On the hard choices we make every day

Every morning when I wake up, I have choices to make. While I want to turn Acquia into a billion dollar company, I also want to grow Drupal to be the leading digital experience platform. Both are connected and some of the work overlaps, but it still requires me to decide how much of my energy to focus on my duties as the CTO of Acquia as well as my duties as the project lead of Drupal.

It has been a few years since I wrote a good amount of code and I miss the thrill of programming -- both roles with Drupal and Acquia have evolved into management positions. Going back to writing software is a choice too, and one that I would undoubtedly enjoy. I think about it almost daily, and every time I decide not to.

At the same time, I also want to say 'yes' to the many invitations to travel the world, to speak at conferences, or to spend time with people I look up to. I also want to reply to all the emails I receive; I don't like it when emails fall through the cracks. I want to use my network and experience to advise other startups and Open Source projects. I'd love to increase my responsibilities as a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum (I'm bummed I couldn't attend Davos last week) and contribute to solving some of humanity's biggest problems. Other times I ask myself; why not kick back and have more time with friends and family? That is really important too.

When I push open the drapes in the morning, I have choices to make. The choices looked simpler when I was younger — most days I don't remember having to make choices at all. But as my work has grown in reach and impact, the choices in front of me have expanded as well. Every day, I struggle with these choices and ask myself how to spread my energy. I realize I'm not alone, as I know many others that have tough choices to make.

My guiding principle is to optimize for impact, purpose and passion — it is a delicate and personal balance based on the belief that somehow all the dots will connect.

My deep-wired desire to optimize for impact has not been without challenges. It has been an extremely strong force pulling me away from other relative priorities involving family, friends and personal health. Recently, I've gotten better at making time for family, friends, eating well and exercising. There is no denying that every decision has trade-offs: when I choose to do one thing it means I choose not do something else. Not doing something means I let people down, and as more and more choices present itself over time, it means letting down more and more people as well. If I let you down, I hope you understand. And one of the people I let down is myself, as I may never write software myself again -- it may never be the most impactful to do.

The best thing a human being can do is to help another human being. The organizations I'm building, the things I'm passionate about, the things I read about and the decisions I make will hopefully all lead to helping many more people. In turn, I hope that some of the people I have coached and worked with will pay it forward. Making choices is difficult but all in all, it's a wonderful feeling to see how many people I've touched by doing what I enjoy and love.

Comments

Tim Miller (not verified):

Fantastic article Dries - I'm really glad you are able to make these critical decisions to better balance now and not get to 10 years time and look back and say - I wish I had. Good luck with the balance and your desire to impact many.

January 26, 2015
Yannick Khayati (not verified):

Good read Dries, about the coding... Write down a good idea once in a while, when you’ve got plenty, choose the best one, make time for a side project and maybe you’ll code yourself to a million-dollar company!

January 27, 2015
David Bishop (not verified):

Agree with Tim - great article Dries.

While you may not be coding so much now (if at all) at the point which you painstakingly thought through the best way to layout the framework you did something that most of us (coders) have tried but did not achieve in such elegance and in doing you seeded a community. In short, you made all the right choices then: right framework, right technology, right moment.

Others will take this forward, for themselves and for others, but you will always be the founder and as such you should be very proud and not worry so much about your choices!

For example, last year I built a good sized Drupal website for a charity event which because of the great way it can manage and expose data grew from an event with a fundraising target of £10,000 to something that delivered £366,000, was held at 750 locations round the world, had 40,000 participants and set a new Guinness World Record. (www.bartsbash.co.uk).

It grew from a small idea to this big event on limited investment and tea, because you can do that in Drupal which is awesome. The Drupal platform I used (version 7) sits on the shoulders of thousands of others, but you were the seed.

You made a good choice then, at that time, at that moment. I'm sure your will make the right choices now.

Have a beer, you deserve it.

From just one of the silent majority who use Drupal now and appreciate what you started.

January 27, 2015
John Coonen (not verified):

Decision-making has always been your strength, Dries.

January 27, 2015
Steve (not verified):

The heartbeat of Drupal, the vision you have and values you bring are why I always choose Drupal far and above anything else. You're the young Steve Jobs of the digital experience world. Best of success to you!

February 05, 2015
Daniel Harris (not verified):

Everyone has their own version of "The best thing a human being can do is..." Helping other people is a good thing to do. There are loads of good things to do. I guess what I'm trying to say is beware of getting caught up by what you think a 'good' person should do with their lives rather than what you should do with your life. There's a difference. We are not all the same. We are all different and have different goals and needs. If you are doing something then do it for yourself and not some idea of what it is best for 'good' people to do. That will impact on your enjoyment of life. Which in turn will impact on your health. Which in turn will impact on you being able to be active for longer and do the things you want to do.

In my case creating a better world, working on technology, having fun and celebrating life all go hand in hand. They are all part of my needs. For me those needs come from what makes me feel good. Maybe that means my technology project take 20 years to come together, like https://www.kendra.io for instance! ;-) But 'feeling good' is my compass. Maybe I do a lot of stuff for myself like walking and playing music. I also get a kick out of building technology.

Sometimes I end messages to people with "have fun! ;-)".

Have fun! ;-)

February 06, 2015