What “The Rings of Power” Taught Me About a Career in Tech (Part 4)
This article is the fourth and final installment of a discussion on how I found lessons for life and work in tech within pop culture.
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At last comes their answer through cold and through frost,
That not all who wonder or wander are lost,
No matter the sorrow, no matter the cost,
That not all that wonder or wander are lost.
. – Poppy Proudfellow, “The Rings of Power”
We’ve arrived at the end of the series. If you have missed parts of the journey so far, you can find part one here; and here you’ll find part two; and then you’ll find part three waiting for you here. And now, let us see what final wisdom Amazon’s “The Rings of Power” has in store for us:
I wrote earlier about mistakes with regard to our ability to apologize. But I want to take another moment and talk about the mistakes themselves.
They. Are. Priceless.
Sure, nobody likes the feeling of messing up. But the reality is that we, whether Numenorean or network engineers, learn far more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. But here’s the real lesson: when we are brave enough to speak about those mistakes, not only do we get the benefit of the lesson, but others can benefit without having to make the mistake in the first place! When we have the courage to show our own scars, we show how normal and acceptable to make mistakes is. And we open the door for others to show theirs, knowing they will be safe in doing so.
Just before they make their seasonal migration, the harfoots dramatize all of the challenges and dangers they may face with costumes and dance. Punctuating this celebration is the admonition: “Nobody goes off the trail, and nobody walks alone!”
But after the dancing has died down, they sit to honor the names of “those who fell behind.” And that’s where the real lesson of this sequence shines: when we are comfortable speaking of our defeats, failures, and mistakes, we make available, visible, and acceptable the context those mistakes happened in. We’re not just relating that such-and-such happened, but why it happened and, therefore, how we might avoid it in the future.
It’s a common element in any heroic story: someone is curious about something and — despite misgivings or even outright warnings — gives into that curiosity. The results of this vary according to the needs of the story.
In “The Rings of Power,” we see this in many moments: from Eärien tentatively reaching toward the palantir in Numenor; to Nori and Poppy investigating the crater where they’ll ultimately find the stranger from the sky; to Theo finding the shard of Sauron’s sword in Waldreg’s barn.
But the lesson, both from my experience in IT and from watching the show, is that the act of curiosity isn’t what defines us. Because curiosity isn’t just a storytelling trope, it’s common in all of us. Especially those of us who find our way into the tech world. No, the thing that reveals our true nature is what we do afterward: how we handle the fallout, consequences, or ramifications of our discovery.
Finding a person at the bottom of a burning crater, Nori immediately seeks to help. But more than that, as he begins to navigate the new world around him, she’s honest, both to him about what his presence means and what his options are; and also about him, knowing that even if he means well, he could unintentionally harm.
While initially guarding the secret sword, Theo comes to realize it’s not just a trinket but evil in nature. Despite internal pressures and external whispers from less-than-trustworthy adults, Theo shows the blade to Arondir in an attempt to set right any damage he’s done. Going a step further, he confides to the elvish guard the pull it still has on him.
This seems to represent the two most common responses from the best IT professionals I’ve had the good fortune to meet: to help and to minimize harm. Our curious exploration has the possibility of uncovering entirely new vistas and capabilities, opening up the opportunity to help our company or customers solve a problem, gain a benefit, or experience joy. On the other hand, the outcome of curiosity may crash systems, corrupt data, or block access. And in those moments, our honesty, maturity, and (as mentioned before) apology are the way forward out of the darkness.
And what of Eärien and the palantír? For that, it seems, we must wait for the next season. Teaching us that curiosity isn’t always satisfied (or at least not right away).
All stories have themes, and the best ones strike a balance between telling an exciting story and ensuring those themes are still visible in the through-line without being overbearing. For me (and others who’ve commented on this long before me), the themes in “The Rings of Power” are “fault and failure, forgiveness and fortitude.” And there’s a lot that we IT practitioners can find in those themes that mirror our daily lives and even instruct us on ways to respond in times of difficulty.
But it’s equally important to realize that no story contains every story and that our personal stories contain many themes and even more chapters. Until season two comes out, I’ll leave you with one last idea, wrapped up in two lines from the song I quoted at the start: one of the constant wonders for me in my IT career is just how often and how completely things change. And while there are moments of chaos and uncertainty, at the end of a long day, I wouldn’t be happy working in any other field.
The sun is fast falling beneath trees of stone,
The light in the tower no longer my home,
Past eyes of pale fire, black sand for my bed,
I trade all I’ve known for the unknown ahead.
. – Poppy Proudfellow, “The Rings of Power”
Published at DZone with permission of Leon Adato. See the original article here.
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