Ahead and Behind

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While 2015 was my most successful year yet, it was also an emotionally and physically rough year, proving the old saying: no pain, no gain. No sooner did I return from Manila than I came down with pneumonia, which I’m only just recovering from. It knocked me out for a solid month, which gave me time to thoroughly contemplate the past that I might make some modest proposals for the future.

Business Principles to Decide By

Earlier this year I picked up What’s Stopping You? by Robert Kelsey, a self-help book for people who roll their eyes while reading self-help books. This book is not a “you can do it!” kind of book. It is a book for people who can snatch life from the jaws of death when the chips are down but flop all over the place when times are good. This is a book for folks who fear failure and let that fear make their decisions—or take away their ability to make said decisions. This is not a cheerleading book. And if anything I wrote struck a chord with you, I cannot recommend it enough.

For those of us paralyzed by indecision when faced with perfectly reasonable options, the author recommended forming a set of business principles that help guide your decision-making process. For me, finding these principles has been something like the storyline of a magical girl anime: each key ally revealing herself during a time of crisis to help defeat an otherwise insurmountable opposition.

Honor your younger self.

“Honor your younger self” is a simple phrase loaded with meaning. For me it means anything from “treat others as I wish they had treated me when I needed them most” to “remember to enjoy the life your younger self went through so much to get to.” This principle revealed itself in a number of ways, but it wasn’t until I turned down a substantial sum of money to present at a conference whose organizer refused to adopt a Code of Conduct did this principle fully reveal itself to me.

It was a powerful, scary, defining moment of adulthood where I set a boundary and learned something new about myself.

Be a gardener, not a gatekeeper.

This principle revealed itself to me slowly over many conversations with Meri Williams and Patrick Neeman. It was the previous event, where an industry leader was making choices that were changing the people presenting to his audience, that helped me understand what these people had been trying to tell me.

Even the people we respect the most are flawed and can perpetuate flawed thinking, from data to ethics. When I reflected on my own life choices, what I want to be and do in the web community, I realized that I was setting myself up to be a gatekeeper, a person others go through to get to something, and that I, too, am flawed.

This is a new principle for me and one that requires active application. And that is why it’s a part of my Three Themes for 2016.

The Three Themes

In 2016, I have three themes for my goals and actions to embody:

Gardening over gatekeeping.

I’ve already written about how I hope to help grow the web animation community by fostering many-to-many communication. But what’s more, when I make decisions going forward, I want to stop and ask myself, “How does this grow the community? Or is this just putting me up on a pedestal?”

Cooperation over competition.

While working on DevTools Challenger and other collaborations (see previous post), I realized I’m at a point in my life where I find collaboration more rewarding than toughing things out on my own. But I’m also a very competitive person: I play to win. In order to have the joy of fully realized collaborative efforts, I need to put my competitive nature aside and focus on finding opportunities to cooperate with others.

Internal validation over external validation.

This might seem out of place, given the above themes seem so altruistic. Isn’t focusing on ourselves selfish? That depends. For me, earning the approval of people in my community and the happy feelings that come with that often obscure doing what I enjoy doing or what I know the community really needs me to do. Sometimes it feels like being a rat in a skinner box, pumping a lever to get more likes on Twitter. Austin Kleon would say I’ve been focusing too much on “flow” of information, not enough on making that information into “stock,” or useful artifacts that can help people.

The Year Ahead

In 2016, I am learning taiko drumming, how to use a pinhole camera, and After Effects; and in turn, I’ll be sharing the things I learn and the things I already know. In this way, I’ll channel my internal validation into my gardening efforts and ostensibly be a happier, more fulfilled person.

I’ve already turned off favorites notifications on Twitter and begun drawing a piece of artwork each day (under the hashtag #rln365). The aim is to take pleasure in the making, which I’ve missed over the past few years, and wean myself off the dopamine fix of other people’s attention. What I do should be satisfying, regardless of how appreciated it is.

All this can be summed up in my motto for 2016 (which sounds silly if you didn’t read the above):

You don’t have to be a hero to everybody. But you should always be a hero to yourself.

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