Recently a stranger asked me in an email “don’t you have a tech blog other than wideeyed.me?” No, not really. Despite being an engineer at Google and getting fair bit of traffic from my StackOverflow account, I have no urge to write about programming, software, gadgets and other tech stuff. I just don’t feel it’s… important to me. Yes, I like many things about my job (like not having to worry whether I’ll be eating anything next week), but it’s just a job.
When I was in kindergarden, I saw a colorful book where people of different professions described what they were doing. (Since I was so little, each one had a large picture and a very short description) Doctor in white coat and gangly policeman in blue uniform were saying “I cure people” and “I keep people safe”. Adults would ask “whom do you want to be when you grow up” and we were supposed to answer based on what we’d like to do for others. But as you grow up, the idea of doing something because of its value for others evaporates gradually. Instead, we settle for something that pays the bills and brings food to the table. The market decides for us what is valuable and we just plod along.
It’s also the reason why I’m reluctant to identify myself as an engineer. Nobody I met at work also takes any particular pride in what they’re doing. Yes, I worked with many extremely smart and committed people (it’s Google, after all), but I never got an impression that it’s more than just a job. Nobody there says “I’m making people’s lives better through my mobile app”. Sure, people try to make a successful product which brings them recognition and rewards, but it’s not about improving the world. And while I know there are passionate programmers somewhere, I never encountered one of them in person.
Naturally, I was trying to change that for some time. An idealistic side of me tells “be a teacher, musician, scientist, volunteer in Africa”. But I know that neither of those occupations brings meaning in itself. There are inspired teachers and there are teachers beaten down by life. Former take pride and satisfaction in their job, while later are just passing by. Might as well be an inspired engineer and not waste 10 years invested into that path.
I also wonder, who are those “not inspired” people? I mean, if you are not emotionally invested in whatever you’re doing, if it’s just a job, then you are not a teacher, musician or scientist. You just happen to work as one, but that’s not who you are. Unteacher and unscientist, maybe. Obviously, they are husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and relatives to someone, but who are they to the world? That leaves a great big hole in your life, that lack of connection to the world. The sort of hole eternal Bob Dylan often sings about.
That is why I picked up the whole writing idea and other outlets to invest my energy in. To feel like I’m doing something that matters, or at least that I’m trying to. I want to find a goal towards which I could invest all of myself: my intelligence, my tenacity, my sense of beauty and common sense, my optimism, my energy. Sounds almost like Theodore Roosevelt in his arousing and overused speech, but easier said than done.
So, how do you go about removing un- part and taking pride and finding meaning in your occupation? Is it about finding what really fires you up? Or is it about recognizing the value of whatever you’re doing now? One doesn’t change a lot by cleaning bedpans, but I can see how one could say “I’m a nurse” with pride.
If you got to this part, dear reader, bear with me for another 2 minutes and try an experiment. Go to a mirror and say “I am an XXX and I am proud of what I do”. See if you can say it without feeling comical or cynical. If you succeed, leave a comment!
PS Ah, Avenue Q. It has an answer to every problem!