I drove from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and then from Vegas to Denver, traveling across California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado on the way. Almost 1,000 miles total, Google Maps projected around fifteen hours from start to finish, while Apple Maps tried to take me down the yellow brick road to Narnia. I expected that a trip through large portions of flyover states would yield nothing but beaten down rest stops, dirt, and maybe the occasional fireworks store/ elementary school combo.
It actually revealed jaw-dropping beauty on an impossible scale.
It’s awesome when something you anticipate will be so ordinary turns out breathtaking…like a first kiss. You’re forced to shake your head in amazement at life’s simple, understated beauty. In fact, I was compelled to do much more than that. Not only did I shake my head with my mouth agape, not only did I decide to write about it, but I would come around the corner or over the horizon and inadvertently blurt expletives at the incredible rock formations, the endless mountain ranges, the mind bending gorges.
In some ways it was like traveling in outer space. I could see an incredible number of stars when it was dark, and in the daytime it felt like I was exploring multiple different planets. Desolate, beautiful planets with valleys ninety miles wide and colors that even Crayola has yet to patent. Jagged ridges punching forth from the earth, towering over the interstate and one another…You get drawn toward them as if by a tractor beam and then at the last minute, the road winds through them and you hug the edge as you curl around the wrinkled sheets of rock that make up the relief map.
The afterthoughts of prehistoric oceans and rivers gave way to these prodigious canyons over the course of hundreds of millions of years, and here I was, burning eons-old fossil fuels to propel myself across the earth at speeds faster than any other land animal.
This is the only area I’ve ever seen a speed limit sign reading 80, and the only time I’ve seen a billboard advertising “This exit: last services for 110 miles. This is no joke.”
110 miles…with no gasoline, food, or hotels. No people, really. Considering how remote the interstate was, I’m amazed at how well the roads were maintained…who is paying for this? Last I heard, rattlesnakes and tumbleweeds are notoriously bad taxpayers. The cell phone service was also predictably atrocious, providing a somewhat welcome respite from the built-in expectation that one should be permanently tethered to their cell phone.
Occasionally I’d spot a tiny snowglobe town among the nothingness, or in more extreme cases just a single house alone on a mountain. I have to imagine these people live out there to avoid many of society’s other expectations. Tough to have family Thanksgiving dinner over at Aunt Kay’s house when she lives in a galaxy far, far away. I literally passed an exit for a place called “No Name” …Why even bother have the exit?
I worked my way through all my playlists, including dusting off some that had nearly drifted into retirement.
I honestly did 100 almost the entire way, and still felt like I was crawling. This was the true embodiment of the saying, “going nowhere fast” and with all this time and these incredible views, I had a lot of time to think about my life and my way through it.
I am very curious to see how one day I will look back on this time in my life.
The first human footprints on the moon. Designing the iPhone. Mapping the human genome.
At first glance, these achievements appear to share little in common.
Another look reveals that every project, every mission, every goal…share one critical requirement.
Achieving it took people. The right people. Committed people.
Achieving it took a diverse group with intuition, vigilance, and intellectual agility, unified by one idea. It took individuals eager to nurture a vision and faithfully contribute toward an intermittently nebulous outcome.
In a world that we’re frequently reminded boasts an astronomical divorce rate, with fewer and fewer millennials buying cars and taking on home mortgages (to say nothing of horrifying student loan obligations), the covenant between employee and employer might end up the longest standing and most demanding commitment a person makes during their lifetime.
Greenhouse decided to make hiring its mission. The innovative and intelligent software makes identifying, vetting, interviewing, and hiring the best talent quick, painless, and effective.
Before I ever saw the company in person, I could tell they knew what they were doing. My experience passing through the hiring process proved the best of my young career by a measure of between three and forty. At every step, I felt as though I had a good idea about where I stood. The communication was professional and consistent.
To begin with, I somehow managed to pass the obligatory “make-sure-this-person-speaks-English-and-is-not-a-psychopath” five minute phone call screening, prompting them to set me up with phase two: the thirty minute phone interview.
Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I do not typically spend half an hour on the phone with anyone… unless of course I need customer support from Time Warner Cable. The thought of spending thirty minutes on a phone call with a potential employer initially struck me as intimidating, but thanks to the clear structure of the call and the demeanor of the interviewer, I found it breezed by as we were able to engage in a good discussion and work through a few thought exercises. In as much time as it takes to watch an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (with commercials) I passed through to round three: a take-home research and writing assignment.
Riding the jet stream of confidence created by the success of the phone interview, I knocked out the research and writing assignment within thirty-six hours…earning me a call from the Procrastinators Society of America, threatening to indefinitely suspend my membership; Predictably, they ultimately balked.
Following my research and writing assignment, I moved on to the championship round, the in-person interview… or, as it was titled in the Google Calendar invite I received, “meet the team”.
The face-to-face interview, allotted two hours, turned out to be a truly enjoyable experience.
I met with a handful of different employees, all of whom seemed to embody a seamless combination of serious and personable.
The process was clearly well organized; they were prepared for me. They had all the necessary information on hand, digitally: my resume, my writing assignment, and the history of correspondence between us. During the interview the lines of questioning, instead of generic, random, or overly complicated, were deliberate and purposeful.
More than just a rote search for technical skills, the interviewers, using rapport as excavating tools, dug for answers to determine if I could place myself within a rapidly growing movement with its heart and mind set on greatness…to see not just if I could work for the organization, but if I would work within it, adding to the momentum of the team and adding to the overall experience for all the employees.
What I mentioned before as easily the most positive interviewing experience of my life led to a position within a company with a borderline unassailable corporate culture, where every employee fits and contributes, and maybe just as importantly, everyone is borderline evangelical about the product, the mission, and the environment we work in.
And the people we work with. Must not forget about the people.
It is a familiar feeling. Like getting tossed by a huge wave, whipped around under the water, pulled down by the undertow, surrounded by silent fury. Caught in a rip current, disoriented and momentarily uncertain how, when, or if you’ll make it to the surface. A challenge to some sense of security I used to face with frequency throughout my childhood and adolescent development that has unfortunately had a hard time locating me lately.
The last time I experienced it to this degree was when I was about sixteen.
It was the very first time my parents had ever left me alone with the house—each half of my parental unit out of town with my little siblings in tow.
Completely impromptu, a party (which truly overachieved by high school party standards) materialized that night at my house and we all proceeded to take full advantage of our deliciously rare lapse in supervision. One of my friends even lost his virginity that night—needless to say, some pretty damn groundbreaking stuff.
The next morning after powercleaning my house to leave no trace like the good Boy Scout does, I got a ride from my two best friends to the Volusia County Beach Lifeguard tryouts.
I showed up, one of 100 or so prospective lifeguards ready to take the prerequisite swimming test. The Ocean Rescue corps maintain minimum swim times and other physical benchmarks to ensure that the people endowed with the responsibility can rise to the occasion of saving someone’s life when the ocean decides to remind us of its capacity for murder. In reality the County (which was later involved in a bunch of scandals of matters including but not restricted to sexual misconduct and racial insensitivity) probably required it mostly for reasons far less heroic-sounding, like “insurance” or “liability” but it makes no difference now.
Skinny and pale, I had not been training for the swim and had the added luxury of a few of my friends (and maybe even my mother) having expressed surprise that I would even want to try out…wondering if I would be ABLE to pass. Reflecting on it now, this chip on my shoulder probably deserves a good deal of the credit for my attendance at the tryout that morning.
At times I wish people other than me would doubt me more often.
Before any actual swim tests started, they informed us that there would be a drug test approaching in approximately six weeks, plenty of time, they said, to stop smoking and pass the piss test.
I watched somewhat in awe as about a dozen or more people shamelessly & immediately headed for the door, including not least of all, my two best friends and therefore, my ride.
I was likely nursing my first ever hangover, certainly a bit intimidated by the prospect of the swim and other requirements and could have easily taken this opportunity to leave.
Next thing I know, I’m in the pool. Pulling, kicking, mind simultaneously clear of any thought but racing with some beat running ad nauseum in my head as I rotated and breathed and rotated and breathed until hitting the wall where I would tap, turn, and head back the other way.
As the time remaining to complete the challenge waned, the timekeeper’s intensity took on momentum until with only a few laps left it seemed like he found some enjoyment slipping into full-on drill sergeant mode, even kneeling next to the water to deliver his message, a fervent swirly twist cone of vanilla encouragement alongside the chocolate threat of failure.
I decided to hit the afterburners and just go all out. Commit, to it, if you will. At the very least, I did not want to have forced myself to work out this hard, THIS early in the morning, all for naught.
I managed to finish under their maximum allowable time, cutting it dangerously close. This meant that I was eligible to move on to the next round, and barring any unforeseen major setbacks they would invest in my education and training for the vaunted position. Particularly in Central Florida along the Atlantic Coast, ‘Lifeguard’ is a pretty glorious occupation. And especially as high school kids’ summer jobs go, we may as well have been cowboys or samurai…a position generally regarded with high status and prestige in the community.
The most pivotal moment came immediately after my swim but just prior to commencement of the rest of the weeklong training program.
I was exhausted. Lack of sleep, alcohol, smoking, the intense swim I just performed—I was feeling uncharacteristically lightheaded and weak, eyes glazing over in a state of semi shock standing by the water fountain not far from the EXIT door.
“I could just walk out and come back next year when I’ve actually prepared for this shit, I’ll find some other job for the summer. Do I really want this that badly anyway? I mean it would almost be cooler to qualify, get accepted, and then just walk out and do my own thing, right?” I allowed myself to think—in a very misguided devil-may-care sort of teenage righteousness that I would like to believe that I’ve now outgrown.
I ended up walking away from the water fountain, back inside…where I made a few friends on the fly who eventually drove me with them to the next phase of the training.
I ended up spending the better (the best) part of six summers between the ages of 16 and 22 lifeguarding on the beach there, making a ton of friends, getting into the best shape of my life, philandering with tourist girls on beach vacations, participating in rescues in the open water & tasting the best natural high around—saving a life. All of this while getting PAID to do so and eventually even winning the war of attrition in tanning my stubborn skin.
Lifeguarding was without a doubt one of the best things I have ever been a part of, all of it because I decided to suck it up and not give up like that little bitch ass corner of my mind wanted me to. It was momentarily very uncomfortable, but it challenged my ego far more than my actual capability. My inflated sense of “self” had a hard time sitting with that feeling. That ego that parades itself around as protecting us, keeping us somehow safe, all the while secretly crippling us by insisting on having its lazily ignorant way.
It is only through these moments of uncertainty, adversity and challenge that we learn about ourselves, regardless of whether the main goal is achieved or not.
My first few days dealing with coding Ruby at the Metis bootcamp have brought me back. Back to that feeling of uncertainty and panic that I (apparently) have been nostalgic for. Not at all helped by the fact that I got fewer than three hours of rest the night before it all kicked off, I found myself overcaffeinated and overwhelmed, even stepping out for a minute to come up for air at one point during the late stages of day one.
I did not do much better the second night than the first, this time not kept awake by anticipation as much as I was essentially haunted in my sleep by that state of utter confusion and the (mostly imagined) sensation that I’m inconveniencing others and falling behind the pack. I even wrote this piece inside the command terminal instead of in a word processor.
Communicating with computers from any perspective other than “mouth breathing consumer” is more or less uncharted territory for me, and humility aside, a sense of intimidation inside of a classroom or any educational setting whatsoever is as completely foreign a concept as the seemingly labyrinthine code itself (what does block.call(arr[index]) mean to you?). For the first time in my life I am not feeling like I’m ahead of the class, casually coasting on the luxury of my intellect, happily assuming the role of bored underachieving class clown and cockily taking the tests (and usually acing them) without having cracked the book or done any of the homework.
So for a moment at least, I’m back in the whirlwind,—back inside the wave that has crashed around me and is sending me for a violent, frothy spin. If the previous times provide any indication, I’ll emerge soon, a little shaken but ultimately ready to take on the next wave, vindicated.
Words are simultaneously the most liberating and the most limiting aspect of our human culture. Through words we are able to convey to a degree our thoughts and emotions, portraying the experience of the individual and allowing for knowledge sharing across geography and generations–which has led to an incredible explosion of human development at every level.
Despite this, when attempting to transmit thoughts so that others may understand and enjoy them, people are limited to the words of the particular language(s) they are proficient in. In this way we are essentially forced to shave down the incredible complexity that IS being in order to fit it within the lexicon of our native tongue. As a result, the outrageous depth of sensations and emotions that make up everyday life get whittled from their truly indescribable state to a shell of their true gravitas, even for the most skilled linguist. There are situations so unique to each of us that any application of words never truly does justice to the author/speaker’s true reality–but in order to benefit from the freedom that language gives us to broadcast our world to those around us–we sacrifice a portion of the visceral, intimate experience that gave rise to the need to express it.
I find it interesting how a synonym for “word” is “term”. Etymologically, term comes from the Latin terminus meaning “end, boundary, limit” as we see with the words terminal and terminate. So when we apply a term to something–it is like we are putting the idea to bed…giving it a definite limit and removing the final traces of uncertainty and mystery about that which it describes.
This is why alternative forms of expression seem so crucial–whether dance, graphic art, music, or sex–people need to be equipped to communicate without words–on their own terms.