I’ve never been a large fan of long term personal planning in life. At work a few weeks ago they asked me to draft up a “personal development plan” where I would talk about where I wanted to be in N years (where N > 1). My initial plan just said “doing exciting things”, which is really what my goal is but my manager wanted me to elaborate a bit more on that. Since I’m still getting a feel for the place, I decided that the best next step was to expand on “doing exciting things” to list some specific things highly scoped given my current position. Honestly, I don’t know where I want to be in N years and I don’t think a written plan is really going to help me get there. I think a lot of it is going to depend on what kind of compromises I make along the way. Ideally I’d be doing exciting things, but I fear I may end up doing things that pay the bills or doing things that people expect me to. If everything was some sort of perfect harmony people would expect me to be doing exciting stuff that happened to pay the bills, and such work was available for me, but I fear it may be a “choose 1″ kind of situation.
The larger problem is actually because I like things small. I’ve never been good at planning my personal life years in advance, I get by on a day to day basis using fairly structure routines and I change quite gradually most of the time. Luckily, for the first twenty-something years of my life this was very easy because a next logical step was always available. Graduating middle school led directly to going to college. I finished my BS and an MS was a fairly logical next thing to do. A PhD seemed like it was a step that I, or my life, wouldn’t be well suited for given the flavor of academia these days so I went out and got a job. Now what do I do?
If my job was working at McDonalds as a floor mopping technician, I would probably aspire to work a register or cook and someday become a shift leader, manager, etc. That all of course assumes you really enjoy McDonalds, who doesn’t really. Unfortunately I’m not mopping floors at my local McDonalds. I’m 2.5K miles across the country working at a substantially larger company that’s has much higher barriers to entry, I’m also not mopping floors. I’m not really sure what I want to do next, and that’s really demotivating.
This isn’t just work related though, well maybe it is. I write code because it’s personally satisfying. I’m personally satisfied when I see others using / interacting / expanding on something I’ve done. It makes me almost want to smile when I see someone use something I’ve worked on. There are also cases, perhaps what I’d consider more academic exercises, in which I program just for myself. A few days ago at work I came up with what I thought was a really elegant piece of Python code. No one may ever see it, I might be the only person to use it ever but whatever, it’s cool to me. Looking back, I’ve done a lot of programming work over the past 5 years or so under the premise that doing this work would lead me to getting a good job. I don’t doubt that it may be a strongly correlating factor in the past, but I have trouble linking this continued external work with an increased potentials for professional opportunity.
I’m intentionally dodging the broader subject debating the merits of most things I do in life that I’ve convinced myself bolster professional opportunity. It’s depressing when I think that all those collared shirts were for nothing.
I think a lot of people probably define many of their goals in their social/family space and can look forward to those kind of events. People save up for vacation or look forward to the weekend relaxing / going out with friends or hanging out with people in general. Some people look for love, some get married, and then of course there are those who have kids (those are 3 independent events in my mind). If I were writing Brian’s todo list it probably wouldn’t include many things that look like that. I don’t have this pressing desire to “unwind” after a “long day” at the “office”. Going places and doing things has never really been my forte, I’ll occasionally go someplace and do some stuff but rarely because I have a pressing urge to.
Perhaps the best strategy I have is to keep thinking about what’s next so I can figure it out. I also might be tapping out right now because it’s late and I’m getting tired. There’s gotta be a fairly reasonable and logical next step I want to work towards, I’ll just have to be careful to balance the time spent thinking with the time spent doing. Someone famous once said that you can’t always tell if you’re going in the right direction to get somewhere, but you’re certainly not going to get there if you just sit there.
Good night moon.