Battles, May 2020

Nothing like the shocking surprise of taking a plastic dinosaur to the skull while you’re playing with your toddler. Dino Doctor. That’s the ironic given name of the pink velociraptor toy introduced to my noggin, curtesy our two year-old.

Painful as playing with toy dinosaurs can be, I wish life was more like the dino battles I have with my kid. The plastic toys take turns winning battles against each other, and get back up immediately after defeat. Their damage is pretend, impermanent, and it lasts no longer than the present moment.

Not so with the rest of life. Our world is broken. This season has been wrought by sickness, political deceit, information warfare, and more journalistic fear mongering than I know I’ve ever had to deal with.

Columbus, OH

On top of all those things that have become part of our “new normal,” it’s been disturbing to watch so much pain unfold this week in Minneapolis, Columbus, and in other major cities around the country. Murder is a horrid crime. Violence and destruction in any form, but especially against our own neighbors, is a devastating and foolish reaction. Both are condemnable, the embodiment of total depravity. No one should ever have to lose a family member to a violent crime, and neither peaceful protestors, nor those on the receiving end of rioters’ destruction should have to experience the pain and hurt they’re going through.

I can’t comprehend the pain many are feeling, but I’m praying for all the families that have been and will be affected, for the hearts of those who are in agony, and for tangible forward progress that leaves our society a better place where everyone is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Stay safe, fam. Treat each other with the love you want to see embodied in our children, and in the rest of society. God bless.

– Zach

On The Contrary, Bless

It’s late.

I’m writing this to you as much as I’m writing it to myself.

This chapter isn’t forever. We will experience some kind of normalcy again, hopefully with lowered, sustainable levels of stress.

I was working on a long post about the types of stress and anxiety I’m feeling, and how it can be a living hell when all of the hard things in life seem to come to a head at the same time (and when busy seasons become the “new normal” rather than just a season) … but it didn’t seem helpful in a time when everyone’s already feeling different levels of isolation and/or overwhelm.

So I’ll save my rant for now, and offer you this encouragement instead:

8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

1 Peter 3:8-12 ESV

In short, Love one another well. Be truthful with each other. Seek to establish peace and not division. God sees you; he hears your prayers.

Hang in there. Y’all have my prayers, and we covet yours.

– Zach

My First Year+ of Remote-Work

We moved from Orlando to the greater Columbus area, Ohio in October of 2018. I was fortunate enough to keep my job after the move and transition to remote-work.

It took us about six months to find and move into a home. We happened to move when Columbus was one of the hottest markets in the nation. During that part of our transition, I worked out of a co-working space for a few months, out of coffee shops for a month and a half, and from our home office ever since we closed on the house, a couple months before we moved in.

It’s not all sunshine and skittles.

I had read a lot about the challenges and benefits of remote-work before pursuing it myself. The early “research” helped me remain focused and avoid falling on my face when it came time to make the transition.

There are lots of pros and cons in any working situation, and I found first-hand that working remotely is no exception to that. If you asked me to fall to one side of the fence regarding whether remote-work is better or worse than working from an office, I have to say that it is better, but only because the pros outweigh the cons (yes, the cons).

Cons

I’m only starting with the cons because I like to end on positive notes, and not because these are the things that most easily come to my mind when working remotely.

  • Being somewhere in-person can have a different vibe… you can get the temperature of a room a bit more easily during meetings. That said, it’s a bummer to have to be dialed in for every meeting (but I’m fortunate to have a team who doesn’t make a big deal out of it, especially given how many we have in a given week).
  • White-boarding sessions are… difficult.
  • No commute has it’s downsides: No forced-time for podcasts or morning news, and no natural mental transition from home life to work life.
  • Having a home office instead of open floor-plan / open workspaces means fewer opportunities to socialize with co-workers and build camaraderie. It’s fairly normal to only hear from people when they need something from you.
  • It’s easy to feel shut-in, especially after you realize how much easier it is to work with external monitors than on a single screen at a coffee shop out on the town.
  • No free lunches during “Lunch & Learn” sessions. No free snacks or drinks. (This is small potatoes, especially if you’re working on a diet.) (I mean that as a figure of speech — no one is eating small potatoes for snacks at the office.)
  • Speaking of lunches, lunches and happy hours with team members have to be crammed in during travel weeks to the home office, which is a bummer because I really enjoy our Product Management and Application teams I work with.

Pros

Alrighty, now that we got those out of the way, it’s time to talk pros. This is where the magic happens. A lot of people in the remote-work Twitter community have already covered these over and over again, but here are the ones I find especially true in my life.

  • Uninterrupted focus time is easier to come by when I can set my Teams status to Do Not Disturb, and hunker down on project planning, documentation or user story writing. It’s the good-life for people who are naturally more introverted.
  • Separation from the rest of my team gives me even more reason to do my craft well and to provide clear and concise documentation for both now and posterity. I love this part of my job, which is why this is on the Pros list.
  • Daily commute time is zero minutes. Even though my company has to maintain some level of synchronous communication, I get to spend mornings with my family until the workday officially starts, see them at lunch, and I’m almost never late to dinner.
  • It’s easy to build camaraderie with other remote employees.
  • Short neighborhood walks with my wife and son are an incredible way to take a break when in need of some fresh air.
  • If I meet someone across town for coffee in the morning, I don’t have to rush back to an office to start the workday. I can hang out and work from the coffee shop until lunch, and then commute home during the lunch hour.
  • Dieting is easier without a wall full of free snacks. My dad-bod especially thanks me for this aspect of the transition.
  • There’s always enough coffee, and it always tastes just right.
  • It’s easy to manage contracted home projects without the stress of having to drive back and forth to check on their work.
  • I can play the guitar or piano during a lunch-break to exercise the other side of the brain and de-stress.
  • My wife has the flexibility to knock out some errands mid-day during our son’s naps, since I can keep an eye on the monitor at home while he sleeps.
  • I receive no judgement for working without shoes on. Pants are a must, though… I don’t know about you remote-workers who don’t get dressed for the day. Y’all crazy.
  • I’m at the head of the table for virtually every meeting (video-calls, am I right)? This actually belongs on the Cons list… haha.

Working remotely is certainly a different beast. You won’t know if you like it until you have an opportunity to try it, and I can promise that when you try it, you will miss things about the office-life while simultaneously discovering new, health- and family-positive aspects of remote-work that bring you joy.

Ten steps to effective remote-work

I think that if I had to make a list of ten things remote-workers need to do in order to be effective in their jobs, my list would repeat “Communicate well” seven times, and then end with:

  • Write everything down and make it accessible.
  • Remember that you’re not going crazy; breathe.
  • Exercise grace in your thoughts and interactions.

I’ll flesh those out in another post, someday.

On Relationship Apps & Coming Up For Air

There are a lot of “relationship strengthening” apps in the App Store. They promise things like better communication and more fulfilling relationships for couples.

We tend to live distracted lives. These apps attempt to remind users to come up for air once in a while so that they can show significant others the proper love and affection needed in every healthy relationship.

These apps can act as Band-Aid®s for the underlying issue: The person using the app is still regularly stuck below the surface in their Sea of Distraction; apps like this only help the user breach the surface long enough to check “love” off the to-do list before diving back down into the depths of Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit.

Instead of coming up for air only once in a while (e.g., when prompted by an app), how much healthier could our relationships be if we reclaimed real, intentional human connection as our normative behavior, kicking the Sea of Distraction but for those occasional splashes and dips? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Taking Time To Listen

When was the last time you let a friend finish their story? (Like… really finish their story?)

As generally well-meaning humans, we want to connect with other humans. When we realize we have experiences in common, it’s often exciting (and easiest) to point it out in the moment. This can be a tool that builds empathy between two individuals…

… but not always.

Sometimes when we interrupt someone mid-story to draw (perceived) similarities between our two experiences, we lose the opportunity to hear the rest of what they have to share. Further, even if we attempt to bring their train of thought back on track, they may end up “sparing us the details,” for fear that their experience is in fact very similar to our own, or that we’ll disagree with something they have to say, or that we may think they’re wasting our time explaining something we obviously already fully understand.

Most often, it’s best to let others finish their thoughts. If they’re particularly excited about something that’s happened in their life, we should consider withholding our particular experiences in the moment, however similar we think they may be, and ask them additional questions to draw out the intricacies of their unique perspective.

We may all be surprised at the depth and difference of other folks‘ experiences (even if, on the surface, their experience seems very similar our own).