Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Mixed Merry-Go-Round Metaphors

Six months ago, I was sitting in my office, seriously depressed, wondering if there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Six weeks ago, I was sitting in my office, barely able to work, anxiously anticipating my last day on the job.

I didn't talk about my job much while blogging from work, obviously. And I'm not going to talk about it now, or ever, on this blog. All I'll say is this: I often likened software documentation at that particular company to trying to draw a still life of a merry-go-round on speed. The image (i.e., the software) changed so much, and so often without warning, that I was often tempted to throw my brush (or keyboard) into the air and give up.

So I spent a lot of time torn between these two questions: Do I just document this stuff, knowing it's going to change? Or do I just blog, research interesting things like caterpillars and composers, take walks, go practice piano at the church across the street, and basically sit here and collect a paycheck until the end of time?

I did a little bit of both--enough work that I didn't feel like I was cheating the company, but not so much that I had too much invested in the documentation (all 600+ pages of it) whenever I learned of (surprise!) new changes.

It was a pretty direct ticket to madness. There was no base, no solid ground. There was never a single, solid build of the software that was the "final release build." Things kept changing, and kept changing, and kept changing. There wasn't a shred of certainty in the process. I like uncertainty in some situations, but not when it costs me (and the company) literally months of wasted effort.

If I were the Outer Life guy, I'd be able to write about that often meaningless job with humor and aplomb. But I'm Waterfall, and all I can say is I'm glad to have left Cubicle Land behind.

As I practiced the piano this afternoon (this afternoon! From 1:00 to 2:30! When, normally, I'd be tearing my hair out and grinding my teeth from boredom in Cubicle Land!), I had the most wonderful sense of not skimping. For once, piano wasn't something I squeezed into what was left of my schedule after my job and commute had bitten off their 10+ hour quota of my daily life. It was such a delicious, expansive feeling.

There was a sense of expectation as well, though. You know: "Waterfall dear, now that you have time to practice piano, you don't have any excuses for playing poorly ..." Yeah, whatever. I honestly believe my playing is going to improve significantly this summer--funny how increased practice time can do that. But I also have to make sure I don't keep holding myself up to the impossible standard of what I consider "good enough.

If I do that, then piano will become just another fast-forwarding merry-go-round that I can't quite catch sight of. "Good enough" will keep shifting just a little further out of reach.

It's a balance--having an admirable "good enough" goal in mind, yet being satisfied with the process, too. It'll be something I learn more about, firsthand, this summer.

Have I mentioned that I'm really happy to have escaped Cubicle Land? I'm sure it is merely the initial thrill of freedom, the calm before the storm when I'll realize and remember what it's like to be a truly broke freelancer. But I'm going to enjoy the thrill while it lasts.

Back to work ... I have a freelance-writing deadline tomorrow and lots to write before I finally turn it in!

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