Embraced

This was my first WWDC as a resident of San Francisco. I used to say I was traveling to hang out with 5,000 of my closest developer friends and it was really true. Not that I knew everyone who was attending this annual Apple gathering, but there was a kindred spirit among us and I made new friends every single year—some who have changed my life forever.

Now I don’t have to travel for the conference, except for walking a mile or two to the event du jour. As a local, I have embraced my role as one of the city’s unofficial ambassadors by helping visitors get the most out of their time here.

Besides the question, “How is Apple treating you?” (my answer is, “Great!”), the most common comment was, “You seem to have embraced the San Francisco lifestyle.”

Embrace is a glorious word. More than just a hug, it suggests love and enthusiasm and holding on for dear life—never wanting to let go. It’s a high compliment when someone says that I’ve embraced my new life. I want to be that guy who goes all in.

I mean, why not? Why bother moving from the Gulf Coast to the West Coast if you’re not going to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment out of it?

I grew up in a middle-class, suburban lifestyle not wanting for anything. We weren’t rich, but my dad was a Teamster and made good money driving a truck. He sacrificed adventure for stability. He took very good care of his family. But his great joy was when he sailed the Atlantic as a Merchant Marine in the Second World War. He hated the war, but he loved the sea. I would watch his eyes light up when he told me of his adventures on his ship. If there weren’t a family waiting for him back in Buffalo, New York, I’m sure he would have never left life on the sea.

But he was unselfish and loved his family. He did what had to be done to provide for us. I was born 14 years after my 3 siblings and saw a different man than them. This man had to bury his 19-year old son and spent his last decade fighting management problems at work. My father’s stories of adventure contrasted so dramatically with his day-to-day life and I could see that he had lost too much. He embraced us and his friends, but I saw something missing. I saw him tired.

Growing up, I vowed to be daring and not settle for just a paycheck. I wasn’t going to punch a time clock, no matter how often my dad said it was part of life. He pushed me to go to college so I could do what he never did, but he also wanted me to understand how you have to compromise to survive—I despised the concept of compromise. As much as my dad longed for the high seas, I longed to be a rock star.

Musicians infused my life with such joy that I wanted to be one of them. Unfortunately, I was also practical and knew I would have to work incredibly hard to overcome my lack of natural talent. When I went to college and found a talent for programming, my desires changed. I could now create something from just my thoughts and logic. I embraced my new skills and started to write software for businesses, which lead to IntelliPACS, my first company. I thought Intelligent Programming and Consulting Services smashed together would be a great name, but I was young and naïve so forgive me for that one. Anyway, I was doing something I loved, getting paid for it, and working on my own schedule—which was after college classes and homework. There was a freedom to this work and no time clock in sight to punch. I sure showed my dad.

My skills at running a company were poor in my early 20’s and I ended up working too much for too little money. Life was changing rapidly with the start of a new marriage and the passing of my dad all within a few short months. I was tired of the long, dreary winters and wanted a change. Living in the small town of Cheektowaga also reminded me too much of my dad and how much he suffered and I wanted out. Both my sisters lived in Houston and I saw that as the complete opposite of my current life. Warm weather, new opportunities, and a big city that was filled with the technology that was part of my career future.

Texas was where my family grew up. My three kids were born and raised in The Woodlands, where Judy and I worked hard to create a stable place for our children. We traveled when we could to expand our world, but the suburbs of North Houston had become our home going on 30 years. The goal wasn’t to move, but to downsize and use our home as a launching point for more adventures. After visiting London and Paris, we both longed for more time in cities where we could stroll around and be immersed in architecture and culture. Maybe we could downsize enough to afford to live in London part of the year.

We had just begun the process of figuring out how to sell our house and move to a smaller place when my new job opportunity appeared. Now our eyes focused on San Francisco as an American substitute for living in London—less culture and history, but better weather and no citizenship issues. This was to become our new home. I wanted to embrace it. To swim in it. To change everything and live this new life to the fullest. Why move all this way if not to capitalize on the opportunity to go all in?

I remember my third grade teacher, Mrs. Rice, telling me that I wasn’t living up to my potential (homework was boring, so I may have skipped doing some of it) and asking, “Do you want to live your life as an underachiever?” Just to spite her, I said, “Yes”, which instigated a phone call to my mother and much discussion on that topic at home. But the incident stuck with me and I often ask myself if I’m living up to my potential.

Stay in the role where I’m the smartest (and only) guy in the room or challenge myself to grow even though it will be uncomfortable? I took the challenge.

Keep the cars and the suburban lifestyle that I knew or ditch the cars, live in a tiny apartment, and explore the unknown recesses of a new city? I chose to explore.

Not taking full advantage of every opportunity means lost potential and I can’t have that—Mrs. Rice will kick my butt. So when the universe presents me with a chance to change everything, I stretch out my arms as wide as I can and embrace it.