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Alfred Stieglitz: A Wet Day on the Boulevard, Paris (1894, printed c. 1897)

"Becoming seems to be what we really are when we insist that we are anything at all."

Defining "done" was one enduring difficulty every project I ever worked on, led, or consulted with experienced. Some adopted the curious First Customer Shipped metric, which insisted that the project was done when the first customer's order was free on board a truck. Others presumed that the project had successfully tested fixes for and integrated all critical bug reports. In actual experience, though, the project team inevitably continued their efforts long after the designated completion date, for that first customer, upon receiving the first instance of the final product, would experience unanticipated difficulties that only the development team could resolve and additional critical bugs would emerge even after testing and integration were successfully completed. Eventually, the end product would be more or less integrated into the finished product maintenance stream, though members of the original development team might only partially divorce themselves from the product.

I learned that whatever the product developed, it never left a state of becoming.
The original intentions were, in practice, never fully satisfied. Declaring any effort done inevitably became a political act, like signing a peace treaty following long hostilities. Some insurgent hostiles always miss the memo. Pressures to placate the late-comers always remain. The institutional understandings earned by the development team can only partially (if at all) be transferred to any maintenance process, though eventually, burning issues tend to extinguish themselves. Even given this universal experience, much pressure focuses on declaring a done date early in the development process, though nobody ever believes it's anything more than a rough target. Once the project gets declared done, the auditors will inevitably employ that moldy done date to carp about how the effort didn't come in on time (or budget, or spec), and all will be right with the world again.

Projects work like this because the world works like this. In practice, development never ends. However diligently anyone might set about to become something, to make something of themselves, the development effort never ends. Along the way, one might collect many certifications denoting progress. For instance, a med school student might graduate from med school and even earn the right to designate themselves as a doctor, though their development into a doctor should properly never end. The newly minted physician might understand this contradiction better than anyone else. It's no different for any profession, for any occupation. An artist or a writer never fully masters their craft and might struggle with the lingering effects of imposter syndrome throughout their career, always still becoming, never experiencing finally being.

We are all, consequently, still works in progress. I, a writer for decades, still feel as though I haven't entirely caught on to my trade's full complement of tricks. I hold huge blind spots, not to mention all of the blind spots I continue to be blind to, which I omit from my accounting. My skills still seem meager to me, however others might marvel at (or disparage) my work product. I'm still learning and, on my better days, still aspiring to become something I deep down understand I will never actually become. I accept (on my better days) that the purpose of my lifelong pursuit must not have ever been to become a writer but always to be becoming one. The retirement package sucks because there doesn't appear to be any retirement associated with becoming. The development process has no end.

I experience days when I feel as though I probably should have pursued that career in accountancy that my Junior High School career assessment instrument insisted I was natively well suited for, though I suspect that had I gone the green eye shade route, I'd still be becoming an accountant, too. I became a father the moment my son was born, though I understood even then that I had more to learn before being fully worthy of that designation. I had no clue how much more I would have to learn, and the learning continues to this day. I'm still on my way to even Becoming. We seem to simultaneously be what we declare ourselves to be and yet not quite fully there yet: Becoming. Becoming seems to be what we really are when we insist that we are anything at all.

(Originally Posted 9/14/2018)

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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