Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. –Helen Keller
I previously wrote about my Ecuador trip:
Today, I finally get around to part 3. First though, there are two thoughts that have been on my mind lately:
- You should structure your finances so that you can leave work at the earliest possibility.
- Work is the key to happiness. A life without work is hell.
On the surface. those thoughts are contradictory. I’ll get back to them in a bit…
Life is Good
I’m fortunate in many ways. It’s no understatement to say that I’m thankful every day for my fairy-tale life. Near the top of the list is finding something I enjoy doing that pays me (the old-school term for this is work). It wasn’t easy for me to figure out.
At the age of 23, much to the dismay of my family and a girlfriend, and despite being an honors student, I quit pharmacy school. I loved the organic chemistry and pharmacokinetics, but knew that working at Walgreens would be vastly different.
My decision to quit happened very quickly. I had wanted to drop out for a while, but needed a catalyst. This came in the form of a conversation I had with a computer programmer roommate in 1998. It went something like this:
- Me: I don’t like pharmacy, but I don’t know what else to do with my life.
- Roommate: There are loads of computer jobs with Y2K coming up.
- Me: I’m not excited about going back to school for 3 or 4 years. I only have 2 more years of pharmacy school to go.
- Roommate: You don’t have to. DePaul offers a 30 week class in mainframe coding. It’s a great program and if you get through it, you’re almost guaranteed a job.
I made the decision on the spot to quit pharmacy school. It felt completely right and I never questioned it.
After 20 weeks in the computer program, I had gone on 10 interviews and received 8 job offers. I took one of them and coded into the sunset.
However, I haven’t been doing much coding in my current job; more systems administration and support duties. In Ecuador, of all places, I rediscovered how much I enjoyed coding.
On the third day of the trip, a friend who was also on the trip introduced me to another attendee who I’ll call M. My friend knew that M had some questions about corporate structures and that I could help. M and I chatted for a minute and then boarded a bus for a hike. On the ride, M and I chatted a bit about corporations, but the conversation quickly changed course. We were soon talking about Tim Ferriss and a business idea that M had. I was intrigued by the conversation, but my ears really perked up when M said:
Do you know who Seth Godin is?
I wanted to reply:
Hell yeah I know who Seth Godin is! I love his ideas!!!
Not wanting to seem like a nutter, my response was more nuanced.
M’s idea was pretty neat and despite just meeting her, she seemed like the kind of person I could trust and work with. Sometimes you just know; you know? (Kind of like my decision to quit pharmacy.) However, I tried to contain my enthusiasm. I didn’t want to seem too eager or pushy (reverse psychology bullshit).
That didn’t stop be from doing a lot of thinking about M’s idea though. I actually couldn’t stop thinking about it; I’ve started small businesses in the past (Brewery iPhone App for Wisconsin!) and I love to think about them. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. When I ran into M, I’d unload my ideas on her like this one:
You can query IP addresses and display dynamic location results to incentivize visitors of the site to sign on!
I considered that M might think I was insane, but I didn’t care. Later in the week, we agreed to work together. And I felt something I haven’t felt in a while; fierce enthusiasm, determination and excitement for work.
On Saturday morning, when I should have been talking to other members of the group, I was in the library downloading materials that I’d need to complete M’s project. I needed to have them on my computer so I could work on the plane. No spare minute was going to be wasted. At the same time, I was asking the Mad Fientist (a fellow developer) about the tools I’d need to complete the project. Sorry Mad Fientist for all of my ridiculous questions.
On Saturday evening, I settled in at the airport and immediately popped open my computer to start preparing for the project. (Sorry fellow attendees if I appeared antisocial) I had a miserable redeye flight to Houston, but by some miracle, the rest of my row was empty. I didn’t sleep though; instead I opened my laptop, sat it on the tray next to me, and got to work. At 3am when everyone else was dreaming and/or snoring (looking at you lady behind me), I was studying Rails architecture.
More studying when I waited in the Houston terminal for my connecting flight home.
More studying on the flight to Denver.
It isn’t easy to think about software when you’ve gone 24 hours without sleep, but I couldn’t help myself. I love to code. I love to build systems. I love to build. I haven’t done it in a long time and I had forgotten who I was.
And now, we arrive back at the beginning:
- You should structure your finances so that you can leave work at the earliest possibility: This work is the type that you must do for money. You may or may not like it, but you have to do it to pay the bills. There is risk here; your company could go under, you could injure yourself and not be able to do your job, or maybe your boss is just a dick.
- Work is the key to happiness. A life without work would be hell. This is the type of work you do because it gives you joy. Unlike the first type of work, the metric of success isn’t your paycheck; it’s your happiness. If you’re very lucky, this work may be the same as the first bullet point.
I hope you have found meaningful work that you’re genuinely enthusiastic about. I hope that you don’t need an alarm clock to wake because you’re so excited to do the work that you know you’re meant to do. I hope that your work makes you a better person. I hope that you’re so enthusiastic about your work that you’d do it for free.
I have all of this and I’m so fortunate to have found it.
And if you haven’t discovered your work passions, I hope that you never stop searching.
Life is too short. Do what you love.
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