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By Robert Rapier on Aug 20, 2007 with no responses

Reflections at the Crossroads

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I spent this weekend on a couple of offshore production platforms. The isolation provided a very reflective atmosphere for me, and some things came into focus. I have been trying to juggle a lot lately. It has come to the point that I effectively have 2 full-time jobs. I spend 45-50 hours a week at work, and another 40-60 hours doing work related to this blog. That work involves writing essays for this blog and for other websites, answering e-mails, and doing technical evaluations on various ideas that people send me.

The writing is the easy part. I can knock out an essay very quickly. But let’s face it: I have a combative personality. I feel like I need to address every criticism from every critic (even the obvious nut jobs). I know I shouldn’t, but that’s the way my brain is wired. And that takes an incredible amount of time. For a while I have been wondering how long I can keep this up, but this weekend proved to me that I have reached the end of the line. The status quo must change.

Here are the issues that have come into focus for me, followed by the options I have identified for moving forward (or not). Suggestions are appreciated.

Family Issues

Because of my juggling act, I don’t always pay as much attention to those around me that I should. This past week, my 11-year-old son watched a movie that he really liked. I told him, “Yeah, I have been meaning to watch that with you.” He then looked at me, and asked “But why didn’t you?” Do you know why I didn’t? Because I was on the Internet, “in combat mode”, as my wife likes to call it, addressing critics. But it was really one of those sobering moments where you think “What am I doing?” You know that song, “Cat’s in the Cradle?” I could hear that playing in my head when my son asked me that question. And even though I love talking and debating about energy, I don’t want my kids to grow up with memories of me glued to the computer.

I could juggle all of this when I was here in Scotland by myself, because the discussions kept my mind occupied and off of the fact that I was going to be a long time away from my family. But now that we are all back together again, I find that it is very easy to get sucked right back into things. I think “I will just post a short essay”, and before long I find that I spend 10 times that effort responding to comments. And that’s when family time suffers.

Work Issues

Walking around those platforms this weekend, it became clear how much I do not know. For those who don’t know, my assignment in Scotland is quite different than my past experience, which has been primarily in downstream production and R&D. So, I am in a position where I am on a very steep learning curve, and this weekend it came into sharp focus just how high that mountain is that I have to climb. Yet I have been heading down parallel paths – the outside interests and work – both of which are demanding more of my time. This is keeping me from climbing that mountain as quickly as I should.

I always performed at a very high level as an engineer. I have always had a knack for finding creative solutions to problems. And I have been able to advance on the basis of intelligence and creativity. Presently, I am responsible for a team of 13. Within my group, there is an incredible amount of information that I need to manage. And I just can’t get by solely on the basis of intelligence and creativity. I can’t handicap myself by staying up until midnight debating energy, and then go to work tired and with bloodshot eyes, and still excel at my job. If I don’t make a change, I am going to go from excelling as an engineer to mediocrity as a manager. And not only do I not like the idea of mediocrity, but mediocrity in this business can get people hurt.

Legal Issues

Another factor in my thinking concerns advice I received recently from two different attorneys. As many of you know, I have provided free technical evaluations for numerous projects/ideas. The number of times I have done this from e-mails alone is certainly over a hundred. Other people write to tell me they are acting on the basis of something I have written. And while I am eager to help people out, one of the lawyers advised me that I am exposing myself to liability. If I provide useful advice to 50 people, then I will probably never hear anything else about it. But if the 51st person feels like they got bad advice because they made a bad investment as a result, they may decide they should sue (even though the advice was free).

This was really news to me, but I was assured that it happens. I was told that I definitely need to put up disclaimers to the effect that if you decide to act on any of the opinions expressed in this blog, that you are on your own. But it has also made me decide to permanently take my e-mail address offline. I don’t have time for it, but throw in the possibility of a lawsuit, and it becomes a no-brainer.

Outside Projects

I have picked up an outside project that has a lot of promise. But it is clearly going to take some of my time. And there is just no way that I can juggle my family, my job, my outside project, and this blog. I am reasonably confident I can juggle the first three.

Options

I have been kicking around the options. I am getting reasonable traffic, and a good number of consistent, reasonable posters regularly comment. I don’t want to just close the doors, so here are some things I have been kicking around.

1. Simply cease writing essays. Of course this option would mean that the reasonable posters would eventually drift away, and I think we have some good discussions here. The blog would remain as a source of information for people doing Google searches, which account for a fair fraction of the traffic.

2. Post one or two brief energy blurbs a couple of times a week as the basis for discussion. I wouldn’t necessarily participate much, as that’s a quick way for me to get right back to where I am now.

3. Invite a few of those consistent, reasonable posters to join the blog and post their own stuff. There are a lot of group blogs out there. With multiple people contributing, it takes a lot of pressure off of me. Right now, I am a one-man show, trying to manage an operation that is beginning to consume me. GraphOilogy, with 4 contributors, is a good example of an energy blog based on this concept. So if anyone is interested, let me know. I even make that offer to critics, and those with very different opinions, as long as energy is the topic. You would be free to post essays, and could also help police the nutters.

That’s about what I have come up with. If anyone has other suggestions, let me know. It has become crystal clear over the past weeks and months that I was coming to a crossroads: I had to either devote more time to the blog (and less to family and work) if I want to maintain it at a high level and grow, or I have to greatly cut down on the blog and rededicate myself to more important pursuits. But the status quo was clearly reaching a breaking point.