Thursday, January 26, 2012

Descending Mount Stupid

As promised, I want to explain why I was so quiet on the blog last year.  While I've noted that there were lots of lessons learned through that time of transition, the lessons weren't learned immediately.  Through my actual experience of unemployment, for example, there were distinct phases in my confidence about how much I thought I knew about unemployment:

  Before I quit -- "I know exactly how this will go, and what unemployed people should do with their time."
  Right after I quit -- "Yep, this is working just like I thought."
  Two weeks after I quit -- "Hm, this isn't quite like I thought."
  A month after I quit -- "I was so clueless.  I know nothing about this.  Hope I didn't offend anybody with my earlier confidence."
  Another month later -- "Okay, so I wasn't totally clueless, but I was close.  I'm now so much more aware of my ignorance."

The genius cartoonist Zach Weiner over at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal summed it up beautifully with a graph titled "Mount Stupid":

For the rest of 2011, I was descending Mount Stupid in a lot of areas:

  • Work -- I wasn't sure about my own career or next step, let alone what other people should be doing in a complicated 21st Century economy
  • Economics -- I studied a lot in this area during 2011.  And it finally made me feel a lot dumber.  None of the PhDs seem to be able to agree on anything, so how could an amateur like me offer a valuable opinion?
  • Faith -- I studied this some more as well and came away equally humbled.  Whether it was a look at doctrine, languages or cultural history I became amazed again at how little I knew about any of it. 
As I hit that trough in the valley after Mount Stupid, I became totally silent in that humility. 

And then I kept studying, kept learning, kept moving.  And while I may be ready once again to share some thoughts on topics such as faith and economics, I'll hopefully be doing so in a style that's more inquisitive than it is authoritative.

Because that graph doesn't show what happens as you keep moving to the right, but I think I know what comes next.  Yet another decline down Mount Stupid #2, and the cycle repeats...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Five life changes I learned from in 2011

My family knew that 2011 would likely hold a job/career change for me.  I was no longer a fit for the company I'd been with for five years and needed to make a move before they were forced to fire me.

Little did I know that the job change would trigger all sorts of domino effects for us, most of them stressful at the time but very beneficial when looked upon with some distance and perspective.  Thankfully Jamie and kids willingly hopped aboard the ride and we went through it together.  Here's the lowdown:

Change #1 -- I quit my job in May

Obviously that's kind of a big deal, especially when you're the sole breadwinner in a family of five during a recession marked by terrible unemployment rates.  But my family was behind me all the way, and may have even been ahead of me, waiting for me to catch up and make the bold move that they already knew was necessary.

     What I learned:  Sometimes you're too close to a situation to make the decision that's for your own good.  Listen to someone you love and trust them.

Change #2 -- I was unemployed for two months

This duration may seem laughable when so many people have been out of work for much longer.  But it was good for my spirit and my humility to detach from vocation as a form of self-identity.  I had no job -- what would my answer be when someone asked, "What do you do"?  And it allowed me (forced me?) to get real about what had gone wrong at my previous job, and what I would look for in the next one. 

     What I learned:  It's easier to use a compass after you hop off the merry-go-round.

3.  Change #3 -- I took a job that was different in almost every way from what I did before

I went from managing 11 people to managing nobody.  From a low-technology company to a software development firm.  From a very small company in decline, to a larger company in its second decade of consistent growth.  From a huge office with amenities and four weeks of annual vaction to a cubicle with no prestige and very little vacation.

     What I learned:  Just because you climbed the ladder in one building doesn't mean there's an elevated tunnel to the next.  You might have to climb down, walk across the street ,and start over again from the ground floor.  And that can be a good thing.

Change #4 -- We moved over 800 miles to a new home... a half-mile from where I grew up

I never thought I'd be back where I lived as a teenager.  That my kids would be zoned to the same high school I attended, in a midwestern suburb, and I would again be able to live so close to my parents.  But here we are! 

     What I learned:  Be very careful about the "nevers" in your plans.  Someday you might have to eat those words.

Change #5 -- For the first time in our 13 years of marriage, we experienced financial stress

We moved and bought a house before our Houston house was sold.  Actually it still hasn't sold, but things have worked out and some good friends of ours are renting it for a while.  That period of making two mortgage payments and incurring moving expenses drained our liquid assets pretty quickly.  This was a new source of stress for us and has been so educational.

     What I learned:  Your level of financial hardship is often relative to where you've been before.  This is deceptive.  A middle class family can freak out when the checking account gets low, while others feel blessed eating three meals a day. 

These five things combined to spur a new type of change in my spirit, which I will illustrate and explain in the next post.  It will show why I was so quiet on the blog in 2011.

Grace and peace!


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Favorite Movie Viewings of 2011

Long time no see!

I'll be writing more soon to let you in on how things are going, why I was silent for much of 2011, and why I'll be so much more prolific with blog postings in 2012. But for now, I'll stick with my annual routine of ranking my favorite movies seen in 2011.

Some of these were released in earlier years, but I didn't get around to them until 2011. Overall I watched 62 movies during the year, which felt just about right. Jamie and I don't watch any TV except for some sports games, and we also like to read. I don't really have a "goal" for watching a certain number of movies, but if I did, I'd want to see at least 70 in 2012. There are so many high-quality films out there today, especially if you veer off the main Hollywood track. I'm sure I've missed many other great ones that would have blessed me and changed me.

Without further delay:

Favorite foreign film -- Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I had not read the book but Jamie had, so she helped me fill in the gaps in the story as we watched. This first film was highly tense, sharp and brutal. The next two films in the series weren't quite as strong in my opinion, and their plots were even harder to follow without the benefit of reading the books. Honorable mention in this category goes to Tell No One, which was a very intricate mystery tale that almost lost this American viewer who is used to simple plots. But I made it, understood it and loved it!

Favorite action film -- Kick-Ass wins this category, with a surprisingly solid mix of story, acting and effects. Multiple times during the viewing I almost pinched myself and wondered why the big-budget movies like Spiderman, Hulk, Iron Man, etc... couldn't evoke the tension, laughter and horror I was experiencing with this much cheaper movie. District B13 is the honorable mention (also a foreign film) with the best stunts I've seen in years.


Breach -- interesting true-ish story but focused on the wrong character
Pandorum -- excellent sci-fi/horror but chickened out with a tonally wrong ending
Love and Other Drugs -- was this supposed to be comedy, drama, romance... felt too scattered
Never Let Me Go -- I've heard the book was excellent. Stick with that.
The Adjustment Bureau -- a fascinating premise but again chickened out at the end

Best little surprises:

Monsters -- sneakily touching sci-fi story about how all of us (even scary aliens) probably want the same things in life
Solitary Man -- Michael Douglas in a pitch-perfect role and performance... that nobody seemed to notice
Little Children -- if you had paused the movie after one hour and asked who I thought would be the most courageous, honest and heroic character at the end, I would have miscalculated badly
True Grit -- I like that the good guys were flawed and the bad guys were sympathetic

Overall favorites:

5) Social Network -- timely and expertly crafted
4) Kids are All Right -- sparked all kinds of conversation for me, it was like the big-question catalyst just when I needed one
3) Black Swan -- put me inside a crazy person more closely than I've ever been before (and closer than I care to go again, probably)
2) Inception -- genius storytelling that layers it on just barely slowly enough so that I can keep up
1) King's Speech -- a tale both inspiring and important, in ways both national and personal

* These rankings and reviews are from an amateur. If you would like a professional opinion from me, that means I'd have to make money at it. Offers are welcome; inquire within the comments section.