Every New Year’s Day, I take a moment to reflect on the past year. I write my future self a letter to remind me what I achieved that year, the hurdles I faced, and plot my next steps. I’ve also fallen into the habit of doing something similar each birthday on my blog. This year I’m a bit late, but I’ve been busy – but the more I think about it, the more it’s important for me to put this out there.
As an engineer, I have a predisposition to negative thinking. While many might think of engineering as a creative profession, one embedded in the positive act of generating something from nothing, critical thinking is a significant component of an engineer’s thought process: What could go wrong? What’s wrong with this picture? What assumptions am I making? There’s a logical reason for the critical nature of an engineer’s thought process: if we get it wrong someone else could pay the price. In software, it’s no longer about lives (flashback to university: “…and if you do this wrong, someone could die, and it’ll be your fault!”), but the impact of getting it wrong can be disastrous nonetheless.
This past year, I’ve started trying to hack my brain to reverse this thought process. It’s not that I want to ignore what could go wrong, but rather examine and invite the opportunity for things to go right. One part of this transformation has been due to a partial read-through of “The Power of Positive Thinking“, a book that examines the new field of positive psychiatry. The book’s theme in a nutshell is that the internal dialog you use to dissect problems you face can ultimately undermine not only your health, but your chances of success in the future.
Now I’m not one for pseudoscientific self-help mumbo jumbo, but there’s enough science quoted in the book that it’s a worthwhile read.
A lot of my introspection in the past has been overly negative – why aren’t I doing X, how come I haven’t achieved Y, why did I fail at Z? In the past half year, I’ve stopped doing that. It is in this new vein of positive thinking that I want to chronicle the things I’ve done in these 33 years:
- I got an education: I was quite down on university during my time at both SFU and at UBC. In retrospect, I’ve come to realize that SFU’s Engineering Science program prepared me for the real world in ways that most programs don’t acknowledge as important, such as writing and presentation skills. Besides the formal education that comes with university, my experience in a variety of startups has spared me the experience of being a corporate cog, stuck in a single company for the entirety of my working career.
- I made stuff: I always have felt the need to be busy, to have some project that I’m working on. In retrospect, I now realize I’ve actually done a lot of stuff with my time. I wrote a book, I recorded a CD, I’ve helped release a lot of software, and some of it even made a lot of money.
- I travelled the world: Most people don’t even get to see the world at large, nevermind live in it for any extended period of time. In just over the past decade, I’ve lived in five countries (US, Canada, Britain, Anguilla, Ireland). I’ve toured Europe and the US pretty extensively. I’ve accumulated two citizenships (Canada, Ireland), a US Permanent Resident card, and British Patriality. Although I lost my Australian citizenship when I became a Canadian, I could probably resume it without too much trouble. In short, I’ve gotten around.
- I found a partner in crime: Shortly after leaving university, I married my wife Ashley. She’s been a constant companion on this adventure, patient in the face of my many moods, and always supportive of my decisions to undertake new or risky endeavors. She can read my mind most of the time, and has been a balancing force that keeps me grounded. Most people aren’t so lucky to find the one they want to be with for the rest of their lives. Lucky me!
I once knew a divemaster, Peter, that I met while living in Anguilla. As he took me out to dive sites, I asked him how he had ended up on a small island running a dive shop. It turns out that he’d had a fairly interesting life: he’d been a literary agent in New York for a decade, a mountain guide in the Himalayas for a half dozen years, then a junk-bond trader, and finally a divemaster in the Anguilla dive shop. He’d lived around the world doing weird things, and generally had enjoyed himself doing it. In many ways, it sounded like an ideal way to live.
As I look back on it, I’ve realized that I’ve actually already had a pretty damn interesting life. Here’s to more of the same.