There’s an old story about a boy who could fly. He just could, ever since he was little, and it was no big deal. One day, a scientist heard of the boy that flies. Quickly he packed his things and rushed over to the remote village to see the wonder with his own eyes. This is incredible, thought the scientist, if only I could understand how he does it!
So, the next day, the scientist approached the boy in the field. “Excuse me,” called the scientist to the boy, who was floating about 12 feet above ground. The boy floated down to earth and stood next to the scientist. “Can you tell me how you do this?” asked the scientist. The boy said he doesn’t know, he was always able to fly and it was no big deal. “But it is a big deal!” said the scientist, “you must think. When you lift off, what exactly do you do with your feet? Do you jump? Explain it to me, please.”
The boy thought about it. He tried lifting one leg, and then the other, but that didn’t feel quite right. He then tried to jump, but he couldn’t jump higher than a few inches. It wasn’t how he used to fly. Only now the boy couldn’t stop thinking about how he did it.
The boy was never able to fly again.
It’s Like Riding A Bike
After working in a place for a few years, it becomes part of who you are. Your body remembers the place. It remembers the shortest way to the cafeteria (and the longest way as well). It remembers how to get to the conference room or the bathroom or the cafeteria. It knows to avoid the loose tile in the lobby and the trashcan that keeps the emergency exit from closing. It does all this so that you don’t have to. Your muscles remember so your brain can think of something else.
Muscle memory is short termed and highly adaptable. Your muscles get tuned to any repeated activity, but they have limited capacity. If you change your habits, even for a few weeks, you lose it. What was second nature needs to be relearned.
I went back to visit BigCo this week. It has almost been a year since I stopped working there. It doesn’t feel that long. A lot of the memories are still vivid in my mind. After all, I was there for five and a half years. This is the hallway I used every day to get to my office. Here are the people I’ve sat in boring meetings with. Oh, and there’s an old friend I used to go to lunch with. Nothing is new, but everything is different.
Something happened. I’m now an outsider. My brain is now busy dissecting the environment. Little things are different. A photo on the wall was replaced. The loose tile is no longer loose. Offices were shifted around.
People are still busy, still troubled by the same things. Project Titanic is too big and will miss the deadline once again. Project Awesome just shipped a second version. There’s still a lot of talk about how bad management is and how hard it is to retain employees without bonuses. There’s still a group of dedicated individuals who work 20 hours a day and another that drop the pen at five sharp and head home. I know all of this. I was here for so long. Yet it is alien to me.
“Living here day by day, you think it’s the center of the world. You believe nothing will ever change. Then you leave: a year, two years. When you come back, everything’s changed. The thread’s broken. What you came to find isn’t there. What was yours is gone. You have to go away for a long time… many years… before you can come back and find your people. The land where you were born. But now, no. It’s not possible. Right now you’re blinder than I am.”
– Alfredo, Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
You were my people for very long. I had to step back to notice how fast things change. I am delighted to see that projects we’ve dreamed together are now reality. Thank you.