Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lost In A Task, I Contemplate Work And Happiness

It retrospect, I had sort of an interesting weekend, since I find myself with additional things to write about that happened over the weekend. This particular one happened Thursday night. At the end of the day I often take “work reading” home with me or I take specific problems that need to be solved home, so I can think about them without the external distractions of the office.

Thursday, as I sat in the quiet living room, I started reading the supporting documentation for a problem that had arisen. I read through it all (about one hundred and forty seven pages), took several pages of notes, and then turned the problem around in my mind so I could make sure I was considering all the facets of it as I searched f or a solution.

I lost myself inside the problem for a couple of hours – and that is a great feeling, to be so involved in something, imaginatively, creatively, intellectually, that time seems to slow and cease to be relevant until suddenly you reach the end. I didn’t solve the problem, indeed, I came to the preliminary solution that I couldn’t solve the problem. There are some problems where the overall cost of solving the problem exceeds the value gained by solving the problem – so you make the decision to accept the problem as a routine bump in the road and get on with it, anticipating a certain failure rate or a certain turbulence rate. This was one of those problems where the cost of reducing the turbulence associated with it rapidly outweighed the cost of the turbulence.

That also brought me to one of the things that amuses me. I have no problem telling either my customers or my management that “the cost of solving X is prohibitive”, yet in the corporate world you often run into those “Jedi Mind Trick” moments where the conversation looks something like this. “There is a problem in X.” “There is no problem in X. You’re mistaken. This is not the X you were looking at.” I am always amazed and amused when that happens, especially since most things, once your defined and identified them, can be accommodated or avoided or overcome – but pretending it’s not there is kind of strangely pointless.

Still, at the end of the day, it was a great feeling to be “lost in a task”. I haven’t felt that in a while, in large part because of the overarching shadow of stress I was liv ing under, which manages to squeeze as the fun out of things. It was nice to have fun at work. One of the things I’ve always loved about this job, about my accidental career, is I have been amazed over the last fifteen years how many times I have simply flat out enjoyed myself. I always count myself very fortunate for that aspect of my job, even as I watch many of my friends and acquaintances struggle within the shadows of their jobs.

That brings me, unintentionally, but finally to a heartfelt piece of advice for strangers (and strange readers) who are in a profession or a job that does not bring them happiness – get out. Life is too short to suffer for eight hours a day. Sit down and do the calculus of your job – measure the goodness and the badness, measure in equal parts the joy and the sadness, the brilliance and the B.S. and if that measure doesn’t fall in your favorite, stand up, drop your badge on the desk and say “okay, I am done” and move on to the next phase in your life.

You can think of a thousand reasons to stay trapped in your present circumstances, but always remember two things – life is sudden, it can and will change rapidly, without your consent or consultation, and second – with perhaps some very rare exceptions, always remember that any and all corporations will let you go in a heartbeat, the moment the numbers turn against you. So, if your heart has been telling you it’s time to go – just go, don’t wait. The stars never align perfectly.

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