Personal growth is like git

Nerd talk ahead, be warned!

Lots of people in my life know that I am an advocate of doing personal growth work, like what you find in the Landmark Forum. It often feels like people in the tech community regard this type of work as unimportant. “I need to spend time leveling-up on my ruby skills rather than on working on my fears and blockages.” But, I suppose you would hear a version of this statement regardless of what type of community you frequent in work. “I need to spend more time understanding investment structures!” Or, “I need to spend more time reading sales and marketing books to achieve what I want to in my career.”

I don’t know as much about those communities, though I probably know more than many developers, having sold two companies as a majority owner, while still continuing to do programming and software development as a coder. I like to think I occupy a unique place. And, I’d like to think that personal growth work was what got me there. I used techniques and “personal mind control” directly acquired from the communication courses offered from Landmark to deal with the stresses of selling my first company. I would never have completed the sale of Box Populi had I not had those techniques and the community of people around me.

One example: I remember the great coaching a friend gave me when I was very upset and negative towards one of the buyers. He said: “I hear clearly that he is a jerk.” He then calmly asked me to consider who this person was for me. This question forced me to get that I was seeing him that way, not that he necessarily was that way. I had only been seeing him as a jerk, and the space to consider him as someone else, a traveler or a risk taker, other things that I knew him to be and that I respected, in that moment at least, allowed me to get on with the negotiations and complete the sale. There were many instances of this type of thinking which could have killed that deal had I not had a community to steer me in a different direction.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting a luminary in the Ruby world, Bradley Taylor from Rails Machine. He told me about a talk he did, and I believe the discussion was called “Radical Transformation for Geeks.” He mentioned how the same type of “hacking” (the non-pejorative version, meaning “finding a novel and new use of” rather than “cracking”) that software developers do in their day jobs could be a component we bring to our lives all the time, necessary to build the new world we want. The same types of thinking that allow us to build completely new industries can be used to build new types of governments, communities and relationship structures. Bradley is doing this already, and I think he would love to see the incredible technical people he works with both inside and outside his company doing that outside of their comfort zones and careers. I like that vision a lot.

As I began working this morning I started on a new feature, one which I am worried about. It is late in the development cycle of this project to be attempting this feature. I don’t know the risks in attempting it. I hesitated to start it, worrying that I would break existing things, and get lost and frustrated. Then, I paused and came up with a new and novel way, at least for me, of making this. I don’t always take this route, especially when working projects where I am the sole developer, but I liked Scott Chacon’s blog on how they deploy at GitHub, and it involves everyone creating new branches for each new feature. Branches are cheap in git, which is a relatively new thing in version control systems.

I made a branch for this new feature. The funny thing is, it removed a lot of stress to branch off. The silly thing is that this actually adds slightly more work, and really does not help me to build the feature, other than perhaps organizationally. It is purely psychological. This is the magic of git. It allows us to hack our brains. I think many programmers would agree that git has allowed us to develop with new freedom, in ways that Ruby on Rails also has. It is a freedom you cannot really describe to someone who has never done it before, or who lives in a world of SVN or J2EE.

And, this is the same thing you get from hacking your brain doing transformational work, like the Landmark Forum. Or a meditation practice. Or, daily practices like forgiveness of others, whether you want to do it that day or not. You hack the natural processes of your brain and get to live a life by design rather than the typical one of reaction and frustration. Creating software with freedom and creating your life with freedom are both wonderful places to be.