Share on Myspace Share on Tumblr Share

“What’s the two things they tell you are healthiest to eat? Chicken and fish. You know what you should do? Combine them, eat a penguin.” — Dave Attell
Holy Carp
“The old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish has been updated by a reader: Give a man a fish and he will ask for tartar sauce and French fries! Moreover, some politician who wants his vote will declare all these things to be among his ‘basic rights.'”
— Thomas Sowell

Well, it’s been a long while since I contributed to my own blog and high time that I do so now, since I find myself in the same situation I was in when I started these pages in the first place. Much to my surprise, I and a goodly number of my compatriots suddenly rejoined the intrepid 4.3% who, by self-determination, market downturns, apathy, ineptitude or outright chicanery, have assumed the role of able bodied but between periods of remunerated usefulness, as it were. The reasons are moot — suffice it to say, a quantum collapse of business suppositions occurred. So now, there are certainly three years of domestic maintenance to catch up on, family, friends and acquaintances to visit, online courses to resume, unfinished projects to reevaluate and abandoned hobbies to reconsider picking back up again. But the questions of, “What happened in the last three years and was it worth it?” nag at the back of my mind.

I had been working in what amounted to a startup within a larger company; an advanced systems department focused on the development of some really interesting, cutting-edge technology in disciplines spanning IoT (Internet of Things), embedded systems, machine learning, predictive, big-data analytics, mobile app development, API development, Web 2.0 frameworks…all the industry buzzwords, plus international customers and partners, in a fast, friendly, collaborative environment with plenty of room for creativity and opportunity for learning all kinds of new skills. This was a real “concept to delivery” project, which included a great deal of job satisfaction, albeit without immediate monetary compensation. That was for later, after the hard work was done. For someone like me, having the forum to see immediate results on a creative endeavor and a wide variety of challenging problems to solve in a time-critical environment (read, “many different hats to wear”) was a huge incentive. In the current business environment (at least on either US coast), this isn’t all that uncommon of a work environment. But is job satisfaction enough? Is monetary compensation without job satisfaction enough? Maybe. As Henny Youngman said, “I’ve got all the money I’ll ever need — if I die by four o’clock.”

However, some people don’t do so well without some kind of structure in place and the semi-chaotic nature of a startup environment is a serious stressor. There are those that thrive in a challenging work environment and those that are overwhelmed by it. Personally, I didn’t mind the 12-18 hour days and the succession of more and more challenging tasks — they provided me with a reason to get out of bed in the morning. My wife and I both worked for the same company (in different capacities) and our lives were filled with the minutiae of corporate workings whether or not we were physically in the office. It wasn’t our business, but we absolutely treated it that way, and always have with any other job we’ve been at. Before you scoff and throw about the old chestnut of “imbalance,” with similar drives between my wife and me, we did and still manage to fit in kids and grandkids, extended family, friends, side businesses, hobbies and even the occasional vacation. We just don’t sleep much and our home doesn’t get vacuumed as often as it probably should. The old adage of “don’t sweat the small stuff” certainly applies to us. In our case, the work was often it’s own reward.

But back to my original assertion, is it all worth it? Is the short sleep, the aperiodic aggravations and interdepartmental squabbles, the undercompensated work, “forgotten” performance appraisals, fulfillment of countless, poorly thought-out, late night “immediate response required” requests for PowerPoint slides (which later sat, ignored, in an executive’s “in” basket for weeks), countless bug report filings, counted lines of code, endless code documents, marketing data requests, meeting agenda compositions, the neglected lawn, unwritten Christmas cards, and the piled up personal mail worth all the effort? To answer a my own question with an alternative viewpoint, is “subsistence work” sufficient? In other words, without inviting a political diatribe, is the pervasive view (in my direct observation) of “work just enough to pay the bills” a viable philosophy? Did I waste the last three years in the hamster wheel when I could have been…I don’t know…binging Netflix instead?

I suppose this whole column has been rhetorical (what blog isn’t?) and I’ve answered my own question. Without the environment to learn all I have and the satisfaction of a job well done over the last three years, despite the collapse of a promising company, I wouldn’t  be able to apply that knowledge to future endeavors, whether my own or for somebody else, nor would I have had the privilege of meeting, working with and befriending one of the finest groups of people it’s ever been my pleasure to do so. There are lessons to be learned even in the worst of circumstances. In this writer’s humble opinion, self-improvement and the ability to help others because of it should be the goal of everyone and the very foundation of our country. The job search is difficult and the prospect of re-acclimation to a new work environment is daunting. However, I look forward to the challenge and I wish all the success in the world to those who take this journey with me.

Nevertheless, it sure would be nice to have all the money I would ever need past four o’clock without the caveat. I’d even share.