Theresa O’Connor

Motivation, Take N

Will’s latest musings and various other happenings of the last few days got me thinking about motivation, my previous attempts at figuring it out, and my current melancholy. Here’s what I’ve come up with.


While some of this comes off as somewhat disparaging toward my employer, you should keep in mind that I think Bomis rules and all that.

Now, on with the ranting and poor planning skills…

Contributing Factors

I’ve been pretty unmotivated at work for a while now. This isn’t an especially happy thing for me to realize considering that I’ve only been at Bomis for two months. But I knew what I was getting into; I worked here last summer too, and the experience isn’t appreciably different. Some of the work is somewhat interesting, a lot of it is fairly rote and boring, and most all of it is in Perl, a language I’ve come to detest over the past two years or so.

It’s funny, I used to like Perl. I have trouble remembering why now. A lot of what I do at work involves dealing with other peoples’ Perl. Someone once said that Perl is a language you write but don’t read. This is so true.

Perl encourages and embraces terrible programming practices. With just one person, this isn’t much of an issue, because you tend to evolve your own idiosyncratic Perl style that is quite readable to you. But this is precisely the problem; everyone else develops their own idiosyncratic Perl too, and it’s all mutually gibberish. In Perl, there’s more than one way to do things, as they say, but nearly all of these ways suck.

It helps to have a really interesting project when dealing with other peoples’ Perl, but in this case I can’t even turn to the more abstract and interesting parts of the work, because there aren’t any. We’re building a fairly straightforward web site, in a fairly conventional way, and the result will be an unmaintainable nightmare. The catch is, it will be far more maintainable than most of the rest of the Bomis sites.

Blargh. So I’ve been extremely unmotivated and apathetic toward work, which definitely shows in my (lack of) productivity. This sucks. I like Bomis, and I feel bad that I haven’t been pouring in lots of really productive hours, but I’ve generally been unable to remove myself from this funk.

Woah. I just complained about work a whole bunch, which is pretty unfair. I’m much more generally melancholy about life lately, it’s not just that I’m bored at work. And work is often fun and stuff.

This weekend didn’t help (but as I might get to later, it probably helped immeasurably). I had a fantastic time. I spent an entire weekend with people who proceeded to do incredible things that they’re very, very good at doing. The emotional high that was this weekend turned to the emotional low of today, my first day back at work.

When I’m not at work, I’m typically in my apartment wasting time. I do this by continually reloading the web pages that I check daily, by repeatedly hitting g (my refresh/reload key) to check for new email and/or Usenet news, and by blindly staring at my laptop screen, hoping to think of something else to do to pass the time. I haven’t been cooking much, maybe twice a week, and when I do I always cook pasta. After actually cooking, I don’t motivate myself to do dishes until the next time I work up the motivation to cook again. When I don’t cook, I either order pizza or walk to one of the not-very-good but unfortunately not-very-cheap-either restaurants near my apartment. Blargh. I’m not exactly the paragon of healthy eating.

Terry and I had a varied conversation at work today about all sorts of things while waiting for Windows on his machine to de-b0rk. We talked about heros in fiction, so I talked on and on about the virtues of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, The Diamond Age, and Miyazaki’s various works. The protagonists in these stories are all close approximations of what I consider to be perfect people. Nirgal and perhaps Nadia from the Mars Trilogy also approximate this, though to a somewhat lesser degree. (Those two come to mind because I’ve just recently finished reading the trilogy.)

The reason that previous paragraph fits into this whole tirade is that my life is currently quite unlike the sort of life I consider to be wicked cool, so I suspect that conversation played a part in the combination of factors that brought on my mood tonight.

The Plan

I’ve decided that if I’m going to have happier, more productive days at work and elsewhere, I need to first get ahold of my free time, and really improve things there. Since moving to San Diego, I’ve roughly been following a one-thing-at-a-time policy to introducing changes in my life, but I think is has to some degree back-fired. I haven’t been changing or growing enough. So here’s the three-pronged plan for a happier, healthier Ted:

Food & Well-Being

I really need to eat better. I need to learn how to eat better. I need to learn how to prepare interesting, varied, and healthy meals. This is an entire area of life that I’m essentially clueless about. I think this is the first prong that I should really attack with vigor, because it’s so very much a foundation for the other stuff.

Physical Health & Well-Being

I need to lead a healthier lifestyle. Granted, I arguably get much more exercise than the average American, what with my cycling to work everyday and all, but that doesn’t remotely mean that I’m leading a well-rounded life geared toward optimal physical health.

On this note, I’ve finalized the decision on something I’ve been considering doing all summer: I’m going to start studying Tai Chi. This will have at least two very positive effects on my health:

One, I’ll have an excuse to force myself to get up at some kind of reasonable time on the weekend. My weekends have basically consisted of sleeping until the early afternoon, and then staying up until N doing nothing. I’d get so much more out of my weekends if I got up early in the morning with a destination to reach and goals to accomplish. And then, after the day’s lesson, I’d still have the rest of the day to go to the beach, swim, ride around on my bike, and all sorts of other happy things. (Now, I suppose I should point out that these points aren’t meant to be taken in order; point one is more of an incidental good point than the more fundamental point two. But point one does help.)

Two, Tai Chi is wicked good for you. Now, the more Oist audience might be thinking yeah, whatever, it’s all bullshit inscrutable meaningless Asian mysticism. Whatever. Just because Rand didn’t extol its virtues and/or just because it isn’t good traditional Oist stuff like, I don’t know, working in a quarry or becoming a pirate, that doesn’t mean it lacks efficacy. There are all sorts of happy health benefits. Biking & Tai Chi should happily complement each other as ways to keep in shape, focused, and happy.

It’s frankly kind of dumb for me to not study Tai Chi. There’s right here in San Diego the best, offering free lessons many times a week. I’d be silly to pass this opportunity up.

Mental Health & Well-Being

I’ve been pretty frustrated lately over my lack of meaningful accomplishments. I need to do something challenging, interesting, and meaningful. I need to hack up something really cool.

Now, for a long time I’ve been expecting that when I got out of school I’d spend my time hacking on cool AI stuff, you know, do my part to bring the evil killer robots to power and all that. But again and again this past year I’ve been struck with the inadequacy of our programming languages and platforms for the kind of cool stuff I’d like to eventually do.

So I’m thinking that I should set out as my not-at-work intellectual activity the creation of some variety of programming language & platform that meets my needs. This is a really daunting task, but it’s really interesting and will enable all sorts of other interesting projects later down the line. I’m hoping to have a little nice system that I can install wherever I need to get stuff done. Right. And I’m not going to drag this out into vaporware land like Tunes.

Right, so—

…that’s the plan. Like I finished last time, let’s see if I can pull this one off.