It’s good to reflect on your life and single out the events that have had large, net positive impacts. When you focus on the things for which you’re thankful, it’s like drawing from a bottomless well of happiness. This is an entirely personal exercise, so feel free to skip past.

Getting a consulting job at Dreyer’s that I was unqualified for

Eight or nine years ago I was doing freelance work designing websites in Photoshop. An employee at one of the companies I worked with messaged me and asked if I knew anything about databases, because there was a contract opportunity. I didn’t, but I was reasonably confident I could learn, so I said so—and then I got a call from someone at Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream.

It wasn’t a big job. It was about 16 hours of work. But I learned what I needed to learn (with much help from the guy who reached out to me, for which I’m eternally grateful). I hitched a ride to Bakersfield every day with a friend who had to go there for the census, a two hour drive one way. I used the money to buy my first car, to help out my family with some things, and to pay off some debts. And I learned that I really enjoyed working with databases—work I do almost every day in my current job.

From this, I learned the importance of saying Yes. If you don’t think you can do something, don’t say no. Say you’re willing to learn. If someone asks you to go out and do something this weekend, and you don’t have anything planned, say yes. You never know what you’ll run into.

Downloading Photoshop

I’ve been using Photoshop for so long, I can’t tell you how old I was when I first got it, or for what reason. I’ve forgotten more about Photoshop than I’ve ever learned about, say, MS Word, or most other applications. I may not have reached the 10,000 hour mark with the program, but I’ve gotten closer here than with almost any other hobby.

Before Reddit and Twitter and Tumblr, I was a member on half a dozen graphic design forums. I’m honored to say that in those years I was able to spark in a few others the same love for graphic design and they now work in the field (and they’re way, way better at it than I could ever be!).

A few other benefits I gained:

  • I had steady work in design for a few years when I was younger, and almost made it into a career
  • I was featured in several art shows for my digital art
  • Photoshop led me to digital photography (below)
  • It was a creative outlet for me in times when I needed one

I learned that one of the best ways to learn is to teach. Also, there’s no better feeling than seeing your love for something spread to someone else.

Getting my current job

I’ve worked at my current company for five years. I started in tech support, then went to QA, and now I’m a software developer. I work with some of the best people you could hope to work for, and I’ve learned so much. I’m eternally thankful, and exceptionally lucky, to have this job.

When you speak with someone you consider successful, and they don’t mention the role luck played in getting them where they are, then you should discount any advice they give you. Luck isn’t everything, but dig deep enough and you’ll find it’s the cornerstone.

Winning a trip to the Marlboro Ranch

I have no qualms with taking advantage of Marlboro’s extensive marketing budget to get free things. No, I don’t smoke. Yes, I’ll take free bottle openers on my birthday and the occasional stocking stuffer I can hand out.

Five or six years ago, one such gift was a trip to the Marlboro Ranch. They said I could take a friend. I filled out the forms, sent them off, and received a check in return: the cash value of the trip.

Again, I used the money to buy a car, which immediately broke down. I told my dad that if he could have the car if he wanted to deal with the trouble—it turned out to be a $15 fix! He drove that car for two or three years before it finally bit the dust for good.

I learned to be more careful when making purchases, to be a little more skeptical of strangers on Craigslist, and to be more patient with things when they don’t work out the way you want them to.

Being chosen as Best Man for a best friend’s wedding

This isn’t really a brag—though I was incredibly honored (and totally failed to adequately express my gratitude when he told me), I was also terrified. Best man? With the bachelor party, and the speech? No no no, you must have the wrong guy. I can’t do this.

But I did. The bachelor party, though uneventful by Hollywood standards, was wonderful. We rented a cabin in the middle of nowhere and got drunk and hiked and barbecued. The speech took me a week to write (of course, I waited until there was only a week left…), and I think it went well, considering the laughter and the tears. I was very nervous, and drank a little too much that night, and ended up turning into a giant crybaby.

I gained an appreciation for just how difficult it is to write a speech and how much harder it is to deliver a speech. This was also the first wedding in which I was part of the wedding party, so I ended up learning quite a bit through the entire process.

Buying a DSLR

Digital photography has gotten me outdoors more than any other hobby I’ve ever had, except for maybe disc golf. I’ve seen more beautiful sights, gone to more exotic places, had more adventures than I ever would have had without my camera. Even though it’s absolutely a money pit, I would never give up digital photography as a hobby.

Learning how to build a PC

I grew up poor. Instead of getting new computers at any regular intervals, I satisfied the new hardware need by taking apart a bunch of other computers and Frankensteining them together.

I think this hobby, and my dad, are responsible for me being where I am today. This hobby because here I learned patience, persistence, and how to troubleshoot. My dad because he’s the one who taught me all those things. Problem solving is a muscle, and I started working it a very long time ago.

Moving away from the desert

Every man, woman, and child alive should see the desert one time before they die.” And then leave.

The desert is a beautiful, amazing place. I also think it does things to your brain if you stay there long enough. Before I finally left, I became horribly depressed and anxious, so much that I could hardly hold a job for more than a couple of weeks. Even though I made all of my best friends there, even though I spent some of the formative years of my life there and will never forget so much of what happened—when I left, it was like a bad, sick part of me died, and was replaced by something that was, if not happy, then at least functional.

Getting into film criticism

Not as a writer, but as a reader.

I’ve always loved watching movies. Ever since I was young, I’d find myself glued to the screen. I’d even sneak out late at night to sit at the top of the stairs to watch the horror movies my parents threw on after we were supposed to be in bed.

The art we consume is a reflection of the values of our culture. The dominating narratives—be they westerns or superhero movies—say quite a bit about the society into which they’re born and in which they thrive, or eventually die. Understanding this, and being able to pick apart the subtext from the text, is something that criticism is great for.

I recommend to anyone interested in movies at all to find critics, and read them. Not just critics who you agree with, and not just critics “like you.” Find some who come from different cultures. If you’re a male, read female critics. Other points of view can discern threads in narratives that you would never even be able to find. Through this, you can learn about yourself, and grow, and become better.

Susie

Susie is the greatest person in my life and every day she brings me unfettered joy.