The Voice Inside My Head

There’s a voice inside my head.

It constantly reminds me of how retarded I am. How much mess is going on inside my impulsive and unfocused mind. It reminds me of how many smart real engineers I know. Smart people who know and do actual engineering for a living. They build stuff, or do advances finite element analysis. I wouldn’t be able to build a wood shed even if someone bought all the tools and materials. Says the voice inside my head.

The voice inside my head points out, with surprising accuracy, how much harder my coworkers work. It elaborates passionately about how much real hard labor they lay down each god damn night, while I sit and play around with my ego trip software nerd dream. When I travel to conferences to talk with all the other ego trip software nerd people, my coworkers carry the weight of real projects back at the factory. They pay with blood sweat and tears so that I can drink free beer with the international Charlie Foxtrot of drooling technology freaks who gather in highly lit halls to enjoy pipe dream rants about the future of design. The voice asks me, “what the hell are you doing here? You’re not making the world better. Go do some real engineering and stop embarrassing yourself with that ridiculous Thor Heyerdahl accent. Like the Swedish Chef you go on about oodie boodie schmoodie like there’s no tomorrow”.

Before I get on stage, the voice inside my head gets really excited. It goes on and on about all the shit that can go wrong. All the public humility that awaits me when I produce some stupid impulsive rant sentence that nobody understood, or that someone got offended by. It reminds me how low level my content is, how far it is from real engineering and how ridiculous it is for a guy who failed four times at Laplace and Fourier to be lecturing real engineers in computational design. It’s super ironic, says the voice, that the most unintelligent homo sapiens ever to walk out of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology with a not fake Master’s diploma is lecturing real engineers in advanced application of periodic functions in structural design. It points out, with painful precision, that it’s all copied from smarter people’s work. It suggests the only reason I keep getting invited to speak is they are charmed by my Scandinavian joviality or perhaps they have some sort of foreign speaker’s quota of some sort. The voice inside my head can be quite entertaining actually. Except when I’m about to enter the stage. Then it terrifies me.

Funny thing, my son doesn’t seem to have that voice. He’s my son – it should be genetically inherited, like mine was. No, he just approaches strangers anywhere with all kinds of weird questions and statements. He can stand in front of a whole line of adults and perform any retarded combination of movements and words. He doesn’t seem to mind.

Imagine if I acted like that during a real engineering project meeting, or during any of my professional presentations about serious topics like building information modeling. Or imagine if I brought some elements of my son’s apparent lack of head voice while discussing project delivery requirements or demand specifications with Project Managers and Building Owners. Just the fact that I write Project Manager with capital letters makes me shiver with fear at the thought of not containing myself within the boundaries of expected behavior.

But is this real? “Hell yes!” responds the voice inside my head. I’m not sure.

The people I meet after my presentations always seem very happy, and while I’m sure there are always some who thinks I’m an alpha jackass, I seem to get pretty good reviews too. The people I work with seem to be doing well as far as I can tell. I’m convinced that some are frustrated by the overload of real serious detail design project work, and that some are skeptical about what I do and even my personality. But most seem pleased to see me in the morning, and I get lots of attendees when I arrange internal knowledge development sessions. I also get real vocal positive feedback at some of the design work that I do. And sometimes, when I pull a stupid joke in front of a project manager, she laughs. And then I think I did something good, because John Cleese did a famous presentation on creativity, where he claimed that laughter was one of the most important catalysts in creative work. He should know.

This makes me wonder if others feel the same way. Would it help if I actually told someone who did something really awesome how I felt about it? If I think a person is doing a real good job, or that I’m impressed with the presentation skills of a friend who just came off stage – would the appreciate me helping silence their voice?

Below is a picture of Aaron Maller during his gala dinner software presentation in Dublin a month ago. Aaron get’s pretty nervous before he talks in front of people, just like me. But when he get’s on stage, he’s absolutely amazing, like in Dublin. All software failed and there were (as you can see) at times four or five persons on stage with him trying to fix technical issues while Aaron held the mic. That’s pressure. But with articulation, speed and wit he delivered an epic elevator pitch-like presentation. It was funny and informative, while at the same time maintaining a clear view of where it was going. I wish I had that capability. When I talk it always feels like I have the overview and course of a maggot. (Go away, voice!)


The voice inside my head is there for a reason. It’s controlling me with fear. I need it. We need fear to stay alive. But not too much. I need to be able to control it with objective information about the world around me.

It would be absolutely hilarious if my boss read this and thought “He is actually doing a pretty bad job and I need to fire his lazy ass”. That’s okay. But I don’t need the voice inside my head telling me that. I need real feedback. From real people. And I’m going give that to others. Starting from today.

6 thoughts on “The Voice Inside My Head

  1. Håvard Vasshaug Post author

    I want to thank you all for your fantastic comments. Thanks guys. I’m so proud to be part of a network that is made up of so many smart and funny people.

  2. Serhan

    Hi Håvard,
    I’ve checked your blog after I’ve watched your presentation at AU 2014 which was brilliant! As for your voice in your head; you are surely making the world a better place. By inspiring people! I’ve never thought that anyone can be as enthusiastic as I’am about rebars till I saw you 🙂 World needs people like you to push the rest of us to scale our boundaries aswell. I was procrastinating to switch to 3d rebar detailing since we’ve already developed a substantial toolbox for automated detailing in 2d in AutoCAD. Now I revise my direction to fork our lisp library to c# & dynamo. Thats the inspiration you radiate.
    I think the reality notion you stress in your post ends up to be the ones “perception” of structural engineering. I felt the same way as you do when I think of my engineer friends who work on site and me sitting on my desk designing. Moreover exploring things and exploiting them at the same time is a really hard work which is defined by the term ambidexterity. I agree with you that one feels really satisfied when doing both. Think of our colleges on site who have a minimal chance to try something new or reevaluate the processes where the construction principles are monolithic like the concrete it self 🙂 So we need to think that we are the lucky ones as per creativity and ambidexterity perspectives.
    You shouldn’t get caught up with the feeling of unreal or virtual, on the contrary consider what we do as designing and expanding the reality.

  3. Elisabeth

    Your inner voice is simply there to keep you sharp so you can deliver on stage. And you always do! Your ability to communicate in a very inspiring way is awesome, wether it is on stage or in your blog. Thank you for letting us know that even you, who seem so relaxed in front of any crowd, have to live with this inner voice. Probabely alpha jackasses are the only ones living without.

  4. Chris

    we all live with a stupid voice in our head mate. When I spoke I was about i heartbeat away from a panic attack. Never said this to you at the time. But having Brian and Desiree in my class was terrifying. And when I saw you walk in and take a seat late it definitely helped my anxiety. When Matt and I made our family we thought yeah it’s cool but does it really matter? who gives a shit about this stuff? Are we just making something so that we can go to Chicago? Stupid voice. You put on good informative talks. Your smarter than you give yourself credit for.

  5. Øyvind Seime

    Håvard, you definitly deserves all the good feedback I’m possible to give. We need those who are In front pushing the limits, then letting the rest of us copy at least some of your skills. Looking forward to stream your reinforcement speech at AU, thoug its late at night!


Leave a Reply to Serhan Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s