Finding meaningful work is a key part of our happiness in life. It is hard to be content while not having fulfilling work. I have a deep urge to fully understand the dynamics of my work life in order to find fulfillment.
My focus has shifted from pursuing success to pursuing meaning. I've always been interested in learning more about the world. But in the last few years this has become my primary passion. When I was younger understanding seemed like a luxury that I could not afford to invest in. My time and energy were consumed trying to make a living and grow a family.
As the need to generate income and the demands of family life have subsided, I have found new freedom to renew interests that have been placed on hold. History, economics, psychology, geology, anthropology, religion, and cultures have taken center stage. I now consider my primary job to be seeking enlightenment.
The job of "Wise Man" or "Guru" does not pay well, but I am willing to invest my best efforts in this arena. Because I am a naturally very performance oriented, I plan on producing a series of books to document what I find. My ambitious goal is to write a book that captures my life philosophy. This is intended to provide focus to my personal quest more than to inspire readers.
By nature I am both curious and creative. I live in a world of ideas and have some difficulty being anchored in the physical reality. Sitting on the beach I have 100 questions rolling through my mind about weather patterns, plate tectonics, oceanography, wildlife, and history. At the same time I find the physical reality annoying and irritating: sand, bugs, sun, sharp corral reefs and threats from disease and injury. I probably should spend more time outdoors to learn to enjoy these things.
In the Meyers-Briggs personality profile, there is a spectrum of preference from Sensing (physical world) and Intuitive (virtual world). I peg the scale. My perfect world would be a fully virtual reality in which our minds could be used to their limits and we could live, work, and love without the annoyance of pain, sickness, and death. Alas, this is never to be.
As an idealist I see the way that things should be in their ideal state. Sadly real life is never ideal and most of my energy is focused on accepting the disappointing reality of what is. I try to see the silver lining but the storm clouds make it hard for me. I struggle with the way things are and constantly wonder why no one else sees it the way I do.
My natural curiosity has me looking for why things are a certain way and my engineering mindset leads me toward creative problem solving. I want to change the world and am frustrated by the way it is.
My quest for understanding is rooted in trying to figure out how to thrive in a world filled with physical reality. Much of this quest for me has been coming to grips with the extremely limited impact that I can have on the world around me. When I was younger I always believed that I could make the world better, but as I grow old, view this as a rather naive notion. I now view my contribution to the world as extremely limited. This has given me a new humility. I see that while I can do some things there is much that is out of reach.
With my limited amount of energy and resources, I try to focus on the areas where I can have the most impact. These are inevitably the arenas where my special giftings apply. The farther I get from my superpowers the less effective I am and the more frustration I experience.
I try to limit my concerns to areas that I control. Since all I control is what I do, say, think, or feel, I try to limit my concern to only those areas. Everything else requires me to simply accept the reality as it is. This is easier said than done for someone that has ideas and opinions about everything.
Every business is built on two concepts: producing value and selling. I believe that this is also true of individuals. Contributing value hinges on our abilities to produce creative output (production), and convince others that this product should be used (marketing). I've been involved with both of these issues in every career and endeavor : Writing, Teaching, Engineering, Business, Pastoring, and even Parenting.
If I grade my lifetime performance I would get an "A+" for production, and a "F" for marketing. All of my happy moments are related to producing extraordinary creative output. All of my darkest moments have been tied to my failures in marketing. I have learned that here lies the path to misery and despair.
My capacity to solve problems is limited to issues that do not involve humans. I have been extremely successful at designing, extending, and troubleshooting complex mechanical and computer systems but find earthlings beyond understanding. The years spent as a business owner were the most miserable of my entire career, because 80-90% of my energy went into marketing. When given a project, I could deliver, but I could never connect with others enough to gain the business.
This one area of understanding has been freeing to me. I no longer seek to sell and will avoid any opportunity that hinges on my sales ability. Instead I actively look for opportunities to learn and share best practices. This work always involves a deep understanding of the way things work and mastery of the basic concepts that will improve how things can be done. This has become my life passion.
This has been developed in several different areas in recent years: Writing, Teaching, Software Engineering, Web Development, and even Parenting. I find that each of these allow for a unique form of self-expression and sharing ideas with others. I cannot imagine giving up any of these pursuits to follow the others. Each offers me a distinct kind of joy.
Capitalism runs on the idea of supply and demand. This maps onto the twin objectives of production and marketing. In our society marketing is valued far more than production. The split appears to be around 70/30 and may be closer to 80/20. When a tech guy and business guy start a technology company the relative value of the contribution is usually set at 10-20% for the technology contribution.
This is quite bad news for someone who does tech but not people. This is what led me to read a mountain of self-help books on how to sell and schmooze. I thought that I could learn skills without any innate talent. I finally awoke to the truth about myself and admitted that I will never find joy in anything requiring sales. My path to glory lies in production.
Capitalism demands that we generate demand for what we supply. Fortunately, most of my career was spent working for HP. The only sales required was keeping my bosses happy by doing great production. This allowed me to focus entirely on the solving the work problems. This was a near perfect fit for me and gave me much joy and good monetary rewards. For 26 years I was well paid.
That all ended when I left HP. After starting Shrinking World Solutions I continued to grow professionally and my production capacity doubled and eventually quadrupled. At the same time my job satisfaction plummeted along with the income. After 10 years the business was dead and self-esteem had taken a beating. I calculate that my effort had increased by 50% while seeing a decrease of 50% in income, when compared to my time at HP.
Fortunately, I started saving at age 23. I stopped saving at age 45 after only 22 years. By age 55 we were able to begin living on our retirement savings. This would never have been possible if I would have had a more typical job. We would have not survived the business years if we needed to make a full income in the time after HP.
Our economic situation allowed us to adopt the following profile that led me to choose my work without regard to getting paid.
What would you do with your life if money were not the driving issue? Most of my career choices have been defined by the reality of economics and the need to make a living. This is no longer the case as long as our investments hold out. Now I have the luxury of choosing the type of work that I want to do.
My work is determined by what I value the most. Here are the things that I value in my work life.
This is a complex set of values that I seek to satisfy in my work life. Fortunately, I have a number of roles that fulfill all of these objectives.
Author - As a writer I have lots of freedom to develop and share my ideas with others. I experience a great deal of joy in writing and intend to do it for the rest of my life. My life as an author is not encumbered by the need to make money. This pursues me to select projects that are of interest to me and not worry about whether or not it is of interest to others.
Inventor - I am a compulsive software developer. It brings me great joy to write code. This is an act of world building that is one of my life's greatest thrills. When I worked for others I longed to pursue my own ideas and projects. Now I have the freedom to do that.
Teacher - There are two things I enjoy about teaching college: building course content and interacting with students. Course building combines all of the elements of Author, Inventor, and Teacher. I am challenged by the act of learning and sharing best practices. I am thrilled to create courses that are taught in the university. I also enjoy the actual teaching and the opportunity to interact with students.
Freedom from economics is the key to me finding happiness in my work life. If I were forced to make a living then most of the joy would be sacrificed as a result. This represents the ideal retirement for me. If I have to make money then I have to work on on the goals that others value; if I don't then I can work on my own goals.
I am experiencing more joy now in my work than I ever have before. I hope that I can continue along this path.