Monday, February 16, 2009

What's working is hard work and high standards

Last Thursday night I was asked by someone I met for the first time how I do it. How I "seem to have just stepped into blogging fully formed, what my background was, it must be something to do with that, is it?" - his words, not mine. As if there was a different secret or method other than I sit at the keyboard and type a lot.

It made an impact though and while I completely fluffed the answer, through tiredness from Twestival as much as sheer embarrassment, saying something like "Ah just check my LinkedIn", I have spent a lot of time since thinking about it. Yesterday then I read Niall Harbison's post about happiness and that spurred another lot of navel-gazing contemplation for me.

Teencamp Ireland earlier this year was an eye-opener for me. "Ah yeah, I've been building websites for the last three years, I taught myself PHP and JAVA and now I'm learning C++, I've got six blogs, seven clients and, oh yeah, I'm doing the junior cert next year".

Meeting young entrepreneurs like David Doran (19) and Steven Troughton-Smith (20) in particular was encouraging but also slightly depressing. For a traditional "the older you get, the more successful you'll be" thinker like me, this whole awareness of so many younger people to look up to has been quite the revelation.

Ken McGuire (25), Andy McMillan (24 I think), Robin Blandford (25), Eoghan McCabe (25), Patrick and John Collison (20 and 18) with Tommy (15) snapping at their heels, Cian McMahon (17 I think), Marie Boran (24 I think), Gav Reilly (22), David Maybury (24) and Phil O Kane (23) are all on my inspired-by-professionally and to-be-admired list, never mind Jon Favreau, Barack Obama's speech writer at 27. It's not their "youth" I admire as much as the hard graft they continually put into what they do and how they do it that I respect most of all.

From the Irish Times. Steven Stroughton-Smith (20) Ireland’s most successful software developer for Apple’s iPhone, generating revenues of up to $1,000 a day. Bastid.

Here I am at 30, with as much willingness to get out there and do what is I do but always running uphill and seeing obstacles rather than opportunity at every corner. How does someone get there, be successful, be out there and promoting and organising and work and earning and doing?

Niall's post in particular made me stop and take count. Among other things in the past week he has:

  • launched 2 sites - Lookandtaste and Twecipe which have got a lot of media coverage
  • seen his blog have its biggest week ever and mentioned on front page of Irish Times
  • been featured in the Sunday Times
  • done a few radio interviews and cooked on the telly
  • cooked for 750 people at the London Twestival
  • met some big wigs from Apple who love their iPhone app
and more - all of which are very big wins by any standards. Yet, as Niall says, he's not happy. "I don’t know how to explain it but after what was such a great week I feel totally and utterly devoid of any joy or sense of achievement and can only wonder why it wasn’t more? I look at everything form this week and think it was OK but that mostly I have failed."

I can understand that - he puts in so much work to what he does and his standards are very high. That's the reason for his success, as it is for most people. The comments on the post give a lot of great advice and replies for Niall. I'm strongly reminded of Johnny Beirne's tweet from the Belfast Unconvention, as per this post title - what's working is hard work. But with hard work comes high standards and a desire to do bigger, better, more.

Darren rang me this morning about a project we've both been working hard on. It's no world changing project, but it's something me and him are both excited about and something we've got a huge amount of support in doing. It's a risk we took. This morning though I emailed someone, cc'ing Byrne, saying "Well, you know, I think it's good but it's probably not and you'll actually probably hate it and why wouldn't you because let's face it, I'm involved and so it's just me seeing through the rose-tinted "Ah isn't everything great" glasses. So actually it's shite."

Darren was not happy with me. He wasn't angry because I was 'insulting' his work, he was frustrated because I wasn't happy with my own. As featured on the Contrast blog recently, I wasn't celebrating my victories. I'm doing what I always do. Look for the improvements.

But what is it that I do? Seriously, it's always a question I struggled with answering until Friday morning when I realised what I should have said in my response. It was almost a revelation to me, despite the absolutely obvious. It's about people. I work hard. I work damn hard.


Part of people's frustrations with me in any employment situation can often be that I'm a pernickity perfectionist. I'm as paranoid about commas as I am about content, focus on the words in the message as well as the meaning, as concerned with the right graphic on a site as the code behind it. The word its written as it's, the misspelling of a shop notice, a word used in the wrong context - all nails on a blackboard for me.

I have delayed campaigns to get things absolutely right, I have annoyed clients and account managers by pointing out errors and I've been known to read a blog post and drop the blogger a line to point out a mistake, when in fact I should just step away. I am, however, far more judgemental about myself and my own work than anyone else and generally, every time I've applied the precision and the effort - be it a campaign, an event or a conversation, the results have exceeded anyone's expectations.

With the progression of my career and its successes and failures I've often thought my fails overshadow the mild successes, no matter what I try. Leaving Cert (should have done better) Student ("study break" = dropped out), student priest (left ("failed"?), call centre worker (promoted), marketing assistant with national newspaper (quit), cinema manager (headhunted), video store manager (fired), content editor to member services manager (major win but still let go), charity communications editor (couldn't be kept on), content editor with travel website (glad to leave), gambling member services person (again, glad to leave), mobile portal editor with National Phone company (headhunted), blogger with Insurance company (left due to illness). A very varied career but it's not been without its costs to both confidence and personal life. But still, I can say I've tried.

Shylock, villain though he was, gave me one of my favourite quotes "The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction." I'm not going to stop trying.


With this blog it has been a matter of just giving it a go. I've taken whatever opportunity I can to find something interesting, but not just because of the blogging. I've been volunteering at events and charities for years, I've always been up for a new challenge or opportunity and I've always tried to cultivate a dialogue with people by being genuinely interested in their stories. The blog has given me a creative, "public" outlet for what I do, but it's also had its own price.

Never mind the parodies and cheap snide comments - and while it's just as good to be talked about, yes, of course, they can be hurtful and nasty, which is more of a reflection on those who resort to it than me - having this blog has exaggerated my drive to get it right, to write better, to communicate more clearly, to learn more about things for myself and those who read here. I spend hours on posts, tweaking, thesaurusing, researching.

I travel to places to meet and talk to people, take time I could be resting, watching TV, meeting friends to attend interesting things to blog about. I'll spend ages taking photos or videos, I'll buy tickets, pay for food, and generally go well out of my way to get it right. I'll never be a great writer in technique, I'll never have the obscure or fancy words, but I think it's great people respond to what I write and understand what I mean.

The blog has also opened up something I've long lacked - a "professional reason" or confidence to talk to people. Any people. I've interviewed singers, comedians, directors, authors, poets, journalists, musicians. I've met with companies, spoken on the radio, given talks at events, met some great people.


It's all hard work - I write, I transcribe, I type, I do my best to deliver an accurate portrayal of my experience, something that will benefit the reader as much as the person kind enough to give me their time. I go everywhere with a notebook, scribbling frantically, often missing the experience in the attempt to capture it.

Even at the cinema last night, one non-blogging friend saw me write and said "No wonder your posts are so long!" I just want to know as much as I can to write as well as I can. I do so much that I can't write it all. I think I have somewhere in the region of 60 posts in draft, still to be published.


It's worth it. It's such a fucking thrill, excuse my language, to press PUBLISH POST and finally think "Yes, I'm happy with that." That's what I get from blogging, the joy of knowing I pushed myself to do something, that I put work into it and there's the result.

Someone asked me why I blog such personal stuff - perhaps too personal for some. Is it for the attention? The 'aww poor/great' you? No, bollocks to that. It'd be far easier not to, to keep it impersonal, anonymous. It wouldn't attract the criticism for one.

I do it to connect.

Almost every comment and private email I get, be it about sexuality, adoption, loneliness, bullying, out-of-placedness or even "I don't know what I'm doing on the computer" validates how important it is for people to connect, to see that personal touch, to feel they're not alone. If, as I think, the internet is a tool to connect people and connect with people, then that's what I use it for.


The opportunities continue to come. I feel now, despite how busy I am, that all the hard work is finally paying off. It will only pay off through more work and of course striking the balance between work and rest and enjoying the challenges they pose as much as the experiences they promise to deliver. The chances I've taken will have an impact and I'll learn from them.

It was confirmed today that I start a new job on Monday next. A big new job for me. Biggest of my career and not something I thought that I would ever get until someone I respect, someone who puts in hard work told me I should apply. I sat in the interview, nervous but excited and started by saying "Everything that has happened in my working career has brought me right to this point."

It sounds completely wanky but it's true. I am now, professionally, the sum total of my experiences. Every chance I took, mistake I made, technique I learned, every project I tackled, challenge I folded under or obstacle I overcame is now, more than it has ever been, part and parcel of who I am and where my career is going towards.

I have to learn how to appreciate the work while maintaining the standards. This too will come. I have to learn to balance hard work with fun times. This too will come. I have to learn to shorten my posts. This won't happen, but if anything I'll work on making them better with better content, more timely posts and less of this inane rambling.

I'm not writing this post for feedback or personal gain - exposing my career "failures" online is hardly the smartest of moves, no matter what the intention. I'm just sitting here thinking how great it is that I can do what I do. Someone told me I was capable of anything. I'm determined to prove them right.


  1. Yup, 17. Thanks for the mention! Really interesting blog post!

  2. There is a right time for everyone, like me yours was not at fourteen!

  3. This is what you do after only one year. I'm looking forward to the ones to come.


  4. You're a bit off with my age, but 24 is the average guess, so you're forgiven.

  5. As inane ramblings go, this is up there. Well done on both this post and your latest achievement. I'm curious to know what it is.

    And, on a smaller note, 'its' and 'it's', like 'you're' and 'your', is a major bugbear!

  6. Wow, that's some blog post - I never write anything that long these days, not since English Paper 2 in the LC! Cheers for the mention!

  7. in many ways I am like you -which is what attracted me to your blog and personality in the first place...

    just one thing to say - I learned something about myself a few years ago; for me, delaying something because it wasn't 'right' was utterly due to fear of failure. "If it isn't right", I'd tell myself, "then you cant post it, talk about it, show it to friends etc etc"... and if you can't do that (legitimately) then you can't fail.

    I too am long winded! which for the current magazine i write for is not a good thing - Twitter of all things has helped me shorten and cut to the chase.

    Good luck with whatever your new job is - I too am curious.

  8. Cian: Most welcome and deserved. Hope you're well.

    Grannymar: Aye. The right time for me seems to be right now. Fair play to the guys and gals who are doing it at fourteen though too!

    David: Don't tempt me ;)

    Andy: Even as I read your comment, i'm reminded you're still only 21, is that right?

    Radge: All will be revealed! Inanity - and appropriately placed apostrophes - for the win!

    Steven: You probably don't have time spending all your money and developing more apps ;)

    Donna: There's a lovely Iirish phrase I'm about to murder - athníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile - one beetle recognises another. Thanks for good wishes.

    Paul: Thank you.

  9. Just looking at everyone else mentioned makes me, at 19, feel old and without accomplishment....

  10. While not at Grannymar's level of experience of life, I am a bit older than some that you have mentioned. You must remember that you had a whole lot going on in your life earlier on, and that's (note apostrophe!)where your focus was. I have 3 adopted kids and know that they will have "issues" to deal with as they get older, which are different from the "issues" they deal with now.
    Your achievements to date include getting to where you are now, amongst a multitude of other things that you afford little merit, but that those around you surely cherish and admire.
    BTW as I am from a diferent time-zone, the Christian brothers taught me all I'll ever need to know about grammar! But don't let other peoples imperfections get you down. We are all human. Best of luck in the new job.

  11. I can't wait to find out what this new job is Darragh. Hope it all goes well.
    Don't make the posts shorter. they are fine how they are. You must hate me then for the grammar thing. Too many years of neglecting braille and listening to a talking computer doesn't do your grammar any good at all.