I have a mantra: Change is good. It is one of those things that the COMPANY wants me to say and in which I have a true belief. I work for a very successful mid-size firm, which even in the current economy boasts a healthy cash account, high stock prices, and nothing ahead but more growth. Two years ago the company performed some layoffs which were so disruptive and harmful that the president of the company said he would never advocate such an action again. It is a pretty good framework.
The employee turnover is very low in my department, under 50% of industry average. The pay is not very competitive, and the benefits are embarrassingly skimpy; however, employees are expected to work 40 hours and, generally no longer as is common in other software development environments, and to use all earned vacation time. There are few crunch periods, the CIO’s admin assistant orders decent whole bean coffee, and there is a rotation of managers who bring in donuts, bagels, and fresh fruit every Friday morning.
Why then would I wish to leave? What would compel me to toss aside this dream job just when I am reaching a point in my career where I have some meaningful influence over the software development process, and where I have colleagues and a boss I respect very much? I must be out of my mind to even entertain the thought for a moment, right?
I am bored and frustrated with my life sometimes. Everyone is – the nature of an intelligent brain is to crave both stimulation and satisfaction. The perfect balance can be found in our passions: eating, sex, shoe shopping. The effects of this balance between thought and pleasure embolden us, and enable us to reach for something new without reservation, without obsessive fears of failure. We count on the fact that we have the familiar and the safe on which to fall should we encounter something overly challenging – whether that is a family, a comfortable home, or a supportive network of friends.
The boredom I have arises from dissatisfaction. There is plenty of stimulation at work, but little satisfaction. We are always in flight, and the plane never quite lands; we skip across the runway a bit, but the front wheels don’t touch down. We are in a constant state of flux, almost chaotic in nature but just enough short of that mark to miss making the experience fully exhilarating which, in itself, would engender a sense of satisfaction.
This is quite the nature of software development. We often speak in terms of a feast-or-famine cycle but in truth we are constantly hassling with unreasonable customers, or juggling deadlines on a series of urgent projects, or addressing bugs created by ourselves and our colleagues who are under the same pressures, or all of the above.
I had a friend years ago who said that when she became frustrated with the monotony of her life, or felt stuck in an unhappy pattern, she would change something to initiate some movement. Anything. It could be something as small as changing the time of day she walked the dog, or holding her keys in her left hand rather than her right. It could be something as large as breaking up with her boyfriend and moving to a Buddhist monastery where she met a woman and was for two years a lesbian (how one is temporarily a lesbian, I am not certain, but I was certain that she was quite happy for most of those two years, which made me happy too).
I don’t want to leave my job, and in fact I could not afford to leave it – particularly in the midst of an economic crisis which brings such stalwarts as Lehman Brothers to its knees, and threatens the existence of giants like AIG. It’s folly of course, but still I dream. I dream of that home on the coast, an old wood frame in a redwood clearing, with one trail leading to a fresh beachfront and another winding through the forest. I dream of nights lit by stars, the silence broken by the faint breath of waves brushing the shore, or winter storms during which I nestle by a window to watch the rain and hear the ocean’s powerful voice reminding me of our relative insignificance on this earth. There are days when the thought of such serenity and creative energy is enough to remind me why I work toward future realization of this dream, and to work to define how I might best discover some satisfaction in the present.
So, the change I seek is satisfaction. I have to bring this to the table because it is the missing condiment for the work I consume.