A long time ago, maybe five or ten years, I started a project called Can I Talk About This Yet? It was broken into different folders representing the different companies I’ve worked at, with little essays inside each. Some weren’t fleshed out yet, and just had little notes at the top, like “Talk about getting promoted to the third floor of RealNetworks.”
I’ve also worked on different memoir approaches over the years. I have one called Beeping Lights, which strictly tells my story through technology. The premise for that one is that I don’t think anyone cares what year or what hospital I was born in. I don’t think anyone cares what my parents or grandparents did for a living. Let’s be honest, no one really cares very much about me specifically. I’m not a celebrity or a notable figure, so writing a traditional memoir wouldn’t really make sense. But on the other hand, some of the best memoirs I’ve ever read weren’t great because the person was great, but because the writing was so personal. I figured I could write a thing or two about how I experienced technology, and how it felt for me. That could work, maybe.
I’m reading Stay True right now, a memoir by Hua Hsu. It’s quite good, and as a bonus he’s a similar age to me so I get all of his pop culture references. The conversations he’s describing are often the same conversations I was having with my friends on the other side of the country. I feel like I get him, and if he met me, he’d get me. So I considered a thought exercise, after watching a video of an interview where someone asked him when he thought he was ready to write this book. He said “that’s a really great, question, actually” and before he could answer I asked myself the same thing. Am I ready to write? And what would my angle be?
I was once taught that if you’re in doubt, bet on the truth. And if you’re still in doubt, bet on more truth. Fine. Here’s mine. On one hand, I was just happy to have a job at all. When I made it to RealNetworks in 2000 I couldn’t believe I had a job before even graduating college. Later that year I dropped out, and even after I got my degree I always found myself looking over my shoulder. I always felt grateful to have a job. So that was a big part of my work persona for many years. I once did a Show and Tell presentation on the Windows Phone design team, and I returned to the theme of “Just Happy to Be Here.”
On the other hand, and I’m just trying to be honest here, I was really good at my job. Not better than anyone, but at the same time I was above it all. People have told me as much since then, that it looks like I float through my jobs like I’m above it all. I was fortunate enough for people to greet me with open arms even when I went to competitive jobs. I caused a bit of a stir when I joined Windows Phone. The same happened when I went to Twitter. I’m not meaning to humble brag, but to this day I’m not sure what they were responding to. I just knew I wasn’t like them. My incentives were different, my background was strange, and as time went on I was older than the others. I didn’t quite fit in and that usually suited me.
I’ve been reluctant to continue these projects because I don’t want to sound prideful or boring. I have considered trying to turn the experiences into a Dave Barry-style madcap bit of comedy writing, but I don’t know if I can pull it off. I’ve considered it being very tell-all, but I wonder if that will be career-limiting or rude. I don’t know what I’ll end up doing, but I’m just trying to bet on the truth. I was never supposed to have a career, or even make it this far. On the other hand, I was above it all. I looked up to so many people but also found everything petty and small. Too money driven. Too achievement oriented. Everyone had their heads on backwards, and seemed not to understand how amazing their lives were, if they could just stop and notice it.
I was grateful, and so over it. That’s how I approached tech. It paid well, it opened doors, and it was all so much bullshit. I learned about myself that I am totally fine with bullshit if it means I can support my family. But I also learned you’re not supposed to say that part out loud.