Dousing the flame

A friend of mine gave me a call the other day.

His name is Carl. I’ve known him for a long time so he lets me call him “Carl”.

Carl’s a young guy and has been quite passionate about the computer world. He has his own blog and used to write quite some eclectic material. Recently, however, he had been rather reticent with his ponderings.

As I hadn’t spoken to Carl for awhile, I arranged to meet him for a drink. It was quite at the bar. There was a group of guys who seemed to be discussing how to run a “search” project, but we tried to steer clear of that. We headed to a quite table and ordered a drink.

After the usual small-talk I asked him, directly, what was happening. Why hadn’t he written any blog posts recently.

“They’ve killed me”, he said. “Huh?! – what do you mean?” I replied almost choking on my beer. Carl went on “I’m dead…the passion’s gone”. I grilled Carl a bit more and gradually the story came out.

As I mentioned above Carl was really enthusiastic about the computer industry. He wrote some great blog posts, and would attend industry shows, and user group sessions when he could, just to see what the latest thing happening was and also to learn from others. In fact Carl had built up a great circle of what he called “Social 2.0 friends”. (I was a “social 1.5” friend according to him). And Carl was happy. He liked learning.

He wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time Carl was just a standard “computer guy”. He did his work well, but when he was at home he didn’t really do anything special. He watched TV, he went to the movies with some of his Social 1.0 friends, and that was pretty much it. Any  “further education” he got, any training, was always related to his job.

Then Carl had decided to improve himself. He started cautiously with his blog. (This is when I got to know him.) And he started reading more and more. Not only things that were related to his job, but articles and posts that discussed all facets of the computer industry. He even expanded this to include things that, on the surface, had nothing at all to do with computers.

I had been following Carl’s progress for awhile, and I could see that he was growing, and developing. Normally Carl was a reserved guy with not much self-esteem, but I could see a new confidence appearing. In our rare face-to-face opportunities, Carl had also mentioned the same. He was enthusiastic and didn’t want to stop.

But then, apparently, someone, where Carl worked, had taken exception to all this. Someone from high-up had come way down to talk with him. “Carl’, they had said (apparently) “You are wasting time. What has all this to do with your work. You’re clearly a ‘fuzzy thinking’. You write all this crap, but with no real value.” Carl had tried to protest, but he was too shocked. “We’ve read a lot of what you’ve written…90% of it is just cut-and-paste bullshit. You don’t write anything original.”

And this is when Carl “died”. “After hearing that,” he said to me quietly, “I just lost the passion.” “I thought I was doing so well, and was hoping that someone would recognise the potential I was showing.” “Instead, they just want me to plod through my job”

I bought Carl another beer and let him rave on a little bit more. I wanted to tell him that what he was had been doing was brilliant, and how he had really been making leaps and bounds in not only his knowledge but also in the sort of person he was. He had now “drive” and a voracious appetite for discovery. Carl was feeling so morose at this stage that it seemed that nothing I would say would make a difference.

We decided to call it a night. We sidled past the group of “search project” guys and headed out the door. I ordered Carl a taxi and got one myself.

Later that evening, back in my flat, I had a chance to think about Carl’s situation. It seemed a shame that his newly developed talents were not being recognised. In fact, it seemed the opposite. Even though Carl’s blog was a hobby, it seemed to have been used against him. I know, myself, that writing a blog often “exposes” you as a person. If you want to write something “real”, your ideas, your opinions, and your personality will get reflected in the blog posts. And it seemed that this had allowed Carl’s employer to make a judgement on who Carl was in the workplace. And this was a shame.

In an ideal world, what Carl was doing, the metamorphosis that he had achieved, would be recognised and utilised somehow. Instead, it seemed in Carl’s case, that someone had decided that this “new Carl” wasn’t fitting nicely into the hole that he was meant to be fitting into.

Carl’s flame has been doused. And that’s a real pity. I’m trying to give Carl real encouragement so that he won’t “lose himself”.

Carl – if you’re reading this, don’t be silenced. Be yourself.