Are Our Stories Good Enough?

Browsing through Facebook, I’m always a bit stunned to find how often we share things from strangers (i.e. the internet) instead of ourselves. It’s so easy to view others’ extraordinary achievements (“Man leaps over fire to propose to fiancée!”) as much superior to our own (“Man nervously takes wife to a park only to give away proposal intent.”). We can’t compete, right?

But we can and should. Why? Because the internet is full of such extraordinary things, but our lives are not. Personally, I don’t care about random larger-than-life stories from the internet, but I do care about your everyday ones. The experiences of friends and family are far more valuable than strangers’, because it’s friends and family that we build our lives around. We should care much more about what happens to each other—whether serious, silly, or somewhere in between.

So in 2015 I implore you to share your thoughts and stories, and we’ll all enjoy them more. Even if they don’t involve catching a shark with your bare hands, or painting an incredibly realistic seascape on your sidewalk. And better yet, don’t be afraid to create new stories—because even though others have already done so, it’s your stories that matter most to those around you.

The First Step: Moving From Bite Size to 3-5 Bite Size

One of the more difficult aspects of social media (particularly Twitter) is its limiting us to bite-size posts—the challenge of summarizing complex thoughts into a small set of characters. It’s rather indicative of our culture at large. Of course, we’re all pressed for time in various ways, so expanding these posts into novellas isn’t going to do the trick, either. The key, I would hope, is giving such thoughts exactly enough room to breathe and no more.

Therefore, it’s time to bring my web site back to life, slowly at first and hopefully in a way that gains a lot of momentum throughout 2015. I gots plans, you see! (More on that soon.)

For now, though, I will be posting any thoughts longer than 140 characters here, where links will be automatically shared on Facebook and Twitter—simply because that’s the easiest way to share them. Manually checking a web site is no fun, and using RSS isn’t exactly popular to talk about at dinner parties. Yet.

Facebook actually has quite a bit more room to post, so you’ll see more things shared in their entirety there, but of course it also has its own private algorithms that determine what you can and cannot see. This might be an interesting experiment in itself: from time to time you can check the web site (http://www.andymurphy.com) to see if there were posts that Facebook hid from you. In which case you can tell it to go to the Naughty Corner.

Here’s to a terrific 2015, and hopefully we’ll all give our thoughts a little more room to breathe.

Heart and Soul

My grandmother, who is unarguably the heart and soul of my extended family, passed away yesterday in North Carolina. Behind her she leaves a void that all of us know will never be filled.

And yet, to an extent, it already has.

In some ways, we measure ourselves by the impact that we make upon the world, and whether we leave it a better place than we found it. I, for one, know that my very existence is largely a product of my grandparents, who worked together to create something bigger and more meaningful than anything I’ll create in my lifetime. They built not just a family but one that works ceaselessly to improve the world through kindness and humor. And so while our hearts are unbearably heavy today, I take solace in the fact that my grandmother lives on—not just in the family that she created, but in the many acts of kindness that she instilled in others. There are truly parts of her in all of us.

When I graduated college, my parents had divorced, Kelly (who I’d only been dating for three months) was moving to Maryland for a job that she wasn’t sure would be permanent, and suddenly I found myself in an adult world with no job and only a hint of a direction. My brother had also joined the Air Force, and for the first time in my life, family felt like a distant thing to me.

My grandparents changed all of that.

Although they were in their seventies, they didn’t blink when they offered for me to come live with them until I figured out what I wanted to (or could) do. They knew their home of forty years couldn’t match the excitement of the Athens nightlife, and I’ll never forget my grandmother laughing as she told me she was aware of that. But in those weeks I lived with them, they instilled a sense of family that I didn’t entirely realize I’d been missing. We had home-cooked meals and talked about things around town and my grandmother silently (and happily) made meals that she knew that I liked, even though I protested. When my grandmother made up her mind about something (especially related to a kindness she was offering), it was best to just accept and be grateful. And I was and am so truly grateful.

As of yesterday, she is no longer with us, but in some ways she is always with us. She’s the catalyst whenever we decide to bring family together, and she bats away the hesitation we might feel when we hug instead of shaking hands. She’s the foundation of our sense of home whenever we walk in our front door, and the laughs we make whenever we see something silly (her eye rolling was the best). There are few things in our lives that she hasn’t touched.

I hope so much that in those final days, she smiled to herself and knew that her work here was done. I hope that she felt rewarded in knowing that she would be leaving the world a better place than she found it, and that her five remaining daughters (and their children) would continue to build on that impact long after she was gone. Most of all, I simply hope that left this world with a profound sense of satisfaction.

If you’re reading this, Grandma, know that I love you so much, and that we will never, ever forget you.

Setting Course for 2014

As we enter the new year, we’re all thinking—consciously or subconsciously—about New Year’s resolutions. The idea of starting anew has an irresistible quality to it. And although 2013 departed us less than a week ago, it already grows smaller in the rearview mirror.

There are many kinds of resolutions, but mine tend to fall into realm of focus: things to focus on more, and things to focus on less. Much of our day-to-day experiences are largely about perspective, and few things are as easy to change (relatively speaking) as our perspective. But we have to be willing to change.

2013, for me, was often a year of frustration. There were all of the obvious frustrations: moving to a new city, raising a one year-old, trying to find time for the many things I can’t find time for, sitting in traffic, and so on. I try to dwell on these frustrations as little as possible, because often it is wasted effort. It is time spent focusing on the negative. Like everyone else, I just get through them the best I can, and make a few improvements when the opportunity presents itself. But the *real* frustration happens with the things that I seemingly cannot hope to change. For me, the most glaring example of this is the ugly combination of hate and ignorance. They are everywhere: in the “news”, in Facebook/Twitter, in conversations overheard at a bar or local café. And surprisingly, they are increasingly common in close friends, good people, and, at times, myself.

As time goes on, and the internet sprawls outward, reliable information will come at a premium. Our ability to harness it, as a society, may largely determine our fate in the years ahead. For when everyone has a voice, whose voice is it that we hear the most? Those that are the *loudest*. We like to think that the loudest voices are those that most represent the truth, but deep down every one of knows this is not the case. The world doesn’t give volume to those with the largest accuracy, or depth; it gives volume to those with the most money.

Hate is a terrible thing. It always feel justified but too often isn’t. It can be based on misinformation, hearsay, “facts” spun in misleading directions, and the more obvious origins of bigotry, discrimination, or—as is too often the case—fear. What alarms me about hate is how much we’re seeing it manifest within ourselves based on what we’re told, not by what we experience. We invent large-scale battles based on wars that don’t truly exist at an individual level. In other words, we fight for people we don’t know and who may not need fighting for. Whenever I feel myself turn in this direction, a sense of revulsion comes over me, because I feel that the line between who I am and who I don’t want to be is increasingly thinning.

As with many things, there is no clear answer to this, but going into 2014, I want to do the following:

* Do not respond to hate. Hate needs an audience to flourish, and responding with disdain (or “correction”) only gives its fire the oxygen it needs to survive. If you are hateful, I vow to ignore you.
* Do not spread any information that I don’t: 1) feel a strong trust in its originator, or 2) know from personal experience. Random internet links, regardless of how logical, are not helping any of us.
* Give every single individual, in my life and others, a chance to start on equal footing. *That* is the essence of what being an American is all about, and it stuns me how much we abandon this principle at the first sign of struggle. No matter how much 15 people in one group are alike, the 16th person is not one of those 15, and doesn’t deserve to inherit their mistakes *or* successes. They deserve to be viewed for who they are.

I write this as a way to see these resolutions in print, so that I can pull them up at any time and remind myself if needed. I want to hold myself accountable to them.

I hope you will help me do that, and perhaps join me along the way.

Every Day is Groundhog Day

It’s fascinating to think that this very moment is the culmination of everything you’ve ever learned to date—skills, habits, mannerisms, education, and even which things are truly important to you. On its own, each bit of learning seems so insignificant. But compiled over time, they represent an enormously important part of who we are.

Amusingly, I think I first started to realize this after watching the movie Groundhog Day. In the movie, Phil (played by Bill Murray) finds himself in a situation where he wakes up every morning to find that he’s living the exact same day as yesterday. It’s always Groundhog Day. The key, though, is that he retains his memory from day to day—and after some initial despair (and humor, of course), he realizes that he can use this to his advantage. He learns more about the girl he loves. He learns when to save people from ill-fated accidents. He learns to play the piano.

It is this last that really got me thinking: aren’t our lives, without the repetition of days, still essentially the same story? We float from one day to the next, often reacting to the events around us, without stopping to think about the true sum of these events over time. We turn away from piano when we consider how difficult a song seems to play, without taking a moment to think about easy it would be to learn ten notes.

And then ten more notes.

Going one step further, we can look at this in the context of our most important dreams—dreams that often seem so unattainable. But if we can break down the steps to those dreams, to the smallest of steps, we can create our own Groundhog Day experience.

Some people ask me why I’m so driven to move myself forward—mostly because it often seems to my detriment. Is it really helpful to study web design in the depths of the night, when sleep tries to force my hand? Is it mentally damaging to try to hold on to so many goals at once? I am not sure I know the answers to these questions, but I do know one thing: I don’t want to look back on my Groundhog Day and say that I’m no better off than when I started.  I don’t want to be the version of Phil that stares blankly at a piano on Day 74.

I hope that you don’t, either.

Corporate Key to Success #4: Cubicle Decoration

After arriving at your desk, still feeling the exhilaration of your first meeting, you suddenly realize that you have no idea how you’re supposed to decorate your cubicle.

Don’t worry—this happens to everyone.

Not surprisingly, your first moment of panic comes you realize that everyone will judge you by your new corporate home, just as they would when pulling up to your residential home. Are your faded fabric-lined walls nicely trimmed? Are your orientation papers strewn across your desk? Is your monitor already caked with the dusty skin flakes of your fellow co-workers? Well, don’t despair—you simply need a few simple rules to guide you.

  1. Before anything else, you have to resign yourself to one thing: this desk, or one very much like it, will be your home all the way up until your retirement 34 years from now. That is a very long time. As a result, you must treat your home as something you’ll have three times as long as your most beloved pet.
  2. If you happen to obtain any kind of achievement certificate, put it on your wall—and make no mistake, these are not nearly as difficult to come by as you might think.  There might be one for completing a required purchase order system training session.  Another might celebrate your ability to exhibit a “moment of excellence,” in which case you can display the certificate long after the fleeting program’s demise (and for all anyone will know, you were truly astonishing in that moment).  If you’re really lucky, though, you can get a framed certificate that commemorates your survival within the company in five-year increments.  That will come later—but goal-setting is very important at this stage.
  3. Don’t make the rookie mistake of putting away your various project papers.  This is because the more papers you have, the busier you will appear. So when you go to any meeting, grab any handouts that you possibly can (even swipe the extras!), then take them back and stack them in your cube.  Do you think they’re going to fire the employee with the ultra-clean desk, or the one that has so many important papers that there aren’t enough drawers for them?

    Exactly.

  4. Always, always place a mirror in the back of your cube.  I know, you’re thinking this sounds strange—but that’s only because this is your first day in a cubicle.  If you consider your new space for just a moment, you’ll realize that your chair faces away from the entrance of your cube.  Why?  Well, because: 1) everyone loves a good surprise, and 2) office environments are designed to keep you from seeing other human beings. Distractions are not good.  So the bottom line is: get a mirror, and you’ll feel just a little more human.
  5. Keep in mind that you exist in a corporate office, so there are many rules about what you can’t do.  For example, don’t ever place items on top of or on the outside of your cubicle.  This go back to the previous point, in which you are not supposed to be encouraging human interaction.  Second, don’t even think about plants.  Plants are only allowed in executive offices.  You may be thinking that God gave everyone the right to plants, but you’d be wrong, because God was a big believer in a little thing called trickle-down horticulture.  And finally, do not pursue lamps or other lighting.  You won’t need it.  When working in any cubicle, you will have the blessing of being bathed in overwhelmingly bright fluorescent lighting—which has the pleasant effect of always keeping you awake!  Burned retinas and shockingly white skin are a small price to pay for corporate alertness.

If this seems like a lot to remember, don’t worry.  You’ll have plenty of time to focus and create a cubicle action plan—especially with the lack of distractions.  Somewhere around 34 years, in fact.

Finding Daylight

I’m back!

It’s been about eighty days since Kelly and I welcomed an adorable little guy into our lives, and the change has been jarring. Many of the impacts were easy to plan for (lack of sleep), and others were not (lack of time), but in the end I knew the first couple of months would have that “all hands on deck” feel. So I imagine no one has been wondering where I’ve gone, so to speak—but I would like to talk about where I’m going.

To do that, though, it’d be very helpful to update you on the non-baby events that have happened over the last few weeks (by design, you can get all of the baby updates you’d ever want over at LittleMurph.com). Many people don’t realize that while Tyler’s arrival significantly changed things at home, I initiated changes every bit as big on the career front: last month I decided to return to my technical roots and take the role of our company’s lead developer for our Saleforce.com implementation. I am still part of our Sales organization, but working directly with all of our sales teams to customize our version of Salesforce to our needs. This is actually a dream come true for me—because it’s the best of both worlds (business and web development)! And it will soon let me work web design into the mix, as well, which I can’t wait for.

Of course, there was no controlling the timing of this—the position officially came open nine days before Tyler was born. And to add some real fun to the mix, I had practically zero training of any kind on Salesforce’s proprietary programming language or structure. But I knew how great a fit this role would be, so I’ve simply done what I had to do—read training manuals in one arm while holding Tyler in the other. There wasn’t really a break on the business side of the equation, so I had to support things on the fly while learning at the same time. Fortunately I don’t have a problem admitting I have no idea what I’m doing at times, and I’ve had to say that quite a few times lately.

But I have to say—this transition has been exhilarating and extremely challenging at the same time.

At any rate, now that you probably have a sense of where I’ve been in 2012, it’s probably no surprise that I’ve been trying desperately to hold onto both of these new lives without slipping backwards. I’ve had to put just about everything else in my life on hold, temporarily, including a number of e-mails, extended family visits, and the hobbies that I love so much. That has been especially difficult. The good news, though, is that with things finally stabilizing a bit, I’m starting to find daylight once again.

I will do my best to keep everyone posted on things from this point forward, and I want very much to bring this blog back to where I envisioned it would be—including moving some of my 140-character Twitter/Facebook posts to a more meaningful format (because, let’s face it—it’s hard to be meaningful in 140 characters). On the surface, this seemed like a tough goal to reach, with everything going on, but then I realized that all it really takes is a dropping a bit of television and finding a little extra energy at the end of the day. Hopefully that’s exactly what will happen.

Wish me luck!

In Search of the Little Things

This afternoon, an avalanche of e-mail spilled steadily into my inbox, and for a moment I wondered if somewhere a great dam had finally crumbled beneath its own weight.  Support requests of many different types tumbled down the hill, and as I often try to do, I ran at them with the gusto of a child running up the wrong escalator.  Because that’s the only way that getting to the top of an escalator is any fun.

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m quite achievement-oriented.  I detest doing purposeless tasks – and love the image of a meaningful checkmark filling an open box.  Now more than ever, I’ve realized that every job in the world can ultimately be boiled down to a sequence of those checkboxes.  One after another they come, hour by hour, day after day, endlessly filling the gaps behind them with the next thing on the list.

If we look at our jobs this way, then the goal of every employee is quite clear:  get those boxes checked in the way that is asked of you.  Sometimes those tasks are open to various solutions (a design), while other tasks have completely pre-constructed solutions (a contract).  Regardless of the type, however, what’s interesting is how each employee goes about checking the box.

It’s easy to think no one is noticing.  But whether they realize it or not, employees are professionally and personally evaluated at every turn.  Most of these evaluations happen within the subconscious.  I often wonder by what measures others conduct these evaluations, but for me, I’ll let you in on a little secret:  I place immense value in how well you find and do the little things.

As Kelly and I drove back from Atlanta this past weekend, we stopped at an Arby’s.  We did so because, well, pregnant women have to make stops frequently.  As a husband, it’s my job to make sure my wife uses the restroom at the finest establishments possible – and thus Arby’s called to me amidst the sea of gas stations and other restaurants.  We’d eaten a couple of hours before, so neither of us was hungry, and at 3:00 the place was mostly empty.  It was a uneventful stop.

Until the manager welcomed us to the restaurant.

He stood behind the counter, likely in his late thirties and severely overweight.  No employee sits for long within a fast food restaurant, so his feet were probably killing him.  As Kel headed to the restroom, I randomly took a moment to wonder what path might have led him here.  Does anyone say, “I want to manage an Arby’s twenty years after I graduate high school?”  Probably not.  But somehow I knew that his welcome was completely genuine, and I instantly sensed that whatever his path might have been, this was a man who had decided to take pride in his work.  He wasn’t going to phone it in, at least not today.

In that moment following his welcome, I didn’t quite have the heart to say, “I’m sorry, we’re just here to use the restroom.”  I certainly could have, and he wouldn’t have minded in the least.  But as I decided what I might order, I realized that I greatly treasure employees that do more than what they have to.  And by that I mean the little things – the things that take almost no effort at all.  Because these are the things that no one bothers to do.

As I made my selection, the manager kindly answered the lone question I had with no hesitation, which meant that he knew his menu well.  He waited patiently while his crew prepared my wrap in the back, and when it slid into the metal rack, he called out a thank you to them.  There was little doubt that he meant it.

Was this an earth-shattering sequence of events?  No, of course not.  But the world is full of people that do precisely what they’re asked to do, and sometimes they expend a great amount of effort doing it.  There are probably thousands of Arby’s managers that suffer through eight hours of fast food nightmares for a meager paycheck.  They meet their documented goals.  I’d wager, however, that there aren’t many who look past those goals and set their own, more important goals – completely driven by a inner desire to be something better.

In my eleven years of professional work, I have come across this type of person from time to time, and it’s little coincidence that I call many of them my closest professional friends.  They represent the person who looks past the black and white of a project to see where support may be needed.  They often do the work behind the scenes that goes uncredited.  They are the people that aren’t interested in the ordinary, everyday tasks but instead focus on how to make a room – and ultimately their company – a better place than they found it.

On my best day, I approach being that kind of person, but on other days I fall short.  I might unconsciously lower my standards to feel good about getting more boxes checked.  Or I may stare proudly at the bird in my hands and completely overlook the two in the bush.  But it doesn’t take long for that one person to come along and inspire me all over again – and in almost every case, that person has no idea that he or she did so.  Certainly the manager of that Arby’s did not.

When all is said and done, we spend a great portion of our lives in an office, working under flourescent lights in monotonous spaces.  Everything is ordinary about our jobs, because it’s all been invented years before we get there, by people with titles a lot higher than ours.  But what isn’t so ordinary are the tasks that lie beyond the norm.  If you take a moment to think back to several truly memorable experiences of your life, it’s interesting to consider what made them stand out the most.

Was it the big things, or was it the little things that you never expected?

 

Winter is Coming. Well, That and a Baby.

If you’ve been following my Facebook/Twitter posts at all, you’ll know that the last few weeks have definitely been interesting – I’m learning all kinds of things about birthin’ babies.  And how to take care of one when the time comes.  Don’t worry, however – this blog is not going to turn into a semi-conscious set of ramblings about babies, poop, crying, joy and panic.  That’s what a large part of my life will be like in the days ahead, but as someone who cares about all of you, I’ll do my best to insulate you from the beautiful madness that lies within the walls of my house.  Because, chances are, you’ve either done it already or don’t want to hear anything about it.  I don’t blame you.  Suffice it to say, however, that with all jokes aside, I’m thrilled about what’s to come, and I’m going to do everything in my power to bring a little guy into this world that makes a positive impact wherever he goes.

That’s the goal, anyway – please don’t hold it against me when he covers your trees with toilet paper.

On to other things, though, particularly for the blog.  If there’s one thing I’m guilty of here, it’s not the lack of writing – but the lack of writing about the little things.  I said once before that this was a critical aspect of what I wanted this blog to be, but I keep finding myself subconsciously withholding posts because they’re not “big” enough or not “important” enough.  This is silly in hindsight.  Part of the reason is the publication aspect of it, including the e-mail notifications that I typically send.  Would people want an e-mail about a two-paragraph blog post?  Probably not.  But that is far from meaning that I shouldn’t make that two-paragraph post, or that – even worse – I should try to condense those thoughts into 140 characters.

The result, as you can see, is a post about precisely what jumped into my head when I opened my laptop here at the café.  And this is really the purpose of a blog, isn’t it?

I’m still debating on the best format for notification, but I think I have a good solution for that.  I’ll also have additional posts from the Corporate Orientation series, as well as some other fun humor posts that I’ve mapped out.

And if you do want to hear about baby things, well, it’s entirely possible that my son will have his own account long before he can type (or speak, or crawl).  The internet is an incredible thing.