I just finished my portion of the BFusion / BFLEX keynote address and got some really great feedback. A few people even asked for a copy of my speech. Here is what I wrote:
. . .
A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting hosted by the NYCUPA, which is the New York City chapter of the UPA - the Usability Professional's Association. This particular meeting was a case study of the branding and strategy changes implemented by the Billboard.com website design team. But, the details of the meeting are not of any particular relevance, although they were quite fascinating; what I wanted to talk about today was the way in which the meeting was introduced.
Once the few dozen or so of us that were there found our seats, the hostess of event got up and welcomed us. And, as she does at the beginning of every meeting, she spoke briefly about what the UPA is and specifically about why we were all there. And, this "why" behind our attendance was summed up as follows:
- To Learn.
- To Network.
- To Be Validated.
To "learn" and to "network", those reasons are self-explanatory; we go to these professional development events, and our local CFUGs, and we come to conferences like this to see new things, to broaden our horizons, to meet new people, and to find inspiration. We "learn" and we "network."
But what does it mean to be "validated?" And, why is validation so important that it was held as a primary reason behind the UPA meeting attendance?
I think when we explore the concept of validation, in the context of work, it is easy to critique it superficially; that is, it is easy to view validation strictly from a standpoint of dollars and cents: we do work and that work is validated by the money that it produces. So perhaps, in a sense, seeing a case study of a profitable piece of business serves to validate and to further reinforce the belief that the current work and the future work, carried out by the attendees, will be successful.
But, money is truly an insignificant source of validation for us people like us. After all, think about the activities you do in which money is not a primary motivator. Making music; reading; playing video games; watching movies; going for long walks; telling someone you love them; learning a second language; body art; having a child; starting a family; making love; the activities not motivated by money are as numerous and diverse as the people who enjoy doing them.
And so, when it comes to being "validated," I believe that the impetus behind this powerful desire is much more profound; it speaks not only to the individual in question, but to the world in which they exist.
None of you have to be here today. Most of the people that you know are not here; I would even wager a guess that a lot of your friends are still sleeping at this very moment. And who can blame them? After all, that's what a large segment of our society dictates as an appropriate weekend behavior.
You're here on a Saturday; but, many of you simply had to walk across campus to get here. I came here all the way from New York by way of North Carolina and the CFinNC conference; most of the speakers and the teaching assistants that you see around you, at this conference, came from other parts of this country. We came here because we love ColdFusion; because we love FLEX and the Flash platform; because we love programming and solving problems; because we love teaching and sharing information; and, because we hail the exchange of knowledge to be an activity worth participating in.
And, as much as that might make sense to the people in this room, it makes us seem quite insane to the people outside.
That is why I believe that, "validation" - whether conscious or subconscious - is such a driving force behind so many meetings. When we tell others how excited we are to be working on some project or attending some conference or learning some new technology and they look at us and say - with concern- "hey man, work to live, don't live to work," it's no wonder at all that we fill ourselves with so much doubt and uncertainty.
I've been programming for about a decade now. I fell instantly in love with it the second I wrote my first line of QBASIC back in high school. That moment was, for me, both beautiful and tragic; it was beautiful in that I found my passion - in that I found what I wanted to do with the rest of my life; but, it was tragic in that it started a war within me.
Since I found programming, I have struggled often to align my love of it with the prevailing societal standard that work is somehow not intrinsically good. For years, I didn't know how to deal with this effectively; I had no sense of validation as the majority of the people around me questioned my motivations and dismissed my passions as being unhealthy. As such, I let this state of unrest negatively influence my decision making; I let it lower my level of expectations; and, in a way, I think I even let it keep me in relationships that I didn't want to be in. Now, that might sound completely crazy to you, but when you lack internal peace, everything that you do and every decision that you make is off kilter.
A few months ago, however, I had a revelation; I realized that it wasn't that my feelings conflicted with society's beliefs - it was actually that we had a small disagreement regarding terminology. This breakthrough came in the form of a single line delivered by Tim Ferriss, author of the Four Hour Work Week. I was watching him give a presentation titled, "How to Blog Without Killing Yourself," and during the Q&A portion of the talk, an audience member asked him how he reconciled all the time that he spent with blogging with the "four hours" a week that he advocated working? To this, Ferriss responded:
Work is defined as "something you want to do less of".
When I heard this, suddenly all of the tumblers in my head clicked. I felt the world around me stop and I felt completely at peace. The conflict, that I had kept within me for so long, became a non sequitur. And, what I realized in that moment of clarity was that I don't work - I simply do what I love.
The people at the UPA meetings are there because they are passionate about interaction design and well executed user interfaces; you all are here today because you love programming. So, go forth today and enjoy this conference and each other's company; but, take a moment and not just respect but actively embrace the fact that if you love ColdFusion, or you love FLEX, or you just love programming, that doesn't make you someone that needs validation - rather, that makes you someone that is quite unbelievably lucky.