A while back I wrote how there are no guarantees on how long we have. I was recently reminded of this painfully. A good friend passed away. Not an old sick woman, but a vibrant, healthy lady barely entering middle age. Had a headache, was in the hospital that night, and cut off life support two days later. With a very young daughter.
What do you tell someone who will never really get to know her mom? I can tell her:
- Your mom understood what I wrote in that post. Every day I talked to her she lived that day.
- Your mom made some of the best cafe we had at work.
- You mom was always willing to go out and try a weird new restaurant only I would come up with.
- Your mom talked about you incessantly. Once you were born. not a day went by when I would not hear some story about you.
- Your mom loved special peanuts — “Japoneses” — coated in a hard shell imported from Brasil. She was always scared she would run out of them before the next shipment.
- Your mom shared those peanuts generously with everyone who stopped by her desk.
- Your mom had a sharp sarcastic wit which could capture my attention anytime we talked.
- Your mom was a hard worker, often coming in one day on her Christmas break to cut the final checks of the year.
- Your mom made me laugh after a week when I had quit the job where we both worked. I was under the stress of a new position and I receive an email from her, “Ok, the joke’s over. Come back now.”
- Your mom called me several times after that, showing me how good it was and how easy it was not to lose contact with good friends.
- Your mom made my life much richer for knowing her.
- Your mom…I will miss her, but one thing I can leave you with is that she enjoyed life while she had it.
This was the first time I’d worked in philanthropy and It makes for a very different view of business. At one level, it’s very similar to a for profit business. You have IT. Accounting. Administration. HR. Office maintenance. People have jobs they come to in the morning and families they come home to at night. You make friends. You make enemies. You have quiet times You have time when you think all the time in the world is not enough for what you need to do.
But at another level it’s very different in that the business mission is “to do good”. It’s very fulfilling to work towards “doing good” as opposed to “sell more cars”. And it’s not easy. You would think it would be easy to give away money. But it’s actually very hard to give away money _well_. You are entrusted with someone else’s money and you have to to a good job giving it away. No, you’re supposed to do a great job of giving it away. If you give it away and find it didn’t do any good, you failed at your job. If you give it away and it does good, but could have done better elsewhere, then you could have done a better job. And it’s damn hard to measure “good” in any quantitative way.
This makes for a very interesting group of people to work with. In my case I was lucky to work with some of the smartest people I’ve known in my life. Philanthopries are interesting, Knight was fascinating.
But in my heart I’m a software developer through and through. I’ve been doing it since they invented dirt and in all those year have never gotten bored of it. Like many organizations, Knight is using more off the shelf software these days for internal use. And that’s an excellent fit for the organization. We had a older grants management system around which we had to write software to get the functionality we needed. Now we’re moving to an open source grant management system which works at a level the older enhanced system could only dream of. Absolutely the right choice for the organization. But a large chunk of the software I work disappears right there.
I also wrote a great deal of software in the first three years I was there. Most of that software worked excellently and was well designed. The result for the organization is great. The result for me is that now I do more configuring to prepare for the new year than developing new software.
The other challenge is that IT organization in philanthropies tend to be small to non existent. Our entire IT staff is four and a half people. And some of those people have active responsibilities in generating technical grants. I _am_ the programming department. I love the independence. I can say “I want to move to Visual Studio 2012″ and start right then and there. But what I don’t have is other programmers around me. I don’t have someone working with me side-by-side writing a new system. I don’t have someone who I can ask to grab a cup of coffee and follow me to the whiteboard to sketch out one of my crazy ideas.
And so I move on to my next gig, but Knight will always have a special spot in my heart.
Every so often in my professional life I encounter a situation where someone asks me “are you leaving?” or “are you considering leaving?”. I lump this question along with “do I look fat?”. I arduously not-answer it. Why?
If I am not considering leaving…
…and I say I am considering leaving, that just doesn’t make sense unless I’m sadistic toward coworkers or just looking to create angst.
…and I say I am not considering leaving, then that leaves me open at a future time when I am considering leaving to have to lie, or face the consequences of admitting I am leaving, or revealing that I am leaving because I can’t answer “no” like all the other times I’ve been asked.
If I am considering leaving…
…and I say I am considering leaving, I am going to create angst.
…and I say I am not considering leaving, I’m forced into a lie.
None of those four are desirable. The only answer for me is a non-answer — to explain to the person asking, however close to me, the reasons above and that I am, as always, giving the non-answer.
What about being fair? About giving people a chance to pick up what you know? About getting all your work affairs in order?
That’s not for some final rush. That’s something you should be aware off every day. Are you the only one that know something? Discuss it with another. Some piece of software in a mess? Mod it to be implementable, even if some functionality is missing. Worried about some decision you took is selecting hardware/software/algorithm/strategy/…? Think about that beforehand, before you create a situation that only you can manage.
And keep your mouth shut.
A long time ago (late 60′s) in a land far, far away (Spanish Harlem), my aunt made…Mermelada de Tomate (Tomato Marmalade)! No one really liked it, but I was intrigued and fell in love with it. When I asked my aunt many years later, she said she had tried a recipe at whim but did not have the recipe not remember the procedure.
I once found a canned version by Conchita, whose products I normally like, and tried it excitedly, only to throw it out as is was vile. This was obviously one of those things you had to make at home.
Lately, with some help from a good friend Christina (http://lacocinadechristina.blogspot.com) I’ve been experimenting and think I’ve come close to the memory. She had not heard of it but suggested:
Do you think it was fresh tomatoes with sugar? If so, try a two cup tomato to one cup sugar ratio. Place in a sauce pot and cook over low for two hours. That’s how I do the mango mermelada. Let me know.
My first thought was “No way, too simple”. For the first hour and a half I was sure it was a distaster, looking more like chunky tomato soup rather than anything I would have for desert. But the last half hour magic happened and it changed consistency and color and started resembling my memories.
This morning while I was walking to the bus stop I heard a car honking loudly behind me and turned to look. In a split second I clearly saw a car going by about ten feet behind me with a tiny ball of brown fur tumbling wildly as it disappeared underneath the front of the car. It was such a bad image I couldn’t do anything but close my eyes.
It took me a few seconds to recover but I knew I had to look no matter how bad it was on the off chance the dog had survived and needed help. I was shocked to see a little chiguagua running away from the scene as fast as it legs could carry it. If the dog had jumped the curb a half second sooner or later, or had run just a bit faster or slower, or the driver had swerved in either direction, the dog would have been struck by a wheel. But instead it went right down the middle of the car between the wheels. I could not believe the dog had survived and watched it run all the way down the street to make sure it didn’t’ suddenly drop dead right in the middle of it’s run.
Afterwards, waiting for the bus, I thought how tenuous life is. I know it intellectually. Yet as I ride the bus, I certainly expect to ride back home later in the day. I know I’ll die someday, but I go through today feeling pretty cocky that it’s not today. But there’s no real guarantee. None at all.
And so I look at this day a bit differently than I do a normal work day. I don’t feel quite as cocky as most days. While I don’t think today is “it”, I do look at my plans for the day. I do realize that while it’s unlikely, it’s not impossible that I may not see tomorrow. And it’s not a depressing view of life. It’s a positive introspection. To realize that the amount of life I have left it undeterminable, and I should use it as such.
I also thought today that the dog’s owner also would not have expected the dog’s life to be over. They would have expected the dog to be back as it came back every day. And yet they had no more guarantee that the dog would be around than the dog did. So I’m thinking not only do I need to live knowing that I have no idea how long I’ll be around for, but that I have no idea how long the people I love will be around for. I think I need to make some dates today to have coffee with good friends.
Life is uncertain. Eat desert first.
I attended the American Sandsculpting Championship at Fort Meyers Beach and was really blown away by the works. I had expected some nice sand castles with flourishes. But what I got were sculptures taller than me that often looked like stone and seemed impossible to execute in sand.
The rules are that the artists are allowed only sand, water, and tools to build the works. So no internal framework, no supporting members, and no glue (though I understand they are sprayed with a diluted glue mixture AFTER completion to hold them against the elements for viewing and judging).
Turns out that Fort Meyers Beach is one of the premier location for sand sculpting. Many beaches have sand which is composed of coarse roundish grains. Much of the sand on the Florida West Coast is very fine and powdery which is easy to see. What’s not so obvious is that the grains are more angular and this combined with the small size makes the sand much more cohesive and perfect for building and sculpting.
Official Site: http://sandsculptingfestival.com/
More of my pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/asantaballa/sets/72157625881886039/show/
Regina Brett was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. A columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, she wrote a column entitled “50 Life Lessons” in 2006. This has become the most widely distributed column she’s had to date and reading it, it is easy to see why. It’s a wonderful combination of pith, common sense and wisdom that can speak to us all. It came to me at a particularly weak moment and immediately captured my attention so I’d like to share it with you.
Originally published in The Plain Dealer on Sunday, May 28, 2006
To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me.
It is the most-requested column I’ve ever written. My odometer rolls over to 50 this week, so here’s an update:
1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.
16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.
17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.
18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.
19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: “In five years, will this matter?”
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.
35. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
36. Growing old beats the alternative – dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.
38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
41. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
42. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
45. The best is yet to come.
46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
48. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
50. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.