On 2017

Forgive a slightly similar setup from a couple of years ago, but it gives me a way to share the following anecdote:

January 1, 2017, 12:00am

A good friend had invited several of us over to celebrate the new year with a few drinks and some games on a highly sought after NES Classic. A feeling of “thank goodness that’s over” was in the air, and someone thought it would be fun to write down elements of 2016 we hoped would not return, then set them alight at midnight. As we should have realized, setting pieces of paper on fire in a small glass container where oxygen could not easily enter was a near impossible task. Tipping the container out onto the snow-covered sidewalk did not make things easier, and we gave up after two or three of the paper slips flickered for a second or two. Beginning 2017 with a failed gesture of defiance was an amusing political symbol if nothing else.

January 1, 2018, 12:00am

I’ve seen in about half of the new years of the last decade with the same group of friends, and it was a thrill to do so again after being elsewhere last year. This year, everyone was elsewhere, and friends in four cities and three states gathered to ring in three progressively tipsier 2018s, playing party games over video conference. Technology is brilliant. 

So, then, 2017. 

Towards the end of 2016, I was reasonably settled in my job, learning an enormous amount of new things with colleagues I loved and projects I enjoyed. Out of the blue, someone suggested a new opportunity I might be a good fit for, but I fell at the final fence. In January, a much better opportunity with a new organization presented itself, and after several hours of interviews I…didn’t get that either. These two experiences prompted a lot of thinking about where my career was going, and lead me to take a new job I was not very well suited for and at which I did not succeed. I’m sincerely grateful to some very patient coworkers who prevented that from being any worse than it was, and sorry to some employees who deserved far better from me. The collective impact of these episodes meant I jumped at the chance to move to Seattle this summer and do something completely different.

People seem to have all sorts of different expectations about career stability, so I’ve no idea whether the above sounds normal or insane to anyone else. As I’d held the same position technically for four years and practically for closer to six, it felt incredibly strange. Doing the same thing for a long time in an organization develops particular kinds of expertise and levels of influence which are immediately lost in these transitions. On the other hand, as a 29 year old I’ve got another 40 years of work ahead of me, so this is likely going to happen again and again. With that in mind, I wanted to document two things I’ve noticed about changing jobs in the last 12 months. Neither of these are novel, but are things are want to make sure I remember the next time I throw everything up in the air.

Curiosity actually saves the cat.

When I was learning to drive, my parents were appalled to discover I didn’t know my way around anywhere. I’d been driven by them to and from various places for years, but as my only role in the process was to get in the car and get out again, I hadn’t bothered to take any notice of what happened in between. This lead to a handful of frustrated moments realizing far too late that I’d ended up in the wrong lane at a stoplight or highway exit, but it did not instill in me any great change in behavior - in the 8 years I had a license prior to the advent of turn-by-turn directions on phones, the surfaces in my car not covered in Pepsi cans were covered in printed out pages from Mapquest. 

In the office, this lack of curiosity about how to get from A to B leads to death. In many organizations, the first few weeks of a job consist of learning step by step processes and the rhythm of which processes are invoked at which time. The path to being able to meaningfully contribute, though, is in the whys and wherefores and steps in between, in understanding enough about how you got to step 25 to make some reasonable guess at the yet unwritten step 26. If I had any awareness of this before, it’s been turned up x100 this year - it’s good to be bothered by things you don’t understand, and being the new guy is an excellent cover for having a thousand questions about everything. 

Work, not approval.

In Fort Collins, if things would go well at work and I was pleased, I’d immediately fret that I was getting too invested in it. Since moving away, I’ve been surprised by how much less I’m plagued by this feeling now that work genuinely is the only thing I’m doing. In Colorado there were great friends, church, music, comedy, etc., which meant work wasn’t anywhere close to the “only thing” going on. In the six months I’ve been here, I’m mostly working, riding the bus, and sleeping. And the difference, I think, between that being life giving or not, is in where affirmation comes from.  

What makes a day good or bad? That answer will wholly be about work sometimes, and this is ok as long as it’s not wholly wrapped up in pats on the back (I am not sure how someone wraps up a pat).  In a new place, you spend your whole time asking other people for things instead of getting to play the hero who has the answers, and this can be surprisingly draining if you're used to things being the other way around. Finding some measure of “was my work meaningful today?” other than the number of people who said they were pleased by something you did is vital. Which is a terribly silly thing to write just before hitting ‘post’ and anxiously checking for likes.

T