Geta Life

From WhyDoYouPermitThisToBeDoneToYou :
Stand in the place where you live
Now face North
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven't before
Now stand in the place where you work
Now face West
Think ...
'Stand' by REM, used as tune for the TV sitcom 'Get A Life'

When I was younger and stupid, I used to do this kind of stuff. Then I was fortunate (in a back-handed sort of way). I had an alcoholic wife who left me with a little girl. I couldn't work all that time.

Wow. Did I discover how to live. I enjoyed my daughter. I had an external life.

During this time I built a house myself, I created and ran a performance stunt show for 10 years and did many other things that I simply enjoyed. All was hard work and all involved intellectual and physical challenges.

I have a large rack of memories that I cherish. I wouldn't do without them. And I wonder if, later in life, I will not be the richer one than the monetarily satisfied bloke who has a large rack of memories of spending time at a job?

You cannot replace the time that passes. And the things you do that enrich your existence and experiences are the important things.

-- HergerThomann

Now I am older and still stupid, I think GettingOut is a BetterGame -- dl

I am realizing that there is a balance and I can't work as many hours as I used to at my advanced age -)) but I also do software work for fun as well as money. I love what I do and would do it anyway. I am passionate about technology and just love it. It's true that health and family are much more important. I guess the challenge for me is to continually find that balance point.

-- sg

In October, 2000, I cut to a 32-hour week. I'll never go back. The 20% cut in pay isn't even noticeable, and having a three-day weekend every weekend has established a balance between work and home that would be impossible to give up. In fact, when financial conditions permit, I'll cut my work week again. Of course, one of the scary things is that my involvement in local politics and civic matters has increased. Could there be a sinister correlation between pressure to work more hours and ...? Oh, excuse me. I think I have Oliver Stone on the other line wanting to talk about a film idea.

-- DonOlson

I applaud what you have done. I'm much too obsessed and compulsive to do something like this. If I cut down to 32 hours, I would still spend at least another 32 on the net learning about new technology and other things that I am obsessed with. I might as well get paid for it. I'm not commenting on your situation, but for me, programming is not a job, it's an adventure. Wait, wrong topic - this is not the military. But seriously folks I love what I do and if it became just a job I wouldn't do it anymore.

-- sg

God bless you, Sam. I used to feel that way about this work, but not anymore. Reading your thing above just brought that into clear focus: I don't want to do this anymore. My love has moved elsewhere. It's old houses. Thank you, Sam. -- WaldenMathews

It's comforting to see others who have fallen out of love with working in high-tech. At first I was in denial, then depression, and now acceptance (bargaining and anger were two phases that didn't appear). Then there is a sixth stage - joy. There is a glorious liberation in no longer having to make more money, be on the sharpest cutting edge, or have the latest toys and tools. You step off the track, and wander away, and it slowly floods over and through you what a beautiful world this is, and how little technology has to do with it. Peace. -- DonOlson

So, what do you do with your time now?

Well, heh heh, I still work 4 days a week as mentioned (3 of them from home), but I've written a book (to be published in October) and am starting on another. I'm slowly getting involved in community activism and local politics, and recently was admitted to grad school at our local university to pursue a creative writing program. I no longer think in terms of career, but rather of jobs and aspirations: jobs earn money that funds aspirations. The key is finding balance. I accept that I'll have to work some to keep body and soul together, but by living in a frugal manner (small house, older car, eating at home) and being married to a wonderful woman with similar outlook, I'm blessed with flexibility in how much and when I work. It's not for everybody, perhaps, but for me it's perfect. It helps to live in a community (Flagstaff, AZ) with a lot of fellow flakes and dropouts and ex-hippie retreads like myself, as opposed to a large urban pressure cooker, because I don't feel the pressures to be rich or powerful or successful. I'm a happy, goofy, contented failure. -- DonOlson

And thank you, too, Don. Right now I'm thinking about a little framing project - a doorway between the old and new parts of my house, a non-standard enough piece of work to be interesting, but definitely far from "high tech" - and I can't wait to get home and put on the tool belt. Peace. Oh, and uh, kiss your house for me, however old she is. -- WaldenMathews

Oh man, a tool belt is so much cooler than a cell phone and pager ensemble, don't you think? A site that gets me to drooling is DuluthTradingCompany with great tool belts, organizers, clothing and stuff for hands that build, at A friend has offered to take me on as an unpaid (and incompetent) apprentice in the carpentry art and science. Perhaps someday I will be worthy! -- DonOlson

Out of curiosity, do you both see this as a permanent change or a temporary one? Myself, I go through periods of getting totally burnt out on technology and then I spend 2-3 months like you describe above and go back. Do you view this as a permanent change and why? Thanks! -- sg

Good questions, Sam, and ones that were already tickling my stem. In my case, I haven't "made a change" yet, and it's not clear that I'm going to. Then again, it's not clear that I'm not. I guess it depends on where the real challenges show up. Most of my motivation in software work used to come from a sense of needing to "prove myself". That's wearing dangerously thin. Also wearing thin is the lustre of "technology" that usually turns out to be a bunch of new names for the same old stuff. On the other hand, I can't describe the beauty of exacting carpentry I've done myself (and I'm good! But I digress on one of my usual self-grooming missions...). To answer your question, if I make a break it will probably not be a permanent or clean one. -- WaldenMathews

My break is gradual, and if not exactly clean it's not messy, either, but it will be permanent for all the reasons Walden mentions. I don't shirk my responsibilities at work, but I make no secret of my slow transition into a No, that's not the right word. Well, I don't know what I'm moving into exactly, and that's part of the thrill. Also, I could stay partially involved in software for quite a while, so long as that involvement can be contained. Perhaps 3 days a week will be the balance point. -- DonOlson

I think I've made the mistake of falling out of love with computers too early. Almost my entire education and work experience has been under the assumption that I would program for a living. Now I'm starting to rethink that strategy, as I discover what else is out there, but I don't know what alternative would best suit me. But I don't have the luxury of having invested my youth into gruelling work, since my youth is still ahead of me. Conceptually, I have my whole life ahead of me, but I also have five-figure student loans to pay off, and a rather thin resume to pay it with. The job I have now isn't that bad, and leaves me enough time to have a life. But as soon as I'm out of debt, it's time to go to Czech Republic and teach Esperanto. Or something. -- NickBensema

Nick, do yourself a favour then and get out as soon as you can. Find something you can love, and see if you can find a way to make money doing it. Doing a job you don't like is a sure-fire way to be unhappy and depressed. Even if your non-work activities keep you happy and sane, think of how much happier you could be without the big negative drag on your life. The key thing to do is find something you do love, and get paid for it. It's no sin to switch careers; a good friend of mine swapped from medicine to computing last year because he couldn't stand medicine anymore. Bear in mind as well that for an occupation you really love, you won't really care what it pays (though your creditors might).

Well, there's that strategy and then there are the various crises we encounter as we grow older. For instance, people in their mid-twenties often fall out of love with their chosen profession because they realize that everything they've been told since they were young has been lies. Work sucks, people are stupid, there's no hope, etc. etc. After you get over that, you are either broken in which case you should get out, or a balanced individual.

It's now been two months since I was laid off, and I couldn't be happier. Oh, I did sort of engineer the whole thing and so it wasn't exactly a surprise, but what was a surprise, and a very, very wonderful discovery, was that there is so much life outside of a job and a paycheck. With a little planning, a little frugality, a little risk, you can completely change your life. And it's easier than you can imagine. A brief explanation.

In April, 2001, I knew that by the end of our corporate fiscal year on September 30, that force reduction was going to be upon us, judging by the way things were going, and so I applied to a graduate program in creative writing and got accepted for the fall semester. Next, when the warnings about the layoffs came in July, and who was most at risk, I was amazed that I already had two strikes against me. Teleworkers were targeted, whether owing to prejudices or actual evidence, I don't know, and also part-timers, which status I also claimed, working only 4 days per week. We were informed that we could redeem ourselves by (1) moving back to the city where the offices were, and (b) returning to full-time employment. After thinking it all over, in August I told my boss that (1) I wasn't moving back to Phoenix from my mountain home in Flagstaff, and (b) I had no intention of ever working more than 32 hours at software development again. On October 5 I received my layoff notice and on October 12 I worked my last day, which just happened to be the very day that the book I wrote with CarolStimmel - TheManagerPool - was published by Addison Wesley. Talk about planning! They should have made me a manager, by cracky!

Okay, so why this long tale? Well, with no prospects other than school ahead and a course of study that was almost a guarantee of perpetual poverty, I am finding that there are business opportunities - paying ones - that reveal themselves to you just as soon as you can let go of that paycheck for a little while. Despite the loss of pay, now I know that I can never go back to a corporate setting and that loving what I do and really dedicating myself to it will yield rewards and opportunities that I could not have conceived of just a few months back. I don't presume to generalize this experience to the rest of humanity, or even to software folks, but I do want to tell those of you who are sick at heart with what you are doing to consider a leap in the dark. Sure, it takes a little faith, but it can open the world up to you in ways that can exceed your wildest dreams. -- DonOlson

You are my new hero, Don. :-) -- LukeGorrie

Don, thanks for the perspective. I have some meagre contributions of my own. I see the term BurnOut used in this context quite a bit and, over the years, I've talked with a number of programmers and related engineering types who have said variations on, "yeah, I used to do that, but then I got burned out on it ..."

This led me to consider, "what is BurnOut?" After all, if you love what you do, how can you ever get burned out doing it? Please see my explanation at BurnOut. -- GarryHamilton

I haven't been able to put Don's remarks out of my mind, though it's been, what, 2 years since I read them? I'd like to say that I immediately became wiser and radically changed my life, but no. I'm not that smart.

I had worked for years in LasVegas until the consulting firm I worked for decided to start shooting engineers. I was the first to go after our largest client changed hands. I had just single-handedly delivered a DataWarehouse to one client and the data acquisition drivers for another, but clearly this was not about me or my loyalty but about ShareholderBenefit? (c'mon people, do it for the ShareHolders?).

My next gig was in Phoenix, where I began to perceive that there might be more to life than what I'd been doing for 20 years. This was timed to coincide with the industry's slump, so I went from gig to gig as a contractor. And then the work ran out. We bailed and returned to LasVegas, where my wife had an offer. I nailed a full-time thing for the company I'm still with. We breathed a sigh of relief ... but the seeds had already been planted: by this time I'd met the wiki and seen Don's words.

Flagstaff. What a gorgeous place. What I wouldn't give to be back in the mountains. Then luck happened. You know, luck, that thing you get when you put in lots of work toward a goal? My wife's home business became an overnight success. You know, overnight, that surprisingly brief period of realization that happens after swinging the hammer for three solid years? We now had the wherewithal to plan our next move with some deliberation.

The mountains. But which ones? Flagstaff? Bozeman? No, I still needed the infrastructure and the DayJob. But wait -- our company has a Reno office! We could live in Incline Village, Carson City, Minden/Gardnerville, Washoe -- all very near. So we moved her, and her business, to Carson City. When the school year ended we moved the kids. Then I lived out of a suitcase (literally) for the next four months until the transfer was achieved (this was a cultivated event, it didn't just "happen").

Carson City, Don. At 4,500 feet it's not quite at your altitude, but we have the trees, the seasons, the mountains, and the clean air. And we're only 30 minutes from Tahoe.

My commute is about the same as it was in Phoenix, but I enjoy it more. We no longer have to plan 3-day or 4-day weekends to get to the mountains: they're here. Now, using my wife's successful business as a model, and what I've learned in my career, I'm building (gradually) a business alongside hers that will eventually replace enough of my income that I can dispense with the DayJob. I look forward to earning my own tool belt.

-- GarryHamilton

It's been a year since I wrote the paragraph where I described being too young and too deep in debt to quit and do something non-programmerly. I'm still working at the same company. I'm not overworked, but I'm either underworked or doing very uninteresting and tedious things. In the coming days, I hope to try to categorize all the mental blocks I'm dealing with that are keeping me here. Most of them are pretty stupid, like the twelve-month lease I just signed on my apartment, the upcoming vacation for which I was going to dip into my savings, etc. All the excuses, which could all probably be converted to "consequences of my pursuit of happiness." -- NickBensema

Nick, you don't have to quit your life to see if other one suits you better. I am young (less than 3 years of professional programming), yet, working in the field gives me the money I need to do some searching of 'other lives'. I'm still studying, but in the free time, I've tried paragliding, salsa (the dance), kung fu, teaching. Learning Chinese writing (to mix it with some art exploration) and playing the guitar could also be good additions too. And I'm just starting my search. Also, reading about non-tech topics helps a lot. Find the balance, when nothing undesired takes too much time from your life, you'll be ok. However, you can realize the value of a richer life only if you have been deep in the hole, suffering a bit or more. A couple of continuous 70 hours (or more) of work per week got my head to the other side of the road. -- JonatanAllik?
An update to an experiment mentioned above: After 23 years in software engineering, I've now been "unemployed" since October 12, 2001, and cannot recommend it highly enough. Being a full-time grad student, aspiring writer, teacher, and dreamer even at a tenth of my previous salary is something I would never surrender to return to corporate life. This is just too delicious to describe, every single morning of every single day. If you truly are feeling burned out, then GET OUT! You've only one life, and trust me - it's woefully short. -- DonOlson

I left my corporate job five months ago, and cheerfully second Don's recommendation. I am much happier now. I have developed a few new hobbies, and renewed some old ones. I've reversed my BurnOut and I actually enjoy writing software again. (Now if I can just get someone to pay me to do it my way, life would be perfect.) It is a little scary to not have a regular paycheck, but it's not as scary as the thought of wasting my life doing things I don't want to do. -- KrisJohnson

Here's a slightly different perspective: I've found a need to integrate balance into my life. I became a programmer because I enjoyed it, then discovered that coding in a corporate environment was extremely uninteresting. So, over time, I sought other opportunities. Now, I'm a technical writer, using my programming ability to write useful technical manuals and such things.

I still program in my spare time, but I don't need to be obsessed about it. It's part of my life now, along with many other things.

Is complete specialization a good thing, or do we need a multitude of pursuits to be balanced and healthy? Well, some people believe that SpecializationIsForInsects.

Profusely lengthy and strange tales follow, so be forewarned.

I'm a young, programmerly-type who has always enjoyed the thrill of the compile. I used to log in to Kansas University's Usenet machines when I was 8 or 9 or so. Taught myself to program in C, then C++, and now my love for the machine is currently incarnated in web-based, high-end, multimedia development. I've wanted little more than a computer, a job working with that computer, and to be left alone while doing the job on that computer. It's just the way I've always been.

Yet, as fate has its way with me, I've found myself in stranger places and situations than I could imagine, most of these not entirely too computer-friendly.

In short, I've been around the world (thrice; all over Europe, Russia, Asia, Japan, Egypt, etc.), a self-inflicted victim of the typical high school underachiever (no scholarships for me, GPA was so low I couldn't even get into the school of engineering, despite a membership in MENSA and a near-perfect score on my ACT (didn't take the SATs, I don't believe in Standford)), poverty-stricken (and I do mean poor), lived and worked in the bay area in California (the highlight of my computing career, web development), and, to top things off, I've been through the Army (and a couple of deployments because of Sept. 11). Now I live in Portland, OR more-or-less on a whim.

Almost everyone I know has commented on the 'life-deepening' experiences I've been through. I am only twenty-two, and for some reason, I really can't fully fathom what others are saying when they talk about what I've done. Mostly, I wonder if, due to the continual nature of these events, I just can't see the gravity of their importance, and take for granted their worth, these things that are so supposed to help show an individual what the world is about, what it's like.

And through it all, I still find myself less than content unless plugged into a computer, no matter where on Earth I am or what my present situation is. Although living with the most beautiful woman I've ever met does help. :)

Maybe I'm just all screwy upstairs. Or maybe I'm just too young. -- CurZi

There are other aspects to having a life than having time for one. If you have nobody to share your life with, it can be very empty indeed. And while having an ICQ list full of "buddies" may seem mathematically equivalent to having lots of friends, it's just not the same as hanging out in person. All my college buddies moved out of state chasing their Silicon Valley dreams, and I don't really have much experience maintaining RealLifeFriendships?. I've tried to compensate by going to lots of clubs and group events, but nothing really cohesive has emerged. So how does one break the loneliness barrier?

Patience and persistence. My pastor's talked about this, about how a lot of people he knows - particularly men - find it extremely difficult to make good friends. It can take a long time to find even one person who really matches up with you. It's sort of like hiring an employee; you have to screen an awful lot of candidates first. -- BrentNewhall

One problem I find when exercising this patience is the amount of false positives. Geek friendships can sometimes flare up quickly and flame out as quickly as they started. Some people seem desperate to finally have a best friend, and so when they find some compatibility, any compatibility, they invest too much. And then something happens which could have been brushed off for an acquaintance, but between best friends, is a dealbreaker. Truly good friends have no dealbreakers.
Life is funny because it's true
The time I have found life to be the most fun(ny) was when its truthness was put to doubt, then reasserted in a different way.. -- by

I don't think I really ever understood the idea of "faith" until recently, and I don't mean it in religious terms, exactly. But cutting loose from the mainstream and just figuring that when necessary the right opportunities will present themselves is a kind of working faith that makes life feel spontaneous and adventuresome. As mentioned above in earlier posts, I've gone through a "get a life" transition and it has taken me beyond what I thought possible. I now teach fiction, rhetoric, and composition courses at our local university, which in itself is a dream come true (yes, it pays horribly, but the fun makes up for the pay), and even though I only have an appointment for the next year, with no guarantees beyond, I've never felt more whole. Life has a unity that I haven't experienced since I was a teenager, and although I regret not having made the leap 20 years ago, perhaps it was necessary to blunder around for a long while before I could find the code. It's pretty simple - don't be afraid. You're going to die, no matter what you do or how you play the game, and it is your life. Although the time of your life can be exchanged for money, money can never be changed back into the time you have surrendered. So when asked the question, "Your money or your life," do what Jack Benny did when the robber, finally growing impatient, said, "Well?" Benny replied, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking." -- DonOlson

Don, I'm not sure it's legal for someone to have this much insight. There's something familiar in what you say ... ahh, yes, it reminds me of a passage from Illusions by RichardBach. I'm sure you've read it before, but I wager there are those young whippersnappers here who haven't. Yeah, it feels a lot more like Illusions than StarWars' "TrustTheForceLuke?" metaphor.

Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river.

The current of the river swept silently over them all - young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.

Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks at the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.

But one creature said at last, 'I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.'

The other creatures laughed and said, 'Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you shall die quicker than boredom!'

But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks. Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more. And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, 'See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!'

And the one carried in the current said, 'I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.'

But they cried the more, 'Saviour!' all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour.'

See also AlternativeJobsForProgrammers, ThisIsYourLife, BurnOut

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