“What should I do with my life?”

What Should I Do With My Life?

The real meaning of success — and how to find it

Those who are lit by that passion are the object of envy among their peers and the subject of intense curiosity. They are the source of good ideas. They make the extra effort. They demonstrate the commitment. They are the ones who, day by day, will rescue this drifting ship. And they will be rewarded. With money, sure, and responsibility, undoubtedly. But with something even better too: the kind of satisfaction that comes with knowing your place in the world. We are sitting on a huge potential boom in productivity — if we could just get the square pegs out of the round holes.

Totally awesome. Read it. Then read it again. Then take a moment to
listen for that quiet whisper, that faint urge. =)

In my dreams of wild success

In my dreams of wild success, I am not an executive, not a manager, not a consultant, not a seller. I am a maker.

I don’t architect complex systems. I build on the human scale: small, simple tools that make individual people’s lives better.

The mechanical translation of designs and diagrams to code has moved to other countries. Development is seen as less valuable, less interesting, less glamorous. There must still be opportunities for invention, for finding a need and solving it.

I love the concrete progress of checking requests off my list, delighting people, and building something that saves people time and effort.

This is interesting for me, because I’m learning that my happiness map can change, and there’s always more to learn. It turns out that I’m more passionate about coding than about coaching people on collaboration or helping executives learn about emerging business trends.

Maybe work is like happiness. It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey. I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy what I used to do, too. There are multiple ways forward.

Like the way I learned to not stress out about “potential” in life, I need to learn how to not stress out about “potential” at work.

I don’t have a clear path for myself yet. I haven’t picked a life out of a catalogue and said, “That’s who I want to be.” I haven’t picked a job description and made that my goal.

I don’t know. There, I admitted it. This might discourage people from investing in my career. Who wants to groom someone for a particular field and then have them cross over into a different one? But I’d rather be clear about figuring things out than pretend that I’m certain.

I love what I’m doing. I’m passionate about what we can do at IBM as we learn how to work smarter. I enjoy helping people brainstorm and innovate. I’m exploring this with IBM because I’m in the right place at the right time, and I can help make bigger things happen.

But I want my life to also include rolling up my sleeves and making things myself. At some point in my life, I want to build systems that people will enjoy using.

Maybe I’ll take a sabbatical in a number of years. Maybe I’ll free up time to do this as a hobby.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll find more role models for this other path, and my dreams will expand to include what I’ve learned from them too.

What do you see in your dreams of wild success? Does it match how you’re living?

What’s success, anyway?

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-30 Fri 08:00

Cate Huston and I are figuring out happiness and success. She wonders if happiness inhibits success, and if that jolt of insecurity is necessary for greatness. I’m happy and successful, so I want to explore what that means, and if being content gets in the way of being great.

It seems like you need that kind of driving ambition in order to live the kind of life that gets written about in books. This is great. History has both happy geniuses and unhappy geniuses, although we tend to focus more on the unhappy geniuses. (Perhaps they make us feel better about ourselves?)

The language that we use to talk of happiness frames it as a pursuit, a goal. People dream of being happy. People work on being happy. People achieve happiness. Or they achieve their previously-set goals, only to find that the goalposts have moved. They thought they’d be happy with a hundred thousand dollars in the bank, and now they want a million.

What if happiness isn’t something to be pursued? What if it just is? What if you just are?

What if you accept the world as it is, and find your serenity and happiness in each moment? What if you don’t need to be entertained or loved each moment? What if you can find the grace in the pain and the joy of life?

I’m happy. Sometimes I’m annoyed on the surface, but I’m generally happy, and it’s fun to grow even happier–to get better at reflexive happy-do. I’m successful: I’m alive, I’m happy, and I love. (This is not dependent on being loved back, although that makes things even awesomer!)

Realization: Growth doesn’t stop when you’re doing well. Your questions change. Instead of asking, “Why does this suck?” or “How can I make this suck less?”, you ask, “How wonderful can it be? How can I help get there? How can I help more people experience this?”

A tangent: One of the interesting job openings at work is looking for people who want to challenge the status quo. Reflecting on that, I realized that my drive is different. I want to share the status quo, recognizing that there are many kinds of status quo. My status quo is that I’m happy, I have a wonderful life, and I work with an awesome organization. Within that organization, there are pockets of status quo like that. Within each person, there are moments like that. I want to bring out those moments. There will probably be resistance, even from people who already want to change, but we don’t have to be adversaries.

It’s different when you start from a perspective of abundance and love.

It will be an interesting experiment to see if I can keep this perspective through the years. Deepen it. Share it.

What’s success?

Dreaming, I could set my sights on a job title and climb the ladder; carve out a name for myself in history through endeavor; become a titan and create an empire. (It would be nice to be like Carnegie and plant libraries all over!) There are people with drive and ambition enough for that. People will do what needs to be done.

Maybe I will explore the little way, the ordinary life well-lived. As my parents’ example continues to teach me, you don’t need an Extraordinary Master Life Plan to make awesome things happen. My ordinary-but-awesome life so far is working well, although occasionally people need a reminder that these things are ordinary and doable.

So: success. What is it, anyway? If I can live, be happy, and share happiness, that should be pretty good. We can figure out how wonderful life can be (for as many people as possible) along the way.

Hmm, time to read up on philosophy again. I need better words and perspectives to explore this! =)

2010-07-27 Tue 19:42

Success and blogging

What’s success when you’re writing a personal blog–not a niche blog which you want to make money from through ads or e-books, not a corporate blog where you want to project a certain brand, but a personal blog, a notebook into which you write whatever might be useful to you and others?

Success is not a matter of becoming wildly popular.

You succeed as soon as you grasp a thought and try to think it through, writing it down. Even if you throw away your draft and never publish it (although please do–you’ll be surprised at how valuable these sketches and attempts to explain can be), you have already gained a little more clarity and understanding.

You succeed again when you share those thoughts, getting over your fear, anxiety, and discomfort.

You succeed again when you look up your old posts for a solution you’d written down or a reflection you’d shared, saving you time figuring things out again.

You succeed again when people read your post–even several years later, brought in by search engines–and they learn something from it. You succeed again when they do something about it.

You succeed again when someone shares their thoughts in a comment, even if it’s to point out that you’ve missed something. (Another opportunity to learn!)

You succeed again when one comment turns into another, and into a serendipitous connection you might never have made.

You succeed again when you learn something, and again when you do something about it.

You succeed again when you build friendships.

There are so many different kinds of success in blogging. Don’t get distracted by all the fuss about increasing your subscriber count, building your personal brand, or making money through ads, products, or services. There’s more to it than that. Enjoy!

2010-07-28 Wed 07:46

Making the day count

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Objective: Explore this idea of summer vacation, learning, passion, success, working hard.

“What did you do today?” W- asked over dinner last week.

“Not much,” J- said. She’s on summer vacation.

We rattled off suggestions for things to do. Physical exercise like jogging or biking. Building practical skills like cooking. Learning about Linux or programming.

I pointed out that she had been reading, which counts as more than “not much”. Sometimes we forget to take credit for the things we do in a day. I suggested making a goal of doing at least one “good” thing a day.

One to three good things is enough. Part of it is learning to identify those good things: to value your own time and your own decisions, and to demonstrate that value to others. And then, once you’ve made the day worthwhile, it’s good to feel that you have the abundance of time for other things. Unstructured time is important: time to figure things out, time to learn what you want to do instead of having stuff assigned to you.

Semi-retirement is a little like a long summer vacation. I can choose what to do with my time. How do I spend it? How do I account for it? What do I decide to do, moment to moment? How do I make it count – the day, the week, the year, the experiment?

I don’t have a grand plan, not really. I take small steps. I feel like I’m making good progress on a variety of interests and skills. I haven’t hit a plateau yet in terms of sketchnoting. There’s always more to learn. There’s more to learn about coding, Emacs, writing, Japanese… My interests will swallow up whatever time I want to give them, and I’m still far away from the point of diminishing returns. This is why it’s easy to ignore video games, movies, malls, aimless browsing of the Internet. There’s so much more that promises long-term value. (Although I occasionally check out news sites and comics, because you never know what might be useful; and I can spend a day reading just for the heck of it.)

Time abundance; making room for small things and experiments. I’ve been curious about making better use of speech recognition in blogging. It might let me write more naturally, and the practice in forming thoughts might even help with my occasional stutter. I was training the Dragon NaturallySpeaking recognition engine, dictating one of its pre-programmed selections in order to improve its accuracy. While reading an excerpt from Success is a Journey (Jeffrey J. Mayer) out loud, I realized that I no longer quite identify with “success literature:” you know, that genre of books full of exhortations to work hard and follow your passion.

Practically all motivational speeches I’ve heard include some variant of “Work your tail off to make things happen.” Sometimes I wonder if I’m short-changing myself because I’m not working hard, like the way my dad works (up early, up late, always making something happen). Should I work long hours at a start-up, carefully tuned to be just shy of burning myself out? Should I be squirrelling away more savings for an unknown future?

I like this pace, though. More contemplative than chaotic, with the occasional sprint of enthusiasm. I’m drawn along by curiosity rather than driven by desire. It isn’t that I need, but that I wonder. Keeping my wants and commitments small gives me plenty of freedom to ask questions and experiment. I give myself space.

Despite this, people tell me that I get a lot of things done. I tell them it looks that way because I share what I do, while most people forget what they’ve done. What have you done today? Not much? I think you’ve done more than you remember. I don’t know how my day stacks up against other people. I feel that I do less, but I try to make it count. It’s only when I look at my task lists and weekly reviews that I see the distance covered by small steps.

Anti-advice: What if you don’t have to work hard? What if you can start small and grow out from there? What if you don’t have to cram the day full, as long as you’re happy with the way you made it matter?