Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

07 Dec 2008, 4:25 a.m.

On Family, Career, and Skill

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2008 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

On the plane from Heathrow's infinite Terminal 5 to JFK, I saw bits of It's a Wonderful Life and The Dark Knight, and all of Mamma Mia!. I pay a different kind of emotional attention to films on planes; cruel irony, that I cry more while more dehydrated.

There have been a billion riffs on It's a Wonderful Life since 1946, but none quite like the "what would Gotham be like without Batman?" question mused and forced by the Joker in Dark Knight. More particularly, the prisoner's dilemma the Joker forces on his captives was prefigured in the bank run Potter forces and George Bailey staves off at the Building & Loan. However, since Nash wasn't publishing his game theory work till the fifties, Capra probably wasn't shouting him out specifically. The Nolans, in this decade, might have. Potter is lawful evil; the Joker considers himself true neutral, though chaotic evil is a better match.

I watched Mamma Mia! perhaps as methadone for my withdrawal from the land of Bollywood musicals. It's frothy amusement, but as Meryl Streep helped her daughter dress for her wedding, I sobbed, because I basically eloped and didn't give my mother the chance to make that memory with me. I took that, I stole that from her.

How could I not have felt that before?

Some stuff is just domain knowledge. A sufficiently intelligent person with a working memory can learn it from a book. Some is mastery, skill. Programming, sex, living somewhere, writing, traveling, enjoying a party. A skill gets better with deliberate practice -- 10,000 hours is the figure going around (note that 11 months of 40-hour workweeks gives you 12,320 hours). Skill mastery demands patience. You can't just be a whiz, the way memorization made me a whiz at a domain like English spelling.

It turns out that getting along with my family, really showing loving kindness and empathy and learning about them as people, is a skill I hadn't known I needed. Getting better at general social skills helped. And making the choice to get better helped. I chose to go to India for Thanksgiving mainly to try out choosing to go, not being asked, for the first time. Sometimes constraints liberate me, but only if I forge my own chains. I'm somewhere in the first fraction of my 10,000 hours, despite having lived with my mother, father, and sister for years, because only deliberate practice helps.

Given my age and predicted lifespan, I have more than twenty 10,000-hour chunks left to go. What will I choose to master? How much time have I really put in to learning to be a good spouse? I've gotten to travel, change jobs, make choices that George Bailey felt he couldn't, but what monument am I shaping? Will I make something of my life that's worthy of my time, that could draw tears from a stranger in an airplane, that's commensurate to our new President's call to action?

Yes. In my search for a new venture to join or start, for profit or non, I'm making a positive, tangible choice. I could get just another project manager job, but I'm going for something equal to my energies and talents. I'm looking for someplace where I can bring my leadership, writing, public speaking, rolodexing, and investigative skills to bear, along with the secretarial and technical basics. I will work with people I can learn from, emotionally and intellectually. I will help make services, sites, or products that delight people. I will make something, and make people happy.

Including myself.

As a kid I didn't quite get why "The Inner Light" was so moving. The last time I saw it was in 1994. Zach Putman, the other Trek geek from my eighth-grade class, came over to my place and we watched the whole marathon -- "Relics," "The Inner Light," "Yesterday's Enterprise," "The Best of Both Worlds," a documentary, and the last episode of Next Generation -- in my living room. It was good and all, but top five?

Tonight I happened to hear that flute theme again, and grokked it. Envy for the other life Picard got to live in twenty minutes -- the life so short, the craft so long to learn. A childless, solitary man given a community and a family. Regret that he'll never see that family or world again. Angels from the stars place the protagonist in a fable, a new life where everyone knows him: It's a Wonderful Life inverted.


07 Dec 2008, 6:58 a.m.

Very beautiful!

"only deliberate practice helps"<br/>Yes, I am living this now with love, with family, with work.

What do I want to get 10,000 hours of? What would make the most sense for me, my skill set, my talents, and even the areas I should strengthen? What can I be 10,000 hours later? <br/>Worthwhile questions, I look forward to hearing more about your journey.


07 Dec 2008, 14:36 p.m.

What else to say? You know how I feel about your essays!

I do think the Joker counts as chaotic neutral even in his own regard, since he describes himself at one point as "an agent of chaos." Nice distinction anyway. The question is, what alignment is Batman?

08 Dec 2008, 18:11 p.m.

Very interesting post. I love your insight. You are an admirable person.

Jarno Virtanen
15 Dec 2008, 10:39 a.m.

This cheered up my day.