Ambition is Not Greed

The Desk community (are you checking these cats out when I link to them???) is doing a little digital book club experiment reading Steven Pressfield’s book Turning Pro, and so far I highly recommend this short book packed with a hundred jabs straight to your complacency. We’re going to read and reflect on the book for the next ten days, but I promise you all my reflections won’t be this long! (I think they literally couldn’t be this long. Blogs cut you off at some point, right?)

Pressfield jumps right into his reason for writing the book, and even provides a thesis statement, which the academic nerd in me absolutely loves: Here are a few passages to give you an idea of where he’s coming from:

The thesis of this book is that what ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong. What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs.
The solution, this book suggests, is that we turn pro.

What we get when we turn pro is, we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out.

Ambition, I have come to believe, is the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our back on ourselves and on the reason for our existence.

Oooohhh. What a slimy bastard! Watch out Charlie Sheen, you’re in over your head!

Pressfield also writes a lot about his struggle to accept his ambition, and this struggle is one I’m very familiar with.

If you’re of a certain age and/or a movie nerd like me, whenever someone mentions ambition you immediately picture Gordon Gekko standing before a large crowd of stock brokers and Wall Street money people (aka, “The Bad Guys”) and telling them, “The point, ladies and gentlemen, is that GREED, for lack of a better word, is GOOD.”

The problem is that even though they’re often synonymous in my head, greed is not the same thing as ambition. With adulthood (hopefully) comes nuance, and it’s way past time for me to get these two terms straight. The last few months have been all about me stepping into my ambition. Wanting things in my life to be different and realizing I actually have it within me to make that difference happen.

I recently heard a podcast with Rebel Wilson, an actor who you may have seen in the movies Bridesmaids or Pitch Perfect. She’s from Australia and spoke with the guys interviewing her about an Australian/New Zealand/UK phenomenon called “Tall Poppy Syndrome” where anyone who gains any type of success or notoriety is met with suspicion. It actually has an interesting origin story — involving Plato! — that I trust you’ll to read for yourself, but it also feels very familiar to me even though I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

There are a couple of factors to TPS (they even named a report after it!). Namely to be a “tall poppy” you have to think much too highly of yourself and you also have to have taken resources for yourself that rightly belong to others. Think about that for a second. Do you think ambitious people think too highly of themselves? Do you think ambitious people are taking resources (money? attention? jobs? love?) that rightly belong to you?

I thought this way for years. I probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate it so succinctly at the time, but there was just always a vague sense that you were not living the life you wanted and that must be someone else’s fault. Right?

Maybe that’s true of greedy people. Let’s keep calling those bastards out for who they really are. But ambitious people are the ones who realize nobody can take from them what is rightfully theirs. There is a job, a relationship, a way of being in the world that is uniquely yours. Nobody has taken it from you because you haven’t created it yet. I may be skipping ahead, but the life you’re yearning for is waiting for you to create it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a Christian. If you’ll allow me a little space to indulge that side of my life, let me quickly tell you about a similar default negative attitude I held against God. Again, I wouldn’t have articulated it so strongly, but it dictated a lot of my actions unconsciously as a “religious” person so I think it’s important to bring up here.

When something goes wrong in your life or when something happens you don’t understand. People often say, “God’s ways are higher than man’s ways” or something to that effect. It’s actually our way of saying, “I don’t know why that happened, and I kind of think what happened was really messed up, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m questioning what’s going on here, so I’m just going to say, ‘God’s ways are higher than man’s ways.'” It’s also a way of saying, don’t be too ambitious, because you may have a plan but it won’t work out, and in fact you’ll be ruined, because God’s plan is for you to be mediocre and not to aspire to do anything great.

Now, I’m making some blanket statements here, obviously, but in those quiet moments over coffe and drinks and meals with a lot of other Christians, most of us have this weird default setting embedded into our psyches. I don’t know where it comes from, other than garden variety fear, but I see it working through tons of well-meaning religious people constantly.

But here’s the crazy part, Christians use that passage to enforce borders or keep people in line, but that’s not what God is saying in those verses. Here’s the actual passage:

	“Seek the LORD while he may be found;
		call upon him while he is near;
	let the wicked forsake his way,
		and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
	let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
		and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
	For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
		neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
	For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
		so are my ways higher than your ways
		and my thoughts than your thoughts.

(Isaiah 55:6-9 ESV)

I know you’re used to thinking the Old Testament is full of doom and anger, and there is admittedly some pretty messed up stuff in there. But here’s what God is saying: “If you’ve messed up, turn around and let me have compassion on you. And I know that makes no sense to you because I should be punishing you, but that’s OK because my ways are higher than yours.”

This is where ambition comes into my life. I want to do great things, I want to help build things that last and I want people to feel better for having known me. I’ve held myself back for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which fear of an omnipotent being who may judge or punish me for being a “tall poppy.”

But that’s not what he’s about. So that’s not what I’m going to be about. And I hope that’s not what you’re going to be about. In fact, I’d say nobody is going to be a bigger fan of you creating the life you’re yearning to live than him. That still might not feel right to you, but just trust me on this one.


Scary Close pt 1

I’m almost done with Donald Miller’s newest book Scare Close. I entitled this “pt 1” because I think I’ll have more to say about it soon, because it’s really hitting home with me in a lot of ways. It’s a great treatise on relationships and intimacy and Miller pulls almost no punches in retelling the past few years of his life.

Here’s a short passage about meeting a girl at a book signing after his friend David convinced him to stop dating for six months:

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 11.45.07 PMEven in relationships, it’s all about doing the work. You can’t just dream about it or fantasize about it and expect anything to happen. For a guy like me who lives in his head, these are sage words of wisdom (or portentious warning, I can’t decide which).

The Source of Procrastination and Celebrating Your Wins

Photo by Pawel Kadysz at

Over on io9 there was an article today about The Secret to Overcoming Procrastination. I’m actually in a season where procrastination isn’t blocking my path like it has at times in the past, but this was still a pretty interesting read. They quote psychotherapist and author Jude Bijou:

“The best thing to do when we’re procrastinating is to identify whether it’s sadness, anger, or fear that’s really in our way,” Bijou says. “And then, to move that energy out. Have a little bit of a cry, or stomp around — deal with the emotional energy, and then you’ll be able to think more clearly, and break the task down into little, doable pieces. Recalibrate your thinking. Instead of going, ‘Oh, I can’t do this, it’s too much!’, try, ‘I’ll take one thing at a time,’ almost like a mantra that gets your mind going in the right direction so you’re not sabotaging yourself. Figure out what the task is, and make a list of all of the simple tasks that make up the big, overwhelming task. Then start with just one.”

I know I just quoted a whole paragraph, but there’s actually a lot more in the article. What really stuck out to me is tracing the root of procrastination to sadness, anger, or fear. A few months ago someone told me that boredom is actually rooted in fear and anxiety as well, and this really makes a lot of sense to me.

I’m really at a pivot point in my life, and I count it as a real luxury that I can identify it as such. Often you can only see these pivot points in retrospect, but this one has a huge bat-signal spotlight aimed right at it. Whenever I get locked up and can’t move forward, it’s usually because I’m so focused on this next stage being life-defining.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the way I’ve moved forward is realizing that pretty much every stage is life-defining in one way or another. Yes, this is a total shake-up of my routines and career and direction in life, but the decision to get out of bed in the morning can be just as life-defining if I let it. This season gets the spotlight, but I have to remember when I’m settled in a place that is my place that it’s just as important to break through procrastination and clean the bathroom as it is to send out resumes.

One of those seems bigger, for sure. Probably because it is, I’m not 100% convinced that every situation carries the same weight. But what I am convinced of is that no matter how small, steps forward are always great, are always triumphs over sadness, anger, or fear, and should always be celebrated. Now, as I write it’s late in the evening, so I’m going to go floss and brush my teeth and celebrate by slipping in my nice warm bed. As accomplishments and celebrations go, I’ll take it.

Desire to Write vs. Desire to Be a Writer

The desire to write grows with writing. – Desiderius Erasmus

John over at the community put this up as a writing prompt and it lined up well with some conversations I’ve had recently.  Some friends have been reading the blog or at least seeing that I’m blogging and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. Most people are convinced that I’m blogging every day, but the self-depricating data nerd in my head reminds me that it’s not every day. (Don’t worry, I’m not obnoxious enough to point this out to anybody and ruin a perfectly good compliment.)

I’ve blogged almost every day this year so far and I have to agree with our friend Erasmus, my desire to write is growing every time I do it. Where this quote intersects with my life is that I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve take a few shots at it and I always get compliments on my writing (not that anyone would tell me if I was a terrible writer, I guess). But if you’re reading closely you already picked out the distinction.

I always wanted to be a writer. That’s different desire from wanting to actually sit down and write (boy, I’m loving these italics today. What’s that all about?). Dorothy Parker said it well: “I hate writing, I love having written.”

I don’t hate writing, far from it. But I’ve spent years waiting to feel like writing or waiting for some sort of inspiration to hit. Now that I’m writing more consistently, that preciousness is fading away and I am free to get down to the business of just writing. I don’t really edit, my grammar is passable enough to get by. I might have obsessed a few years ago about which punctuation mark goes where or if this needs a comma or semi-colon (or semicolon), but that would have just been a distraction from me actually writing.

My post on finding a purpose vs. living with purpose (you can read it here) is really setting the tone for this year so far. Instead of wanting to be a WRITER (trying to find a purpose), I’ve been able to shift towards really wanting to WRITE (living with purpose). A new job title isn’t going to be the thing that makes a difference in my life, but me waking up every morning thinking about how I can contribute or wondering what to write is doing wonders for me.

I’m in a period of liminality, where I’m looking for developer jobs to apply to, writing emails, and putting myself through exercises so those muscles don’t atrophy. It would be very easy to define myself by my lack of job title in this time. Instead, I have work to do and blogs to write, so I don’t have time to sit and wallow in my lack of identity. Instead, when I get a job, I’ll probably be doing the same amount of work I’m doing now, only I’ll be getting paid for it (and if that can happen sooner rather than later, that would be awesome! haha).

So Erasmus is right, my desire to write is increasing with me actually writing. My desire to “be a writer” was only increasing by me dreaming about it, and oddly that didn’t amount to too much in the end.

Some Timeless Advice

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 9.07.10 PMTimeless advice??? What kind of pompous a-hole titles his blog posts like that??? Oh, right…

I retweeted this adverstisement earlier today from @History_Pics and I’ve been thinking about it off and on since then.  This ad and variations of it ran from the 1940s to the 1970s. I’m not going to dissect it or laugh at it or try to belittle it.

I’m just kind of shaking my head, so my “timeless advice” is this: remember that no matter what year it is, there are people getting paid astronomical amounts of money to make you feel like whoever you are is not enough, whatever you look like is wrong, and that <insert product here> is the solution. Most of us suspect that we don’t fit in for whatever reason, and it only takes a little nudge one way or the other to convince us that THIS is finally that thing that will make us more normal or more attractive to those you want to be more attractive to or just happier and more fulfilled.

And if it doesn’t work (or even if it temporarily does), don’t worry. There’s a new product and marketing campaign just around the corner to let you know the new ways you’re failing and the solution to those problems.

Vacation All I Really Wanted

Photograph from Rula Sibai on

Still no job so it’s not time to celebrate just yet, but I’m filing away ideas about vacations to come. Give me a park bench in the Fall and let me people-watch, read, and chat with strangers (for very short, controlled periods of time, haha), and I’m pretty much satisfied. I’ve started applying to jobs all over the US and even overseas, so who knows where I end up.

I love this picture, though, because it’s what I love about a “city.” Can you combine the necessity of concrete urbanism with little pockets of peace and respite? Are you thinking about the people of your city enough to build retreats from the chaos and traffic? If you’re in one of these cities are you seeking these places out or are you slowly letting the tension sit in your shoulders until you’re hunching up for no reason?

Once I’m employed, I’ll be moving into debt repayment hyperdrive, so these are my vacation dreams. A little peace and quiet, just outside the edge of the hustle and bustle so I don’t get too comfortable just yet. If you walk by and see me, come say hello and people-watch with me. It’s really the best.

Gif Party

Today is Day 5 of the Five Days to More Engaging Content workshop I’ve been doing. We’re looking at gifs and/or emoticons as a quick way to get a point across or engage readers at a more visceral level. Gifs were a primary form of communication in my class at the Iron Yard, so I thought I’d just make a little highlight reel of some of my favorites. You’ll see that the standard emotional lifecycle for a bootcamp student swings between elated joy and rage haha. Enjoy!

* legend tip: if you look closely you’ll see our rails instructor JWo

Two Dots Is All You Need

I’m noticing some changes in the way I look at apps and sites these days. I’m not to the point where I see all the code coursing underneath the app Neo-style, but I’m starting to see that people made choices, and I’m curious as to the why and the how for each of those choices. I stumbled across a great time waster in the form of the game Two Dots, and a big reason I love to play it is that I love its design and aesthetic as much as the gameplay.

It’s sort of Candy Crush’s less annoying cousin, but just as addictive as Kwazy Cupcakes

Anyway, here’s what I’m really loving about Two Dots:

It’s basically just a game where you touch one dot and connect dots with the same color by dragging your finger across the screen. It’s so simple, but think about how “smart-phone-native” this is. Have you ever tried to play Tetris on your iPhone? Maybe it’s just me being an old man, but it’s just not the same without your GameBoy directional pad and buttons. It always has that “square peg in a round hole” feel to me any time I get nostalgic and download Tetris for my phone.

Two Dots was built for your phone and it shows. I love apps and technologies that focus on doing one thing well and refuse to be a one-stop shop for all your gaming/computing/planning/etc./etc./etc. needs.

I’m actually writing this blog with the app, built for blogging and distraction-free writing. It’s all about content creation. If you want to dress things up a certain way or make your blog look super cool, there are a million ways to do that, but that’s not what does. It just focuses you on writing, so you can create actual content.

This may seem counterintuitive to many people, especially those who want to make a lot of money. I haven’t been doing this long, but I can already tell you that it takes a lot of courage to build an app that just does one thing. The fear of your app being rejected because it doesn’t have x, y, or z feature can be crushing, and you can just take a quick look at the app store to find examples of developer insecurity all over the place.

Two other great examples of focused creation are Side Mirror and Raising Cane’s. Side Mirror is an app for people who do live demos and presentations. They can preview what’s being projected while still making private notes on their own screens and saving their necks from having to turn around to watch your work on the large screen. How tempting to make another powerpoint clone? That’s where the real money would be, right?

Now, Raising Cane’s is not an app, but we go way back. I went to college at LSU and spent most of my time about twenty yards from their very first location. We basically used it as an off-campus cafeteria and ad-hoc meeting space when the need arose. They just serve chicken fingers, fries, toast, and coleslaw. There are a few configurations of these items, but that’s all they do. They don’t serve breakfast, they don’t serve burgers, they just serve chicken fingers.

There are a lot of these restaurants now, and I don’t even think Raising Cane’s was the first, but it was a novel idea in the simpler, gentler time that was the late 90s. This aesthetic was with me before I started down the web development road, but now that I’m here I feel like I’ve learned the lesson well. As I’m dipping my toes in my own side projects, I’m encouraged that I don’t have to solve a ton of problems.

I just have to think about what bugs or delights me. What sparks any kind of emotion in me? Is it time to create a Monty Python quote or meme generator? I think it might be.

Ice = Broken

Had my first phone interview today! I don’t want this blog to be too “Dear Diary,” so that’s all I’ll say for now. Either way, it’s another step forward and that feels awesome. We’re playing around with embedded content in the latest blogging challenge I’m doing, so I thought I’d give you a sample of my “feeling awesome” soundtrack. Enjoy:

I Don’t Have 1,000 Words, I Hope This Will Do

IMG_0443I’m signed up for another blog workshop: Five Days to More Engaging Content, focusing more on the visual aspect of my blogging. I’ll be honest, this is not my strong suit. I have friends that are amazing visual artists (am I using that phrase right?), so it’s easy for me to just focus on the words and the ideas and let the professionals handle the heavy lifting. But I didn’t come here to not learn stuff, so here we go.

Today I’m applying to jobs and sitting at a little cafe in downtown Houston called Tout Suite. It’s a dreary afternoon and that called for some grilled cheese with avacado and a little salad. “Where’s the soup?” you ask? Woah woah woah! I just said I’m job hunting, I don’t have “soup money” to be throwing around like a freaking Rockefeller!

OK, back to the job hunt. Here a few pics of Tout Suite for Lagniappe: