The Relentless Pursuit of 200 – A Nerd Journey Introspective

It’s been 5 years since John White suggested we start a podcast together.  In July of 2022, Nerd Journey quietly hit the 4 year mark since initial launch.  And now we’ve reached 200 episodes, possibly more than either of us thought we would create when it all started.  I missed the chance to reflect on what I learned in that 4th year, so I’ll share some of that in this post.  If you think working on a project for several years doesn’t change you, think again.  The first 100 episodes were one thing.  But the next 100 had something in store for me that I never expected.

A Practice of Learning

For 112 episodes, I did everything I could to avoid needing to learn how to edit, and when episode 113 hit, I became the editor out of necessity.  The full background on that can be found in this 3-year reflection post.  Even before I started editing, Saturdays have been Nerd Journey days for a while now.  It would be part of my routine to do show notes on Saturdays and eventually became routine to do editing and show notes on Saturdays.  I’ve spent other time on vacations, weekends, early mornings during the week, and even late nights doing editing.  The only way I know to describe this is as my practice.  The work became something I just do.  It’s part of the weekly routine and time I consistently seek to protect.  It’s important to me.  Ask my wife what happens when the weekend gets overscheduled and cuts into my time.  I don’t like it.  In the work there is comfort, joy, laughter, purpose, and most of all…there is learning.  What can you learn after 200 episodes of a career-focused podcast?

Giving listeners the career advice we wish we’d been given earlier has been our mission.  It took some time to crystalize, but it’s that simple.  Most of the time the advice shared comes in the form of having a guest on the show.  This year I needed some of the advice from guests more than ever.  I’ve heard people say in order to improve writing quality they needed to write something and let it sit for a couple of days before coming back to it with an editing eye (separating the writing and the editing phases by time to allow the editing to be more effective).  If you do this you will likely stumble upon things you forgot you had written.  In a similar way we can apply this to recording advice.

Advice is given to us at various times and in various forms (verbal, written, etc.).  But recorded advice, advice you can review again and again…that is a gift.  After recording an interview with a guest, we allow some time to pass before editing begins (often times at least a few days).  Editing involves listening back to the discussion and determining which parts to keep and which to remove.  Often times a specific audio block has to be listened to multiple times when looking to make an edit, ensuring what remains makes sense and sounds decent.  Every time I listen back to a recorded interview, I notice something I didn’t catch during the recording session (usually multiple things).  Those extra listens help me remember the conversations better and provides a mental point of reference to revisit later.

John and I try to ask questions on the show that will help our listeners, and a lot of times the things we’re asking are things we want to know ourselves.  We’re getting the same advice as listeners but in advance of the episode release.  Advice doesn’t always sink in the first time we hear it.  And when you begin to hear similar advice from multiple sources, it forms a pattern and might give you pause.  Eventually that advice gets communicated by someone you can identify with on a whole new level, and that’s when it hits you…that advice was for me too.  That person was talking to me.  That’s advice I needed.  In this 100 episodes the advice from guests got louder.  It hit me harder.  It practically smacked me in the face at times.  I began to truly internalize the advice from guests.  I listened back to past episodes when I needed specific advice I knew was there.  And it always helped.  I needed to hear it again.

To every guest that’s been on Nerd Journey, I want to say a massive thank you.  Our discussions have made me better.  And if I haven’t sent you stickers, please contact me to make sure you get some.


The Grind

Weekly releases make completing 100 episodes a span of about 2 years.  The last 3-6 months of 2021 were very intense from a day job perspective, and when the clock turned to 2022, the workload didn’t stop.  In fact I think it went up a little.  There were definite feelings of overwhelm from this and lots of life changes on top of it.  You’ll hear some of it if you listen to Episode 179.

It seemed like 2022 was filled with so many activities and unexpected things.  Maybe it was the shift back to life being more like it was pre-pandemic. To adapt to that sort of schedule I had no choice but to adopt the journalistic approach to deep work. Oh, I have 30 minutes this morning. That’s a perfect slot to work on editing a show or preparing it for production.  It will allow me to make some progress without needing a huge burst on the weekend.

This was the year of training my 7th grader in how to succeed in middle school.  This was the year of Airrosti and chiropractic visits and multiple daily stretch routines so my shoulders and arms would still allow me to do my day job.  This was the year my boss helped me run in the opposite direction of burnout.  This was the year of more social interaction than in the 2 previous years. This was the year of multiple disconnected vacations.  This was the year of the pages.  This was the year of routine modification.  This was the year of being mindful of self-care.  It was a time involving a lot of prayer, over analysis, long walks, coffee, attempts at making myself the most efficient human possible, lots of learning, and refusal to quit.  I can only describe it as the year of the grind.  It was like the street runner who has to learn to run through mud.  But the runner refused to stop running, even if the pace had to be slower.

I would imagine at some point in the lives of creatives they reach a point where the work they are doing gets more challenging in one way or another.  Maybe it was time pressure, perhaps they stopped enjoying it, or maybe there was some other factor.  This creates a decision point (or at least could create one) around whether you keep going, change directions, take a break, or tweak your processes.  For me the culprits were time pressure and energy management.  All I can think about as I write this is Tom Hollingsworth’s statement from Episode 127 – “we are more burned out than we are willing to admit.”  I started to, in general, run out of energy like never before.  I stepped down from leading the Dallas / Fort Worth SpiceCorps this year because it had become one more thing on my list (which kept getting longer).  I had instances where I thought I might end up not being able to work due to some physical challenges, much less produce a podcast.

So why not quit the show?

When your podcast partner takes a break, it creates that decision point.  I had already decided once before to keep the content train moving.  When it was time for John to take his paternity leave, there was no question that I would continue on.  I never even considered saying, “ok, I guess we stop here.”  The only way I can describe it is by sharing the reason I continue to do the show.  It forces me into a routine of creating something every single week, helps me meet new and interesting people, makes me think in different ways, improves my writing and social skills, and I continue to learn from every minute spent on it.  There is only upside to continuing to do this work, so unless I’m carrying some kind of load / schedule that makes the show unsustainable (got close but never made it there), it becomes an obligation instead of something I enjoy, or the content stops being helpful…the journey continues.

Perfectionism can destroy you.  For me, it is a constant battle to quiet the perfectionist beast inside.  Sometimes we try to make something perfect when good enough will do.  With tight deadlines you either quiet the perfectionist a little, or you miss the deadlines.


Two Nerds at a Conference

One of my favorite moments was when John and I were able to present a session at VMware Explore US 2022.  I was completely floored that the session was full / standing room only.  This was the first of 5 presentations I’ve been a part of this year that allowed sharing some patterns and lessons learned from the show.  The presenting has been a blast, but getting there was harder than I thought.

In 2020 and some of 2021, John and I did a pre-recorded presentation for virtual VMUG events called Breaking Career Constraints: Refactoring Thinking, Skills, and Motivation.  It was about helping people develop a new attitude and mindset about career and contained lessons from the show.  For VMware Explore 2022 US, we submitted a completely new iteration of that talk called Adventures in Technical Career Progression.  You can hear more about it in Episode 190, but there’s something that I’m not sure came through crystal clear in that episode.  After having our session approved for the conference, finding the best way to structure the presentation was the hardest part.  We had the content, but fitting it into a single one hour session was tough.  This is how the Nerd Journey Knowledge Graph was born.  My podcast partner John White has internalized and adopted the smart notes methodology, and out of his work in Obsidian and some other tools, you are looking at a magnum opus.  It’s a way to search for connected ideas, topics, and guests.  The show notes we have are detailed, but what if you could search through all the episodes where we talked about a specific topic and see the connections between the episodes where it is discussed?  With this site, you can.

But there’s more.  Without John to help extract the patterns we already knew were there in our shows, I’m not sure I would have really known the best way to structure the presentation.  As John said to me, we allowed the data to provide the structure for us instead of fitting into a predefined structure.  Too much structure in a presentation is too much for me.  There has to be some room to improvise a little.  Much like C.S. Lewis refusing to memorize his full lectures and forcing the extemporaneous speaking, that’s more my style too.  In fact, John probably doesn’t know what’s coming when I open my mouth because I will get ideas in the moment.  This was one of the many times my podcast partner and friend picked me up, carried me through the mud and put me back on stable ground (where I knew how to run and navigate).  I couldn’t do it on my own.  I was nearly out of gas before the conference began and had to prep for 3 other presentations.  When you see a room full of people who came to hear what you have to say, it’s pretty humbling, nerve wracking, and energizing all at once.  I’ve been blessed to present a couple of iterations on this talk to VMUG in the last few months, and each time it was so much fun.


Routine Experiments

Routines are interesting, and in the structure of activities, there is comfort. And if you’re wondering, I like the structure in this area but not so much I can’t call an audible.  The daily routine changed this year with my daughter going back to in-person school full time.  She had to get up an hour earlier for it, so we all got up an hour earlier.  An hour can make a big difference, and all I could think of was the episode with Evan Oldford where we talked about the importance of sleep .  Early this year (spring and summer) I had been using the mornings right after waking for morning pages.  When my shoulder and arms started giving me trouble, I needed to do stretches to loosen them up morning and evening (30 mins or more in each case).  The pages had to be cut down to 1 per day (doctor’s orders) so as not to overextend myself.  I started using the time first thing in the morning for stretching before my daughter would come down for breakfast.  Evening before bed didn’t really change, but I managed to work in writing my page somewhere during the day (lunch, evening, etc.).  And after reading Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and and then Anthony Trollope’s biography, I learned many people who have accomplished what we would consider great things had a specific morning routine dedicated to their work (i.e. deep work).  It was every single day, including weekends.  I started experimenting, and the routine changed again.  Now it’s get up and work on Nerd Journey things (podcast editing, guest recruitment) each morning with the ability to work on day job things if needed during this time.  I started making progress.  And the amount I needed to do on weekends was no longer as large of a burst.  It was an extended deep work session that is part of the routine.  So I spend 45 minutes or more working and then hang out with my daughter before she heads off to school.  And I work in my morning stretch routine in a little later in the morning or around lunch time.  It’s actually good thinking time or mind wandering time.  I may continue to tweak the routine, but that’s what it is right now.  It’s only been this way for the last couple months as of the writing of this post.

In Summary

This post has merely served to illustrate what I learned in the second 100 episodes.  Sometimes things get harder or messier, and that’s what happened to me.  If you’ve struggled with something in the same way, you aren’t alone.  There is no shame in hitting pause if that’s what you need to do.  For me, it wasn’t that time.

A Dedication

This post is dedicated to two people:

My wonderful wife – This is the woman who blocks and tackles for me so I can work on the show as much as I do.  She grants me special permission to work on editing even if we’re on vacation.  She’ll send me articles and ideas for topics and guests.  And if she doesn’t see me in my office on the weekends, she’ll say something like “don’t you have a show to produce?”

My co-host and friend, the one and only John White – He took a break from the show out of necessity, but he also kept me from breaking.  And so we, just two nerds on a journey, continue on a journey to career enlightenment.  There’s only one thing left to say – so let’s take a trip!

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