Work that I love: reflecting on the whats and hows

At the team-building event the other day, I got to meet a number of other people who had been with IBM for a number of years. Several people told me stories about projects planned using at least 80-hour weeks, of high turnover and stressful environments, but also the increased responsibilities and career opportunities for people who stay with those projects. Other people talked about priorities and intentionally limiting the number of hours they worked in order to make time for other things, their happiness with their decisions, and the support they received from the company. It made me think about what work I love to do and how I want to live.

I’m getting a better idea of the work I enjoy doing. Here’s a rough sketch:

  • I love sharing what I’m passionate about, helping people learn more and become more effective, and encouraging people to grow. In my current role, I get to do plenty of presenting, conducting workshops, coaching, and writing. People appreciate not only the information I share but also the enthusiasm with which I share it and the thoughtfulness with which I help people learn.
  • I love learning about all sorts of things. I’m currently working on visual literacy, and I’m looking forward to using the Cintiq tablet to experiment with graphics even more. I also love learning about social networking, communication skills, and other topics that I can share with people around me.
  • I love connecting people with other people, ideas, or tools. It gives me a thrill whenever I can introduce people to just the right person who can help them do what they want, to a book or article that fits their interests, or to a tool they’ll love.
  • I love exercising my creativity and helping people brainstorm. As part of my work, I often get to help people brainstorm Web 2.0 business ideas, and I really enjoy bringing in things I’ve learned from all the different aspects of my life.
  • I enjoy working on lightweight projects based on open source technologies with vibrant user communities. I get to do this with my Drupal-based project and with my Emacs book. I love being able to read source code and learn from other people’s contributions. I love sharing tips on my blog and learning more from others. I love giving back to the community, too!
  • I can write technical documentation better than most developers can. And I don’t mind doing it, too, as long as it doesn’t require me to keep changing applications or operating systems.
  • I don’t like working on front-end interfaces, such as designing graphics, writing CSS, or trying to make a page look exactly like the design. I can do it, but I’d rather do a simple design.
  • I really don’t like working on cross-browser or cross-platform issues.
  • I really don’t like dealing with inconsistent, fiddly, or frustrating things such as bugs in one’s operating system (really, my mouse should Just Work) or convoluted administrative paperwork. Some people enjoy solving problems like that. I don’t.

I’d like to explore sales at some point, too. I want to find out if it might be a good fit for me, too, and I like the idea of helping people find the right solution for them.

So that’s a general idea of my strengths. I love helping people be more effective, whether it’s by sharing ideas or tips, connecting them with others, or building or tweaking tools for them. I enjoy software development and technical writing too, but mainly as a way of supporting my ability to help people be more effective. Those are the “whats,” at least right now. What about the hows?

I don’t see myself working on projects with unrealistic time expectations. I don’t see myself sacrificing life for work or for career advancement. If I did, I’d be going up the ladder, yes, but it might be the wrong ladder for me.

The things I love doing and the things that make me special all require me to be happy and passionate about my work. I believe that I can be successful at them while living according to my values. I’m looking forward to seeing the kind of life I can build. =)

Have you thought about your whats and hows?