When I started this post, I was sitting in my favorite coffee-house in the world. If you ever have the chance to visit Portland, Maine, you must stop by Bard Coffee. It is the best coffee on the planet served in a great atmosphere by people who are crazy passionate about coffee. I don’t get to go there very often because it’s a bit out of the way from my office. That day, I happened to be walking by at lunch time so there I was, drinking a delicious latte and writing a blog post on my new Mac Air.
I’d just come from a meeting where I was told I don’t know enough, don’t have a good enough plan and don’t have the right focus in order to succeed. I was also exceedingly happy to have had this meeting as it was exactly what thought I would hear.
I’m not crazy (OK, not too crazy). I had a meeting with someone who is an expert in their field and I went to them for some advice on how to do a better job with a project I’m working on. I went in to the meeting with an open mind and made it a point to listen to the words of someone who has been quite successful doing what I hope to do.
I can’t go into a lot of details about the project I’m working on as it’s still too soon to be able to tell where it will go. This project will take a lot of my time and energy and will be quite rewarding for me personally regardless of the outcome. That’s why I found myself at a meeting with an expert who had graciously given me some time to grill him for advice and feedback.
In order to get anything out of this meeting, I could not go in with a lot of pride or an easily bruised ego. If I went in to the meeting already convinced of what I was doing and just wanting validation from another, it would be easy to get offended or to dismiss the advice of this expert. That’s not what I was after.
When an expert offers his time, free of charge, to review your project and provide candid feedback you’d be a fool not to listen to that feedback. I was determined not to be a fool. I went in to the meeting, presented my idea and showed what I had done so far. My idea and work was then dissected in front of me and laid bare so that all of its shortcomings and its strengths were plain to see. Needless to say, it wasn’t a fun experience but it was useful. Since that meeting, I’ve been able to take a lot of the free advice into account and I feel like I have a better understanding of how to proceed with my project and I’m excited about it being successful. I also know that I’ve avoided wasting my time following some paths that would not have worked out for me in the end.
It occurred to me that this is how things happen frequently in our lives. We see or learn something that could be helpful to us but our attachment to ideas/desires/possessions/passions keep us from paying attention to whatever it is. Our pride keeps us rooted. Buddhism teaches us a lot about attachment and how it leads to suffering in our lives. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. As I’ve been thinking about it, I have begun to see how true this really is. Being attached to our ideas means that we are unwilling to change them when the opportunity arises. I have seen this happen in every technical job I have ever had: someone is attached to their idea or method or solution and because of that attachment improvements are not made or are outright ignored. I’ve heard it said that the technology field is one of those rare few where hubris is a virtue and I see that virtue play out every time I interact with technical people.
If we allow our pride to keep us from making changes that move us forward, we suffer while trying to figure out why our wheels just keep spinning and progress isn’t being made. Pride is just a word that we use to define attachment to self. One of the reasons I write so frankly about my successes and failures in a public forum is because I don’t want to let my pride get in the way of my progress toward being healthy. Are you trying to make a change in your life or to get something done? If you’re not seeing the results you want, ask yourself some hard, penetrating questions about your pride and your ego. Without an intense awareness of your attachments, you will not see the success you hope to find any time soon. Once you are willing to admit ignorance or helplessness you are in a better position to move ahead. You may already be on the best course of action or have the right solution for your problem but until you are willing to give up your solution or your beliefs or your methods, you’ll never be able to evaluate them to find a better way. Laying aside pride is the first step to success.