Not too long ago, I came across one of Brené Brown's masterful TED talks where she referenced Theodore Roosevelt's famous "Man in the Arena" quote: (re-posting here since it's great prose)
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
In the last few years, you may have noticed there's a growing trend for top technologists publishing books related to their craft as a way to achieve thought leadership in their respective fields. Makes sense:
Many are the challenges of being heard in an increasingly noisy, Internet driven marketplace of ideas.
There's nothing wrong with writing books of course (I read them avidly as it turns out), but there's a fundamental disconnect between "thought leadership" and innovation. As Brené Brown puts it:
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change."
While putting Roosevelt and the queen of vulnerability together might seem antithetical, they do make the same point:
Innovation (or any change for that matter) requires risk.
Thought leadership as it turns out is about building your personal brand and establishing your credentials. You need other thought leaders to broadly share your insights and to present yourself as an expert. Controversial ideas, authenticity, and vulnerability can and often do get in the way of establishing your brand. As it turns out:
Risk (and innovation) is antithetical in many ways to the current model of thought leadership.
What do you do? There is no right answer, but for me the answer was stop worrying about appearances, enter the arena, and that means becoming vulnerable. I have given up the safety of a securing a middle class lifestyle by leaving a lucrative job and re-learning how to code in order to build an unproven software platform that no one may ultimately pay for until proven otherwise. At the same time, I get to watch our family's savings dwindle along with the prospect of a comfortable retirement.
Jesus also has something to say on this topic:
Matthew 6:25 "Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes?"
I thought about this quite a bit earlier this year as we laid my mother to rest. At the end of my days, will it matter to me how much money I made or how comfortably I lived? No, what will matter is the impact on those around me, and how I tried to improve the world, be it successful or not. So for me, the question of should I focus on writing (note this is my first post in months) or coding is clear:
I choose to code.
I have faith that if I work hard enough for long enough, it will be enough. It's a work in progress though. It was hard when I quit coding last night at 2AM after finally solving a bug more experienced coders might have found much sooner in software nobody's decided to pay for (yet). Doubt creeps in...
At any point in time, you might look at your results and say "that's not world class" or "that's not good enough", but I'm going to keep going anyway, keep improving, keep trying: And let God be the judge of if it's good enough.
I know He'll forgive me if it's not... (although my broke family may not :-)
Matthew 6:21 "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."