Work to live, or live to work? It is the ‘To be, or not to be’ of the modern world

Are you reading this at work?

Don’t worry, I’m not judging you if you are.  I mean, I wrote it at work.  But then, you might consider that to be part of my job.  Is reading part of your job?

For some jobs, reading absolutely comes with the territory.  Why, some jobs even define themselves by how much reading they require.  In my more maudlin moments, I occasionally wish I had a job that required more reading than even mine does -- but only the good stuff.

For developers, reading is essential.  Keeping our skills up to date is a Red Queen race, as is so much of modern business practice.  And the drive to continually improve so as to maintain parity with one’s competitors can lead to practices and decisions that are aimed at maintaining that competitive advantage in the short-term, without a care for how that might restrict the choices available to our future selves.

A chance to relax, then, to take a step back and try to find the wood amidst all these trees can come as a rare moment of zen and calm tranquility amidst the coffee-fuelled rush.  Again, if you’re drinking coffee while reading this, I’m not judging you.  (Actually, as a tea drinker I consider all coffee drinkers barbarians, so I am in fact judging you.  If you’re drinking tea, welcome!  Relax and enjoy!  If you’re drinking coffee, feel free to speed on past this...oh, you’ve already gone.)

Ahem.  My editor tells me I really need to get to the point. my close to 20 years as a developer [Oh noooo… - Ed.] I’ve worked at a number of different organisations.  They differed in size, in market sector, in outlook, and in numerous other ways.  But over the years I’ve come to realise that there is one crucial way they differed, a single distinction that has determined how passionate I can get about my work.  Is this place making or doing something that I believe in?

Everything, I have realised, comes down to this question.  The answer is a very personal one, as each individual answers it for themselves with each organisation they join.  But it determines whether one lives to work or works to live.  The answer can change as the organisation changes over time, and as an individual’s relationship with that organisation changes.  Why, even I was once a bright-eyed, naïve entrant into the world of work, wholly unaware of the pitfalls of cynicism that lay in wait for me as I started my journey up the hill of ambition towards the sunrise of job satisfaction.  In my early career, when everything was still new and squeaked when I turned around too quickly, it didn’t take much to motivate me.  Later on, when my plastic wrappings had long been consigned to the bin, I could still be motivated by a good manager who was able to communicate a coherent vision and relate it to the work I was doing.

Eventually, of course, I realised that for motivation to persist, it has to come from within.  And this means that, unless you are Admiral Willpower, you’re going to need external triggers that help remind you why you do what you do.  (This, of course, is why people have pictures of their children or loved ones on their interchangeable cube-farm desks in offices.  And why policies prohibiting these are routinely ignored.)  Intrinsic motivation is much easier to generate when you work in a place where your contributions are valued, but, more importantly, where what you are contributing to has value.  Does it solve a problem, fill a need, or provide a service that you can recognise was previously unsolved, unfilled, or unprovided.  [Is that a word? - Ed.]  As a developer, when you step back and ask yourself exactly why you continue wrestling with performance improvements or tracking down elusive bugs, how motivating is it to find that you have the answer right there in the product you are working on?  [I assume that’s a rhetorical question? - Ed.]

Having now been at DigitalBridge for over a year, it is occasionally a surprise to realise that my enthusiasm for what we are building, and for where we could take it, is not only undimmed -- it is growing as we begin to realise some of those early ambitions.  It’s exciting and invigorating, and has even threatened to turn me into a morning person, acting much in the same way as coffee does for those who drink it (and welcome to those coffee drinkers to skipped directly to this section!)  In the next post I’ll talk about that kind of motivation more generally.  But for now -- back to work!


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