I recently had the honor of speaking at the inaugural Geeky By Nature conference here in NYC. It was organized by John Davey (of Flash on the Beach in the UK) with Rich Shupe (of FMA in NYC) and featured a who’s who of creative coders and digital artists: Jared Tarbell, Jeremy Thorpe, Josh Davis, GMUNK, Robert Hodgin, Andre Michele, Branden Hall, James Victore, Hillman Curtis… just to name a few. I was truly honored to be included in this list.
When I was asked to speak, I knew that just addressing the technical intricacies of delivering web video wouldn’t cut it for this conference. Stepping back, I looked for what else I had to offer to this particular audience of creative, and geeky, people.
I decided to talk about something else that I’d been spending a lot of time with in the past year: CHANGE. I’d been dealing with a lot of it. Along the way, I found a number of techniques and new perspectives that have helped me cope with some pretty heavy stuff. Thus, Coding Karma was born.
A little background..
It was spring, 2010. Things were going quite well for me, personally and professionally. But suddenly, things began to unravel.
First, Steve Jobs wrote his treatise: Thoughts on Flash, which needless to say, caused me much grief. Then, my husband lost his job. Shortly thereafter, he started feeling ill. Finally, in June, he was diagnosed with a rare, potentially fatal blood disorder called Aplastic Anemia and required a bone marrow transplant.
At this point, I needed some help to deal with all of this “change,” so I began to look into Buddhism.
Buddhist principles, rewired
The talk was based around the Four Noble Truths from Buddhist teachings. Sounds like a bit of a stretch, I know, but the principles really translate well into our modern, ever-changing, lives and provide some very valuable techniques to help deal with the chaos.
After discussing these four truths and the lessons they offer, I then went on to outline six concrete”steps” you can take that will take you down the path toward being happier and more successful (and stop all of this suffering business). These steps are:
1. Take a breath, stop.
Stop just REACTING to everything. Unplug for at least five minutes a day, up to 30 if you can. (You’d be surprised how many people I’ve talked to who don’t). This means: take a slow walk, and leave your phone at home. Or find a place to sit quietly, without outside stimulus or anything to “do.” Eliminate the need to post rebuttals to trolls, to connect, to converse, to be busy, just for a few minutes. This is really hard to do, especially at first, but it’s essential to getting clear and making solid, conscious decisions.
2. Always be Learning.
This is probably hard for those who are still students to hear, but if you have chosen a technical field, your learning never ever stops. If it does, I guarantee your skills will be irrelevant very quickly. To ensure that you actually take learning seriously, set goals for yourself. Set deadlines to master new technology or new techniques. Actually schedule R&D time. And remember to keep it fun. If you stop having fun and feeling challenged, it may be time to change your focus. And a great way to learn can be by teaching. To really teach someone something you need to understand it inside and out.
3. Kill sacred cows.
Don’t let anything be precious. Not your chosen technology, your favorite code editor, your platform, your art, where you place your curly braces, your vision of your future. Trying new things and approaching things in different ways can tap into new sources of creativity and inspiration. Remember everything is in constant flux, and what you think is ‘best’ today could change tomorrow. Don’t miss it by clinging only to what you know and closing out new possibilities.
4. Set up systems.
Structured time is efficient time. If we don’t give ourselves some sort of system for getting our work done, and hold ourselves to it, it can be too easy to drift wherever we are pulled. Social media is great way to connect and even generate new business, and the latest YouTube video is always beckoning, but if you don’t set up some sort of structure to your day you’re sabotaging yourself and your work. Treat social media and other diversions as a coffee break, or if they are a bigger part of your work, schedule solid time for them. If Twitter is a priority, treat it like one and devote concentrated time to it. Then give yourself solid work time that isn’t interrupted by email, etc. A great example of this is Ben Franklin’s daily schedule. Looks quite different than a typical day for us (but he was certainly a geek as well)! He still holds the most patents of any individual in the U.S. so this workflow certainly allowed for creativity and productivity (and we also know he was a pretty social character).
Give back to the community. Don’t hold tight to your knowledge, share it. Join a user group, contribute to an open source project, present at a conference, start a conference! By helping others, you help the entire community (and you get to be known as a cool person, which in turn can open doors for you). And going back to #2… the best way to learn something is to teach someone. You both win.
6. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.
And finally, like the Buddha, I don’t profess to know all the answers, I only know what has worked for me. Try these ‘steps’ for yourself; use what works for you. The important thing is to be open to new ways of doing things and new perspectives, and keep moving forward. If you can do that, you’ll be happier and more successful, no matter what life throws at you.
Putting together this talk was a great cathartic exercise for me, and I hope that you find some inspiration in it. The feedback I received after the talk was overwhelmingly positive, with more than one person telling me how it helped them immediately in things they were dealing with, so that made it all worthwhile.
p.s. For anyone who’s interested in following my husband Tom’s recovery from his bone marrow transplant, visit his blog, TomsTransplantJournal.wordpress.com. And please add your own ‘steps’ in the comments, I’d love to hear what you do to keep yourself balanced and sane in the midst of change.
A few people have asked me about where they can learn more about Buddhist thought, and other sources of inspiration that I’ve had through this journey. Here’s a quick list of books and resources, roughly in order of introductory to more advanced:
The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
Getting Things Done, David Allen
New York’s 50 Best Places to Find Peace and Quiet, Allan Ishac
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Breakfast with Buddha, Roland Merullo
AudioDharma.org, Insight Mediation Center Podcasts (perfect for your commute)
The Art of Happiness: a Handbook for Living, Dalai Lama
Wherever You Go, There You Are, John Kabat-Zinn
Letting Everything Become Your Teacher: 100 Lessons in Mindfulness, John Kabat-Zinn
When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron
The Right Questions, Debbie Ford
You Are Here, Thich Nhat Hanh
The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
RamDass.com, Love Serve Remember Foundation, inspiration and further reading
Also, follow CodingKarma on Twitter!