When I was in code school, I used to dream about finally landing a developer job. I had previously been making $12/hour part time, and I thought if I could make $40,000 a year, I’d be set. It seemed like so much money at the time.
Later, I got my first developer job, working for the city government here in Raleigh for $62,000/year. Despite the salary, it was…unglamourous to say the least. I worked mostly with legacy technologies, and it seemed that our group’s manager was more concerned with the appearance of doing work than actually doing it. I felt the skills I’d worked so hard to cultivate were wasting away, and I resented that I wasn’t getting to learn on the job. I dreamed of working for a cool, local company and with modern technology.
After 10 months, I switched jobs to work for a local agency. The company had recently renovated a mechanic’s shop into offices, and the office had that grungy-but-also-modern tech vibe. There was beer on tap, the office was dog-friendly, and we even got to work from home one day per week.
However, I was stuck on a contract with a Fortune 500 company that represented 30% of the firm’s revenue. For some reason (I have no idea why), the client liked me, which sealed my fate for never getting to do anything else as management was loathe to do anything that might upset the relationship. When I took the job, I’d been told that everyone got to switch projects after 6 months. So when that date came and went, I felt for the rest of my time at the company that I was consistently being lied to. I could feel my skills stagnating, and I dreamed of working for a company with a healthy culture and diverse clients, maybe even getting to work remotely.
Then, by sheer dumb luck on my part, someone from my current company reached out via LinkedIn. (In my view, this kind of cold outreach almost never results in an accepted offer, much less a good match.) Fast forward 2.5 years, and I now have a fully remote job, great colleagues, interesting work, relational capital, and skills that have progressed due to the nature of the projects and support I’ve received.
But despite the fact that (in my view) my current job is about as close to ideal as one could hope to get, the striving continues.
In the past year or so I’ve become obsessed by the idea of working for myself. I’ve convinced myself that I’ll finally be able to put this career-perfectionism to rest once I get there. I know this is a fool’s errand, but once the idea has taken hold, it’s hard to shake.
What I’ve learned is that better jobs exist, but none are perfect, and none truly satisfy. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, so I guess it would be crazy to think that the next job/situation/thing would bring contentment.
I think the best thing we (read: I) can do is develop resources for contentment and happiness outside of work, instead of looking to work/career to make us whole. While work is a large part of life, I’ve realized that it’s not all of life, and for most of us it’s simply a means to the end of not starving to death in the cold.
That said, I plan to learn as much as I can, have as much fun as possible, and continue to pursue goals that may or may not involve my full-time employment, all while knowing that it will be a struggle and that perfection is a myth.
There’s certainly a lot more to unpack here, but I think the big takeaway for me is to remember that ultimate fulfillment is not going to come from a job, promotion or change in circumstance. That’s what I’ve learned, and I feel pretty good about it.