You can push yourself harder and faster toward your goals, and you can deprive yourself a break in an unrealistic attempt to reach your dreams as quickly as possible, but ultimately you find yourself burnt out, lost and unmotivated. Such has been the case, as of late. Morning after morning (I call them "mournings") has been spent waking up staring at the wall trying to figure out if the direction I am headed will ever hold any meaning, whatsoever, to anyone but myself. Sometimes all it takes is a single thought, or memory of someone you love. Sometimes remembering those that have influenced you in some profound way is the key to remembering who you are and why. Each member of my family has made contributions to shaping who I am, but I'm going to talk about two in particular right now.
What do you do for the kid that doesn't want to play football in the street with all of the other kids on the block? How do you encourage your son to be social, go to high school football games and dances when all he wants to do is close his bedroom door and plan his future? How do you make your D student son do his homework when all he is willing to work on is a laser tripwire alarm project for his bedroom window?
Growing up, I must have been a serious cause for worry for both of my parents. School was nothing but a distraction from what was really important to me. Somehow, I think they both figured that out, but instead of fighting it too much, they found a way to embrace it. That, especially, was the case with my Dad.
I spent every weekend with him. When I was little, he showed me how to do everything he thought I could handle. As I got older, each weekend was jam-packed more and more with computer and electronics projects. He taught me about how electricity works, and how to use different components to build my own integrated circuits. We experimented with infrared triggers and sensors. He helped me build a computer-controlled relay to switch household appliances on and off via the printer port on my monochrome IBM (which he gave my sister and I), and taught me how to write software to control it using the BasicA language (which was something that no one was really doing at that time). He introduced me to Eliza, and was responsible for my first chatbot experience when I was 8.
I never went to college. Thanks to my Dad, I didn't need to. I was too busy working as a software engineer to go to school. Simply put, without him teaching me everything he did, I would not have had that as a career. I wouldn't have built The Asylum, and Willow would never have existed. My dad is probably the most innovative guy I have ever met. He can take a seemingly impossible goal, and find a way to make it work. Growing up with that, I learned that anything can be done, no matter how obscure, or how many obstacles are in the way. There is always a way.
Because he pointed me in a direction I never would have found on my own, I'm able to pursue the things that I love instead of just dream about them. For that, I owe him my dreams.
Take a look at this:
My brother made this as the beginning of a treasure hunt for me back in 1983. It hangs on my wall, in plain view, as a reminder of where I came from and where I need to go. I was no older than 6 at the time. He was around 12 years old, but to me, he might as well have been 40. Whereas there was never a shortage of creativity flowing through any member of my family, my brother has proven to be the single most creative person I have ever met, time after time. It's one thing to be able to come up with a long list of ideas given a particular topic, but to be able to rattle them off without notice, each idea being something that no one else has ever come up with, and the list being longer than your arm every single time is a gift that is not only unique and amazing, but is something that I have always respected him for.
After creating countless treasure hunts for each other over the course of our childhood, they continued to get more and more elaborate. Looking back at the 6 year age gap between the two of us, I'm sure he was being incredibally encouraging and respectful to the fact that my hunts for him didn't hold a candle to his hunts for me, but that is even more of a reason to recognize the fact that he did so much more for me than just expose me to all of his amazing ideas and dreams. He taught me how to dream on my own. He taught me how to temporarily put aside the real world and not ask "how" something could possibly be done. He taught me that first focusing on the dream, itself, was the first step in creating something amazing. Everything else, including logic, would happen after that.
After all of the hunts, the stories, the dreams, the business together, the blood, sweat and tears (mainly from the sun reflecting off of giant sheets of paper (inside joke)), I can honestly say that my brother is responsible for molding the side of me that is able to dream huge without a fear of what the world will throw at it. He taught me how to have my own ideas, ideas that others may find too intimidating to entertain, and then realize that they can be so much more than just ideas if I believe in them. Without growing up with him, The Asylum would never have been created.
He taught me how to imagine. For that, I also owe him my dreams.
My kids are still very young, but I imagine watching them use all of the things that I have tried to teach them will be an amazing experience. It should be a very similar experience to what my dad and brother feel right now toward me. Between the two of them, I feel like I have been given something very special. Perhaps my contribution to the stack is my undying need to not waste it.
"What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) U.S. poet, essayist and lecturer.
"If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves."
- Thomas A. Edison (1847-1931) U.S. inventor, scientist and businessman
"With great power comes great responsibility."
- Benjamin Parker, Spiderman's poppa
Whichever quote you prefer, there is no doubting that any shot I have at reaching my dreams is, in large part, possible because of these two amazing people in my life.
Thank you, to the both of you.
I won't be staring at the wall, anymore.