Wednesday, October 22, 2014

When Rocks Falter

I've never been a rock. I'm about as passionate as someone can be when I choose to do something. Unfortunately that means I tend to throw myself (my raw unadulterated self) at my interests. It's just who I am and who I've always been. This has positives and negatives associated with it (especially from a personal perspective).

Throwing yourself at a passion has enormous benefits. You get a lot done, you can truly touch people's lives. You can really change the world. But you also take on a lot of risk. Putting yourself out there is the easiest way to get burned. When you're passionate, it's hard to not take things emotionally. It's hard to not care. After all, caring is where you draw your power from.

I have always been held up by those that I knew were rocks. I always leaned on people who I know weren't just abiding a flight-of-fancy, but who could wear the tide. But what happens when you start to see those who you thought were rocks, falter...?

In the past few weeks I've had a few conversations with people who I've always perceived as rocks that scared me.

I had a conversation with someone who I consider one of the greatest contributors to an open source community that I've ever had the honor to meet, which was downright painful.

What do you do when the pillars that an entire community leans on starts to waver?

What do you do when someone you know, respect and believe in tells you they don't know...

I have no idea what to tell them.

I have no idea what an appropriate answer for them would be.

For me personally, there's an easy answer. If I start to waver, I just leave. I take some time off. I have done this multiple times, with multiple projects. And while I'm not proud of it, I think it has always been for the best of both sides.

Over the past year and a half or so I have found a nice niche for myself. I'm not really affiliated with any particular project. I'm not technically a member of any working groups. I can and do contribute.

But the majority of the contributions that I'm doing tend to have a different vibe than they did in the past. Rather than directly participating in official discussions and producing code, I've been trying to help others do that.

I think I've been pretty successful at that. And there's nothing more rewarding than seeing someone you've been trying to help succeed. It's an amazing feeling. To know you made a difference in someone else's life...

What worries me is that my normal pattern of passion-and-leave (which, let's face it, is destructive) won't work anymore.

What worries me is that there's no longer an identity that I can separate myself from. In the past, if I felt like I got too deep I could just leave. I was always seperable from the passion.

But this time, that's not the case. This time, it's just me. And it scares the crap out of me.

And then to watch people that I always thought were rocks falter... yeah...

That little poisonous thought creeps into the back of your head. That little thought of "if it can happen to them, you don't stand a chance"...

I know I can though.

I know that I have the power to do it. There's one thing that quitting smoking (1.5 years ago) has tought me: We're incredibly good at lieing to ourselves. We can make ourselves believe anything we want to.

What's the difference between a good lie and a bad lie? Nothing, they are both lies.

Instead, I'm trying to realize the truth. The truth that, deep down, we are capable of anything. We are capable of change. We are capable of surviving anything. We are capable of unlimited compassion.

I didn't really realize it at the time, but when I wrote the keynote that I gave at PHPNW14, I was actually telling myself a message. I spoke from the heart, and it was trying to tell me something I was too clouded to hear. It was trying to tell me that I needed to be more constructive. To be more compassionate.

Since the talk, I've been honestly trying to be more compassionate. I've been trying to stop arguing and start being more positive. And start being more constructive.

And within 2 weeks, I already screwed it up.

My last two blog posts about PHP-FIG were something that I know contained both constructive elements and destructive elements. I knew that as I wrote them, and I edited it multiple times. I asked people for feedback, and took it. I tried to make it as constructive as I possibly could while not compromising the message.

And I failed. The people that (I believe) needed to hear the message most were tuned out due to the destructive nature of the post. Rather than seeing it as helpful criticism or guidance, they saw it as an attack, and defended themselves.

And to be completely fair, I can't disagree.

But I am trying. Whenever I want to engage and argue, I'm trying to calm myself and stick only to the discussion. I can't promise that I will always do so, but I am honestly trying.

When I started writing this post, I didn't really know what I was going to write. I knew I was concerned. I knew that people I call friends were hurting. So I started writing what I was feeling.

Is this post useful? I don't know. Does it make me come off as a self-obsessed ass? I don't know. And frankly, I don't care. I know I'm flawed... But I am trying to work around those flaws.

To the rocks that I call friends (and all others as well): I am sorry if I've contributed in any way to pain. From the bottom of my heart I hope that you can find the stability that you so richly deserve. And I will do my absolute best to help you in any way that I can.

Anthony