Figuring Out What’s Important

I have had this post in my head and partially written on this blog for quite sometime, I updated it but never finished it.   I decided I needed to get my thoughts out, especially after the recent post by Tim O’Reilly titled, Work on Stuff that Matters: First Principles.  The text from my original draft post captured what I was trying to convey but I could not get my thoughts out quite as well as how Tim conveyed his.  I encourage you to read Tim’s post first if you have not already as it is well worth it and will make my works mean more.

As developers, we spend most of our waking day either writing software or planning for it. I follow a lot of fellow developers on Twitter and through their blogs, and often hear people complaining about the work they do. Either the job is lousy because of a bad manager, the company is dysfunctional or the work is uninteresting.  My opinion is that we have our whole lives to put in time on a daily basis to our job.  Given this job is 8 hrs per day, that is 1/3 or 33% of our week which we spend doing something which helps us pay the bills and gives us the things we have.  If we figure in the 8 hrs of sleep we are supposed to get then that leaves very little left over for the rest of our day.  I know when I spend the last 8 hrs with my family either help my daughter with her homework, listening to her or my Wife I know I am doing important things, things I would not trade for anything, these are the things I will recall when I am much older.

I feel our work should be nearly as rewarding as other parts of our lives because we spend so much of our time doing our work.  I know many people love the work that they do and are fulfilled by a sense of accomplishment, but these people are much fewer than the rest of us.  So, when reading Tim’s post it really hit home and really conveyed the way I feel all too often, that I am not doing important work.

I hear it so many times to love the work you do or else it is just a job and I agree with this wholeheartedly but it seems like an elusive goal.  Tim’s words make so much sense yet locating the work that would make me personally feel like I am doing something important has yet been unobtainable.  The career I have so far has led me many places, I have met many good folks and I have to say I love writing software.

My ideas of work which seems important to me would be:

  • Helping find a cure for cancer or other disease or affliction using technology
  • Helping people who are truly in need to build a better life
  • Helping locate missing children using technology

Specifically in the computer field:

  • Working in research at a University
  • Working for a startup software company, no not another social media site
  • Teaching kids about computers and how to program

Jeremy Zawodny, who now works at Craigslist, left Yahoo to work somewhere doing the work he enjoys.  He writes about it on his blog, A Job that Matters which he wrote after Tim’s post.  I also came across an interview on the O’Reilly site done with Tim on the subject, as well as an interview by Robert Scoble with time in 2 parts, Part 1 and Part 2, which doesn’t seem to be up now.

I was recently involved with a project for a very short time consisting of myself and two other partners.  It was short because the chemistry between me and one member of team was just not there, I work in a certain way and have certain expectations and we had some conflicts.  It appeared he was not going to change and either was I, so I decided it was the right thing to do to leave the project which was the best for all involved.  This is not to say there was anything personal, it was just no clicking.  I bring this up because the chemistry you have with the people you work with has a lot to do with what you find to be important work.  If the team works great together and you fit in to that team and have the same goals, ambitions and work ethic then maybe the actual work is not that important, maybe the values change and you view the work as right even though under other circumstances you might not.

I think we are all told that we should do things we love, do things we are passionate about but we take it for granted and we don’t really take the advice.  We fail to follow what we know is true for various reasons; fear of changing jobs, fear of changing career direction or whatever reason stopping us from reaching our dreams.

I am still in search of that project that excites me to the point I can say, THIS IS IT.  This is the work I have been missing and will make me want to be part of, the passion I know I have.  So many projects have the goal of making money on using the latest buzzwords, like social media, those trying to become the next Facebook or Twitter.

Finally, the key to what Tim is saying is defining what it is we think is important then go do it.  I could not agree more.   Maybe the real problem is finding a hard problem worth solving.   The hard part for me is finding what that “thing” really is, which I suppose is getting out and trying a bunch of things.  Anyway, enough babbling..just some food for thought.   How do you feel about the work that you do, satisfied?  Doing it just to pay the bills and it doesn’t really matter?

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  • http://www.consultchicago.com/ Scott

    I am in the same boat. I have been haunted by Mufasa. Let me explain. in the Lion King, Simba is in storm, and Mufasa, his deceased father, visits him to say "Remember Who You Are!"
    That’s exactly what I feel. What am I? What excites me? What project is it? Twyla Tharp in her Book, The Creative Habit. Says the same thing, one of her tenets to cultivating your habits in creativity is to identify Your Creative DNA. We all have multiple talents. Sometimes, in fact, we’re talented in skills we don’t even like. Then, when you are looking for a job/career, we are pushed into our talents rather than our own personal DNA passion.
    Nice blog. I stumbled upon it via dzone. Some good posts. Keep it up, and I definitely agree with your Dave Winer posts. When you write about your passions and what you want which adds value to your audience, that’s the sweet spot. Rather than writing where no passion exists.

  • http://www.consultchicago.com/ Scott

    I am in the same boat. I have been haunted by Mufasa. Let me explain. in the Lion King, Simba is in storm, and Mufasa, his deceased father, visits him to say "Remember Who You Are!"

    That’s exactly what I feel. What am I? What excites me? What project is it? Twyla Tharp in her Book, The Creative Habit. Says the same thing, one of her tenets to cultivating your habits in creativity is to identify Your Creative DNA. We all have multiple talents. Sometimes, in fact, we’re talented in skills we don’t even like. Then, when you are looking for a job/career, we are pushed into our talents rather than our own personal DNA passion.

    Nice blog. I stumbled upon it via dzone. Some good posts. Keep it up, and I definitely agree with your Dave Winer posts. When you write about your passions and what you want which adds value to your audience, that’s the sweet spot. Rather than writing where no passion exists.

  • http://www.accidentaltechnologist.com/ Rob Bazinet

    @scott Thank you for the visit and the comment.
    I think you are correct, we do follow career paths which may lead to doing something we are tired of, which we may have enjoyed at some point.
    I am working toward the passion side of life again, working towards goals I have had but for one reason or another have not had the opportunity to pursue. At some point you have to just think about what is important and the thing you want to do on a daily basis.
    If you get a chance to watch the videos put out by Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV, do it. He is passionate and motivated.

  • http://www.accidentaltechnologist.com Rob Bazinet

    @scott Thank you for the visit and the comment.

    I think you are correct, we do follow career paths which may lead to doing something we are tired of, which we may have enjoyed at some point.

    I am working toward the passion side of life again, working towards goals I have had but for one reason or another have not had the opportunity to pursue. At some point you have to just think about what is important and the thing you want to do on a daily basis.

    If you get a chance to watch the videos put out by Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV, do it. He is passionate and motivated.