Wednesday, September 15, 2021

How to be Great at Something

I was in two different work situations recently, first person A was upset at person B, and in the second situation person C was trying to be motivational. Both situations were failures to prioritize or at least communicate those priorities. I didn't realize it until I was taking one of my usual 5-10 minute walks outside to relax and calm down for a few minutes, and also insure I don't get another pulmonary embolism from sitting too much. Instantly it made sense. Failure to prioritize means a failure to deliver.

You don't get great at something by optimizing your existing routine 5% and doing it all a little longer and harder. That seems like the standard American way, just do what you're doing 5% more. But time and again I watch people try to do that and either get burnt out, or get bogged down doing non value added things thinking those things are important. You get great at something by focusing on the top one or two or three things that add value and doing them 100% better than you used to, not by doing the value added and non value added things 5% better. Let me give two examples.

First marathons and ultra marathons, if you want to be really good at them you have to do long runs, and they have to be long and fast runs. They essentially become race simulations. It doesn't matter much what you eat, you don't need a lot of weight lifting or cross training, just enough to not get injured, and your other runs and workouts are really in support of your ability to do longer and faster long run days. I just boiled down hundreds of pages of books to a single paragraph which feels dismissive of the big picture, yet the person that had 15 good long runs in their marathon build up will run a good race. 

The second example is in mountaineering. The number one cause of death in the mountains is falling while climbing unroped, and the solution to that is don't fall, and the method to that solution is excellent foot work. On Mt. Everest, and other places, it's often horrifying seeing people in crampons trip over themselves and fall down on flat terrain because they don't have good foot work. It doesn't matter that you can climb 5.12, it doesn't matter how fast you can run, it doesn't matter how much weight you can carry, it matters that you can walk with crampons on just about any terrain. 

So there are two examples of what it takes to really excel in those two sports. In neither case does the amount of weight you can squat or the fact that you like Wendy's Jalepeno Popper sandwiches matter to your performance.

Getting back to the original inspiration for this post, I've been stressed at work because I'm getting requests to open work orders, close work orders, open discrepancy reports, close discrepancy reports, find actual hardware, know what hardware someone else needs to go find, and implement design changes. I spent an hour today putting up signs for shipping and receiving. It was kind of nice because it's a place where I can see my handiwork, those two signs bolted to the side of the building. It also gets me away from the computer and never ending stream of requests for a little bit. I put those signs up because I took a walk at lunch and watched an Amazon delivery driver drive around our little three street complex for no lie 15 minutes trying to find receiving. We only have .3 miles of road! So I realized that no one had prioritized putting those signs up, but without them we were wasting a lot of time for delivery drivers trying to find the place to deliver.  It's a clear example of prioritize and execute, as mentioned in the book Extreme Ownership. Because no one had been prioritizing something as simple as signs things weren't getting delivered to the right place and immediately getting lost. A company, like a factory, has inputs and outputs. If the inputs aren't coming in smoothly, it's likely the outputs aren't going smoothly either. 

Obviously I don't have the answer to every company what those few key things are that need to get 100% better for the organization to be the best. The point is to figure those things out and get good at them.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

A More Holistic View

Last week when I typed out that blog post it surprised some people how stressed I was more than I was expecting. I often like writing because it's a chance to put a thought down, and tweak it seven times before releasing it to the intended audience. Sometimes, well actually a lot, I struggle to say things exactly the way I want to say them. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how to say things before I say them. While I don't plan to change that anytime soon, I do realize that sometimes it's better to communicate an unfinished idea so that I can get help with the issue rather than wait for a perfectly fleshed out idea.

That all being said, Monday I walked into a situation I did not see coming at all. It totally blindsided me and changed my perspective. I stand by what I said last week because that's where I was mentally, but in the last seven days wow have I grown! I was humbled by an issue at work that frankly I had basically nothing to do with.

I wasn't sure what words to use exactly in that last sentence and I settled on humbled because while I knew in theory that this situation could happen, I did not feel prepared to be in the middle of it. Fortunately I think it worked out for the best, so I supposed I was prepared for it, but it was a shock. The situation gave me a perspective on my particular role that I didn't have before. In other words, when it felt like my learning was slowing, my eyes were opened to a challenge (and challenges) I had not considered before and the large amount I have left to learn.

Additionally, and not related to the situation above, over the last two days I was able to articulate a few different things that were stressing me out, outside of work, which gave me even more perspective. Which is to say, a few days ago I could barely laugh because the weight of the issues at hand was traumatizing, and now I see so many positives and larger perspectives I can laugh again. In other words, when four things were causing me stress, I focused on the one I could best articulate and the specific items there. However, the four items in context paint a different picture of the situation, of my life situation. So, thank you for the prayers!

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Work Stress

It's 11 PM on a Saturday, and I'm awake because just before bed I started thinking about work. We have a reorganization happening Monday which is going to leave a few holes in the org chart and I can't help but feel like my new place in the organization is a demotion. Overall the reorganization is going to be really beneficial, and I'm not being demoted, but there will now be another layer above me in the org chart. I came to a startup to hopefully grow with the company and develop as a leader and get the opportunity to manage, but more than 80% of the company has started after me and I haven't been promoted at all in almost three years despite also being more experienced than most at the company. What am I doing so wrong?

My current role is exhausting. I fail constantly. I end up making all sort of decisions and so many of them are wrong. I'm inches away from quitting. Before getting out of bed to write this I was strategizing how I might go look for another job or if I should just take the plunge and start a company. I'm okay with a little work stress, but a constant stress to fight the fire of the day and get all of the embers out perfectly without using too much water while not choking on the smoke is a really tough ask. 

For years I've known about the FIRE movement, Financial Independence, Retire Early. I passed the point not too long ago that if my sole goal in life was to retire, I could do it today. However, I would basically be relegating myself to a vow of poverty in the USA or living abroad essentially permanently. So I'm not ready to pull the trigger and retire. But I'm 35 years old, for me to have bought into the idea of early retirement feels like a systemic failure of engineering. This stuff is still cool! I still design little parts like my ice axe for fun in the evenings. I'm reading Work by James Suzman right now to try and help understand why I work, and more specifically why we all work so much. 

Friday we had a company party and honestly it was tough at times, so I took a walk part way through to give a tour to my girlfriend. Two days before we had a product failure in testing. That day we had an existing company announce they were going to enter our market and compete with us. During the party the comments from my peers were humbling, and heartbreaking. Two people said they would follow me anywhere. How am I supposed to respond to that? One guy said to me at one point loud enough that at least five coworkers could hear, "Isaiah, I don't know what your career plans are, but we need you as a manager." I quickly replied that yes I did want to be a manger, but it's something that has to happen at the right time and the right situation. It felt like I was digging my own career's grave at this company by being diplomatic. 

I received an email this week from one of the local running store chains that they too were hiring! And hiring managers! A decent sized part of me wants to jump ship and take any management job I can in a company I believe in at the moment. I haven't applied for any jobs or talked to any recruiters because the work I am doing now is really cool, and I like to think that perhaps it will be recognized, and going back to the FIRE comment, it could set me up for life, but is currently in a fragile state where me leaving might have an impact on that success.

When I was away for three weeks in May to Alaska I was really hoping that everything would go smoothly without me, so that I could focus on other issues, longer term issues. In short it didn't go great. As one coworker (who has only been here six weeks) said at the party Friday as he introduced me to his wife, "Isaiah does everyone else's work so he doesn't get a chance to do his." Again, how am I supposed to respond to that?

Pray for me please. I don't have the answers.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Lots of Lessons Learned

I haven't blogged much for several reasons. Talking about my running has been a major thing I enjoy talking about, and when I'm having injuries there is a cloud of depression that hangs over most things I do. Even when I've climbed 10 13ers, like I have in July this year, when I strain a calf muscle by pulling a knot in a workout nine days ago, I don't want to talk about it. It's depressing.

On the work side, working at a small company almost anything I say I realize could be traced back to the person who did it, and I don't want to give away other's information. ...And work has been super difficult and depressing at times the last year plus. Rewind to just before the start of the pandemic in the USA and I was in mental health therapy in part for a work issue. That's resolved and I've graduated from therapy. 

However, just changing one thing, or even many things, doesn't necessarily change why a role is difficult. My new role is a manufacturing engineer, and I've learned I'll basically always be able to get a manufacturing engineer role... because it's not a role people really want. It's a role that burns out people. Management expects you to keep the production line running. Design expects you to implement their poorly communicated changes. Testing expects you to prepare the product for the testing with all of the necessary information they need (even though they don't tell you what information they need). And the technicians expect you to give them all the information they need to build the product. Then someone drops a random project on your desk with no quarterly goal, no documentation, essentially saying, 'drop all that other stuff and do this thing, which you won't get any recognition for, has no documentation, and will put you behind on all your other work.' 

In design, where I spent most of my career this far, you know the requirements, you know what you have to design, you know the purpose it serves, and you know it takes time. So when you go into work you have an idea of what you're working on for the day. I basically have no idea how my day is going to go on the drive in to work. It's fun to ride a bucking bronco on Friday night, but it's stressful when you're expected to ride it five days a week. 

A few weeks ago I went to a dinner party with eight total adults. (My girlfriend and I were the only two that did not get coronavirus in the pandemic, those non paranoid people...) At one point I talked to a woman who was recently promoted to being the head of manufacturing for a large division of a large company. I asked her if she was stressed out, and she replied she absolutely was. I told her if she wasn't making at least $150k she was being underpaid. (I don't make very close to that by the way.) It was fascinating to see this woman, younger than myself, obviously skilled and smart, but in a position that seemed to require a decade plus in experience above where I am now. I realized again how manufacturing is so hard. The expectations are so high. One of the people responsible for New Shepard flying Jeff Bezos into space a few days ago, for manufacturing integration, is a guy in his mid to younger 30s, who totally doesn't want to work any more, and wants to go live in a cabin in the woods. As someone told me his backstory, I laughed inside, because here is another guy who definitely knows about the FIRE movement and is not going to work until his 60s at all. And yet here he is, working on the "start" of a commercial space movement in a position with potentially huge career growth.

Where am I going with this? What is the solution? Frankly I don't know. I have some ideas, but they sound so utopian that I kind of don't think it's possible... but then again I kind of want to try and see what happens. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The "Hero's" Downtime

Today at work I ignored my email, my Microsoft Teams, and this project management software called Wrike most of the day. I'm sure I'm going to hear about how terrible I am tomorrow at work. At one point a coworker called me and in the process of answering and still trying to turn wrenches I dropped my phone on the concrete floor and cracked the back glass. I can't do it. I can't help everyone at work 9 hours a day every week day. 

I'm burning out. 

The two people before me who held this job both quit, and one didn't have a job lined up at all. I totally get it. This job is unsustainable. I fail constantly. Someone is constantly telling me that I didn't do something. I have an intern this summer and today I spent basically the whole day with her and at one point she said, "this isn't glamorous at all." And I'm not talking like Batman not-glamorous fighting in the shadows, I'm talking garbage truck drivers, pandemic or no pandemic, that's not a glamorous job. Reading between the lines I hear from my intern, 'This company is super cool, but this position is not.'

The Olympics are coming up and I'm excited to watch them. I've often looked at the Olympic runners as inspirational and get excited for them to have their 15 minutes of fame. But as I get older I realize, it's easy for 15 minutes... but it's basically impossible for the long haul. I wish I could sleep 11 hours a day, run 3 hours a day, and then spend another 3 hours on ancillary exercises and massage and physical therapy, and then basically just eat and lounge around for the remainder. I come home from work most days pretty exhausted. If I can get out and run or bicycle it's a good day. 

Last night, Wednesday the 14th of July, I was driving home from my girlfriend's house listening to 95.7 The Party here in Denver and they had a "Free Britney" special on the radio. It was all Britney Spears for the 15 minutes that I listened. She's in this conservatorship that her dad runs, and it's kind of ridiculous. I mean, she's like 38, she can handle her life at this point! But I get it, she's had a camera on her every move for the last what, 23 years? Of course she's going to lash out at times when she just needs a quiet night  to laugh with a few friends or watch a comforting movie on the couch and yet the paparazzi follow her everywhere. 

Last year at my little startup we had a company wide meeting and the CEO called me out, in a very positive way, for asking him random questions from time to time. Apparently I'm the only one in the company that does that. I immediately thought, 'ARE YOU KIDDING ME PEOPLE! HE'S JUST A PERSON TOO!' I'm not very close to our CEO, but it definitely feels at times like he's a little socially isolated. He's doing a good job and I want to reach out in some small way and help him feel like part of the team, not just the CEO. In other words, for a person that has to deal with curveballs, sliders, and fast balls every day, lob him a softball every now and then. 

The point of all these stories is that humans want to belong, we want to contribute, but we don't want to be overwhelmed. When we get overwhelmed, things break, and those things might be us.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

I'm climbing Denali next week!

Ok, I suppose I could stand to blog a little more haha. In short, planning started last year, I'm the expedition leader, and there are five of us, who all live along the Colorado Front Range, and so that's our team name: Colorado Front Range. We're climbing the standard West Buttress route which is about 16 miles and 13,000 vertical feet from basecamp to the summit. 

First the basics, how can you follow along? First, you can follow along on my Garmin inReach by this link: Second, I also will be sending out tweets. There won't be any blog posts because unlike Nepal, I won't have my laptop and I don't expect any cell phone service.

If you want to know what the weather will be like here is a simple link: and here is a slightly more complex one, but gives the raw data and data used by the National Park Service:

Who else is going?

J: A climbing partner of mine since 2008. He had an opportunity to ski Denali in 2010 but only had 6 weeks notice and didn't have the money at the time. Skills: all things backcountry (skiing, camping, backpacking, stoves, etc.), by my estimate he's also maybe one of the 100 foremost experts in the USA on snow, the perfect guy to evaluate avalanche danger. Weakness: He's over 40, and has never been above 15,000 ft.

K: She's J's long time girlfriend and super strong in the mountains. She's the one that pulled me up Pervertical Sanctuary last August (and hopefully again in the future!) Skills: Just did the AMGA Advanced Rock Climbing Guide class and is very strong skiing and spending 16+ hour days in the mountains. Weakness: She's actually never been on a real glacier or above 15,000 ft.

S: We've been climbing together since 2012. I cried speaking at his wedding last summer (and no one got Coronavirus at it!) He performs well at many things, used to almost lap me in downhill ski racing, he races bicycles, and rock climbs harder than I do, and has led a Mt. Rainier climb. Skills: He's the only one other than me to have been above 15,000 ft. when he summitted Aconcagua a few years ago. Weakness: He hasn't actually done that much hiking and backpacking compared to the other four of us.

M: He's the 26 year old new kid, and the strongest of all of us. In the last two years he's been with me on a one day ascent of Mt. Rainier, the 39 mile Chicago Basin run, and the 42 mile Grand Canyon run, and the day I broke my ankle skiing. Skills: Young energy and fitness, if he wanted to pursue competitive running, he could probably surpass all of my personal records. Weakness: Rest days, he's definitely the type to want to get out and stretch. 

Last question, which comes up a lot, how dangerous is it? Honestly, I've read a lot of accident reports and I'm going to go out on a limb and say, not "that" dangerous.  What I mean by that is, yes, we're on glaciers nearly the whole time with crevasses that could swallow us, but there are five of us, and four of us lead grade 3 ice climbs. Which means the whole time we will be well under our technical limits. Crevasse falls, and falls while climbing unroped are the leading cause of accidents on Denali, so having five people roped together provides a lot of security if one person falls, the other four can work to catch the person. Additionally we're going in May before the crevasses have usually opened up. Three of us live at 5000 feet and the other two live at 8000 feet. So I doubt the altitude will be a factor. Just this winter we did a 13er and three 14ers together. On Mt. Yale in January we had temperatures around 0 Fahrenheit and didn't see a single other person on the mountain all day. So we've had good training. I do worry about the cold, we're prepared for -20F temperatures and -40F windchills but there is the chance we get hit by a storm that's worse. So those are the basic concerns: falls (specifically into a crevasse), temperature, and maybe altitude. As mitigation we'll rope up and take a rest day if the temperature is ever lower than -20F.

It's going to be a fun trip! I even have a few surprises in store on this glamping expedition that I'm excited to share pictures of after we finish.

Training on the "Lost Lake Glacier" April 17th, 2021

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Perfectly Overwhelmed

It's been a long time with no blog posts. In part that's because of my newish role at work. I interact with a lot of people and so any talk I have about others at work would be immediately obvious who I was talking about, and I don't want to write anything about my friends without their consent. It's also due to my running being so mediocre compared to where it was prior to 2018 and the pulmonary embolism and broken ankle. Next, I haven't felt exactly like I'm "learning to do" a lot in 2020, it was kind of a rough year, with a lot of triage just doing, and not taking the time to learn. I took time to reflect, but not necessarily learn. Then of course taking care of my own mental health. On the upside I have a girlfriend, and that's going really really well. For example, we spent six hours together the other day and spent about five of those hours talking with each other, it's pretty great.

Let me get to the point, in my department we've had five new people start in the last six months including two in essentially the same role I have. All sorts of great questions have come up, such as, "What should I be working on?" We've come up with a prioritization system of the daily highest priorities to address that. The next issue is dealing with the volume of work that is headed at our little group. It's actually been comforting to me as my new coworkers become "overwhelmed" because that's exactly how I felt at the end of the summer as we were trying to ship a lot of product and people I was relying on were leaving the company for more money and a more suitable culture to their personalities. Plus, back then there was no one to ask for help. The defining moment was a Saturday when I and another coworker who has been at our company for two years showed up for half an hour when FedEx arrived to pick up a Custom Critical shipment to a customer (who still have not used the product yet months later). It was simply exhausting, and it just felt very isolating because instead of having a team to help I felt like, 'who's going to do this, because person X and Y left? ... I guess I'm going to do this.'

The situation was clearly an issue, so we reorganized and hired those five people I'm talking about. We've started to hit a stride in the last couple weeks. We're kind of at the peak wave for paper work in 2020 in my department. In other words, in a few weeks the changes will have settled down so the paperwork is taken care of and it's really hardware problems we're dealing with, which is of course more fun. There will likely be another paperwork surge late in 2021, but depending on how the next few months of design go, it may be 2022. 

The point being, the new employees seem to be perfectly overwhelmed. It's crept up to too overwhelmed at times, and when that happens I try to step in and ease the burden, but I'll admit I can only do so much, and frankly most of them have skills I don't have. At many of the old established companies things move so slow people are not engaged, they are not overwhelmed at all. Often the expected daily work can be done in half a day by an experienced employee. At some of the other startups in my industry people are too overwhelmed and just burn out after several years. There is this happy medium where the work is exciting, there is a lot of it, and when you leave at the end of the day you feel like you did enough and aren't letting the company down because you want to go on a run and take care of your mental health and family. I think we're pretty close to perfect in that realm. Personally I think we are closer to the burnout side than the not engaged side, but close enough that I'm not a black sheep when I leave at 4 PM for the day. 

I've been excited the whole time I've been at my current company, all two years and five months of it, but recently I've gotten to be the most excited I've ever been about it. It's like the feeling when you leave the South Col at 8:30 pm for the summit of Mt. Everest. I had been waiting 12 years for that night, and when it happens, and the weather is objectively great you know it's going to be a good day just doing what you've been preparing to do for years. That's how I feel now at work. We're not at the summit but we know what it takes, and the path is incredibly clear the next year and a half.