Saturday, January 26, 2008

On a Positive Note

Jean-Paul Boodhoo is a developer and consultant who used to work at ThoughtWorks and has been featured on the Polymorphic Podcast and DNRtv.  He recently posted a very encouraging post about dreams, risk, and reward.

Here's an excerpt.

I was speaking with a friend yesterday who made an interesting comment:

“You seem to regularly take on more stress than most other people would ever think to take on”

I corrected him and made this statement. I don’t feel like I am stressed out that much. In all honesty, the times that I feel stressed out almost always constitute a failure to plan on my part. I did say that what I do take on regularly is: Challenge and Risk. I am not afraid of the opportunity to fall flat on my face taking a risk, because I now that it is in the times of struggle/pain that growth happens.

Bravo.  That's well said.  Paul Graham (all your Lisp are belong to us) wrote a year ago explaining: How to Do What You Love.  Here's a quote, emphasis added:

Once, when I was about 9 or 10, my father told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, so long as I enjoyed it. I remember that precisely because it seemed so anomalous. It was like being told to use dry water. Whatever I thought he meant, I didn't think he meant work could literally be fun—fun like playing. It took me years to grasp that.

Sure, sure, I heard you saying... do what you love, right?  Well, I love vacations, the ocean, playing guitar, and chasing my puppy--how do I get paid to do that?  The truth is you don't; you won't; and you shouldn't.  Again, from Mr. Graham:

Unproductive pleasures pall eventually. After a while you get tired of lying on the beach. If you want to stay happy, you have to do something.

I can't tell you how invigorating working in the yard can be or how exciting solving some mildly difficult programming problem can be.  It's enough to make people blog about their experiences.  But, even these are just short-term examples, what is it that you would love to do over the long haul?  Is there some sort of heuristic that we can apply to help use decide?  Here's Graham's idea:

I think the best test is one Gino Lee taught me: to try to do things that would make your friends say wow.

If you hate what you do, I cannot convince you that trying to impress your friends with it is going to make it fun.  So, think of the things you do that you do try to impress your friends with?  Do you love to cook?  Master the art, learn the language, hone your technique, and blog about the experience.  Start a in-home cooking class consultancy.  Do you love to take photographs?  Practice, learn, take your camera everywhere, make it your first thought.  Do you love it enough to do it for free?

The test of whether people love what they do is whether they'd do it even if they weren't paid for it—even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?

If you don't have enough passion to work hard at something and get better, then you either don't love it or you don't have an audience.  You might just need new friends.  Seek them out in classes or online discussion groups.  But seek them out.

If you are worried about money, if you're worried about being responsible for the well-being of your children or spouse, remember that you have a responsibility to them.  You are responsible for loving them, for inspiring them, for trying to be the best person you can for them.  Those are your true responsibilities; you can find a way to pay the really important bills.  Don't let fear admit apathy.  Don't use your family as an excuse.

If you don't already know what you love to do--and so few of us really do--Graham has further advice:

It's hard to find work you love; it must be, if so few do. So don't underestimate this task. And don't feel bad if you haven't succeeded yet. In fact, if you admit to yourself that you're discontented, you're a step ahead of most people, who are still in denial. [..] Finding great work you love does usually require discipline.  Is there some test you can use to keep yourself honest? One is to try to do a good job at whatever you're doing, even if you don't like it. [...] Another test you can use is: always produce.

If you are telling yourself that you hate your day job, and one day you will be set free to do what you love, then you better being doing what you love and consistently.  Otherwise, you're lying to yourself and everyone around you.  The hardest thing to admit is that at age 20, 30, 40, or 50 is that you don't know what you love; you don't know what you want to do when you grow up.  My point here is that you must do something; you must produce.  Even if you prove to be rather amateurish in all you attempt, but you really gave it your best, you will be happier--and much more interesting.  The worst thing you can be in your work-life, truly, is be a dilettante.

I will close by leaving you with these further words from Graham's essay (please read it):

"Always produce" is also a heuristic for finding the work you love. If you subject yourself to that constraint, it will automatically push you away from things you think you're supposed to work on, toward things you actually like. "Always produce" will discover your life's work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.

One last note before parting that I have is simply this: seek out good teachers.  My wife recently told me what the tuition for a four-year degree at local technical college is: nearly $84,000.  Most of their students do not finish, and most of them are there because they want to make more money.  And, sadly, most of them don't learn a thing--because they're not there to learn, they're there to make more money (via a diploma).  This is not the road to happiness.  It would be much better for those people to find work they love and to see out the best teachers.  I guarantee you that those technical colleges do not have the best teachers.