Sunday, January 08, 2006

Resolutions…

I’ve mentioned in the past that one of the strangest things in life to me is that events we perceive as ‘bad’ when they’re happening, later, months, often years later, that somehow those 'crisis' times become remembered as "the good old days". In many cases, even feeling they were more like the "Glory Days".

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?

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

17 comments:

Kim said...

I think you nailed it when you said that you had to stretch and grow beyond the edge of your skills. I think that is the key. No matter what it is we do in life, the challenge of what we attempt is what fuels our minds and keeps us interested. For me, it is what makes me try or strive to do a good job. Who could possibly be harder to impress than yourself? I like the pride that comes from knowing I did my best. Good luck to you in your future choices Bill, though I already know without a doubt that anyone who thinks so deeply about his choices is destined for nothing but success.

Bill said...

Kim - From your fingers to God's ears 'eh? I'm glad to know I'm not the only one critical of myself!! Then again, who's more important to impress than yourself??

Thanks Kim... I hope you're just exactly right!

seeingdouble said...

I think that is a brave and interesting way to live. Many people fear failure too much to leave their comfort zone. Whatever you find yourself doing, I'm sure you'll do well. Good luck, Bill!!

Spirit Of Owl said...

You know, everything you say has a certain ring of truth for me. I'm in a hole right now, one that's gone on for too long, but I'm starting to think that maybe something, don't know what but something, might be on its way.

There's no grounding for this feeling at all, really, except a hint of optimism. The thing is, if I'm feeling optimistic at all then that's something to be bloody well pleased about!

When I do do something, though, it is all about doing it perfectly. I never had your mechanical talents, but have been a musician, a carer, in ICT, a teacher, and a blogger (haha) and in every one, it's all about doing it to the best that I possibly can.

I'm a great admirer of yours, Bill, as I'm sure you know. You are always teaching, always sharing, and always superb in your posts. Anyone who lives demanding passion in their every day has, it seems to me, understood the very principle of living life. So, thanks Bill, and I wish you all the best in your hunt for the next spark.

Bill said...

Crystal - Thanks, it's been interesting, that's for sure... I don't know about brave though, it's pretty much the only way I feel *right*.

Spirit - Bro... I'm glad it rings true for someone besides me... as you know, I've got that 'perfect' problem too... It's sometimes a blessing, at others a curse... but I love doing my best, all the time, regardless of the strain.

I know something good's on your horizon too... it's like you can smell it on the wind!! Here's to hoping we all have a very good year!!

Spirit Of Owl said...

Wow. Well, since I left my comment, something really quite unbelievable has happened. Check your email!

Bill said...

Spirit - Saw your email.. sent you one back... that is indeed one incredible coincidence!!

I hope it exceeds your every aspiration!!

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

Bill,

I agree with your post in so many ways - - I, too, need to feel "challenged" in my work, and tend to get bored or "burned out" if things become too easy. I have been at my current job since 1996, and fortunately, it has changed enough over the years to stay pretty fresh and interesting. And, working in higher education, there is always the opportunity for me to take a class and learn a new skill (such as my Web Design classes).

I intend to keep learning as long as I can draw a breath, and this job offers me that. If that ever changed, I think it would be very tempting to look elsewhere - - to expand my knowledge base, sharpen my skills, and all that.

Chloe said...

Bill, thank you for that amazing post. I always thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me because I can't picture myself doing any one thing - besides writing - for the rest of my life. Already at 26, I've been a teacher and consultant, and will be getting my master's in Family Therapy this summer. Others (especially my family) have never understood why, if I was good at what I was doing, I'd want to change paths. It's very affirming to know I'm not crazy, but that there are many of us out there.

Bill said...

Liz - I think one of the things I miss most about teaching is the chance to take a class nearly every semester in something new.

The other is that fresh set of faces in the classroom each semester, it was almost like starting with a 'clean slate' a few times a year.

It was actually teaching that started me seriously down the programming road!

Chloe - I know exactly the folks you're talking about. My Dad especially would ask me why I couldn't just keep doing what I was doing... instead of starting all over again... I learned later that he used to brag about my ability to do so though, to his friends.

It is a frustrating trait at times, to feel compelled to change... I often think life would be 'easier' if we didn't... but then again, it would probably be less interesting as well!! :)

*---------------

It's very nice to hear this post has struck a chord with so many folks.. I almost didn't post it as I was thinking no one would really 'get it'... I should have known better!!

Firehawk said...

Bill,

Big post, brother. Full of good thoughts about being satisfied and unsatisfied in life. Might have to come back to give a proper comment to this one!

No_Newz said...

I've resolved to leaving the resolutions up to you. :)
You have had some great things in your life and many things to write about. It's something I could see you doing and know you'd be great. If you ever need any help, drop me a line and I'll tell you everything I know. That should take about three minutes. ;)
Lois Lane

Bill said...

Firehawk - Take your time bro... I'll be here, I appreciate this 'teaser' of things to come!!

Life satisfaction... interesting concept 'eh?

Lois - Be careful what you offer me, I might just use up all three of those minutes!! Seriously, I'll drop you a note soon.

As for resolutions... I don't really make any for the 'New Year', the one I made 30 years ago to never again be anywhere I didn't want to be, has served me fairly well over the years...

It's the 'what to write about' question that always is the toughest for me... once the topic arrives, the words just seem to follow. - Strange huh?

Jada's Gigi said...

We, my hubby and I, are again at a place of starting over...we, like you, have done this several times in our lives. And I must say...it never gets easier...probably harder as we get older, more settled. But I often think its the adventure of it all....the finding our way anew, that keeps us young, :) keeps us in love with life. You'll find your way..I'm sure of it...and as scripture says.."everything your hand finds to do...do it with all your might" Living with passion, now that's living!

Bill said...

Gigi - you said:

"it never gets easier...probably harder as we get older, more settled."

Is that ever the truth!! We also get more 'comfortable', and we humans hate to dispute that 'comfort zone'!!

You also said: "Living with passion, now that's living!"

I couldn't agree more... I would not know how to live without it!!

Comfort Addict said...

Bill,

Great post. As always, I admire your consciousness and courage. I've been thinking a lot about another career, too. I see too much politics in the corporate America where I live and not enough innovation and passion. I'd love to get involved in something where I break the rules, make a difference, make a mark. I don't want fame. I just want to feel as though I'm doing something important or, best of all, helping others. I haven’t figured it out yet but I’m definitely thinking.

Good luck with your resolution!

Bill said...

CA - you said:

"...something where I break the rules, make a difference, make a mark. I don't want fame. I just want to feel as though I'm doing something important or, best of all, helping others."

Man is that ever my ideal job!! If you figure it out, and there's room for more than one, please let me know!!

I think fame is over rated... at least for me... I really don't care if 'everyone' knows, but, I sure care if *I* know!

Thanks!