My job is increasingly complex. I’m leading a team of 8 people and we have a bunch of different plates spinning all the time. There are regular and frequent shifts in priority, and this means we sometimes have less capacity than we would like to get everything done that we want to do.
On Friday, a project was approved which means we can move towards a goal that I’ve had for almost two and a half years. But some other situations mean that we’ll have to sacrifice some other goals. Not completely–we’ll still be doing the work we have been–but we’ll need to go a bit slower so we can balance everything.
While thinking through how I can make this all work practically (what do we do less of? how do we deliver what we need to deliver, and what’s the highest priority work?), I found comfort in the awesomeness of my team. They’re so great that I know we can make this work.
Complexity is stressful, but as I focused on the optimistic thoughts of, “We can do this!” I found that I was a lot less stressed. And very quickly, what had at first seemed to be a complex challenge soon seemed more simple and achievable.
Per my last blog post, I also gave it all to God and asked what part of this complexity is truly mine to manage and what can I lay down. I don’t have a really clear answer on that, but I think recognizing my team’s strength, helping them to also see how great they are, and building their confidence in us working together to do what we need to do… that’s my priority.
My favorite thing about Spider-Man is that he never gives up. Spider-Man gets knocked down and outright fails more than any other superhero I read, but he continually gets back up and does his best.
Over the last year or so, his go-to line of inspiration has been changing, and it’s really resonating with me. You all probably know the story: when he was a boy, his uncle Ben told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
But these days, Spider-Man is regularly taking on challenges that far exceed his power. In the first 2019 comic of the new Spider-Man, Miles’s mom is reading a newspaper article about the concentration camps at our southern border in the USA. Sure, Spider-Man has a lot of power, but what can he do about that?
As the challenges continue to exceed Spider-Man’s power, his inspiration hasn’t weakened. Instead, he acknowledges that his responsibility is greater than his power.
Part 2 — A Sense of Responsibility Rooted in Emotional Trauma
I have been seeing a counselor for a few months to work through something completely (or mostly) unrelated to responsibility. But in our last session, we broached the subject and it touched a nerve, which told me that I needed to work through some things.
That comic with Miles’s mom was stuck in my head during that session, and I was sat there thinking, “I’m not Spider-Man. I don’t have any power. What can I possibly do? Why do I feel responsible for all of this?!”
And the “all of this” in that sentence is a lot. When I was a kid, I tried to defend other kids being bullied (and as a result, I got beat up a lot). I helped people out of jams. I have gotten people jobs, gotten people money, gotten people food. I want people to feel healthy, secure, taken care of… and I feel a sense of responsibility for all of this. Like I have to do it, and if I don’t, I’m failing. What’s more, if it doesn’t work out (if the person doesn’t get the job, or if they’re struggling in some way, or if people aren’t getting healthcare, or kids are in concentration camps, or our representatives are failing to present solutions to gun violence…), then it’s because I’m not doing enough. For every bad thing where I can perceive something that I might be able to do to help, I feel like a failure if I don’t do everything.
Being around people reminds me constantly of things I could be doing to help them or the world at large. And it reminds me that I’m constantly failing.
Part 3 — I Do Not Own My Responsibilities, God Does
That’s what we were actually talking about in counseling: spending time around people. The phrase, “Being around people causes me pain” is true for me. It drains me. I have to recover from being around other people.
And part of the reason for this is the weight of responsibility I feel. I don’t just feel responsible for the moment—it’s not just about making them like me, or making sure I don’t say the wrong things, or making sure they’re having a good time. Those three things seem to weigh on a lot of people, but they’re not that big a deal to me.
In both work and my personal life, I’m typically focused on somewhere 2-5 years from now. The responsibility I’m often feeling is, “This person is really struggling with personal finances. How can I help them without being overbearing in a way that will get them into a better position 5-10 years from now?” Or, “This person is struggling with anxiety. I need to make sure I’m thinking through that from their perspective. What can I say and do to help them on their journey to better mental health? What should I avoid saying and doing?”
When I write it out, it reads as so minor to me, but it’s something that causes me some pain regardless. And I think feeling responsible for the next several years of someone’s life for everyone I come into contact with is the issue. Jesus, how arrogant is that? It’s one of those things that, until you say or write it out, you don’t quite realize what’s going on inside.
At any rate, I prayed about it the following Sunday and God effectively said, “You’re not responsible for these things. I am. And when I ask you to engage with that responsibility, I will give you sufficient power. I don’t ask you to engage with any responsibility without giving you what you need.”
I don’t even “take on” the responsibility. It’s not mine. I’m just doing some work with Him.
I’m ashamed that I said, “I have no power.” I do. I have a lot of power insofar as I’m white and male and privileged, I’m middle-class-wealthy, I own property, and I’m Christian (in an area where that helps get you “in” sometimes). But more importantly, God is with me, and He will not give me anything to do that I can’t handle.
Part 4 — Using The Power I Have
Another thing this forced me to confront is that, yes, an out-sized sense of responsibility causes emotional pain, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all felt like Spider-Man? Can I really say that, just because I’m not a superhero who can literally go to Texas and tear down the buildings and fences and provide food and water and medicine to people, then I should do nothing?
God gives me the power I need to engage with the responsibilities to which He invites me. What I’ve been failing to do is pray about those things for which I feel responsible so that He can advise me on what I should be doing. What actions can I take that will be effective without causing self-harm? I think that’s what He wants for me, but I haven’t been seeking Him on it.
It’s not bad to want to help people. But letting that desire lead us into a place of emotional and mental pain isn’t what God wants for us. When our positive desires lead us into a negative state, that’s a twisting of God’s plan, and we have to be wary of it.
I don’t know yet if this realization coupled with praying more frequently will reduce the pain I experience just by being around people. It’s particularly tricky when it comes to work events because that’s where I feel it most acutely (since my job is literally developing strategy for the next several years and putting things into place to make sure we achieve our goals), and I have a work week in London coming up very soon.
But I’ll do the best I can. That’s my responsibility.
So, Attic Work pt. 3 took 6 hours. It also took 3 months for me to find the time to do pt. 3 after pt 2.
I did call the roofing company back in April, but the fellow I spoke with sounded a bit perplexed about what I wanted him to do. He wasn’t confused because it was too difficult, but rather because it’s so easy that he didn’t know why I would pay him to do it.
That prompted me to watch some YouTube videos and decide to do the work myself. I bought the tools I needed… and 2+ months passed because I was busy with travel and family things. Or, on the rare Saturday when I was available, it was raining.
Anyways, I was able to do the remaining work yesterday. This was comprised of:
Crimping duct connectors to fit them into the insulated 4″ ducts I had bought.
Getting everything up into the attic (requisite tools, foil tape, ducts, etc.).
Crawling back to the tight spaces where the fans are.
Taping and clamping the ducts to the fans.
Driving two nails through the roof (from the attic) to mark where I wanted to install the ducts.
Repairing the air return (which had a huge gap in it due to damage I had caused months ago from crawling over it).
Repairing the vent pipe from the hot water heater (which had a huge gap in it due to something a previous contractor had done).
Climbing onto the roof and schlepping all the tools up there.
Cutting back some shingles and then drilling two 4″ holes in the roof where the nails were (a few feet apart).
Reaching down into the attic through what turned out to be a super hot hole in the wood to grab the duct and pull it up.
Sealing the roof caps with tri-polymer caulk and doing the same to the shingles.
I thought it’d take around 2 hours. It took 6 and, by the time I got to the roof work, the roof was so hot that it melted the soles off my shoes.
It’s also worth remembering that a chunk of that 6 hours was driving to get things I was missing. For instance, I had bought 6″ duct connectors instead of 4″. And 6″ roof caps when I needed 4″! I don’t know what I was thinking, because the exhaust fans were clearly 4″ and I had 4″ ducts. And I realized all of these things in stages: first to Ace immediately for the connectors, then about 4 hours later to Matthew Epperson’s to borrow a drill with a 4″ hole saw (because the mandril I bought for the hole saw I also bought for this project won’t fit in my stupid drill). And then I cut back the shingles and drilled the first hole, only to realize that I had 6″ roof caps instead of 4″! So I had to go to Home Depot about 5 hours into the project to exchange those. The best laid plans… ah well.
Anyways, the roofer wasn’t wrong. The part of the work that I would have paid him to do took maybe 15-20 minutes. It would have been less with 2 people (one to pass the duct up through the hole in the roof instead of trying to reach down through the 4″ burning hot hole in the wood to feel around and find a duct).
It may rain tomorrow, so we’ll find out then if I did a good enough job sealing everything. If I didn’t, we’ll have a leak in either Simon’s bedroom or the master bedroom, and I’m not going to bother and try to fix it myself. That was miserable yesterday. I’m just going to call the roofing company to come and patch it.
All of this work up in the attic required wearing a respirator mask while working in the heat, and at one point (after the first two hours of non-stop work), I had to come down, sit on the kitchen floor, and just catch my breath. I was soaked through as if I’d been sitting in a bathtub fully-clothed. Summer is not an ideal time for this, but it is what it is.
Anyways, barring a roof leak, the work is done! I also wrapped some insulation around the repaired air return and I’m hoping that this combined with repairing the gap will have a small but noticeable impact in our electricity bill.
I have finished the hardest part of the attic work. I laid enough floor (2×8 OSB, cut to fit around cross-beams while kneeling in our shallow attic) to get to where the bathroom exhaust fans are. After some fruitless digging through a foot or two of insulation, I crawled out and texted April asking her to turn the fans on.
And then I crawled back in. To reach the master bathroom, it’s tighter than the crawlspace under our house. Once I’m in there, I can’t turn around, I just have to wiggle backward to get out. It’s like spelunking, but infinitely less terrifying. Except that there are electrical wires and I couldn’t turn off the electricity because I needed the damned fan to be on so I could find it.
Once it was on, I realized that I was only about 2.5 feet away from it. The rush of excitement when I cleared enough insulation for the exhaust vent to start blowing insulation was amazing.
Finding the hallway bathroom one was a bit easier–I could at least kneel over there. And it already had a duct, albeit one that is far too short and just goes into the attic. And it was covered in insulation.
But now I’ve found both, so the next steps are pretty easy:
Call the roofing company to schedule a time when they can install the vent hoods. (I could do the work myself, but by paying them to install and seal, it maintains my warranty and they’ll have to handle any leaks that arise.)
On the morning they’re due to arrive, I’ll go back up into the attic with the ducts (which I need to buy) and trace their circumference on the decking where I want them to connect to the hoods.
Drill 8 holes on the circumference line through the decking. For each duct, I’ll leave a drill bit stuck through the decking so it pushes the shingles up and is easy to find from the top side.
The roofer will pull the shingles back and I’ll cut through the roof from above with a jigsaw.
Once the roofer is done installing the vent hoods, I’ll get back into the attic, attach the ducts to the hoods, and tape them.
I also need to get some insulation and seal up a section of our return vent ductwork (heating/cooling).
But all of this will have to wait a month. I leave for the Atlassian Summit conference in Las Vegas tomorrow. I’ll get back on Friday, and then four days later we’re going to Canada to visit Eric and Stephanie.
So close to done. It’ll feel really good to have this project closed out.
Yesterday morning, I worked in the attic for a couple of hours shifting insulation and putting in a 2′ wide floor. I got about half done.
Then, we went to brunch with Kate, a friend of April’s from college, and her SO Kevin.
I wore Simon for the last half hour of that, then we went home for a break and a change before heading to Wonders of Wildlife where we spent over 3 hours wandering through the aquarium (which was pretty great, and I’ll write a review about it later) and Wildlife Galleries (lots and lots of taxidermied animals, which wasn’t thrilling).
And eventually, back home to watch some TV and finish a movie on the couch.
Suffice it to say that my back and hips were killing me this morning. Simon’s not super heavy–probably around 15 lbs. now–but getting out of bed was a struggle and I was really stiff and sore.
Not too many years ago, I would have grabbed a handful of ibuprofen and washed them down with coffee. But instead, I grabbed my yoga mat and did 20 minutes of stretching.
It always amazes me how much better I feel after some yoga. I know in advance that it’s going to help, but that doesn’t spur me to do it regularly. Instead, I turn to it when I’m hurting, and after 20-60 minutes, I feel great. Much better than I would have after 5-6 pills.
Medicine isn’t always a drug. Sometimes it’s stretching, and sometimes it’s talking with someone, or it could be going for a walk in nature, or eating a healthy meal. I’m glad that I have added the tool of yoga to my wellness toolbox so I don’t have to rely on pills quite as much.
In many respects, I don’t feel like my life has changed tremendously since having a son. I had been preparing to have a kid for years and was very ready.
There have been some minor material changes. Less time to play video games. I don’t watch TV nearly as much. I need to be a bit more flexible with my time and willing to drop whatever I’m doing to take care of him. But it’s not a burden because I knew in advance that it was coming.
A lot of new parents go through a period of mourning and grieve their loss of freedom, but I mourned in advance.
Also, April is awesome, and I continue to marvel at how much of a difference having a great partner makes.
I continue to be thankful in all situations. We are blessed beyond measure.
There has been one significant change in me that was completely unexpected.
I used to hate “working with my hands.” I didn’t mind physical labor, but I felt like I was terrible at skilled physical labor, and I knew almost nothing about anything that needed to be done. So any work on the house was daunting to me. And because of this, I had almost no tools, which meant I never had the right tool for the job and that made any kind of work even harder.
Everything we did last summer wasn’t terrible but felt a bit like a sacrifice. It was worth doing, but not how I would have liked to spend my time. Now I kind of like this work. It really surprises me.
My father-in-law helped me build some bunk beds, and I am putting down flooring in our attic to make it easier to install ducts and bathroom exhaust vents. When I squeezed through the crawlspace last summer, it felt like a huge ordeal at first. Now, I’m working in the attic and it’s ho-hum no big deal.
Since we bought this house, I’ve been happy to invest in it. I don’t mind spending the money or hiring people to do things because this is our forever-home. We’re going to live here for as long as we can, which means we’ll get to enjoy all of the improvements to the house. But I haven’t wanted to do the work myself, even to the extent of hanging shelves, because I considered myself bad at it.
I’m learning that I’m not bad, that I can learn to be better, and that my family inspires me to invest the effort, not just the money. I’m happy to work on the house myself because it helps me become more familiar with it. And by knowing the house better, I feel like I can serve my family better.
It was a completely unconscious shift for me. But I was reflecting on my lack of dread when I crawled out of the attic for the first time and started thinking about everything that I needed to do. I needed to buy plywood, and a jigsaw, and build a floor, and cut holes in the roof, and install exhaust vent hoods, and and and… and it was all fine. No dread.
What changed? I want to take care of my son as best I can, and I want to prepare our house for more kids. Because someday, I hope that we’ll have a couple more, and they’ll all want to take showers, which causes humidity, which needs to be vented out properly because otherwise we’ll rot the decking and cause mold and that’s not good for anyone.
It’s like a switch flipped. I have a motivation to learn and grow in this area, and I guess that’s all I needed.
At the same time, it’s all pretty mundane. Simon has a simple routine:
Wake up around 6 a.m.
Nap around 8 a.m.
Sleep for 1 hour
And he goes to bed sometime between 6 and 7 p.m. Meanwhile, I’m working during the day while April devises educational games to keep Simon engaged and growing both physically and mentally.
We had our first Christmas, which we celebrated quietly at our home with April’s parents and brother Adam. We typically celebrate Christmas whenever April’s other brother, Eric, and his wife Stephanie can visit, which meant this year (2018) we celebrated at Thanksgiving. So actual-Christmas was delightfully low-key.
Our dog Willow pretty much ignores Simon. This can be problematic when she wants to be on my lap and Simon is already there because she may try to crowd in anyways. She hasn’t actually stepped on or hurt Simon yet, but we’ve had a few close calls, so we keep a close eye on her.
She doesn’t dislike Simon… she just doesn’t seem to notice him.
Early on, Simon wasn’t fond of the stroller so we always wore him when we walked. Now he’s liking it a lot, though the weather hasn’t permitted us to walk with it much. We’re looking forward to the warmer months a lot so we can get out and he can see more of the world.
My first work trip since Simon was born was an overnight to St. Louis. We used Google’s Duo app for a video call the night of the 11th and Simon recognized me through the phone and was all smiles, which was exciting. I was worried that he wouldn’t engage with me on the phone, but he did and it was heart-melting.
In April, I’ll be gone for a week, so we’ll be using Duo a lot
He’s generally happy playing by himself, happier when one of us is playing with him, and even happier when we’re all together
We’re finally making some good headway on saving up money and paying off all the recent home repairs, just in time to spend a bunch more money.
Both of our vehicles needed new tires, and the minivan had run-flat tires (supposedly they won’t go flat and you can drive up to 50 MPH for 100 miles or so on them even if they get shredded) that added a lot of cost. I had replaced the run-flats once before, but that was just a couple of years ago and I was shocked that they were already worn down. It turns out that these run-flat tires are 2x the cost while lasting half as many miles, and if you want to use regular tires (which last twice as long and cost half as much…), you have to actually replace the wheels too.
So in addition to new tires for the Civic, we got new wheels and tires for the Odyssey, which cost about as much as the run-flats would have. But now, when we need to replace the van tires in the future, it’ll be a lot cheaper.
While the van was in the shop, we used one of the car seats that Eric and Stephanie bought for storage at our house, and Simon really enjoyed having me sit in the backseat with him. It turns out that, with a rear-facing car seat in the Civic, the passenger seat has to be so far forward that I couldn’t fit into it.
Unlike Willow, the cats seem somewhat curious about Simon. But they don’t necessarily love him. Ophelia has bit at Simon once (though she didn’t actually get him), and they don’t go out of their way to snuggle with him.
I prefer their avoidance to Willow’s lack of noticing that Simon exists. And sometimes we can get cute pictures like this before they run off
Simon got his first ear infection in March and he LOVED the medicine. We had to spray a saline solution into his nose several times a day, which he hates and screams and cries about, but then we give him his medicine in the morning or evening and it’s all smiles and delight.
Simon is trying food now, and sometimes he likes it! For instance, he hasn’t been fond of applesauce, but he does like applesauce with cinnamon. And he loves banana, but is less fond of avocado on its own. Avocado plus banana plus cinnamon is amazing.
Also, bone broth? He loves bone broth. Sadly, bone broth doesn’t love him as much.
Simon is 6 months old today. They have probably been the best 6 months of my life, and I am so blessed to have the family that I do.
In a few weeks, we’re going to have a new shower installed in our master bathroom. The base of the old (fiberglass) shower had cracked through, so the subfloor may need to be replaced, and the walls were pretty bad too. So the whole thing is going to go.
Knowing that our attic is over-insulated with up to 2 feet of blown, loose fiberglass insulation, I kitted up to crawl through it, all the way to the far corner of the house, and check out what the master bathroom looked like from above. This was my first time going past the attic door, and unsurprisingly, it was quite a challenge. What I discovered was that not only is it hard to get to that spot above the master bath, but there’s nowhere in the roof suitable for venting back there. I had figured that, worst-case scenario, I could run a duct up to the ridge vent, but the ridge vent is pretty far from that fan.
So I need to install some vent hoods, but I’ll need to wait for it to stop raining first. Lowe’s doesn’t have the hoods I want, but I found them from Home Depot and ordered two. Because, of course, our other bathroom isn’t vented either, so I might as well do both at the same time.
And since this means I’m going to be crawling around the attic repeatedly, I’m also going to buy some plywood and build myself a path on top of the ceiling beams. I was able to crawl around balanced on them, but it was tricky and unnecessarily dangerous. I’d really like to not fall through the ceiling, so putting down ~20 of those boards should help a lot.
Having a plywood path will also make it easier to move around some of the insulation. There are some drifts where it’s at least 2-3 feet deep, and other areas where it’s just a few inches. Having a stable platform will make it easier to get up there with a rake or something and push it into the areas where it’s lacking.
I took a few days off this week to do the work and then recover from it, and it doesn’t look like I can get everything done. I can go ahead and put up the fan, but I need to check with our roofing company to make sure that installing the vents myself won’t void the warranty. If it would, I’ll need to hire them to do it. The hoods won’t arrive until Friday, and I’ll pick up the plywood on Saturday.
But that’s alright. Working on the house doesn’t fill me with the dread it once did. I keep doing stuff and not destroying anything, which is encouraging, and I think I’ve got a pretty decent plan that will make our attic a lot easier to work in going forward. Right now, it’s nearly impossible, but building a 2-foot wide platform all the way through (with a few offshoots over some of the rooms) will help a lot.