Letting go of the past

This weekend marked a turning point for me. What happened? We cleaned the attic. It’s the canonical mental hygiene act, and it worked. I hadn’t anticipated that this would happen, but it did.

I got rid of a whole bunch of programming books. All sorts of deep, theoretical, analytical stuff. Out went Gang of Four, Domain Driven Design, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, and the entire Don Knuth collection. I didn’t burn them, I gave them to a friend who’s more into that stuff than me these days. But it marks an important shift for me.

Back in 2001, Richard Buck, my then boss at ArsDigita, hired a coach to do a one-day workshop with the 16-person core development team. The coach gave us a test, which produced two personality type for each of us: One was the type we were naturally, the other was the style we had adopted.

Mine showed that I was naturally highly intuitive, but had adopted a strongly analytical style. The rest of the engineering team were very analytical by nature, except for my boss and one other team member.

That hit me like a brick. I knew it to be true, yet I had no idea what to do about it. It isn’t until today that I feel like I’ve resolved this. It’s not that I can never be analytical again – I don’t plan on losing the skill – it’s just that I don’t have to quite as much.

This actually represents a deeper shift that’s happened over the summer: I no longer have a need to fix myself.

I used to have this belief that I was broken in some way, and that I needed to learn what was in those books in order to be whole, to be okay, to be a success. And I had to watch myself, or others might find out that I was broken.

That feeling has served me well. I’ve learned a ton of stuff, and before that, it kept the getting beaten up at school to a minimum. But it’s no longer serving me, so it was time to let it go. And I can’t tell you how good that feels.

Now when I look at those books, I couldn’t care less what’s in them.

It’s not that I stopped reading. I still do, but a lot less than I used to, and I get more pleasure out of the ones I do read. Most of the books I used to swallow raw now bore me to tears to even look at.

Instead I do yoga, i coach, I work, and I just enjoy being who I am, no need to fix anything. And that’s not too bad for cleaning out the attic.