The right amount of stubborn

November 07, 2018

Caroline turns 32

It's Caroline's birthday today; she's 32. That photo was from the Hong Kong metro, while we were visiting China.

In addition to being a great wife and travel companion, she's been a great thought partner over the last 8 years. As an architect, her work life is tougher than most (not many jobs to go around, lots of boom/bust cycles), but she made it: working as a carpenter building sets in Chicago when she graduated from architecture school in the midst of the subprime crisis, sticking with it through several jobs, until she landed at David Baker Architects, a fantastic firm where she's worked the past five years.

Her commitment to it is really inspiring. I'm more of an opportunist: I started in semiconductor design, then got into productivity software, developer tools, consulting, and now, robotics. My work life has been all over the place; she picked something, and stuck with it.

Watching her taught me the difference between a job and a career. I'm not sure I would've figured that out myself. A lot of my friend still haven't.

I've known a lot of people, like my first business partner, who "locally optimize" their work lives too much: they start doing one thing, then jump on to something "better" before they get good at the first thing. They get nowhere after a decade and wonder why they haven't made progress. It's simple: they aren't good at anything. It's closely related to what I wrote about yesterday, how dealing with an emergency requires finishing things. Unless you make progress, you just don't get anywhere.

Being excellent at anything worthwhile takes commitment. The trick is being a little bit stubborn: have the courage to ignore small setbacks, and keep moving forward. The trick is knowing when to soldier on vs. when it's time to fold 'em; I'm 34 and have a long way to go before I've figured that one out.

The main thing I've realized is that most of us tech people give up too early. Quoting Bill Gates,

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.

That's a good lesson to keep in mind.

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