It's not the death that worries me, it's the prioritization of life

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 14, 2020, 5:45 PM | comments: 0

Last weekend, a long-time blogger and educator specializing in the software stack that I've been around died at the age of 50. If that weren't weird enough, his last blog post appeared after he died. He had some great courses on Pluralsight. It's weird to think that any one blog post you make could be your last.

At the conference last week, I caught up with a former coworker that I had not seen in a decade. We had a lot of war stories to trade, mostly around the shared experience that strong business leaders are rare in software, from the executive level down to individual developers. This puts people in our career band, the managers between the makers and the C-suite, in a hard place as we serve two different audiences and act as the glue (or often lubricant) that makes it all work. It can be a thankless job, but we get enough out of it that we feel like it's worth it. Sometimes the big success is big when you've got it right on both sides, other times not so much. I suppose that's true for any job.

But being 40-somethings, approximately half way between wearing diapers and wearing diapers, we're acutely aware of the clock. I'd like to think that I've been at peace with my own demise for a long time. There isn't much point in fearing what you can't stop. What you can do is prioritize the time that you have to optimize for a meaningful and excellent life. That's the thing that stresses me out.

First you think in terms of relationships, and hopefully you start with your relationship with yourself. I probably spend too much time self-loathing for various reasons, but I'm at least self-aware of what's good or bad. I got lucky and scored a partner that is about as perfect as one gets. She's supportive, an amazing parent and my equal. This is the part I'm pretty good with. I'm spending that time right. I would lump parenting into the relationship bucket too, but once you start that, you can't really bail on it.

Work, whether it's the thing you do for money or the way you spend time to improve the world in some way, that all takes on a different meaning when you're optimizing for a good life. Sometimes you do crap work for a ton of money, or meaningful work for free, but it always feels like there's a priority aligned to it. For example, I once started a small team from scratch and built up a product that initially couldn't scale beyond a few users, and that felt good. Another time, I worked at a giant company where our team built a system that processed 100 million transactions per month. You bet that felt good. Another time I worked for a health insurance company trying to make their process better, and it was soul-sucking and terrible. I worked for an agency for like two months that wanted me to lie to customers. That didn't feel good either.

But most work probably lies somewhere in between. Our circumstances sometimes dictate that we have to do whatever it takes, which can certainly force the meaning curve. If we get lucky, we can often make our own story and have choices. But you never really know when you're taking your last shot, and you hope that the one in front of you is the right one.


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