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Desperately Seeking Perspective

When many of the people in our industry are asked to comment on the trajectory of their career, they do so with fond memories of critical decisions they’ve made to get where they are, or if they have a sense of humor, with self-deprecating reflections on the road not taken (if only I’d joined/bought into company A then, etc). If I were asked to think back on my own path and how I got here, not that anyone’s asking ;), I’d take a bit of a different tack.

The most important moment of my career – as I see it – was not a new job, a new role, or some important project of mine. No. For me, the most important moment of my career was the one and only time I got fired. Or laid off, if you prefer – I use the terms interchangably because I think that typically one is merely a euphemism for the other. The details are rather boring, as you’ve heard similar stories thousands of times by now. Boutique systems integration company that boomed during the dot com busts along with the bubble. I managed to survive more than a few rounds of layoffs, then eventually got caught in the second to last purge before the whole thing went under.

There are many lessons to be distilled from such an event (financial due diligence on a prospective employer, for one), but the most crucial for me was the role of work in my life. Work is and always will be an important component of who I am and what I do, but it will never be who I am and what I do, if you follow me. I see my firing as a gift, a gift that gave me the ability to put my day job in its proper perspective: important, but just one of the many facets of my individual identity. Particularly in this day and age of constant bombardment with work related matters and 24/7 access, it’s all too easy to get caught up and forget that work should be to some degree a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself.

I was reminded of this lesson last night when I heard of Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s visit to the hospital with “chest stiffness.” Players and others commented on how scares like this “put things into perspective” and to some extent, I think that’s true. It’s sad that we need those sorts of wakeup calls, but that’s human nature I suppose and as such is probably not going to change all that much.

What is troubling to me, however, is when individuals allow their passion for their work to manifest itself as anger, threats or genuine despair. This, unfortunately, is a problem common to the tech industry. I’m a pragmatist by nature, which is why I have little time for things like this, but I can appreciate if not fully understand the passion that fuels such comments. What I just can’t fathom, however, is how anyone thinks harrassing Laura DiDio at home at night is even remotely justifiable [1]. Or, even more depressing, how a business is worth taking your own life over.

Perspective, it would seem, is in short supply these days, as are Bosworth’s rationalism and humanism. I think we in the tech industry could do with an infusion of all three.

[1] Before you flame me, open sourcers, understand that I’m absolutely not tarring you all with the brush of a few trolls. These types of behaviors are hardly the sole province of the open source world as some might make them out to be. Trolls, unfortunately, are to be found everywhere, in every walk of life.

Categories: Essays.

  • http://www.ethinksystems.com/blog JP Morgenthal

    I too, being of techie blood, have had to struggle with identity problems. For me, and for many others in our industry as I've learned, it's not "work" that we become, instad, what inspires us–technology–is what we usually choose to spend our time advancing for pay, until the two become meshed into one ugly bond.

    The perspective you seek is nothing more than priortization of what's important in your life. For each of us, that list is different. As Curly said to Mitch in City Slickers, it's 1 thing and you have to figure that 1 thing out for yourself.

  • http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady sogrady

    i agree JP, that it's difficult at times to keep the two separate. as for prioritization, i think it's a bit more than that. sure, i might not agree with the above all priority that work has in some people's lives, but hey, different strokes and all that.

    what i do have a problem, however, is when it stops being a simple life priority and instead becomes all consuming. that's when bad things tend to happen.

    again, it's not that this is unique to tech or even work, for that matter, but it's problematic nonetheless.