Adam Brault

Hey, I just write here.

That New Year's feeling

I woke up Monday morning and needed—needed—to tear apart our entire kitchen and reorganize everything in it.

The contents of five of the most accessible drawers in our kitchen were neatly and tidily filled with organized collections of excess grocery bags, pot holders, appliance manuals, and basically everything except for the kinds of things we might actually want to use when making meals. Those were uncomfortably crammed into a couple drawers.

So we tore things from drawers and ripped stuff from shelves and emptied the cabinets until all was spread across our kitchen table and counter and another table. We spent every remaining hour that day finding exactly the right place for everything, for good.

I am not a clean and neat person, but I am a designer—particularly in the sense of “design is the process of making the world smart so we can be dumb in peace.”

Sometimes, I am struck with intense emotion by how poorly something was designed. (Things I’ve made included!)

The world has so many flaws. So—most definitely—do I. And so do you.

On the worst days, those flaws are loud, impatient, and angry.

Hopeless.

But hopelessness is a lie—because there’s always hope. There’s always something we can do. Losing hope is abandoning our power.

I have a friend who’s expressed before an intense distaste for the word “hope”. I’ve been meaning for quite some time to have a chat with him about that, but my hunch is that what he doesn’t like is the idea of being positive and hoping things get better.

I don’t buy that worldview either.

People mercilessly mock the seeming fruitlessness of New Year’s resolutions—the idea that some random date on a calendar has some magic power to invoke transformation is indeed silly, of course.

But I’ll tell you that six years ago I desperately needed that “New Year’s feeling” whether it was corny or not. I needed a chance to start all over again and the opportunity to begin something new.

I gave my company a name fitting of the hope I so desperately needed—something that simply marked a new beginning: “and yet”. I wrote this to express what it meant to me:

The common phrase “and yet” is poetry’s simple–machine lever.

Whether said with stuttering hesitance or inspiring confidence,
it always means a departure from what came before.

“And yet” humbly hints at the precise moment of possibility.

The single most powerful thought that’s ever struck me is: no one can ever stop you from making things better than they are right now.

We all need new beginnings sometimes.

Seize the hope you need in your life.

Here’s to 2014!

Ain't nobody got time for that

A few years ago, when I was still freelancing, I played a role in helping create our area’s first real community around web, software, and design. Being part of doing that is something I’m proud of, but more importantly, I’ve gained so many great friends out of that community.

In the course of time, as the community and my company grew, I found myself one of the more influential people in that community, which has been a very difficult thing for me to wrestle with.

It’s made for a considerable amount of personal agony over the years as I’ve tried to decide how best to use that influence, leading me to step back and hand off responsibility for the various things I started and led in their earliest days, like Doctype Society, our area’s first tech meetup, and TriConf, our community barcamp.

My greatest fear has long been becoming someone whose influence causes more harm than good. As a result, I’ve always worked very hard not to cross the line of simply by default ignoring people who are critical. I don’t have a very thick skin and I don’t find it easy to dismiss others’ hurtful opinions, even if they’re uninformed or I disagree with them. I tend to hold on to them and use them as both a tool to expose where I need to be a better person as well as a knife to flay my own skin.

In the past six months, I began to hear and feel increasing criticism and distance between the company that I love and our local community. I’ve given some of these a great deal of thought and wrestled with each over the course of many months.

Some people have been frustrated and hurt by personal opinions I have shared publicly about startups, startup culture, and my one-time hopes for our community to be an antithesis of that. In reflection, I regret ever standing in anyone’s way and I have extended some direct apologies.

There are plenty of other little things—criticism of our choices of clientele and friends, our involvement in community events, and the fact that we are as tight-knit of a group as we are, which makes outsiders feel left out. All of these are hard to hear and deal with, especially because the vast majority of them don’t ever come via direct conversation.

I’ve been advised by many people it ultimately doesn’t matter what we do, we’ll likely get different verses of the same.

Thinking about this, I recall the Freudian concept, the narcissism of small differences, which suggests people who are actually quite similar need to find ways to mark themselves as different in order to preserve self-image. It’s basically the root of every feud between neighboring tribes: Catholics and Protestants, Sharks and Jets, Coke and Pepsi, Ruby and Python.

No one’s immune. We all do this.

Subcultures especially need something to be the antithesis of, so in order for some folks to establish themselves as leaders, it’s necessary to mark us as “them”.

Rather than try to fight this or go against it, I’ve decided it’s actually for the best. If there are people locally who want to see our community grow and improve, I absolutely want to support them, and I’m willing to do that even if we’re the bad guy.

But I don’t have to submit myself to their judgment.

A week ago, I caught a link to this post, You’ll be waiting forever, and it’s really resonated with me:

They are going to tell you that you don’t know what you want.

They’re going to tell you that you want too much. You’re unreasonable for reserving your time only for those who support your progress and see the parts of you that are divine. They are going to tell you that you want too little. You have low self-esteem for tolerating imperfection and the people who toe out of line and hurt you. They are going to tell you that you work too hard, are too lazy, think too hard and don’t think nearly enough. Everything you do, they are going to tell you to do the opposite.

I’m here to tell you this:

Your tolerance is part of what makes you divine. Sometimes your hard works means you have to take it a little easier on yourself later. Whether your brain works too hard or not enough, thank your Creator that it is still working and strive to be more balanced every day.

I’m also going to tell you that they don’t know shit about shit, and when it comes to their shit, you know what “they” are going to do? Exactly what they want. So go ahead. Wait for them to tell you when it’s okay for you to feel good about you.

I’ve decided for the sake of my own personal freedom and mental health, I’m going to be more picky about whose opinion I actually give a crap about.

It’s very simple: people are precious and time is short.

There never seems to be enough time to love all the people I love, so why waste energy pleasing people I can’t please?

Deciding to let go of that feels like real freedom.

Whether I'm good

I honestly liked freelancing better than running a company, but I think that’s mostly out of my own personal weaknesses.

As a freelancer, I could participate and collaborate as an equal in conversations, and express opinions without them meaning much of anything to anyone. I could try and fail; I could hold and abandon wrong opinions or ways of thinking; all without significant consequence or political fallout. Bonus: freelancers are always the underdog, so people’s natural prejudgments are to root for them.

(I say all this entirely with the benefit of hindsight, and I am not putting down freelancers—it’s just that the grass is deludedly green on the former side of my fence.)

One of the most frightening moments of my life was when I found myself waxing about what leadership was and wasn’t—and suddenly turned around and discovered there were people actually (WTF) following me, including people for whom single decisions I made could have a significant impact on their life.

I have always believed leadership to be about responsibility, not authority, but the weight of that statement means more when your everyday decisions have a legitimate visible impact that goes beyond yourself and your house.

Power is a useful thing for getting things done, but it’s something I never sought to have, something I’m often in denial of having, and certainly something I often wish I never had. I simply want my opinions and ideas to win when they’re right, and I want them to lose when they’re wrong, on the basis of merit alone.

I would a million times rather be a useful nobody than a useless somebody.

Most of my life I’ve been psyching myself up to believe I was powerful enough to make something happen that I wanted to see become reality. So to suddenly find myself in conversations where I realize I’m carrying a not-so-concealed weapon (“leadership”), that is perfectly apparent to everyone else, but not so myself, is personally terrifying.

Add to that an increasing number of eyes, judges, opinions, and the natural course of life’s various disappointments, and the pressure is not slight.

At some point, my fear of whether I was good enough was overtaken by the fear of whether I was good.

(No doubt, every day I acquire more empirical justifications for my self-doubts, but as far as capability is concerned I’ve long learned this peace: My opinion of my capability is irrelevant. If I am responsible, either I am going to carry out my responsibilities to the best of my ability or I am not.)

On the other hand, the nagging question of my goodness is harder.

Having seen and experienced firsthand the impact of a leader who was not good (to me), I pray most days (sometimes all day) not to become like that. But hearing thirdhand rumors of my motives questioned, and sensing apprehension and silence where there was once mutual respect and trust, always makes me spiral into questioning myself.

I know it’s human nature: the entire reason we put people on pedestals is to knock them down. And what a friend we have in schadenfreude—what a friend we have indeed, right?

Ultimately, I settle in a place of some peace about my doubts of my own goodness, too.

Because I can’t personally judge my goodness.

All I can do is search my heart and share my doubts with people who I know are not afraid to take me to task. I have to trust their assessment—both positive and negative.

Here’s the thing though: I’m not a good person by default.

Just like any other person, I am capable of doing wrong and hurting people.

And knowing that, all I can do is pray for wisdom and keep working on my own destructive and biased thinking, improving my decision making, and trying to constantly get perspective for how I can most usefully be a better person.

This is yet another reason to love Dee Hock’s instructions to leaders to spend 50% of their energy managing themselves.

At this point, I am absolutely certain that is my most important job.

Hermit 2.0

Individual, one-to-one connections are what I want out of and what I want to put into a community.

That’s the only real value I can give and it’s the only value I seek.

I’m not a community leader.

I’m an individual person going somewhere. And I’m doing the best I can to learn and grow and be true to myself along the way.

There are a few people who will travel with me.

And for me that is enough.

The Strength of Weakness (LxJS)

The LxJS team was incredibly warm and welcoming. I’m very grateful for all their hard work on a great conference and for giving me the chance to share this talk there.

Slides with notes:

Loss, gratitude, fear

Woke this morning, unable to get back to sleep. Thumbed through my phone, stumbled upon Timehop and opened it to see what I’d posted about online this day in the past.

I read half a sentence and stopped cold. Exactly two years ago, one of the most amazing young men I’ve known in my life was killed in a car wreck.

I received a call from Kristi today. She was frantic and crying.

She said she and the kids were just in a car wreck.

My heart stopped for a full minute as I scrambled for air the eternity it seemed to take before the next works came out of her mouth—that she and the kids were safe.

I don’t know why I have recently had so many frequent reminders of the depth of gratitude I should have.

I only hope I’m not preparing myself to deal with great loss.

But who am I to avoid it?

People First (JSConf EU)

I was honored by the wonderful JSConf EU team to be able to share this talk at this year’s conference.

Slides with notes:

People First (JSConf EU)

I was honored by the wonderful JSConf EU team to be able to share this talk at this year’s conference.

Slides with notes:

No excuse

I read this post by Eric Meyer this morning—his reflections written in the few hours before taking his five year-old daughter to receive treatment for cancer on her brainstem—treatment that may cause permanent cognitive damage.

I immediately began crying.

Simply imagining going through that experience with one of our children brought me to my knees. I am in awe of Eric’s attitude and everything in my heart goes out to him and his family.

It’s hard not to read something like this without become deeply reflective. My reflection was an overwhelming sense of gratitude that again brought me to tears, laying just feet from my four year-old daughter who slept soundly and healthily in her bed in the silence and the dark of the early morning.

Set aside the incredible privilege I have experienced—growing up with more than enough of whatever I needed, cared about and well cared for in a wonderful family who as adults are all among my best friends, and the no-way-this-was-my-doing level of good fortune I’ve had in business.

If all I get in my entire life is to have had the real, true love of the most amazing woman I have known… to know what it is to hear my little Katie bounce on the bed and say, “Daddy, I love you a million-million times to the moon and back”, or to get to see that huge smile on his face when my little boy calls out, “Da! Da!!” when I walk in the door—if that’s all I get, I have no excuse.

No excuse not to be grateful for the rest of my life.

No excuse not to be the best version of myself that I can so that others can get the most out of what I have to give.

No excuse at all.

Enough is enough

We’re releasing a semi-dystopian science fantasy novel written by Mike Speegle for RealtimeConf where the bad guys are a dark and nebulous force called SILOS—an analagous mix of everything we hate about the NSA and the corporate tech company buffoonery that is forcefully and rapidly undermining the Open Web.

And here I am, reading the day’s news, after months and months of horrible news for the Internet, and now wishing that the dark vision of SILOS was the more dramatic and dark one instead of the reality of the Internet that we’re not far from looking down the barrel at.

People like Lavabit who’ve walked away from their businesses rather than compromise users’ privacy or their own integrity and others like Silent Circle who did the same out of chilling effects are just the tip of an iceberg that has the potential to sink a big part of what we value about the Internet.

And at this point, I’ve just got to say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

It’s time to “disrupt”, except, um, for real—not just the startuppy thing where we share pictures of bespoke taxis.

We already know we can’t trust the government to do what’s right. Yet we know the government can and will answer to the people, if the people are vocal enough.

The biggest and most painful problem is that not enough of the American public is angry enough that this is a terrible thing to do something about it—largely, I think, because they don’t understand and because there’s so much misinformation and spin about it.

Massive civil disobedience has proven to be a loud voice for change and the people of the web have a big megaphone.

What if we chose a date and coordinated a 24 hour Internet shut down, strike, and information campaign—a “snow in”, so to speak?

Here’s how I think it might work:

  1. Walk out and refuse to work for 24 hours. I believe this shouldn’t just be developers and web designers and sysadmins or people changing their avatars, it should be a widespread and painfully disruptive protest strike.
  2. If you are willing and have the rightful authority to do so, shut down any Internet services and websites under your power, with a temporary redirect to a white page with simple text describing why there’s nothing there.
  3. Write your customers, managers, and clients an email in advance saying you’re participating and why you feel this is important enough to do something about—and ask for their support.
  4. Spend that period of time piling calls and emails to government officials, spreading the word about why this matters, and educating people.

This isn’t a call to do this—it’s a prod and a question and an invitation for discussion. If it were to happen and capable of being effective, it should be a massively organized protest with a ton of lead time.

What do you think?

Do you think enough people would put in the energy and have the guts to participate in this to make a difference? And would it make a difference? And if not this, then what?

Edmund Burke’s famous quote comes to mind: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good women and men to do nothing.”

I can’t believe there’s nothing we can do about this.


PS This post is great. But I think it’s not enough at this point.

We truly need a system-wide autoimmune response that says “this has gone too far”, it can’t just be an expert-level battle.

I believe engineering can make a big difference, but then it’s just a war of engineering, when this needs to be a line-in-the-sand ethical decision by the people whose lives and futures are and will increasingly be influenced by the state of the Internet.

The web is not just for web developers!