Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

A job, not a life

Nove,ber 26, 19999

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You might not think that poetry has a lot to do with high-tech careers, but my time in the world of coffee houses and poetry readings has taught me an important lesson that applies to every aspect of life. Too often we find ourselves with one defining aspect of our lives. This can be our poetry, our music or our job. In all cases, though, having only one defining aspect can lead us into destructive behavior without even realizing it.

An example

In the world of poetry there are local workshops that allow you to read your work and receive constructive criticism in order to make it better. Being in a workshop like this requires you to be confident with your own work and have the ability to accept criticism in the light it is intended; to help you better your art & craft.

Unfortunately, I would often encounter poets who would consistently argue with others in the workshops, explaining vehemently how the others just "didn't understand." These people ended up taking very little away from the workshops because they didn't believe the other members had anything to offer them since they were clearly the most advanced members of the group.
After some time I began to notice a pattern to those people who behaved in this fashion. To these people their poetry was the most important aspect of their lives. Nothing else was providing them joy. Therefore, anything that threatened their poetry was considered a dire attack on the person themselves. There is nothing more dangerous in my mind than a person who defines themselves in only one way. It makes them prone to lashing out at those around them and, in some cases, taking life much too seriously.

"You got no life outside!

-- blues/rock band, Spyder Blue

By now, some of you may have recognized friends, relatives or co-workers who fit the above example. Just like the poetry world, high-tech workers are often in danger of letting their job define their entire life. We all need to seek out and cultivate opportunities to define ourselves outside the workplace. Otherwise, we risk becoming angry, arrogant and uncooperative with those around us.
Developing outside interests allows us to weather the storms that happen in every job. Downsizing, failing projects and management turnover all make our work life more difficult. I don't know anyone who enjoys their job every single day. Outside interests give us a place to turn where we can experience accomplishments and success when work is being troublesome.

My wife, Rosanne, has had a long hard road in her career as a television writer. It took her ten years to finally land a full-time job writing for a television series. During the worst part of these years she was sending out material to agents and production companies and experiencing nothing but rejection. In an effort to find some sense of accomplishment for her I recommended that she look into writing articles for newspapers and magazines. She went on to write opinion pieces for the Los Angeles Times and to publish the Encyclopedia of Women in Aviation and Space during that time. It made a world of difference in her life and mine.

You need to find similar ways to "get away from it all" when work is being troublesome. These times usually pass, but they are only made worse by our tendency to dwell on them. Without outside interests we can actually make the situation worse. We become less able to accept criticism and advice in our work life. We "dig in" and stop taking initiative. Every new policy, new manager or new co-worker becomes a threat to our very definition of ourselves. It is a continuing downward spiral unless you find some way out.

Another example, me!

One example I can give for developing outside interests is myself. While I work as a computer trainer/consultant, I also write this column and several others. I also enjoy painting in watercolors, playing blues harmonica, gardening (which I also write a column about) and volunteering as an Internet class teacher at my local library. Whenever one aspect of my work is moving more slowly than I like or just being a pain, I have many other interests to which I can turn. It doesn't make the problems go away, but it does help me to see that there are other parts of my life where I can feel pleased and successful.

Develop your outside interests today. Don't define yourself only by your work. We have all seen people who nearly self-destruct when faced with a layoff, demotion or job change. Don't let job troubles make you lose your perspective on life as a whole. Seek out opportunities to succeed, no matter where they may present themselves.

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