The Chinese Farmer
The parable of the Chinese farmer goes something like this:
Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”” The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.” The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”
It doesn’t exactly fit on a fortune cookie, but it’s pretty poignant. I’ve been thinking about this story and some of the specific lessons for a while now.
I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut at careerwise lately and for the first time in a while, I started to consider exploring some new opportunities. After getting involved with mentorship for the first time in a few years, I got a spark that had been tamped down and burnt out for some time.
It was around that time when I had a pretty important realization that what I work on impacts my energy levels much more than how much I’m working.
That was important because it made me feel like I got my secret weapon back. Actually, it’s not really a secret or a weapon. It’s just me becoming so fixated on something I know that I will just keep showing up every.single.day as long as I have to. That’s not even because I’m tough or even disciplined. It’s because I’m stubborn and I hate to lose.
With this newfound fire in muh belly, I found myself really craving a challenge again. Not like leetcode, I’m talking more of… “What’s my ceiling and what do I have to do to find it?”
A couple of months ago, I started putting out some feelers for some possible contract or part-time work. My plan was to get some part-time consulting work and have some more time to focus on Spot Squid and mentorship opportunities.
There was a 1 week period where I seemed to hear back from everyone all at once. Variety is the spice of life and I was blessed with No’s for jobs, conference talks, and even volunteer opportunities. Honestly, it was probably the best thing for me, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time. I felt good about the tech challenge I turned in, am very glad I followed through and submitted a CFP for my talk, and will continue to volunteer for the same thing that turned me down in the future.
This was the punch in the gut I needed and actually got me really excited to take some more swings.
Around that time, my wife and I took a nice trip out to Las Vegas for our 5th anniversary. Gambling isn’t my thing, but tattoos are. I found a great traditional walk-in shop off the strip in old tattoo and we headed in for a permanent souvenir.
I had been thinking for a while that I’d get something vegas themed but after giving gambling another try, I could care less about dice so while a Hunter S. Thompson skull was a very close second, a traditional style horseshoe won out.
I skimmed through some flash on the walls. Found something that was pretty close to what I was looking for and let my artist know what I’d like to change. He asked me what I wanted on the banner and “Lucky Me” just popped out of my mouth. I’ve seen “Lucky You” or some variation of that a few times but something about “Lucky Me” just made sense. I’m the lucky one and this is my way of telling the universe that I can stick it out until things that seem unlucky start to look lucky.
It’s not quite as poetic as Jack from Titanic saying “I make my own luck” or whatever it was but it’s me.
So you’re writing this whole thing just to tell us about a tattoo?
Not quite, but if you’ve made it this far, I’m considering it.
After stamping myself with my manufactured luck in full force I set out to start making things happen. There’s not exactly a rule book I follow for that, I just try to keep putting myself out there and working on things.
Not long after getting back from Vegas, I had a chat with Dave Paola about a project he was working on in the early stages. By the next day, I was already in their Discord, getting up to speed with the projects and trying to jump in and help out. To say it’s been a rewarding experience is an understatement. It gave me enough energy that it motivated me to keep beating the bushes for some potential consulting work to make my jump from my full-time job to something a little more flexible to make it easier to build in some dedicated time for mentorship-type things.
I also decided that if I was trying to make things happen, I would have a lot better chance at Railsconf than anywhere else. I bought my ticket, booked my flight, and got an ‘it’s probably fine’ hotel for a good price.
Everything’s coming up
About a week before leaving for Railsconf, I found a company looking for a developer that could oversee a greenfield project using some of my favorite technologies. It seemed like I was a perfect fit and wanted to try to get in touch with them before leaving for a week. I was able to get in touch with them later that day and as fate would have it, they were based in Atlanta.
Anyway, I was planning on heading to RailsConf and doing what I do best, just be me. It’s pretty easy at a place like RailsConf too. I got some absolutely amazing advice on everything from finding and working with clients, building and scaling Spot Squid, how to be a better mentor and coach, and much much more. It’s hard assigning a dollar value to that but I had been excited to attend more conferences again.
Fast-forward to now-ish. I stepped off the plane in Atlanta Sunday afternoon with nothing and by Saturday, am at capacity for the next couple of months and hope to have a fruitful and long-term relationship with the projects I’m on now as well as continuing to give back to the community.
Don’t try this at home, results not typical, your mileage may vary, etc. And just like that, all that stuff that seemed like a black cloud was hanging over me just a few weeks ago was probably for the best free me up for some better opportunities that are probably a better fit for me in the short and long term.
I don’t recommend trying to punk down the universe into giving you what you want by getting a tattoo, however, there are probably a lot worse ways to go about it. I’m sure some unlucky rabbit will be glad to keep their foot.
What I do recommend is knowing that luck has a way of morphing over time and the more time you put in and the more swings you take, the more likely you are to find what you’re looking for.