Opportunity and Chaos

Today is my last day at the company where I've spent the last six years. Tomorrow is my first day of exploring a world filled with potentially terrifying opportunities.

As part of an organizational restructuring within my department, the work I've been responsible for over the last two years was merged into a different role. I declined to pursue any of the other positions available, having decided they weren't good matches for my abilities or – more importantly – my interests. So it happens that today, September 30, 2013, is my last day. I leave knowing my experiences at the company, both good and bad, have helped shape me and my career, helped focus me.

The first question everyone asks when they find out I'm leaving is, "where are you going?" The assumption is always that there's a definite plan, that there's something already set up and waiting, that there's another cubicle waiting to be filled somewhere the next day.

Except, there isn't.

What will I do? At first, sleep in. No bleating of an alarm clock to intrude on my blissful sleep, no status meetings, just me and my pillow. Then I'll be taking some time for life – travel, exploring, seeing places I've never seen before. Catching up on my reading list. (Read: roadtrip!)

After that is a vast expanse of The Unknown. There's no defined plan. No clearly-marked path of life to point to and say, "yep, it's all plotted out neatly." The answer to everyone's question is "I don't know." And that seems to freak everyone out. It freaks me out too. But that's okay. It needs to be okay. We need to learn to cope with the unknown in ways that don't always involve fear and panic. There will always be unknowns in life, some bigger than others, some more easily negotiated, but ever present. On the grand scale, changing or losing jobs is pretty insignificant.¹

So no, there's nothing slated to immediately fill the void. But it's amazingly liberating.

I can do anything.

I can stay here. I can (actually, will) move away. I can find another job just like the one I had, or I can find a job in a completely different field. I can lay on the couch for a week straight downing pizza rolls and Mountain Dew, or I can go to the gym every day and explore the limits of my fragile physical existence. I can take up yoga. I can learn the finer points of the Elvish languages.

Life becomes all about possibilities, which feels like a better mindset than outright panic. (Though I'll admit to my share of anxiety over the last few weeks.)

Today is the end of one opportunity that opened six years ago, and the beginning of a whole new slew of opportunities that may be perfect or may just be stepping stones to The One True Thing.

There's no plan. And that's okay.

¹ I don't wish to belittle the hardship of losing a job, particularly in the current state of the economy when many are struggling. I'm by no means rich, but through a combination of good fortune (getting out of college with no student debt) and common sense money management (mainly, spend less than you make) I'll survive.


Why is there no maximum wage?

Wanted to capture this series of tweets by @sargoth in regards to a post-work society, where our lives aren't based on and determined by our capability to find and consistently do work.

She continues:

I wonder how many would keep working after the maximum wage limit had been reached. #

The implicit critique of the contemporary labor market found in the last tweet. It astounds, even as it flabbergasts. #

Let's see. What's the motto of the labor market as we know it? #

"You work or you die. This has to be, as no one would work if their survival didn't depend on their working." #

Funny how work is a right, a duty and a necessity, all three in one. #

"You are free to work if you want, but if you don't want we will use symbolic violence on your ass until you do." #

I'm not sure this is a crowning achievement when it comes to sustainable societal designs. #

What's the reason behind this insistance that everyone absolutely must Have A Job? #

Surely it can't be because there's a lack of things in the world. On the contrary - the world has more stuff than the economy can handle! #

If one wanted to improve the moral character of everyone, then one could surely devise a scheme less roundabout than a labor market. #

I have this nagging suspicion that it might have to do with class. #

Imagine class in a society which is not based on everyone working. #

One would have to revamp the structure of social stratification. Find new ways to make it clear to everyone that some are more than others. #

This would - as you are right to point out - include somewhat of a change. And change never comes easy to those who would lose from it. #

We have the technology, production capabilities and the distribution mechanisms in place. A post-work society can be done. #

It's funny how it's not the massive unemployment in the West that's causing the economic crisis. Funny, and quite telling. #

I somehow can't imagine David Cameron speaking to the people, saying that we must all work to fill this year's quota of Abstract Work. #

Not any particular work. Just work in the abstract, general sense of something being done in a workplace. #

Cameron: as you all know, our new alien overlords will blast our planet to bits if we don't all contribute to the Work Effort. #

Not quite feeling it. #

But if we're not working for an externally imposed will that will kill us all if we don't-then who, what and why? #

Replacing "evil alien overlords" with "the economy" seems somewhat lacking. In general. #

Never before has the gap between what is and what could be been greater. #

If you want proof that ideology is still at work, then casually mention the possibility of a post-work society. It will manifest itself. #

A post-work manifesto. Brought to you by the forces of industrial overproduction, global communications and labor market oversaturation. #

Let's call it a [/rant]. #

Johanna Drott, aka @sargoth


Time for Life

My girlfriend and I recently took a roadtrip to northern Minnesota for a weekend. After an eternity in the car, we arrived to a land of trees, and giant lakes, and more trees. And porcupines.

We got to spend a good portion of the weekend trampling through the woods with her dog, ducking under branches and stepping over fallen trees, breathing amazingly clean, crisp winter air, with leaves and dirt and sticks crunching under our boots.

And then the weekend ended and we returned home, to a world of concrete and asphalt and car exhaust. No me gusta.

After spending even one weekend just enjoying the beautiful outdoors and being free of any real responsibilities, coming back to a life of sitting at a computer all day was jarring and unwelcome and distasteful.

Then I see an article about a 2,650 mile trail from Mexico to Canada that people take five months to hike, and it makes me sad because there’s no way I can take five months off of work to do something like that. (Not that I would survive that kind of hike right now anyway.) I don’t have anywhere near the kind of vacation day availability that such a trek would require. And I came to a realization. I am tired of having my life dictated by when I have to be back at work.

Continue reading “Time for Life”

My Top Five Strengths, according to some report

I recently completed a “strengths finder” analysis through my work, intended to highlight areas in which you excel or are naturally inclined to. The result of the analysis is a list of your top five strengths that are "very important in maximizing the talents that lead to your successes."

Without much further comment, I’ll just leave this here:

  1. Intellection

    You like to think. You like mental activity. […] This need for mental activity may be focused; for example, you may be trying to solve a problem or develop an idea or understand another person’s feelings. […] On the other hand, this mental activity may very well lack focus.

    You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection. You are introspective. In a sense you are your own best companion.

    Introspective? I like spending time on my own? You don’t say.

  2. Analytical

    Your Analytical theme challenges other people: “Prove it. Show me why what you are claiming is true.” In the face of this kind of questioning some will find that their brilliant theories wither and die. For you, this is precisely the point. You do not necessarily want to destroy other people’s ideas, but you do insist that their theories be sound.

    This is one I have to defend quite often. My stance on a lot of work that comes my way is this: I’ll do whatever needs to be done, so long as you can convince me that it does need to be done.

    Prove your idea to me. Use facts, not opinions. I’m not going to waste my time working on some random idea you came up with in the shower if it’s not going to add value to someone’s life.

  3. Input

    You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information […] or you might collect tangible objects. […] With all [sorts of] possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.

    It doesn’t feel like this one describes me particularly well, but maybe I just don’t see myself this way. Throwing stuff away has never been a problem for me – quite the opposite, usually.

  4. Harmony

    You look for areas of agreement. In your view there is little to be gained from conflict and friction, so you seek to hold them to a minimum. When you know that the people around you hold differing views, you try to find the common ground. You try to steer them away from confrontation and toward harmony.

    When others start to argue about their pet theory or concept, you steer clear of the debate, preferring to talk about practical, down-to-earth matters on which you can all agree. In your view we are all in the same boat, and we need this boat to get where we are going.

    Hate arguing. Hate it. People start arguing, I tune out. There’s a difference between debating different viewpoints and arguing that yours is right, and not many people know how to stay on the debate side.

  5. Deliberative

    You are careful. You are vigilant. You are a private person.

    If some people don’t like you because you are not as effusive as others, then so be it. For you, life is not a popularity contest. Life is something of a minefield. Others can run through it recklessly if they so choose, but you take a different approach.

    I tread carefully. Perhaps too carefully sometimes, but so far I’ve managed to avoid a lot of metaphorical land mines that would have left others limbless. Metaphorically.


Two simple rules for managing my work life

I have two simple rules for managing my work life:

  • Don’t think about work after office hours
  • Ask why, and don’t be afraid to say no

As simple as these two rules are, they’re invaluable for maintaining some semblance of sanity and a reasonable work-life balance. These were my only two pieces of advice to a new employee, and I wish someone had told them to me.

Don’t think about work after office hours

It’s important to “check out” if you’re not actually supposed to be working. Weekends, vacations, sick days, whatever. Don’t give your time away for nothing, because that’s what your time will end up being worth: nothing.

When I first started at my current company, it didn’t take long to get sucked into the department culture of working all the time. Emails from managers at 3am on a Sunday weren’t uncommon. It was exhausting, and burnout was frequent. It’s not sustainable. You have to set boundaries.

Unless lives are literally depending on you, your work can wait. Once you leave the office (or finish your set work hours), turn it all off. Don’t check your email. Set your work phone to silent. Do whatever you have to do to switch work off and your personal time on.

Ask why, and don’t be afraid to say “no”

If you find yourself having to do something that you honestly believe provides no value to the company or your customers, don't just go with the flow and do it. Ask why it has to be done. Ask why it has to be done that way. What value does it add? Maybe there's a good answer, maybe not, but you won’t know unless you ask.

If you do get a valid answer that justifies the task, make sure you document the why, not just the how. If no one can reasonably justify the task, find a way to kill it.

Sometimes the reason is that someone with a sufficiently large paycheck said you have to do it, and there’s not much you can do about that. But you should still ask. As long as you’re genuinely concerned about quality, and not just trying to get out of work, eventually this will (or should) be respected.

The second part of this is the importance of learning to say no. Sometimes you have to stand your ground and tell people “no, I can’t do that right now”. An inability to say “no” will lead only to overwork, poor results and eventually burnout.

→ Basically: Work to support your life. Don't die to support your work.