Sustainable pace

Has it ever happened to you that, after a period of really intense work or study, once you finish that critical project or exam, or maybe at the start of a holiday, your body says “that´s it” and you fall exhausted or ill?

That´s how life lets us know when our current pace is not sustainable.

This has happened to me several times, thankfully in a much less dramatic way, as I´ve been learning to read the signs. Signs like, for example, a head cold or a sore throat that interestingly start showing on a Friday evening, when the work week is over and my body knows it´s allowed…

Gray newtons cradle (perpetual motion device) in close up photogaphy

In the software development world, and increasingly in other work environments, many companies follow Agile methodologies, which are based on moving forward and getting results quickly by leveraging an iterative work process, while continuously adapting to change. And a key success factor for those methodologies is that the “moving forward” happens at a pace that can be maintained in the long term, in other words, that is sustainable, in theory indefinitely. Because it has become clear that moving too fast for too long ends up negatively impacting the team.

This sustainable pace that companies seek for their employees also applies to each person individually, and it´s our own responsibility to achieve it for ourselves. At the end of the day, at work as well as in life, the to-do list is infinite, it never ends… In reality, it´s a long-distance race, more like a marathon than a 100-metre sprint, so the best strategy is to economize our energy, and if at one point we need to run faster for a little while, then later on we´ll have to slow down for another while, or even stop so that we can properly recover.

But even though this seems pretty easy to understand, we often forget about it. Why? Maybe because we don´t realize it´s a long-distance race, and we only see the 100 metres in front of us. Or maybe because we´re so engrossed in the race that we forget to stop for a moment and listen to ourselves, pay attention to how we feel, and what our body is trying to tell us.

I love this quote that says that life first whispers to you, if you don´t listen, it talks to you, and if you still don´t listen, it screams at you. Setting aside a little time for ourselves every day, without distractions, and really listening to ourselves, will help us to identify those whispers before they become screams.

What about you? How are you making sure you maintain a sustainable pace?

Movie or video game?

Do you like video games?

My general answer, as of today, would probably be a no. But there was a time in my younger years when I used to play some video games.

Well, Tetris, mostly. I used to looooooooooooooove Tetris.

I played on a Nintendo Game Boy, which back then was the coolest pocket video game device ever. The games came in removable cartridges, and I had a few cartridges apart from Tetris , including Super Mario Land, which I also used to play quite a lot.

I liked those games (and I was more or less good at them) because they came with very clear instructions: fitting pieces together in order to complete horizontal lines, or running from left to right, jumping around, and catching as many gold coins as possible. But later on, when more sophisticated computer and console games came along, like graphic adventures and so on, I lost interest.

Hands holding a videogame remote control

Because the instructions for those games were not nearly as clear: there was much more freedom of movement, which also meant a much bigger need for quick decisions, adventure, and exploration… I felt lost, not knowing what to do or where to go, and I found it overwhelming. So I got to the point where I preferred not to play.

I preferred watching a movie for example, which was much easier and more comfortable.

So, why am I telling you all this? Because today I´d like to share with you some thoughts on two ways to see life: as a movie or as a video game..

If we choose to see life as a movie, it looks like everything is easier: we don´t have to do anything, just sit down comfortably on the sofa and watch life go by. But the thing is, if for some reason we don´t like the way the story is unfolding, there´s nothing we can do to change it, or to change how it ends, because we cannot interact with a movie. At most, we can complain, shut down the TV, or get up and leave the room. But the movie stays the same.

On the contrary, if we choose to see life as a video game, then that means more work: it´s time to get up from the sofa, take the controls, and start moving, exploring, and making decisions. And yes, we may make mistakes along the way. But in exchange, we get the opportunity to live our own adventure, influencing the course of the game and the results we progressively obtain. We can experiment, discover, get surprised, get it right, get it wrong, learn, course correct, and try again, as many times as we need (for as long as we have lives left!). We can change the game, and as the game changes, we also get to change.

What do you think about these two ways of looking at life? And which one do you choose for yourself today? I recently realized that I´ve already spent many years watching movies, so I´m starting to take up the video game controls, would you like to play as well?

101100

It´s been my birthday this week, this is how old I am now: 101100.

Written in binary format, of course, honoring my training as a computer scientist, and the title of this blog 😊

But given that a person is way, way more than just one single identity, and given that I never liked that division between “people of science” and “people of letters” (which was very much in fashion, at least in Spain, a few years ago), I´m telling you with letters as well:

It´s been my birthday this week, this is how old I am now: XLIV, in Roman numerals.

Then, if we want to go into “geek” land (which is a term that I do identify with, because if you think about it, deep down we are all “geeks” for something), we can express it in hexadecimal code as well: 0x2C.

My only regret is that I haven´t been able to write it in a particular code that I really like, but that unfortunately only contains symbols for letters, and not numbers… Maybe one day I´ll take my geekiness to a whole new level, and invent Dada Urka numbers 😊

Version 5

Well, the time has come to add one more number to my version historyversion 5.

Here it goes:

  • V5.0I develop an interest in coaching
    • V5.1 - I take a three-month-long online course in coaching fundamentals, to see if I like it. I love it.
    • V5.2 - I sign up for a master’s degree in coaching with emotional intelligence and neuro-linguistic programming.

Those of you who know me in person are probably aware that I´ve been interested in the topic of personal growth and development for years… Interestingly, I hadn´t bumped into coaching until last May. When I finally did, it resonated a lot with me, and this weekend I have started my master’s degree :-)

wooden coach lettering

But what is this coaching thing? It’s true that “coach” is a word that is used nowadays for a bunch of different things, which creates confusion, and there are also several definitions of “coaching”, each focusing on a different aspect of it. To simplify, we can say that coaching is a process of accompaniment, in which, through active listening, questions, and other resources, the coach makes it easier for the coachee (or client) to define their own goals, as well as to identify and manage the changes that are needed in order to achieve them.

Going forward, I´ll be sharing in this blog a few things related to the world of coaching, and also about the many tools and resources that it draws from. Regarding definitions, for the moment I´ll leave you with this one, food for thought:

A coach is someone who tells you what you don't want to hear, who has you see what you don't want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.

Tom Landry

Rubber ducks

Have you ever been in a situation where you have a problem or a question, and simply by explaining it to another person, you find the solution yourself? And not because the other person did anything in particular...

In fact, “the other person” doesn´t even have to be a person at all. It can even be an object, like a rubber duck for example.

yellow duck toy beside green duck toy

And I say rubber duck because this is exactly the name that´s been given to this technique in the IT world: the rubber duck debugging method., o en inglés, the rubber duck debugging method.

This method proves really useful when you´re programming and get stuck trying to resolve an error (or bug) that´s preventing your application from behaving as it should. The idea is to explain the situation to the rubber duck, and to do it in great detail because of course, the duck knows absolutely nothing about your application. So you have to explain the context, the exact problem you´re trying to solve, how you´re trying to solve it, the code you´ve written line by line… And very often what happens as you´re going through it with such a level of detail is that you suddenly realize where the problem is, and how you can solve it.

Super cool, right?

You might be wondering: ¿why a rubber duck? Honestly, I don’t know, maybe it all started out as a joke, but the truth is that this method is as useful as it is simple (once you get over the awkwardness of talking to a duck, or any other inanimate object of your choosing), and can be used not only for debugging code but for life in general.

I imagine this technique works so well because it forces you to take the problem out of your head and see it from the outside, from a different perspective, so you stop going about it in your head the same way again and again. Moreover, the action of going through it step by step and out loud helps you to focus on details that you may have overlooked before, that way increasing the chances of identifying the real problem and finding a solution.

What do you think? Are you willing to give it a try? Perhaps next time I see a rubber duck in a shop, I´ll buy it to keep it here by my computer :-)

Binary words

Today I felt like reflecting on the title for this website and blog: binary words... but what do words and binary have in common?

Computers and language? They do have a lot in common.

Did you know that we as people are not so different from computers? We have hardware, our body, which needs energy in order to work. Of course, we don't work on electricity; our energy comes from feeding and hydrating ourselves properly, and from recharging batteries by sleeping and resting :-)

We also have software, a set of "programs" that are running inside our mind. Some of the programs we kick off ourselves, as in the case of computers, and we see them and use them consciously; but in addition to those, the operating system runs many other programs that remain unseen, in the background, making everything work... 

That's our unconscious programming, our autopilot, based on beliefs and values that are well established within us and that we rarely question, even though they may not even be ours, and we may have inherited them or acquired them without realizing. And that unconscious programming pulls the strings in our day-to-day a lot more than we can imagine.

Perhaps that autopilot is producing some results that we don´t want in our life. The good news is that we can re-program it, once we find that program or programs that are causing us trouble, or are preventing us from moving in the direction we wish to go.

But how? How can we bring to the light those troublesome "lines of code", and replace them with better ones?

A programming language that we can use is words.

There is a lot of power in words, and this is something we often forget. The way we talk to others matters a lot. And the way we talk to ourselves matters even more, because we give it even less attention, not realizing that it's a crucial factor in how things turn out for us in life. 

So let's pay attention to the words around us, the ones that make up our world, the ones we use almost without realizing. How is our internal dialogue? How do we talk to ourselves, and in turn, to other people? What are our words conveying? Complaint, criticism, defeat, negativity?

Those words will give us clues about the programs that may be undermining our efforts to move towards where we want to be. And bit by bit, digging deeper, we will get to see clearly what's behind those words, and we will have the power to transform them into other that help us and encourage us, instead of holding us back. We will have the power to choose our destiny.

And following on with the computer metaphor: we, like computers, need connecting to be able to fully function. Nowadays very little can be done without an internet connection... With people, it may be less obvious, but at the end of the day we are social beings, we need to connect with others emotionally in order to live a full life. And even less obvious, but equally necessary, is to connect with ourselves, to have an interest in getting to know and learning to love ourselves. 

The confinement months have tested our ability to connect, and maybe thanks to that, we now appreciate connections more than ever. As the saying goes, it´s all fun and games until you lose your wifi signal! (todo son risas y juegos hasta que pierdes la señal de wifi)

Create, consume, connect

This week, with all the excitement of starting with the blog again, I have felt full of energy. More than once the hours went by in front of my screen without realizing... And all this after having already spent my usual working hours also in front of a screen.

Sum them up and they are many, many hours of screen time.

semi opened laptop computer turned on on table

The fact that the hours go by without realizing is a good sign, I know, I´m enjoying it a lot, and also learning at the same time. On top of writing the posts, I´m also configuring the website myself (now with WordPress, much better than with what I had previously), and I want to do it properly, fully accessible and bilingual Spanish-English. So my time is split between configuring the various plugins and settings (thanks a million Maria for all your advice), thinking of ideas to write about, writing about them, and translating everything that´s already written, not only the posts but also all of the text strings scattered around the site. Let me take this opportunity to ask you: if you see any errors or typos, please let me know so I can fix them, some of you have already done that and I´m grateful for it :-)

Another thing I´m doing this week is taking a crash course in social media, as things have progressed a lot in the last few years. In the old times, writing a blog post was enough; people woud see it in their RSS feed reader, or would subscribe via email, or would visit the website every now and then checking for new content... Now you have to be on social media, the more the better, so I took the plunge and created a Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram account, so that whoever wants to follow me can do it easily.

But of course, all that brings a new challenge: more social network connections, more interesting content available, more notifications and more screen time, as soon as you drop your guard for a moment. That´s why it´s so important to use the internet consciously, and take advantage of the infinite possibilities it gives us without letting it interfere with our life more than it´s necessary.

Not long ago, in a very interesting video I watched on Youtube (more screens), they mentioned that the activities we do on the internet can be divided into creating, consuming and connecting. After months and months of basically consuming content and learning passively, I am really excited about creating (in this case writing, translating and bringing the blog to life), and I even enjoy connecting and reconnecting in new ways through social networks. But I´m also looking forward to being able to go out into the real world again, and connect, create and learn there as well, in a more tangible way and in three dimensions. I´m finding it a bit hard to get started due to lack of habit, but I know the effort will be worth it.

So in summary; walk away from your screen for a while and find something else to do! :-)

Version history

The extraordinary circumstances we have lived in this past year have resulted in many of us thinking about reinventing ourselves, be it out of necessity, due to changes in our lives and our surroundings, or simply due to having more time for reflection, for taking an honest look at our life and evaluating the possibility of altering our course.

The word "reinvention" used to sound to me as very radical, and I have to say I was almost afraid of it. Until I remembered what my good friend Bea told me once: that along the way in our own history we are really living many lives; every time we turn a page, it´s a new life.

And I realized I had already reinvented myself, and more than once.

Life cycles of man and woman.

Coming as I am from the IT world, what came to my mind was comparing each of those reinventions with a "version change" in my life. Every significant change has meant some progress, some learning, which I´ve been able to incorporate to the next version of myself. Some of those life events I chose, others I didn´t. Some of them were bigger than others, the same way an operating system or application can get upgraded to a "major" or "minor" version (if I´ve lost you already, here´s more information about software versioning).

So I got to work and ended up building my own version history:

  • V0 (version zero) - I arrive in this world (more specifically in Cáceres, Spain) on March 10th 1978.
  • V1.0 I decide to study Computer Engineering - the first "real" decision of my life.
    • V1.1 - I get a boyfriend.
    • V1.2 - I finish college and move to Madrid, searching for a job.
    • V1.3 - I get my first job, in a consulting firm.
    • V1.4 - I change jobs, my assigned project gets cancelled and they let me go.
    • V1.5 - I find another job, in another consulting firm.
    • V1.6 - I get interested in translating and take a course - university expert in translation Spanish-English
  • V2.0 - I get married and move to Dublin, Ireland
    • V2.1 - I find my first job in Ireland, as an analyst/programmer, in a great company (bye-bye consulting)
    • V2.2 - Mi daughter Irene is born - I become a mother.
    • V2.3 - I have a miscarriage in my second pregnancy.
    • V2.4 - My daughter Alicia is born.
    • V2.5 - I take a Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) course.
  • V3.0 I decide to take a career break and spend more time with my daughters
    • V3.1 - I take a course in teaching Spanish as a second language.
    • V3.2 - My daughter Eva is born.
  • V4.0 I separate from my husband (later on I get divorced).
    • V4.1 - I start working in another great company, as a systems analyst.
    • V4.2 - I buy my own house to live in, with my daughters.
    • V4.3 - I transition from IT to a business role within the same company.
    • V4.4 - I adapt to working from home and changing the shared custody routine.

So there you go: at least three reinventions, three big changes, with their little gradual changes in between... Funnily enough, my first calculation ended up in version 4.3, now that I´m 43 years old :-)

I hope this example motivates you to reflect on your own experiences, on how you have upgraded versions so many times already, facing big and small challenges, and how you have succeeded and learned with all of them... that will give you confidence to face whatever comes next, continuing to evolve.

In the meantime, as it couldn´t be any other way, I´m already working on my fourth reinvention, preparing version 5.0.