I’m heading to Florida for a few days. More specifically, I’m heading to Orlando with my daughter to spend a few days at Disney World and then I’m coming home without her. It’s an emotional time for us because her four-month internship will represent the longest time she’s been away from home and family. Her previous longest trip was spending three weeks in Poland doing anthropology field studies (digging up skeletons). She and her mom spent a few days together in Prague before then parted ways, one to go on to Poland and the other coming home, making it about a month that she was away.
But this post is not about dropping the kid off in Florida; This is about getting a message from my old mentor. He lives in Orlando and works for an amusement park engineering company. He heard, probably from my wife, that we are heading to Orlando. We just exchanged a few emails and he was nice enough to send me some preliminary versions of some scientific papers he’s working on. He was always an inventor and that’s how I came to know him; He invented a few products that I was lucky enough to work on back in the early 1990’s. He had contacted me about writing software for him because his first five choices had all been busy and he needed someone to work 16 hours a day for a few months. I did get a good size chunk of the company and I learned a hell of a lot before it failed and we moved on to the next project. We worked on two startup company projects back then, and between those, we worked for the same company here at Lake Tahoe. Then we parted ways and never really spoke again until just now. He had moved away and then moved further after that, and I stayed here.
I’m feeling rather shitty. At this point, my mentor being ten years older than me isn’t that much time; Not like when I was 26 and he was a brilliant old (36) guy who took me in and helped me learn the in’s and out’s of writing software as frantically and quickly as possible. We are close enough in age now that I could have achieved a lot of the things he achieved over the last 30 years. But I didn’t. I didn’t design anything so clever and cool that a big company bought it (a state-of-the-art fireworks triggering system). I don’t write scientific papers accepted by a reputable journal. I am not applying for any patents. I don’t work for a company whose name, without my ever mentioning it, was known to a Facebook friend the moment I posted that I have a friend in Florida who works at an engineering company near Disney World.
So I’m now sitting here comparing paddling across Lake Tahoe in a kayak to publishing a paper in a scientific journal. I’m trying to feel better that I wrote some freeware that is used by engineering hobbyists around the world and feel like it would only be an accomplishment had it been bought by some big company and sold as their own. or maybe it would be a big deal if someone used it when writing a scientific paper of their own. I don’t know. I don’t normally feel down on myself for not being an overachieving super-genius but something about communicating with the guy who helped me out so long ago just makes me nostalgic for the days when I had more exciting and interesting things to look forward to. back in those days, I didn’t know that my biggest achievements were going to be climbing a mountain or paddling a kayak. I’m just missing the days when I might have been involved in a startup company that ended up being successful (and making millions of dollars for me).
So maybe some of this comes from the fact that my current employer is sitting waiting for a few software development purchase orders to come in that should have come in a few weeks ago. We are a small company with some very big clients and them delaying things is damn stressful. If they all come through, we will have some success and not worry about making payroll for the next year. Heck, maybe I’ll even get a cost-of-living raise for the first time in five years. If one of those clients backs out, we are stuck feeling a pinch and there won’t be any thought of ever getting a bonus or a raise for a long time. And if more than one backs out? Yeah, we are a bit screwed; Things are tight. I keep thinking that this company is very loyal to me and deserves my loyalty and it will all pay off beyond me just getting to live at Lake Tahoe. But I also think that maybe I should try to get a job writing software to control amusement parks and to then work with some different and brilliant people who can push me to do better (like write a scientific paper). Maybe I could write a scientific paper.
There’s nothing wrong with my job. I often love it. And the people I work with are great. It’s just that seeing someone whom I respect and consider more successful than me in most ways, still doing so much, is making me feel a bit nostalgic for those good old days of endless possibilities. And my daughter is leaving for four months so there’s that too.