Make a Difference

Aurora see in Wisconsin

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” ― Fred Rogers

Joan loved science.  When she was 8 years old, she declared to her family that she wanted to be a scientist.  Her mother scolded her, “Women’s brains can’t do science.”  She was crushed and went sobbing into a pillow, wondering if she had to let go of her dream.  On her 14th birthday her brother, Richard, gave her a college textbook titled “Astronomy” which included an impressive chart of scientific data produced by a female astrophysicist.  That was what she needed to encourage her to pursue her career. 

Joan earned her doctorate in physics in 1958 and went on to work at NASA and JPL where she made critical discoveries about the nature and cause of auroras, specifically the interaction of the Earth’s magnetosphere and the magnetic field of the solar wind.  She was recognized and awarded many honors for her contributions to astrophysics, sunspot cycles, environmental hazards to spaceships and climate change.  Before passing away this past July, Joan Feynman had pushed through the barriers of bad advice she had received as a child and went on to make a dent in the universe of human understanding, space travel and our world.  

We are often told what we can and cannot do.  Our families, others and our jobs can intentionally or unintentionally cast us into roles that limit our potential.  I think many of us can relate to bad advice that we have received from others or have given to ourselves.  There is a tendency for us to undervalue our significance or limit our own potential. We are surviving but are we thriving?  We turn the cogs of the machine, but are we living our potential?

You are important.  You make a difference.  The truth is that you individually bring a distinctive value to our human family.  Your individual contribution, diverse traits, history, strengths, challenges, specific talents and nuanced skills fit together into the unique puzzle that is us.  You belong.  Our teams, our organizations and our world would not be the same without you.  That is the incredible truth.  The collection of our uniqueness builds the fabric of who we are as individuals and as a group.  When someone leaves, we become less. 

What are you doing to challenge the barriers you or others have placed upon you?  What would you change?  Are you hiding any of your talents or distinctives that could make us better as a group?  Please don’t!  Bring you.  Make us all greater by being greater yourself.  Embrace the strengths and unique talents of yourself and others as part of our collective power.  Our gaps and our strengths combine to make a diverse spectrum of formidable capability that will help us, our companies and our human family become even greater.  

Each one of us has a unique opportunity to make a dent in the universe.  Encourage yourself.  Encourage others and leave a bit of yourself behind at every encounter.  Together, we become even greater. 

Purpose

“Hear me well on this day… when you are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill.”  – Chadwick Boseman

A wealthy man in the neighborhood passed away. He was known for his business prowess, cunning frugality and perpetual seclusion.  His neighbors assembled at the funeral, more out of curiosity than acquaintance.  Many were discussing his shrewd business dealings and began to speculate among themselves on the accumulation of his wealth.  Finally, one neighbor approached the minister and asked, “Do you know how much he left?”  The minister looked up at the gathering, smiled sadly and said, “All of it.”

Our book began with our first breath and it will close with our last. What happens between those first and last chapters defines what we leave behind: the epilogue.  It is the sum of what we have done in this life and the mark we have made upon the shelves of history.  So much of life can seem like inconsequential progressions of putting one foot in front of the other.  We are surviving, following and reacting to external forces.  Those narratives leave no permanet mark in our story or on those around us.  What story do we want to leave behind?

What is your mission?   What is your purpose?  I remember being asked those questions many years ago and frankly, I struggled with the answer.  I had fallen into the mechanics of living, breathing, moving, and working, but it was without direction or purpose.  My friend challenged me, write down the statement of your purpose and define your mission.  It was transforming.  I suddenly had a compass and a light to guide my path.  I was writing the script instead of letting the script author me.  Meaning and clarity brought gifts of peace, passion and proactive planning. I knew where I was going and how I could shape the epilogue of my life.

What is your purpose? What do you want to leave behind?  What is the reason you get up each day?  If you haven’t done so already, I challenge you this week to write down your purpose and mission. Make it aspirational. Like mine (see here) it won’t  be perfect and you will tune it over time.  But from your purpose, you will develop your mission and steps that will guide you in your work, family, community, career, faith and leisure.  We don’t get to write our own epilogue but we can shape it.  Invest in eternity, starting today, by pouring yourself into your purpose and be the person you were always meant to be.

Changes Ahead

“These strike me as universal ideas: about fostering risk taking and creativity, about building a culture of trust, about fueling a deep and abiding curiosity in oneself, and inspiring that in the people around you, about embracing change rather than living in denial of it, and about operating always with integrity and honesty in the world even when that means facing things that are difficult to face.”  – Bob Iger

A friend of mine tells a story of his Grandmother who immigrated to the United States.  She had purchased her tickets from Southampton, England to New York City.  Upon arrival to board the ship in 1912, she was shocked to discover that her papers were not in order.  The immigration clerk who manually processed hundreds of papers that day had inadvertently missed stamping some of her documents.  Disappointed that her plans were thwarted, she made her way over to the White Star Line offices to get a refund and book a trip at a later day.  She had been looking forward to boarding the shiny new Olympic class British luxury liner for the 6-day journey to New York.  Instead, she was issued passage on another liner on a different day.  My friend comments that if that clerk had not made the mistake, he may not be here today.  That beautiful new ship that she would not be taking was the RMS Titanic.

I love setting goals and hitting them. I will sometimes ask myself or others to define the desired outcome when I’m unclear of the purpose or intent of the meeting, project or plan.  Once the target is painted, there is a restless emotional drive in me that wants to map out the plan and see it completed.  But change is inevitable.  Doors close and icebergs appear.  When you want to follow your plan, these impediments are frustrating, infuriating and stressful.  Do we keep the course despite all evidence to turn?  To some degree, ignoring the need to change is like continuing to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic while it is sinking.  We should expect and embrace change in all of our plans.  The very core of the agile methodology says that the journey ahead is full of twists and turns.  Life is a series of sprints, turns and pivots, not a contiguous marathon. 

I confess, I struggle at times with the constant change.  I want to set “full steam ahead” but I’m learning every day to embrace the course corrections and trim settings.  Coronavirus has taught us that plans can change quickly.  Families, businesses, schools, and vacations all have plans and courses to follow, but as we have seen, they can quickly be disrupted and require us to adjust.  Are you facing those troubled and always changing seas right now?  Are you finding yourself unusually restless and frustrated, struggling to adapt?  You are not alone.

These are difficult and challenging times, but life is full of those.  When life places a stop sign, a closed door or an impassable gate before us, plans must change.  Yes, it means change.  But take heart.  It may well be that we have providentially avoided a luxurious journey on a fateful Titanic.  Embrace the turn.  Breathe in the wind of change.  Set a new course and proceed with renewed passion and energy toward the final destination.  Oh, and to be clear, if the past is a forecast for tomorrow, we can predict more changes ahead.  Let’s be ready.

An Ocean of Science

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” – Admiral Jim Stockdale

It was hot in our valley this past week!  I built a simple outdoor weather station that displays current temperature, pressure and humidity.  This is the first time I saw it go above 114°F (45°C).  I was never so glad that I had planned time off and we had arranged for home healthcare to stay with my mother-in-law so that my wife, daughters and I could get away for a day.  Our big vacation was a trip down the 126 freeway to Ventura. 

Sometimes the simple things are best.  We parked at the beach, rolled down the windows and enjoyed the cool breeze.  We ate lunch in our van and watched the surf perform its dance across the shore.  It was like each wave was an ocean exhale reminding us that time keeps moving forward.  Its cool breath swept up the beach and gently across our faces.  It was serene and relaxing. 

As you can imagine, we were not the only ones to have this brilliant idea.  The streets and beaches were full of cars and people.  Sadly, most were not wearing masks or even attempting to social distance as they wandered about between the parking lots and beaches.  It struck me how difficult it has been for us to maintain vigilance in this area as we enter our 6th month of this pandemic.  I understand the frustration and know the desire to get back to normal, without face masks, distancing or shields.  There is a temptation to dismiss the science, minimize the seriousness or even justify rebellion against these safety measures.  Some of us figure that if we ignore it, it will just go away.  Unfortunately, that can only prolong and increase the impact.

We must never lose hope.  As the ocean reminds us that time marches on, so must we.  But that faithful determination must be coupled with discipline to confront reality.  As engineers, science is the illumination and tool of our profession.  We practice the scientific method to systematically experiment, learn and devise solutions.  Uncertainty, mystery and fear are chasms that we can bridge with methodical, step by step discovery and progress.  We can tunnel through difficult realities with cunning application of knowledge and persistence. The same can apply to this coronavirus pandemic and to the challenges in our businesses.  We can use our skills and expertise to help chart a solution forward.

Are we or others assuming or inventing a reality inconsistent with our scientific training?  Are there problems in front of us that could use a methodical approach to fully uncover and fix?  Do we set the example for others of being helpful, but logical, optimistic but scientific in our approach?  While 2020 has been an extremely challenging year, it is also a reminder that we have come a long way as a human family.  Behind us is an ocean of knowledge, discovery and tools that can amplify our ability to help those before us.  This week, I challenge you to tap that reservoir and heroically apply your talents to the problems at hand.  Strengthen your mind with hope and logic and let the winds of knowledge propel us forward.  And please, like other super heroes, wear a mask.  Stay scientific (and safe) out there!

Each Moment

“He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances. He had an odd autobiographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the third person and a verb in the past tense.” – James Joyce

As is our custom, the day before anyone celebrates a birthday, we send them off to bed and go to work transforming our kitchen and living room into a birthday paradise, complete with colorful streamers, banners, balloons and presents.   The birthday celebrity is greeted with this birthdayland and a day full of “your choice” picks for food, games and entertainment.  This past weekend, my wife and youngest daughter celebrated their birthday together.  Yes, that’s right, our youngest was a birthday surprise for my wife, now thirteen years ago.  It shocked us this weekend to realize we no longer have any pre-teens in our house.

Time flies so fast.  It seemed only moments ago we were holding our newborn, waking up at all hours of the night and facing what seemed like an unrelenting storm of diapers, changing tables, sweet coos, burping, snuggling and crying. I know many of you are enjoying those episodes right now.  But as some of you know, what seems like will last forever is gone in an instant.  We were given some advice early on as new parents:  Remember, babies don’t keep.  It is hard work, but enjoy that precious time.  Savor each moment and don’t rush it.  It will be gone before you know it.

That advice doesn’t just apply to babies or even those of us who are parents.  We are all on a meteoric journey through life.  Delightful moments flash like sparks across the sky.  If we are not careful, we will be watching our lives in the third person as a movie playing out in the past tense.  I often have to remind myself, don’t miss it, drink in every minute.  Every sunrise and every sunset is a gift.  Each heartbeat beckons us to listen, record and embrace the time we have.  Each chapter, each act that we perform spills from our hands into the ocean of time.  Grab hold of each moment, peer into the now and appreciate how it glistens and glows, for that moment.  The final act is coming and the curtain call will be here before we know it.  Cherish what we have now, each minute, each day.

During this pandemic, it seems like the days and weeks tend to fly by at a record clip.  I realized last week how I was letting so much slip by without a thought.  It is easy to fall into an automatic routine and not appreciate the sequence of moments that shape each day.  They tend to look the same. This week, I encourage you all to take time to focus on the moment we are in right now.  As you read this, dream into the present and let it wash over you like a soft warm blanket.  Look around you, what are you missing?  Don’t.  Take it all in and celebrate it.  Live in the first person, present tense.  We pass this way but once, don’t waste it, enjoy it!

Perseverance Launched

Mars 2020 Perseverance

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” – Marie Curie

Back in January, my daughter and I had the amazing opportunity to visit JPL with Gene Kim and his son, to see the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover before it was crated up and shipped to Florida for launch.  We met with the software systems architect, Vu Nguyen, who talked to us about redundancy and reliability design and the incredible levels of testing required to ensure their many years of work would be successful.  I talked about our launch readiness work for SRE, but as you can imagine, JPL takes it to a whole new level.  This past week, we watched with delight as the Rover was launched from Cape Canaveral beginning its 7-month journey to the Red Planet.

Since the start of the pandemic safer-at-home initiative, it often seems like things are put on pause.  Rightly so.  Projects and plans have indeed paused, but it seems like there is even a greater sense of stasis that has set in.  It can be debilitating and anxiety provoking.  There is a sense that we are waiting to un-pause.  The recent launch of the Perseverance rover and the SpaceX Crew Dragon astronauts return to Earth this weekend reminds us that things are still happening and we are still moving forward.  They may be going forward differently than before, but life and progress are still happening. 

Last week when I spoke with my staff, I posed the question:  If you knew we were not going back into the office until this time next year, what would you do different?  What changes would you make?  It turns out that many of us have been in that “pause” mode and realized if we were thinking that way, we would make some adjustments.  Specifically, many mentioned updating their home office to better accommodate work, adjust their work calendar to ensure they have time for lunch or better manage their work/life balance.  We talked about creating new ways for the teams to interact and collaborate in the virtual world.  I don’t know if or when we will return to the office, but I encourage you to think the same way.  What would you un-pause if you knew this was the new normal?  Let’s not wait for “back to normal,” let’s take proactive steps to make the “now” normal, sustainable and productive.

Our work still has a positive impact on our human family, especially during this time.  We have a role to play in delivering our magic and helping our companies continue to survive and thrive. 

This week I encourage you to keep launching your creativity, innovation, and tenacity. Like the rover’s name and the reminder from Marie Curie, keep persevering!

Did you make your bed?

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” —Booker T. Washington

I don’t know about you, but I have found that during this pandemic my to-do list keeps growing!  I seem to create and collect projects like a toddler collecting sea shells at the beach.  Every time I pick up a new one, I drop two.  Part of me says, we are going to be home and we have time, it will be good to do this now.  I add another project, fixing the leaky window upstairs, add those shelves, paint the wall, add some landscaping outside, or make some new IoT device or gadget.  The list grows.  But something that I have discovered is that while there is some reward in just knowing what is to be done, the real reward is checking it off the list.  Job done.  Accomplishment reached.  

Have you noticed how much of our life we measure and memorialize by the accomplishments we make?  Dreams are great, but it is the concrete formation of that dream that we anchor in our minds.  Accomplishments are the result and reward of work.  There is a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure in completing a task, a project, or a plan.

Did you make your bed?  My youngest daughter and I discuss the merits and futility of bed making.  She is convinced that there is no purpose in making the bed because she is going to mess it up again at night.  I help her make the bed and when we are done, I say, see how nice it looks?  Aren’t you glad you started the day with an accomplishment?  The day is going to be great.  Let’s go accomplish more things! 

The little things and the big things can all be celebrated and rewarding.  Changing the air filter on the air conditioner, launching a brand-new website, sweeping the floor, opening a new business, patching a server, completing a million-dollar cost savings job, or just making your bed are achievements that feel good, that we can acknowledge and celebrate.

What did you accomplish last week?  What targets do you have this week?  Give yourself the opportunity to complete a task, to make a difference and harvest that reward.  Celebrate the successes and the obstacles you have overcome to get there.  

I know that many of our jobs require time to complete and we may be weeks or months away from that final celebration.  But we should look for wins along the way.  There are small things that can be done every day to give us that feeling of accomplishment.  What did you check off today?  What milestone have you reached?   If nothing else, you can always start with making your bed. 

Seeing Clearly

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic.” – John Lewis

Shortly after blogging my update last week, my wife informed me that she was unable to see out of one eye.  Everything was blurry.  As you can imagine, that immediately changed our plans for the day.  We quickly hurried off to an emergency eye doctor visit.  In the world of COVID-19 that means layers of face masks, screenings and cleanings, all of which we were grateful for.  By evening and after scores of tests, her vision was starting to get better.  We had cleared through some of the more frightful possibilities and had a better understanding of the marvelous miracle of the eye.  It is incredibly complex and can even stump intelligent eye specialists.  Thankfully, my wife is doing much better but we still don’t know the exact cause, so more visits to come.

Seeing clearly is something we can easily take for granted.  For those of us with glasses, we know the joy and excitement that happens when you get your first pair of glasses and suddenly realize all the details you were missing.  It can be an incredibly emotional experience.  Seeing and seeing clearly is one of those gifts that we often forget to appreciate.  There is so much in life that is like that.  These wonders and experiences become default settings.  Pandemic and other life pressures can cast a sour haze over our lives.  Required and important face masks and social distancing procedures have become a burden to us and discontentment rises.  We are so often wrapped up in the stream of what is going wrong, that we forget to consider and enjoy what is going right. 

What is going right in your life?  What default ability, experience or situation are you thankful for today?  As I ask myself those questions, I realize that even in the midst of emergencies and despair, there are good things to enjoy. In the middle of our struggles, there is hope. Take heart in those good things and keep up the fight.  Keep moving forward.  Cherish each step, each kindness passed to us and every opportunity we have to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

May you all see clearly this week and be fortified with hope!

Luminous Beings

Glowing Print

“Luminous beings are we.” – Yoda

I love building things.  During the past several weeks my girls and I have been 3D printing all sorts of characters, figures and models. It’s amazing what you can find online or build yourself with free or online tools like Tinkercad or Meshmixer.  Recently we started printing with glow-in-the-dark filament.  In a funny way, it unlocked a new nighttime routine for us.  Before going to bed, my girls will charge up their figures by holding them next to the light to have their accompanying glow.  We observed how different lights influence the glow, with the sun and UV light being the most powerful for long term glow.  

Of course, this led to the question, so how does glow-in-the-dark work?  I love those questions!  The phosphorescence material we printed is absorbing the radiation and causing a quantum magic show where the electrons absorb the energy from the light source photons. They are jumping to a higher energy state which slowly degrades over time, emitting that glow.  The unique nature of glow-in-the-dark materials like zinc sulfide and strontium aluminate is that the energy is not released immediately.  The higher energy state causes the electrons to get “trapped” in a higher state and released over the course of several minutes and even hours. Quantum mechanics loves to do this forbidden magic.  Ok, to be fair, I lost my girls on that explanation about the same way I lost some of you… so moving on.

How are you glowing?  It is amazing to me how many metaphors surround us.  This glow-in-the-dark adventure reminded me how we as humans, often radiate what we are exposed to.  I often find that in my life that I begin to emit what I allow myself to be exposed to.  If I become fixated on negative news, I become negative.  If I spend all my time hanging around critical people, I become critical.  On the flip side, if I seek and surround myself with positive people and mentors, I become more optimistic. If I change my diet to include good news as well as bad, I find that I am more encouraged and encouraging to others.  What are you feasting on?  What light sources are you orbiting?  Who and what are you bringing into your life to help you absorb good energy so that you too can glow?

In our fast action, twitter abbreviated, news cycle world I find that I often become carried away by the currents.  This little glow-in-the-dark lesson reminded me that we have a choice on where we are going and how we shape ourselves to be the people we want to be.  This pandemic can be discouraging and rob us of energy and joy.  There are a lot of negative and depressing conversations going on.  I understand that.  But we shouldn’t limit our charging to only those sources.  Find some new light sources this week.  Look for opportunities to jump to a higher energy state this week… and glow.  Here’s to a brighter future!

Pursuit of Happiness

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Team,

Nothing says 4th of July like fireworks, hamburgers, watermelon… and now, Hamilton!  Ok, to be fair, we didn’t set off or watch any fireworks, but we did manage to do the rest and our neighbors were happy to rattle our windows with illegal fireworks all night long.  And if you didn’t catch Hamilton on Disney+, you should. It is an amazing performance!  It is also a good and timely reminder that this liberty stuff is a difficult and messy business.  

The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness requires work, struggle and constant vigil.  I was struck by those words this weekend, especially the well-chosen phrase, “pursuit of happiness.”  Happiness is fleeting but it is worth pursuing.  It is a constant race and requires work, energy and patience.  The reward set before us is joy, happiness, a smile and a feeling of satisfaction.  What does that pursuing happiness look like to you?  

Happiness can be found in work.  I have found that some of life’s greatest moments are at the other end of hard work and effort.  There is a great happiness that can be found in a job well done, the accomplishment and the fruit of hard labor.  It could be a project completed as a team at work, a repair job on the house, a problem solved, or a volunteer effort accomplished. In our knowledge worker world, that effort is more mental than muscular, but it is “work” none the less. The effort to solve complex problems and the mental energy to design, and create software, systems and processes is both taxing and rewarding.  The beautiful paradox is that something that can be difficult, painful and fraught with anguish, results in a moment of happiness, delight and satisfying accomplishment. 

Happiness can be found in learning.  COVID-19 has presented us with a lot of difficulty but has also graced us with new time to focus and learn.  In my spare time, I’m struggling to learn Japanese and my wife is polishing up on her Norwegian.  I also try to strategically pick projects that help me learn something new and interesting, at work and at home.  I know many of you do the same.  My recent diversion has me building IoT and other electronic devices.  This past weekend I decided I needed to finally learn JavaScript (and more than just copy paste coding) and built an interactive animation tool (don’t laugh) for my projects.  It took a lot of work, but when I had a working model (and software is never done so you just get to MVP), I was smiling.  I was happy.  I wonder if we give ourselves enough challenge to be happy?  Are we putting enough learning plans in our path to give us a chance to level up our knowledge and then enjoy the happiness of that moment?  I think I can do more.

Happiness can be found in giving.  Sure, personal rest and relaxation are good. We need to ensure we are not all work and no play.  Planned time off and vacation (remember when we used to be able to travel?) are great ways to celebrate and enjoy the fruits of our labors.  But I have found there is another key to unlocking happiness that isn’t about us.  It is about others. I have noticed that when I invest my own energy, time and resources in helping others there is an incredible joy dividend that I get back.  We are at our best when we are helping each other.  Programmed into the universe and our DNA is a virtuous reciprocity that happiness comes when we consider others, prioritize their needs above our own, champion for justice, and seek to do good.  I know I can do more of this.

Today, I challenge you all to think about how you are pursuing happiness.  What does it look like for you?  Find your path to happiness.  Look for it in your work, in your learning and in your giving, then run after it and enjoy it.  I wish you happiness this week and always!