Pace vs Panic

Coworker – “Mornin’ Danny, how are you?”

Brain – “violently anxious! crippled with self doubt! Mentally and physically exhausted 15 minutes into Monday morning! Aaaaaahhhhhh!!”

Danny – “Good!” (insert smile), “you?”

Coworker – “Good” (Awkward pause) (forced smile) (walk away)

Why do we do this to ourselves? I get it; a 15 second conversation hallway conversation isn’t the right place or time for an in depth heart to heart conversation on a higher state of mind and what keeps us up at night, but damn, we are both clearly lying to each other for the sake of hitting social ques. The worst part is, I’m living the dream. This is the life I’ve hoped, dreamed and worked for. Most of all, worked for.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have gotten to the place I am. It’s taken every bit of both my privilege and work ethic to keep trudging forward in what I hope is the right direction. If I need to work a 90-hour week to keep my startup company kicking, I’ll do it. Product development, startups, and hopefully making the world a better place are my passion, but they are not always fun, and definitely not comfortable.

At the end of the day, you need to fight for your passion. And it’s not just you against the world, but it’s you against your self. There’s easier ways to make a living; the only mandatory items on the To Do list are breathing and taxes. But that being said, you can fight for your passion until it breaks you. I get to the point where I ask myself “Idealistic 4th grade Danny would be ecstatic on how my life turned out, so why am I exhausted and miserable?” How did the sprint toward my dream become my nightmare?

I’ve found my answer. If you dare to work as hard as you can toward any goal, you need to draw your line. How much can you physically and mentally handle? I’m easily found guilty of pushing this boundary far too often until I find myself with a fake smile while questioning how the hell I got here. I lose my working pace and start sprinting until I’m too exhausted and anxious to move. I’ll work until I get so worked up that I get no work done at all. So I stop, think, and rest. Maybe I’ll go run; maybe I’ll drink a beer with a friend, anything to bring my mind back to sanity so I can start again.

You can only sprint so far, pace yourself, enjoy the scenery. But when you do forget pace and break down, take the time to fix yourself. You’re worth your time.

Entrepreneur, Engineer, Artist. You’ll either find Danny in his startup’s office, or running in the woods. He is a tinkerer who realised passions can become careers, and that happiness lies in doing what you love.

Gold star stickers

Have you ever felt terrible about a bad grade? I’m going to guess the answer is yes. I have a quick question for you; what did you learn through the process of earning an awful grade? Was the worse grade worth the lesson? Let me explain through meandering anecdote.

In 7th grade I was in an engineering/design tech class, and our first project of the year was building a car that would travel down a string with a limited materials list. The materials list included a balloon and a straw. The solution was obvious, glue the balloon to the straw, blow up the balloon and let it go. Most of the other components weren’t needed.

Little Danny wouldn’t settle for his string car to be so boring though. Instead of making a car powered by balloons, I tried making one powered on rubber bands with wheels driving it down the track. I was so proud; I was trying something different. All those other kids, all making the same balloon car, they didn’t look past the obvious and try something new. I was so proud, until my car didn’t work.

Between the high rolling friction of the foam wheel and the rubber band gear set making too much torque/no speed, my car only went inches. I learned a few lessons on that project, but at the end of the day standard balloon cars got A’s. I got a D. The systems and powers that be will not reward you for trying something new and failing, it’s not in their nature and not in their job description. The project’s goal was to make the fastest string car. Mine was not, therefore my grade reflected.

Where the real magic happens is the lesson learned. You can try something new, fail, and come to various solutions. Option 1: You can decide that trying something new was the culprit to a bad grade, color within the lines, stay inside the box, and be happy when the powers that be give you a gold star sticker.

Option 2: You can decide that the opportunity to learn something new is worth more than the letter grade, keep pushing the limits, bask in the light of both success and failure, and be the powers that be in your life.

Find the courage to stand on your own. It’s worth it.

Entrepreneur, Engineer, Artist. You’ll either find Danny in his startup’s office, or running in the woods. He is a tinkerer who realised passions can become careers, and that happiness lies in doing what you love.

Being a slave to ambition

I’ve heard it said that among successful people, it’s common knowledge that it’s hard to beat people that never give up. If you work twice as hard, you get twice as much done. If you work three times as hard, you can do the math. This can be a dangerous game though. If there is one thing I’ve learned playing this game, it’s pace. It’s the same as running a race. If you go really fast and push really hard, you can tire out early and be out of the game. If you pace yourself and learn your body, you can sustain a constant flow of energy towards your goals.

By nature, I’m a long distance runner. I’ve become in tune with my body physically. Becoming in tune mentally was an entirely separate struggle. When I was a new college student, I was eager to push my limits. In freshman year I went from engineering major, art minor, to engineering dual major, triple minor. I was a slave to my ambition, curious how far I could go.

Sophomore year came with higher credit loads and harder classes. 18 credit semesters turned into 22 credit semesters. The nights got later and the mornings got earlier. First semester junior year came. 7 engineering classes, 4 with weekly lab components. It was the only way to graduate on time with my course load. Get to school at 8AM. Leave at 2AM. Repeat every day. Stop eating, stop sleeping. I knew the third shift cleaning crew in the academic buildings on a first name basis.

That semester fall of 2013 nearly killed me. Even if I made it through the semester, I had a similar course load scheduled until my last semester senior year. That’s what would be needed to graduate on time. My measure of success was graduating on time. I NEEDED to graduate on time. I didn’t graduate on time.

Failure is an interesting beast. Until you meet failure eye to eye, you think it will eat you alive. The truth is, failure is quite docile. It is entirely what you make of it. I did finish that semester. I rolled into the pit stop with four flat tires and a blown engine, but I finished. Where I had failed was my perspective. My pass or fail metric I set to graduate two degrees in 4 years was flat wrong. The road I had set out for myself was going to do more harm than good. The hardest thing for over ambitious souls is finding the courage to quit.

The next semester I had originally scheduled was looking to be around 23 credits. Instead I moved to Arizona for an internship and did 14. I didn’t graduate with my class. Instead, I gave myself the time I needed to learn myself. I went for long runs, climbed mountains, read books, and started a business. Now I still get up early and work late, but I sleep at night and eat during the day. I learned a lot from shifting my perspective on success and failure.

I hope you learn your perspective and pace too. It can take a while, and will be painful at times. Just take the time to get a good night sleep while you’re at it. You deserve it.

Entrepreneur, Engineer, Artist. You’ll either find Danny in his startup’s office, or running in the woods. He is a tinkerer who realised passions can become careers, and that happiness lies in doing what you love.