Last time I talked about the question I often get of "what is it that you do all day?". And when I say I talked about it I mean I focussed entirely on the merits of the question, the insights it provided, and the effect the question has had on me. I didn't actually answer the question. This is actually pretty typical of me. Waxing philosophical is something I am wont to do. So to switch things up a bit, I figured I would take a stab at actually providing a real, concrete answer to the question. What are the things I do all day and why have I chosen to focus on these things in particular?
To start, I could give some historical background. How I got to where I am now and how I've been approaching things so far. But I won't be doing that. It's just not actually all that relevant. The context, instead, lies in the future as a lot of what I do on a daily basis is in service of my "Three Year Plan". The Three Year Plan (henceforth, TYP), as I've come to call it, is a few things. First, it's a deadline. That's the "three year" part. And second, it's a set of goals. That's the "plan" part. Before diving into the goals, I will make a brief diversion into the deadline as it provides some more background and because I can't help but wax at least a little bit.1
The deadline is useful in that it provides a few things. For one, it bounds the problem. Trying to answer the question of "what do you want to do with your life" is difficult in the same sense that filling an infinite void is difficult. And while life may not actually be infinite, it can sometimes feel unfathomably large. Things tend to fill the space they are in (like goldfish) and so questions that are unbounded only create answers that mushroom into anxiety. The second thing a deadline provides is answers to questions like "What if I can't accomplish my goals?". Here the deadline answers, "you go back to doing what you did before"2. So if I fail at the end of the three years I will go back to finding a J.O.B., which, unfortunately, brings us to another (hopefully short) diversion.
It's important to quickly define what is I mean by J.O.B. since it's the thing I'm trying to avoid (for the time being) in all of this. A J.O.B is work that you do for a living that you also don't have any particular visceral connection to. Something that doesn't really bring you much satisfaction in and of itself. There are many ways to seek fulfilment in life. And while work can be a source of satisfaction, often it is just a means for an end3. To this point, I think most people have a J.O.B. Which is, by no means, a bad thing. People are often justifying this kind of work, saying things like "it pays the bills". And it's in these justifications where we find the real meaning. A J.O.B. can support a family, or afford hobbies, or pay for trips around the world. A job doesn't have to be the vehicle, often it's just the fuel. But for me, when I was working a job, there was no other end. And a means with no end is nothing really at all. It's just a J.O.B.
The fact that my previous employment was unfulfilling is the problem that the TYP is trying to solve for. The "plan" part actually consists of two independent paths that I am pursing in parallel. The first is the idea of being more of an independent developer. Or, as I'll often put it, "finding alternate ways of generating income". The why here is that having spent a year off, I find that I value my time a lot more than I value a steady paycheck4. That's the independent part, having greater control of my time. The developer part is acknowledging that I spent a large part of my life developing skills in developing software and it's therefore wise to use this investment as leverage. I'll get the most bang for my buck here, therefore affording me even more time. This maybe sounding like my definition of a J.O.B., especially the means to an end part. And it is. It's the recognition that there are other areas in my life in which I find fulfilment. When I have more time, life feels more spacious, and I, overall, feel more fulfilled. I also value independence in and of itself. Figuring things out for myself is something I find both meaningful and rewarding. In a J.O.B. you trade your autonomy for a paycheck. This is often a very good deal for both the employee (for the reasons listed above) and the employer(as they are able to extracting profits from labor). The independent route allows me to emphasize the autonomous part with the trade-off being in the paycheck part (aka I don't get any paychecks). To me this feels like a reasonable trade. At least until all the money runs out. But that's what the deadline is for.
The second path is focussed on finding more socially aware and impactful opportunities to be a part of. The idea being that if I am going to give up autonomy, I want to be able to feel good about what the organization is doing with my labor. In other words, if I'm going to have a job, I want it to be for a good cause. Now the definition of "good cause" here is purposefully broad as I think it there are a number of things that could fit. The idea itself has evolved over time. It's a space I'm not very familiar with and I recognize that I need to spend more time researching what's even possible, available, and reasonable here. But to give an example, initially I was looking for things that helped solve climate change or food scarcity. And while I have been pursuing this off and on since leaving my last job I have yet to find an opportunity that feels tangible. And by that I mean actually really connected to a cause. Part of the reason for this, and the thing that I want to differentiate here, is that many companies (at least in the valley) are ventures for the sake of capital. And not the social kind of capital, the money kind. Even if the mission statement claims differently, the primary goal is not to "do good" but instead "to make money". Of course, this has been the basis of my professional employment thus far and is the bubble I'm currently trying to break out of.
So these are the two paths, in broad strokes. I'm treating them as parallel paths since I'd be happy with either outcome. Of course, I'd be even happier with something that was both self driven and contributing positively to society. I'm hopeful that in the long run, I'll be able to do both to some degree. But being realistic, I think one path will likely dominate.
Alright, back to work.
P.S. In case the above still doesn't really answer the question. I figured I'd close with an outline of the typical day:
- My day starts around 8am. I'll do small administrative things like email, finances, etc. while I drink my first cup of coffee.
- The rest of the morning is spent drinking more coffee and working on developing software. Recently (and really the only thing I have to show for the effort) this has been developing apps
- Break for lunch around noon
- After lunch, it's a bit more unstructured as I'm either researching and pursing "for good" opportunities or writing5 (one example, this blog). It's been a challenge to fill up multiple afternoon hours with this. I try to make this the goal but will sometimes do a bit more software work in the later afternoon.
- Mixed in with this is pursuing the odd opportunity. For example, doing freelance work like that at eTeki.
I can have a little philosophy, as a treat. ↩
Hopefully I haven't made my self irrelevant by this point. ↩
This is, of course, a spectrum. A job can have a little fulfilment, or a lot, or a medium amount. Bottom line is that there is almost always some amount of compromise. No any one thing can be completely fulfilling. We need many things to make a complete life. ↩
This is, I recognize, an incredibly privileged statement. In fact, this whole post is privileged. ↩
Writing is something I've been trying to get better at. And there are a lot of reasons for this but suffice to say I've chosen a few ways of trying to practice more. ↩