I had a roughish day today (well, as the current contract goes). Just so the scene is properly set, it was nowhere near as bad as my favourite programmer’s anthem:
There’s only really one line in the song that rang true for me today, and by the end of this post you’ll probably have guessed it. Still, the day was rougher than normal, with time pressure to isolate and fix the problem along with implications that even though the Boss-built prototype was also borked on the data file, there was probably an issue with my “industrial strength” version.
I’d managed to isolate and fix the problem by lunch. Turns out that there was a breakdown in communication of the requirements for handling different DBase files generated by differing versions of ArcGIS. And, violations of expectations…
You see, I’d been told months ago that the program had been thoroughly tested, and it was water-tight. This sudden shock of being told the exact opposite with a directive to drop another deep-issue problem called up shades of previous programming gigs that most definitely DID match Johnathon’s most excellent programmer’s anthem.
Anyway, I was brooding over it tonight, and decided to take my mind off things by re-trying an Inkscape tutorial that I’ve not quite grokked on previous attempts. Given the path the day followed, I’m not surprised in hindsight that I chose the subject matter that I settled on. Thankfully, this time I nailed the tutorial, and can claim one more little Inkscape pattern in my growing bag of tricks:
Who’s Miracle Max? On the very off chance, that you’re reading this and you don’t know, I’m about to do you a flavour. Sit back and watch Max do his sthick, then go watch the entire movie. It’s called “The Princess Bride“, and is well deserving of its cult classic reputation.
So anyway, drawing up the diagram allowed me to finally get the distance from my emotions that I needed but couldn’t seem to get to. By the end of the Inkscape goofery, I was mentally quiet enough to accept the waiting insight that the day’s entire emotional baggage could be traced to my violation of expectations.
The shock of having reality bent into a shape that I had convinced myself just couldn’t be. The deflated ego, flapping about widely in the breeze looking for someone to blame for this mismatch between “what is”, and what I was demanding “what is” be instead. And finally, the still-tentative understanding I’ve recently been culturing that between stimulus and response lies choice, and it’s not the falling down that constitutes failure, but the staying down.
The moment the insight hit me, it was dead-easy to just let it all go. Who knows? The boss might have been having his own violation of expectations over a program that had been watertight for months, but when he absolutely needed it for a pending paper, it fails him. Nice idea thanks ego, but I’m not bothered trying to invest any belief in it because that’s just heading back down the path of expectations.
“What was”, was. “What is” just took “what was”, and used it to achieve something that pleases me. Story ends happily thanks to catching myself bound up in mental chatter of violated expectations. Also, there’s the recognition that I can choose to let go of a poor response to a stimulus and pick a new, healthier one regardless of how long I’ve been cradling that poor approach.
The moment I pick the healthier response, the temporary failure passes, and I’m back once again an island of calm.