t know and expose me to what could be. I needed to be held accountable and be told my work didn’t measure up. I needed college to teach me discipline.

College helped me to learn how to connect to others with differing beliefs. It exposed me to new ideas. It made me hungry to continually learn. It helped me to see the humanity in other people.

Yes, I have debt.

Yes, I have regrets.

But I would have those whether I went to college or not.

Doing Your Best

You can always do better.

But not because there are others better than you.

You can always do better because you are a work in progress.

In Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives, the authors write that each person is strong, capable, and that accomplishments are an “expression of inner conviction.”

You can always do better because you are not perfect. You never will be.

There is a yearning for the very best, the full potential that the coachee can experience. And when that connection ignites between today’s goal and life’s potential, the effect is transformative. . . . The accomplishment is a message about who the coachee can be. (Kimsey-House, Kimsey-House, Sandahl, & Whitworth, 2011, p. 7)

You can always do better because what you learn is useful for the future. It will be proof that you can do what you set out to do.

Only the fool will stop believing that he or she can no longer do better.