On Enjoying The Ride

I can’t remember where I first stumbled upon this quote from Neil Gaiman. I believe I found a part of it, and for some reason, I started looking for the whole interview to get more context.

“What I said in the speech, and what I say in the book, is the most important piece of advice I was ever given that I didn’t pay attention to and I wished that I had, came in 1992 from Stephen King at a signing I did in Boston for a Sandman book called Season of Mists. And he came down. He saw the lines stretching around the block. He wanted to take me out for dinner, but the signing wasn’t done until 10:30 at night. And I wound up in his hotel room with Steve and his family, and he said, you know, ‘This is really wonderful, this is special. You should enjoy this. Just make a point of enjoying it.’ And I didn’t. I worried about it. I worried it was going to go away. I worried about the next story. I worried about getting things done. And there was a point, a good 15 years after that, where I finally started to relax. And I look back and I thought, you know, I could have enjoyed it. It all went just fine; my worrying about anything didn’t change anything. … I should have enjoyed it.”

How about that? Neil Gaiman. The great storyteller. A successful writer with many publications on his resume was stressed about his next step. He worried about keeping his success as a writer.

“I worried it was going to go away”

Do you remember the fulfilling things you did all this time that got you to where you are? Driving architectural designs or making suggestions to improve your team’s workflow and all these things that made a difference. All these things that made you differentiate.

But something just changed. It might be a new role, a new company. A new manager. Who knows?

Until now, you exceeded expectations, but now everything is an expectation. You are a team leader now, a manager or the senior person in your team with more responsibilities.

What should I do next? How can I prove I deserve it? I need to make a difference. I need to do something that really matters.

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it can happen to anyone.

Weird thing is that brain of ours. I’ve seen this happening. Suddenly the fun part is lost. Everything is a “must do”, and stress is higher than usual. The usual a-ha moments seem fewer. Not good enough. You are continuously chasing the next big thing, but at the same time, something is keeping you back.

The primary focus shifts to searching for problems, finding solutions, and becoming the hero. Our industry has a tendency to love heroes. This takes up a lot of time and energy, and the last problem you solved wasn’t valued by the organization like you thought it would. You worry it’s “going to go away”.

You are on the path to the Dark Side. Or not.

In an environment where people care and observe, this is manageable. Someone will notice and ask about it. In an ideal scenario, your manager will ask the magic question… “What is bothering you?” and that will be the beginning of a great discussion. But that may not be the case.

Take a step back. Breath.

I may be exaggerating a bit, but my point still stands.

There is no need to overthink it. Do what you always do. Learn by your successes or failures and move on to the next things at a healthy pace. Focus on the expectations your role has. Own it, and have fun with it. Experiment. Experiment a lot. If things are fuzzy, ask for guidance. There is no need to waste your time and energy on “whats” and “ifs”.

There is a universal truth in this story. Nobody just gives away roles and money for fun. Your work got you where you are and a bunch of people that believe in you. You earned it.

As a last note, take Stephen King’s and Neil Gaiman’s words under consideration, not mine. Enjoy the ride.