Getting Better at Better


Most people would say the number 13 is unlucky.

I disagree. Strongly.

This year marks the 13th year of Ken’s death and I can easily say that this past year has been the most entirely eye-opening and profound in my life and will shape who and what I am until my last breath.

In my description of why Ken’s life and death impacted me so much, I wrote about how I want to be “better”. A better person, a better example, just … “better”.

The problem with “better” is that it requires a baseline for comparison. My personal baseline was the non-kind, non-generous, non-humble, “I’ll help you but what’s in it for me” character I was so many years ago.

Social Impact

The past year has brought about significant changes in life. Those who truly know me well would know that my desire to help people was never “about the numbers”.

Just the act of helping people has become the very thing that fires me up, energizes me and sustains me. Even when I want to be resting I’m thinking about things I can teach, how I could be helping someone, or building tools to help people.

With all sincerity, it’s never been about the numbers, ever.

Certain events took place this year that caused me, for the first time, to quantify my efforts, and even writing this list has welled up incredible emotion:

  • My teaching and mentorship of others now regularly exceeds 15 hours per week, most of it for free. On top of a full-time job at a startup.
  • Through this teaching/mentorship, I’ve directly impacted the lives and perhaps the very career trajectory of over 350 people since the fall of 2014.
  • I’ve published and continue to publish lots of free material about technical career preparation; I’m even working on a book and decided to open-source the material to make it more widely accessible to whomever it can reach in a way to help.
  • I’ve contributed to open-source and closed-source projects that will impact nearly half a billion users in the next 18 months, some uses of which will promote education, volunteerism, fitness, healthier eating, and other ways of sharing helpful content.
  • I’ve mentored, taught, and raised up many others who now also strive to be mentors and teachers.

For the first time in my life, I’m actually doing things that will change the world. Even if only one person at a time. And that’s good enough for me.

Getting my own mentor

I sought out mentorship this year thanks to a shared connection: a student from The Turing School of Software and Design. This isn’t the first time someone named “Elijah” will have had a profound encounter in my life.

Over a series of coffee conversations and lunch, the advice of Dan Willis, a local career coach, has drawn out some deeply emotional and critical thinking about the impact that Ken’s death has had on me:

  • How it led me to a place of humility.
  • How humility led me to helping others on a larger scale.
  • How helping led me into management.
  • How management led me to feeling true joy at the success of others.
  • How that joy led to my job at Stream where I continued to teach at a deeply technical level.

And how all that, ultimately, led to a major career decision to become a full-time instructor at Turing, starting in October 2017.

When is it “enough”?

If I’m honest, I’ve struggled many times over the years. Weary from late-night exhaustion of staying up with students, or doing into-the-A.M. mock interviews with total strangers, I’ve often asked myself, “when is it enough?”. Usually in tears. Because I’m tired ALL the time. I’ve wanted to give up helping people so many times out of pure exhaustion.

When would the “karma” – which I don’t really believe in, but don’t entirely disbelieve either – be balanced out from my actions and INactions to Ken.

But in the desperation of wanting my work to be “enough”, I somehow always find the energy and means to help one more person.

I recently watched “Hacksaw Ridge” based on the true story of Desmond Doss. I had a crazy revelation watching Andrew Garfield’s character, through the battle, pray and yearn for “Help me get one more”.

(warning, some scenes are graphic and based on war battles and injuries)


Breakfast at Epiphanies

While I may may always struggle emotionally with Ken’s death, not getting to say goodbye or resolve things amicably, I promised many years ago to get “better”. Be a better friend, a better mentor, a better person.

Turns out … I’ve gotten “better.”

But never let myself see it.

I will always strive to honor Ken’s death. My promise to be a better person holds forever, and has left a permanent mark on who I am, and who I’ll continue to be. I will always do what I can to be there to “help one more”.

As far as the “karmic” balance, though, I believe I’ve done “enough”. Enough to balance things. By no means do I intend to ever stop helping others. It’s in my DNA.

Oh, I’ll always mourn Ken’s death at the end of August every year, but the guilt I’ve carried about the person I was has no more power to drag me into depression.

Because I’m not that guy any more.

So, with that, my final letter to Ken:

August 27, 2017

Dear Ken,

I'm "better" now than I've ever been.

My NEW goal is to "get better" at *being* better. But 
in a way that's healthier for me on all levels.

You've empowered me to make the world a better place.

The guilt I carried for years over beign a lousy person 
got washed away with a lot of tears over the past year.

I can now mourn the fun times, and truly miss our 
friendship, instead of lamenting over the person I wish
I'd been.

I'm free now.

Rest in peace.