The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing

Last week I received my annual invite to our companies hack week. A week where every engineer in Unity (globally) descends on Denmark. We’re also joined by other disciplines throughout the company too, where we all work together to share and innovate.

I say we, though I’ve never taken part. Unity’s hack week takes place in the same week each year, a week that falls at the same time my wife and eldest son have their birthdays. So each year I receive an invite and decline with thanks and gratitude.

Given how legendary this hack week is within Unity, how powerful the by product of the social interaction, and the lessons from others that take place, it should be a hard decision for me, but it isn’t. Perhaps a decade ago, if I’d had my children earlier in life, a time when I hadn’t discovered what’s really important. Though right now I find it easy to put first things first.

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.”Stephen Covey

Of course, I’m very lucky to have worked at Xbox and now Unity. Both respect and honour an employees commitment to their family. Not everyone is as lucky, and decisions between work commitments and family can be difficult to make.

Greg McKeown puts it nicely in his book Essentialism. A few days prior to his daughter’s birth, McKeown’s colleague commented that Friday would be a bad time for his wife to have a baby because the two were scheduled to be in a meeting together. The baby was born on Thursday, and McKeown ended up leaving the hospital hours after his wife gave birth to a healthy 7-pound, 3-ounce little girl in order to attend the meeting.

“The client will respect you for making the decision to be here,” McKeown recalled his colleague saying. But McKeown quickly realised he’d made “a fool’s bargain.”

As Greg’s book cover describes “Essentialism is more than a time-management strategy or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.”

In the 6 years since discovering essentialism, I’ve become more comfortable saying no. I also don’t suffer from fear of missing out, and if a company I work for doesn’t respect me putting my family first, then I’m happy to go and work somewhere that does.

Essentialism, putting first things first, the main thing is to keep the main thing is the main thing – Know what’s important to you and life becomes a whole lot easier.

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Opposites don’t always attract

When I think about communication, I think about 2 preference types. A person who prefers external motivation, and a person who prefers internal motivation.

I have an internally motivated preference. I don’t need others to motivate me in order to thrive. If there’s a problem, there’s no need to pepper it with positivity or other external factors to get me going. In fact, if you do so then I might even be suspicious of the intent.

When I meet others who have the same preference (most of us rarely think about which preference we have) a spark usually happens, where conversation flows easily, we are mutually inspired, and misunderstanding rarely happens.

When I interact with people who’s preference is external motivation it’s easy to feel a little difficulty, as free flowing conversation and mutual inspiration are rarely present. That’s ok, I know I have to adapt to each and every interaction. What I’m pondering is why I’m noticing it more than before? Am I changing, is the world around me changing? The answer of course is both, yet what I’ve realised is I’m surrounded by more people with an opposite communication preference than any time I can remember.

So lately I’m spending a lot of focus working on positive messaging, as well as  understanding the negative impact that comes from not understanding another person’s communication preference.

This is actually a wonderful and hugely challenging situation. I’m learning something, something that may already be obvious to many. Yet until now I can only wonder what the negative impact of not working on this has had on my previous interactions.

Where I thrive on hearing that everything is blowing up and no one believes it can change (as I will believe it can), a large proportion of people around me want to hear the opposite. They want to hear what good came from the blowing up and who supports and believes in them. There’s nothing wrong with either preference, though once you understand yours you can build on it and much stronger relationships.

If I’d have realised my preference years ago, it’s a safe bet I would have had many more positive outcomes, in and out of work.

Does all this sound obvious to you? Do you know your preference?

I don’t need to hear what good came from an explosion, I’m already working on clearing up the mess and understanding what caused it, what would you be doing?

“You have power over your mind―not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” ―Marcus Aurelius

Real, not perfect.

In todays world, the feeling of pressure from high expectations can become over bearing. High expectations are all around us. They come in many forms, from media (fashion and body types) to work, partners and parents. These expectations can be difficult to meet and are invariably unclear or subtle at best.

At work, for 8 or more hours a day, we’re required to be the best at what we do (and for most this is no longer just vocational). At home, we need to be the best husband, wife or partner, for many the best parent as well. Whichever of these we are, we’re expected to meet the bar and that bar may not be clear, yet it’s all around us.

My mum is often confused, unable to understand my life and how intense it can be compared to her own. For many, 60+ years ago life was simpler. There appeared to be clearer expectations on society and an individual. In work there were clearer boundaries, at home, life was simpler with less distraction.

We’ve come along way in those 60 years. Life is better for many, along with greater levels of equality. We have more food to choose from than ever before, as well as more scientific knowledge, all of which helps us live healthier, longer lives.

Any downsides to this advancement are often ignored, as the upsides are numerous. But what of those downsides? Should we really ignore them?

I work in a modern tech company, one where expectations are high. I support teams of people across different countries, so I need to be ‘on’, inspirational, supportive and available for the whole day. I enjoy the challenge. Those people I’m surrounded by are smarter than me, more technical and many have a curiosity like my own. A curiosity that pushes learning as part of everyday activity.

I’m a husband and parent too. So at home I try to be a role model, aspiring to be the best husband and parent I can be. All of this is hard. I can honestly say on any given day I fail at one or multiple things. I’m human like you. As humans we’re flawed.

We would benefit from being more open to those flaws. Talking about them, admitting them and ultimately helping ourselves and others release the pressure of ‘perfect’.

And here’s the thing, none of us are perfect. That social network feed may show you someone’s highlight reel, but remember it’s just that, a highlight reel.

When was the last time someone disappointed you? Did you pause to think about what happened and why? Chances are it wasn’t intentional. Were they aware of your expectations? What was going on in their life? Was it out of character? Did they know they were disappointing you?

Much of the conflict in our lives appears from misunderstanding. Where we forget the perspective and that immense pressure on us to ‘perform’.

I’m human, I make mistakes. Even when I disappoint, I’m aspiring to have the best intentions. I don’t intend to disappoint or fail, and there in lies the key, my recent epiphany.

So I made a change, one on how I see the world. One focused on more purposeful thinking around expectations of others. I now have only one expectation outside of any explicit agreement.

That expectation? It’s simple, everything a person does, every action they take, it needs to be done with good intent. As long as that’s the case, I’m not going to be disappointed.

I’m real, not perfect. You’re real, not perfect too.

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And I say to my heart: rave on.

If there is one thing that’s been consistent in my life so far, it’s my choosing a journey over a destination. Those journeys have included many different experiences, all of which have shaped me in some way. One of those experiences was the second summer of love.

As a 15 year old, the 1990’s were fast approaching, technology and fashion was rapidly changing and I was having to move from being a kid to being an adult. The year was 1989 and in June I turned 16, completing my exams at school. I had to get a job to help cover all the bills at home and was lucky enough to join an apprenticeship scheme with an engineering company.

As a 16 year old I tested boundaries with my new employer, bunking off quite a bit. I wanted to hang out with new friends from my class (who were bunking off too). That period timed well with something that was happening across the country, something that was coined the second summer of love.

It was the period when acid house was becoming a thing, at least where I lived. Massive home grown acid house parties began to take shape each weekend. The smiley face revolution had entered my life, represented by that now familiar yellow smiley.

What struck me most about house music were the types of people I met. They were different to me, looser and more rebellious. Those new college friends  I’d made were different to my main friends. They took part and organised local house parties, ram raiding shops to pay for their life style of drugs (mainly speed and acid) for parties over the weekends. Despite me not joining them on their crime sprees or drug taking, they embraced my company and introduced me to a scene I’d have otherwise only seen on the TV and newspapers.

My mum, brother and close friends didn’t know the crowd I’d started to hang with. I carefully separated my 2 lives knowing they were not destined to merge well. It was obvious to me that this phase in my life would also not last long. I eventually finished college, went back to my indie music roots and then went to America for a while.

When I look back on that year, I can see it was important for at least 3 foundational lessons I’ve put into practice. Each one has become almost unconscious now, here they are:

1. Don’t always surround yourself with people who think like you. In order to grow, learn and experience the world, you need different views to enhance your life

2. You can never really understand and know a person until you really know them (i.e. it doesn’t matter how they look). There are still people I meet who think I’m a ’type’ and after learning more about me, find it hard to believe I’d taken part in illegal raves and been on police watch lists for summer parties at Stone Henge . Don’t believe in bucketing people into types, it will limit your world view as well as your experience with people.

3. Clothes, musical taste, recreational activities, none of these actually define a person. How they treat themselves and others, what they think of themselves and others, those are the things that define a person.

I don’t know what happened to those college friends from that time. Over that short period the house parties turned to raves and eventually the UK government put legislation in place to limit free and open gatherings. I didn’t like the commercial parties, where business took over and the mainstream turned it into profit over experience.

It’s nice to see the ‘illegal’ raves never actually stopped entirely, they just became harder to organise and find. They continue to this day, in smaller numbers and via word of mouth. Just like when I was a teenager. A time that was simpler, one without the internet or always connected lifestyle. A time when word of mouth brought people together more, a time when we actually had time, time to think, time to ponder, time to party.

Make time to party.

“It is always the simple that produces the marvellous.” – Amelia Barr

Note: Some of my college friends were ram raiders, the majority of people I met at house parties and then raves did not ram raid or steal.