A good day

BlueSkyIt’s 8:37am.

I’ve just got out of my car. The suspension creaked a bit as I got out because my car is pretty old. In fact, it might even be time to throw a thousand quid at buying a new runaround soon. Fair enough – this one’s lasted a few years.

I’ve parked on the side of the road in a suburb of Exeter. I have a mile and a half to walk before I reach the place where I’ll spend the rest of the day. It’s very uphill.

I feel light drizzle on my face. It’s great. Everyone else seems to love the sun, but there’s nothing I like better than a mild, damp morning. Seeing some blue sky and sunshine at some point today would be nice but a day of light rain will do just fine.

I’m trying to decide whether to put my hood up or not. It’s June, so I opt for letting the rain wet my hair a bit rather than getting too hot.

My walking cadence varies between mornings. Some days I drag my feet lazily whilst I’m turning something over in my head. Other times I practically quick march all the way in to town. I opt for the latter today as I’m feeling purposeful. James and I had a good chat about our portfolio management software (Rebo) last night and I’m pretty motivated to start programming.

I choose the route that goes past the cathedral. I’m an atheist but I’m impressed.

I look up at the building which was completed in the early 15th century and think to myself ‘where there’s a will…’. If the medieval stonemasons and builders achieved this, surely a couple of well-motivated programmers can get our app to where it should be.

I get in to the office at about 9:15 and put the kettle on.

The Generator

I work at The Generator.

It’s a co-working space in Exeter and I’ve had a permanent desk here for almost 4 years. I was in the ‘second wave’ of members – I wasn’t here at the beginning, but I joined while the community was still quite small.

This place is great. It’s not that there’s anything special about the building (in fact it’s getting a bit worn out – don’t even ask about the plumbing!) but the concept is brilliant. Few people in here have bosses. I doubt there are a lot of performance reviews. There is, however, plenty of hard work going on. And what’s more, we’re all friends.

The community at The Generator is made up of loads of different types of people. We have illustrators, marketers, architects, translators, entrepreneurs and of course a few techies like me. My little corner of the office sometimes attracts a reasonable amount of interest just because of the fact there’s usually a prototype of something or other on my desk.

My friend Chris walks in to the community area.

We end up sitting down on the comfortable chairs and ‘talking business’/procrastinating. Chris used to be an engineer with a 9-5 just like I did, but he quit 4 years ago too. He now makes a living doing a combination of digital marketing and online retailing (check out ZeroMe if you’re interested in cutting down your plastic consumption).

We waste 20 minutes. Hold on, wasn’t I feeling purposeful?

Flow

Chris and I stand up out of our chairs and we each emit exaggerated groans as if we’re in our 60s. We exchange a knowing ‘time to get some work done’ look.

Interestingly, we’ve both billed enough hours this week to meet our respective financial obligations/goals and we’re each going to spend today working on speculative ventures. If we decided to just declare today a holiday and go and partake of some leisure activity, that would be fine.

But I want to write software to help people manage their investment portfolios, and Chris wants to do his own entrepreneurial dabbling, so we head for our desks and start working.

I’ve lucked out a bit because the next thing on the Rebo Trello board with my name on it is a pure programming task that will take me a few hours to complete. It’s the perfect mix of

  • tricky enough to make me block everything else out in order to think about it and;
  • small enough that I can probably conquer it in a few hours

I get to work. I spend the next few hours coding and debugging.

Eventually I notice the office getting emptier around me. Bloody hell! It’s 12:20. I’ve been working away for almost 3 hours. I obviously hit flow state as the time melted away without me even noticing.

I’ve reached a reasonable point to drop my concentration as I’ve broken the back of the problem.

I head to the community area for lunch.

Lunch

Lunch at The Generator is pot luck.

Sometimes there are just a few of us. Self-employed people, hard as they work, tend to optimise their schedules for things like school holidays and nice weather.

Other times there are so many people around the table that those who arrive late end up sat around the table corners on high stools pulled away from the hot-desking ‘counters’. Today’s like this.

If I’m feeling sociable, these are my favourite lunch breaks. And luckily, I’m not feeling blue, I’ve had a great morning and I’m ready to start a debate get involved in an interesting conversation.

It gets a bit rowdy.

In the old days, the community area was just that. But as the community has grown, partition walls have gone up and turned corners of the formerly open-plan shared space into small offices. The office doors slam shut as the noise level ramps up. The louder conversation participants (OK, I’ll put my hands up – apparently my voice ‘booms’ 🙂 ) temporarily decrease the volume.

This isn’t like the average workplace canteen. The people here are genuinely friends with each other. They would be friends anyway, without the work connection.

There are no hierarchies. Nobody is in competition with anybody else for a promotion. Nobody is smiling at a colleague whilst really being bent out of shape about how they never really pull their weight.

The noisy community lunch carries on for almost an hour. Then people start to get up and leave.

I put the kettle on and offer to make the remaining people around the table a hot drink. I do this every day with predictable regularity. I’m not sure exactly how I became the guy who makes the tea after lunch (I don’t do it at any other time of day) but, despite my frequent declarations of self-centredness, I obviously get something out of this small act of service.

I leave a few of the others talking amongst themselves and head back to my desk, tea in hand.

Get on with it

I sit down in front of my computer with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, there’s something interesting bouncing around in my head that’s not Rebo.

I hop from one Wikipedia page to another as if I’m a hyperactive frog desperately trying to visit every lily pad in the pond. Surely I’m not going to fall down that procrastination rabbit hole?

Oh… no, wait. Actually I am. I’m reading Wait But Why. This is going to be hard to recover from.

Andy, stop! Focus.

OK. Having wasted a mere 15 minutes, I go back to my code.

I don’t quite achieve the solid 3 hours of productive concentration that I managed to squeeze out of the morning but I enjoy an afternoon of getting to grips with bits of the Rebo tech stack (introduced by James) which I’m not quite familiar with yet.

I call it quits at about 4pm and go to the gym.

Exercise

As I walk in to the gym, I’m greeted by a notable lack of people. This is good. I mean, I do like people most of the time, but I also like not having to queue up for kit before I can do my exercises.

It seems that my time at the gym follows the trend set by my afternoon of work: it’s productive, but lacking in urgency. My training session stretches to around 90 minutes in length, despite my intention to be in and out in an hour.

It’s a good session, despite the slow progress.

I’m not feeling tired today and I leave the gym feeling refreshed rather than broken. I do however note the presence of a few physical niggles that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist when I was 25.

Oh, well – it’s all downhill from here anyway I suppose. I’d better get a move on with my immortality plans.

Downhill

I head back to the car so I can drive home. The 20 minute walk gives me time to contemplate my day and my life in general.

Today was great. I don’t mean that it made me jump for joy or was particularly exciting in any way, but, on balance, it was an experience that many people would envy.

I exercised my autonomy. I set the schedule. I applied my knowledge and creativity to a problem that I want to solve.

I wasted time – precious minutes of my life. But I chose to waste it. Nobody wasted it for me. I have no problem paying for my own ineffectiveness.

I was happy. This is a big deal. The opposite can be true often enough to make days like today stand out.

I added value for myself and, I hope, also for some other people who I like and respect.  I laid a couple of tiny bricks in the house that will become my life’s work.

Zooming out a bit, I think about the life I lead.

I’m rich. Not rich like people you might read about in the papers, but richer than most people who have ever lived. I get paid generously to fuck around with electronics and computers. I like doing this enough that I even carry on doing it when I don’t need any more money.

I live in a rich country. Everybody else is going mad talking about how the country is a battleground and everybody hates each other. But I don’t watch the news and I note that this is actually a nice place to live. There’s no civil war. There’s no dictator. People behave nicely towards each other. Everything considered, this place is Pareto perfect.

I think about my healthy children. Believe me when I say that nothing is grueling in quite the same way as being a parent. However, I sometimes think about what life would have been like if one of them had been born with a severe disability or something. My youngest had a near miss as she was born with a minor heart defect, but that’s all healed up now. So I’m lucky (well, I have been so far) to have never seen one of my kids seriously ill.

I put all of these things together.

This is as good as it gets.

Somewhere in the middle. Not elated. Not despairing. Not hungry. Autonomous. Intellectually satisfied. Not at war. Loving. Loved. A person with real friends.

I sometimes find myself groping around for the thing that will ‘make me happy’ but on days like today, I’m reminded that this is probably it.

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