If a 2-day workshop on Tidy First? & software design as an exercise in human relationships sounds interesting, see the end of this post for details.

“I’m envious of your success.”

”I am aware.”

This is me, talking with one of my friends in tech who has “made it”, confessing that I envied their success. Fortunately, because I have good friends, they didn’t take on any of my emotion. Envy was my feeling, for which they had no responsibility.

I felt awkward, but that’s okay. It’s a familiar feeling for me. And sometimes I can use awkward as fuel for personal growth.

Come along as envy teaches me a lesson.

Karla McLaren’s The Language of Emotions is a mainstay of my coaching practice. I read it a decade ago & found it helpful in dealing with “negative” emotions. The book combines 2 messages:

  • Each emotion brings a message. Learning the “code book” of emotions helps you turn the experience of the emotion into a lesson, spending no more time than necessary feeling bad.

  • Emotions cause problems when we either suppress them or put them on other people. Learn to decode the message each emotion brings to you.

I didn’t read the whole book back then, just enough to get the main point & begin applying it. It’s a long read & there’s a lot there. Still, I found what I’d read helpful. I introduced the model of “emotions as messages” to any number of geeky students struggling as they experienced anger or fear or anxiety.

My recent experience with naked envy motivated me to read the rest of the book (synopsis to come). I’m glad I did. (I’m not sure why I wasn’t ready earlier, but there you go—so soon old, so late smart as my Pappy often said.)

When I feel envious, the book says, I am experiencing fear of loss of social standing. What does “loss of social standing” mean for me personally?

Folks assume that I must be financially independent by now. I’m not. To get free of my marriage I gave up almost all of my financial assets & also accepted a substantial ongoing financial obligation in terms of alimony. Far from being financially secure, it’s like I’m in a kayak upstream of a thundering waterfall. If I stop paddling, over I go.

Five years ago I was on the precipice, paddling as hard as I could & teetering on the brink. The last dollar had been garnished from my account & I was waiting for a check to make it through the month.

I made it (with lots of help). Now I’m upstream & around a bend. Yes, the waterfall is still there. I can hear it. Feel the mist. But I have time to think about how best to paddle. In the meantime, with the help of good friends, I’m learning how to enjoy the money I have (post for another day).

So, what happens if I stop paddling? I have to move out of my pleasant San Francisco apartment. Move somewhere cheaper. I have to stop traveling comfortably to nice places. I have to sell my guitar collection. I have to eat modestly.

Look, I know none of this is a great tragedy. My worst case scenario is pretty damn good, even by US standards. But it is still a loss, a forced change, a giving up of things I value & enjoy. My relationship with my circle of friends would change.

And there it is—loss of social standing. I fear it & for good reason. It’s a not-unreasonable scenario for my life.

I got the message—I fear losing my social standing—wrapped in an unpleasant green envelope—envy. Now what?

Well, I can’t just earn enough to put me far enough upstream that I can ignore the waterfall. Not instantly, anyway. But I can do something I’ve been putting off—edit Tidy First?.

I’d forgotten how much I hate editing (another post for another day). But editing the book puts me one step closer to a royalty revenue stream, which pushes me a bit further upstream. Finishing the book unlocks additional revenue—speaking fees & the Empirical Software Design workshop I mentioned. Finishing the book unblocks the next book in the series.

And so I’ve gotten to work. I have fantastic feedback from my technical reviewers. I’ve checked in the first changes to the book as a result.

Here’s the promised workshop material. The legend Chelsea Troy & I have teamed up to create an in-person, 2-day workshop for teams wanting the benefits of better design. Lots of hands-on. Lots of theory. Lots of imagining how good your software could be & what you will do to get it there.

We are looking for a few teams to help us beta test the workshop. For this round of feedback we need to deliver the workshop in-person for a team of 10-20 engineers. If your organization wants stronger relationships & smoother delivery, please contact me.

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