2021 is Here: What’s the Excuse Now?

A lot of things didn’t get done in 2020 because it was deemed as the main blocker to everything; somehow, the year was perceived to have such power.

I kept myself thinking “Comes January 1st, how is it going to be different?”.

So here we are, it’s January 1st of 2021. What’s the excuse now?

When I opened the notebook to do my journaling this morning, coincidentally, I was presented with this quote at the top of the page (and no, this notebook isn’t calendar-based):

In life you can have an excuse, or you can have an obstacle that is an opportunity to learn and to grow. Observe your thoughts and throw away your excuses! – Dean Graziosi

Since the pandemic started I was decided not to wait for things to get better; instead, I had decided to make things get better, however possible. As I look back, I’ve succeeded at times, I’ve failed at times, but I never stopped. And that’s how I’m continuing on.

No excuses!

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Leveraging Constraints

When we’re constrained, we have a chance to get creative. This is a topic that keeps coming up, and I have been thinking about how this has applies to my life.

I hadn’t heard of Dr. Seuss until I moved to the US. I enjoyed reading the back story to his Green Eggs and Ham book, in which he took on a bet that he could write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words.

Somewhere else (I can’t find the source now, but I believe it was on a blog post by Tim Ferriss), there’s the question of “how would we do that if we only had one third of the resource?”, so 1 month instead of 3, $10k instead of $30k.

In his autobiography, Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to be an actor, but was told he’d never make it, because he had a name nobody can speak or spell, a thich accent, and a huge body that won’t look good on camera. He used those Underdog Advantages in his favor. The Obstacle is the Way also talks about this idea.

More recently, I’ve read the following in this book: “Imagine a Being who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. What does such a Being lack? The answer: Limitation.

I think back to when I was a kid and video-game magazines started to give away cheat codes that turned us unbeatable. After trying it on one or two games, I realized I quickly lost interest in those games. What was the point of playing it if I can do everything effortlessly?

When I got injured last year and it took me 3 months to be fully-recovered, I made a point to myself of pushing through it regardless of my physical limitations and pain during that time, and ended up being more productive than during the months leading into it.

In 2020, with the limitations imposed by the pandemic, I’ve once again focused on a system that allowed me to push through it, and got a TON of valuable things done, which mightn’t be the case if the year had just been a smooth sail.

I’m now experimenting with creating self-imposed constraints on a number of projects and tasks.

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My Favorite Quotes in 2020

Back in 2017, I’ve put out a blog post about Quotes that Inspire Me. As it turns out, I’m still using the same sources for quotes I was using back then, but I’ve also added a couple more (I may share the new ones if they stick around with me a little longer).

Below is the list of quotes I’ve enjoyed the most in 2020. As I review them, I realize they have inspired many of my blog posts.

Enjoy!

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” – Cyril Connolly

“Most people quit because they look how far they have to go, not how far they have come.” – Anonymous

“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create.” – Jana Kingsford

“Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.” – Haruki Murakami

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” – Fred Rogers

“Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” – James Clear

“He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.” – Jean-Luc Godard

“A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals character” – (I don’t know the author)

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” – Anaïs Nin

“Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.” – Ben Okri

“Do not wish for an easy life. Wish for the strength to endure a difficult one.” – Bruce Lee

“There are seven days in the week and someday isn’t one of them.” – Unknown

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” – Eckhart Tolle

“‎Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of others, instead, seek what they sought.” – Matsuo Basho

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” – Vince Lombardi

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

“You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.” – James Clear

“Don’t write to sound smart. Write to be useful. If you’re useful over a long time period, you will end up looking smart anyway.” – James Clear

“It’s a job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Vision is the bottleneck of talent. Most talent is wasted because people do not clearly know what they want. It’s not a lack of effort, but a lack of direction. There are many capable people in the world, but relatively few that focus on what matters.” – James Clear

“There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela

“Ask yourself, who do you want to be? Figure out for yourself what makes you happy, no matter how crazy it may sound to other people.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” – Bill Nye

“Go beyond yourself rather than beyond others.” – Unknown

“It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the business of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.” – Stephen Covey

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions – not outside” – Marcus Aurelius

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Do You Want Good or Bad News First?

How often are we asked “I have good news and bad news: which one do you want first?”. Whose decision is it to define news as either good or bad? How about we simply say: “I have news. Would you like to hear it?”

What’s good for one person, may be (it often is) bad for another:

“YES! Great news: my team has won the championship!”. I know, you team beat mine. Good for you, bad for me.

“Woohoo, I got a new job!”. I know, that means all of the other candidates didn’t. But hey, maybe one of those candidates ended up landing an even better job. Better for whom?

“Sir, you arrived too late. The gate is already closed and you can’t board flight 123.
“What? << insert an endless list of bad words and insults here >>”. Bad news?
Thirty minutes later: “Breaking News: flight 123 has crashed, claiming the lives of all people on board

Bad News (“can’t get on the plane“) turned to Good News (“I didn’t die!”) for Mr. Dirtymouth?
Good News (“we boarded”) turned to Bad News (“we died”) for all passengers who got on the plane?

Relaying news to others without loading it with our personal bias is a very hard thing to do. Our choice of words, the intonation, the emphasis, the body language, the facial expression… all of those things can influence howa person receives and perceives the news. As if our constant struggle with the story we tell ourselveswasn’t hard enough.

Learning to take a step back and separate facts from interpretation and judgment requires a constant deliberate practice.

Your first reaction is usually outdated. – Derek Sivers

Is that good or bad news? We’ll see (yet another great post by Sivers).

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Time Will Pass Anyway

“Slow progress? So what, time will pass one way or another.” I don’t remember where I’ve read that quote, but I always think of it. Much like this one, which I’ve read on The Artist’s Way:

Student: “But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?”
Teacher: “Yes… the same age you will be if you don’t.”

Not far from what I’ve shared about the Search for Perfection.

When I release my latest song, an old friend told me this: “I see your videos and think they’re really cool, and I feel envious because I can’t get my stuff together like you do.

That comment inspired this post, which contains some of the things I’ve shared with him…

The main riffs for that song were written 10 years ago. I wrote the main ideas for the lyrics 5 years ago, and I finished the main structure of the song around the same time. I started recording the song in April this year. I’ve only finished lyrics, vocals, guitar solos around September/October, and the song was finally released in November.

Ten years.

I have many other songs that have been in-progress for years now: 5 years for two of them, 13 years for another, and there’s one sitting in the backburner that goes back to 1995.

Do all of my songs take that long from initial conception to release? No. Sometimes it takes me as little as 2 to 3 months. No specific reason; I may just feel like I have all of the parts and so it happens I have the time to get it all done quickly.

However little time I have, I record song ideas on my phone and store it away in a backlog. I write ideas for lyrics and put it away. Every once in a while, I listen back to those ideas, and if I feel an urge to work on any one of them, I make the time and make some progress. Sometimes I may be able to wrap it all up within a month, other times it may take me years. No biggie.

For me, it’s important to get it started, get the ball rolling. When it’s done, it’s done. Time has passed. Progress has been made. Results have been achieved.

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The Search for Perfection

“Perfection” has an expiration date. Yesterday’s perfect may be today’s “meh”.
Not to long ago, I was watching Tony Robbins’ interview with Shaun White. When they mentioned Shaun’s Perfect 100 Score at the 2012 Winter X Games, I looked for it YouTube. To me, it looked stunning. It’s just unbeliable that people can do that. As I scroll down the comments, I see this one: “Probably a 93 today”.

A perfect score yesterday won’t guarantee a perfect score today. Not without work towards progress. Yesterday’s competitors will learn from that perfect score. I like this sentence I’ve read in The Obstacle is the Way: think progress, not perfection.

Year’s ago, I’ve read Derek Sivers’ summary of the Art and Fear book. This passage has stuck with me:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be greaded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weight the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

“Better good today than perfect tomorrow”, comes to mind.

I keep those things in mind whenever I see myself with tons of ideas, but not starting them because I may not have what I consider ideal to get it done (“not enough time”, “not enough money”, “not enough skills”, etc.).

I have been putting out many songs over the last several years. Everytime I’m working on a new one, I may think “if I learn how to play the drums better”, “if I learn more music theory”, “if I learn how to sing better”. But I’m getting better at realizing I’m falling into that trap and quickly shifting into getting it started, working on it, getting it done, and moving on. Next time, it gets a little better, and so it does the time after that. Instead of waiting 10 years to have the perfect song (which I know won’t happen), I get done however I can, with whatever I have.

 

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Work Soundtrack

I enjoy having some music playing while I work; even more so if I’m using the Pomodoro Technique. But I’m very specific about my work soundtrack!

If what I’m doing the requires deep thinking, I need instrumental music. Most often, that’d be classical music (Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Bach, Chopin, Paganini, are among my favorite), but it may also be World Music (Kitaro is my top favorite). For shallow thinking, I may go with guitar albums by Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Steve Morse or maybe movie soundtracks.

When I already know what needs to be done (either because I’ve finished the deep thinking mentioned above or because the task is just busy-work), then I crave some high-energy music (usually heavy metal, but it could be some other things I have in my music library).

Here’s an example:

I’m about to implement a user story. I set two Pomodoro sessions: one session to read through the user story and acceptance criteria, review mockups, etc, and another session to write my specs for it (only the Given-When-Then statements). My soundtrack consists of classical music.

Now I’m ready to write the actual tests and just enough code to make them pass. The soundtrack may be some fierce heavy metal, as I blast keystrokes on the keyboard. As I do this, I may practice the “sing and read” speed reading techinique; as I sing my favorite songs, I read through my tests, write code, read what I wrote, and eventually read it again in preparation for some refactoring.

Do you have a soundtrack?

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Building Stronger Online Communities

Challenge times bring us the opportunity to either reinvent ourselves or flex muscles that had been dormant. I’ve talked about the importance of technical communities in my life, how they help us improve our networking skills, how we can use our voice and reach out to others.

The year of 2020 has made us all push the envelope when working with our communities, either creating new ones or keeping existing one engaging to their members. While many of us miss the in-person communities, we have also been learning how to make the best out of online communities.

Tomorrow, Dec 18, I’ll be on a live virtual Lunch and Learn with my good friend, talking about our experiences Building Stronger Online Communities. Join us at 12pm Central Time! Click here to find more information about this FREE event and register.

This is the session description:

User groups are a great way for the community to get together to share, learn and network around specific common interests. This year saw us having to pivot to virtual-only events and uncovering both opportunities and challenges… How can we create great community experiences in a virtual world? In this Lunch and Learn, attendees will hear from two community leaders, Sarah Kim and Claudio Lassala, on how they’ve been growing their online communities and hosting virtual events.

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Use Your Voice

Quite often, we give up on writing a blog post, an article, a new talk, because we think “it’s already been done, why should I bother?”. For example, we might have finally grasped one of the SOLID principles. Hooray! Success. We have to tell others of our epiphany. But then, why not tell others to simply go listen to uncle Bob?

I believe that, like most people, you follow some sort of news…

  • How do you decide what type of news to follow (technology, politics, entertainment, sports…)? I’d guess you pick the ones you’re particularly interested in, as it applies to your life, your work, your current situation…
  • How do you decide which news channel to follow? I’d guess you choose those better aligned with your own views. Maybe you look for those with your favorite sense of humor, or thoughtfulness, or… there’s a reason (or many) why you choose one news channels over another

Every day, the same news are delivered through several channels and types of media. But why? Couldn’t there be just one?

Different people will find different information through different paths. I find information I’m looking for or authors through my research on software development, on music, or motorcycle riding, on productivity, on lifestyle.

There are news sources I’ll never consume at a given moment in my life because of a number of reasons:

  • maybe I can’t relate to the way they deliver their message
  • maybe I don’t agree with them in that moment (opinions can always change)
  • maybe I’m not educated to the level the news are being delivered…

I don’t mind sharing things I have just learned, regardless of how basic it might be. If I don’t share it, there’s always a chance some people would have never known about it. I can’t count how many times I’ve shared something and heard “oh, I didn’t know that”, even though it was something taken from granted by many.

An example that always come to mind for me takes us back to the first paragraph in this post: SOLID principles. After a couple of years of having heard of the Liskov Substitution Principle (LSP), I’ve run into a situation where it finally made sense to me, and I felt like I could articulate that as an example to explain it to others. I sat down, wrote about my experience, took some screenshots showing the code, published the post, and moved on.

Ten years later, that post is my top most-viewed one (31k versus 8k of the post in 2nd place), and it’s been the most viewed every month. I keep getting visits to that post coming from sources I can’t even read the language, which makes me believe those people learned the topic through my words, through my voice. Maybe they’ve all heard of LSP through Uncle Bob, but couldn’t quite grasp it (which was my case). Maybe after reading my post, they went back to Uncle Bob’s writings and were able to understand it better from the newly-gained perspective.

Use your voice. Get your word out. There is always someone listening.

It may be the tone of your voice, you’re accent, your background, your style, your mannerisms, the things that either frustrate or motivate you… those are all things that can possibly draw people to you.

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Communities and Networking

Just a couple of weeks ago, I’ve blogged about The Importance of Technical Communities (the ideas really apply to any community in general, much like what I do with my motorcycle track riding community). In this post, I’ll focus on the networking side of getting involved with communities.

Every week, I share things on the Virtual Brown Bag; I may share an article or book I’ve read, a challenge I’m facing at work, a successful way I’ve found to implement something. Whatever the case might be, once I’ve shared it with the community, I’ve planted a seed in their minds: should they either run into the same challenges or solutions to it, they’ll think of me. They’ll know who to either ask questions or offer help to, or make connections (“Hey, Claudio, last week you mentioned you were having issues with Cypress. I mentioned it to a co-worker and he has the solution. He’ll be reaching out to you!”).

I’ve talked about similar things when I shared my thoughts on “fake until you make/become it”. We don’t need to figure it all out by ourselves. We don’t need to fake it. Others will help, but we need to either ask for their help or let them know that they could possibly help us.

Every month, I update my “Now page”; that’s an easy way for people to know what I’m up to. A few months ago, I mentioned I was starting to work with Angular. Less than half an hour after I’ve posted it, an old co-worker who I hadn’t talked to for a few years reached out to say he’s done a lot of work with Angular and I should keep him in mind if I had any questions. We also took the chance to catch up with life in general.

Last week, I’ve read Derek Sivers’ writing on how you can take a situation that may not be ideal and flip it in your favor. He touches on “it’s all who you know”, and got me thinking about how my professional career started; I walked to my whiteboard and sketched out my career map up to today, calling out every single person somehow responsible to pivotal moments. How did I meet them? How have they helped? Have I been keeping in touch with them? Have I expressed my gratitude to them?

A good book I’ve read on the subjet of networking is The Power of Who.

Our communities and networks can (and should) be connected. People in my technical communities are aware of my involvement with motorcycle track riders; those riders are aware of my involvement with software development. They are all aware of my activities as a musician. These are all opportunities to connect with people, expand my network, offer help, get help, improve, grow.

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