Reflecting on 2015: Making Work Fun Again

What an incredible year! Though if you’d asked me back in January how I thought this year would go, the response would likely have been “don’t know, don’t care“.

Not wanting to go into all the gory details in this post (perhaps sometime in the future, maybe) I’ll simply say that I learned a very valuable lesson about “work burnout” and now understand the importance of setting limits and taking time off between projects. As seems to be the case with most facets in life, balance is key.

Highlights of 2015

When added all up, I took nearly 3 months off in 2015. Yeah, that probably sounds amazing, but keep in mind as an independent consultant/contractor, that’s unpaid time off. Also, the vast majority of that time was not spent on the beaches at some beautiful resort sipping Mai Tais under palm trees with the sound of ocean waves lulling me into a string of afternoon naps – though I did take plenty of afternoon naps!

Father-Son Trip

In early January 2015, I’d hit a breaking point…not sure if I was going to execute the early termination clause in the contract with my primary client at the time or simply go AWOL. Instead, I just told the client I needed some time off and headed to Texas w/ my dad to get away from work. The trip was planned around a fishing excursion, but the weather was not agreeable on those dates, so we ended up tooling around Austin for the majority of the time… eating, drinking, talking about life – past, present, future. Might sound a bit lame on the surface but without a doubt one of the most meaningful trips I’ve ever been on.

Snowboarding in Telluride

Basically a biennial trip out west with several close guy friends and only my second time snowboarding ever. It’s weird how a sense of mortality just sneaks up on you. In my late teens/early 20s I felt indestructible…and now in my 30s I’m the guy on the slopes w/ wrist guards, padded shorts, mouth piece, and a helmet…and thank goodness for helmets! There’s a very good chance I’d have been riding captain’s seat on one of those red medical sleds had I not been wearing a helmet on day 2.

I also shaved my beard – though the wife never seems to be happy w/ my facial hair :-/

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St. Patty’s Day in Savannah

A close friend moved to Savannah a year ago and we decided it was time to visit.

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Obligatory Jump Shot (for most of us, Steph!)

Got a Dog!

…and he (James Murphy) is amazing! Don’t get me wrong, our 12-14 yr old cat (Optimus Prime) is the jam…but earning his love took many MANY years of investment (and 2 couches). With dogs, the loving is unconditional and starts at day 1.

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May 2015

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November 2015

Built a Vegetable Garden

It might sound strange, but I really enjoy yard work and gardening and find it very therapeutic. If you spend all day indoors at the keyboard thinking hard about data models and code, its nice to take a break and do something mindless outdoors – especially when the weather is nice! So this year, I decided to build a raised bed garden in our backyard to grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and several herbs…

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the perfect layout! (after several visio diagrams)

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few things in life rival an heirloom tomato sandwich in late summer…on wonder bread with duke’s mayo!

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Bonus shot – found a dinosaur in the pepper harvest

4th of July Beach Trip

Went down with a group of friends to visit a buddy over 4th of July weekend. In addition to setting off a few fireworks, I also got that fishing in – though it wasn’t in the deep sea, and my dad wasn’t there …can’t have it all, right?

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Got one!

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Obligatory Jump Shot

Lost a High-Steaks Bet

For the life of me I can’t remember what the bet was… but the loser had to prepare a steak dinner for the winner. Unfortunately (fortunately?) I lost…

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Porterhouse cut – 2” thick, fresh from the butcher

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Reverse sear – resting

In this kind of bet, even when you lose you’re still a winner 😉

Trip to San Diego

As a (college) graduation gift to my wife’s cousin, we gave her a trip to anywhere in the US. To our delight, she chose southern California in early August …so we spent 5 days visiting extended family (wife’s side) in San Clemente and went restaurant/bar hopping in San Diego. 5 stars, would do again!

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Goals for 2016 Making Work Fun Again

Yeah – so 3 months off, but probably only 1 month spent traveling with friends, visiting family, and working on home projects. The other 2 months were spent reflecting on my career as an independent consultant/contractor…what’s working, what’s not…and coming up with a more pragmatic and sustainable approach going into the future.

With that said, I don’t have any work-related goals in 2016. Yep, not a single goal!

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Grounds for Sculpture while visiting family in NJ

I’ve always been a big fan of goals, especially measurable ones. However, one of the revelations I had during my time off last year is that goals are complicated and can sometimes be a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, having goals can also be a good thing – a very good thing – especially if you’ve got the right goals and a solid/sustainable plan. I’ll be revisiting this topic in the near future but my current stance on goals is currently riddled with nuances and it would take way too long to get into it here.

Suffice it to say my plan is to experiment this year with not having any work-related goals. Instead, the I’ll be focusing on a few basic “ideas” that I think will result in better outcomes for all involved (me, my family, and clients) and make work fun again.

  • Always act as a “Trusted Advisor”
    I have a lot more to say/write on this one, but the premise is to create and maintain an open and honest dialogue with all clients – even when the news/advice is not what they want to hear and/or might have a short-term negative impact on my financial bottom line. “I know it looks like that square peg can fit through that round hole, and I’m flattered you want to pay me that big chunk of money to try and make it happen, but I’m confident it can’t be done
  • Constantly strive to be a “Multiplier”
    A “multiplier” is someone who enables others to become more productive. This could come in the form of spending a few hours each week working one-on-one with the junior developers at a client…code reviews, pair programming, lunch’n learn, etc. Given enough time, the effects and value of a having a multiplier on the team become exponential. This is similar to the idea of the “10x engineer” frequently discussed on quora.
  • Have Fun
    This one is super soft, but the way I intend to apply this idea throughout 2016 is to be more selective about which projects/clients I take on and saying “no” way more than I have in the past…even if the money is good…unless the money is insane, in which case I’ll have a conversation with my wife and make the decision together and plan on a long vacation immediately following project completion :-p

And that’s it. Pretty simply, right?

In 2016, I’ll be thinking about these 3 ideas on a daily basis and whether or not my actions are measuring up. Got some feedback? …you know what to do 😉

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