6: Unleashing the beast
There’s a mindset I had as a programmer. This mindset of being world-class, being impressive.
You can find it in a lot of tech people. You can find it in tech. There’s something about working in tech where people always talk about their work as being this large thing.
“Let’s change the world through payment solutions/ crypto exchanges/ insert literally any tech companies value proposition”
I am not sure any other industry thinks about their work as World-changing on the level people in tech think of theirs - no matter how niche their product is.
Beyond that, specifically in Nigeria, there’s an interesting culture amongst tech people. A culture of ‘oh look how impressive I am’ or ‘look how impressive we are’ or ‘let’s go out and be super impressive.’
They use rocket emojis 🚀🚀🚀 here and fire emojis 🔥🔥🔥 there. I think being a programmer in Nigeria comes with a feeling that you are either very good or you can be.
One of the things I miss most about being a programmer is the feeling of doing difficult and impressive things. I have’’t felt that way since I left the field.
Incase you are new here: My name is Mo Isu. I am an audio producer based in Lagos, Nigeria. I am currently attempting to build a career in audio journalism. I have taught myself everything I know so far. You are reading issue 6 of my newsletter detailing this segment of my journey.
The work I do now, don’t get me wrong, it’s very difficult. This whole trying to build a career in audio thing is really hard, I frequently wish I could be doing any other thing.
But I can’t be doing any other thing.
The best way to explain this would be a scene from the Marvelous Mrs Maisel where the title character Midge Maisel asks comedian Lenny Bruce if he loves stand-up
Midge: Do you love it?
LENNY: Do I love what?
M: Comedy. Stand-up. Do you love it?
Well, I've been doing it
Okay, let's put it like this.
If there was anything else
in the entire world
that I could possibly do
to earn a living, I would.
Anything. I'm talking
dry cleaners to the Klan,
crippled-kid portrait painter,
If someone said to me, "Leonard,
you can either eat a guy's head
or do two weeks at the Copa,"
"Pass the fucking salt."
It's a terrible, terrible job.
It should not exist.
Like cancer and God.
M: But do you love it?
Lenny: Shrugs with a smile and leaves
Yeah. He loves it.
This illustrates two things. This work is hard and I love it. The thing that still stumps me is the impressive part.
My choice of what to dedicate time doing has always been kind of guided by these three things
I love it
It is hard/ challenging
It is impressive.
One way I try to be impressive is by taking something I love and trying to do it ridiculously well. In my first year of university, my goal was to score close to 100 on my physics exam. That was it. I knew I could probably get an A. I loved physics. There were other subjects as well for me to dedicate some effort to but the thing on my mind that year was to be impressive by scoring a 97 in physics. I think I scored an 80. It wasn’t impressive but it was very good. That’s something about aiming to impress, at the very least, you will be good.
Working in tech has always had a somewhat impressive undertone to it. I think it might even be one of the things that drew me to it. I know as a child, I had a lot of interest in science and technology. For the first years of my childhood, my ambition was to be a scientist. That changed when I discovered technology. I liked reading about the things people had invented, I was so interested in this genre of general knowledge that whenever I played trivia, having me on your team kind of guaranteed a victory for you. In my primary school yearbook, my ambition read inventor/technologist. Whatever the hell that meant. Secondary school is when my obsession with computers matured. I zoomed into an interest in software and hardware. In computation. I developed a love for computers at a time when there was still a pretty hard-pushing narrative that people that worked in tech were very impressive. There were all these stories of young men dropping out of school to build software and becoming billionaires. There was also the hacker narrative. You know, hackers are socially awkward because they are so smart. Working in tech, you didn’t have to focus so hard on being impressive, it was already impressive to be in tech. All you had to do was focus on the doing hard things part.
In 2017, every morning, I woke up and tweeted “I am going to be great.” I really believed it.
Another cultural element to the tech mindset is how hard they work, or at least appear to. Tech people have the most prevalent narratives around working late nights and getting lost in work. In the movie ‘the social network’ it always jumps at me how often they say this exact sentence ‘he is wired in.’
Tech people actually have a rich language to describe their ideas about working hard. Take this other one
“ it’s day 1”
You might have heard or seen that one around. It’s actually a pretty magnificent metaphor for describing the neverending drive to work as hard as you did before you experienced any kind of success. On day 1, you are wild-eyed with an unbacked sense of ambition and belief that absolutely drives you to push your hardest. The passing of time can tend to make that feeling waver. Acting like it’s day 1 means you never lose interest in working through the night. Working like your life depends on it.
To a certain extent, these ideas around work can be a little dangerous - even toxic. Especially when you force them on the people that work with you - that’s not the thing that appeals to me. What appeals to me is how much effort you put into doing something you love and doing it very well. So well that it is impressive.
I have been trying to be impressive. Every episode I edit for I like girls, I send with my heart in my mouth. I want Aisha to tell me how much she likes it. I mean this isn’t unique to just I like girls. In every episode of any podcast, I have ever put together, I hope that people talk about how much they liked it. I hope they tell me how impressed they were. How it was like nothing they have ever heard before. I want them to say it genuinely.
When an episode is done being edited, Aisha’s final comment is usually ‘sounds fine’ or ‘sounds good’ or ‘sound okay’ or she just doens’t have any further comments. The woman is really hard to impress. I mean on one level, it is expected that I actually present good work, I shouldn’t be digging for compliments for something I am being paid to do. I know that. I expect my work to be good. I do all the things I am asked to do but I also go an extra mile and do things no one asked me to do. I also push back on things Aisha asks for. If I think something is likely to sound cheesy, I say that. I didn’t do this because it didn’t work or I don’t think it will work.
I am actively pondering what it would take for me to be impressive. For my work to be impressive. This is one reason why I work really hard. It’s also why I work on so many things. One reason I work on a lot of projects is that I am poor and I want to make more money. But another reason is that I want to maximize my opportunities to do impressive work.
I started thinking about all of this recently because I missed feeling the way I felt when I worked in tech. Working late nights and feeling really fulfilled about making breakthroughs in projects. I liked the feeling of getting lost in a project, the feeling of zoning in. The feeling of it being day 1, fueled by an unbacked sense of ambition and belief that absolutely drives me to push my hardest. I am sure I can find this feeling in production as well and I am going to be intentional about creating these moments but more importantly about feeling them.
On the one hand, aiming to be world-class guarantees that I can actually make progress in the field. And maybe that would be one way for me to get rid of my current feelings of being underqualified.
“Plus when you shoot for impressive, at the very least, you land at very good.”
Update on pitching
No pitch has been sent out yet but I am working on a couple. Two for print.
My passive mind has also been completely consumed by pitch-related thoughts lately. Thoughts like
“is this a story ii could pitch”
“What are the stakes in this story? I need to create stakes”
“But who are the characters”
I am still looking forward to turning this obsession into actual work. This is week 2 of working towards pitching.
Thank you for reading this issue.
I am currently working on a series of stories for a short project and I am looking for subjects that fit the following bills
- Have you ever been a really bad date? Like so bad, it tarnished your memory of a song type bad?
- Have you ever been catfished?
- What is something you have done once and never see yourself ever doing again?
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