In earlier posts I’ve agonized over wanting to know what the future holds yet having no control over it. I’ve been afraid of taking steps in case they lead in the wrong direction. I’ve also written that my job is writing software, and for the software to work I must pay attention to detail and control everything.
A friend at work sent me a link to a Walt Whitman poem, Song of the Open Road. She thought it might resonate with me. Here are two of the verses.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,Healthy, free, the world before me,The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,Strong and content I travel the open road.….From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,Listening to others, considering well what they say,Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.I inhale great draughts of space,The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
It got me thinking and I realized that my work can teach me a lesson about life. I remembered the way that I write software.
Novelists write their books somewhere in the spectrum between two extremes. On one side are those who create a detailed outline of the book before starting to write. On the other end are those who have a vague idea of the story then just start writing, letting the story develop as the characters come to life.
Writing software is similar. Some software developers create a detailed design before they start writing any code. Others have an idea of what they are trying to accomplish then start writing, developing the design as they write the code.
I fall into this latter group. I have an idea of what the software should do, and an idea in my head of how I will structure the software. But I don’t have a full picture. I don’t do detailed design up front, but instead just start writing and figure out things as I write. Sometimes I go down the wrong path and backtrack, rewriting what I’ve already written.
The point is that I have no detailed plan, just a rough idea of where I am going and how to get there. The software unfolds in front of me.
I realized that if this is the way I do my job, indeed if it’s the only way I can do my job, why don’t I approach life the same way? Why insist that I approach life differently than the only way that works for me in my job? Why not relax into things, have a vague idea of the direction, and be ready to backtrack or change course if things aren’t working out?
Try something, see if it works, make corrections if it’s not working. But above all, not worry about getting it right first time. Just start down the open road.