For the last three years I’ve been privileged to be involved with the Timpanogos Storytelling festival. (The Power Of Story) I’m also a member of Toastmasters Olympic Orators club. Yesterday I gave a speech about storytelling. It’s longer than my normal posts. And it’s more about my family than I normally share here.
Tomorrow I’ll return to posts about business and leadership. Today, let me just tell you a story.
The Stories Of Our Lives
Welcome. Madame Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, I’m happy to have the opportunity to speak to you today.
Stories not only describe our lives, they define them. We are here because at some level, we love stories. Stories predate literature. They probably predate language, although, it’s hard to say since there were no writers to record it for us.
Stories tie our societies together. They also tie us to our children and to our ancestors.
Did you know that when John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth was preparing for his mission on Gemini 6, that NASA didn’t think to include a camera? They didn’t have time to build a custom one so they went to a local drug store and bought an Ansco Autoset 35mm camera, manufactured by Minolta.
(Photo credit: collectiblend.com)
NASA was full of brilliant scientists, but they had not yet realized the value of storytellers.
Here is a picture that John Glenn took on that maiden flight with that drug store camera.
(Photo credit: abovetopsecret.com)
He noticed “fireflies” outside his capsule. He knew they weren’t actual fireflies, but that’s what they looked like. Later they were determined to be ice crystals coming off the spacecraft, but the world still, 50 years later knows, them as “Glenn’s fireflies.”
NASA learned, of course. By the time of the Apollo missions and the moon landing, NASA had figured out how to broadcast the entire thing live from 240,000 miles away. Anyone who was alive that day, 20 July 1969, can tell you the story of where they were when they heard and saw Neil Armstrong make that “one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.”
The storytelling continued as we pushed our boundaries out to Mars. The Mars rover Curiosity carries with it a very high quality camera, of course. And the rover has a way to calibrate its camera.
(Photo credit: space.com)
This photo shows the coin that the designers of Curiosity mounted near the camera calibration panel. It is dated 1909. What it does not reveal is what makes the penny particularly rare. On the obverse, or the back side of the coin, are the initials (“VDB”) for Victor David Brenner who was the sculptor who created this image.
Brenner’s initials were deemed to be too prominent, and were removed from subsequent mintings within days of the penny’s initial release back in 1909.
Ken Edgett, who bought the coin with his own funds, said that he selected the coin to continue a tradition that began on Earth.
“The penny is on the MAHLI calibration target as a tip of the hat to geologists’ informal practice of placing a coin or other object of known scale in their photographs,” Edgett, principal investigator with Malin Space Science Systems, said prior to Curiosity landing.
The penny was also symbolic.
“Everyone in the United States can recognize the penny and immediately know how big it is, and can compare that with the rover hardwarehttp://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/icon1.png and Mars materials in the same image,” Edgett said. “The public can watch for changes in the penny over the long term on Mars.”
NASA learned the value of telling a story.
Stories tie us together as a society.
Stories also tie us to our children.
My family has a tradition of storytelling. As many of you know, I have 13 children. Every year on their birthdays, they get to pick the menu. And after a meal of corndogs and macaroni and cheese is consumed with not a green vegetables in sight, my son or daughter will turn to either my lovely wife or me and say, “You tell my story.”
Earlier this month, my son had a birthday. And he directed that request to me.
I settled into my seat as the Boeing 777 lifted off from LAX in the early morning darkness. I was going to China. I was going to get my son.
We decided to adopt from China because our first adoption, was a boy of Asian descent. We didn’t want him to be the only adopted child who was Asian. So after a couple years when we felt it was time to expand our family again we looked to China. We were planning to adopt a little girl, because that’s what you get when you adopt from China, you get infant girls.
My lovely wife was looking through the list of waiting children on our agency’s website and saw a picture of a little boy, not quite two years old. She had the strong feeling as many adopted parents do that “this is my child.” But, it didn’t make sense. We already had two boys about that same age. But, the feeling wouldn’t go away.
As she was looking at his picture, our 6 year old daughter walked past the computer, “He’s cute. We should adopt him.”
When you adopt what’s called a “waiting child” it’s recommended that you send some things to the orphanage. We took pictures of our house, his new room, all the members of our family and a picture of my wife and me and put them into a book. In fact, we made two books. One to send and one to keep. We then had a friend write the names of each person in Chinese next to the picture. The other thing we sent was a blanket. You take a blanket, again we bought two, and you sleep with that blanket for several nights. Each of us has a smell. Babies learn the smell of their mothers simply by being held and fed. Sleeping with a blanket will give it your smell. We then sent one of the picture books and one of the blankets to china.
Months went by, full of home studies and paperwork. Visas and passports. Finally, the day arrived that resulted in me occupying a seat on a transpacific flight to China.
I touched down in the early morning hours. Several families were adopting kids all at the same time. We met our guide, Richard at the airport. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t his birth name since he was native Chinese. Everyone else was adopting from elsewhere in China, so all of them got on connecting flights. Richard then called for our car and drove me to our hotel, the world famous White Swan hotel. I checked in, showered, shaved (remembering not to drink the water) and then we headed for Shenz Zen. You have to travel through military checkpoints to move around in China. It was an interesting experience to literally have a man with a gun standing between me and my son.
Our papers were in order so we were waved through. Eventually we arrived at the orphanage. A big beautiful building with gleaming chrome exterior. I was escorted into a conference room where I met the orphanage director and many of the Aunties, the women who are the primary caregivers. After presenting each of them with a gift as is the custom, one of them left and returned shortly leading a little boy in a blue shirt and yellow shorts by the hand. He was holding a blanket and clutching a picture book.
When he saw me, he immediately came over and climbed up on my lap. He opened up the picture book to the picture of my lovely wife and me, pointed to my picture, looked up at me and with a big grin said, “Baba.”
It takes ten days in country to adopt from China. It was a magical time. Mostly, we were free every day to explore the city of Guangzhou. We would walk down the street hand in hand, this big white American and this small quiet Chinese boy. The shop keepers would ask, “Is a boy? Is good.” They showered my son with toys. I asked Richard if this was because boys are more desired in Chinese culture. “No, it’s because he is so cute.”
Finally, all the paperwork was done, and it was time to climb back on another airplane, this time with my son in tow and head back to the United States. We changed planes in LAX and completed the last leg home to Seattle. The terminal we landed in has a long hallway and then turns a sharp corner as you come out of the secured area. As we made that turn, my lovely wife was seated waiting for us. My son, let go of my hand, ran to her, climbed up on her lap, opened his picture book to our picture, pointed at her picture and said, “Mama.”
My son is now 14. He has heard that story every year for the past 12 years. And he never tires of it. He would rather skip the cake and presents at his birthday than skip the story.
Stories tie our children to us.
They also tie us to our ancestors. I had grown up hearing that my family, in fact, all the Bliss’ in America descended from a pair of brothers that fought in the Revolutionary War. About a year ago, thanks to the internet, I did some research. I call it research, I really went to a genealogy site, found my name and started clicking back. Eventually, I found a man named Captain Abdiel Bliss. Born in 1740 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. He fought at the battles of Lexington and Concord the day the war started. A month later he fought at Bunker Hill.
In my research I also discovered something called the Society of the Cincinnati. After the war was over, the officers of the continental army got together and formed a society. Membership was open only to officers who had been in the army. When they died, the membership slot was open to their oldest son. If the eldest son died without a son it went to the next oldest son and so on.
I thought, “I wonder who holds the spot for my ancestor?” The genealogy site allowed you to search both backwards to ancestors and forward to descendants. I started tracing the male descendants of Captain Bliss. One by one each male line petered out. And finally, I realized I was tracing MY line. My great grandfather had one son. My grandfather had one son. My father had 4 sons. My oldest brother had no children. My next oldest brother had two sons. My next oldest brother had 5 daughters, and then there was me with my five sons.
The rules of the Society of the Cincinnati said that if the rightful heir didn’t want membership they could grant it to someone else. Would my brother want that membership? I decided to do more research before I approached him.
I wrote to the Massachusetts chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati. I got a very polite, but very firm letter back saying that my ancestor was not a Revolutionary War officer and his descendants were therefore ineligible. Here was a mystery. This time I really did do some research, teasing out alternate spellings and looking at troop lists.
Eventually I got another letter from the Society. They had also done research and had come to the same realization that I had. Captain Abdiel Bliss was an officer in the War, but was not in the Continental Army. He was part of the militia. As such, he was ineligible. The person I was writing to said they were sorry. I wasn’t. Sure, he wasn’t in the Continental Army, but it was still pretty cool to realize that you are descended from one of the original Minute Men.
Stories tie us to our ancestors.
One more quick story.
As many of you undoubtedly know, the state of Utah was settled by Mormon pioneers. July 24th, 1847 Brigham Young led a group of men, women, children and 5 dogs into the valley. The names of those first pioneers are on a statue in downtown Salt Lake City and on a monument at “This Is The Place” park up Immigration Canyon.
(Photo credit: Deseret News)
One of those names is Thomas Woolsey, my great-great-great-grandfather. He was a member of the Mormon Battalion. He was the designated postman. He made the trip back and forth between the battalion and the saints as they made their way west. He was captured and escaped from Indians. He built the first permanent house in the Salt Lake valley. He died and is buried in Southern Utah.
My children, especially those who are adopted know that their family is descended from pioneers and revolutionaries. Stories tie the generations together.
But Rodney, MY family doesn’t have any of those exciting stories. I’ve never been to China and my ancestors didn’t fight in the Revolution or found Utah. I don’t have any stories.
Wrong. In years of telling and listening to stories, I’ve discovered what many people already know. Everyone has a story. Are you married? There’s got to be a story there. Are you not married but almost were at one point? That’s probably a better story. Do you have children? I defy anyone to spend a day with a young child and not come away with at least one interesting story. Do you have a favorite vacation? A favorite movie? A cherished book?
Because it’s not the setting of our stories that make them memorable, it’s the people we choose to populate them with.
My charge to you today is twofold. First, find your stories. Find your own personal stories, whether it is a trip to China, or the move to a new house, or the thrill of getting a new job. Find your stories and those of your ancestors: aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents. Search out and gather your stories.
And then, share them. If you have children, tell them to your children. Make sure they understand that you and they came from somewhere. That they are result of a long line of people who lived and breathed, loved and lost. Pirate or priest doesn’t really make much of a difference. Our history and our stories are what make us who we are.
These are the stories of our lives.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.
Do you have a service ticket open for this?
We really aren’t supposed to do any work without a ticket.
Yes, I understand. Now, I need you to remap VDN 55718 from skill 224 to 210. And I need you to do it right now.
In the 1965 movie “Battle of the Bulge,” the American general is being chased across France. He spends much of the first half of the movie retreating and protecting his soldiers and especially his tanks. He withdraws from encounter after encounter. He finally reaches a point where he realized the Germans are running out of fuel for their tanks. It becomes clear their objective is a supply debit and its gallons of fuel.
Gentleman, I’ve decided to commit my armor.
The general throws his tanks against the the German armor. The American tanks are inferior to the German tanks, and the battle goes the German’s way. Too late, The German commander realizes the American commander’s strategy. It was not to win the tank to tank conflict. Instead, by forcing the Germans to stop their advance and fight a battle, he forced them to use too much fuel. The Germans win the battle, but don’t have enough fuel left to take the supply depot.
The American Sherman tanks were no match. . .
(Photo Credit: National WWII Museum)
. . .for the German Tiger Tanks.
(Photo credit: totalwar.org)
I love that movie. It is in no way historically accurate. But, it illustrates an important business point:
You have a limited amount of political capital. Spend it wisely.
The conversation I quoted at the beginning really took place. I’m clearly being “pushy.” If I force them to complete my request, there will most likely be consequences. It will cost me political capital. Should I back off, create their ticket and wait to get my VDN switched? If I did, it would certainly build up my political capital.
Thanks guys, for explaining the process. I’ll be happy to get the ticket created and submitted to your queue.
I would be viewed as a “team player.” I would validate to the team I was working with that I respected their process and in turn they would respect me. It would build our relationship. And since a project manager gets most his success from the relationships he can build it would make sense for me to attempt to build good will. And most times I would do exactly that.
This wasn’t most times.
If we do this work without a ticket, and something goes wrong it will be escalated as a major incident.
If you don’t remap that VDN for me right now, this will be an major incident.
Well, if this really is a major incident we need to track agent downtime. How many agents are impacted?
I’m not going to call this a major incident at this time. I’m in the middle of a product launch and I’ve got 60 agents, a couple VPs, and a bunch of client VIPs who currently are waiting on this change. I need you to remap that VDN as soon as possible. I will create a ticket for this in a couple hours.
Okay, I guess.
Nope, he was not happy. And I knew it. And at that point I didn’t care. Actually, that’s not true. I did care. I just cared more about getting my product launched than I did his hurt feelings.
Your VDN is remapped. You should be able to use 210 now.
I paid for it. Next day I got an email from my boss.
Rodney, I received some feedback that we were a little pushy on getting the VDN remapped yesterday. Specifically it was called in as a Major Incident, and the impression left was that this was called in to cut corners.
I explained that the client made some last minute changes that prevented us from launching until we made the VDN changes. Every minute that we delayed meant that 60 agents were not taking calls. So we were losing an hour of billable time per minute of delay. The ten minutes it might have taken me to create a ticket and get it escalated would have represented a considerable amount of money. Not to mention the negative impression we would have with the client and VIPs as they sat and waited on me to finish the process. This was the point at which I was l was committing my armor.
I have some bridge building to do with the teams that I ran roughshod over. In fact, later that day I created the ticket they wanted. I reached out to the engineer who had done the work and thanked him.
It’s just that if I make an undocumented change and it causes a Major Incident, I’m the one they are going to blame.
I know. I also figure that if I ask an engineer to go out of process and it screws up, it’s my responsibility as the project manager to take the heat for that. I wouldn’t have left you hanging out to dry.
I rarely use this much political capital all at once. It takes a long time to build it back up. But, part of my job is to know when to make those compromises, to know when process needs to take a backseat to production, to know when to commit my armor.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.
I’d like to become a writer. But I don’t know how.
Well, yeah, of course. But, how to I learn what kind of stories people will want to read?
Okay, got that. But, how do I become better at figuring out what degree of detail to include in a blog post?
Right! Got that. I’m asking for some advice on the process of how to become a better writer. I realize it’s a journey, I just was hoping you could help me figure out how to get from here to there.
I published my first book in 1993. I was a coauthor on the WordPerfect 6.0 Superbook
This was the first book I had published, but it was not the first book I wrote. I wrote a book called WordPerfect Library Guide. Library was a product that included several DOS based utilities and a Shell program. (Sometimes You Just Get Lucky.) You won’t find the WordPerfect Library Guide online. It only existed on my hard drive. It shares a lot in common with my most recent book attempt, Microsoft Server 2012 Administration Fundamentals. And it’s not a happy association they share.
The conversation I quoted at the beginning is one that every writer has had. It sounds trite to answer nearly every question with the same answer, and it’s a slight exaggeration, but at its heart, it’s true: writers write. It’s what we do. If you only want to be a writer, but you don’t write, then you are not a writer. (But, you are in very good company!)
The difference between a writer and an author is that both write, but an author has actually had something published. When I started writing 20 years ago, that meant you had to convince a publisher. The beauty of technical writing is that you get paid in advance. With fiction, especially as a new author you have to write first, then get paid. . .hopefully.
Today, with the proliferation of self-publishing possibilities, the line between writer and author becomes more blurred. My friend Howard Tayler (www.schlockmercenary.com) self publishes. He sells thousands of books. He’s an author. I have friends who self publish and they’ve sold 5 copies. . all to family members. They are . . . less successful authors.
In my own writing, I’ve been inspired by several influences. First was my grandmother, Venda Castleberry. She was a writer, an English teacher, and pushed me to always get better. She took up writing late in life, and had the misfortune to be just starting to break into writing TV scripts when a writers strike hit Hollywood. She has published some items of Mormon literature. But, her life convinced me that it’s never too late to start a writing career.
Next, Ben Bova inspired me. Ben and I were friends years ago. He once told me,
I never had writers block. I couldn’t afford it. If I didn’t write, we didn’t eat.
I have not had the courage to put my family into a situation where my writing needed to support us. However, what I took from this statement was the idea that what many call writers block is something you can push through. Ben also told the story of going on a cruise with a bunch of writers.
Walking down the hallway at night you could hear the clicky-clak of everyone pecking away on their typewriters, except for Isaac Asimov’s door. Because Asimov wrote 10,000 words per day by hand.
I don’t approach Asimov’s output, but, this blog has convinced me that I can write content. Each entry is between 600 and 1200 words. There are over 416 posts. That’s more than 200,000 words. Generating content is not a problem. At least not when I get to pick my topic. (More on that in a minute.)
Finally, the western writer Louis L’Amour inspires me. His autobiography said,
I think of myself in the oral tradition–as a troubadour, a village tale-teller, the man in the shadows of a campfire.
Part of the reason I started writing this blog was to put down in words some of the crazy events that have happened over my years in IT. And over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself focused more on the story and less on the business lesson to be learned. From L’Amour I learned that it’s okay to want to tell stories. The world likes storytellers.
One of the other pieces of advice I got from reading Louis L’Amour was his comments on the writing process.
I could sit in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and write with my typewriter on my knees, temperamental I am not.
I’m not the writer that L’Amour was, of course, but I always admired that quote from him, because I wasn’t sure I could do it. There are many more people want to have written than want to write.
I wasn’t sure I could stick to a writing schedule. Patton Oswald remarked,
A lot of screenwriters are working on page 7 before they switch over to check facebook and quit.
I was worried that would be me. Since I started posting daily updates back in March of 2013, I haven’t miss a day. Not every entry has been Shakespeare, but I’ve been able to write. I’ve discovered that like L’Amour, I can write on the side of a road. I can write on airplanes. I can write in hotel rooms. I can write on camping trips. I can write a buffer so that I can be gone for a hiking trip and still update. I can write when I’m too tired to keep my eyes open. More than once I’ve fallen asleep on my keyboard and woken up to a screen full of
But, not every writing project has been successful. I’ve failed miserably at two of them.
First, my very first book. I was so excited to get a contract, that I didn’t really worry about discussing the focus of the book with the editor. I wrote every night. I wrote about 40 hours per week and had a fulltime job at WordPerfect. I actually finished writing the book. And then, the editor actually looked at it. I didn’t realize they should have been looking at it all through the writing process. If they had, they should have stopped me quickly from writing a reference book when what they wanted was a tutorial.
Okay, no big deal. All authors occasionally get sideways with their editors. But, the publisher then sent me the most demoralizing letter I had ever received. I didn’t keep a copy, but it basically told me that I was a terrible writer. That no amount of editing would fix my prose. That I should go learn how to write by taking a college course before I ever attempted to do something like this again. Well, let me tell you, after reading that letter there was no danger of me ever wanting to try it again.
Fortunately, I had a really, really good agent. She assured me that I was not a horrible writer. And she would know. She had many world famous authors that she represented. She assured me that the editor that wrote that was doing it to save their own job. They were expected to deliver a book that was no longer going to be published. They had to blame me for that.
It was a great learning experience, and a great introduction to the cutthroat world of publishing. But, to this day I will never buy a book published by Que Publishing.
Most recently I attempted a book on Microsoft Windows Server. I used to work for Microsoft. My most popular book was a book about a Microsoft product. I set up a home lab and discovered that while I could write. I had lost the knack for technical writing. I had a very patient editor who worked closely with me, but I finally had to admit one day that I just couldn’t write this book. It was a heartbreaking realization.
And it really confused me. Because all through the process I was writing this blog every day. I would sit down to write about business and the words would flow. Switch to technical documentation and it would dry up.
The weakness, I think, goes back to something I referenced at the beginning of this column. I let my technical writing skills lapse as I pursued other opportunities. And it is not just like riding a bicycle. At least it’s not for me. I have to train myself back into the habit of writing.
And I’ll end where I began. If you want to be a writer, the most valuable advice you will ever receive on how to accomplish it is write!
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.
I work in IT. We are the ones who get asked to make the microphone work and then get sent out of the ballroom before the speech starts.
We setup the fiberoptic light display and then don’t get invited to the party.
So Y2K was a BIG deal for us. The Year 2000 problem was a software problem where computers that could only store two digits for the year couldn’t tell the difference between 1900 and 2000. In the early days of software, computer memory was very precious. You wrote programs to use absolutely as little as possible. It took twice as much RAM memory to store 1900 than it did to store 00. And 40 years ago there wasn’t much concern about the problems that it would introduce at the turn of the century.
Eventually, we, the IT community were able to convince you, the rest of the world that this was a very big problem. One that needed to be fixed. We convinced all of you of this by explaining that if we didn’t fix it
- Airplanes would fall from the sky
– Nuclear power plants could melt down
– Elevators would stop between floors and never open
– The sun would refuse to shed it’s light on the earth if the problem wasn’t fixed
Okay, that last one wasn’t an ACTUAL Y2K problem. But, us IT guys realized that the rest of you needed us. You REALLY needed us and for once we were not only going to set up for the party, we would be invited to attend.
It was a great time to be in IT. The two or three years leading up to December 31, 1999 were great. How often do you get to go back and fix a mistake from your past? We had that opportunity. IT budgets ballooned. Programmers, project managers, testers, quality assurance folks. All across the board, everyone was hiring.
It’s estimated the Y2K preparations cost $300 BILLION dollars. But, we assured you that it was going to be worth it. We promised that we would keep the planes flying. We would keep the elevators working. The lifesaving medical equipment wouldn’t stop working at midnight.
We promised you a lot of things. But, we also knew we could deliver on those promises.
The big night finally arrived. We were nervous. Of course, we knew our fixes would work. We had tested by resetting the clocks on our test computers to 11:59 December 31, 1999 multiple times until we got it right. Our biggest worry was
What if we missed something?
We knew the systems we’d patched were going to work, but what if we missed a critical system? It was on every programmer’s mind that night as the clock wound down.
Interestingly, we also knew that Jan 1, 2000 was not the start of the new millennium. Hey, we lived and breathed number systems. We understood that the calendar system started with year 1 instead of year 0, and therefore you wouldn’t get to 2000 years until January 1st, 2001. But, we stopped explaining that fact to people when they threatened to un-invite us from the cool New Year’s Eve parties.
As the ball dropped in Time Square and the calendar rolled over, we all held our breath. (No, we didn’t kiss someone. We were geeks at the cool kids party. we didn’t have dates!) And the lights stayed on. The airplanes kept flying. The medical devices stayed on. And we all breathed a sigh of relief, congratulated one another and lined up at the snack table to get some champagne, or sparkling grape juice depending on our preferences.
And it was right then that the problems started. We started getting some snide looks from the other people at the party.
Hey, Rodney, I thought you said that awful things were going to happen at midnight. Looks pretty normal to me.
Well, we fixed it. That’s why nothing broke. Cool huh?
No, you didn’t think it was cool. In fact, people started to feel like maybe the IT guys had pulled a $300 billion dollar con.
But, seriously ‘the worst bug in history’ and NOTHING broke? Really?
Yeah. We’ve spent three years making sure we found every last little system that might break. We are really good at our jobs. It’s awesome that we managed to find them all!
Nope. You didn’t think it was awesome either. You felt like we’d duped you. No matter how much we tried to explain that the emperor really did have clothes, you insisted he was actually naked the whole time.
We’d gotten new computers, new systems, tons of overtime. (We’re salaried so we don’t really get overtime, but you still accused us of overbilling.)
I was working for Microsoft in 1999. I’ve often thought about how Y2K truly was the IT crowd’s finest hour. We proved that given enough time and money we could fix a computer issue that was buried so deeply in critical systems that it made brain surgery look simple.
And yet, at the time when we felt we should have been hailed as heroes for literally saving the planet, we were branded as shysters and conmen. We quickly got uninvited from the cool parties. We went back to our cubicles and returned to being geeks and nerds.
But for one glorious moment, we were kings of the world.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.
I know what I want. I want my project to be successful. I want to lose another 10 lbs. I want to get the dings in my car has fixed. I want a raise. I want to fix our oven that broke last week. I want to learn to play the guitar.
I also know what I REALLY want. I really want to pay off my house. I really want to do a good job at work. I really want my daughter to graduate from college. I really want my kids to stop fighting. I really want get the cracked living room window fixed.
I also know what I really, REALLY want. I really, really want to have enough money to retire. I really, really want my wife to have good health. I really, really want to publish a book this year. I really, really want to pass the classes I signed up for. I really, really want my children to grow up with good morals and to become successful adults. I really, really want to be able to help my neighbors and those less fortunate.
These were easy. But, what do I really, really, REALLY want? Three “reallys” asks, “what am I willing to sacrifice for?” What am I willing to keep as a goal for years even when it looks like I’m not getting any closer? Really, really, really means it’s one of my two or three overriding goals.
My friend Howard Tayler did an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. Howard really, really, really wanted to be a professional cartoonist.
Howard and I have known each other for 20 years. We’ve been friends for slightly less than that. For more than a decade he has known exactly what he wanted to do. And he went out and did it.
My friend Kevin and I have been friends since high school. Kevin really, really, really wanted to run a Television studio. He not only runs the studio, he runs a “group” of TV studios.
I’m not sure I’ve wanted something that much. Both Howard and Kevin put their minds to their goals and dedicated a good portion of their lives to achieving them. Both are absolutely delighted in their current jobs.
In some ways it’s depressing. Seriously, talking to them, they know what they want. . and as far as careers go, they got it.
I know I’ve really, really, really wanted things in the past. I really, really, REALLY wanted to marry my wife. It took me asking twice, and several months of serious courting, and several years of knowing each other. But, I really, really, really wanted it. I am absolutely delighted with the person I married. We celebrate 27 years this December.
I really, really, REALLY wanted to be a father. When you adopt kids, you go through a slightly different emotional journey than when children are born to you. Not better, not worse, just different. With each of my adopted kids, there was a point at which it was in doubt whether we would be allowed to adopt them. I really, really, REALLY wanted it. I’m absolutely delighted that I get to be a father to this Bliss Bunch.
I really, really, REALLY wanted to earn my Project Manager Professional certification. The truth is, I’d been out of work for over a year. We had gone through the severance pay. Our health benefits would soon run out. I was desperate for a job that would pay what we needed to support my family. The PMP led directly to me getting the job I have now. I like my job, and I am absolutely delighted that I get to put PMP after my name.
But, what now? What are the big goals? The multi-year goal that I’m willing to sacrifice to achieve?
I could define my goals “negatively.” I really, really, REALLY never want to move my kids into a barn again. (Starting Over At 40) I really, really, REALLY never want my kids to have to deal with abuse.
But, those aren’t really goals. They are simply things I want to avoid.
I think I settled on three.
I really, really, REALLY want to finish my degree. I spent years studying Computer Science at BYU, but quit school to go to work at WordPerfect (Back To Where It All Began)
I really, really, REALLY want to be a professional author. Part of the reason I write here every weekday, is that I enjoy the idea of sharing stories with you guys. When I first started blogging a friend asked, “Are you going to run out things to write about?” Well, it’s closing in on two years and my topics list is longer than when I started. However, I also believe that you have to practice. This is my writing practice. I’ve learned that I can write on a plane. I can write in a hotel room. I can write sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck.
I’m still working on putting together my 16 Management Rules That Make No Sense. I’ll let you know when I get closer.
I really, really, really want to have a job where I sell me. I don’t yet know what that looks like. An author? A storyteller? A consultant? A lecturer? An artist? When I started this blog in 2012 I had a goal in mind. Remember I was unemployed at the time. In the IT world we call it “self” employed.
I went out and did a google search on my name. I think I was the 5th or 6th entry. And it was for a book I’d written nearly 20 years earlier. (Microsoft Exchange Connectivity Guide) The goal with the blog was to build an online reputation. In IT if you are looking for a job, you can bet that anyone you interview with is going to google you. I wanted them to see what I had done lately. There was a realtor named Rodney A Bliss who lives back east. His website was the first entry.
Today if you google Rodney Bliss, I’m number 1 and 2. The realtor is number 3 and then I’m the next four. If you google “Rodney M Bliss,” I’m the entire front page.
None of my really, really, REALLY wants are tied to money (I want enough to get by and not go into debt), fame (I enjoy it, but I have 13 of the best fans I could every want.) Health? Maybe a little. No one wants to suffer. But, I’m comfortable with my mortality. We are all going to return to the dust someday. The prospect doesn’t scare me.
What do YOU really, really, REALLY want? Are there dreams that you don’t even give yourself permission to have?
Well, boys, why don’t you pick out a spot for . . .
You can’t camp here.
What do you mean? This is our assigned campsite.
You’ve got 6 boys, I’ve got 22. The lower campsites are closed because of problem with the bathrooms. We’re camping in this spot.
Well, we could maybe share if you . . .
That’s not going to work. Our troop is going to need all the spots. You have to go find another spot.
Just because the Scout Law says “a scout is friendly” doesn’t mean the other troop’s Scoutmaster is going to be.
We ended up pitching our tents in between the vehicles. With six boys, we only had a couple tents. Two of my sons were sleeping in the tent with me. So, we made do.
But, I have to admit, I was less than charitable in my feelings for the Scoutmaster of troop 832. Fortunately, I didn’t have to interact with him again. . .or so I thought.
Let’s face it, you are going to have to work with some jerks in your life. I’m not talking about engineers and programmers with low social skills. Those I can deal with. (Why I Like Prima Donnas) But, some people just rub you the wrong way.
While working on the WordPerfect SWAT team, we had engineers that covered every product that WordPerfect sold. I was one of the email engineers (How I Saved The EPA (Don’t Tell Pete)) Edward was a network engineer. That’s odd because WordPerfect didn’t make a network. But, there were some unique aspects of running WordPerfect on a network back in the 1990’s. Edward and Rob were the Network guys. Rob was very cool. Edward was a jerk.
Maybe he was only a jerk to me. Maybe he felt threatened by my role as one of the founding members of the team. Maybe he was just a negative person. The problem was that the team manager loved him. Not in a weird way, but the manager thought Rob and especially Edward could do no wrong. We called them his “Golden Boys.” It didn’t help that the manager hated me. (My Manager From Hell)
I remember one time I was working on an issue where a customer reported that occasionally one of his employees’ computer would lock up. But, only when it was running the WordPerfect Office program. (Different than the Microsoft Office program of the same name. . .yeah, it was confusing for us too.) Edward was positive the issue was corruption on their network. If it was, then the client would need to talk to their network provider, not us. As I was preparing to fly out to see them Edward approached me.
Rodney, tell them the problem is they have a bad network setup and they need to have Novell look at it.
Well, it could be something unique to how Office interacts with the driver. .
NO! Tell them it’s a NetWare problem and they need to engage with Novell.
Uh huh. Right.
We did some fairly intensive workstation testing and discovered a problem with their network interface card, that only seemed to be exposed when our email client sent big files to the network.
Edward never really forgave me for being right. And frankly I didn’t care. He was part of the reason that a couple years later I left for Microsoft. (How Not To Quit A Job.)
The point was that I could simply ignore him. Would it have been better to work through our differences? Sure. And it would be better if we all quit eating ice cream and exercised more. To this day, he’s one of the few people that I would immediately turn down if he were applying to our company.
Ignore those negative people and move on.
And that brings me back to the rude Scoutmaster. A few months after this campout we bought a house and moved across town. (They’re Stealing My Stuff.)
My new neighbors came out to help us unload the truck. . .including the rude scoutmaster. Maybe you’re thinking I could still ignore him. Turns out he lived directly across the street. He had kids the same age as my boys. And more importantly, I wanted to be involved in the scouting program. It’s impossible to be involved in the scouting program and not interact with the scoutmaster.
Yep, in religion you call that a need to repent. I set out to make him my friend. It wasn’t excessively hard. I discovered his personality is kind of rough. But, that he’s a great neighbor.
And eventually we talked about that campout. And it was then that I finally understood. In our little troop we had 6 boys, three of whom were my sons. Getting the troop to change direction was as simple as saying,
Okay, guys. Not that way. Let’s try this way!
Keeping track of 6 boys is not all that tough.
My neighbor had a troop of 22 boys. Getting 22 boys to do anything in a timely manner was an exercise in herding cats. The other scoutmaster didn’t have the luxury of changing plans on the fly. What I didn’t know was that his 22 boys hadn’t driven to the campsite high in the Wasatch range that day as we did. They had hiked up Rock Canyon. And then found out that their assigned campsite was closed. And the boys were all exhausted. The scoutmaster did what he felt he needed to take care of the boys.
We laugh about it now. We’ve been on numerous campouts together. And he really is a great neighbor. In fact, although he was a bit of jerk, I’m really glad we moved.
The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys. — Sir William Preece, chief engineer of the British Post Office, 1876.
The telephone didn’t get off to a roaring start. Western Union turned it down. They were perfectly content with their telegraph. And as the quote above shows, the British weren’t very impressed either.
If you think about it, the telephone had a bit of a chicken and egg problem. Why get a phone if none of your friends have phones? But, your friends won’t get a phone if you don’t have one.
BTW, for the younger readers I’m talking about the old phones. The ones that were attached to the wall and didn’t do texting, or email, or have a clock or apps, or even make a very good flashlight. (Book Review: Exploding The Phone.)
Of course, eventually the telphone caught on and today Who Doesn’t Have A Cell Phone?
I was working for Microsoft. This meant that my mother’s CPA firm had a built in source for software and support. I didn’t always advise she upgrade. (Breaking Out Of The Upgrade Cycle.) My speciality was Microsoft Exchange. And much to my chagrin, my mother’s office didn’t have email. This was about 1998. The internet was just starting to get it’s sea legs.
Mom, you should let me install Microsoft Exchange email for your office.
Why would we even want that?
Well, you can schedule client appointments in the Scheduler program and avoid conflicts.
Everyone maintains their own schedule and has a office. We don’t really have conflicts.
Well, you can send messages. And if you aren’t here to get the message it will go to your inbox and you can read it the next time you come in.
We don’t need that. We have plenty of pink Message slips.
(Photo credit: One Woman’s Eye)
How do you argue with logic like that? The secretary would take messages and then tape the pink messages slips to people’s office door. Ironically, my mother’s firm was one of the more aggressive at adopting technology. She had a network very early on. She saw the advantage of centralized storage. Her firm was one of the first in the small town of Olympia, WA to go completely digital. Everything went into the computer. The network let every accountant have access to all the records. Later, she was one of the first to push her clients to file electronically.
The idea that she was being a Luddite about email was maddening. Especially since I was an email expert. I not only worked for Microsoft writing courseware about Microsoft Exchange, I’d written one of the first books on Exchange. (Microsoft Exchange Connectivity Guide.)
But, how to convince her that she really needed a tool that she didn’t think she wanted?
Tell you what, Mom. You’re tired of me hounding you about email. Here’s a deal. You let me setup an Exchange server and put all your accountants on it and if they don’t like it after a month, I’ll come take it out and not bug you about it again.
Well, I’m sure you know how that conversation went a month later.
It’s been 30 days. Did you want me to remove the Exchange server?
If you do, the staff threatened to quit.
All of them.
I can’t take great credit as a salesman. The software was free. I cannot imagine how much more difficult the conversation would have been had I asked her to pay several thousand dollars to test my deal.