I’ve thought a lot about that over the years, wondering how it is that our minds (well mine anyway) can convert even the toughest of times into a fond memory.
On a conscious level, I know, deep in my heart, that the time I spent in the military was, if not the toughest, then very close to, the toughest part of my life. I remember thinking, nearly every waking moment, of every day, how badly I wanted that hitch to be over.
But now, with 30 some years between then, and now, I really only truly remember the ‘good times’, and I know when I got out, I couldn’t think of one single ‘good time’.
Time it seems does in fact heal us.
I know my childhood too, was turbulent, emotional ‘hell’. I was filled with insecurity, uncertainty and doubt. I often felt alone, unwanted; I never seemed able to find my ‘groove’. Once I hit high school that changed somewhat as I found something I was good at. Mechanical things, I was good with anything mechanical, bicycles, cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles, lawn mowers, if it was mechanical I could take it apart, and when I put it back together it worked very well.
For at least a decade I lost myself in that, immersed myself in that talent, and closed out any part of the world I didn’t understand. Or, maybe more importantly to me, that part of the world that didn’t understand me.
I built cars, painted cars, got involved with race cars... if it made horsepower; I wanted to be around it.
I have wonderful memories of that decade, even though I know; I spent a lot of it intoxicated. Intoxicated on alcohol at times for sure, but, intoxicated mostly on what I was doing. I was learning, doing, and achieving a fair degree of success with my talent. For the first time I was, as I recall, finally feeling like I had a place in the world, that I actually fit in.
I know now that it was a just part of a process. One that in the end opened my eyes to the fact I could learn, could focus on, something, anything, as long as it held my interest. It held my interest as long as my control over it was tenuous…. That I felt there was still a lot to learn, that I could still do it better every day, if I just knew a little more, practiced a little harder….
It’s been that way the rest of my adult life.
A lot of folks have remarked over the years about the number of different careers, or types of jobs, I’ve had. For the most part they express their amazement at my ability to just ‘shift gears’ and go off in another direction. In general, I accept their kind words and say thank you, but I know that I really had no other choice at the time. I’d simply lost interest in whatever it was I was doing, or, maybe more to the point, I had found a something new that now held far more interest.
I don’t know what my next ‘thing’ will be, I never have. What I do know is that it’s coming. How? It’s simple really, I’ve been doing virtually the same thing for over 20 years, and I find myself with far less ‘drive’ for it than I once had.
Don’t get me wrong, I love programming, I really do (and I especially love the company I’m currently contracted to). But I love cars, teaching, selling and any of the other things I’ve done as well. I could probably still do any of them and make a living, but, like everything else I’ve done professionally I’m simply not driven to do them any longer.
Programming is becoming that way for me now, or at the very least, it ‘feels’ that it is.
I still enjoy it; in fact I enjoy it more at this point than I think I’d ever enjoyed any of the other jobs I’ve had. I miss the drive, the passion, though. There was a time when I’d rather be writing code than doing anything else. I felt in control of the process, yet slightly out of control as well, at times like I imagined a fine craftsman of old felt building a fine piece of furniture.
Each piece fitting perfectly into the one before it, the vision of the completed piece firmly in mind as each subcomponent was formed, fitted and meticulously added to the whole. I’d get swallowed up in the process, often working 60, 70, or more hours a week and never tiring of the work, anxious, like a kid at Christmas, to see the finished product in the hands of the users. To see the impact my work had on the organization.
Most of the projects were on the edge of my skills, causing me to stretch, learn, grow, every single day just to get them done. To me, it was very heady stuff!
Maybe it’s just a natural evolution. When I started in the business, the industry was starting too, it seemed everywhere I turned there was someone asking for my help. I felt like my work made a difference, not only to me, but to those I did it for. Maybe it was also the people I worked with, each of them shared that passion too, we labored long and hard, claiming on one hand it amazed us that we could get paid to do something we loved, and on the other that we’d ship no software ‘before its time’. If it wasn’t right, we didn’t want it to leave the shop.
I still know many of those guys… it saddens me to talk with them at times. They too have lost the passion for the work, as they now are working for a living, not living for the work.
I know that some will think, “Why would I want to live for work?”…. Well, it’s not living for the ‘job’, but living for the craft. It’s getting out of bed each morning with a 1,000 ideas in your head, grabbing a shower and a coffee on the run so you can get to that keyboard just a few minutes sooner to start putting them in place.
I often imagine that’s how artists, or writers, live. Using each day to transform a raw idea into a tangible, visible reality they can share with the world. Hitting the floor running on more days than not, with more ideas than they can possible bring to fruition that day.
I’ve been thinking for the past few days about where that passion goes. What kills it off?
I can’t speak for others, but for me, it’s at least partially the daily grind. A decade ago I was independent; I did what I wanted, the way I wanted, for who I wanted. Then, I took a ‘job’… I got enamored with the steady money (it does feel good to be able to pay the bills every month), the security (hey, a paycheck every two weeks was easier than chasing customers for the money they owed me) and being able to go home at 5:00pm most nights. The fact is though, for the first 15 months I worked for that company I worked 7 days a week, 10 or 12 hours a day… there was that much work and I loved doing it that much.
I saw myself, finally living that elusive ‘American Dream’… a nice title, a solid paycheck, the house, picket fence, a couple of cars… etc….
It was a dream though….
In the end, here I am, out on my own again, sort of, and have been for almost two years now. Contracting is sort of a halfway point between working for yourself and being a traditional employee. To me, the main difference being, as a contract ‘employee’ you actually know when your time is up, no surprises, unless you consider contract extensions a surprise.
So what will Bill do ‘next’? Like I said, I don’t know. I’ve thought about trying to make a living as a writer, dreamed about it, is probably closer to the truth… but every time I look into seriously giving it a shot, I find the ‘entry road’ to be a bit on the rough side. There’s certainly no shortage of aspiring writers. Oh, I’ve managed to get a few articles published, but I’d have to be a lot more prolific than that to make a living.
I know that whatever path I choose next a few things will have to be there.
- I’ll have to be able to work mostly from home (or anywhere I choose).
- Set my own work schedule.
- Be doing something that made a difference, to me, and to those I do it for.
- I’ll have fun doing it
- It’ll be challenging work, where I have to continue to learn, to improve, to grow my skill set almost daily.
Many would say I’m describing what I do now, programming, and software development. It certainly has all the right elements, at times. The truth is, if I could find that passion again, it could be the career I retire from. The trick here is, how do I do that again?
I’ve had moments in the past year that reminded me of the ‘old days’… spending hour upon hour working on a unique resolution to a particular problem, finding a solution, writing the code to bring it to a reality, and in the end presenting it to the client and having it be an accepted solution.
I know that it’s partly crossing that line into the unknown, the uncertain, that fuels the passion, but, I also know there’s more to it than that.
For some folks, those moments might be enough, they’re not for me. I wish they were, but, they’re not. I’m a problem solver by nature, in my element when I’ve got a problem to solve, out of it at virtually every other time. I find my life demands from me that I ‘live’ it, not simply watch it roll on by.
I have friends that are perfectly happy with gainful employment, a place to live, a few bucks in the bank, a family and a cold beer on a hot summer day. I truly admire that in them, and often wish I was cut from that same cloth. I’ve tried, many times, to just ‘settle in’, let go of the need to be on the edge. I’ve had therapy, medication, and made several attempts to fill the ‘hole’ with responsibility, money, possessions, titles and so on. They all work, for a while, but eventually that need to be on that “edge” returns.
That slightly ‘out of control’ edge, yet with a high (although possibly unfounded) confidence of success, and a passion for the process.
At this point in my life, I doubt that there’ll be change to this fundamental component of my personality. I don’t actually think I’d change it, even if I could. It’s brought me at least as much joy, as it’s caused anguish. What I need to do, is find a new outlet, a new ‘process’ so I can channel it and grow.
So that my friends, is my “New Year’s Resolution”. To find the passion in my professional endeavors once again. It’s always a bit scary, not only to me, but to those around me, when I hit one of these moments. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the air, especially if I find that ‘new thing’ and it’s a 90 degree turn from what’s been working, and comfortable.
I’m sure it’ll be interesting, if nothing else, as the year progresses.
So what changes are you making this year?
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