All Entrepreneurship

A Deliberate Life

I’m really frustrated with my job right now.

It’s hard to articulate everything that contributes to why I’m frustrated, but I believe it can all be distilled down to one over-riding thing: I’m stagnant, and by that, I mean that I haven’t learned anything new in several months. I haven’t had any challenging problems. I haven’t had to be creative in any way, and it’s killing me.

On top of that, I recently applied for, and was denied, something of a promotion. In the position I applied for, I would be doing essentially the same work I’m doing now, but I’d be getting paid more for it. Interestingly, everyone around me who knew I was applying had told me that I was perfect for the job – they’d be stupid to hire someone else.

Getting turned down had been a much bigger disappointment than I had thought it would be. After all, I haven’t lost anything – I have the exact same job that I did previously, and I gained the experience of going through the interview process.

However, not making the cut has made me questions a lot of things – the direction management is taking the company, whether it’s actually worth it to put effort into my job, and whether I even want to be in this job in the first place

See, the reason I have my current job is because I took a cross-department “promotion”. I put promotion in quotes because I entered the new department at the bottom of the totem pole, but it was a significant pay raise over my previous position. The reason I applied/interviewed for the job? I was bored with my previous job, and needed something new.

And that’s my problem – I get bored. If I don’t have a complex problem to solve, or something new to learn, I get bored, restless. Repetitive tasks, solving the same problem over and over again – just doesn’t work for me – I need a challenge, something new.

The issue is, I have yet to find a job that provides me with either the constant learning, or new problems to solve, which is frustrating. Equally frustrating is that I can’t decide whether the problem is with the job, or with me. After all, I’ve known plenty of people who seem content to do the same job year after year after year, with no issue.

And so, here I am, not even 30, and I struggle with some very real questions: Can work be enjoyable? Can it be rewarding and challenging? Is it even possible to have a job that is fulfilling? What if I never find a job that I want to stay at? Am I doomed to hop from job to job every few years, slowly growing old and jaded by my experiences?

The NBA Salesman

I have a co-worker who was hired this year, and is in his mid-to-late 60’s. In college, he played division II basketball, where he was no slouch – from what I could find, he was ranked in the top 10 in 7 different categories in his school’s record books and he held the school record for most consecutive basketball games played. After his college career, he was drafted by the Rockets (who, at the time were based out of San Diego, and later moved to Houston). In other words, I work with a former NBA player.

Let that sink in for a moment. Today, a player leaving the NBA can be set for life if they played their financial cards right. Even if they weren’t that great of a player, and only played for a couple years, a low-paid member of the NBA makes about half a million per year, with good players making much, much more than that every year.

For my co-worker, though, these are events that happened ~45 years ago, and he has long since moved on, and had an entire lifetime since – a lengthy career in sales and management. The NBA was a bit different back then, and obviously my friend didn’t leave the NBA set for life. He’s been around the block a few times, and he’s nearing the end of his career – he’s made it pretty clear that his current position is pretty much where he intends to stay for as long as he continues to work.

From conversations with him, I’ve gained a LOT of respect for this guy – and not just because I wanted to play college ball when I was younger. He’s been in sales forever, and is the ultimate professional – everything he does with customers is incredibly polished and refined. He’s also been in management before, and in team/company meetings he’ll occasionally reveal a glimpses of what that might have looked like back when he was in the prime of his career.

Now, though, he’s simply a aging salesman, in a mid-tier job, at a small company, who is on his way out. He came to our company because his previous company was slowly downsizing, and, like any employee with a brain, he jumped ship before they could kick him out.

Anyway, I loo at this co-worker, and I wonder if that’s what the typical career ends up looking like – you start by pursuing the dream of something you love, and then end up in another career path where every few year you jump to a new company, each jump slowing with age. And hey, maybe somewhere along the way you make it to middle management! And, when you finally get old enough to retire, you look back and see that most of work is actually just staving off the inevitable boredom and idiocy that comes with working in a corporate environment.

That sucks.

I don’t want my life to be like that.

Intelligent Design?

Which brings me back to what I was originally trying to say: from what I’ve seen, almost everyone just sort of “falls into” their work. Almost no one actually end up somewhere they intend to go with their career, and fewer still get any sort of enjoyment from their work.

And really, it’s not that hard to see why it happens – it’s really easy to get wrapped up in life. It was a lot easier to quit my job and get a new one when I was single. And it was easier to move to a new job when I was married, but before I had kids. Oh, and it would have been easier to change jobs before we had a special-needs child – I mean, the insurance alone is a big deal.

And thus, I imagine, goes the story for most people. We settle for where we fall, because, hey, it’s not that bad, and after all, I have a family to feed/clothe/shelter, and other bills to pay on top of those. And pretty soon, you’ve worked 5 (or more) years at a company that you don’t really care for, doing things that bore you, for a paycheck that’s too small.

For me though, these thoughts lead to another set of questions: what if I could have it all? What if I could have a challenging, fun job, that keeps me engaged for more than a year? What if I actually got to contribute? What if I worked for myself – what could I accomplish? What if I decided what I want, and actually worked to get it?

I’m not sure which is scarier to me – trying to do something for myself and failing, or not trying and living in mediocrity for the rest of my life. But, while both are scary, only the first option allows me to avoid the self-hatred that would come with second.

The Future

And so, I’ve begun to map out a life for myself (and, by extension, for my family). It’s less of a roadmap and more of a rough sketch at this point, but at least it’s something. I like to think that deep down, I’ve always known it would come to this, which is part of why I chose 26 to Life as the name – it’s not just about my age – it’s about this struggle of escaping a caged, meaningless life for a life of engagement and excitement.

Right now, my steps forward look like this:

First, I’ll be blogging more. Oh, look, it only took 3 years to make my first post, and my second was only six months later… that’s 1/6th of the time – I’m already getting super efficient! Really though, there’s something about writing that helps me to organize my thoughts and to clear my head. And hey, if some of my ramblings happen to be of use to someone who stumbles across them, so much the better – I’m a sucker for helping people.

Second, I’ve started working my way through The Odin Project, which is the neat online curriculum I’ve found that helps you learn web development. I’ve known HTML/CSS for a very long time (well, HTML anyway. CSS is relatively newer), and over the last couple years I’ve learned a bit of Javascript/JQuery, PHP (mostly WordPress related – I built a theme from scratch a couple years ago), so this curriculum is actually helping me more with the back end of web development, as well as more basic computer stuff – command line work, Java, Ruby/Rails, Python, etc. Should be really good.

Finally, the other thing I’ve started working on is mobile app development. I bought a MacBook Pro last week. My wallet is feeling it, but man these things are just so sleek and sexy (helloooooo gestures). Also, it’s basically a requirement for developing for iOS, since Xcode only works on new versions of OSX, and a hackintosh looks like a serious pain in the butt to get functional and maintain (I mean, just getting the OS installed requires access to a legit mac). I found BitFountain, which looks promising. We’ll see how it goes.

So, realistically, for the foreseeable future, any posts here will be about random code/app developy-type things, probably mixed in with some musing about work and life.

I like to think that someday in the not-too-distant future, someone will stumble across this post in my archives here, and think “Holy crap, I feel the same way!” and, rather than continuing on stuck in the crappy cycle of under-appreciated cubicle work, they’ll take this post as a sign that it’s time to move on – the cycle is ending, and it’s time to take control.

I haven’t got there yet, but I’m starting the journey. And I hope that you, future reader, will join me, so that neither of us is alone, and that maybe, just maybe, if we do this together, we can pull it off.

Let’s do this,

Jeff

All

Jump In

Who starts a blog, but doesn’t post anything on it for three years? Me, apparently.

See, a good part of the reason this site is called 26 to life is because I was 26 when I started it, and I was looking for a lot more out of my life. Mostly, I started it because at the time I was beginning to loathe my job, and was looking for an outlet – a way to get things off my chest.

The thing is, I never really got around to using it for that. I ended up writing a lot of drafts for various posts, but never actually published or shared any of them.

Why?

That’s a good question. I’m still trying to sort it out myself.

At the most basic level, though, I think that a lot of it has to with fear. Fear of the unknown, of not being good enough, of rejection, and so on. What if I suck at writing? What if other people think I suck?

The thing is, of course, that it’s all a bunch of crap. Who cares if other people think I suck? Those aren’t the people I’m writing for. And if I suck at writing, well, writing more isn’t likely to make me worse, is it?

And so, while this post isn’t terribly deep, or revealing, it will be the first post I’ve ever published, because I’m done with stalling. It may not be particularly amazing, but it’s something. And in this case, that’s better than nothing.

So, here’s the thing: If there’s something worthwhile that you’ve been putting off, get off your butt (literally and/or figuratively) and go do it, even if it’s just a little bit.

2014 is right around the corner. It’s a whole new year – why not get the jump on it?

Next December, you’ll be glad you did.