Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What Are You Going to do About It?

I will be the first one to admit when I’m bad at something (like math), but as far as joke-telling goes, I think I’m actually quite good. It’s the remembering part that’s tricky. But I do have a few favorite jokes in my arsenal – a blonde joke or two (it’s okay, I’m blonde!), a couple of jokes that are only truly appreciated by kids under the age of 8, and one joke that teaches a lesson. I am going to share the latter with you now.

A damn broke uphill from a town and the entire town had to be evacuated before the eventual flooding and devastation that was going to occur. One man began to pray and asked that God protect him from the flood. The police came to his door and told him to evacuate and he said, “No thank you. I believe and have faith that the Lord will provide.” The police left. Soon the flood waters were starting to make their way into the town and the man was forced to move to the second story of his home. He prayed again and asked God to protect him. A motor boat with rescuers came by offering to take the man to safety but again he said, “No thank you. I believe and have faith that the Lord will provide.” The rescuers sighed and shook their heads and moved on. Soon after that, the flood waters were so high the man had to take refuge on his roof. He maintained his prayer for safety. In one final attempt to clear the town, rescuers came by in a helicopter but the man refused to get on board. He said, “No thank you. I believe and have faith that the Lord will provide.” Soon there was no place left to climb and the unfortunate man drowned. When he got to heaven and spoke to God he said, “Lord, I believed in you and had faith that you would save me. Why did you let me drown?” And God said to him, “I provided you with the police, a motor boat, and a helicopter. What else was I supposed to do?!”

I’ve heard the joke many times – sometimes as part of a sermon, sometimes as an anecdote to get people to realize they have more control over their lives than they think. I receive many phone calls and emails from students and novice coders who are frustrated with the hiring process. And since I’ve committed to mentoring, I try to find time to respond to each of those emails. I am always happy to give a little pep talk or give a little advice that may guide them in the right direction. But occasionally, I get an email that is a series of complaints and blame games and all I can think is: what are you going to do about it?

Don’t get me wrong. No one loves a good venting session more than me. I even have friends that I can email and rant to and they won’t take it personally. I can type a 2 page email and usually get the response, “Feel better now?” and usually I do. I am all for venting frustration. But at some point, you have to make a decision to do something about the problem or change course. Otherwise you’ll go crazy. Think of Einstein’s famous quote about the definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So if you’re stuck in venting mode or you haven’t tried a different attempt at getting what you want, it’s time to break the monotony and move on.

I recently started reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow. I don’t get a lot of time to read and I am by no means a speed reader, so it will probably take me at least a week to get through this “quick read.” The story, if you are unfamiliar, chronicles the last lecture given by Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University before he succumbed to pancreatic cancer. He was 47-years-old and left a wife and three young children behind. His lecture entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” was really directed at his children (the lecture was recorded) and is so inspiring, it yielded a spotlight on a national TV news program, the book, and countless videos on YouTube.

In the book, Pausch dedicates an entire chapter to his parents and their parenting skills. One of the things his parents did for him was to encourage him to find answers to the unknown. This is something I felt I had in common with him – my parents were always telling me to “look it up” if I didn’t know an answer. In fact, my mother always told me, “Knowledge isn’t what you know; it’s whether or not you know where to find the answer.” And as much as I hated the look-it-up-response (I actually thought they were lazy), I appreciate it now because now I don’t rely on someone else to figure everything out for me.

I am at a point in my life where I am probably the happiest I’ve ever been. And I’ve noticed that as a happy person, the last people I want to be around are unhappy people. Unfortunately, I have a few in my life – friends, acquaintances – who every time I talk to them dump every last problem on me and then wait for me to speak. Sometimes I mess up and give them advice. What I’ve found to be more effective is to ask them what they plan to do about it. If all they want to do is complain about their situation and aren’t willing to do anything about it, there’s really not much else I can do other than listen and wait it out until they’re done. But every once in awhile, I see something flicker in their eyes and I can tell they haven’t really thought what they would do about it. And I sometimes suspect they’re waiting for someone to tell them what to do. My hope is that my question is a virtual slap-in-the-face to get them past the complaining stage and onto the fixing stage.

Are you one of these people? Are you waiting for the magic opportunity that will get you into the coding profession? Have you really tried everything to get into the industry? I defer again to Randy Pausch, who created a list of childhood dreams. On that list was “being in zero gravity.” His students won a contest that enabled them to experience NASA’s plane “The Weightless Wonder,” which helps astronauts get used to a zero gravity environment. Unfortunately for Pausch, no faculty was allowed. So he found a loophole and withdrew his application as faculty and resubmitted it as press (for which he had to do some additional work to get the story into the media). It worked and Pausch was able to cross one thing off his childhood to do list. So I ask you again, if you’ve tried to get a job and have failed, what are you going to do about it?