2013 was a tough year. Some really good things did come my way; but, for the most part, 2013 was a grueling year that left me feeling fairly depressed. And, not depressed in the "I'm so depressed that Stephen Colbert in on break" sense - depressed in the sense that many of my days felt joyless. My intention here is not to start a pity-party but, rather, to try for some sort of catharses as we enter the new year.
I am a creature that thrives in the context of structure. Like the foundation under a house, a strong, predicable, and dependable structure gives me a base on which to build the rest of my life. And when that structure is removed, as I have discovered, my life becomes unstable and my passions quickly give-way to fear.
In 2014, my number one priority - my new year's resolution - is to start bringing structure back into my life. With it, I'm still not perfect - I still do a lot of things wrong and a good deal of my life is still out of balance; but, without structure, I'm definitely a hot mess.
Toward the end of this last year, I had my first panic attack. It - and the smaller ones that followed - were scary. I couldn't control my breathing and my heart felt wonky. The only thing that felt "safe" was getting down on all-fours and breathing deeply into the toilet.
In the last year, I've lost about 20 pounds (according to my last physical). For the first time since college (12 years ago), I've dropped below 200 pounds. This is not weight loss that I am happy with. The majority of it is due to a complete lack of physical fitness and stress.
I feel on-edge almost all the time. Every time my phone goes off, a shot of adrenaline runs up my spine in the anticipation that some emergency will have to be tended. Every refresh of my inbox leaves me in fear that bad news will arrive.
All of this stress and anxiety has caused me to grind my jaw excessively. At my last cleaning, my dentist pointed out all the teeth that were being worn down and the gums that were dangerously receded. He needs me to get fitted for a mouth-guard that will prevent grinding at night. I feel like I need to wear it all day.
The stress has also put me into a fairly horrible sleep cycle. Taking AdvilPM (or some form of antihistamine) is pretty much mandatory in order for me to fall asleep. If left unmedicated, I lay awake for 2-3 hours, teetering back and forth between anger and anxiety.
It used to be that I would blog almost every day. Without structure, I now struggle to eek out one or two blog posts a month. At the extremes, several months will have gone by without any writing at all. This has been a huge struggle - I get so much joy out of my research and development (not to mention the subsequent community interaction). I miss my people.
I've pretty much stopped communicating with all of my friends.
Ever Present Guilt.
Without a good, predictable structure, I feel guilty all the time. I feel like I'm never doing enough - never working hard enough. Even when I'm completely burnt-out, I feel like I never measure up. I feel like I'm never pulling my weight. I feel like dead-weight. I feel like a fraud.
Feeling guilty all the time makes me angry.
It used to be, there were parts of my life that brought me so much joy that I felt embarrassed talking about them. I was afraid that my light burnt so brightly, it would make others feel bad. I didn't want to rub my joy in their face. Today, I still don't talk about those things; but, it's not because they bring me joy - it's because they bring me stress and agitation.
Getting My Act Together And Doing Something About It
But enough will all that junk! I have sacrificed myself on the alter of dignity. Now, let me shake it off like a donkey that would shake off something it doesn't like. I feel good about tomorrow. I feel good about this new year. I feel good about getting structure back in my life. I'm ready to do this, one small change at a time.
Special thanks to MK and the Goose - I don't know how I would have survived without you guys!
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I think I speak for everyone when I say this; Ben, we believe in you, brother.
I'm certain there isn't a day goes by while in active development in CFML, jQuery, etc. that you do not cross our minds from time to time.
You mean a lot to us, keep up the good work. Don't sweat the small stuff. Take one day at a time. Only do what you can, with the time you have. Be selfish with your weeknights and weekends.
You'll get through it!
You need to watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off again.
Set aside some unstructured time (perhaps on a weekend, perhaps on a vacation, perhaps before getting ready for bed) and just do any old random shit that won't get you in trouble, just because why the fuck not.
Life can be fun too. Don't miss it, Dude.
I really appreciate you Ben for a variety of reasons. Your blog posts have been very helpful in my understanding of both ColdFusion and Angular, I used your famous Love Talk as an example in my first lightning talk at cf.Objective()(because it was amazing), and the liveliness/good spirited fun you bring to coding gatherings is a pleasure to both experience and to hear about. I will definitely be thinking of you and praying for you as you push forward into this new year and seek out these changes you want in your life. Please keep up the good work you do and press on in finding a better state of personal happiness and success.
Congrats on your turnabout!
For the sleep/stress/grinding thing, I *highly* recommend some Rescue Sleep. Homeopathic spray, helps wind the mind down so you can relax and sleep, as opposed to unconsciousness-inducing drugs.
Get better, my friend!
You sound like you've taken on too much responsibility, Ben. Mix that with a personal resolve to be ever-dependent, topped with the feeling of self-loathing in the event you let someone down; it all makes for an un-winnable situation.
Having focus in your life is important, and you seem like a very dedicated individual; but you have to come to realize that you cannot do for others if you cannot do first for yourself. Running yourself ragged or repeating these acts that tear away at your ability to cope with those stresses can take its toll on you mentally, physically and psychologically, as you've indicated.
Be positive, my friend. You're a staple in the ColdFusion community, and it's at times like this that you want to TAKE advantage (not literally, of course) of your friendships. You never come across as a person of doubt, but rather a person of confidence, who tirelessly explores and shares his information with others. Feel free to let go every so often and just put your guard down. You HAVE to have "me" time; believe me, you're important, and if we knew you were constantly doing things that were so self-destructive, we'd be a bit miffed at ya!
You're Ben-freaking-Nadel; one of a kind. Don't feel the need to constantly push and change and put yourself in situations that remove your sense of comfort. Comfort is a good thing; many people confuse it with complacency. You are by no means a complacent person, but you need to find your comfort zone again, so do what you gotta do in order to get there. It is of utmost importance that you gain the ability to regulate these stresses and not take on such monumental responsibilities, that you fall back into those cycles.
And don't sweat it, B. Everyone has good times and bad times. 2014's gonna be a great year for you. If you wanna chat, you got my contact.
You're a role model for me and lot of other people in the dev community. I've expressed that to you a few times already and I'm sure you've heard it from others.
I personally suffer from depression and pretty rough anxiety, but I've found that even just acknowledging it (like you're doing) is a huge first step to making things better. The fact that you're doing that publicly with this kind of honest and transparency is inspiring and I'm sure much appreciated by a lot of folks.
All the best to you in 2014.
I think it's great that you're sharing this. Not just for personal catharsis, but because it helps other people with the same issues who may not be as comfortable putting it out there.
I started developing in ColdFusion about 6 or so years ago. Since the beginning, I've constantly dug up your old blog posts when asking Google a question. They've helped me more than I'm sure you could imagine.
Reading this post post, I realized that I could have written almost the same thing about 2013. I know that anxiety has a way of distorting reality, but it's often tough to realize that about your own anxieties. Seeing someone as accomplished and respected as you expressing the same feelings I've had is helpful to be able to allow myself to relax and put life back into perspective
here's to a much better 2014!
To me, it sounds like you need some time off mate. You've acknowledged you have issues to work through, which as many have said is definitely the first step, but (as silly as this may sound), you may need to accept them before you can overcome them. You may not go back to being exactly who you were, and you know what? That's fine. People change. Its part of life. Look forwards.
Good luck Ben!
It's saddening to read you had such a struggle during 2013 but I'm sure you'll manage to turn it all around for 2014. I haven't got much in the way of advice to offer, we all deal with things in different ways. I am pretty sure there are a lot of people out there who are thankful for the work you've done and for you being who you are, so don't let that feeling of guilt eat away at you.
As for your sacrifice on the alter of dignity, being brave enough to put this post together and publish it I'm sure the dignity deit(y|ies) gave you more back on top of what you think you gave :-)
Go and get that structure back Ben ;-)
You are not alone.
Of course everyone has their own battles, and only they can find the best ways to deal with them, and it sounds like you are on the right track.
I have found that if you set your structure up, you can save yourself the extra anxiety about what you should be doing... thats the part that always gets to me, I have so much to do, I spend too long trying to figure out what to do, and then I have no time to do it.
When I feel like I need to be more productive, I drop some of the other things to get more time, but more time is not always more productive time.
Physical activity is the hard one for me, the last thing that feels right is going and working out (and it shows), but whenever I do, I sleep better, I have more energy, my thoughts are clearer, sharper, because sports has always been a huge part of my life, I think I'm not me when I am not fulfilling that side of me.
Another hard lesson I learned was, do not try and make everyone happy.
In the end, everyone might be happy, you definitely will not be.
You are a huge part of this community, even those who are not active in this community know your name, if its the only one they know.
Hang in there, find yourself, be yourself.
Good luck :)
No advice here; I just wanted to let you know that, as someone interested in blogging, ColdFusion, and development in general, you and your blog have always been an inspiration.
Really, you kick ass (even if/when you don't feel like it) and you've been a huge part of my learning to code. I can honestly say that insight from your blog is a fundamental piece of pretty much every project I've been on. Thanks for blogging, being accessible on Twitter, answering (frequently stupid) questions, and being personable every time that I've encountered you at various conferences.
My wife has more anxiety than most folks and I get anxious occasionally...we both found the following article interesting. Although with the exception of prior to a presentation or important meeting, neither of us quite know how to apply it. However, we both agree it make sense.
Seems like sound logic, backed by some interesting studies. Wish you well.
As someone that has an anxiety disorder, I can't push enough to get the Anxiety & Phobia Workbook. It's like $14 on Amazon and amazing. It really helps give you tools to understand and cope with that stuff when it hits.
It's called running a startup and is a perfectly normal response. How do you cope? Daily workouts and imposing a structure which you're going to do.
If you're not already start reading Brad Feld's blog and get yourself introduced to Jerry Colonna who is NYC based. Colonna coaches startup founders and is considered best in the world.
Ben. Ben Ben Ben Ben.
Loved this post. Your attitude given the circumstances is so impressive that I'm sitting here feeling preposterously inspired. Not sure I've ever seen this side of you, but I feel like I could've written this post myself and it'd barely be different. Structure is everything, and I left it behind long ago and fell into the quicksand of modern life just like you did.
2014 is going to be your year. Excited to watch you shake this beast off of your back, choke it out with your bare hands, and make it your dirty, dirty bitch. What?
Ben, thanks for sharing something so personal. I can relate. Having helped found, start, and build a company from 2009 to today things really changed for me. I wasn't dealing with all the things you mentioned but I was having a lot of stress, anxiety, and sleep issues.
Most of them I shrugged off as part of building and running a company, until many of the issues disappeared over the course of 2 months. Looking back I was able to identify exactly what was causing the issues and feel relieved and happy they were gone. It's been my experience that a few key things can lead to all of what you mentioned. It could be a job, and aspect of a job, the people at the job, your boss, or the fact that you're the boss.
Speaking from experience, I didn't work through my issues. I thought they were par for the course. Fortunately (thank God) they worked themselves out. Looking back I wish I had attempted to identify what was affecting me. I encourage you to do this and it sounds like you are already on your way. Best wishes.
- You're Ben-freaking-Nadel
:-) Ben, you're not alone in ANY of this. Does sound like a two-week vacation is in order.
A former pastor of mine had to take a multi-month sabbatical in order to wind down. He and his wife had started a church ~5 years prior and had been going full-steam that entire time. It caused a lot of side-issues much like what you're describing. I remember hearing his wife say it took nearly two weeks just to merely stop their minds from going 100 MPH every day.
Hopefully you're not in need of THAT much time off, but might not hurt to get out of the City and find the nearest national park where nothing but nature can be seen for miles around.
Señor Ben -
Todo esto va a pasar, y vas a estar muy pero muy bien! Un Beso!
I suggest a philosophy class! those do wonders for the mind and soul! I know what panic attacks feel like! :( so sorry you went through that. I'm glad you have someone who loves you standing by your side! That always helps.
All the best to you in 2014! OH.... You should listen to Randall! Clearing your head in a beautiful place like I don't know... Colorado? Would be awesome! ;)
Thank you all for your support. When I first wrote this last night, I actually posted it and then immediately de-activated it (and deleted the status update on Twitter / Facebook). I needed a night to sleep on it.
I was nervous about being so open about it. In the past, I have been very open about things like life, love, and philosophy; but, I think, never in such a vulnerable way. So, thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you for your support. I really does mean the world to me and makes me feel connected to people in a way that was starting to become foreign.
Sometimes, just knowing you're not alone in these matters is enough to help you get your head on straight and start turning things around.
I took a 30-minute break today at 4pm. Did nothing work-related. I actually did some fitness stuff with my adjustable dumbbells. It felt awesome. Hopefully just step 1 of N on the road to awesome town!
I recommend God :)
He has taken all my fears and anxieties away.
I know how you feel about the not working out :( for the last 7 months I had not done anything either because I hurt my foot running and the gym at my job was/is closed for renovations. I gained 10 pounds and feel out of it, I am not me right now... BUT... I just did a video work out and already feel like I'm on my way to awesome town myself! Woo hoo! Doing this peaceful warrior style! :)
Sometimes just writing it all down can make things clear in your mind. Publishing it might make it even clearer...
I see alot of advice here so I'll add another: have you thought about yoga? I don't mean just for exercise I mean proper, relaxing, 'mindful' yoga.
I had some of the same symptoms as you Ben, I knew where the stress was coming from and eliminated it (ie quit the job I was in) and thought that would do it, but it didn't... I still had sleepless nights, and the panic attacks (that I didn't know were panic attacks - I thought my lungs were packing it in!)... so I got back into yoga, and slowly, slowly I'm getting back to normal without the use of any drugs.
I know alot of people who don't take to it because they think its too slooooooww, especially men.... but its worth persevering with. You have to ask yourself the question: why has this happened to me? And more often than not, its your body trying to tell you to sloooow down...
Try having a look at Yogi Camerons stuff:
@Jeremy, i think you are my identical twin. You sais exactly what i wanted to say. Thank you!. @ben, please read Jeremy's comment twice: one for him and one for me.
Like, I'm sure, many many CF developers everywhere the first thing that comes to mind when I am confronted with a tricky CF question is "I wonder when Ben has to say about this?". We seek and we usual find what we need on your blog, sometimes we leave a note but often we are too busy to do so. But we're here and we appreciate the effort that you have put in.
I'm sure you will find whatever you need to get through this time. A line about taking the time to stop and smell the roses comes to mind but more advice is probably the last thing you need.
Thanks again Ben, I hope get the chance at a conference this year to thank you in person.
Listen to @Jasmine :-) Colorado is quite nice, especially if you like skiing.
All the best Ben. I hope things turn around this year.
Having lived with high anxiety and stress myself (I have a very high strung personality) I can really relate to how you have been feeling (in particular how you described fear of refreshing your inbox) ...but actually hearing you say that you have felt like this is astonishing. You are without doubt one of the hardest working and most intelligent people I have met.
I so am glad that you can intellectually grasp that these feelings of depression and low self worth are not based on fact but rather a skewed perception of reality brought on by stress and I suspect extreme fatigue.
Acknowledging this is really important, but if I might make a suggestion. Take some time to sit down and formulate a plan on how you are going to deal with this. You have taken the first step already.
Make a plan that puts back the structure you are feeling in your life as well as sets aside personal time to go out and actually unwind. No one can work all the time, the human mind and soul both need time to relax and recharge just like the body does. Once you have your plan write it down and put it somewhere that you can see it every day, and then put it into practice.
You are more than just a great programmer Ben, you are a great guy and we are all rooting for you.
Wow, as I read your post, I just knew there were going to be a lot of replies, and I was looking forward to reading them.
How can you ever hear the "Harlem Shake" and not think back on what your friends did for you half-way across the world?
You've really opened yourself up. But I think the opposite of what you wrote is probably just as true. You are one of the most fun loving, easy going people I know.
You're so complicated!
I've read your site for years - I started a while back when I was doing coldfusion development and you answered all of my questions. :D
All that to say, sorry to hear you've had a rough year. I hope you've got a year of awesomeness ahead of you!
Hi! And Happy New Year, first of all!!! Even if I am late (as usual, I guess). No crazy pictures this year. I am SO glad you have found someone to help ya through all of this! When you go through something like this, that's important. Finding someone you love who can take the edge off of life...there isn't much better than that!
Before I offer any additional advice (which you probably don't need, but you know me...I gotta add it anyway!!!), I want to tell you that I can relate, at least to some of what you've written, and I thank you for coming completely honest and vulnerable to the blogging world. I too have had a very shaky year in 2013. There were things that brought me great joy, mixed with things which could be seen as very tragic. I'm not wanting to just push the bad stuff under the carpet until it festers out, but I prefer to really concentrate and focus on the positive...I FINALLY published my book! Yay!!! So all of those long posts and many words has hopefully paid off. If you're curious, here's a link to my book:
I didn't just put that to brag or whatever...I wanted to offer any kind of advice for when/if you ever publish your book on ColdFusion. Or whatever. I had such a great experience publishing with these guys, I want to go ahead and put out a recommendation for them:
And part of the reason I am saying all of this is because I think that, publishing your story or a book about ColdFusion...or...whatever...could be good for you. I could see it giving you structure you crave. It'd be a great way to organize your thoughts a bit. Not that they need organizing, but I found that writing this book helped me in those ways, when I am not even that organized in my thoughts to begin with (certainly not as much as you).
About the sleep/anxiety thing. I also studied this year to become certified in hypnosis. I used to have serious sleep problems...and still do sometimes. Hypnosis has been just about the only thing to help me get to sleep without taking medications. It also doesn't have the after-effects some of the medications for sleeping carries with them. Anyway...just some food for thought. You could try it if you wanted, maybe. It could be useful and could help.
Anyway. I wish you and MK a happy, good, and prosperous new year in 2014!!! May you find plenty of structure and have all of your dreams come true.
That unstructured time really helped, didn't it?
When I read your post, it seemed that the diagnostic symptom was joylessness. Joy happens when you're not just a meaningless cog in the machinery of your survival systems.
More time off in 2014!
Long time fan Ben. Just wanted to say it happens to us all. You need to go through the wringer to develop true grit.
I heard a keynote a couple of years ago; the 8 powers of building greatness. Have never been one for pep talks personally, but this guy was exceptional. Audio only (and you'll need to follow webdu on Google+ for access to all parts).
I've had a year or two like that, some with military mobilizations, some with just professional and personal life. No little bromide I might throw at you can really make a difference. There's no assurance that things even will necessarily better.
All I will do is hope that things to get better, baruch hashem. You are unique in the warmth and joy you bring to what you report on with code. Truly. I can read MSDN or whatever blog, and you stand out for the sheer excitement you inject into your topics.
Sometimes I daydream about working for Epicenter just because I like the cut of y'all's jib, and you have a little more yiddishkeyt where you are at. But mostly because your excitement on this blog has never failed to motivate hungry curiosity.
All the best,
Thanks again for all your support. Since I wrote this, I've had some much better days and some not so great days. Sometimes, I just feel antsy like I don't know what to do with myself.
I have scheduled a "breather" in my calendar from 4-4:30PM. During this time, I am aiming to do some physical fitness activities. But, I've already found myself skipping it a few days in a row. I really just have to commit to taking these baby steps and then following through.
That's interesting that we're talking about taking breaks. I teach a technology class at a private Lutheran university and one of the lessons that I teach my students is to observe the Sabbath.
I think God had a good idea when he said not to do any work for 1 day out of 7.
I consciously try to power down on Sundays and not
watch any television, turn on my computer, tinker with my smart phone or anything else that has to do with technology - until sundown.
It's really fascinating to see how your mind races when you say that you're not going to do any "work".
It's quite a mental adventure. And I can see that it almost has to be a religious commitment to get it accomplished.
The first time I did it, I likened it to solitary confinement.
Before I met you last year, I was actually questioning your existence. I was beginning to think that you were a persona created by the CFML/web dev community. I didn't think it was possible for one person to be as prolific as you.
You are obviously well respected in the community. We should seriously have a Ben Nedal jar at our office and every time your name is mentioned, we need to add a quarter to it. We could have pizza day every Friday!
I don't think any of this external praise, support and respect eludes you. Your issue is a lot more intrinsic. Unfortunately, only you can figure that out. You could also pay someone to try to figure it out for you, but that wouldn't be very rewarding. I'm not you, but if I were, I would allot myself more than 30 minutes. I know working out is important to you, but it is still working...go get a coffee or a tea, go see a movie, go sit in a park and watch birds or people..whatever. One last thing, it's not relaxing if you set a time limit on it. I know it doesn't fit into a structured lifestyle, but it might help relieve some stress.
Today is a brand new day, and so is tomorrow - that might be too protagonistic for your tastes, but you don't need to be a robot. It's ok to be human.
Right now, I am starting out with a 30-minute break, which I have already missed for several days. Though, I did get it in today! Woot! Little victories. Hopefully, in the nearer future, I simply won't feel the intense pressure to be "Working" that I do currently. But, that's a factor of work requirements AND work environments. Right now, it's tough to change the work aspects.
And, I do take a break on Saturday; however, the problem is that I try to jam so much "Brain" time into it and "Family" time, that the lack of time feels terribly frustrating.
I'm also becoming a lot better about pre-work, early morning hours "Me" time, which is where I try to do some blogging.
@Ben, you HAVE to take breaks. You probably need to tell yourself and your "bosses" about some more realistic timeframes.
Look back at your 'typical' rate of effort and dial that down just a tad. Use that as your measuring stick and assume you can get that much done in a measurement of time.
I get into this horrible recursive catch-22 cycle as well and I recently realized, for me, it all has to with sleep.
Lack of sleep causes anxiety -> Anxiety causes lack of sleep
How do you break that cycle? I have no freaking idea.
Here are some things that have helped me:
1) Completely quit caffeine. This is hard for a programmer. I'm actually drinking coffee as I type this... but I also didn't sleep last night because I'm currently caught back in the cycle.
2) Melatonin mixed with Magnesium supplement. 100% natural sleep-aid. Probably not as good as AdvilPM, but it works for me, even if part of it is placebo.
When lots of projects or tasks pile up, thats how the cycle starts and it's super hard to break out of.
I also recently heard a story on NPR about this book: http://www.amazon.com/My-Age-Anxiety-Scott-Stossel-ebook/dp/B00F8F7M58/ which seems really interesting and I think I'm going to read it.
I've been reading your blog posts on Angularjs a lot and found them very helpful: thanks for that.
I sincerely hope you can find balance in your life and solve these problems.
I've probably mentioned it before, but I have had problems sleeping for years. About the only thing that helps me is hypnosis. It's natural, but I still try to get to sleep "the natural way" with NO help, including not even hypnosis, but it's natural in that you don't have to take any medication.
I can certainly relate to the stress you experience, running my own company as well. I want everything to work perfectly for clients, and given the complexity of what we do, not all of which is in our direct control, that's quite a tall order. I also experience difficulty sleeping (but only some nights), pain in various parts of my body from a lack of physical exercise, and an underlying sense of tension simply from the ongoing mental exertion involved in building complex business applications that simply cannot fail. As I write this, I'm executing a long-running process on a production server for the first time, that I've just modified to implement a "double-check" to the process, and it absolutely has to work perfectly. I've tested it as best I can, but ...
On top of that, the business has to be profitable (enough), and there is all the administrative crap to deal with, and while my clients are generally really good, on occasion they can also be a pain in the ass.
Dealing with the stress is an everyday, ongoing challenge. I've gotten myself a standup desk - I couldn't bear the neck pain anymore. (Damn, that process is STILL running. What's going on???). I take a raft of supplements to support my brain and mental capacity, as well as my physical health. I have a set of kettlebells next to my desk, an ab roller, elastic exercise bands. It's really hard to break away sometimes, but if I don't, I'm in pain and start to feel lousy.
As far as exercise goes, I've become a fan of short sets of interval training - take a kettlebell (for instance), get out of breath in about a minute, recover a minute, repeat 5 or 6 times, increasing the intensity a bit as I go (with a heavier weight or more challenging exercise. It's enough to trigger the production of needed hormones without wiping me out. It's also supposed to be very good for weight loss, because the body is trained to store glucose in the muscles for short high intensity rather than fat (for long duration medium intensity).
I've also started diluting the coffee I drink with a non-caffeinated chicory coffee. That way I can have as many cups as I want without exceeding 3 or 4 espresso shots a day. (F**k, it's still running! I'm instantiating a series of some 2000 instances of an object. It works much more quickly on my dev machine, about 5 minutes. Maybe I should be using a series of structs here? Crap, every few minutes it seems I have to make another critical decision with insufficient information.)
Ben, long story short, I simply wanted to wish you the best. And if this damn process doesn't complete soon, I'm going to throw a kettlebell out the window!
Had to come back and check out your blog and came across your post. I'm sorry that 2013 was not a good year for you. But, it does get better; you just need to find what works for you to get back to where you would like to be. I wish you the best, and look forward to seeing what you have to offer; I think the best is yet to come!