5 Aug 2015
While No Guitar Gently Weeps
“Right, when do I put the guitar on?”
There was no guitar. There was no part to play. There was only playback of a song - “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” a 26-minute long, nine-part opus celebrating a lost friend.
It was Pink Floyd’s tribute to Syd Barrett - an original founder, a drug-addled star, a mind lost at sea. Barrett was instrumental in Pink Floyd’s early sound - a weird mix of space psychedelic and Cambridge jazz. But over time, the drugs took hold. He became a liability on stage, and he couldn’t quite come back from the acid haze.
One day they simply decided he was too far gone. They didn’t pick him up for a show. They found a replacement. They said goodbye.
And seven years later, as they sat listening to a recording of what would become part of their iconic album Wish You Were Here, Syd Barrett suddenly was. Unannounced, overweight, balding. Only Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters recognized him.
Barrett was ready to play. He just didn’t realize the band had long passed him by.
There are industries that move slowly. The natural sciences are built on centuries of slow movement, the onerous crawl of evolution only allowing for so much new discovery. History doesn’t change, though our understanding of it becomes clearer. Water flows the same way and electricity rarely changes, so journeyman trades rarely have to scrap everything and learn again.
The web, however, stops for no one. In the past decade, every tool has changed. And while the concepts we champion are still as relevant as when A List Apart was still just that - a mailing list - the way we do things changes faster than we can keep up with.
This is not a sob story about how hard today’s web workers have it. We still sit in comfy chairs and clatter away at keyboards for a living; we still have the jobs our parents would have died to have, luckier than we may ever know. But we also have to understand that this is because we’re at the right moment in our lives to accept constant change.
Our web is one of shifting sands. Without the right balance, we’re bound to fall.
I wasn’t liked as a kid.
I should rephrase that, actually - I wasn’t noticed as a kid, which is all you need to know about my thirst for attention when karaoke night rolls around. I, like many of us who ended up falling into IRC and chat rooms as a kid, was simply unprepared to deal with the reality of relationships. I was afraid of being wrong.
I still am. Every word I write is an untapped grenade. I’m always waiting for one to explode in my face.
But despite this, I still love speaking. (Parts of it.) I still love going to conferences, and interacting with co-workers, and mingling and talking to smart people. I still think it's amazing when someone remembers my name. Who me? Little ol’ Corey? Aw, shucks.
It’s this writing, though, that’s helped me push away from that kid that wasn’t noticed. I gain a little confidence every time. I’m cool with the public, y’all - married dad looking for acceptance, apply inside.
But not so much, you know. Because. Ugh. That shit’s still hard.
See, I thirst to be seen. But on my terms. Then I’m ready to sneak back into my shell. An introvert, I guess; a term that’s both overused and still crucially important as we peek from behind our computer screens and realize our generation forgot to take the opportunity to talk to real people.
I don’t want to be forgotten again. I want to be a part of something great, and I’m scared shitless that I won’t be. That things are moving away from me. That I somehow missed the memo that we’re all supposed to be doing that thing and holy what where are you going and why aren’t we talking about the stuff that I know about?
My fear isn’t of being noticed. This isn’t middle school. My fear now is of becoming irrelevant, like I’ve seen so many people do before me, ignorant or arrogant in the face of change. My concern isn’t that I’ll be passed over or forgotten - it’s that I’ll wake up and find out I could have done something to stay in the loop.
Fear of missing out, sure. More like a fear of losing ground.
Over the past five years, I have built a strong core of friends who, to be honest, I am afraid to talk to.
They are industry leaders. They are independent consultants. They are people who have their shit together.
And sometimes …
Well, sometimes, they don’t have their shit together. Sometimes, they have no idea what they’re doing. But they admit that.
They. Admit. That.
What kind of black magic does it take? Where does that strength come from, to constantly improve and feel at peace and chase after new opportunities and generally free yourself of the need to worry about being informed and accepted?
At what point does it feel like things are going to be easy? When the keynotes start rolling in and the projects become second nature? Where is my lake home, and where is my peace of mind?
Sometimes, I get the courage to ask.
Sometimes, I say it out loud. “I’m … I’m afraid I’m falling behind.”
Sometimes, I show my cards. I reveal my secrets. I use all of my cliches.
Every time, I get the same answer.
“You’re fine. None of us know what we’re doing. Things move too fast to ever get comfortable.”
And I feel better. For a little bit.
I don’t know if it comes from my childhood - those days when all I wanted to do was be a part of the pack, settling instead for an eight-bit broad sword and a bowl of macaroni and cheese at home.
I don’t know if it’s imposter syndrome - as overused a term as “introvert” but just as damning for a person’s self esteem.
I don’t know if I’m just lazy. Or if I’m looking in the wrong direction. Or if the constant need to be sure I’m doing things right - an over-reliance on methodology, the inability to decipher good advice from bad - is making me doubt my common sense and intuition.
Maybe, it’s just that we all suffer from some kind of doubt, and for some that doubt makes us work harder, and for others that doubt makes us look at things we never thought we’d consider.
There’s nothing wrong with being behind on something, as long as we can admit the gap and work to close it. It’s the basic structure around learning - we work to bridge the spaces in our knowledge, bringing things closer and building a stronger infrastructure.
There’s nothing wrong with falling behind. There’s not even really anything wrong with not noticing for a while. The fault lies in knowing exactly what’s wrong, and moving on as usual.
And that’s what I fear. That someday I’ll just give up. That I’ll wake up one morning and find out I no longer have a place. That I’ve unknowingly been passed by - that I was learning the wrong things, going in the wrong direction, betting on the wrong horse. And I won’t care.
I’ll be standing in a room, my old friends staring at me, wondering where I’ve been. No guitar in hand. Hoping to play the next solo.