Real Power

I’m not at all happy with how our 2016 national elections turned out, but what’s done is done and we have to move forward.

I can move forward with hope because I know that the person who holds the executive office of the United States of America only has so much power to affect my world. The real power to affect change is in my hands—all of our hands.

Here’s a little secret that you may not know: Government doesn’t create change, it bows to it.

Every important change in our country has come from the people making a decision to do things differently and then pushing for the government to ratify that change. Politicians don’t act, they react. They know that they have to do what their constituents demand or they will no longer hold a seat of power.

If you have been sitting back waiting for the government to fix your problems… wake up. The only person with any power to affect long-term change in your life is you. So forget about who won or lost and who was on what team. Change starts with each and every one of us deciding to make this a better world. And the best place to begin to make a difference is locally in our own communities.

Real power is feeding the hungry.

Real power is sheltering the homeless.

Real power is speaking out for those who are being oppressed.

Real power is learning to embrace change and growth.

Real power is choosing to walk away from hatred and finding a way to love everyone.

Pointing fingers and playing the blame game is easy; we can do that with almost zero effort. It’s harder to take responsibility for change in our lives because we have to actually do something. It’s disruptive to our routines. But with how divided our country is on politics, we can’t afford to sit back and blame others.

Let’s all find one positive thing to change each and every day of our lives. Let’s show the world that we can be better than we were in this past election cycle. The real power is still undecided. It’s time to vote with our actions.

Privacy

There are two kinds of privacy: that which you freely discard and the privacy that is ripped from your hands.

People seems to be confused about the difference. If you post private information on Facebook or Twitter, you are doing so of your own free will. Your sharing, or over-sharing, is all of your own accord.

When the government is allowed to invade your home—physically or in the digital world—you are no longer in control. There are no more boundaries and you can’t just delete your social media account and stop sharing. Saying that you don’t need to worry about privacy attacks by the government because you’re already sharing everything is the same as saying rape is allowed because you are promiscuous.

Privacy is about consent. I’m careful about what I post online because it does matter what I share. People and governments are not altruistic. There are exceptions, but most people use labels to simplify their lives—and so do I. If I can categorize or label something, it makes my decision about dealing with it easier. That email is junk; delete it. That one is from my boss; flag it for action. These ones are just notifications from services; archive them. I do it with people too. Family, close friends, casual acquaintances, work mates, vendors, etc. How I categorize you determines my behavior towards you.

We all do it and we base our categorizations on what we know about someone. The more we share, the more we risk being labeled by someone, or worse, by the government. The word “terrorist” carries so much weight as a label. It implies evil and murder and hatred. Labels like that don’t peel off easily. Talk to someone who has been put on a no-fly list accidentally and see what they think about labels. If the government labels you as a terrorist, you have zero rights. The term “national security” is already used too often by people in power to trample personal freedoms and is easily triggered by the terrorist label.

What if the government had access to your home and all your private conversations and notes stored on your devices and determined that you were someone who needed to be on a watch list. Maybe you’re not a terrorist, but a sympathizer in their eyes. Even I’m not old enough to know about McCarthyism first hand, but I’ve read enough and seen movies about it and it terrifies me that we could go back to that era. People’s lives were destroyed because they said or did something that went against the accepted norm of thought. Senator McCarthy promoted that communism was a threat to our way of life and we needed to make sure to weed out the Commies before they hurt us. The cause was more important than personal freedom or rights.

”Make sure we stop the terrorists before hurt us.”

”Stomping on personal freedom is okay if it stops those damn terrorists.”

”Terrorists don’t deserve privacy or to have any rights.”

It’s easy to say or think these things as long as the label doesn’t fit you. What happens when the labels change? What happens if you or I are seen as a threat? What if just writing this article put me on a list?

This quote from Martin Niemöller has always sent chills down my spine and does so even more in our current political environment:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Entitlement

Few human behaviors rile me up more than entitlement. I didn’t tolerate it within organizations that I ran and it drives me crazy when I see it in other places.

Entitlement is the attitude that the world/society/company owes me something simply because I exist.

“I come to this restaurant all the time; I deserve to have the corner booth I like.”

No, you deserve to sit your pompous ass down in the first available table like the rest of us. And, yes, my wife and I have been asked to move to a different table 15 minutes after being seated because a long-time customer arrived and wanted the corner table. Amazingly, this really happens.

“I’ve worked at this company for 10 years; I shouldn’t have to follow the new employee rules.”

If you’re not contributing to the organization today in a meaningful way, you might not even deserve to still work there. Time on the job isn’t a free pass. You have to follow the rules and be productive. It may sound harsh to be asked, “What have you done for me lately?” but… what have you done for me lately?

“I have a degree from Big Name U and get paid a lot of money. Do you really expect me to wash my own dishes?”

Yes. Yes I do. You make the mess, you clean it up. Shocking concept. I also expect that after you wash your hands in the restroom, you make sure your paper towels end up in the trash—including the little bits that ripped off when you tried to pull the paper out of the dispenser—and that the toilet is flushed. And before you flush, dump in the dozen strips of toilet paper laying on the seat that you used to make your personal defense barrier against potential germs. Why would anyone think that’s the next person’s job?

“I hate having to step over these people lying in the street. Someone should really do something about the homeless problem.”

Yes. You and me. It’s a hard problem to solve, but none of us gets to pretend that it’s not our place to help find a solution or that we deserve a place free of poverty and mental illness. Bad things happen to good people all the time. It’s not because they are any less worthy than the rest of us.

It’s really very simple: We all have to contribute some of our time and effort to keep this world healthy—no exceptions. You don’t get to opt out because of any false entitlements you have dreamed up in your head. I don’t care who you are or how long you’ve existed, drop your entitlement and follow some caring rules:

  • Don’t look down on people because they don’t have your status or fame or degree or money. This may be hard for you to hear, but you’re not actually better than anyone else.
  • The more you have, the more generous you should be.
  • Leave the place better than when you arrived.
  • Be nice to the people around you and smile once in a while.

Life is a beautiful gift. Entitlement is the act of stomping on that gift and then complaining that it messed up your expensive shoes. I’m not perfect and have probably come across as entitled on more than one occasion, but I do work to check myself often by asking, “What have I done to improve the place where I exist?” If my answer is “nothing,” then I probably played my entitlement card.

Work

Back in 1999 I was putting together a team and raising money for my latest venture—an Internet startup running a website to host construction project information. It was a crazy time and a very emotional ride because it coincided with a growing fissure between me and my business partners. We had disagreements over the management of our existing software company and thought spinning off this new venture would give us some space to work apart. This transition forced me into taking on new roles and there was money and my reputation riding on its success.

To make sure that I didn’t veer too far off course I hired Paul Lemberg, a business coach who I had worked with in the past and trusted. He required that I check in often via email and we always had a Tuesday call to sum up the past week and plan the next one. I hated these calls. Not that Paul was hard to talk to—he was great—but it was his job to fix what I was doing wrong, so the calls ended with me feeling like I needed to work harder and push myself more.

After weeks of doing presentations for potential investors and negotiating terms, I was pretty happy with my progress and actually looked forward to my upcoming Tuesday call with Paul. I bragged a bit about my week and how things were going and he asked, “How are you doing with the investor calls?” Feeling somewhat smug I replied, “I’m getting quite comfortable talking to investors.” Expecting a compliment, I was floored when he said, “Then you’re not pushing yourself enough.” Dammit. Why couldn’t he just have let me enjoy my happy place? As I recall, my response was a well-crafted and eloquent 30 seconds of dead silence. I proceeded to pick up the remaining pieces of my pride and worked to take his comment to heart.

I totally get it. I was getting too comfortable and work is not about comfort. It’s supposed to push you and make you better. That’s not to say that you can’t have fun while working, but if it’s effortless, then you probably need to take on a new, more challenging task and delegate the easy stuff. In the case of my investor calls, I was talking to the people I knew, the low-hanging fruit. These were good calls to make, but I needed to go further. I needed to get through these calls quickly and go after the bigger fish—the calls I wasn’t comfortable making. I was accomplishing just enough to make myself feel good about what I was doing, but not the work that would really make a breakthrough difference.

When I was first married, I had a job that paid the bills. Well, Judy usually made more money and paid more of the bills, but at least I helped. During that time I was constantly working evenings writing software. Sometimes it was shareware for the Mac and other times it was contract work to bring in extra money. These extracurricular activities inspired me in ways that my day job couldn’t. I felt limited during the day and free at night. I knew my day efforts wouldn’t blossom into anything more than a small annual raise. If I wanted to do amazing things, I was going to have to color outside the lines and push myself to be more creative with my time.

Because my wife was more responsible and had the stable career, I had the flexibility to spin many of my nighttime efforts into full-time ventures, which is why I’ve had five different startups over the years. It wasn’t always easy to write code until 2 AM and be ready for a Houston commute six hours later, but I wanted to be more than I was and do more for our future. I could see that my 9-to-5 job wasn’t my destiny. It didn’t fulfill me or stimulate significant personal growth. It wasn’t that I was bored, but it was more like feeling out of place—I could and should do more with my talents.

“I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK. I sleep all night and work all day.”

Both my sons are in their mid twenties and working long hours at fast food restaurants. When asked how things were going, my elder son quoted the above Monty Python lyrics. It made me chuckle, but it also concerned me because I know it’s all too true. I’m proud of them for their work ethic, but I want more for my kids. I want them to be more than what their work defines them as today. They have a poor work/life balance because a lower-end job is just not going to give them enough income to allow for more free time. This kind of job forces you to put in long hours to pay rent, utilities, and food expenses.

Not that it’s all about the money. If you can lower your overhead, you could earn less and do what makes you happy, like volunteer work, outreach, or teaching. It’s less about how much you earn and more about the satisfaction of working hard and producing something of worth. We all have stepping stone jobs—Taco Bell paid for some meals and books during my first year of college—but too often we settle for a shallow career. So many of us never reach our potential.

I’m blessed to be a fidgety type who isn’t risk averse. Merely collecting a paycheck doesn’t cut it for me; I need more. Running my own indie software company was hard work, but I had done it for long enough that it was comfortable. I was my own boss, which meant no one criticized my code and I drove the schedules. There was risk, but the majority of my mistakes were made in private. Taking a position at a company filled with brilliant individuals was pure disruption to my cozy life. It was easy being the smartest guy in the room when I was the only person in it.

Fortunately, this risk paid off and rewarded me with new career challenges and a brand new urban lifestyle. I didn’t know what would happen when I made this change, but I knew I was being handed a huge opportunity if I was ready to work hard for it. Pushing past the fear of looking like a fool was probably the hardest task.

I believe the trick to growth is to learn to enjoy being out of your comfort zone; teach yourself to crave a challenge and abhor too much time spent with the familiar. Amazing things happen when you open yourself up to change and the discomfort that may come with it. Life is waiting for you to wade into it. Come on in, the deep end is fine.

WWDC15

My first Apple conference was in 2008. I had visited San Francisco once, a decade earlier, but this first WWDC was my first real experience of the city. Spending time with friends who had a common passion made this a great trip. I vowed to make this trip a priority every year after.

This year, I arrived a bit early… in July… of 2014. It’s crazy cool to live in the city that was previously just a once-a-year gathering spot.

Forget about the fact that I work for the company putting on the big show, just being here and having even more time to visit with friends is a gift. I get to play the host and for once not arrive late and leave early to save money—renting an apartment in SF means there’s little money left to worry about saving, but that’s for another article.

I have no WWDC advice for you except to enjoy the city. See as much of it as you can and spend as much time with friends you only get to see once a year. If you have time to make it out of SOMA, please do. I live in Pac Heights, but my wife and I spend time in the Marina, Cow Hollow, Nob Hill, Hayes Valley, Ocean Beach, North Beach, well, you get the idea. We try to get around.

This is a diverse city with so much to offer. Every year that I visited, I barely had enough time to make it to the events where my friends hung out. Now after almost a year here, I see how much I missed and how just a couple of extra days would have improved my experience.

I hope to bump into you while you are here. Cheers and have a great conference—no matter which one you attend—and enjoy San Francisco.

Damaged

The news lately has me spun up. Acts of violence and hatred turned my thoughts to the individuals responsible. People who are so damaged that they feel the need to hurt others to make their world right.

Case in point, the May Day riot in Oakland where people broke store windows, car windshields, and left graffiti. This was called the “Oakland to Baltimore” protest in response to the murder of Freddie Gray by Baltimore police. I understand the anger. When we are betrayed by the people that are supposed to protect us, when the cops are damaged, it cuts even deeper.

But what does damaging commercial property solve?! How much did that damage cost dealerships and shop owners who may not have any extra money to cover these damages? Are these protesters civic-minded individuals fighting for a cause or are they people with deep-seated issues waiting for a reason to damage others around them? I applaud those willing to walk and speak out in protest. The broken people who use tragedy to spread more destruction just hurt my heart.

I’m also hurt by the unforgivable treatment of women in tech know as Gamergate—especially as a male working in this industry. The recent article by Maddy Myers reminded me of this problem that is not visible to most of us.  Worse than just breaking property, these damaged men send death and rape threats to women like Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn. As it is with many cowards, these attacks are anonymous. Damaged people hide in the darkness. They justify their horrific behavior with flimsy excuses and blame the victims. These men are so damaged that they can’t see anything wrong with what they are doing. They are so damaged that they are afraid of the opposite sex. What kind of abuse or macho brainwashing did they have to endure to become the warped individuals they are today?

Whatever the cause, the result is damaged wiring. These faulty brain connections allow these people to think they have the right to hurt others. They see hate as a tool and imagine themselves as some sort of knight defending an ideal. These people have lost perspective on reality and don’t see a problem with their behavior. Here’s a quick quiz if you’re unsure what constitutes being seriously broken.

You’re damaged if…

…you choose violence as a solution.

…you feel superior to someone because of sex, race, color, or creed.

…you verbally abuse someone for any reason—especially if they “don’t belong” in your community.

…you threaten someone with physical violence or encourage others to do so.

The solution is to disavow this behavior. As a society, we need to reject any sort of violence or hatred. We can’t idly sit by and silently condone these acts by doing nothing. Speak out. Offer help to the victims. Find peaceful ways to protest injustice. Teach your children to love unconditionally. Love unconditionally.

There will always be damaged people in this world performing horrible acts, but we can minimize their actions by caring about one another. Every kind act heals our world. Every word of support soothes some pain.

We are all damaged to some degree. Damage isn’t an all-or-nothing condition. I fight my brokenness all too often, but I know each time I choose to respond with love, each time I choose inclusivity over segregation, each time I swallow my pride and admit I am wrong, I’m a better person. I’m healing some of my own damage.

None of this violence has directly affected my life–I read about it and watch the videos, but I’m not the person being victimized. There are no death threats against me and no property damage that I need to fix, but distance is no excuse for apathy. Let’s seek out ways to fix the damage. Let’s find a way to love each other no matter how damaged we all are.

Selma

I grew up in the 60s in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. Watching the movie Selma brought back a flood of memories for me.

Western New York wasn’t a hotbed of civil unrest or reform, but it was very ethnically segregated and I was surrounded by bigotry and hate growing up. Color and creed were both points of prejudice in Buffalo.

During the graphic hate scenes in Selma, I couldn’t help but well up with sadness for those who had to sacrifice so much for something as basic as voting rights. But it wasn’t just scenes from 1965 that made me so sad or the flood of emotions that came back from seeing bigotry in my youth, it was the knowledge that we still hold so many prejudices today.

Modern prejudices are more subtle and people have pushed them down below the surface to disguise them. Bigotry today is justified by national security or religious bias, but is no less a cancer that still plagues humanity.

Everyone needs to see this movie. Let it affect you and give you reasons to explore your individual prejudices. I’m auditing my own attitudes to see how much of my upbringing is still lurking in the dark corners of my brain. I’m frightened that I’m not as free of prejudices as I think I am… and that’s probably healthy fear.