"The job's not where your happiness lies."
In the course of a conversation on job stress and frustrating work issues, my team lead said this pithy phrase, and everyone else on the call just laughed and that seemed to be the end of the conversation. I didn't laugh, though. I
didn't laugh, or cry, or complain. I just... went silent, quietly lost in my own train of thought kicked off by this concept.
First, the job's not where my happiness lies. I am not a function of what I do, and I am especially not a function of the subset of what I do that other people will pay me to do. Writing code makes me happy, but only insofar
as it's in the sense of solving problems and using what I know. Analyst work makes me happy but only in the context of finding problems and fixing them. I enjoy making things better, but not as a career. I'd far rather be in a
creative field, or teaching and helping others. However, there's no money in either of those, certainly not to put two people through transition or keep us in hormones and the general lifestyle to which we've become accustomed. So, I remain in the tech industry out of necessity, not desire. I don't expect the job to make me happy, and I'm not disappointed when it doesn't.
Second, the job isn't where my happiness lies? I'm going to spend almost a third of the best years of my life in indentured servitude to a third party in exchange for the priviledge of supporting myself and my family; I had damn well better get some happiness out of the exchange! I'm giving up time with my mate to be here, and no amount of money can replace that. I'm pretty sure that if I use the phrase "non-material payment" in my discussion anywhere, somebody in the audience will come to my house with a syringe of erotoxins and a hypnobeam to make me forget I did so, but such is the price I pay.
A job isn't just about measuring my time in dollars. My time is not merely calculable in terms of financial gain. There are so many other things I could be spending my time doing whose value cannot be measured in terms of money. Money is a medium of exchange, but it's not the only medium of exchange, merely the most intersubjective. Time itself is valuable; I'd trade a lot for an hour less a day in the car that I could dedicate to other tasks. "Time is money" for a reason. Forgive my recitation, but...
"It used to take me five hours to fill that tank. Now it takes three. Those two hours are mine, as if I had physically pushed back the clock, giving me that time back to spend on other things." -- Ellis Wyatt, Atlas Shrugged
If time can be a medium of exchange, what else can be? What about ideas? Information is quickly becoming the currency of the New Millenium, if it wasn't already, but what is the value of a thought? People pay for news—for newspapers, news magazines and subscriptions to information websites—because these things provide important information in a timely fashion. It's not just the knowledge, but the speed with which it's delivered. Some pieces of information are timeless. Others are time-critical. How will you know to sell today and buy tomorrow if you don't know what your investments are doing, and how do you find out in time to make that information important? Why do people pay to go to training courses? Why else would you invest in the Church of the SubGenius, except to learn what you really thought?
Emotion, too, can be a powerful medium of exchange. People who love each other share a bond that reinforces itself through repeated exchanges of that emotion, growing with every trade. It doesn't have to be love, either. Deep friendships can be built in the same fashion, and probably even powerful emnities as well. I'm sure lots of people love to hate somebody. Who is to say, then, that I shouldn't make positive, rewarding emotion part of the
demand I make for my time away from other sources of emotional support and growth? Why shouldn't I insist on liking my job as part of the condition of working?
Work should not be "the daily grind." That way lies madness and frustration. If I have to work, I should at least enjoy something about my job. I enjoy the problem-solving aspects. I like my coworkers. I do appreciate my salary. I don't like my commute. I detest my hours. It seems right now to be a toss-up between being worth staying and wanting to find better. I think for now staying is the best option because it lets me build up stability in a position, which will look good when the time comes to leave, but I have trouble imagining that I'm going to retire here.
One thing I realized not to long back is that there's no real room for promotion in my position. If I want to move up or into another department, I'm going to have to relocate. The only reason this job exists is because the warehouse needs an on-site support person. If I'm not working support, this place doesn't need me. I can advance within my position, but not out of it. To move into another department, I'd have to go to a facility that needs that job function; the warehouse won't. That puts a damper on any real plan to stay here in the long-term, unless I decide I'm happy and comfortable here and don't feel like growing.
I'd appreciate the stability, perhaps, but analysis really isn't what I want to be doing in the long run. When I left academe to move into the real world, I did so with the intent of one day going back, getting my doctorate, and
being able to say to my students, "yes, you will need this in the real world, and here's where." In the six years that I've been working, I've used what I learned in college less than a quarter of the time. The rest has all been things that I learned as a sideline to the actual information in the courses I took. "Computer science" as a field isn't about learning to be a computer programmer; it's about learning to be a theoretician with application as an afterthought. I only took two courses in either of my degree programs that actually focused on programming, four if you count the introductory classes on programming that I skipped because of my AP scores in high school. The rest were all "the theory of how and why computers work the way they do," not "how to make the computer do what you want." Analysis is not furthering my goal of being able to say I used what I learned in school, which is a little demoralizing when it comes to my long-term plans.
I've had a few side-projects that I've wanted to make semi-professional for a long time, but they've all stalled for want of an artist and my own false laziness. I really do want out of tech in the long term, but I'm not ready—emotionally or financially—to cut the cord just yet and let myself freeflail into a fresh position somewhere. Like as not, I'd destroy everything I've worked so hard to build. I feel like I'm in so deep that my only way out is through. There are things I can do, but all of them involve looking for another job closer to home that matches my goals and desires more closely, and I don't feel that trying to find another position right now is in my best long-term career interest. If I can't get out of tech, then I need to be the best damn tech I can be, and that means showing I'm more stable than the people for whom I've worked.
I may not do what I love, but I should at least like what I do.