It isn’t often we get the chance to sit and think about the type of person we want to be, not about what is going on every day, but about how we would like to approach it.

Like wise in work we often don’t get the chance to think, not about the work we are doing, but about how we are conducting that work.

The flashback to Dublin 15 years ago…

Picture the scene (queue movie flash back moment). It is about 15 years ago, I’m in Dublin, and I’m working in my first position in Microsoft. I need to introduce you to a friend and colleague called Mark. Mark is an amazingly smart guy and a great contributor to the team. Outside of work Mark has an amazing sense of humour. In fact getting the chance to go out for a beer with Mark was a huge pleasure, it was always a hoot… and yes, I do miss that. Perhaps next time we meet up I’ll get the chance to grab a pint with him.

Anyway, thinking back to Dublin when I first met Mark, he was working on hard on becoming rich. This was a huge goal of his and he is certainly smart enough to become quite wealthy. But, at the time he seemed to take this goal to an extreme, at one point he explained that he was trying to find rich people to hang out with, because if they were rich then perhaps that influence would rub off on him.

Aside from wanting to hang out with the rich folks in Dublin, Mark would come up with some ideas that sounded crazy to me. Over coffee breaks Mark would list out some of these ideas he had come up with. One of them was a parody of a famous Facebook game.

Introducing ‘Farmvillian

FarmVille on the web today

At the time FarmVille was really successful on Facebook1, a web based game where you could grow and manage your own farm, think Sim city for farms (“SimFarm”) and you are about there. This game was heavily integrated into Facebook and would automatically post to your friend group any progress that you made. You would often get a popup on Facebook saying “Jane has just bought a new sheep!”. It sounds like fun, right? … well it was, for a while, until it became super annoying. Some of us would log into Facebook and we wouldn’t see updates on how our friends and family were doing, instead we would see FarmVille updates. If you weren’t playing the game this was annoying, and if you were playing the game this was probably more annoying as you felt compelled to get back into the game and get more sheep than Jane.

Well Mark came up with this cool idea, he’d do Farmvillian, it would allow you to post messages that looked like FarmVille however, there was no game just the ability to post funny messages that looked like they had come from FarmVille. Some of the messages were a little, umm, let’s say edgy and perhaps more suited to a T-Shirt Hell others were darkly humorous - “Jane just murdered two cows! - Umm.. steak BBQ”. You get the idea.

Anyway Mark launched this FarmVille parody and if I’m being honest I wasn’t sure it was going to go anywhere. I was wrong. Mark’s wife was a graphic artist and copied the style of the original FarmVille to a ‘T’ - it really looked amazing. The Facebook web-app was a huge success and through some suggestive advertising placement generated a lot of income. Mark ended up quitting Microsoft and we lost touch for a while.

The Philosopher’s Pub

The Porterhouse, Dublin Scene of the Conversation

Fate and a few pints brought us back together. Mark and I had both had some life events. But the beer was good, it was great to spend the evening catching up and sharing a few laughs. The night, as I recall drew to an end earlier than normal, I had a train to catch back home. But the moment that stood out for me that night was standing on the curb outside a pub waiting to cross the road, and I found myself talking to Mark about love.

Now, it’s pretty unusual for me to find myself talking about love with another guy, but I found it even more unusual to find myself talking to Mark about it. It seemed out of character, after all here was a guy that when I had worked with him had been all about becoming reach, and yet now we are discussing love. “Dude, what’s happened to you?” I asked.

Mark explained that he’d taken up philosophy and started a degree in it at university, the course had opened his mind to considering new ways of thinking. It was amazing to see that transformation, a guy who was normally fixated on money is now talking too me about the meaning of love….

Now, I am not the philosophical expert that Mark is, but our conversation continued on for as long as my pending train would allow, and I tried to listen as intently as I could to what he was sharing. Toward the end of the conversation Mark pulled out a copy of Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. Mark said he had a spare copy and gifted me the one from his pocket insisting that I read it.

Meditations book on Amazon

Through that conversation and that book I learnt about Stoic philosophy, about how to approach thinking and to focus on what is important. That conversation was quite life changing for me, it has allowed me to see things from a different perspective, to remind me to take a moment every day to reflect not just on what I’m doing, but why, and if I feel I’m doing the right thing. To think about how I’m going about what I’m doing and if I can improve upon it.

Many of the concepts taught in Stoicism have found their way into Christianity and many where therefore familiar, however them seemed more straightforward, perhaps, when presented without the dressing of religion.

Now, I’m no expert in this approach and I often forget to take that important moment every day, but I’ve found that when I do life tends to be a bit easier, and stress a little less. It works for me.

This week in Munich

I had the chance to travel to Munich this week and I got to catch up with folks I’d not spoke with since before the Pandemic. It was fantastic to be able to see folks face to face, and even better to get the time during the day with them. The timezone shift between the US and Europe mean’s I’m only ever catching them toward the end of their day.

During one of my conversations I was talking to a colleague who expressed how tired he was, how much he seemed to be a human “interrupt handler” dealing with the issues of the day as people came to him. He was unable to get the chance to work on items he felt were important.

This reminded me of some of my learnings from reading “Meditations” and that conversation with Mark 15 years ago which started me on this train of thinking.

I hope I managed to pay it forward because I felt compelled to sharing the story of talking to Mark on the curb outside the pub with my colleague in Munich . The conversation with my colleague shifted, from talking about technical details to talking about life, and trying to find space to be yourself. It was awesome to get the chance have that conversation, and to connect with my colleague on a level beyond just technical topics. I hope, perhaps it helped.

Mark, when I see you next, I owe you a pint… now if you drop me an email / WhatsApp about this, then I’ll also know that it’s not just my Mum that’s reading my blog! - Love you mum. ;p

  1. Ok, we can go through how evil Facebook is later, but this was before we had all come to this conclusion.