New Year's Eve has always been my favorite holiday. There's just something inherently satisfying about taking a moment to recognize the passing of time, and to reflect on the things you have accomplished, the changes you have gone though, and the challenges that remain to be faced. For the past month, I have been trying to figure out what I wanted to say about this past year, and what I see for the year to come. Several aspects of my life were very much in flux throughout December and January, and I hadn't gotten a chance to completely internalize them yet. Finally, though, I am beginning to rise above the confusion.
The Years(s) in Review
There's something different about this New Year. It's not just the end of another year that I am marking. It is the end of a fairly arduous chapter in my life. Ever since Andres moved to Colorado and my hopes of OpenGrid being successful went down the drain, I had been struggling to hold on to the belief that I had indeed found a career in the tech industry, and not just another flash-in-the-pan odd-job to add to my already extensive collection. The remainder of my stay at OpenGrid took a lot out of me, emotionally, since nothing I did was appreciated and nothing I fought for was taken seriously. By the time I was laid off, I was actually relieved to be out of that depressing situation, but was struggling even more with the question of whether I was really cut out for the tech industry.
When I finally landed the job at Informative, the cycle started all over again. Just like at WebTV and OpenGrid, I was initially working on a really interesting project, and working for an incredible boss who valued my opinion and made me feel as though my hard work was making a difference. But just like Steve Kroll and Andres, Mari was smart enough to get out just before the company took a serious turn for the worse. Any self-confidence I may have built up working for Mari was crushed under the heel of Tim's political backstabbing and everyone else's unwillingness to do anything about it. By the time Tim's bullshit maneuvering put me back on the unemployment lines, I was really getting close to throwing in the towel completely on the whole tech thing, moving back to Sacramento, and getting an honest blue collar job like the rest of my family.
In early April, it looked like things might finally be taking a turn for the better. Although my previous applications to Google had been summarily ignored, Kevin was able to hook me up with a job that sounded like it might be a great foot-in-the-door at my second favorite tech company ever (at the time). After two weeks on the job, though, it was clear to me that I had to get out. The job turned out to be very similar to the customer service work I had been doing at WebTV, five years earlier, and at right about the same wages. My boss made it clear that it would be at least a year before I had a chance of becoming a permanent employee. I was sitting right next to the gal who had gotten the job I had previously applied for, and while I was punching away at my mind-numbing daily tasks, she was reading a book to teach herself the skills that had been listed as requirements on the job posting, and that I was already fluent in (thus reinforcing my long-standing annoyance at an industry that puts more emphasis on academic degrees than applicable industry experience). All of this was pushing me close to the edge. And when my boss informed me that the only web editor I would be allowed to use was an archaic command-line editor called Vi (even though I was willing to buy a copy of Homesite out of my own paycheck), I knew the honeymoon was over.
Finally, though, the threads of the plot started to weave themselves together to reveal a way forward. My time at OpenGrid may have beaten my professional self-esteem to a bloody pulp, but it did at least leave me with a rudimentary grasp of XSL. Informative may have made me lose some of my faith in professional ethics, but it did teach me to distance myself from a project, to tone down the Joan of Arc complex, and choose my battles more wisely. My unemployment might have driven me deep into debt and incredibly close to bankruptcy, but the accompanying desperation made me reconnect with my core values, and realize that technology really is only a means to an end for me, and I am, at heart, still the same entrepreneur who paid his way through college by buying/selling Magic cards and Star Wars toys, and who is constantly striving to find a way to help other people make a living doing something they love.
I had only been working at Google for a week or so when I got a call from my evil twin, Mike. I had done a phone screening for an XSL position at eBay a few months earlier, but the job had gone to someone else. But now the guy who had given me the phone screening had been wooed back to his old job at Cisco, and they needed to replace him. They called me back in for an in-person interview, and this time I nailed it. They called me in again the next day to meeting with a few of the managers, and by the third day, I had an offer letter in my hand.
My first day at eBay, I knew I had finally found the niche I had been searching for. During our orientation, Meg Whitman, CEO of the company, took an hour out of her incredibly busy schedule to come in, talk to the new recruits, and give us her vision of what the company was all about. It was the first time I had heard anyone buy me give my usual speech about how important it is to level the economic playing field and empower small businesses to compete with the mega-corporate giants. And it was the first time since Steve Perlman that I had seen the fire and passion of a truly visionary leader.
On the Cusp
The first few months at eBay was fairly challenging. I had to pretty much hit the ground running working on a massive codebase, in a language that I was two years out of practice with. The Evil Lawsuit was still dragging on, and taking a lot out of me emotionally. I was desperately trying to extricate myself from a very unhappy living situation. And I was constantly paranoid that I could lose my job again at any minute, and be right back on the fast train to bankruptcy and complete personal failure.
But by the end of the year, things were going pretty well. I was really getting the hang of the new job, and could finally accept that I did finally have a high degree of job security. I had moved in to my own two bedroom apartment in a great complex, with great neighbors. I had finally (with the help of a Legal Angel!) put that Evil Lawsuit behind me. I once again felt like I was making a difference in the world, and looked forward to going in to work each day.
Surprisingly, things even seemed to be going well in the romantic arena. At Halloween, I found out that someone I had previously been interested in was once again single, and shortly thereafter was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was a decent degree of mutual interest, too. So, for the first time in my life, I was looking forward to finally having someone to share my favorite holiday with. I didn't even bother to go to Dickens, since flirting and meeting new people were suddenly pretty low on my priority list. I was just thrilled to finally meet someone that I really liked, could have an honest connection with (in both the serious and silly moments), and who seemed to like me back just as much.
When the New Year finally arrived, though, my mental state had shifted slightly, from hopeful to contemplative. At work, I could see some major changes coming down the pipeline. If I played my cards right, it could end up being a dream come true. If not, I could end up repeating the same old pattern, and being back on the job hunt within two years. On the romantic front, there was a definite pulling away on her part. We still had a great time hanging out together, but the romantic half of things were definitely not what it had been. I was pretty sure I understood the motivation behind it (it was actually something we had talked about before we started dating, so it was all out in the open), but I was enjoying our time spent together enough even without the romantic bits that I just never got around to bringing the topic up directly.
Driving up to Foo's place for the New Years Eve festivities, I pretty much knew I was back to being single. And I was still unsure of what the future at work might hold in store. As my mind wandered, I began drifting back to some of the questions that I had been pondering a few months earlier. Who are you? What do you want? Where did you come from? Where are you going? Since then, I have been gradually refining my answers to those questions, in regards to both my professional and romantic life. And some of the literary influences I have come in contact with have driven me even further into my own past to find some enlightening perspectives on those questions.
Now, I'm sitting right on the cusp of the change. I can look back over the last few years, see all the trials and tribulations I've been though, and take inventory of the gifts I have received from each of them. I can survey my current environment, appreciate the blessings that surround me, and identify the obstructions that need to be cleared away in order for me to move freely. And I can look ahead and see the professional and romantic possibilities that lie in store for me, if I am willing to step up and take charge of my fate, once again.
A Look Forward
However, I have not yet tipped over the edge, and started my plunge into the next major chapter of my life. So I'm afraid I can't give too much more detail yet on what wonders might lie in store for me, professionally or otherwise. It should suffice to say that my years of uncertainty and fear are coming to an end. After the fire, I named the apartment I moved into Sietch Evergreen, because a Sietch is a place you go to in times of crisis. My new home, I have named Solace. Rather than refusing to unpack because I know I could be moving again at any moment, I am finally ready to pull my life out of storage and begin sinking some new roots.
The year to come will be about making peace with the demons of my past, and reclaiming my position as master of my own fate. It will be about forgiving myself for my failures, and finally taking credit for the things that I have achieved. It will be about dismantling the last remaining aspects of my adolescent self-image, and recognizing the man I have been growing into. It will be about loosening my definitions of who and what I am, and allowing myself to learn and grow once again. It will be about ridding myself of anything that I do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
While the core changes I intend to make this year are purely internal and difficult to put to words, I do have some more tangible goals as well. This list is by no means exhaustive, but is meant to serve as a general outline for myself on where I should be directing my energies in the coming months.
Decide what direction I want my career to go. Do I want to remain a web developer, or try to move into product management? Do I want to work on the core site, or tie my fate entirely to one pet project? Do I intend to stay with the company permanently, following their evolution over the next few decades, or do I still intend on starting my own business someday? Do I still want to try and live outside of California for a year at some point, or am I content to remain where I am and sink permanent roots?
Lead by example. Be willing to constantly step forward and take the extra burden in order to inspire others, and infect them with my own vision of what we can accomplish. These are exciting times. There's no excuse to not get fired up over the prospect of what we're doing.
Ethos, Chapterhouse, WishBank, Angus Ed, WebScissors... Decide which of my long-neglected personal projects I intend to pursue, and which I intend to put back into cold storage. For the ones I decide to pursue, break them into stages and give myself measurable deadlines.
Outline a two-year, five-year and ten-year career plan. This includes work, personal projects, and academic plans. Write one version that assumes everything goes as expected, and one that assumes the worst. Invest in the former, and save for the latter.
Continue turning my house into a home. Don't be afraid to invest in decent furniture and pleasant decorations. I should always look forward to coming home, be proud to share my home with friends and family, and be able to have people over at any time without worrying about the current state of disarray.
The kitchen. Start using it for something other than storage. Start slow, and gradually work my way up as I get more comfortable with it. By the end of the year, be ready to host at least one dinner party (without ordering take-out).
Simplify. Figure out which of my electronic gadgets and various toys I actually find value in, and get rid of the rest. Do I really need 3 PCs? Is it finally time to give XP and/or OSX a try? Is cable really worth the money? Do I really use my iPod enough to justify keeping it? Is the Treo 650 snazzy enough to justify an upgrade?
Unpack all of my boxes. If I haven't used it in the last three moves and it does not have sentimental meaning, get rid of it.
Start dancing again, and riding my bike to work at least a few times each week. Then Yoga, once I am limber enough. I often forget how emotionally rewarding physical exertion can be.
Clean out my inbox. I have unanswered emails reaching back several months. Responding to all of them at once is a monumentally intimidating chore. But responding to at least two per day will get me caught up in no time.
Reconnect with long-lost (or long-neglected) friends. This may have to wait for a month or two, until some more immediate tasks are taken care of and I have time to relax. But there are at least half a dozen people that I would really like to have back in my life again.
Always tell the truth, and always tell the hardest truth first. Which is really just another way of saying "start with the ending."
Be willing to take risks, and unwilling to repeat past mistakes.
Decide what the appropriate balance is between satisfying short-term needs and investing in long-term aspirations.
Trust my instincts and do not hesitate. It is only when I begin to over-think things that I lose my way.