The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, but it is the practice of perseverance that get them back on track. This is most true for those of you in the geek community who practice careers or hobbies that appear on the surface to be ridiculous. Heck, what I do can appear as ridiculous even deeper than the surface. Sometimes I can’t explain what I do either with Seriously, Dan or with media relations work. There are delays and disruptions, personal attacks and self-doubt that all projects need to overcome. Are these obstacles exacerbated by the geeky nature of what you are doing? Maybe. But, in the end, all successes in life will need perseverance to make your plans work, and geeky plans are no different.
Frank Herbert submitted his master work, Dune, to twenty publishers who all rejected the work. He believed in his story, which had been serialized as short stories in Analog Magazine, and did not want to give up on the story. He persevered, determined to find a publisher. He used a bit of resourcefulness and connected with Chilton, who would publish Dune in 1965. I have owned lots of books by Chilton. Maybe you have too? They publish repair manuals for cars. They don’t normally publish science fiction. The book was published with Frank Herbert the expectation that he might pick up a small royalty on this work he has spent years developing. In fact, he later explained he never really showed any attention to the royalty checks from Dune, so he was surprised by its success.
Nearly 50 years later, Dune has created an empire in publishing, gaming, film, and TV. The dedication to take these short stories and create a timeless novel paid off slowly, but it paid off in creating one of the largest franchises in modern literature.
Your own projects need the same perseverance. Your own projects need the same dedication. Obviously, Dune was not Herbert’s first book, so he had been an experienced writer published in Analog when he was rejected the first time by a publisher. But, he didn’t give up. I have found no record of his emotional state, but I do know this, he submitted it again. And then repeated that process until publisher 21 sent him an acceptance letter.
I am someone who took a while to get a professional career started. I struggled with self doubt, undiagnosed attention deficit disorder, a tense domestic life, and a disconnect between my real skills and what I was doing professionally. There were times when I wanted to give up. There were dark, dark days when I wondered why God hated me. I was living isolated inside my own home. I was bright, creative, and despondent for years. Worse, I had a string of sales jobs that were dragging me down further because I was following advice that if I was good at talking to people, I should be good at sales. I found myself living below the poverty line with three children and mortgage.
Several things happened in a row to turn my life around. I made a decision to seek professional help for my ADD. I made the decision to not believe my own self-doubt and to actively ignore those who would feed that self doubt. I also decided to leave sales and get into technical service and support.
I thought I was leaving the bad times behind me, but the next few years would prove to be bad. Very bad. My L4 disk in my lower back erupted into 20 pieces on Dec 16, 1996. My spouse was unemployed, we had no health insurance. Then, I lost my contract. We had $36,000 in medical bills, and no money for groceries. Christmas came that year to our family through the love of the church we attended.
By December 28, I was able to leave the house for the first time. By January 8 the next year, I was back to work. I worked that day during the day at a new job at a computer company and at 5:00 PM got out my walker and hobbled off to my night job where I would work to eleven doing internal technical support at a long distance provider.
I had a family depending on me, I had to persevere. There were bad years, there were rough assignments. My marriage was a battlefield. My back injury took seven years to heal. There were toxic environments, and periods where I was unhappy in my own performance. I had setbacks in both my career and personal life. Sometimes I had to take jobs out of town, sometimes I would work for months at my home, becoming nearly agoraphobic.
In time, I grew a professional career where I did some amazing things. I would blend my technical and communications skills together to provide solutions for customers. The kid with ADD once won a corporate award for organization. I saved a client from a quarter-million dollar contract penalty. I built more skills based on my talents, while learning more about myself.
Whenever possible I would spend time with my kids and work on the balance in life. I knew my motivation was love. I was working for love of my family, love of my trade, and love of my co-workers.
When you are behind the eight ball, when your career seems to be stalling, when your craft seems to be a burden, when you can’t find the joy you need in life –remember that you can make it through, make it happen.
See things through to the end. Don’t take that rejection letter as a constant, but as a moment. If there is a stream of setbacks, don’t give up. Make your own hope. These five steps will help you see things through to the end:
- Find your motivation and keep it in your thoughts
- Objectively deal with your own problems and focus on strengths
- Adjust your attitude positively and ignore the negative
- Have a life strategy and change course if needed
- Keep working and working and working
And, as for the ridiculousness of what we do as geeks?. Of course if you are working on a project that requires quality and effort, take that seriously. Just remember that our geeky stuff we do is supposed to be fun and fantastic. This is true if you are a costumer, a builder, a writer, a film maker, or an event planner. We are all just kids sitting around on a Saturday talking about comic books and that is awesome.
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