Living in a World Without Neil Peart
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On January 7, 2020, the world of music suffered the loss of an extremely talented musician and lyricist. Neil Peart, the drummer of the progressive rock band named "Rush", died at the age of 67, ending a long battle with brain cancer (glioblastoma).
Suddenly, You Were Gone
Because Neil was private in nature, legions of fans were shocked to hear the news of his death. I know I was surprised. In fact, a long-time friend (Jeff from "When the Dream Disappears From Your Dream Job") did not initially believe my words when I sent him a text shortly after I saw an article from Rolling Stone magazine.
"Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon"
- Neil Peart (Afterimage)
In this article, I want to raise awareness to a few things I learned from Neil Peart, which truly have endless positive implementations.
Think Outside the Box
For an outsider listening to their first Rush album, the drums are far more than keeping time for the music. In fact, the drums are a major component of Rush and their music. Most would sit eagerly at concerts to hear Neil's current drum solo, which was always fascinating. Neil tossed traditions aside and spent a lot of time thinking outside the box to author an impressive drum score to any form of listener.
The first learning point is to consider how often a similar approach is being applied in our lives as IT professionals. Are we delivering program code that is basically keeping time for the application? Or are we providing performant code that is easily adaptable for use cases that are not currently known?
The challenge here is to think outside the box, avoiding crossing that line of Gold Plating the solution.
As a lyricist, Neil Peart was a student and a scholar. He wanted to learn and comprehend why others were writing what they were writing so that he could present his thoughts as lyrics to inspire discussion and debate. Neil became an innovator and a leader at his trade — always focusing on continued thought to further refine his works of art.
As an IT professional, this can be a challenging task to match because it is always quick and easy to take the first approach that comes to mind. However, when we simply "fire and forget" a solution, we and our customer are missing out on a much greater result.
Just like Neil, I recommend gaining a full understanding of the languages, frameworks, and APIs that are being utilized in your current environment. Find someone to follow (for Java I recommend someone from Pivotal) and absorb the points they are trying to get across in publications, blogs, or even social media posts. Understand, innovate, and lead others along the way.
Neil realized that learning has no end. After years of holding his drumsticks one way, he made the decision to switch to what is called a "traditional grip", commonly employed by jazz drummers. In watching a video on this topic, it was clear that Neil always expected to learn something new every single day.
Within the world of development, the very same landscape exists. The challenge is to make time to seek alternative languages, frameworks, or design approaches — and then apply them in some private repository. For bonus points, set up a Twitch.tv account and live stream as you learn — allowing others to join you in your effort.
In the end, you may not find something that can be applied in your daily job, but I am certain you will become a better developer as a result of these actions.
In a very short time, Neil lost not only his only child to an automobile accident, but also his wife in less than a year later. As both a father and spouse, I cannot imagine having to deal with such a situation, especially knowing how much Neil valued both of them in his life.
Instead of giving in to the demons often associated with such situations, Neil picked himself up and started a 55,000-mile journey on his motorcycle across North America. This event not only turned out to be therapeutic, but it also resulted in his publication of "Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road".
While IT professionals typically do not face such situations from a career perspective, having to face adversity can become a challenging situation. In fact, I have seen cases where some level of adversity has caused individuals to seek new employment opportunities.
The challenge here is to face adversity head-on, understand the situation, and determine the best way to solve the situation. Like Neil, in taking this approach, I fully believe you will grow as an IT professional (and a person) as a result.
I wasn't expecting my life to be different when Neil would pass. After all, those days of listening to album after album of Neil's work was decades ago in my metaphorical rear-view mirror.
Interestingly, I did find myself listening to more Rush in the weeks leading up to Neil Peart's death — either via Amazon Prime Music or YouTube services. I did not really understand why I wanted to revisit my collection. Maybe it was fate pulling me back in to listen again before Neil left this world?
My life is different, and I feel like I have lost someone who was very close to me. While I never met Neil Peart, and I probably only saw him in person six times — with the last time being in late 1991, I feel like his approach to playing music and his lyrics spoke to me. For that, I am forever grateful to have these emotions and all of the lessons I learned from his existence.
Every blog post and DZone article I have written always has a final line, simply stating "Have a really great day!" For this article, I feel like I should pay homage to Neil and close with lyrics that have been close to me since "Misson" from the Hold Your Fire album was released:
"A spirit with a vision is a dream with a mission." - Neil Peart (Misson)
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