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Follow your Passion

Posted by Marty Haught on Monday, October 19, 2009

I’ve had a couple blog posts bouncing around in my head since returning from Hawaii and I’m now finally getting some time to write them down. It’s been a week since I’ve been back but it’s crazy all the things that build up when you go on a full week’s vacation.

First of all, Hawaii was great. Aloha on Rails was a delightful conference. Awesome job Seth and on your first try no less! I gave my first conference talk and though I wish I could continue to tweak the presentation, it went off just fine. No embarassing moments beyond struggling with the projector resolution. Thanks again to Seth for choosing my talk and giving me the opportunity to share with the community.

One of the things I really enjoyed most about the conference was the encouraged format of sharing your story. Chad Fowler led off the conference with his keynote on the passionate programmer. He did a great job and his keynote fit Seth’s ideal presentation. Chad’s writing and his story have been a source of inspiration for me and my career.

The other talk that really stole the show was one done by Corey Donohoe (@atmos). He related indie hip hop with open source software development. It was entertaining, interesting, informative, useful and inspiring. These are all things you wish for in a presentation. I don’t think I was the only one that felt this way either. Luckily it was recorded on video so hopefully it’ll be available to watch soon.

One of Corey’s themes was the ‘giving back’ to the community that supported you. I was flattered and honored to be listed as an example with Boulder Ruby. I hadn’t even thought about how myself and the other members of Boulder Ruby freely give of our time and expertise to help others get better with Ruby. For me it’s just how I am. I like to help others and I rarely ask for anything in return. I couldn’t agree with Corey more that this is vital to a healthy tech community.

The other example of giving back was contributing to open source. I know a few of us felt a bit guilty that our contributions to the OSS community weren’t as much as they could have been. I know I look for ways to extract and donate back useful bits of code for others to use. Corey’s talk helped remind me to make this a higher priority as there are many small useful bits of code that I should share even though I might not think they’re worthy. Github makes it very easy to share and collaborate so why not? My excuse is that I’m just so busy consulting for clients that I don’t make time to work on OSS.

One angle that I think we should consider when getting involved in an OSS project is passion. I think it’s important in just about everything you do to find passion but especially when giving freely of your time and expertise. I’ve helped out on some OSS projects and even started one. I did so when I felt passionate about helping out as well as I had something to give back. I’ve felt guilty for not staying involved with those projects years later. The fact is I’ve moved on and I no longer feel the passion for that library. I am so busy now that I can’t do everything I want to so I have to actively prune things out of my life. This means that helping out with libraries that I don’t feel passionate about have to pass from my todo list. I think this is normal and healthy. I really don’t want anyone to feel that helping out on an OSS library is a burden. We want people to contribute because they want to, not out of guilt.

I think it’s key that you don’t let guilt be your only drive for your contributions or else you’ll resent the burden it represents. Instead you should give back freely out of passion and love. I know that might sound a bit corny but I believe it to be true. Let the guilt remind you to be a good citizen and give back to your community. Let your passion be your guide.

The lesson here of following your passion holds true in everything in life. It’s not that we can let go of our responsibilities and follow our whims at any moment in the day. However, I think you can intentionally set your life’s path so that you follow your passion. Chad’s talk alluded to this. If you’re passionate about doing something in life, make plans to get there. You might not be able to do it tomorrow but if you set your intention and take small steps you can get there eventually.

My current life is a good example. I love what I do but I didn’t wake up one day deciding that I wanted to be a software engineer/architect that runs his own consulting company, travels to conferences several times a year and even speaks at them. No, I decided that getting paid to work with computers was better than trying to make a living as a professional musician even though I loved performing. Over the last 12 years I’ve steadily improved my situation to where I am now. I never once doubted that I could do better and I had a passion to always improve myself and my situation. Step by step I got here and I’m not done yet. What I think is just as important as the drive to make your life better is to enjoy life as it is now. This is how I’ve lived and will continue to do so. And I think it comes back to following your passion. Don’t settle for safety and security if it’s not what you love. Thanks to Chad and Corey for helping remind us of that fact. So are you on your path? If not, you owe it to yourself to think about what that is and plan out some small steps to get closer. Good luck!

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