I had hoped that Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life? would offer some insight or direction. I really enjoyed the book and it made me think about some things differently, but I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing with myself.
The thing I didn’t like about the book was the premise that you needed to find the perfect job to be happy. I hadn’t really thought of things in those terms before reading the book, but he made it sound like you would always be unsettled without the job that’s absolutely perfect for you. Not long after starting the book, though, I read an essay by Paul Graham that I thought expressed the way I’d always seen it (he’s talking about high school, but that’s not the point):
If I had to go through high school again, I'd treat it like a day job. I don't mean that I'd slack in school. Working at something as a day job doesn't mean doing it badly. It means not being defined by it. I mean I wouldn't think of myself as a high school student, just as a musician with a day job as a waiter doesn't think of himself as a waiter. And when I wasn't working at my day job I'd start trying to do real work. [snip] Don't just do what they tell you, and don't just refuse to. Instead treat school as a day job. As day jobs go, it's pretty sweet. You're done at 3 o'clock, and you can even work on your own stuff while you're there.
This is sort of how I feel about my career. I would love to find my perfect job and wake up every morning excited to go to work, but I know it’s unlikely to happen and wouldn’t last anyway (my urges are too fleeting for that). I need to find a job that I don’t mind so that I can spend the rest of my time doing what I want to do.
This has come up in conversation a few times lately, and it seems like a lot of people have a similar take on the situation. When BP, Fonny, and I sat out at the picnic table, drinking Yuengling and talking late into the night, we agreed that a mediocre day job would be great if it paid enough to let us spend our own time just hanging out with friends - college in the real world, basically. James and I were arguing about it last week, and he couldn’t understand why I only want to do web development - “Because it’s not my passion, but I like it better than everything else I can do.”
Bronson included a few stories about people that routinely made career-changing job moves every four or five years. As I read that section, I started thinking that maybe that’s where I belonged - nowhere in particular. There are a lot of things I want to try, and maybe that would work out for me. It’s unlikely that I’ll find my dream job that way, but I’m sure to learn a lot about myself along the way.
Some of the last stories in the book were about people that tried doing things they always thought they should, such as the guy that was bred to run his father’s company. They realized that it wasn’t what they wanted to be doing and went on to find something that they actually enjoyed (that guy became a trucker). I’ve always assumed I’d be a programmer someday without really thinking about what else I might do. I still expect to follow that path, but I’m starting to think about what I want to do with it. I’ve been considering the one-year MBA here at RIT, which became more and more enticing as I thought about it. I’m starting to think it would be a bad move, though. I don’t want to be a business man. I don’t want to take finance classes or anything like that. I just want a better paycheck once I finish the degree and get a job. That time could be better spent finding a job I like doing and a place I like living, than sitting through classes I don’t enjoy and dumping more money into college.
I would like to think that someday I’ll find something I’m passionate about, find a great job doing just that, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, I expect to repeat the process every five years. When I came to college, I was totally psyched about programming. I wanted to sit in a cube in some tower in the city and code all day long, without pesky interruptions from co-workers. I’ve grown a lot in the past four years and changed my plans a dozen times since. I’m hoping I’ll sort of level off soon enough and find out what I really want to do when I grow up.
In the meantime, I’ll be happy to develop web sites, or work in a library, or do tech support for professors, or provide sound and lighting support, or run the tech side of a small art-promotion start up. None of these are what I want to do with my life, but I have the off hours for that.