Who am I?

I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Paul Tevis

Entries in navel-gazing (46)


Like a Shark

I worry, sometimes, that my best work is behind me. This is a bizarre concern, given that I’m thirty-three, but this morning I think I figured out what’s behind it.

As much as I know intellectually that the work is the important thing, I want to be recognized for what I do. Growing up, I was good at a lot of things I did — though it’s perhaps fairer to say that I didn’t do much that I wasn’t good at. As such, I was tagged with the “talented” label early on. I was expected to do well, which just reinforced my desire to do only those things I was good at.

The thing was, I was a medium-sized fish in small pond, as I found out when I went to college. At Rice I met a lot of talented folks, which did a lot to disabuse me of the notion that I could be good at anything I wanted to. I also made some poor choices about how to spend my time, which did even more to bring me down to earth. After college I went to work at a company that also had a lot of talented folks. I think you can guess the result that had.

As time went on, though, I found another small pond to be a medium-sized fish in: podcasting. Back in 2005, there were hardly any gaming podcasts. It was something that dovetailed nicely with my talents, so it’s no surprise that as I got into it, I got recognized for my work. Over time, the podcasting pond got bigger. As it did, I became less relevant and less exceptional. Eventually I left the pond altogether and moved on to another one (or, really, several).

And that, I think is why I keep thinking my best work is behind me. I keep making a splash in one pond, getting recognition for it, watching others overtake me, and then moving to another. I can see a similar thing happening at work, as other people are paving the trails I’ve blazed and I’m struggling to deal with a different set of problems than I did two years ago. It’s the nature of being a generalist, a synthesizer, and a troubleshooter. I’m either on top of my game or learning the rules of a new one.

I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


Fitness: Pushups (9-11-8-8-12)
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 496 words, 404 seven-day average, 276 average, 41916 total, 1584 to go for the week; 19-day streak


I had what I can only assume was a brilliant idea for a blog post during my lunchtime run today. I’ll have to assume that because I’ve completely forgotten what it was.

I think it had something to do with being in the groove, because that’s where I am with a lot of things right now. I rode out the most recent period of stressful “oh no, the sky is falling, what do we do” meetings and conversations, and now we’re in the “we know what to do, let’s execute” phase of the cycle, which I find much more manageable. Realizing that those events really are part of a cycle helps me get through them, so next time I hope I’m smart enough to remember that at the beginning of the unpleasant part.

I’m also in a groove with writing. The blog has been rolling along, and the novel is gaining steam. I stumbled a bit with my “two hundred and fifty words a day” goal around the beginning of July, but today marks thirteen straight days of putting down words.

A lot of my other projects have similar momentum, and I remembering how key those long streaks are. Back in the first few months of year, I was good about paying attention to them and not breaking them. (I’m sure you can find blog posts to a effect with no great difficulty.) Every so often I remember how great the groove is and what I can do to stay in it. Right now is one of those times, so I’m going to do everything I can to make it last as long as possible.

Fitness: Ran 3.5 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 383 words, 329 seven-day average, 266 average, 31369 total, 1131 to go for the week; 13 straight days of writing


Halfway Through

It’s hard for me to believe the year is halfway gone. But whenever I ask, “How did it get to be July already?” I’m stuck with one answer: One day at a time. That’s the same way I’ll get to January 1.

Taking a quick look around:

  • I’m 23K words into a novel I hadn’t even started four months ago.
  • I’m about to run a 15K race, after recovering from a knee injury last November.
  • Since the beginning of the year, I’ve struggled with my role at work and through those struggles become better at what I need to do.
  • In March, A Penny For My Thoughts was published in Italian.
  • Eleven years ago tomorrow, Gwen and I got married. We’re both busy, but in the last few months we’ve really committed to find more ways to spend time together. And they’ve been working.
  • And tonight I’m performing with the Ventura Improv Company.

I go through ups and down, like anyone, but it’s hard to deny that last six months has improved pretty much every area of my life.


Fitness: Rest day
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 305 words, 255 average, 213 seven-day average, 23701 total

Fear is the Mind-Killer

Jeff Tidball asks:

From the outside, you don’t appear to be scared — of creative failure, that people won’t like you, that things won’t turn out well, and of all the other things that the rest of us are secretly terrified of. Are you genuinely fearless, or do you hide it better than most?

I’m certainly not fearless. I do perhaps have a less well-developed sense of fear than some people, particularly in certain areas — like the ones Jeff points out. Thinking about this question does make me wonder if I do hide it better than most, and it’s just that I also hide it from myself.

I’ve been thinking a bit more about fear since Becky asked me about it a few weeks ago, especially after a conversation we had over dinner two weeks back. One thing that has come into clearer focus is that — with a few exceptions — even when I feel fear, I don’t let it figure into my decision-making. And I think that’s where Jeff’s perception of me as fearless comes from.

The way I tend to do that is by not getting ahead of myself. Fear is about the possible future, not about the actual present. When I can get myself to stop focusing on the Then and immerse myself in the Now, fear isn’t a factor in my choices. When I’m in a improv scene, I’m not worried about the possibility it might go badly; I’m concentrating on doing the scene. The same goes for writing, for work, for just about everything that I do. When I emphasize the doing, the fear about what might result loses its control over me.

Those exceptions that I mentioned are the killers, of course. I do tend to let fear affect decisions I make about relationships, both personal ones and close professional ones. I worked myself into a near panic getting ready for several of our team retrospectives in February and March because I was worried not only that they wouldn’t go well but that they would hurt the nascent relationships I had with several of my teammates. The notion of not being able to “unring the bell” as Becky put it, of doing or saying something that will permanently damage a relationship, definitely influences what I do and say to certain people about certain things. Which frustrates me, of course, because I should be able to apply the same techniques that I do in other situations. And every time I have, things have gone well, so you’d think I’d learn.

I don’t actually want to be fearless, though. Fear is a sign that there’s something that you care about, something that you want to protect. If you’re afraid, the fear is trying to tell you something, and if you’re not listening at all, you’re missing out on information you really want to have. And if I’m not afraid of anything, it means that I don’t really care. That possibility scares me the most.

Fear can and should be used productively. If we didn’t have it, we’d be missing a useful tool in our belts.


Fitness: Biked 12 miles
Writing: 269 words, 270 average

Strongly Schematic

Will Hindmarch asks:

Whatever you’re doing, you seem to be able to relate it to something else you’ve done or read about, quickly and with confidence, and use that like a stepping stone to get on top of new experiences. How do you do that? How did you learn to draw connections between things as you do? Does it come naturally or did you train for it?

The answer is simple and unsatisfying. How do I do that? I have no idea. Will is onto something here; I think the way I incorporate new phenomena into my existing constellation of experiences is one of the things that makes me me. I am absolutely a synthetic thinker. I’m made aware of this almost every day because I work in a profession dominated by analytic thinkers. Breaking things into their component parts comes very naturally to many of my co-workers. I’m much better at putting pieces together into new wholes. Why? I don’t really know.

I think I just operate on this wavelength by default. I can’t point to anything in particular that has helped me train this skill. And I have come to realize that it comes a lot more easily to me than it does to others. Still, we all do this to some extent or another. The relevant psychological term is schema. Ideas are always easier to learn when we can relate them to something we already know. That’s the point of using analogies and metaphors in explanations. “High concept” pitches illustrate the point: “Speed is Die Hard on a bus.”

For me, of course, it’s hard to see how we could learn anything without connecting it to an idea we already have. I suppose, then, that what I’m particularly good at is finding those connections when they aren’t obvious. And if I knew why, I’d understand myself a lot better.


Fitness: 30 minute workout
Writing: 404 words, 272 average