What Should I Do With My Life?

My Dad has worked for the San Antonio Police Department for a couple of decades now. This has always struck me as a somewhat unexpected direction for someone with such a strong mind, excellent academic qualifications, and good work ethic. He could easily be making several times what the city can pay him by working as a consultant, but has chosen to remain where he is, even through the times that they’ve treated him pretty shabbily.

One thing that comes through when I talk to him about his work is how much he values the fact that, through his job, he’s able to make significant positive changes to people’s lives. At first, when he was doing hostage negotiation and crisis management, that effect was immediate and profound. Now that he’s involved in the victim assistance unit, the change he’s able to help people bring about is longer term, but no less far-reaching.

Another friend of mine, Steve Knight, is an ex-military man who has been working in the medical profession for many years and doing quite well financially. He recently got laid off due to cuts at the lab where he had been, and after a couple of months of soul-searching, decided to go to truck driving school to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a trucker. The chance to “live in the moment,” as he puts it, has brought him a tremendous amount of pleasure and satisfaction. Talking with him over Christmas made it very clear to me that he felt he had made a great choice, even though he could have done better financially by continuing to do med tech work.

These two men came strongly to mind when I happened across an article in Fast Company entitled What Should I Do With My Life?. The author, Po Bronson, talks to a number of people who have, like Steve and my Dad, searched out professions that really allow them to pursue some of their life goals in a meaningful way.

The article addresses squarely what I regularly feel about the work I’ve had in the computer industry: though it’s quite stimulating intellectually, and pays the bills more than adequately, it doesn’t feed into the things that I feel are important. Shortly before I married Kathy and became a family man, I had thought fairly seriously about pursuing counseling credentials so that I could be doing something more worthwhile with my days. Since I’ve assumed the role of paterfamilias, I’ve been happier to treat the job as a means to the end of supporting the family, rather than something from which meaning and value should spring. However, I’m still occasionally nagged by the feeling that if I’m investing 40 hours or more per week at something, it should be something more meaningful and of more lasting value than a computer game or a billing system.

I suppose the New Year is an appropriate time to mull one’s direction, to evaluate whether the short-term decisions one is making are congruent with one’s long term goals. I’m off to order the book on which the article is based, and to plan some quality time with some good music, hot tea, and thought-provoking reading material.