Under the fading sun

Though neither a teacher or high school student, my typical day involves a lot of stories and tests.

I make software with designers and engineers and a large portion of my time is spent trying to define how that software should work. That means deciding what things to work on next (amazing new feature or super-annoying bug) and then figuring out what the end result will be.

First, we write a story. These take a number of different forms, but generally, it’s a short summary of the use case: When a customer updates a form, they want changes to be saved automatically so they don’t lose any information.

Or this slightly more fun example: When a customer visits the store on their birthday, they want to leave with a free cupcake so they know they are appreciated.

Then, we define the end result. This involves two different, but related questions: How do we know the work is done? And how do we know the feature is a success?

Whether or not the work is complete is where the tests come into play: Is the form saved automatically? What about in different browsers or when some of the information is invalid?

With the birthday story, this is pleasantly easy to determine: does the person have a free cupcake with them when they leave? Hopefully, yes!

Success, though is more complicated. Defining success means answering the question, What do we hope to accomplish by giving away cupcakes on birthdays?

Is the goal a happy customer that feels valued? If they don’t return in the next month, is it still a success? Do we hope to spark interest in cupcakes so people will buy more in the future?

What I’ve begun to realize is that our lives revolve around the same questions: What does success mean? What outcome am I hoping for? It’s what determines how we view our work, conversations, writing, learning, cooking, volunteering, and even relationships.

What is success for this job? Is it rent, relationships, advancement, notoriety? If success is serving the organization and furthering its mission, then it’s that much easier to have a lower profile and paycheck for a season.

What does success mean in college? Perhaps it's a degree from a prestigious school or a well-paying career. It might be exposure to new ideas and perspectives or exploring the boundaries of who you are.

What is success for this creative project? Maybe it’s attention or potential riches. Or maybe it’s sharing something with others or getting better at a certain skill. Or it might simply be starting and finishing something that means the world to you.

There are a lot of voices telling us what success is in our careers, relationships, education, and most everything else. So often, the source of our struggles and frustrations is when we let others define success for us.

National Novel Writing Month cleverly changes the goals of writing a novel from Become a best-selling author loved by millions to Write 50,000 words in a month. The former stops many books before they’re started. The latter is eminently achievable. It doesn’t have to be good, no one has to buy it, and you can even keep it to yourself. Just finish it.

The result is thousands of novels that never would have been written otherwise. The only difference is a shift in perspective.

Define what success means to you and pursue it with great joy.

Then, have a cupcake :)


The last dispatch asked, What food and drink do you love to share with friends?

Adam wrote:

So many memories of food as a the centerpiece to community and relationship. Growing up, we would visit my mom's family in Buffalo. That invariably meant a night with pizza and wings from the home of "Buffalo wings," the Anchor Bar. Such fond memories. In my late college years, a group of friends had "Family Night" every Wednesday. Someone would send out a theme by email, be it Mexican, breakfast, or "round food", and we would show up to have a patchwork, collective meal. It worked most of the time, but even when it didn't, we laughed at our poor meal and then went on enjoying one another regardless.
Throughout life, I've always loved to bake and share. Something about the act of sharing the food makes it taste all the better and facilitates a joyful happening of community. Because let's be honest: a cheesecake made for my solitary consumption is a sad, sad story - so it must be shared!

Joel wrote:

Coffee at Mozart's on Fridays, junk food at ballparks, burgers in backyards, barbecue in the Hill Country, home cooking at home, and ice cream anywhere.

Pat wrote:

Sugar is my vice, thus often the shared food experience is gelato - I’ve introduced many, many friends to my favourite gelato spot in Melbourne (Gelato Primavera at Spring Street Grocer, should anyone be passing by). Pancakes is the other common option - every now and then I’ll host a gathering and cook pancakes for all who show up. Of course, the food is just an entry point to all the wonderful friendships and conversations that form at such events.

Paulo wrote:

More than a specific food, I like to share home cooked meals. Could be me who's cooking, or a friend, but that feeling of sharing that thing that one of us made for others is more important than what we’re actually eating.

Ryan wrote:

I grew up in a teetotal family, and I didn’t start consuming alcohol until I was 27. Unaccustomed to the taste of beer, I found my way into enjoying a drink with my friends by experimenting with cocktails, and I’ve kept working at it until I’ve become at least a passable at-home bartender. I don’t have the time or patience to learn how to be a really good cook, but mixing drinks for my friends scratches the same set of itches for me. To get to know someone’s tastes, do a little research, buy a new ingredient or two, and end up making something they’ve never had before, but that turns out to be just right—it’s an elusive goal, but the quiet satisfaction at having struck just the right note is worth the work.
Plus, you know: tastes good and feels good.

Adam wrote:

My wife and I love trying new craft beers, and we frequently pull our friends in to try them at the same time. While it's fun to share favorite things with friends, we find it's even more fun to try them for the first time together. The same thing applies, for us, to trying new teas, whiskeys, and varieties of coffee.

Brad wrote:

I'm a big fan of classic craft cocktails. There’s nothing quite like a well-crafted Old-Fashioned with rye.
That said, though, I most enjoy sharing delicious whiskeys along with fruits, cheeses and crackers with friends while out in some remote idyllic place like West Texas. Not quite a meal, but poignant enough to create memories and the wonderful eddies of conversation that can stretch on for hours under the fading sun.

Uncommon reads

Stop Googling. Let's Talk. by Sherry Turkle:

We’ve gotten used to being connected all the time, but we have found ways around conversation — at least from conversation that is open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable.

News and such

Kyle Studstill, designer and Uncommon member, has a wonderful newsletter dedicated to beauty and artistry. He was kind enough to write about Uncommon in his latest edition: Extraordinary moments with not-quite-strangers, almost an altered state of consciousness. The piece includes three things that have shaped the ideas behind Uncommon. Enjoy!

The second edition of Table for Six takes place next week! Grab a spot around the table for telephone conversations with your neighbors. It's a marvelously uncommon experience. We'd love for you to be part of it. Drop us a note and we'll fill you in on the details.

Become a member of Uncommon. Meet your neighbors on the front porch, receive delightful things in your mailbox, share your favorite things in the world, enjoy the original mementos created to celebrate them, take part in Table for Six conversations, share an entire year of Uncommon with a friend, make this independent ad-free community possible, and shape what's to come. Handy tip: The annual membership fee will increase soon, but members always pay the amount when they first joined. It's a small way of saying thanks for helping this community take root and grow.

Your turn

Which Halloween costumes will you never forget? They could belong to you or a friend, from long ago or maybe, just maybe, this very year :)